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'O' by Anonymous review: It's no 'Primary Colors'

OLet’s just put the Primary Colors thing to rest right away, OK? It’s been very savvy of Simon and Schuster to mention O in the same breath as Joe Klein’s iconic 1996 novel about Clinton’s 1992 campaign. (In fact, S&S has launched the most skillfully-executed marketing campaign in recent publishing history to promote O, but that’s another story.) Primary Colors brimmed with sharp, funny, sly satire. Americans were all too aware of the Clintons’ foibles by the time it came out, so that made it even more compulsively readable.

O, set during the 2012 campaign, hits all the right inside-politics note. I’m not a Washington journalist — I suspect the Beltway crowd will be able to weigh in better than I can about whether the nuts and bolts of running a campaign are portrayed correctly. But it almost doesn’t matter. You didn’t read Primary Colors to learn how to execute a crippling “ad buy” or how to draft a candidate’s message. You read it for the dirt. And that’s what’s conspicuously missing from O. READ FULL STORY

The 10 Best Graphic Novels and Comics of 2010

It was a good year for a wide array of comics collections and graphic novels. From superheroes to memoirs of old age to vintage reprints, there was something for anyone — which is to say, everyone — interested in visual storytelling. READ FULL STORY

Rick Springfield's icky new memoir: we read it so you don't have to

In the ’80s, Rick Springfield was one of the world’s biggest stars, cranking out excellent power-pop hits like “Jessie’s Girl” and playing Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital. Now he’s written a confessional autobiography, Late, Late At Night, and it turns out he was also kind of a creep. Why he’d want the world to know this is somewhat mysterious, but he certainly doesn’t hold back with the details. Here are a few notable moments.

-When he was 17, Springfield says he tried to hang himself. “I hang suspended for fifteen or twenty seconds and am just sliding into unconsciousness when the knot tying the rope to the beam somehow unravels. I’m slammed hard to the concrete floor, rather the worse for wear.”

-One band he played in early on used to hold up local stores. “Incredibly, I remain blissfully unaware of this part of the routine for a while, until we pull up outside a liquor store late one night and all the other band members get out and tell me to stay in the idling car. The next thing I know…I find out that they’ve just robbed the store.” The kicker? “The write up in the paper about the robbery is my first press! I proudly keep the local newspaper article in my bedside drawer for months.”

-He was in bands with astonishingly awful names like Moppa Blues and Zoot and Wickedy Wak.

-At age 25 he dated a then 15-year-old Linda Blair. “I am her first lover and she is an enthusiastic learner…. We share a love of dogs and sex–separately, not in combination. Most of the time we don’t leave the apartment. She’s invited to premieres and Hollywood parties and we go as a couple, blindly and innocently to the media slaughter. We’re actually really shocked by the incensed articles in both teen and regular press about our affair. Either we have zero understanding of what makes the press tick, or it’s a really slow month for news.”

-He tries to blame much of his bad behavior on depression (or as he calls it, The Darkness), which, as he describes it, sounds like little more than ordinary self doubt. The Darkness is constantly “saying” things to Springfield like, “What’s the point, sport? You don’t have what it takes, and you know it.” Springfield deals with this by sleeping around, repeatedly cheating on various significant others. But, you see, it’s not his fault! “I’m feeling worthless and emasculated by having failed my family and myself,” he writes, “so what better way to get some integrity back than to f— this girl that so many men seem to find hot? Makes sense to me. And Mr. Darkness thinks it’s a stellar idea.”

-Toward the end of the book, he offers a message to anyone who might have found the previous 270 pages distasteful. “I’d also like to address those perfect souls who are reading this and saying to themselves, ‘Why is [his oft-cheated-on wife] putting up with this a–hole?’ I’m happy that your life is so unruptured that you can make such a distant judgment call, so I’ll only address the humans in the audience.”

So there you have it. Rick Springfield: pretty gross. But don’t judge him! It’s not his fault, really. And if you’ve never cheated on your wife then you must not be human.

'Mockingjay' review: Spoiler alert!

In Mockingjay, the riveting final installment of her addictively readable postapocalyptic Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins introduces readers to District 13, the underground city that has become the headquarters of the resistance movement. At the center of the impending war with the oppressive Capitol is, of course, Katniss Everdeen, the 17-year old heroine who chooses—despite her reservations—to be the very symbol of the uprising, the Mockingjay. But becoming the face of the rebels’ video propaganda efforts doesn’t come easily, since Katniss doesn’t fully trust their motives. She’s also riddled with guilt, believing that her actions in the previous games led to the destruction of her home and the capture of her ally Peeta. Fans will be happy to hear that Mockingjay is every bit as complex and imaginative as Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Collins has kicked the brutal violence up a notch in an edge-of-your-seat plot that follows Katniss as she tries to fulfill her role, protect her mother and sister and, in the end, finally choose between her two greatest loves. B+

Ian McEwan addresses his American critics

EW’s Jeff Giles may have liked Solar, Ian McEwan’s most recent novel—but not many others did. In the New York Times Walter Kirn lambasted the book, saying, “Instead of being awful yet absorbing, it’s impeccable yet numbing, achieving the sort of superbly wrought inertia of a Romanesque cathedral.” McEwan, long a critic’s darling, was clearly stung by the reaction. Yesterday he  told the British newspaper The Telegraph, “I think…I caught America in a mood of profound boredom about climate change. They just didn’t want to hear about it any more, they were sick to the teeth.” I wasn’t a fan of the book (though I count Atonement as one of my all time favorites), but I have to say, I kind of admire McEwan’s creative defense of it.

Thoughts? Did any of you read, and like, the novel?

Tom Bissell's 'Extra Lives': What should videogame criticism look like?

At the beginning of Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Tom Bissell lists a few reasons why videogames have mostly eluded critical analysis. Games take forever to finish (if they even have a finish). They skew young, male, and stupid. The pace of innovation instantly fossilizes everything. “Game magazines publish game review after game review,” Bissell writes, “but they tend to focus on providing consumers with a sense of whether their money will be well spent.” Are videogames even an art worthy of careful consideration, or are they just a commercial product? Is reviewing a videogame like reviewing a toaster, or a car? And if so, who wants to read my semiotic analysis of the Ford Focus?

Putting aside the Great Art/Not Art debate, let’s assume that videogames are just “things” that are worth analyzing. After all, no one involved with the making, distributing, or viewing of Jonah Hex would call it Art, but it still merits a review, just like every other bad movie, TV show, book, and shameless junk-pop album. That brings us to the more intriguing question: What should videogame criticism look like? Bissell’s book offers plenty of tantalizing possibilities.


'Batman' 700th issue: A mystery story for the Caped Crusader -- and you -- to solve

For the 700th issue of Batman, on sale today, writer Grant Morrison declines to go for a huge, all-encompassing new history of the character, or for a game-changing redefining of the Caped Crusader. Instead, he’s written an enthralling three-part mystery for Batman (and you) to solve. Entitled “Time and The Batman,” it carries the subtitle, “One Impossible Crime: Can You Crack the Case?”

Of course, Morrison being the prolix, playful Morrison he is, the author plays with time, dividing the tale into three parts, with three different Batmen from three different time periods: the Bruce Wayne Batman in the opening chapter, “Yesterday”; the Dick Grayson Batman in “Today”; and Damian Wayne’s Batman in “Tomorrow.”

First-rate artists have been enlisted, including Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert, David Finch, and (my favorite) Frank Quitely, he of the spidery line-drawings and and tight-lipped-smiling Batman. There’s one especially classic panel: After Batman beats off a throng of thugs with a pair of thin, hard sticks (bats?) pulled from his utility belt, the hero looks around at the unconscious criminals, then at the mini-clubs he holds in his hands and says to Robin, “Remind me to pack these again. Wow.”

Robin’s reply: “More of them.”

Love that. A-

'Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne': An interview with writer Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison is currently writing a six-issue miniseries, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne (DC Comics), that some consider one of the comic-book events of the year. Being touted as an event-creator is something this 50 year-old, Scottish-born writer must be used to by now. Morrison’s knack for rich conversational dialogue and intricately knotted plotting has garnered raves since the 1980s for everything from his big hits (the current, superb Batman and Robin series) to cult favorites (the your-head-will-explode The Invisibles).

I spoke to Morrison about Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, the second issue of which has just arrived in comic-book stores. There’s also news about a BBC sci-fi TV project Morrison is working on. READ FULL STORY

Laura Bush's 'Spoken From the Heart': A Review

Laura Bush never interested me much until Curtis Sittenfeld wrote an addictively readable novel based on her, American Wife. As I read Spoken From the Heart, passages from American Wife echoed in my head. Wow, I thought, Sittenfeld really nailed her.

Ever correct, Laura Bush does not mention Sittenfeld’s novel, or much else that she finds distasteful. As First Lady, she quietly pursued the causes that mattered to her — literacy, the plight of Afghan women — but remained largely in her husband’s shadow. Here she emerges, in fitful snatches, as a bookish, brainy, nervous woman, haunted by the car accident she caused at 17, which killed a classmate. “It is a guilt I will carry for the rest of my life, far more visible to me than the scar etched in the bump of my knee,” she writes.

The early stretches of Heart will resonate with anyone who grew up in small-town America. Midland, Tex., Bush writes, was “a place of ice cream sundaes…and Saturday morning pony rides.” She was 31 when she married George Bush there, leading one town biddy to remark, “Can you imagine? The most eligible bachelor in Midland marrying the old maid of Midland?”

The rest of the book lacks the sweetness and poignancy of these first pages. It becomes a weary recitation of trips taken, dresses worn, meals eaten — nothing more. For a
woman devoted to her family, Bush has  reveals little about her children and nothing new about her husband (though she alludes to a few personal differences, saying, “I had talked to George about not making gay marriage a significant issue” in the 2004 campaign). She does manage to neatly disembowel her mother-in-law, Barbara: “When I married George, I had thought I would be embraced by his mother every bit as much as he was embraced by mine…. What I came to see ultimately as our bond was that we both loved George…. Beyond that, we had little contact.” What it boils down to is this: Anyone who wants to know what makes Laura Bush tick will come away disappointed. The intensely private former First Lady seems almost a shadowy spectator in her own memoir. B-

'Admission' and 'It's Not You, It's Me: The Poetry of Break-Up': Two terrific books from Jerry Williams

As we arrive at the final week of National Poetry Month, I recommend that you immediately grab a copy of Jerry Williams’ Admission, as funny and tough and thrilling a collection of poems as I’ve read in some time. In this volume, Williams specializes in poems that dare you to believe they’re autobiographical or confessional, and which can quickly become both intricate and artfully exaggerated. The opening poem, “Unadorned,” is a vehement list of the things he’s done “for you,” whoever “you” is. Here’s a chunk of it:

I let a dog in the park lick my face for you.

I pretended not to know the murder rate in Denmark for you.

I’ve tried to stay ugly for you […]

I worked in a cardboard box factory for you.

I gave up skin for you.

Whenever love metastasized, I ran over it with my lawnmower for you.

I wrote “Stairway to Heaven” for you.

I did the whole Reverend Dimmesdale thing for you…

Williams writes poems about HBO and The Tonight Show; he has a poem called “Imaginary Family Vacation” that made me wince and wonder whether Williams had rooted around in the back of my skull for memories.

Williams is also the editor of a fine new anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Break-Up. It’s a collection featuring terrific poets such as Mark Halliday, Tony Hoagland, and Ai (a fine poet who died just last month). It’s Not You, It’s Me is divided into three themed sections “One Foot Out The Door,” “In The Middle Of The Storm,” and “The Aftermath.” This may be an anthology for anyone who’s been broken-hearted, but it’s not an anthology for anyone who’s faint-hearted: Treacly, romantic, winsome little poems are entirely absent Williams’ from conception of the messiness of breaking up with someone.

In his superb introduction, Williams says bluntly, “I have endured four major break-ups in my life. Each one nearly killed me.”

You think he’s kidding… and then he goes on to describe each one. Williams is as good a prose writer as he is a poet. Get hold of this guy’s stuff and read it.

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