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John Edwards Sex Scandal Good News

24 Jul

It was bad enough when The Hangover’s endorsement of John Edwards scuttled his 2008 presidential bid.  Now the National Enquirer is reporting that the former Senator is involved in a sex scandal.  As always, the Hangover is ready to examine the facts.  

The first step is to consider the source.  Exactly when did the National Enquirer become a reputable member of the media?  Perhaps it was when their correspondents started appearing on the Howard Stern show.  It could have been when the NE got its own TV show, Uncovered, in 1999, only to see it get cancelled in 2001.  However, The Hangover has determined the NE became credible when actual newspapers actually started citing the tabloid as a source in their own pathetic attempts to cover Lindsay Lohan’s binge drinking–the single most important and compelling news story of the current century. 

The Facts:  The Enquirer reported that at 9:45 on July 21st Edwards appeared at the Beverly Hilton.  Hmmm.  NE Reporter Alan Butterfield deduced that “he (Edwards) wasn’t carrying anything.”  Suspicious, indeed.  The Enquirer gang then hounded Edwards like a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Jacques Clouseau, and Deputy Dawg.  They reported that when cornered, Edwards looked like a “deer in caught in headlights!”  Not only can the NE reporters investigate, they are brilliant and original writers, too.  How could one not believe them?

And so what if Edwards was having an affair?  He is simply following in the footsteps of all the great Democractic political thinkers of the modern era:  John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Gary Hart, and William J. Clinton.  (Additionally, the incident differentiates Edwards from those Republicans caught in sex scandals, which generally operate under same-sex scenarios; not that there’s anything wrong with that.)  Mr. Obama, The Hangover urges you to heed this fine Democratic lineage and give Mr. Edwards a position in your cabinet.  Make the man your Attorney General. 

The Enquirer’s reporting of the scandal means that the Republicans view him as a threat.  In an Obama administration, Edwards could potentially be the first AG since Robert Kennedy to actually care about working class and poor Americans.  Maybe then the 95% of us who aren’t enjoying George W. Bush’s tax cuts could stop getting screwed.  How ironic.

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In Praise of Andre Dubus

19 Jun

Andre Dubus is considered by many (myself included) to be one of America’s greatest short story writers.  So why haven’t you heard of him?  Precisely because he was a short story writer.  While some novelists sell millions of books and become known figures, those working in short fiction are almost always ignored by the greater public.  It’s unfortunate, but it is reality.   The sad thing is, with Dubus, it’s the greater public who is missing out.

In the July/August issue of Poets and Writers, Joshua Bodwell contributes an essay, “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus:  We Don’t Have To Live Great Lives.”   The title indicates much of a what a reader needs to know about Dubus:  real people, real situations, real emotion–and tough writing.  Dubus may have been a writer, but he lived in the same world that you do.  His work reveals the gravity found there.

The Hangover grew up in Plaistow, New Hampshire, just across the state line from Haverhill, MA, where Dubus taught at small Bradford College.  The local paper, The Haverhill Gazette, frequently mentioned publications of and readings by Dubus.  I was a somewhat well-read youth, but as foolish as any teenager.  I saw that French name and pictured a Euro-weenie in a beret writing about wine-drinking fops.  I wondered, “How good can this guy be if he’s teaching at Bradford?”  I never bothered to pick up one of his books.   

I finally read Dubus as an adult when Tom Bailey assigned “A Father’s Story” for a writing class I was taking.  I went out and bought Andre Dubus: Selected Stories.  After that first story, I started at the beginning and whipped through the collection.  Dubus’ characters were people I knew.  Both literally and figuratively, they drove down streets I’d traveled, lived in houses I recognized, and drank in bars I’d frequented.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been a supreme jackass. 

The Hangover urges you not to make the same mistake.  If you’ve read Dubus, pick up Poets and Writers and read Bodwell’s essay.  If one of Dubus’s books hasn’t made it onto your shelf, go out and get Selected Stories.  That you’ll be entertained is an understatement.     

 

The New Yorker: Still Champion of the Short Story

1 Apr

Since its inception in 1925, The New Yorker has published some of America’s best short fiction.   That legacy continues today despite trends to the contrary.  Many of the magazines once featuring short stories have ceased to exist, such as Collier’s and Story.  Others like Esquire have lessened their commitment to the form, cutting back in fiction print pages while shifting that emphasis to their web sites.  Meanwhile, the New Yorker continues to place contemporary stories in its issues–and amazingly, as the fates of other periodicals might suggest–the magazine has not suffered. 

The New Yorker has even deepened its commitment to the form by reaching back into its history while embracing modern technology.   Through I-tunes and newyorker.com, the magazine offers a series of podcasts featuring some of today’s best writers reading their favorite stories from the magazine’s vast catalog of published fiction.   It is a deep and wide-ranging collection of homage.  One can find Jonathan Lethem reading James Thurber’s “The Wood Duck” and Richard Ford choosing John Cheever’s “Reunion.”  The Hangover highly recommends TC Boyle’s interpretation of Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.”  (Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” are two of The Hangover’s favorite short stories.)  All are considered classics.

In addition to the story itself, New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman hosts a discussion of the piece with the selecting author.   The views expressed are always enlightening, as the selector speaks as a fan as well as a fellow writer.   Consistent with The Hangover’s “short stories, long payoff” philosophy, the podcasts usually run less than 20 minutes.  

The podcasts are available on the New Yorker web site and the I-tunes Store (go to podcasts, search for New Yorker: fiction).  The best part:  They’re free.  

The Lion in Winter: Esquire Magazine

4 Jan

Shortly after graduating from college, I came across a short story collection titled, “Great Esquire Fiction:  The Finest Stories from the First Fifty Years.”  The table of contests listed those one would expect to find on a Glenlivet-drinking New York editor’s bookshelf:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike, Carver, Malamud, O’Connor, O’Brien, and thirty-one other brilliant writers.  The stories were fantastic and I started buying the magazine, mainly because of the fiction that appeared in every issue.  My current complaint isn’t that the writers published in Esquire today are bad (although I don’t think that even the famous Steven King or James Lee Burke would crack the Fab 38), it’s that the fiction offerings are so infrequent.  If there’s a short story in every other issue now, it’s a bonus. It can’t be because there aren’t any good writers out there.   

Esquire does promote their fiction on their web site.   They offer stories published in the magazine and others written for Esquire.com.  Their current online feature is the Napkin Fiction project.  Esquire sent cocktail napkins to 250 writers to pen sip-sized stories on said napkins.  Courageously, not all the writers are known literary figures (I can’t believe they missed me), and some of the pieces do have the delicious sting and tingle of a tequila shot.  However, trying to gain appreciation for a writer on a piece of ultra-flash fiction is like picking songs on I-Tunes based on the allotted 30 second snippet.  What if the oohs and ahhs don’t come in until the chorus?   I’m sure that at least one or two of the chosen authors could have developed something worthy of bumping an article on dress shirts and pocket squares.

Which brings us to what is in Esquire these days:  clothing ads, cologne ads, luxury item ads, and self-referential, middle-aged-men-need-this-item features.  And there are plenty of fashion tips.  The former publisher of Ernest Hemingway is now an orgasm article away from becoming Cosmo-for-a-Man.  I understand how the publishing business works.  The ads pay so the content can play.  Still, I find it hard to believe that people really need to see a fashion layout with Bob Dylan impersonators wearing two thousand dollar wool coats, five hundred dollar sweaters, and seven hundred dollar boots.  The editors manage to slip in Dylan quotes among the clothes, apparently in hope of what?  Irony? 

(Richard Russo once said that he wished to remain the kind of guy who mowed his own lawn.  It is a worthy goal.  Should success strike me and I start purchasing four-figure jackets and three-figure shirts, I authorize any of my close friends to beat me about the head with a two-figure Louisville Slugger.   Yet, my subscription remains active.)

In lieu of short fiction, the highlight of the present-day Esquire is the “What I’ve Learned” series.  An Esquire writer interviews a notable person, asking them “What do you know?” and boils down the answers to a one-page list of clear and lucid declarative sentences.  There is much to be gleaned there, especially in the January 2008 issue which celebrates the tenth anniversary of the feature. 

Along with six new interviews, Esquire includes segments from the most notable of the past.  For the current issue, Eric Clapton reveals, “One of the most beneficial things I’ve ever learned is how to keep my mouth shut.”  Michael J. Fox shows insight thought impossible from someone who once portrayed Alex Keaton (Unfortunately, Fox does not address his anti-Elvisness).  The back catalog reveals wisdom from among others, Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Branson, Larry Flynt, and Julia Child.  Evil Knievel states:  “Anybody can jump a motorcycle.  The trouble begins when you try to land it.”  Simple and sharp. 

What makes the feature stand out in the current Esquire is that the writer stays the hell out of the way.  In the usual Esquire profile, a reader invariably learns that the interviewer is fat, goateed, a smoker, a drinker, awed but then un-awed, and ultimately perceived as cool by the subject.  With this tiresome perspective removed, the subject’s thoughts are actually shared with the reader.  The tenth anniversary celebration of “What I’ve Learned” makes January 2008 a very worthwhile issue.  Naturally, it is also one without a short story. 

While a fiction hyperlink is given one of five spots on the Esquire.com header, the genre is often ignored when the magazine comes to print.  By restoring short fiction to every issue, the editors would make it so much easier to flip through the glossy pages of tousle-haired male models.  One would think that Esquire’s heritage demands it.