Tag Archives: literature

Bar-Naked Cover: Esquire’s Best Ever

8 Jun

The cover of Esquire’s July 2009 issue is striking:  Bar Refaeli wearing nothing but lines from Stephen King’s short story, “Morality.”  Yes, it’s taken a naked supermodel and one of America’s literary giants to bring The Hangover out of its spring hibernation.

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

In the past, this space has admonished Esquire for its seemingly fading commitment to the short fiction it once championed.  But the editors have just taken a master stroke.  A painted, unclothed super model will catch the eye of most men.  Then, hopefully, the twisting language of King’s sentences will spur those potential readers to search out the story (page 57) in the magazine.  If this kind of heat can sell beer on television, why can’t it work for fiction in a glossy?

The pairing of King and Refaeli is genius.  The accompanying photos of the word-paint-splattered supermodel, July’s Esquire “Woman We Love,” speak for themselves.  And if there were a statistic that somehow averaged “book sales” and “literary quality of writing,” it’s likely that Stephen King would sit atop those standings.  Make no mistake, his story here is a contemporary, relevant monster.    

Now if we could only get some aspiring model to volunteer to be painted in the words of a Hangover Post, cultural satire would reach heights previously considered unattainable.    Applications for the position will be gladly accepted.

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Eat, Pray, Love, Frozen Waffles, Supermarket

21 Feb

As the Hangover careened down the frozen food aisle with a full cart, little did he expect to find a cardboard display selling Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.  How does a writer this good wind up just past sub-zero waffles, pancakes, and breakfast sandwiches?

It’s obvious as to why a supermarket would be an effective spot for selling the biggest and best piece of chick lit written this century.   The Hangover bought the book for the missus two Christmases ago.  She loved it.  And it has to have been read by every women’s book group in the country by now.  But to reach the five or six females in every town who  may have somehow missed it, the grocery store seems a dream venue.

Gilbert is no Michael Crichton or Nora Roberts, whose trashy paperbacks formerly comprised the top echelon of supermarket literature.  Gilbert can write–extremely well.  That she has to be placed in the vicinity of  TGI Friday’s jalapeno poppers and Jackie Collins’ Fabio-covered drivel is unfortunate.  On the other hand. while the rest of the economy is tanking, Gilbert’s personal GNP continues to rise.

Although The Hangover has not read  Eat, Pray, Love (yet), I have read and enjoyed her fiction.  Stern Men, set in Maine, is a rollicking, funny novel with depth.  It’s John Irving-lite, and that is meant with no disrespect.  Pilgrims,Gilbert’s short story collection from 1997,  is brilliant. Gilbert’s a sharp, incisive writer and her stories are tough, humorous, and engaging.

While eschewing Oprah-ness, Pilgrims should still appeal to the same women who enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love.  Here’s the opening from the story, Landing:

“I lived in San Francisco for three months and only slept with one person, a redneck from Tennessee. I could have done that back home and saved myself a lot of rent money. A city full of educated, successful men and I went after the first guy I saw wearing a John Deere hat.”

Or how about this one from, Come and Fetch These Stupid Kids

 “Margie and Peg were arrested after they got drunk on the chef’s cooking wine and went into the parking lot and rubbed butter on the windshield of every car parked there.  It was late at night.  It was also late in September, and long past the end of tourist season.”

The Hangover can live with the shock of seeing Gilbert placed in the neighborhood of French toast, onion rings, and Danielle Steele.  Now if the powers that be could only see fit to add Pilgrims and Stern Men to the kiosk, they’d be doing their customers a real service.

Warren Zevon’s Not So Quiet Normal Life

24 Nov

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, the 2007 Warren Zevon biography penned by Zevon’s ex-wife, Crystal, is a remarkable book.   A reader will experience moments of awe, disbelief, elation, and horror. When Zevon was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, he asked Crystal to tell the whole truth in writing his story, “even the awful, ugly parts.”  She did not flinch.  The book presents a view of Zevon that could not possibly be more honest.    Sharing traits with many of his characters, Zevon is at times genius, drunk, twisted, and hilarious.  To paraphrase one of his own songs, his shit was fucked up.

Crystal Zevon interviewed eighty-seven people for the book.  Their accounts are presented in the first person, as are her own remembrances.  Excerpts from Warren’s journal are also shared.   The reader sees hardships and challenges on every page–some external, many emanating from within.  But as Zevon careened through drug, alcohol, and sex addiction, one thing remained constant:  He never compromised his musical integrity.  And that cost him.  He did not achieve the financial and popular success he felt he deserved.  In a 1998 letter to Hunter S. Thompson, Zevon described his career as “about as promising as a Civil War leg wound.”  For Zevon fans, that was all right with us.  To hell with those who didn’t get it.

Bonny Raitt knew:  “There’s no way the mainstream could be hip enough to appreciate Warren Zevon.  He was our everything, from Lord Buckley to Charles Bukowski to Henry Miller.”  When Jackson Browne introduced Zevon to an audience as “the Ernest Hemingway of the twelve-string guitar,” Zevon later corrected him claiming, no, he was “the Charles Bronson of the twelve-string guitar.”  They were both right.  As Browne said, “Warren didn’t have literary pretenstions.  He had literary muscle.” 

The Hangover got on board with Zevon’s ’78 Excitable Boy album.  Although he never became a chartbuster, each previous and subsequent album delivered full tilt Zevon:  originality, a writer’s eye, and an outlaw’s attitude.   All one has to do is turn on a radio today and listen for an hour to realize that Zevon was a unique talent.  It is bitter-sweetly ironic that The Wind, recorded after Zevon’s cancer diagnosis (with the clock ticking loudly during the sessions), led to recognition in the form of two Grammies.   The Excitable Boy wasn’t around to see it happen.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead will hit Zevon fans hard.  He paid a high price to create his music–and live his life.    As honest and uncompromising as his songs were, so is his biography.  It is a fitting tribute.  No doubt, the Zevon’s will continue to deserve more credit that they will receive.  

{All quotes taken from I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.}

Sarah Palin’s Banned Books

8 Sep

The media frenzy surrounding reports of Sarah Palin’s attempt to ban books from the Wasilla Public Library is somewhat off the mark.  On becoming mayor of the thriving Alaskan metropolis in 1996, she did not attempt to ban specific books from the town library.  She simply inquired with the librarian about how she would react if Palin did attempt to ban books.  It was a rhetorical question, Palin claimed, according to the Mat Su Valley Frontiersman.  This puts the Hangover at ease.  Luckily for those left wing advocates of free speech, Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons actually had a backbone (not to mention respect for the Constitution) and symbolically told Palin to take a long walk off a short iceberg. 

The good news is that if the McCain-Palin ticket is elected, the nation will enjoy some consistency in the Vice Presidential positition.  If one of Palin’s first acts as mayor is to determine what level of censorship she could wield in her position, she’ll feel very comfortable behind Dick Cheney’s desk.  He doesn’t believe we know what’s good for us, either.   It’s certainly reassuring to have such honest, god-fearing leaders to do our thinking for us.  The Hangover would hate to waste time reading books and following government, especially with the season premiere of Desperate Housewives only weeks away.

This being something of a literary site, The Hangover had to wonder just what books Palin was hoping to strike from the library.   Consdier me cynical, but there had to be some specific targets.  To determine what works these might be, we scanned the list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 and tried to discern which qualified for her lets-get-rid-of-them platform.

The Hangover immediately eliminated the following from Palin’s agenda:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Black Sambo, and Native Son:  How many African-Americans can there be in Wasilla?

Sex (by Madonna), Sex Education, Girls and Sex, Women on Top, Boys and Sex, What’s Happening to my Body, Asking About Sex and Growing Up:  With all the kids they’re popping out up there in Wasilla, I don’t think sex was a worrisome issue for Palin.    Apparently, they’re good at it.

Brave New World, Of MIce and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies:  These books are only read by eastern and urban elites who vote Democrat.  No one in Alaska would be caught dead with any of them.

Slaughterhouse Five, The Dead Zone, Tiger Eyes, To Kill a Mockingbird, Cujo, Scary Stories, The Goats, The Pigman:  With the hunting and outdoor sporting culture in Alaska, anything involving possible game and/or killing of possible game has to be considered acceptable reading.

All poetry could be considered safe:  No one reads it anyway, outside of the beret-wearing fops in New York and San Francisco.

To be honest, The Hangover had never heard of many of the books on the list.  And if we’ve never heard of them, it’s probably safe to assume that a busy hockey mom and Mayor like Palin never did either.  That takes care of another eighty.

Palin’s Possible Targets:

By process of elimination, The Hangover concludes that Palin had two particular volumes which she wished to eradicate from the Wasilla Public Library’s shelves:

  1. Private Parts by Howard Stern.  Howard is one of those northeastern liberal intellectuals.  And he has a potty mouth.  And he is one of America’s strongest advocates of free speech.  You can’t have that kind of thinking threatening the way of life in Alaska.
  2. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling.  If Wasilla’s children became engrossed in reading about the fantasy world of wizards, puny English kids, Cheney Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Harry, they wouldn’t have time to play hockey, babysit their many siblings, and have underage, unprotected sex.  

The country owes a debt of gratitude to Library Director Ellen Emmons.  Censorship is defeated.  And because of that, The Hangover’s dream is alive–hoping to one day author a book that will vie for consideration on the 2010-2020 list of Most Frequently Challenged. 

What?  Who wants this blog shut down?

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.  

Short Stories, Long Payoffs

10 Mar

In his book On Writing Short Stories, Tom Bailey writes:

“A story creates its own world, often–though not always–with clear or mysterious correspondences to our own, a world in which we are too involved to keep track of what anyone is learning.” 

To that end, The Hangover will expand its Fiction Section to present a series of short stories by guest authors. 

The brevity of the short story makes it a natural art form for contemporary society, where time is a precious commodity.  A ten or twenty minute investment has the potential to pay unending dividends.  At worst, a reader is simply entertained–and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It is The Hangover’s pleasure to present the first in its Guest Fiction series, “The Accident” by Maine writer, Joshua Bodwell.  It’s a story that will stay with a reader, and there is no higher praise than that.  To step into this world, all one has to do is click on the Fiction tab on the header of this page.  Experience and enjoy.