Monday, November 30, 2009

Deep Thoughts #20

Is it just me, or does it seem like the NFL would benefit quite a bit from selling a Super Bowl that pits two 18-0 teams against each other?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Progress Report #2

Unfortunately, report #2 is no more encouraging than report #1. My average dropped from 723 words after the first ten days to 639 words after the second ten days. I would have to average 3723 words a day over the last ten days in order to hit 50,000 words. Needless to say, that’s not going to happen; and I did not get the final third of the month off to a good start by not doing any writing yesterday. Amy and I fell asleep watching the second season of The West Wing, and by the time I woke up at 1:00am, I just didn’t have the energy to sit down and write. (Instead, I lay down on the couch and watched the last three episodes of the first season of The Sopranos, which is due back at the library on Monday, and which I needed to watch so I could move on to the second season.)

At this point, 25,000 words is going to be a bit of a long shot, but it’s still attainable. The last time I checked in, I had a budding story about an American President who had given an interview to a documentary filmmaker of mixed Middle Eastern descent. Since that time, I have added a somewhat mysterious woman who trawls posh Washington hotel bars looking for guys to pick up. She meets the filmmaker, and they begin to have a conversation about religion. Meanwhile, the President is preparing his last State of the Union speech - with looming losses for his party in the upcoming national elections, both in terms of Congressional seats and potentially the White House, and the emergence of a “wingnut out in Alaska.”

I’m not sure how all the threads are going to connect yet - nor when I might get back to this project after the end of November. I still have that original novel I was working on, and there’s a deadline of December 18th for submitting work for the next issue of Ichabod’s Sketchbook, the Irvington literary journal that I have blogged about in the past. Making sure I get a submission in for that is going to be the next goal after this National Novel Writing Month experiment is over.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Well...we’ll definitely be hearing about this picture when the awards start coming down. I hope, however, that we’re hearing just about the performances, and not about the picture as a whole being a strong (or even not-so-strong) contender for Best Picture. The story is of Precious - or Job, had Job been a teenage black girl growing up in late-1980s Harlem - a girl who has pretty much everything going against her. She’s morbidly obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child - both of whom were fathered by her own father; and she is played remarkably well by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who will rightly get some awards consideration for her performance.

But it’s Mo’Nique, playing Precious’ mother Mary, who should not only be considered for a number of acting awards, but also win them all. She plays the part beyond well, but it should also be noted that her character is so vile, so absolutely evil, that it must have taken tremendous courage for Mo’Nique - or anyone - to have signed up for the part at all. I honestly can’t think of any quasi-real-life character that I have ever seen on screen who is anywhere near as awful as Mary. There are characters who are vile and repugnant, to be sure; but they are often either wholly fictitious (Voldemort) or anti-heroes (Hannibal Lecter). Even Norman Bates is sympathetic, to a certain degree, because he is mentally ill. Mary is none of these things. She is just an awful human being. (Unfortunately, we get far too little of her back story - apart from an emotional scene toward the end; but that relates to my next point, which has to do with what I thought was some serious tunnel vision going on in this picture.)

Having said that, though, I also have to say that a movie has to stand on more than just its performances; and this is where Precious stumbles. The biggest problem is a major fundamental flaw in the story - which is that there are no real sub-plots. Anything masquerading as a sub-plot - the history behind the abuse Precious suffers, the personal life of Precious’ teacher, the stories of the other kids in Precious’ class, the aforementioned back story of her mother - exists in the story only insofar as it has some bearing on Precious. The focus remains entirely on this one girl, and the story has little room to breathe; and yes, I understand that this is partly by design, but it begins to wear after a bit. While it’s not hard to imagine that an inner-city teenager might have a life full of problems, it does tend to stretch one’s patience when the poor girl continues to be set with problem after problem after problem. I’m not going to go through them all, as there is some (but not much) dramatic tension at work in the reveals, but they just keep rolling along; and the last one, toward the end, is just gratuitous. The reveal even makes it sound like they just tossed it in for kicks.

The herky-jerky editing, ubiquitous close-up zooms, and seemingly blind faith in the virtues of natural light all combine to give the film an air of indie authenticity; but they also feel a little bit forced, like director Lee Daniels and company wanted to make sure people knew they were making an art film. Anymore, I tend to think that this kind of thing is an attempt at misdirection, one that tries to fool the viewer into thinking they’re watching an interesting movie because some of the technical bits are edgy and hip. The folks who made (500) Days of Summer tried the same thing, and fooled quite a lot of people into thinking they were watching an interesting movie - which they were not. They were watching a movie that sucked. Precious doesn’t suck, but it’s not nearly the masterpiece that Oprah and her acolytes would have you believe that it is.

It’s a moderately flawed film that nevertheless manages to do a pretty good job of showing the slow evolution that takes place in the soul of Precious Jones. The shock-for-the-sake-of-shock elements - which, if removed, would reduce the movie from a feature to a short - are visceral, but this is a contemporary movie landscape that has birthed eight - count ‘em, eight - iterations of Saw and Hostel; eventually, you just get desensitized. It’s a well made film, but it just tries a little too hard to say a little too much. Also, I may be a bit too cynical about Oprah (who has an executive producer credit here, along with Tyler Perry). There are millions upon millions of brainless Oprah followers out there who do what she says just because she says to do it, and I can’t really shake the feeling that this movie, in an Oprah-less world, probably would have come and gone with little or no notice.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Colts - Patriots


And one more thing - the Patriots are dirty cheaters. I defended them during Tapegate, and I've even tried to show them respect, especially during the 16-0 campaign; but after at least two fake "injuries" and something like a million interference penalties tonight, I just can't make excuses for them anymore. I'm not one for bad-mouthing a rival team just because they're a rival team, and I don't like fans who do that kind of thing - regardless of which team they root for. But it's just ridiculous. This is a talented New England team, and they have no need to cheat.

But they do. They cheat, and they play dirty. That last touchdown for the Colts - the one that won them the game? Yeah, Reggie Wayne was held on that play, and it would have been yet another interference call if he hadn't managed to hold onto the ball for the score. New England fans shouldn't stop liking their team just because some of the players are dirty and the coach is an asshole; but you can't really argue that they don't play dirty.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Damned United

My first go at this notice was a rambling thing on endings and how they make or break the picture sometimes; but I couldn’t really see the point of going on and on about it for so long - three big, thick paragraphs - because in the end, the ending doesn’t really doom this picture. In fact, a lot of people are probably going to like the ending, because it’s heartwarming. I’m not necessarily against heartwarming, when it works organically within the framework of the story. Here, it’s rather a dutiful sort of heartwarming - and it takes away from the larger point that the film is trying to make.

This is the story of British football manager Brian Clough, who was young and brash and very talented in the early 1970s when he and assistant manager Peter Taylor led the Derby County team from the bottom of the second division to the top of the first division, unseating the mighty Leeds United team, led by the legendary Don Revie. It also has to do with Clough’s brief tenure as manager of Leeds United - and this is most likely what you heard the movie was about when someone told you about it or you read something about it on the magic Internets; and while it does have to do with that brief tenure with Leeds, it’s just as much about how Derby comes up from the bottom as it is about how Clough fails so spectacularly with Leeds.

Michael Sheen does a terrific job playing Clough, blending the manager’s smooth arrogance with just a trace of uncertainty in places, which helps to reveal Clough’s human side. Interestingly, not much of Clough the manager is shown - mostly what we get to see is Clough the personality, playing the roles of manager, friend, rival, husband, and father; and Sheen gives us different shades for each of these roles. And while that arrogance is in full flower, it is not an artificial or misplaced arrogance; it comes directly from the fact that Clough is, in fact, a very talented football manager.

He’s so good, in fact, that you have a hard time believing, as the story unfolds, that he might fail so spectacularly when one of the best jobs in British football pretty much falls in his lap. There is some arrogance in the way he treats the Derby County chairman - played by Jim Broadbent - but mostly this has to do with Clough going out and recruiting talented players whose high salaries the chairman bristles at having to pay; but the result is that Derby County rises, to the point that they are the best team in the country.

The film moves back and forth in time, with one thread showing the rise of Derby County and the other showing how Clough fails to have the same kind of success with Leeds United; and at first, I got the feeling that it was a tricksy sort of ploy to keep you from noticing that the story wasn’t very interesting - but after I thought about it for awhile, I changed my tune. (It probably didn’t help that some of the early things I read on the film were somewhat negative.) In fact, what happens is that Clough effectively turns Leeds into a no-win situation - largely because of a perceived slight he experiences when Leeds comes to town to play Derby. Clough is excited to meet the Leeds coach, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), a legend in British football coaching - but when the team arrives, a press gaggle sweeps Revie away, and he misses the chance to shake hands with Clough, who has been working hard at playing the host.

Based on what is shown, it’s impossible to say whether Revie meant to avoid Clough or if it was just an accident because of the way that the press was hounding him; but Clough saw it only as disrespect, and he allowed that tiny little blip on the radar to color his ambitions and his opinion of Revie. When Revie left Leeds to coach the national team, Clough swept in and told his new players basically that the Revie era was over and that they were going to be a higher quality team that played fair and won matches the right way; but in his single-minded pursuit of the excellence that Revie achieved, Clough failed to win the hearts and minds of his new players

The structure may be slightly gimmicky, but in the end it does a fine job of building carefully toward a tragic ending; and it’s precisely the way that the story is structured that lets us see not just the fact of the ending’s inevitability, but also why that end becomes inevitable. Near the end, Clough agrees to an interview with the television station that interviewed him the day he came to work at Leeds - without being told, prior to agreeing to the interview, that Revie would also be participating. The back and forth between the two coaches is quite animated, and the audience learns important things about both Clough and Revie. The conclusion of the scene is very powerful - one of the best moments in the film.

The final scene, between Clough and his former assistant, Taylor, is obligatory from a narrative perspective - but is nonetheless a throwaway, and (for me, at least) takes a bit away from what was otherwise a very strong film. The story as a whole piqued my interest sufficiently to seek out a copy of the book. Alas, that’s a bit of a tricky proposition for those of us across the pond. The library doesn’t have it, and it’s not in print in the States, that I can find. It’s on eBay, of course - what isn’t? - but I don’t know that I’m keen to pay to have a copy shipped all the way here from England (most of the sellers are Brits). I would have been more critical of the ending if I had written this closer to when I actually saw the movie - but a number of things have kept me from finishing this until now, and my opinion has softened. Much of the rest of the film is very good - Sheen’s performance, in particular, is exceptional - and the ooey-gooey ending just isn’t enough to doom the film overall.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Progress Report #1

Boy, do I have egg on my face. Or something. I have not been what you would call equal to the task of National Novel Writing Month. With a goal in mind of 50,000 words, one has to average 1667 words per day to make that happen. I have been working on something, but my daily average over the first ten days is a scant 723 words, which is a bit less than 1000 words per day less than where I need to be to have 50,000 by the end of the month. To get there at this point, my new daily average would have to be 2139 words; and while 1667 is attainable, 2139 is on the order of Herculean - for me, at any rate. If it were the only thing I were working on, it might be possible; but that would leave off blog posts and probably severely curtail reading time. Not sure that’s a sacrifice I want to make - though probably some of you would be okay with seeing fewer blog posts from me!

So far, I have a story about a documentary filmmaker of mixed Israeli and Arab (maybe Palestinian, I’m not sure) descent who sits down for an interview with the sitting President of the United States and then asks a question that is totally off the wall and that had not been vetted prior to the interview. The President does not give an answer, and the interview is quickly terminated - but afterwards, both men find themselves thinking back on the interview and evaluating the paths they have taken in life that brought them to that specific point. The President is a loose caricature of George W. Bush, but the filmmaker is a complete invention - although for some reason, I see Isaac Hayes in my head whenever I picture this character - Isaac Hayes with sunglasses in a nice Italian suit. That’s not the right image, but that’s what I see so far.

I don’t have a great deal of confidence that I’ll be able to get out to 50,000 words by the end of the month, but hey - you never know. I’ll keep plugging away at it and see what happens. Maybe I’ll surprise myself!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deep Thoughts #19

Al Gore says in his new book that corn ethanol was a mistake; and since Al Gore lies about everything, that means that corn ethanol really works!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Make Your Own Mother Jones Cover!

Mother Jones has created a nifty little web app that lets you upload a photo and turn it into a magazine cover. When it's done, you can e-mail it to your Senators and Representatives in Congress, save it to your desktop, or share it with others on those fancy social networks that further encourage people to get away from the burdensome need to learn how to spell whole words correctly and compose complete sentences. Below is one that I made from a picture of Jackson that I took on a walk around Irvington last week. Click here to make a cover with a picture of your kid!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Deep Thoughts #18

Oh, super. The best team money can buy won the World Series. Let’s put an * next to 27 - it’s artifically inflated because of no salary cap.

Deep Thoughts #17

Does the BMV make you sign an affidavit stating you’re a discourteous/unskilled/dangerous driver before giving you an In God We Trust plate?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

An Education

I was a bit trepidatious going into this one, because the trailer makes it look like the kind of thing that can go badly wrong and leave itself no hope for course correction before the end comes round. Carey Mulligan gets a breakout role as Jenny, a sixteen-year-old Londoner who is bound for Oxford - she hopes, before she dies on the vine under the thumb of her cautious father (Alfred Molina) - when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), the man who seems to be everything her father is not (boiled down to one word, that word would be interesting) and everything she hopes to be once she gets out of the house and out into the real world.

In this country, people would raise holy hell about a mysterious thirtysomething man taking a shine to a sixteen-year-old girl - never mind what the girl thinks about it, nor what her choice in the matter would be; but across the pond, it would seem that no one bats an eye - at least not in this picture’s world. David seduces Carey’s mum and dad as well as he seduces Carey, and Carey seems to be the only one who can be bothered to be interested in finding out what it is this chap does for a living. (I’ll leave you to find out what that is for yourself, because the scene is very good - one of the film’s high points, in fact.)

It’s just a story, though, right? Well, yeah...but it’s based on a memoir, so bits of it are probably closer to true than usual. (I haven’t read the memoir - and if it’s anything like the last British movie I saw that was based on a book, The Damned United, finding a copy of the source material could be tricky.) What keeps it from being creepy is, most importantly, the lack of a sexual element - at least at first; eventually, sex does come into play, but far enough along that you cannot possibly consider that it might be coercion. But beyond that, David and Jenny seem to share a love of life, and a respect for certain boundaries, that lends the relationship an air of legitimacy.

David has seen the world, and Jenny longs to see beyond her house and her school, which is pretty much the extent of her experience before David appears in her life. The screenplay by Nick Hornby - yes, that one - sails along quite dreamily for the first two acts, as Jenny wines and dines on David’s dime, seeing and doing many of things she’s always dreamed of doing but never been allowed to do; but even in a relatively short film (100 minutes or so), a solid hour of seemingly consequence-free quasi-hedonistic excess can start to wear thin.

You could argue that Jenny is innocent and naïve, that she has been sheltered for so long that she cannot possibly see that no good can come from schlepping around Britain and Europe with a man twice her age. That part is probably true; but its caveat, at least for most of acts one and two, is that Jenny doesn’t care about being innocent or naïve, as long as she gets to go out and do something fun. Even when things start to go wrong, they barely start to go wrong; and Jenny accepts the wrongness with a moral relativism that is more alarming in someone her age than is the tryst with the older man in the first place.

Indeed, Jenny never has a crisis of conscience at all. When the story - which is largely free of conflict, a basic and essential element in every story - finally does hit a snag that her fervent wish to be free cannot put right, Jenny simply retreats to the trappings of the life from which she sought to escape in the first place. There are consequences to her actions, but everything she has done is just rebellious enough to be interesting and fun without quite being illegal or terribly dangerous - and at any rate, she never gets carded for anything, so it’s not as though anyone really seems to care. There is mild irony in the idea that, while Jenny wants nothing more than to be an adult so that she can get out from under her parents, the filmmakers treat the story (and by extension, Jenny) with kid gloves. I’d like to get my hands on a copy of the memoir, to get an idea of how much of the story was glossed over to make the film so easy to swallow - but I’m not going to lose any sleep if that doesn’t happen.

And yet...I liked the movie. Mostly I think this is because Nick Hornby did a really first rate job adapting the material and putting his peculiar brand of awkward humor on much of what takes place. The film overall was much lighter than I was given to believe it would be from having seen the trailer over and over and over again, and Hornby deserves the credit for that. Mulligan and Sarsgaard brought off the parts very well, but anyone familiar with Hornby’s writing will pick up the flavor of his work almost from the beginning; and while it is the softness of the writing that ultimately works against the picture, it is also the zippy dialogues and stage directions that propel the narrative forward in the first place. Molina does a fine job as Jenny’s uptight father, displaying range and careful attention to what he says. Sarsgaard plays David as smooth and debonair, with a healthy dollop of oily malevolence lurking behind his smile.

But it is Carey Mulligan who takes this film and runs away with it, delivering speeches and facial expressions and one-liners with a world-weariness that belies both her age in real life and her age in the picture. (She plays a sixteen-year-old, and was twenty-three when the film was made.) It’s this shift in age that makes the character believable, as much as it is Mulligan’s considerable acting chops, though; or it helps her along, at any rate. I was never entirely convinced that she was confident, or capable of feeling fear. Her character should be expressing both feelings eventually, but I don’t know that Mulligan finally takes her there. That’s a minor quibble, though - she does everything else awfully well, especially the frustrated, deadened feeling that pervades Jenny’s soul early in the film and then occasionally again throughout.

I think that the story might be a little dodgy, but it’s awfully well executed by a splendid cast that includes fine cameo roles for Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson and a very brief one-off for Sally Hawkins. For those interested in the written works that led up to this movie, Lynn Barber’s memoir was originally published as an essay in the literary journal Granta; and a follow-up article was published by the same journal this past summer. The book version of Barber’s memoir was published in June 2009 - six months after the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where the film version was in competition.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It Might Get Loud

On first hearing the idea - of putting guitar players from three different generations of rock into a room together to talk about the electric guitar - you might scratch your head in wonder that The Edge and Jack White were chosen to join Jimmy Page in the discussion; but after you watch the movie, you’ll come away with one of two thoughts: either director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) could have made the movie work with any two guitar players to go along with Page - because let’s face it, any movie about rock guitar would have to include Page - or The Edge and Jack White might just have been perfect choices. What I don’t think it’s possible to come away with is that somehow this idea for a movie was anything but a great success.

There are two veins to the movie: one is the meeting of the three guitar players in a soundstage dressed up to look vaguely like someone’s study at the same time that it’s abundantly clear that a movie is being made there; and the other has the filmmakers following the three musicians around the stomping grounds where each man grew up and fell in love with playing the guitar. If there is a weakness to the film, it might be in the way that the stomping grounds portions tend to meander and drift sort of aimlessly from thing to thing, like all Guggenheim wanted the fellows to do was free associate their own recollections of growing up to be guitar players.

The bits on the soundstage are close to perfection, though - especially if you’re into rock music and even more especially if you’re into guitar at all. (I don’t think that you necessarily have to be into electric guitar to be swept away by what takes place on that little soundstage.) Then again...I might be wrong on that. I’m fascinated by the guitar, in part because I’ve always wanted to learn how to play it. Unfortunately, after buying a guitar a few years ago, I came to the conclusion that I don’t really have guitar player hands; but I still like to pick it up and noodle around on it from time to time, and I love to hear it played well in rock and roll songs. So watching three guys talk about the different things they do to make different kinds of sounds - and then seeing them do those things - is fascinating to me. Seeing Jimmy Page play the guitar in something other than stock footage from old Zep concerts is also fascinating.

The Edge talks about his meticulous process for creating the perfect guitar sound for every song - a process that sometimes necessitates that he use a different guitar on every song; and he talks about how the guitar sounds at the beginning of “Beautiful Day” came to be - a sort of happy accident that resulted in a recording of both the chords he was playing and the reverb effects from his amp, which made it sound like he was playing about ten times more sounds than he was actually playing. He then plays the actual chords that he was playing when he discovered that particular reverb effect - and it sounds almost nothing at all like what wound up on the album cut of the song.

And that’s all well and good. I have no problem with U2, but I never really got into them - and I have pretty much no opinion about either the White Stripes or the Raconteurs (although based purely on the music I heard in the film, it seems to me like the Raconteurs was the better band); but I love Led Zeppelin, even if Q95 does play the same handful of Zep songs over and over and over again. Hearing Jimmy Page talk about guitar and seeing him play on the soundstage for The Edge and Jack White (and all of the filmmakers) was really cool. Listening to him rip off the opening riff of “Whole Lotta Love” is a lot of fun. That song gets played too much, but if you can listen to it objectively and try to forget the fact that Q95 can sort of make you hate bands you love by playing too many of the same songs too often, then you really have to admit that, aurally, it’s one of the band’s most impressive compositions. It’s maybe a little easier for me to cop to that because that song happens to be on my favorite Zep record, II.

The most fun, though, might have been listening to Jimmy Page talk about how the writing of “Stairway to Heaven” resulted in his having to come up with a completely new way to play guitar on stage - so that he could play both the twelve-string acoustic part at the beginning and the six-string electric solo. His answer was to use a double-necked guitar with twelve strings on the top neck and six strings on the bottom, and they show some stock footage of Page playing the song in concert. “Stairway to Heaven” is another of those Zep songs that you hear too much, but it’s also one of those songs that is so good that you sometimes forget just how good it is because you hear it so much; but like most things, it opens up when you learn a little bit about its history - and when you can get that history from a primary source like Page, much the better.

There’s more to the film than just these few bits - but they are the ones that stood out most for me. I wasn’t as enraptured by the bits about Jack White, but I did come away from the movie with more respect for him as a guitar player specifically and musician generally. Much of his shtick seems to be an affectation, and more of the serious musician comes across here than you would think possible given his Mad Hatter-style persona. I don’t know that he’s innovative in the same way that Page and Edge have been over the years - but he’s certainly enough of a character to make up for any lack of novelty and presents an interesting modern (or maybe more like postmodern) counterpoint to the legendary Page and Edge.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Wars

I read on the worldwide Internets the other day that there’s a book war going on. Even in a recession, online retailers (sometimes known as e-tailers) like Target and Amazon - among others - are at each other’s throats trying to see who can take the biggest loss on each copy sold of new novels by a handful of the big names in popular fiction. One of these authors is Stephen King, whose 1000+ page doorstop, Under the Dome, bows on November 10th; and I’d be interested in this subject even if there weren’t a new Stephen King book coming out, but since there is, I’m even more interested - because I’m going to buy the book the day it comes out.

The only question is how much money I’m going to spend on it; a secondary consideration is which seller of books is going to benefit from my purchase; and I’m going to leave off with whether or not certain places that peddle books actually deserve the quasi-romantic appellation bookseller, and focus instead on why I should or should not support any of these places where I might obtain the new Stephen King book. (There are other authors with new books out this fall that will be sold online at deep discounts - namely, for $9 or less - by Target and Amazon and others; but Stephen King is the only one of those authors who interests me. Others with new novels that you can get online for cheap include John Grisham, Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, and Barbara Kingsolver.)

And if you know me at all, then you’re probably thinking that I’m going to say that you should go out and support the local guy - right? Head down to that neighborhood bookstore and put some bread in the pocket of the small businessman who lives in your community and shares your love of a good book. Well...kinda. If you live in Seattle, or are within thirty or so minutes of the Elliott Bay Book Company, then yes - you absolutely should get out and support the local guy; and the same goes for anyone who lives in New York City and can get to the Strand. You people have viable local options that give you the full bookstore experience, complete with newsstand and new releases.

We don’t have that at non-chain places here in Indianapolis. I’d probably have to order the new Stephen King from a place like Bookmamas. On the other hand, I could walk right into Borders and get a copy for somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty percent off the list price. And yes...Borders is a chain; but it’s one that is struggling to stay on its feet - due in part to the recession, but also in part to flagging CD and DVD sales, and to other factors including disastrous mismanagement when it was (briefly) owned by KMart and to an online partnership with Amazon that just never really worked for Borders.

And quite frankly, it’s the best we’ve got in Indianapolis, as far as bookstores go. Some people prefer Barnes & Noble, but I just don’t understand this. Those stores are horribly laid out and way too crowded - even when there are no people in them - and their selection, particularly of literature, leaves much to be desired. (A couple of notable exceptions include their selections of books by Virginia Woolf and Charles Bukowski. I admire both writers, but will always check Borders first; and really, when I say that Barnes has a better selection, what I really mean is that Barnes carries both the first and second Common Reader by Woolf and a larger selection of Bukowski’s poetry. All of his prose, and all of the other books by Woolf, can be found at Borders.) This criticism applies both to their shelves of books and to their newsstand section.

After all, part of the charm of a bookstore is in browsing new items to see what's new and what might be interesting. Little mom and pop places don't give you that, and neither does a place like Barnes & Noble that does not feel cozy and at least a little bookish. (To be fair, the new Borders at Castleton Square doesn’t feel this way, either - it feels like browsing for books under the Friday night lights at a football stadium.) On the other hand, I almost never go into Borders and come out with a book; usually it's a magazine or nothing. When I do buy books, it's usually at Half Price Books, where the books are used - as they are at Bookmamas. But Half Price is entrenched, and has corporate backing; and because of those two factors, they have both a greater supply of incoming books to consider for purchase and more latitude to purchase books in quantities sufficient to keep their selection both fresh and robust.

So I’m torn as to where to spend my money on this new book. Part of me really does want to support the little guy in just about every way that I can and that is financially reasonable; but as long as we don’t have a major indie bookstore here in town, I don’t want to see Borders go away, either. What I am sure about is that I’m not going to go with the ultra-cheap online option - that undercuts the entire concept of bookstores in every way, and I don’t support that at all. (Maybe, as penance for having bought books for 45% off at Best Buy in the past, I’ll just suck it up and order a copy at full price from Bookmamas.)

And no...I don’t own a Kindle.