Thursday, December 29, 2011


     I read Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges.  Discussing the rise of a corporate-run entertainment culture throughout nearly every walk of life, designed to lull America into consuming more and thinking less, Mr. Hedges presented a disturbingly convincing argument that suggested we are basically headed for the end of the world (as we know it and want it).  To calm myself down, I grabbed a couple of books on the opposite side of the ideological fence, just to balance the input I was getting.  So I read some Glen Beck and some Ann Coulter.  The irony is that they, too, were basically predicting the end of everything good and worthwhile, but blaming different people for it.  Is that the nature of ideology?  Is it ultimately just about who you blame?
     Reading Mr. Hedges' work, fiercely intelligent and well-researched, I often felt like I was being lectured at.  Reading Mr. Beck's and Ms. Coulter's work, both fast-paced and enthusiastic, I often felt as though I was being yelled at.  I mentioned this to someone and she summed it up rather elegantly, I thought.
      "That's because," she said, "liberals always think their party is smarter than it is and conservatives always think their party is dumber than it is."
      I wonder, would any of us make any progress if we tried lecturing more to conservatives and yelling more at liberals?

Thursday, December 22, 2011


     We are surely in the boom era of the Young Adult novel.  Never before have they proliferated to such a degree nor, indeed, was it long ago that they were not even recognized as a genre.  Despite this, a few titles have lasted through the years as stalwart classics.  One such book is Freaky Friday, Mary Rodger's 1972 story of a thirteen-year-old girl who spends one very enlightening day in her mother's body.
     Having just reread it myself, I am struck not only by how sharp, insightful and caustically funny it is for such a lightning fast read (one hundred and forty five lickety-split pages), but also by the ways it pointedly does not resemble contemporary young adult fare.
     Young adult novels today are considerably more sophisticated in narrative terms and to the emotional extremes they often paint to meet the perhaps more sophisticated expectations and narrative savvy of today's readership.  Freaky Friday, however, is far less precious, perhaps as an indication of how children and teenagers were seen and treated.  Though it is ostensibly a comedy, Freaky Friday is far more raw and political than any contemporary fare I've read in the last ten years.  Most fascinating of all is how this raw sensibility is not the point of the story nor particularly calcualted in any way.  It is, as evidenced by much of the entertainment of the same era (movies in particular), simply the vernacular of the times.
     I would be interested to find out how Freaky Friday (or, while we're at it, another one of my favorites from this era, House of Stairs by Sleator ) could still shock and surprise readers of the more "hard-edged" likes of Hunger Games and Twilight

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ode to a Former Boy Wizard

     At the behest of our eight-year-old theater critic, my wife and I took our daughters -- for a second time -- to How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying starring, among others, the erstwhile ex-Harry Potter Danial Radcliffe.  The entire show was -- or perhaps I should say "remains" -- grand, smashing entertainment, both sweeping and rollicking in its music and performances and cleverly subversive in its commentary on corporate culture (and, remember, it was originally performed in 1961).  The entertainment value was due in no small part to Mr. Radcliffe himself, who played the role of the naif cum master manipulator with great panache, humor and charisma.  Depending on your opinion of him as a performer, that may come as no surprise.  What blew my socks off (again) was the unbridled energy and and gusto with which he threw himself into the musical numbers and the dancing (also on display during the Thanksgiving Day Parade).  Not trained as a dancer, so far as I know, Mr. Radcliffe held his own with -- occasionally even outshined -- the cadre of professional dancers backing him up.  And these are not easy numbers.  Two in particular -- Grand Old Ivy and Brotherhood of Man -- call for a surprising degree of strength, stamina and acrobatic skill.
     Surely, if there is any actor around right now who can rely on his name to pull in crowds, who does not have to exhaust himself into a gasping, sweating heap eight times a week, it is Mr. Radcliffe.  But his absolute commitment, his unbridled enthusiasm for giving every audience something special, something they can enjoy and remember, is really quite extraordinary.
     It did make me think about the nature of art and the expectation of the audience.  Do we love art more simply because it's beautiful, enjoyable or, on some level, meaningful to us?  Or is there a component of the artist's effort that figures into the audience's experience, even if unconsciously?  Does this effort somehow make the work itself deeper or grander?  Can an effortless piece of art have the same weight as one that required a huge amount of work to produce?
     I don't know, but Mr. Radcliffe has my admiration for his commitment and for getting me to ask myself a new question about the artist's craft.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview for Graphic Novels in Your School Library

     I recently did an interview with the incomparable Matthew Moffett about Graphic Novels in Your School Library.  The interview was done as part of Matt's show on the YALSA Blog and is available to listen to here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Eiseners

     The Eisner Awards, named for comic trail-blazer Will Eisner, are more or less the Oscar Awards for sequential art.  As of today, I am officially a judge on the 2012 Eisner Committee.  There's a lot of extraordinary stuff out there in the format.  I'm looking forward to diving into it.