Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • 'You're In The Lap Of History'

    "The Spooky Art," Norman Mailer's book about writing, will appear on Jan. 31, his 80th birthday. Since his debut novel, "The Naked and the Dead" (1948), Mailer has written 31 more books. He has won the Pulitzer Prize twice. He has directed four films and written 10 screenplays. He has been married six times and has nine children. He was once arrested for stabbing his second wife. He ran for mayor of New York twice. He helped found The Village Voice. He has arthritis in his knees and sometimes walks with two canes. His voice is roughly musical, like a man gargling marbles. With his wife, the artist and novelist Norris Church Mailer, he lives in a brick house beside the ocean in Provincetown, Mass., where he recently sat down for an interview with NEWSWEEK. He does not like interviews.NEWSWEEK: You were once a fixture on the New York literary scene. Now you live here in Provincetown year-round?MAILER: Yes, mainly because I can get more work done here. And I love the town. It's...
  • Books: Mother Lode Of Invention

    As soon as you start reading the new college textbook "Inventing America," you wonder just how far the authors are going to go. They promise to tell the story of America, complete with bewigged Founding Fathers, abolitionists and the Sherman Antitrust Act--all the stuff you dutifully highlighted in yellow when you took American History 101--but with a twist: it will all be seen from the point of view of innovation. Americans, they passionately believe, are inveterate creators and tinkerers, whether it's the light bulb they're inventing or constitutional government. So, you wonder, does this mean concentrating on Benjamin Franklin with the key and the kite and skipping Franklin in Paris? Not exactly. But it means the authors start our nation's history about 9,000 years ago with maize--"a cultivated food so unlike its wild ancestor, and so adaptable to different growing conditions, that its creation was perhaps the most important plant-breeding achievement of all time." Which is a...
  • In Peace May It Wave

    The artist Jasper Johns once said that he painted pictures of maps of the United States and American flags because he didn't have to design them. They were, he said, "things the mind already knows." Peter Elliott performs a version of Johns's magic in "Home Front," his collection of photographs taken since September 11, 2001. Each picture shows a flag that some citizen has displayed in one fashion or other. Flags fly from the front porches of mansions and double-wides. Flags fill the windows of bodegas and barbershops. Flags flutter from the masts of ships and the backs of motorcycles. The astonishing thing about each of these flawlessly structured black-and-white images is how the flag is the first thing you see in every photograph, even when it's not the picture's focal point. Invariably, it leaps out at you, verifying Julia Reed's claim in her introduction that "the flag is our most recognizable and emotional symbol."The people, rich and poor and from every corner of the country,...
  • America's Colorful Characters

    Paul Simon wrote a hit song about it. Utah named a state park after it. But for millions of Americans between the end of World War II and the mid-'60s, Kodachrome was the recording angel of their lives. A matchless color film, like Technicolor, it made life look not just lifelike. It made it look like Oz.Now, in "Americans in Kodachrome," it looks even better. Using dye-transfer printing, a process that is usually reserved for fashion photography and art photographs, Guy Stricherz has selected 92 family photos, all of them made by amateurs, and turned them into a glistening portfolio of midcentury American life.Picnics, Christmas, birthdays, vacations, prom night and the big fish that didn't get away--if you spend just a little time with this book, you will start wondering if you're not related to almost everyone else in the country ("My aunt used to have a tablecloth that's just like that one").As Stricherz says in an eloquent afterword, "each image is a mystery with a private...
  • Photos: What A Poet Sees

    The first assignment Jonathan Williams gave his poetry class at Wake Forest University in 1973 took everyone by surprise: he asked us to write an epitaph just big enough to be carved on a tombstone. "Chiseling words into stone is hard work," he said. A poet could profit by measuring out words with a stonecutter's economy. Like almost everything else I ever learned from Williams, that advice was both sound and unconventional. "Poet, Essayist, Publisher, Hiker, Bourgeoisophobe and Dotty Anecdotist," he calls himself in his latest book, "A Palpable Elysium" (Godine), a collection of his photographs (he's good at that, too) with explanatory essays. And the pictures do take some explaining, because Williams's taste--in people, places and things--is both broad and eccentric, with quality the only denominator. For almost half a century, he has directed his discerning ears and eyes "on homemade things made by people on the Outside, beyond the pale. Black, white, Native American; often...
  • All Sugar, No Spice

    There are many things to love in Alice McDermott's new novel, "Child of My Heart," and just as many that will drive you nuts. McDermott's first novel since "Charming Billy," her 1998 National Book Award winner, this book returns to her favorite territory--the Irish-American landscape of New York's Queens and Long Island. But in telling the story of a 15-year-old girl's '60's summer in the Hamptons, McDermott does a nice job of subverting expectations--starting with the fact that this may be one of the few novels about the Hamptons where the heroine isn't rich. Instead, she baby-sits and dog-walks for the rich. Her parents are a working-class couple who moved to eastern Long Island because they had a beautiful daughter and thought her chances might be better down the road if she fell in with the right--i.e., wealthy and well-connected--people. This sounds vaguely like "Beauty and the Beast," but the beast in this case is a dissolute, lecherous old painter who never transforms into...
  • Exhibits: Terrible, Beautiful

    Founded in 1863 as part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum was created as an educational service for practicing physicians. Its enormous collection of bottled fetuses, skulls, wax replicas of diseased bodies, dissected tissue and Siamese-twin body casts was meant to give doctors a look at what they might face in the examining room and the operating theater. Today the museum serves the public, and its purpose, curator Gretchen Worden insists, is still "educational." Its superficial resemblance to a freak show is just that, superficial. And once you've had a good tour of the museum's admittedly ghastly inventory, you tend to agree. The Mutter teaches you indelibly how strange life can be, how unpredictable and various. But if you can't stop staring, you're in good company. "Mutter Museum" (Blast Books) collects the superb work of a distinguished group of photographers, including Rosamond Purcell, William Wegman and Joel-Peter Witkin, who have traveled to...
  • Books: What Are You Wearing?

    At the outset of his very smart, very funny new book, "Uniforms," Paul Fussell asserts that "everyone must wear a uniform, but everyone must deny wearing one, lest one's invaluable personality and unique identity be compromised. If you refuse to dress like others, you will be ridiculed, and no one wants to appear in public dressed like a fool or an oddball." An astute historian and social critic ("The Great War and Modern Memory," "Class"), Fussell is talking mostly about Americans, but when he says "everyone" he means it, from the banker in the dark suit to the professor in the blazer and khakis. If you are part of a group, you dress like the group. But "Uniforms" is most interesting at its most obvious, when Fussell talks about the real uniforms on cops or nurses or soldiers, and explains why we think about these people the way we do based on what they wear. The Postal Service, he points out, is so persnickety about its reputation for trustworthiness that postal workers who might...
  • Back To Basics

    About a month before Mother's Day, I suggested to my 11-year-old son that as a gift for his mother he could learn a song on his guitar. He thought this was a great idea, and together we settled on "Time After Time," the Cyndi Lauper song. I rounded up some sheet music, his guitar teacher wrote out the chords, and he got to work.The only problem was, he'd only been taking guitar for about three months, and just as it had for me at his age, the idea of the guitar took precedence over the reality. Which is to say, he didn't practice much. So very quickly I realized I was going to have to learn the song with him. And pretty quickly after that I realized that to do that, I was going to have to relearn all the guitar lessons I'd forgotten since I was twelve. Or maybe learn them for the first time, since I was not exactly a brilliant or even very committed student that first time. Amazingly, we somehow got through it. We learned the song, we didn't kill each other, and he played it for his...
  • Books | Top Picks For Kids

    Sometimes you learn, sometimes you laugh, but mostly these new children's picture books teach you what fun it is just to look at cool stuff.Knick-Knack Paddywhack! Paul O. ZelinskyThis unflaggingly clever pop-up version of "This Old Man" is so funny you may lose count.Loretta: Ace Pinky Scout Keith GravesHigh-achiever Loretta learns that everybody stinks at something.Keats's Neighborhood Ezra Jack KeatsThis anthology of the great artist-storyteller's work includes the charming classic "A Snowy Day."Baghead Jarrett J. Krosoczka Joshgoes through a whole day with a bag on his head. Is he brave? Or does he have a terrible secret? We're not saying.Zathura Chris Van AllsburgIn the unsettling sequel to "Jumanji," the kids get sent into outer space by the diabolical board game.Gluey Vivian Walsh and J. Otto SeiboldA lovable snail--yes, a lovable snail--tries to help a charming bunny. The bunny balks.Dear Mrs. LaRue Mark TeagueThe howlingly funny tale of a duplicitous dog, Ike, at obedience...
  • Breaking Her Silence

    I could start with an anecdote, a revealing vignette, say, set in a Japanese teahouse in Manhattan where I met Donna Tartt for an interview (it tickles her that in this teahouse you can get green tea, the beverage at the heart of Japan's ritualistic tea ceremony, in a go cup). Or I could talk about the frenzy of chatter filling up the shrinelike Web sites where her fans speculate endlessly about what she's been up to since her acclaimed, best-selling debut novel, "The Secret History," appeared 10 years ago ("My favorite rumor," she says with a giggle, "was that I'd bought an entire island, like Dr. No"). Or I could talk about the reception her new novel, "The Little Friend," received when it was published in the Netherlands last month (most salient fact: it sold 150,000 copies in one week).It's tempting to just go on telling stories about Tartt, because she's a character--Mississippi bred, Bennington educated, a snappy dresser with an eccentric streak (she won't talk about her...
  • Conroy's Literary Slam-Dunk

    Showing off the Citadel recently, Pat Conroy kept circling his alma mater, looking up at the looming water tower from different angles. "Somebody put my name up there and then painted one of those circles with a slash over it," he said. "I just wanted to see if it was still up there." Conroy ran afoul of the Charleston, S.C., military college in the late '90s when he supported the admission of female cadets. The rift has since been smoothed over so successfully that ex-cadet Conroy was asked to give the 2001 commencement address, and he revels in the fact that many cadets tell him that reading "The Lords of Discipline," his 1980 novel about the Citadel, persuaded them to apply. So why does he care if his name is still sullied on the water tower? "Hey, you got your name on a water tower," he says with a big grin, "you know you're still in the game."Getting in the game--and staying there--remains the 56-year-old Conroy's defining characteristic. As a child he fought off his abusive...
  • Pin Me Up, Pin Me Down

    You almost never hear the word pinup anymore. It has a charming, almost dusty connotation, like hi-fi or soda shop, that conjures up a more innocent time. Its heyday ran roughly from the '20s to the '50s, when Playboy took over. The pinup was often risque, but never pornographic. Calendars of them hung in barbershops and garages, and if your grandmother chanced to see one, she might have blushed, but she wouldn't have gotten sick. Perusing "Bernard of Hollywood: The Ultimate Pin-Up Book" (Taschen), it is hard to think of another photographer who worked harder than Bruno Bernard to capture the slightly comic, almost daft notions of sensuality that we associate with pinup photography from the '40s and '50s. Imagine the musical-comedy star Jane Powell in a white--what? negligee? bustier? anyway, something with many feathers!--in a canopied bed in the middle of the desert. It's Fellini years before "Juliet of the Spirits."There is hardly any nudity in this book, just a few Vegas...
  • It's Back To School For Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith is thinking seriously about hanging it up. Never mind that at 26 she's published two novels in two years, starting with the best-selling "White Teeth," which copped pretty much every first-novel prize in sight, beguiled the critics and then sold more than a million copies. Her new novel, "The Autograph Man" (Random House), which hits stores here next week, is already a critical hit in her native England, where she's one of the 24 candidates for this year's Booker Prize. So what's next for Smith? Graduate school.Kidding, right? Nope, she's a graduate fellow at Radcliffe this fall, dithering like an eager freshman over which courses to take. Maybe an Eliot seminar, maybe a class in literary theory. You listen to her over lunch in a cafe just off Harvard Square, and you keep waiting for the punch line that never comes. She's dead set on studying. Maybe she'll find time to work on a book of essays, but there are no plans for another novel. "I want to be a great writer, and I...
  • The Making Of A Legend

    "The first day a photographer took a picture of her, she was a genius," director Billy Wilder said of Marilyn Monroe. If you don't count the shot of her taken by an Army photographer when she was working on a World War II assembly line, Andre de Dienes was that photographer. He met Monroe in late 1945, when she was still just Norma Jeane Dougherty, a Hollywood nobody nursing a budding modeling career. The tragic figure, the vamping icon--that was future tense. What de Dienes saw, and captured on film, was simply a beautiful girl out of her mind with happiness at the chance to get in front of a camera.Many of the pictures in "Marilyn" (Taschen), an extravagantly produced showcase of de Dienes's work coming in September, have never been seen before. Unseen Marilyn photos? You'd think there'd be a greater chance of discovering a new planet, but yes, indeed, the legend who personified the word "overexposed" just expanded her portfolio. Better yet, these are first-rate pictures,...
  • Books: The Young And The Feckless

    When we talk about beach reading, we usually mean trash fiction. But it wasn't always so. There used to be novels--they weren't common, but they did exist--that managed to be both entertaining and thoughtful. Think W. Somerset Maugham and those novels of naive Americans abroad and in over their heads. But since the passing of that generation, no one's come along to fill its shoes. Which is the first of several good reasons to welcome the arrival of Arthur Phillips, whose debut novel, the forthcoming "Prague" (Random House), not only keeps you turning pages but gives you something to think about and smile about--at the same time.Start with the title. Nothing in this book takes place in Prague. To the story's twentysomething denizens, Prague is the place where someone else is having all the fun, like the party train in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories." Mark and Scott and Charles and Emily and John--a scholar, a teacher, a businessman, a journalist, an embassy assistant--none of these...
  • Books: A New 'Past'

    Near the beginning of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," there is the famous scene in which the narrator inhales the aroma of a madeleine, a shell-shaped pastry, dipped in tea. It is a smell not encountered since childhood, and it unlocks the treasure house of his memory. Everything that follows, all 3,000 pages of the saga, stems from this scene. Or so we've been told--we've made it only through the first 150 pages of Proust's masterpiece, although we've gotten that far at least three times. If only we had waited for Stephane Heuet. The French advertising illustrator has completed two volumes in a projected 16-volume illustrated version of Proust. "Illustrated"--as in comic books. Though it was widely condemned by French critics ("Marcel is being murdered!" said Le Figaro), Heuet's first volume quickly sold more than 50,000 copies. Maybe U.S. audiences, schooled on comic art like Art Spiegelman's "Maus" and Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan," will be more accepting, now that...
  • Books: Best Beach Reads

    Summer reading lists always seem to focus on hardcovers--but who wants to lug McCullough on John Adams to the beach? Instead, we suggest paperbacks, a few can't-fail classics and, OK, a couple of new hardcovers. ...
  • Writers: Talented, Like Totally

    Fifty years ago it took a talented adult novelist to capture the wayward voice of a generation in "The Catcher in the Rye." These days, kids just do it themselves. Or at least one kid has. Nick McDonell was 17 when he wrote "Twelve" (Grove Press), a nihilistic novel appearing in bookstores next week. McDonell is no J. D. Salinger. But he's smart enough to know that. Ask him if he doesn't think the characters in his book aren't a little, ah, thinly drawn, and he quickly agrees: "My characters are caricatures of themselves." He could've argued that the teens he writes about are disaffected prep-school louts from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with too few brains, too much money and way too much access to all sorts of drugs. In other words, they're supposed to be so shallow that they're hard to tell apart. Instead he does the stand-up thing and tells the truth: "I'm not good enough yet to do full-blown psychological portraits." What he does know how to do is establish a mood ...
  • Krazy For You

    Almost nobody remembers Krazy Kat today. It has gone to the funny-paper graveyard along with the Katzenjammer Kids, Rip Kirby, Terry and the Pirates, the Yellow Kid, Little Nemo and dozens-hundreds? thousands?-of other, lesser comic strips.To its remaining fans, this is nothing short of an outrage, a crime against culture, like forgetting Stravinsky or John Coltrane or Picasso (said to have been a fan of the kat). In his introduction to the latest collection of Krazy Kat strips, "Krazy & Ignatz: Comprising the Complete Full-Page Comic Strips, 1925-26" (Fantagraphics Books), comics historian Bill Blackbeard erupts in full tantrum mode in his first paragraph:"Here it is ... a creation fit to rank with the cinematic work of Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields, the prose of Mark Twain and Bill Faulkner, hailed as the most richly creative comic strip of all time-and there's a pretty good chance it won't turn a buck. Krazy Kat, you see, doesn't sell at all well." Just getting warmed up,...
  • It's Black, White--And Noir

    In his forthcoming novel, "Bad Boy Brawly Brown," Walter Mosley sends his hero Easy Rawlins in search of a young African-American man who's joined up with the Urban Revolutionary Party in mid-'60s Los Angeles. But just when Easy finds the young man at a party meeting, the cops barge in. "A police raid meant nothing to me," Easy says. "I'd been in whorehouses, speakeasies, barber shops and alley crap games when the police came down. Sometimes I got away and sometimes I lied about my name. There was nothing spectacular about being rousted for being black."It takes only a few pages for Mosley to capture the anger and violence of the '60s, and he does it from the point of view of an African-American man who wants no part of radicalism and even less to do with the white power structure that throws the police at the slightest sign of unrest. The remarkable thing about this scene, though, is that it takes place not in some ambitious social novel about racial violence but in a detective...
  • Books:Angels With Dirty Faces

    In "Firehouse" (Hyperion), David Halberstam looks at the men of Engine Co. 40 and Ladder Co. 35, who work out of a firehouse at West 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. On September 11, 2001, two rigs with 13 men aboard responded when planes hit the World Trade Center. Only one man survived--and he wound up with a broken neck. "Firehouse" portrays those men, at home and on the job, and we get to know them well. We know that Jimmy Giberson's feet were so big his boots came one to a box. Mike D'Auria was seriously into tattoos, but his tattoos were seriously different: on one arm he sported the Serenity Prayer, on the other a portrait of Saint Anthony, the patron of lost things. And like so many of his co-workers, D'Auria came from a family of firefighters--nine on his mother's side alone. Firefighting is still mostly male--and mostly white--and, to a surprising degree, a family affair, with sons following fathers and, quite often, grandfathers, into the firehouse. As...
  • Books: A Perfect Visit 'By The Lake'

    John McGahern's "That They May Face the Rising Sun" is the most perfect novel I've read in years. By perfect I mean composed, or built, like a handcrafted table, with everything mortised and sanded and finished to a T. Things happen in this book, which was published in America with the title "By the Lake," the way they happen in life. We meet people, but we may not learn their first or last names or what exactly they do until the story is half over. Most of the people live on the edges of a lake in the Irish countryside. One couple, the Ruttledges, are transplants from London, and watching them assimilate--and watching them learn the degree to which they will always remain outsiders--is the spark that drives this story.Through the Ruttledges we meet the rest: Jamesie and Mary, a kindly older couple across the lake; John Quinn, a womanizer; Patrick Ryan, a handyman and a brooding soul, one of those disagreeable people who see to the heart of things and then use what they know like a...
  • Voices: Two Shades Of Blue

    If you read biographies of artists to understand the people behind the work you love, you're always disappointed, because the facts never penetrate the mysteries. As Robert Gordon confesses near the end of his forthcoming biography of Muddy Waters, "Can't Be Satisfied," the "only way most anyone could get to know" Muddy Waters was through his music. And you don't need to read "Tonight at Noon," Sue Graham Mingus's eloquent memoir of her late husband, Charles, to know that he was volatile, bullying, childish, passionate, considerate, cruel and shrewd, and all before breakfast. You know that just listening to his music. But you read the biographies of artists for the stories and the dish--like the one about Mingus as a young man, riding his motorcycle through Los Angeles suburbs, where every time he spotted a black lawn jockey, he'd haul out the lariat he carried for just such occasions, rope the statue and decapitate it. In Gordon's biography of the father of urban, electrified blues...
  • A Look Behind The Veil

    Give Rick Moody this much: whatever "The Black Veil" is, it isn't just another book about a writer and his bouts with depression and addiction. The author of "The Ice Storm" does discuss the depression that overcame him in his 20s, his alcoholism and drug abuse and his kicking same in some detail. He also writes at length about the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "The Minister's Black Veil." He pours out the research he's done on his 18th- century forebear Joseph (Handkerchief) Moody, the minister upon whom Hawthorne modeled the veil-wearing protagonist of his story. For good measure, he throws in the whole text of the Hawthorne story. The resulting book is surely one of the oddest memoirs ever written. Occasionally wonderful, it is also self-indulgent, infuriating and fascinating, sometimes all on the same page.Like the minister in Hawthorne's story, who alienated his flock, his friends and his fiancee by donning a veil for no apparent reason, Moody is obsessed with what's hid-den: what...
  • The Boys In The Band

    Watching "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's film of the Band's last concert in 1976, I thought, "This is where I came in." That is, the music preserved in the film-which has been freshened up and technically fussed over for a 25th anniversary reissue on CD and DVD and in theaters in a handful of big cities-is the music I grew up on: late '60s and early '70s rock.Or, more precisely, music that today would be called alt-rock or roots rock, categories that the Band almost single-handedly invented. Or, if they didn't, they share the credit with the other performers in this movie: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Muddy Waters. Ironically, this film preserves these talents at the height of their popularity. As performers, only Neil Young and Dylan would continue to matter both critically and commercially in the decades that followed. But the influence of these people was something else. That would live.The Band never had a big hit on the radio, and their...
  • Books: The Middle Of The Journey

    In 1967, an off-Broadway play called "MacBird" by Barbara Garson had a lot of nasty fun by retelling "Macbeth" as the story of President Lyndon Johnson. This not very subtle satire suggested that Johnson engineered the assassination of John F. Kennedy and usurped the presidency. The play kicked up a mild furor that split more or less along the lines of "How dare she?" versus "He had it coming." The one thing nobody thought to say at the time was that Johnson indeed bore a striking resemblance to Macbeth in at least one sense: here was a man who, while capable of great good, had somehow managed to engineer his own destruction.It would take several decades before people began to agree that Johnson was a tragic hero. And perhaps the most important tipping point was Robert A. Caro's extraordinary multivolume biography of Johnson. Since the first volume appeared in 1982, readers have discovered just how fiercely the forces of darkness and light vied for Johnson's soul. They've also been...
  • Publishing: King Of The Mountain

    Charles Frazier is one of those writers who move by instinct, and he's learned to bide his time. It's been five years since he published the best-selling, critically acclaimed Civil War novel "Cold Mountain," and since then he's been prospecting in library stacks, researching his next book. "I take a lot of notes," he told NEWSWEEK in an exclusive interview. "I write sketches. It's the point in writing a book where it looks like a scary kind of mess, because nothing coheres for a while." Frazier hopes to finish the novel in question before 2005. "Like I said," he says, laughing, "I'm slow."The publishing industry, however, can move at warp speed. Last week, after reading just a one-page proposal from Frazier, Random House bought the National Book Award winner's next novel for what sources close to the deal said was $8.25 million. The publishing community was hardly through gasping--no one could recall a piece of literary fiction selling for so much--when producer Scott Rudin, who's...
  • Confessions Of A Dvd Junkie

    I can't remember when I first got hooked on the commentary tracks that accompany some DVDs. I do know when I recognized that it was time to pull back a bit. That would be the afternoon about a month ago on which I was brought to my senses by my teenage daughter.She was strolling through the living room when she looked over my shoulder and saw--and heard--what was on the television screen. And then she cracked up. "You're listening to the commentary track for 'Toy Story 2'?" It was not a question so much as an expression of disbelief, and even I had to laugh. "OK, OK," I said. "Enough is enough." Or words to that effect. I can't remember what I said exactly. I do remember that I very definitely did not say what I was actually thinking. Like poor Norman Bates wrapped up in his blanket at the end of "Psycho," I had to show that I was sane. But what I wanted to blurt out was that the commentary for "Toy Story 2" was one of the very best I'd heard yet. A model of its kind. A benchmark...
  • Q&Amp;A: Dvd Evolution

    Peter Becker is president of the Criterion Collection, a 17-year-old company that has specialized in high-quality laser disc and DVD versions of classic and contemporary films. Their catalog runs the gamut from "Armageddon" to "Amarcord," from "Spartacus" to "The Seventh Seal." They work very hard on film restoration, they include lots of supplemental material to enrich enjoyment and understanding of a film and no one does better commentary tracks. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Jones spoke with Becker:NEWSWEEK: What are the origins of the commentary track?Peter Becker: Film scholar Ron Haver's commentary on "King Kong" came out on a Criterion laser disc in 1984. It's still one of the greatest tracks ever. The Criterion idea has always been to push the limits of the medium we're working in. In those days, a laser disc had two analog audio tracks--stereo, L[eft] and R[ight]. "King Kong" was a mono, so what do you do with the other track? Commentary.The laser disc?A big analog platter, now the...
  • A Samurai In Sneakers

    So why does a 33-year-old Englishman decide to write a slam-bang adventure novel that's also an intricate literary puzzle about a 20-year-old Japanese man searching for his long-lost father in Tokyo? Frankly, because he can. When you're as gifted as David Mitchell, there's no telling what you're liable to attempt. "It didn't really occur to me to be daunted," he admits. "Maybe if it had, I would have been." It really doesn't matter how he got there. What counts is that Mitchell has produced a novel as accomplished as anything being written. Funny, tenderhearted and horrifying, often all at once, it refashions the rudiments of the coming-of-age novel into something completely original.Mitchell's first novel, "Ghostwritten," was an immediate hit when it was published two years ago. Shortlisted for England's Booker Prize, it drew raves from the likes of novelist A. S. Byatt and The New York Times, which listed it as one of the best books of 2000. The new novel proves that debut was no...
  • Ask Jeeves All About Him

    Several years ago, in the course of interviewing the author Frank McCourt, I asked him to name some of his favorite writers. One of those he mentioned was P. G. Wodehouse, and when it came out that I had never read a word of Wodehouse, he said, "Ohhh," which I took to mean that I'd somehow failed a test. ...