Though it’s struggled for decades to make a transition to the big screen, a movie adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s classic “A Confederacy of Dunces” may finally be coming to theaters – possibly with “The Hangover” star Zach Galifianakis as the main character, Ignatius J. Reilly, according to Vulture.
“Muppets” director James Bobin is reportedly in discussions to direct the film, with Paramount Pictures as the studio behind the work, according to Vulture’s report. Producer Scott Rudin is also rumored to be in talks for the project.
“Confederacy” was published after Toole committed suicide in 1969, and efforts to bring the book to the cinema have been happening for decades. Stars John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley were all in contention for the part of Ignatius at various points.
The 1980 novel by Toole follows Ignatius as he searches for a job in 1960s New Orleans, encountering various unusual characters along the way.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
The late children’s book legend Maurice Sendak gave it a memorable review in a January appearance on “The Colbert Report”: “The sad thing is, I like it,” Sendak told TV host Stephen Colbert about Colbert’s planned children’s book.
And now Colbert’s picture book, “I Am A Pole (And So Can You!),” is a reality, having debuted earlier this month and currently holding the number one spot on the Hardcover Advice and Miscellaneous section of the New York Times bestseller list. (And that quote from Sendak is splashed across the top of the cover.)
The book was first introduced to the “Colbert” viewing audience when Colbert was interviewing Sendak in a two-part special and mentioned his interest in breaking into children’s books. Colbert had already written one original work, “I Am America (And So Can You!),” a book for adults. Colbert said the idea of introducing “Pole” into the discussion with Sendak arose during interview preparation.
“My character’s motivation for the [book] was his wanting to get into writing celebrity books, which we knew was something loathed by Mr. Sendak,” he told Publishers Weekly.
But Sendak’s reaction was unexpected.
“I knew when he laughed throughout and said he liked it, it could be a real thing,” Colbert said.
Parents, beware. Colbert's book is a parody of a children’s book than the real thing. Among other adventures, the pole of the title, which is going through an identity crisis, briefly moonlights as a stripper pole.
And of course, most of the jokes would go over kids’ heads, including “I wished I was the North Pole, and marked the home of Santa, or even just a Gallup poll, calling voters in Atlanta” and “I tried and failed at other things, that I shouldn’t talk about. Like that summer with the phone poles, getting totally strung out.”
But young adults and adults, especially those who are fans of the late-night host, will undoubtedly appreciate the humor, and Colbert himself makes a cameo near the end with a tongue-in-cheek verse. “For people it seems easy to find a role that suits you most,” the pole laments. “Like a job of true importance, such as late night TV host.” (The text is placed next to pictures of an astronaut, a doctor, a member of the military, and President Barack Obama.)
The inside flap on the picture book advertises “sequels,” including “Pole Eats His Vegetables,” “Pole Meets Another Pole,” “Pole Meets the Other Pole’s New Boyfriend,” “How the Pole Stole Christmas,” and “Pole Learns About Copyright Infringement.”
“The design? So-so at best,” wrote reviewer Chelsey Philpot, who is a book review editor at School Library Journal. “The relation of image to text? The pictures deliver the humor…. Overall, is it terrible? Does a Wild Thing like a rumpus? But it delivers some laughs, and Colbert’s fans especially will love the twisted humor.”
Colbert's book aimed at adults, "America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't," is due for release in October.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Sure, you know teen and tween movies and video games are rife with potty-mouthed characters, violence, and explicit sex scenes. But did you know adolescent bestsellers are, too?
According to a study by Brigham Young University social sciences professor Sarah Coyne, young adult bestsellers are so rife with cursing they actually have twice the rate of cursing of video games. What’s more, the characters in adolescent fiction that swear are typically portrayed as wealthier, more attractive, and more popular than their clean-mouthed counterparts.
In the study, published this month in “Mass Communication and Society,” Coyne analyzed the use of profanity in 40 books from an adolescent bestseller list. She found 35 of the 40 books, or about 88 percent, contained profanity (compared to 34 percent in video games). And on average, Coyne found teen novels contain 38 instances of profanity, which she said, translates to almost seven instances of profanity per hour spent reading.
If your teen or tween’s nightstand is piled high with Harry Potter or Twilight novels, fear not: Coyne found those popular series tame, with little to no swearing. But “Pretty Little Liars,” the dramatic Sara Shepard series featuring four young girls, is above-average with 80 “objectionable” words in a 298-page book, “Perfect.” The worst offender on her list was “Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamine.”
The fact that potty-mouthed characters are portrayed as superior is particularly concerning, Coyne said in a BYU statement.
“From a social learning standpoint, this is really important because adolescents are more likely to imitate media characters portrayed in positive, desirable ways,” Coyne said.
And while video games or movies come with warnings and age controls, Young Adult books do not have indicators of maturity content, she adds.
“Unlike almost every other type of media, there are no content warnings or any indication if there is extremely high levels of profanity in adolescent novels,” Coyne said. “Parents should talk with their children about the books they are reading.”
Not everyone is surprised – or alarmed – by the findings.
“Let’s just be happy that kids are reading at all and not get our panties all twisted up about the fact that the books they’re choosing to consume accurately reflect how their friends actually talk,” wrote Cassie Murdoch of Jezebel.
What do you think? Is Coyne’s study needlessly alarmist? Or should this be a wake-up call to parents?
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It’s being called one of the best commencement speeches of the year in the arts and it is everything a good commencement speech should be – heartfelt, upbeat, funny.
Beloved award-winning author and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman delivered the keynote address and received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts at Philadelphia’s the University of the Arts’ 134th Commencement. It was, Gaiman confessed, the first commencement address he delivered – or attended (in a moment of sweet irony, he noted that he never attended college).
The British author who transformed the graphic novel into a work of high literary art with his epic 75-part comic book series “The Sandman” retraced his career (or non-career, as he explains) with warmth, insight, and wisdom.
He learned to navigate life and writing (which he called an adventure, not work) on his own, mastering an impressive range of subjects without any formal education along the way.
“I learned to write by writing,” he told the graduates. “I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and stopped when it felt like work, which meant life did not feel like work.”
In many ways, he said, the art world, including publishing, is in flux, giving those who work in the arts incredible opportunities.
“The distribution systems are in flux. That’s intimidating and immensely liberating,” he said. “Rules are breaking down, gatekeepers are leaving their gates. Old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are, so make up your own rules.
“The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts are made by people who have not tested the bounds by going beyond them, and you can,” he counseled the grads.
In a speech perfectly crafted for a class of 526 newly-minted arts grads, Gaiman encouraged his audience to make mistakes and make art.
“I hope you’ll make mistakes,” he said. “If you make mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.
“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and dance and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked … that's the moment you may be starting to get it right."
He also shared some “secret freelancer knowledge” useful for freelance work of all kinds.
“You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of today’s world is freelance) because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time,” Gaiman said. “And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”
The best piece of advice he was ever given, Gaiman said, was from Stephen King, about the success of Gaiman’s “The Sandman.” It was also the one piece of advice he failed to follow in the early years of his success.
“[Stephen King said] ‘This is really great, you should enjoy it.’ It was the best advice I ever got, and I ignored it,” Gaiman said. “I wish I’d enjoyed it more – it was an amazing ride, but there were parts of the ride I missed because I was too worried… Let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some amazing and unexpected places.”
Don't miss it – here's Gaiman’s commencement address on Vimeo.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Seven Seals, the Whore of Babylon: These stunning images alone would have turned the Book of Revelation into one of the most memorable chapters in the Bible.
But they're just part of an even more fantastic vision of a prophet thought to be John of Patmos. He introduces readers to a seven-eyed lamb, locusts with scorpion tails, horrific beasts, and a demonic number.
The author wouldn't have called himself a Christian. In fact, he violently disagreed with those who wished to pull his faith – Judaism – in new directions. Essentially, he was a fundamentalist fighting against the encroachment of fresh ideas that disturbed him deeply. But while he couldn't stop the evolution of his faith, his words lived on to intrigue and confound dozens of generations.
Are they the fever dream of a man with a remarkable imagination? Scenes of what he thought would happen in a matter of weeks or months? Or a vision of the far-away future, perhaps even of our own time?
In an interview, Pagel talks about the eternal appeal of the Book of Revelation, the common ways that people misunderstand its meaning and its moving message about what we find in faith.
Q: The images of the Book of Revelation remain major touchstones in our culture. Why do you think that is?
A: It's very visceral. It doesn't appeal to the brain. It appeals to the bloodstream, as the Muslims say of the devil. It's a book of dragons, seven-headed beasts, monsters, whores, armies of insects fighting, angels and demons, and pits of fire.
Q: What was going on in the author's mind?
A: A lot of people say, "Is this guy on hallucinogenics or what?" But it's not an individual's fantasy. These are imaginatively transformed versions of ancient prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah.
It's a book of prophecy. It's supposed to inspire people who have given up hope on any justice in the world. John wants people to hold onto that hope.
Q: He wrote the Book of Revelation at a time when there was intense debate over the future of the church and whether it was something different from Judaism. Where did John of Patmos fit in?
A: He's not somebody who'd call himself a Christian. He's somebody who's very proud of being a Jew – but one who knows who the messiah is – and sees himself in the line of the prophets.
He's a fierce, angry, conservative, passionate prophet. He's ferocious, with a kind of puritan sense of the importance of sexual purity and ethnic purity, compared to Paul, who's willing to eat unkosher food and eat with Gentiles and open up the movement to everybody. John doesn't think so.
Q: What do people misunderstand about the Book of Revelation?
A: A lot of liberal people think it's just crazy, and they can't understand how people have ever taken it seriously. They don't see that it is about war and politics, full of imaginative images of the political world of that era.
We'd have to think of ourselves as people whose families have been slaughtered to see how this author is seeing the forces of good and evil.
Q: Was he living in an era akin to our modern Holocaust?
A: The Romans weren't trying to kill all the Jews, but they did destroy Jewish resistance to Roman rule. Jerusalem was turned into a Roman army camp, and it was a total devastation.
Q: How long have people been interpreting the Book of Revelation as predicting events of their own lifetimes?
A: What's amazing to me is that for 2,000 years, people have been reading the signs of their own times into it: It was about the explosion of Vesuvius, it was about Nero. Because the images are so open-ended, it's been possible to reapply it again and again.
Q: You mention that both sides in the American Civil War turned to the Book of Revelation for support, as did those in World War II.
A: The Book of Revelation is such a dream landscape that you can plug any major conflict in it.
Q: What did you discover about "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," from the Civil War era?
"The lord is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." It's full of battle imagery, and it's literally straight out of the prophecies of Jeremiah and the Book of Revelation. [In the King James version, Revelation 14:19 reads: "And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast [it] into the great winepress of the wrath of God."]
Q: Tell me about the Antichrist. He doesn't actually appear in the Book of Revelation, but we think of him as being part of the apocalypse and the end times.
A: The Antichrist is often identified with the second beast in the Book of Revelation that arises from the land, the beast that tries to make everyone worship the power of evil.
Q: We do find the numbers 666 in the Book of Revelation, and they've been an eternal source of fascination. What do you think they stand for?
John is a Jewish prophet, and he hates Rome. Maybe he doesn't want to indict the Roman Empire publicly, even though he does that plenty.
He puts the number in the code called gematria, which equates a number with every letter: 666 is most plausibly read as the imperial name of Nero. He was understood by everybody to be the epitome to be the worst you could get as far as evil. People would have understood that.
Q: What is the ultimate value of understanding the Book of Revelation?
A: You can look at the 2,000 years of the way it's been read, in Europe and ancient Italy and from Augustine through the Middle Ages and beyond, and write the whole history of western Christendom by the way they're reading the Book of Revelation.
What's important to me is how it shows that the religious understandings of history and meaning are really not going away. They're very durable. They have to do with emotional responses to conflict, to ambiguity, to trauma like war and natural catastrophe.
The book says, okay, there is a lot of suffering and there's a lot of terrible things are happening, but they're all under God's control. It'll only last for a certain amount of time, and justice will prevail.
It shows religion is less about believing in a bunch of things than it is about having hope.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.
A new documentary airing on PBS will examine the universe of romance novels – a genre so beloved that one is sold every four seconds somewhere on the planet – by talking to those who write them, love them, and (in one case) poses for them.
While they’ve made headlines recently with E L James’ phenomenally popular trilogy “50 Shades of Grey,” romance novels have been a booming industry for decades and are unique in the fact that most of them are produced by two companies (which have ties to one another), the publishing company Harlequin in the U.S. and Mills & Boon in Britain. The documentary “Guilty Pleasures” originates in Britain.
The documentary focuses on are three devoted romance novel readers: women from different corners of the globe who are major fans of the books. Shirley is a British mother who is married but turns to the romance novels to find excitement she feels is lacking in her own relationship, while Indian Shumita married her husband young, but is now separated from him. Japanese wife Hiroko yearns for the fantasies depicted in the novels.
“Guilty Pleasures” also follows romance author Gill Sanderson, a British citizen whose real name is Roger and who takes pride in his craft as a romance writer, and a model named Stephen who has appeared on more than 200 covers released by Mills & Boon and Harlequin but wants a relationship of his own.
The movie will premiere on PBS on July 12 on the series “POV.”
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Certain laws, whether of the natural world or otherwise, never fail. Where there’s road kill, there’s vultures, and in the publishing world, where’s there’s an election, there’s bound to be a book – or a dozen – attempting to destroy the candidate.
Among Klein’s sometimes unsubstantiated claims: Barack and Michelle almost divorced after his crushing Congressional defeat in 2000, an Obama “friend” unsuccessfully attempted to stop the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from preaching until after the November election with a $150,000 bribe, an “unusually jealous” Michelle Obama orders women close to her husband watched lest he cheat on her, and Oprah and Michelle have an ongoing feud.
Obama and his advisers have “gone to elaborate lengths to hide his dark side,” writes Klein, dubbing the President an “Amateur.”
It’s a bold claim, one perhaps made too easily in today’s political publishing world, and one any responsible reader ought to examine more closely.
Thus far reviews suggest Klein’s book is long on accusations, often caustic, and resoundingly short on specifics – or sources.
“The personal accusations – that Mr. Obama is aloof, that he has not learned from experience, that he has snubbed former supporters – are nasty but vague,” writes Janet Maslin in a stinging critique in The New York Times. Earlier, she writes, “And although the book repeatedly calls him a failure and a disappointment with regard to domestic affairs, Mr. Klein has no capacity for explaining specifics.”
A Tuesday New York Magazine blog post titled “There’s a Glaring Factual Error on the First Page of Edward Klein’s New Anti-Obama Book,” found fault with “The Amateur” before the writer turned the first page. (He found fault with this line, “No American politician had attempted to usurp a sitting president of his own party since Ted Kennedy failed to unseat Jimmy Carter more than thirty years before.” Pat Buchanan, Dan Amira, pointed out, attempted to unseat George H.W. Bush in 1992.)
What’s more, Klein’s book appears to suffer from a severe shortage of sourcing, a surprising oversight from a journalist who once edited The New York Times Magazine.
Certain accounts, like a supposed shoutfest between Bill and Hilary Clinton about the latter’s campaign against Obama, have been roundly denied by all parties involved. Others are so thinly, or distantly, sourced, as to cast doubt on entire episodes in the book.
After quoting a particularly nasty tidbit Michelle supposedly said about Oprah, New York Magazine’s Andre Tartar writes, “Though it should be mentioned that it is not entirely clear if this is coming straight from one of the First Lady's staff or if this is second-, third-, or even eighteenth-hand information.”
(That reminds us of playing telephone in third grade with 18 other friends arranged in a circle passing around a phrase that eventually got so botched we dissolved in giggles when it was finally mouthed aloud at the end.)
Earlier, Tartar writes, “Some of Klein’s past practices have been questionable at best, so please bring your oversize salt shaker.” (This is the man, after all, “whose previous book alleged that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill Clinton raped Hilary Clinton,” another New York Magazine post reminds us.)
Indeed, the brash claims and past blunders were enough to cause The New York Times’s Maslin to start her review with this zinger: “ ‘The Amateur’ by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too.”
Who, exactly, is revealed to be an amateur in “The Amateur?” It may not be the man whom Klein has targeted.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
George, who wrote more than 100 books, was known especially for “My Side of the Mountain,” which tells the story of a boy who resolves to live in the forests of New York's Catskill mountains [Editor's note: this article originally mistakenly said the boy went to live in the forests of Canada] for one year, and the book “Julie,” which centers on a young Eskimo girl who runs away from her village and befriends a wolf pack with whom she learns to communicate.
“She knew her own mind, and [that] was the best thing you could say about anyone,” Friedman said. “She was her own woman.”
George was an animal lover who often featured them in her books and was exposed to wildlife early in life, sometimes accompanying her entomologist father on jobs. After she married ornithologist John George, she encouraged the same love for all creatures in her children, and the family welcomed 173 pets (not counting the cats and dogs) into their home, according to her memoir.
“Remember me as somebody who talked about nature, who awakened [readers] to a new world, and helped them restore it,” George told the School Library Journal in a 2009 interview.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Bookselling giant Amazon released its yearly rankings of which cities are the most well-read on Tuesday and the city of Alexandria, Va. took the top spot, with Cambridge, Mass. coming in at number two and Berkeley, Calif. following behind at number three.
According to Amazon’s press release, the company determines which cities have the most bibliophiles by looking at the number of magazines, newspapers and books sold in areas with over 100,000 residents since June 1 of last year. The company includes both paper and Kindle versions of the materials in the number-crunching.
Amazon releases the top 20 cities that made the cut as well as trends that caught the company’s eye.
Other areas that made the top 20 were Ann Arbor, Mich. at number four, Washington, D.C. with its spot at number nine, Pittsburgh, Pa. at number 11, and Orlando, Fla., which came in the fourteenth spot. The state which appeared the most times on the list was also Virginia, with Arlington occupying the seventh spot and Richmond squeaking in at number 20.
The company also found that Alexandria bought more romance novels than any other city and Boulder, Colo., which came in at number five, ordered the most health-related books, among other trends.
Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.
Thanks to Julie Andrews, we know that a doe is a deer, a female deer. Animal fans might also be aware that roe is a species of deer.
Here's one you haven't heard: "roe" may be the closest that we've ever come to the first English word. That's the verdict of British linguist David Crystal, one of the world's top word experts.
His evidence? The ankle-bone of a roe deer that was discovered decades ago in Norfolk, England. Someone wrote what seems to be the equivalent of the word "roe" on it back around the fifth century or so, possibly to show where it came from. The bone seems to have been used in a game, so maybe the word helped people figure out the role it would play. (I like to imagine that kids back then played "Chutes and Roes" or "Monopo-Cave." But I digress.)
From roe and its kin flowed millions of words. In his lively new book "The Story of English in 100 Words," Crystal begins with the "first word" and works his way through the centuries from "bridegroom" to "skunk" to "Muggle."
In an interview, Crystal talks about our language's promiscuous borrowing of words from other languages, explains why brand-spanking-new words like Twittersphere fascinate him, and tells me I really need to get a life when it comes to being a language cop.
Q: Among languages, what makes English stand apart? What can it do that most other languages can't or don't?
A: Every language expresses a unique vision of the world, and I find them all equally interesting. Having said that, English does have a larger vocabulary than other languages, because of its history as the primary language of science and its global reach.
Q: Now to the reverse question: What can most other languages do that English cannot? In what ways is English distinctively limited?
A: There are innumerable differences. One notable feature is that English doesn't have much of a system for expressing relative social status.
Many Oriental languages, for example, have a complex system of honorifics, identifying the relative status of the participants in an interaction. English is much more egalitarian in this respect.
Another example is the use of a single second-person pronoun form, "you." Most languages make a distinction between a singular and a plural (and sometimes other) forms.
Q: Is English more likely than other languages to accept words from other countries?
A: Yes. It is simply a matter of language contact, and English - because of its political history -- has been in contact with more languages than any other, notably in its period of colonial expansion. Several hundred languages have "loaned" their words into English. And there is a general tolerance of loans which not all languages share.
Q: Despite all the anti-immigrant fervor that America has had back into the 19th century, we haven't gotten to the point where anyone gets upset about foreign words sneaking into the language.
How did we (Americans and more widely, people who speak English) end up not having as much of a purity streak as, say, the French?
A: Difficult to say. Certainly there was never much support for the notion of an Academy in Britain, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Dr. Johnson put his finger on it when he said that there was something stubborn about the British temperament, so that if someone suggested a set of rules, the British would be sure to go out of their way to break them! And I imagine the same temperament exists in America.
But these days the fact that English is a global language, with its remarkable diversity, makes it impossible for any notion of an Academy to exist.
Q: You mention lots of cool word phenomena, like portmanteaus and reduplication. Of all the ones that you mention, what's your favorite? And could you describe what it is for our readers?
A: Linguists don't really have favorites. Or, put it another way, every word to me is a favorite.
But I especially like to see new words, especially those which take the language in new directions and display real ingenuity or playfulness.
The final chapter mentions "twittersphere." I've been hugely impressed by the way that people have developed an extraordinary range of words beginning with "tw" -- an unusual consonant combination in English. Online twictionaries illustrate the range.
Q: Of the 100 words, which one that has the most unusual or unexpected origin?
A: Again, difficult to say, as so many of them have fascinating origins. But if I had to choose, then it would be 'matrix', widely known today for its scientific and science-fictional usage - but originally, from the Bible. The first use of "matrix" is in William Tyndale's translation of the Gospel of St. Luke, where it is used in the sense of "womb."
Q: Every word expert seems to have a usage or two that drives him/her crazy. What are yours?
A: Not every word expert. Only the popular pedants.
No usage drives me crazy. On the contrary: every usage, no matter how bizarre or nonstandard, fascinates me, as it tells me something about the way language is evolving.
Q: All right, but some words are so egregious, especially if I believe they are. What do you think of my pet peeve -- the use of "grow" in a sense like "grow the economy"?
A: I think you should worry about more important things!
But to be serious, there's nothing new about the transitive figurative sense of "grow." "Grow knowledge," for example, is found in the early 19th century. "Grow the economy" is simply one of the more recent examples of this construction.
Q: You mention a few words that aren't used much anymore, like "fopdoodle," another name for a fool.
What are some that make people regret they aren't still around when they hear them? And which ones would you like to see make a comeback?
A: People love fopdoodle when they hear of it, presumably because of its appealing sound.
I don't have any particular desire to see words making a comeback. They are of their era, after all, and that is their identity -- they form part of the linguistic color of a period.
But it's always possible for a word to return, if enough people want it to. "Shellacking," for example, meaning a beating or a defeat, arrived in the late nineteenth century, and had quite a popular slang use during the midyears of the twentieth. But then it died away, until Barack Obama used it a few months ago. Whether it will have a long second life remains to be seen.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor correspondent.