James Franco, in addition to being an actor, performance artist, director and avid Instagrammer, is a writer of both fiction and poetry. He’s a big reader too — he’s currently starring on Broadway in “Of Mice and Men” — and one of his many upcoming projects includes a film adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. In a recent interview with Shelf Awareness, Franco discussed some of the writers from contemporary literature who’ve influenced and had an impact on him, both as a writer and as a person. David Foster Wallace! Cormac McCarthy! Great writers indeed. But of the writers discussed in the interview — including Franco’s Top 11 list of all time faves — not a single one was a woman. (Wait, I lied. Asked to name a book he bought based on the cover alone, Franco offered up Madonna’s Sex. So yeah, let’s not count that one.)
I would sigh, but I am not the slightest bit surprised. Keep reading »
A show of hands: who had to read The Great Gatsby in school?
Most of us, right? You’re probably overly familiar with the tale of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, if not from high school English class then from the Baz Luhrman spectacle in theaters this past summer. I hope you still have room in your stomach for more, because there’s a new Gatsby tale in town: Great, by Sara Benincasa, a young adult novel retelling of the classic.
But Great isn’t just any old retelling: the star-crossed lovers in this story are a same-sex couple set in the modern-day Hamptons. Jacinta is an “It girl” blogger who lives next door to Naomi, our narrator. While she rides out the summer at her mother’s extravagant summer home, Naomi tries to piece together Jacinta’s love affair with Delilah, a family friend of her mom and the Daisy Buchanan character in the story. It’s a familiar tale, but a completely different take on modern sexual mores and class.
And Sara Benincasa isn’t just any writer, either. She’s also one of my dearest friends. We met about seven years ago when she was a New York City-based standup comic and hosted a “Gossip Girl” fan festival. (Dorota came. It was amazing.) Over the years, I’ve watched Sara’s writing and comedy career skyrocket to much-deserved success. I’m genuinely thrilled for her that Great is such a good book and that more books from Sara are coming down the pipeline soon.
I called Sara up over Skype last week to chat about F. Scott Fitzgerald, feminism and how her memoir is being made into a TV show (!!!) by Diablo Cody. Here’s our conversation, after the jump:
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Today is the 86th birthday of one of the most beloved writers of our generation, Maya Angelou! The Wake Forest University professor is perhaps most famous for her 1969 memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, as well as reading a poem at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, winning the Pulitzer Prize for one of her poetry collections, and a nomination for an Emmy for her work on the TV series “Roots.” Oh, and let’s not forget the Presidential Medal Of Freedom! Angelou is a lifelong civil rights activist, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and was the first-ever Black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King and James Baldwin and these days is friends with none other than Oprah Winfrey. In memory of her birthday, I poked around YouTube looking for a good video of Angelou reading one of her poems, but I settled on this snippet from “Oprah’s Master Class.” It’s a short, lovely meditation on being human and a reminder why Maya Angelou is a national treasure. [Biography.com, YouTube]
“Divergent,” which opens today, has been hailed as either the next “Hunger Games” or as a massive “Hunger Games” ripoff. It is both, but where it leaves its source material (“Harry Potter” included) is in the religious proselytizing throughout. Teenagers are born again in all YA fiction, in a sense. But in the Divergent books it is a specifically Christian moral imposition and major reason the series fails. Keep reading »
The British newspaper The Independent announced yesterday that it would no longer be reviewing any book that was specifically marketed at one gender. While their announcement certainly did its job – garnering a wave of free publicity for the newspaper and allowing them to slap their own backs quite forcefully – it’s not helping the young men and women they claim to be looking out for or the authors whose books will be measured by these new standards.
Most authors have little to no say in how the books they write are marketed. Those decisions are made by highers-up at publishing companies, with the actual writer just hoping that their book will manage to somehow stand out from the pack of new releases. Choosing to boycott a book based on to whom it’s being marketed is kind of like boycotting a band based on who goes to their concerts – there is not much that the actual creator of the work can do. Keep reading »