September 10, 2014

Unless You Go in Expecting It To Solve All of Your and the World's Problems, American Beauty is a Pretty Good Way to Waste Two Hours

The linked reassessment of the film American Beauty is pretty silly, but the metafilter commentary on it was interesting enough to spur me to spend some of last night's insomnia watching that movie for the second time. First time around, I found it trite, heavy-handed, and pretentious, mostly, and disliked it, mostly; this time, I realized there's a great deal more ambiguity and complexity than I'd given it credit for. It's definitely worth another look, even if it was probably overpraised in its time.

(It's certainly not a "bad movie" simply because the character is a narcissist, or because he thinks bad thoughts and does bad things, or is insufficiently concerned about the welfare of his family or the plight of fast food workers, or because of anything to do with the members of the Supreme Court or 9/11. What is with people expecting fictional characters to be unambiguous superheroes or unobjectionable moral paragons? That they're not is what makes stuff interesting.) Anyway, I found the film to be at least as good a way to waste two hours as I Know Who Killed Me.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:21 PM

September 03, 2014

Stuff I'm Gonna Be Doing

A few things coming up.

Wednesday, September 24th, 6:00 PM

University Book Store, 990 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

Saturday, September 27th/28th

Anderson's YA Conference, Hotel Arista, 2139 City Gate Lane, Naperville, IL 60563

Monday, September 29th 7:00 PM

McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St, New York, NY 10012, in-store "conversation" with my editor, Krista Marino

(Probably going to be doing something in Portland in early Oct. as well, yet to be confirmed as far as I am currently aware.)


Saturday, October 18th:

Texas Teen Book Festival, St. Edward's University, Austin, TX, where I'll be on a panel called Come On Feel the Noise about music in books, along with Gayle Forman, Len Vlahos, and Kevin Emerson.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:37 PM

I'm Blushing

Seth Christenfeld of guyslitwire revisits King Dork and has lots of nice things to say.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:33 PM

Oh Carole

Lexington Green of Chicagoboyz turns up this gorgeous demo of "Pleasant Valley Sunday"...

...and links to my old "Monkees Derangement Syndrome" essay.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:59 PM



Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:56 PM

September 02, 2014


The Booklist review of King Dork Approximately can be viewed by subscribers only, but you can read it here, and here:

How do you survive high school without succumbing to institutionalized “Normalism”? That is one question asked by self-professed loser Tom Henderson in this long-awaited sequel to cult-favorite King Dork (2006). There are other questions as well: How do you get female attention and increase chances of “ramoning” (having sex)? And what would make a good band name? In the wake of last semester’s scandal, Tom is finishing his sophomore year at a new school that is disturbingly friendly and spirited (“Go Badgers!”) yet still holds girlfriend potential. Unfortunately, life at home isn’t as rosy. Though lacking the mystery of King Dork, this novel’s subtle plot is carried by a voice sharp with humor, sarcasm, and intelligence. Small but important revelations result in Tom’s growth and ability to better navigate the “normal” world. Because the novel is packed with music, book, and movie references, readers’ cultural literacy will get a definite boost. Utterly enjoyable, this book’s culture-meets-romantic-confusion focus makes it a teen take on Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (1995), and it should hit home with social misfits and “subnormals.””
Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:53 PM

August 29, 2014

When People Say Nice Things about My Books, and I Am Alerted to It, I Will Link

Posh Deluxe of Forever Young Adult previews stuff, including King Dork Approximately:

(Pre-order here.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:03 PM

August 22, 2014

I Hear Ya Brother

It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.
-- Freddie deBoer, subbing for Andrew Sullivan.
Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:06 AM

August 19, 2014

It's Good

So there's a new (ish) Judas Priest album and it's pretty darn good. At least one probable enduring classic ("Halls of Vahalla") and many other strong contenders, a good mix of heavy and melodic with a good dose of the contemplative lilt of the battle-scarred viking princeling in a forest clearing pining for the fjords. I've heard complaints about "muddy production" and I know what they mean, but I'm not sure I don't prefer the grit (or whatever it is) and anyway it's plenty clear enough. (And though it's possible I'm just kidding myself about this, the vinyl really does seem to sound a lot better than the included mp3s.) The "deluxe" version (five extra tracks packaged as a double vinyl) feels more like a full album to me for what that's worth. Five razor sharp throwing stars from me.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:45 PM

August 16, 2014



Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:46 PM

August 08, 2014


"A murderer is rather like a peer: he pays more because of his title. One tries to travel incognito, but it usually comes out."

-- Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:34 PM

July 30, 2014

Black Mountain Rag

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:23 PM

July 20, 2014

Margaret and the Cult of Likeability

Lately, as you may have noticed, I've been fascinated/horrified by the increasingly prevalent "likeability" standard as the primary criterion for assessing the value of literary works. (James Wood addressed it here; and here's Dan Handler, Brendan Halpin, and me, most recently, here.) The basic idea is, or seems to be, that it is the author's job to provide the reader with pleasant, admirable characters whose predominantly unobjectionable views and laudable actions are endearing, inspiring, indomitably-spirited, just-so-doggone charming etc. And nothing but.

There's a word to describe such characters, their attitudes, and the state of mind that prefers them, which harkens back to an earlier, much maligned, era of social disapproval of and frowning upon art: Pollyanna-ish. It was, and remains, a pejorative when it applied to literary characters, or anything, really, but it seems like its spirit is making a bit of a comeback on the internet these days, though today's readers seem to expect even more from Pollyanna than their puritanical mid-to-late-to-post-Victorian counterparts ever did. The contemporary reader, it seems, wants a novel's narrator not just to be nice and fun and unobjectionable and "positive", but also to be a role model, an all-around wonderful person, the kind of person you want to get to know, spend time with, make out with, possibly even marry, and grow old together with.

Failure to provide the reader with such a virtual soul mate is seen as an unforgivable failing on the part of the author and a glaring flaw in the writing itself, something so bad that it's hard to see why the book was published in the first place or why anyone would give it any "stars" at all. The corollary to this tendency, and possibly its inevitable result, is that the flaws and quirks that were once regarded as important parts of character building and indeed can be the entire reason for the existence of the novel in the first place are seen as little more than careless and infuriating mistakes on the part of the author (rather than, like, what he or she was trying to do all along.) Or the very literary conceits that form the basis of some works are derided in a weird "this doesn't pass the smell test" spirit that I've compared to "reviewing" Hamlet by saying: "of course, there really are no ghosts, and the editor should have caught that."

But here I have stumbled on a much better example from real life (or from what passes for it on the internet), a reader review of Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret that I present without further comment as a sort of pearl of great price:

I'm surprised that this has such good reviews. It's about a little girl that really wants to get her period?

I think that the main character is just silly, she doesn't stand up for herself, and she doesn't really seem to like her friends - but she sticks around with them anyway. One girl tells her a big lie and she hardly seems to care.

Hey Margaret, it's me [reviewer] - you should get better friends - and also, getting your period kind of sucks, don't wish away the time you have without it!

Sound advice. Judy, you fucked up.

I suppose if you elect presidents based on whether or not you'd like to have a beer with them, subjecting literary characters and the novels in which they appear to the same test isn't much of a stretch, and isn't a whole lot worse. But of course, if novelists really were to adopt these parameters and follow the logic of the cult of likeability, the end product would be unrecognizable as literature, and pretty lame. And maybe this is a Pollyana-ish view on my part, but the cult of likeability had better be careful what it wishes for because I think even it would hate the result if its implicit program were ever to come to pass.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:22 PM

July 19, 2014

Stuff people say on twitter

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:41 PM

July 18, 2014


So apparently we are now arresting, jailing, and breaking up the families of parents for letting their kids do stuff that was totally normal when most of us were growing up, like going to the park, waiting in the car, "babysitting each other" (as in the first linked article), etc.

Nosy neighbors call in complaints, armed officers arrive to take the parent to jail and abduct the kids so that they may face the trauma of being ripped from their now impoverished homes (along with possible abuse and neglect) in a series foster homes. Even conceding, for the sake of argument, that leaving an eleven-year-old waiting in a car for thirty minutes, say, is somehow a bad thing to do, how did we turn this kind of routine parental choice into a criminal matter? Possibly leaving a ten-year-old to watch a five-year-old for a few hours, though it too was once quite an ordinary thing to do, is ill-advised parenting that carries some degree of possible risk to the children's welfare. But with regard to the aforementioned welfare, can that really be what we care about when our proposed remedy is to drag the parents away in chains, cause them to lose their jobs, and break up the family?

What would be an appropriate remedy? I don't know, something short of ensnaring the entire family in the (notoriously unjust and corrupt) criminal justice system, perhaps a helpful pamphlet entitled "So, your kid wants to go to the park..." Maybe the nosy neighbors could be encouraged to keep an eye on the kids while you run some errands, instead of acting as the unofficially deputized Eyes and Ears of the State and calling the cops. (That pamphlet could be called "So, your neighbor has to run to the store...")

I know that's crazy. We've left that folksy, helpful social world far behind, if it ever really existed. But this thing that's really happening right now is even crazier.

Like so many other instances of the law's increasingly draconian reach into what were once universally assumed to be private matters, it happened gradually while we weren't looking. And it must be happening, continuing, now, even as I type. Bit by bit, more and more things are being made illegal, many of them quite ordinary, some of the newly invented crimes so technical and abstruse that no one could possibly predict or divine what they prohibit; bureaucrats and their armed agents enforce the prohibitions with brain-dead literalness, just doing their jobs, forsaking common sense and without pausing to reflect on whether the outcome will help anyone or do any good, or if it is even remotely in keeping with the alleged intent of the measure in the first place. There's a kid in a car. Someone must pay.

We won't know where it's all headed till we get there, by which time it's almost always too late to turn back. This is madness, we say, upon learning of each successive outrage, knowing deep down that madness has become normal. It's a small thing, really, and there are many bigger, worse things could be happening and aren't (yet) so that's a relief at least. Dystopia is a process.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:03 PM

July 17, 2014

Rosemary's Baby


Came across a copy of the 1967 Rosemary's Baby hardcover at a used bookstore and got it because it felt like I should probably have one.

It is inscribed with the name of a former owner, a pentagram, and the words "Proud Pagan".

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:57 PM

The House of the Devil

Very impressed with Ti West's House of the Devil (currently on Netflix, and super cheap on Amazon.) I've never seen a better, more effective attempt at re-creating and re-imagining a retro style in film, right down to the feel of discontinuity in the abrupt, over the top denouement, the ironic anti-climactic, not over-explained final credits image, the vaguely established but played-for-all-its-worth conceptual backstory. It's very cleverly done. The cinematography is beautiful, and authentic. If you want an encapsulation of the essential experience of watching horror movies in the 70s/early 80s (basically, what it was like to be a teenager in those years) you won't do better than this. It really took me back. Recommend it highly.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:23 PM

They Warned You, But Would You Listen? That's Your Problem You Just Don't Listen

The New Republic says "we told you so" about The Catcher in the Rye, but this critique ("Holden Caulfield isn't as clever or perceptive as he thinks he is") is rather embarrassingly obtuse. That's what's *good* about it. It's like saying "I can't help but feel that Frodo's ambivalence about the Ring stems from an unfortunate weakness of character..." Yeah, the editor really should have caught that....

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:26 AM

July 09, 2014



I think this may have been our first show at Gilman. Photo by Ian Harper.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:08 AM

July 08, 2014



This kid just thought it would be funny to pose with the book because of the title (I assume) and indicated in a subsequent tweet that he wasn’t too interested in the book and didn’t buy it, but it’s a great image nonetheless.

(And it’s always nice to see evidence of books actually being sold in bookstores, not to mention people actually being in those bookstores. It still happens.) So, thanks Dylan.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:21 PM