Sifting through the frozen tundra, I uncovered this weekend’s media blow:
- Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger. It’s probably better that I didn’t read this as a teenager, when Salinger’s “you think everything’s normal but it’s not” storylines would have steered my writing style down regrettable paths. However, it’s good that I read it now, having made a serious commitment to writing, because Salinger’s got a unique mastery of the English language that’s worth noting. Or cribbing outright. The back cover calls attention to the two critical darlings in this collection, which actually didn’t do as much for me as “Teddy,” “The Laughing Man” or “De-Daumier Smith’s Blue Period” did. Still, they’re all gems, rightly regarded in the American canon.
- Hairspray. Infectious, inescapable fun. The most laugh-out-loud entertaining musical I’ve seen in decades. I haven’t seen someone blend catchy pop melodies with subversive lyrics this well since, I dunno, early Elvis Costello. The opening number still gets me a little since, as I’ve said, it’s the only time in memory that I’ve heard someone say something nice about the city of Baltimore. Biggest surprises: James Marsden, who I finally have to admit is better than anyone gave him credit for; Elijah Kelley, as Seaweed (“Run and Tell That” is a real toe-tapper); the song “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which struck me as boringly generic when I heard it on CD but is much more moving when set to film. The only downside: in Christopher Walken’s one dance number, he’s weighed down by John Travolta in a fatsuit. Since Walken can literally fly when given the chance to show off, this is a crime equivalent to Suharto’s.
- The Towers of the Sunset, L.E. Modesitt. I’m surprised Modesitt doesn’t get more fantasy author accolades, as he writes realer and more complex characters than Robert Jordan or anyone else with the same cover art. The Towers of the Sunset was written after The Magic of Recluce but precedes the first by a few centuries. It weaves political intrigue, social mores, sexual politics and magic as philosophy – not just point a wand and say gibberish words, but a way of looking at the world – into a thick and surprising story. I read the first 440 pages in one snowy Sunday afternoon.