By J.D. Oxblood
(May 24-25, 2011)
Last year, I attended the BEA—the BookExpo America, a bizarre title for a book event considering that it makes no grammatical sense whatsoever—for the first time. I was inspired to attend to get some insider info on the insidious book business, and was also drawn since the incredible Jo “Boobs” Weldon was signing her Burlesque Handbook, and I got an advance copy. I talked to a lot of people and got a lot of great info for a piece on the state of the industry. The people seemed to fall into one of two camps: Chicken Littles, who thought the book world was falling apart from low sales and attacks from (Dun Dun DUN!!) New Media, and Chicken-Littles-In-Denial, “Books are doing fine! Ebooks only prove that readership is UP!” I also collected a lot of material on Jo Wheldon, for a New Yorker-style profile I’d like to do on her, preferably for a print magazine and preferably for paper money. We can all dream. Anyhoosie, neither of these proposed pieces got written, one filed under “meh” and one followed under “not yet,” both filed under #gotothershittodowithmylife. But I still have an unhealthy obsession with printed, paper books, even though I seldom read any, and I dragged myself back to the Javits Center this year not so much to do research or actually “work,” but more to play excited fanboy to John Lithgow, Henry Rollins, Susan Orlean and Roz Chast.
I didn’t mention Julianne Moore. I decided not to shell out the $20 for the author breakfast she was speaking at, even though I desperately want to see her in person. It’s just that I don’t want to see her talking about her children’s book. It’ll totally mess with my fantasy life. She’s on my list. Besides, if I were going to hit an author breakfast, I should have hit the adult one, with Jeffrey Euginides and—OMG!—Diane Keaton. And Diane Keaton is on my list of celebrities with whom I want to have tea and maybe go shopping and gossip about Fun Stupid Stuff. Me, Diane, and Meryl Streep. Don’t even get me started on Meryl. We have the same birthday and I’ve had a sisterly crush on her for, like, EVER. I would do anything just to be in the same room with her and embrace her aura.
But all I had to do to be in the same room with John Lithgow was walk in the humidity across town to the Javits. Lithgow has written like 8 children’s books, if you didn’t know it, but this marks the first time he’s written something for adults. It’s basically a memoir, and owes a lot to his father. Who was a regional theatre producer and got Lithgow started in le show beeznuss. He read us a hilarious story about blowing it as a stage hand for Marcel Marceau, and when asked about his experience writing the book, said “It was so damn hard! I don’t know how writers do it.” We drink, John. We drink… a lot. “At least I could say ‘fuck it,’” he went on, since it’s not really his bag. If only….
Henry Rollins, unfortunately, cancelled. He’s busy shooting a National Geographic something in somewhere. Which just proves how fucking cool he is. I just wanted to breathe the same air as the dude. I mean, punk rock musician, writer, world traveler—I’ve basically tried to do everything he’s done—and he’s been famous since I was in junior high. But seriously, if his publisher knew weeks ago that he wasn’t going to make it, why was the BEA still promoting his autograph session, 30 minutes before it didn’t happen, even via it’s mobile app? I mean, what the fuck? If you really want to make yourself crazy, check the signage in the Javits for spelling errors. If you want to know why the publishing industry is flagging, it’s not such a mystery. Besides, since everyone in the world right now is a writer with tons of readers—Facebook, Twitter, Tublr, Fucklr—not only is content free, but “high brow” stuff like spelling and grammar are, like, SO 1990s.
I’ll tell you who’s NOT hurting—Moleskine. Yep, had a nice chat with one of their reps as I was slobbering over their new line of pens and pencils (the latter are flat and rectangular, which as all of us with carpentry experience know, do not roll onto the floor). The pens are filled with ink specifically designed to work with their notebooks, smudge-free and everything. And they’re making fucking bags now—pretty sexy ones, too. It seems their customers have been asking, and since Moleskine people are travelling people, it sort of makes sense. I asked if the wide expansion of the line over the last few years spells desperation or success, and it’s totally success—digital age be damned, these guys are still selling good ol’ analog notebooks like hotcakes. I heart you Moleskine. I would never use anything else—if I could fucking afford you. As a die-hard analog user and frequent note-taker, I go through a couple notebooks a month—and I’ll go through at least 5 next week alone at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas—at $12 a pop that’s 60 bucks! Um, I wish. I really do. Until I win the fucking lottery I’ll have to stick with whatever cheapies I can get at my corner pharmacy—$1.50 per. But congrats on still raking it in, Moleskine, in the midst of a recession no less. Hemingway really did you a solid. BTW, I fucking hate Hemingway. I loved “The Snows of Kilimangaro,” but have no use for any of his novels. Unless I’m strapped for scratch paper and “The Old Man and the Sea” is cheaper at the Strand than a Moleskine.
Sorry, back to people I like. Susan Orlean is obviously the biggest wet dream for somebody like me. Dig: Never wrote a screenplay. Doesn’t live in L.A. Has still had movies made of her stuff. I mean—“Blue Crush” was credited to her. Which means she’s getting’ dem Hollywood re-SID-u-alllls, ya’ll… that’s the real money. AND she was a character in a movie, PLAYED BY MERYL STREEP. I mean, how do you win big enough to get PLAYED by Meryl Streep? It makes me crazy just thinking about it. I’m not even mentioning the fact that she writes for The Holy Bible. Well, Susie has a new book out, about Rin Tin Tin, which comes out later this year. I just couldn’t bring myself to stand in the epically long line to get an autographed review copy, so instead I just stood near the front of the line and breathed in that aroma of awesomeness that is Susan Orlean. She just looks awesome. Just watching her autograph books for admirers was a lesson in humility and grace. You know, sometimes you see rich, successful people and you think, “fuck you, you fucking chump,” and I don’t mean obvious assholes like Charlie Sheen and Rush Limbaugh, I mean people who might actually be ok, but you can’t put a finger on why you hate them so much—people like Skeet Ulrich and Renee Zellweger and Ethan Hawke. I mean, wouldn’t Janeane Garofalo have been better than Renee Zellweger for “Jerry Maguire?” But they said she was too fat—which is such bullshit, especially considering Renee’s only hot when she’s fat and speaking with an English accent. And Ethan, bro, the only thing you’ve got in common with badass Gary Oldman is you both know what Uma looks like naked, and I don’t care if it turns out you really CAN write, I’m not having it and will never crack one of your books.
ANYway, Susie Orlean is not like that. You see her and you just think, wow, there is some justice in the world. She’s so fucking good at what she does and she has totally made a ton of money doing it and she’s living, breathing proof that SOME people DO get what they deserve. Though clearly not everyone, coz Dick Cheney has yet to be waterboarded.
Which brings me to my love letter to Roz Chast. If you don’t read the New Yorker—and I’m not going into my mixed emotionally feelings about the New Yorker here, because it’s just too thick and layered and controversial, kind of like a hallucinogen-laced lasagna—but I read the fucker cover-to-cover weekly and Roz is like… that batty next door neighbor who you just love going over to her house because the afghan clashes wonderfully with the throw pillows and her cookies are just a little bit off but she’s always going to serve you really banging coffee and send you home with some wry story, some leftover—and stale—sponge cake and a smile in your heart. What I didn’t know is Roz is, like, totally hot! I mean, she’s got a wicked little body on her! I know, it’s off-putting. And seems unfair considering she’s so charming, gracious, and hilarious, on and off the page.
Telling us how she got started, she explained that she always liked to draw as a kid, but no matter how she tried to draw seriously, her drawings always came out funny. “I could not draw a serious horse.” It didn’t hurt that she was reading Mad magazine (a GIRL who reads MAD? [Crush.]) She did look at the New Yorker occasionally, but as a kid she didn’t really get the comics, because “I didn’t have a much experience with cocktail parties and boardrooms.” Her charm really came through describing the anxiety of trying to make it as a cartoonist, and the feeling that surely, she must be the only one who has a problem with it. (I’ve been following enough cartoonists on Twitter that it’s pretty obvious—they’re an anxious, never-gonna-have-a-good-idea-again lot.) “I don’t call up other cartoonists and say, ‘Do you feel like crap today?’”
Roz was promoting her new book, “What I Hate. From A to Z,” inspired by the alphabet game she uses for insomnia and just a general, rambling mental exploration into things that, as she says, “Really bother me a lot.” Like the shape of hammerhead shark’s head. Even as a kid, she just looked at that and thought “That is not happening. Nothing should look like that.” Hence this terrific little book, which includes her hatred of the color yellow. She started to explain that it had something to do with a certain shade of yellow, but interrupted herself to say “there are a lot of shades of yellow that bother me.”
This inspired an audience member to ask, since it clearly isn’t yellow, “What color is your kitchen?”