Gollum For Best Supporting Actor

…or Andy Serkis, rather.

The Hobbit was the first “big book” I ever read.1 And Gollum made a huge impression on me. I’ve had an image of Gollum in my head ever since, for more years than I care to recount. The Hobbit cartoon? No. That other cartoon? Nope. But now, in 2002, boom, there he is on screen.

Well one thing’s for sure — there will be no precious Oscar for poor Smeagol. Andy Serkis might have done the voice, he might have done the body movements and modeled the facial expressions… but the fat hobbitses in the Academy aren’t likely to award a computer-generated character a real-person’s award any time soon, thank you very much. Not to mention the everyday bias against SF and fantasy in the ordinary media. In the last few days, I’ve listened to no less than two radio interviews with writers talking about the writing process. The first was a twentysomething kid, an up-and-coming writer who mentioned offhandedly, “I used to read fantasy and stuff like that when I was a kid, but…” He now writes “literary”2 short stories about a fictional town in Maine. The second was Carolyn See, a professor who writes and teaches creative writing at UCLA. “My students have to write about real things, real relationships.” she said. “What if one of your students wants to write about — I dunno, Mars?” “They can’t write about Mars,” she chuckled. I was waiting for her to follow up with something like, “unless they write about real people on Mars,” something like that. But she wouldn’t even throw me that bone. They just moved merrily on. Feh.

Anyway, I’m spending my evening drinking wine, listening to This American Life archives, and sewing. Yes, sewing. The washing machine in our complex is pretty rough, and it’s torn apart the seams on the corners of my comforter. I really don’t know how to sew, and all I have is a button repair kit that Mom gave me for Chanukah during my last year in high school. “What’s this?” I asked. “So you can sew on buttons when you go to college!” she said. “Oh,” I said.

But now after all these years, the kit has finally proved useful. It just has a couple of needles and some short lengths of a variety of colors of thread, but that’s enough. Unfortunately the threads don’t really match the comforter so well, and I’ve used up the thread for three colors already. Which begs the question, what happens if I actually lose a button? I might be missing the right color. I guess I’ll just have to go back to Mom… which was what she was trying to avoid by giving me the kit in the first place. That’s OK, I’m not sure I actually know how to sew on a button anyway. I do a mean whipstitch, though.

Just another crazy Saturday night.

1. The first book I ever “read” was You Will Go To The Moon when I was about two. Actually, it turned out I wasn’t so much reading it as reciting the text from memory — it was my favorite book, and my parents must have read it to me about fifty times. I have continued this proud tradition of reading-without-comprehending ever since.

2. As for the whole silly literary-vs.-genre debate, only one thing is clear: as soon as you allow someone to label their favorite group of books as “literary” and your favorite group of books as something else, you’ve lost the battle.

Fashion Emergency

Karin writes:

To make a long story short, I got bored of studying for the LSAT and after viewing Byron’s latest on storyteller, visited your site. I came upon the journal entry dated Sept. 8, 2002 in which you mention about something about Byron’s raingear and that my role, as his fiancee, is to prevent fashion disasters and all that. Well, as the evidence shows, this is out of my league. I readily admit that I am not woman enough to handle this one. Cute as he may be, he’s on his own when it comes to picking out clothing.

I should state for the record that Karin is currently braving gale-force winds in a rickety wooden Viking ship in the fjords of Norway, so don’t let her attempt to sell herself short fool you. However, even I have to admit that in this instance she has her work cut out for her:

Byron Kubert in bright orange raingear

Vacation From the Vacation

The bad thing about going on a trip, even a short one, is the food. Oy, all the food. Eric and Susan took me out to dinner for every meal for two days straight. Jason and Megan fed me good beer and tried to convince me to move down to LA. (Megan: “You already have a built-in network of friends… and if Sarah goes to Scripps, more than half your family will be down here…”) My Uncle Mitch went in to work very late just so that he could serve homemade omelettes and bagels and fruit. (I think Uncle Mitch was feeling guilty about taking me 1800 feet up in a pre-dawn hike up Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. “You ready for an adventure?” he said, rapping at my door at 4:30am.1) But the grand prize goes to Derrick, who took the entire day off to hang out and force-feed me home-grilled steaks and bread and cheese and salad and pumpkin pie… for lunch.2

So last Sunday, I drove down to LA with Eric and Susan. I thought we were being clever leaving at 4:30pm — we’d miss most of Thanksgiving traffic. To provide an idea of how brilliant this notion was, it took us over an hour to get from Gilroy to Pacheco Pass, about six miles. Eric said that the drive wasn’t so bad, because he had two people to keep him company in the car. He’s just being polite, though — Susan and I both fell asleep about two hours into the trip.

On Monday I helped Eric move his new furniture out of storage and into his new place in Pasadena or wherever it is (the hell if I know). We got the furniture out without too much trouble3, but the tricky part was getting the furniture into the apartment. We managed to work the couch around the corner of the doorway in the usual manner, but the dinner table wasn’t going to make it. I suggested that we tilt and flip the table over the 5′ patio wall. Eric was a bit dubious, but the idea worked brilliantly, and I was quite proud of myself for coming up with it on the fly. That is until last night at poker, when Jay pointed out that this was the exact same maneuver we used getting his furniture down a tricky staircase. I had completely forgotten about that. “You’re a real mover now,” said Jay. “That trick is buried in your spinal reflexes.”

I also got to see Eric and Susan’s law offices, and met a few of their colleagues. Susan told me later, to my horror, that her female colleagues were asking about me. Suddenly the downside of being “temporarily retired” became crystal clear. “So what does your boyfriend’s friend do?” the attractive young senior associate had asked. Well Susan hemmed and hawed and finally told them that I worked for Sun Microsystems, but she wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing for them.4 She also mentioned that I had helped my old mentor edit his Statistical Mechanics textbook, and apparently both of her friends were quite impressed by this. So for all you naysayers who think that studying physics will never get you chicks — HA.

1. The part that makes me feel guilty was that right near the summit, two 70ish ladies passed us on the way up. They were chatting amiably and not even breaking a sweat.

2. As I grow older, I’ve realized that my ideal vacation revolves around talking and eating. By these standards, this particular trip was an unqualified success.

3. No thanks to the inexplicable doorways in the corridors of the storage place, which only serve to narrow the maneuvering area for large, inflexible, scratchable pieces of furniture.

4. Which was technically true — the way the “notification period” works, I was still an employee on that date, strangely enough.

Sympathy for Johnny

From the introduction to a recent review of the movie Solaris:

There’s not a single blasted laser battle to be found in “Solaris.”

Despite being produced by James Cameron, who directed the sci-fi classic “Aliens,” the interstellar drama doesn’t feature any slimy creatures or thrilling action, either.

Apart from George Clooney in a space suit, “Solaris” is science-fiction in name only.

Thank goodness the reviewer warns us all about this, so that we’re not fooled in to thinking that Solaris is a science fiction story. With no laser battles, slimy aliens, or thrilling action, how could it be? What is Steven Soderbergh trying to pull? On the other hand, it is my understanding that there is at least one naked space babe in the film, so maybe the movie qualifies as science fiction after all.


So I caught Jonathan Franzen on the radio the other day, plugging his new collection of essays. I wasn’t too impressed with him a year ago, but I figured I’d listen to the entire interview anyway.1 The show began with Franzen expertly dodging the “Oprah question” by affecting a bored, world-weary air and explaining that he had been misquoted. He then spent the next 57 minutes of the interview being generally morose and opining that Lowbrow Consumer Culture Is A Bad Thing, or if not a Bad Thing, then at the very least Incomprehensible to Jonathan Franzen.

Anyway, I had almost forgotten the interview2, when I ran across a review of Franzen’s essays in The New Republic. The following passage is typical:

In “Books in Bed,” a roundup of sexual how-to guides that elicits the coy admission “I have no objection to a nice bra, still less to being invited to remove one” (down, tiger), Franzen again fidgets to set himself slightly apart. “The last thing I want is to be reminded of the vaguely icky fact that across the country millions of other people are having sex,” he writes, horrified by all that humping going on down along the railroad shacks.

By coincidence, in the radio interview Franzen read the very passage that includes these quotes. I can’t transcribe the whole thing, but one thing’s for sure: the reviewer has taken Franzen’s phrase “I have no objection to a nice bra…” totally out of context. As I read the review more carefully, I realized that the entire purpose of the article was to take little snippets from Franzen and follow each one with a snide and irrelevant remark (“down, tiger”). How does the reviewer take Franzen’s “vaguely icky” comment and turn it into “horrified by all that humping”?3 It was one of the laziest pieces of writing I’ve ever seen in TNR’s pages.

Then again, the writing couldn’t have been that lazy. After all, it accomplished the near-impossible: I now have sincere sympathy for Jonathan Franzen. I didn’t believe him earlier, because after all when you say something outrageous, the standard method for spinning your way out of trouble is to say that you were misquoted or taken out of context. But now I’m thinking, hmmm, maybe Franzen was misquoted, maybe he was, in fact, taken out of context. I mean, he’s not someone who I would invite over for Thanksgiving dinner, but still.

1. Well, I do have a good deal of free time these days.

2. It must be the assault of Lowbrow Consumer Culture on my mind, degrading my long-term memory.

3. From the tone, one must assume that this particular TNR literary critic is some kind of railroad-shack-humping veteran.