“The kind of bad taste I portrayed never achieved wide success, except for “Hairspray,” and that happened unexpectedly. What America now exports in culture is also bad taste, but a bad taste that tries too hard to shock. I never tried to top the graphic end of “Pink Flamingos.” If I had, I wouldn’t be here today. The only way you change anything is to use bad taste to get somebody to accept something they didn’t before. I think higher of my audience. That’s why my films don’t make money.”
The actress Kristen Bell (star of the cult-TV series “Veronica Mars”) recently told the Huffington Post that “The Hunger Games” is “all I think about.” Bell threw an elaborate Hunger Games-themed party for her 30th birthday: “All my friends dressed as the characters and I dressed as Katniss [Everdeen, the books’ heroine].”
As of this writing, the first book in the Hunger Games series has been parked on the USA Today bestseller list for 132 weeks; the second, “Catching Fire,” for 131. There are more than 24 million copies of all three books in print. Unlike the Harry Potter series, which was aimed (originally) at middle-grade readers, this is a young-adult epic with a particularly dark premise: In a future version of America called Panem, 12 districts subjugated by a central authority must each send a pair of their children to compete in a gladiatorial contest from which only one will emerge alive. In marked contrast to the swoony vampire romance of the Twilight series, the many harrowing action sequences in “The Hunger Games” make the books equally appealing to boys and girls.
It’s indicative of the balkanization of the reading world that if you don’t have teenage children, you may not have heard of “The Hunger Games” until quite recently, despite the fact that for several years the book’s success has rivaled that of “The Help” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Although both Harry Potter and Twilight have demonstrated that there’s a sizable adult readership for some children’s books, the genre is still (mostly) reviewed in separate publications, shelved in its own section of the library and often sold in separate stores. In fact, children’s book publishing operates quite differently from its adult counterpart. And in many respects, that’s a good thing.
Laura Miller captures the publishing world quite well.
GQ: What inspired you to sit down and write this book?
McGreevy: A deeply, deeply abnormal brain. I reached a point in my relationship with my own work—I was in graduate school for an M.F.A. at the time—when I realized I wasn’t very good at realism. And so I wanted to do something that had a level of imagination I found more compelling, but still anchor it in a world that was as familiar to me as possible. And so I thought, all right, I’m just gonna take a shitload of monsters and stick ‘em in my high school.
John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead, and Geoff Dyer, author of Zona, recently met for a discussion at 192 Books in New York City. Among the topics covered: Burning Man, Axl Rose, writerly influence, and why Geoff Dyer hates the Coen brothers.
Sullivan: Can I ask you about a remark you made in the book about the Coen brothers? Which did not seem flip—you accuse yourself of being flip with the Wizard of Oz thing, but you describe their films as “witless.” I’ve heard a lot of Americans criticize the Coen brothers, but it’s usually the opposite criticism that’s made—that they’re too clever by half, that it’s all wit and no heart. And so I just was hoping you could expand on that.
Dyer: Oh, with great pleasure! [Laughter]
There was an occasion when The Threepenny Review was hosting this symposium on Almodóvar, and I was really pleased to contribute to that because I really hate his films, but then I duly wrote something and they didn’t publish it because they thought it was too abusive. And I’ve been waiting for a symposium where I can really pitch into the Coen brothers, and it’s really quite simple, I think.
Here is the fact of the matter: I have a G.S.o.H. I really do have a Great Sense of Humor. We’re not going to debate it—just accept it. [Laughter] And when I’m in a Coen brothers film, in a cinema, I’m surrounded by all of these people laughing their heads off, and I’m sitting there stone-faced. And the reason I’m not laughing and they are is because I have a sense of humor and they don’t. What one realizes is that even people without a sense of humor want to have a laugh. Because it’s fun to laugh, of course. I always come back to this one bit. You know how sometimes you can see someone make a gesture in a novel, and it’s some kind of insight into their soul? It’s that sequence in Fargo, that bit where the guy says, “I need unguent.” Do you remember that bit? That is humor for people with no sense of humor. And after that I just despised them with every fiber of my being. And I even thought that the stoner film, what’s that one called? [An audience member suggests The Big Lebowski] Yes, even that is—well, I can see that we all love Jeff Bridges and all this kind of stuff—but that became tiresome so quickly. Then just the pointlessness of many of the films. I’m a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy. I think Cormac McCarthy is a great genius, but I thought that book No Country for Old Men was basically a kid’s book, really, because it had such childish attitudes toward violence. So, weirdly, that seemed to me to be a successful film, in a way. It seems to me that they are childish filmmakers. And then the remake of True Grit. It just seemed entirely pointless to me.
Sullivan: What about Raising Arizona, though?
Dyer: Oh, that is just unspeakably… [Laughter]
Sullivan: Satisfyingly shocking, is what you’re saying? But he’s talking about the pajamas. When the cops are asking the father who has had his child kidnapped, and they’re asking him to describe the pajamas and he says, “I don’t know, they had Yodas and shit on them. They were pajamas.” Come on, that’s witty.
Dyer: I don’t know, it might be. I can’t remember Raising Arizona at all, this is the problem. All I can remember is the vehemence of my own aversion to it.
Sullivan: That’s what makes us essayists. Your reaction dwarfs the reality, and so we write about the reactions.
There should be a tumblr of Books Annotated by Famous People.
Stanley Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. This well-worn book, now housed in the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London, is filled with Kubrick’s notes and comments. Many passages are highlighted, and Kubrick has filled the margins with hand-written notes that run the gamut from notating passages that inspire him, to crossing out sections he found silly.
(click images to enlarge)
Today, in found objects.
Today feels like a good day for animated Vikings.
Haven’t read César Aira yet? Perhaps this will convince you. New Directions has published several great Aira novellas in the past few years. I recommend starting with The Literary Conference, which reads like a love child between Borges and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
From the very literary Greenroom at yesterday’s Academy Awards. Architectural Digest called on Thatcher Wine of Boulder’s Juniper Books to create a truly cinematic library:
The idea being that books are relaxing and help calm the presenters before going on stage. My library calms and also inspires with a dose of film history and nostalgia.