Monday, November 30, 2009

Another all-male Best Books list

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Amazon compared what it called three best books of 2009 lists, which it called "the annual triumvirate of US top 100s": the New York Times Book Review's, Pulishers Weekly's and theirs.
Best of 2009So far, so interesting. Eleven books made all three lists, which Amazon calls "a sort of consensus on the most-admired fiction and nonfiction of the year."

That made me ecstatic, since COLUMBINE was one of them. But then, the tricky part. No women. Pub Weekly caused a controversy a few weeks ago by including no women in their top ten.
This time, I don't know. You can't blame any individual or even group, since  this list is combining three, all of them with lots of women.

Not enough women? I went through the Times list and counted about 33 women's names--I wasn't sure about a few, but it's very close to one-third of the list, give or take. That's not ridiculously low--like say, the US Senate or Supreme Court--but two to one men still seems pretty lopsided and unlikely fair. There does seem to be a male-bias--perhaps in favor of the subjects men are writing about, or the male style.

(FYI, Amazon included two women in its top ten. The Times releases its top ten Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what they do. I wonder if they were affected by the PW flap. They probably won't tell us.)
It's disturbing. I know a lot of women writers and I'd be irked at the situation if I were among them.

I'm no expert on it, though. Unfortunately, I find myself reading a lot more dead guys and women, so I don't have my finger on the pulse of who is writing what at the moment, or how damn good they are.
It would be nice if we could start giving women their due, though. I'm not sure how to go about it. Ideas?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I didn't make Oprah's list. But . . .

The email came Thanksgiving morning, but I found it when I got home bloated and stoddering from tryptophan* that night. It was Oprah's newsletter, announcing the Ten Best List from O Magazine and Oprah's Book Club.

They write up one book per page, so you have to click nine more times to see them all--anxiously, if you're one of the (400,000?) authors who published a book this year.

I found myself among the 399,990. Maybe next time. It was nice to see one of my authormates at Twelve make the list, though: Christopher Buckley's LOSING MUM AND PUP.

I was way too giddy to care, though, because I didn't expect to make that list, and had just opened an email from my editor about a better one. The New York Times Book Review announced its hunred best that day, which was the list I really wanted. I somehow thought they announced it much later, so it took me by surprise. A really nice Thanksgiving surprise.

I blurted my thoughts out immediately on my facebook page, so I apologize if you've already seen this, but man, did I go to bed happy that night. Not just because of the NYT list, though that was definitely a nice topper. It was the night before, that I started thinking about Thanksgiving, my second-favorite holiday after Ash Wednesday, for kind of opposite reasons. What a pure holiday, and one I can really appreciate: just one day all year to step back and look at what has whizzed by me all year and be grateful for it. And to thank a bunch of people. So here goes:

Thanks mom and dad. Thanks Leak, Thorn, Joed, Gurt, Snort, Deemboo, Beagle and Mrs Che--my siblings--and their seven darling kids, a slew of funny and compassionate friends, a brilliant publishing team (Betsy, my agent, Jonathan, my editor, and Cary, my publicist) publicist, plus Colin and Harvey Jane and a zillion other people at Hachette, my shrink, my gym buddies, all the people who shared their stories for the book and who lived through that horror, everyone on OS and my Brokeback forum and facebook who supported me and laughed with me and made fun of me, everyone who bought my book, or read it from the library or borrowed it from a friend, or came out to see me, and all the journalists, bloggers and producers who wrote about my book or put me on the air. And I never believed in guardian angels, but I kind of feel one hovering over me the past couple years, so if you're real up there, thank you, too. (And if you're imaginary, thanks for the placebo effect.) And I rarely get overtly religious in public, but thanks, God. I appreciate it.

Man. What a year. I've had 48 of them now, and I don't normally rank them, but this was easily #1.  It has been a wild ride, and a fulfilling one, and I'm so glad to have you guys to share it with.

So I went to bed with a full heart Wednesday night, and Thursday was all about basking in it. I'm pretty blessed. Thanks. And just before I wrapped the day up, I got the NY Times news. I started off the year with no idea what my book would do, whether anyone would even hear about it, but I hoped to end the year on that list. Done. I'm a happy man.

* FYI, this wikipedia page claims the whole turkey-sedation thing from tryptophan is nonsense. It says it's got roughly the same content as other meats, and includes a chart with a dozen common foods with more, likeParmesan cheese with twice the content per gram of food. Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not how I expected to get on Jeopardy!

Nov. 16, 2009, the day I really arrived:

 Hahaha. I started getting facebooks and emails late yesterday afternoon. I was giddy all night. It actually tickled me even more than making the Pub Weekly and Amazon best of 2009 lists.

This was a dream I didn't know I had. I used to play every day, my little sister Mrs Che kept score. I would get a little nuts when I didn't win. I loved that game, the show, Alex. For years, I dreamed of being on the show as a contestant--that was one of my biggest early fantasies. But it never occured to me that I might make it on as a question.

The category was "In The Bookstore," BTW.

And I didn't even mind that they got my name wrong. Sorta. It's on my birth certificate that way, but not the book cover. (Technically, it's not on the front cover at all, but it's inside and on the spine that way.)

I was thinking about emailing my editor, but thought it might be too silly. Then I got  home last night, and he had sent it to me. An editor at the house had tivo'd it (I think), and backed up to snap a photo, and sent it all around the house. Haha. Nice to know we all enjoy stuff like this.

Sarah making sense

Sarah Palin on Oprah

So she's not dumb.

Sarah Palin deserved all the heckling she got, in my opinion. She made an ass of herself. She seemed to revel in ignorance, and glorify it. But she turns out to be intelligent after all.

I'm watching her right now on Oprah. I'm halfway through the show, and I've got to tell you I find the woman real, candid, and yes, intelligent. I can't believe I'm using that word, because I had never found her intelligent before. My big problem with Sarah Palin is that she has spent the past year celebrating ignorance and stupidity. She seemed to stand for it.

I have not read one word of the book, so I have no opinion on that, but she really comes across differently on this show. I don't buy everything she said, but I do buy the gist of it: that she was a newbie to  that kind of VP stage and of course she made lots of beginner mistakes and was also kind of paralyzed by making more, and the McCain people's obvious terror that she would make more, and the press guffawing when she made more, so it was kind of f viscous cycle.

I'm paraphrasing massively, but that was the gist. And that rings true to me. Of course, I would also argue that was inevitable, and that's why it was dumb to nominate someone who had never gone near that stage.

But as for her role in the whole thing, yeah, I buy her version of it, at least big picture.

That doesn't necessarily contradict what the McCain people have said: that she didn't play ball well, that she went rogue way too often and basically didn't accept that she was a beginner and take direction better.

But I see her point of view, too. She sees them humoring her--eg, saying Good job on the Katie Couric disaster. She also feels that she is the candidate and she's supposed to exert herself and be herself and not roll over and play to a script. That's a very realistic tension to me, and I can see myself being torn if I were in that situation.

Once again: what the hell was she doing in that situation? It was a desperate move by McCain, but hell, he was in a desperate situation, too. He knew he was going to lose if he didn't throw a Hail Mary pass, so he threw one.

I found Sarah least convincing on the blame she laid on Katie Couric for badgering or condescending. Asking what Sarah reads was a reasonable question. It was Sarah who read way too much into it and got ruffled and rambled instead of just naming one. (I also thought Sarah was not completely candid there. It sure sounded like she wouldn't name a magazine because she would be heckled for any name she threw out. So why doesn't she just say that now?)

Sarah has not convinced me that she made a ton of wise choices during the campaign, but she has convinced me that she was facing a ridiculous no-win situation, and she made some reasonable choices in those situations.

Don't even get me started on some of her positions, and some of the hypocrisy. And she still pisses me off for the way she tried to make a virtue out of ignorance and inexperience.

But I understand what makes her tick a lot better, and it's much better than I imagined.

And she is no dumbass. She has not converted me into a fan, but I respect her a whole lot more than I did this morning.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This cruel web: The death of the Washington Blade

Washington Blade closesThe announcement came suddenly, apparently. From Washington City Paper's site this afternoon:

Just hours ago, the staff of the Blade learned that its parent company, Window Media, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that the Blade was closed effective immediately, and that the paper’s two dozen employees were all out of work.

Yow. A media institution and a gay institution, gone in one swoop.

It's hard to imagine who is going to survive by the time this media revolution is over. Or how.

The story mentions Lou Chibbaro Jr., the Blade’s longest-running employee, who has been there thirty freaking years. I had the pleasure of getting to know him while covering both Matthew Shepard murder trials in Laramie. Smart guy, good guy, great reporter.  What is he going to do now?

I was also impressed, at the time, that The Blade flew him out to cover those trials. It was important. There was also one reporter there who had set up a freelance assignement for The Advocate--which probably would not have covered it without his setting it up, and probably would not have the cash to do it today.
That was it for the gay press. Who is going to cover these stories now?

Is there a gay press anymore? Do we still need one?
I think so. It's one of those situations where the purpose of a gay press is hopefully to help make it unnecessary. The day we are equal, we won't need a separate voice to advocate for us. I don't think we're there yet.

But that doesn't stop the audience from drifting away. I know I read the local gay rags much less than I used to. Almost never, actually. They're not very good, but that didn't stop me from flipping through before.
But now I flip through very little in paper, except for books, and I follow most of the gay stories much less because we have come a long way, and it's less a burning issue.

As a consumer, I feel less urge to partake. But my needs as a day to day consumer are very different than my needs as a member of society. I need someone out there pushing every day when I'm not, and I also need good reporting when the big stories come up and I am interested.

But most of us are no longer consuming, which leaves no revenue, no budget, and media institutions are folding.

I know a senior editor at one of the biggest, most respected pring mags in the country who left recently, because he sees their days numbered.
This situation is going to get much worse. 
Photo of former Blade employees by Darrow Montgomery

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Obama's moving memorial speech at Ft. Hood

President Obama at Ft. Hood memorial serviceI got choked up watching that speech. Obama hit just the right notes, and carried himself just right: serious and a little subdued, yet resilient and strong.

I broke my rule against watching profiles of the victims, because that can send me spiraling down to the dark place, because I just wanted to hear what he had to say. How striking that so many were immigrants and minorities. It made me gasp, again, at the blissfully few voices calling for retribution or cleansing of various sorts against Muslims.

We are a strong country and we have a strong military because it includes Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, blacks, whites, Koreans, Pakistanis, gays (in hiding), straights, men, women . . .
I was so happy to see Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey speak so strongly on all the Sunday news shows about the danger of backlashes and persecution of Muslims.

“It would be a shame — as great a tragedy as this was — it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well,”he said.

That was a gutsy statement. I'm proud he's running our army.

And I'm proud of our commander in chief, who did a great job today. Just by giving us a snapshot of each victim, he made the same point--as well as honoring them, and bringing some small relief or perhaps moment of pride to their families.

It's so hard on the families. Ten years later, the kids at Columbine are generally doing really well, but it's a different story for the families of the ones killed. Many are still struggling badly. 

The tone, for them, was set Day 1, and for these victims at Ft. Hood, hopefully their president made that terrible load just a little bit lighter. I hope.

You can read the full speech here. Here's how he closed:

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes. . . .

Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to thirteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home. Later today, at Fort Lewis, one community will gather to remember so many in one Stryker Brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan.

Long after they are laid to rest – when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today's servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown – it will be said of this generation that they believed under the most trying of tests; that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.
So we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service. May God bless the memory of those we lost. And may God bless the United States of America.

* Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times

Drama-queen for "center"

Pack journalism is a well-known evil in my sometimes-field, but my peers seem to pack even tighter on word usage. One of them hits on a hot new word, which seems to make them look intelligent or dramatic, and suddenly it's everywhere, constantly.


This New York Times column highlights some of the latest: trope, besotted, and epi-center--a drama queen's version of "center."

Then there is "battling cancer," which is oddly specific to cancer. Never battling diabetes. And worse, as the piece points out, the implication that cancer is overcome by people with courage or fighting spirit. It really does, doesn't it? That's the impression I come away with in those stories: it's not about chemo or radiation or genetics, early detection of plain old luck. It's the fiery determination of the fighter gritting her teeth every morning and declaring internally, You won't get me, cancer!

Yeah, that's how it works.

Why are so many journalists such bad writers?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is Ft. Hood Like Columbine?

The authors of the NurtureShock blog at Newsweek asked me to address that question as a guest blogger on their. site. My post is now on their blog and the Newsweek homepage here.

I will follow up here with a related idea here soon. (Hopefully Saturday: I'm giving to presentations at an academic conference on school shooters in Finland in a few hours.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

I just learned I'm in a young city: only 500 years

I saw the punchline coming, though they didn't mean it as a joke. A filmmaker from Estonia was explaining what a young city Helsinki is, and I started chuckling while I asked "How young?"

I knew it was going to be older than our entire country. Twice as old. It was built when the old capital burned. I think they said that had been there about 1200 years.

Such a different scale here. When we drove to my grandmother's house as a child, I hated that section of Chicago--a tiny little place called Stickney, near  Cicero--because it felt so repulsively old. The houses and the streets too, were maybe 75. Seemed like a different planetary age to me.

Not really. Not measured in European terms--which is itself one of the youngsters of civilization, especially these northern stretches.

On the way back to the hotel, I mentioned how some of the buildings reminded me of St. Petersburg. "Oh yes, same architect," the woman said. Only 300 years. A new section of town.