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Articles by

<Zachary Gomes>

07/31/13 4:00am

Love is Power, or Something Like That
By A. Igoni Barrett
(Graywolf)

In this debut book of short stories by the Nigerian author, the tale with the most suspiciously cheery title is the most devious and enthralling. In it, the protagonist falls in lust with his cousin, 15 years his junior, and after his family takes her in following her father’s death, he becomes captive to his attraction; as their intimacy intensifies, the story’s repulsiveness borders on unbearable. But Barrett tells it with such detail and heightening intrigue that the story pulls the reader helplessly to its ending with as much power as his desire pulls the protagonist toward his cousin. It’s so wrong—and still utterly absorbing.

Set against his native Lagos, Barrett’s stories submerge you in the inner worlds of characters whose overtly flawed exteriors disguise deeper, more powerful problems. A boy crosses town to fetch food for his siblings and booze for his alcoholic mother; a corrupt policeman argues with his wife and, after a workday of bribes and prostitutes, returns to her in need of comfort. Though they are troubled and troubling, Barrett doesn’t condemn his characters, nor does he moralize. You take them at face value and watch as their faults steer them through love.

Brought to life by vivid scenes of Lagos and the distinctive sounds of pidgin English, the stories in Love is Power play out in vastly different circumstances, but they’re all rooted in a distinct place. Vague connections across stories emerge when, as a couple fights over their daughter’s love while the nation is turned upside down, names of characters from the other stories come up. Together, the stories don’t tell a larger narrative in the style of A Visit from the Goon Squad, but their connections open windows into the characters’ formative, problematic histories.

But what holds the book together is Barrett’s ability to immerse you in the external and internal worlds of his characters. As soon as he takes you out of the Lagos in which he has so meticulously placed you to go to Kenya, the people, the language and the city feel so foreign and strange; only the characters’ mercurial trips through love remain.

11/21/12 4:00am

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
By Philip Pullman
(Viking)

As a modern reader, you might be appalled at the ostensibly clumsy craft on display in Pullman’s “New English Version” of these classic stories. Today’s most celebrated fiction tends to eloquently explore characters’ personalities and psyches at minute, intricate levels—a style of storytelling that Pullman explicitly rejects in his introduction. He isn’t being stubborn or contrarian; he’s composed these tales with minimal description and blunt, plainspoken action out of respect for the culture and tradition behind the fairy-tale form. He leaves his own idiosyncratic stamp on the tales while upholding their core elements, which he so clearly admires—and, by doing so, he refreshes some of the most familiar stories in our canon.

Pullman went through the more than 200 original Grimm tales, as well as a wide range of related fairy and folk tales from Western cultures, to come up with his 50 choices for the book. Each is followed by a brief commentary written with an unpredictable blend of Pullman’s accomplished fairy-tale scholarship and a degree of playful insanity. At the end of “Thousandfurs” he provides an extravagantly detailed explanation of how he would continue the story, right down to the method in which the villain would be dismembered and buried. Pullman is candid; he doesn’t hesitate to express his dislike for “The Girl With No Hands” and makes no secret of how much he loves “The Three Snake Leaves.” His commentary also serves as a helpful guide through the different types of fairy tales on offer. The book has so many stories, and by reading them you get to find your particular taste in Grimm brothers’ tales. It seems impossible that anyone won’t be able to find a handful of favorites here.

11/14/12 9:00am

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Writer-director-star Patrick Wang’s debut In the Family follows Tennessee local Joey Williams as he is drawn into a battle for custody of his son, Chip, following the untimely death of his partner, Cody. This Friday, roughly a year after its original New York release, In the Family will reopen at Cinema Village. In the time since its initial release, the film has received praise from Roger Ebert and the New York Times and The L Magazine, been nominated for Best Debut Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, and will be screening in Sao Paolo and Taiwan. We spoke to Wang about how the movie keeps winning over audiences, why he shows the back of the main character’s head so much, and what family is.

The story of the movie’s progress is pretty interesting. It had a pretty rough start, didn’t it?
It was a really rough start. It kind of landed with a thud to begin with. You know festivals, distributors and even some of my collaborators weren’t that thrilled about the movie, and so it was a lonely time for about six months. Then the story changed, and it keeps changing. It’s unpredictable, and you never know if it’s going to change again over the next couple of weeks. The progress it’s made has been slow and I don’t know if we’ve had enough time that it’s going to pay off even more now that we’re back in New York. We’re returning to some other cities, too—San Francisco is one I’m very excited about.

Do you feel it’s finally getting the recognition and treatment it deserves?
I think we had a very basic philosophy at the very beginning: just screen it. Every time we screen it, we’re doing it a favor. Even if only two people come, as long as there’s a screening, it helps promote it. I also learned very early on that real word of mouth is kind of slow. Manufactured word of mouth is one thing, but real word of mouth doesn’t start on Friday and pay off Monday. Sometimes it takes a year for people to really talk about it.

Why do you think it was so difficult to get the movie on its feet?
I think it has something that people don’t quite recognize. It’s not like recent movies that you can point to and classify them together, or say “this is the next version of that.” People get worried, especially because this came from a first-time filmmaker. Some of the different things in the movie—and I knew this as we were making it—a lot of people look at them as mistakes. That’s the nature of difference. You see something out of the ordinary and there’s an instinctive urge to change it or look at it as a mistake. A more experienced filmmaker may sometimes get the benefit of the doubt; people will be more open-minded. But in this case, it was a lot of “who is this guy and what is he doing?” In some ways, it stems from fear. A lot of the people who liked the movie worry about whether other people will like it. Definitely people in the industry, you can see how they’d be worried about being associated with it, it’s a big risk.

Fear is a key part of the movie itself. It wasn’t so much about homosexuality’s place in our society, but about our fear and discomfort with unfamiliar situations or people. How would you describe your approach to fear in the movie?
I don’t parse it out into concept so much. I definitely don’t approach it thinking about what I have to say. It starts in an observational way. You take two people with different backgrounds, throw them together, and see what happens. Fear is one of those things that plays out, maybe occurring in an instinctual way, like a first reflex. Then other elements come into it, just as in life. If I come and express something different, I may get this little social fear or discomfort to start with; then we like to think some of our more thoughtful elements take over. It’s a blending of emotions, and that is what interests me most, and what I’m proudest of achieving in the movie. There are elements of homophobia or racism, there are also elements of class in it, and they’re all mixed up, just like life. You’re never quite sure what someone is responding to. Maybe in a certain context there’s a buffer, and it doesn’t express itself. But when the buffer is gone, then it expresses itself differently. I think these things are always in flux, always a little uncertain and they pop up in ways that seem innocuous and reveal ourselves.

11/12/12 1:00pm

Belski at home

  • Belski at home

Lauren Belski’s debut book, the story collection Whatever Used to Grow Around Here, was released on Saturday by Crumpled Press. Each copy was hand-sewn at book-binding parties at the author’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens home. (We went to one and took lots of pictures!) We talked to her about how she got her book published.

“After I submitted my manuscript to Crumpled Press, I was with my friend Brooke at the beach at Coney Island. We were going to go to Beer Island, which doesn’t exist anymore. We’d already had one beer on the beach, and we were in a good mood. There was a woman there reading palms, Madame Anna. Brooke ignored her and went on to the bar, but I sat down and gave her two bucks. First, she said ‘take off your sunglasses!,’ which I did. She said ‘you’re a writer,’ and I was thinking, ‘I’m here in my bathing suit, I don’t really know how you could tell,’ but I said, ‘yeah.’ She told me I’d finished something, and I said, ‘yeah,’ and she told me ‘two dollars and I’ll say more.’ I gave her two more dollars since I was interested. She said, ‘listen to me, you have to be pushy, can you be pushy?’ ‘I think so,’ I said.

“I took that to heart in a strange way, and I checked in on the manuscript now and then, telling [founder] Jordan [McIntyre] that I really felt good about the match of the book and the press, asking if he’d looked at my work yet. Jordan said later that my following up really got him to look at my work; he gets emails every day, and can’t always look at every single one of them. So this random fortune teller that cost me $4 kind of put me at the top of the slush pile. He liked my book, and it all ended up working out.

“I was in Coney Island this summer, and I saw her and went up to her and said my book’s getting published, and I went to give her a hug. She pretended she remembered me and was saying she had more to tell, just four more dollars, and I was like, ‘not right now, see ya!’

“I knew I couldn’t go the traditional route, and that I wanted to make it exactly what I wanted. The truth is, you can’t make it into what you want in the big publishing houses—you have to make a lot of compromises. With Crumpled Press, I’ve made maybe two. I made the book this size because I wanted it to be the exact size of the paperback editions of JD Salinger’s Nine Stories, and it is, it’s maybe a fraction of an inch off; I wanted my friend Lani to design the cover and she did. I wanted all these things and I got them—which is really rare for a writer!”

11/12/12 12:25pm

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New York’s Crumpled Press released its latest book this weekend: Lauren Belski’s Whatever Used to Grow Here. A few weeks before that, the books were hand-sewn at a book-binding party in Belski’s Prospect Lefferts Garden home by the author, her friends, and Crumpled Press’ founder and editor Jordan McIntyre. We spoke to him about e-books, finding the right paper, and environmental responsibility.

“The reason we decided to do handmade books, sewing them instead of having them stapled, is because we wanted to make durable books that would be precious. When you get a Crumpled Press book, you can feel that it was handmade by somebody, you can feel slight irregularities in it. It’s a precious object that you’re not going to throw away. So if I make 250 or 1,000 copies, those books are going to carry on.

“With the advent of digital publishing, a lot of people ask me if I’m opposed [to it], thinking as a publisher I’m obsessed with the book as object. My answer is no. If you want to read a throwaway paperback that you may forget about, then read it on a Kindle. If you want something in your collection to last, if you love it, then it should be bound in a more caring manner.

“Our first book was a straightforward saddle stitch chapbook. We got into larger work, which was Take a Right at the Tank and Other Ways to Get Home, an account by an elections monitor in Liberia, including a photo journal. It was a thicker book, and one night the others went to an event, and I stayed home, thinking “tonight I’m gonna figure out how to sew this damn book!” I’d seen Japanese style book-stitching, and I took a drill, put holes in it, and played with string until I could figure out a stitch that worked; I made that same box stitch that we’re making today. Over the years I’ve refined it as books have had different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned the various tricks you need to able to print a 90-page book like this, as opposed to a chapbook.

“I try to make each book into enough of a success for me to be able to fund that book and the next one. That means there is a one to two book insurance-policy I can build in to protect me from failed projects. It’s not like the publishing industry now, where if you fail, you’ve made 10,000 copies of a book and you send it to a distributor and have three months to clear the shelves. If it doesn’t sell, they send it back, your press eats it, and it’s a major hit to your business. When fewer and fewer people are buying hardcopy books, it’s no surprise that large publishers are producing books that are part of a formula they know already works. What we’re doing here is trying to find a new formula that works, and expanding the realm of what’s possible for publishing, rather than working to just make money off of it. The books have to be winners at large publishers, but I can take a chance on a loser, and I can also discover a surprising winner.

“This book and the last two books have been printed on Nina Environment paper, which is 100 percent recyclable, and has been made using wind-generated power; it’s as environmental as you can get, both heavy enough that it feels good and thin enough that I can print 90 pages and still bind it. You go into shops now and see so many magazines, so many journals, so many new publishers—every day there’s a new publisher. All of them are just putting out paper and paper and paper, and if you’re going to do that you need to be able to justify it. You have to be able to justify that (a) the work you’re publishing is new and different and needs this, and (b) that if you’re going to use that paper that you do it responsibly. We’re using recycled materials whenever we can and working as sustainably as possible. It’s a big part of our goals.”

11/07/12 1:13pm

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In a two-part referendum, roughly 54% of participants in Puerto Rico have come forward to announce their desire for some sort of change in their relationship with the United States. Of that group, 61% opted for full statehood rather than the other choices offered: complete independence, or status as a sovereign free association.

What has to happen now is for Congress to debate whether to act on the results of the referendum. This year, the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status stated that the U.S. would enact legislation to “honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico,” which for now seems clearly to be statehood.

A potential source of opposition may be Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who is in favor of Puerto Rico’s remaining a semi-autonomous member of the U.S. commonwealth. Earlier today, pro-statehood incumbent Luis Fortuno ceded the election for governor of Puerto Rico to Parilla.

Presently, Puerto Ricans become full U.S. citizens at birth, and Puerto Rican people living and registered in one of the 50 states can vote in Presidential and other state and federal elections. Puerto Rican residents on the island itself, however, are not eligible to vote in federal elections, though they pay federal taxes and have served in the U.S. military in every war since The Spanish-American.

Approximately 190,000 Puerto Ricans live here in Brooklyn, which is just about 7.5% of the Borough’s population. What this means for Puerto Rican Brooklynites is still unclear; for some it may be seen as a matter of pride, or as an important economic issue, and for others it may carry little weight, since the majority of the changes would effect only those living on the island. We will have to wait on Congress’ decision, but in the meantime, designers and aspiring Betsy Rosses can start scanning craigslist for freelance jobs under the ‘government’ listing for “Format layout for fifty-one stars that doesn’t look awkward”.

10/24/12 4:00am

The recent Lincoln Restler-Chris Olechowski election in North Brooklyn was decided by 19 votes, reminding us that, at least locally, every ballot counts. But that doesn’t always feel true on a national level. Will casting a vote for Obama in Brooklyn do anything for marriage equality in Minnesota? Or to enfranchise Arab-Americans? Will it do anything about the often-maddening process of voting itself? If you feel frustrated, there are ways to get involved that might seem a whole lot more meaningful than casting that single vote of yours on November 6. Here are several local organizations that could use your time—and some apps that could use your employ.

No. 1
ACT NOW

Chris Asta, Board Director: “ACT NOW is not an organization that is about getting together and talking about this or that. We’re about getting together and doing. We put boots on the ground, leading bus trips to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania to reelect President Obama and Metro-North trips into Westchester to support congressional candidate Sean Maloney. When we convince one voter to support President Obama, that voter might convince three others, who can each do the same for three more. Each voter we talk to makes a significant difference, and the outreach we do has the potential to grow quickly and exponentially, such that one person, giving one afternoon, can have an impact far beyond what her one vote allows her. What is important about these interactions is that they’re personal. It’s one voter reaching out to another on a human level. And it’s that personal, human element that seems to always make the difference.”
ACT Now NY website

No. 2
Marriage Equality USA

Brian Silva, Executive Director: “Marriage Equality USA is the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer-driven organization dedicated solely to civil marriage equality for all Americans. Our work focuses on education, training, direct action and working in collaboration with other individuals and organizations. We invite everyone who believes in this cause to volunteer for a local phone bank or weekend canvassing trip through our 20 Million More Campaign, a coalition of almost 50 local and national organizations working this fall in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington.”
20 Million More website

10/10/12 4:00am

The Devil in Silver
By Victor LaValle
(Spiegel & Grau)


At New Hyde Psychiatric Hospital, patients trudge through a pill-induced haze, an unseen administration concocts arbitrary restrictions, and a buffalo-headed monster terrorizes the patients at night. Pepper gets himself admitted here when, trying to defend his new hook-up from her ex, he unwittingly assaults three undercover police officers, and they aren’t willing to clock unpaid overtime by arresting him. A few days later, she tells him he was out of place trying to “rescue” her like that and breaks it off.

In Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver, Pepper, the other characters and even society itself need to take a step back, re-consider, and figure out how this whole metaphorical bed was shat. Initially, the characters fire blame in all directions: on police, hospital administrators, government, economics, “The System,” themselves, each other. Unfortunately, the problem is everything, and the conditions at the mental hospital come to stand in for the general insanity and brokenness of modern life. Devil evokes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; it’s hard to tell who is sicker: the patients, the authority figures, or the structures they inhabit together.

The Devil in Silver will be touted as a horror-thriller, but that’s reductive. It’s an expansive social commentary and self-lacerating bildungsroman that also happens to scare the shit out of you sometimes. The most horrifying moment, though, may be when one character, on the cusp of escape from the hospital, commits grisly suicide instead. The world’s illnesses loom over the fences at New Hyde, and this death highlights that any kind of escape is a pipe dream. In LaValle’s world, there is no flying over the cuckoo’s nest. You’re stuck in it.

09/25/12 11:50am

The author as a young(er) man

  • The author as a young(er) man

Park Slope native Ned Vizzini is the author of four books including It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which was made into a movie starring Zach Galafianakis two years ago by the directors of Half Nelson. His latest novel, The Other Normals, about a role playing game made real (sort of), was released today by Balzer + Bray. He’s also a writer for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. (He is also sometimes a contributor to this magazine.) We spoke to him on Gchat—just like the kids do these days!—about what percentage of his books are real and who writes the best hate mail.

lmag: Though you live on the West Coast, Brooklyn and New York City are still your settings of choice. How does your hometown inspire your writing process?

nedvizzini: I think you have to live in a city for more than two and a half years to set a story there. I also haven’t experienced growing up in Los Angeles—a particular experience that involves car accidents.
One thing that I loved about growing up in Brooklyn was that once I could ride the subway, it was a world of strange possibilities. I could see people vomiting or making out at any time. That atmosphere of being amid the unexpected is good for a book.

lmag: So the unexpected was a big part of your understanding of New York, and it certainly features in The Other Normals.
Would you say this book draws on much from your personal life?
(apart from the inter-dimensional travel)

nedvizzini: I always had this fantasy in New York that the subway doors would open and I would be in a jungle or a forest. It never happened so I had to make it happen. I’d say the book is 50% real life, 50% based on things that actually happened to me in high school and summer camp. That’s more inventive than my other books. They are 85%, 65%, and 95% real, respectively.

lmag: Ha! You sound like you had that calculation worked out beforehand.
 
nedvizzini: I did.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. Be More Chill is 65% true. Teen Angst? Naaah… is nonfiction, so it better be 95% true.

lmag: So if The Other Normals is 50/50, were you really a D&D player as a high schooler, or was that the other 50 percent?

nedvizzini: I was a D&D player in high school, of sorts. I had the exact situation as Perry, the hero, does in the book. I had all the D&D books but I never had anyone to play with—or when we did play, it was always like two hours of making characters and then somebody’s mom called and we had to go home. But I LOVED those guidebooks and I LOVED making characters. It was like a drug for me.

08/29/12 4:00am


HUNTER COLLEGE
Shoemaking

It’s one thing to tinker with loafers and pumps at home, quite another to learn what you need to make the hottest footwear around, collect supplies and materials, then cobble the shit out of them! Thursdays, 6:30-8:30pm; Starts Oct. 11, $395

PARSONS
Woodcut, Etching and Collagraph

That’s right—collagraph. If you have to ask what it is, you might not be ready for it. Anyway, if you like playing with knives, you could start selling art you made out of wood you found in Prospect Park. Saturdays, 10am-12:30pm; Starts Sep. 15, $719.00

3RD WARD
Intro to Dyeing

Maybe you’re good at the age-old technique of tying cloth up in rubber bands and chucking them into garbage pails filled with dye. But this class will take you to a higher plane. Sundays, 5pm-8pm; Oct. 14 and 21, $155 (non-members)

Build Your Own Surfboard
Duuude! Carve your own surfboard? Hell yes! Sign us up! This course is taught by David Murphy, a real watersport designer pro. It’ll be worth your time. Tuesday, Sep. 4, 7-10pm; Thursday, Sep. 6, 10am-6pm; Friday, Sep. 7, 10am-6pm; Tuesday, Sep. 11, 7-9pm. $265 + $175 material fee (non-members)

KINGSBOROUGH
Urban Farming Training Program


Don’t those herbs on your windowsill fill you with pride as you add them to dishes made with farmer’s-market-procured ingredients? Well, it’s about time you stopped buying tomatoes and started growing them, too. The school even offers cooking demos for your urban harvest. Tuesdays, 4:30-7:30pm; Oct. 9-Nov. 2, $125