Archive for July, 2010

Book critics don’t start writing about others’ books out of a compulsive need to find fault or a twisted attempt to build themselves up by tearing others down. Or at least that’s not why I got in the book-reviewing game. A love of literature and a belief that it matters motivates my criticism, whether the reviews are laudatory or condemnatory. I admit to having penned a few somewhat negative assessments. Nonetheless, I also admit that it’s a real pleasure to enjoy without reservation a book assigned for review. I like to like what I read.

This happened with Kevin Canty’s Everything, which I reviewed for The Oregonian (“Glimpses from the front line of midlife,” Sunday, July 11, 2010, p. O12). Here are a few excerpts:

As his title Everything boldly announces, novelist Kevin Canty’s characters confront life’s big issues: shattered love, suffering, disappointment, death – and real estate. …

Canty shapes sharp, spare, highly quotable prose. … [H]e conveys his characters feelings of incompleteness in short, brightly polished sentences (or shards of them). …

While Canty’s themes might suggest gloominess, he animates a smiling existentialism, and Everything can be quite funny. … Even amid “epic pointlessness” a kind of grace operates. Loss may be a certainty, but this provides no “excuse not to live” – or not to laugh.

Simply put, Everything does everything a novel ought to do.

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Nancy and I were interviewed about No Neutral Corner after its screening at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival:

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When I started this site, I expected it to be all about writing, both my own and my responses to others’. This month, however, the posts have been about film festivals and speaking engagements.

Carrying that tendency forward, I submit the following news: The Los Angeles International Film Festival gave me the award for Best Performance in an Experimental Film for Imperfect Armor, which received an Honorable Mention in the same category. Imperfect Armor, part of the Poetry in Pictures Series, uses sand, shadow and clay puppets as well as paintings and live-action footage to interpret a poem visually. (This does give this item my literary angle, since I wrote the poem on which the short film is based.) Director Nancy J. Rodwan (my talented spouse) is developing a workshop around the films in the series to encourage youngsters’ artistic expression through words and images.

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Although I hadn’t met Merhav Mohar before I briefly spoke with him in Hollywood on June 10, he and I spent some time among the same people in a place on the opposite side of the country several years earlier.

We were both in the Mary Pickford Theater at Raleigh Studios for the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, which featured the documentaries My Champion, which chronicles Merhav’s short career as a professional boxer, and No Neutral Corner, an examination of issues such as the sport’s health and safety risks and the proliferation of sanctioning bodies and titles. .

Merhav stopped fighting as a result of brain hemorrhaging caused by blows to his head. His last fight was in 2005 against Xavier Tolliver for a then-vacant title bestowed by the World Boxing Council’s Central American offshoot – the Federacion Centroamericana de Boxeo Profesional or Fecarbox. Before that bout and a few others in the United States, the Israeli welterweight trained with Hector Roca at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Portions of No Neutral Corner were filmed there from 2002 to 2004, and Roca was interviewed for it. It’s possible that Mohar was working out at the gym at the same time that No Neutral Corner was in the works. When he saw a postcard for Fighters & Writers, a collection of essays that owe something to the time I spent working on film, Mohar immediately recognized the spot where the cover photo was taken.

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The organizers of Wordstock have invited me to read from Fighters & Writers at “the Pacific Northwest’s largest book festival,” which is slated to occur October 9 and 10, 2010, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Details to follow…

[UPDATE: See “Wordstock Schedule” for more information.]

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It was quite an honor to be a part of the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Celebration in Reno, Nevada, where boxers, commentators, writers, fight fans and descendants of Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, among others, congregated to look back at the “Fight of the Century” and its impact on American culture.

With Al Bernstein at the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Gala

A century before, Jeffries’s corner men rebuffed heavyweight champion Johnson when he sought to shake his vanquished opponent’s hand, but the fighters’ relatives happily embraced at the gala emceed by announcers Al Bernstein and Rich Marotta at the Grand Sierra Resort on Friday, July 2. Wayne Rozen, author of America on the Ropes: A Pictorial History of the Johnson-Jeffries Fight (who also wrote about the fight’s anniversary for the New York Times), gave a great multimedia presentation. Super middleweight champion Andre Ward and referee Kenny Bayless were among those gathered in the Grand Theatre, where bouts were held the following night.

With Andre Ward at the Grand Sierra Resort

The good people at Our Story Inc. organized events for Independence Day weekend and throughout the month of July. I delivered a talk called “Jack Johnson’s Fourth of July” at the Bethel African American Cultural Center on July 3, after which I signed copies of Fighters & Writers. George Kimball, author of Four Kings, also spoke. The organization has scheduled screenings of the documentaries Unforgivable Blackness and No Neutral Corner as well as exhibits of archival photographs, boxing memorabilia and paintings by Demetrice Dalton, Ed Shepherd and other artists.

Delivering "Jack Johnson's Fourth of July" in Reno

Approximately one hundred people stood under the high desert sun on the Fourth to witness a ceremonial bell ringing at the original fight site on the corner of Fourth Street and Toano, after which a party was held at the spot where Johnson trained and where Tim and Joan Elam now tend an enchanting garden.

Linda Haywood (great granddaughter of Jack Johnson's sister) and Gary Wurst (great-great nephew of Jim Jeffries) at the site of the 1910 fight

Plaque marking the site where Jack Johnson trained in Reno

For my wife and me, the weekend wasn’t only about boxing. It also included an excursion with Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Geralda Miller to Virginia City, where historian Guy Rocha showed us the sights and we watched the Independence Day parade.

With Geralda Miller and Guy Rocha in Virginia City, Nevada

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There’s something special about Martin Amis. He provokes strong feelings. With The Pregnant Widow, he once again brought forth bucket loads of critical ink, which I sample over at Open Letters Monthly.

Of all the reviewers, Sam Anderson in New York magazine best summed up the novel when he said: “It’s like NC-17 P.G. Wodehouse.” That’s the line I’d put on the cover of the paperback.

Back in 2008, I surveyed the reviews of Amis’s The Second Plane.

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