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Books into Celluloid: A Boy and His Dog

Written by Kelly Cozy Tuesday, 21 July 2009 20:22

The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
"A Boy and His Dog"
By Harlan Ellison
Published in 1969
A Boy and His Dog
A Boy and His Dog
Directed by L. Q. Jones
Released in 1975
Cast: Don Johnson
Suzanne Benton
Tiger/Tim McIntire (voice)

A classic science fiction tale is translated to the big screen.

The story

In a post-apocalyptic America, a young man named Vic and his telepathic dog Blood roam the countryside, living a hardscrabble existence. Their relationship is at times antagonistic and affectionate but is also based on interdependence. Vic provides food for Blood, as well as protection from other outlaws and gangs, and from the radioactive mutants that also roam the wasteland. In return the dog (whose telepathy and high intelligence are the result of a government genetic breeding program) teaches Vic how to read and also scouts out women for Vic. Their friendship is put to the test when a young woman from one of the downunders — underground dwellings where the last of American civilization survives — enters their lives.

The story

Harlan Ellison’s 1969 story, written for his own pet dog Ahbhu, is, despite its often horrific post-apocalyptic setting, a love story. It doesn’t seem like one as the reader watches Vic and Blood scrounge for food (usually whatever canned goods can be found in the ruins of civilization) and scout for women so Vic can do what he calls “get laid” but is actually rape. They rely on each others’ skills but they also understand each other in a way no one else can.

Read more: Books into Celluloid: A Boy and His Dog


Readerville, Adieu

Written by Gary Glass Sunday, 07 June 2009 15:35


This week, after nine years, Readerville closed its doors. Long before MySpace and Facebook and Twitter, Readerville was one of the earliest social networking sites on the Internet. Its tag line perfectly captured its spirit: “The social life of the mind.” Readerville’s design was years ahead of its time — attractive, usable, and yet feature-rich. MySpace will never look as good as Readerville did five years before MySpace began. I don’t think Readerville’s departure leaves a void that cannot be filled, but I do think that there are very few other offerings of its kind.

Karen Templer, Readerville’s proprietor, in her announcement about the site’s shutdown, did not go into the reasons behind the decision, but she did say this:

These days, I’m thrilled at the vast assortment of tools for people to connect online — from blogs to Facebook and Twitter, to the many social book cataloging sites, and beyond. Readers have resources nobody could have imagined nine years ago…. I like to think Readerville helped set the stage for that in some small way.

I suspect that sites like Facebook and Twitter have claimed a lot of the social networking traffic that sites like Readerville offered, and that the explosion of the blogosphere and online content and commenting has taken a lot of the discussion traffic. Readerville’s focus was books (hence the name), and it was always a great place to learn about new books, but a large percentage of the day-to-day postings on the site had little to do with reading. It was really an online community of people with common (but varied) interests — united largely by a passion for books, yes, but I think there was more to it than that.

Readerville was something of a spin-off from Salon’s Table Talk (Ms Templer formerly worked for Salon), and BookBalloon is something of a spin-off from Readerville (where I was a long-time member). And over the past couple of days since learning of Readerville’s shutdown, I’ve been asking myself what did it offer, and what does BookBalloon still offer, that Facebook and the blogs do not. Here’s my answer:

BookBalloon offers an opportunity to have substantive discussion in a respectful atmosphere. Not that there aren't other good reasons to participate here, but to me, that is the real differentiator. It seems to me that for people who want to have real discussions about ideas, books, and current events, in an atmosphere free of abuse and ridicule, our online options are limited. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with friends and reconnect with old flames. Blogs are an unparalleled resource for staying current on particular topics. But if you want to have serious discussions about issues that you care about, and you want to do so without enduring the ridicule of dozens of anonymous blockheads, or if you just want to be able to follow a discussion without filtering through reams of silly babble, then you’re going to need something else. It’s the rare blog writer who has the time or the inclination to police the swarms of trolls that infect them.

As Readerville veterans will understand, there’s a distinction to be made between the kind of social interactions one has on Facebook and Twitter, and the sense of community and engagement that grows out of discussions that take place over an extended period. Facebook and Twitter encourage a sound-bite culture. They’re good for chitchat. “What’s on your mind?” But seriously engaging with people in a discussion group, whether by trying to express your appreciation for or your objection to something you’ve all read, or challenging one another’s ideas about current events, or sharing your first-hand account of the latest California wildfires — over time you get to know people to a degree you can’t on Facebook. And you get to know and even to appreciate people that you don’t necessarily agree with, and that’s always good for the soul.

And did I mention books? And movies? And music? And writers? These are things the people on BookBalloon engage about. From what I’ve seen, there’s no better place online to do that. But I, of course, am biased.


Books into Celluloid: Nightmare Alley

Written by Kelly Cozy Thursday, 04 June 2009 19:13

Nightmare Alley
Nightmare Alley
By William Lindsay Gresham
Published in 1946
Nightmare Alley
Nightmare Alley
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Released in 1947
Cast: Tyrone Power
Joan Blondell
Coleen Gray
Helen Walker

A sleazy but smart pulp novel makes for a sleazy but smart noir film.

The story

At a seedy traveling carnival in Depression-era rural America, amateur magician Stan Carlisle is making a name for himself. But he’s not content fleecing the rubes for nickels and dimes. He wants more. When he gets hold of a number code he sets himself up as a mentalist; he hooks up with the carnival’s Electric Girl Molly and the two of them start working in vaudeville. But that’s still not enough for Stan and his grudge against anyone who has more respect and money than he does. He joins forces with Lilith, a coldhearted psychiatrist. Using the information that Lilith gives him, Stan reinvents himself as a spiritualist with the power to help people contact their dead loved ones. And when an industry magnate offers Stan a fortune to put him in touch with his dead lover, Stan leaps at the chance…and at his downfall.

The book

In terms of its basic story arc, William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley doesn’t have much to set it apart — cynical protagonist with a chip on his shoulder tries to better his lot in life by breaking society’s rules, only to get a comeuppance and end up worse off than he was. It’s the book’s carnival setting that gives the story its unique flavor: Gresham’s protagonist starts as an ambitious small-time magician and ends up the lowest form of carnival life — the geek. And though Stanton Carlisle soon shakes the carny dust off his feet to become first a vaudevillian and then a spiritualist minister, he never stops being a flim-flam man — all that has changed are the monetary stakes and the penalty for failure. It’s significant that the Tarot card illustrations that open each chapter start with The Fool and end with The Hanged Man.

Read more: Books into Celluloid: Nightmare Alley


Thoughts on “The Village”

Written by Dhes of Yuggoth Tuesday, 12 May 2009 20:32

Can a movie be all bad if it makes you think? Dhes of Yuggoth (her pen name) devotes her thoughts to this question...

The VillageAlthough M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village has been gone from theaters for some years now, I have finally gotten around to watching it. Many of the reviews at the time of its release were scathing, and several venerable critics renounced it as utterly laughable. I therefore fully expected to roll my eyes at the thing and afterwards fling it aside like so much ridiculous tripe. But I wanted to see for myself exactly what they were talking about before rendering final judgment on the matter. What I saw was indeed a flawed piece of film, but, much to my surprise, I found it impossible to toss aside. Indeed, I wanted then to even love it, but I found that impossible, too. It has found a strange little niche, it seems, in that shadowy grey area between forgettable nonsense and sublime cinema.

The movie left me with something far deeper and more profound than it should have, and therein lies its quasi-redemption. Buried in the mud and the dross is a nugget of philosophical finery, something to turn over in my head for a time. Any movie that can accomplish this has a measure of value which makes watching it worthwhile.

In The Village I saw an allegory for many of the movements we see in the world today. In it I saw something akin to the religious communities that seek to turn back the hands of time to a simpler era: home schooling, isolationism, gated communities, compounds and more. All of these are ways to limit what can reach us and our children in our lives, what can touch us, and therefore, what can harm us. At the heart of each are issues of control, fear, and the desire to feel safe from a world gone mad. When feelings of insecurity rise, so too does the desire for more and more extreme solutions — heartfelt, but drastic.

altThe Village is the story of Covington Village, a colony created by its elders where they can be free to pursue their hopes and dreams and preserve innocence and hope for their children. It seems the most noble of causes, and indeed, colonization has been an answer to previous generations who sought to leave the rest of the world behind in search of a better life. In the 17th century, those seeking religious freedom traded the sorrows of persecution for the hardships of forging a new life in a new land that has since become the United States. In the 18th century, this impulse continued as the colonies expanded and gained independence. There were still new worlds to conquer, and in the 19th century, those who tired of the harried pace of city life in the East struck out for the untamed West. But, now, where else is there to go? No worlds are left to conquer, but colonization somehow manages to continue.

Read more: Thoughts on “The Village”


Q and A with Michael Malone

Tuesday, 21 April 2009 00:00

Four Corners of the SkyBookBalloon is pleased to host author Michael Malone for a Q&A session May 4-6. Bring him your questions and comments in the Forum. Registration is free.

One of the best-loved voices of the new American South, Michael Malone is the author of ten internationally acclaimed novels, including the classic Handling Sin, Uncivil Seasons, The Last Noel, and the New York Times bestseller The Killing Club.

His new novel, The Four Corners of the Sky, has just been released.

He is currently at work on Dark Winter, a sequel to his “Hillston” series of novels.

He has also written plays, television programs, a collection of short stories titled, Red Clay, Blue Cadillac: Stories of 12 Southern Women, and two books of non-fiction, one on film, one on Jungian typology, as well as innumerable essays for such magazines and journals as Harper’s, the New York Times, Playboy, Partisan Review and the Wilson Quarterly. He is currently developing a musical of The Maltese Falcon.

Among his prizes are the O Henry, the Edgar, the Writers Guild Award and an Emmy as head writer of ABC's "One Life to Live." He has taught at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore and is now a professor in the Theater Studies Department at Duke University, where his wife Maureen Quilligan is the R. Florence Brinkley Chair in English.

They live in Hillsborough, N.C.



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Speedboat by Renata Adler


"When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind." -- New York Review Books

John Leonard said, "Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler." What do you think? The discussion begins May 15 in the Forum.

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