Give the MLB All-Star Game to the Minors

David "Big Papi" Ortiz celebrating another long ball...

I love the Home Run Derby. A fairly recent addition to the All-Star Game festivities (it’s televised tonight, at 8PM, check your local listings), it pits the big bats, like David Ortiz and Prince Fielder, head-to-head in a contest to see, you guessed it, who can hit the most homers. It’s fun. It’s a family thing. Some of the players bring their small children onto the field with them, and they sit together on the sidelines in special tiny uniforms. I could squeal from the adorableness of it. Even though David Wright was never quite the same hitter after whacking a record 16 home runs in the first round of the 2006 competition, the HRD is one of my favorite pro sports events of the year. (‘Cause according to Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, “chicks dig the long ball.”)

But the All-Star game itself? It’s become a charade. Who cares who gets voted in? Who cares that your kid voted, like, a thousand times for Derek Jeter, C.C. Sabathia, Mariana Rivera, José Reyes, Justin Verlander, A-Rod, or Chipper Jones? They’ve already been yanked out, substitutes announced, either because their managers don’t want to risk injury to their superstar players, or, in the case of José Reyes and Alex Rodriguez, they’re already injured.

And if the superstar pitchers nominated by the managers of their respective teams have pitched in the last couple of games before the break, like Rivera and Sabathia, they are automatically yanked because of rules Major League baseball has set up to protect the pitchers.

I understand injury prevention. I’m a Mets fan. Half our team is injured at any point in the season. We just lost José Reyes, the team sparkplug, to a hamstring pull. Even if he was healthy, he might’ve been yanked. What manager these days wants to risk their best players for a game that essentially doesn’t count, is nothing but PR?

But if the superstars aren’t going to come out, that not very good PR.

So I think they should ditch the All-Star game altogether. Save our overpaid thoroughbreds for the pennant races. And how about using all that great media time and goodwill (and still give Major League players a few days off midseason) to highlight the accomplishments of minor league ball players? How about an All-Star game for the guys coming up? I still crow about watching José Reyes play for the Binghamton Mets, before the Mets drafted him. Wouldn’t it be great to see, in prime time, the next A-Rod? The next Derek Jeter? These guys work hard, often on their own time, or for not very much money. Give them a shot at the big time, or a bonus; give them some publicity, a big hand for how hard they work, and let the MLB superstars spend the break on ice.

I’d definitely watch that.

Books and the City

Had a great time at the Book Blogger Convention in New York on Friday. I’ve become acquainted with a few book bloggers during the pre-release promotion for The Joke’s on Me. But what an awesome opportunity to meet a whole lot of them at once! While it’s unfair to generalize about any group, these bloggers, mostly younger women, displayed one distinct quality: passion for the written word over nearly all else. Or, as one blogger put it, “I have books; what else do I need?”

They love books. They breathe books. Even with stupendously busy lives that include (in some combination) college, motherhood, partnerhood, writing their own novels, and multiple jobs, they regularly read and write about books.

As part of the convention, I participated in an event that was a kind of “speed dating” between authors and bloggers. It was the first year the BBC had done this, I was told, and it got a bit chaotic, as way more authors showed up than anticipated, and far more young adult book bloggers chose to partake than adult-book enthusiasts. But I got a good chance to circulate among several tables of very engaged book-lovers. Like most things in life, turns out I was some people’s cup of tea, but not others. I appreciated the direct yet tactful way these women have learned to say no to what’s not in their wheelhouse. (If only I had that skill when I was younger; I could’ve saved myself a lot of problems.)

We authors, too, got to mingle throughout the day, swapping war stories, swag ideas, and business cards. Most of the authors I met have books that have either just been released or are on the cusp of dropping. From them I learned important lessons: bring an ample supply of swag to book events, drink plenty of water to keep from losing your voice, and your ranking on Amazon is like your weight: don’t check it too often because it will make you crazy.

All in all a great day. Regrets? That I hadn’t been able to get to the four days of the Book Expo that preceded it so I could get books signed by some of my fave authors, like Jeffrey Eugenides, Erica Jong, and Dave Barry, and meet celebs like Jane Lynch, Florence Henderson and John Lithgow. And that I hadn’t brought one of those cute little rolling backpacks to carry the books I’d collected. Hey, I live and breathe them, too.

And now a question for you: Besides the book, what kind of giveaway goodies do you like sticking in your swag bag at literary events?

Novels Best (And Worst) Adapted For the Screen

Kudos to The King’s Speech for its twelve Oscar nominations; I can’t wait to see it. While many of the nominated movies were made from original screenplays, like The King’s Speech, some were adapted from best-selling books, some done better than others. Having seen so many of my darlings crucified on the screen, I let out a sigh of relief when a favorite novel is adapted well or at the very least, respectfully. Here are some of my favorite adaptations and some that are simply a waste of electricity. As always, your actual experience may vary.

Among The Best

1. The Color Purple

Thanks to the ministrations of Steven Spielberg, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel of an abused young woman’s journey to freedom was done and done well. Whoopi Goldberg (before Star Trek and The View) shines as Miss Celie, a shy, young woman kicked around by her father and given away in marriage to a man who neither loved her nor respected her. This was also Oprah Winfrey’s first feature film, and she was terrific. Although The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it didn’t win a single one, although other organizations gave it high honors. (Suck on it, Academy.) Although it bugs me that the lesbianism angle was stripped from the book, except for one fleeting kiss. I guess that wouldn’t have been acceptable to film audiences thirty years ago. Still a great movie.

2. The World According to Garp

Because his novels are often so inward-facing and long, John Irving doesn’t always translate well to screen. Released in 1982, Garp was the first of Irving’s movies to hit the screen, so he didn’t yet have the clout to control the script as he did in The Cider House Rules. But under semi-legend George Roy Hill’s directorial hand, the movie was magical. It had so many beautiful moments, and Robin Williams was born to play the lead character, T.S. Garp. John Lithgow is uncharacteristically understated as transsexual ex-football player Roberta Muldoon. Glenn Close plays Garp’s mother, Jennie. Great film!

3. The Accidental Tourist

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is my favorite Anne Tyler novel. I think it might be too subtle for cinema, but The Accidental Tourist made a brilliant movie. William Hurt is phantasmagorical in the lead, an emotionally wounded man who travels but never wants to leave the comforts of home. This movie put Geena Davis on the map, and earned her an Oscar. She does a beautiful turn as the quirky woman who starts to put William Hurt’s character’s pieces together again. I worried about the movie losing some of the beautiful subtle moments of the book, but it didn’t. The director quietly added a brush stroke here, a dab of paint there, and made it almost as good as if not better than the book.

Why Did They Even Bother?

1. Dune

Oh. My. God. David Lynch took Frank Herbert’s brilliant, iconic, multiple-award-winning science-fiction series and turned it into not just, by many accounts, the worst film of 1984 but laughable fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000. It took me years to get the image of Sting in a metallic diaper out of my head. (Bonus trivia: Patrick Stewart and Alicia Witt had small roles in this film.)

2. The Road to Wellville

This is one of TC Boyle’s earlier novels, and I think the first he undertook about a historical figure. Along with a boatload of short stories and novels, he wrote several more stories of complicated men in this vein, including The Women, about Frank Lloyd Wright, and The Circle, about Alfred Kinsey. Wellville centers around Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that Kellogg, played by Anthony Hopkins), told from the perspective of a rich young man (Matthew Broderick) who brings his wife (Bridget Fonda) to his Battle Creek Sanatorium. The 1994 box-office-bomb was played for cheap, scatological laughs and decimated Boyle’s book. Even sadder, it was filmed at New Paltz, NY’s Mohonk Mountain House, a resort about a half an hour from me. I can’t go there without thinking of this travesty.

3. Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York

This novel by Gail Parent, previously a television comedy writer, has been called the Jewish girls’ answer to Portnoy’s Complaint. The story is essentially a suicide note by a young, single, overweight Jewish woman in New York who can’t find a husband (because that was essential, back in the day). I read it when I was in my teens, over and over and over again because it was spit-milk-out-your-nose funny. When I heard it was to be made into a movie, I was really excited, but it became a complete and utter disaster. Jeannie Berlin, the actress chosen to play Sheila Levine, was skinny, gorgeous, and didn’t even look Jewish, even though she is Elaine May’s daughter. I give this bomb two thumbs down and a kick in the Balzac.

This is but a small sample of the many. Which of your favorite novels have adapted well to the big screen, and which ones just made you want to scream?

One Man’s Freedom Fighter Is Another Man’s Antisecrecy Group

Listen to the news sometime. I mean, really listen, beyond the sound bytes, hairstyles, and the cringe-worthy way some of them pronounce “often” and “inundated.” Or that one American network that thinks we’re so stupid, a world map graphic is now used to show where each news story is occurring, even those in large US cities. Try to catch the way anchors, correspondents, and political officials pronounce the names of countries. Take note of the adjectives used to describe potentially inflammatory individuals, situations, or groups. It’s really fascinating. Can you imagine the groupthink that went into those decisions? I see a bunch of suits in a room, bandying about various phrases, cringing in anticipation of the angry letters they might get if certain terms are used. It’s lead to some interesting tweaks of the English lexicon.

For instance, my Journalism 101 professor, who looked exactly like J. Jonah Jameson, said the word “try” is a big tip-off to media bias. As in, “The president tried to rally foreign leaders to get behind his peace agreement.” Meaning, “Our editorial slant is that we disapprove of the president and hope his flawed, imprudent agreement fails.”

But that’s old news. With a 24-hour news cycle, who has time for subtlety?

How newscasters and politicians pronounce the names of Latin American and Middle Eastern countries is also a clue. The late Peter Jennings, Canadian by birth, suddenly became Latino when he had to say “Nicaragua” or “Ecuador.” It’s silly, really, a politically correct nod to our neighbors to the south, whom I’m sure are lovely people, but probably wouldn’t mind if we pronounced their countries’ names with our American accents. Do you hear that on the BBC? I don’t think so. Listen now, as President Obama pronounces “Pakistan.” PAH-ki-stahn. Are you guessing that news outlets rooting for his failure probably doesn’t pronounce it that way?

Certain terms are also buzzwords pointing to editorial slant. Remember Ronald Reagan? (Google it, kids.) Remember his dealings with the Nicaraguan Contras? This band of fighters resisted the Sandinista government that took control after dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown in 1979. Taking a cue from the French Resistance in World War II, the contras were called “freedom fighters” by the CIA and the Reagan administration. The contras themselves preferred to be known as “commandos.” And I’m pretty sure the Sandinistas (and those on the American left who supported them) didn’t call the Contras “freedom fighters.” Probably more along the lines of “rebel scum.”

The US media had a little tussle with itself after 9/11, about the use of “terrorist,” an emotionally charged word that was often applied indiscriminately to refer to people who weren’t “actual” terrorists. This led to terms like “enemy combatant,” which the Obama Administration dissed in 2009.

And now, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has journalists scratching their heads again. Some outlets debated the use of “whistleblower,” and if Assange is truly thus. The New York Times now calls WikiLeaks an “antisecrecy group.” Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden call him a terrorist. So now, one man’s terrorist is another man’s antisecrecy advocate. Just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

What euphemisms have you heard rolling off the tongues of those on the news? How do you think we should pronounce Pakistan? Join the discussion!

Don’t Censor Huck Finn

Next month, an updated, combined edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will be published by NewSouth Books, minus two-hundred-plus total instances of the “n-word” and several other racial slurs used at the time.

According to Twain scholar Alan Gribben, English professor and editor of the new release, as reported by Publisher’s Weekly, “This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind. Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

But Gribben’s choice of expression (mainly changing the “n-word” to “slave”) hobbles the sheer force of that word, a word so powerful many of us (myself included) refuse to speak or write in its entirety.

I can understand why Gribben, in his many years as a teacher in Alabama, found it more comfortable (for himself?) to replace the offensive expressions when he read the works aloud to his students. I’ve seen people flinch when the n-word spits from someone’s mouth like snake venom. As a Unitarian Jew, I’ve had my share of epithet-bombs lobbed my way, but I have no way of understanding how that particular word might feel to a young African-American reader. But whitewashing the ugly from America’s past is doing all of us a greater disservice.

Because if we selectively edit our nation’s history, how will generations after us remember? Could we just as easily remove references to Japanese internment camps in breathtaking works like David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars and Jane Smiley’s Private Life? Indian massacres? The shame of the 1921 Tulsa race riots? Lynchings? Matthew Shepard and other young men murdered for being gay? Could some future “scholar” come along and hack up Lolita because some may find the themes of pedophilia too offensive? Or The Help because of its racial overtones? The Godfather because some complain of its ethnic stereotypes?

Where will it end?

And why are we altering an artist’s original intent? That’s what I find wrong about censorship. Twain expressed the manner and mannerisms of a particular slice of America, told through the eyes of a particular American boy. (Make that two American boys.) The uneducated and ignorant people in the universe of Twain’s “boy adventures” used the “n-word” in reference to anyone of African descent, whether they were enslaved or free. (Therefore “slave” is, while true in some cases, not a 1:1 replacement for the ugly epithet.) If this book is to be taught in school (and many have banned or challenged it, as early as one year following its 1884 publication date to 1998 in Tempe, Arizona), it is to be taught in its historical context and in a greater discussion of racial conflict in America. Upper high school and certainly college students are mature and intelligent enough not to condemn an entire, important work because of the one or two words that people used at the time. I think they’re smart enough to know that those who use that word are showing their own ugliness.

Yet Gribben sees it from the opposite angle. Local teachers wanted to teach both Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, but felt they couldn’t. “In the new classroom,” he said, “it’s really not acceptable.” He also said that for “…a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs.”

You can kill the word, but you can’t kill the concept, Professor Gribben.

Count me among the “textural purists” whom Gribben believe will be “horrified” by this act of censorship. We are all entitled to know the history of our culture – the good, the bad, and especially the ugly – as told by the road map of our great literature.

Best And Worst Jobs of 2010

As if you didn’t already know where your job stacks up against, say, that dream you always had of ditching the suit and tie and becoming a lumberjack, a ranking of the 200 best and worst jobs of 2010 was just compiled and released by CareerCast.com.

The rankings reflect the stress, employment outlook, working conditions, and salaries of each position, among other things. Actuaries fared the best, followed closely by software engineers and computer systems analysts. So, apparently, it’s relatively safe and lucrative to sit all day staring at computer screens, although my physical therapist and ophthalmologist would probably disagree. Physically demanding jobs often performed under less-than-optimal conditions came out worst, like welders, dairy farmers, ironworkers, and, sorry to say, lumberjacks. But ranking #200 were roustabouts (typically someone who does all the stuff no one else wants to do, like hang off of oil rigs or put up circus tents.)

Actors came in at #164, although if CareerCast.com spent more time in Hollywood, they might want to add these jobs in their best and worst categories:

BEST:

1. Anyone on Charlie Sheen’s payroll is having a good year, although some jobs are less savory than others. I imagine it’s easier to be his dealer than his public relations agent. Or his housekeeper.

2. “Butcher” might not have rated very highly with CareerCast.com (#190), but one particular butcher did well…Lady Gaga’s designer, Franc Fernandez, bought twenty-five pounds of flank steak from his own butcher to make this juicy little number. And, like any good red-carpet design, the knockoffs are already flying off the menu.

3. Lindsay Lohan’s sober coach. According to Lindsay’s dad, Michael, strongly in the running to keep his daughter away from the influence of “those Hollywood types” is Iris Martin, who was once Bill Clinton’s therapist. Because that worked out so well…

WORST:

1. Hands down, 2010 was one horrific year for TV star Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Frank Ryan. After performing ten procedures on the celebutante in one month (November 2009), Montag publicly expressed her deep regret and her scars. In her interview with Life & Style on December 2, she said, “People have fewer scars from car accidents than I have on my body.” In one of those horrible Hollywood twists of fate, Dr. Ryan died in a car accident while texting back in Auguts. He was sending a Twitter message about his dog.

2. Having anything to do with Mel Gibson rates lowest on the list. Seriously, not even Jodie Foster will talk to him anymore.

3. It’s apparently also a bad year to be Kanye West’s media trainer.

I hope 2010 was a great year for you. Have a safe, healthy, paparazzi-free and prosperous 2011!

Best Political Gaffes of 2010

Vice-President Joe Biden turned his untimely f-bomb into a fundraising opportunity.

I am fortunate to be in a profession in which errors don’t normally result in the loss of human life. Typos and grammatical mistakes may cause a little embarrassment, and could, if printed, cost the client some money and a smidgen of credibility; at worst, a missed marketing opportunity, but no one is dying on the table. No one bleeds out from a misplaced comma. (A colon, maybe.) No one will perish in a plane crash because my subject and verb do not agree.

These are extreme examples, I realize, but mistakes in other professions can also have lasting repercussions. Ask Mark McGwire. Or BP.

If you’re a politician, however, beware the open mike or the flippant tweet, because the media, and your opposition, have long memories. Whether Sarah Palin meant to write “refudiate” in her now-famous Twitter post or simply chose the wrong word, the results are now engraved in pop culture history: “refudiate” made the top three in several “best words of 2010” lists.

Here are more of my favorite political gaffes of 2010:

1. “I am not a witch.” Copping a famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Christine O’Donnell, in a scripted, intentional, but misguided political ad, tried to assure potential voters in Delaware she no longer “dabbled in witchcraft” and would not turn them into newts. Instead, Delaware turned her into an unemployed marketing consultant.

2. “Our North Korean allies…” Oops. Sarah Palin, probably tired from counting the advance she made on her second book deal, misspoke and made the Huffington Post orgasmic for a while at her seeming lack of current events and geographical knowledge. I think they were too hard on her, since she obviously meant to say, “our Al-Qaeda allies.”

3. “This is a big f***ing deal.” Joe Biden is always good for a laugh. This expletive, about the passage of the healthcare reform bill, came when he leaned into President Obama’s ear near a microphone he didn’t know was open. This slip of the lip has legs, though. And a limited edition, fund-raising t-shirt, courtesy of the same brilliant organization behind Obama’s presidential campaign.

4. Carl Paladino. Take your pick from any of his greatest (baseball bat) hits. Every time he opened his mouth it was anybody’s guess what would come out.

5. “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.” Sharron Angle, responding to a group of Latino students about one in her series of racially offensive ads, tried to prove her color-blindness, and failed miserably. And lost the race to another of our favorite gaffe-makers, Harry Reid.

6. What’s with Barbara Boxer’s hair? Has the Feminist Movement taught us nothing? Carly Fiorina, while waiting to be interviewed during her race against incumbent senator Barbara Boxer, “forgot” her mike was on and said, “Saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, God what is that hair?” Dear, oh, dear. Haven’t we learned our lessons from folks who’ve dumped on Hilary’s pantsuits? And why do women do this to each other? You’d think as a CEO Fiorina would be a tad more savvy.

7. “This is Reagan country, and perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California’s Eureka College would become so woven within and interlinked to the Golden State.” So sayeth Sarah Palin. Except Eureka’s in Illinois, and Reagan didn’t move to California until five years after he graduated. Oops.

8. “The Hottest Member.” During a fundraiser hosted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Harry Reid referred to New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, as “our hottest member.” She was sitting only a few feet away at the time. One of Reid’s spokes-bots later clarified, “What can I say, she made The Hill’s ‘Most Beautiful’ list. Of course he also went on to praise her skill and tenacity and described her as an effective member of the New York delegation as well.” Of course.

9. Don’t mess with Red Sox Nation. Remember Martha Coakley? She ran against Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy’s seat? She dissed former Sox pitching phenom Curt Schilling by calling him a Yankees fan and the home crowd by sneering at the horrific idea that she should have human contact with the electorate, “..standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” Nah, we don’t remember her either.

Anyone I’ve forgotten? What were your favorite hot mike and brain freeze moments from the past year?