Recommended diversions


Director Steven Soderbergh, the darling of the Sundance film festival, had an audacious idea. Take a bare bones script into a small town, find locals to play the major roles, use their actual homes as “sets,” encourage the “actors” to use their own life experiences as fodder for improvisation as they navigated the plot, and shoot the entire movie with a high definition camcorder.

And Presto! — a movie that costs about as much to make as the catering charges for “King Kong” or “Lord of the Rings.” Then release the movie on DVD at the same time it goes to theaters, so audiences in small towns get equal access to a film that would ordinarily play only in art houses in the largest cities. “Bubble” is ostensibly a murder mystery but more a meditation on the quiet desperation of people trapped in lives they’d change if they knew how or had the means to. It’s for anyone who was born and raised in a small town and wanted to escape but couldn’t imagine how or to where. It is for anyone who ever longed desperately for something — or someone — they could not have, not ever. It is for anyone with compassion for the suffering of others, and for anyone who wants to cast a vote for bold, innovative filmmaking.


I know as an English teacher and writer I’m supposed to hate it, kill it, throw it away, blow it up. I’m supposed to finally get around to reading Tristram Shandy, or finish that screenplay I’m working on for Steven Soderbergh, set in a small town in western North Carolina, and starring, well, maybe one of YOU. I know I should be teaching myself to speak French, and — oh never mind. I give up. I LOVE television, at least in moderation. I am marking off every agonizing day until the season premier of “The Sopranos” in March. I tune in every Tuesday night to see the riotous “Scrubs,” which packs more laughs per minute than any movie I’ve seen in years. I never miss an episode of “My Name is Earl” on Thursdays, or “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday, and I mourn the impending loss of “The West Wing,” not to mention the fairly recent demise of two old favorites, “Six Feet Under,” and “NYPD Blue.”

Short Stories

I’ve always liked short stories but fell utterly and irrevocably in love with this form of literature as an undergrad at Appalachian State University, where I stumbled by pure chance upon Modern American Lit with Ron Coulthard and was soon introduced to two writers I’ve admired and adored ever since: Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. Since then, there have been so many short story writers I have loved: Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Donald Barthelme, Franz Kafka, T.C. Boyle, Alice Munro, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, Barry Hannah. And that’s barely a beginning. Recently, I discovered the stories of two fairly new women writers, Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners) and Aimee Bender (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt). Both owe something to the influence of the marvelously original and endlessly fascinating Barthelme, who in turn owed something to Kafka, but both have managed to carve out their own unique space, writing in voices as lyrical as their subjects are surreal and wondrous. If you have a taste for the unusual, they should be near the top of your reading list. The late, great Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Believe me, Link and Bender are true professionals, and their stories are magically delicious.

Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll

These young Brits sometimes channel the early Clash, sometimes Johnny Rotten (albeit with a sunnier disposition and a better sense of humor), but not to any political end. They’re not out to save the world — or destroy it. They just want to rock out and have a good time, in which they succeed and then some. They make fun of themselves (“We write the songs that make Israel and Palestine get along”), consider a move to L.A. so they can hang with Axl Rose, remember an old girlfriend, and complain about being bored with the Velvet Underground. Great hooks, great fun, and it never lets up. All in all, an absolute blast, the freshest breath of pure rock and roll produced by anyone last year.

— By Chris Cox

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