Julie brings the case against her husband Jason. Julie says Jason is a book hoarder, letting old novels and textbooks rot away in their garage. He says he's acquired a great collection of books and is working his way through the stacks. Who is right? Who is wrong? ONLY ONE MAN CAN DECIDE.
Special thanks to listener Steve Ciabattoni for suggesting a variation of this week's title!
Filmmaker, author and humorist Jon Ronson just released a fascinating new ebook about ordinary individuals who are trying to live extraordinary secret double lives: they are donning extreme costumes and taking to the streets to fight crime as real-life superheroes. The book, The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones: And the Less Amazing Adventures of Some Other Real-Life Superheroes is available for download from Amazon and other ebook retailers. It is a quick-paced and engaging read that I know you folks will enjoy.
Jon was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the book and the superheroes he encountered during its creation.
Rebecca O’Malley (RO): How did you first become aware of the real-life superhero movement?
Jon Ronson (JR): It was Twitter. There was a flurry of tweets about Phoenix Jones. Someone from Seattle tweeted about how proud they were of their city that it could create something as fabulously insane as Phoenix.
So I watched a short CNN segment about him, and kind of knew that I was destined to go on patrol with him. He just felt like someone waiting to be written about by me. He was a mix of genuinely inspiring, mysterious, awesome, but also kind of absurd. I really liked that combination.
RO: How difficult is it to track down and gain the trust of someone who is trying to keep his identity a secret?
JR: It was tough. I had to go through an emissary, Peter Tangen, whose own origin story is amazing. Peter is a Hollywood studio photographer. He shot the movie poster for Spiderman. When he learnt that there were people doing in real life what Tobey Maguire was only pretending to do on a film set, it unlocked something profound in him. He became compelled to become their official photographer and media advisor. So whenever I wanted to talk to Phoenix, I had to approach Peter Tangen.
RO: You’ve written about psychology before, so I’m sure some of your expertise in that area must have influenced how you viewed the real-life superheroes. What do you think motivates these individuals to create these identities and seek out danger? Boredom? Altruism? Swagger? Or just a need for excitement and attention?
JR: All four of those things!
RO: Do you have a personal opinion as to whether it is appropriate for these individuals to attempt to intervene in situations that are normally kept solely in the realm of the police?
JR: Well, I'm a liberal, so I'm instinctively against the idea of what's basically a form of libertarian vigilanteism. But you can't help falling for Phoenix when you hang out with him. He's so goofily charming and inspiring and charismatic, your sagacity goes out of the window a little. You kind of fall in love with him.
RO: Do you believe that they are actually making the streets safer?
JR: I think they perform acts of derring-do that improve people's lives, yes. But I also think they're so addicted to doing good, they'll sometimes leap into a situation that they oughtn't. One time Phoenix tried to give a taco to a drunk driver to sober him up. The drunk driver refused it. Phoenix insisted. The drunk driver got violent. Phoenix pulled out his taser... So sometimes things will inadvertently escalate.
RO: There were a few times in the story when the would-be superheroes seem very disappointed that their evening patrol did not result in the discovery of any ongoing crime. What did you make of that? Does it expose something about their desire for either excitement or notoriety?
JR: Yes. It's a bit of a worrying character trait. One time they started hassling some wizened old addicts at a bus stop at 3am in Seattle. I was thinking, "Leave them alone. They'll be gone by the time the daytime people arrive."
In the middle of my adventures with Phoenix I had dinner one night in New York with Ira Glass. I was telling him all this stuff, how I thought they should leave the crack addicts alone, but I was probably mainly thinking that because I'm scared of confrontation, and Ira said, "Your position obviates the need for superheroes."
I don’t want to obviate the need for superheroes! But I do think they should be careful out there.
Do yourself a favor. The moment you grab a copy of the new The Ecstasy of Defeat: Sports Reporting at Its Finest by the Editors of the Onion – a collection of the best articles Onion Sports has to offer – flip immediately to the Forward, and then the Acknowledgements.
You’ll have plenty of time for fantastic Onion Sports pieces like “Brett Favre Demands Trade to 1996 Packers,” and “Barry Bonds Took Steroids, Reports Everyone Who Has Ever Watched Baseball” – just make sure you stretch out first with the Forward by Anabolic Steroids. Follow the exhilarating journey of this little performance-enhancer as it conquers the World Series, horse races and little league championships. “They say my time has come and gone, a brief violent explosion of human potential and shattered records, of strained connective tissue and ever-thicker necks, of towering home runs and unstoppable defense linemen,” explains Steroids. “Not a bad career for a simple synthetic hormone with relatively humble aspirations.”
The Ecstasy of Defeat is the first book presented by Onion Sports – and it has been a long time coming explains head writer and associate editor, Seth Reiss. “We’ve been working hard at it for a while,” Reiss says. “And it’s kind of cool to see the content that the editors like – and want to put in – all in one package.”
Reiss actually got his start at The Onion as a writer for Onion Sports. Now, aside from editing riffs on current events, Reiss contributes to McSweeney's, and performs in his sketch comedy group Pangea 3000. (FYI, Pangea 3000 are Sound of Young America alums and Reiss is a loyal donor). As far as The Ecstasy of Defeat goes, Reiss has few qualms about kicking the pedestal out from under major sports figures. “They’re so larger than life that it’s already so silly anyway, so its kind of funny to just bring them down a little bit,” Reiss says. “Even if a sports figure is known for being really nice, it’s funny to make him do really awful things.”
Reiss says he is a sports fan, “[b]ut I feel like my in-depth knowledge ends at about 1998.” Reiss grew up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania – a sports heavy environment just 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh – where football, hockey and high school wrestling were all huge. When asked if he was ever an athlete, Reiss answers, “I played basketball in 9th grade, and I played golf throughout high school, but overall no,” he says with a laugh.
Speaking of back home – Reiss contemplates what Ecstasy of Defeat story his mom might like best, or rather, what he might show off to convince mom her son is a funny human being. Reiss settles on “Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President” and maybe “Mr. Met Having Trouble Sleeping in New Home.” With Dad? “It’s even worse – he thinks I’m less funny than my mom,” Reiss says. “Anything that has to do with Pittsburgh or the Steelers he’ll probably like.” Reiss decides upon “Michael Vick Fails To Inspire Team With ‘Great’ Dogfighting Story.”
The sports world is always a whirring beehive of events and scandals, and now Ecstasy of Defeat has been added to the mix. “People are so passionate about their teams and their favorite players that it really is always a good time for sports,” Reiss says. “Because to some people sports is one of the most important things in the world.”
This review and interview was created by intrepid MaxFun reporter Lauren Cusimano.
Twenty-five years ago, Art Spiegelman created his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Maus. In this documentary-style book trailer, Spiegelman talks about the creation of this classic and we get to preview the soon-to-be-released MetaMaus which explores the materials that he used to write Maus and answers some of the most commonly asked questions about the author's creative process. Metamaus will be sold with a companion DVD that contains a digitized reference copy of The Complete Maus featuring audio interviews with Spiegelman's father, historical documents, and generous excerpts from the author's notebooks and sketches.
MetaMaus will be available on October 4th. Until then, you can find more material from the book on Spiegelman's Facebook page.
There is so much terrific alumni news this week that I've had to break it apart by genre! Here's all the latest excitement from TSOYA alums in the publishing world:
This week, our guest host is John Hodgman. John is a Famous Minor Television Personality and best-selling author, whom you likely know from his work as a correspondent on The Daily Show, his podcast Judge John Hodgman, and his many literary works -- including his upcoming book, to be released November 1st, called THAT IS ALL.
He speaks with George R. R. Martin author of the very popular series of fantasy books called, collectively, A Song of Ice and Fire. The most recent installment is A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five. The series was recently adapted for the acclaimed HBO show A Game of Thrones. Martin joins us to talk about creating a fantasy universe, (very) involved fans, and more.
JOHN HODGMAN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm John Hodgman in for Jesse Thorn. My guest is George R.R. Martin; he is the author of an extremely popular series of fantasy novels collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire. There will eventually be seven of them, the most recent, the fifth is called A Dance with Dragons. It was published in July after a several year wait. Martin has received numerous awards for his writing and was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people of 2011, named by me, by the way. I wrote the piece.
A Song of Ice and Fire was recently adapted into the HBO series A Game of Thrones. He's also written some of the scripts for the television version, including its pilot. Here's a clip from that episode. In it, King Robert, played by Mark Addy, has just brought on Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean, to be his second in command, The King's Hand.
First of all, George R.R. Martin, congratulations on all of the recent success of the TV show and the new book, A Dance with Dragons, and getting that done and out there and the number one best selling success of it all.
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Thank you very much. It has been a pretty exciting year.
Aha! Fictional character Alan Partridge will soon release an "autobiography" recounting the many sad, funny and ridiculous adventures surrounding his increasingly desperate efforts to find success as a television and radio chat show host. Bearing the suitably immodest title of I, Partridge: We Need to Talk about Alan, the book was actually written by Partridge's creators, actor Steve Coogan and director Armando Iannucci, and will be released on September 29th.
Here's a clip of Coogan, in character as Partridge, discussing the book.
What does this photograph suggest to you? If I told you that it was taken in South Dakota in 1936 by a man named Arthur Rothstein who was working for the Farm Security Administration, would that impact your answer? This picture was quite a source of social and political controversy in its day as many felt it had been posed to raise sympathy and support for FDR's programs. So what is this work of art, really? A meditation on light and form? Straightforward documentation of farm and weather conditions? Or subtle propaganda?
One man who has a unique talent for getting to the bottom of mysteries like this is filmmaker Errol Morris. His new book, "Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)", contains a series of essays that investigate the hidden truths behind a series of documentary photographs. Including this one.
The review from the LA Times summarizes it beautifully, saying: "[A]t its core . . ."Believing Is Seeing" is an elegantly conceived and ingeniously constructed work of cultural psycho-anthropology wrapped around a warning about the dangers of drawing inferences about the motives of photographers based on the split-second snapshots of life that they present to us. It's also a cautionary lesson for navigating a world in which, more and more, we fashion our notions of truth from the flickering apparitions dancing before our eyes."
If you're involved in independent media making of any kind, this piece by Cory Doctorow is worth your time. It's about books - Doctorow, if you don't know, is a writer by trade - but it's also about what independent media really means for the creator.
Doctorow asks writers considering self-publishing to ask themselves the question "why should anyone care?" It's an important one, and one that's not asked enough. So often, we get so tied up in our own passions, the ones that drove us to create in the first place, that we forget to consider what our audience might want.
That should be an essential question when you create: how will this excite people enough that they will want it? Want it so much that they'll pay for it, or seek it out when it's inconvenient? Am I, as a creator, willing to pave that road?
So yeah: worth your time.
I've come to believe that we'll never successfully book Tina Fey on The Sound, but this will have to do. Tina Fey in conversation with Steve Martin, from earlier this year in Los Angeles.