Books ahead

On Friday evening, Amy was over at a neighbor’s, so I spent some time downstairs in the library, looking at my books and pulling ones that I hope to read in the year ahead. I’m going to list them here so I can check back in December and see how far I deviated from plan. Also, so I can look like a smartypants:

That’s only 14 books, so I’ve left myself plenty of wiggle room. I don’t think I’ll start a major reading project this year, like tackling Caro’s biography of LBJ or re-reading Proust. I’ve been thinking about re-reading Middlemarch, or taking up David Mitchell’s newest one, and there are a bazillion other books downstairs to discover or return to, but this seems like a good starting point. I’ll let you know how it goes (like it or not).

Virtual Memories Radio: the missing tapes!

I just discovered that I have a podcast from last May that never posted! I could’ve sworn I posted this one shortly after Ernesto Sabato’s death on April 30, but there’s no sign of it anywhere on the blog!

The files were posted on the morning of May 4, but there’s no sign of the post I must have written to link to them! In fact, a pal of mine cited the podcast on his blog on May 14! Grar! I’m really hoping that other posts haven’t gone missing, too!

Anyway, here’s what you need to know about the time I posted this piece:

Anyway, here’s episode 3 of Virtual Memories Radio (mp3 and m4a). It’s about 10 minutes long and recorded in several different locations in my house, so the audio has some jumps in quality.

I’m planning to record a new one this weekend, but it’ll be another solo joint. Boo. . .

Unrequired Reading: May not

Just another honkin’ load of links, courtesy of my Twitter feed at twitter.com/groth18!

RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle VanBlerk): Awesome people hanging out together. Early contender for Tumblr of the day.

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RT @neilhimself (Neil Gaiman): Remembering Douglas Adams in the Guardian. So odd to realise I’m now older than Douglas, who was always older than me.

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RT @mattzollerseitz (Matthew Seitz): The 10 greatest sequels of all time. By MZS.

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RT @magiciansbook (Laura Miller): “An entire train station full of used books

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RT @witoldr (Witold Rybczynski): The High Line succeeds in New York, but will it work as well elsewhere?

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RT @nerdist (Chris Hardwick): These Sci-Fi Ikea instructions are perhaps the best things ever formed with molecules: (via @CollegeHumor)

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RT @DwightGarner (Dwight Garner): I’m pulling for Clive James, who is fighting leukemia.

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Unfocused #RonRosenbaum column about #BobDylan (but still worth reading)

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Tappan Zee: bridge to the past.

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Will my forever stamps still be good if there’s no USPS?

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A lengthy review of #HaroldBloom’s career, masked as a review of his new book.

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Oy, with the brain-frying books! (Me, I’ll be Kindle-ing P&V’s translation of The Brothers K)

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Apparently, the house DOESN’T always win: #blackjack #theotherdonjohnson

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@hoopspeak demolishing some #NBA myths.

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Shaq is 15 months younger than me, and he’s done. NBA makes you feel old. #nba #geriatrics

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I like to think @DeShawnStevens takes his personal tattoo artist everywhere, not just preseason parties. #gomavs!

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Chester Brown: A praying mantis with testicles. (C’mon world! Let’s make #prayingmantiswithtesticles trend!)

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Lidsville! (On the road, I have to order a med. from @dunkindonuts because the small coffee lid tends to leak. Grr.)

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#MartinAmis vs. the Dead Bores (I thought #LondonFields was fantastic (and gorgeously lyrical in its apocalypticism))

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“But why did you need to build 2 synagogues?” #JewsinAmerica

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I’ve found another #AnotherWoman fan! #openingshots #youmustchangeyourlife #WoodyAllen

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To Hull and Back: #ChristopherHitchens on #PhilipLarkin (with a side-trip to #Orwell)

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“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” #techboom #howl

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“They called it show business, but it’s really showing-off business.” Awesome #BillWithers interview. #lovelyday

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Whatchoo got in that #BAG?

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Sorry, #MichaelJordan, but the stripes are not slimming. They are, however, giving me a headache.

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Bryan Ferry: Style Icon #bryanferry

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My pocket square, my self (with @simondoonan)

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@SeriousEats asks the serious question: In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack vs. Five Guys. #burgervsburger

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Rio Rancho and the Arena to Nowhere (sounds like a bad episode of @parksandrecnbc)

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Neat @LouisCK profile. #seasontwoinjune!

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Imelda Marcos, reincarnated as a man. #thatsalotofshoes

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You can get ugly, but make sure you don’t go full retard: #oscarbait #donthatemebecauseimbeautiful

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Art Books, part I: The Book Surgeon at work

Art Books, part II: @ChipKidd with Superman & Batman.

Art (Garfunkel) Books, part III: All the books I’ve read. #ArtGarfunkel

Art (of) Books(elling): 14 bookstores to see before you die. #Ivebeentofourofthem

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Treasure trove: SF writers on their favorite SF novels/writers

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fun recap of 13 roles by @mradamscott #partydown

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Sexy lady-spies of #Mossad

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Gandalf or Rick Rubin? #okayitsGandalf #thehobbit

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Guess what happens when you buy a piece of crap from H&M? #hm #crapiscrap

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Omar=Achilles? Brandon=Patroclus? Zowie! #TheWire #Iliad

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‘Twas architecture that killed the museum. #AFAM #bronzedKleenexbox

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Good night, sweet Tractor Traylor. #tractortraylor #nba #milwaukeecouldhavehadNowitzki

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Kane at 70: Labyrinth, Heart of Darkness, Everything. #OrsonWelles #CitizenKane

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Taking participatory journalism to its absurd conclusion. #LeeJudge #KCRoyals #beanball

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Nobody likes #Sbarro (especially in NJ)

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Great men’s grooming moments in movies (#SteveCarrell was only the runner-up? Boo…)

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The #DeathStar wasn’t a make-work project? #starwars

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#ChristopherHitchens has outlived #OsamaBinLaden: #thatisall

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#Shelfporn! (we have too many books for any of these configurations, but they remain awesome!)

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I really need to read The Leopard somedamntime, don’t I? #lampedusa (I read the Leopard a few weeks later, and it’s rapidly ascended to the top 5 of my favorite novels.)

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Pinball? Wizard!

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RT @nathanrabin (Nathan Rabin): Deep down I suspect that I’m incredibly lazy and toil ceaselessly so nobody ever finds out. Anyone else feel that way?

Unrequired Reading: The Februariad

Here’s your monthly dose of Unrequired Reading, dear readers who are too lazy or otherwise uninclined to follow my twitter feed at twitter.com/groth18

My dogs would get so confused on these awesome staircases.

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Nothing about how Craigslist enables Arab protestors and revolutionaries to get laid? #noitdoesnt

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Great pix from Sept. shuttle trip in honor of my production manager, who bailed on our current ish to watch the launch.

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Simon Schama on Helen Mirren. Well, not ON Helen Mirren, but you know. #IneverdidseethatMazurskyversionoftheTempest

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Sadly, I’m sure there’s a novel/screenplay about a romance between a mope and a fluffer.

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So it’s better to shoot at civilian protestors with 7.62s, not .50s?

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“Exotic Superfluid Found in Ultra-Dense Stellar Corpse”: the title of the new Orb record? #littlefluffytweets

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Glad to find out street heroin and my G&Ts both have quinine: always important to stave off malaria. #themoreyouknow

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I’d be afraid of the NJ version of this #50moststylishnewyorkers list.

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Gator and the Berra. #NYY #louisianalightning

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Don’t bet against the Tic-Tac-Toe Chicken. #starbucksduanereadeorcupcakes

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Profile of Al Goldstein: the (not-)new pornographer.

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Greatest. Memo. Ever. #weneedtosolvepakistanbeforelunch

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@simondoonan: not exactly a fan of Fashion Week (but hilarious). http://slate.me/gLK6Jz #nyfw

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tl;dr?

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There really should be a Yinka Dare award, too. #nbaantiawards

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Great Michael Caine interview. Get Carter was #badass

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“Alcoholic hospice”? I used to joke about drinking with careerist determination, but wow.

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Ahoy-ahoy! #thatisall

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If only Bill Murray had missed out on The Man Who Knew Too Little, too… http://bit.ly/fCEPi9 #billmurray #castingdirectorofbabel

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To Mr. & Mrs. Ball, a son: Curve. #intheloop #greatestmovieever

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That’s it! No Ferrari for me! #okayidriveasubaru

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KenJen on #Watson: very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.

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Michael Lewis (satirically) on who’s to blame for the financial crisis: #blamecanada?

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It’d be funnier if the greys just took off like rockets: #judginggreyhounds

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Did NYC consult @dandrezner for the zombie invasion section? #apocalypselaw #escapefromnewyork

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West Egg. 8-Bit. Great Gatsby video game. #gatsbyfornes

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Great piece by Adam Kirsch on literary criticism. Go read it! #notbookreviews

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Sartoria Rossi: or is it Satori Rossi? #beitalian #iwishicoulddressthiswell

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@nealstephenson on the development of the Rocket #ficktnichtmitderRaketemensch! #youdroppedthebombonme

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Valentine’s Day special! Here are the best NYC restaurants in which to stage a breakup! #noromance

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Fun story of SEO abuse on Google. #jcpenney #seohack

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Not on the menu @ Veselka: Ron Rosenbaum on cannibalism in the Ukraine c.1932-3 #noendtoevil #ieatcannibals

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Schizo NYC from @jeremoss: Two-Face, Composite Superman, or Ultra The Multi-Alien? #splitcity #uglierbytheday

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“Yoga in bed” is a euphemism, right? #clydefrazier #whatrhymeswithtantric

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Ouroussoff fluffery on new Gehry bldg. Was this actually written by a computer using random samples of O’s prose?

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Important lesson – never marry a chemist: #whenxiaoyemetthallium

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I’d wear Jesse Eisenberg’s costuming from Social Network before I’d be caught dead in Sorkin’s sack suit #badfashion

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Richie Rich: explosion on the runway. http://bit.ly/gyAz2R #nyfw

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My old man swears he once reached a polar research base with his HAM setup: #wb2zvs

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Not quite as implausible as Jews In Space, but it’s close: Jews In Syria! (neat story, trust me) http://bit.ly/gkOntd

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Neat @nicknotned (Nick Denton) Atlantic Wire interview about his news consumption habits.

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Covering J.G. Ballard #jgballard

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Real question is: Can a novel be “philosophical” without being dreadfully dull? #doubtit

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Metropolitan or Gossip Girl? or … #whitstillman #gossipgirl (I’m a Metropolitan man)

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Queenstown, where I heard the voice of God (also, where I bungee-jumped) http://nyti.ms/dSZiHx

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Greatest. Band name. Ever. #drteethandtheelectricmayhem

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Clive James on roman policier: #okaytheyrecrimenovels

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The honey badger doesn’t give a shit: #randall

Honey badger remains b-a-d-a-s-s (I can’t even survive drinking half a 40 of King Cobra). #honeybadger

What It Is: 1/19/09

What I’m reading: Re-reading Montaigne’s “On some verses of Virgil” and a few chapters of Cultural Amnesia. Clive James just dropped the unmitigated smackdown on Walter Benjamin. (Boy, I really oughtta start watching these sometime.)

What I’m listening to: Pretty random stuff on my iTunes, as I think about compiling another Mad Mix.

What I’m watching: The 3rd season of Arrested Development, which is godawful. It’s incredible how off-the-rails the show got.

What I’m drinking: Bluecoat & tonic. And some Pacifico Clara.

What Rufus is up to: Entertaining my pal’s 3-year-old daughter, and missing another Sunday hike, thanks to the snow.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special. Although I may take today off to celebrate my black heritage, and drive into NYC to catch Synecdoche, New York.

What I’m happy about: My wife has her first commercial photo shoot today! (Also, the Eagles lost in the NFC Championship game. Again. And my wife & I had a great belated birthday dinner at Chef’s Table on Saturday.)

What I’m sad about: Will nobody think of the poor birds? (Just kidding: awesome job on landing that Airbus in the Hudson, although it would’ve been even more amazing if he could’ve landed on the deck of the Intrepid.)

What I’m pondering: Selling my 15″ Macbook Pro and using this 13″ Macbook Air as my laptop.

I’ll sit facing the corner in a funny hat

This weekend, I read Benjamin Schwarz’s review in the Atlantic of “Have You Seen . . . ?” A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, David Thomson’s follow-up to his Biographical Dictionary of Film. I’ve never read that earlier book, but I’ve seen enough references to it to figure that it’s kinda canonical in film criticism and bathroom reading. The new book sounded like an entertaining read, with its one-page writeups of a thousand movies (including a couple of TV shows like The Singing Detective and The Sopranos). Wrote Schwarz:

It’s impossible to read this book from cover to cover without being convinced that Hollywood’s greatest achievements are not the monotonously important dramas that so often sucker in Academy voters but the stylish, highly polished entertainments, largely comedies, that endure even though they weren’t made to be lasting. Above all, Thomson prizes wit, charm, and good-natured ease. He’s reached an age, he notes in his appraisal of North by Northwest, when he’d “rather have a great screwball comedy than a profound tragedy. After all, tragedy is all around us and screwball is something only the movies can do.”

On Tuesday, I meandered around the nearby Borders during my lunch-hour, and noticed Mr. Thomson’s book on the new non-fiction table. It’s organized alphabetically by movie title, so I turned to Miller’s Crossing to see what he thought of it. I couldn’t help it, Tom! It’s my nature!

I was gratified to find that he loves the movie, and that several of his comments were in sync with mine. I began skimming through the book to see if he commented on any other of my idiosyncratic faves and fascinators. Sadly, no entries for Another Woman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shallow Grave, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, or Three Kings. Still, I thought, this would be a great book to have on hand, one to dip into every so often and read his ideas on movies I liked, didn’t like, or never saw. Exactly the sort of thing I would pick up occasionally and read for an hour at a time.

Of course, we live in the future, so I couldn’t just buy it there. After all, its list price is $40, and I figured Amazon would have it for 30-40% cheaper. I looked it up that evening and saw that Amazon was selling it for $26.37 (34% off). I was about to add it to my wishlist when I noticed two things:

  1. it weighs 3.4 lbs. and is almost 2.5″ thick, and
  2. it’s also available for the Kindle.

Sure, I was a little irked that the Kindle edition sells for $23 — most Kindle books are $10 or cheaper — but it’s got criticism of a thousand flicks, the e-book is searchable by word, and I’ll have it with me wherever I travel. Frankly, that’s worth $23 in my world. It looks like the twin forces of new technology and my desire not to carry lots of stuff around sure has messed with my book-buying habits.

(I just wish Cultural Amnesia — Clive James’ 800-page collection of short biographical essays on 20th century literary, political and artistic personae — had gotten en-Kindle-ized. It would’ve been a good fit for the exact reasons as “Have You Seen . . . ?”, but I gave up waiting last week and bought the paperback for $10.77. Grr.)

Anyway, here’s Mr. Thomson’s review of Miller’s Crossing (I figured out how to copy-and-paste off the Kindle, sorta):

I am not a steadfast enthusiast of the Coen Brothers, and I have given up trying to explain the haphazard movements of their career. But the thing that nags me about their record is Miller’s Crossing, a superb, languid fantasia on the theme of the gangster film that repays endless viewing. It is derived quite plainly from Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, although the script was done by the Coens themselves.

At the heart of the film’s assurance are the dour, glum rhythms of Gabriel Byrne as the “hero” figure who happens to be fucking his friend’s girl. The girl is Marcia Gay Harden, never better and so sexy that you understand why Byrne did not bother to debate the temptation. The friend is Albert Finney, charged with energy and booze in equal parts as the thick-headed crime boss who can’t see a con if it’s a cat curled up on his lap. This broken bond between Byrne and Finney is a good version of the relationship between Ned Beaumont and Paul Madvig in Hammett’s novel. And it’s a shared virtue of both works that they convey the disgust and disbelief in tough men that sees how they can betray each other over a piece of ass. Of course, it is a testament to Harden’s ass that we never question the imperative of the ruinous equation.

The next thing to remark on is the way Canadian studios and locations give such a rich, satisfying air of period and place. We never know, or need to know, the city, but there is nothing shabby or secondhand in the décor, and there’s an eagerness in the look of the film that speaks to a real love of space, furniture, light, and mood. The same pleasure vibrates in the very intricate story structure. There are some who find Miller’s Crossing too clever by half, but I think that misses how far the Gabriel Byrne character recognizes the curse of intelligence that hangs over him and the duty it imposes — of always being driven to nose out the cons of others, while hoping that his own subterfuges are going unnoticed. It’s kill or be killed and the air of life is smartness. Take it or leave it.

There’s more, much more, and I think it centers on the “Schmatta” as played by John Turturro — queer as a coot, a dandy, a coward, and as brave as any coward who takes terrible risks. This could be the finest work of one of our best supporting actors. And don’t forget that he stands out in a movie that includes the adorable Jon Polito and the very frightening Eddie the Dane (J. E. Freeman), not to forget a passing secretary, who is Frances McDormand flashing the camera a quick greedy eye as she minces by.

All of that said, after learning to love the crammed texture and its nearly constant inventiveness, it is the more baffling and disconcerting that the Coens seem so often prepared to deliver films that are enervated and without a single good reason for being made. Do they wake up at night wondering if they were ever really this good, or do they refuse to look at the film again?

Now I wonder if he thought any better of Casino than I did . . . ?

UPDATE: I do have a significant complaint about the Kindle edition of this book. There should be a table of contents with hyperlinks to each movie. Grr.