Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Saturday, 29 September 2012

JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy - the verdict

In an interview with The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead last weekend, JK Rowling said: “I just needed to write this book. I like it a lot, I’m proud of it, and that counts for me.”

Well, I think she’s right to be proud of The Casual Vacancy, and I said as much when I reviewed it for the Daily Express this week. Even though Rowling’s first book for adults features “teenage sex, drug addiction, swearing and scenes that would make Harry Potter blush,” I called it “a highly readable morality tale for our times.”

The book’s been out for two days now and everyone I know is desperate to read it. My husband’s visiting my daughter in Paris this weekend and the first thing she asked him to bring from the UK was a prized copy of The Casual Vacancy. “I’m going to stay in all weekend and read it,” she said happily. “I can’t wait.” Her excitement took me back to the old days, when we used to drive to the old Borders shop in Oxford and queue at midnight for each newly published Harry Potter story.

I’ve been stunned by the vitriol that JK Rowling has attracted in some quarters this week. The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani judged her book to be “willfully banal” and “depressingly clichéd” and said it read like “an odd mash-up of a dark soap opera like Peyton Place.” And writing in the Daily Mail, Jan Moir acidly declared that it was “more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat.”

I completely disagree with both of them. The Casual Vacancy isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s a gripping story. I read it in one go, barely glancing up to make a cup of tea or switch the lights on as dusk fell. Yes, the themes are dark, most of the characters are unlikeable and Rowling’s style is workmanlike rather than literary, but she is a brilliant storyteller. There was no way in a million years that I could have stopped reading this book. In my newspaper review I gave it four out of five stars and I stand by every word.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Page One: Inside the New York Times - A movie every journalist should see

“Journalism is alive and well and feisty, especially at the New York Times.” Those were the upbeat words of journalist John Lloyd after a special screening of Page One: Inside the New York Times at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse last week.

With the hacking scandal still unfolding and journalists universally unpopular, many critics would take issue with his view. But there’s no doubt that Page One shows journalism at its very best. Some have compared it to The September Issue, the brilliant film-documentary about Vogue – and I loved it just as much.

Film-maker Andrew Rossi followed journalists on the NYT’s media desk for a year and the hacks emerge as a sparky and determined crew, dedicated to getting their stories right. Two writers who stick in my mind are Brian Stelter, a go-getting young reporter who juggles phone, two computers and Twitter-feed at lightning speed, while the maverick David Carr, a gravelly-voiced ex-drug addict who’s been writing about the media for 25 years, comes across as a larger-than-life character devoted to his craft.

Several things were puzzling though. As Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times as well as director of journalism at Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, pointed out at the lively debate after the Phoenix screening, hacks in the UK would be astonished at the amount of time Carr gets to produce his reports. At one point he tells his boss that he’s got two more weeks of interviewing and research on a story he’s covering, followed by a week of writing it all up. That’s a luxury that doesn’t happen on this side of the Atlantic any more.

I was surprised, too, that none of the reporters seemed to use shorthand and that when they conducted phone interviews they typed their material straight on to their computers. Not a notebook in sight.

Set against a backdrop of the Wikileaks revelations, charging for news online and the demise of many fine newspapers, this is a movie that every journalist should see. But even if you aren’t a hack and you don’t even buy newspapers any more (shame) it’s definitely worth a look. You never know, it might even make you see journalists in a different light.

PS: Today is Day Six of NaBloPoMo - a fifth of the way there!
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