If Adam Driver Is in Star Wars, We May Have a Problem

By Matthew Halverson. I am not okay with Adam Driver playing the main villain in the new Star Wars trilogy. You want to know why? Because I don’t want him in my house.

Let’s back up for a second. Adam Driver is a fine actor. No, he’s a great actor. So great, in fact, that I’ll watch Girls and sit through Lena Dunham’s whining and Allison Williams’s self-conscious preening, and Zosia Mamet’s … whatever it is she’s doing (did anybody think of casting her in the new Star Wars?) just to catch a glimpse of his nutburger character. I mean, the guy doesn’t seem to own shirts, has a thing for degrading sex, and sells wire-hanger dreamcatchers on Etsy. He’s not from around here. Honestly, anybody doubting that Driver can pull off the menace necessary to be a baddy in a galaxy far, far away hasn’t been watching closely. I’m convinced he eats kittens on set to get into character.

mace windu
The force is with ME, motherf*cker!

No, my reason for not liking Driver in Star Wars is a lot more juvenile. Like, a lot more juvenile. Okay, here goes: I collect Star Wars action figures. There, I said it. I have for years, and I have three 36-gallon plastic tubs full of three-and-three-quarter–inch poseable Darth Vaders and Luke Skywalkers and Jawas with light-up eyes to prove it. Most of those characters were played by actors who did little else in their careers, so their tiny plastic doppelgangers (yes, they’re still in their packaging, never played with) don’t carry the baggage of a Hollywood resume stuffed with weirdly memorable roles. Sure, I can pretend that my Mace Windu figures yell, “I’ve had it with these motherf*cking Sith in this motherf*cking Jedi temple.” And Han Solo can growl, “I didn’t kill my princess,” or “Get off my Millennium Falcon.” And that’s cool. Okay, “cool” is a relative term here, but I think you get my point.

But if Adam Driver joins the Star Wars universe, they’ll make an action figure of him, and I’ll have to buy it. (Yes, I’ll have to buy it, because I buy them all. It’s a sickness; I’m working on it.) And that’s not good. Because then Adam from Girls will be in my house, tucked away in those plastic tubs, hopefully not too close to my Leia in gold bikini figure, but who knows because I’m starting to run out of room. And then one night, after everyone else is asleep, you just know that the first thing he’ll say to her is, “Crawl on your hands and knees to my sleeping chamber.” And then he’ll unleash his…Force on her. And that should never, ever happen. Not in this galaxy or one far, far away.

Matthew Halverson is a senior editor at Seattle Met magazine and a humor writer. This is the first time he’s ever copped to owning Star Wars action figures. His son is proud.

Image of Adam Driver: Girls, courtesy HBO.

Lit Links: Cheaper E-Books, Amtrak’s Writers’ Residency, “Generation Wuss”

Can the Great American Novel Survive?
In the UK’s Prospect magazine Elaine Showalter talks about the tenuous future of the Great American Novel and what that says about “novels as carriers or definers of cultural nationality.”

All (Writers) Aboard!
Amtrak plans to let writers ride for free from NYC to Chicago as a test run of their on-train writers’ residency program. Now the big question: Does Tweeting count as writing?

Are Cheaper E-Books on the Way?
New digital services Scribd and Oyster look to lower the price of being an e-bookworm.

“Generation Wuss”
Bret Easton Ellis tells Vice why the “Internet generation” is a bunch of babies.

Call Me Ishmael
Pop Chart Labs diagrams the opening sentences of famous novels such as Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Lolita. In diagram form, Don Quixote actually out-crazies Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

Vikings Had Threesomes? Debunking Season 1 of ‘Vikings’

The History Channel (desperately) wants you to believe that history is sexy. With its first-ever scripted TV series, Vikings, the legend of Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok unfolds like a finely polished HBO drama: lots of epic, bloody battle scenes; beautiful hard-bodied Vikings in bed together; panoramic shots of Ireland standing in for eighth-century Scandinavia. Close one eye and Vikings is a poor man’s Game of Thrones. But if you pry them both open for a season 1 binge — all nine episodes are available On Demand in anticipation of tonight’s season 2 premiere — the show delivers much more than a glut of lusty warriors.

History paired with MGM Studios and English writer-producer Michael Hirst (Elizabeth, The Tudors) to create the sleek, stylized historical drama, with Australian actor Travis Fimmel starring as Ragnar, a farmer-warrior (aren’t they all) who aspires to head west rather than back to the tapped-out east to pillage and plunder. Ragnar has Norse god Odin on his side, along with the love of his wife, shield maiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), his two children, a smattering of loyal men with amazing hair, and a dubiously loyal brother, Rollo (Clive Standen).

The History Channel does due diligence to lowercase “history” by introducing characters of the time, though this lesson left me wondering how much of the fiction was inspired by fact. A little research cleared things up:

Was there actually a farmer-warrior-king called Ragnar Lothbrok?
Ragnar Lothbrok (or Lodbrok) is a Viking hero who appeared regularly in Old Norse poetry and sagas. Legend says he was the descendant of the god Odin — who, Marvel’s Thor teaches us, is the Zeus/Anthony Hopkins of Norse gods — and the father of many sons, including historical figures Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Not kidding.

It’s unclear whether Ragnar was one man or a compilation of many; his history takes place around 793 AD, when the first recorded Viking raid on Britain (on a monastery, just like the show) took place.

One of the main characters in Vikings is a shipbuilder named Floki. Like…Loki? The Norse god of mischief?
Why yes, kind of like Loki! The character Floki could be Loki on Earth, causing trouble, though as played by actor Gustaf Skarsgård, he’s more like Johnny Depp’s pirate kook Jack Sparrow. Never go raiding without your eyeliner.

In Vikings, shield maidens go to battle alongside Ragnar, the women rule while the men are away, and Ragnar’s wife Lagertha kills two home intruders in the opening episode without breaking a sweat. Were Viking women…dare I say it…the equals of men?
Ehhh kind of. The BBC history of Vikings says that the Old Norse word vikingar applies exclusively to men, but there is evidence that women ran the show at home while the men were off raiding, and may have been part of a merchant class. The shield maidens appear in sagas, as did valkyries, armed with sword (or spear) and shield, who often accompanied dead heroes to the great big after(life)- party Valhalla. Women could have fought alongside men, so credit goes to the show Vikings for taking that idea, running with it, and creating some of the most badass female characters on television right now.

Did the Vikings really keep slaves?
Yes.

And ritualistically sacrifice humans?
Most likely.

And have a thing for threesomes? Because they sure do on the show…
Vikings were considered pagans with different moral standards than Christians. Still looking for the history book that will discuss threesomes, so for now, let’s chalk this one up to the Book of Cable.

So now you want to watch? Season two of Vikings premieres Feb 27 on the History Channel at 10pm.
Recap: A History Channel infographic of Vikings, Season 1

Image: Travis Fimmel (center), Katheryn Winnick and the cast of Vikings. Courtesy Jonathan Hession/History Channel.

Speakeasy with Chad Harbach

Last year, n+1 published an essay by bestselling novelist Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) on the polarized world of American fiction: getting an MFA v. the school of NYC. [Read the original essay here.]  The essay struck a nerve and prompted spirited debate online and among writers. Clearly, Harbach was onto something.  MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction (n+1/Faber & Faber) is the new book edited by Harbach that digs deeper and features writers such as George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, and Jynne Martin tackling questions like: Should you seek an advanced degree, or will workshops smother your style? Do you need to move to New York, or will the high cost of living undo you? How has the rise of MFA programs affected American fiction?

In anticipation of the book launch, Culture Binge gave Harbach our grueling Speakeasy author questionnaire, chatted about day jobs and the impact of MFA programs.

What book do you wish you’d written?
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

Hemingway had mojitos, Raymond Chandler had gimlets. Henry Miller had French prostitutes. Hunter S. Thomson had, well, everything. What are your writing vices?
French prostitutes seem more like an aprés-writing vice — it would be distracting to have them around the office all day. Brandy is the vice of my ancestors and I’m sticking with it.

What book is currently on your nightstand/next to your toilet?
The Art of Cooking Omelettes by Madame Romaine de Lyon.

Before becoming a full-time writer, what was your strangest day job?
I had a bunch. For a couple of years, I worked as the assistant to Boston’s foremost marriage therapist. He was in his seventies, and really wanted to stop seeing couples and concentrate on his writing and other projects, but he was so good that no one would let him quit. That was a pretty good job, actually. His office was in the basement of his townhouse. I would answer the phones and pay the quarterly taxes and sometimes do more engaging research, while he fixed people’s lives and sent them home holding hands.

Finish the joke. A writer walks into a bar…
… and clocks in for his shift.

For readers, what is the biggest impact that MFA programs have had on American fiction?
The programs have often been accused of fostering well-crafted but cautious books, and probably there’s some truth there. But they’ve also, I think, fostered daring and powerful books, by offering talented writers — as George Saunders says in MFA vs. NYC — “some time out of the capitalist shitstorm.”

In your essay in MFA vs. NYC, you mention that writers in MFA culture are obsessed with the short story, while the American reading public is not. Will technology (Kindle singles, blogs publishing short works and essays) change the public’s appetite as it has in other parts of the world? Or is this a form that is going to fade away?
Technology confuses me. But I definitely don’t think the short story will fade away — one consequence of the expansion of the creative writing industry is that many, many more undergraduates are taking writing workshops, and in these courses they’re reading contemporary short stories almost exclusively. So every semester thousands of college kids are being introduced to contemporary short-story writers — and it’s those students, more or less, who grow up to become the “reading public.”

Chad Harbach will read from MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, Tuesday, February 25 at 7pm at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby St., New York. Free and open to the public.

MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction is available at your local independent bookstore or can be ordered here. Visit the n+1 website for more information on the magazine and upcoming events. 

SnarkNotes: The 3 Percent

As readers, we are spoiled by all the wonderful books written in English. But there is a vast world of international literature out there. The oft-quoted statistic is only 3 percent of all books published annually in English are translated works — an astounding number when you think of all the different cultures and languages not represented. Consider this a chance to take an international jaunt from your armchair. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite Books in Translation from the past few years. Tray tables up! We’re off to South America, the Middle East, and Russia.

atnightincirclesAt Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón (Peru)
Peruvian writer Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles is a slow-burning, unnerving novel.  In an unnamed South American country, Henry was a celebrated, radical playwright who had been imprisoned for his work. After prison and divorce, he attempts to reclaim the glory days of his theater group, Diciembre, with a new tour through the countryside. Nelson, a young and heartbroken actor, joins Diciembre, and is willing to give up everything to work with his idol. Little does he know how much he will end up giving as the tour unearths personal and political demons.
You Should Read It If…you like surreal novels with political allegory and dramatic third acts.
Culture Binge Mashup: Blindness by José Saramago meets The Motorcycle Diaries meets Waiting for Guffman

PeopleofforeverThe People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (Israel)
In Shani Boianjiu’s powerful debut novel, Yael, Ashivag, and Lea are childhood friends from a small, dusty border town in Israel. They each enter compulsory military service and journey down drastically different paths. Each woman deals with sex, relationships and their own limited futures with a war zone as backdrop. The women gossip, bicker, and love all while preparing constantly for a disaster that may never come. While the book has a lightness and humor, Boianjiu doesn’t shy away from the complicated political situation of the country, and exposes the complexity of growing up in modern Israel.
You Should Read It If…you like warts-and-all female coming-of-age novels.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Girls meets The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien meets Jarhead.

icetrilogyThe Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin (Russia)
Vladimir Sorokin is widely held as one of the best contemporary Russian writers. The Ice Trilogy is an eerie epic combining science-fiction, New Ageism, Soviet propaganda, and pulpy mayhem. A group of scientists trek into Siberia in 1908 to uncover a mysterious object that fell from the sky, a giant block of ice. Our narrator has a spiritual awakening from the ice and embarks on a  spirit quest around the country to find his kindred, The Children of the Light, awakening them and bringing around the destruction of the world. But in the end do they find redemption or illusion? There is no way around it — this is a really, really strange book. You might not like it but it will haunt you after reading.
You Should Read It If…you like postmodern parody, speculative fiction, Russian intensity, and ice.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Dune meets Doomsday Cults meets 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

What else do you think should be on our list? 

Viral Video Recap: The Best of Jimmy Fallon’s First Week on ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, which he officially inherited February 17, is looking a whole lot like Late Show with Jimmy Fallon — lots of singing and dancing, #hashtag conversations and comedy sketches with buddies from his SNL days. Even the First Lady made an  appearance. It’s what we expected: Fallon does fun time well. The 39-year-old brings a lot of playfulness (and talent) to the late-night timeslot, like a goody goody teen who’s finally cutting loose…on Red Bull and vodkas.

Check out the best of Fallon’s high-spirited first week. Honorable mentions go to Ragtime Girls’ Ignition (Remix) and NBC news anchor Brian Williams performing “Rapper’s Delight.”

Feb 17: The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing (with Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon). “Making It Rain” followed by “Picking Up the Money Because That’s All You Had.”

Feb 18: Jimmy Interviews Harry Styles. Oh, I’m British?


Feb 19: Hashtag #2 with Jimmy Fallon and Jonah Hill.
With cameos by Martin Scorsese and Questlove. #famous

Feb 20: Will Ferrell Figure Skates to the Downton Abbey Theme. Without the skates. Or the ice.

Feb 21: History of Rap 5 with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. Twenty-three songs in five minutes.

Johnny Weir: “I Brought the Gay” to Sochi

Why do they save the best interviews for the late-night Olympics coverage? Just after 1am Bob Costas invited diva duo Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski — former U.S. Olympic figure skaters who have since put the color back in color commentary — to join him for a little dish session. The topics:

  • Whether the scores for the women’s free skate, the final medal event in figure skating, were fair. Lipinski said she would have scored the night exactly the same way, awarding gold to Russian 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova over the defending Olympic champion, South Korea’s Yuna Kim, because, simply put, Sotnikova brought it. Seven triple jumps should beat six any day, Lipinski said — and she should know. Sixteen years ago yesterday, Tara became the youngest woman (at age 15) to win Olympic gold in figure skating, thanks largely to her — count ’em — seven triple loops and Salchows. And lest you forget that anniversary, Lipinski brought out the gold top and matching his/hers gold-leaf Athenian headbands. Because yes.weir_lipinski_gold
  • America’s chances in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Weir lavished praise on 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, who made her Olympic debut in Sochi, though she “still needs to learn the artistic side.” Lipinski called 18-year-old Gracie Gold “the future” of the U.S. squad. As for 22-year-old Ashley Wagner’s proclamation that she wanted to be back in four years? Quote Lipinski: “That’s…interesting.” Yow. A retired figure skater just said you’re old, Wagner. Might as well learn mahjong and book that cruise to Alaska.
  • If Johnny Weir was harassed in Russia for being gay. Old smoothie Costas posed a more “general” question, though: “Johnny … how are you?” Thankfully, Weir spoke as candidly as he did during the Olympic broadcast. (Johnny on Czech Republic’s Elizaveta Ukolova: “She’s 15 years old, but she … skates like she’s 15.”) Despite Russia’s recent ban on pro-gay “propaganda,” Weir said he was treated “fantastically” in Sochi. “And I brought the gay.” Did you?
    Courtesy Johnny Weir/Instagram.
    Courtesy Johnny Weir/Instagram.

    Oh wait. Yes. Yes, you did. The diva duo said they received a lot of love from locals when they went out around the city of Sochi. Weir’s only anecdote to suggest that things weren’t all glitter and Judy Garland came from his trip to the public restroom. (Hold on…it’s not that kind of late-night coverage.) Russian men would do a double take when they entered the bathroom and saw Weir “and his weave” standing at a urinal, he said; they would go back to check the door to make sure they were in the right place. Not so shocking — that could happen in any small town. What’s interesting is that Weir has been mum on the issue of Russia’s anti-gay law until last night (as quiet as you can be in a hot pink blazer). His actions spoke louder than his words, and for some, that wasn’t enough; CNN host Don Lemon called Weir’s Olympic moment nothing but “a gay minstrel show.” But what responsibility did Weir have? Did he have to protest the Olympics on behalf of every member of the worldwide LGBT community? He had a job to do, he did it well, and while he was at it, he issued an F you to Vladimir Putin in the form of leather pants and sequins. I’d almost call it…subtle.