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    Friday, November 06, 2009

    Book: Hummingbirds, by Joshua Gaylord (2009)

    It was always odd to encounter one of my teachers outside the confines of the classroom. I’d be at the mall on Saturday afternoon and run into Mr. Granding, 6th period history. The ensuing conversation would be awkward and brief. For those few moments, he’d no longer be an imposing, vaguely unknowable figure who only had to flip to the back of the book for the answers. He’d become a suburban father, one of legion, pushing a stroller, wearing an ill-fitting sports shirt and ... dude, are those sandals?!?

    That academic overlap of worlds public and private, adult and adolescent is the subject of Hummingbirds, the lovely debut novel by Joshua Gaylord. A new year starts at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Two seniors, one popular and one smart, warily circle each other for the last time. Meanwhile Leo Binhammer, for years the only male teacher in the English department, has to make room for an interloper with whom he will develop a complex friendship. Gaylord flits between characters with an almost-but-not-quite omniscient voice that he deploys to startling effect. The result is a novel that, like the girls at its center, is delicate yet surprisingly resilient.

    I had the chance to hear Josh read from Hummingbirds last month in New York, as well as meet his wife, Edgar Award winner Megan Abbott. A literary power couple who have written two of my favorite books this year. I’m entitled to hate them a little bit for this.

    TV: What I’ve Been Watching

    While not tuned to a World Series in which I was rooting for inclement weather, that is.

    Poliwood. Barry Levinson’s loosely-structured “film essay” about showbiz and politics covers no new ground but does include some fascinating scenes. One shows ex-GOP pollster turned consultant Frank Luntz leading a communication seminar for members of the Creative Coalition at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He tells the assembled actors that he admires their passion, but that if they change their language they can reach a wider audience. Several actors immediately take offense and turn it into a First Amendment issue, thus proving his point. Later, Levinson and Luntz arrange a focus group on celebrity at the RNC. One woman tears into the actors with an almost sensual relish. That the person she describes – having millions of dollars, multiple homes and no commonality with regular Americans – sounds more like John McCain than Tim Daly passes without comment.

    Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s On Me. I’m a Mercer fan and this documentary had me saying, “He wrote that song, too?” Factor in his singing, his role in founding Capitol Records and his work as a producer, and it’s clear that Mercer is one of the great men of the twentieth century. For the record, the other names on that list are Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, and Tom Seaver.

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    Very happy you liked Josh's book. I read it in ms. several years ago and knew he had a winner. Wait till you read THE ANGELS ARE REAPERS. Amazing.


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