Monday, June 24, 2013

From the Serious to the Goofy with HSBC Financial and National Lampoon

Two big events in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC will feature books that describe impacts to the American life. First up, Sheila Bair gives us powerful insight into the financial crisis of 2008 that rocked the nation, and then on a lighter note, Ellin Stein takes a look back at the comedic history of The National Lampoon and how it shaped humor in American pop culture.


Word for Word Author
Love the National Lampoon brand? What about the anarchic earthiness of John Belushi, the deadpan wit of Bill Murray, and the suave slapstick of Chevy Chase? Join Ellin Stein in the Reading Room Wednesday as she discusses her new book, That's Not Funny, That's Sick: The National Lampoon and the Comedy Insurgents Who Captured the Mainstream, which chronicles the magazine that birthed comedy legends and changed the way America approached humor.


What was your inspiration for this book? I’ve always been interested in satire and was a big fan of the parodies the National Lampoon founders wrote while still at the Harvard Lampoon. So when the NL started, I somehow persuaded a New York radio station (WBAI) to let me interview Doug Kenney. I then watched with surprise as what started out as a fairly small cult and personal enthusiasm became a comedy behemoth generating several major stars and becoming hugely influential.  I was also interested in what about this period enabled genuinely sharp satire to be briefly commercially viable before things reverted to normal and what happened to the Lampooners’ original subversive stance as they went mainstream. Also, I thought it was a good way to write a book with lots of great jokes without having to come up with them all myself.

Where do you do your best writing?
Fiction – at beach or at least in sun, so living in Britain I don’t get much done. Non-fiction – in home office, close to router, files, phone, etc. (and refrigerator, unfortunately). But need view of trees or sky so as not to feel too imprisoned. This book was written largely in a home office with amazing 270 degree view of San Francisco, from Twin Peaks all the way around past Marin to Oakland hills.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer? 
No. In fact, I’ve constantly tried to escape being a writer so I can actually earn a regular income but I keep getting sucked back in.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher? My 7th grade English teacher, Miss Phelps, was actually pretty great so I don’t think I’d like to swap her at all.  And even getting into the spirit of the question, I’d have to meet said authors to judge. Just because someone can write doesn’t mean he or she is any good at teaching others to do it. You wouldn’t want someone given to snarky putdowns, for example, no matter how great their own books.

What is your secret talent?
I’m a good dancer.

What is your favorite book?
That’s like asking, “which is your favorite child?”

Who reads your first draft?
Scripts – I have a roster of kind friends who are current or former film industry execs or writers who I ask until I think they’re starting to feel exploited. Non-fiction – I wouldn’t ask anyone to slog through the entire thing unpaid. With this book, I asked a couple of reporter friends to point out any disposable editorializing, pontificating, or general bloviating. That really helped get the word count down. Also, when you say “first draft”, I presume you mean “first draft that’s ready to be seen by another human being,” which is usually the third or fourth draft as opposed to the actual first draft.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
I skim to find suitable excerpts for readings and so on. But in terms of actually reading it, I’ll wait until I can look at it with fresh eyes.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
Notes, longhand. Actual manuscript, computer

What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?) Vol II of Elizabeth Howard’s The Cazalet Chronicles. Next up, Beautiful Ruins.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?  Parentheses (guilty as charged).

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? I’d probably be doing one of the many other things I do or have done to support the writing life (see Q. 3), e.g. University teacher, script development executive, script editor, copywriter, theater/events/radio producer. But what I really wanted to be was an Ikette.

Word for Word Author
Wednesday, June 26
12:30pm - 1:45pm
Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC



HSBC Financial
This new series sponsored by HSBC features celebrated autghors with their newest and most popular books relating to finance, economics, business and money.

Sheila Bair, former chairperson of the FDIC, kicks off the series this week. She'll give us a sound perspective and interesting insight into the financial crisis with her new book, Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself. She'll be hosted by Rob Blackwell, Washington Bureau Chief for American Banker newspaper.


What was your inspiration for this book?
A major financial crisis.

Where do you do your best writing?
On my screened-in porch, overlooking the horse corral behind our backyard.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?
Yes. I was in the third-grade writing a brilliant science fiction story about aliens who invaded earth and could only be killed by being smattered with ice cream.  My classmates were standing around my desk, eagerly grabbing each page as I wrote it.  Oh that the path from author to reader could still be so seamless.  (Just kidding. I love my editors.)

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?
William Faulkner. I’d want to find out if he could speak in paragraph-long sentences as well as write them.

What is your secret talent?
The ability to focus and screen out virtually everything until the job is done, or the book is written, as the case may be.

What is your favorite book?
I always hate that question. I have read so many wonderful books. If I must answer, I would say Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as it inspired me to stand up for the little guy and speak truth to power.

Who reads your first draft?
My husband.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
Only at book readings.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
Computer. I can’t even read my own handwriting. I make Jack Lew look like a calligrapher.

What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)
I always have two books going, a fun one and one that may or may not be fun, but that I feel obliged to read.  For my fun one, I just finished George Martin’s fifth book in the Game of Thrones series (my son got me started on them) and I am REALLY annoyed that the sixth one isn’t out yet. For my obligatory book, which is also a good read, I’m midway through Ben Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods.  I sprang for the hardback of Steil’s book, but Martin’s is on the Kindle.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing? 
...

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A financial regulator.


HSBC Financial Word for Word
Tuesday, June 25
12:30pm - 1:45pm
Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC


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