Sunday, August 28, 2005

the scribe ventured out to Silver Lake (East Hollywood for you non-Angelenos) Saturday night to catch writer Bret Easton Ellis’ reading at Skylight Books on Vermont Ave.

the scribe has never read Ellis, because he has spent these many years working his way through the numerous international literary legends on his way to more contemporary artists. Which is not to say he’s never heard of Ellis whom, like it or not, has got to be the top writer of their shared generation.

The written spectacle of one unconsecrated/unknown writer “reviewing” another very famous one requires more chutzpah than the scribe possesses, so we here at highwayscribery will opt for a little reportAGE instead.

For starters, it must be noted that Ellis is a certified draw. Skylight was packed with about 100 people. the scribe showed up an-hour-and-a-half early so he could get a seat and it was a good thing, because they were craning their necks out on the sidewalk.

A year or so ago the scribe went to see the talented and consecrated T.C. Boyle, but there were 20 people maximum on hand. Perhaps the fact some of Ellis’ books have been made into films has increased his appeal and exposure, but in any case, it was not your run-of-the-mill reading.

It is a very popular thing to loathe Ellis. The folks at the lit blog “The Elegant Variation,” are openly hostile to his work and they are not alone.

But neither is Ellis who drew an enthusiastic crowd of tattooed and pierced yunguns from the tattooey and piercey neighborhood surrounding.

So unfamiliar is the scribe with Ellis that he expected some eccentric guy in a sharkskin suit and cane or something, jaded by early success and focused on the extra-literary, but no. Ellis is a most regular guy who looks like he enjoys his pasta. He has a receding hairline and both a pleasant countenance and demeanor that, well, make you want to buy a book once you’ve seen and listened to him for a while. He wore a button-down, open at the collar, to reveal a very sensible Fruit-of-the-Loom-type T-shirt beneath.

Ellis read for only about ten minutes from his latest work, “Lunar Park,” and, despite our promise not to review, it must be said that it was not the strongest part of his hour-long presentation. There’s nothing particularly engaging about his voice, he stumbles quite a bit, and goes a little too fast.

the scribe can’t speak for the rest of his book (or priors for that matter), but the bit from the end of “Lunar Park's” first chapter struck him as somewhat gratuitous, based upon observations of celebrity life (lucky him) and peppered with talk about crack, freebase, pot, booze, and other illicit substances that, much to the scribe’s surprise, provoke the same titters of amusement they did years and years ago when people found literature a proper forum to air their sentiments on such things.

The question-and-answer portion was more edifying with Ellis demonstrating a command of the form that might be expected of someone whose been doing it for 20 years now.

He wasn’t nervous, he was casually honest, and possessing of a great sense of humor. He’s not above using his fans as props or the butts for good jokes, but only when the questions were stupid:

“When you’re writing do you ever just say to yourself, stop, I’m not going to go that far, I’m not going to reveal that much of myself?”

“No.” (lots-o-laughter).

Anyway, some of the more interesting tidbits included the fact that Flaubert is one of his favorite writers. Lots of big literary stars say the same thing. the scribe is proud to say he read “Madame Bovary” at 18, and not so proud to admit he couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.

Maybe it’s time to give it another try.

Ellis said he has “favorite books, not favorite writers,” like Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” Michael Chabon’s “The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay,” and a number of Philip Roth’s works, which he said, “I was reading a lot of and was very influenced by while writing ‘Lunar Park’.”

Apparently he had to sue actor Ben Stiller over something to do with the silly movie “Zoolander,” but was not at liberty to say what thanks to the terms of a court settlement reached between the two pop culture heavyweights.

Ellis said that the movie version of “American Psycho” was very well done, “about as good as could be, given the difficulty of adapting it.”

the scribe is a little embarrassed to say he hasn't read the book, but liked the movie, even if he was a little confused at the end as to whether the murders were for real or all in the American psycho’s head.

Lo-and-behold, someone asked of the novel, “Were the murders in ‘American Psycho’ real or in the narrator’s head?” to which Ellis responded he did not know and that, if he did, he wouldn’t reveal it so as not to rob the story of a degree of “mystery,” which strikes the scribe (highway that is) as good literary practice.

He revealed that he had written a first screenplay of ‘American Psycho’ for Hollywood and, “because I was bored with the book by then” finished it with a bang-up musical number from Barry Manilow. (lots-o-laughter)

“Needless to say, I was removed from the project.” (lots-o-laughter)

Apparently, the movie of his second effort way back in the mid-80s, “The Rules of Attraction,” was not very well received, but for Ellis it was the best of those made from his books and a film he personally finds “excellent.”

He added that he has written many screenplays in his time, none of which have ever been produced.

Someone asked him if he had read a book called “The Hunger,” and he was man enough to admit that he hadn’t, but had seen the movie with David Bowie back in the early-80s and vividly remembered the lesbian love scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, which, if you’ve seen it, you remember, too.

He was not at all embarrassed in admitting to the edgy crowd that he was a “mainstream guy who likes U2" when asked what music he’d been listening to, and that may say a lot about Ellis’ mass appeal.

And just like that it was over and the scribe hit the bricks, barely avoiding being knocked over (literally) by people rushing the front table where what Ellis said “a very long evening” of book signing was about to begin.

The upshot? To write is to be both mortal and divine. The scribe has sold a few hundred books and Ellis a few million, yet they both are prone to the classics, are not above satisfaction with merely having seen the movie, and like their pasta, too.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful invention it is, this thing we call the Internet!

Anonymous said...

Nice stuff. Felt like I was there.