September 25, 2006

An Open Book and Last Kiss

A disturbing trend is popping up in bookstores across America.

It is something that has bothered me for some time, and being the formerly enormous bookworm that I am (God, I was such the sad sight in the seventh grade), I feel an obligation towards tomorrow's semi-literate generation to address this matter.

The "quality" young-adult novels I obsessed over during the early 90s are on the verge of extinction. The books my peers and I enjoyed not so long ago are hardly visible among the shelves of every Barnes & Borders throughout the land. No longer do the names Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine grace the uncracked spines of paperbacks. Instead, oversized softcovers with increasingly large fonts and flashy images of teen fashionistas, mystical creatures, and drugged-out deviants are taking over the reading sections that used to be found near the "baby" books. It seems as if the retailers want to avoid insulting their young readers by forcing them to hover near "Where's Waldo" and "The Berestein Bears."

While I do appreciate the clever cover art and more sophisticated subject matter of today's young-adult novels, I worry that the serialized teen thrillers of yesteryear will completely vanish off the shelves. How many frickin' fantasy volumes featuring domesticated dragons and young warriors can one reader stomach? Next year Harry Potter will hang up the broomstick and bid adieu to Hogwarts; let it be! Do publishers really think readers will come back for the next rip-off over and over?

"Toto, I don't think we're in Sweet Valley anymore."

The epidemic goes beyond the fantasy genre. It looks like the publishers are grooming a new generation of chick-lit fans and "Sex and the City"-holics as well. Series like "The A-List" and "It Girl" flaunt attractive bodies in party atmospheres and fab dwellings, never skimping on the doses of melodrama. These superficial selections are the literary equivalent to "Laguna Beach."

The language is even more daring nowadays. Characters scream expletives and make sexual references usually reserved for a "Nip/Tuck" script. And since it is a pre-req to have cafes in bookstores nowadays, the kiddies are getting high on caffiene while skimming the pages of "Rhymes With Witches" (an honest-to-God title I spotted).

And it's not like I still read these quasi-novels. I just like to walk by the YA stacks and glance at what new releases are out there. Please. I have graduated to big boy books. I have. Pay no attention to that R.L. Stine sitting on my living room shelf...

My Sunday trip to the new Borders superstore in Century City was an eye-opening visit. First and foremost, I headed to the Seattle's Best Coffee cafe to receive my free Rewards-members-only 12-ounce drink. Trying not to be rude to customers as I chatted with my mom on the phone, I made my way past the new James Patterson table and around the bargain bins to find the YA books ironically nestled in between Romance and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. A few titles jumped out at me ("Ooh, a new Buffy novelization based on events occurring after the series finale"). The new hardcover from Ned Vizzini, "It's Kind of a Funny Story," sat there, dying to be purchased with my 25% off coupon. I did what I had to do - pluck it from its nest and give it a new home in my library.

Seriously though, the guy's a refreshing new writer. He's a 25-year-old former prep-school kid from NYC who knows someone who knows me. I'm still a little shady on the connections, but we're MySpace pals and I am a fan. His last novel, "Be More Chill," was on many top-10 lists (including my bible, Entertainment Weekly), and I'm sure some movie producer is adapting the shit out of it right now. It was one of the best books I had read in a long time:

I left Borders disappointed that none of the novels I grew up with were prominently displayed for all to peruse. That girl holding the seventy-eighth installment of "The Princess Diaries" will never be thrilled by the character-driven whodunit that is Christopher Pike's "Final Friends" trilogy. The skateboarder-lookin' muppet frantically searching for trivia books on Tony Hawk will never know about the social commentary hidden within the pages of Todd Strasser's "The Wave" (who remembers that haunting Afterschool Special?).

When you get down to it though, the fact is: I'm aging and losing my grip on something I loved and enjoyed years ago.

Getting older is certainly not a pretty thing. Just ask Paul Haggis. Last night at the Arclight I caught "The Last Kiss," the Zach Braff downer of a dramedy whose trailer I've been playing once a week on Quicktime. I enjoyed the film. Blythe Danner was typically superb. That opening-titles song by Snow Patrol still plays on repeat in my brain. However, the film's message about turning 30, letting go of an age of innocence, and confronting identity crises took a backseat to the other theme that slapped me in the face:

Men are whiny pussies.

Warning: Spoilers ahead (but if you've seen the trailer, this doesn't give away much)...The four male characters of the film (five, if you include Tom Wilkinson's dad role) are afraid to face reality. Eric Christian Olsen (Kenny) doesn't mind ice fishing and bedding every hot Pussycat Doll applicant who crosses his panty-littered path. Casey Affleck (Chris) doesn't want to live in a loveless marriage with his baby's mama because she's always criticizing him and the baby's always crying. Michael Weston (Izzy) is depressingly desperate to get his long-time girlfriend back and ends up leaving town on a road trip to Mexico. And Zach Braff (Michael) is so scared shitless about committing to his pregnant girlfriend of three years that he literally flirts with disaster in the form of co-ed Rachel Bilson, who, in one scene, pathetically tries to mimic Natalie Portman's kookiness from "Garden State" but gets the movie's most thought-provoking line: "The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking out way before our parents did...because we don't ever stop to breathe anymore."

Thanks, Rachel. Note taken.

And mentally filed away.

Off to be whiny,


September 13, 2006

Confessions of a Namedropper

While I stood next to a giggly Kathy Griffin and shook hands with Lance Bass and his reality-TV leftover of a boyfriend, I spotted Howie D. of the Backstreet Boys getting ready in his VIP booth for the birthday cake that was being carried across the dancefloor where Nicole Ritchie's boyfriend spun some beats. Kevin, AJ, Nick and the younger Carter, Aaron, started singing "Happy Birthday," the rest of the club chiming in over the throbbing bass.

Rewind for a minute: My friend Rex invited me to be his plus one at the Dorough Lupus Foundation party at LAX, the Hollywood "club of the minute." His publicist, the energetic Mina, got us past the VIP line and slapped some bracelets on us for the open bar. Several people stopped Rex as we inched our way through poseurs and pee-ons, shouting out "Lloyd! We love you, man!" Needless to say, those toting their miniscule digicams just had to take pics with him, proof that they got to meet one of the stars of "Entourage."

Little did I know my evening would end up resembling an episode of the HBO comedy.

Go ahead and roll your eyes. I certainly did. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was getting into when I accepted the invite. A small spectacle it was. Another vapid get-together disguised as a noble charity event. I'm too lazy to go over all the details because I now believe that none of it matters. I could go on and describe my dinner at Oprah's birthday party (in an alternate universe, of course) and know that it serves no purpose whatsoever.

The dropping of famous names is an unofficial tradition in Los Angeles you simply cannot avoid (same for New York, I'm sure). Halle Berry likes Body Factory protein shakes? Better go get yourself one! You're with the Metcalfe party? Sorry, Jesse's running late with the rest of this posse, so please wait in line with the rest of 'em. Kate Bosworth ordered a large green tea yogurt at Pinkberry? Shut up! SIDEBAR: Pinkberry is all the rage here in L.A. Lines out the door. All-natural yumminess. It deserves its own chapter someday.

And I feel like a little part of me dies inside every time I have to resort to this practice. It's as if my soul slightly withers when I try to prove my importance to some shallow creature whose career is steeped in Hyping Up The Trivial. But it feels damn good once you get past that velvet rope. It feels good to be validated in your selection of non-dairy dessert. The self-esteem gets a boost. The chin rises a little higher. The heart blackens just a little.

I consider my namedropping a necessity for these chapters. It comes with the description of the scenery. How can you describe a forest without mentioning the trees?

Labor Day weekend did not consist of any big names, but there were places and things to note. Saturday: a trip to Palm Springs to raid the Desert Hills Outlets (I look forward to debuting my twenty-dollar Calvin Klein blazer in New York at the end of the month). Sunday: Brunch at Mani's Bakery (I happen to know one of the co-owners) followed by a macrobiotic dessert at M Cafe on Melrose, a self-treated screening of "Step Up" in Century City (Channing Tatum doing his best ghetto-Neanderthal act), a Hot in Hollywood committee dinner at the home of one Ms. Lisa Field, and a late-night visit to the Abbey with my friend Matt, who just returned from Hawaii and wanted to do some much-needed catching up. Coincidentally enough, both of us were on antibiotics during the past few days, so no alcohol was consumed...

Here's where I interrupt my itinerary breakdown for some backstory: The antibiotics were prescribed to me due to the staph infection I caught last Wednesday. What seemed to be a spider bite near my elbow grew worse, and it was painful to rest my arm at my desk. Cassie, my boss (God love her), and the rest of my co-workers looked after me, advising me to go to Urgent Care before the bump on my arm grew to the size of a golf ball from Hell. On Thursday I left work early to check myself into the Beverly Hills Urgent Care center, where a doctor poked a hole in my arm with a needle and drained the nastiness from my lucky limb. And to top it all off: my old insurance policy lapsed, and my Anonymous Content plan doesn't start for another three weeks. Perfect timing, no?

Monday was mostly spent on a sailboat parked in Marina Del Rey, munching on various barbeque goodness and salt-and-vinegar Lays. Said nautical vehicle belonged to Jenn's friend Rae and her rock singer hubby, Cashew, of the Prix. Again no alcohol was consumed, but I think the sun got to me, which couldn't have been good for the medication I was taking. Eek. The rest of the evening consisted of scarfing down meatball and zucchini pizza in Silverlake while watching the enjoyable bitchiness of Mandy Moore in "Saved" and the flawless complexion of Julianne Moore in "The Forgotten."

Ephiphany of the Week: While pumping my legs on an elliptical machine at the gym, situated between two blondes, I noticed the one on my right reading an US Weekly from 2003. First I thought, Did she have nothing better to read while pretending to burn calories like the rest of us? Then, I realized the magazine could be the perfect time capsule for future generations to discover. Think about it. One issue can speak volumes about our culture of the time - what we wore (back in '03 porkpie hats were the hot item), who was popular (Cameron Diaz dating Justin Timberlake? C'mon!), and what was a must-see at the theaters (Johnny Depp as a pirate? Nah!). Imagine how mindblowing it would be to dig up an issue of People from 2006 in 2032 (that is, if the world hasn't blown up or been submerged in water by all the icecaps by then)? Ephiphany done.


With summer finally behind us (overrated, if you ask me), we look forward to what passes as foliage, the boxes of Halloween candy lined up in stores (seriously, I already have my costume picked out), and the eventual, good-ol' American chaos we call The Holidays.

Just think: 104 days 'til Christmas.

Start shopping. Like, now.


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