All Posts By Michael Kahn

More Monkey Business: Copyright and the World’s Most Famous Monkey Selfie

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In my other life as an intellectual property lawyer, I receive almost weekly proof that copyright law is the gift that goes on giving. This time it’s in the form of the world’s most famous monkey selfie, which first surfaced, in this blog and others, last year when an earlier copyright dispute came to light. The selfie has resurfaced, this time at the heart of yet another peculiar lawsuit, this one filed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc.) on behalf of “Naruto,” the monkey who snapped the famous selfie.

For those Rip Van Winkles among us who have just awakened from a ten-year snooze, a “selfie” is a photograph that you take of yourself, typically with a smartphone, and often share via social media. For example, at the 2014 Oscars ceremony, Bradley CoOscars-2014-Ellen-Degeneres-Celebrity-Selfie-Blasted-for-Product-Placement-431571-2[1]oper took a selfie with Ellen DeGeneres and several other celebrities. Here he is (in the photo on the left) snapping the selfie. The result (on the right) became the most widely shared selfie on Twitter and other social media.Ellen-Selfie[1]

But three years earlier, a far different selfie scenario unfolded while nature photographer David Slater was on vacation in Indonesia. A group of crested black macaques started playing with the camera equipment he had set up. “They were quite mischievous,” he told The Telegraph, “jumping all over my equipment, and it looked like they were already posing for the camera when one hit the button. The sound got his attention and he kept pressing it. He must have taken hundreds of pictures by the time I got my camera back, but not very many were in focus.”

A few were, however, and Slater included them in his book Wildlife Personalities (with the selfie above as the book cover). The monkey selfies became an Internet phenomenon, and–alas–the center of two separate legal disputes.

The first was a battle with the Wikipedia Foundation, which posted that monkey selfie online in its collection of public domain images and refused to take it down, arguing that Slater didn’t own the picture’s copyright because he didn’t take the picture—the monkey did. And since the monkey can’t own the copyright, Wikipedia argued, nobody does.

Slater’s latest battl7JgmFv6[1]e is with PETA and Antje Engelhardt, Ph.D., who, as  “next friends” of the macaque, have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Slater and his publisher. “Naruto,” the complaint alleges, “is a free, autonomous six-year-old male member of the Macaca nigra species, also known as a crested macaque, residing in the Tangkoko Reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.”

The heart of the complaint is the claim that Naruto “has the right to own and benefit from the copyright in the Monkey Selfies in the same manner and to the same extent as any other author.” The Complaint seeks a declaration of Naruto’s rights, an injunction against use of the photos, an accounting of all profits attributable to the infringement and appropriate damages, permission for the Next Friends to administer and protect Naruto’s rights, an order that the proceeds from the sale, licensing, or other use of the photos be used solely to benefit Naruto and his community.

If asked to bet on the outcome of this lawsuit, I’d put my money on Slater and his publisher, but not for any sentimental reasons or for fear that this lawsuit is the harbinger for the real Planet of the Apes. Instead, I’d point to the Copyright Office and the U.S. Constitution:

  • The Copyright Office: Chapter 306 of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices states: “The U.S. Copyright Office will register an original work of authorship, provided that the work was created by a human being.”   The Copyright Office specifies that it “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants.” One example it offers:  “A photograph taken by a monkey.”
  • The U.S. Constitution: It’s easy to forget that the copyright and patent laws grant to authors and inventors a monopoly over their creations for a certain period–20 years for a patent owner, a lifetime plus 70 years for an author. For a nation that celebrates free enterprise and competition, what is the justification for this grant of monopoly? It’s right there in the Constitution. Specifically, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, which empowers Congress to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” In other words, the justification for giving authors the exclusive rights in their creations is to provide them with an incentive to create art that will ultimately enrich our culture. Thus while monkeys have many endearing qualities, our Founding Fathers realized that granting them an exclusive right in their works would in no way give them an incentive to create those works. And thus the central purpose behind the copyright monopoly has no application outside the human race.

Which is not to say that Naruto’s selfie isn’t far more intriguing than 99% of the selfies taken by humans and posted onto social media. It’s just to say it’s in the public domain for all to enjoy. And while I’ve had to battle a variety of obnoxious animals in three-piece suits in the courtroom, I’m relieved to know that posting this monkey selfie on my blog won’t result in a call from a real gorilla that Naruto hired as his licensing agent.

The Donald, the Orangutan and Me: A Little Monkey Business

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As a lawyer by day and an author at night, I’ve had times when the realm of fiction intersects with the realm of reality. One example, gleaned from my years representing newspapers and publishers, is the law of libel, where the jury must decide whether the allegedly defamatory statement is true or fiction. If true, the plaintiff loses. If fiction, the plaintiff wins.

Occasionally, however, the dividing line between fact and fiction in a libel case is more subtle, namely, is the statement, though fiction, one that a reasonable person would believe to be fact. Huh?

The best example is the lawsuit Rev. Jerry Falwell filed against Larry Flynt over a parody ad that ran in a 1983 issue of Hustler magazine. The ad was modeled on a series of Campari liqueur ads in which a celebrity talked about his or her “first time”–which turned out to be the first time tasting Campari. Here’s an example featuring Jill St. John.

The United State Supreme Court described the Falwell ad parody as follows in its unanimous opinion in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell:

The inside front cover of the November 1983 issue of Hustler Magazine featured a “parody” of an advertisement for Campari Liqueur that contained the name and picture of respondent and was entitled “Jerry Falwell talks about his first time.” This parody was modeled after actual Campari ads that included interviews with various celebrities about their “first times.” Although it was apparent by the end of each interview that this meant the first time they sampled Campari, the ads clearly played on the sexual double entendre of the general subject of “first times.” Copying the form and layout of these Campari ads, Hustler’s editors chose respondent as the featured celebrity and drafted an alleged “interview” with him in which he states that his “first time” was during a drunken incestuous rendezvous with his mother in an outhouse.

Here is that infamous parody ad.

Although the lawsuit reached the Supreme Court on a different legal theory, Falwell’s libel claim died in the trial court, where the jury found that no reasonable person reading that ad would have believed that it was a real interview of Rev. Falwell or that his first sexual experience was with his mother in an outhouse.

Which brings us to the Donald and an alleged sexual rendezvous of a somewhat different nature. In the Fall of 2012, at the height of the last Presidential campaign, Trump jumped into the “birther” controversy with what he labeled his “October surprise”: “I have a deal for the president,” he announced, “a deal that I don’t believe he can refuse, and I hope he doesn’t. If Barack Obama opens up and gives his college records and applications, and if he gives his passport applications and records, I will give, to a charity of his choice—inner-city children in Chicago, American Cancer Society, AIDS research, anything he wants—a check, immediately, for $5 million.”

A few weeks later, comedian Bill Maher told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that he had his own “October surprise”: he would pay $5 million to Trump’s charity of choice (which, according to Maher, was the Men’s Hair Club) if Trump provided a birth certificate proving that he’s not “spawn of his mother having sex with orangutan.” True to form, Trump immediately had his lawyer send Maher a copy of his birth certificate with a letter demanding the $5 million. As the letter stated, “attached hereto is a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that he is the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan.” When Maher ignored the demand, Trump filed a $5 million lawsuit for breach of contract. Although the rest of the world understood that Maher’s offer was a joke, Trump insisted otherwise in an interview of Fox News: “I don’t think he was joking. He said it with venom. That was venom. That wasn’t a joke. In fact, he was nervous when he said it. It was a pathetic delivery.”

Amidst much derision, Trump withdrew his lawsuit a few weeks later. His lawyer, however, insisted that the withdrawal was only temporary, claiming that it had “been withdrawn to be amended and refiled at a later date.” That was more than 2 years ago. The lawsuit has not yet been refiled.

And thus a lesson in fact versus fiction, compliments of the Donald. And perhaps a bigger lesson in the Donald World versus reality. Indeed, if that lawsuit is any indication, the Donald has some personal challenges ahead of him before he tries to “make America great again.”

The Big Lebowski Meets The Big Sleep

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The other night I settled down to watch “The Big Lebowski,” a terrific Coen brothers film that features three of my favorite actors (Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi) playing three of my favorite characters (the Dude, Walter Sobchek, and Donny Kerabatsos).

The Dude, Donny, and Walter

I’d last watched the movie about ten years ago. If you’d asked me before I started the film to describe it in five words or less, my answer would have been “A stoner crime comedy.” But 20 minutes into the movie, I had my epiphany, But more on that in a moment.

Many of us Baby Boomers function under the misconception that we are totally hip. After all, my man, we are the generation of Woodstock, “Easy Rider,” Bob Dylan, and, of course, weed. Sadly, we are also the generation that keeps getting reminded how unhip we are. Such as the time I was doing a patent review for a hat company’s latest product, the Stash Hat. It was a baseball cap with a small Velcro pocket on the inside of the front panel. Perfect, I thought, for storing your house key when you went jogging. Noticing that all five sample hats had the same number embroidered on the front and thinking perhaps the company had mistakenly added a zero to what should have been 42 (a more common baseball number), I raised the issue with the company’s 69-year-old chief financial officer, who chuckled as he explained the meaning of 420. I listened, dumbfounded.420_baseball_hat[1]

“Oh,” I finally said.

“That’s why we call it the Stash Hat, Mike.”

Shocked, I sent an email to my five kids, asking whether they had ever heard of the meaning of 420, and all five responded with variations of “Well, duh!”

If you’re still clueless, Google “420” or check out this link.

Another example: I recently learned of the existence of the term RBF–and, as a further insult to my hipness, I learned of its meaning not from High Times or Rolling Stone Magazine but from a far stuffier publication nicknamed the Grey Lady.

Bigsleep2[1]So back to my epiphany. Around the time that the Jeff Lebowski (a/k/a the Dude) is escorted into the den of the other Jeffrey Lebowski–an older, wealthy patriarch in a wheelchair–I suddenly realized that this scene echoed a similar encounter with an older, wealthy patriarch in a wheelchair in a mystery novel  whose title also started with the words “The Big.” Yes, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (and the Howard Hawks film of the same name). And sure enough, a few more scenes into the movie the wealthy old man in the wheelchair hires the Dude to find a kidnapped female member of his family.

Amazed, I started jotting down notes as the movie progressed, and when it was over I had identified an impressive list of parallels. Believing that I was now ready to write the Hollywood equivalent of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, I decided to quickly confirm my genius with a Google search.

Alas, the very first result was the Wikipedia entry for The Big Lebowski, the second paragraph of which read:

The film is loosely inspired by the work of Raymond Chandler. Joel Coen stated: “We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant”

Humphrey Bogart

And that was just 1 of 240,000 results on Google for the search “the big lebowski and the big sleep.”

So maybe I’m not quite as hip as I thought. But for those of you–especially my fellow mystery writers and mystery fans–who might be interested, here are some other parallels between the two tales:

  • Both movies are set in Los Angeles and feature a bachelor detective;
  • Both movies feature a sexy young woman in the patriarch’s family–the younger daughter in The Big Sleep, the young wife in The Big Lebowski–who flirts with and tries to seduce our detective;
  • A ransom note handed to the patriarch  sets the plot in motion in both movies;
  • A pornographer plays a key role in a plot point in each movie: Arthur Geiger in The Big Sleep and Jackie Treehorn (played by Ben Gazzara) in The Big Lebowski;
  • Both movies feature a more mature femme fatale–the patriarch’s older daughter in The Big Sleep, the patriarch’s sister in The Big Lebowski–who yanks the plot into a new direction;

The-Big-Lebowski-movies-25347166-1400-1000[1]These are just some of the parallels. For more paralells, explore here and here.

As Ben Walthers wrote in Time Out London:

Both movies are private-eye investigations of oddball corruption, set against a Los Angeles populated by forlorn grandees in secluded mansions, over-privileged girls gone wild and a menagerie of thugs, saps and loons. Both see a man plunged into a mystery beyond his initial comprehension in which he is charged with assuring the safety of an irresponsible young woman. What’s more, both have outrageously labyrinthine plots – though at least ‘The Big Lebowski’ makes sense on a second or third viewing. The fine narrative detail of Hawks’ movie is famously impenetrable even to the most determined viewer.

Oh, yes, and that earlier reference to 420. I have it on good authority that the Dude recommends it for your next viewing of the film.

Trollope versus Hawthorne: Where’s the “Beef”?

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trollope_1795133c[1]
Anthony Trollope
There are many reasons to admire the 19th-century British novelist Anthony Trollope, beginning with his sparkling prose and vivid characters. And for those of us who write novels but haven’t been able to quit our day job, here’s another reason: during much of his writing career, the remarkably prolific Trollope (47 novels and more than 9 volumes of essays and non-fiction) had a day job with the British postal system.

Can You Forgive HerI am currently reading Can You Forgive Her, a satirical depiction of the 19th-century British version of our 1%–or, in Trollope’s words “the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world.” As Alexander Larman wrote in The Guardian in 2012 upon publication of a new edition of the novel, “Trollope’s account of a society in which money, breeding and influence, rather than skill or integrity, are the primary routes into power is unpleasantly familiar.”

As with many popular novelists of every era, including ours, Trollope amused his readers with witty allusions to current events and gossip, most of which completely escape a modern reader–and especially one in the United States. But every once in awhile you come across an allusion with just enough meat to hook your curiosity.

Such was the case earlier this week as I was reading Chapter 33 of Can You Forgive Her. That’s where we meet Lady Monk, the wealthy wife of Sir Cosmo Monk:

“Lady Monk was a woman now about fifty years of age, who had been a great beauty, and who was still handsome in her advanced age. Her figure was very good. She was tall and of fine proportion, though by no means verging to that state of body which our excellent American friend and critic Mr. Hawthorne has described as beefy and has declared to be the general condition of English ladies of Lady Monk’s age. Lady Monk was not beefy. She was a comely, handsome, upright, dame,—one of whom, as regards her outward appearance, England might be proud,—and of whom Sir Cosmo Monk was very proud.”

Beefy? As described by “our excellent American friend and critic Mr. Hawthorne”? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Huh?

I did a little digging. Here’s what I learned:

hawthorne[1]
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Can Your Forgive Her was published in 1864. One year earlier, Nathaniel Hawthorne published Our Old Home, a collection of essays he wrote about English life after returning to Concord, Massachusetts from his stint as American consul in Liverpool. I downloaded the book (available for free on various Internet sites, including this one) and searched the text for the word “beef.” It appears in an essay entitled “Leamington Spa.” Specifically, it appears in Hawthorne’s description of what he describes as the typical English married lady of 50:

“I have heard a good deal of the tenacity with which English ladies retain their personal beauty to a late period of life; but (not to suggest that an American eye needs use and cultivation before it can quite appreciate the charm of English beauty at any age) it strikes me that an English lady of fifty is apt to become a creature less refined and delicate, so far as her physique goes, than anything that we Western people class under the name of woman. She has an awful ponderosity of frame, not pulpy, like the looser development of our few fat women, but massive with solid beef and streaky tallow; so that (though struggling manfully against the idea) you inevitably think of her as made up of steaks and sirloins. When she walks, her advance is elephantine. When she sits down, it is on a great round space of her Maker’s footstool, where she looks as if nothing could ever move her.”

Ouch! And that’s only beginning. Here’s what he has to say about her poor husband:

“I wonder whether a middle-aged husband ought to be considered as legally married to all the accretions that 694242_f520[1]have overgrown the slenderness of his bride since he led her to the altar, and which make her so much more than he ever bargained for! Is it not a sounder view of the case, that the matrimonial bond cannot be held to include the three fourths of the wife that had no existence when the ceremony was performed?”

punch1[1]As you might imagine, that essay was not received well across the pond. The review of the book in the October 17, 1863 issue of Punch magazine (also available online), under the title “A Handful of Hawthorne,” opens with a blast aimed at the entire collection of essays. Addressing himself to Mr. Hawthorne, the critic states that “you have put all the caricatures and libels upon English folk, which you have collected while enjoying our hospitality. Your book is thoroughly saturated with what seem ill-nature and spite.”

Ah, but the real fun–and outrage–begins when the reviewer turns to, and quotes from, that lengthy passage about English women. Here is his response:

“Well painted, Nathaniel, with a touch worthy of Rubens, who was we think your great uncle, or was it Milton, or Thersites, or somebody else, who, in accordance with American habit, was claimed as your ancestor. Never mind, you are strong enough in your own works to bear being supposed descended from a gorilla, were heraldry unkind. Mr. Punch makes you his best compliments on your smartness, and on the gracious elegance of your descriptions of those with whom you are known to have been so intimate, and he hopes that you will soon give a world a sequel . . . in the form of an autobiography. For he is very partial to essays on the natural history of half-civilized animals.”

Ra-ta-boom!

And thus the background to Trollope’s reference to “our excellent American friend and critic Mr. Hawthorne.” And a salute to the wonders of the Internet, where this kind of detective work can be accomplished in less than an hour at your computer instead of multiple hours–or even days–in the library.

Justice Scalia’s “Jiggery-Pokery”

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Say what you will about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia–and, frankly, there is plenty to say–you have to admit that the man’s prose, especially when he’s in the role of outraged dissenter, can be colorful, as he again demonstrated in his response to the recent Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. That’s the case in which a 5-4 majority of the Court held that the 14th Amendment requires a State to license a marriage 120729b-antonin-scalia[1]between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State. Here is a passage from his angry dissent, which is both nasty and funny:

The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so. Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent. “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” (Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.)

bryan-garner[1]
Bryan A. Garner
Bryan A. Garner, the lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher, runs a delightful blog on language, especially for lawyers, at his website, LawProse.org. He has also coauthored two books with Justice Scalia: Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008) and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (2012). Garner recently sent out an email with the following commentary on two of Justice Scalia’s recent quirky expressions. Garner writes:

In the last few Supreme Court terms, Justice Antonin Scalia has used some memorable British colloquialisms—especially argle-bargle and jiggery-pokery.

 

Argle-bargle is a chiefly British phrase that has taken on the meaning “copious but meaningless talk or writing; nonsense.” It originated in the early 19th century from the Scottish term argle—a late 16th-century variation of argue. Merriam-Webster’s lists the term simply as a synonym of argy-bargy, which in BrE means “a lively discussion or argument.

 

Jiggery-pokery means “devious or suspicious behavior; sly manipulation; subterfuge; trickery.” The term originated in the late 19th century, most likely as a variant of the Scottish joukery-pawkery from jouk (to turn or bend, usu. to avoid someone or something) and pawky (artfully shrewd). Jouk also gives us the sports term juke (to make a false move in order to deceive an opponent), combining jouk‘s original physical sense and the metaphorical one it assumed as joukery.

 

Such reduplicative phrases have a way of catching the public ear. Flimflam, jibber-jabber, hocus-pocus, and mumbo jumbo are mainstays of political commentary. And flip-flop is a recurrent favorite, cropping up in prominent elections about once a decade. It was last leveled at then-candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, so keep an ear out for it in 2016.

 

Though Justice Scalia’s borrowings from across the Pond may sound funny to American ears, they are part of a well-established tradition and have rich histories of their own—far from pure applesauce. Before I became Justice Scalia’s coauthor (on two books), I interviewed him at length in 2006. When the Justice mentioned that Justice Robert H. Jackson is his favorite writer in Supreme Court history, I responded: “Jackson . . . was considered to be way too aggressive toward his colleagues in his dissents.”

 

Justice Scalia responded, chuckling: “Oh, imagine that.”

A Shout-Out to Poisoned Pen Press

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On this, the day after Independence Day Weekend, I pause to give a shout-out to my publisher and its support of independent bookstores–the ones who still have bookshelves with books on them.

9781464204395_FC-181x276[1]Like most mid-list writers, each of my first seven novels eventually went out of print and were available only as eBooks. But then Poisoned Pen Press proposed to bring all seven of them back in print. Yes, going ALL THE WAY BACK to my first novel, Grave Designs (originally published under the title The Canaan Legacy). It was a wonderful moment–and it’s been so much fun watching each new edition roll off the press.

When asked during an interview many years ago to describe the most satisfying thing about having your book published, the answer was easy: having my kids take my book 9781464204401_FC-181x276[1]to school for show-and-tell. Taking one of my books to school was a lot more appealing to them than taking one of the legal documents their dad prepared during the day, such as a motion for summary judgement or a set of objections to interrogatories.

The kids are all grown, but there are now 5 grandkids in need of show-and-tell books. So thanks, Poisoned Pen Press!

The 6 Great American Baseball Novels

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“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Those words–written by American scholar Jacques Barzunare now engraved on a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

In his book, God’s Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love Spiced with a Few Harsh Words (1954), Barzun wrote that baseball was uniquely American, that it “fitly expresses the powers of the nationField-of-dreams[1]‘s mind and body,” that it has “a merit separate from the glory of being the most active, agile, varied, articulate, and brainy of all group games.” “It is,” he wrote, “of and for our century. Tennis belongs to the individualistic past–a hero, or at most a pair of friends or lovers, against the world. The idea of baseball is a team, an outfit, a section, a gang, a union, a cell, a commando squad – in short, a twentieth-century setup of opposite numbers.”

Over the six decades since he wrote those words, football has become the national sport, at least in terms of TV ratings. But baseball remains our national pastime–and, for we readers and writers, the inspiration for some of our favorite works of fiction.

As we approach the All-Star Game and its subtle shift from Spring to the growing tension of the pennant races, I pause to give a shout-out to my 6 favorite Great American Baseball Novels:The_Great_American_Novel_by_Philip_Roth[1]

  1. The Great American Novel by Philip Roth: How can you resist a baseball novel with that title? As one reviewer wrote, “In this ribald, richly imagined, and wickedly satiric novel, Roth turns baseball’s status as national pastime and myth into an occasion for unfettered picaresque farce, replete with heroism and perfidy, ebullient wordplay and a cast of characters that includes the House Un-American Activities Committee.”
  2. The Southpaw by Mark Harris: While his second baseball novel, Bang the Drum Slowly, became a critically acclaimed motion picture starring Robert De Nero, my favorite Mark Harris novel–and one of my favorite novels of all time–is his first baseball novel, The Southpaw. This is the poignant and beautifully written coming of age novel about Henry Wiggins, the southpaw pitcher of the title. As the San Francisco Chronicle reviewer wrote, “Cheers to Mark Harris, who gives us by far the best ‘serious’ baseball novel published.”
  3. Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella: If you loved the movie version of this book, entitled Field of Dreams,  you will be even more enchanted by the novel, which features a delicious added treat: the famous author kidnapped and brought to Iowa in the novel is none other than J.D. Salinger.
  4. The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Yes, when we think of The Natural we think of the Robert Redford motion 514yDAJkk2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1]picture with the happy ending featuring fireworks exploding after Roy Hobbs (Redford) hits that monumental home run, signalling his redemption. The novel–Malamud’s first–is a far darker tale that blends baseball and myth, particularly the Arthurian legends of Percival and the Fisher King. The ending will haunt you.
  5. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover. Published in 1968, decades before the invention of fantasy baseball, this black comic novel features J. Henry Waugh, an unhappy accountant who comes home every night to immerse himself in an imaginary baseball world where everything–EVERYTHING–is ruled by dice. In a 2011 appreciation in the New York Times on the novel’s re-issue, Matt Weiland wrote, “The genius of the novel is in how Coover revels in the sun-bright vitality of the world Waugh has created, full of drink and lust and dirty limericks and doubles down the line — and yet brings Waugh face to face with its darkest truths.”
  6. You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner. Lardner was a baseball beat reporter in the earliest days of the game, and then became America’s most popular humorist during the Jazz Age. Colin Fleming paid homage to Lardner’s 1916 novel (his only novel) in an Atlantic Monthly article entitled “The Greatest Baseball Novel Ever Written.” As Fleming explains, “Lardner’s idea was brilliantly simple, and it came with expansive narrative possibilities: Have a fictional ‘busher’–that is, a fringe Major League player–named Jack Keefe make the show as a pitcher for the White Sox, and have him send dispatches back home to his friend in Bedford, Indiana.” That friend was the Al of the title, Al Blanchard. Jack is a boastful and oblivious knucklehead, and much of the book’s humor comes from Jack’s total inability to recognize when he is being manipulated or cheated.

Six wonderful books to enjoy this baseball season. Play ball!

 

Top 10 Baseball Walk-Up Songs in Literature

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moby_dick_baseball_cap[1]For the true baseball fans among us, name a favorite player and you can name his walk-up song. Same for your team’s closer (whose walk-up song is known as the “entrance song”).

For the uninitiated, a walk-up song is that heavy metal, hip hop, or country tune that blares throughout the stadium as the player walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box–or, for the closer, as he jogs in from the bullpen to the mound.

We baseball fans are prone to nostalgia, and thus I miss the sight and sounds of former Cardinal Lance Berkman striding to the plate to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” And what Yankees fan, when hearing Metallica’s “Enter the Sandman,” doesn’t sigh at the memory of the Mariano Rivera coming in from the bullpen for yet another save. Here’s a link to the Top Ten entrance songs for closers, which includes retired baseball_shakespeare[1]Cardinals closer Al “Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky, whose entrance song was –ready?–“Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt. I promise.

Sadly, we writers don’t get walk-up songs. Which is not to say we don’t dream of playing in the Majors, and more than one of us has fantasized about our own baseball card, Will Shakespeare included. Indeed, there are rumors that the Bard confided to friends that if he could ever pitch relief in the Big Leagues his entrance song would be Thomas Bateson’s “First Set of English Madrigales.”

stephenkingfishface[1]All of which got me thinking about great characters in literature. What would Hamlet select for his walk-up song? Or Nancy Drew? Or Captain Ahab? Or Madame Bovary?

If a Google search turns up hundreds of “Top 10 Walk-Up Songs for Baseball Players,” why not at least one for fictional characters? Some of the choices are perhaps too obvious, such as Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost, apparently a Mick Jagger groupie who insists that his walk-up song be “Sympathy for the Devil.” So, too, Hester Prynne of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was rumored to be a big fan of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

But I’m willing to give it a shot–at least for the first five fictional characters. I’m hoping some of you out there can help pump the list up to ten.

Here are my 5:

  1. Iago (of Othello): “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood
  2. Elizabeth Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice): “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles
  3. Holden Caulfield (of Catcher in the Rye): “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones
  4. Jay Gatsby (of The Great Gatsby): “Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. (with Puff Daddy)
  5. Stephen Dedalus (of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man): “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  6. sherlock_holmes_baseball_cap[1]

Now your turn. The possibilities are endless–and fun to contemplate. You a mystery fan? Your choices include Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, Harry Bosch, and, of course, Rachel Gold. American literature your thing? There’s always Huck Finn. Or even Moby Dick. World literature includes Anna Karenina, Emma Woodhouse, and Sancho Panza. And there’s science fiction, and there’s romance, and there’s Young Adult. And then there’s that group of characters I think of as low-hanging fruit, including Gregor Samsa (of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) and Charlotte (of Charlotte’s Web).

So pick a favorite character, pick that character’s walk-up song, and let us know.

All Our Yesterdays: A Salute to the Bard

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We have all heard–over and over and over again–that the greatest writer in the history of EnglishMacbeth - Poster literature is William Shakespeare. And we can all recognize how remarkable it is that plays he wrote more than four centuries ago–dramas and comedies performed for the masses–are still being performed around the world today. And we can all concede that no contemporary author, or any other one, can claim as many film and television adaptations as the Bard.

Yes, we can acknowledge all that and get on with our daily lives. But then, out of the blue, you will collide with the genius of Shakespeare, and you will experience a moment of true awe.

My latest unexpected encounter occurred yesterday as I was reading the Wall Street Journal, which ran an appreciation of Orson Welles on his 100th birthday, including a piece on his 10 essential movies. One of those ten was his production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the article included a link to Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 5, upon learning of the death of Lady Macbeth. At the bottom of this post are those 10 extraordinary lines. They are profound and moving and more powerful than I remembered–and they are even more so when spoken aloud. So prepare for your moment of awe.

poster_2[1]Here is a link to the Orson Welles version from his motion picture.

And for an example of the timeless power of Shakespeare, here is a link to the Patrick Stewart version from a production of Macbeth in a modern military setting.

And here are those words, as first performed on stage at the Globe Theatre in 1611:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

My 60 Seconds of Semi-Kinda-Sorta Fame

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If Andy Warhol’s prediction is true, I’ve just used up my first minute. It was quick but fun. Read on:

A couple of months ago I wrote about a fun series of interview questions posed to me by the blog Reviewing the Evidence. At the time, I was sworn to secrecy as to my answers. Now that the quarantine has been lifted, here are the Questions and Answers from that interview. As you read through them, think how would answer:

 SIXTY SECONDS WITH MICHAEL KAHN…

RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

Kahn: Lawyer by day, author at night, mediocre blues harp player day and night.

RTE: What’s the one record you’d take to a desert island?

Kahn: Just one? That’s tough. With apologies to Muddy Waters and to The Rolling Stones (especially Exile on Main Street), I’d take Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Anthology: Through the Years.

RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?St_Louis_Cardinals_1998-present_logo[1]

Kahn: Third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals.

RTE: Who’s your oldest friend?

Kahn: Neil Sullivan. We met freshman year at Amherst College and have remained buddies ever since. He was the best man at my wedding and remains one of the best men I know.

RTE: If I ruled the world…

Kahn: I’d end up in an insane asylum, overwhelmed by trying to figure how to solve, or at least ameliorate, all the world’s problems, from poverty to hunger to brutality to genocide to terrorism to pollution to global warming. Once released, I’d probably try something more within my control, such as ordering Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to perform in a concert simulcast to the entire world with a playlist that included “Learning to Fly.”

RTE: Which book do you wish you’d written?

Kahn: The Great Gatsby.

RTE: What makes you angry?

Kahn: Arrogant people, selfish people, pretentious people, nasty people.

RTE: Name your five dream dinner party guests.

Kahn: Assuming my guest list is limited to the living—and thus can’t include Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, or Abe Lincoln—I’d go with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bob Uecker, Bill Clinton, Ambassador Michael Oren, and Mel Brooks.

RTE: Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Kahn: Ann Coulter

RTE: What inspired you to start writing?

Kahn: My wife Margi, who got tired of hearing me tell her after I had finished many a book, “Not bad, but I could probably write a better one.” “Then do it,” she finally said, “or please shut up.” So I shut up for a long, mulled it over, and finally did it.

RTE:51r2Cj94myL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_[1] Where would you most like to live?

Kahn: My fantasy would be to live on the road for several years—starting here in the U.S. (perhaps in an RV) and then off to other places in the world, about three weeks per city, with hiking side-trips along the way in national parks and other natural wonders. And when Margi and I returned to the U.S., we’d settle down somewhere nice and warm near an ocean where all my kids and grandkids could spend time with us.

RTE: Sum up your latest book in no more than 12 words.

Kahn: A Baby Boomer version of “The Big Chill” meets “The Maltese Falcon.”