Slumdog vs. Oscar the Grouch

Tonight I get to do two things I’ve never done before: be part of a webcast, and act like an official Oscar critic!  If you feel like chatting about “Slumdog Millionaire,” please tune in tonight right after the Best Picture Award is announced.  Here are the details for how you can join the conversation in a few different ways — by phoning in like a conference call, listening on the web, or following it on Twitter:


I usually consider this Oscar better company than this one, so it’ll be a fun night for me to blend the two.  Most of the other official commentators on the webcast, including the journalists, are quite gung-ho on the movie.  I didn’t hate it, but I definitely had issues which I wrote about here and here, so I get to be the critical voice on the panel. 

But opinions are like, um, bellybuttons (to put it politely); everybody has one. I’m less interested in my own opinion than in how the film made me think about art-making and the ethics of telling someone else’s story, something I struggled with as I wrote Leaving India.  Anyway, it will be interesting to see what everyone has to say.

Have fun tonight, whether or not you’re spending it with Oscar!

Man-on-the-street reviews of Leaving India

My inbox was full o’ fun today.
I was alerted to the the first pre-pub customer review on  (Amazon gives certain advance copies to certain readers, who agree to write reviews.)  Mr. von Moller called Leaving India  “a rousing tour through a century of world events and personalities as seen from the perspective of one family, highly recommended” and gave it four stars, meaning that he liked my book more than Harold Bloom, less than a vibrating wristwatch/alarm clock.
I also received a wonderful email from my friend Thomas Connor, a Chicago Sun-Times music editor, who has a media copy. I asked him if I could post it, because it’s far more entertaining than anything I’ve ever written here.  Here it is:

Subject: You need to have some book signings at the local shelters

Let me see if I can re-create the conversation I had with a shaggy man on the train to work this morning. He shuffled down the aisle toward me — weathered black ball cap with a no-fur button and an Obama button, immensely tangled salt-and-pepper hair just past his shoulders, nubby teeth like a prehistoric fish, a gigantic white peace-sign medallion around his neck. They always speak to me, despite the earbuds. That defense never works.

“Have you been to India?” he was asking, pointing to your book in my hands.


“Are you gonna go?” His smile was genuine, harmless, unmedicated.

“I’d sure like to.”

He then informed me that the “most virtuous woman in the world” lived there, and a few sentences later I realized he was discussing Mother Teresa.

“Is Bombay the biggest city? Maybe Calcutta?”

“Probably Bombay,” I said, wholly ignorant of the facts. “Mumbai,” I said, correcting myself.

“So why are you reading about India?”

“Because my friend wrote this book.”

He was astonished. “You know someone who wrote a book?!”

I pointed to your photo. He leaned in, squinting through his high-fashion-for-1981 prescription frames. He attempted to pronounce your name.

“She’s be-yoooooo-tiful,” he said, semi-entranced. “She looks lovely in pink.” (Yes, he actually said, “lovely.”)

“My mother wrote a book.”

“She did?” Skepticism reared in my head. “What’s it called.”

” ‘Baby Doctor.’ It’s about pediatric medicine. She invented it.” (It’s actually on Amazon: ‘Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician’s Training’ by Perri Klass.)

He then pulled out of his bag a dog-eared copy of “Persuasion” by Jane Austen. (Yes, Jane Austen.) “I’m reading this. See, girls see me reading this on the train, they think, ‘Hey, what a sensitive guy!’ “

I instantly love this city muppet. He’s not concerned that women will look at him and think, “Eek! homeless freak!” Which even I did. He’s convinced his soul — or at least the appearance of it — will triumph, that a woman’s heart will be won over by what a man reads and thinks. Well, he’d won me over.

He then thought for a moment. “Even though she’s your friend and all, what’s your honest opinion of the book?” Meaning yours. “Can you be objective?”

“I can,” said I. “I picked it up because my friend wrote it, but I confess I’m really engrossed in it now. I’ve learned so much already. It’s beautifully written and secretly informative, like the best histories.” Truly.

“And do you hope to marry this woman one day?”

I laughed. “No, no.” I paused. Does one just come out to a strange homeless person? Probably not.

“You already have a significant other?” (Yes, he actually said “significant other.”)

“I do.”

“And she doesn’t mind that you’re reading this book by such a beautiful woman?”

“No, no.”

“Well, then you have a very strong relationship.” Now he tugged at the peace medallion, which was dull white and looked as if it were made out of some kind of elementary school-grade craft clay. Remind me to donate to the city’s shelter art programs.

“This is my divining rod,” he said, brandishing the medallion, which I now could see was shaped like a heart. “It’s a peace sign, but it’s shaped like a heart, so it’s all about peace, love and” — and he knocked it against his forehead — “understanding!”

He then touched the medallion to his temple. “I’m going to predict something for you.” He closed his eyes with this thing on his temple, like he was Carnac, and said, “I think you’re going to have a really wonderful February 14th. And when you do you’ll stop and think about that pinhead you met on the train. … OK, I’m going to go sit over there now. I’ll let you read.”

And he did. He shuffled to the middle of the car and sat across from a real Scandinavian beauty, I must say. The dance was delightful. She noticed him in her peripheral vision, crossed her legs, swept blond hair from her eyes, spine straightening on alert. I can hear her: “Eek!” He harumphed into his seat, tried his best to appear nonchalant, and … slipped out the Jane Austen. I saw her scan the cover as I was getting off at Fullerton …

Thanks, Thomas!