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2007-03-12 - 11:09 p.m.

Will Ferrell is a funny guy, but I set my expectations pretty low when I watch his films. And thus, I was pleasantly surprised by Stranger Than Fiction, an interesting-for-Hollywood flick that plays like Groundhog Day crossed with The Hours.

Ferrell's protagonist is inspired to refashion his life in the face of inevitable death, and a creatively blocked author learns the difference between fiction and reality.

The downsides: a treacly ending (but I sniffled a little anyway, despite myself) and seeing Queen Latifah stuck in another one of her Morgan Freeman nurturing sidekick roles.

But I like that it's not completely predictable, the characters are interesting and not always appealing, that it covers the big ol' topics (death, writing, love, music) and that Britt Daniels of Spoon did the music.

Plus, it's kind of rare to see a movie that inspires you go read (or write) a great book.

Speaking of which, my subway reading over the weekend also kindled those feelings. (Proceeds from the sale of this book go toward the Read to Grow Foundation, a nonprofit literacy program in CT.)

This collection of essays by 71 people (most are writers, but there are some sundry famous non-literary types like John McCain and Jacques Pepin) about their favorite books is endlessly entertaining, often quite moving, and has bulked up my library request list with some stuff I've never explored: Gwendolyn Brooks's poetry, the Studs Lonigan trilogy, Little, Big (that last one recommended by none other than Harold Bloom).

One book that didn't change my life but which is pretty amusing anyway is the Steve Diggle bio I read recently. (It's not new, but it was new to me, and recommended by a certain devastationalist of my acquaintance.)

I can't really say who I like more, Diggle or Pete Shelley, because they both wrote excellent songs and both, to me, define the Buzzcocks.

But, man, did this vacuum up any remaining naivete I had about the original punk scene.

I always wanted to believe that the Buzzcocks were, you know, smart, nice young men. It never occured to me that the definitive punk/pop band of my youth were total drug fiends (coke, pot--like what hippies smoke!--acid), groupie-bangers, arrogant rock stars, and, judging by the writing here, not all that sharp in the haid.

Nevertheless, it's a fun and quick read, and of obvious interest to anyone who loves the band.

The new Roches album has not one but two Paranoid Larry songs, including the classic "Jesus Shaves" which itself is like a lost Roches track--funny and stirring and compassionate.

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