Kinsey, the Movie Shooting Script by Bill Condon with a history of Kinsey by Linda Wolfe and an introduction by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy (Newmarket Press, 352 pages, $19.95 paper). The movie -- as good as anything you'll see all year -- is about a man often seen as one of the greatest of all 20th century culture heroes: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, a bow-tied entomologist who, in his search for data about sex and the widespread incorporation of that knowledge into daily life, became, arguably, the most effective combatant against Puritanism in the country's history. There are still those who blame him almost exclusively for the Sexual Revolution and who are pitching grenades of all sorts at both him and the film, in the futile hope that its exquisite sanity and good humor won't charm and delight the daylights out of everyone who comes into contact with it.
Somewhat maddeningly, the film won't open locally until Dec. 17. In the meantime, Bill Condon's shooting script has been published in an unusually well-turned out version that comes with a Condon interview, an introduction by Kinsey biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, and a terrific thumbnail history of Kinsey by Linda Wolfe that is, alone, worth the price of the book.
Newmarket's style of publishing shooting scripts for first-rate movies has always been uncommonly worthy and useful (eventually, after all, there will be lavish DVD's to deal with, full of extras) but this time they've outdone themselves. It's a fascinating quick whirl through the scientist's life and the reverberant influence of his findings including -- would you believe -- a full page photo of "The Kinsey Sicks -- America's Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet." A bit of honest reportage of the ameliorating case against Kinsey might have made the book perfect of its kind, but it is offhandedly exceptional as is.
The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, short fiction by Yann Martel (Harcourt, 209 pages, $22). No doomsayer could ever claim an absence of substantial taste for fictional experimentation in a world where Umberto Eco, Dave Eggers and Yann Martel sell as many books as they do. The first book by the Spanish-born Canadian Martel since "Life of Pi" (a wild sea tale about a man, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker) is, in fact, a book of hugely inventive earlier short tales of diminishing size. The first is an extraordinary tale about an effort to occupy the mind of a young man dying of AIDS. The second -- an equally inventive and askew look at the aftereffects of Vietnam -- is called "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto With One Discordant Violin by the American Composer John Morton." A third composes variations on a warden's condolence letter to a condemned man's mother. And the last is about mirrors and stories and spirits and grandmothers and is wildly clever.
Martel wrote them all before "Life of Pi" became the phenomenon that it did. What it seems to mean, among other things, is how much of the focus of fictional creativity has now shifted North of the Canadian border, what with Martel, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro.
Which, on second, third and fourth thoughts, should surprise no one.