Friday, June 29, 2007

On This Day in 1613

From Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1613 that the Globe Theater burned to the ground. For more than 10 years, it had been the most popular theater in London, and it was the theater where many of Shakespeare's greatest plays had their premiere.

It had been built in 1599 by Shakespeare's own acting company Lord Chamberlain's Men. Shakespeare used his own money to pay for 12.5 percent of the cost. It was the first theater ever built for a specific acting company, and the first to be financed by that same acting company. Among the plays that debuted there were As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, King Lear, and Macbeth.

It was a theater in the round, with the audience in a circle around a platform for the actors. It was probably designed this way because most of the actors in Shakespeare's company got their start acting in the street, surrounded by a crowd. The plays were performed in the afternoons to take advantage of natural light. The roof of the theater was open to the elements, and most of the audience didn't even have seats. They just stood on the ground for the entire performance, which usually lasted about 4 hours.

And yet it was the most popular form of entertainment in the city. The theater held about 3,000 people, and it was usually full. At the time, London had a population of about 200,000. So whenever one of Shakespeare's plays was performed, 1 out of every 65 people in the city was at the Globe.

There were probably few props and very little in the way of scenery. But by then end of his career Shakespeare was apparently beginning to experiment with more dramatic effects onstage. On this day in 1613, a cannon was fired during a performance of Henry VIII to mark the King's entrance, the thatched roof caught fire, and the whole theater was lost in an hour.

In 1996, a replica of the Globe Theater was completed in London, and plays are performed there exactly the same way they would have been performed by Shakespeare's company. The performances take place in the afternoon daylight, there are no microphones, and few props. A large portion of the audience stands in the yard to watch the play, and the roof is open to the weather. About 700,000 people visit it every year. The actors say that the audience always pays better attention to the play when it's raining.

Personal note: The best theatrical performance I have yet to see was at the Globe when me and my wife attended Twelfth Night. Amazing doesn't begin to cover it.

Music Reviews Published on Silent Uproar

Handsome Furs' Plague Park:

All Smiles' Ten Readings of a Warning:

Sea Wolf's Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low:

Spider-Man III Soundtrack:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"The Humboldt Current" Reviewed in Coffee House Digest

I've written a review of Aaron Sachs' thoughtful study of Alexander von Humboldt in the most recent issue of Coffee House Digest (the only free coffeehouse lifestyle publication distributed through independent coffeehouses). The book, The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism, focuses, naturally, on Humboldt, but also on those that were affected by his life, teachings, and writings, including J.N. Reynolds, the founder of the U.S. Exploring Expedition; Clarence King, the first director of the U.S. Geological Society; George Melville, chief engineer of a disastrous expedition to the North Pole; and Sierra Club founder John Muir. Humboldt's legacy left a mark on the lives of not only scientists, but great writers and thinkers - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau - and yet no one has heard of the Prussian. Why? I do not know. Hopefully Sachs' book will re-illuminate Humboldt's life and times and his importance in the natural sciences.

Interesting to note: Look most anywhere in the world and you'll find Humboldt's name. Lilies and penguins are named for him, orchids and squids. Humboldt Bay in Northern California is named for him, as is Humboldt, Tennessee, Humboldt, Kansas and Humboldt, South Dakota. An asteroid has his name as do two national parks (in Peru and Cuba). You can get your college degree at Humboldt State University in California and go on the ferris wheel at the Humboldt County Fair in Iowa. The short of it - he was enormously famous during his lifetime and Sachs reveals why and, further, why he shouldn't be forgotten.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Annie Dillard's "The Maytrees"

One of my favorite writers has a new novel out (her second after her fabulous The Living).

It gets a glowing review in the New York Times:

For those unfamiliar with Dillard's work, start with her Pulitzer-Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It's a meditation on nature and its seasons, told as a personal narrative highlighting one year's exploration on foot in Tinker Creek, Virginia. The aforementioned The Living is a magnificent novel set in the Pacific Northwest during the last decades of the 19th century. Also, For the Time Being is an intriguing book discussing, among other things, the natural history of sand, a catalogue of clouds, and the obstetrical ward.

She's granted the Washington Post a rare interview that can be read here:

In other Dillard news, unfortuantely it looks as though, according to New York Magazine, she may be retiring:

Monday, June 25, 2007

Into the Wild - Trailer

One of my favorite books is now a movie directed by Sean Penn. I look forward to watching it and am curious as to if it can match the haunting strength of the book that sticks with me still. I read so many books that though they affect me during and soon after the reading - the plots/themes/emotions - it soon fades with the pages turning of new books. That said, Krakauer's books don't have that affect on me. They stay with me. The true story of Into the Wild is fierce and is something I relate to. Chris McCandless's life, I feel, could be my own. Of course it can't be, it won't, but under different circumstances, different decisions made, yes, I think I could have followed in his footsteps, those tragic footsteps.

All of us, I would imagine, at one time or another, want to be free of responsibilities and strike out on our own in hopes of making a better life or, at least, find what our lives mean to ourselves and its relation to those around us. McCandless did that and I can't help but feel a little jealous of that strength of character he had to strike out into the great unknown, to be who he wanted to be, to feel life at its richest and most profound. Of course, he hurt many people (including himself) for doing such a thing - his family, friends, but he lived his life the way he wanted it led and I can't fault him for that. He found out what was around the next turn in the road, found out what was awaiting him around the next bend in the river, discovered what was over the next ridge in the snow dappled forest.

Quote of the Week

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
- Arnold Lobel

Friday, June 22, 2007

Keeping Kids Reading

Admirable new idea coming from England. I'd be intrigued to see how effective it'll be. The idea: Give 11-year-olds books for free to encourage them to continue reading for pleasure at an age when many give up.

From The Guardian:,,2107375,00.html

For me, my pleasure of reading started about that age with a leather-bound edition of Jack London's short stories that I found sitting on the bookshelf in my dad's den, along with all his history books. His story "To Build a Fire" built a fire under me to read and, further, write.

So, youngsters, pick up a book and discover worlds far beyond you and, better, far within you!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books Project

What a marvelous idea: Arrange books on shelves so the titles create short stories of their own.

What I'm Researching, What I'm Writing

A brief list of the things I've been learning of late in regards to my writing...

There's a large bronze sculpture that's being erected in a town nearby in honor of those who have lost their lives in the logging industry. Logging in the state of Washington really didn't take hold until the early 1900s when a large migration of loggers came from the Great Lakes region. Of course logging occurred before this migration. A water-driven mill, created by the Hudson's Bay Company started operations in Vancouver, Washington in 1820. In Seattle proper, Henry Yesler build a sawmill in 1853. It's, of course, grown exponentially since then.

In the 1800s hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the employees would sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. "Stuffed animal" comes from this crude form of taxidermy. Professional taxidermists today prefer the term "mounting" rather than "stuffing," and consider "stuffing" offensive. Why? Because it's an art. Just ask the people competing in the World Taxidermy Championships Competition (

There's a man I found who collects all sorts of clarinets. His first, the one he played in elementary school, was a Bundy clarinet. Since, he's acquired better crafted clarinets.
The clarinet, by the way, developed from a Baroque instrument called the chalumeau. Clarinet bodies have been made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, hard rubber, metal, and ivory. Most clarinets played by professionals are made from African hardwoods, most notably grenadilla, a wood also used to make oboes, flutes, and the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vocabulary - Are We Losing Our Lexicon?

There's an interesting story in the Globe & Mail newspaper about how North America is dumbing down, in a sense, when it comes to our vocabulary and use of "big words."

The story:

What a shame. Why use "sad" when you can say "lachrymose"? Why "beautiful" when you can use "pulchritudinous"? According to the story the average North American adult knows only 30,000 to 60,000 words, out of a potential "working vocabulary" of 700,000. That's tragic (calamitous).

Come now, readers. Expand your vocabulary!

Word-of-the-Day Web sites:

Quote of the Week

True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.
- Pliny the Elder, Roman scholar and scientist (23 - 79 A.D.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Help McSweeney's Today

In December McSweeney's distributor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This hurt not only McSweeney's but about 150 other small publishers who relied on them. Several months of earnings are now lost. The survival of these small publishers? Critical.

That said, McSweeney's is trying to recoup its losses by having a sale on all sorts of marvelous literary items, including works by David Bryne, Nick Hornby, and a painting by Dave Egger's of George W. Bush as a double amputee.

If you're going to support book publishing at its finest, now is the time:

Some good books, by the way, that McSweeney's has published (they also produce The Believer magazine and McSweeney's Quarterly Concern), includes...

What is the What, by Dave Eggers. It is an astonishing novelization of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee.

The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby. A collection of essays by the author of High Fidelity about what he's been reading lately.

The Children's Hospital
, by Chris Adrian. A hospital is preserved, afloat, after the Earth is flooded beneath seven miles of water. Amazing doesn't begin to describe the book.

Update: We've help save them! From their site:
You've made a very real difference: Because of your incredible response, McSweeney's isn't going anywhere. We're sticking around as long as you'll have us. The ship is damp but afloat, sails full, jib doing whatever the jib is supposed to do, and we're getting back to work.

Thanks all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Author Tour

There's something wonderful about going to a book reading. First of all, you get to be around like-minded bookish writerly-types. You also, naturally, get to see what the author looks like. You get to hear their own words come out of their own mouths. You get to get the inside scoop on what they're writing next, what their inspirations are, who they're reading, how they work.

I've been to quite a few in Seattle, most at the Elliott Bay Book Company (the best bookstore in Seattle). Some notable readings...

Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall.
I've never heard the word "shit-sucker" used so frequently and so vehemently. All the more interesting coming from one of the best writers we have (read his novel True North and/or his collection of poetry Shape of the Journey to understand how good he is).

Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
I've always liked the slim tome of which he's known most for. For one thing, Jonathan is used in the title (always a good sign). Secondly, it was published the year of my birth. But, after going to his reading, I came away feeling that Bach is a bit of a nut job. He's got an affair going with a spirit. He says the inspiration came for J.L.S. when he was in his office, working feverishly, when, all of the sudden, the walls fell away and all was revealed. Yes, kind of a strange guy. He's also written several books with ferrets as the main characters.

Thomas Steinbeck, author of Down to a Soundless Sea.
John Steinbeck's son, his collection of stories are very reminiscent of his famous father. I had to feel a bit sorry for him at the reading. Most people, during the Q&A, ask "Who are your favorite authors?" or "What's your process?". The gang asked Steinbeck, "Who was your father's favorite authors?" "What was your father's process?"

Which all brings me to a story found in the Washington Post. Many authors are unable to or don't want to go on tour. Yet, at the same time, touring means more book sales for the publisher and a boon, obviously, for those particular booksellers who are hosting the author. Not only a financial boon but it builds and maintains a community of readers that are, without doubt, critical to booksellers. If no book tour, then what? Put the author on film. Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon (arguably the best bookseller in the United States) came up with the idea: Why not make a high-grade film and build author events around that instead? Their first effort was novelist Ian McEwan.

The story:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book Collecting and Book Collections

For me it started with Jack London's Before Adam. It was a gift my soon-to-be-wife gave to me for Christmas. I had always loved books, always enjoyed reading Jack London (the beginnings of my writing career was due, in part, to reading and re-reading London's short story "To Build a Fire") and so she was thoughtful enough to get me a first edition at Powell's in Portland.

It was then I became obsessed with collecting first editions. I would buy most anything that was a first edition - Anne Tyler, Richard Bach, Michael Crichton, Garrison Keillor - but I was soon overwhelmed. There are just too many first editions to collect. It's impossible to collect them all and, being young and poor, I couldn't afford them even if I could. I had to focus.

That's what I've done. I always keep my eye out for Jack London books, as well as John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men is my all-time favorite book, with To Kill a Mockingbird, A Confederacy of Dunces and Catcher in the Rye all coming up close behind), T.C. Boyle (my favorite current novelist), and Annie Dillard (due to my wife's utter devotion to Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). Of course, I'm not going to let a good book slip by if I can afford it. I've got some Hemingway firsts, Robert Service, Sherman Alexie, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, the list goes on and on.

Which brings me to a story I read in The New Yorker. There's a fabulous profile of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin. It "contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair." Repositories such as this makes me swoon. It has 48 Gutenberg Bibles, the corrected proofs of Ulysses, a Kerouac notebook from his On the Road days. In essence, for a bibliophile like me, it's Heaven.

The story can be found here:

Luckily, near where I live, is the Karpeles Manuscript Library. It's nothing to shake a stick at, this one. In fact, the Karpeles Library is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents. Amongst its treasures - The original draft of the Bill of Rights, the original manuscript of "The Wedding March," and Einstein's description of his "Theory of Relativity." It's got over a million documents. Me and my young daughter visited recently to look at their holdings of Disney pieces, including original drawings of "Snow White," architectural sketches of Disneyland, and Walt Disney's will.

The Karpeles website can be found here:

I could go on and on about book collecting but I'll stop here with a couple of more thoughts. Why is it so special to me, these first editions I display in my living room? I really couldn't say other than the fact that it's a piece, each book, a distilled crystallized piece of history that I can hold in my hands. I can turn the pages. I can smell it. It's tactile, this history, and I am, in some small way, a keeper of that history. It's an honor.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Photography of Dorothea Lange

I've been interested in the life, times and work of Dorothea Lange of late. Her photography strikes more than any other photographer's work can (though Henri Cartier-Bresson come to mind). Lange's Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s is what she's most known for. Her ability to humanize the tragedy of the Depression is startling. Sharecroppers, displaced families, migrant workers, she captured them all. Her iconic image, "Migrant Mother," is the image of the Depression.

But what's more powerful to me than the images of that era are the photos she took for the War Relocation Authority. After the attack on Pearl Harbor she captured on film the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans to relocation camps in the West, most notably Manzanar, a camp in Southern California. The Puyallup Fairgrounds, near where I live, was one such internment camp. Her images of the Japanese and the camps were so powerful, in fact, the Army impounded them. Today you can view them in the National Archives and/or the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

The old cliche is that "a picture is worth a thousand words." With Lange's, I always must ask, "Only a thousand?"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What I'm Researching, What I'm Writing

I've got lots going on in regards to some freelance writing, including...

The Colonization of Mars.

An unprotected human being would lose consciousness in about 20 seconds and would be dead in about a minute on the surface of Mars without a space suit. Recently, at a conference, NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said, "We also hope to discover if Mars can provide a second home for humans - an extension of our civilization - 40 million miles from Earth."


My brothers are triplets. Not all my brothers. I have another, a sister, too, but my older brothers get a lot of attention. "Triplets! Wow! When one feels pain does the others sense it?!" That line of questioning is asked of me a lot. They must get it exponentially more than I do. I'm writing about growing up with the three of them. To note: They shared the same room, the three of them, THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.


The living dead craving the taste of blood isn't something new. In fact, tales of vampires and their ilk are found in nearly every culture in the world, including ancient ones. Lilu spirits were mentioned in Babylon and Akhkhar was feared in Sumeria. There's also, of course, Bram Stoker's Dracula, based on an old Romanian prince, Vlad III, known for his cruel and bloody reign.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Publishers and Ad Agencies

An interesting story recently in the NY Times Business section about publishers branching out into creating ad materials for clients, in essence having in-house ad agencies. They're creating ads for their own specific and unique publications. The article focuses mainly on Conde Nast Media Group (publisher of Vogue, Wired, and The New Yorker, among others), though many other publishers big and small are making in-roads in regards to ad creation. All in all, it makes good sense though traditional ad agencies probably aren't too keen on the idea...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Presidential Election 2008 - The Book(s)

The campaign for the Presidency is heating up. One just has to look at your local bookstore to see how much...

A Few of the Democrats:

Hilary Rodham Clinton's Living History.

An autobiography, she outlines her childhood, college years, introduction to politics and the courtship between her and Bill Clinton, and, of course, her life and times as First Lady of the United States and the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that was eager to take the Clinton Presidency down.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"All right, let's be honest. Everyone who thought that she was going to confess that she was an axe murderer who enjoyed cross-dressing and drowning newborn kittens please raise your hand. Right, no hands."

Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.

Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention gets a deeper treatment here, as Obama highlights his personal views on faith, values, and his vision for America.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"I find little reason in "Audacity of Hope" to believe that an Obama presidency would move the U.S. away from its militaristic, hegemonic, imperialist policies."

Dennis Kucinich's A Prayer for America

Kucinich shares his personal and political beliefs in a collection of speeches and essays.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"Dennis Kucinich inspired me to get into politics. He is a courageous progressive who stands up for that in which he believes. That said, this book is not worth even the bargain price."

Bill Richardson's Between Worlds

Richardson, yes, lays out the highlights of his professional career and shares his views on his personal and political beliefs.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"Disappointing--shallower than anticipated."

A Few of the Republicans:

Rudolph Giuliani's Leadership

New York's famous former mayor explains how he used specific management strategies to run the city and handle crises, including, of course, 9/11.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"You people don't actually still think this thing is a "hero" do you? oink, oink...he's ganna (sic) teach anyone about morals...what a joke...and all of you that still fall prey to his falasies (sic)...and fantacies (sic)."

John McCain's Worth the Fighting For

A memoir highlighting his career as a Congressman.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"Does this man ever tire of tooting his own horn? He writes reams of paper on his terrible POW experiences and how courage matters. Yet he refuses to protect the people of his own state (AZ) from the huge onslaught of illegals from Mexico. Illegals are committing crimes and destroying personal property. They are also desecrating the vaunted natural landscapes that liberal environmentalists are always screaming about."

Mitt Romney's Turnaround

The book highlights his management success as CEO of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

A thoughtful review on Amazon:
"Mitt Romney made his fortune by buying companies, breaking them up, firing their employees, and selling the assets. Now that he has his eyes on national office, he is trying to re-make himself into a kinder, gentler person. Don't be fooled."

Happy reading and God bless America!

Quote of the Week

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
- Edwin Schlossberg