Thursday, August 30, 2007

You Can Write, But Are You Attractive?

There's an interesting story in The Phoenix about how the publishing industry is turning young authors into sex symbols. Briefly, from the article...

Literature, unlike so many other media industries, is technically a meritocracy. But that won’t stop book marketers, bloggers, critics, and the literary community at large from collectively slobbering over a pretty author. No, the literary rules changed ages ago. Books no longer need to be serious in order to be published; there are fewer and fewer venues available for reviews (rendering competition more intense with every passing catalogue season), and critics aren’t doing their job unless they are merciless. Perhaps as a response to all of this, publishers have begun to count on their authors to do double-duty — to act as sex symbols as well.

Oh man, am I ever in trouble if that's the case (see above).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Stories Coming Soon in Northwest Travel Magazine

I've recently finished up writing a couple short one-page stories for Northwest Travel Magazine. They were fun to write because they're close to home to me, in more ways than one.

The first was a profile about Vashon Island, the place I call home. For those that don't know it, Vashon is a small rural jewel of a place between Seattle and Tacoma. It's home to artists and aging hippies, lawyers and organic farmers. With a population of 10,000 +/-, you get to know your neighbors, and get to know the deer that eat your rose beds and the bald eagles who soar above your roof. There's nothing better than spending a Saturday morning with my daughter in town eating a pastry near the town park. I don't plan on leaving any time soon.

The second was a story about spending the day in Olympia with children. I grew up in Olympia so going back there, so my daughter can visit her grandparents and other assorted Shipley people, is a treat. Seeing Olympia through her eyes makes me appreciate where I grew up. There's the Farmers Market (where she insists on eating "those pepper meat stick things") and the Capitol Building, the children's museum and the used bookstores where you can sit in a fluffy chair and read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. All in all, it was great fun researching a story with my kid.

Monday, August 27, 2007

David Sedaris on the Family Dinner

In the recent issue of The New Yorker, David Sedaris, amongst other writers (Donald Antrim, Gary Shteyngart, etc) writes about the family dinner.

For me, our family dinner consisted of several items, most completely devoid of nutrition.

1) Liver. Yuck. Liver coated with flour and then pan-fried with old bacon drippings found in a small crock above the stove. Mmmm....

2) Jell-o. Not so bad. But, how about Jell-o (lime) with celery and apple bits encased within it? Mmmm...

3) Spaghetti w/sauce. Not so bad. But, how about spaghetti (sticky enough to stick to the ceiling for hours) with a small dabbling of Western Family spaghetti sauce? Mmmm...

4) Powdered milk. Mmmm.....

Of course, my mom had to feed six of us kids and she did the best she could. Thanks mom! Though I'll never forgive her for the tuna sandwich/carrot raisin salad combo thing. Never.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quote of the Week

Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.
- Hermann Hesse

Friday, August 24, 2007

Into the Wild

One of my favorite books, an amazing account of the life and death of Chris McCandless, is soon to be a movie that's been adapted and directed by Sean Penn. In response to the renewed fascination with the young man's life, Outside Magazine is making available the original story, one that appeared in Outside's pages in January of 1993 written by the soon to be famous writer Jon Krakauer, who has since written the magnificent Into Thin Air (about his Mt. Everest climb that turned tragic) and Under the Banner of Heaven (a tale of violence and religious fanaticism within the Mormon church).

Horton Foote - The Oldest Working Screenwriter in Hollywood

In the New York Times Magazine, there's a warm profile of Horton Foote, a 91-year-old playwright and screenwriter still busy at work. In fact, his script, "The Great Debaters," is in production now, a film that stars Denzel Washington. I know of Foote because of his Oscar win in the 1960s for his screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. The magazine article touches on his career in Hollywood but its main focus is on his strong longevity as a writer for the stage.

Also to note, if you're in the Seattle area, Tony Award-winning Intiman Theatre is continuing its "American Cycle" series (they've thus far done productions of Richard Wright's Native Son, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Thornton Wilder's Our Town) with a Christopher Sergel adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, showing in September and October. I'm eager to see how it plays on stage.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

86 Best Travel Books of All Time

Conde Nast Traveler, as part of their 20th Anniversary issue, highlights the 86 best travel books of all time. How can one pick "the best"? They asked 45 of their favorite writers (including Jonathan Raban, Monica Ali, Stewart O'Nan, Gore Vidal and Jim Crace) for the travel books that "changed the way they considered a certain culture or place or people, that inspired them both to write and to get out into the world themselves." Their choices are varied, to be sure. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is mentioned. So is Matsuo Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches published in 1694. Who is most represented? There's quite a few Paul Theroux and Mark Twain tomes, great travelers and great writers both.

Also, I would recommend reading books set in a place in which you are visiting. For instance, when I traveled to Spain with my beautiful wife I brought with me Cees Nootboom's Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain and was drawn into the countryside even further because of his words. When I went to Kauai recently I brought with me a collection of Jack London's short stories, all based in Hawaii. When I went to Chicago I read Studs Terkel's non-fiction and Stuart Dybek's tremendous short stories. Whenever I go camping in the woods I bring with me Thoreau's Walden and read a few passages that fill my spirit even more than the woods and mountains do. Next time you're going to Bora Bora or Baltimore, Wichita or Wales, bring a book along with you set in that locale. It'll make your trip that much more memorable.

As a brief side note, World Hum offers the 10 Greatest Fictional Travelers that includes Huck Finn and the pilgrims from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

T.S. Eliot and Portishead

T.S. Eliot reads "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" with accompaniment by English trip hop group Portishead. Enjoy. Also, for a further Prufrock kick, go here for an animated version.

The Continual Reinvention of Crime Fiction

BBC News has an interesting story about the evolution of crime fiction, from Edgar Allan Poe's first foray into crime fiction in 1841 ("The Murders in the Rue Morgue") to Arthur Conan Doyle's famed Sherlock Homes series to Patricia Cornwall. The newest evolution? Agatha Christie stories told via comic books.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

25% Of Us Don't Read Books

In USA Today there's an overview of a study that's been done that highlights rather grim statistics about book reading. That is, a lot of us aren't reading books. One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year.

Some other factoids revealed in the news story...
When the Gallup poll asked in 2005 how many books people had at least started — a similar but not directly comparable question — the typical answer was five. That was down from 10 in 1999, but close to the 1990 response of six.

In 2004, a National Endowment for the Arts report titled "Reading at Risk" found only 57% of American adults had read a book in 2002, a four percentage point drop in a decade. The study faulted television, movies and the Internet.

Damn internet.

Though we don't read books that much, we sure dream of writing them. According to a poll amongst Britons (story in Guardian Unlimited), their number one dream job is to be a writer.

Ever Want To Watch a Movie about a Sans-Serif Typeface?

Me either. That doesn't mean Helvetica: The Movie doesn't sound like a rather interesting DVD to check out.

And, if you're interesting in a Helvetica quick fix of facts, history and info, look here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bill Bryson on William Shakespeare

It's not as though we need another book on the life and times of William Shakespeare. Put Shakespeare as a keyword on the Barnes & Noble website and it brings back some 12,353 books. There are books on the mystery of who really authored the plays, books on his love life, books that are biographical from cradle to grave, books about the times in which he lived, books, books, books.

Add to that a new book, William Shakespeare: The World As Stage, part of Harper Collins' Eminent Lives Series written by one of my favorite authors Bill Bryson. If you haven't read Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Mother Tongue (my favorite very accessible book to the English language and its history) I recommend you do so. Bryson throws his literate hat into the ring trying to illuminate the shadowy life of Shakespeare and establish the real facts of his life.

The U.K.'s Times Online has an excerpt.

Quote of the Week

Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.
- Bell Hooks

Friday, August 17, 2007

Self-Published Gay Love Story or Oprah Book Club Choice?

Both! Want an interesting story (care of the Weekly Dig)? How's this? A guy in Provincetown self-publishes through iUniverse a novella entitled Crossed Paths. Set in 1976, it's a gay love story. Sales aren't going well. The guy decides to tell the world that Oprah chose the book for her famed book club. A lie. The lie gets more interesting. He states that he went on Oprah's show in May to talk about the book and then fabricated a five page transcript of the "show". For instance...

Oprah: Bill, I must tell you that I immediately fell in love with this book when I first read it.

Schneider: Thank you. Thanks very much.

Oprah: Crossed Paths is truly a gem of story. Tell me how you came to write this very poignant book ...

Oprah: I was very impressed with how well you developed the characters in Crossed Paths.

Schneider: Thanks.

Oprah's team isn't pleased, as you might imagine, particularly after getting burned with the whole James Frey fiasco.

Arthur Miller's Missing Act

The playwright Arthur Miller had a life that seemed well-filled. He wrote The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge. He was married to Marilyn Monroe. He won the Pulitzer Prize. He bravely refused to give evidence to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was a social activist. Full indeed. However, his life wasn't as full as it could have been in that he deleted his Down-syndrome child from his life. The disturbing story is in Vanity Fair.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mysterious Poe Toaster Revealed

Who is the Poe Toaster? The tradition began in 1949 when, on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, a mysterious black-clad figure came to Poe's grave, leaving three red roses and a half bottle of cognac. It's occurred every year since. Now, according to this report on CNN, the mysterious man was 92-year-old Sam Porpora. Will the tradition continue this next year? And what happens when Porpora passes on? Will another step in with the roses and cognac?

Running for President While Writing a Book

Continuing from a discussion on an earlier post about presidential hopefuls and the books they write, NPR takes a look at the candidates, their books, and on whether the books make a difference at the polls. Esquire also recently touched on the politician book club.

As a brief side note, this quiz will let you know which candidate you should vote for based on your personal views.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

George Saunders Writes about Global Warming

You can find it here. Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung asked writers from zones far and wide for first-hand accounts of how global warming is affecting them.

From the article...
"Suddenly the temperature dropped - three hundred degrees in one hour, a local record! It was so lovely, I couldn't resist putting my work aside and donning special clothing purchased from NASA and taking a stroll through this "winter wonderland." It was gorgeous: the neighbourhood cats, converted to ice-cats in mid-stride, four pert little robins literally frozen to death on a clothesline, little beaks open in mid-peep."

Waiting for the Train is a Major Pain and a Stressful Strain

Instead of trying to work to improve their train systems, i.e. making them on time, more efficient, better customer service, etc., First Great Western in the UK is trying something different. They're putting a poet on platforms. They're hoping her poetry recitations will help alleviate customer stress and sooth the anger that, well, the train is late...again. The story, in the Times Online is not in iambic pentameter but is an interesting story about the train system and Sally Crabtree, the sweet Cornish poet sent to calm the commuting masses.

In honor of First Great Western, a haiku...

First Great Western train
Late again. I am ticked off.
Calm. Crabtree is here!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Joe O'Donnell Has Died

The long time White House photographer has died.

Coffee Table Books I'd Like To See More Of

I have a few ideas for coffee table books. Are they good ideas? Well, that'd debatable but I think they'd actually be pretty interesting.

1) Water Towers
We have fairly mundane water towers here in the Pacific Northwest. When I was in high school I spent a week in New Jersey on a college campus. The college was nothing to shake a stick at (your run-of-the-mill officious brick buildings, your leafy walkways, that sort of thing) but I was amazed at how cool their water towers looked. "Wow! That's a cool water tower!" I'd say to my roommate, a guy who lived on the East who saw that sort of thing all the time. "It's just a water tower," he said. "But LOOK at it! It's almost, well, beautiful." He looked at me funny. I've been fascinated with great looking water towers ever since. On Barnes & Noble they do, indeed, have a book on Water Towers.

2) Church Reader Boards
Have you read them? That's some creative wordsmithing! They're almost like poems. Saving souls with a few letters stuck together on a board? Amazing! A lot of them are inspiring ("Break forth into joy!"). Some are honest ("When a church stops doing it starts dying). Some are funny ("God will be back next week"). Just think of a whole book of church reader board messages. God, that'd be great!

3) Old Gas Stations
They just look like they have a million stories to tell. Perhaps they do. There are several gas station-themed books out there.

What coffee table book ideas do you have?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Quote of the Week

What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.
- Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is Superman Super Anymore?

When I was a kid I had a subscription to Iron Man, the comic book. I loved his "look," and how the man who was Iron Man, Anthony Stark, wasn't an all-American man, but a man with faults and difficulties. That is to say, he was "real" to me. Of course, he was also a man in an iron suit doing good but still, to me, Iron Man was the best of the comic book heroes - a well-rounded character who could fight crime like the best of them.

Later, I came across Vigilante. This was during my high school years. Vigilante was Adrian Chase, a New York district attorney whose familiy was killed by mobsters. This set him off, as you might imagine. He sought his own type of justice and Vigilante was born. One of the first amoral characters in the comic book genre, I appreciated the fact, again, that he wasn't a do-gooder. He did what he thought he had to do to avenge the deaths of his family and that, to me, was noble.

I've never collected comic books but I've always appreciated them - their creativity, their storylines, the artwork. But are comic book superheroes all that super anymore? The A.V. Club has a discussion about if the superhero genre should hang up its cape. I hope it doesn't and I should think it'll still be re-inventing itself time and time again. There are still radioactive spiders out there. There are still cosmic rays being zapped through mild-mannered men.

And, as a fun addendum, browse 80,000 comic book covers.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Crime Novel or Crime?

How's this for a story? A man finds an article in the newspaper about a grisly death. He becomes so obsessed with the case he writes a crime novel based on it. Some years pass. Police happen upon the book, read it and find that there are details in the novel that eerily match the crime, details that, in fact, only the police or the killer would know. So, did the man simply write a fictional account of a murder he read in the paper or did he commit a murder and then write about it as a novel? This is a story that's currently being played out in Poland. Read the fascinating story in the UK's Times Online.

Upon stumbling on this story, I was immediately reminded of another crime writer who was charged with murder. Michael Peterson, an American novelist, was sent to trial for the murder of his wife who mysteriously fell down a flight of stairs. Was it an accident or was she killed? There is an amazing several hour-long documentary of the case called The Staircase. It goes behind-the-scenes of the tragic events, following the defense as it ramps up for the trial, and highlights the trial and what happened after the verdict was read. It is an amazing film; one I think about often. Did he do it? Didn't he? There's the verdict, of course, which should answer that question for me. It should give some resolution to the whole affair. But it doesn't. There's too many questions left unanswered and the only one who knows those answers is dead.

It's haunting, the film, and I highly recommend it.

Grimm Fairy Tales Made Decidedly More Grim

My list can be found at McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Post-Katrina Literature

Of course there are now millions upon millions of words that have been written in newspapers and magazines about the disaster that occurred in New Orleans. Reportage, non-fiction, essays. But what of the novel? What of fiction? The Guardian takes a look at who is writing about that awesome tragedy.

These sorts of discussions happened after 9/11 as well.

A brief side note, I recommend the following in regards to 9/11 literature...

The Zero by Jess Walter.
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Falling Man by Don DeLillo.

When is it "okay" to fictionalize horrific events? What is the time frame when someone "heals" enough to be able to read this type of fiction? Should it even be written at all? And, if so, what purpose does it serve? Author Arundhati Roy once stated, "I think fiction is the truest thing there ever was." Flannery O'Connor, "The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at its depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality.” Perhaps fiction is "truer" than non-fiction. Perhaps a novel tells more about an event than an article in Time Magazine. Perhaps.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ever Wonder Who Writes Movie Taglines?

Me either. That doesn't mean that it doesn't make for an interesting article however.

A Sleazy Tabloid Mourned

To continue on from a previous post about the unfortunate demise of Weekly World News, the esteemed Washington Post has an extensive story about WWN and how it, during its heyday, "amazed and amused a million readers a week."

A small blurb from the story: "The most creative newspaper in American history..."

Thank you, Washington Post!

Does Kerouac Matter Anymore?

The Guardian Unlimited tries to answer that. Written by Sean O'Hagan, the story highlights what On the Road meant then and what it means now. The novel, of course, is still being read but does it still resonate with today's consumer-driven, media-savvy youth?

Also, online, you can find David Gates writing about the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road for Newsweek and the original review of On the Road in The New York Times. Oh, don't forget he was a charismatic performer as well and was famously interviewed here by Steve Allen.

As for me, I read it in college and the line below, found early on in the novel, was enough to inspire me like nothing else could at the time and still, as I reread it this morning, makes me want to jump out of my cubicle and do something, anything, do it like it's the last best thing I'll ever do...

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."

Hemingway Challenge

For those in the Seattle area, Bumbershoot is coming soon. Bumbershoot, for those that don't know, is a celebration of music and arts held every Labor Day weekend at the Seattle Center. Musical acts coming this year include such varied artists as The Shins, Joss Stone, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Crowded House, Kings of Leon, and John Legend.

Now, there's a Hemingway Challenge they've concocted that you can enter. The Grand Prize? A pair of Gold VIP Passes to all three days of Bumbershoot, as well as other swag. The challenge? Write a short story in six words. Hemingway famously did it (For sale: baby shoes, never used) and now you can too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Quote of the Week

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
- G.K. Chesterton

Friday, August 03, 2007

Judging Books By Their Covers

I do it. Of course I do. If I'm looking for something new to read and I'm in the library with thousands of titles to choose from, I'll undoubtedly choose something that has a cover that strikes me. If I'm in the new titles section of a bookstore, I'll pick up the ones that have groovy looking covers.

So, the steps involved in getting a new book?

1) Pick up the book with the best cover.
1b) I'll also pick up the books with the best titles (but it's secondary to a good cover).

2) Flip it over and see who has written blurbs on the back of the book. Do I recognize the authors? Do I like what they've written?

3) Read the book flap. Is the story going to interest me?

4) See the author photo on the inside back cover. Shallow, I know, but is the author good looking? If not, do they at least look interesting?

5) Read the book flap again. Is the story REALLY going to interest me?

6) Read the first sentence. I love a good first sentence.

7) Get the book.

Seven steps to get a good book and it all starts with the cover.

Perhaps it's because my wife is a graphic designer (who, in fact, designed the cover of my novel Odd Harbor), but I've always been fascinated by the art and graphics used in creating book covers.

I'm not alone. There are plenty of websites that display and discuss book covers, including Covers, Foreword: A Book Design Blog and Foreword: A Book Design Blog and the blog Judge a Book.

Recently, the Book Design Review showcased, by their estimation, the best book covers of 2007 (which includes the "Falling Man" cover seen above).

My favorite book cover designer? Chip Kidd. His wonderful coffee table book, Chip Kidd: Book One showcases his talent and he also discusses why he designs covers the way he does and the stories behind-the-scenes that readers rarely hear or read.

My least favorite book cover? Susan Orlean's My Kind of Place. Orlean, a New Yorker staff writer who has written "The Orchid Thief" amongst other books, is a tremendous talent but does she simply want women to read her reportage? With a cover that's oozing estrogen, I felt a little uncomfortable reading it in public. Perhaps that's my own insecurities, but still, with wide-ranging travel stories included in the book, there are oodles of different covers they could have choosed from that didn't turn men away from the book.

My favorite? I'm partial to whomever designs the books McSweeney's prints, including Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital. Perhaps it's not my all-time favorite, but it came to mind.

Judging a book by the cover? Yes I do. We all do, don't we?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

In Poetry News

Charles Simic has been named Poet Laureate (story courtesy of the NY Times).

Simic has also just won the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually to recognize "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry." The winner gets $100,000.

And still more on Mr. Simic, NY Times' Paper Cuts talks about Simic in regards to poetry and politics.

Fans are honoring the "World's Worst Poet" (story found in Canada's Globe and Mail.

Visit Poetry Daily to get your daily poetic fix.

Jon's Haiku to Come at Portland Fiction

Small poems written
Read by those who like haiku
Enjoy them, friends all

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

52 Photos That Changed the World

Found here.

It Just Got Easier to Read Old Books

The First Espresso Book Machine has been installed at the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library. What is an Espresso Book Machine? It's an ATM for books that can print and bind a book within minutes from a digital file. Any book? Well, books within the public domain. Public domain? Pretty much any book that has a copyright older than 1923. That means you can print out, for free, a copy of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Henry David Thoreau's "Walden," Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," Jack London's "White Fang," Phillis Wheatley's "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Henry James' "The Portrait of a Lady," and on and on and on. The titles available at the Espresso Book Machine were provided by the Open Content Alliance, "a non-profit organization with a database of over 200,000 titles."

You can read more about this machine and what it can do care of PR Web.