Sunday, September 30, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Be Naughty This Week

Banned Books Week begins Saturday and runs through October 6th. That's plenty of time to frazzle the powers that be by reading something deemed "inappropriate."

What was the most banned book of 2006? Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell's And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins parenting an egg from a mixed-sex penguin couple. Due to issues of homosexuality, it's been challenged this last year, a lot.

And, let's throw some Toni Morrison in there as well. One of the best writers of her generation, both The Bluest Eye and Beloved were banned due to its sexual content and offensive language.

Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories was banned because of its occult/Satanism. What's scary is that it's been challenged.

You want a kid to read? Ban a book and they'll get their hands on it. I remember in middle school digging into Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, and other authors of banned books simply because I knew they must hold something amazing within their pages, something the adults knew that I didn't at the time, something about, well, the truth, the truth of our world, our times, our people. Why they don't want kids to learn of these truths is beyond me.

For a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990 to 2000 look here. So, this week my friend read Maya Angelou or J.K. Rowling, Alice Walker or Judy Blume, Roald Dahl or Stephen King, Isabel Allende or Kurt Vonnegut. Let people know that we have the freedom to express our opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and, further, we're allowed to learn of these different viewpoints and make our own decisions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Feminists and the Books That Changed Their Lives

The Guardian has an interesting story in which six leading feminists reveal the books that opened their eyes to the Women's Movement. Some of the feminists they talked to include Ariel Levy, Julie Bindel and Rebecca Walker.

The Guardian continues its discussion of the Women's Movement this week by asking readers what opened their eyes to feminism.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If You Have a Few Million Kicking Around

You may want to bid on an original copy of the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta (the original is housed in the British Library [see my post below if you're interested in the library]) is an English charter originally issued in 1215. It influenced constitutional law. It influenced our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is, quite possibly, the most important legal document in history. The image above shows the Magna Carta being signed by King John.

Also, if you're into auction's these days, you may want to get a paddle up for Van Gogh's last painting.

And, since you want something for your wife as well, why not Marie Antoinette's jewelry?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Government Knows You're Reading Orwell on Your Horizon Air Flight to Boise

Wonderful! The U.S. government, according to this story in the Washington Post is, "collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials."

Super. I'll feel really sheepish when I read this the next time I fly.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jon's Haiku Poetry on Portland Fiction


British Library Faces Threat to Treasures

According to the Guardian Unlimited, the British Library is undergoing funding cuts which imperils the public's free access to some of the most important documents in all the world.

Me and my wife visited London a few years back. We visited the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, we saw "Twelfth Night" at the Globe and spent a sunny afternoon at Kew Gardens. The best thing we did though was visit the British Library and stand in awe at the treasures they have.

And what do they have? The Magna Carta. The Gutenberg Bible (pictured above). The Lindisfarne Gospels. Shakespeare's First Folio. An original copy of Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. It has more than manuscripts and books, however. I remember looking upon musical compositions, hearing Florence Nightingale's own voice (recorded in 1890), reading Beatles lyrics on a napkin. In other words, this repository is one of the best in the world. Hopefully something can be done to keep these items free for the public to peruse because it's important and it's truly inspiring.

Quote of the Week

Learn as much by writing as by reading.
- Lord Acton

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bill McKibben Reviews Books on the Environment

The talented and damn-smart Bill McKibben (read his latest Deep Economy if you're interested at all in, say, the future of human existence) reviews several environmental and climate change books (including Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming and Ted Nordhaus' and Michael Shellenberger's Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility) care of the New York Review of Books via Grist (a groovy environmental news site based here in Seattle that's interesting and fun rather than dull and coma-inducing like many news sites can be).

Also note that McKibben's essay on the carbon crisis, entitled "Carbon's New Math" is the cover story in the October issue of National Geographic.

Our Languages Are Dying

An interesting article was published recently in the New York Times about how swiftly our oral traditions are vanishing.

Some facts...
Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century.

One language falls out of use about every two weeks.

Also mentioned in the story is the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, whose interesting mission is "scientific documentation of endangered languages and helping communities maintain and revitalize their linguistic heritage." The group has started a 5-year joint project with the National Geographic Society titled "Enduring Voices" that launched this fall. They traveled to Australia one of five "language hotspots," i.e. areas in the world where languages are dying rapidly. Central South America, northern Australia, eastern Siberia, the Pacific Northwest in the United States and the Oklahoma region are the five areas of most concern to Living Tongues.

Why is it important to save these languages? Simply because every language contains the collective history of an entire people. Endangered languages span the globe from Africa (Anfillo to Xiri) to Europe (Manx to Sami), South America (Tariano to Aura) to Asia (Harsusi to Kadazan).

Let's do our best to support these groups in their efforts and let's try and learn a new language while we're at it. Sampai jumpa lagi (Indonesian for goodbye)!

Book Autopsies

Wonderful sculptures care of Brian Dettmer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Quirky Guy Reading about Quirky Guys

quirk (kw├╗rk) n.
1. A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: "Every man had his own quirks and twists" (Harriet Beecher Stowe).
2. An unpredictable or unaccountable act or event; a vagary: a quirk of fate.
3. A sudden sharp turn or twist.
4. An equivocation; a quibble.
- American Heritage Dictionary

In the September issue of The Atlantic there's a story, written by Michael Hirschorn, about the U.S. drowning in quirk. They touch on a lot of my favorite quirky people and shows, like Ira Glass and "This American Life," like author Miranda July, like the great comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, like the television show (sadly canceled) "Arrested Development," like the folks over at McSweeney's.

The story in Atlantic is not a critique of being quirky, per se, though there are some underpinnings in the story that says there's just too much quirk going around and, by that measure, quirk is the new normal which thereby alleviates quirk from its definition, i.e. quirky. Wes Anderson's films are mentioned, Jonathan Safran Foer novel Everything in Illuminated is mentioned, the movie Garden State is discussed, in particular Natalie Portman's quirky character.

As long as I can remember I've loved those skewed, odd, out-of-the-blue quirky bits in life. Me and my wife just recently watched again Michael Gondry's magnificent (and magnificently quirky) romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The whole damn movie is quirky, weird, "surreal," a term often thrown around when discussing things that are out of the ordinary. There's one scene that just cracked me up. It's nearer the beginning of the movie. Jim Carrey's character is discussing his romantic quandary with a couple of his friends. He's having a conversation with a woman about it. Her husband is making a lot of noise in the kitchen. The woman asks him to stop.

Carrie: Rob, give it a rest.
Rob: Carrie, I am making a birdhouse!

What genius! It's so damn funny and there's no reason for it to be in the movie. It doesn't propel the story at all. I have no idea why Gondry (or screenwriting marvel Charlie Kaufman) included it. But, thank god they did. That's some great quirk and, honestly, in my opinion, the best line in the whole movie (and the whole movie is filled with great lines).

What am I trying to say about all the quirk discussion? I don't know, but I'm not going to critique the work of the quirky crew (Ira Glass et al). Life is quirky. It's messy and silly and sweet and funny and hard and challenging and bewildering and we should celebrate it for all its quirkiness. Celebrate and praise it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reclusive Authors in This, Our YouTube World

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about reclusive authors. Why are they reclusive? What are they hoping to accomplish by not playing the publicity game? Or are they trying to accomplish anything other than to be left alone? And why is it that the reclusive writers we know (J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy) are outstanding unparalleled authors? Is Danielle Steele going into seclusion anytime soon?

Sherman Alexie's 1st Young-Adult Novel

Sherman Alexie is interviewed in the Seattle Times about his upcoming novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He also recently spoke with NPR.

I've been reading Alexie since he started getting his work published in the mid 90s. He went to my alma mater, Washington State University, and he's clever, smart and terrifically honest in what he says and what he writes. Going to one of his readings is more than simply a reading, it's entertainment (he's funny as hell) and further, bracing in the way he shares his thoughts about societal ills (not simply in regards to white/Indian relations but the relationships of us all).

Read his short stories. They're gems. In particular, his short story (in the collection Ten Little Indians and seen in The New Yorker) "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" is one of the best short stories you'll ever read. Honestly, it'll stick with you long after you've finished it. It's the story of a homeless Native American in Seattle on a quest to buy back his grandmother's stolen regalia he happened upon in a pawn shop. If you have a bit more time to read, crack open Indian Killer and if you don't want to read, watch his funny/dramatic film Smoke Signals, adapted from his short story "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven."

Quote of the Week

All humanity is passion; without passion, religion, history, novels, art would be ineffectual.
- Honore De Balzac (1799-1850)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Women Read More Than Men

That should come as no surprise. What a recent NPR story delves into is why. Is it because of biological differences in the male and female brain? Is it the way boys and girls are introduced to reading when they're young?

Some statistics:
A typical woman reads nine books in a year. A man reads five.
Women read more than men in all categories except histories and biographies.
Women account for 80% of all fiction reading.

So men, pick up some fiction. There's plenty of manly authors out there. Cormac McCarthy's recent The Road is a tremendous achievement in fiction, in a manly way. And, men, if you don't read fiction, well, there's Jon Krakauer's riveting work and journalists Mark Bowden and Pete Dexter all have some stories that are laden with testosterone. And, men, if you don't read books, well there's always Maxim.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Living with Music

Every week on the NY Times Book Review blog there's a Living with Music segment where acclaimed authors reveal what they're listening to of late. This week's edition is the fabulously talented Miranda July. I discussed July and her work on a previous post so I won't say much more other than I think she's groovy and am eager to see what she's going to come up with next creatively.

George Saunders at Powell's Books

One of my favorite writers is guest blogging all week at the Powell's Books website. Enjoy! Also, be sure to enjoy his books. If you have yet to read Mr. Saunders, shame on you. He's one of the most wildly inventive, smartest, funniest, thoughtful writers putting pen to paper these days. His new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is a collection of essays about literature, travel and politics (his first book of non-fiction). I have yet to read it though it's awaiting me at the library. Other great books include The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (an allegorical novella of sorts), In Persuasion Nation and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (both collections of short stories). Read him, my friends, read him.

Also, read Maud Newton's conversation with Saunders about their mutual admiration for one Mark Twain.

Also, he was on Letterman recently.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The State of Newspaper Book Reviewing

The cover story in Columbia Journalism Review, written by Steve Wasserman, is an extensive account of book reviews in America's daily newspapers. It's worth reading if you're at all interested in book criticism and its continuing decline in newsprint.

Quote of the Week

A room without books is like a body without a soul.
- Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)