Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Favorites of 2008

I'll be taking a long New Year's weekend so my posts will be minimal until next Monday. In the meantime I might as well jump on the bandwagon and reveal to you some of my favorite things in 2008...


1) 2666 is beyond categorization and, without doubt, the best most ambitious novel published in 2008. What is it about? All sorts of things. It's main thrust - there's a small town on the U.S.-Mexico border and hundreds of young factory workers have disappeared there. I certainly don't like throwing the word "genius" around very much since it's lost all its definition with every famous person who dies (Heath Ledger - genius! Paul Newman - genius! Isaac Hayes - genius!), but Chilean-born novelist Roberto BolaƱo (who died in 2003) comes mighty close.

2) Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field is a marvelous book highlighting the photographic works and words of my favorite photographer, Dorothea Lange. Her photographs are terrifically powerful, many of them portraits of people struggling during the Great Depression. Her most famous portrait is, of course, Migrant Mother.

3) The Economist Book of Obituaries is just great. Having been an obituary writer for the Seattle Times for a short while, I've always enjoyed a good obituary. It's not morbid in the slightest! And, further more, The Economist writes the best obituaries on the planet. The stories aren't in the least bit dry and you learn all sorts of fascinating things about heart transplants, dictators, novelists, firefighting, and much much more.


1) Executed Today. Certainly, a bit morbid but each day they reveal a bit about history that you never knew before.

2) The Big Picture. A simple concept with simply great images. The Boston Globe posts giant beautiful photographs, on a wide variety of news-worthy topics, for all to enjoy.

3) Garfield Minus Garfield. The Garfield comic strip is lame. Remove Garfield though, hilarity ensues!


1) Frightened Rabbit's album The Midnight Organ Fight.

Them singing "Old Old Fashioned":

2) Hey Marseilles's album To Travels and Trunks.

Them singing "Stations":

3) Shearwater's album Rook.

Them singing "Palo Santo":

Have a wonderful New Year, dear readers. Until then...

AbeBooks' Priciest Books Purchased in '08

AbeBooks is the place to find antiquarian books. They've listed the most expensive books purchased on their website last year. It includes the usual suspects (J.K. Rowling, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway) but also includes Euclid, T.S. Eliot's poetry (pictured above), and Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Arctic Ocean, in 1833, 1834, and 1835; Under the Command of Capt. Back, R. N. by Richard King.

The Far Side Reenactments


A Brief History of Modern Lying Authors

The word "memoir" is being taken with a grain of salt these days, thanks to folks like these.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shakespeare Howls

A collection of mid-century cocktail napkins juxtaposing quotations from William Shakespeare with silly cartoons can be found here.

The Comics are Feeling the Pain of Print

Newspapers are suffering mightily these days. Feeling it are even the syndicated comic strip artists whose work is in those suffering newspapers. Prototype discusses the problems being faced by working artists.

From the story...

IN many ways, Stephan Pastis is living his dream. In 2002, after years of frustration, he quit his job as a lawyer to pursue cartooning. Today his daily strip, “Pearls Before Swine,” appears in more than 500 newspapers. He says he answers his fan mail “in groups of 100.”

Nevertheless, he can’t help worrying.

“Newspapers are declining,” he says. “For a syndicated cartoonist, that’s like finally making it to the major leagues and being told the stadiums are all closing, so there’s no place to play.”

Weird Books & Illuminated Manuscripts

A collection of bookish images via Dark Roasted Blend, including the world's largest and smallest books.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The World From Above

A stunning collection of aerial photography, care of Smashing Magazine.

Pictured above: A photo of China, by George Steinmetz.

Prophet Sharing

The Good Book as a bestseller is discussed in the Wall Street Journal.

From the story...

Upstairs in the Mobile Museum of Art, there's a Bible on display -- a majestic hand-drawn edition a decade in the making, and not yet finished. Presented as a work of modern art, its oversized pages are filled with ornate calligraphy and rich illustration, shot through with gold and silver leaf.

Downstairs, in the museum foyer, another Bible lies open -- this one so homespun as to be homely. An earnest young couple is carting it cross-country in an RV with a bobble-head Jesus on the dash, asking tens of thousands of ordinary Americans to each hand-write one verse. Blotches of white-out mark corrections.

The two editions on display this drizzly morning are as different as can be, yet they represent an essential truth: God's word is good business.

Throughout history, the Bible has been an object of commerce as well as of reflection. That's especially true in the modern era.

Getting Young Men to Read Again

How do you get young men reading? Media Bistro tries to answer the question.

Quote of the Week

Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.
- Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Journalism in a Culture of Distraction

The Utne Reader has a story about the changing face of journalism amidst the ever-growing distractions we all face (TV, internet, iPods, etc, etc).

From the story...

How many browser tabs do you have open right now? On most work days, I’m switching between at least eight. According to journalist Maggie Jackson, I’m not alone: Apparently, the average office worker changes tasks every three minutes. Jackson is the author of this year’s Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, and as the title suggests, she’s a bit worried about our tendency to divide our attention. In a recent interview with Columbia Journalism Review, she talks about how this distraction affects our ability to process the news.

Namely, it becomes difficult to fully absorb the news. We only process stories superficially when we try to juggle so many—we fail to “create knowledge out of data.” Jackson marshals plenty of studies to back up her claims, like one that found that people remember 10 percent fewer of a newsperson’s words when there’s a crawl on the TV screen.

Bargain Hunting For Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It

There's an interesting essay in The New York Times about how casual readers are reshaping the book publishing industry by finding bargains.

From the story...

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

From The Short Story A Christmas Dream, And How It Came True
by Louisa May Alcott

From our happy home
Through the world we roam
One week in all the year,
Making winter spring
With the joy we bring
For Christmas-tide is here.

Now the eastern star
Shines from afar
To light the poorest home;
Hearts warmer grow,
Gifts freely flow,
For Christmas-tide has come.

Now gay trees rise
Before young eyes,
Abloom with tempting cheer;
Blithe voices sing,
And blithe bells ring,
For Christmas-tide is here.

Oh, happy chime,
Oh, blessed time,
That draws us all so near!
"Welcome, dear day,"
All creatures say,
For Christmas-tide is here.

For more holiday poems to read to your loved ones this fine day go here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Best Books by Washington State Authors, Ever

A list and discussion on Omnivoracious. And, I must say, it's good to see The Far Side on the list.

Have a Wine Lover on Your Christmas List?

Here are some last minute book ideas as well as a few ideas for bottles you can bring to your next holiday party. Omnivoracious gives some ideas too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


With the holiday fast approaching, I'll be posting somewhat irregularly the next few days. In the meantime enjoy this little story I wrote...

Grandma was ready to put up the Christmas lights, but first she had to vacuum the leaves off the bushes. It was important to her to have the bushes bare so the lights snaking through them would give off "optimum cheer light," as she called it. I called it insane. Who would go into their yards with Shop-Vacs and suck up all the leaves still attached to bushes? My grandma. It was like throwing away the turkey meat at Thanksgiving to get to the wishbone.

Her neighbor, walking her dog Skipper, happened by when grandma was half way up a tree, pulling leaves off of it. "What are you doing, Clara?"

"Putting up the Christmas lights."

"It looks like you're pulling down leaves."

"I want optimum cheer light so I remove all things living so people can see the lights better."

"That's depressing," her neighbor said.

"It's cheery," she retorted.

"Bark," Skipper said, and the neighbor sauntered off leaving grandma half way up a tree.

An hour later the neighbor returned with four other neighbors. They were watching my grandma holding the Shop-Vac hose, sucking up wet leaves and plant dander.

"Clara!" Grandma cut the power. "The neighborhood association is requesting you cease and desist your plant attacks!"

"Plant attacks? That's silly. The leaves were going to fall off anyway. I just want my lights to really shine!" She was about to turn the power back on to her Shop-Vac but the neighbors stood, unmoved.

"We're asking you to stop."

"They're MY plants."

"In the front yard where neighbors can see. We don't want to see these unbridled plant attacks in our neighborhood."

"This is ridiculous!"

"Give us the Shop-Vac." The neighbors stepped forward.


"Clara!" The neighbors stepped forward again. That's when grandma started swinging.

Literary Venice

There's a nice essay on Three Quarks Daily entitled "Literary Venice. Or, How to Attract Readers Without Books."

From the piece...

La Carta’s window tugged me almost gravitationally, pulling my neck and torso it while my feet were still walking forward. Before setting out that morning I had pulled from my luggage a sheaf of papers, directions to half the bookstores in the city, and I made this my first stop. My mission was simple (if admittedly daft). I figured I’d absorb political, religious, and architectural Venice by osmosis, without really trying. I was looking for literary Venice. That sounds a bit precious, but even when I’m ignorant of the local language, I visit every bookstore I can on vacations: I simply grasp a foreign culture most easily through its books.

And I wanted to know what Venice would have been like for a bookish person now and in the past, what sorts of stores they visited and how they got their verbal fix. The knowledge seemed far from Doges’ palaces, secreted away on a bookshelf somewhere, and I wanted to pull the volume down and peek inside.


Holiday humor, care of McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comics in the Classroom

Publishers Weekly looks at the use of comic books to teach.

From the story...

Partly, the shift is a recognition that the medium of comics has grown up, with graphic novels now claiming significant space on library shelves. Titles like Maus, Fun Home and American Born Chinese have won literary awards normally reserved for prose novels, and an increasing number of educators–cum–comics fans now work within their institutions as thoughtful advocates for the medium.

According to Milton Griepp, CEO of the pop culture news site, and Diamond Comics sales manager John Shableski, sales of graphic novels to libraries and schools increased from about $1 million in 2001 to more than $30 million in 2007, spurring many comics publishers to eye the unfamiliar multibillion-dollar educational publishing industry with increasing interest.

Chilling Books to Read in the Dark of Winter

A list, care of io9.

Quote of the Week

As for me, this is my story: I worked and was tortured. You know what it means to compose? No, thank God, you do not! I believe you have never written to order, by the yard, and have never experienced that hellish torture.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some Snow Haiku

Since I'm a bit stuck here until Seattle shovels out from the snow, a few snow haiku created off the cuff! Leave your own snowy haiku in the comments!

Put the car in drive
Ice crystals shoot off the back
Slide into a tree

With the power out
I light some pretty candles
And, crap, the curtains!

Standing on the ice
I do a little tap dance
Hello, 9-1-1?

Sledding happily
Swoosh! Down the steep hill I go
AHHH!!! Into traffic.

Big boots and big gloves
Big hat and big scarf also
Screw this. Let's go in.

An open field, white
The first footsteps are your own
Crack! Whoops, it's a pond!

I can't feel my finger tips
Tipying prooving harb

You Never Know What You'll Find in a Book

An essay by Henry Alford in The New York Times about the stuff left in books (bookmarks, money, a baby tooth, bacon).

From the story...

Sherman Alexie figured out a way around botched safekeeping during his hard-drinking college days at Gonzaga and Washington State Universities in the 1980s. Fearful that he would spend all his money during a bender, he would “slide tens and twenties into random books in my apartment.” Months later, having forgotten about the money, he’d find it again. “It was like winning little jackpots,” he wrote in an e-mail message, adding, “I’m sober now, have been sober for many years, and I keep my money in banks.”

Making Books

A veteran editor offers a year-end report on the mood in the book publishing industry in The Washington Post.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Revolutionary Road

There's been much discussion of late of Richard Yates' marvelous novel Revolutionary Road.

The review of the reissue by the Los Angeles Times is here.

The book is also discussed in the New Yorker here.

The New Yorker also reviews the movie here.

To see a trailer of the already Oscar buzz-worthy movie:

The Man Who Invented Christmas

The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the creation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday's Poem

Since it's still a winter wonderland out here in Seattle, I'll leave you this week with Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man":

Madrid Hotel Puts Books to Good Use

A hotel in the Spanish capital has created a library of books left behind by the guests. Many travellers leave books behind in their hurry to catch flights or get to the railway station on time. The hotel has created a 250-book library out of the forgotten items. It's a pretty swell idea.

Pictured above: Madrid's Catedral de Nossa Senhora de Almudena.

How to Make a Literary Clock

It's pretty easy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It's snowing like crazy here in Seattle. I've decided to take the day off from work. It's really rather beautiful out the window - the evergreens laden with snow across the way, the sky a muted gray, the cars outside nestled in those cold blankets.

That said, a snow poem I found...

Shoveling Snow With Buddha
by Billy Collins

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

Inaugural Poet Selected

It's Elizabeth Alexander.

One of her poems...

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

25 Things You Need to Know Before Self-Publishing Your Book

Good tips coming, via CNET.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sublime Joy of Scrabble

Happy birthday, Scrabble.

The Hobbit Name Generator

What's your Hobbit name? Sincerely, Olo Grubb. Oh, and if you're ever interested in buying a 1st edition of Tolkien's classic, be sure to have bags of cash.

The Three Best Cities for Bookworms

The list, according to Conde Nast Traveler.

Pictured above: One of the cities, Berlin.

Troubling News from Crook County, Oregon

Sherman Alexie's wonderful new book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been pulled from shelves after parent complaints.

From the article...

...the parent, said he does not think the book should be taught at any age. "I don't think it should be for anybody," he said. "I think it's trash. I don't think a 50-year-old ought to read it."

Final Chapter for Book Reviews

Peter Wilby, for the Guardian, discusses the death of book reviewing.

From the story...

In America, the decline of the literary pages has been lamented for some years. The National Book Critics Circle, launching "a campaign to save book reviews", reported that they had been "cut back or slashed altogether, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or generally treated as expendable". The New Republic magazine has called it "a kind of betrayal" from inside the print industry. A former editor of the Boston Review, Gail Pool, has written a whole book about it (widely reviewed, as it happens), suggesting that, in its effects on literary habitats, the decline of good book reviewing - and its replacement by popular opinion on blogs - is comparable to the effects of pesticides on wildlife.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Illustrated Ages of the World

Beautiful text images via the always beautiful BiblOdyssey.

Pictured above:

An image from Francisco de Holanda De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines. Written over thirty years - from 1543 to 1573 - Holanda sketched and painted designs intended to portray the history of the world according to the bible.