Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday's Poem

Alfred Lord Tennyson's famed "The Charge of the Light Brigade":

The Quiet Art of Cartooning

The cartoonist, Seth, discusses cartooning in the great magazine, The Walrus.

From the story...

Cartooning is a solitary pursuit. The cartoonist sits alone at a drawing table for most of his life, struggling with himself and his past in an attempt to create something meaningful. It’s the nature of the work. I always tell aspiring artists that if they want to be cartoonists, they’d better enjoy being by themselves.

A cartoonist isn’t like a writer. Writing requires a special kind of focus. Your mind must be utterly devoted to the task at hand. When I’m breaking down a strip or hammering out dialogue, I’m using that writer’s focus. But drawing and inking are different. They use different parts of the brain. I often find that when I’m drawing, only half my mind is on the work — watching proportions, balancing compositions, eliminating unnecessary details.

The other half is free to wander.

Favorite Signatures: from Ginsberg to Sedaris

On the LA Times Jacket Copy Blog there's a fun story about book signings.

From the introduction to the story...

Is book signing a curse? Prompted by a U.S. Craigslist ad for sweatshop-style autograph forgers, the U.K. has been abuzz with the legendarily traumatic author signings: James Ellroy taking down a stack of 65,000 first editions, Stephen King signing until his fingers cracked, the autograph line demanding their autographs in blood. David Sedaris admits that after seven hours he loses his decorum, writing a cheerful "Abortions, $13!" in one woman's book.

So signing is tiring, exasperating and sometimes unwise. But if it makes fans happy, isn't it worth it? Jacket Copy asked several readers -- who are also writers -- to tell us about their favorite autographed books.

Collecting books myself, I've been to my fair share of readings and have autographed books from T.C. Boyle, Sherman Alexie, William Stafford, and more. My favorite autographed book tale, however, has to do with one Ethan Hawke (yes, THAT Ethan Hawke).

He writes novels (not very good ones but he writes them anyway). There was a reading a Magnuson Park here in Seattle a few years back where he read from his novel Ash Wednesday. There was quite a hub-bub before the reading from the bookstore that produced the event saying, again and again and again and again, "Ethan Hawke will only sign his novel after the reading. He will NOT sign anything else, movie-related or otherwise. He will NOT sign anything else."

He had his reading. The line quickly formed afterwards, with me in it, Ash Wednesday in my hands. The man in front of me had a backpack FILLED with Ethan Hawke-related stuff. Movie posters, scripts, photos, most everything that can be signed by one Ethan Hawke.

"I'm sorry, sir," an event coordinator said to the man, "he won't sign all of that."

"He will for me."

So, we get up to see Ethan Hawke. The guy takes off his backpack. "You did OKAY during the reading," he said to Mr. Hawke. "I mean, for an actor, I thought you'd do BETTER, but you did, OKAY, I guess."

Hawke looked at him flummoxed. "Cool."

"Yeah, I mean, you're an actor so I thought you'd do it better is all."


Hawke signed the guy's book, ignoring the backpack of Hawke materials, and then shook my hand as the guy tottled off.

"Can you believe that guy?" Hawke asked me. "What an asshole."

"What an asshole," I said. "Complete asshole."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Michael Jackson and Scottish Bard Robert Burns

Sounds like a good match, or, um, not.

Top Ten Endangered Languages

Peter Austin, in The Guardian laments the loss of our languages, highlighting the ten most endangered.

From the story (concerning the Ainu, pictured above)...

The Ainu language is spoken by a small number of old people on the island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan. They are the original inhabitants of Japan, but were not recognised as a minority group by the Japanese government until this year. The language has very complicated verbs that incorporate a whole sentence's worth of meanings, and it is the vehicle of an extensive oral literature of folk stories and songs. Moves are underway to revive Ainu language and cultural practices.

The Poetry of Fishing

PopMatters looks at the solitary craft of fishing and poetry and how they've meshed through the years.

From the story...

The list is prodigious as an Alaskan salmon run: Izaak Walton, James Fenimore Cooper, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Norman MacLean, Thomas McGuane, Nick Lyons, and John McPhee. They’re just a few of the many writers, classic and contemporary, whose prose routinely tangles with the sport of fishing. However, prose writers like these are not alone: for centuries, poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Butler Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, and James A. Emanuel have mused over the fisherman’s art.

Why do so many writers, particularly poets, embrace the sport of fishing? For starters, fishing and writing are typically solitary crafts that offer fishermen and poets sweet opportunities for introspection. Sure, you can fish with friends, just as you can participate in writers’ workshops and revel in the camaraderie each experience provides, but fishing and poetry dangle seductive invitations for the loner hungry to tackle his or her ideas. Unlike more collaborative art forms, such as theater, music, or filmmaking, fishing and poetry cultivate individual responsibility like few other crafts: whether you write a good poem or catch many fish, the poet’s and fisherman’s products are always a reflection of his abilities alone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Should We Still Be Learning Catcher in the Rye

Anne Trubek, in GOOD Magazine discusses why Salinger's classic shouldn't be taught much anymore.

From the story...

Why is The Catcher in the Rye still a rite of high school English? Sure, J.D. Salinger’s novel was edgy and controversial when teachers first put it on their syllabi. But that was 50 years ago. Today, Salinger’s novel lacks the currency or shock value it once had, and has lost some of its critical cachet. But it is still ubiquitously taught even though many newer novels of adolescence are available.

Tough Times for Some of Seattle's Bookstores

The independent bookstore is becoming more and more rare in Seattle. The Seattle Times looks at their difficulties.

Read This Digess-Vouty, You Grarsa Saronee

Slim Gaillard, according to Wikipedia, was an American jazz singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist, noted for his vocalese singing and word play. This word play can be readily seen in a book he wrote, the Vout-O-Reenee Dictionary that you can see here. You'll iceee it the more you lukeee.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Haiku Nation

Time Magazine takes a look at mini-lit.

From the story...

Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.

Like traditional Japanese poetry, the new pop-culture haiku says a lot with few words. These days digital eloquence is defined by pithiness. Witness the rise of where more than a million users submit messages of 140 characters max (i.e., no longer than this sentence). In the book world, a surprise hit this year has been Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. The book, which features entries culled from more than 25,000 submissions on begins with children's advocate Robin Templeton's "After Harvard, had baby with crackhead" and includes superchef Mario Batali's "Brought it to a boil often."

...the six-word meme is spreading. A North Carolina preacher encourages six-word prayers. A group of techies trade six-word e-mails. And the trend has sparked a revival, on YouTube, of "Weird Al" Yankovic's (This Song's Just) Six Words Long.

Geek Ink

Wired showcases comic book tattoos.

From the introduction...

All comic book fans dig ink. Some of them just take their superhero obsessions a little further than others.

Michael Boyce wears his love of comics on his sleeves. A thirtysomething artist who runs On Comic Ground, a comics shop in San Diego, his arms are covered with tattoos of all the superheroines he grew up with: fightin' females like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Girl.

"Once I started getting one girl, I had to get 'em all," Boyce said.

Quote of the Week

The books we read should be chosen with great care, that they may be, as an Egyptian king wrote over his library, "The medicines of the soul."
- Paxton Hood

Thursday, August 21, 2008

10 Helpful Ways to Recycle Your Used Books

The Daily Green gives you the rundown.

From the intro to the story...

Many of us love books and find them incredibly hard to part with. But if you've made up your mind to declutter your shelves, these top tips will enable you to release your treasures to new homes without an ounce of guilt or trash! When you consider that only 24 books are produced for every tree felled, it makes sense to spread the love by passing our books on to other people.

Top 10 Scenes from the Battle of the Sexes

The list, care of Eli Gottlieb, author of The Boy Who Went Away. The works of Iris Murdoch, Saul Bellow, and Ernest Hemingway are mentioned.

What Good is the Bard to Book-Shunning Boys?

Yes, teenagers are struggling to read. But force-feeding them Shakespeare and the great poets is no way to foster a love of literature, so says Louise Tucker in The Guardian.

From the story...

Yet again last week, the reading abilities of boys were up for discussion: "Sats results ... revealed a particular problem with boys' reading ability. One in five 14-year-old boys has a reading age below what's expected of an 11-year-old." The Today programme's guests, Ian Rankin and Labour MP Barry Sheerman, were invited to make suggestions. Rankin sensibly said that perhaps the answer "is to get Top Gear magazine into every teenage boy's curriculum", but also that there is now a different sort of literacy, one involving texting and computer games, which is invisible because it happens beyond the classroom. Then he spoilt it all, by mentioning the "S-word", and suddenly the debate stopped, as ever, being about literacy and started being about "literature", preferably "great". Why do we still confuse the need for literacy with the experience of reading, and even more important to some, loving a canon?

In order to get his own teenager reading Shakespeare, Rankin gave him graphic novel versions. And, hallelujah, the boy now wants to go and see a play. As I brushed my teeth, all I could think was, well, why not just take him to see a performance in the first place? Why are we obsessed with "reading" Shakespeare, especially since he wrote, er, plays? As any English undergraduate knows, Shakespeare's plays are meant to be seen on stage, not on the page. So why do commentators rejoice when a teenager reads Shakespeare? Do we really believe that teenagers should be reading scripts, albeit cultural masterpieces?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jon's Writing in Amphora Magazine

Amphora Magazine is produced by the Alcuin Society, a society for lovers of books, the book arts, fine printing, and reading. In their most recent issue I profiled a bookstore in Amsterdam, Boekie Woekie (pictured above), an interesting art book shop right in the heart of the city.

Hopefully, I'll be able to write more profiles for Amphora in the future. I'm angling to write about this shop in Paris.

London Named Top Literary Destination

Want to soak up the literary life when you travel again? Think London.

From the story...

London has been named as the world's top destination for tourists looking for a taste of literature, beating Paris, New York and Rome in a top 10 compiled by a travel website.

The birthplace of writers such as John Keats and John Donne and the setting for countless novels, London was described as "the home of literature we have spent so much time learning and loving."

Americans in Paris

Shelf Talk highlights some books about, well, yes, Americans in Paris.

And, for kicks, here's Gene Kelly dancing with Leslie Caron in, well, yes, "An American in Paris":

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Odd Ends Stolen Out of Holy Writ

The AV Club lists 18 Unusual Shakespeare Movie Adaptations, including Ran, My Own Private Idaho and Ethan Hawke's Hamlet, where he does the famous "To be, or not to be," speech in a Hollywood Video...

Vietnam War Ephemera Collection

The University of Washington has opened their archives online, including an interesting collection of Vietnam War era ephemera such as posters, documents and more.

From the introduction to the collection...

In 1960 a small group of young people formed Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and adopted The Port Huron Statement, written by student leader Tom Hayden. The manifesto urged participatory democracy, or the idea that all Americans, not just a small elite, should decide major economic, political, and social issues that shaped the nation. It also criticized American society for its focus on career advancement, material possessions, military strength, and racism. By 1968 some 100,000 young people around the nation had joined SDS.

Student protesters denounced corporate bureaucracy and campus administrators. Universities and colleges, they believed, were dictatorial and exercised too much control over students. Students held rallies and sit-ins to protest restrictions of their rights. In 1964 a coalition of student groups at the University of California, Berkeley, claimed the right to conduct political activities on campus; the coalition became known as the Free Speech Movement. Political activism and protests spread to other campuses in the 1960s.

The youth movement's demonstrations soon merged with the protests of students who opposed the Vietnam War. By the spring of 1968, student protests had reached hundreds of campuses. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, antiwar demonstrators clashed with the police, and the images of police beating students shocked television audiences. Violence peaked at an antiwar protest at Ohio's Kent State University in May 1970, when National Guard troops gunned down four student protesters.

The political activities of the youth movement had enduring effects. Colleges became less authoritarian, ending dress codes and curfews and recruiting more minority students. Students also contributed mightily to the movement against the war in Vietnam. Both the counterculture and student activism, finally, fueled a backlash that blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s. The civil rights movement, the women's movement, the youth movement, and the environmental movement changed people's lives. They also created a climate of rebellion, confrontation, and upheaval.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In Search of Western Civilization's Lost Classics

The Australian has an interesting story about the only library to survive from classical antiquity.

From the story...

STORED in a sky-lit reading room on the top floor of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples are the charred remains of the only library to survive from classical antiquity. The ancient world's other great book collections -- at Athens, Alexandria and Rome -- all perished in the chaos of the centuries. But the library of the Villa of the Papyri was conserved, paradoxically, by an act of destruction.

Lying to the northwest of ancient Herculaneum, this sumptuous seaside mansion was buried beneath 30m of petrified volcanic mud during the catastrophic eruption of Mt Vesuvius on August 24, AD79. Antiquities hunters in the mid-18th century sunk shafts and dug tunnels around Herculaneum and found the villa, surfacing with a magnificent booty of bronzes and marbles. Most of these, including a svelte seated Hermes modelled in the manner of Lyssipus, now grace the National Archeological Museum in Naples.


There's some new fiction by one of my favorite short story writers, Tobias Wolff, in a recent issue of The New Yorker.

The Jingle Generator

Create your own jingle here.

Quote of the Week

Life happened because I turned the pages.
- Alberto Manguel

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday's Poem

Khalil Gibran's "Song of the Flower":


Booksketch is an open blog created to inspire drawing from literature. In other words, illustrations of what images pop up in the heads of readers. Pictured above: A sketch inspired by "The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother," by Gabriel García Márquez.

The New Nature Writing

Granta's newest issue is about nature writing.

From the editor, about the issue...

Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That figure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s finite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.

When we began to commission articles for this issue we
were interested less in what might be called old nature writing – by which I mean the lyrical pastoral tradition of the romantic wanderer – than in writers who approached their subject in heterodox and experimental ways. We also wanted the contributions to be voice-driven, narratives told in the first person, for the writer to be present in the story, if sometimes only bashfully. The best new nature writing is also an experiment in forms: the field report, the essay, the memoir, the travelogue. If travel writing can often seem like a debased and exhausted genre, nature writing is its opposite: something urgent, vital and alert to the defining particulars of our times.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jon's Writing in Haiku Ninja

I am a Haiku Ninja. Oh yes, I am.

50 Great Lyric Writing Resources

The list, care of Audiotuts.

The Rise - and Fall - of Men's Magazines

Radar takes a look at men's magazines and how they peaked in the 1990s and have been struggling to find their identities ever since.

From the story...

Maxim continues to milk The Formula for all its worth while the other more "sophisticated" men's magazines grasp for their identity, stuck somewhere between adolescent towel-snapping and enlightened conversations about manhood. So it is that American men are left with soulless sex advice, perfunctory fashion spreads, toothless journalism, and a couple buxom bodies from reality TV squished in between the ads.

Some ascribe the failure of men's magazines to the Internet. Others blame feminism. Still others blame Girls Gone Wild auteur Joe Francis for polluting the field. But it's really about the purgatory between Lad and Dad, which leaves the males of our generation scratching their heads and asking: are we not MEN?

Top Ten Literary Virgins

From the story in the Guardian...

If you ran a poll on the "greatest ever" poet, novelist and playwright in our literature, Ladbrokes would give you very short odds on Jane Austen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and George Bernard Shaw (pictured above). What do those three have in common? Virginity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Poem as Comic Strip

The Poetry Foundation has a series wherein a comic book artist creates a comic based on poetry.

From the story...

Heightened language—one possible or partial definition of poetry—isn’t the first thing one associates with comics. Yet comic book artists take into account the way words appear on the page to a degree poets will find familiar. How many lines should accompany each image? How high should the dialogue balloon float? The ratio of printed words to blank space plays a role in whether a poem or strip succeeds.

The best of the daily humor strips (think Peanuts) have produced thousands of word-and-picture episodes that occupy about the same thought-space as a good short poem; the terseness can resemble haiku. Then there is Krazy Kat, George Herriman’s polyphonic masterpiece that appeared in William Randolph Hearst’s papers from 1913 to 1944 —a comic feature so blessedly idiosyncratic in its dialects that the only way to start making sense of what’s said is by reading it aloud, like a poem.

As a way to help readers discover (or rediscover) our archive, has invited some of today’s most vital graphic novelists to interpret a poem of their choice from the more than 4,500 poems in our archive, reaching from Beowulf to the present.

30 Books Everyone Should Read By Age 30

The solid list can be found here. I'm 34. I guess I have some reading to do. I had no idea I should have read Plato and Sun Tzu by now.

How To Be A Writer

Allegra Goodman, for the Boston Globe, quickly summarizes how to become a writer.

From the story...

WHEN PEOPLE hear that I'm a novelist, I get one comment more than any other. "I'm a physician (or a third-grade teacher, or a venture capitalist) but what I really want to do is write." A mother of three muses: "I've always loved writing since I was a little girl." A physicist declares, "I've got a great idea for a mystery-thriller-philosophical-love story - if I only had the time." I nod, resisting the temptation to reply: "And I have a great idea for a unified field theory - if I just had a moment to work it out on paper."

Book sales are down, but creative writing enrollments are booming. The longing to write knows no bounds. A lactation consultant told me, "I have a story inside of me. I mean, I know everybody has a story, but I really have a story."

How Well Do You Know Shakespeare Characters?

Find out on the Mental Floss Quiz.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Top 10 Literary Gypsies

Jessica Duchen, for The Guardian, lists off the ten best literary gypsies, ever!

Pictured above: Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin's Gypsies.

Jon's Writing in Venuszine

I did a brief profile of Catia Chien for Venuszine. Her artwork is really quite wonderful, what with its bit of whimsy, childlike wonder, and touches of melancholy.

Typography of The Electric Company

It can be found here.

Ah, The Electric Company. What a wonderful show. I still remember watching a young Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader. And who can forget the adventures of Letterman?!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quote of the Week

Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted. Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.
- Hugh McLeod

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday's Poem

William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29," sung by Rufus Wainwright:

Shakespearean Theatre Unearthed

The theatre where "The Merchant of Venice" and "Romeo and Juliet" likely debuted and where William Shakespeare himself may have trodden the boards has been discovered.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Songwriting vs. Poetry

The Guardian has a story, Meet the Bands with Poetry on the Brain, discussing the recent spate of literate poetry-minded rock bands, including Vampire Weekend, The Mountain Goats, and, pictured above, the Fleet Foxes.

From the story...

The Hold Steady's Craig Finn is not shy about stating his literary intentions. 'I consider myself a writer as well as a songwriter,' he says. 'The further we get on from the birth of rock'n'roll, the more people who have ambitions to be a writer feel that rock'n'roll is a worthy art form to express themselves in.

'I find playing songs and having people sing them back to you gratifying in a way that say poetry readings aren't,' he goes on. 'There, it's just 15 people being quiet and getting ready to read their own work. There's no sense of community and it doesn't seem as exciting as going out and trying to share your ideas with real people in front of you.'

Silver Jews' David Berman agrees: 'Over time, I've started to consider myself more a songwriter than a poet. Poetry is traditionally privileged as being a higher art [but] for me, there's more exciting work to be done today in song lyrics. Songs are an interesting place to try out different things that aren't being done in other parts of culture. In music, you can still work with sentiment, you can still make a song a slogan.'

Africa's Literary Treasure Trove Under Seige

Spiegel Online has a story about the efforts currently underway to save Timbuktu's crumbling manuscripts. The city harbors thousands and thousands of long-forgotten manuscripts and various institutions are doing their best to save as many of them as they can before they crumble to dust.

From the story...

Bundles of paper covered with ancient Arabic letters lie on tables and dusty leather stools. In the sweltering heat, a man wearing blue Muslim robes flips through a worn folio, while others are busy repairing yellowed pages.

An astonishing project is underway in Timbuktu, Mali, one of the world's poorest countries. On the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, experts are opening an enchanted Aladdin's Cave, filled with hundreds of thousands of ancient documents.

The Ahmed Baba Library alone contains more than 20,000 manuscripts, including works on herbal medicine and mathematics, yellowed volumes of poetry, music and Islamic law. Some are adorned with gilded letters, while others are written in the language of the Tuareg tribes. The contents remain a mystery.

Manuscript hunters are now scouring the environs of Timbuktu, descending into dark, clay basements and climbing up into attics. Twenty-four family-owned collections have already been discovered in the area. Most of the works stem from the late Middle Ages, when Timbuktu was an important crossroads for caravans. It was home to gold merchants and scholars, and it even boasted a university with 20,000 students. The old saying "the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu" summed up the ancient city's appeal.

But the legacy of the oasis, written with ink made from gallnuts, is beginning to fade...

100 Places to Connect with Bibliophiles Online

This, according to the Online Education Database. The list, created by Laura Milligan, runs the gamut from sites for book collectors to bookish blogs to sites for librarians to places that you can buy, sell, or trade your books.

The 10 Oddest Travel Guides Ever Published

This, according to Slate.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bookstore Owner Trial Begins

What do you get when you add a sleazy bookstore owner, some stolen textbooks, and three heroin addicts? An interesting trial.

Are Ads in Comics Still in Business?

Traipsing down nostalgia lane, remember those ads in comic books? Are any of them still in business? The Bismarck Tribune finds out.

My Year As...

There's been a rash, a rash I say, of non-fiction books whereby writers do something for a year and then write about it. My year on the competitive eating circuit. My year as a stripper. My year as a caddy. My year of eating nothing but stuff on sticks. Amazon gives us a run down of some current titles. My guess? Soon, there will be a book entitled, My Year Reading Books of Other Peoples' Years.

The Write Track

As the world limbers up for the Olympics, Mark Lawson sprints through sport in fiction - from The Pickwick Papers to this year's hit, Netherland, in The Guardian.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mo Willems - Radio Cartoonist

Radio cartoonist? A cartoonist for the radio? Yup. NPR has the story of Mo Willems, a great children's book author, and his new ideas for radio.

And, if you haven't read Willems' series of Pigeon books, you're missing out. Seriously good pigeon humor with those kid books. And, really? Who DOESN'T like a good dose of pigeon humor?

AND, as a brief aside, who doesn't appreciate pigeon poetry? Pigeons and poetry? Indeed!

From the site...

The Red Room Company commissioned eight poets from across the country to each write a poem that would be raced by thoroughbred pigeons on August 3, 2008. Punters studied an online form guide of the poets, pigeons and poems that flew, and made "bets" by donation. The birds homed from Stanwell Tops to Mt Ousley on NSW's South Coast, covering about 60km between 15 and 20 minutes. See below for the details of each pigeon, poet and poem that flew, and explore the rest of the site to find out what happened on the field.