Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On a Brief Haitus

Never fear, I shall return next week with more regular updates. In the meantime, enjoy a T.S. Eliot mash up with The Game:

The Trials of Adapting a Book to a Movie

The LA Times relays the difficulties screenwriters face when making a movie out of a novel.

From the story...

"BLINDNESS," Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's 1997 allegorical novel about an epidemic of sightlessness that threatens to destroy society, is told in a stream-of-consciousness style that reads like a fever dream. Not exactly " Harry Potter," straight-to-the-big-screen material.

Yet, Don McKellar saw in it a screenplay and Fernando Meirelles ("City of God") saw in that screenplay a film he could direct. And the fact that "Blindness" is now multiplex fodder, with the film opening Friday, is a testament to the willingness of moviemakers to tackle -- sometimes against great odds -- some of the toughest literary works.

"The more successful the work of art is in the medium for which it was originally created, the more it's going to resist a translation into another medium," says writer-director Nicholas Meyer, whose adaptation of the Philip Roth novel "The Dying Animal" was recently filmed as the Ben Kingsley movie "Elegy."

50 Things Every Comic Book Collection Needs

The list, according to The Comics Reporter.

Hungry for Hungarian Short Stories?

You've come to the right place.

Pictured above: Schossberger Castle, Tura, Hungary.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Be Naughty

Read something scandalous this week. It's Banned Books Week.

Also, Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, writes about the pointlessness of censorship.

This Just In...

Poetry bailout will restore confidence in readers.

From the story...

The glut of illiquid, insolvent, and troubled poems is clogging the literary arteries of the West. These debt-ridden poems threaten to infect other areas of the literary sector and ultimately to topple our culture industry.

Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era.

What Happens to Sci-Fi Writers When They Die?

io9 unearths the details.

When Books Could Change Your Life

In the Baltimore City Paper there's an essay about the books we read as kids and how those books helped shaped us.

From the story...

A girl I once caught reading Fahrenheit 451 over my shoulder on the subway confessed: "You know, I'm an English lit major, but I've never loved any books like the ones I loved when I was 12 years old." I fell slightly in love with her when she said that. It was so frank and uncool, and undeniably true.

Let's all admit it: We never got over those first loves. Listen to the difference in the voices of any groups of well-read, over-educated people discussing contemporary fiction, or the greatest books they've ever read, and the voices of those same people, only two drinks later, talking about the books they loved as kids. The Betsy Tacy Books! I loved those books! The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet! I can't believe you know that! The Little House on the Prairie books! Oh, my God--did you read The Long Winter? So good. Hey--does anyone else remember The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree?

It's not just that these books, unlike adult literature, have been left unsullied by professors turning them into objects of tedious study. We love these books, dearly and uncritically, the way we love the smell of our first girlfriend's perfume, no matter how cheap or tacky it might have been. Let's be honest: We all know that Ulysses and A la recherché du temps perdu are "better" books than The Velveteen Rabbit or The Little Prince, but come on--which would you take with you on a spaceship to salvage from the dying Earth?

Quote of the Week

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

Thursday, September 25, 2008

America's Next Great Book Cover

Creativity and Penguin have teamed up for a great contest. Give people the title of a forthcoming book, in this case Sam Taylor's The Island at the End of the World, give them a basic plot line, and then have them design the cover. The finalists can be viewed here. My favorite cover finalist, pictured above, is Peter Majarich's cover that showcases Campeche, just off the gulf of Mexico.

The Stories Behind 10 Dr. Seuss Books

Mental Floss goes behind the scenes on several of your favorite Dr. Seuss books.

Books 4 Barack

Give $250 to the Barack Obama campaign and get a bevy of books. Good books. Ten books, all of them worth quite a bit of money, actually. Some are 1st editions. Some are signed. Some are rather rare, all donated to the campaign by some of today's top writers including Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Louise Gluck, Nora Ephron and more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lincoln! Lincoln! Lincoln!

Abraham Lincoln. He was this guy who was, like, president or something. Anyway, he's big news of late. The Boston Globe has a story about the bevy of books that are forthcoming about our famous bearded dude.

From the story...

There comes a point with historic figures where everything important has been published. But the rising wave of new books about Abraham Lincoln makes clear that that point hasn't arrived yet with the 16th president.

At least 50 titles about Lincoln are due out between next month and early 2010, not counting those recently published. The number is probably unprecedented for so short a period, and the range of angles is wide. There are three complete biographies; books of essays and photographs; books about Lincoln as a youth, as president-elect, as a military leader, as a writer, and as an inventor; books about Lincoln and his family, about Lincoln as victim of conspiracy, about Lincoln and his connections with others - his secretaries, his admirals, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, scientist Charles Darwin, even the poet Robert Burns. There are at least seven children's books on the way.

"The interest in Lincoln has been continuous in history," said Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer, "and there is a surge right now. Something is going on today."

Oh, they're coming out with new pennies also.

2008 Magazine Cover of the Year Finalists

Who will win the award, given out by the Magazine Publishers of America? The finalists are here.

Laughter in the Dark

The great Jack Handey has an essay in the New York Times about the humor sections in bookstores.

From the story...

In general, the easiest way to locate the Humor section in any bookstore is to go through the front entrance of the bookstore and to the farthest point from the entrance. That’s where the Humor section will be.

If the bookstore has a second floor, the Humor section will be on the second floor, at the farthest point from the entrance. If the second floor has a window that can be jimmied open, and there’s a ledge outside, the Humor section will be at the very end of the ledge.

Sometimes the Humor section is in another building entirely, like an old, burned-out warehouse. If so, it will be in the back of the warehouse, behind some boards.

75 Books Every Woman Should Read

After Esquire unveiled books men should read, Jezebel gives a list for women.

From the intro...

Esquire put up a slideshow of 75 books every man should read, and it is indeed a very good list. However, it's a very good list that's also extremely myopic. It relies way too heavily on the old white dude cannon (particularly the WASP angst end of it) with books by Updike, Cheever, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Hemingway, McPhee, Joyce, Roth, Mailer, and the token Russians.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revolutionary Road

I have high hopes that Sam Mendes, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio won't screw up this one. Revolutionary Road was Richard Yates' first novel and, honestly, one of the best novels I've thus far read.

From Yates soon after winning the National Book Award for the novel...

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witchhunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that — felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit — and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler. I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fifties.

It's a terrific book and I hope it's a terrific movie. The trailer is here.

14th-Century Royal Cookbook Unveiled

Care to see what was cooking up in the kitchen of King Richard II? Forme of Cury, a recipe book compiled by King Richard II's master cooks in 1390, details around 205 dishes cooked in the royal household and sheds light on a little-studied element of life in the Dark Ages. If you've been looking for that recipe for blank mang you've come to the right place and, seriously, there can never be enough blank mang prepared, nor enough blank mang eaten. Mmmm....blank mang.

The Heartbreaking Truth of Anne's Creator

Lucy Maud Montgomery created Anne of Green Gables, one of the most cherished books for youngsters yet published. The Globe and Mail helps reveal a long-kept family secret. Montgomery killed herself at 67 of a drug overdose.

50 Greatest Villains in Literature

The Telegraph lists the 50 greatest villains in literature. Included on the list are Iago, from Shakespeare's Othello, Mr. Hyde (pictured above) from Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jon's Concert Review on Venuszine

Me and my pal, Michael J. Fox, recently attended an Okkervil River concert here in Seattle. I wrote about it.

For your musical edification, enjoy their music video, "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe":

The Atlas of Early Printing

The University of Iowa Libraries has an interesting site highlighting 15th century printing.

From the site...

The Atlas of Early Printing is an interactive site designed to be used as a tool for teaching the early history of printing in Europe during the second half of the fifteenth century. While printing in Asia pre-dates European activity by several hundred years, the rapid expansion of the trade following the discovery of printing in Mainz, Germany around the middle of the fifteenth century is a topic of great importance to the history of European civilization.

Westward Hoard! An Interview with Edward Nolan

The AIGA interviews Edward Nolan, the head of special collections at the Washington State Historical Society and paper ephemera collector extraordinaire.

City Arts Magazine also features Nolan and his collection in their August issue.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Quote of the Week

Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.
- Jules Renard

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday's Poem

Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love":

Unknown Mozart Fragment Found in France

There's been a discovery in a French library. It's a piece of music written by Mozart, the underpinnings of a Mass he never composed.

Freeing the Elephants: What Babar Brought

The New Yorker is discussing Babar recently. Babar, Babar, Babar! The great Adam Gopnik wrote a feature on the beloved children's books.

From the story...

A chain of elephants, trunks and tails linked, wanders, with a mixture of upbeat energy and complacent pride, along the endpapers of a children’s book. So begins one of the stories that most please the imagination of the modern child and his distant relation the modern adult—Jean de Brunhoff’s “The Story of Babar,” published in 1931. The Babar books are among those half-dozen picture books that seem to fix not just a character but a whole way of being, even a civilization. An elephant, lost in the city, does not trumpet with rage but rides a department-store elevator up and down, until gently discouraged by the elevator boy. A Haussmann-style city rises in the middle of the barbarian jungle. Once seen, Babar the Frenchified elephant is not forgotten. With Bemelmans’s “Madeline” and Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” the Babar books have become part of the common language of childhood, the library of the early mind. There are few parents who haven’t tried them and few small children who don’t like them. They also remain one of the few enterprises begun by a father and continued by his son in more or less the same style. Laurent de Brunhoff, who was twelve when his father died, at the age of just thirty-seven, picked up the elephant brush after the Second World War and has gone on producing Babar books, with the same panache, almost to this day. (Audubon’s sons’ continuation of their father’s “Quadrupeds” is another instance, but in that case the father was alive when the sons began to carry on the work.)

Babar comes to us now in a show, at the Morgan Library & Museum, of the early drafts and watercolor drawings for the first books by both de Brunhoff père and de Brunhoff fils. Jean had produced the very first Babar book at the demand of his wife and two children, who had fallen in love with an elephant-centered bedtime story that she had been telling the children in the summer of 1930. He came from a family of artists perched on the ledge—a broad one in the France of his time—between fine-arts painting and book and fashion illustration.

The New Yorker also has a slideshow of Babar illustrations by Jean de Brunhoff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sharon Becker's Tasteful Cookbook Collection

Ephemera interviews a vintage cookbook collector.

More Information Than You Require

Boing Boing catches up with John Hodgman, the guy from the Apple ads and "The Daily Show," who has written a follow up, More Information Than You Require, to his greatly satisfying, and terrifically odd book, The Areas of My Expertise:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Milkmaid Who Inspired Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy, is one of the most beloved novels ever created. The Times Online has the story about the milkmaid who was the inspiration for Tess.

What's the Funniest Novel Ever?

The New York Times book blog, Paper Cuts, has some ideas.

For my money, these days, I always get a chuckle over the fiction of Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and Jonathan Ames (Wake Up, Sir!, The Extra Man).

Thou Shalt Go to the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is giving visitors a chance to see 800 years of biblical evolution. The Pilot has the story.

Pictured above: A leaf from the famed Gutenberg Bible.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing?

New York Magazine looks into it.

From the story...

The demise of publishing has been predicted since the days of Gutenberg. But for most of the past century—through wars and depressions—the business of books has jogged along at a steady pace. It’s one of the main (some would say only) advantages of working in a “mature” industry: no unsustainable highs, no devastating lows. A stoic calm, peppered with a bit of gallows humor, prevailed in the industry.

Survey New York’s oldest culture industry this season, however, and you won’t find many stoics. What you will find are prophets of doom, Cassandras in blazers and black dresses arguing at elegant lunches over What Is to Be Done. Even best-selling publishers and agents fresh from seven-figure deals worry about what’s coming next. Two, five years from now—who knows? Life moves fast in the waning era of print; publishing doesn’t.

Can Intelligent Literature Survive the Digital Age?

The Indepedent looks into it.

From the story...

Look at this chap sitting outside the Caffè Uno at Paddington station. He is reading For Whom the Bell Tolls with slightly exaggerated attention. He has a Uniball pen close to hand, for making shrewd marginal comments. He holds the book up before his face, and his chin juts slightly, as if the fall of Hemingway's lapidary prose were giving him some caffeine boost of vicarious heroism. Behold, his whole posture seems to say, at least someone around here has a brain.

Check out the woman on the Tube reading Sadie Jones's 1940s-set The Outcast. She sits quite still and unself-conscious, lost in the narrative, her spine upright as a schoolmarm's, her head bowed, her hands cradling the book on her lap, unintentionally mirroring the famous 1955 picture of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. And she is reading the hardback version of Ms Jones's novel. That puts her in a minuscule percentage of British people prepared to shell out £17.99 for a new cloth-bound book, rather than wait for the paperback. But can it be that all these readers – the coffee-shop man, the Tube schoolmarm, Marilyn Monroe – represent a doomed species? Has the actual business of reading a book, of digesting a whole text of 70,000 words or more, become too much for the human race?

A transatlantic debate is currently raging about whether a decade of staring at computer screens, sending emails and text messages, and having our research needs serviced instantly by Google and Wikipedia, has taken a terrible toll on our attention, until our brains have been reconfigurated and can no longer adjust the tempo of our mental word-processing to let us read a book all the way through.

Monday, September 15, 2008

75 Books Every Man Should Read

The list, according to Esquire Magazine.

Why Libraries are Back in Style

The Wall Street Journal has a story on libraries and why they're cool again.

From the story...

In the library of her 5,800-square-foot house in Glen Cove, N.Y., Linda Teitelbaum keeps trophies from dog shows, needlepoint pillows of bulldogs and gold-framed photos of family. Though the plaid-papered room has a scattering of books, she often retreats to it not just to read but to remember the dogs she used to breed, to nap, or to get away from the TV. "It's my veg-out room," Ms. Teitelbaum says.

Reading rates are down and Americans say they love casual living. And yet, one of the most popular rooms in big new houses is a library (pictured above: a mosaic of images from Seattle's Central Library). Rather than being about books, their appeal is often about creating a certain ambiance. "Libraries connote elegance and quality," says New York architect and interior designer Campion Platt, adding that most of his wealthy clients want one, even if they do most of their reading online.

Libraries have become so fashionable that this month, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey featured the one in her Santa Barbara, Calif., home on the cover of her magazine; it contains first editions collected for her by a rare-book dealer.

In the latest annual National Association of Home Builders consumer survey, 63% of home buyers said they wanted a library or considered one essential, a percentage that has been edging up for the past few years. Many mass-market home builders are including libraries in their house plans, sometimes with retro touches like rolling ladders and circular stairs.

Martin Tytell, Typewriter Wizard, Dies at 94

The New York Times has an obituary on Martin Tytell.

From the story...

Martin Tytell, whose unmatched knowledge of typewriters was a boon to American spies during World War II, a tool for the defense lawyers for Alger Hiss, and a necessity for literary luminaries and perhaps tens of thousands of everyday scriveners who asked him to keep their Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis (and their computer-resistant pride) intact, died on Thursday in the Bronx. He was 94.

The cause was cancer, said Pearl Tytell, his wife of 65 years. She said that her husband also had Alzheimer’s disease.

When he retired in 2000, Mr. Tytell had practiced his recently vanishing craft for 70 years. For most of that time, he rented, repaired, rebuilt, reconfigured and restored typewriters in a second-floor shop at 116 Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan, where a sign advertised “Psychoanalysis for Your Typewriter.”

Tytell was also featured in Atlantic Monthly in 1997 by Ian Frazier.

Remember The Handyman of Timbuctoo?

I don't. That doesn't mean it didn't exist as a daily comic back in the day. Barnacle Press highlights those daily comics that have come and gone long ago. Comics like Baron Mooch, Diana Dillpickles, Man in the Brown Derby, Petey Dink (pictured above - click on it for enlargement) and The Terrors of the Tiny Tads.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quote of the Week

But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
- Lord Byron

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday's Poem

T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men":

How a Successful Biographer Became a Forger

There's an interesting story on NPR about Lee Israel, who faked letters by famous people and then sold them to collectors, until the FBI caught wind of it.

From the story...

For Lee Israel to take an interest in a celebrity, they had to be dead. Otherwise, they could get her into trouble. That's because she built a career from pretending to be them.

In the early 1990s, Israel faked around 400 letters from deceased celebrities, including writers Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman, and sold them to literary dealers. Until the FBI came knocking three years into her creative enterprise, few people asked any questions.

Although she says her career as a forger is supremely dead, she's turned this period of her life into a memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, published by Simon and Schuster.

25 Great High School Books

Whitney Matheson, of USA Today's Pop Candy blog, lists the best books centered around high school.

Wild and Crazy Guys

The Guardian lists fiction's maddest scientists.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Concerns Beyond Just Where the Wild Things Are

The New York Times profiles the illustrious Maurice Sendak, who, honestly, hasn't had the best time of it of late.

From the story...

That Mr. Sendak fears that his work is inadequate, that he is racked with insecurity and anxiety, is no surprise. For more than 50 years that has been the hallmark of his art. The extermination of most of his relatives and millions of other Jews by the Nazis; the intrusive, unemployed immigrants who survived and crowded his parents’ small apartment; his sickly childhood; his mother’s dark moods; his own ever-present depression — all lurk below the surface of his work, frequently breaking through in meticulously drawn, fantastical ways.

He is not, as children’s book writers are often supposed, an everyman’s grandpapa. His hatreds are fierce and grand, as if produced by Cecil B. DeMille. He hates his uncle (who made a cruel comment about him when he was a boy); he hates anything to do with God or religion, and Judaism in particular (“We were the ‘chosen people,’ chosen to be killed?”); he hates Salman Rushdie (for writing an excoriating review of one of his books); he hates syrupy animation, which is why he is thrilled with Mr. Jonze’s coming film of his book “Where the Wild Things Are,” despite rumors of studio discontent.

“I hate people,” he said at one point, extolling the superior company of dogs, like his sweet-tempered German shepherd, Herman (after Melville).

Free Classes from Ivy League Schools

Care to take a class on the Principles of Human Nutrition for free? Maybe Music Perception and Cognition? Psycholinguistics, perhaps. Or Feminist Political Thought? You can take these classes and many more.

The Devils' Bible

There's an interesting story in the Jerusalem Post about an old New Testament that has surfaced that is signed by 19 defendants of the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, including some of the most high-ranking Nazis.

From the story...

The renowned German writer Günter Grass once wrote: "History, or, to be more precise, the history we Germans have repeatedly mucked up, is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising."

Grass, himself the subject of a scandal involving his long-denied past in the SS, summarized the sentiment quite well. The Nazi past keeps on haunting the Germans (and not only them): newly published photographs of high-ranking Nazis in party mood in Auschwitz, the 25th anniversary of the Hitler diaries, which turned out to be a forgery, and, most of all, the new pope, a former member of both the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht.

How can his identities - Catholic, Nazi, German - be reconciled? Was joining the Hitler Youth the right choice for a pious Catholic, young but nevertheless old enough to make this judgment? This raises a different question, not only to Germans, but also to followers of the Christian faith: Could the famous question from Goethe's Faust - what is religion to you? - be asked to the heads of the Nazi Party and ideology? And what would their answer be? A most peculiar volume offers some possible answers and raises new questions.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Annie Got Her Shot

In Vanity Fair is an excerpt from a new book by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.

From the piece...

Arnold Newman said that photography is one percent talent and ninety-nine percent moving furniture. I think about that sometimes when we’re on location and we’ve moved the set—the stage, the lights, the backdrop, sandbags, fans. And moved them again. And again. I just have to close my eyes to everything that’s being done. The manual labor is daunting.

It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning, I traveled alone. I carried my equipment and if I used a light I would set it up myself. Some people took the results as a style. A writer for American Photographer once said that the umbrella and strobe reflected in the mirror in my portrait of Jimmy Carter was a “skillfully implemented device.” As I recall, I walked into the room holding the light and set it down and plugged it in and started taking pictures. I didn’t think about it.

Johnny Got His Gun

One of my favorite novels and, honestly, right up there with Slaughterhouse-Five as the best novel written about war, is now a movie.

And, who can forget Metallica using footage of the old Johnny Got His Gun in their video "One"?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Book Vases

Interesting work created by Laura Cahill.

Manifesto Mania

AIGA, the professional association for design, highlights manifestos.

From the story...

Karl Marx had one. The Unibomber had one. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he drafted the manifesto that launched the American Revolution. Graphic design would not exist as we know it today if F.T. Marinetti hadn’t published his manifestos and instigated Futurism. By inventing the idea of art as a branded public enterprise, Marinetti compelled many poets, painters and designers after him to state their principles in compact, incendiary speech.

A manifesto is a short document that “manifests” or makes public a set of ideas and goals. A manifesto is passionate, personal and vivid. Such calls to action went out of fashion during the mid-20th century, replaced by more businesslike, professionally oriented statements of purpose and principle. But at the turn of the new century, just as at the turn of the old one, manifestos came back.

Who Owns Edgar Allan Poe?

Baltimore, where he's buried? Or Philadelphia, where he wrote much of his work? The battle rages and The New York Times reports.