Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

My posts may be few and far between over the Thanksgiving Break. In the meantime, read some Thanksgiving poetry, be thankful for friends and family, give love, and, yeah, eat a pie or two:

Jon's Writing in Distinctly Northwest Magazine

Need a holiday gift for a golfer in your family? I wrote up some suggestions recently for Distinctly Northwest Magazine. Of course, as evidenced in the pictures, I'm terrible at golf (and wear ridiculous shirts to boot).

The Read Green Initiative

Do you want to read your favorite magazines for free? You can, thanks to the Read Green Initiative. Magazines are teaming up, giving free subscriptions (that can be read digitally). Not only does it save you money (there's all sorts of magazines to choose from, from Popular Science to Saveur to US News and World Report to Penthouse), it saves trees. Give it a try!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Top Five Movies About Writer's Block

The list, according to Den of Geek.


Seattle Opera’s “Der Rosenkavalier”
”Fuck. It’s not even in English. It’s in German. Totally sucks.”

Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
“Fuck. It’s not even in English. Well, it is, but how in the hell am I supposed to understand it? F!”

Seattle Theatre Group’s “The Vagina Monologues” at the Moore Theatre
”What a drag. I expected to see some – vaginas – but nope, just chicks boo-hooing and laughing about girl stuff. At intermission, with all the women there, I started hitting on some of the beauties. No go – all lesbians. Fuck.”

Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre Company’s “Rent”
”The similarities between Jonathan Larsen’s “Rent” and Puccini’s “La Boheme” are striking. The characters live for art, there is a defiance of mainstream culture, and both pieces show their faith in the age old Bohemian ideals, i.e. living life on their own terms; doing what they want from day to day living for their art whatever that may be.”

Seattle Children’s Theatre’s “Goodnight Moon”
”Fucking sucked.”

ACT Theatre’s “Twelve Angry Men”
”Make it thirteen. I’m pissed I had to sit through hours of grueling boredom in a jury room with a bunch of jackasses. And, playwright, uh, where’s the chicks?”

Taproot Theatre’s “Waiting for Godot”
”Am I missing something? Oh yeah, the last three freakin’ hours of my life.”

Seattle Symphony’s “Mahler’s 9th Symphony”

Literary Rock Band Names

Quite a lot of bands take their names from literature, so says Bookride. Even Color Me Badd? Indeed. It's, perhaps, taken from an unpublished Sylvia Plath poem. Go figure.

Flock of Seagulls named themselves after the novel by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Here's their delightful video, "I Ran":

Best Esquire Magazine Stories - Ever

Esquire showcases, in full, the seven best stories published in their history.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jon's Concert Review in Venuszine

Me and my buddy went to see The Rosebuds at the Tractor Tavern a few days ago. You can read my review of the show here.

The Rosebuds website is here and here they are performing "Get Up Get Out":

Bad Sex Award Nominees Announced

The Guardian gives readers a peek at the Literary Review's nominees for the year's worst erotic writing.

From the story...

Historian Simon Montefiore is also a strong competitor, singled out for his first foray into fiction, the Soviet saga Sashenka, in which a formerly prudish Communist woman enjoys an encounter with a bohemian writer. "He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. 'The blue veins are divine,' he whispered." And later: "He's a madman, she thought as he made love to her again. Oh my God, after twenty years of being the most rational Bolshevik woman in Moscow, this goblin has driven me crazy!"

Quote of the Week

Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.
- Annie Dillard

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday's Poem

Robert Burns' "A Red, Red Rose," sung by Andy M. Stewart with Gerry Butler as Robert Burns:

Zombies vs Unicorns

Who wins? There's a debate brewing in literary circles (very small literary circles).

From the story...

A small feud has been brewing between young adult writers who are lovers of zombie fiction and those who prefer unicorns. Zombie fans argue that unicorns are a boring relic of high fantasy, while unicorn advocates claim that the whole zombie concept has been done to death. To determine which creature makes for better fiction, two writers on opposite sides of the debate are editing Zombies vs. Unicorns, an anthology that pits horned beasts against the shuffling undead.

Sara Newton's Fontastic Quiz

Think you know your fonts? Find out here.

The Grapes of Wrath - Lewd, Foul, and Obscene

American Heritage Magazine discusses why Americans banned an American classic (and one of my favorite books written by one of my favorite authors - John Steinbeck).

Pictured above: Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California, taken by one of my favorite photographers - Dorothea Lange).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rethinking Night Ranger's "Sister Christian"

Anyone who grew up in the 80s remembers the classic Night Ranger song, "Sister Christian":

And anyone who likes adventure set on the high seas remembers the classic true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty:

And anyone who knows me knows that I like to mash up 80s rock music with thoughtful history lessons (duh!). That said, I wrote some new lyrics...

by Night Ranger

Fletcher Christian, oh the time has come
And you know that you're the only one to mutiny, OK,
Where you goin' Bligh, Tahiti’s what you looking for
You know us Bounty boys don't want to sail no more with you
It's true

You're mutinin’
What's your price for fight
In finding breadfruit right
You'll be on Pitcairn tonight

Bligh, you know your captainship is goin’ down fast
And the midshipmen's worrying that you won't last to say, sail away
Fletcher Christian, there's so much in life
Don't give up the mutinous activities before your time is due
It's true, it's true, yeah

You're mutinin’
What's your price for fight
In finding breadfruit right
You’ll be on Pitcairn tonight

{Refrain thrice}

Fletcher Christian, oh the time has come
And you know that you're the only one to mutiny, OK
But you're mutinin’
Yeah, mutinin’

Next week! Warrant's "Cherry Pie" meets the Russo-Japanese War!

What Novels Can Teach Us About Poverty

The Utne Reader highlights the fact that reading novels is just a good at teaching people about the global condition, especially in the realm of poverty, than non-fiction can.

From the story...

“Fiction is important because it often concerned with the basic subject matter of development,” Michael Woolcock, a professor with Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute, told “This includes things like the promises and perils of encounters between different peoples; the tragic mix of courage, desperation, humor, and deprivation characterizing the lives of the down-trodden.”

As a brief aside, a great photo essay on the Great Depression can be found here.

Old Board Games

A beautiful collection of antiquarian board games, care of BibliOdyssey.

Pictured above: Nuovo et Piacevole Gioco detto il Barone (The baron's new and pleasant game). Anonymous woodcut printed board game from the second half of the 16th century.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life Magazine Archive

Incredible. Thanks to Google, you can now see countless images from LIFE Magazine's photo archive, most never published and available for the first time.

The image above: Allied soldier silhoutted by glare of an exploding German phosphorus bomb during World War I, taken in France, August 1917.

The Plan

When I come across a piece by Jack Handey (a writer who makes me chuckle), I can't not post it.

Sidewalk Stanzas

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about St. Paul, Minnesota who want to dress up their sidewalks a bit. How are they doing it? Via poetry.

A Brief History of Drug Using Writers

Care of The Guardian.

Pictured above: Samuel Coleridge, Opium Addict

Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan" after waking from an opium-induced stupor...

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Newspapers: Great for Writing Ridiculous Stories

Here's what I do if I want to write some humorous bit - I read the newspaper. Sure, there's stories about the financial crisis, about arson, about city council meetings, but there's also stories about a drunk driver smashing his El Camino into the front door of the local Loaf 'N Jug. Silly stories can be gleaned from that just due to the fact that it was a Loaf 'N Jug. That alone is worthy of much literature. Perhaps there can be an anthology of Loaf 'N Jug related writings, whether it be a short story, a sonnet, perhaps a choka? Oh, it's possible.

So, you take a serious or not so serious headline, play with the words and you can come up with most anything. For instance, there's a big stink in the state of Washington about standardized testing. There's a raging debate over the validity of the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), an exam for kids to take on reading, mathematics, science, and writing.

On its own? Not a very interesting story that'll make someone chuckle. Then again, it COULD be entertaining (I hope so, anyway), if you just changed the name of the test...

First there was the WASL. That test, as well as most all standardized testing, continues to spark controversy in Washington’s public schools, hurting students where it hurts most – graduation. Take, for instance, Bellevue High School senior Randy Vance. He’s received good grades throughout his high school career. He’s never received anything below a B. He’s active in student government and plays fullback for the perennial powerhouse Bellevue Wolverine football team. Teachers think he’s a whiz and student peers call him a friend. He, however, will not graduate if he fails once again the test that he must pass to graduate – the Wassailing Test.

Vance has already passed the WASL. The Washington Assessment for Student Learning (WASL) is a standardized based assessment adopted by the state of Washington as part of the Outcome Based Education movement. The assessments include multiple-choice, short answer, essay, and problem solving tasks. Though controversial, the WASL was a snap, according to Vance. “I did the WASL my sophomore year,” he says at his home in the Bridle Trails neighborhood, “and I did well on all four sections. The WASL was easy. It’s the wassailing I’m having trouble with.”

The Wassailing Test, adopted by schools in the early 1990s to combat the youth of America the much beloved tradition of Christmas caroling, was developed by the Singing Guild for Learning, based in Hartford, Connecticut. 37 states currently have laws, including Washington who signed it into law in 2004, that says students must past the Wassailing Test if they want to graduate.

”The test is rather straightforward,” says wassailing advocate Lance Grumbell, who is president of Wassailing Washington, a grassroots organization based in Olympia who helped shuttle the test into law. “First, a multiple-choice section highlighting wassailing history.” The practice of wassailing, singing door-to-door for refreshments, has roots in the middle ages as a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lords and their peasants as a form of recipient initiated charitable giving, to be distinguished from begging.

”Secondly, a testing of Christmas carol lyrics,” Grumbell continues. “The test lists songs such as ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’ and the student must write the lyrics.” Figgy pudding plays a large role in this section of the test. “Thirdly, everyone must make figgy pudding and bring it to class for a taste test.” The best figgy puddings pass. “The ones,” Grumbell says, “that aren’t figgy enough fail.”

”I’ve made so much figgy pudding,” Vance says, “my eyes are brown.” His eyes were brown before the testing began. He was born with brown eyes.

”Finally, testers must go through a traditional wassail ceremony.” The traditional ceremony has undeniable connections to paganism, pre-Christianity. The purpose at that time was to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in autumn.” At Bellevue High School faculty play the evil spirits and staff play the cider apple trees. Why not real spirits and real cider apple trees? “They’re hard to find,” Grumbell admits.

The controversy is raging. Vance’s parents question the need for such a test. “My boy wants to be an architect. He’s already been accepted to Stanford. He has to wassail to get there?! Make figgy pudding?! It’s a travesty.” WA-Failing, a collective of former teachers and legislative lobbyists agree. “No one wassails anymore. The test is antiquated. You don’t see kids rolling hoops down hills with sticks or playing crack-the-whip do you? You don’t see kids droving, do you? They used to help their families drove their stock. Should we have a drovers test?!” The United States Drovers Council is considering legislative action to standardize droving tests in public schools.

There is also the question of church so ingratiated with the public school system. “Muslim students need to wassail?” Asks WA-Failing spokesperson Clement Moore. “What about Buddhists who don’t believe in its Christian and/or pagan roots? How about those that practice Shinto? How can anyone forget Shinto?”

When asked about the separation of the religious-based wassailing ceremony and public schools, Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson dismisses complaints. “Tough,” she said. “Deal with it. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, under God, and we have all the Ten Commandments posted most everywhere. So, wassail, kid, or shut your trap.”

What is the Future of Science Fiction?

New Scientist asks six prominent sci-fi writers, including Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Baxter, what the future of science fiction is.

From the introduction to the story...

Science fiction is all about the future, but what does the future hold for science fiction?

These days, science can be stranger than science fiction, and mainstream literature is increasingly futuristic and speculative. So are the genre's days numbered? We asked six leading writers for their thoughts on the future of science fiction, including Margaret Atwood, William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Paging Through History's Beautiful Science

NPR has a story on a new exhibit at the History of Science and Technology at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It focuses on science and beauty and the scientific texts that are not only important for its scientific inquiry but to the beauty of the books themselves and the illustrations within them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Want to Get Happy?

Then start reading.

Hiroshima: The Lost Photographs

From the story...

One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor’s house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.

He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges — snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.

The Design Observer showcases them.

50 Best Gay Books

The list, according to AfterElton.

Quote of the Week

Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.
- Henry David Thoreau

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday's Poem

Lowell Blues remembers the place Jack Kerouac could not forget. By fusing visual history, language and jazz into a film poem, Lowell Blues illuminates Kerouac's childhood home...

Today's Short Story - Angst Riddled Rheingold

In an effort to spice up my blog a bit with personal writings, observations, etc., a short story I worked up the other day after reading a reference book on words the English language has usurped from other languages (FYI: Usurped taken from Middle English usurpen, from Old French usurper, from Latin ūsūrpāre, to take into use, usurp; see reup- in Indo-European roots)...


A former wunderkind, now a Latin professor at his old alma mater, Klaus Rheingold was primus inter pares at the university, his weltan schauung an apologia pro vita sua that touched the sprachgefuhls of his peers. Many who opposed his teaching methods thought him kitschy and felt a genuine weltschmerz at his lofty position and credentials inter alia.

With a mens san in corpora sano he wasn’t leaving any time soon and the spiels of the other faculty at the kafeeklatch were primarily about their verboten desires to go flagrante delicto against Rheingold. Rheingold was persona non grata at the school and his downfall, discussed sub rosa, were not obiter dictums but more along the lines of schaden freud among the other members. They wondered if his house frau felt the same as they did. They had echt laughter over that.

A leitmotiv throughout the school year was one of Gotterdammerung, wanting Rheingold to en nune et simper die or get a disease or in fra dignitatem into drugs or something so the university would have to let him go. But Rheingold had an annus mirabilis, the students loved him. They would always love him as they loved their country, amor patriae. And ipso facto the staff was stuck with him though they thought Rheingold and the students who loved him non compos mentis.

It was a schmaltzy faculty function in the hinterland when the faculty that opposed Rheingold’s teachings had a plan. They’d be gemuttich to Rheingold, perhaps even produce a festschrift though it would be all ersatz because once they had him close they’d have, and have always had in their opinion, casus belli and de profundus of their rotting souls, they, ex more, planted cocaine and pornography in his classroom desk for the head of the department to see and see she did making an ex cathedra saying, de facto, Rheingold was no longer fit to teach for the corpus delicti was plentiful.

Angst riddled Rheingold as he collected his things. The gestalt wasn’t quite right to him though he couldn’t pinpoint why. But with wanderlust in his heart he knew he’d find work again somewhere. The staffers who set him up, ex post facto, thought cui bono and couldn’t come up with any sort of a posteriori.

A Peek at a 15th Century Scroll of the Koran

The LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy, shows some of it off.

From the post...

It's an incredible work of art, and it must have been tremendously difficult to execute. How much planning would it take to get the entire Koran spaced out just right so that it spelled out the initial prayer and invocation?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jon's Writing in Stage Directions Magazine

There's a brand new art center in New Albany, Ohio, called the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center. I wrote about it for a recent issue of Stage Directions Magazine.

Bond Bible Study

Well, here's something a bit odd. A Methodist minister has a new book where bible study meets Bond...James Bond. That's right, the book, Seven Deadlier Sins & 007's Moral Compass, brings together James Bond (and, I hope, that Jaws guy. You know, the big huge guy with the creepy teeth) and scripture.

From the author's website...

I've discovered a great deal of literary evidence that Ian Fleming intentionally wove major spiritual themes into his novels. My new book is a key unlocking secrets Fleming hid in plain sight—but that Bible study groups, until now, would not have dared to discuss.


My journey in Bond-age has stretched over thirty years. It began as a fluke while I was on vacation ... But, wait! Why not click on the "Samples from the Book" link (at left) and enjoy a little taste of what I have written.

Unlocking the secrets in the Bond tales has been personally revealing and rewarding in my own life. As you look at the Bond tales through the lens I have focused on them—you, too, will be humbled by revelations.

Once you have grasped my perspective, I suspect you will never see another Bond movie or read a Bond adventure in the same way. I welcome you to this exploration of yourself and your community through the remarkably enlightening tales of Ian Fleming.

As you embark on this adventure with us, I wish for you honesty, grace, forgiveness, and a fertile imagination for the journey.

Know Literature, Know the World

There's an interesting story in The Guardian about how reading literature can explain and communicate the world's problems better than non-fiction can.

From the piece...

Anybody who worries that they're not learning anything useful from novels can stop the hand-wringing and keep reading: a new report provides a possible salve for the guilty reader's social conscience. A team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics claim that stories and their writers can do just as much as academics and policy researchers, perhaps even more, to explain and communicate the world's problems. Fiction, they boldly venture, can be just as useful as fact.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hobo Matters

All things hobo, thanks to the wiz that is John Hodgman:

If you haven't read his odd writings you owe it to yourself to do so.

He's also interviewed by the New Yorker here.

18th Century Dead People Were Our 1st Celebrities

So states Robin Lloyd in a piece on Live Science. The story discusses how obituary reading gave rise to our modern celebrity fixation.

From the piece...

The modern obsession with celebrity started in 18th-century Britain with obituaries of unusual people published in what served as the gossip sheets of the era, an English literature scholar says.

Some researchers think the phenomenon of celebrity was born with the 19th-century Romantic movement in art, music and literature (think of works by Chopin (his grave is pictured above), J.M.W. Turner and Edgar Allen Poe). Instead, Elizabeth Barry of the University of Warwick in England claims the modern public fascination with celebrities can be traced back to the rise of newspapers and magazines and the popularity of the obituaries in the 18th century.

"Different kinds of deaths came to be commemorated and you didn't have to be something like a military hero or be a political player or be some sort of high person in society to get public commemoration on your death," Barry told LiveScience. "I was interested in looking at that process."

Obituaries were one of the most-read sections of newspapers and magazines of the 1700s. They were intended to provide an account of the life of someone who had recently died as a way of illustrating how the life you led would be rewarded or punished in death.

New York Times Headlines Are Zen Koans

Slate has a bit about how The New York Times headline writers are getting all Buddhist in the way they write headlines.

From the story, by Jessica Winter...

A question for New York Times headline writers: Are you not yourselves? You're no doubt a witty bunch, and yet house style requires you to resist any temptation toward flavorsome puns or tabloidy provocation in favor of the blandly informative. Your mission is to distill a piece to its essence in a few words without sacrificing nuance, and usually, you are more than up to the task. Once in a while, though, you respond to the challenge not with straight-up-the-middle declaratives but with enigmatic paradox and riddle-me-this contradiction.

Consider: "Bigger Is Better, Except When It's Not"—a 2007 article looking at body size in sports. "Smaller Can Be Better (Except When It's Not)"—a tech piece from 2004. "A Marriage Penalty, Except When It Isn't"—on couples and the tax code, 2003. This is the Times headline as koan, inviting readers to suspend in-the-box thinking and seek enlightenment below the fold. The style presents thesis and antithesis; it embraces binary thinking yet disavows it; it builds dichotomies and collapses them. There are good uses of this technique, except when there aren't.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Personal Bits on This Blog

There's been some backlash of late when I stopped another blog I kept up that had some silly observations by me, some silly bacon recipes, and some silly short stories, many of them involving dimwits doing something dimwitted.

It was random, the blog, odd. "There's nothing like that on your writing blog! It's all about writing and books and stuff!" True. True.

To appease the masses I will do my best to interject more personal bits and humorous gobbets on this blog as it relates to, well, books and writing. It'll be profound or perfectly preposterous depending on my mood. Maybe I'll post a short story I wrote. Maybe I'll write about how Sesame Street shaped my writing (thank you, Super Grover). Maybe I'll discuss the thoughtful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay or the songwriting of one Steve Perry (thank you, Journey).

Maybe I'll relay to you a novel I've been noodling in my head or perhaps I'll write haiku about squash.

I'm not saying I'll do this every day but I'll do it when it strikes me. Like on Tuesdays. Yes, Tuesdays (and maybe other days, too) I'll do my best to post more personal tidbits (because Tuesdays are days for personal reflection, much like bathroom mirrors).

I hope this will alleviate some of the frustrations of those people (I think about four of you) who miss my other blog and want more whimsy from me on this blog. I can deliver whimsy. Oh yes I can:

Kay Ryan Interviewed on Charlie Rose

The great poet Kay Ryan made an appearance on Charlie Rose recently:

One of her poems...


Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

Holding History in Your Hands

Ephemera has an interesting post about collecting old newspapers.

With Obama's Presidential victory, everyone's been collecting newspapers this week, holding onto them for posterity. Of course, they won't be worth much a couple generations down the road due to the fact that, well, everyone's been collecting them this week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Toni Morrison: A Mother, A Stranger, a 'Mercy'

Hear the marvelous Toni Morrison read, thanks to NPR, from her new novel, A Mercy.

From the introduction...

The stories in A Mercy are as layered and contested as the barely mapped topology traversed by its characters. Set in the 1680s, when this country's reliance on slavery as an economic engine was just beginning, A Mercy explores the repercussions of an enslaved mother's desperate act: She offers her small daughter to a stranger in payment for her master's debt.

Four women are central to this narrative: a traumatized Native-American servant known as Lina; Florens, the coltish enslaved girl at the story's center; an enigmatic wild child named Sorrow; and Rebekka, their European mistress — kind, politically contrarian and reeling from the loss of one infant after another in her isolated homestead.

The book shifts dramatically in tone as it recounts the stories of these women and of the men who both stabilize and disrupt their worlds — mostly through love. Those men include Jacob Vaark, the farmer and reluctant slaveholder, and a formidable free black man known simply as "the blacksmith." Their ability to move through the world intoxicates these women, whose own travels — mostly under duress — have been vile and dangerous.

Readers familiar with Morrison's work will recognize its quietly chilling evocations of the supernatural and depictions of powerful relationships among women.

There is also an interview on video between Morrison and NPR's Lynn Neary.

101 Best Screenplays Ever

The list, according to the Writers Guild of America.

Quote of the Week

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.
- Eugène Delacroix

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2008

The list, according to The New York Times.

Pictured above: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Why Big Books Still Matter

New York Magazine lets readers know that big fat novels are still pretty great.

From the story...

"Today is the day of the sound bite," former Harper Collins CEO Jane Friedman told us last spring, plugging her post-advance imprint HarperStudio and singing the praises of short, cheaply acquired books. Big books — the kinds her underlings still pay millions for — were slow-moving dinosaurs in a world of shorter, faster blog and Kindle-me quickies. But the novel of the year may very well be a brontosaurus: Roberto Bolaño's 2666, a difficult, 893-page translated masterpiece (see Sam Anderson's review). In other words, big might still be big.

If 2666 actually sells (and publisher FSG hopes to God it does), it may answer some serious questions about the future of The Big Book. Why do lots of publishers continue to drop big cash on near-thousand-page books in the era of blog posts, Web porn, and text-message lit? Are America's ADD-addled consumers even capable of immersing themselves in these narratives anymore?

We say yes, and not just because, attention-challenged as we are, we've always used such doorstops (maturing from Stephen King's The Stand — unabridged — to Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day) to test our mettle, like weekend joggers taking on a marathon. We doubt we're alone.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Measure of Democracy

What's left to say after this seemingly endless campaign? The Op-Ed editors of the New York Times asked five poets to answer that question. Their responses are here.

Now That the Race is Over...

A new race has begun. Deliver election books to readers as fast as possible. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

Brain-Damaged Girl Given Power of Speech

A great story coming out of England.

From the story...

A severely handicapped little girl who cannot walk or talk has used a machine to tell her mother for the first time: 'I love you.'

Six-year-old Elke Wisbey, who was born brain-damaged, has been able to communicate with her family by using a high-tech gadget which tracks her eye movements.

The £17,000 MyTobii Smartbox machine from Sweden detects which icons Elke is looking at by using tiny lasers.

When her eyes settle on an icon on the screen of the Smartbox, a pre-programmed voice speaks the word or phrase for her.