Sunday, May 31, 2009

Harlequin's Masterpieces

Ah, the Harlequin Romance novel. Those sensuous book covers! Ooh la la! They are getting some play in New York with a new art exhibit. The Globe and Mail has the story on a new exhibit at the Openhouse Gallery in New York City, The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009.

Food Bloggers of 1940

There's a new essay in The New York Times about how, during the Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project ate its way across America and then wrote all about it.

From the piece...

Writers fanned out across the republic to document — via field reports, essays, stories, poems, recipes and interviews — what academics have taken to calling “foodways.” Among the topics covered were New York soda-luncheonette slang, Georgia possum cookery, Minnesota lutefisk, geoduck clams in Washington State, Montana’s fried beaver tail, Colorado food superstitions (“You will receive mail from the direction in which your pie is pointing, when it is set down at your place at the table”), a Choctaw “funeral cry” feast and “a Los Angeles sandwich called a taco.”

Quote of the Week

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Worst Casting Decision of All-Time?

That may be a bit overly dramatic, but many are asking that question given the news that they are to make a movie of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This actor will play the lead.

Top 20 Timeless Tales of Adventure

Add excitement to your summer with these 20 books that AbeBooks considers the finest in adventure writing. There are many strong contenders including works by Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Anthony Hope, who wrote in 1894 The Prisoner of Zenda.

Science Fiction's Vital Contribution to the Life of English

There's an interesting essay in The Guardian about how the science fiction genre has contributed to the health of the English language.

From the story...

Perhaps you won't be surprised to learn that "robot" is a relatively recent SF coinage. But if you're like me, you might be interested to discover it comes from the Czech word "robota", meaning forced labour. It was first used in a 1920 Czech play called RUR, Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek and first came into English in Paul Selver's 1923 translation. It then appeared in the Times in the same year in the wonderful sentence: "If Almighty God had populated the world with Robots, legislation of this sort might have been reasonable."

A random trawl through the book uncovers hundreds of other such treasures. "Mutant", in the sense of genetic freak, first appeared in a 1938 edition of Astounding SF. "Alternate history" has a first citation from a 1954 Magazine of Fantasy and SF. "Fanzine" was first used by SF fans – the first citation the lovely "We hereby protest against the un-euphonious word 'fanag' and announce our intention to plug fanzine as the best short form of 'fan magazine'" from something called Detours in 1940. "Anti-gravity" appeared in 1896 in a story about Mars in the Massillon Independent; "tractor" (as in beam) in a 1931 story by EE Smith called Spacehounds of IPC. "Cyberspace" appeared in William Gibson's Burning Chrome in 1982. "Newspeak", of course, appeared in 1984, in 1949.

It's perhaps natural that a genre that deals so specifically with science and technology should have come up with so many new terms. Science, after all, is the single biggest contemporary fattener of dictionaries. But these words also bespeak active imaginations and that curious form of literary finesse that enables writers to label an object, and readers to understand that label, even though both label and object have never before been encountered.

How to Bind a Book

The Guardian learns, chapter and verse, about the art of binding books.

From the story...

You could write a book about how to bind a book, and over the last 500 or so years quite a few people have. It is a process of 36 stages, each requiring a distinct skill. And as the battered board hanging on the wall of Shepherds' Sangorski & Sutcliffe bookbindery in Victoria, London, proclaims: "No machine has yet been invented which is able to do any of these operations as well as can be done by hand."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Great Great Depression Photographs

I love Depression-era photographs. That's why I'm happy to see that the Library of Congress has released its vast archive of about 170,000 negatives and 107,000 prints of life in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

Pictured above: Chicago, Illinois. In the waiting room of the Union Station.
Photographer: Jack Delano.

Vendela and Dave Write a Movie

The great Dave Eggers has written a movie with Vendela Vida. Entitled "Away We Go," it's about the adventures of Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), a young couple who set out in search of a place to raise their soon-to-be born child. Film in Focus has an interview with the both of them and you can see the movie's trailer below.

Medieval Women's Magazine

The Star shares a story about an interesting recent find.

From the piece...

The year: 1457. Somewhere in England a woman sits by the hearth, reading snippets of medical recipes, romances and a tale by Chaucer. She leisurely flips through the 73 folios, enjoying the prose.

The anthology, dedicated to female readers, is known today as Biblioteca Nazionale. Written in Middle English, it predates by centuries many modern women's magazines such as Chatelaine, Cosmopolitan and Redbook. But just like modern women's magazines, it offers advice aplenty – everything from ways to ease childbirth to how to lure a rabbit out of its warren.

Put the Book Back on the Shelf

The AV Club lists book-to-film adaptations that the author hated, including "Interview with the Vampire"...

Putting Anne Rice on this list is a bit of a cheat, since after actually seeing the film based on her book, she praised it immoderately. At the same time, her vilification of the producers and directors before she saw the movie was so public and memorable that the list wouldn’t seem complete without her. Where authors are usually fairly circumspect about adaptations-in-progress—perhaps because contracts require them to be—Rice was at the time a celebrity in her own right, used to having her own way, and she threw a public temper tantrum, telling the L.A. Times, “I was particularly stunned by the casting of Cruise, who is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.” For months, Rice campaigned against Cruise in the media, urging her followers to get him booted from the film, and bitching “The Tom Cruise casting is just so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work. I do think Tom Cruise is a fine actor, [but] you have to know what you can do and what you can’t do.” Once she saw the film, however, she embraced it (and Cruise) so thoroughly that conspiracy-minded fans lit up the Internet, accusing her of having been paid off in some way, or at least realizing she had everything to gain financially from helping make the movie a hit. She seemed sincere enough, though; in a public statement published by Variety, she gushed over the movie, criticizing it on just one ground: “There is one problem created by the compelling charm of Tom’s performance, obviously. Since he isn’t all that nasty, why does Louis hate Lestat? How can he?”

More book-to-movie adaptations are forthcoming, including "The Hobbit" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Den of Geek highlights ten that'll be on a silver screen soon.

And, not to be outdone, The Millions showcases some book-to-movie adaptations as well, including a few titles that were better movies than books.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is It Okay to Run an Illegal Library from My Locker?

Yes, young literate one. Yes.

Jane Austen's Suitor

Dr. Samuel Blackall is a rapscallion of the highest order! He broke Jane Austen's heart. So says a new biography. The Daily Telegraph has the story.

Today, in Weird Toilet Paper Novel News

A Japanese publisher has printed a horror novel about an evil spirit that inhabits a toilet bowl on a roll of toilet paper.

From the story...

The latest effort at toilet-time entertainment is printed in blue and is interspersed by splatters that are reminiscent of blood.

The Secret Life of Superman

The caped crusaders of the 1940s were as clean-cut as they come – they got the bad guys, saved the girl and never had sex. OR DID THEY?!?!?! The Times Online goes beneath the sheets, and capes, to find out. Learn about Superman and his fetishes today!

How Book Design Affects Readability

There's a short interesting article on the How Publishing Really Works blog about typography within a book.

From the piece...

A book’s design (I’m talking interior page design here, not covers) has one major purpose and that is to make the words on the page end up in the reader’s mind as effortlessly and as seamlessly as possible. Doesn’t matter if the book is a novel, a textbook, a dictionary, or even a car repair manual, the principle is the same. If the reader is motivated to absorb the information but finds himself unable to do so, the design is not doing its job.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

13 Books That Will Change the Way You Look at Robots

The list, via io9.

From said list...

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge

Like Neuromancer, this novel is largely about humans but contains an AI character who winds up being one of the most intriguing in the novel. Rabbit is an AI who seems to have either built himself or come to life emergence-style out of existing programs. In Vinge's world, humans wear augmented reality glasses and wearable computers that allow them to exist in a virtual landscape, an overlay of data on the real world. So Rabbit can seem to move around in the real world, even though he's actually a disembodied AI with many of the characteristics of Neuromancer. He doesn't reanimate dead humans, but he does have mysterious purposes of his own that humans can't understand - and he saves many human lives in a riddly, trickster-like fashion. By the end of the novel, which is one of the best you'll read about the internet of the near future, the character you most want to know more about is the mysterious, powerful Rabbit.

Kate Moss - Novelist

'Tis true.

Watch-Paper Prints

A rather nice collection on one of my favorite bookish sites, BibliOdyssey.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Long Goodbye

Publishing is in peril. Are books now an antiquated notion? The Nation takes a look at the failing book publishing.

From the piece...

Humanity has read, hoarded, discarded and demanded books for centuries; for centuries books have been intimately woven into our sense of ourselves, into the means by which we find out who we are and who we want to be. They have never been mere physical objects--paper pages of a certain size and weight printed with text and sometimes images, bound together on the left--never just cherished or reviled reminders of school-day torments, or mementos treasured as expressions of bourgeois achievement, or icons of aristocratic culture. They have been all these things and more. They have been instruments of enlightenment.

Once the invention of movable type and various commercial advances in the early modern era enabled printers to sell books to anyone who could and would pay for them (no longer reserving them for priests and kings), they became irresistibly popular: their relatively sturdy bindings gave them some permanence; the small-format ones were portable and could be read anywhere; and they transmitted sensory pleasures to eye, hand and brain. Children learned to read with them; adolescents used them, sometimes furtively, to discover the secrets of grown-up life; adults loved them for the pleasure, learning and joy they conveyed. Books have had a kind of spooky power, embedded as they are in the very structures of learning, commerce and culture by which we have absorbed, stored and transmitted information, opinion, art and wisdom. No wonder, then, that the book business, although a very small part of the American economy, has attracted disproportionate attention.

But does it still merit this attention? Do books still have their power?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas...

The board game.

Quote of the Week

Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand.
- Ezra Pound

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's Poem

I'll be moving this weekend so posts will be few and far between the next couple of days. In the meantime, in honor of Memorial Day, Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead":

"For the Union Dead"
by Robert Lowell

"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the bless├Ęd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Klingon for Beginners

Interested in reading some Klingon literature this long sunny weekend? Me either. You'll be amazed, however, at how much is out there. Reading Copy boldly goes to the Klingon Lit section of the library. And, remember, Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam.

Collecting Shakespeare

The Private Library has an extensive discussion about collecting Shakespeare books.

Part I.

Part II.

Part III.

Part IV.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Steinbeck, His Kin, and the Supreme Court

John Steinbeck's son, Thomas Steinbeck (a writer of fiction in his own right), has been rejected by the Supreme Court over an appeal on the rights of John Steinbeck's famed work. The LA Times has the story, as does Media Bistro.

Brief sidebar: One of my favorite literary possessions is a postcard I received from John Steinbeck's widow, Elaine Steinbeck, before she passed. I had written her simply stating how John Steinbeck was my favorite writer and how his words helped mold me into the writer I am today. She said, paraphrasing, "He was great. I just had a stroke. I'm going to Europe!"

The Sucky Strunk and White Book Sucks

That's pretty much the thoughts of Geoffrey Pullum in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Titled "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" he writes, in part...

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.


After Strunk's death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less.

Not So Elementary, My Dear Watson

There was a symposium recently. It was titled, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Sesquicentennial Assessment." Much was discussed, like how Sherlock Holmes has become so iconic. The Harvard Gazette has the story.

And, talking about Sherlock Holmes, here's a story I wrote about a new series of children's books that is coming soon.

And, don't forget the new Sherlock Holmes movie coming soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Agatha Christie, The World's Thickest Book, and an Iranian Murderer

Here it is. Also included in the Mental Floss post, bits about Agatha Christie!

And, recently in the news, Iranian police have arrested the country's first female serial killer. The way she killed her victims? By being inspired by Agatha Christie.

Book Collecting on a Budget

We're all a little hard up for money these days, what with the economy the way it is. That doesn't mean we should stop collect books. Poppycock! On a restricted budget, you can go far. AbeBooks highlights 50 Collectible Books Under $50.

The Dettmer Book Autopsies

Webphemera showcases the artwork of Brian Dettmer.

From "Once Upon a Time" to "Happily Ever After"

Fairy tale scholars are taking a keen look at the history of the genre. The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story.

From the piece...

Long long ago, villagers and nursemaids spun stories, handing them down from generation to generation. Then collectors like the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault came along, jotted them down, and transformed them into literature.

That's one old story line about fairy tales. To hear Ruth B. Bottigheimer tell it, that story is itself a fairy tale.

"It has been said so often that the folk invented and disseminated fairy tales that this assumption has become an unquestioned proposition," Bottigheimer writes in the introduction to her most recent book, Fairy Tales: A New History (State University of New York Press, 2009). "It may therefore surprise readers that folk invention and transmission of fairy tales has no basis in verifiable fact. Literary analysis undermines it, literary history rejects it, social history repudiates it, and publishing history ... contradicts it."

Her claim is the latest chapter in — some say it should be the epilogue to — a clash almost as old as fairy tales themselves. For many scholars, the debate over where fairy tales came from is a battle that belongs to the late 19th century, when national folklore societies sprang up in the United States and Britain and established the importance of oral traditions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two Movies

There are two movies coming up, based on literary works, I hope they don't botch.

First up! Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes," starring Robert Downey, Jr.:

Second up! Cormac McCarthy's stunning novel, The Road, hits the screen soon:

Top Ten Audio Recordings

Listverse has your list, including the only recording of a true castrato, the voice of Florence Nightingale, and the first recorded Pope (Leo XIII, pictured above).

Jack Kerouac's Secret Obsession

Fantasy baseball.

From the piece in The New York Times...

Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

He collected their stats, analyzed their performances and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes.

Fortune Tellers and Pharmacists

Are fiction writers and poets separate beasts? Brian Phillips, for The Poetry Foundation seeks answers.

From the piece...

“The difference between poets and novelists is this,” writes the poet Randolph Henry Ash to the poet Christabel LaMotte in A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession, “that the former write for the life of the language—and the latter write for the betterment of the world.” In Byatt’s novel this has the glint of irony: a fictional poet contemplating his independence from the medium in which, unbeknown to himself, he exists. But it also contains the germ of a modern stereotype. The idea that poets and novelists possess separate and incompatible temperaments, like fortune-tellers and pharmacists, that poets are preoccupied with language (“for the life of the language”) while novelists are engrossed by society (“for the betterment of the world”), is a commonplace—perhaps also a consequence—of the paced battlements of the contemporary literary world.

In this account, poets and novelists are not merely working at different kinds of writing. Their minds also work differently. Poets are introspective, miniature, and self-fascinating (“I am the personal,” Wallace Stevens declares in “Bantams in Pine-Woods”). Novelists are expansive, systematic, prone to looking through other people’s mail. Novelists are hardy gossips, bred to realism. Poets are post-Romantic waifs of imagination. Poets’ thoughts move cyclically, in rich depths of metaphor, while novelists’ thoughts accumulate in a straight line. The two are unsuited to each other’s work, because—as a commenter writes on the literary blog “Ward Six”—poets “don’t think in terms of story, they think in rhythmic images and symbols, just as novelists, when they try to write poetry, are plodding and linear.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Photos by Blind Photographers

A gallery can be found in Time Magazine.

Touring Literary Paris

Let Media Bistro be your guide.


Here's a site dedicated to German illustration and design before 1980 with a particular interest in children's books.

Quote of the Week

Few sensible authors are happy discussing the creative process -- it is, after all, black magic, and may lose its power if we look that particular gift horse too closely in the mouth.
- Edward Albee

Friday, May 15, 2009

Have a Bacontastic Weekend

I'd be remiss if, before the weekend, I didn't highlight this post on the Daily Beast about everyone's favorite taste sensation, bacon, and a new book that highlights bacon in all its glory and wonder.

Friday's Poem

Rumi's "Only Breath":

Buildings & Grounds

There's a photographic collection of library staircases in the Chronicle of Higher Education. That's all it is - pictures of staircases in libraries and other buildings of higher learning, but it's pretty cool.

Pictured above: The staircase at the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 2 at Arizona State University.

Top Ten Subterranean Books

From Jules Verne to a book about the history of the London tube, The Guardian has a list of the best underground books.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This Sounds Awful

The Catcher in the Rye - The Sequel. I repeat, The Catcher in the Rye, the sequel. There's more to the story here.

Life After Newspapers

What will our lives be like without newspapers? Slate ruminates on that question.

From the piece...

So when I consider the dead and dying newspapers of our time, and the post-newspaper world everybody is predicting, I can't help but think of the 114-day New York newspaper strike of 1962-63.

The strike (over wages and work rules), and the ensuing publishers' lockout, eliminated the circulation of 5.7 million daily and 7.2 million Sunday newspaper copies. That's a staggering number, considering that the greater New York circulation of the three major dailies still publishing—the New York Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post—stands at about 1.6 million.

No conversation about newspapers' dismal present is complete without some anguished mention of how democracy will go off the rails unless the press is there to set it straight. (See last week's Senate hearings, chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for an example.) But even though the 1962-63 strike upended New York, neither the dozen newspaper accounts I've read about the strike nor the histories or memoirs from the era that I've pulled down from my shelf make it sound as though democracy and governance disappeared when the New York dailies' lights went out.

Instead, journalists and publishers improvised, and readers, parched for news, features, entertainment, and advertising, experimented with finding new sources. Giving up the daily newspaper habit proved easy for many New Yorkers, Gay Talese writes in his book The Kingdom and the Power: They "watched more television, or read more news magazines more thoroughly, or books, or discovered that New York seemed a more normal and placid place without the daily barrage of blazing headlines from Hearst, the rumored gangland shooting in the News, the threatening international strife in the Times."

The Art of Words

The Web Urbanist highlights 15 creative typographical artworks.

Pictured above: Alberto Seveso's artwork.

10 Most Disturbing Books of All Time

The Reading Copy blog has the creepy list.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Masterpiece that Killed George Orwell

It was 1984. The Guardian has a great piece about its creation.

From the introduction to the story...

In 1946 Observer editor David Astor lent George Orwell a remote Scottish farmhouse in which to write his new book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It became one of the most significant novels of the 20th century. Here, Robert McCrum tells the compelling story of Orwell's torturous stay on the island where the author, close to death and beset by creative demons, was engaged in a feverish race to finish the book.

Pictured above: A cover treatment by Shepard Fairey.

Fiction Reaches a New Level

What is a growing force in literature? Computer games.

From Tim Martin's story in The Telegraph...

T S Eliot wrote of Dante that “there seems really nothing to do but point to him and be silent”. How very wrong T S Eliot was. In perhaps the most bizarre literary cameo since Geoffrey Chaucer was shown singing along to Queen tunes in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, Florence’s most famous son will soon be crashing into your living room as the growling, cross-wielding hero of his very own video game. Yes, in 2010, as the frankly mad-looking trailer for Dante’s Inferno has it, you too will be able to “Go to Hell”.

Anyone expecting a faithful interactive representation of the Commedia’s sorrow and pity will be somewhat taken aback. Made by the developers of last year’s outer-space zombie shooter Dead Space, the game recasts Dante as a muscle-bound anti-hero, carving his way through the Nine Circles with a scythe and a cross to liberate his girlfriend from Lucifer.

Bad Form - The Em-Dash

Standpoint Online has an essay about the sudden glut of em-dashes in writing, rather than the delightful semicolon. Some people are getting pissed off about it.

From the story...

Bryony Gordon, in the Sunday Telegraph: "Other, more sane [sic] women would see this as a reason to get lost - I just view it as a challenge." John Conroy, on the Daily Telegraph's letters page, whose editing is ordinarily impeccable: "Browsing for a book is not the same as going into a clothes shop - it is often a highly personal experience."

Incorrect? No. But examples of a punctuation mark that is raging through contemporary prose as rapaciously as clostridium difficile is contaminating our hospitals: the em-dash. The em-dash is eating semicolons for breakfast. Not that we should disparage the em-dash - I use it myself, albeit, like many of my peers, often to excess - for this serene horizontal line exhibits a pleasing flexibility. It may substitute for the beleaguered semicolon, and link the constituent parts of one complete thought. A brace of em-dashes can insert interstitial comment without implying the sotto voce of parentheses (which always have about them the suggestion of gratuitous and undisciplined digression; they seem to signal that you won't miss anything if you skip over what's inside). A single em-dash can set a phrase or clause apart, just like a comma - but with a more emphatic pause.

Yet the abundance of em-dashes scoring - modern - writing - like - Morse - Code should surely be curtailed, if only to relieve the monotony. Since you can bung them in any old place, em-dashes are the resort of the lazy. The citations in my first paragraph might both more artfully deploy the sadly unfashionable semicolon.