Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Author Ayn Rand + Charlie's Angel = Unlikely Friendship

Farrah Fawcett's death has obviously been overshadowed with the death of the King of Pop, but that doesn't mean there aren't interesting stories about the woman out there. For instance, The Daily Beast notes Farrah's brainy side, and notes a TV version of Atlas Shrugged.

Author Neil Gaiman + Singer Amanda Palmer + Bathtub = Interesting Interview

World's Fairs Revisited

This is a great idea. Visit the sites of old World's Fairs and take photographs of them. That's what Jade Doskow is doing.

Pictured above: Chicago 1893 World's Fair, "The Columbian Exposition," Site of Manufacture Liberal Arts Building, Grand Peristyle, and Agriculture Building, View 2, 2009

Comic Origins of Phrases

Did you know that the words "Heebie Jeebies" originated in a comic strip? And palooka as well? It's true! Neatorama highlights phrases we use frequently that first found the light of day in the newspaper funny pages.

Top 5 U2 Literary Moments

@U2, a site dedicated to, you guessed it, U2, lists U2 literary moments. Including...

2. Go Lightly Underground

In 1989 the novelist Salman Rushdie was the subject of a controversy over the publication of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which allegedly contained material blasphemous to Islam. After the Iranian spiritual leader of the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for his execution, Rushdie was forced into hiding under police protection for many years. On one notable occasion, at Bono's behest he defied his exiled status to appear on-stage with U2 at Wembley Stadium during the Zooropa tour.

The gesture was both important and courageous, as it demonstrated the refusal of the artistic community to bow down to religious extremism and threats to freedom of expression, despite the censorship that had inevitably been imposed upon Rushdie. The author also regarded the decision of the two to exchange glasses -- with Bono wearing Rushdie's literary spectacles whilst the latter donned his wraparound shades -- as a sign of their joint stand against fanaticism and an acknowledgement of the shared aspirations of many writers and musicians.

Rushdie later repaid the show of loyalty by writing the lyrics to 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet' (a track which appeared on the Japanese and British versions of 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind), drawn from the author's novel of the same name. He continues to be an outspoken supporter of the band.

And, just for kicks, "Zooropa":

Monday, June 29, 2009

If You Don't Like the Critical Response to Your Book...

Don't go kind of crazy.

The story on Gawker...

Alice Hoffman has a new novel out. Roberta Silman gave Hoffman's book a lukewarm review in the Boston Globe. Alice Hoffman then went insane on Twitter, even publishing Silman's phone number and encouraging her fans to call and attack her.

15 Collectible Editions of Alice in Wonderland

With excitement building over Tim Burton's take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Reading Copy takes a look at several editions of the book worth collecting.

Devour Books, Not People

Library Journal has your reading list, if you want to read books about zombies. And, really, who doesn't? No one, that's who!

Quote of the Week

The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.
- Theodore Parker (1810 - 1860)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's Poem

No poem today, except maybe this - a poetic dancin' fool! The always entertaining Michael Jackson in my favorite of his music videos - "Smooth Criminal":

For more about Michael Jackson and his books go here. And for a short sad little essay about his death by the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan go here.

Readings for Revolution

Want to learn more about Iran? The Virginia Quarterly Review has a reading list.

Collecting Ephemera

Fine Books & Collections Magazine has a fine introduction to collecting paper ephemera, including links to various ephemera-related sites, like the Library of Congress who has several thousand items.

The Afghan Women Writer's Project

I just wanted to bring your attention to this organization.

From their site...

Masha first visited the country in 2004, and was awed and inspired by the resolute courage of the women she met. When she returned, she saw doors were closing and life was again becoming more difficult, especially for women. She began to fear we could lose access to the voices of Afghan women if we didn’t act soon. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is aimed at allowing Afghan women to have a direct voice in the world, not filtered through male relatives or members of the media. Many of these Afghan women have to make extreme efforts to gain computer access in order to submit their writings, in English, to the project.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The 1,000 Year Long Story

Wired has the story of a new story that will take 1,000 years to read.

What will be happening in the year 3009? What was happening in the year 1009? Well, Lithuania was first mentioned and, of course, who can forget the reign of Suleiman of Cordoba? Quite a few of us.

The Women of McSweeney's

The Rumpus has compiled humor writing from women who have contributed to the always funny McSweeney's.

From the introduction...

“Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?” inquired Christopher Hitchens in “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” Vanity Fair, January 2007.

That’s a good question. And by that I mean, fuck you.

Since women are so hilarious all the time/everywhere (see: Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Starlee Kine, Katie Crouch, Kristen Schaal, etc.), I’d like to feature the women of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, who are reliably hysterical, clever, and concise. Below is what I consider the best of what women have written for the site since the beginning of 2008.

The Clout of Africa

Book Forum discusses Africa's recent literary boom.

From the story...

“Treat Africa as if it were one country,” quips the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina in “How to Write About Africa,” a barbed guide for Western authors who hope to address this misunderstood continent. “Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. . . . Keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.” First published in Granta in 2005, Wainaina’s satire lands its punch by gathering the tenacious clichés about Africa—the savage and noble-savage exotica still lodged in the Western imagination, the game-hunting landscapes that seem to autogenerate purple raptures, the liberal visitor’s hand-wringing about endemic graft and corruption. Wainaina trots out a parade of straw figures such as the Loyal Servant, the Ancient Wise Man, the venal Modern African, and the Starving African, “who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. . . . She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment.”

Wainaina’s essay is more than an acerbic takedown of lazy and half-informed Western perceptions. Embedded within it is a manifesto of sorts. If we turn inside out the sardonic rules and prohibitions, a vision of African literature emerges that departs from the dark-continent fantasies still entertained even by sophisticates in Europe and North America.

A Trove of Steinbeck

The New York Times recently had a piece about my favorite author.

From the story...

A few years ago, while researching a book on entrepreneurs, Joel Eisenberg, a California writer and film producer, interviewed Twyla Martin, the owner of a successful bridal gown company, at her home in West Hollywood. She was the widow of Ernest H. Martin, a producer of Broadway hits like “Guys and Dolls” and a longtime friend of John Steinbeck. In the early 1950s Martin had tried — and failed — to produce a musical comedy based on Steinbeck’s 1945 best-selling novel “Cannery Row.”

During the interview Mrs. Martin mentioned that her husband had left a box of Steinbeck papers in a hallway closet. When Mr. Eisenberg asked to see the box, he looked inside and found a hand-written draft of Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” musical (titled “The Bear Flag Café”) as well as the first draft of what that play morphed into, Steinbeck’s 1954 novel “Sweet Thursday,” an unlikely romance between a marine scientist and a working girl.

“It was amazing to have all this unpublished material in my hands, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “It was all out of order, so I offered to sort it out.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

With a Side Order of Blancmange

The always tremendous BBC News highlights how to cook a porpoise. That is to say, The Forme of Cury, compiled by master cooks to Richard II, is part of a collection of medieval texts held by the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The cookbook, compiled in about 1420, has been digitized and available for viewing. It contains hundreds of recipes.

Jodi Picoult and the Anxious Parent

The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy discussion of child peril lit and what these books say about us as parents.

From the story...

Picoult’s storytelling revels in sequential miseries — no singular unhappiness ever seems sufficient. Various nightmares fuel the plot of “Nineteen Minutes,” a post-Columbine novel and one of her most popular books. Here, a midwife and her academic husband are largely blind to the depths of their son’s isolation — until he shoots close to a dozen of his classmates — just as they were blind to the drug problems and viciousness of an older son, who seemed to function so exceptionally. And yet they appear to be such lovely parents, so well-meaning and engaged (they read The Economist).

In Picoult’s fiction we rarely encounter characterologically bad parents. Instead, we meet mothers and fathers who try and fail, baroquely, to meet the current standards of caring for children — people who affect the deepest concern, who have absorbed the therapeutic language of talk shows and women’s magazines but who are congenitally unable to implement the idiom. Parental inadequacy and elaborate misfortune repeatedly conspire in her books to produce altogether new horrors; by the end of “My Sister’s Keeper,” the family is left to confront a tragedy unprompted by the central maladies, one meant to serve as a cosmic rebuke to the mother’s stilted management. (And one so insistent in its shock value that it may inspire the reader to deposit the book under the wheels of a minivan.)

And talking about parenting, The New Yorker has a brilliant essay by Jill Lepore about Parent Magazine the fuss of parenthood.

Chronicling America

Not to be outdone by the British Library, who have placed millions of 19th century newspaper pages online for all to view, the Library of Congress has been busy themselves. Chronicling America is a site in which you can search and view newspaper pages from 1880-1922 and find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.

Pictured above: Grover Cleveland. Who doesn't love Grover Cleveland? No one, that's who!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pages of Gold

The New York Times discusses a new show at the Morgan Library - a show on medieval illuminated manuscripts.

From the story...

Most people would agree that tearing up an illuminated manuscript to sell it by the page is vandalism. But might it also liberate the art on those pages? That’s the underlying question of “Pages of Gold,” the Morgan Library & Museum’s quietly compelling show of leaves separated from manuscripts and sold to collectors of medieval art.

Pictured above: A leaf from the Winchester Bible.

Top Ten Environmental Disaster Stories

The list, and a good one that includes everyone from Cormac McCarthy to Dr. Seuss, according to Liz Jensen.

Quote of the Week

You can write anything you want to – a six-act blank verse, symbolic tragedy, or vulgar short, short story. Just so that you write it with honesty and gusto, and do not try to make somebody believe that you are smarter than you are.
– Brenda Ueland

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Poem

For Father's Day Weekend, "My Papa's Waltz," by Theodore Roethke:

For more poems about fatherhood go here.

19th Century Newspapers

Are you ever curious about what happened on June 19, 1838? Or, perhaps, November 11, 1885? Maybe you want to know what was going on on Christmas Day, 1859? The British Library is putting online 2 million pages of newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

From the story in the Guardian about the new treasure trove...

Half a century earlier the news was no ­better. On June 18 1809 the Examiner warned of the alarming advances of the Emperor Napoleon against the Austrians, while its correspondent in Bohemia reported the confident prediction of Archduke Charles: "The days of the 21st and 22nd of May will be eternally memorable in the history of the world."

The shocking spectacle of drunken working men, women and even children was a recurring concern, but there was rare good news in 1840, when a correspondent to the Leeds Mercury reported the success of Father Mathew's temperance crusade in Dublin: "We still have abundance of poor, but our streets are not filled with the haggard and bloated faces they once were."

Unspeakably Hilarious

At the University of Chicago Magazine blog they have Arika Okrent discuss her top ten favorite made-up words. She has just written a book in which she traces the history of dreamed-up languages, like Klingon.

Number 5 on the list...


INVENTED LANGUAGE: Johann Schleyer's Volapük (1879)

In Volapük, pük means "language." It comes from the English word "speak" but it's hard to tell (vol, means "world", so Volapük is "word language.") Unfortunately, it looks a lot like a different English word. And even more unfortunately, it shows up in various other words related to the concept of language: püked – "sentence" and pükön – "to speak."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Dude, PhD

Oh, to be able to go to Indiana University. Then, I'd be able to study The Big Lebowski.

Some clips for the great Coen brother movie though there's, you know, cussing, so don't watch it at work or in front of children, or nuns...

The Dog Ate My Library Book

Well, this is just a groovy idea.

From the story on SF's City Insider...

Recently, borrowers with overdue books were allowed to bring them back without paying fines - which max out at $5 per book - but they had to tell the library why they were tardy.

A group of second-graders said they were too busy rescuing marine mammals.

One woman said she just couldn't part with a beautiful early 20th century book with good-feeling paper and plate illustrations. It looked so posh on her shelf.

Bible Map

Sweet fancy Moses! Select a book and chapter and Bible Map shows you were it occurred.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Write a Bad Travel Story

World Hum tells you how.

From the story...

● Use as many clichés as possible. Are you writing about Mumbai or another city that has a large gap between the wealthy and the poor? Then you’re obligated to refer to it as a “city of contrasts.” In fact, this useful cliché could apply to all cities. And be sure to pepper your articles with: “quaint,” “charming,” “rustic,” and “cute” to describe villages. And don’t forget “unspoiled gem” and “breathtaking view.” Also, comparing one country to another—as in “Croatia is the next Italy,” “Montenegro is the next Croatia,” or “Albania is the next Montenegro”—is always a good idea.

The Seven Most Impressive Libraries In History

The News In Print weighs in.

They include...

The Great Library & Mouseion: The First Universal Library (Alexandria, Egypt)

History tells us that the first ‘universal’ library was the Great Library & Mouseion in Alexandria, Egypt. Hungry for conquest and knowledge, Alexander the Great spent the last 11 years of his life (334 to 333 B.C.) exploring the world. To broaden the enterprise, he dispatched scholars to unexplored regions to gather knowledge and map their journeys.

After Alexander’s death, the pharaoh Ptolemy I commissioned the Great Library project, appointing his adviser, Demetrius of Phaleron, to build the library and become its first director. It is said that the Great Library of Alexandria even had an intricate system of registration and classification.

It must be said that the Ptolemies had some fairly shocking methods of stocking what was, above all, a royal library. One involved searching every ship that docked at Alexandria harbour and confiscating any books found. The second method involved twisting the arm of the Athens archives, which very reluctantly agreed to lend the Great Library their books. The Ptolemies then simply kept the originals and sent back copies.

Books are particularly vulnerable and easily destroyed. Tragically the contents of the library in Alexandria were extinguished when, in 48 B.C., Julius Caesar defeated the Ptolomaic forces by setting fire to their fleet. The fire, wrote the Roman poet Plutarch, spread from the dockyards and destroyed the Great Library.

The Typist's Tale

All these years later, Frances Kroll Ring can still see it, the afternoon she filled out an application at Rusty's Employment Agency on Hollywood Boulevard and drove to Encino to meet a writer who was looking for a secretary.

So begins a story in the LA Times about F. Scott Fitzgerald's last secretary, still alive at 92.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Kind of Book Store Customer Are You?

Rocket Bomber wants to know.

Are you, for example, an IDIOT?!


Technically a subclass of Seeker, these ‘customers’ deserve their own listing:

Yeah, I get it, the cover of the book is red. Can you recall even one word in the title? Or the author’s first name? Or if it’s fiction or non-fiction? Color, while vivid in your own memory, is in fact the least helpful detail you can give us about any book. Prominent sub-type:

* Saw it in the New York Times. Granted, we have the NYT Book Review; I can walk the three feet from the info desk to the display where we stock it, I can open up the paper and read it, to find the title that you can’t remember; I can even do this right in front of you, to give the illusion that you’ve provided the information that I need to find the book you’re looking for. This exercise, repeated with different customers at least twice a week, is routine — but it doesn’t make you less of an idiot.

What's In a Name?

Literary history could have been dramatically different if some classics had been published under their working titles. Robert McCrum, for The Guardian, takes a look at some famous books, such as Baa! Baa! Black Sheep (known to you and me as Gone With the Wind).

How Does Our Language Shape the Way We Think?

This is the question Edge asks (not Edge, the guitarist of U2).

From the story...

Humans communicate with one another using a dazzling array of languages, each differing from the next in innumerable ways. Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives? Do people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages? Does learning new languages change the way you think? Do polyglots think differently when speaking different languages?

These questions touch on nearly all of the major controversies in the study of mind. They have engaged scores of philosophers, anthropologists, linguists, and psychologists, and they have important implications for politics, law, and religion. Yet despite nearly constant attention and debate, very little empirical work was done on these questions until recently. For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.

I often start my undergraduate lectures by asking students the following question: which cognitive faculty would you most hate to lose? Most of them pick the sense of sight; a few pick hearing. Once in a while, a wisecracking student might pick her sense of humor or her fashion sense. Almost never do any of them spontaneously say that the faculty they'd most hate to lose is language. Yet if you lose (or are born without) your sight or hearing, you can still have a wonderfully rich social existence. You can have friends, you can get an education, you can hold a job, you can start a family. But what would your life be like if you had never learned a language? Could you still have friends, get an education, hold a job, start a family? Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of being human, that it's hard to imagine life without it. But are languages merely tools for expressing our thoughts, or do they actually shape our thoughts?

And now, the Edge:

Monday, June 15, 2009

10 Graphic Novels Every Fan of Literature Should Read

Graphic novels are more than just comic books. Bookstove offers its list of must reads.

Jon's Writing in Venuszine

In the summer '09 issue of Venuszine I review a new album by The Horse's Ha. Here they are performing at Schubas in Chicago in March '08:

Quote of the Week

I never feel that I have comprehended an emotion, or fully lived even the smallest events, until I have reflected upon it in my journal; my pen is my truest confidant, holding in check the passions and disappointments that I dare not share even with my beloved.
- Stephanie Barron, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, 1996

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Poop on Poop

Reading Copy lists ten books about poo.

Ayn Rand Interviewed

You can watch Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Ways to Stash Your Stacks

The Washington Post offers ideas to display those books you own.

Books vs. Kindle

Mobylives discusses the new war between the Kindle and those antiquated things called books.

From the story...

In a startling and possibly revolutionary development, one of New York’s giant conglomerate publishers has finally taken a stand against Amazon.com: Simon & Schuster will announce today that it has struck a deal to sell its ebooks on Scribd.The giant publisher will make some 5,000 titles available starting today and including such authors as Stephen King, Dan Brown, Mary Higgins Clark, and former President Jimmy Carter.

And, as a Wall Street Journal report details, the S&S ebooks sold on Scribd will be available as Adobe Acrobat files that can be read but not printed out on computers and iPhones and Sony Readers — “but not on Amazon’s Kindle.”

Further, “Several thousand Simon & Schuster titles that haven’t yet been published as e-books will be available for preview on Scribd via a search-and-browsing option. Readers will be able to buy the print edition of those books from Simon & Schuster directly or from various online retailers” — in other words, the early stages of an attempt to break Amazon’s overwhelming dominance of online retail by helping to develop alternatives, including directing customers back to the publisher.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Should Creative Writing Be Taught?

The question is discussed at length in The New Yorker.

From the story...

Creative writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers. People who take creative-writing workshops get course credit and can, ultimately, receive an academic degree in the subject; but a workshop is not a course in the normal sense—a scene of instruction in which some body of knowledge is transmitted by means of a curricular script. The workshop is a process, an unscripted performance space, a regime for forcing people to do two things that are fundamentally contrary to human nature: actually write stuff (as opposed to planning to write stuff very, very soon), and then sit there while strangers tear it apart. There is one person in the room, the instructor, who has (usually) published a poem. But workshop protocol requires the instructor to shepherd the discussion, not to lead it, and in any case the instructor is either a product of the same process—a person with an academic degree in creative writing—or a successful writer who has had no training as a teacher of anything, and who is probably grimly or jovially skeptical of the premise on which the whole enterprise is based: that creative writing is something that can be taught.

This skepticism is widely shared, and one way for creative-writing programs to handle it is simply to concede the point. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop is the most renowned creative-writing program in the world. Sixteen Pulitzer Prize winners and three recent Poet Laureates are graduates of the program. But the school’s official position is that the school had nothing to do with it.

Atwood's Songs of Praise

The Bookseller has a story about the great Margaret Atwood's newest endeavor - writing hymns.

The Slow, Moronic Death of Books (As We Know Them)

The cover story in Seattle's The Stranger is by Paul Constant who went to BookExpo America where "thousands of people scavenged the bones of the publishing industry."

From the story...

The author Sherman Alexie flew to New York for the convention to promote his upcoming story collection War Dances, and he announced at a panel that when he saw a woman on his flight reading on a Kindle, he "wanted to hit her." He also referred to the Kindle as "elitist," causing the kind of flap that can only happen on the internet: Alexie was accused of "reverse elitism" on Twitter and blogs and over e-mail. In an interview with litblogger Edward Champion, Alexie responded: "I don't think I'm so crazy to worry that large corporations may not have my best interests in mind when they are offering me deals... When it comes to this, many people are taking the side of massive corporations over one writer trying to get answers."

The e-books "gold rush"—as Alexie called it in that interview—was the weekend's main topic of conversation. Sci-fi author China Miéville told me, "If I was starting now, I'd be very pro e-dissemination. I think it's one of those things where it is both inevitable and desirable." It was hard to find an author or publisher who would disagree with him. By the end of the show, Google had announced that it will begin selling e-books, in direct competition with Amazon.com, by the end of this year. This is a tremendous change for Google—traditionally it sells services, like advertising or mobile-phone operating systems. Though there's no sign that Google will be making an exclusive reader for its e-books—presumably readers will be able to read their books on whatever e-reading platform they prefer, including cell phones and laptops—this will be its first endeavor into any kind of mass-market retail, and Google doesn't do things halfheartedly.

And what will happen to printed books? On the second day, author Stephen Elliott looked out over the hundreds of booths and said to me, "There's no place for literature here."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is There a Corner for Poetry?

The Financial Times asks should we try to rehabilitate readers to poetry or should we simply find out why they think it sucks?

From the story...

I recalled some comments made to me recently at a party by an arts producer working for a national broadcaster; “I hate poetry,” said this young man and, to make matters clearer: “I don’t believe in free expression.” For all the rebarbativeness of his remarks, I felt afterwards he was being more helpful and honest than all the bland promoters of poetry, or purveyors of a product called poetry that is not the real thing.

It might be better to ask ourselves why, on the whole, we hate poetry – that is to say why we ruthlessly marginalise it and exile it to a cold place of almost total neglect – than to utter dishonest platitudes about how great it is.


James Joyce's famous tome just sold at a record price.

Want to read the whole book online? Go here.

Hasta La Vista, Books

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a plan. Get ride of textbooks in California schools. The Telegraph takes issue with that.

From the story...

In his typically robust style, Arnold Schwarzenegger has terminated the textbook. From next August, the tech-savvy children of California, where he is governor, will get reference works for maths and science online, while hand-held digital reading devices – which can store hundreds of books – beckon in the future.

In the Governator's opinion, textbooks are "outdated", putting them on a par with other things that have served us perfectly well until now, such as five-day cricket matches, The Archers or the monarchy.

But while online resources may work out cheaper, and be easier to update, than all those hefty tomes, what would school be without the chance to doodle a moustache on Monsieur du Pont or turn down the corners to mark the tricky sections? What's more, there is something psychologically reassuring about a book. It is an embodiment of knowledge that is tangible and finite; you can work your way through its chapters, and see exactly where you stand.