Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.
- Winston Churchill
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Each week, Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review, talks to authors, editors and critics about new books, the literary scene and current best sellers. The program is available as a podcast on NYTimes.com and iTunes. You can listen in here.
Friday, March 27, 2009
There's been an alarming trend of late due to the economic crisis, our history is becoming history.
From the story in Mental Floss...
My local historical society (Oregon Historical Society) has fallen on hard times lately, and recently closed its research library, temporarily permanently laying off most of its librarians (update: 15 were permanently laid off, 4 were later hired back). Oregon isn’t alone in this — as our local NPR station pointed out, historical societies in New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia have been cutting hours and staff, if not closing entirely. The Oregon Historical Society has managed to keep its public museum open, but not the research library. The society’s collection includes “2.5 million photographs as well as maps, newspapers, audio recordings and other historical items,” many of which are now inaccessible due to the library closure.
Pictured above: The Aurora Band behind the Pioneer Hotel, circa 1877, care of the Oregon Historical Society.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
In the New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter D. Kramer, Erica Jong, Andrew Solomon and Elaine Showalter offer their thoughts on why Plath's life and work continues to resonate with us on the Room for Debate Blog.
This comes after the suicide of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' son, Nicholas Hughes, recently.
Here's Sylvia Plath reading "Daddy":
And here's Ted Hughes reading from his "Crow":
Alastair Harper in The Guardian discusses those books that publishers tout as "unputdownable" and "life changing."
From the story...
This phrase is never used practically, as in: "Your life will have a new angle as you will now have a useful knowledge of agricultural practises in eastern Europe." In serious reviews, it is certainly not applied to self-help books, even though life-changing is what those sordid publications set out to be. No, I'm thinking of when it is applied to literature – high fiction in particular. The way a great book has to be life-changing in order to have its greatness justified. Watchmen can change your life, says Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance. Jane Austen changes women's lives, says Professor Lisa Jardine. On the 1999 cover of Thomas M Disch's classic Camp Concentration, there is a quote from Ursula K Le Guin that states, simply and irrefutably, "it is a work of art" – which may be true – and that "if you read it, you will be changed". There is something unsettling in the "will be". The reader has no conscious choice but to be muddled and messed around with as a direct result of reading the book.
The phrase implies some instant metamorphic shift in the essence of our character: not just a new opinion on whether something is right or wrong, but a shift in the very fundamentals of our being. The sort of change where you're forced to admit at parties: "Well, before I read Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I was just plain Steve. Afterwards I'm afraid I found myself to be Stevian, the Magician of the Night."
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Libraries might as well not exist; they’ve got endless shelves for rubbish and hardly any space for good books.’ Orton, 1967.
Orton and Halliwell first came to the public attention not as writers but through an elaborate and extended prank played out at their local library, altering book covers and adding new blurbs to dust jackets. Incensed at the poor choice of books at Essex Road, their local library, they began stealing books. These were smuggled out, dust jackets altered, new blurbs written on inside flaps and then surreptitiously returned.
They had been suspected for some time and extra staff had been drafted to catch the culprits, but with no success. They were eventually caught by the careful detective work of Sydney Porrett, a senior clerk with Islington Council.
You can see some of his guerrilla artwork, and more about the life and times of Joe Orton here.
A couple of chuckles care of McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
From the piece...
INT. THE BOYS' HOUSE—DAY
(SLATER enters the living room of the perpetually dark three-bedroom house he sublets with ZACK and SCREECH. He wears flared warm-up pants, a neon spandex tank top, and horn-rimmed glasses, and his hair is tied in a ponytail.)
SLATER: Did you do the Milton reading for our Early Modern seminar, preppy?
(ZACK sits on a futon under framed posters of T.S. Eliot, John Cheever, and Bret Easton Ellis.)
ZACK: Just because I'm writing my dissertation on the anxiety of influence of Tender Is the Night on Richard Yates's midcareer short fiction doesn't mean I'm a preppy, you medievalist.
SLATER: Yeah—and Screech isn't a dweeb for studying the intersection of science and the gothic novel during the 18th century and its relation to Pynchonesque paranoia.
(SCREECH crawls out from under a mountain of library books, simultaneously reading an academic book on leeches and a heavily dog-eared copy of Gravity's Rainbow.)
SCREECH: Hey, is someone talking about me?!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The great Beat poet turns 90 today. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with him recently about his life.
Here's a reading of his poem, "#2":
And here's that bookshop he's associated with.
Indeed, they go together. Vedder recently wrote this in hopes of saving syndicated cartoons.
As a brief aside, if you don't have the soundtrack to "Into the Wild" yet, done by Mr. Vedder, you're missing out on some great music. Here's a sample:
Monday, March 23, 2009
The buzz these days, and rightly so since it's a groovy book, is about Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, by Leanne Shapton. It's a novel about a couple as told through the stuff they have. It's actually rather brilliant - an auction catalog as graphic novel.
Those hard-boiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler are being revisited of late. The Telegraph asks whether they're escapism or art.
From the story...
When Raymond Chandler began to write for pulp magazines in the Thirties, he planned from the first to smuggle something like literature into them.
Most of these magazines hooked their readers with a mixture of sex and violence – “they have juxtaposed the steely automatic and the frilly panty and found that it pays off”, wrote S J Perelman. But Chandler wanted to do more than titillate: he had designs on his audience’s subconscious. He planned to sneak into his stories a quality which readers “would not shy off from, perhaps not even know was there … but which would somehow distil through their minds and leave an afterglow”.
When he embarked on full-length novels he was still essentially writing pulp stories with a subversive twist. His hero, Philip Marlowe, may have been as tough as any other Shamus, Dick or Peeper who appeared in Black Mask magazine, but he was also a sensitive soul, the kind of man who would knock out a thug with ease and then start musing about why the guy turned crooked and whether he had a wife and kids. And he was even known to refuse sex: “It’s great stuff, like chocolate sundaes. But there comes a time when you would rather cut your throat.”
Pulp purists may not quite have known what to make of him, but they had the intelligentsia to tell them. When Chandler died, 50 years ago this week, The New York Times noted that he had become the detective writer of choice for “highbrows”.
W H Auden wrote that his “powerful but extremely depressing books should be read and judged, not as escape literature, but as works of art”.
The Rumpus also puts a keen eye on Chandler.
From that particular story...
As a writer too, Chandler was a man out of place and out of time. His sensibilities were Edwardian and self-consciously English. As a young man in London his writing was sentimental, romantic and overdone. Much later he said that the poetry he wrote at the time was no better than ‘grade B Georgian,’ an admission that appears doubly harsh when one understands, as Chandler must have, that even ‘grade A’ Georgian poetry was considered old-fashioned and irrelevant by many critics in 1912.
This clash of epochs is part of Chandler’s appeal. In his books the tough, modern world of twentieth century Los Angeles is channeled through the much older worldview of Philip Marlowe, a detective who laments the upending of a romantic code of honour and courtly love. Chandler’s stories are full of references to Arthurian legend.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Ephemera recently interviewed Rebecca Sawyer about book arts. You can see more of her unusual art here.
Also, if you're interested in seeing book art up close and personal, and live in the Seattle area, the Bellevue Arts Museum has an exhibition going on now.
The Times Online notes those novelists in which one book was quite good enough, like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty.
Anna Sewell's mother was a children's author but Sewell began her first novel aged 51. Black Beauty took six years to write and was intended, Sewell said, to encourage humane treatment of horses. She died in 1878, five months after its publication.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Yes, says academic Dr. John Casson.
From the story in The Telegraph...
Dr John Casson claims to have unearthed Shakespeare's first published poem, the Phaeton sonnet, his first comedy, Mucedorus, and his first tragedies, Locrine and Arden of Faversham.
He also explores the plays Thomas of Woodstock and A Yorkshire Tragedy, and claims to prove that a 'lost play' called Cardenio is a genuine work by Shakespeare and fellow playwright John Fletcher.
Dr Casson spent three years studying writings thought to be connected to Shakespeare and poring over the life and letters of aristocrat Sir Henry Neville, considered by some academics to be the latest candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.
He has published his findings in a book, titled Enter Pursued by a Bear.
The wonderful Times Online notes Ten Cursed Second Novels. Joseph's Heller's next book after Catch-22, for example, was Something Happened. What happened was that it failed to do very well. Charlotte Bronte's next novel after Jane Eyre was... Shirley.
That's not to say the sophomore slump always occurs. The Times Online also recalls Ten Spectacular Second Novels. Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen's second novel. Oliver Twist was Charles Dickens's second.
This is the question the great author Stephen L. Carter poses on The Daily Beast.
From the essay...
Like a lot of writers, I am wondering when Congress and the administration will propose a bailout for the publishing industry. Carnage is everywhere. Advances slashed, editors fired, publicity at subsistence levels, entire imprints vanished into thin air. Moreover, unlike some of the industries that the government, in its wisdom, has decided to subsidize, the publishing of books is crucial to the American way of life.
Books are essential to democracy. Not literacy, although literacy is important. Not reading, although reading is wonderful. But books themselves, the actual physical volumes on the shelves of libraries and stores and homes, send a message through their very existence. In a world in which most things seem ephemeral, books imply permanence: that there exist ideas and thoughts of sufficient weight that they are worth preserving in a physical form that is expensive to produce and takes up space. And a book, once out there, cannot be recalled. The author who changes his mind cannot just take down the page.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Reading Copy blog is celebrating by listing the Top Ten Most Collectible Irish Books ever sold on Abe Books. James Joyce's Ulysses is, of course, on the list, as is The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts.
The oldest newspaper in Seattle ceases publication today and we're mourning the loss. It was founded on December 10, 1863 as the Seattle Gazette by J.R. Watson.
NBC News has the Seattle PI's obituary:
The Seattle PI's book critic, John Marshall, reflects.
That doesn't mean Seattle's OTHER paper, the Seattle Times, is fairing much better. Herald Net asks, can Seattle be a no-newspaper town?
Monday, March 16, 2009
City Journal has a story about the melding of science fiction with religion.
From said story...
There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed. Tell this story to one of the world’s 2 billion Christians, and he’ll recognize it instantly. Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of The Matrix or Superman Returns. For reasons that have as much to do with global politics as with our cultural moment, some of this generation’s most successful sci-fi and fantasy movie franchises follow an essentially Christian plotline.
A man buy a slave, who dies shortly afterwards. When he complains to the seller, he is told: "He didn't die when I owned him."
HA! Those silly silly Romans! Always cracking wise! The Guardian tells the story of unearthing an ancient Roman joke book.