Friday, July 31, 2009
There's an essay in the Times Literary Supplement about one of my favorite (and local) short story writers - Raymond Carver. It's subtitle - How an editor’s pencil created an author’s literary style – and how an author’s wife has undone it.
From the piece...
Raymond Carver wrote several drafts of each of his poems and short stories, “cutting everything down to the marrow, not just to the bone”. His stories, in particular, bear the traces of unending polish, of “putting words in and taking words out”. In the lives of most of Carver’s characters, history refers to a time when they were better or worse off, happier or unhappier, drinking more or less, than they are now. The narrative method of his early work was situated squarely in the tradition derived from Ernest Hemingway, deploying plain vocabulary, short sentences, the repetition of certain words and phrases, and above all the concealment of essential facts so as to implant a timed explosive in the reader’s imagination. Carver was Hemingway (most of whose fiction is located abroad) transposed to the blue-collar American margins, populated by men and women who seldom think about the world beyond – a land of bad marriages, cramped living rooms, truculent children, and unharnessed addictions of the old-fashioned sort.
The pleasure of reading Carver, who died in 1988 at the age of fifty, derives partly from his bizarre scenarios and from absurdist dialogue which yet retains the quality of overheard conversation; equally, it comes from pace and phrasing, even paragraphing and punctuation, which the author controls with what are practically musical skills.
One of Carver's short stories has stayed with me more than most all others. It's this one.
In Scientific American there's a story about boosting one's creativity.
From the piece...
Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?
One answer is psychological distance. According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person's perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely.
Book Patrol discusses collecting boxing books. The only boxing book I have is a paperback novelization of "Rocky III" though this post might inspire me to seek out other books on pugilism (but probably not the novelizations of "Rocky," "Rocky II," "Rocky IV," "Rocky V," or "Rocky Balboa," though I might be persuaded otherwise).
Thursday, July 30, 2009
NPR sits with Phil Greene, of the Museum of the American Cocktail, to discuss the drinks Hemingway wrote about, especially a unique version of a frozen daiquiri! Mmmm....daiquiris.
You won't be able to drink those daiquiris, however, before or after a musical highlighting the last days of Hemingway (those ones in which he was so depressed he took a shotgun to his head). The show didn't do very well.
In the recent Fiction Issue of The Atlantic, the great Tim O'Brien writes an essayabout storytelling.
From the piece...
This little anecdote is offered as both a prelude to, and an illustration of, my topic here: the centrality of imagination in enduring fiction. In general, the topic is born out of writing workshops, in which I’ve noticed, almost always to my alarm, that classroom discussion seems to revolve almost exclusively around issues of verisimilitude. Declarations such as these abound: I didn’t believe in that character. I need to know more about that character’s background. I can’t see that character’s face. I don’t understand why that character would behave so insipidly (or violently, or whatever).
These are legitimate questions. But for me, as a reader, the more dangerous problem with unsuccessful stories is usually much less complex: I am bored. And I would remain bored even if the story were packed with pages of detail aimed at establishing verisimilitude. I would believe in the story, perhaps, but I would still hate it. To provide background and physical description and all the rest is of course vital to fiction, but vital only insofar as such detail is in the service of a richly imagined story, rather than in the service of good botany or good philosophy or good geography.
Let’s say, for example, that a story is set in Nigeria. No matter how much detail is offered to help me see and smell and hear Nigeria, if the story itself does not surprise and delight and enchant me in some way, all of that detail is mere information, which better belongs in a travelogue or an encyclopedia entry. I might be wholly convinced of the setting, yet wholly sedated by the story. Or, said a different way: the research might be a resounding success but the drama a dismal failure.
The failure, almost always, is one of imagination.
Within Yale's library holdings is this book within their cabinet of curiosities. Published in 1785 it taught children and uneducated adults passages from the Bible through the use of iconic graphics.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
That's the question Media Bistro is asking. The short answer - "The Kindle Killer."
Amazon.com gets discussed further, and at length, in Fast Company - "Amazon Taps Its Inner Apple."
From the story...
Recently, Bezos claimed that Kindle e-books add 35% to a physical book's sales on Amazon whenever Kindle editions are available. Put another way, for every three print copies of, say, Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers the site sells, it also sells one Kindle e-book -- or about 25% of total sales. Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that Amazon sold a half-million Kindles last year and projects its total e-book revenue, which includes sales of books and devices, to reach $1.2 billion by 2010. The company reports that 275,000 titles are available in the Kindle format, including nearly all 112 books on The New York Times best-seller list. Amazon, for its part, makes no pretense of its plans. On its Kindle page, it states, "Our vision is to have every book ever printed, in any language, all available in under 60 seconds."
In Bezos's mind, the Kindle is the logical evolution of a 500-year-old analog technology, and this frightens those in the $24 billion book-publishing industry already skittish about Amazon's growing clout. In his Cambrian example, they fear they may be playing the part of a trilobite, one of the first creatures with eyes but which, like most other species from this period, faced mass extinction when it couldn't adapt to its changing environment.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
On the Beinecke Library blog, they discuss Russian satirical magazines.
From the story...
When the first Russian Revolution broke out in 1905, writers and artists leapt at the chance to fill the void opened by the sudden collapse of censorship. No less than 309 new satirical magazines started publication during the brief window of 1905/1906, though most survived only for a few issues before being shut down and (in many cases) their editors being put in prison. The lavish use of color illustration make these underground papers a startling document of the intellectual ferment, but also the artistic sophistication of a milieu that suddenly had the opportunity to express itself boldly and in the public domain.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The Guardian sheds light on the photography of André Kertész, particularly his shots of people reading.
From the story...
Whereas books are traditionally thought of as an indoor pursuit, most of Kertész's subjects are caught reading outdoors. The venues aren't just parks and beaches. There's a whole sequence of images taken in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 70s, showing people reading high above the street, on tenement rooftops, penthouse balconies, metal stair-ladders and window ledges. Enrapt as they are, the readers seem indifferent to the chimneys, ventilation pipes and washing lines that surround them: away from the crowds, each has found a space to be alone. The setting is tough and urban. Yet there's a spiritual quality, too – reading as a stairway to heaven.
Off the Shelf, the book blog of the Boston Globe, highlights another aspect of that fateful trip to the moon - tourists taking snapshots.
Oh, and if you ever wanted to actually have a piece of the moon, and you have several thousand dollars laying around, you might want to buy this book.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
In the ever illuminating Guardian, Antony Beevor focuses on that blurry line between fact and fiction.
From the story...
A new novel, The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger, raises again the debate over faction. Pullinger's book is beautifully told and moving. It is based on Katherine Frank's acclaimed biography of Lucie Duff Gordon, my great-great grandmother. But to dramatise her tale, recounted in the novel by Lucie's maid, Sally Naldrett, Pullinger ends by turning Lucie into a vindictive monster. This is very different to the impression one gets from either Frank's biography or any other account of Lucie's life in Luxor during the 1860s, where she wrote her most famous book, Letters from Egypt.
One cannot possibly accuse Pullinger of dishonesty. She acknowledges in an author's note at the end that she has "played fast and loose with the facts" and takes responsibility for all the "other untruths, fabrications and mistakes in this novel".
But why cannot novelists use the far more legitimate technique of a roman-à-clef if they wish to rewrite events or characters for dramatic effect?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
On Flickr, there's an interesting assorted of Dead Poets Society graves, that is to say, photos of graves of dead poets, taken by the Dead Poets Society of America. Enjoy.
Pictured above: Anne Bradstreet's grave in Massachusetts.
From The New York Times...
Chances are you haven’t read Margery McIntyre Flood’s young adult oeuvre, which includes “You Can’t Do Anything Right,” “Mom’s Coffee Smells Like Gin” and “You Would if You Loved Me,” otherwise known as “the birth-control one.” Somehow you missed Jean Fung’s “Protracted” (“about hooking up and engineering at a prestigious university, written by the former sex columnist for The California Tech”) and Pamela McLaughlin’s “Strip Tease” (one of her popular Trang Martinez mysteries), Cubby Greenwich’s “One O’Clock Jump” and John Clitherow’s “Mr. Bluebird.”
Though all these titles appeared this year, you won’t find them at the bookshop or at the Kindle store, because they belong to what might be called the invisible library. This library contains books that exist only between the covers of other books — as descriptions, occasionally as brief excerpts, often simply as titles.
Friday, July 24, 2009
What are the Top Ten books about mental illness? Reading Copy sorts it out.
From the introduction...
We all go a little mad sometimes. May as well write about it. Some authors take a humorous approach in their autobiographies or memoirs, even ones that deal with serious subjects.
Whether bittersweet memoirs, lighthearted anecdotes, serious case-studies or fictional stories, here are 10 books about mental breakdowns, psychiatrists, mental hospitals, asylums and the different yet equally fascinating experiences with them.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Is it blasphemous to alter Shakespeare's words to cater to modern audiences? This is the question The New Republic asks.
From the piece...
There are indeed archaisms in Shakespeare's lexicon (we no longer say "mine own part"), but most of the difficulty we face in comprehending his dialogue has less to do with the passage of time than with the fact that these plays are not exercises in conversational English but dense, complex, and profoundly non-naturalistic dramatic poems.
Imagery, allusion, metaphor, and ambiguity are the poet's stock-in-trade, so it shouldn't surprise us to find that Shakespeare often seems to say more than one thing at a time. Our challenge today is not that we don't receive meaning from his words, but that we receive several meanings, some of them intentionally contradictory.
Ambiguity is at the very root of Shakespeare's poetic power--and one of the reasons for his enduring appeal is that you can't absorb all he has to offer at a single sitting.
Pictured above: Optimus Prime as Hamlet.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The New Republic discusses a new book which discusses the United States Constitution as a work of art.
From the story...
In the past century, we have had dozens upon dozens of studies of the origins of the Constitution. Historians, jurists, and legal scholars have all tried to explain the sources and the character of the document. Slauter's book is the first full-scale effort by a literary scholar to bring the special tools of his discipline to bear on the Constitution and its cultural origins. The result is a smart, strange, and frustrating book. It is a curious mixture of insight and artifice, of careful readings and runaway metaphors, of persuasive arguments and imaginative exaggerations. The historian's conception of causality is often bent out of shape, and the connections between events become ambiguous and elusive. Still, Slauter's prose is almost always clear and straightforward, avoiding all of the usual jargon that has plagued much literary writing over the past several decades. Slauter has divided his book into two parts: "The State as a Work of Art" and "The Culture of Natural Rights. " Each of these parts has three chapters, only loosely related to one another. Consequently, the book is really a collection of six essays on various aspects of the cultural origins of American constitutionalism.
Slauter begins by emphasizing a point of which the American Revolutionaries were well aware--that governments and constitutions were the products of a society's manners, customs, and genius, and at the same time the producers of those cultural inclinations and distinctions. There was a mutual influence, a feedback and an interplay, between government and society, and it was the recognition of these relations that made an eighteenth-century theorist such as Montesquieu so subtle and significant. No doubt the nature of the government had to be adapted to the customs and the habits of the people, but the government itself could shape and reform the character of the people. "It is in the rich terrain of the period's shifting desire to see politics as an effect of culture and culture as an effect of politics," observes Slauter, "that it makes sense to consider, as I do in this book, the state as a work of art and the cultural origins of the Constitution of the United States."
Monday, July 20, 2009
Architecture and photography - two things I love. Julius Shulman combined them. A celebrated photographer of modernist architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, Pierre Koenig, etc) has died.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Neko Case is getting some buzz lately. She's from around these parts (Tacoma) and making waves on the charts. The Kansas City Star recently chatted with her about how she writes her songs.
Here's a track from her new album:
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I'll be taking a couple of days off to play with my kid so the posts might be a bit lean for the next little bit. To while away the hours until I post again, take a look at the bpi1700 site. It's an archive of British Printed Images to 1700.
Pictured above: A New yeares guift for shrews, a sheet engraved c.1630 and signed by the relatively unknown Thomas Cecill.
Since winning the Booker prize in 1997, Arundhati Roy has put fiction on hold to become a global dissenter against repression, economic 'progress' - and dams. Tim Adams discovers the roots of her political passion in a story in The Guardian.
From said story...
Arundhati Roy has two voices. The first, dramatically personal and playful, was the one in which she wrote her extraordinary debut novel, The God of Small Things, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in rural Kerala. The second voice is flatter and angrier, more urban and distrustful of the quirks of the individual. She describes it as "writing from the heart of the crowd". It is this voice that she has used exclusively in the 12 years since her novel was published, in four collections of non-fiction - the latest of which, Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy, was published last week.
Roy, now 47, describes the difference between the two voices as the difference between "dancing and walking". It is a long while since Roy's writing has danced. She says she pedestrianised her imagination not out of choice, not at all, but because there seemed nothing else to do. "If I could," she says, "I would love to spend all my time writing fiction. With the non-fiction I wrote one book that I wanted to write and three more that I didn't."