Monday, August 31, 2009
I must say - it's pretty damn depressing when the nation's most literate city has to close its libraries for a week because of budget cuts. This is that week. What's even a little more depressing, you can't even do anything on their website until they return. What a sad state of affairs we're in.
This is the question recently posed by The Wall Street Journal.
From the story by Lev Grossman...
A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.
It's not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it's something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.
Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place—the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists.
Book Patrol has a nice collection of labels to peruse.
From the piece...
Those stamp-sized bookseller labels often found on the rear paste down end paper of old and rare books are often as artistically interesting as the books' dust jackets; high karat precious gems of graphic design in small settings.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Senator Edward Kennedy reads his favorite poems.
As a brief aside, the prolific Joyce Carol Oates has written an essay for The Guardian about Ted Kennedy.
From the piece...
'There are no second acts in American lives'– this dour pronouncement of F Scott Fitzgerald has been many times refuted, and at no time more appropriately than in reference to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, whose death was announced yesterday. Indeed, it might be argued that Senator Kennedy's career as one of the most influential of 20th-century Democratic politicians, an iconic figure as powerful, and as morally enigmatic, as President Bill Clinton, whom in many ways Kennedy resembled, was a consequence of his notorious behaviour at Chappaquiddick bridge in July 1969.
Yet, ironically, following this nadir in his life/ career, Ted Kennedy seemed to have genuinely refashioned himself as a serious, idealistic, tirelessly energetic liberal Democrat in the mold of 1960s/1970s American liberalism, arguably the greatest Democratic senator of the 20th century. His tireless advocacy of civil rights, rights for disabled Americans, health care, voting reform, his courageous vote against the Iraq war (when numerous Democrats including Hillary Clinton voted for it) suggest that there are not only "second acts" in American lives, but that the Renaissance concept of the "fortunate fall" may be relevant here: one "falls" as Adam and Eve "fell"; one sins and repents and is forgiven, provided that one remakes one's life.
I was a guest blogger recently on Executed Today. Executed Today is a fascinating, though slightly morbid site, which highlights someone in history executed on the particular day you're looking at the site. My post was about Caesarion. He was assassinated. He was the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.
Quazen.com profiles my favorite photographer, Dorothea Lange.
From the piece...
At a time when women had had the vote for less than twenty years, Dorothea Lange was a pioneer. A professional woman who took photographs for a living. The Great Depression of the 1930s is best remembered, photographically, by the work of the FSA, for which she worked. She travelled the USA recording the deprivations caused by the failure of the economy as well as taking many uplifting images that showed that, despite the hard times, life and love went on.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
There's an interesting new bost on Room 26's Cabinet of Curiosities. They are pen and ink drawings from the Amistad prisoners.
Here is the original theatrical movie trailer to Stephen Spielberg's drama:
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, made big money at a recent auction. In fact, it set a world record.
From the piece in Antiques and the Arts Online...
The star of Goldstone's collection was a 1925 first edition, first issue copy of The Great Gatsby in excellent condition. Without a doubt, the most outstanding feature of the book is its remarkably good dust-jacket. Considered by experts as quite possibly "the most expensive piece of Twentieth Century printed paper in book collecting," the dust jacket is an exceptionally rare find, which clearly contributed to the book far surpassing its estimate of $80/120,000 and ultimately fetching $180,000 — a world record price for any Gatsby.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The LA Times looks at the convergence of bookstores with record stores.
From the piece...
The New York City bookstore McNally Jackson sometimes has a small selection of music displayed near the cash register, including the debut album from I'm Not Jim, the 2008 collaboration of novelist Jonathan Lethem with the Silos’ Walter Salas-Humara. "We've only ever carried a handful of CDs ... and yes, it was because of the literary connection," says McNally Jackson buyer John Turner.
Travel across the country to Seattle’s Easy Street Records and you’ll find that display’s opposite: a small but dedicated books section, filled with not just expected music-related titles ("The Pitchfork 500," Continuum’s 33 1/3 series) but also graphic novels and selections from McSweeney’s. The decision to carry specific books is based on "cultural relevance, if it connects with either modern or significant historic threads in music/culture/arts/politics," according to owner Matt Vaughan and printed matter buyer Jefferson Petrey. Easy Street has carried books since 2002. "Music and music-culture books," they say, are its biggest sellers. "A close second [are] the underground culture books like the Vice Guides, Suicide Girls and Graffiti (Banksy's 'Wall and Piece' is our third best-selling book two years in a row, for example) with literature/politics books like...McSweeney's and Adbusters coming in around third."
The Portland, Ore.-based magazine and publisher Yeti steps firmly across borders of multiple forms of culture. A given issue of Yeti magazine might include a Luc Sante essay, a Kevin Sampsell short story, a Carson Ellis illustration alongside coverage of a long-forgotten gospel musician, a contemporary indie-pop band, or an experimental noise artist.Yeti’s recently launched publishing arm covers similar territory, with a collection of essays from Sante, "Kill All Your Darlings"; "Russian Lover and Other Stories" by Jana Martin; and "The Art of Touring," edited by former musicians Sara Jaffe and Mia Clarke. All of this leads to Yeti’s presence in both book and record stores: The publisher navigates both worlds. “A few record stores have accounts with a book wholesaler, but most don't," explained Yeti managing editor Steve Connell via e-mail. "And not many bookstores have accounts with the record distributors we use." He went on to detail the multiple distributors with which Yeti works: "The mix varies a lot from item to item. Yeti magazine sells overwhelmingly through the record distros, plus Last Gasp and Ubiquity, plus mail order. The literary books sell overwhelmingly through book distro channels. The music books sell mostly through the record distros, though we do get some sales through the book trade as well."
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Richard Williams, the author of a heartfelt study of Miles Davis's classic album Kind of Blue, which turns 50 this year, tells Claire Armitstead about the impact the record had on him, and on the history of music.
The talented and humorous Jonathan Tropper has written an original essay for the blog at Powell's Books about his writing.
From the piece...
When I'm out on book tour, at every reading, someone will invariably ask me about my process. The question is asked by writers and non-writers alike. What's your typical day like? Do you write better in the morning or at night? Do you work from home or an office? Do you start with a character or a premise?
I try my best to answer these questions in as coherent and helpful a manner as possible, but the truth is, I'm simply not the writer to ask. I do wake up early, but that's because I have young children, not because I'm rising with the sun to write. I can't work in my house because I'm devoid of any semblance of discipline and I'll end up changing light bulbs or watching television or playing the piano or cleaning out my desk. I don't have a typical day, because of said lack of discipline. Without structure, I'm worthless, so I try to treat it like a regular job, get to my desk by nine and put in a full day. But the muse won't always cooperate and she will never be coerced. Sometimes she'd rather take a nap, or see a mid-afternoon movie.the muse won't always cooperate and she will never be coerced. Sometimes she'd rather take a nap, or see a mid-afternoon movie.
But, in retrospectively considering the creative trajectory of my last few novels, I've discerned a repeating pattern embedded in the chaos, the same heartwrenchingly serpentine path to completion. And in that pattern can be found the unintentional blueprint of my "process."
That's a hard to list to compile, to be sure. I think, however, that This Recording did a fine job with people you'd think of on your own (Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller [pictured above]) and those you might not have (Robert Heinlein, Isak Dinesen, Stanley Elkin). Let the debates begin!
Monday, August 24, 2009
eric forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books, a blog I recently discovered, discusses the ever important topic of how to eat while reading.
From the piece, written by Sharon Bakar...
Certain foods lend themselves to being consumed by fervent readers. Sandwiches are the most obvious, of course. They were deliberately designed for one-handed eating by the Earl of Sandwich when he did not wish to forsake his card games at mealtimes. However, I must confess that I find lamentable the present-day trend for doorstop-sized sandwiches with foliage and mayonnaise spilling out in all directions, by those with scant regard for British tradition. The genuine British sandwich is a dried-up slice of cheddar cheese or Spam slapped between two slices of stale white bread, its lack of taste more than outweighed by its inherent convenience because surely, if you have to eat it with a fork and knife, it defeats the object of ordering a sandwich in the first place?
Noodles are a good choice for readers, provided that you are adept at using chopsticks and don’t baulk at the thought of a few grease spots on your shirt when the noodles splash back into the sauce. Here’s a hint: avoid wearing white if you are planning a prolonged reading session over noodles, or choose the drier noodle dishes: you really can’t do much harm with a plate of Singapore fried bee hoon. With sufficient practice you should be able to consume an entire plate of noodles without taking your eyes of the page even once. Spaghetti may be consumed in a similar fashion: Marco Polo did steal the idea of pasta from the Chinese, after all.
Malay food and Indian banana leaf curries are other possibilities.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I had the good fortune to work with Vintage Seattle recently. We collaborated a bit on a post in which they provided me with an image and I wrote a brief essay about said image. The first (I hope of many) images we chose was of West Seattle's Luna Park. It was an amusement park that's long since been torn down. I hope you enjoy the piece.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
It's heating up.
From an intriguing story in the LA Times...
Later, in the 1870s and 1880s, after jackets had become commonplace, publishers would use the design printed on the hardcover for the jacket as well. In time, the most alluring of them were considered "posters in miniature," with artists like Toulouse-Lautrec commissioned to create original illustrations. Then, when publishers started using the backs of jackets to list other books for sale, the simple protector doubled as a marketing tool.
Few anticipated the value these simple book-wraps would someday hold. In 1924, literary critic Ralph Straus was a minority voice in defense of dust jackets, which most collectors trashed so as not to sully their collections. "One day they may be of considerable value," he said. "You smile! But . . . I am convinced that the jacket . . . will be required at future book sales."
What Straus did not anticipate was the extent to which a dust jacket can increase a book's worth and thus how irresistible the urge to print fraudulent copies has become.
There's always these great stories about manuscripts just suddenly being found on accident. Such is the case with a recent Agatha Christie discovery.
From the piece in the Daily Mail...
They had lain undiscovered for decades, gathering dust in a battered cardboard box.
There were shopping lists and jottings, hastily scribbled notes, and page after page of virtually indecipherable handwriting in blue-lined notebooks.
Had this been a clear-out of some anonymous old woman's attic, the musty papers would surely have been sent to the dump.
But these particular papers belonged to Dame Agatha Christie. And somewhere in the 70 years of ideas and inspiration that they chronicled lay a priceless literary jewel.
For when the notebooks were analysed, the draft of an unknown and unpublished Hercule Poirot story emerged.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Mental Floss gives a quick run down of famous characters based on real people.
People like Michael Llewelyn Davies (pictured above)...
Michael Llewelyn Davies was one of a band of brothers author J.M. Barrie became friendly with before writing Peter Pan – if you’ve seen Finding Neverland, you already know that. Davies was the fourth of five sons born to Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and although Barrie used them all as inspiration, especially for the Lost Boys, it’s Michael who is thought to have been The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up himself. Michael was an infant when Barrie was writing about Peter as an infant, and was almost five when Barrie wrote Peter Pan. When both Llewelyn Davies parents died, Barrie became the legal guardian of the boys, who called him “Uncle Jim.” Sadly, Michael died in a somewhat suspicious drowning when he was just 21 years old (it’s speculated that he and his male lover may have had some sort of a suicide pact).
Yale Library's Room 26 - Cabinet of Curiosities, has an interesting post. It highlights an amateur newspaper, done in manuscript, by an Englishman in 1882. He later became Consul General for Samoa.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
From the story in the Financial Times...
In his apartment overlooking the fishing docks of Portland, Maine, Mike Parker was putting the final touches to a font, thinning a few obstinate serifs and thickening some delicate stems. The typeface he was working on was instantly recognisable, even to those with no interest in letterform. It looked just like Times New Roman. Yet on Parker’s sample sheet it was marked by a different name. “I call it Starling, after the man who originally drew it,” he said.
The release of Starling in June presented not just a new font, but a challenge to the accepted history of one of the most widely used typefaces in the world. And after a lifetime spent in typography, Parker was well aware of the controversy he was getting involved in: typography may present a genteel exterior, but it’s an art form punctuated by bitter rivalries and rampant plagiarism.
With Banned Book Week fast approaching, The New York Times discusses how libraries deal with controversial books.
From the story...
Libraries often have policies that allow patrons to complain about content they find objectionable. New York City libraries have received almost two dozen written objections since 2005. But the book about Tintin (pronounced Tantan in his native Brussels) was the only challenged item to have been removed from the shelves, library officials said.
The objection was reviewed by a panel, in keeping with the library’s policy. It determined the book no longer belonged on the open stacks, but rather should be tucked away in the Hunt Collection, which are kept in a vault-like room accessible only to staff members.
“This is a special collection of historic children’s literature that is available for viewing by appointment only,” the library said in a letter explaining its decision.
The decision to get rid of a book, or restrict access to it, goes to the very heart of a public library. “Policies should not unjustly exclude materials and resources even if they are offensive to the librarian or the user,’’ says the Web site of the American Library Association, which adds, “Toleration is meaningless without tolerance for what some may consider detestable.”
So the Brooklyn library, like most others, routinely offers access on its shelves to hot-button works like Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” or Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Capricorn,” which has a naked couple on its cover.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
You might want to go to the Ransom Center at the University of Texas - Austin.
From the press release to their new exhibit focusing on Poe...
Poe's poems, including "The Raven" and "The Bells," are among the most memorable in the language, and his stories, among them "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death," continue to frighten and amaze.
"Visitors will be struck by the range of material in the show, especially the number of manuscripts in Poe's meticulous hand," said Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center. "Poe himself was fascinated by documents, letters, codes and the idea of discovery. In putting together this show, I think we've all felt a thrill as we've come across unexpected treasures, such as Poe's copy of 'Aesop's Fables' and frantic love letters."
Exhibition highlights include Poe's writing desk, letters by and about the author, records of his student days at the University of Virginia, a brooch containing his hair, manuscripts of landmark works such as "The Raven" and the original art for Arthur Rackham's illustrated edition of "Tales of Mystery & Imagination." The exhibition will also contain an interactive digital facsimile of the scroll manuscript of the "Domain of Arnheim."
"The most commonly seen element appearing on fantasy books published last year was, it seems, the sword," Holman observes. "Closely followed by glowy magic, castles, and dragons. I suspect a few covers contained all these elements. Meanwhile, fans of unicorns, maps, and stilettos had a disappointing year, and perhaps were lost to other genres." This, from Media Bistro.
Pictured above: "Sword Maiden," by Matt Dixon
Monday, August 17, 2009
In the most recent edition of the New Yorker, a work by Dave Eggers. And not just any work, mind you! It's "Max at Sea," taken from his forthcoming novel, The Wild Things. And this just isn't any novel, mind you! It's based on Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are.
Which reminds me that this is forthcoming...
Steve Martin is one of my heroes so I am more than a little excited about seeing him play banjo at Benaroya Hall in November. He talks to the Toronto Star about his recent foray into bluegrass music.
And, for your edification - dueling banjos...with Muppets!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The answer is yes, according to Tom Matlack writing for The Huffington Post.
From the story...
Let me tell you a little story. A year ago my VC partner and I (collectively we have been involved in starting Television Food Network, a 15 million subscriber weekly magazine, and 30 other media-related companies) decided we wanted to publish an anthology of first person stories by men about manhood. We collected a Pulitzer Prize winning author (Charlie LeDuff), an NFL Hall of Famer (Andre Tippett), a New York Times war photographer (Michael Kamber), a Sing Sing inmate gone straight (Julio Medina), a fantasy baseball legend (Mark St. Amant), a poet Laureate (Robert Pinsky) along with normal guys (black, white, straight, gay, rich, poor, married and divorced) with stories to tell about being fathers, sons, husbands and providers at this turning point in man-history.
We hired the best agent in the business, wrote a detailed book proposal, and went shopping for a publisher. Fifty (that's 5-0, including a who's who list of the literary world) turned us down. They told us guys don't read, would never read any kind of anthology, and most certainly wouldn't read an anthology about men. Apparently we are all mindless fools. The publishers also said they were focused exclusively on the "sure-thing" celebrity books in the wake of deteriorating economics. Just about that time we noticed a well-received anthology in the New York Times Review of Books written by women during menstruation.
What the hell?
Friday, August 14, 2009
There's an interesting article in the Times Literary Supplement about who was better - Shakespeare's company or the Admiral's Men.
From the piece...
Before 1594, the kaleidoscope of acting companies was becoming impossible for the City authorities to control. Then deals were done, and for six years, from about 1594 to 1600, a monopoly – or duopoly – was granted to two companies only, the Admiral’s and the Chamberlain’s. The Chamberlain’s (the King’s Men) had Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon as patron, and Shakespeare as writer. The patrons of the Admiral’s Men were Charles Howard and later Prince Henry, then Lord Palsgrave, Earl Palatine. Only in the late 1590s was the duopoly encroached on by the companies of three earls – Worcester, Oxford and Derby – and by the Paul’s Boys and Blackfriars Boys. There were five competitors by 1602; but even then the duopoly companies continued to dominate.
The Chamberlain’s Men were a company of sharers: a team performing the masterpieces of a great dramatist. But the Admiral's Men had Marlowe’s crowd-pulling plays, with the unmatched star Edward Alleyn to act them. They were the first company to be controlled by a single impresario: Philip Henslowe, Alleyn’s father-in-law. They acted throughout the year for citizen playgoers in outdoor playhouses (the Rose and subsequently the Fortune), in contrast to the Chamberlain’s Men, who acted outdoors at the Globe only in summer, and eventually indoors in winter at Blackfriar’s. In Gurr’s view the stable duopoly arrangement enabled both companies to meet the demands of repertory and yet maintain high standards of performance. He judges the Admiral’s company to be the more original and theatrically brilliant: necessarily a speculative judgement, since the texts of most of their plays were lost in the 1621 fire at the Fortune.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
An interesting, though somewhat troubling essay is found on LA Times' Jacket Copy blog about how "The relentless cacophony that is life in the 21st century can make settling in with a book difficult."
From the story...
Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am. Since I discovered reading, I've always been surrounded by stacks of books. I read my way through camp, school, nights, weekends; when my girlfriend and I backpacked through Europe after college graduation, I had to buy a suitcase to accommodate the books I picked up along the way. For her, the highlight of the trip was the man in Florence who offered a tour of the Uffizi. For me, it was the serendipity of stumbling across a London bookstall that had once been owned by the Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, whose work, then as now, I adored. After we got married four years later, we spent part of our honeymoon in Dollarton, outside Vancouver, British Columbia, visiting the beach where "Under the Volcano" author Malcolm Lowry had lived for more than a decade with his wife Marjorie in a squatter's shack.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
In Jacket Copy, the book blog of the LA Times, they discuss the resurgence of Julia Child, dead for a few years now but brought back to life care of Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia."
Here's Child making an omelette. Bon appetit!
Oh, and for you cookbook collectors out there, Julia's seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a first edition will run you $600-$700 or more.
There's a fun read on The Rumpus.
From the piece...
Elissa Bassist recently wrote a piece extolling the virtues of books. She suggests the good ones “can make life manageable” and turn a bad day into a good one. But here’s the thing: If this were true, librarians would be some of the happiest people on Earth. I personally know half a dozen librarians, and not one of them is anything close to happy. One of them is named Darryl, and there’s no way someone with that name could be happy. Another one eats dinner alone every night at Wendy’s. Does that sound like a happy person to you?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
So says the New Brunswick Business Journal.
From the story...
Investing isn't much fun these days for the many who have lost serious money in the wild swings on stock markets over the last year.
And while the good times on markets could be elusive for awhile yet, maybe engaging in some serious collecting for profit could be just the thing to take your mind off volatile equities. For example, rare books are not only wonderful to read and great to look at, they can also be a decent investment, says Laura Minor, manager of Bauman Rare Books in Las Vegas.
For one thing, "it's a way of establishing something to pass on to subsequent generations," she said.
"For instance, people will buy from us when the baby is born and instead of a savings bond people might buy something like the first Winnie the Pooh ... . By the time that kid grows up, at least historically . . . our clients have always been very, very happy with what's happened."
And like anything worth collecting, the investor better be prepared to spend some serious money.
The long-standing literary debate could end with a sarcophagus in an English parish church.
From the piece...
The parochial council also wants the sarcophagus to be opened because it believes that any new evidence will bring extra visitors and save the church, the foundations of which date back 900 years, from bankruptcy.
"St Mary's is a beautiful church but is in desperate financial straits," a spokesman said. "Any manuscripts that are found would safeguard its future."
However, the diocesan advisory committee and the Church Buildings Council are resisting the new search, on "ethical grounds" and a final decision could now be taken by the diocese's consistory court.
The search has been prompted by the work of the historian AWL Saunders. He believes there are several clues suggesting Greville, who is a distant ancestor, is responsible for writing a number of Shakespeare's works.
Greville was an eminent dramatist and poet himself, as well as a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Chancellor of the Exchequer under James I.