Saturday, October 31, 2009
Salon talks with horror writer Peter Straub (who co-wrote with Stephen King one of my favorite books, The Talisman) about the writing of horror.
Have a little kid of your own you want to spook tonight? Here are some stories!
Want a Halloween snack while reading those spooky stories? All Recipes has your back.
Finally, my favorite creepy story is this one, by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1845.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Seattle Times offers up some ideas for spooky fireside chats this weekend.
Pictured above: Exterior of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion taken by, well, me, yesterday. Tidbit of the day: The Haunted Mansion opened the same day as the infamous Charles Manson family murders. Now that's spooky.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Don't count on it. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at those books we were reading 100 years ago. Most have been long since forgotten.
From the piece...
Looking at the best-selling-fiction list of 100 years ago, I'm afraid I'd have to join the naysayers on the question of Mr. Brown's longevity. The No. 1 best seller in 1909 was "The Inner Shrine" by Basil King, a cleric who took up writing when failing eyesight forced his retirement from the church. In addition to writing several other commercially successful novels, Mr. King also communicated with spirits, particularly one "Henry Talbot."
America's first regular best-seller list seems to have appeared in 1895 in Bookman magazine, which aggregated monthly sales of a few dozen booksellers. That year, Ian Maclaren's novel "Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush" (sentimental sketches of rural Scotland) was No. 1 for seven months.
Ugh. The Seattle Public Library may close two days a week going forward as part of steep city-wide budget cuts. The book editor of the Seattle Times is none too pleased (nor should any of us).
From the piece...
Since 2000, library usage in the city has soared; from 4.5 million in-person and virtual visitors to 13.2 million in 2008, according to the library.
Nevertheless, responding to Mayor Greg Nickels' directive to city departments to cut budgets in response to a $72 million revenue shortfall, the library is proposing a 23 percent reduction in library hours.
Under the proposal, 21 out of 27 branches in the city would be closed Fridays (when all branches are now open) and Sundays (right now, 16 out of 27 branches are open).
Pictured above: Seattle's famed Central Library.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Me and my French-loving kid is heading to Disneyland this week so the blog will be a little lean this week.
In the meantime, sing along!
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Wonders and Marvels has an interesting essay about historical writing.
From the piece...
I didn’t realize it as I was reading…but I had just learned how to build a skyscraper! And as a native Chicagoan, I can never look at those gargantuan buildings the same way.
I think Cynthia Crossen, who writes the Wall Street Journal’s “Book Lover” column, explains it even better than I do. Take a look at her recent article “Learning While You Read.”
Frankly, I’ve always wondered why more of us in higher education don’t craft more accessible stories. After all, in my classes, I tell stories all the time to lure my students into history (in my case, the history of medicine).
Yet, until recently, I had not found the courage to link research with compelling storytelling in my own writing. And, believe me, it takes courage–bucking as it does some long-standing conventions in academic publishing.
Pictured above: The Cathedral of Learning, at the University of Pittsburgh
Friday, October 23, 2009
The list, according to Bookgasm.
From said list...
OVERLY EAGER EMPLOYEES
No, I don’t need your help, but thanks. (Five minutes pass.) No, I still don’t need your help. I mean, you’re still shelving books in alphabetical order, right? However, I think there’s a first-timer coming in the doors now that probably only reads books recommended by Oprah. What’s a first-timer, you ask? Easy …
Hey, you who stormed in. Have you really never been to a bookstore before, or do you just enjoy drawing attention? You remind me of the old people I see at the post office who make buying a roll of stamps a 10-minute process of discovery and indecision. You gaze around in faux confusion for a moment before making a beeline for the help desk – or, aggravatingly to those of us waiting patiently in line, the checkout counter – and half-angrily ask, “Where’s (insert title here)?” as if you just arrived at the hospital emergency room and were looking for your trauma-victim daughter. Hey, Magellan, see those big signs hanging from the ceiling that point out the subject sections? That’s where you’ll find it. You’re in a nicely organized bookstore, not a vast warehouse of a Sam’s Club or Costco.
Pictured above: The always magnificent Elliott Bay Book Company.
UK's Booktime and Booked Up gave 2 million books to kids in the UK. They also did a survey and it's rather interesting.
* 60% of children like to share a book with their parents/carers as it shows that they like to spend time with them.
* Households with girls have ten more children’s books than those with boys. One in every 20 family homes in Britain today has fewer than ten books.
* Children enjoying reading more: 96% of all children surveyed say that they enjoy reading, peaking at 99% among seven year olds and falling to 89% of 12 year olds (overall, this represents a year on year increase of 5%).
Photo courtesy of pivotalkids.com
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Jeanette Winterson, for The Wall Street Journal, discusses the demons that often haunt creative types.
From the story...
The collision of creativity and mental instability is so marked that the tortured artist has become a cliché. But with depression rising fast right across the population—and twice as fast among women as men—it is worth trying to separate the cliché from the truth it masks, and to ask whether the connection between creativity and depression can help us think again about the bigger picture.
Such an enquiry is not academic. My creativity pulled me out of a hopeless childhood, and gave my life meaning and shape. But I have always had various forms of manic depression, (just can't bring myself to call it "bipolar"— whoever invented that dismal term must have been uni-polar—a condition I define as being permanently tethered to the banal). But I mostly managed, and, of course, creative people get away with bad behavior. We aren't expected to conform, so our social pathologies —the drink, drugs, failed love affairs, crashed cars, rages and tantrums—are not much questioned by society, and in any case, have entertainment value. Where would we be without Amy Winehouse cracking up for us or Jasper Johns rolling himself and his lovers across his paint-charged canvases?
Although I knew I had plenty of personal failings, and that my mental states were unreliable, I also knew that I could do the work. I have never taken antidepressants because I couldn't face the flatness. I preferred the highs and the crashes, even though it meant the rages and the withdrawals, and anyway, I'd rather have my own suffering than someone else's solution.
Then about two years ago, when I was finishing a novel—which is always a thin-skinned state—my lover left me, and I discovered some difficult-to-swallow facts about my adoption. Result? I fell off the edge of life.
Pictured above: Detail of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment"
There's a story in Entertainment Weekly about a new trend. Readings of great literature done by women with no clothes on.
From the piece...
Michelle L’amour, the creator of Naked Girls Reading and a former contestant on America’s Got Talent, says the idea went through a number of permutations before she decided it needed to be done as a live “salon-style” reading. “I realized that there’s something important and beautiful in reading aloud, naked or not, that you really don’t get from just reading by yourself,” she says.
But she quickly found that public oration made her feel exposed in an entirely new way: “It’s so, so nerve-racking. Not being naked, but reading in front of everyone. It’s a totally different kind of exhibitionism.”
The group’s next New York gig will be in December, with a dramatic interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and while it’s easily one of the most frequently adapted stories of all time.
Photo above: Etchasketchist's "Naked Girl Reading the Portland Mercury."
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Walrus, one of the finest publications to come out of Canada, has a story about the intimacy of reading and how you should resist the lure of book clubs.
From the piece...
Which brings us back to the intimacy of reading. Consider something even as silly and modest as this article: I’m in your head right now. You have graciously allowed me to slip inside the private sphere of your consciousness, if only for a few minutes. (It’s like a twist on that hoary babysitter horror movie: The voice is coming from inside your head! ) This is very different from how we experience any other kind of art: no matter how much you enjoy a painting or revel in a symphony, there’s not a sense that the painter has hijacked your eyes or the composer has hijacked your ears. The writer, though, hijacks your thoughts. (Hello! Hello! — I’m making you say that right now.) Have you ever found that after reading a writer with a particularly musical cadence your own thoughts echo those rhythms for days? The experience of reading so closely mimics the process of consciousness that it attains a unique level of artistic intimacy. Great art permeates the barrier of consciousness; reading obliterates it. It literally happens inside you. How’s that for intimate?
Image care of filterjoe.com.
My new favorite website of late is Letters of Note. They recently posted the last letter poet John Keats wrote to the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. He died at the age of 25 of tuberculosis.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The American Scholar has a piece about the decline of the English Department. William Chase discusses how it happened and what we can do to reverse the trend.
From the story...
During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons—the many reasons—for what has happened.
First the facts: while the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation’s colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates. Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):
English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent
In one generation, then, the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to a total of less than 16 percent; during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent. Despite last year’s debacle on Wall Street, the humanities have not benefited; students are still wagering that business jobs will be there when the economy recovers.
Image care of St. Lawrence University English Department.
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at baseball books as the World Series comes close.
From the introduction to the piece...
Almost 32 years ago to the day—on Oct. 18, 1977—I stood in the runway behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, reporter's notebook in hand, when Reggie Jackson hit his third home run in the sixth game of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the game that won the championship for the Yankees, but my assignment was not to chronicle what turned out to be a memorable night of baseball. Instead, my job was to report on the celebration outside the Bronx ballpark in case it got out of hand (it did).
Baseball writing back then was already turning into a search for news beyond the ballfields and locker rooms, when just a few years earlier it had been focused almost exclusively on the game and the inspiration it could offer. The trend only accelerated with the arrival of the steroid era. As the latest World Series nears, fans might welcome a trio of baseball books that step back to the days when—for better or worse—we did think of these guys as heroes, and of the game as American as, well, apple pie.
And, talking about the World Series, here's about the most famous home run ever:
The LA Times recently profiled one of my favorite contemporary authors these days (and a fellow Seattleite), Sherman Alexie. To see him crack wise with Stephen Colbert, visit them here.
Monday, October 19, 2009
There's a fuller story on The Seattle Times.
From the piece...
Owner Peter Aaron said the store's lease at the Globe Building expires in late January, when a maxed-out line of credit he had been using to run the business also comes due.
The fast-approaching deadlines mean he is facing crucial decisions, said Aaron, who spoke briefly by phone about the store's difficulties in a tough economy.
Sales plummeted after the meltdown on Wall Street last fall, he said, breaking the store's already-tenuous hold on profitability. What's more, sales continued to decline through August, and he began to wonder if the store would go out of business.
Although sales last month were "a little bit improved," he said, he still has the store's long-term viability to consider. "I need to find a way to operate at a lower expense level or increase our sales," he said.
Do you share a fear with Valentino? Do you and Catherine Deneuve value the same things in a man? Answer the questionnaire made famous by Marcel Proust and find out which illustrious respondents you and your friends most resemble.
I'm nearly 90% Joan Didion!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
There's an interesting new blog, for those who like vintage photographs, about the work of Vivian Maier. Maier was a street photographer from the 1950s - 1970s. Vivian's work was discovered at an auction in Chicago where she lived for 50 years but was originally a native to France. Her discovered work includes over 40,000 mostly medium format negatives. She was born February 1, 1926 and passed away on Tuesday, April 21, 2009.
The blog posts an image a day from the Maier archive.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Write short stories. Editor Alan Rinzler discusses why book publishers love short stories.
From the piece...
Book publishers take chances on new writers
Agents and editors search these literary journals and magazines for new authors. And every year publishers take chances on new writers who aren’t particularly famous yet, but end up surprising everyone with a big hit.
For example, Farrar, Straus and Giroux just this year published Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a debut collection by Wells Tower, which has been highly praised and is enjoying good sales.
It’s true that agents and publishers hope that the short story writer will also produce that blockbuster novel. And it happens.
Annie Proulx, author of the short story Brokeback Mountain which originally appeared in the collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, also won the Pulitzer for her novel Shipping News. Richard Ford, who wrote the short story collection A Multitude of Sins, also wrote the novel Independence Day. Michael Chabon, author of the short stories A Model World, wrote the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Short story collections can sell very well
Sales numbers can be big enough for short stories on their own. There are many successful examples each season.
Just this year, Random House sold around 329,000 copies (according to BookScan, which captures about 70% of all cash register sales) of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for the set of 13 linked short stories about a grief-stricken family set in a small town on the coast of Maine.
That should give every short story writer a boost.
And in the same period, Vintage has sold around 210,000 copies of Unaccustomed Earth, Lahiri Jhumpa’s collection of related stories about the fate of immigrant Bengalis in America, since publication in April.
Is this this the only series book that pictures hurling on its dust jacket illustration? The Bibliomaven thinks it true!
You might be asking yourself...Uh, what's hurling?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I was lucky enough to write about Seattle's Sick's Stadium for Vintage Seattle recently. Sick's Stadium, in South Seattle, housed Seattle's first major league baseball team - the Seattle Pilots.
Photo: Sick's Stadium interior in the 1940s.
The LA Times Jacket Copy blog notes a recent donation that's pretty damn impressive.
From the story...
UCLA's Clark Library is to receive a collection of 72 books related to Shakespeare that includes a 1685 fourth folio of his works, two histories that formed the basis of his plays and a 1603 book by Montaigne that introduced the playwright to the words "adulterous," "miraculous," "depraved" and "scandalous." The collection is worth just under $2 million.
The books, published between 1479 and 1731, were collected by Paul Chrzanowski, 60, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. He admits that while some bibliophiles consider their books too precious to page through, he's read 90% of the works in his collection.
The New Yorker looks at the latest trend in picture books, ones in which the kids rule the roost.
From the piece...
Anxious parents—the midnight Googlers who repeatedly seek advice from experts—learn that there are many things they must never do to their willful young child: spank, scold, bestow frequent praise, criticize, plead, withhold affection, take away toys, “model” angry emotions, intimidate, bargain, nag. Increasingly, nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect. The educator Alfie Kohn, writing recently in the Times, condemns the timeout—the canonical punishment of recent decades—declaring that it is more honest to say you are “forcibly isolating” your child. Even an approach as seemingly benign as awarding gold stars, Kohn warns, is a manipulation that “teaches children that they are loved” only when they perform a “good job.”
So what should you do when a child throws a tantrum? Many parents, determined not to be cruel or counterproductive, latch on to pre-approved language from books. Walk through a Manhattan playground and you’ll hear parents responding to their dirt-throwing, swing-stealing offspring with a studied flatness. A toddler whirling into a rage is quietly instructed, “Use your words.” A preschooler who clocks his classmate is offered the vaguely Zen incantation “Hands are not for hitting.” A kid demanding a Popsicle is given a bland demurral: “I’m sorry, but I don’t respond to whining.” (The preferred vocal inflection is that of a customer-service representative informing an irate caller that the warranty has, indeed, expired.) The brusque imperative “Say ‘please’!” has been supplanted by the mildest of queries: “Is there a nicer way to say that?” The efficacy of this clinical approach has not been confirmed by science, but it certainly feels scientific, in part because the parents conduct themselves as if their child were the subject of a peer-reviewed experiment.
Pictured above: An illustration by Timothy Basil Ering, from “Finn Throws a Fit!”
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I've had the opportunity to write another (hopefully) fascinating entry on Executed Today. Rachel Wall is quite possibly America's first female pirate. She was also the last woman hung in Massachusetts. Enjoy, ye mateys.
Art by Uniquevisions.
From Mental Floss, a series of interesting bits about everyone's favorite honey-loving bear.
All of the animals portrayed in the story were inspired by Christopher Robin Milne’s (A.A. Milne’s son) stuffed animals, except for two: Owl and Rabbit, whom Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard created to round out the menagerie. Sadly, Christopher Robin lost the Roo stuffed animal (the baby kangaroo) in an apple orchard in the 1930s, so it’s not with the display of original plush dolls.
Hundred-Acre Wood is a real place in England. It’s based on a place called Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Many of the landmarks found in the Pooh books can be found there, including Poohsticks Bridget, Galleon’s Lap (called Gill’s Lap in real life), Roo’s Sandpit and Heffalump Trap. In fact, in 2001, a 10-year-old boy took the “fake” map drawn by Ernest Shepard and navigated his way around Ashdown Forest for a documentary.
Monday, October 12, 2009
The U.K.'s Times Online, has an essay about the current state of small literary magazines.
From the piece...
"The first function of a literary magazine is to introduce the work of new or little-known writers of talent.” There is an appealing modesty about this brisk declaration, even a kind of impersonality in subordinating editorial ego to the larger good; it seems likely to provoke a murmur of agreement, not least from new or little-known writers. But this is not, of course, the only way in which the function of such publications may be conceived. The editor of one of the many new literary periodicals established in the 1920s announced a no less definite sense of purpose in quite other terms: “I shall make its aim the maintenance of critical standards and the concentration of intelligent critical opinion”. The goals expressed in these two quotations are not necessarily in conflict: editors might, it is true, maintain “critical standards” in a practical way by identifying new literary talent. But the tendency is for the pursuit of these two purposes to result in periodicals of rather different types. One, often thought of as the classic “little magazine”, largely carries new poetry and fiction, mostly by as yet unrecognized writers, often exemplifying a style of writing that is self-consciously, even determinedly, insurgent and unfashionable. The other, committed to upholding the critical or reviewing function, is largely filled with essays and book reviews, taking in the literature of both the past and the present, as well as taking in more than literature; it aspires to shape intelligent opinion and to combat the slackness and puffery of mainstream literary journalism.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.
- Georgia O'Keeffe
Friday, October 09, 2009
You were thinking to yourself this morning, "This weekend I'd really like get back into reading comic books, specifically Superman comic books. I don't, however, know where to start. There are so many Superman comics to choose from. There is no possible way I can read them all. I wish I was given a list by a reputable website that highlighted the 10 most essential Superman comics to read. Then, I would read them and be happy."
Thank your lucky stars, my friends. io9 has such a list.
Offbeat Earth has a collection of images of pretty sweet artwork involving the use of books.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
The Millions has an illuminating essay about "working the double shift," that is having a full-time job while trying to write as much as one can.
From the piece...
At a dinner some months ago, I found myself discussing the problem of earning a living with a couple of other writers. One of them—a mystery writer who writes full time—said something that surprised me: when he wrote his fiction, he said, he felt that he was drawing on experiences that he’d had before he’d quit his day job thirty-five years earlier.
There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that struck me. My sense was that his life as a writer was somewhat isolated. It was interesting to think of work as something that might help one’s writing, rather than as an uncomfortable but unavoidable impediment to it. What secret purposes might our day jobs serve, aside from the obvious advantages of being able to put dinner on the table?
Franz Kafka was a bureaucrat, and his professed hatred of his job has been well documented. But what’s more interesting about him, at least to me, was the way he used his job as an alibi.
The past decade has seen biopics of Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas and now John Keats (pictured above), but film's reliance on poetry goes beyond simply retelling poets' life stories, says The Guardian.
From the piece...
Although cinema may not outwardly seem to have any debt to poetry, in the films' skeletons – their screenplays – we can see a similar paring down of language, an immediacy of and reliance on the image. American author David Benioff's adaptation of his novel The 25th Hour, written while he was teaching English in high school, points us in this direction. The screenplay, which went on to form the basis of Spike Lee's film, shows the same set of instincts at work. The script opens as a black dog sleeps on the shoulder of the highway, and is studded with similarly pleasing, pared-down descriptions.
This is not an exact parallel – screenplays are useable, disposable, largely unseen documents, aiming for immediacy, written to be interpreted, not remembered – but at heart their goal is to have the same effect on the director as poets seek to have on their readership: the ignition and direction of the imagination.
The "Bright Star" trailer (the new film about Keats):