Sunday, January 31, 2010

Notes Towards the Memoirs of a Book Thief

In Granta, a book thief describes his thieving predilections.

From the story...

And yes, there was something Robin Hood-ish about stealing books from the bookstores of Buenos Aires, the city where I was born and learned to read.

I was the child of upper-middle-class parents. Well-educated and highly regarded in their respective fields. Parents who bought me books for my birthdays and didn’t hesitate to give me money to buy books. But, of course, returning to the Sherwood Forest scenario, my collection was so small and pathetic compared to the ample, well-stocked shelves of bookstores.

And the other day I read that ‘stealing books is the most selfish form of theft’.

I disagree.

Stealing books is actually literature as sport.

An Introduction to the Poetry of William Blake

For The Guardian, Philip Pullman (author of The Golden Compass), reveals the wonder that is William Blake's poetry.

From the piece...

The one thing everyone knows about William Blake is that he was a visual artist as well as a poet. It might be thought that since he took such trouble to illustrate his poetry, or to use his word, illuminate it, and because his designs are so brilliant and sometimes so powerful, the words can't be appreciated properly without the pictures.

I don't agree. If that were true, it would mean that there was little point in a publication like this. Some of his designs are majestic in their power and authority, exquisite in their detail, tender, awe-inspiring, profoundly original: all that is true.

Nevertheless, words and pictures are different things. We can memorise the words of The Tyger and reproduce them without loss every time we recite it, because words live in our mouths and our ears; we can't do the same with the picture that goes with it, because pictures live differently. The power of Blake's greatest poetry is independent of the designs that surround it. If the designs had been magnificent and the poetry banal, we would never remember a word of it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dictator Lit

The poetry of Ayatollah Khomeini, care of The Guardian.

Explicit Text Pulled, Then Pulled Back

A dictionary was banned last week from school. That bears repeating, A DICTIONARY WAS BANNED FROM SCHOOL LAST WEEK. It's since found its rightful place back amongst the other books, the ones that aren't so filthy. The Los Angeles Times has more.

Explicit Text Pulled

The explicit text comes from the diaries of Anne Frank. It's been pulled in schools in Culpeper County, Virginia. The Star Exponent has the story.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday's Poem

On the birthday of "The Raven," "The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe:

Happy Birthday, Raven

It was on this date in 1845 that Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" was first published (in the New York Evening Mirror). It's been read a few times since then. Mental Floss has some interesting details about the poem.

For instance...

3. Not everyone was as kind as Nathaniel Parker Willis. In fact, some of Poe’s contemporaries kind of hated it. William Butler Yeats thought it was “insincere and vulgar” and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” Aldous Huxley thought it was too poetic, saying that it “falls into vulgarity” by being overly so.

4. Poe took his inspiration from a couple of sources: the talking raven idea was likely borrowed from Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty and the rhythm and meter definitely comes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship.”

Pictured above: Illustration by Édouard Manet for a French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."

The Most Famous Unfinished Works of Art

Charles Dickens was working on the novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood when he died. Thomas Aquinas (pictured above) never finished The Summa Theologica. Bez Brige highlights other monumental pieces that were left undone.

Skirts in Dust Jackets

Book Patrol has a fun collection of vintage book jackets highlighting women.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger Has Died

A sad day, really. The man turned me on to writing. For a fuller post to all things Salinger, visit Fine Books & Collections.

The Many Meanings of Walt Whitman's Glasses

The great Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, for Yale Alumni Magazine, wrote recently about Walt Whitman.

From the essay...

If we harbored any collective doubts about whether an object can be too rich and significant to write about, the matter of Walt Whitman’s glasses should put those doubts to rest. I mean, really. Walt Whitman’s glasses.

Like Emily Dickinson’s bed or Herman Melville’s customs office uniform, this particular pair of spectacles resides in that peculiar realm of metaphor so potent as to exist already, fully formed, in all our minds. Nobody who’s read even a little of Whitman needs me to get poetic about What Those Eyes Beheld, or about the nervous system that connected soul to brain to eyes to lenses to nineteenth-century America and which was, ultimately, able to reach back from beyond mortality itself and speak to us, the still-living, about the constant intercession of the past into the present. See, I’m already going misty on you.

I’d rather talk briefly about what the glasses (artificial enhancers that they are) imply about Whitman as a self-invented man. Not as a self-created man—American history is irritatingly full of such people—but as, arguably, the first American artist not only to generate a body of great work but to enhance himself into—invent himself as, if you will—someone who could credibly produce the work in the first place.

The young (and the no-longer-all-that-young) Whitman was a dreamer and a dilettante, prone to half-hearted performances as a teacher and a journalist, among other occupations. He wrote (strictly for money, as he’d later claim) a negligible novel about temperance. It was not until he’d reached his late 30s that this drifty slacker produced, out of nowhere (biographically speaking), Leaves of Grass. He would spend the subsequent 35 years expanding and revising and re-re-republishing it, a total of seven times.

Michelangelo's Despairing Poem

Slate has an interesting story, by poet Robert Pinsky, about Michelangelo's poem about the awkward parturition of the Sistine Chapel.

From the piece...

After a certain point, reverence can become automatic. Our admiration for great works of art can get a bit reflexive, then synthetic, then can harden into a pious coating that repels real attention. Michelangelo's painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican might be an example of such automatic reverence. Sometimes, a fresh look or a hosing-down is helpful—if only by restoring the meaning of "work" to the phrase "work of art."

Michelangelo (1475-1564) himself provides a refreshing dose of reality. A gifted poet as well as a sculptor and painter, he wrote energetically about despair, detailing with relish the unpleasant side of his work on the famous ceiling. The poem, in Italian, is an extended (or "tailed") sonnet, with a coda of six lines appended to the standard 14.

Trends in Modern Book Collecting

Ken Lopez, for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has an extensive post on modern book collecting and well worth reading for anyone interested in pursuing the endeavor.

From the story...

About six months ago, I found that I was repeatedly discussing with a number of fellow booksellers, and more especially with a number of collectors on my mailing list, the apparent shift in collecting styles -- especially with regard to modern firsts -- that has taken place over the last 20 years or so. My main impression was that there has been a shift away from what I would call "in-depth" author collections toward the collecting of a relatively small number of "high spots" of modern literature.

No doubt the subject came up as I was attempting yet again to explain the extraordinary rise in the prices of a small handful of important -- or at least highly sought after -- modern titles such as The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and On the Road, to name just a few. The prices for collectible copies of these books have skyrocketed in recent years, reaching unthinkable new levels and then leaving those levels in the dust mere months later. How high could they go? What do I say when a customer asks if these (or others like them) are good investments at this price level? What was fueling the prices? Could the bottom drop out of the market and their prices plummet as fast as they had risen? And, finally -- but perhaps most important -- what relation do these prices have to anything approaching real value? When a signed copy of On the Road is being offered for the price of a luxury sedan or a small house, is there any realistic "value" being offered, or is this a field that is, at best, completely untethered -- detached from any reality -- and, at worst, the culminating end of a massive pyramid scheme?

I didn't exactly choose to ponder these questions out of disinterested intellectual curiosity: most often, I was being grilled by customers and prospective customers, and they deserved some kind of answer. And that answer tended to be that these days, as a result of a shift in collecting trends that has been taking place over the last two decades, there is much more demand for the high-profile titles that comprise today's definition of a truly striking book collection and, in a market driven almost purely by supply-and-demand, that increased demand translated very readily into increased prices. It was an easy answer and true as far as it went, I guess, but it seemed to me to beg not only all the questions listed above but also a host of other ones: How did this situation come about? Is this trend in collecting a sign of the "dumbing-down" of the book market -- away from the more scholarly, thorough, "completist" exploration of a particular author or field, and toward the rote repetition of "received wisdom" with regard to what is or is not fit, or important, to collect? And, ultimately, the question behind all these questions was: Is this good for the collecting world, or bad for it? Is it good for dealers and bad for collectors? Vice versa? Or could it be an area where dealers and collectors, despite being frequently on opposite sides of the price trench, have shared interests, which can be served in the collecting market of today?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ten Best Songs About Libraries and Librarians

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Here's My Morning Jacket singing "Librarian":

And, as an added bonus list, the Reading Copy blog notes ten books written by librarians.

The Book Club with Just One Member

In The New York Times, Motoko Rich has a piece about how reading has become less and less of a solitary pursuit, and more of a social one.

From the piece...

Clearly, “When You Reach Me,” which the author Rebecca Stead set in 1970s New York City, does not take place in the era of Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari or book clubs.

Reading might well have been among the last remaining private activities, but it is now a relentlessly social pursuit. Gaggles of readers get together monthly to sip chardonnay and discuss the latest Oprah selection. On fan sites for the Harry Potter and “Twilight” series, enthusiastic followers dissect plot lines, argue over their favorite scenes and analyze characters. Publishers, meanwhile, are fashioning social networking sites where they hope to attract readers who want to comment on books and one another.

The collective literary experience certainly has its benefits. Reading with a group can feed your passion for a book, or help you understand it better. Social reading may even persuade you that you liked something you thought you didn’t.

There is a different class of reader, though. They feel that their relationship with a book, its characters and the author is too intimate to share. “The pursuit of reading,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “is carried on by private people.”

Pictured above: Kuniyoshi Utagawa's "Woman Reading"

If You Have the World's Largest Coffee Table

You could place upon it the largest book in the world. You couldn't yourself, though. It takes six people to lift the Klencke Atlas. It's 360 years old and, as The Guardian reports, will be displayed soon at the British Library.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Original Photographs of the Civil War

Great images, here.

Pictured above: The railroad engine "Gen Haupt" at the Alexandria Roundhouse.

Green Readers

On Big Think, they discovered that if you overlay the list of America's Most Literate Cities atop the list of America's Most Green Cities, you get quite a lot of crossover.

My Friend, Franz Kafka

Not many people alive today can say they were close friends with author Franz Kafka. In fact, there's only one. She's 106 and her name is Alice Herz-Sommer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Sold discusses how Bible publishers went forth and multiplied.

From the piece...

THE GREEN BIBLE misses an opportunity to extol Noah’s embrace of mass transit over less environmentally friendly modes of disaster evacuation, but it does highlight the parts of the Good Book “that speak to God’s care for creation” in a verdant shade of soy-based ink. In Bible Illuminated: The Book, the Holy Scriptures are paired with glossy photographs of Angelina Jolie, Al Gore, and Bono, among others, and supplemented with a section inspired by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals project, titled “Eight Ways to Change the World.”

Naturally, such efforts to present the Bible in progressive contexts have not gone unnoticed by more right-leaning believers. Claiming that “liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations,” Andrew Schlafly, the fourth begotten son of Phyllis, launched the Conservative Bible Project in August 2009. An online collaborative effort, the project aims to produce “a fully conservative translation of the Bible” that will avoid gender-inclusive language, favor conciseness over “liberal wordiness,” use “conservative” terms like volunteer rather than comrade, and render “the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.” Whatever concise, narrowly gendered language Schlafly and his comrades, er, volunteers conjure to illuminate the free-market meaning of, say, the Parable of the Vineyard Consultants (Matthew 20:1–15), they’ll be hard-pressed to match the pedagogic power of the story of the Bible publishing industry itself.

William Burroughs's Stuff

The Morning News has a slide show of great photographs of writing legend's William S. Burroughs's stuff.

Here's the man's "A Thanksgiving Prayer":

The Death of Fiction?

On Mother Jones, Ted Genoways asks if it's time to write literary journals off.

From the piece...

Consider this: When Wilbur Cross was elected governor of Connecticut in 1930, an unlikely Democratic victor in an overwhelmingly Republican state, his principal qualification was his nearly 20 years as editor of Yale Review. Indeed, Cross essentially invented the modern quarterly when he reshaped the sleepy review to more closely mirror The Atlantic in its discussion of current events alongside literature and criticism. While preparing to take office, he was in correspondence with Aldous Huxley, Sherwood Anderson, and Maxim Gorky about their contributions to the next issue. In fact, through four successive terms, Cross never left the helm of Yale Review—publishing John Maynard Keynes on microeconomics and Thomas Mann on the threat of Nazism—at the same time he was pushing back against legislated morality (such as Prohibition) and enacting tougher child-labor restrictions. When the New York Times asked how he found time to read manuscripts and review proofs while performing his responsibilities as governor, Cross deadpanned, "By getting up early in the morning."

Easy for him to say. Back in the 1930s, magazines like the Yale Review or VQR saw maybe 500 submissions in a year; today, we receive more like 15,000. This is due partly to a shift in our culture from a society that believed in hierarchy to one that believes in a level playing field. This is good—to a point. The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer. You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Passport Photos of Famous Artists

Care to see the passport photo of Ernest Hemingway? Ring Lardner? Thornton Wilder? Look no further.

Pictured above: Sinclair Lewis

Aaaargh. Pirates!

Author Tess Gerritsen looks at book piracy.

From her post...

Over on Galleycat, it’s Piracy Week, which coincidentally matches exactly what I wanted to blog about. We’re both addressing this topic because of last week’s Publishers Weekly article about e-piracy, in which publishing losses from illegal downloads are estimated to be three billion dollars. Of the titles they tracked, the average number of illegal downloads was 13,000.

I confess to being a voice of doom on this topic. A good friend of mine is a legendary singer/songwriter, a man who wrote one of the defining songs of our generation. He made a fortune in the music business and is still very much in demand on the concert circuit, but he says that with rampant illegal downloading of tunes, there’s no way he would be able to achieve that success today. He’s already a big name, so he can make a good living playing live concerts. But these days, if you aren’t already a big name, the only real money in music is if you sell your tune for advertising jingles or write theme music for TV. “I feel sorry for truly talented young musicians,” he says. “No one will be able to do what I did thirty years ago Piracy has destroyed the industry.”

And that, I fear, is what lies ahead for writers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday's Poem

Adrienne Rich's "Transcendental Etude," with Miles Davis accompaniment:

The Religious Affiliations of Comic Book Heroes

Did you know that Captain America was Protestant? Superman was Methodist? The Hulk was a lapsed Catholic? It's true! Learn about the religious affiliations of some of your other favorite superheroes, here, care of Adherents.

But Enough About Me

Daniel Mendelsohn for The New Yorker discusses the history of memoirs and why we get so angry when we find out memoirs weren't entirely true.

From the piece...

By now, the flood feels like a tsunami. Things have got to the point where the best a reviewer can say about a personal narrative is—well, that it’s not like a memoir. “This is not a woe-is-me memoir of the sort so much in fashion these days,” the book critic of the Washington Post wrote recently in an admiring review of Kati Marton’s “Enemies of the People,” an account of how the journalist’s family suffered under Communist rule in Hungary. But, as Yagoda makes clear, confessional memoirs have been irresistible to both writers and readers for a very long time, and, pretty much from the beginning, people have been complaining about the shallowness, the opportunism, the lying, the betrayals, the narcissism. This raises the question of just why the current spate of autobiography feels somehow different, somehow “worse” than ever before—more narcissistic and more disturbing in its implications. And it may well be that the answer lies not with the genre—which has, in fact, remained fairly consistent in its aims and its structure for the past millennium and a half or so—but with something that has shifted, profoundly, in the way we think about our selves and our relation to the world around us.

It all started late one night in 371 A.D., in a dusty North African town miles from anywhere worth going, when a rowdy sixteen-year-old—the offspring of an interfaith marriage, with a history of bad behavior—stole some pears off a neighbor’s tree...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shakespeare as Woman

Sure there are Shakespeare's women, but what if Shakespeare was a woman? Well, maybe he/she was a woman! There's a theory floating about that Shakespeare was, in fact, female. The Globe & Mail has more about the Bard/Bardess.

From the piece...

One of the most prestigious academic journals devoted to Shakespearean authorship studies has just added a new candidate to the centuries-old debate about who else plausibly might have written the works we associate with the little-educated merchant and actor from Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The nominee is a complete shocker: Amelia Bassano Lanier, a converso (clandestine Jew) and the illegitimate daughter of an Italian-born, Elizabethan court musician.

& Now - the History of the &

Ah, my favorite grammatical mark - the ampersand. Care to know it's history? Web Designer Depot gives it to you.

From the short piece...

The ampersand can be traced back to the first century AD. It was originally a ligature of the letters E and T (”et” is Latin for and). If you look at the modern ampersand, you’ll likely still be able to see the E and T separately.

The first ampersands looked very much like the separate E and T combined, but as type developed over the next few centuries, it eventually became more stylized and less representative of its origins.

Beware of the Bouncing Boy

Bouncing Boy, and Super Dupont. Bouncing Boy, Super Dupont and the Matter-Eater Lad. These are just some of the ten weirdest superheroes you might not have heard about, care of Weird Worm.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Werner Herzog Reads Curious George

Well THIS is a Great Idea - The Sarcasm Punctuation Mark

Yeah, a new grammatical mark. THAT'll catch on...or maybe it will.

Signed vs. Inscribed

Which is better, book collectors, to have a book with the author's signature on it (like Tom Wolfe's, for example), or with an inscription? Bookseller Ken Lopez pens an essay about it for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

From the piece...

One of the questions I've been asked most often in recent years is "Which is better -- having a book just signed by the author or having it inscribed?" In general my answer has been that the more writing by the author in a book, the better. And most especially, I've encouraged collectors when getting their own books signed to have them personally inscribed by the author.

I know I'm bucking the current trend on this issue, but I continue to do so, and I think I'm right. Here's why.

For a long time -- generations, literally -- there was a clearly established hierarchy of values that pertained to books signed by their authors. The best copy was the dedication copy, and usually there was only one of these. Next best were association copies, that is, books inscribed by the author to someone notable or important in the author's life -- a relative, a friend, a mentor, another writer. After that were "presentation copies," which simply meant those books inscribed by the author to someone who was not important to the author, or whose importance was unknown. And finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy, were books that were just signed, with no further inscription, no other writing, etc.

In recent years, for reasons that most people don't know about or are unable to articulate, the last two kinds of signed books have appeared to switch places in the hierarchy, with there being a preference in the marketplace for books that were just signed, rather than having been inscribed. I believe this preference, which flies in the face of longstanding tradition in the book collecting world, has a specific historical origin and that the seeming consensus in the marketplace reflects a backlash against specific practices by certain individuals which, in the fog of time, has come to look like a rational rethinking of the old priorities and a new philosophy toward signed books.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jon's Writing on Executed Today

For the always enjoyable Web site, Executed Today, I recently wrote about the execution of Dun Xerri. Xerri was a Maltese patriot shot for his defiant acts on January 17, 1799.

Pictured above: The Monument Dedicated To Reverend Mikiel Xerri And The Other Maltese Patriots Shot By The French In 1799 In Valletta, Near His Former Residence.

The Death of the Slush Pile

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece about writers getting in the publishing door and how hard it is for them to do so. Even with the web, it's harder than ever.

From the story...

Getting plucked from the slush pile was always a long shot—in large part, editors and Hollywood development executives say, because most unsolicited material has gone unsolicited for good reason. But it did happen for some: Philip Roth, Anne Frank, Judith Guest. And so to legions of would-be novelists, journalists and screenwriters—not to mention "D-girls" and "manuscripts girls" from Hollywood to New York who held the hope that finding a gem might catapult them from entry level to expense account—the slush pile represented The Dream.

Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction. Film and television producers won't read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material. Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents. Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

The Sex Lives of Civil War Soldiers

Seattle's Book Patrol has an interesting book that they've found, The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell, by Thomas P. Lowry.

From the piece...

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank had a secret life, one that they and their families tried to hide from posterity and Ken Burns.

They largely succeeded. Most men left no record of their sexual activities, or if they did, their survivors expurgated or expunged the record through destruction; the reality was a bit too seamy for pure sensibilities, legacies needed to be protected. Reports of wild times and venereal disease were not likely to be appreciated by descendants.

Thus the Civil, our most holy, War, ennobled at the time and forevermore as a moral cause by both sides, has been stripped of that most human and earthy dimension and instinct. War is a rite of passage for all young boys and men, and leaving home for the first time, to a large degree innocent and inexperienced, they often become unmoored from traditional, peacetime standards of moral behavior and drift into those of wartime, which is to say, the world turned upside down and violently shaken.

But in a volume that might otherwise be buried deep within the annals of weird books, The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War (Stackpole, 1994), Thomas Lowry, M.D., addresses and fills, through diligent, original research that at the time of the book's publication unearthed a wealth of new material, that lacuna in the military record.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Was the Bible Written Centuries Before Previously Thought?

Quite possibly.

Book Reviewing Online

Utne suggests these sites if you want a thoughtful book review to review.

Utne also takes note of the Anonymous Book Review Experiment where the book is cloaked in anonymity, not the book reviewer. That is to say...

A few months ago, the editors of this magazine asked if I would be interested in being part of an experiment in criticism. They were curious what would happen if we inverted the standard “anonymous review” formula—if instead of the reviewer having the cloak of anonymity, we were to keep the book under review anonymous from its critic, and thereby shield it from any and all prejudice—whether positive or negative, whether directed at the author, the publishing house, the blurbers, the cover art, etc.

What happens to the book criticism under these new guidelines? Find out.

Almanacs and the Private Library

The Private Library discusses collecting almanacs on a recent post.

From the piece...

By the middle of the 17th century some 400,000 almanacs were being printed every year in England alone.

Almanacs were first printed in the United States in 1639 when William Pierce published (and Stephen Daye printed) An Almanack For The Year Of Our Lord 1639 Calculated For New England on Harvard University's one-year old press. But the best known early American almanac, Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, did not begin publication until almost 100 years later (1732).

The Unstoppable Cult of Jane Eyre

The Daily Beast discusses Charlotte Bronte, her masterwork, and vampires.

From the piece...

Sheila Kohler’s Becoming Jane Eyre is tuned into the End-of-the-Aughts zeitgeist. Remakes of film versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are in the pipeline, as is another film based on the four Bronte siblings—prodigious Gothic/Romantic authors Charlotte, Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey), and dissolute brother Branwell. Why this renewed interest in Brontes? Does it tie into the current rage for vampires—for the doomed romantic love that can only be achieved beyond death?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Folksy Fruit

Care to see anthropomorphic adventures in Opal Orchard? Who doesn't?! Thanks, A Journey Around My Skull.

The American Rosetta Stone?

Intrigued? You should be.

From the piece in National Geographic...

With the help of enhanced imagery and an expert in Elizabethan script, archaeologists are beginning to unravel the meaning of mysterious text and images etched into a rare 400-year-old slate tablet discovered this past summer at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America.

Looking Ahead in Science Fiction

The Guardian has a half-hour podcast about the future of science fiction.

From the intro...

Science fiction is the marmite of literature – people tend to love it or hate it. Yet no one could deny that it has produced many of the great myths of our age, from Frankenstein's monster to William Gibson's cyber-reality.

SF blogger Damien Walter joins our panellists to discuss where it is now, and why we should all tune in to a genre that can be satirical, prophetic, political and plain good fun, often all at the same time. He also outlines some of the titles to look out for in 2010.

We also look at John Wyndham's previously unpublished novel, Plan for Chaos, and interview China Miéville, rising star of the "new weird".

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Call to Poets: Stay Alive

The Los Angeles Times looks at suicidal poets.

From the piece...

Sometimes it seems as though poets, in particular, move in an endangered artistic world. Think Sylvia Plath, above; John Berryman, Anne Sexton. And, last month, Rachel Wetzsteon, an accomplished poet who took her own life at age 42.

Writer Jennifer Michael Hecht, who teaches at the New School, knew Wetzsteon; her death got her thinking about artists grappling with suicide. "I’m issuing a rule," she writes. "You are not allowed to kill yourself."

The Playboy Revolution

Is Playboy responsible for the current state of America? Sort of.

From the piece...

The collapse of the U.S. Postal System’s de facto censorship apparatus? Playboy had a hand in that. Changing attitudes about sex outside of marriage? Playboy was part of this, too. The specious notion that a high-earning, free-spending bachelor is some kind of epicurean rebel? Playboy yet again. The feminist movement? Playboy “was partly responsible” for it, as Gloria Steinem once admitted. The now common glossy-magazine practice of advertising luxuries that readers cannot possibly afford? Thank you, Playboy. The idea that a man could have fine clothes, a sweet smell, an uncorked Bordeaux, and remain masculine? Yes, believe it or not, Playboy paved the way for metrosexuality, too.

Never a great magazine, though often a very good one, Playboy was and remains iconic, and there is probably a wonderful narrative history to be written about it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday's Poem

An interpretation of W.S. Merwin's "The River of Bees":

Italian Opera Libretti

Who isn't interested in Italian opera libretti?! No one, that's who! The Harry Ransom Center offers a full database of all things libretti.

Here's Natalie Dessay singing Italian arias:

Pictured above: Opera singer Leo Slezak, 1909.

Covering Covers

Justine Larbalestier's blog discusses what a book cover is and what it does. Simple answer - it's used to sell a book. Long answer - here.

Displaying Books: More Than Just A Good Read

The Telegraph has a piece about how books do really well in furnishing a room.

From the piece...

Formal libraries or studies are not the only places in which to store and display books. Intriguing ideas for book storage are revealed in Geddes-Brown’s latest interiors odyssey, Books Do Furnish a Room. Books can be stacked above doorways, below windows, over picture-rails, under stairs, on mantelpieces, above cloakroom lavatories and even within the foot of children’s bunk beds. A cache of books in any of these areas makes the most of dead space while adding a welcoming, homely touch.

As a writer it’s inevitable that Geddes-Brown has thousands of books at home. Her Regency house in north London has two book-filled rooms. “The previous owner built in a pair of bookcases either side of the chimney-breast in the living room but we soon ran out of space so we installed open breakfront shelving along an entire wall in the same room,” she says. “The breakfront is particularly useful if you have very deep or tall books.” A basement office, meanwhile, has “mundane bookshelves” built by her husband, Hew Stevenson, running all round the room.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Hulk Addresses AIDS

There was an interesting little piece on Comics Alliance recently.

From the story...

In 1991, at a time when the AIDS virus was still stigmatized and poorly understood by much of the general public, "Incredible Hulk" writer Peter David did just that, scripting a story about Jim Wilson, a long-time friend of Bruce Banner, who revealed that he had recently tested positive for HIV.

At Comic-Con this year, we had a chance to talk to David about his landmark story, the response from fans, and the controversy over the Hulk's refusal to give Wilson a blood transfusion that could save his life.

75 Books Every Writer Should Read

The list, care of Online Universities.

How to Save Journalism

The plan, as presented by The Nation.

From the piece...

The founders of the American experiment were even by their own measures imperfect democrats. But they understood something about sustaining democracy that their successors seem to have forgotten. Everyone agrees that a free society requires a free press. But a free press without the resources to compensate those who gather and analyze information, and to distribute that information widely and in an easily accessible form, is like a seed without water or sunlight. It was with this understanding that Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and their contemporaries instituted elaborate systems of postal and printing subsidies to assure that freedom of the press would never be an empty promise; to that end they guaranteed what Madison described as "a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people...[that] is favorable to liberty."

Two centuries after Madison wrote those words, American news media are being steered off the cliff by investors and corporate managers who soured on their "properties" when the economic downturn dried up what was left of their advertising bonanza. They are taking journalism with them. Newsrooms are shrinking and disappearing altogether, along with statehouse, Washington and foreign bureaus. And with them goes the circulation of news and ideas that is indispensable to liberty. This is a dire moment for democracy, and it requires a renewal of one of America's oldest understandings: that a free people can govern themselves only if they have access to independent information about the issues of the day and the excesses of the powerful, and that it is the duty of government to guarantee both the promise and the reality of a free press.

When we recommended government subsidies last year in a Nation cover article ("The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers," April 6), some publishers and pundits objected, forgetting their Jeffersonian roots and arguing, with no sense of irony, that policies promoting diversity and robust debate would foster totalitarianism. Even well-intended Congressional hearings on the crisis avoided discussion of this logical response.

But as 2009 wore on and the crisis extended--with the venerable Christian Science Monitor cutting print production from daily to weekly, newspapers in Seattle and Ann Arbor ceasing print publication to exist solely online, with papers in Denver, Tucson and other cities closing altogether, and with talk of closures from San Francisco to Boston--the urgency of the moment, and the recognition that journalism would not be reborn on the Internet or saved by foundation grants, made it harder to dismiss subsidies. By year's end, the Columbia Journalism Review was highlighting a report by Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson that proposed requiring "broadcasters, Internet service providers, and telecom users to pay into a fund that would be used to support local accountability journalism in communities around the country." CJR called the idea a "radical suggestion."