Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beautiful Bookbinding

The beautiful BibliOdyssey highlights beautiful bookbindings through the ages. Enjoy.

Pictured above: Book of Ruth, Morocco leather, bound by Michel Marius, 1880.

10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling

Care of The Oatmeal.

Joy of Cooking: A Novel Experience

The always marvelous The Millions, discussing reading cookbooks.

From the piece...

If you wandered into my kitchen and saw my pantry packed with cookbooks, you might get the impression I am something of a gourmet chef or crackerjack cook, at the very least. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In my own defense, I’m not a bad cook. If I put my mind to it, I’m confident I could don a Betty Crocker crown and whip up steaming bowls of cioppini or decadent pots of crème brûlée. Here’s the crux: I could but don’t despite my complete Giada De Laurentiis collection and many a Julia Child. Understand, I’m a creature of habit and have approximately two dozen recipes I consistently crave and make, adding a dash of this or that for variation. I love a gastronomic adventure, but I’ll go to a restaurant before I try to make green tea foam or fugu sashimi at home. So what’s up with the hidden cookbook library? Is she a culinary poser, you are well within reason to ask.

The truth is, I read cookbooks like novels. Cover to cover, page by page, the dedication, the acknowledgments, the indexes: I devour everything. Like the literary works on my bookshelves, I can give you the plot, characters, themes and favorite scenes; however, ask me a recipe and I’d be hard-pressed to name one I’ve personally prepared.

Examining this through a Jungian lens: I think it began when I was wee thing sitting on the kitchen stool thumbing through my mom’s recipe box. On each dated index card, she’d scribble where she got the recipe, what worked, what didn’t, substitutions and always a final note of “Delicious!” or “Satisfying!” Many of the recipes had butter-stained corners, dustings of flour, the smell of cinnamon stuck to the paper, etc. So while my mom baked and sautéed, I sat reading, dreaming, and treasuring my little box of stories.

Pictured above: King Chulalongkorn of Siam, cooking and smoking, while on one of his royal trips, circa 1890.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Must-Read Comics

Here's an extensive list of what comic books must be read, given to Wired by their readers.

The Writing Advice Industry

Russell Smith, for The Globe and Mail, discusses not fiction books but books on how to write fiction books and finds it a bit alarming.

From the story...

Their repeated compilation does point, however, to a paradox often noted in literary circles. The market for fiction shrinks every year, the attention paid to novels by the media diminishes monthly, booksellers demand ever-lower prices, everybody in the industry says it’s the worst it’s ever been. And yet more academic or private creative-writing programs are created every year, and the demand for advice on becoming a novelist remains furiously high. Indeed, the selling of advice on writing has become a self-supporting industry: I know young writers who are doing masters of fine arts in creative writing so that they can in turn become creative-writing teachers in similar programs. Any magazine article like this one generates Internet responses as lengthy as any novella. The discussion of creative writing seems more popular than creative writing itself.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Holy Expensive Comic Book, Batman!

Just days after a Superman comic book sold for a record sum, Batman one ups him.

Friday's Poem

In honor of Black History Month, Maya Angelou reading "Still I Rise":

The New Math of Poetry

We are drowning in poetry, my friends. Yes, we are drowning in A LOT poetry, most of which is crap.

From an interesting piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education...

The notion that writing and performing "poetry" is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can't pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a "chapbook" for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of "publication."

The new math is stunning. Len Fulton, editor of Dustbooks, which publishes the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, estimates the total number of literary journals publishing poetry 50 years ago as 300 to 400. Today the online writers' resource Duotrope's Digest lists more than 2,000 "current markets that accept poetry," with the number growing at a rate of more than one new journal per day in the past six months. Some of these journals publish 100 poems per issue, others just a dozen. If we proceed cautiously and assume an average of 50 poems per publication per year, more than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010.

But hold on to your pantoums, your prose poems, and ghazals. If journals merely continue to grow at the current rate, there will be more than 35,000 of them by 2100, and approximately 86 million poems will be published in the 21st century!

As stunning as those estimates are, they are likely to prove conservative. That's because Duotrope's editors "do not attempt to list all the poetry journals that are currently publishing" and, more important, because the rate of growth will almost certainly continue to rise as technology makes it easier for editors to accommodate the increasing number of poets clamoring for publication.

A Reader's Advice to Writers

Laura Miller, at Salon, gives some tips for writers, not because she's a writer (though she is), but because she's someone who reads books.

From the piece...

Readers are what every novelist really wants, so isn't it about time that a reader offered them some advice? I've never written a novel, and don't expect to ever do so, but I've read thousands. More to the point, I've started 10 times the number of books that I've finished. Much of the time, I'm sampling brand-new novels that aren't great -- that frequently aren't even very good -- each one written by someone sincerely hoping to make his or her mark. I can tell you why I keep reading, and why I don't, why I recommend one book to my fellow readers, but not another. I've also listened to a lot of other readers explain why they gave up on a book, as well as why they liked it. Here are my five recommendations for the flailing novice:

1. Make your main character want something. Writers tend to be introverted observers who equate reflection with insight and depth, yet a fictional character who does nothing but witness and contemplate is at best annoying and at worst, dull. There's a reason why Nick Carraway is the narrator of "The Great Gatsby" while Gatsby himself is the protagonist. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative.

The Book Collector Who Collects One Book

Bill Ewald, a book collector, has 700 copies of the same book - Two Years Before the Mast. Fox40 News, in Sacramento, asks why.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Zach Galifianakis Interviews John Wray...Sort Of.

An amusing trailer for John Wray's brilliant Lowboy:

Peter Carey Discusses "Oscar and Lucinda"

The great Peter Carey discusses with the great Guardian, in the great United Kingdom, the great Oscar and Lucinda. It's a great 45 minute podcast. Enjoy.

The Strangest Moments of Golden Age Batman

The moments are quite strange indeed. Comics Alliance highlights some of them, including him taking down a very big house cat.

Pictured above, from Batman #4:

The idea of a super-hero taking the place of a sports hero to thwart gambling wasn't that odd for the '40s--in fact, there's a Golden Age Superman story that's pretty much exactly like this one--but there's just something about the narration that grabs our attention, as it provides a play-by-play for the crimefighter's football skills. Phrases like "Down the field streaks the Batman, weaving in and out of the opposition in a perfect example of broken field running" just crack us right up.

Librarians are Hot

It's true! In Salon, they revel in This Book is Overdue!, a book that discusses the secret lives of librarians.

From the piece:

Behold the stereotypical librarian, with her cat’s-eye glasses, bun and pantyhose -- a creature whose desexualized persona and desire for us to be quiet has fueled generations of wild sexual fantasies. But there's bad news for those of you with a shushing fetish; as Marilyn Johnson explains in "This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All," the uptight librarian is a species that's rapidly approaching extinction.

A new generation of young, hip and occasionally tattooed librarians is driving them out. They call themselves guybrarians, cybrarians and "information specialists," and they blog at sites like The Free Range Librarian and The Lipstick Librarian. They can be found in droves on Second Life, but also outside the Republican National Convention, dodging tear gas canisters and tweeting the location of the police.

Johnson, a former staff writer for Life magazine, and author of "The Dead Beat," a book about the fascinating world of obituary writing, delights in refuting our assumptions about librarians, while making a rock-solid case for their indispensability at a time when library systems are losing an average of 50 librarians per year.

Pictured above: The fine librarians of the Nevin Memorial Library, circa 1900.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is This Charles Manson's Son?

Yes, according to the self-published author.

Was Anne Boleyn an Adultress?

Yes, according to a poem.

From the story in The Telegraph...

The king's second wife was beheaded after being charged with having affairs with five men, one of them her own brother.

However, a French poem written days after her death in 1536 has cast doubt over claims by historians that she was framed by supporters of the first queen, Catherine of Aragon, or that Henry made up the claims because he was not provided with a son.

Professor George Bernard, an expert on the Tudors, said the 1,000 line poem, written by Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador to England, names three of Boleyn's lovers - musician Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, a courtier who was head of the king's chamber and her brother, George Boleyn.

Sherman Alexie's "Ode to My Sharona"

Alexie's poetry can be found at Contrary Journal.

And speaking of odes, Washington State University Magazine has an ode to Alexie (an alum) with "Desperately Seeking Sherman."

From the piece...

“Do you love Sherman Alexie?” a woman asked me as we walked up the stairs to the will-call table at Town Hall in Seattle. We were both there to hear the author and poet read from his latest book.

The 60-something lady with a shapeless dress and loose grey curls was smiling down expectantly from her perch two steps above. Her question was perplexing, given that Alexie, a Spokane Indian, has been criticized for his harsh realism, for his depictions of Indians, including members of his own family, as alcoholics, and most recently, for his indictment of Kindle and other digital reading devices. His subjects have included an Indian serial killer, skid row alcoholics, and a gay-bashing son of a senator.

As well, he is very hard to get hold of. Since he is one of WSU’s most widely-recognized author alums, and since he had recently won the National Book Award for his first effort at juvenile literature, I had been trying for months to interview him for a profile for this magazine.

A movie writer and producer and highly prolific creator of both prose and poetry who has had several poems and stories in the New Yorker magazine, Alexie’s star is on the rise. Oh, and he has a pretty big fan base, especially in Seattle.

Also, a congratulations are in order. Alexie's latest collection of stories is up for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

The Independent Bookseller

Ellen Sterling, for the Huffington Post, revels in the independent bookstore, fully aware that, though cherished, they're falling like dominoes.

From the piece...

The other night I attended the monthly meeting of the Las Vegas Writers Group. The speaker at the meeting was Debra Belkoff. Her expertise is in book retailing and she was the manager of late, lamented store, The Reading Room which, until it closed last year was the only bookstore on the Las Vegas Strip. She talked knowledgeably and lovingly of the need for bookstores like that while at the same time reminding the 50+ writers at the meeting that they'd have to get on board with e-publishing.

I love bookstores and she started me reminiscing about those that were so important in my life.

First was The Book Mark. Located in Queens, New York, it was in walking distance of our family's home up until we moved when I was in sixth grade. It was owned by two spinster sisters named Rose and Esther and we referred to it as "rose-n-esther's."

Not to be all icky, but in that store there was a whole world. I met all sorts of people and went all sorts of places. Nancy Drew was a pal, as were all the wonders in Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels: The Occident and the Orient. Years later, sitting at the sound and light show in Giza, I sharply recalled Halliburton's black-and-white photos of the Sphinx and the pyramids.

Pictured above: Arguably Seattle's most important independent bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Superman's Debut Comic Book Sold...

for a cool ONE MILLION the other day.

How Did "Pride and Prejudice" Turn Out to Be Called "Pride and Prejudice"?

Gary Dexter has the answer.

Is the Poetry Society of America Racist?

Yes, accuses poet Rita Dove's (pictured above) husband.

A Guide to Fiction Online

The Millions takes you through the tangled web of the internet, to highlight some of the better Web sites out there for you to read quality fiction.

From the piece...

Literature is supposed to be a culture’s conversation with itself. A way of telling the story of its time, its moment. It’s a healthy and necessary thing, an authentic expression of the truth of the age. As a writer and student of literature and of this conversation, I went in search of the new fiction. I wanted to see its extent, the borders of its world. I wanted to do a little cartography to glimpse the map of our conversation with ourselves.

And I found gobs and gobs of it. Voices upon voices upon voices. Blogs and journals and magazines, communities of writers and readers and editors all talking at the same time to everyone and therefore no one in particular. It was and continues to be overwhelming. In my search for the conversation, I didn’t know who to listen to or why. I kept looking, keeping track of what I found as I went.

Much of this fiction is short. That is, from 50-1000 words. I’m not sure why. Long fiction exists all over the Internet, but I don’t see it surviving as well as shorter stuff. This could be because of the different kind of attention people pay to text on the Internet as opposed to text on the printed page. We might call this the Tab Effect.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Literary Starts with the Letter Elle

I'm duly impressed with Elle Magazine's new Lit Life blog(s). Take a look.

The Fantastic Truth of Calvin and Hobbes

"Bill Watterson's work," notes The Guardian, "remains hilarious, and wildly inventive – but it also manages to be authentic in a way that very few cartoons ever are." They are, of course, talking about the classic comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.

The appreciation continues...

It's pretty mind-blowing to experience something that you expect to be nothing more than ordinary, only to find that it is changing the way you look at the world. (Kind of like stumbling across the Beatles on the radio in 1964 sandwiched between Harry Mancini's Pink Panther theme song and a Jan and Dean tune). Calvin and Hobbes was intended to transcend the funny pages, but no one could have guessed just how far. Watterson knew that his strip allowed him access to his readers' brains for a few moments every morning and he was determined to make the best of it. He didn't see it as a time to deliver clichés, easy gags or sloppy artwork; he saw it as a moment when he might get people to think outside the box, or to rethink how they think inside it. Even though his efforts were often constricted to three black and white panels, Watterson used that space to discuss everything from mortality to the existence of God and the perils of mankind's self-destructive habits. It was always heartening to see a cartoonist discussing issues of such depth with his readers, some of whom were so young that they were learning how to read using the strip or had never thought about what happens when we die.

When Creative Writing Gets Too Creative

Keith Goetzman, for Utne, discusses the ever blurring line between fiction and non-fiction.

From the piece...

The lines between fiction and nonfiction are blurring and giving rise to a new form “that we might call ‘true fiction,’” writes Alissa Quart in Columbia Journalism Review. Quart sees examples of this phenomenon all around, including Dave Eggers’ brilliant book What Is the What, which tells but also takes a few liberties with the tale of a Sudanese “Lost Boy”; the forthcoming graphic novel A.D. by Josh Neufeld, which depicts post-Katrina New Orleans; and even The Hurt Locker, the war film that is presented as fiction but is based on an original nonfiction magazine article.

Quart is quick to acknowledge that the fiction-nonfiction hybrid isn’t all that new, but she contends that writers well known for mixing the two, like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, “imagined their work to be a certain kind of journalism.” Members of the newer breed, she notes, “seem to be backing away from categorizing things as ‘true,’ even as they are also rethinking what nonfiction is and can be.”

The new anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, Quart writes, even makes the case “that some works long considered fiction are actually closer to this hybrid form."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jules Verne Series

Faceout Books has a great collection of book covers done by artists inspired by the works of Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc). Enjoy.

Ian McEwan - Profile

The U.K.'s Telegraph profiles Ian McEwan, author of the great novel Atonement, amongst many others.

From the piece...

Although as yet largely unknown to the public, he was acclaimed as a literary wunderkind by critics, he and Martin Amis being dubbed the most important young British novelists at work. As the poet James Fenton remembers: “If you were young, reading a book, in love with a girl and unhappy about it, you were probably reading an Ian McEwan story.”

It was while taking Malcolm Bradbury’s soon-to-be-famous creative writing course at the University of East Anglia – he was the first and for some time the only student – that McEwan was inspired by the work of Philip Roth and William Burroughs to introduce what he calls “a kind of garishness” to the “poky and grey” world of English fiction, dominated in the Seventies by middle-aged, middle-class novelists such as Kingsley Amis and Angus Wilson.

The nature of his frustration with the old guard is perhaps reflected in his early story “Psychopolis”, in which an amateur flautist struggles with a piece of Bach: “[the] music was inane in its rationality, paltry in its over-determination… This genteel escapism, crossword with its answers written in, I could play no more of it.”

As the years have passed, however, the importance of “rationality” has become one of McEwan’s key themes; he is so fervent a cheer
leader for rationalism that he makes Richard Dawkins look agnostic in comparison.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

The Guardian asks some of our finest writers (Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, etc) about the ten rules they stick too when writing.

From the piece, Elmore Leonard's rules...

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

The Painted Book

From Print Magazine, this...

Lately, a handful of well-read visual artists have looked to book design—specifically, the classic covers of the 20th century—as a source of raw material and inspiration. Some paint book covers straight up, carefully replicating type and illustration, as well as the marks of wear and tear on particular copies. Others alter existing designs or invent their own jackets and titles. It’s surely no coincidence that artists are choosing the book as a subject in this era of new reading technologies. But these paintings are too joyous and affectionate to be memento mori for the printed word. “I think books as objects are beginning to mean more to people,” says artist and designer Leanne Shapton. “Their covers and the way they look—not just their contents—are part of our collective histories, with references, moods, and personal implications all their own.

You can see their creations, here.

Ten Literary Classics Made Better as Comic Books

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Pictured above: A graphic interpretation of Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday's Poem

As Black History Month continues, two poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

Lolita Through Book Covers

If you care to see a slew of covers done by a slew of artists based on the classic Nabakov novel Lolita, look no further.

Pictured above: Artwork by Elina Nakano.

The True Story Behind Kidnapped

The story in The Guardian begins...

As yarns go, it pretty much has it all. There's a street waif who's actually an aristocrat, heir to half a dozen titles and estates in England, Ireland and Wales. A dastardly uncle who'll stop at nothing to usurp him. A kidnapping most foul, and a decade of toil as an ­indentured servant in 18th-century America. Then, against impossible odds, a dashing return, and a quest for justice through the courts that held all society spellbound.

The extraordinary story of James Annesley has inspired at least five novels, including Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering and, most famously, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, one of the best-loved adventure books of all time. Yet the true story behind a case that was in its day every bit as sensational as those of Oscar Wilde, Myra Hindley or OJ Simpson were in theirs has never fully been told – and it is, if anything, even more spectacular than the fictions spun around it.

Learn more about Annesley's life, here.

People Who Write Sonnets Should Be Hung

This sentiment, care of poet Robert Bly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Novel Smuggled Away from Nazi-Era Germany in a Cake

What a cool story, care of The Guardian. A manuscript that was baked into a cake and taken out of Nazi Germany is being reprinted by Faber & Faber.

From the piece...

Jan Petersen's Our Street tells the true story of left-wing resistance in the fascist Germany of the 1930s. Set on Wallstrasse, in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin during the period from just before Hitler became chancellor to the early days of Nazi government, the book – a fictionalised version of events to avoid reprisals for those still working in the underground in Germany – tells of the violence exacted on the street's inhabitants in revenge for the killing of a stormtrooper. It opens by printing the names of 18 victims, "The Charlottenburg Death List".

Petersen, a communist whose name was twice put on the Gestapo's black list, finished the manuscript in 1934 and made two copies, sending one to Hamburg where it was to be taken to England by a German soldier but was eventually thrown into the sea to avoid last-minute detection. Friends tried to smuggle a second to Czechoslovakia, but months went by with no word, so Petersen decided to take the third – and final – copy to Prague himself. He baked the manuscript into two cakes and, dressed in skiing clothes to give the impression he was going on holiday, he smuggled it past the SS guards.

What Makes a Good Book Title? What Makes a Bad One?

The Rumpus finds out and, further, offers some suggestions about what not to call your fine piece of writing.

From the story...

Still, the fact remains that there are many more bad titles than good ones. I’ve seen some jaw-droppingly awful titles, often from very gifted writers. And I’m not just talking about my students: The Great Gatsby is an inspired title, one for the ages, but it wasn’t Fitzgerald’s idea. He wanted to call the novel Trimalchio in West Egg, which sounds like something Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up for The Playboy Channel. An early version of Portnoy’s Complaint was called A Jewish Patient Begins His Analysis. At various times, Catch-22 was called Catch-18, Catch-11, Catch-14, and Catch-17. And some classic novels have stood the test of time, despite having terrible titles. (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, for example, never fails to make me giggle.)

In short, there seems to be very little correlation between producing something brilliant and the ability to come up with a half-decent name for it.

Also, don't forget to check out this site; one that highlights how famous titles came to be.

Kids Aren't Reading Many Books These Days

The Telegraph takes note of a new study that says less than half of children aged nine to 14 read fiction more than once a month.

More from the piece...

Almost six in 10 boys and girls read websites more than once a month (57 per cent), followed by emails (52 per cent) and blogs or social networking sites (49 cent).

Despite 'virtual reading' becoming more and more widespread, magazines remain the most popular material for leisure reading, with 72 per cent of children reading them more than once a month.

But novels came a poor fifth, according to the poll of 1,530 children by the NLT, which it reported in a study about how children perceive reading.

A third (34 per cent) said the did not enjoy reading very much, the same proportion saying it made them feel "bored". Eight per cent said they did not enjoy it at all.

Pictured above: Eastman Johnson's "Lincoln as a Boy Reading at Night"

Why Orwell Endures

The New York Times discusses why George Orwell and his work continue to speak to us.

From the piece...

And yet for all his fame and stature, Orwell remains elusive. For one thing, he is impossible to categorize. He was a great something — but a great what? Scarcely a great novelist: the prewar novels are good but not very good, and even “Animal Farm” and “1984” aren’t great in the sense of “Madame Bovary.” To call him a great journalist, as many have done, means overlooking plenty of mundane (and inaccurate) political commentary. It’s when he turns to such unlikely matters as boys’ comics and vulgar postcards, as well as to his central subject of politics and language, that he enters the realm of deathless literature.

His politics were likewise sui generis. Although he called himself a democratic socialist, and served with a revolutionary-Marxist militia in Spain, he was in many ways an emotional and cultural conservative. The least doctrinaire of political writers, he had the gift of being able to transmute the Tory virtues of skepticism and pragmatism into a distinctive kind of radicalism.

Even his personality is elusive. It’s most striking that although he worked for BBC Radio and lived in the heyday of newsreels, we don’t have a single recording of his voice or moving image of him, or indeed any photograph at all of Orwell smiling. That too somehow seems appropriate. There were dark sides to his personality, and it’s not hard to understand what his friend Malcolm Muggeridge meant when he said that Orwell was an easier man to love than to like.

Sad as Orwell’s death was, one can’t escape a sense that in some way it was providential.

Also, for you Orwell fans, I present this, Brazilian puppets doing 1984.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Insider's Guide to Writing for Mills & Boon

Do you have a romance novel percolating within you? The Guardian offers some advice.

From the piece...

In Kendrick's and Jordan's cases, they clearly do. Jordan is the acknowledged queen of Mills & Boon. She's been writing for the publisher since 1981, has produced more than 170 novels and sold more than 70m books around the world. Kendrick, meanwhile, has just delivered her 75th book. That's 75 heroes, 75 heroines, 75 all-consuming love affairs and an estimated 150 sweaty sex scenes – Mills & Boon couples usually do it at least twice in the course of their 55,000-word romances. How, exactly, do these authors keep it up?

"It is very difficult to have a new take on an old story, and romance is an old story – it's been there forever. It has to ring true to the reader but at the same time you have to write in a way that keeps them turning pages," says Jordan, who churns out 5,000 words a day, writing four Mills & Boon novels a year, as well as two sagas for HarperCollins as Annie Groves. "You know you've got to grab their attention by the end of the first page." In fact, in her romance A Bride for His Majesty's Pleasure, the scene is set by the end of the first paragraph: "'And if I refuse to marry you?' Although she did her best not to allow her feelings to show, she was conscious of the fact that her voice trembled slightly. Max looked at her. 'I think you know the answer to your own question.'" The reader knows what they'll be getting – ruthless ruler, virgin bride – right from the start.

Jordan always begins, she says, with the issue the characters have to overcome in order to be together. "Romance is romance. For me a lot of the fun of writing comes from the problems I give the characters. They have to deal with them in order to feel confident with the relationships they have," she says. "I start with the central conflict, with the problem, then I build characters who will enable the problem to work from the readers' point of view. In the book I've just finished, neither the hero nor the heroine want commitment. He's a bit of a playboy, she's quite withdrawn. It goes back to them both feeling abandoned by their parents."

Can You Craft a 500-Word Story Based on This Photograph?

If so, you could win NPR's Three-Minute Fiction Contest.

The Best-Read Presidents

The Daily Beast judges our presidents on the books they read and had.

From the piece...

Is there perhaps a connection between the best-read presidents and those who sit near the top of rankings of the best presidents in history? The Daily Beast scoured biographies, presidential libraries, and available records to come up with our list of the presidents who were the most avid readers. The list is based on the size of their libraries, references to their reading habits, and what the types of books they read. From FDR’s 22,000-volume library to Thomas Jefferson’s reading in several different languages, we’ve compiled the ultimate presidential bibliophile list.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Interview on First Editions

Matthew Haley is a books and manuscripts specialist at Bonhams & Butterfields in New York. Recently, Collectors Weekly spoke to Haley about first editions, the difference between first editions and first printings, and some of the most collectible titles and authors on the market today.

From the piece...

Collectors Weekly: Which American classics are most sought after?
A first edition of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale" from 1851 would be a cornerstone of any collection.

A first edition of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale" from 1851 would be a cornerstone of any collection.

Haley: We’ve already discussed “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and there’s “Moby Dick” and “The Great Gatsby.” Those are all five-figure books in first-edition form. Anything that’s a household name is going to be the most sought after, really. Books that have been turned into classic movies like “Gone With the Wind” are also desirable. Genres also have their followings. Crime, children’s books, and sci-fi are all their own collecting fields, and each has a subset of collectible authors within it.

This brings us to the different types of first-edition collectors. There are people who want the classics in first edition—in other words, the classic books regardless of who the author is. But there are also people known as completists who want the complete works of a given author in first edition, including rare juvenilia stuff published when they were children. The most obvious form of completist in book collecting is someone who wants to own all of the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, or perhaps all of the James Bond books, including those written by Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis, and Sebastian Faulks.

P.G. Wodehouse is another favorite of completists. The approach is not limited to authors, particularly. How one collects books is as varied as people’s tastes. But collecting by author is one way for a collector to express his or her affection for a given writer. It’s probably slightly easier to complete a collection of first-edition Ian Flemings than Hemingways. Also, Ian Fleming has that boyish movie tie-in as well, which is quite good fun.

Collectors Weekly: You’ve mentioned movies a couple of times. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was at the top of the “New York Times” bestseller list after the release of the film “Julie & Julia.” Do movies always make first editions more valuable?

Haley: It depends on how classic the movie becomes. The Bond movies are unquestionably classics. Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” became “Blade Runner.” That movie is considered a classic, but in a sense the book was already there, so either way it’s going to remain collectible.

One recent circumstance that comes to mind is Philip Pullman’s “Northern Lights,” part of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which had a sudden peak in terms of their value in auction. After the film “The Golden Compass” came out, the peak dropped off slightly. So I think it’s quite a difficult thing to try and predict.

Some Conclusions about Endings

The Guardian discusses how there is something intrinsically problematic with the very idea of finishing stories.

From the piece...

So what, if anything, can I conclude from this briefest of surveys? That open-endedness is preferable? That concord, or its shadow, is necessary too? Perhaps George Eliot sums it up best: "Conclusions are the weak points of most authors," she writes, before adding that "some of the fault lies in the very nature of a conclusion, which is at best a negation".

The Greatest Literary Hoax Ever?

Do you know the artist Nat Tate? New York art types did when William Boyd (pictured above) wrote the book about the reclusive artist who committed suicide at 32. The thing is, Tate didn't exist.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Poet Lucille Clifton Dies

Bookmark This Post

The first convention for bookmark collectors will take place on February 20-21, 2010. It is an online event. You can get a brief overview of the event, here, or simply go to their Web site.

From the convention's page...

Why Bookmark Collectors?

Bookmarks have been in existence for as long as there have been books, and for the bookmark collector their meaning goes beyond their mundane purpose of marking a position within a book. Made out of materials that vary from paper to precious gems, they are pieces of art, souvenirs, craft samplers, time capsules, and cultural flotsam. Although their prices vary from free to thousands of dollars, collectors ascribe value based on personal meaning, judgment of beauty, and fit within a series.
Why a Bookmark Collectors Convention?

There are four general reasons any collector benefits from a convention:

* Education: learn history, craft, and technique
* Commerce: meet vendors, buy and sell items, swap, and order custom work
* Exposure: galleries, exhibits, and displays
* Social: meet fellow professionals and hobbyists, organize groups

My Summer of Debuts

Do you want to publish that debut novel? Do you want it to be a success? It'd be a good idea to heed the advice of Mark Sarvas on The Elegant Variation, who read a ton of debut novels for a literary prize last year.

From the piece...

They try to take on too much. I read too many overstuffed novels, books that seemed to be trying to record and solve every social problem or cultural phenomenon. But first-timers seldom have the chops to maintain control over this kind of material, and so one gets stuck with a book spinning frantically in a million directions at once. Lesson: Ambition is great; challenge yourself, push yourself – but don’t try to be Atlas the first time out.

They don’t take on enough. We are still living in the wake of the literary elevation of the micro, the attention to the small, quiet moment. Individually, these moments can carry great power, and the short story naturally fits this impulse. But too many of these first novels have taken the slenderest conceit imaginable and attempted to hang a novel on it. You can feel the spindly branches bending under the weight, almost to the point of breaking. And there comes a point in the story when the reader begins to wonder why the author felt there was a novel in this idea. Lesson: Tea towels do not a novel make.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Special: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda


Valentine's Day Special: An Emotionally Devastating Analysis of Five Love Poems

The analysis is done by Tao Lin for the Poetry Foundation.

Valentine's Day Special: Don't Write Off Love Letters Yet

So says the Telegraph.

From the piece...

When I asked around among my acquaintances, I assumed that the results of my unscientific sampling of teenagers, twentysomethings and thirtysomethings would be overwhelmingly negative. The conventional wisdom is that almost no one writes letters, let alone love letters, today. Indeed, figures released earlier this week by Lindt Lindor chocolates show that while 78 per cent of the women surveyed said they’d like to receive a handwritten letter, only 50 per cent of the men admitted to ever having written one.

Happily, though, my research threw up different results. The teenagers I spoke to agree that texting, while perfect for flirting, and for saying you are on the train, is also great for jump-starting a new relationship. But they are unanimous that they would never, ever tell their love to someone by email: they would write it on a card instead. This explains why there is a card shop, or two, on every high street – and with Valentine’s Day coming up on Sunday, they’ll be busy.

It’s the same for the young grown-ups I spoke to. Emails, my informant Mark tells me, are just not cool for anything but the briefest tender message. Making love by email is “a faux pas” as well as being a security risk or even an insult: “Anyone who sends an e-Valentine really, really does not care.”

Valentine's Day Special: Slate's 2010 Valentine's Day Poetry Anthology

Find the poems, here, care of Slate's poetry editor Robert Pinsky.

Valentine's Day Special: A Brief History of Great Love Letters

The history, care of Mental Floss.

From the piece...

Tales of thwarted love capture the human imagination like nothing else. So it’s not surprising that the early 12th century story of Pierre Abelard and Héloïse has endured for generations.

Abelard was in his early 30s and one of the most promising philosophers and teachers in medieval Paris; young Héloïse was the clever and academic live-in niece of a respected churchman, Canon Fulbert. Claiming the upkeep of a home and the commute to Paris was too onerous, Abelard appealed to Fulbert: In exchange for room and board, he’d tutor bright Héloïse. Some claim that Abelard knew exactly what he was doing by securing a room with the Canon, but whether it was fate or the crafty work of a besotted suitor, it worked. They soon fell in love and, after a brief period of intense “study” sessions, Héloïse became pregnant. They married in secret and for a short time, it looked like things were going to turn out OK for the illicit pair. But that wouldn’t make it a tragedy: With wounded pride and a vengeful heart, Canon Fulbert hired some men to find Abelard and castrate him.

With Abelard a eunuch and her child entrusted to the care of her family, Héloïse was given little choice but to take the vows; she later became prioress of her abbey, while Abelard’s career as a philosopher thrived.

Abelard seems to have turned away from sensual love after the incident, but Héloïse continued to pour her romantic love for him into letters: “But if I lose you, what is left to hope for? What reason for continuing on the pilgrimage of life, for which I have no support but you and none in you except the knowledge that you are alive, now that I am forbidden all other pleasures in you and denied even the joy of your presence which from time to time could restore me to myself?”

In the more than 800 years since their deaths, the lovers’ story, now the stuff of paintings and poetry, has cemented their place in the pantheon of great lovers. Their letters also remain—although there is some scholarly debate as to whether the two even wrote them. The real question is, as the couple has already passed into legend, does it matter?

Valentine's Day Special: A Candy Box of History's Sappiest Literary Lovers

The list, care of A Journey Round My Skull.

Pictured above: Sappy lovers Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas.

Valentine's Day Special: My Illustrated Book Marriage Proposal

Well, not MINE, but Joel Kimmel's.