Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Generation Geek

At a time when comic book culture has never been more mainstream -- or more lucrative -- where’s the line between wannabe and true believer? Maisonneuve tries to answer that question.

From the story...

One thing is obvious: Fan Expo is booming. This is what Wall Street would look like if the world’s financial nexus were run by chubby men in Iron Maiden tees. And like Wall Street, Fan Expo is notorious for its cutthroat ways. Christopher Bird of Torontoist blasted Expo parent company Hobbystar’s habit of scheduling “parasitic” Fan Appreciation Days right before Toronto’s other major conventions in order “to hurt their competitor’s attendance and thus profit margin.”

Roaming the Expo, I begin narrating the whole thing in my head like the voice-over in a Werner Herzog documentary about obsessive, half-mad visionaries: Zese strangers have ambled here dressed up as ze costumed scions of a disposable culture. Yet beyond ze fanaticism, zere is a secret beauty. A delicate madness which zese foolish dreamers dare give full expression to…and so on.

But that kind of condescending bombast is unfair. There’s nothing disposable about this culture—Superman and Captain America will endure long after Werner Herzog is just another name on some “Intro to Film Studies” syllabus. There is no delicate madness and no secret beauty either. There are just snaking lines of people (mostly under thirty, mostly men) in the plaid-shirt-and-faded-jean uniform of the contemporary twentysomething everyman. It’s this attendee I’m most interested in: the schlub unconcerned with costumes, but deadly serious about comics.

IT'S HARD TO PINPOINT the precise moment of geekery’s mainstream emergence, but I’d suggest it was 1984, when the stars of the comedy Revenge of the Nerds stole the frat boys’ girlfriends and became campus kings.

Monks' Business

The Trappists of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Oregon are bookbinders. Learn about their craft in the Catholic Sentinel and how they're adapting in the ever-changing economic conditions we're all facing.

From the piece...

“We’re working to adapt,” says Brother Chris Balent, who designed the bindery site. “We do the best we can. We’re not businessmen, we’re monks.”

A steady base of about 30 colleges, especially Portland State University, has been the mainstay of the monks’ book work. It’s the largest of the enterprises at the abbey, also known for making fruitcake, managing a forest and storing wine for local vineyards.

But now the schools are turning more and more to putting periodicals, dissertations and other research in online collections.

Epigraphs: Opening Possibilities

In the Guardian, there's a discussion about epigraphs and their function at the beginnings of books.

From the piece...

"Never use epigraphs, they kill the mystery in the work!" (Adli)

The above piece of epigraphic genius prefaces Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book – though we later learn that it's lifted from the writings of a protagonist in the novel. Postmodern paradise doesn't get much better, and neither do opening gambits. It does, I think, what every epigraph should aspire to do: surprise the reader, catching us off guard and subtly manipulating our approach to the text.

A good epigraph should be more than mere adornment. Better to think of it as a lens – or a sucker punch. Indeed, the very presence of an epigraph can make us question what lies before us. Playful or authoritative, omnipotent or throwaway, it acts as a kind of shadowy third figure, somewhere between the author and the audience.

Pictured above: The epigraph to Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

The Healing Power of Jane Austen

As Emma Thompson reveals the work of Jane Austen saved her from depression, romantic novelist JoJo Moyes examines the healing power of literature in the Telegraph.

From the story...

And it’s not just about escaping back to the 18th century, to a land of petticoats and Regency toffs in breeches. Austen, like Shakespeare, still resonates because she tells us modern truths: that decent people end up in impossible situations through no fault of their own. And that if they are good (Emma Woodhouse), honest (Lizzie Bennett), and true (Fanny Price) there is a good chance it will all come right in the end. (Interestingly Claire Tomalin, Austen’s biographer, suggests she too may have suffered deep depression, which may have helped her to write so humanely about the complexities of emotional life.)

From the Bible onwards, people have looked to books to tell us how to live through adversity. And for those of us born prior to the escapes of YouTube, instant messaging and alcopops, medication through fiction was a habit we learned early. Comic novelist Jenny Colgan estimates she has read Little Women “something like 9,000 times”. “I use Little Women as a security blanket if I’m feeling down. I know its moralising tone is highly unfashionable nowadays, but I find it totally comforting. Do the right thing, even when you don’t want to. Cut off your hair, and give away your Christmas breakfast; try and be the better person and all will be well. Or, if that doesn’t work, do exactly what Jo does and hide in a garret with a book and a bag of apples.”

Jane Austen can also heal whatever financial wounds you have. Particularly if you put a first edition on the auction block. Her Emma just made a boat load of money.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path

The New York Times discusses the lament of professional photographers. That is, anyone with the know how to use a digital camera is making money taking photographs.

From the piece...

Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”

Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.

Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.

Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options.

The Problem with Fairy Tales

The Millions has a piece about three contemporary adaptations of Snow White.

From the story...

In the fairy tale, Snow White is the innocent, lovely virgin while her stepmother is a jealous, wicked older woman. In Block’s “Snow” the mother is not a powerful and wicked witch, but a pathetic figure. She gives up her child because she does not “know what to do with her” and sits “crying in the garden” while the child screams. However, when she sees Snow with the gardener she returns with poisoned apples and tries to kill her daughter. Snow White is still cast as the blameless girl, and her mother is still jealous and deadly.

Gaiman’s “Snow Glass Apples” appears to be a subversion but is actually just a reversal of roles. Snow White is the preternatural, consuming villain; the step-mother is the victim. Gaiman’s inversion seems to question the traditional binary opposition of good girl versus wicked woman, but he has simply transposed the good and evil roles, making Snow White the wicked queen in everything but name. The tale is still one of good female against evil female. Gaiman cannot break out of the mythic framework to imagine the women as anything other than binary opposites.

The myth is truly subverted in Donoghue’s “The Tale of the Apple.” While at first the roles are again simply reversed, the two women are eventually revealed as allies. The stepmother tries repeatedly to reach out to Snow White but it is Snow herself who makes the final decision to return to the castle, bringing the two women together. It is Snow White and not the stepmother who has the power as she succeeds where the stepmother has failed, but she uses this power to bring an end to their antagonism.

The myth suggests that there are only two courses available to women: being beautiful and loved, but powerless; or being powerful, but hated and ultimately destroyed. By continuing to write the characters in these binary roles, writers are failing to confront the woman-against-woman message underlying the myth. Donoghue’s subversion suggests a way out of this bind, by letting the characters elevate themselves above this shallow jealousy.

The Manifesto

In the essay, "American Jeremiad: A Manifesto," The New York Times discusses the current rise in manifesto publishing.

From the story...

Yes, I am referring to the manifesto. And our writers can’t stop turning them out. It’s not just the Tea Party set they’re aiming for. Out last month was “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto,” David Shields’s call to the literary barricades. Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” stormed the shelves in January, right behind Atul Gawande’s “Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” and Mark Helprin’s “Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto.”

A few clicks reveal a surge of recent and forthcoming titles — from “Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe” to “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto”; from “Green Supply Chains: An Action Manifesto” to “Reengineering Health Care: A Manifesto for Aligning Quality, Access, and Cost”; from “The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint” to “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto”; from “Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ” to (Lord help us!) “Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto.”

If this drumbeat of “manifestos” strikes a false cultural note, perhaps it’s because Americans aren’t much known for writing them. The most memorable — Communist, Futurist, Surrealist — come from Europe, like the word itself. Of course, exceptions have proved the rule at other revolutionary moments in our history — “Common Sense” (1776), “The Bitch Manifesto” (1970), “The Cluetrain Manifesto” (1999) — but for the most part, the manifesto is not a native plant. We Americans tend to gravitate in another direction.

Journalism School May Die. Good.

Gawker discusses the trials and tribulations of journalism schools today.

From the piece...

A shrinking pool of journalists may mean the death of J-schools. Good. Fusty academia, pointless courses on 'new media' and endless essay-masturbation over ethics is pointless anyway.

Learning journalism in a classroom feeds the idea that you can learn journalism in a classroom, or on a planned exercise where you go out and interview pedestrians on the Upper West Side. One of the most quoted lines about reporting, by the late British foreign correspondent Nicholas Tomalin, is that "the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability."

J-school teaches none of these things. It can't.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What are the Creepiest Children's Book Titles?

The Huffington Post has some suggestions.

The New World of Books

Bookforum offers up all sorts of interesting links in regards to books, including book artists, discussions about the future of publishing and the future of libraries, reviews of Kindles and iPads, and more.

Monster Mash-Up

Ward Sutton, for The New York Times, offers up some contemporary titles that can be monsterized during these days when books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are hitting the best seller lists.

Mary Katherine Goddard: Founding Printer

Who is Mary Katherine Goddard?

According to Lux Mentis:

She was the first postmistress in the US, but far more importantly, she was a printer. While the first copy of the Declaration of Independence was famously printed by John Dunlap, the second copy (and the first printed names of the signers) was printed by M.K. Goddard. She also printed one of the first accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

You can learn more about Goddard, here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not a Tourist

On World Hum, Tom Swick writes on the evolving role of the travel writer in the age of mass tourism and YouTube.

From the story...

Curiously, the genre’s renaissance coincided with the appearance of its obituary. In 1980, the cultural critic Paul Fussell published “Abroad,” a superb study of British travel and travel writing between the wars that concludes with the pronouncement that the postwar age of tourism killed real travel and, by extension, the writing that was its offspring. It didn’t finish off either, any more than televised baseball brought an end to a day at the ballpark. There is still the authentic experience but, like being a spectator at a game, travel is now altered by its well-recorded popularity.

In an age of mass tourism (and YouTube), the travel writer’s job has changed. It is not enough anymore simply to describe a landscape; we must root out its meanings. Jonathan Raban, playing the immigrant in “Hunting Mister Heartbreak,” goes shopping in 1980s Manhattan and is struck by the tone of bombastic abundance. “Macy’s was scared stiff of our boredom,” he writes, nailing the frenetic nature of not only an American department store but American capitalism. Writers such as Raban, Colin Thubron, Jan Morris and Pico Iyer each possess, in addition to the requisite eye for detail, an agile and well-stocked mind for synthesis, and their findings are riveting (and often surprising) even to people intimately familiar with their subjects. The physical hardships these writers endure in the course of their journeys often pale in comparison to those of their predecessors—though Thubron continues to travel rough—but the scaled-down suffering is offset by the greater creative challenge.

How Not to Title a Novel

The Guardian laments the state of novel titles lately.

From the piece...

The Swan Thieves. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. The House of Tomorrow. The Surrendered. The Girl with Glass Feet. The Unnamed. Enchanted Glass. The Pregnant Widow … These are all more-or-less literary novels published in the last 10 weeks or so, and their titles are virtually interchangeable in my mind. If I went into a bookshop looking for one of these, the chances are high that I'd get confused and ask the staff for The Pregnant Swan Girl Who Surrendered Unnamed Glass Tomorrow. Then they'd start laughing at me, I'd be filled with shame, my lip would start wobbling and I'd flee the shop.

The piece continues by offering up title suggestions of their own, whether you're writing a whimsical comic novel (The Spectabulicious Adventures of Lord Pettlesnook and his Patchwork Dirigible) or some edgy fiction for hip twentysomethings (Fuckepedia).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Alien vs. Pooh


Treasure Island: The Sequel

It's in the works, the sequel is, 126 years after Robert Louis Stevenson penned that first swashbuckling tale.

From the piece in The Guardian...

The last we heard of Stevenson's treasure-hunting cabin boy hero, Jim Hawkins, he had just returned from Treasure Island, loot in hand, after mutiny, murder and derring-do on the high seas, swearing never to return again "to that accursed island" despite the treasure that remained.

The formidable one-legged pirate, Long John Silver, meanwhile, has disappeared, and only five men return to Bristol on the good ship Hispaniola: "Drink and the devil had done for the rest".

In Motion's book, Jim's son, Jim Jnr, lives with his father in a Thames-side pub outside London, where he is visited by a girl who turns out to be Long John Silver's daughter. She convinces him to steal his father's map of Treasure Island – "nine miles long and five across, shaped, you might say, like a fat dragon standing up, [with] two fine land-locked harbours, and a hill in the centre part marked 'The Spy-Glass'" in Stevenson's novel – and to run away and seek the remaining treasure with her.

J.D. Salinger's Letter to Ernest Hemingway

It's being displayed, the letter is, at the JFK Library.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday's Poem

Sonia Sanchez's "Middle Passage":

James Franco: Actor...Short Story Writer

Read his piece in Esquire.

Books Going 3-D

What if it wasn't a cliche anymore to say, after reading a book, that the characters jumped off the page? What if they actually did? South Korean scientists have done it.

From the piece in Reuters...

Pictures in the books have cues that trigger the 3D animation for readers wearing computer-screen goggles. As the reader turns and tilts the book, the 3D animation moves accordingly.

"It took us about three years to develop the software for this," said Kim Sang-cheol, the team leader of the project.

Kim said the technology could be used for any type of book and sees it eventually being used for images displayed over smart phones or at museums to enhance exhibits.

Who Stole the Thriller?

It was once owned by Americans. It's now owned by writers who don't write in English. The Daily Beast tries to dig up some answers.

From the piece...

Culturally, we’re not doing much better—unless, of course, Jersey Shore had some profound significance that escaped me. An American author hasn’t won the Nobel Prize in Literature for nearly two decades. A judge from the Nobel committee caused a small row in 2008 when he called American literature “too isolated, too insular.”

In fact, even the popular literature we read is no longer necessarily homegrown. This past winter, I read four genre novels of the thriller/suspense/crime variety. Two were American, two were from abroad. They further confirmed my suspicion that good things are happening. They’re just happening elsewhere or yesteryear.

Is it possible that the entire Anglo-American world offers too narrow a scope? That even the work of whiskey-swilling private eyes has been outsourced? In one word, yes. The finest thriller I’ve recently read was not written in English.

A to Z of Awesomeness

Artist Neil Cameron, the Telegraph notes, did comic book inspired drawings of each letter in the alphabet. The results were inspired.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Move Over, Klingon Geeks

There are new geeks in town.

Dictator-Lit: The Short Stories of Muammar al-Gaddafi


W. Eugene Smith and the Jazz Loft Project

On The New York Times Paper Cuts blog, there's a brief piece on one of my favorite books in recent memory - The Jazz Loft Project - a book of wonderful photography by W. Eugene Smith taken between 1957 and 1965.

Here's the great Thelonious Monk playing "Don't Blame Me":

Why Are Books the Length They Are?

There's an interesting post on author Charlie Stross's blog.

From the piece...

Let's take SF and fantasy novels published in the USA as a case in point. Prior to the early 1920s the genre didn't really exist in its current form. From roughly 1923 and Hugo Gernsback's publication of Amazing Stories magazine, the pulps reigned supreme: monthly newsstand magazines publishing short stories and serializing novels. Newsstand magazine readers are fickle. Serial novels need to be short enough not to dominate a magazine completely, lest a reader who doesn't like this particular novel stops finding other reasons to buy the mag; and they need to be of finite length. It shouldn't be any surprise to discover that SF novels from the period 1923 to roughly 1952, when the newsstand fiction magazine industry more or less disintegrated (leaving only a tiny handful of survivors) are typically very short — 45,000 to 60,000 words.

The death of the pulps didn't take the SF novel with them; far from it. In fact, book-format novels were already being published (notably Asimov's Foundation series dates to this time — originally serialized in magazine form, they then saw success as individual books), and the mass market novel took over as the main outlet. The length of novels then began to creep up, and continued to creep up steadily through the 1980s.

Many earlier novels are still deceptively short by modern standards. A typical SF novel of the 1960s was 70,000 words long. By the 1980s, 80,000 words was the norm; by the 1990s it had bloated to 100-120,000 words. Why?

One account I've heard (from an editor who was active throughout this period) is that it was the distributors. The mass market for paperbacks prior to 1991 was dominated by wholesalers who supplied retail stores — not bookshops, but local supermarkets with wire-mesh book racks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Great Novel? You Must Be Having a Laugh

The U.K's Telegraph highlights the plight of the comedic novel. Plight, in that it often doesn't win many literary awards. But why? Just because they're funny doesn't mean they're not serious.

From the piece...

Comic novels — let’s call them terrific novels that happen to be funny — tend to fall through the cracks, especially where prizes are concerned. Publishers have to choose which books from their list to submit for a prize such as the Orange: is a book that makes a reader laugh really worthy of a prize? Or is it just, well, not serious enough? Ian McEwan’s new novel, Solar, is really very funny: luckily he is already Ian McEwan, so no one will think less of him for that. He has always been what you might call a darkly funny writer but there is real slapstick in Solar; Roddy Doyle — a master of comedy himself, when he wants to be — told me that it reminded him of Tom Sharpe’s books, “only more subtle”.

But there is another issue, too: one for which you can’t blame publishers or booksellers. The thing about being funny is that it’s really hard. It’s a lot harder than being serious. It requires wit, grace, agility, sensitivity; it requires knowing how hard to push and when to stop on a dime. The reason the classic comic novels — such as Lucky Jim, or Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, or Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, or Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle — stand the test of time is not because they are great comic novels: it’s because they are great novels, full stop. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: comic novel or serious novel? Doesn’t matter. Brilliant novel.

Salinger and Publishing

What are we to do with all the unpublished writings of the late J.D. Salinger? The Perpetual Post has an opinion about it.

From the story...

This last fact is the most incontrovertible argument against Salinger’s last work being published posthumously. It is unlikely that during the decades that he lived in anonymity, Salinger simply forgot to send any of the manuscripts in question to his agent. In fact, during rare interviews throughout his life, he conceded that he had in fact continued to write, although he did so for himself and not so that his work could be read by others. This, to me, does not indicate that he only meant that his work was not for others to read until after his death, although as I said before, if he left a note in the safe with the works which stated something along the lines of, “Go nuts and send this stuff to Harper Collins once I kick, Love J.D.” then certainly that would change things.

I also question the motivations of J.D. Salinger’s heirs and estate if they do decide to publish his remaining manuscripts. It has been brought into question whether his later works were of the same quality of his few early stories and novels. Even if they are; even if sitting in a safe in his home in New Hampshire are six or seven novels of the same caliber of “The Catcher in the Rye”, if he did not publish them, what right does anyone else have to do so if it is not with his explicit permission? Is the enjoyment of his fans worth more than his individual right to privacy and his right to have his wishes in life respected after his death? Certainly there are enormous profits to be made on those last novels, whether or not they are worthwhile reads. Will there be any way to distinguish between his surviving relative’s wishes to share his unpublished genius with the world, and their desire to make an easy million?

And, speaking of Salinger, the first biography after his death is out now.

Anique Map Market Now on the Map

Earth Times has a piece about how the antiquarian map market has been steadily gaining strength these days.

From the story...

Jason Miklian, owner of Miklian Antiquarian Maps, understands that both casual buyers and seasoned investors are using the opportunity to bolster their collections, particularly for more unique and hard-to-find items. "We are seeing that after prices bottomed out last year, they are beginning to rise again across most categories and genres."

Further, values of many maps have actually increased during the economic slowdown. "Sales of maps originating from non-European or American sources have really taken off over the past couple of years," Miklian said. "In particular, it's been a challenge to keep any maps written in Arabic, Japanese, or Hindi scripts in stock."

Miklian believes that this trend will continue as other regions of the world are beginning to discover an interest in antique maps. "Indian and Chinese customers are by far our biggest new group of customers, and their tastes go beyond the standard European or American mapmakers. Most want local and regional interpretations of history, and these maps can be extremely difficult to locate."

And speaking of maps, will paper maps be around much longer with GPS devices and all? Miller-McCune discusses it, here.

From the piece...

Pity the poor paper map. Once admired for its accuracy, it is now scorned for being less precise than digital maps and hopelessly passé when compared to handheld GPS and satellite navigation systems.

Many government agencies and longtime private sector cartographers have stopped or slowed production of paper maps, including the California State Automobile Association, which produced maps that are the standard of excellence for road maps around the world and closed down its mapmaking division at the end of 2008. The U.S. and Canadian governments have greatly reduced paper map production, as have Rand McNally and Thomas Brothers, which joined forces.

But the rush to online mapping is causing some problems. Studies by the British Cartographic Society show that high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features such as historical landmarks, government buildings and cultural institutions; this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy, the august body warns.

And speaking of geographic literacy, Lapham Quarterly maps the evolution of four stories, including Faust (illustrated above) and Pygmalion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Madness Reading List

Now that your bracket has been utterly broken (seriously, Cornell in the Sweet 16? Seriously, you lost to Northern Iowa, Kansas?), why not read a book?! The Christian Science Monitor shoots and scores with the ten best books about college basketball.

iPhone Apps for Book Lovers

Printers Row, of the Chicago Tribune, runs down some of the best applications for iPhones that'll appeal to book lovers.

Redactive Poetry Project

Inspired by a poetic method called “erasure” – “where the poet erases portions of newsprint or blots out text from a novel, using the remaining words to create a different narrative than the original journalist or author’s intention” — a group of students in an intellectual property law class at New York University have launched the Redactive Poetry Project. Do all the poems you want. It's (probably) legal!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Philiip Pullman is Going to Eternal Hell

He is unperturbed, after writing about the life of Jesus.

Curious George Escapes the Nazis

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Book Patrol has an interesting history of Curious George.

From the piece...

In late 1939 the Reys began work on a sequel to Raffy and the 9 Monkeys, centered around the break-out monkey star, Fifi. He had been the smallest, and most troublesome, of the supporting cast of simians in Raffy, so naturally he was the favorite of young readers. The new volume was to be called Fifi: The Adventures of a Monkey, and was part of a multi-book contract the Reys had with Gallimard. Luckily for the soon to be endangered couple, that contract included a significant cash advance.

Adolph Hitler had already begun the Nazi expansion through Europe by the end of 1939. Czechoslovakia and Poland had been invaded and annexed by the Third Reich, and occupations of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium followed within a few short months. France was at war with Germany, but antisemitism was on the rise even in Paris. In 1939 French authorities were tipped off that the Reys were using their Montmartre home as a clandestine bomb factory. A raid on the grounds turned up numerous drawings and stories concerning the exploits of Fifi, none of which could be linked to manufacturing explosives. The Reys remained free thanks to the little brown monkey who later became Curious George. It was the first time George saved his creators, but not the last.

The Reys began to suspect Paris was becoming dangerous for them, and twice left the city for the quieter French countryside areas of Gers and Normandy. On May 25, 1940 Hitler ordered his troops to resume their advance into Belgium and France. The Reys had seen refugees fleeing Northern France for Paris, and then fleeing Paris for areas near the coastline or the Spanish border. The Jewish couple knew that to survive they must become two more of the millions of displaced persons abandoning France. They packed up a few cherished belongings, including their unpublished manuscripts and drawings, and the remainder of the cash advance from Gallimard. Public transportation was jammed, if it was running at all. And like most Parisians, the Reys didn't own a car. Bicycles were worth their weight in gold, and were being sold at such exorbitant prices they might as well have been made of it. The resourceful H.A. Rey scoured Paris for cast-off spare parts and broken two-wheelers, and hastily cobbled together a couple of makeshift bikes. On June 12, 1940 the Reys left Paris with their vitally important Brazilian passports in hand.

David Byrne of Creative Colaboration

Recently, on David Bryne's site, he discusses creative collaboration.

From the piece...

I’ve done a slew of collaborations over the years — more and more as time goes by, and they are always slightly different from one another, though there are more similarities than differences. One could say that some of the songs co-written with other members of Talking Heads were also collaborations, so the give and take nature of collaborative writing skills got developed early.

The Here Lies Love project — due out in early April — was largely a collaboration with Fatboy Slim, and one of the most extensive I’ve done in while. Not all the 22 songs on that project were collaboratively written, but more than half were.

How do these things work?

Manly Slang from the 19th Century

Shut yer bone box, or you might have some cold gruel. If you don't look over this list of slang, care of the Art of Manliness, and do something else, that's pure fimble-flamble.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Ian McEwan is planning to help create "Atonement: The Opera."

From the story in The Guardian...

Now the pair are at it again, telling the Times this morning that an operatic adaptation of Atonement is in the works. This time, McEwan isn't writing the libretto himself – he'll hand it over to poet Craig Raine after helping to shape it; Berkeley is writing the music. The project grew out of interest from a German opera house, we learn, and a co-production with New York and London houses is pencilled in for 2013.

And the author is thinking big. "It's not a chamber piece, that's for sure," he told the Times. "You can do some very big dramatic things with this. If you were thinking of a large-scale opera then what springs to mind is 380,000 troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. That would be quite a choir."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Archive Sheds a Light on Virginia Woolf's Death

The Guardian highlights a recently opened Bloomsbury archive that highlights Clive Bell coming to terms with his sister-in-law's suicide.

From the piece...

One of the documents in the archive, which has been acquired by King's College Cambridge, sees Clive Bell writing to Partridge on 3 April 1941, shortly after Woolf's final disappearance. "I'm not sure whether the Times will by now have announced that Virginia is missing. I'm afraid there is not the slightest doubt that she drowned herself about noon last Friday," writes Bell. "She had left letters for Leonard and Vanessa [Woolf and Bell]. Her stick and footprints were found by the edge of the river. For some days, of course, we hoped against hope that she had wandered crazily away and might be discovered in a barn or a village shop. But by now all hope is abandoned; only, as the body has not been found, she cannot be considered dead legally."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday's Poem

Charles Simic reads his poem, "Prodigy":

The Great West Coast Newspaper War

Seized delivery vans, murderous editors, irate blog posts, allegations of insanity, connections to the Church of Satan, illegal predatory-pricing schemes, and more than $21 million on the line. Sounds interesting, eh? That's the crazy story in Seattle's The Stranger about the alt-weekly war in San Francisco.

Photo by John Sullivan.

Have We Given up on Fiction?

That's the question the Daily Beast is asking during these days of sordid memoirs and reality TV.

From the story...

You’d have to have been living on Mars not to recognize the broad truth underlying that list: everywhere you look, fiction is going into the ring with reality and getting trounced in three rounds. Reality TV shows beat fictional dramas in the ratings. Memoirs outsell novels. More people voted for American Idol than for Barack Obama. High school girls write letters to the “real” Juliet, while fans of the Matrix plug into that film’s DVD extras to unravel the magic. This new interrogatory mood may surprise those who cast Americans as a nation of dreamers, fantasists, escapologists seeking endless distraction from the pain of their daily lives in the doughy delights of the 24-hour pop-culture sensorium. It’s called the American Dream not the American Uncomfortable Fact.

Text without Context

The New York Times discusses reading and the internet.

From the piece...

THESE NEW BOOKS share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research. They examine the consequences of the fragmentation of data that the Web produces, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into bits and bytes; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our lives; and the emphasis that blogging and partisan political Web sites place on subjectivity.

At the same time it’s clear that technology and the mechanisms of the Web have been accelerating certain trends already percolating through our culture — including the blurring of news and entertainment, a growing polarization in national politics, a deconstructionist view of literature (which emphasizes a critic’s or reader’s interpretation of a text, rather than the text’s actual content), the prominence of postmodernism in the form of mash-ups and bricolage, and a growing cultural relativism that has been advanced on the left by multiculturalists and radical feminists, who argue that history is an adjunct of identity politics, and on the right by creationists and climate-change denialists, who suggest that science is an instrument of leftist ideologues.

Illustration above by Harry Campbell.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love, Trailer

Try to Remember to Forget

In The Urbanite Magazine, Richard O'Mara discusses rereading novels and, by doing so, unlocking memories during the time when he read the novel originally.

From the piece...

At a bookstore, I had picked up a novel called The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque, the German author of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was published in 1928. The plot of The Black Obelisk, which came out in 1956, unfolds in Germany following World War I. It has historical veracity, sharply differentiated characters, Nazis, and, believe it or not, humor. I loved it for the first sixty pages—at which point I realized that I had loved it before, forty-odd years ago.

I was enjoying it so much the second time that I kept going to the end. My pleasure came in different ways: At the first reading I wondered what would happen; the second time around I was full of anticipation for what I knew was coming. I had the sensation that I was walking a familiar path, one strewn with long-undisturbed memories of my own life around the time of that first reading.

It was in 1964; I was seated at a cafĂ© by a beach in Argentina, hearing Vaughn Monroe’s voice pour out of a scratchy loudspeaker, singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” A wild storm broke over the town of Miramar that night, where we were staying, my wife and I and our new daughter. I recalled hearing the waves crump like mortar shells on the beach.

Why, I asked myself, had I not retrieved these memories before?

Mark Twain: Baseball Fan

In The New York Times, there's a story about Mark Twain and his interest in baseball.

From the piece...

“When professional baseball was the new thing in town,” the baseball historian John Thorn said, “local and national celebrities, from authors to actresses, from mayors to magnates, lined up in public support, much as they do today, to see and to be seen. The celebrities lent tone and luster to the game.”

Being seen certainly suited Twain, but at the local ball grounds, he had another purpose, too. Under the heading “Red Stockings vs. Blue” he made notes during at least one of those Boston-Hartford contests, filling a sheet of his stationery that is now part of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley.

His notations include basics — behind the bat, left field, safe hit — that suggest a crash course in baseball lingo, much as Twain had absorbed steamboat pilots’ vernacular.

Elmore Leonard Profiled

"Justified," the new show on FX starring Timothy Olyphant, is based on the writings of the great Elmore Leonard (author of the novels Get Shorty, Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, etc).

NPR interviewed him recently and profiles him.

The trailer for "Justified" can be seen here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Collecting (and Reading) (and Watching) (and Looking at) the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all. Today you might as well start your collection of fine books from Ireland. AbeBooks gives you a brief primer on collecting the Irish. Book Patrol also revels in antiquarian Irish books.

From the piece...

It is said Ireland’s greatest contribution to the world of arts and culture has been its literature. Always known for a rich oral and storytelling tradition, Ireland transformed into a literate island with the coming of Christianity in 400-500 AD (heralded by St. Patrick himself). Monks were hard at work illuminating Gospel manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells, while the rest of Europe began its descent into the Dark Ages.

Modern Irish writing, however, began with Jonathan Swift, whose masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), is still widely read in schools.

And if collecting books isn't your thing, reading must be. That said, the Daily Beast offers some fine Irish reading selections to put an (Irish) spring in your step.

And while we're at it, why not watch the Big Think Interview with Irish author and actor Malachy McCourt?

And, well, since we've got a theme going here, here are a collection of Then & Now images of Ireland from Flickr. Enjoy.

Finally, 7 things you didn't know about leprechauns.

Librarians, Librarians, Librarians!

Five real librarians pick their favorite fictional librarians on Flavorwire.

Cookery Books: England's Gift to America

in The Atlantic, Diana Burrell sings the praises of the cookbooks published in the UK.

From the piece...

My love of British cookbooks is rooted in nostalgia for the foods I read about in classic English children's literature—the hot currant buns Sara Crewe longed for during her stint as a scullery maid, Enid Blyton's "lashings of boiled eggs"—but the nostalgia is tempered with practicality. British cookbooks tend to give weight measurements for ingredients, which is precisely why I go out of my way to purchase the British versions of British cookbooks rather than waiting for the inaccurate cups-and-teaspoons translations for Americans. My success rate with recipes, especially baked goods, is much higher when I can measure ingredients by pounds or grams on an inexpensive digital kitchen scale. Nonetheless, American cookbook publishers are loath to accept that a growing number of American home cooks actually prefer weight measures to volume measures. Fine. This Yank will buy Brit.

British cookbooks also blend the familiar with the exotic. Newer ones aren't all filled with recipes for steak-and-kidney pie and raunchy-sounding spotted dick, although there are plenty of new releases that celebrate these British classics. (I admit, I'm always game for a fresh twist on sticky toffee pudding ... who isn't?) But I like that modern British cooking feels more adventurous than a lot of American cooking. The British eat more lamb and aren't afraid to forage the hedgerows, while most Americans seem to me to prefer lambs in petting zoos and restrict their foraging to the aisles of Whole Foods. I like that they call their zucchinis "courgettes," that seeds are "pips," and that a cake can be baked in a "slow" oven. (Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City sells a helpful pamphlet called All You Need to Know About the British Kitchen that deciphers cooking terminology for Americans.) On the familiar side of the equation, of course, British celebrity chefs and their cookbooks are as popular here as they are over there. Even my eight-year-old knows it's time to leave the room when he spots Gordon Ramsay's craggy face on BBC America.