Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday's Poem

Marvin Bell's "An Elm We Lost":

Free Comic Book Day Tomorrow!

Saturday, May 1st, is Free Comic Book Day, a time when you can walk into a comic book store empty-handed and come out with free comic books. NPR gives you a checklist for the comics agnostic and, in City Arts, I discuss briefly my infatuation with Vigilante a couple decades ago.

Drawing Beauty Out of Desolation

NPR's "Morning Edition" had a piece recently on my favorite photographer, Dorothea Lange (pictured above), who took beautiful pictures during the Great Depression. You can listen to the piece, here.

From the story...

Many of us have an image of what the Great Depression looked like — even if we weren't there. One reason is because of Dorothea Lange's photographs.

Linda Gordon, who wrote a book on the renowned photographer called Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, recalls one of Lange's favorite sayings: A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.

"She really understood that the ability to see does not come from your eye; it comes from your brain," Gordon tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.

As a portrait photographer by trade, Lange knew pictures of individuals would have far more of an emotional impact than those showing eroded land or the dust storm, Gordon says.

Zombie Renaissance

n+1 discusses the who/what/why/where/how of the zombie novels that seem to be awfully popular these days.

From the story...

Critics have been worrying about the death of the novel for decades, and the publication of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is unlikely to change that. The leading suspect in the novel’s murder has so often been mass culture—thief of time, sapper of seriousness—and here it is growing upon a literary classic like an aggressive tumor:

“And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“Oh! Yes, the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished! She beheaded her first unmentionable not one month after her eleventh birthday!”

It would be one thing if Austen’s masterpiece had been fully reimagined by Seth Grahame-Smith as a horror story. That would have made it an eccentric addition to a growing body of Austen fan fiction from which one can, for instance, get Mr. Darcy’s perspective on the novel’s events, or follow him into his first years of marriage to Elizabeth Bennet. With its frequently harsh judgments of individual human worth and savage wars of social position, the brightly lit novel of manners makes for dark shadows that might have been worth exploring. Instead Grahame-Smith merely tacks the equivalent of “and zombies” onto various parts of Austen’s public domain text and calls it a day. Also (but perhaps advertising this would have made the title too long) the Bennet sisters have been trained as ninjas. The mash-up plays like a long, dumb joke and could not have taken more than a few weekends to accomplish. Even so, it is strangely appealing, and has been outselling new copies of the original on Amazon by a mile.

Of course, from a more forgiving perspective, the very success of such a gimmick might be taken as a sign of continuing life in the “carnivalesque” genre of the novel. Here is the Novel reconnecting with the People, giving them What They Want, and what they want are zombies.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Books Powerful Women Love

Nancy Drew. Media Bistro has more, as Nancy turns 80, here.

On the Last Frontier of Sportswriting

To ESPN's Seth Wickersham, sportswriting is a pursuit to be perfected, much like his subjects' efforts to throw a perfect spiral or build a better football team.

From the piece in Gelf Magazine...

Gelf Magazine: What is your idea of a perfect article?

Seth Wickersham: As a reader and consumer of media, I think the best ones teach me about a subject I didn't know, teach me something about myself, and, most of all, entertain me, whether it's by making me laugh or scream or cry or think or whatever. It can't feel like work. As Jim Murray used to say, "There's no city ordinance that they have to read you."

How an article goes about accomplishing all those factors is arbitrary; it's like a song, where you know a good one when you hear it. I think, in terms of pure writing, the best ones have a voice that remains strong throughout the story. A lot of stories, including my own, might have a lot of personality at the beginning and lose it as the story goes on. It's tough to maintain that voice without overwriting or forcing it into moments that don't need it. But the best writers, and stories, do that.

Marilyn Monroe, In Her Own Words

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that a new book will be published soon. The book will be called Fragments and contain pieces of Marilyn Monroe's writings.

From the story...

"I think the book will show that she was a really thoughtful person with a real interior life," Hodell said. "She was a great reader and someone with real writing flair. There are fragments of poetry that are really quite beautiful, lines that stop you in your tracks."

And, speaking of Marilyn, don't forget the novel written from the point of view of her pet dog. Seriously. No, really!

Top Ten Love Stories

Esther Freud, for The Guardian, notes the ten books that broke her heart.

From the piece...

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Possibly the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy captures the rollercoaster arc of Anna's passion for Vronsky, and shows us the impossibility of her love ever being a match for what she's lost. The scenes between her and her small son whom she must abandon, are heartbreaking in their restraint, and it is these moments you remember, when Vronsky's ardour begins to fade.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Do You Say Scratch & Sniff in German?

Well, THIS is odd. The most recent edition of mono.kultur is of smells. That's it. They smell. No words. No pictures. Just smells.

Burroughs Book Covers

Want to see lots and lots of William S. Burroughs book covers? Look no further.

Gutenberg 2.0

Harvard Magazine discusses how Harvard libraries are adjusting to the digital age.

From the piece...

“Throw it in the charles,” one scientist recently suggested as a fitting end for Widener Library’s collection. The remark was outrageous—especially at an institution whose very name honors a gift of books—but it was pointed. Increasingly, in the scientific disciplines, information ranging from online journals to databases must be recent to be relevant, so Widener’s collection of books, its miles of stacks, can appear museum-like. Likewise, Google’s massive project to digitize all the books in the world will, by some accounts, cause research libraries to fade to irrelevance as mere warehouses for printed material. The skills that librarians have traditionally possessed seem devalued by the power of online search, and less sexy than a Google query launched from a mobile platform. “People want information ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere,’” says Helen Shenton, the former head of collection care for the British Library who is now deputy director of the Harvard University Library. Users are changing—but so, too, are libraries. The future is clearly digital.

Stars of the Stalls

What are the most popular books sold at book stalls in New York City? More Intelligent Life investigates.

From the piece...

My first discovery was that the four areas showed a curious mixture of consistency and variety. By Columbia, I found Saint Augustine’s “Confessions” and Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse”. One of the stallholders, Adhemar Ahmad, explained that he was “trying to sell to the professors”. By contrast in Williamsburg, a painfully fashionable neighbourhood of vegan restaurants and skinny denim, I found voguish titles by the comic essayist David Sedaris. One vendor there, outside a newsagent stocked with magazines like Wound and Flaunt, also had a hefty pile of new-age literature.

After I had tallied all the stalls, a weekend spent in the company of Microsoft Excel transformed my notes into a spreadsheet of the most abundant titles and authors.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are You a Nerd, Dork, or Geek?

The answer is revealed.

Why Men Don't Read

The Huffington Post discusses how publishing is alienating half the population.

From the piece...

Why do I bring this up? Because if you've worked in publishing, you've heard the tired old maxim: Men Don't Read. Try to acquire or sell a book aimed predominantly at men, and odds are you'll be told Men Don't Read. This story is not an isolated incident, but merely a microcosm of a huge problem within the industry. If you keep telling yourself something, regardless of its validity, eventually you'll begin to believe it. So because publishers rarely publish for men and don't market towards men, somehow that equates to our entire gender having given up on the reading books. THIS MUST END.

In my opinion, this empty mantra of 'Men Don't Read' has begotten a vicious cycle. I was hesitant to write this article, mainly because in no way do I want to be perceived as diminishing the talents of many, many brilliant women in publishing, nor do I believe that there is a true 'gender bias'. A bias insinuates some sort of malice, a purposeful exclusion of a segment of society for selfish reasons. Those kind of insinuations are not the aim of this piece, nor are they my opinions in any way. This is a critique of the system, not those who work within it.

This NPR piece three years ago came to the conclusion that women read more fiction than men by a 4-1 margin. Articles like this madden me because I think they miss the big picture, or perhaps are even ignoring it purposefully. It's like discussing global warming, while completely ignoring the fact that hey, maybe we have something to do with it.

Reinventing Carrie Bradshaw

Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell returns with a new take on her best-known character, but her own life has moved on from cosmos and casual flings.

From the piece, in The Telegraph...

Incredibly, Bushnell is 51. It’s a shocker, because Carrie Bradshaw is frozen in our imaginations at the age of roughly 35, and because Bushnell has, as the stylist puts it, “a really youthful vibe”, for which, read a cracking figure and a good Botox doctor. (“Oh, Botox, sure!” she says, astonished that I would even bother to ask. “Plastic surgery? I haaaven’t had it yet,” she drawls, “but I may.”) Would she still wear a silver minidress, like the one she has just been modelling for the shoot? “Maybe, for, like, one night out.” She looks a little doubtful. Time has moved on, and so have her priorities. “There are certain things that one doesn’t have to do any more. In your twenties, the opposite sex is very important. You are more concerned with how you look. Do you have the right bag? Do you fit in? When you get older, you stop caring as much about what people think. I guess it’s Boodism [Buddhism]. Boodism in your twenties doesn’t work; when you’re in your fifties, it just happens naturally.”

These days, she still likes a cocktail, but she has stopped smoking, shops only twice a year — “I know it’s hard to fathom, but I’m not a shopaholic” — and prefers cooking at home to going out. “Do I go out to clubs? Noo. I have gone out thousands of times. Now I probably just work more.” Oh, and, of course, she’s married.

And don't forget the new movie coming out:

The Remarkable Resilience of Steampunk

It's popular, the genre is. Salon takes a look at its enduring popularity, particularly with four new steampunk novels on the shelves.

From the piece...

Has steampunk jumped Captain Nemo's clockwork shark yet?

The genre -- succinctly described as a mix of archaic tech (either real or fanciful), the supernatural, and postmodern metafictional tricksterism, set in the consensus historical past or alternate timelines -- was first christened in 1987, a lifetime ago as cultural and literary fads are measured, in a letter to Locus magazine from the writer K.W. Jeter. Of course, the actual roots of the form extend back even further, perhaps as early as 1965, when a certain television show named "The Wild, Wild West" debuted.

Some literary styles and tropes wane with their cultural moment, but others have proved exceedingly long-lived, with writers continually discovering unexplored narrative possibilities within elastic bounds. Perhaps the best example is the Gothic, still with us today, and flourishing, despite being a couple of centuries old.

But steampunk has exfoliated beyond the merely literary, into the daily lives of its fans.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wild and Crazy Poets

Poets trashed hotel rooms long before rock 'n' roll stars did. Myrna Garanis, for Geist, discusses the long-forgotten poet Vachel Lindsay and the fabled Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington.

From the piece...

It all started when a lawyer named Ben Kizer, a great admirer of Vachel Lindsay’s work, persuaded city officials and Louis Davenport, owner of the hotel, to buck up Spokane’s image from backwater town to cultural metropolis by bringing Lindsay in as a guest. At the time, Lindsay was hugely popular as a troubadour, travelling all over the United States, and well known as an author whose most famous book was Johnny Appleseed and Other Poems. Kizer assured the Spokane business community that Lindsay would be literary bait, attracting other big names to Spokane. They ensconced him in Room 1129 , a suite large and grand enough for entertaining. Louis Davenport and Lindsay supporters would pay his hotel bills, and it was understood, though not so well by Lindsay, that he was to pay back the establishment by giving performances, writing pieces glorifying the city, and educating Spokane citizens on the spoken arts.

Lindsay took advantage of his privileged position, spreading his entertainment entourage down to the entire main floor of the Davenport: dining room, smoking room, lobby, even the ballroom. He composed nine elegiac poems about Spokane, which were published in the city’s Spokesman-Review newspaper. They include “Under Spokane’s Brocaded Sun,” which begins with this stanza:

Under Spokane’s brocaded sun, and her deeply embroidered moon
I walk on the Rim Rock rampart put there by heaven’s hand,
Long before the city came, before the ocean or the land.
This Rim Rock has one eastern notch for the river to run in
And the other notch is a water gate at first northwest;
Then south;
Grotesquely around, coils the rampart, like a hoop-snake
Tail in mouth.

As a poet-performer, Lindsay brought excitement and a sort of glamour to the Davenport and to Spokane.

Printing a Book

Old School:

New School:

Ready or Not, Girl Comics is Out

What is Girl Comics?

From the piece in Bitch Magazine...

Girl Comics Issue #1, a collection of comics written, stenciled, and illustrated completely by women, hit stores yesterday. It's one of three anthologies to be released this year by Marvel Comics. It's actually part of a year-long project of "Marvel Women," celebrating female characters and creators alike of one of the top comics publishers. Other projects will include publishing one-shots (single issues with a complete story line) of lesser-known but well-deserving female superheroes, and Marvel's Young Guns and Write Stuff programs, which throughout the year externally promote up-and-coming young illustrators and writers, respectively, will feature all women this time around.

Mindy Kaling Writes Book

"The Office" star has a book of humorous essays coming, notes The New York Times. Or does she?

From the piece...

But in a telephone interview Ms. Kaling indicated she might have other plans. “What they bought was a funny book of comedy essays,” she said, “but maybe I’ll just turn it into a Jon Krakauer piece about murder in Siberia and perilous adventure to find details about that. I don’t want to be boxed in.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Words by Nick Hornby. Music by Ben Folds

Well this is going to be a swell collaboration. One of the better novelists out there, High Fidelity's Nick Hornby, is writing the lyrics in a new album. The music is being done by one of the better singer-songwriters out there, Ben Folds.

Here' Folds singing one of his songs, "Landed":

The End of the World Literature

On The Guardian there's a interesting half=hour podcast where they discuss apocalypse fiction. The Guardian also recently asked, "Where's the good volcano literature?" And further, on volcanoes, Simon Winchester notes his five favorite volcano books. And even further, on volcanoes, have you seen the May cover story in National Geographic? It's about Mount Saint Helens.

The Sorter

The sorter is the largest of its kind in the world. It sorts books. A lot of books. It's 2/3 the length of a football field. It's owned by the New York City Public Library. Learn more, here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Could Written Language Be Rendered Obsolete?

And, if so, what should we demand in return? These are the sorts of questions be asked and explored on The Futurist.

From the piece...

"In the coming decades, lovers of the written word may find themselves ill-equipped to defend the seemingly self-evident merits of text to a technology-oriented generation who prefer instantaneous data to hard-won knowledge."In the past few years, amazing breakthroughs involving fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging —with potential ramifications for education—have become an almost daily occurrence. The fMRI procedure uses non-ionizing radiation to take detailed pictures of soft tissue (specifically the brain) that tends to show up as murky and indistinct on computed tomography scans. The scanner works like a slow-motion movie camera, taking new scans continuously and repeatedly. Instead of observing movement the way a camcorder would, the scanner watches how oxygenated hemoglobin (blood flow) is diverted throughout the brain. If you’re undergoing an fMRI scan and focusing one portion of your brain on a specific task, like exerting your anterior temporal lobe on pronouncing an unfamiliar word, that part of the brain will expand and signal for more oxygenated blood, a signal visible to the scanner.

In 2005, researchers with the Scientific Learning Corporation used fMRI to map the neurological roots of dyslexia and designed a video game called Fast ForWord based on their findings. The project was “the first study to use fMRI to document scientifically that brain differences seen in dyslexics can be normalized by neuroplasticity-based training. Perhaps of greater relevance to educators, parents, and the children themselves are the accompanying significant increases in scores on standardized tests that were also documented as a result of the intervention,” neuroscience experts Steve Miller and Paula Tallal wrote in 2006 in School Administrator.

Fast ForWord is likely the forerunner of many products that will use brain mapping to market education “products” to schools or possibly to parents, a commercial field that could grow to include not just software, but also chemical supplements or even brain implants.

Dead Poets Rememberance Day

That's what Walter Skold wants. Skold is the founder of the Dead Poets Society of America. He thought that though America's premiere poets (Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Edgar Alan Poe) were suitably remembered, many of our nation's poets fall into obscurity. He wants to change that.

From the piece...

Amateur poet Walter Skold of Freeport launched his new endeavor Friday, beginning a 22-state tour of the graves of fallen bards. He's enlisted 13 current and former state poets laureate to help drum up support.

His "Dead Poets Grand Tour 2010" kicks off on what's believed to be the anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth in 1564 with a poetry reading at Portland's Eastern Cemetery, the burial place of British and American sea captains cited in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "My Lost Youth."

"Of course, it takes a little chutzpah to say we're starting a holiday," said Skold, who left his job as a public school technology teacher to pursue his passions of poetry and photography. "But we believe it's a really good idea, and we hope it catches on nationwide."

Meet Kevin Keller

He'll be friends with Archie, Jughead, Veronica and the rest at Riverdale High School as a new character in Archie Comics. Why is that news? He'll be Archie Comics' first openly gay character.

From the press release...

"The introduction of Kevin is just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive. Archie's hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone. It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books," stated Archie Comics Co- CEO, Jon Goldwater.

VERONICA #202 features the full-issue story, "Isn't it Bromantic?" that introduces Kevin, Archie Comics' first openly gay character. Kevin Keller is the new hunk in town and Veronica just has to have him. After Kevin defeats Jughead in a burger eating contest at Pop's Chocklit Shoppe, she desperately latches onto him. Mayhem and hilarity ensue as Kevin desperately attempts to let Veronica down easy and her flirtations only become increasingly persistent.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday's Poem

Ezra Pound reading "Canto XLV (With Usura)":

What are the Ten Oldest Books Known to Man?

Online Degree lists them, including the Code of Urukagina, pictured above.

Resurrecting a Long Dead Magazine

Robert Whiteman, notes The New York Times, is feverishly working on putting long-since gone Liberty Magazine back into circulation digitally.

From the story...

Mr. Whiteman, a courtly man of 84, owns a treasure trove of all the material, including artwork, produced for Liberty. Much of the Liberty library that he bought is work by some of the world’s most famous writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw and H. L. Mencken are a few who contributed to the magazine. Others, famous in different arenas, also wrote for Liberty, including Winston Churchill, Joe DiMaggio, Benito Mussolini and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Mr. Whiteman has spent the last couple of years collating and organizing the collected materials of the magazine, 1,387 issues’ worth, in the well-appointed basement of his Westchester County home, with the help of an assistant.

That interest is partly personal obsession and retirement hobby, but also reflects Mr. Whiteman’s hope that he can turn Liberty into something of a business again by using a Web site to garner interest in the material that he plans to shop to book publishers and television and film producers.

The Book Bike

There's the bookmobile and then there's Gabriel Levinson's book bike.

From the story on Shareable...

"Free" is baked into the Book Bike's mission statement: Levinson only appears at public parks and free events, ensuring that there is no barrier to entry. As he explains, "the mission is to build and cherish a private library regardless of class or economic state, which is why the Book Bike is only at public parks. It's a place where every single person, whether you have a roof over your head or don't, has the right and privilege to be."

"I believe that one of the greatest gifts of being alive, of being human, is that of literacy. If you can read, your world suddenly becomes wide open, all knowledge is at your fingertips and there is no telling where that can lead someone in life. 'Teach a man to fish' is such a tired maxim. Why can't the common phrase be 'teach a person to read'?"

Levinson has two goals: to create more readers and more consumers for beleaguered publishers. "The idea is that I'll put a book in your hand," he says. "Maybe you'll want to buy a book next time around. My hope has been, in addition to that, people will be inspired to go buy more books."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, for the Daily Beast, highlights his five favorite books about nature and the environment.

Emily Dickinson's Garden

If you're anywhere near the New York Botanical Garden through mid-June, and have any interest in poetry, I'd visit it. Emily Dickinson's Garden: The Poetry of Flowers lets you discover the gardener who became a poet. The Conservatory will be recreated to look like Dickinson's homestead, her poetry will be on display as you stroll through the flowers and her life will be showcased in a gallery exhibition.

Bloom -- is Result -- to meet a Flower

by Emily Dickinson

Bloom -- is Result -- to meet a Flower
And casually glance
Would scarcely cause one to suspect
The minor Circumstance

Assisting in the Bright Affair
So intricately done
Then offered as a Butterfly
To the Meridian --

To pack the Bud -- oppose the Worm --
Obtain its right of Dew --
Adjust the Heat -- elude the Wind --
Escape the prowling Bee

Great Nature not to disappoint
Awaiting Her that Day --
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility --

Controlled Chaos

Ever wonder what it's like working the Rikers Island Book Cart? Wonder no more.

From the piece on the New York Public Library blog...

Getting books back from the prisoners and letting them pick out new ones is a bit of controlled chaos. We stood outside the iron door to the house with our cart and had two prisoners come out at one time, check off their returned book, and pick out a new one. Each prisoner is allowed one book and one magazine. The most popular books are by far James Patterson's novels, so popular in fact that we have to lock them up after book service because they tend to disappear. I wonder if James Patterson has any idea. National Geographic is the magazine of choice, and there is an entire box of them to choose from, some as far back as the early 80's. Urban magazines and books were in high demand, with almost no supply.

Reading War and Peace

Kevin Hartnett, for The Millions, writes about reading War and Peace and what affects great art have on everyday life.

From the piece...

In the same way that it would be hard to meet Scarlett Johansson and not be distracted by her beauty, it is difficult to read War and Peace and not be preoccupied with its reputation as the greatest novel ever written. As lay readers, the specific qualities that make War and Peace so great can be hard to assess. But just as it takes specialized knowledge to understand exactly why a magnet attracts metal, yet any five-year-old can identify a magnet when he sees one, it is one thing to apprehend the formal properties of a great work of art, but another, much more accessible question, to assess its effects. And so, having recently finished reading War and Peace, what I want to think about is just what it is that great art does.

One way to think about what a work of art does is to imagine the counterfactual—how would my life have been different had I not spent the last three months reading War and Peace? The answers, I think, tend to group into three categories: The social experiences I had because of the book; the ideas the book incorporated into my life; and the aesthetic moments that were opened to me because of what I was reading.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big Think Interviews Tim O'Brien

Five Books on the History of the Earth

Adam Maloof, on the swell site FiveBooks, highlights his reading list for books about the history of the earth. Maloof is an assistant professor of geology at Princeton University.

From said list...

Your next book is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino.

In many ways this book is like those disaster Hollywood films that are so popular today like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core, which take compelling scientific ideas and morph the timescales to that of human experience. In the films, directors always try to make the catastrophe as real as possible, and in the process lose the charm and wonder to ridiculousness.

In Cosmicomics Calvino also takes huge and relevant scientific ideas, transmutes time, and describes spectacular geological and astrophysical processes through the senses of the intrepid protagonist Qfwfq. But, rather than aiming for the false realism of Hollywood, Calvino lets the stories develop like fables or memories, always leaving me unbearably fascinated by the scientific idea, like a child getting read a bedtime story.

When I read this book for the first time in high school, I remember being absolutely astounded that the moon used to be closer to Earth. Of course people did not paddle boats out to the rising full moon and climb on to the scaly milky surface with a ladder like Calvino described in his book, but this fantasy inspired me to study the natural world, and in a more direct way, inspired my work on tidal rhythmites and history of the Earth-moon orbit.

The Best Stoner Novels

The Daily Beast doesn't blow smoke on a list of novels featuring marijuana and its users.

The iPad, the Kindle, and the Future of Books

The New Yorker has a great extensive story about the state of book publishing in this digital age.

From the piece...

In the weeks before, the book industry had been full of unaccustomed optimism; in some publishing circles, the device had been referred to as “the Jesus tablet.” The industry was desperate for a savior. Between 2002 and 2008, annual sales had grown just 1.6 per cent, and profit margins were shrinking. Like other struggling businesses, publishers had slashed expenditures, laying off editors and publicists and taking fewer chances on unknown writers.

The industry’s great hope was that the iPad would bring electronic books to the masses—and help make them profitable. E-books are booming. Although they account for only an estimated three to five per cent of the market, their sales increased a hundred and seventy-seven per cent in 2009, and it was projected that they would eventually account for between twenty-five and fifty per cent of all books sold. But publishers were concerned that lower prices would decimate their profits. Amazon had been buying many e-books from publishers for about thirteen dollars and selling them for $9.99, taking a loss on each book in order to gain market share and encourage sales of its electronic reading device, the Kindle. By the end of last year, Amazon accounted for an estimated eighty per cent of all electronic-book sales, and $9.99 seemed to be established as the price of an e-book. Publishers were panicked. David Young, the chairman and C.E.O. of Hachette Book Group USA, said, “The big concern—and it’s a massive concern—is the $9.99 pricing point. If it’s allowed to take hold in the consumer’s mind that a book is worth ten bucks, to my mind it’s game over for this business.”

At the Yerba Buena Center, it took a while for Jobs to mention books, and when he did he said that “Amazon has done a great job” with its Kindle. “We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little bit farther.” It would probably have been more accurate to say that Jobs planned to stand on Amazon’s neck and press down hard, with publishers applauding.

On a somewhat related note, the American Scholar has a piece entitled Reading in a Digital Age. The piece is about why the novel and the Internet are opposites, and why the latter both undermines the former and makes it more necessary.

From that story...

Maybe it was the idea of angels that did it—the insertion of the timeless perspective into this moment of modern-day Berlin. I don’t know, but in a flash I felt myself looking back in time from a distant and disengaged vantage. I was seeing it all as through the eyes of the future, and what I felt, before I could check myself, was a bemused pity: the gaze of a now on a then that does not yet know it is a then, which is unselfconsciously fulfilling itself.

SUDDENLY IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE a world in which many interactions formerly dependent on print on paper happen screen to screen. It’s no stretch, no exercise in futurism. You can pretty much extrapolate from the habits and behaviors of kids in their teens and 20s, who navigate their lives with little or no recourse to paper. In class they sit with their laptops open on the table in front of them. I pretend they are taking course-related notes, but would not be surprised to find out they are writing to friends, working on papers for other courses, or just trolling their favorite sites while they listen. Whenever there is a question about anything—a date, a publication, the meaning of a word—they give me the answer before I’ve finished my sentence. From where they stand, Wenders’s library users already have a sepia coloration. I know that I present book information to them with a slight defensiveness; I wrap my pronouncements in a preemptive irony. I could not bear to be earnest about the things that matter to me and find them received with that tolerant bemusement I spoke of, that leeway we extend to the beliefs and passions of our elders.

AOL SLOGAN: “We search the way you think.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making a Magazine Out of Ash

Kottke points to a cool publication afoot - that is the making a publication using designers, writers, artists, editors and the like, all stranded by the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

The Books on a President's Night Stand

The Washington Post highlights how reading certain books have shaped presidential policy and perceptions.

From the piece...

In a historical sense, Obama follows a long line of ardent presidential readers, paging all the way back to the founders. John Adams's library had more than 3,000 volumes -- including Cicero, Plutarch and Thucydides -- heavily inscribed with the president's marginalia. Thomas Jefferson's massive book collection launched him into debt and later became the backbone for the Library of Congress. "I cannot live without books," he confessed to Adams. And it's likely that no president will ever match the Rough Rider himself, who charged through multiple books in a single day and wrote more than a dozen well-regarded works, on topics ranging from the War of 1812 to the American West.

Obama's mention of the Roosevelt biography -- it turned out to be Edmund Morris's "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" -- may have been a calculated move to convey Teddy-esque toughness and a reform-minded spirit, but it also made clear an interesting notion: Reading lists don't only give presidents a break from the tedium of briefing documents; they can also inform their politics and policies, reaffirming, creating or shifting their views. White House watchers obsess over which aides have the ear of the president, but the books presidents read also offer insight on where they want to take the country -- and how history will remember them.

Christopher Hitchens Re-Reads Animal Farm

Still outlawed by regimes around the world, Animal Farm has always been political dynamite – so much so, it was nearly never published. Christopher Hitchens, for The Guardian, discusses George Orwell's timeless, transcendent 'fairy story.'

From the piece...

The book was written at the height of the second world war, and at a time when the pact between Stalin and Hitler had been replaced abruptly by an alliance between Stalin and the British empire. London was under Nazi bombardment, and the manuscript of the novel had to be rescued from the wreckage of Orwell's blitzed home in north London.

The cynical way in which Stalin had switched sides had come as no surprise to Orwell, who was by then accustomed to the dishonesty and cruelty of the Soviet regime. This put him in a fairly small minority, both within official Britain and among the British left.

With a few slight alterations to the sequence of events, the action approximates to the fate of the 1917 generation in Russia. Thus the grand revolutionary scheme of the veteran boar Old Major (Karl Marx) is at first enthusiastically adopted by almost all creatures, leading to the overthrow of Farmer Jones (the Tsar), the defeat of the other farmers who come to his aid (the now-forgotten western invasions of Russia in 1918–19) and the setting up of a new model state. In a short time, the more ruthless and intelligent creatures – naturally enough the pigs – have the other animals under their dictatorship and are living like aristocrats.

Inevitably, the pigs argue among themselves. The social forces represented by different animals are easily recognisable – Boxer the noble horse as the embodiment of the working class, Moses the raven as the Russian Orthodox church – as are the identifiable individuals played by different pigs. The rivalry between Napoleon (Stalin) and Snowball (Trotsky) ends with Snowball's exile and the subsequent attempt to erase him from the memory of the farm. Stalin had the exiled Trotsky murdered in Mexico less than three years before Orwell began work on the book.

Paul Harding's Pulitzer Moment

Paul Harding is something of a Cinderella Man. He wrote a novel, Tinkers. Said novel was rejected countless times. It was finally accepted for publication by a tiny publishing house. It then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The New York Times recounts Harding's path to literary fame.

From the piece...

The early rejection “was funny at the time,” Mr. Harding said. “And even funnier now.” Mr. Harding, a onetime drummer for a rock band, is far too discreet to name any of the agents or editors who wouldn’t touch his work a few years ago.

But he is quick to praise those who helped “Tinkers” become a darling of the independent bookstore circuit, including Erika Goldman, the editorial director of Bellevue, whom Mr. Harding described as a “deeply empathetic reader”; Lise Solomon, a sales representative in Northern California for Consortium, the book’s distributor, who passionately advocated for the novel with booksellers; and the booksellers and critics who embraced the book early on.

Although “Tinkers” sunk under the radar in some quarters (including The New York Times, which did not review it), it made several year-end best lists, including NPR’s best debut fiction and The New Yorker magazine’s list of reviewers’ favorites. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, “Tinkers” sold 7,000 copies before the Pulitzer announcement.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Death Metal Lyric or William Blake Quote?

The quiz.

Jon's Writing in Fine Books & Collections Magazine

Go to your local (independent) bookstore, and pick up a copy of Fine Books & Collections Magazine. In the Spring issue, there's a piece I wrote that's included in it. I was fortunate enough to write a profile of Oak Tree Fine Press, a publisher of high quality books, featuring the work of the world's greatest authors and authors. The profit from the sales of these books goes to organizations assisting children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

The Book Review is Not Dead!

The proof? The London Review of Books are celebrating their 30th anniversary.

From the story in The Huffington Post...

For all the dark mutterings of the intelligentsia about the decline of serious literary journalism in the digital age, it seems the long form review essay is doing just fine. It's a genre that would have been entirely familiar to 19th century readers, but it did well in the 20th century and it looks like doing even better in the 21st. At the London Review of Books (about to celebrate 30 years as a fully independent publication, with a series of events in New York) we've found print circulation has risen steadily during the last decade and we have more readers now than any literary magazine in the UK has ever had. The digital landscape opening up before us can, in our most optimistic moods, look like a promised land, though there will certainly be some tricky areas to negotiate as we move into it.

The digital revolution is radically changing the conditions under which books and ideas reach readers. The explosive growth of the Internet has produced a bewildering multiplication of voices speaking about books. Everyone now has a platform from which to give a view, and in this cacophony we more than ever need to know where to go for opinions that we can trust and writing which will expand the vocabulary of our own critical conversations. In this situation, magazines like the London Review of Books have large and exciting opportunities.

It has become a cliché of the web that 'content is king.' To the extent that this is true, the leading book review magazines start with a big advantage over most other purveyors of literary opinion on the net: they have the writers and the editors to produce new work of the highest caliber and they have rich back archives of material that is as interesting today as it was when it was first written.

Dead Authors, Rejoice!

Your human remains can be turned into a pencil for future authors to use.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Crime Novelists Don't Get Women

The Daily Beast breaks it down.

From the story...

So here goes. Here's a run down of the women I'd love to see run out of best-selling thrillers across the board. Some of them are best left to discussions between their creator, his mother (and possibly his therapist), and some of them are best left in the trash. And while I admit, I may have included some of them in my previous work, rest assured, I'm doing my best to keep them at bay from here on out.

THE COP'S WIFE WHO JUST DOESN'T GET IT. Enough of this woman. Seriously. Enough. She doesn't understand the demands of the job. She wants her husband to stop solving crimes so he can be home in time for dinner, an Easter egg hunt, and several hours of scrapbooking. She is, apparently, the only woman on all of planet Earth who never saw a movie or TV show about how hard it is to be married to a cop. Worse, the recurrence of this whiny, unsympathetic caricature in a writer's work makes an unpleasant statement about the writer. If there's no mention of actual detective work in said writer's bio, readers will assume he was one of those guys who wouldn't set aside his jigsaw puzzle long enough to help his wife take out the trash, and that makes him a lazy shlub, not a misunderstood hero who's more at home on the mean streets of the naked city.

The Godfather of the E-Reader

It's a man named Bob Brown.

From the piece in The New York Times...

Brown, born Robert Carlton Brown in Chicago in 1886, liked to say he had written in every genre imaginable: advertising, journalism, fiction, poetry, ethnography, screenwriting, even cookbooks. He wrote at least 1,000 pulp stories, some of which became the basis for “What Happened to Mary?,” the first movie serial, released in 1912. He was on the editorial board of the radical magazine The Masses before founding a successful business magazine in Brazil. He contributed to leading avant-garde journals and wrote, sometimes in collaboration with his wife and mother, some 30 popular books about food and drink, including “Let There Be Beer!” (published after the repeal of Prohibition) and “The Complete Book of Cheese.”

Brown was “the Zelig of the 20th-century avant-garde,” according to Craig Saper, a professor of texts and technology at the University of Central Florida who is writing a biography of him. Brown went everywhere and knew everyone: Marcel Duchamp, Eugene O’Neill, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, James T. Farrell, William Carlos Williams. His output was so varied and his life so far-flung — he boasted of having lived in 100 cities — that some library card catalogs list him as at least two different people.

But today, Brown is perhaps best remembered for THE READIES (Rice University, various formats and prices), a 1930 manifesto blending the fervor of the Futurists with the playfulness of Jules Verne. “The written word hasn’t kept up with the age,” Brown declared in the first line. “The movies have outmaneuvered it. We have the talkies, but as yet no Readies.” Enough with the tyranny of paper and ink! “Writing has been bottled up in books since the start,” Brown wrote. “It is time to pull out the stopper” and begin “a bloody revolution of the word.”

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Over your morning breakfast, why not hear read Truman Capote read from Breakfast at Tiffany's? Enjoy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This is a Photo of Arthur Rimbaud as an Adult

It is the only one known to exist of the famed poet and was found recently at a flea market. The Telegraph has more, here.

Revenge of the Wimps

Is the Wimpy Kid the Holden Caulfield of our generation? The Atlantic explores this question.

From the piece...

The kids, I’m sorry to report, are getting sharper all the time. Did you know that Holden Caulfield is now in middle school? That’s right: no longer cadging drinks or wrestling with pimps in fleapit Manhattan hotel rooms, the arch-diagnostician of adult bullshit is currently trick-or-treating and going out for ice cream with his mother. His name isn’t Holden anymore—it’s Greg. But his mood, that current of fretful optimism alternating with a cavernous disenchantment, is more or less unchanged: “I don’t know if this makes me a bad person or whatever, but it’s hard for me to get interested in other people’s vacations.” Or: “I’ll be famous one day, but for now I’m stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons.”

Greg Heffley, underdeveloped narrator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney’s mega-selling “novel in cartoons,” wears a nearly permanent frown. At least, it would be a frown, if he had eyebrows: Kinney draws his characters like emoticons, with dots for eyes, U-shaped noses, and downturned-bracket mouths. (Rodrick, Greg’s incipiently delinquent heavy-metal older brother, flexes a set of fierce and hyphen-like eyebrows.) The book opens with a twang of Salingerean surliness: “This [the diary] was MOM’s idea,” declares Greg. “But if she thinks I’m going to write down my ‘feelings’ in here or whatever, she’s crazy. So just don’t expect me to be all ‘Dear Diary’ this and ‘Dear Diary’ that.”

And all that kind of crap, we hear the original Holden adding.

Friday's Poem

Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky":

Alice's Adventures Under Ground

The British Library has a new online exhibit that's pretty swell - Lewis Carroll's original Alice's Adventures Under Ground manuscript that can be viewed page upon page, with audio! Enjoy.