Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Asylum offers recipes based on the best drinks found in literature. Bottoms up!

Punctuation Posters?! Indeed!

Hilobrow highlights Mirko Ilic, the New-York based Yugoslavian graphic designer and comics artist, who has curated a swell set of posters that have giant exclamation points and question marks. Enjoy.

The Kurt Cobain Journals

NPR discusses the writer behind the rock star.

From the piece...

But for the naysayers who think that the Journals have little worth beyond being a pacifier for weepy fans who've been mourning Cobain since he killed himself at the age of 27, I'd like to say: You clearly don't know Cobain the writer.

Cobain the writer is funny and self-aware and snotty with a knack for off-the-cuff profundity. Remarking to a friend that his band will be called "Nirvana," he scribbles next to it the words "oooh eerie mystical doom." He also jokingly refers to himself as "the moody, bohemian member of the group," which is pretty much how most folks remember the man behind that amazing, ulcerous voice.

Better still, there's a trashy, throwaway quality to the pages that makes them a lighter read than you'd expect, like you've accidentally Googled your way onto someone's blog. Page after page of Cobain's terrible handwriting is reproduced in faithful facsimile, covering such topics as forthcoming gigs, favorite songs, prophecies of fame, janitorial wages and, of course, the firing of terrible drummers, complete with gory sketches to drive home his point.

Here's Nirvana singing "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam":

Twilight: How Did a First-Time Author Make It So Big?

This is the question the Telegraph asks.

From the brief piece that encapsulates what all the fuss is about...

According to the author, who is a Mormon, her books are "about life, not death" and "love, not lust". Each book in the series was inspired by and loosely based on a different literary classic: Twilight on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, New Moon on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Eclipse on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and Breaking Dawn on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Are Challenging Books Worth the Effort?

This is the question The Guardian ponders.

From the piece...

There was a time when I would have seen it as morally imperative to devote my reading time to the difficult and challenging. I remember an awfully unselfaware conversation in the terminally unselfaware years of teenagedom, during which I asked a similarly earnest friend why "people ever bother to write bad books?" He didn't know. More in pity than in anger, we shook our heads and re-opened our novels, returning, slightly mystified, to the frustrated longing of Russian peasants. We read books that were clearly quite brilliant, if only we could understand them. They might, as we never admitted to each other, baffle us now, but hopefully we'd come out the other side stronger, better people for the experience. Maybe one day we'd even impress some girls.

Nowadays I wonder how I could have read so many books that were such heavy going and which I so clearly disliked. It only shows what a cowardly, deferential youth I was. Rather than find my own tastes, my own pleasures, I tortured myself by slavishly emulating someone else's idea of a good time. Now I know that while I find Don Quixote hilarious, other readers may think of it as an overlong Monty Python sketch. To my wife, Jane Eyre is a tear-jerking source of perennial inspiration – to me, it's a 19th-century Dawson's Creek. But that's all OK. We don't have to upset our mental digestions, devouring books we find unpalatable just because other people love them. It's no skin off anyone's nose, least of all the dead authors' – they don't have skin any more. The only people who'll be upset are a dwindling number of old-school Eng Lit academics who still think there's a straight line of good reading from Boccaccio onwards. And we don't even have to tell them, either.

But still people seem to feel obliged to toil up the mountain, not for pleasure but in the dry pursuit of worth.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jon's Writing on Venuszine

I recently reviewed, for Venuszine, Seattle's own Hey Marseilles' new album. You can read said review, here.

And, for your edification, here's their video for "Rio":

Drunk Writers Were Better Sober

This, from a new study, The Independent reports. Not only were they better writers, they probably had better aim at the toilet, as well. That, and they drove better. Those things, and they could walk in a straight line.

From the piece...

While many artists and writers were famous for substance abuse, most produced their greatest works while not intoxicated, according to the psychiatrist Dr Iain Smith. In fact alcohol and drugs were more likely to stifle creativity, he claimed.

Dr Smith, an addiction expert from Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow, said: "The reason why this myth is so powerful is the allure of the substances, and the fact that many artists need drugs to cope with their emotions. Artists are, in general, more emotional people."

Also, on Big Think, there's a discussion on addiction and art, here.

Ah, to Have a Half Million Dollars Laying About

Then I might go bid on the only known inscribed copy, apart from the author's own, of the first printing of A Study in Scarlet, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes.

From the story about the coming auction...

Arthur Conan Doyle, at the time a respected though not particularly successful doctor in his mid-twenties, sold the story and copyright to the publisher, Ward, Lock and Co., for £25 ($37).

There are only three signed or inscribed copies recorded of this monument in the detective genre of literature, one of the rarest and most highly sought books of modern times, (only twenty copies in U.S. and British libraries and merely eleven in private hands) a volume keenly desired by Doyle and/or detective fiction collectors all over the world: the author's copy, currently in the possession of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle (the author's youngest daughter, who died in 1997); that under notice; and a copy at Yale's Beineke Library. The copy at the Beineke Library, tragically however, was mutilated, its inscribed page excised at some point prior to March 2003, when the crime was discovered. This, then, is one of only two signed or inscribed copies known to exist.

Vendela Vida - An Interview

The Rumpus interviews author Vendela Vida (think Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, think the screenplay for Away We Go, think Mrs. Dave Eggers).

From the piece...

Rumpus: Who sees your work while it’s in progress?

Vida: I’m in a writing group with about seven other writers in the Bay Area. I also show my work to my coeditors at The Believer, to the managing editor, to some McSweeney’s editors, and to my husband.

I joined the writing group after having a terrible experience writing my first novel. I spent years writing this 400-page book and didn’t show anybody it in the process. In the end, I was only interested in about eight pages of it, which I salvaged. I threw the rest away and started another novel, which became And Now You Can Go, based on those eight pages. After that experience I decided to never go for so long and write so much without showing my work to at least a few trusted readers.

Rumpus: Really? That’s amazing because your books are very spare, especially this one, and that’s something that I really admire about your work. It’s a very precise way of writing.

Vida: I overwrite at first. Whenever I start a book, I think, This is going to be my long book, and by the time I take out all the extra words, I think, Well, the next one is definitely going to be my big book. But I think I’m finally at peace with the fact that I like writing shorter novels. Those are the kind of novels that I love reading.

Rumpus: So that sense of sparseness is a process of peeling things away?

Vida: I definitely sculpt all the extra words out of a sentence. I think every sentence I write starts with about 4 or 5 more words than end up in it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marvel TV

The Marvel Universe is ever-expanding. First, in comic books. Then, movies. Now, television. A new division at Marvel has been created, according to Entertainment Weekly, headed by iconic comic book writer Jeph Loeb.

What superheroes, then, will get their own shows? Let the debates begin.

Don't Mention "To Kill a Mockingbird"

That's if you're scheduled to meet with recluse Harper Lee. The Daily Mail got that opportunity.

From the piece...

Dressed in a clean but faded T-shirt and loosely fitting gingham slacks, she attracts barely a glance from passers-by.

Yet hers is the face which has stared from the cover of a book that has hypnotised more than 40 million readers around the world, one that has frequently been rated as one of the ten most important books published in the past century.

She is Harper Lee, whose only book, To Kill A Mockingbird, won the Pulitzer Prize, is translated into nearly 50 languages and was turned into the Oscar-winning 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. It also made Harper into a multi-millionairess.

Nervously, I approach the novelist, carrying the best box of chocolates I could find in the small Alabama town of Monroeville, a Hershey’s selection costing a few dollars. I start to apologise that I hadn’t brought more but a beaming Nelle – as her friends and family call her – extends her hand.

‘Thank you so much,’ she told me. ‘You are most kind. We’re just going to feed the ducks but call me the next time you are here. We have a lot of history here. You will enjoy it.’

Abraham Lincoln - Emancipator. President. Poet?

Indeed. Robert Pinsky, for Slate, discusses the poetry of Abraham Lincoln. This isn't to be confused with poems ABOUT Abraham Lincoln, these are lines the man penned himself.

From the piece...

The United States has had a head of state who was also a great writer. Only Marcus Aurelius can compete with Abraham Lincoln. Like many prose masters, Lincoln was a reader and writer of poetry. His poem "My Childhood-Home I See Again" combines polished but conventional passages in ballad meter with another element, powerfully imagined and turbulent. The poem is worth thinking about in relation to Abraham Lincoln's mind. It also raises interesting questions about poetry itself—the art's ability to compound the meanings of words with the force of bodily gestures.

Pulp Pride

Seattle's Pride Parade was yesterday. So was San Francisco's. New York has been celebrating Pride Week. The Book Bench blog highlights gay and lesbian pulp fiction, here.

Ardor and the Abyss

In The Nation, James Longenbach essays about the poetess Emily Dickinson and our endless fascination with her.

From the piece...

Dickinson's reclusiveness was not a way of protecting herself from the world but a way of protecting the world from herself. Jane Humphrey was the first in a long list of people Dickinson frightened simply by existing, and frightening people became a demoralizing occupation. Even more demoralizing was the effort to speak the language of real life: poetry was Dickinson's native tongue—not a transparent sentence like "I know not how to thank you" but elusive sentences like "I have dared to do strange things" or "Thanks for the Ethiopian Face." By the time she sent that sentence to Mabel Loomis Todd, nominally in thanks for the painted jug, Dickinson knew what she was doing, and she knew that it would work. Dickinson constructed her true self in her poetry, which had to be kept secret from almost everyone, since even the slightest release of it into the real world could be explosive.

But what makes Dickinson's greatest poems even more threatening is that they blur the difference between the language of everyday life and the language of poetry, making our own lives feel explosive:

I cannot live with You—
It would be Life—
And Life is over there—
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the key to—

The language is not complicated here. Only four of these twenty-three words have more than one syllable, and the syllables are arranged in a meter and rhyme scheme familiar to us from innumerable ballads and hymns. But at the same time, Dickinson's idiosyncratic punctuation keeps those syllables from settling too happily into those familiar forms, and the poem's relationship to those forms is as edgy as its professed relationship to the restricting terms of everyday life: to live with another person, however beloved, is to be a pretty piece of porcelain, locked forever behind the sexton's shelf. The prospects of dying together or rising together after death are no less problematic, and the poem's final stanza is both witheringly stern and wildly metaphorical in acceptance of human solitude:

So we must meet apart—
You there—I—here—
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are—and Prayer—
And that White Sustenance—

Solitude is not a state merely to be chosen. The space between any two human beings, however proximate, is as astonishing as an ocean, and Dickinson lived and wrote in order to honor that astonishment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Are You the Newspaper You Read?

This is the question asked by one of my favorite book sites I've found of late, Booktryst, discussing the artwork of Charles Dickens' illustrator, Joseph Clayton Clarke.

A Dying Breed: Libraries

What can be done? Carol Fitzgerald offers some ideas on Huffington Post in regards to the dire economic cuts being made to libraries and librarians.

From the piece...

Many libraries in small towns and in big cities across the country have seen this same kind of proposal to close their libraries. Often the results are not as pleasant. As the American Library Association convenes its Annual Convention in Washington, DC on June 24th to 29th, it has planned a National Library Advocacy Day Rally, a chance for library supporters to demonstrate support for libraries on the grounds of the Capitol on Tuesday, June 29th from 11AM-12PM. All are invited to attend. For those of you who cannot make it, it's time to check in with your local library to see where the fiscal winds are blowing and learn where support is needed.

There are still more ways you can help. Write your Senators impassioned letters on what libraries have meant and mean to you today. Talk about how important all libraries --- school, public and college --- are to this country and how awful it will be when they start closing or experience devastating reductions in services. The more personal the note, the more effective. If you do not live in the same state where you grew up, may I suggest you write your home state representatives as well? If you, like me, need the address of your congressperson or senator, please click here. This link can also supply state legislators. Also, consider writing an Op-Ed piece or other article for your local paper. Keep in mind, your support can make a difference!

I do realize that fiscal responsibility should be borne by everyone, but at the same time we need to think about what it says about us as a country if we allow our library budgets to be slashed, thus compromising the services they provide. For many, personal belt tightening has meant cutting back on spending money on books and education and Internet access; meanwhile the world has become more and more wired. With unemployment in double digits in many parts of the country, librarians are guiding patrons in their job hunts with many patrons using computers for the first time.

The library is where education continues after school ends. It's where readers are grown from the time they are young and where doors are open to welcome everyone.

Horrible Poems from Horrible Emails

Interested? Here's the site.

Need an example?...

Ko Pha Ngan Boom Boom

From: Mr. I’m in love with someone else/Ex-boyfriend
To: Girlfriend
Subject: My vacation

yeah got my head shaved…grade 1 all over, dont look too bad and is growing back fast neway…hehe luv to see u parascending…had a wikkid night last night although me and butty almost got nutted by this dickhead of a spanish geezer for chatting to his ex…Thai women are in ur face constantly and its a bit hard to know whats going on most of the time…split from jon yesterday as well and met up with these two 18 yr old manchester lads..who were top…ko pha ngan for the full moon rave this thursday…..boom boom..gonna be best thing ever…
neway best let u go to find urself a nice summer job
Luv gav


Yeah got my head shaved by a jumbo jet,
Grade 1, wikkid, it don’t look too bad I bet.

Butty got nutted, the dickhead was a geezer,
Thai women in ur face, chatting up the ex, Bacardi Breezers.

Who knows what’s going on but we met some top lads,
Who needs sleep when your life’s this rad?

Full moon rave, good luck with your job endeavor,
Boom boom boom, I’m having the best time eva.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Are the Longest Novels Ever Written?

These ones. AbeBooks also gives you a pithy Twitter-like review of each.

For example...

The Count of Monte Cristo

Twitter Description - Edmond Dantès is done up like a kipper, goes down, meets priest, escapes, gets rich and wreaks revenge.



Twitter Description - English adventurer gets more adventures than he bargained for in 17th century Japan. Culture shock. Samurai swords and love too.

Bringing Books Back from the Dead

Slate's Procrastinate Better blog suggests you visit the Neglected Books Page.

From their brief introduction...

There are more than 200,000 book titles published annually in the United States alone; a small number of those get reviewed in mainstream publications, and a still smaller slice makes it onto a significant number of bookshelves. Even those that initially strike a chord are often quickly forgotten. Sometimes that’s a reflection of quality, and sometimes it’s a product of chance. The Neglected Books Page seeks to rescue the worthiest of those titles from dusty oblivion.

Cool Bookends

Here they are. They're cool.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What Do You Do With Old Newspapers?

Make weird sculptures.

Collective Nouns Illustrated

For those who know me, I love collective nouns. I mean, I really really like them. So, with unbridled joy, I just found these.

Friday's Poem

William Butler Yeats' "The Wild Swans at Coole":

Books' Power to Connect is as Potent as Ever

This, according to an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.

From the piece...

The students in that seminar learned some things about literature, and a lot about writing. They wrote detailed essays about each book and a long, final paper that tied the books together. But the most important things they learned, I suspect, had little to do with the course subject matter.

They got glimpses of the world through the eyes of their fellow students. They saw life from the vantage point of a mother whose newborn died; or a quiet young woman from East L.A. who has witnessed surreal violence.

My seminar students graduated last weekend, but I keep thinking about the way they reacted when I read aloud to them the first week of class. There was nothing on the board, no PowerPoint. Just an old book, held in my hands. They were initially skeptical, questioning. Who needs books, in this age of digital technology? their expressions seemed to ask. But then their eyes met mine while I read.

Will Murals of Dostoevsky Make People Want to Kill Themselves?

This is the question being asked at the Moscow metro where the murals have been erected.

Is English Killing Other Languages?

That's the question Mother Jones asks.

From the piece...

According to a June 14th paper by researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the answer is, sometimes. The team modeled what happens when two languages compete for dominance in a given geographical region. What they found is that if the languages are sufficiently grammatically similar to one another and both are perceived as economically or socially valuable, then they can survive together in the same place for an indefinite amount of time. This makes sense when you look at a place like Europe: Because they live in relatively close proximity to one another, Europeans with different native languages have to interact frequently for both personal and economic reasons. Furthermore, many European languages like French, Spanish, and Italian are close descendants of one another, and as such have many words and grammatical patterns in common. If you know one, it's easy to learn another. In short, for a second language to survive, the payoff for speaking it must be high, and the barrier for learning it must be low.

This means that, in theory, less widely spoken languages can hold their own in the world, but the competition is fierce and extremely sensitive to certain conditions. Everything can be going smoothly for two languages, but then add or subtract a relatively small number of speakers or increase the economic advantage of speaking one language over the other, and everything falls apart. The study points to Scottish Gaelic and Welsh as two examples of languages that are predicted to go extinct. It also looks in closer detail at the competition between Spanish and Galician spoken in Northwestern Spain. The two languages are quite similar, so much so that a Galician speaker can have some limited conversation with a Spanish speaker. While the researchers did predict the eventual disappearance of Galician, they noted that because of the similarities of the two languages this extinction was not imminent.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nancy Drew Gets Her Due

Booktryst takes us through the exhibits at the University of Maryland. They've put together a show: "Nancy Drew and Friends: Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered."

From the piece...

Well, despite the fact that Nancy Drew's mystery-solving expertise makes Sherlock Holmes look like a piker, her feats of fictional daring-do were considered by many Depression era librarians to be downright dangerous. The Nancy Drew books, and other similar series published by the Stratemyer Syndicate, were said to be the literary equivalent of Valium, inducing "mental laziness," "intellectual torpor," and even "fatal sluggishness," in unsuspecting young readers. While this state of tranked-out bliss would seem to preclude much strenuous activity, somehow these same lazy-eyed loafers were said to be single-handedly undermining decent society. As one scandalized librarian declared: "Much of the contempt for social conventions ... is due to the reading of this poisonous sort of fiction."

Fiction is Now a Marginal Enterprise...or not

So says the New York Observer after the New Yorker publishes its twenty best writers under 40.

It says much more...

Exhibit A in the argument that fiction is now a marginal enterprise: Everybody complains that The New Yorker list is inbred, house-approved, a mere PR ploy for the magazine, but no one does anything about it. If fiction were really alive, if it were still the vibrant experience it used to be, then an artistic affront like the "20 Under 40" junior pantheon would be something against which literary people would deploy all their creative energies. About 150 years ago, the established taste represented by the French Academy's annual Salon inspired the gorgeous, seminal mischief of the Salon des Refuses, a counterstatement suffused with every liberating, original quality that the Salon's official productions lacked. Where are the counterlists to The New Yorker's 20? Where is the mischief in the little literary magazines, the fiction-publishing monthlies like Harper's and The Atlantic, the countless online sites devoted to contemporary fiction? Isn't such sharp dissent what the Web was supposed to empower?

Alas: The practice of fiction is no longer a vocation. It has become a profession, and professions are not characterized by creative mischief. Artistic vocations are about embracing more and more of the world with your will; professions are insular affairs that are all about the profession. The carefulness, the cautiousness, the professionalism that keeps contemporary fiction from being meaningful to the most intellectually engaged people is also what is stifling any kind of response to The New Yorker. After all, kick against The New Yorker's conventional taste and you might tread on some powerful person's overlapping interest. You might anger Nicole Aragi, fiction super-agent. You might alienate a New Yorker editor! Literary triumph in Manhattan is now defined by publishing one or two pieces in The New Yorker each year. That is too narrow a definition of literary triumph.

Of course, there are folks who might not agree with the Observer. Say, the LA Times. From their response to the piece...

4. Siegel: "The practice of fiction is no longer a vocation. It has become a profession." These are synonyms. From the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (my 1967 edition was my parents'): "vocation: a particular occupation, business or profession; calling" and "profession: a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science." Do writers want to find the vocation-profession sweet spot and both follow their calling and make a living? Probably. Has this prevented them from responding to the New Yorker's list, as Siegel claims? No.

5. Siegel: "It is only when an artistic genre becomes small and static enough to scrutinize that a compensating abundance of commentary on that genre springs into existence." If writing critically about an art form indicates that it is in its decline, that means there hasn't been a rock song worth listening to since critic Lester Bangs died in 1982, and that filmmaking ended with the 1965 publication of Pauline Kael's "I Lost It At the Movies."

Top Ten Women Travellers in Literature

The list, one that includes the wife of Bath in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, care of The Guardian.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mark Twain, 1909

As I Walked Out One Evening

Read by W.H. Auden himself:

The Writer Who Couldn't Read

Lamenting the Loss of Letter Writing

No one does it anymore. With Tweets and blog posts and emails and instant text messaging, writing a letter is so very old fashioned. That doesn't sit well with Ben Greenman.

In a piece on the Daily Beast...

A few years ago, my parents moved from the city where I grew up, and a box of those letters made their way to me. I reread them dispassionately and then, at some point, passionately, not because they meant anything to me romantically but because I felt all at once that the world they came from is gone. It is commonplace to lament the death of the letter. I am not the first to do so, and it’s been happening for so long that I may in fact be the last. Last year, I read Thomas Mallon’s excellent Yours Ever, which carries the highly explanatory and somewhat melancholy subtitle “People and Their Letters.” I was reluctant at first to read Mallon’s book, not because I thought I would disagree with him, or that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but because it was too close for comfort. At the time, I had recently published Correspondences, a limited-edition art book that collected seven short stories about letters and letter-writing. I had been thinking about letters all the time, about the way that they move between people, about what they carry when they do so, and mainly about how the new world of email and Gchat has effectively removed them from the earth. This month, Harper Perennial publishes What He’s Poised to Do, a collection of 14 short stories that is in some ways the paperback version of Correspondence but is in fact a deeper and sadder investigation of letters.

My book is fiction, and may not appeal to everyone. Mallon’s book is essayistic scholarship, and should. The stories in my books are my attempt to come to terms with what I lost when I lost the world of folding up a sheet of paper, sliding it into an envelope, and affixing a stamp. The essays in his book conduct a broad, inclusive, diverting tour through the history of (mostly) Western letters and the letter-writers who wrote them: novelists, poets, politicians, lovers, warriors. But What He’s Poised to Do and Yours Ever overlap in at least one major respect. At one point, Mallon refers to the lovely, searching correspondence between the American Catholic writer Thomas Merton and the Polish poet and essayist Czeslaw Milosz. They had, he says, “the kind of considered exchange to which email is now doing such chatty, hurry-up violence.” I am not the only reader who found this moment conspicuous; it showed up in at least a few reviews, because it is one of the rare times in Mallon’s generally measured book that he seems to square himself against the present. I note with special attention the adjectives he uses—chatty, hurry-up—because they distill nearly all of my criticisms of email and instant messaging.

Also lamenting the lost art of letter writing? The Guardian...

At their best, literary letters, often pruned and published posthumously, have something for everyone: general readers get a glimpse of how authors write freed from the expectation to produce a work of conventional literary merit, scholars get enough material for a wheelbarrow full of monographs, and literary estates make a few more shillings off the back of their benefactor.

All this is well and good – except for one small snag. Nobody writes letters any more: at least not the kind of erudite, humorous missives that are the hallmark of great correspondence. As we are so often told, we live in the digital age. Like the rest of us, authors now largely correspond with their agents, friends, contemporaries and, occasionally, fans through email, not snail mail (I've only encountered one writer who refuses to use what he called "that electronic mail nonsense". Despite his illegible scrawl – and mine – he insisted that all correspondence be in writing. But this is most certainly a dying breed.)

Emails are great for getting in touch quickly and easily, but as literary vehicles they are severely lacking. Notoriously Manichean, digital messages tend to oscillate between the deathly dull and formal and the blithely irreverent (complete with BTW, FYI, LOL's and garbled text-speak) with precious little middle ground. Letters can be revealing, expansive, humorous; emails, even at their best, tend to exhibit only one of these characteristics of good writing. Of course, many contemporary novelists use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, sometimes to great effect; but publishing revolution or no publishing revolution, I find it hard to imagine that generations to come will one day download the "Collected Tweets of Neil Gaiman" on to their e-reader.

The Tyranny of the New

Is the future of books old books? LA Weekly discusses it.

From the piece...

It's not astonishing that Clegg's memoir is mediocre. What's astonishing is the sheer amount of energy, time and money that has been spent to push it into our hands. Why this book? What does it have to recommend itself? Only this: It is New while all the other, better books are Old.

We are sold books the same way we are sold cell phones, as if the latest models deserve the most attention. Each year, publishing houses churn out hundreds of thousands of new titles, including 35,000 works of fiction. The publicity machine goes to work, eager to fashion the rare success. Magazines and newspapers — the ones that still have book sections — chime in with opinions on which new books are worthwhile and why. Newspapers print their "summer reading" lists. The big-box bookstores pile their display tables with glossy stacks of fresh arrivals — for a fee, naturally. A relentless progression of the latest, freshest, greatest. Read this book! But all the middlemen along the way — the publishers, publicists, critics and book sellers — know the truth: The book they are hyping probably is not the book you ought to read, not even the book you would most enjoy reading. That book lies hidden in the back of the bookstore, or perhaps not even there. It is 10-, 20-, 35-years-old. However good it is, no one talks about it anymore. You might not have heard its title or its author's name.

How Did John Grisham Become a Writer?

The Telegraph finds out in a video interview, here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Hornet: The Movie

What are the 50 Best Book Cover Designs of 2009?

These ones.

Yours, Insincerely

In Tablet Magazine, author Etgar Keret discusses what it's like signing books for people he doesn't know, and making it a little interesting.

From the piece...

Before I started publishing books, I wrote dedications only in the ones I bought to give as gifts to people I knew. Then one day I suddenly found myself signing books for people who’d bought them themselves, people I’d never met before. What can you write in the book of a total stranger who might be anything from a serial killer to a Righteous Gentile? “In Friendship,” borders on falsehood; “With Admiration,” doesn’t hold water; “Best Wishes” sounds too avuncular; and “Hope you enjoy my book!” oozes smarm from the capital H to the final exclamation point. So, exactly 18 years ago, on the last night of my first Book Week, I created my own genre: fictitious book dedications. If the books themselves are pure fiction, why should the dedications be true?

“To Danny, who saved my life in the Litani. If you hadn’t tied that tourniquet, there’d be no me and no book.”

“To Mickey. Your mother called. I hung up on her. Don’t you dare show your face around here anymore.”

“To Sinai. I’ll be home late tonight, but I left some cholent in the fridge.”

“To Feige. Where’s that tenner I lent you? You said two days and it’s a month already. I’m still waiting.”

“To Tziki. I admit that I acted like a shit. But if your sister can forgive me, so can you.”

If I Only Had a Quarter Million Dollars

Then, I could make a play for all the great stuff being sold at a coming Steinbeck auction.

From an AP story...

Expected to bring a total of $200,000 to $250,000, highlights include Steinbeck's acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature and numerous manuscripts written in his neat script on lined yellow paper, on topics as diverse as his Irish roots and observations on camping.

Additionally, his library of some 800 books, including 400 hardbound reference volumes, first editions and presentation copies — many with his rubber stamp or signature — is being offered as a single lot at a pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The History of the Typewriter

Recited by Michael Winslow...

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow from SansGil—Gil Cocker on Vimeo.

Atlas Shrugged: The Movie

Could it be done? It is.

The Catcher in the Rye: The Movie

Could it be so? It could.

Somewhere a Dog Barked

Slate has an interesting story. Pick up any novel and you'll find a throwaway line about a dog barking in the distance. They test their theory.

Singer Ben Folds Meets Novelist Nick Hornby

An an album is born.

Variations of R. Crumb

The Paris Review has an art of comics interview. First up? The wacky and wholly original R. Crumb.

From the piece...

So how did you finally find publication?

Well, the hippie revolution happened. In 1964 I first got laid, I met my first wife, Dana, and all these protohippies in Cleveland. A lot of them were Jews from Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights. They started taking LSD and urged me to try it, so Dana got some LSD from a psychiatrist, it was still legal in ’65. We took it and that was totally a road-to-Damascus experience. It knocked you off your horse, taking LSD. I remember going to work that Monday, after taking LSD on Saturday, and it just seemed like a cardboard reality. It didn’t seem real to me anymore. Seemed completely fake, only a paper-moon kind of world. My coworkers, they were like, Crumb, what’s the matter with you, what happened to you? Because I was just staring at everything like I had never seen it before. And then it changed the whole direction of my artwork. Other people who had taken LSD understood right away what was going on, but the people who hadn’t, my coworkers, they didn’t get it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

The Christian Science Monitor offers some reading suggestions. So does the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation.

Here is Theodore Roethke's "My Father's Waltz":

What is the Future of Poetry?

That is the question recently asked by the Guardian.

From the piece...

The Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, who teaches poetry at the University of East Anglia, says poems try to capture a reality that is deeper than language. "You're trying to say: I know what this thing is called," he says. "It's called a chair, and that thing is a table. I've got this word 'chair' and I've got this word 'table', but there's something peculiar about this chair and table which using the words chair and table will not actually convey." Readers, he says, may race through novels because they want to know what happens, but they should look to inhabit poems. "Nobody reads a poem to find out what happens in the last line. They read the poem for the experience of travelling through it."

I ask Szirtes whether he thinks "What is poetry for?" is a valid question. To my surprise – because plenty of poets think it's an absurd question and that no art form should worry about its function – he believes it is far from academic. "It's a question that does preoccupy you the longer you do it," he says. "When you first do it, you never ask that question. But as time goes on, you begin to be conscious of it. My sense now is that when people begin to speak, when language develops, there are two essential instincts: one of the instincts says, 'What is this?'; the other one says, 'So what happens?' So what happens is the beginning of syntax, of storytelling. The other feeling, where you are confronted by some aspect of reality for which language is always inadequate, is the instinct that goes into poetry." Poetry, he suggests, "begins with a cry" – of anguish, fear or frustration. Szirtes quotes Emily Dickinson's maxim that "a poem is a house that tries to be haunted". A poem should not deliver all its secrets at once, if ever; it is not there to be solved.

Pioneer Dame of the Donner Party

As some of you may know, I've always had thoughts of writing a musical comedy based on the Donner Party tragedy so all things Donner Party fascinate me. Recently, on NPR, Tamsen Donner was discussed, due to the fact that there are a couple books devoted to her.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hemingway on the Silver Screen

Media Bistro announced that Clive Owen will be playing Ernest Hemingway in an HBO original movie, produced by James Gandolfini. Nicole Kidman is also attached to star.

This movie isn't to be confused with the Hemingway way movie that's being produced and directed by Andy Garcia. Anthony Hopkins will play that role in Hemingway & Fuentes.

Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Harry Potter theme park, in Orlando, has opened. The Telegraph discusses the fitting tribute to Rowling's work.

From the piece...

And lo, they shall likely find that – as much as any theme park spin-off can ever be – it is a fitting shrine to the world’s biggest ever film and book phenomenon, a 20-acre corner of Universal Orlando Resort that is forever Hogwarts.

There is room to expand but for now it is a bit of a squash. There is no Diagon Alley, no Platform 9 and three quarters, no Quidditch stadium and the castle has been daubed in a magic paint that masks the fact it is not to scale until you are right up to it. But what there is – Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts castle on a rock above – is ingeniously conceived and immaculately executed, with the sort of workmanship and attention to detail that smacks of museum conservation rather than theme park construction. In fact, it is more an exhibit than a conventional theme park, one that best rewards those who stop and stare.

While it has failed dismally to recreate the British weather, Universal – which worked closely with the creative designers of the Potter films – have worked hard on achieving something very close to the original. The hissing red steam train just inside the entrance has a conductor who, depending on whose shift it is, is either English or Scottish. Even the latter manages the sort of bonhomie that one may not encounter at Edinburgh Waverley station.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ghost Signs

I just stumbled upon this fascinating site. The History of Advertising Trust is archiving photos of those old advertisements you still see painted on the sides of old buildings.

R.I.P. Jose Saramago

The Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author of Blindness has died at 87. The Paris Review interviewed him in 1998, here.

Bringing William Wallace Home

The Scotsman takes note of a note, a scrap of paper really, that is the only surviving possession of William Wallace (think "Braveheart"). They want it returned to Scotland, and rightly so.

Finding Edward Hopper's Nighthawks

Where is the famous diner depicted in Edward Hopper's famous painting, Nighthawks? In a fascinating piece, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York tries to find it.

Reaching for That First-Edition High

The Wall Street Journal has a piece about trying to find that elusive first-edition you've been craving (or didn't know you craved until you found it) at book sales.

From the story...

Nonetheless, I'd been infected by the book bug. And while I haven't unearthed another "Gatsby," you never know what faded masterpieces you'll find among best-sellers of more recent vintage at country book sales. At this weekend's event I acquired a first and I suspect only edition of Eugene O'Neill's 1929 play "Dynamo"; what I misidentified as a first of Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls"; an 1888 translation of Victor Hugo's "Ninety-Three" (mostly because of its pretty cover); Andre Gide's 1930 "The Immoralist" (and, tucked inside, a mint-condition book mark from Concord Books, a Times Square bookshop that opened the same year and went out of business in 1965); and, my personal favorite, "Meet Calvin Coolidge: The Man Behind the Myth." It's a modern (1960) edition, but who wouldn't be delighted to display that morsel on his coffee table?

The Return of Katherine Dunn

Did you ever read Katherine Dunn's Geek Love when it came out in 1989? It was (still is) an amazing read. You probably thought to yourself - I can't wait until she writes another novel! Wait, you have. She hasn't written another since. But she's back. Yes, indeed, Katherine Dunn, according to The New York Times, is back.