Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Superheroes are Bad for Boys. Or Actually, No. Yes, They're Psychologically Good For Boys. Or Not.

The Comics Alliance takes a look at the differing conclusions of studies in regards to superheroes and their psychological impact on young people.

Working, Class, and Literature

In the essay, "Never Give an Inch," in Tin House, Gerald Howard brilliantly discusses the working class in American literature.

From the piece...

As a result, the thirties became, in fiction, very much a star search for the writer of impeccable working-class credentials or at least the proper political point of view, the one who could produce the great proletarian novel, a much desired work of revolutionary struggle and ideological awakening. The critical arbiters of taste were all waiting for Lefty, and even Ivy League scribes were putting on proletarian airs, striding the picket lines and haring off to the Appalachians to report on the latest coal miners’ strike. But little of this work, by such dusty names as Agnes Smedley (Daughter of Earth), Jack Conroy (The Disinherited), Mike Pell (S.S. Utah), Mary Heaton Vorse (Strike!), and Grace Lumpkin (To Make My Bread), is read today, marred as it is by formulaic plots and a hectoring political tone. Of the fiction from this period dealing with the plight of the working class, only the novels of John Steinbeck are still widely read. Jews Without Money by Mike Gold, the critical bullyboy of The New Masses, survives as a portrait of Lower East Side Jewish tenement life; James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy serves similarly for the Irish of Chicago. Both Edward Dahlberg’s Bottom Dogs, praised by Edmund Wilson as “a work of literature that has the stamp of a real and original gift,” and Edward Anderson’s Hungry Men offer vividly rendered portraits of American life at the economic margins unmarred by agitprop and can also be read with profit today.

And then work, at least of the physical sort, and working people pretty much disappear from American fiction for the next three decades or so. Why? We can point to the long stretch of postwar prosperity that moved millions of Americans into the middle class and off the farms and assembly lines, while bringing a measure of security and affluence to those who remained. Literary fashion played its part, as serious American fiction became more inward looking, concerned with the problems of the individual rather than those of society. Nothing remotely like the rise of the so-called Angry Young Men, an eruption of literary voices from the working class in England, occurred in this country, in part because England has a thicker working-class culture with deeper historical roots, and even more so because our working class did not have that much to be angry about, protected as it was by a still-vibrant labor movement.

Most crucially, though, the whole concept of class came to be seen as almost a choice rather than a fate, as the powerful mechanisms of the meritocracy and the vastly expanded opportunities for higher education placed millions of Americans on the escalator of social mobility. Rightly celebrated as a great democratic achievement, this development nevertheless had some downsides that only became apparent with time.

Dick and Jane and Vampires

The literary mash-ups of silly horror and classic lit are starting to take hold in kiddie books. Media Bistro investigates.

New Orleans is Sinking

Five years ago Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans. Pop Matters takes a gander at two graphic novels that have tackled the subject.

The Creative Process Behind TV Drama

"The Wire," "The Sopranos," "Breaking Bad." They get rave reviews, tons of awards, and get watched religiously by tens of thousands of people. But how are they written, anyway? The Financial Times illuminates us.

From the piece...

“It’s all-consuming,” says Joy Lusco Kecken, a staff writer and script editor on The Wire, speaking of the two to three months before a show goes into production. This is when the hierarchy of writers – from the “show runner”, the various editors and producers, down to the assistants – assembles and the drama of creating drama takes place.

“The overarching vision is that of the show runner, who explains the signposts for the season,” Lusco Kecken explains. “A staff writer is part of the dialogue that shapes the colour, characters and story­lines of a season or episode.”

Proving yourself worthy of a place at the writers’ table is done by writing “specs” – the rewriting of current shows to showcase a writer’s ability to observe the conventions of the genre and excel within them – “like writing the fourth act of a play”, says Glen Mazzara, a veteran of six seasons writing the gritty crime drama The Shield. Specs show that a writer can write seamlessly to someone else’s vision and to the voice of the show. “Good shows to ‘spec’ at the moment would be True Blood or Breaking Bad,” he says.

Under the supervision of the show runner, episodes are sliced up for individual writers to develop. The most common format is that 70 per cent of an episode will be the self-contained weekly plot, the other 30 per cent will be the overarching narrative that spans the entire season. Each episode runs to a “beat sheet”, each beat representing an emotional arc or plot development point (even a physical change of scene or a movement within a scene). A beat equates to about a minute of show time and there is roughly one page of script per beat.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nick Hornby + Ben Folds = Musical Goodness

Comic Art Propaganda

Pop Matters reviews Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History, by Fredrik Stromberg.

From the story...

In the beginning there were comics. They were without message or meaning, and the Spirit of God moved across the pages. And God said, “Let there be Chick”, and He saw that Chick was good and commanded him to spread the Word to the people. So Chick made the comics and spread them across the Earth, in truck stops and rest areas and libraries and parks. And God saw that it was effective. God knows a good thing when he sees it.

Who am I to question God? But are Chick tracts, those little black and white comics that tell readers all the different ways they might go to hell, really a good thing? Is it appropriate to condense complex theological ideas into a few literal-minded panels and leave them in truck stop bathrooms for road-weary travelers to read? Of course, because like all propaganda, Chick tracts aren’t about facts, they’re about a message.

After Mozart's Death, an Endless Coda

According to a recent article in an academic journal, researchers have posited at least 118 causes of death for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The New York Times explores some of them.

From the piece...

With direct evidence lacking, researchers have had to rely mainly on accounts by Mozart’s widow, Constanze Mozart, and her sister, Sophie Haibel, given some decades later. Evidence also comes from an undated document by Mozart’s son Karl Thomas and from a description — again, decades later — by a Viennese doctor who spoke to the physicians who treated Mozart in his final days.

Scholars have also examined accounts of Mozart’s ailments in letters written by family members, especially his father, Leopold, to uncover signposts regarding his final sickness. Speculation about an abnormality in the shape of his ear has even led some to suggest that kidney failure was likely, since urinary tract deformities are sometimes related to ear abnormalities.

The indirect evidence itself rests on a quicksand of changing medical definitions, sometimes mistranslated phrases from original testimonies and leaps forward in the understanding of diseases and how the body works.

“As people read the symptoms and patterns of the disease as written by the contemporaneous authors,” Dr. Dawson said in a recent interview, “these physicians, in their own minds, try to put together, ‘What does this represent?’ ”

Here's the Bow Valley Chorus singing some of Mozart's "Requiem":

Basic Black

LA Times Magazine highlights the 20 best noir classics based in Los Angeles.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Priests in Literature

Happy Sunday, faithful readers. Enjoy this list of priests in literature, care of Reading Copy.

Stan Lee: The Interview

Arguably the most famous person in comic book history, Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, and Thor, and Daredevil, and the Hulk, and Iron Man, and X-Men (I could go on), is interviewed by Moviefone, here.

From the piece...

As a lifelong comic fan, I've noticed that, while movies and TV shows based on comics and superheroes are getting hotter, it seems like comic books themselves are in decline, especially among kids. Do you believe that comic books are still relevant today?

Oh, I think they are as long as they're well done. Even though I know we're in an electronic age and everybody is talking like we'll read all our stories on iPads, on the television screen or on your cell phone, there's still something kind of nice about a thin little comic book, which you can look at, turn the pages, see the pictures clearly in color, read it at your own speed; and when you finish, you kind of fold it and put in your pocket or you show it to a friend. You can collect them and they don't take up much room.

You can have a year's collection of comics just on one shelf and you can trade them with friends. I think there will always be comic books, but they may not be the big bestsellers that they had been in the past, but that goes for everything. Everything is changing so quickly with the advent of all the electronic entertainment like video games. I mean, now people spend so much time on video games and playing with their cell phone and texting. It's all new exciting things for younger people coming along, so there's so much that's vying for everyone's attention that there may be less of an audience per month for comic books. There may be less of an audience per month for regular books, or for movies, or for television or for anything eventually, but I think those things will always be with us.

Why do people continue to respond so strongly to the superhero?

I think people are always looking for something that represents the ideal person, or the ideal situation. You know, there's another reason. I feel that almost everybody has loved fairy tales when they were young. I don't know anybody who didn't read fairy tales as a young child. You're reading stories of witches, ogres, giants, monsters and so forth -- kids love that sort of thing. But, after a while, you become too old to read fairy tales; you outgrow them. But I don't think you ever outgrow your love for those types of stories. And if you think about it, superhero stories today are like fairy tales for older people. It's people with powers and abilities that no human beings have. The villains are always bigger than life or the menace is bigger than life and it's like the giants and the dragons in the old fairy tales. So, it's a chance for older people to have that same fun and excitement that they had when they were young reading fairy tales -- at least that's my theory.

Death to Humans! Visions of the Apocalypse in Movies and Literature

The list, care of Scientific American.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Read Comics in Public

Get your geeky self on out there with a comic book today, my friends. It's National Read Comics in Public Day.

From the official site...

The concept is fairly simple: we’re asking that everyone take an hour or two out of their day on August 28th (also the birthday of Jack “King” Kirby, incidentally) to read a comic book in a public setting—a park bench, a beach, a bus, the front steps of your local library (we do ask, however, that you be mindful of local loitering laws). Let strangers see you reading a piece of sequential art.

Take to the streets. Be proud. If someone asks what you’re reading, say, “a comic book” (the phrase “graphic novel is also acceptable, but let’s face it, it sort of defeats the whole purpose). Heck, lend them a book, if you’ve got an extra—what better way to make a new friend and convert a new reader?

Be not ashamed!

The Don't Bother Travel Guide

Everyone wants to have a great vacation - see new places, visit with new people, have new experiences. But should that be at Seattle's fabled GUM WALL?!?! On NPR, they discuss Catherine Price's new book, 101 Places to Not See Before You Die.

From the story...

The Museum Of Tap Water, Beijing

In 2001, Price says, an edict was issued that required Beijing to open 150 new museums by 2008. Hence a museum devoted to the fascinating history of ... tap water.

The museum is full of artifacts from the early days of Bejing's tap water system, which dates back to 1908. On display are coupons that people brought to water stations to receive water, and stethoscopes that were used to detect leaks in the pipes.

The irony of the whole museum, Price says, "is that Beijing's water is not safe to drink from the tap."

A brief aside: 6 Places I Would Actually Really Like to Visit Before I Die...

1) Iceland
2) Ghana
3) Quebec City
4) New York City
5) South Africa
6) Peru

Playing with Time

On the Book Lady's Blog, she has come up with an annotated list of a several novels and short stories that play with time in compelling ways and in most cases also happen to be amazing.

From the piece...

The Beggar Maid, Alice Munro.

This set of linked stories, which charts the nodal events in the life of a single protagonist, Rose, has the effect of a novel, because we see Rose’s life journey, from having grown up in a small town in rural Ontario (covered in the first 3 stories), to having made her way out in the wider world (the next 5 stories), where she reinvents herself over and over (as wife of a pampered rich boy, lover to various men, mother, TV talk show host, actress), and her eventual return to the town where she grew up (the last 2 stories). Taken together the stories have the feeling of the wanderings of Odysseus, though with a far less dramatic homecoming (though it is, of course, heartbreaking). Part of the wonder of this book is that while the stories themselves are arranged in chronological order with regard to Rose’s life (so that we are able to connect the dots and put together a complex larger portrait of her, complete with well-developed themes about self-image and social class) there is a great deal of time-bending within the stories. The first story, “Royal Beatings,” for instance, which recounts events in Rose’s childhood, takes a jump at the end to a many-decades-later point in time that lies beyond the time frame of the book’s final story, “Who Do You Think You Are?” Meanwhile, this final story travels back to a point in Rose’s childhood that predates any of the events in “Royal Beatings.” It’s also worth noting that the linked story or novel-in-stories format is particularly suited to this kind of jumping around in time, because each story itself becomes a kind of “block” in the overall architecture.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Inspired by J.D. Salinger's Toilet

The Los Angeles Times took a dip into EBay waters, recently, to discover twelve non-book literary oddities. Enjoy!

Friday's Poem

Robert Creeley's "The Language":

The Illustrations of Thornton Oakley

His work is celebrated on the Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog. Enjoy.

A Garden of Books in a Forest of Trees

Behold the artwork of designers Thilo Folkerts and Rodney LaTourelle.

From a story about the garden in Arch Daily...

The Jardin de la Connaissance is a temporary garden in a forested area involving approximately 40,000 books, multi-coloured wooden plates and several varieties of mushrooms.

In reference to the festival’s theme of paradise, there are exposed the tree (of knowledge) as the central semiotic theme of the paradisiacal garden. Rather than reopening a way through the proverbial enclosures, the design team is interested in its manifold textures. From the single tree of knowledge they have gone to the many of the forest; from one truth to the plenitude of multimedia and the overwhelming world of information. The ‘Garden of Cognition’ does not illustrate a ‘return to nature’ or attempt a ‘biblical’ reconciliation, but its intention is to provide a platform to experience and frame the forest of the many in a unique and compelling way. The garden engages the mythical relation between knowledge and nature integral to the concept of ‘paradise’. By using books as material in the construction of the garden, they confront these instruments of knowledge with the temporality of nature. And by exposing these fragile and supposedly timeless materials to transformation and disintegration, they also invite an emotional involvement of the visitor. The book assemblages establish a framework amidst the forest that embodies a variety of experiential activities. The Jardin de la Connaissance becomes a sensual reading room, a library, an information platform, a dynamic realm of knowledge.

The Library at Guantanamo Bay

What do the prisoners read there, anyway? The Guardian illuminates us.

From the piece...

The 176 prisoners at the US facility have access to 18,000 books, magazines, DVDs and newspapers across 18 languages from their prison library, according to an investigation by Time magazine. The most popular titles among inmates are the Harry Potter books, novels by John Grisham and Agatha Christie, and Islamic texts. Prisoners are also keen to get their hands on photo-packed travel books, particularly ones featuring the ocean.

"I tell ya, Dan Brown's been beating me up lately," navy lieutenant Robert Collett told Time. "All his books are very popular, but we don't have all of them in Arabic." The International Committee of the Red Cross will sometimes help out when a particular translation can't be found, sending its staff to local stores to pick up copies because it believes that "access to books and news from the outside is very important to the prisoners' mental state".

Civil rights lawyer H Candace Gorman sent the library an Arabic edition of a Harry Potter book herself because it did not have all of the published titles and her client, the Libyan national Abdul al-Ghizzawi, was keen to keep up with the boy wizard's adventures. "The guards were telling him things that had happened in the book, but he didn't know if it was true or not," she told Time. Ghizzawi saw similarities between his own situation and that of the prisoners of Azkaban, and between George W Bush and Voldemort, she said.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Photography of Robert Giard

American photographer Robert Giard, notes the Beinecke Library, is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither.

See some of his work, here.

For more author photography, check out the stash of poet portraits at the Rare Books & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

Pictured above: John Boswell.

Writing a Novel in Three Days

Could you do it?

From a piece on The Millions...

Day three, ten a.m.: no sleep last night. Nothing else seems substantial anymore except for the words on the laptop screen. The backs of my eyeballs feel prickly, suggesting complete and unforgiving fatigue. My brain went AWOL hours earlier and I keep omitting words like ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘or’, and ‘of’ from sentences. Yet I am ecstatic—an intense happiness burgeoning in me from too much caffeine, too little sleep, and having just spent two and a half days in a dream world of my own creation. As of right now, I am a novelist.

Three days from midnight to midnight: write as much as you can, wherever you wish; this is the International 3-Day Novel Contest. The average finished entry is between twenty and thirty thousand words. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is about 77,000 words. Thus, the finished result is more novella than novel, but all the same, a grand effort considering the timeframe.

Back to day one: The Setup. The contest allows prior planning of plots and characters. Oops. I snatch at ideas, desperate for anything. How about an alien abductees’ support group? Brilliant—very Fight Club. (Didn’t Graham Greene once say, “Writing is a form of therapy”?) Having a vague idea for a plot, I engage in the writing process. Many authors talk of losing themselves in the “zone”. They make it sound as if the words write themselves. I wish. Midnight arrives and the word count is a contemptible 4,500 words. The zone has eluded me. The 3-Day Novel Contest is held annually in early September on the Canadian Labor Day long weekend. In 1977, a writer’s group in Vancouver accepted the challenge for the first time.

The contest has been running ever since. According to the organizers, the 3-Day Novel Contest has been called a “fad,” an “idle threat,” a “great way to overcome writers block,” and “a trial by deadline.” It opposes the notion that novels take eight years of angst to produce. Most entrants recognize that winning is secondary to finishing with a complete novella and no nervous breakdown.

The Literary Dating Scene on Alikewise.com

The New Republic checks it out.

From the story...

Alas. The first writer I put in—W.G. Sebald—turned up no hits at all. “We expanded the search to include other books relating to ‘Sebald,’” the site helpfully informed me, bringing up the profile of a 39-year-old man in New York (good start) seeking a woman between 18 and 48 (I qualify). Unfortunately, my prospective match seemed to have missed the point entirely: his profile lists two books by Michel Houellebecq, about each of which he commented only “It was ok.” My heart beat faster upon seeing his third choice: Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz. A man who reads Polish epics might be a man for me! But it sank again upon reading his comment: “This is an ok read.”

I was hoping for someone a little more articulate. Time to expand the possibilities. I put in Philip Roth, Emily Brontë, Kafka, but the pickings were still slim. A 35-year-old New Yorker is currently reading the new David Mitchell novel and finds The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto “sexy.” Hmm. I was intrigued by a 36-year-old Brooklynite who put up The Annotated Lolita and The Catcher in the Rye (“I wonder how phonies feel when they read this book”) until I saw that he also likes Women Who Run With the Wolves. Clicking on Salinger led me to a different guy with some decent choices, including Orhan Pamuk, The Black Dahlia, and Herodotus. Unfortunately, he lives in Australia.

We know that people don’t necessarily present themselves in the most honest light in their online-dating profiles. Still, the majority of the virtual bookshelves fall into two categories: mind-numbingly conventional or bewilderingly schizophrenic. I learned, not to my surprise, that hipsters all over the country read Murakami, Kundera (the site offers no statistics, but in my unscientific perusal The Unbearable Lightness of Being seemed to pop up more often than any other book), and García Márquez. On the other side of the spectrum, a search for Elie Wiesel led me to a woman who lists Night and Survival in Auschwitz together with Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Devil Wears Prada. But she put up Wislawa Szymborska, too, so I’m willing to forgive her. (Note to the guy in Brooklyn who likes Szymborska as well as Clarice Lispector, Graham Greene, and Bolaño: I can teach you how to pronounce her name.)

Steve McCurry and the Universality of Reading

Publishing Perspectives celebrates the photography of Steve McCurry who captures readers worldwide.

From the story...

One of his ongoing projects is compiling a collection of photos of people reading; on Monday, he put a selection of these photos on display for the first time on his own blog. Entitled “Fusion: The Synergy of Energy and Words” (Part I and Part II) drew a strong reaction from book lovers. “More than 4,000 people visited the site in the first few hours and I started getting calls from librarians and booksellers asking about the photos,” says Bonnie McCurry V’Soske, Steve’s sister, who manages her brother’s business.

The idea to shoot photos of people reading was itself prompted by his relationship with legendary Hungarian photographer André Kertész, who was also fascinated with images of people reading. “Henri Cartier-Bresson was a friend of mine and he once said, ‘Whatever we have done, Kertész did first and it’s apt to start here,” says McCurry. “I met Kertész in 1984 when I moved into the same building where he lived on Fifth Ave. in New York and I knew he’d done a body of work on people reading. It was an inspiration to me. Reading is kind of the universal endeavor, one without regard to nationality, race, age or culture.”

McCurry’s photos cross these cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. His personal favorite of his collection is a photo of a young Thai man reading a book while nestled up to the back of an elephant, shot earlier this year. Among the two dozen images posted online is photo of a group of Chinese men perusing newspapers through a shop window, another of an Afghan shopkeeper reading in his modest stall, and one Italian monks in contemplation with their Bibles.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ten Reading Revolutions Before E-Books

The Atlantic gives us a run-down.

From the piece...

5. The shift from scroll to codex was in turn enabled by a shift from papyrus to parchment and then paper, but honestly, the continual changes in materials essential to writing and reading alone could constitute a few dozen revolutions, at different places and times all over the world. Let's just say that what the things we read are made out of has always been very, very important.

6. This is especially true for arguably the most important reading revolution -- the industrial revolution. Gigantic presses powered by steam (and later, electric power) could crank out books and newspapers and advertisements that strained the always-fickle paper supply. Eventually, papermakers were able to invent a variety of mechanical and chemical techniques engineer decent-quality paper out of pulped wood, a supply that (unlike cloth rags) appeared limitless. Print was off to the races, and dozens of other inventions helped make generating texts cheaper and faster. Having beaten back the scroll, our anthropomorphized codex now jostled against increasingly-important nonbook documents glutting the alphabetic information stream, like newspapers and office memoranda. More people were reading too, thanks to cheap primers and a state-driven educational push towards universal literacy: historian David Hall has called this the "literacy revolution." If print in the Renaissance and early modern periods was a proof-of-concept, a limited beta - the Xerox PARC GUI and first-generation MacIntosh of the new modes of producing and consuming text - the age of industrial print was Windows 95.

The Ten Most Amazing Exercises from The Mighty Marvel Strength and Fitness Book

Enjoy, but don't pull anything.

The Orwell Project

One Muslim artist responded to his mistaken FBI investigation by creating an online record of his every move, meal, and travel. That artist is Hasan Elahi.

From a piece in the Daily Beast about him and his work...

Elahi is a 37-year-old conceptual artist who teaches art and visual theory at San Jose State University in California. He was born in Bangladesh and grew up in New York. Like many other Muslims in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Elahi found his name on the government’s terrorist watch list. In response, he decided to open nearly every aspect of his life on his website, TrackingTransience.net. At that site one can find a record of the coffee he has bought or the amount of cash he has withdrawn in the past week. Over 20,000 images on the site are time-stamped and give information about the places he has been and meals he has consumed. In May 2007, when I met Elahi in a restaurant for lunch, he took a picture of his salad—smoked salmon with strawberry dressing—and then of the urinal in the men’s room. The pictures were uploaded on his site. Having beforehand perused the list of his recent purchases, I was able to confirm that the camera he was using, a brand-new Canon G7, was one that he had acquired the previous week at a shop in New York City.

Book Cover - A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. By Amitava Kumar. 232 pages. Duke University Press. $21.95. The Orwell Project, which is the name that Elahi has given to his exercise, is in reality a work of collaboration between the artist and the FBI. It was the latter who inspired this work that is part performance, part protest.

40 Best Comics for the Classroom

Online Masters highlights those comic books that can be used as teaching tools in the classroom for kids young and old.

From the list...

35.) Owly
Writer/Artist: Andy Runton

The largely textless adventures of the sweet, friendly Owly work as excellent storytelling conduits for young, imaginative children. A few teachers have been known to test their students’ creativity by having them come up with dialogue all on their own.

36.) The Yellow Jar
Writer/Artist: Patrick Atangan

Educators may love the idea of incorporating The Yellow Jar into their lessons, as they open up “Western” children to many traditional Japanese folktales that would otherwise remain unknown or obscured.

37.) Robot Dreams
Writer/Artist: Sara Varon

Sara Varon illustrates a bittersweet story of a robot and its deep friendship with a dog, silently, realistically exploring themes of human interaction and the waxing and waning of interpersonal connections.

38.) All Star Superman
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quietly

Even students who do not read superhero comics still know of Superman and his origins, and Grant Morrison’s exploration of his life, times and adventures stands as essential, entertaining and wholly humanizing. A pleasant surprise considering the invulnerable alien at its center.

The Open Road When It Wasn't So Open

The New York Times has an interesting, though, unfortunate slice of history. They recall the Green Book Guide for Negro Motorists. Printed during the era of racial discrimination, it highlighted to black drivers where they could eat, or sleep, or find gas.

From the piece...

Julian Bond, the civil rights leader who is now a faculty member at American University, will take on a cameo role. Mr. Bond recalled that his parents — his father, a college professor, became the first black president of Lincoln University, in southern Pennsylvania — used the book. “It was a guidebook that told you not where the best places were to eat,” he said, “but where there was any place.”

In November, Carolrhoda Books will release Mr. Ramsey’s “Ruth and the Green Book,” a children’s book with illustrations by the award-winning artist Floyd Cooper. It tells the story of a girl from Chicago in the 1950s and what she learns as she and her parents, driving their brand-new car to visit her grandmother in rural Alabama, finally luck into a copy of Victor Green’s guide. “Most kids today hear about the Underground Railroad, but this other thing has gone unnoticed,” said Mr. Ramsey. “It just fell on me, really, to tell the story.”

Historians of travel have recognized that the great American road trip — seen as an ultimate sign of freedom — was not that free for many Americans, including those who had to worry about “sunset laws” in towns where black visitors had to be out by day’s end.

For a large swath of the nation’s history “the American democratic idea of getting out on the open road, finding yourself, heading for distant horizons was only a privilege for white people,” said Cotton Seiler.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Barry Goldwater: Landscape Photographer

Seriously...and seriously beautiful.

The Seventeen Most Innovative University Presses

The list, with recommended reading from each press, care of Huffington Post.

FYI: The crowd above isn't cheering for a Nebraska football win. They're cheering because of the University of Nebraska Press's definitive seven-volume set of the journals of Lewis and Clark.

From the piece (the aforementioned University of Nebraska)...

Donna Shear, director, says: "We're proud of our long commitment to publishing Native American, Western American, and regional history and literature. We're the largest and most diverse university press between California and Chicago and we take that role very seriously, publishing 160 new titles per year and keeping 3,000 titles in print. Next year, we'll mark the 50th anniversary of the first books published under our paperback imprint Bison Books. Bison Books makes classic literature accessible and affordable for everyone. Editors selected books for popular appeal and lasting value. UNP first published eight paperbacks under this imprint in 1961, including Old Jules by Mari Sandoz, and sold them for $1.00-$1.50 each. The books sold in truck stops and dime stores and were immediately popular. The Bison goal is still one we embrace today: making and keeping literature accessible and affordable. That's why we are making as many of our titles available in various e-book formats as we can. It's also why we continue to be committed to literature in translation, having published in English the last two Nobel laureates in literature. UNP is one of the most active American publishers of translated work. I'm especially excited about the publication in October of Four Years in Europe with Buffalo Bill--the first of The Papers of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody series. This series is another indication of our commitment to the history and literature of the region, much like our comprehensive seven-volume Definitive Journals of Lewis and Clark we published in the early 2000s." Titles of special interest include Ted Gilley's Bliss and Other Short Stories (winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction) and Sonya Huber's Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (Bison Books).

The ABCs of Mediocre Marvel Villiany

Some charming artwork, care of Kyle Starks.

We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie

That's a great name for a blog, isn't it? What's the blog about? Discussing children's books written by "adult writers" that are no longer in print. For instance, did you know Virginia Woolf wrote The Widow and the Parrot? Me, either. Thanks, WTWCMR for illuminating us!

10 Best Stories of Suburban Ennui

The list, care of Flavorwire. Side note: One of my favorite words in the English language - ennui.

Monday, August 23, 2010

John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point

There's a new documentary on the life and work on the author of A Confederacy of Dunces. Learn more, here.

The Best Comics

IGN Comics helps comic book readers out by picking their favorite comic books published recently.

The Best of Marvel Comics.

The Best of DC Comics.

The Best of Vertigo Comics.

The Best Indie Comics.

Happy reading.

Patti Smith: Rock Poet

The Los Angeles Times celebrates the genius of Patti Smith.

Here she is singing in 1976:

Jane Austen's Writing Desk: The Author's Creative Process

The Telegraph celebrates the ability to see an author's writing process through their manuscripts, something they fear they'll not be able to celebrate much longer with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and the like.

From the piece...

Although manuscripts may yield the odd ugly truth about a writer's style, they are still a beautiful thing to behold – and one which risks becoming increasingly rare in today's digital world. The two draft chapters of Persuasion that will be on display show neat, looped writing, occasionally scoured out with thick, angry black lines. It is a visceral thrill to see a favourite writer's thought processes on paper; to realise that the sentences etched on to the page with such elegant certainty were scribbled out and scrawled back in again. It draws a direct line between the book on your bedside table and the woman who sat frowning at her desk, nearly 200 years ago.

Manuscripts are also a reminder of the vastly differing approaches that writers take to their art. For every perfectionist Flaubert, who could spend a week agonising over one page of crabbed handwriting, there is a Kerouac, who tapped out On the Road in three giddy weeks of spontaneous prose. As with Austen, the paragraph breaks were inserted into the 120-foot-long typewritten scroll by an editor; in both cases, only the manuscript points to the original breathlessness.

The Chart of Fantasy Art

Orbit has been taking a look at 2009 fantasy book cover art and has charted the rise of the green dragon. Also, swords are big and heroines wear shoes suitable to chase werewolves.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ten Best Pigs in Literature

Because you were eager to know who they were. Oink.

In Terrifically Creepy Beloved Children's Author News

Mummified remains of babies found in a basement in Los Angeles may have ties to the author of Peter Pan. True story.

Books Have Many Futures

This, according to NPR.

And, talking about the future of books, why not read, in the Atlantic, the Bookfuturist Manifesto.

From the piece...

A bookfuturist manifesto could never really be like an avant-garde or political manifesto, partly because the whole idea of bookfuturism is to critically unravel these contradictions, rather than stake out definite positions that we'd cling to no matter what. For instance, when Amazon's Kindle first came out, I was completely of the mind that these text-only files cheaply mocked the experience of reading a book without actually including all its rich physicality, or trying to create a new, specifically digital experience. Now, as the whole industry's moved towards multimedia tablets and touch interfaces, I find myself thinking, "you know, maybe just focusing on text, and making that experience as useful and enjoyable as possible, is a really good idea. Text and textual interfaces are incredibly resilient and powerful. Bring back the command line!"

Bookfuturism turns out to be not just about books as such, but a kind of aesthetic and culture of reading, literacy, history, in connection with (only rarely in opposition to) other kinds of media culture. And reading here would also obviously include newspapers and magazines, and even things like maps and advertisements and data visualizations, plus whatever's displayed on the different screens most of us look at all day at home or work. What does it mean to live in this hyperliterate world? How do we make sense of it? There I think we need to actually articulate something like Jason Kottke's motto: "Liberal Arts 2.0."

The other way you can describe bookfuturism is by distinguishing it from what it's not. The bookfuturist is profoundly different from the two people he might otherwise easily be mistaken for at first glance - the technofuturist and the bookservative. These positions are easier to recognize, because most of our public discussions of new technology takes place as an argument between these two camps. And it's heating up now, because for a long time, even though people like CP Snow talked about "two cultures," these people were really on separate tracks - the engineers were doing their thing, the traditional culture people another. They didn't really understand each other, but mostly respected each other's credentials and institutional authority. Those disciplinary and technological walls started to fall apart at the same time as the elevated platforms separating enshrined experts from engaged citizens vanished. Authority is no longer a given, or given at all.

And, continuing our discussion of the future of book publishing, there's the Independent discussing their radical future.

Cult of the Unwitting Oracle

Pop Matters has an interesting article about the unintended religious legacy of writer H.P. Lovecraft.

From the piece...

In his lifetime, some people were already finding religious inspiration from Lovecraft’s literary work. He wrote in a 1933 letter that the author William Lumley believed that Lovecraft and his literary pals who used his pseudomythology were “genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension.” Lovecraft recognized the dilemma that he had become an unwitting oracle with some humor: “Bill tells me that he has fully identified my Cthulhu & Nyarlathotep … so that he can tell me more about ‘em than I know myself.” The irony was not lost on Lovecraft. In fact, it confirmed his views that people fall for some of the most absurd religious beliefs: even from his own pen! Nevertheless, this was a portentous moment. Lovecraft’s religious seed had been spilled.

Since William Lumley, the people finding a religious message in Lovecraft have slowly proliferated. It is a very dark, though ironically appealing message for many. The beginnings of the occult fascination with Lovecraft may be attributable to the number of forged Necronomicons, purporting to be the actual book that Lovecraft mentions in his fiction, that were forged as early as the 1940s and sold to unsuspecting seekers. The Simon Necronomicon (1977) is but the most popular of many predecessors. But it was not until the 1970s that Lovecraft’s fate as an unbeknownst prophet, one who made contributions to a recognized religion, was solidified by the notorious, but often misunderstood Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan.

As a brief aside, Selections from H.P. Lovecraft's Brief Tenure as a Whitman's Sampler Copywriter.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's a Book!

Getting a Mental Kick Out of Reading Tough Books

The Washington Post discusses the joy of reading difficult books.

From the story...

This kind of reading you can't take on lightly, in moments between weeding the garden and answering your e-mail, or after a long day of meetings. You need some serious time -- or some serious sickness and drugs -- to clear the decks for such texts. They presented complex arguments to follow and difficult thoughts to parse. Some paragraphs and pages, even the occasional whole essay or chapter, needed several readings to sink in. Taking notes helped.

It wasn't the writing that called for all that labor, though there was some chewy prose. If my brain was sweating, it was because genuinely subtle, imaginative thinking rarely reads like a thriller. (I know: I own almost the complete works of Robert Ludlum, given to me by my son. He knows that once I pick up one of those trash novels, I can't put it down.)

The thing is, getting through those complex books, and really grasping what they had to say, gave a thrill such as I hadn't had in ages.

Is a Sitcom Featuring a Hard-Drinking Composer Based on Stephen Sondheim?

That's the word, according to the Telegraph.

From the piece...

The original script for the pilot episode is understood to have portrayed Segal as a homosexual, heavy-drinking Broadway composer, aged 44, who lives a self-destructive, cocaine-fuelled existence before having a heart attack.

Sondheim, who is homosexual, had a heart attack in 1979, when he was 49. He has admitted that he has a "large capacity for alcohol" and told his biographer, Meryle Secrest, that he took cocaine in the Seventies. The script is believed to have undergone several key changes, including Segal suffering an aneurysm rather than a heart attack. However, a spokesman for Sondheim, whose musicals include Sweeney Todd and Follies, declines to discuss allegations that his lawyers requested changes be made.

"Steve is a very private person," says the spokesman. "The closest he will ever come to revealing his own personal history is in the form of the book he is publishing with Random House in October called Finishing the Hat, and even that is in lyric form."

His friendship with Logan is reportedly under strain.

Here's Dame Judi Dench singing "Send in the Clowns":

Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding the Beat

James Franco penned an essay in Vanity Fair about how he became Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming movie, Howl.

From the piece...

Young Ginsberg—the Ginsberg who went to Columbia, whose work was read by Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren, who was kicked out of college (and institutionalized) in part because he was gay—is not a familiar character. Everyone has an image of the large-bellied, bearded, balding Buddha figure that Ginsberg became. But to play the young Ginsberg, you, the actor, must be slim and clean-shaven and must dye your hair black—your full head of hair. You must wear thick-framed glasses. You must apply prostheses to your ears to make them stick out.

To play the young Ginsberg you will be required to read his poems in character—and will want to catch the distinctive New Jersey accent (he was from Paterson), and the determined lilt that varies in tone from ironic-tragic to wryly comic. So you will need to listen to recordings, and listen to them a lot. There is little film footage of Ginsberg from this time, but there are plenty of audio recordings. Notice how on the earliest ones his delivery is staid and serious—he even tells hecklers to shut up. On the later recordings, 35 years on, he is loose and funny, a practiced performer. If you are going to play the young Ginsberg, you will want to meld a variety of these readings. If you are completely faithful to the early ones, your performance could be flat. Use the early readings as a model for the scenes where Ginsberg is just starting out. Use the later ones to provide a sense of Ginsberg’s evolution. Regardless, listen to all of the recordings, every day, for months. Walk around New York doing this. Put the recordings on your iPod and walk. Get your voice in tune with his. Don’t worry about people looking at you. In New York, this is not weird.

There are 8-mm. home movies of Ginsberg taken on the Jersey Shore, but they show a boy too young for your needs. The closest thing to the period you want will be the film Pull My Daisy, by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie. It came out in 1959, only three years after Howl. There is no sync sound on the film, only a voice-over by Kerouac, so you won’t hear Ginsberg speak. But you’ll see how he sits. You’ll see his jaunty movements when he walks, dances, moves his arms. The other valuable piece of footage for your purposes is an interview with Ginsberg, filmed at the City Lights Bookstore, in 1965. Granted, this material is more than 10 years after the period you wish to depict. But the gesticulations are the same. Ginsberg loved to talk with his hands.

All of this is the external work on the character.

Here's a trailer:

Friday's Poem

Joseph Brodsky's Nativity Poems, sung:

Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita

It was published in the United States 52 years ago. The Reader's Almanac discusses the publication of the controversial work.

From the story...

After what he called “five years of monstrous misgivings and diabolical labors,” Nabokov finished writing Lolita in December 1953 and began submitting it to publishers. “It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation.... I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” So went one of the many rejection letters. Five leading publishers—Doubleday; Farrar, Straus; New Directions; Simon & Schuster; and Viking—all turned it down.

That was when Nabokov’s European agent, Doussia Ergaz, recommended Maurice Girodias of the Olympia Press in Paris, publisher of Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, and William S. Burroughs. Nabokov was then teaching Russian Studies at Cornell and feared he would be fired unless the book was published under a pseudonym. Girodias would publish it, but only with Nabokov’s name as author. Nabokov agreed but was wary, as he expressed in a letter in July 1955: “You and I know that Lolita is a serious book with a serious purpose. I hope the public will accept it as such. A succès de scandale would distress me.”

Girodias printed 5,000 copies of Lolita in English in September 1955. It sold mostly to English tourists and did not receive any critical attention until, in an interview with the London Times, Graham Greene named it one of the three best novels of 1955. This prompted John Gordon of the Sunday Express to order a copy and to denounce it as “about the filthiest book I’ve ever read” and “sheer unrestrained pornography.” The ensuing brouhaha (Gordon pointed out that Greene had been sued by Shirley Temple “for having said the little girl made her living out of displaying her thighs for the delectation of middle-aged gentlemen”) made Lolita into an international sensation.

The Eat Pray Love Merchandising Machine

The Julia Roberts movie has fueled a $350 million industry based on chick lit. But inside the numbers, the book looks less like a business juggernaut—and more like an innovative Hollywood marketing campaign. The Daily Beast has more, here.

From the piece...

The film's release catapulted the movie tie-in version of the paperback back onto the top of bestseller lists.

Meanwhile, for all the snickering about how a classic testosterone movie, The Expendables, beat out Julia Roberts et al. at the box office this weekend, a Sony source says that the movie will wind up generating close to $175 million in ticket sales this year worldwide, according to internal projections.

Perhaps most interesting, however, are the dozens of licensed products and knockoffs that are fairly unprecedented for a movie where the core audience is around 40. Sony cut a deal with HSN, and the shopping network devoted three full days of programming during the first weekend of August to Eat Pray Love-themed merchandise, some of which remains available on HSN.com.

The network would not comment on the viewership over that period, but said that it was "very pleased with the performance" and more than 100 products sold out during the event. Some featured products, like beaded bracelets and pillow shams, evoke the Italy-India-Bali theme of the story. (Gilbert structured her book into 108 "tales" in deference to the number of beads on a prayer bead necklace; HSN included a $350 prayer bead necklace.) Other products, such as Perlier's body cream and shower gel, were licensed, under the EPL banner.

Cookbook for a Cause

Download a free cookbook, help the Feeding America campaign. Sounds like a win/win, eh? The Pampered Chef cookbook has a collection of personal and family favorite recipes from folks like Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Mario Batali and more! Happy eating.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Art of Jacqueline Rush Lee


Hans Keilson and Other Rediscovered Novelists

The Daily Beast discusses the literary success of Irene Nemirovsky and Hans Fallada, two rediscovered novelists who wrote about World War Two and resistance to Germany. Add Hans Keilson to that list.

From the piece...

It's important, then, to keep one's eyes on both sides of the literary-and-commercial divide when another alleged discovery comes along, particularly in an age hungry for the lurid sheen of memoir-style truth. But, as a critic and reader, it's thrilling when that writer deserves the hype. In this case, Hans Keilson, a German physician who fled to the Netherlands before World War II and later joined the Dutch resistance, helping to spirit downed pilots and Jews out of the country, is such an example. Farrar, Straus and Giroux has just published two Keilson novels, The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key, that the author began writing while underground. Adversary was originally published in the U.S. in 1962, when it was praised by TIME magazine, making Keilson something like a re-discovery for American readers.

This is the first English publication of Comedy in a Minor Key, a slim and poignantly titled novel. Based on the author's time in hiding and dedicated to the Dutch couple that sheltered him, Comedy tells the story of Wim and Marie, a married couple in their mid-twenties, who take in Nico, a fortyish Jew fleeing Germany.

In Today's "What Too Them So Long?" Department

The Choose Your Own Adventure book series is heading to the iPhone.

If you choose to continue reading, click here.
If you choose to look at, say, cheese sculptures, click here.