Monday, May 31, 2010
The Independent discusses shoplifting in bookstores, and what the shoplifters take off with.
From the story...
Why have I just spent 20 minutes shadowing a respectable-looking man with a newspaper tucked under his arm around a small bookshop? Well, firstly, I work in this small bookshop, and secondly, I think he may have been trying to steal a Penguin edition of Saki short stories.
He was probably an innocent browser, but from a bookseller's point of view, he looked like a man who was waiting for the right moment to slip a short story collection beneath a newspaper tucked rather too firmly under his arm.
Somewhat naively, as a new bookseller, I didn't think theft would be a big problem. I imagined my biggest difficulty would be being able to keep up with our incredibly well-read customers. However, the reality is that most bookshops have to write off thousands in their annual budgets to account for theft. And it's not the obvious wheeler-dealers and petty criminals whom you need to worry about. In fact, book thieves make you realise that you're not as good at judging a book by
its cover as you might have thought.
The Faster Times interviews one of my favorite writers of late, Hannah Tinti.
From the piece...
LBB: A question about planning and outlining. One of the first scenes you wrote was about Dolly being found in a coffin after he’d been buried alive. That scene appears in the middle of the book. I’m curious, did you know how your book was going to end when you started writing it?
HT: I don’t outline at all. Whenever I try and lead the story somewhere, it doesn’t work. I have to let the story lead me. It’s kind of like using a divining rod. I write a scene, and think, well, what happened before this? Or what happened next? And often when I actually start writing the sentences they take me into a completely different direction.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Some time back I wrote, for Fine Books & Collections Magazine, a piece about Andrew Lane, an author chosen by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate to write young adult novels about Sherlock Holmes. Now, Lane, for the Scotsman, offers more details about the first in the series, Death Cloud.
Before you head off to church today, stay cozied up with a humorous book, first. Lord knows you need a good chuckle from time to time. Shelf Talk offers some suggestions.
The Times Online has a story about the lost chapter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
From the piece...
A letter to Lewis Carroll from his celebrated illustrator, Sir John Tenniel, that has come up for sale sheds new light on the relationship between the two men and reveals how blunt advice from the older, more established artist helped to change the face of a children’s classic.
The letter, which is auctioned today, is one of the few original examples of correspondence to survive between the stammering Cheshire clergyman, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and Tenniel, the half-blind artist who would go on to gain a knighthood for his 50-year stint as political cartoonist for Punch and immortality for his much-loved illustrations of Cheshire cats and hookah-pipe-smoking caterpillars. Dated July 1, 1870, the letter refers to the “lost chapter” of Through the Looking Glass, which describes an encounter between Alice and a grumpy “wasp in a wig”.
The Guardian has a piece about the race and gender issues some might have with Robert E. Howard's pulp fiction of the 1930s.
From the story...
Basically, these stories are pure pulp fiction, and all the more enjoyable for being unashamedly so. Rather than, as I've been doing, devouring several of them in one sitting, I think it would be better – less repetitive – to read them as they were originally published in Weird Tales; I can imagine them working brilliantly in regular instalments, garish art and all. They're the work of a young man, in his 20s – Howard committed suicide in 1936, at the age of 30 – and they clearly came tumbling from his pen at full speed. Stephen King is quoted on my edition, saying they "seem to almost fall over themselves in their need to get out".
For all that, though, there are elements that jar horribly today. Villains are usually dark-skinned; the darker the eviller. The more lily-white a woman's skin, the more prized she is. Howard might be a product of his time, but so am I, and it's impossible to read sentences such as "in this accursed city … where white, brown, and black folk mingle together to produce hybrids of all unholy hues and breeds – who can tell who is a man, and who is a demon in disguise?" without cringing.
Howard's women, too, get me down. Conan is obviously written for boys, but why oh why are the ladies such wimps? Even the spirited Valeria in Red Nails – "as quick and ferocious as a tigress" – is popped on Conan's knee and caressed – against her will, but later, as "a chill crept through her veins", she will "unconsciously" lay her "white hand on her companion's muscular brown arm" for reassurance. And she's one of the good ones.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Lev Grossman wrote a fun essay about genres and their delineations and whether they matter. Does he write fantasy? Or literary fiction? Or....?
From the piece...
What Tartt started, Susanna Clarke finished. When I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell I calmly closed the book, swept the 18-month-old draft of my novel in progress into the trash, and started The Magicians. The wall had collapsed. It was like that moment in Swords in the Mist when the barrier cliff separating the Inner and Outer Seas of Newhon collapses, and the waters flow into each other. Or the bit at the end (spoiler alert) of Remembrance of Things Past when Marcel realizes (I think, I never got that far) that Swann’s Way and the Guermantes Way are basically pretty much the same way.
Either way I lost something; the ability to see literary fiction and genre fiction as anything other than fiction. That sense went dead in me. Certain conventions and expectations applied and were in play, but ultimately they were just texts on a continuum. This sounds wonky and graduate-student-y, but it’s what happened. It’s not even that the two had stopped fighting each other. But the resistance had come up from underground. They lived on the same plane.
It’s not a huge deal. I get that bookstores have to shelve them in different places. I respect the harsh realities of retail bookselling. I’m always curious where The Magicians will turn up, but either aisle is fine. Probably it reflects some unconscious Oedipal rage at my dad, or something (cue uncomfortable laughter), but I just don’t have the ability to make those distinctions anymore.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Los Angeles Times writer Meghan Daum has a few words for those who lament the death of print.
From the piece on the Powell's Books blog...
It's easy for Luddites like me to smirk at technology (and, for the record: I am hereby proclaiming cinema lobbies highly dangerous places because of the number of people who are checking their BlackBerries and Iphones while exiting the movie and literally walking smack into each other.) But, as an author, I'd be crazy if I pooh-poohed anything that facilitated the reading process. A staggering number of books are published each year (half a million in the U.S. along according to some counts.) Most of them are read by few people other than the author's mother or perhaps some dissertation committee (and, let's face it, these committees usually just look at the table of contents.) The way I see it, there's a tremendous about of hubris inherent in being an author. To ask someone to sit down for several hours to read what you've written is to make an enormous request. So why should we turn our noses up at anything that makes that process easier?
William-Henry Ireland committed a scheme so grand that he fooled even himself into believing he was William Shakespeare's true literary heir.
The Smithsonian has more...
Much later, William-Henry would say he had been astonished by the brouhaha the “discovery” caused. What had started as a ploy to win the respect of his chilly, Shakespeare-worshiping father grew quickly into one of the most audacious literary hoaxes in history. In a burst of manic energy in 1795, the young law clerk produced a torrent of Shakespearean fabrications: letters, poetry, drawings and, most daring of all, a play longer than most of the Bard’s known works. The forgeries were hastily done and forensically implausible, but most of the people who inspected them were blind to their flaws. Francis Webb, secretary of the College of Heralds—an organization known for its expertise in old documents—declared that the newly discovered play was obviously the work of William Shakespeare. “It either comes from his pen,” he wrote, “or from Heaven.”
William-Henry Ireland was an unlikely Shakespeare. He dreamed of being an actor, a poet or perhaps a playwright, but he had been a dismal student, rarely applying himself to his lessons and regularly caned for misbehavior. One of his headmasters, he later recalled, told his father “that I was so stupid as to be a disgrace to his school.”
Garrison Keillor recently wrote an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times.
From the story...
Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.
And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a Web site. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you’ve got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.
UPDATE: The Rumpus responds to Keillor's lament.
UPDATE: All sorts of other people are crying foul, also, on Keillor's remarks.
The Poetry Foundation thought it'd be a good idea to make sure you had access to poetry on the go. They've created their first app. Askphilosophers.org thought it'd be a good idea to make sure you had access to your deep philosophical questions. They've created their first app.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Yesterday was Dorothea Lange's birthday. The New York Public Library celebrate her award-winning Depression-era photography. So does this site, and this site, and this site, and this site. I could go on but I'll just let you peruse those and be awed by her photography.
Who is going to write the great American war novel about Iraq? About Afghanistan? Virginia Quarterly Review examines war literature and MFA programs for returning vets.
From the piece...
The fundamental challenge of writing about war is to translate an indescribable experience into language. As Gabe Hudson, the author of Dear Mr. President and a former rifleman in the Marines, wrote in a recent email:
Writing war fiction is nearly impossible. The word ‘war’ is primordial—it’s stitched into our DNA—and no matter what you think of war, the word itself is somehow sacred. The word ‘war’ represents language on the far edge of what language can do, trying to name what can’t be named.
Although Hudson is a creative writing professor himself and expressed great gratitude for the support he received while pursuing his MFA at Brown, he is skeptical about the value of an MFA workshop for a recently returned veteran. “The academy and the composition of war literature isn’t necessarily a natural fit,” he wrote. “There’s the danger that workshops might bleed your work of its requisite edge, or that your personal workshop ecosystem isn’t equipped to nurture your artistic vision.”
For his part, Robert Olen Butler sees no inherent disjuncture between MFA workshops and writing about war. He worries, however, that recently returned veterans might not have enough distance from their wartime experience. “The vets I’ve had, their experience has been too close to them. They have not forgotten enough. It took me eight years to be able to write well about Vietnam,” he said. “I needed every minute of it, to assimilate into my unconscious the abiding and important essence of my experience.”
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
An interesting document is discussed on the Smithsonian's blog.
From the piece...
On a worn, aged piece of paper dated 1835, a judge describes the details of his sale: a 16-year-old girl named Polly, with “yellow complexion and black eyes,” the sale and purchase of whom the judge says he will warrant and defend “at all cost.”
The Bill of Sale, as documents like this became known, is one of dozens of new artifacts that the National Museum of African American History and Culture is assembling for its growing collections. The Bill of Sale is one that Director Lonnie Bunch says can enlighten people’s knowledge about the lives of slaves.
“Part of what is so interesting to me is that there are so many aspects of the enslaved that we don’t know anything about,” he says. “But because they were treated as property we have a whole legal trail.”
Mary Habeck, Associate Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an expert in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, strategic and security issues and American defence policy, chooses five books on terrorism it wouldn't hurt to read.
From the piece...
Tell me about The Looming Tower.
This is a fantastic account of the origins of al Qaeda, the individuals who laid the foundations of the organisation and why they carried out 9/11. It is the best work on the origins and development of al Qaeda in the 1990s. He uses interviews conducted in the 1990s and he also uses captured documents and materials that he integrated after 9/11. The government started releasing documents after 2002 and I’m going to use a lot of them for my next book.
The other thing about Lawrence Wright is that he has a very compelling writing style. He shows in a very comprehensive way that the al Qaeda groups had a very coherent concept of what they hoped to achieve and that they were doing all this completely under the radar – only a handful of Americans knew what was going on. The fervour on the one hand and the ignorance on the other is startling.
To go under the hammer soon? An inscribed copy of the book that introduced sleuth Sherlock Holmes.
The Telegraph writes...
The copy of A Study In Scarlet, the debut novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of only two inscribed examples known to exist.
Sotheby's will auction the work, which it described as ''one of the rarest books of modern times'', in London this summer.
The book was published in 1887 and took fewer than three weeks to write.
Describing its significance, Sotheby's said: ''Undoubtedly the most important book Conan Doyle ever wrote, A Study In Scarlet gave birth to Sherlock Holmes, explained how he and Dr Watson came to be together and set in motion one of the most highly successful characters - and indeed the first major serial character - in English literature, a forerunner of everyone from Hercule Poirot to James Bond.''
Here's Basil Rathbone, playing the part of Holmes in "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon":
First Lady memoirs are discussed in The New York Times, after Laura Bush recently published her memoirs that have been well-received by the critics.
From the essay...
In the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lady Bird decided that, as the president’s wife, she owed history an archive. So most nights around 7, she would retreat to her White House dressing room-office, hang a small pillow on the door (“I Want to Be Alone”) and talk to her tape recorder. She also saved lunch menus, guest lists, anything to aid her memory, and when the Johnsons were getting ready to leave the White House she began cutting and revising what had become about two million words of material. By December 1968, New York’s publishing elite were filing in to a secure “reading room” to examine the manuscript. Holt, Rinehart & Winston ended up publishing “A White House Diary” in 1970, to effusive reviews. Appearances by Lady Bird on radio and television (including “The David Frost Show”) and a book tour soon followed, and the memoir spent 13 weeks on The Times’s best-seller list. Every first lady since, with the exception of Pat Nixon, has written a memoir.
Lady Bird Johnson may have been the first first lady to get the full modern book rollout, but she was hardly the first whose White House experiences made it into a book. As early as 1840, readers were devouring Abigail Adams’s “Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams,” and Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams and daughter-in-law of Abigail, made several attempts at an autobiography. (She titled her final try “The Adventures of a Nobody.”)
Monday, May 24, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Laura Massey catalogues a first edition of Sir Thomas More's Utopia.
From the post...
As a young man More struggled to reconcile secular governance with the demands of Christianity. By his early thirties he was writing histories and epigrams that celebrated royal power but also betrayed “a profound sense of unease with the corruption often associated with kingship” (ODNB). These concerns were given their full expression in Utopia, an imaginative satire written just as he was embarking on a career in the English royal court.
The publication of Utopia is an excellent demonstration of the tightly-knit network of intellectuals and publishers that crossed Europe during the Renaissance. The book was inspired by a 1515 trip to Antwerp, where More visited Erasmus’s friend, the scholar Peter Gilles. Once More had returned to England the three men maintained a correspondence on the text, collaboratively editing and titling it, while Gilles created the Utopian alphabet. In November 1516 the manuscript was entrusted to another friend of Erasmus, the prominent printer Thierry Martin, whose device appears in the colophon (below). In mid-December More wrote to Erasmus, calling the book “ours” and saying that he waited on its completion just as a mother would the return of her son from abroad. The first copies appeared in early January 1517.
Lifelong Tolkien fan Maddie Chambers was asked to design and build a toy as part of a college course, and decided to create a miniature Bag End. That was just the beginning of creating an exact replica of Bilbo Baggin's home.
That's the question The Huffington Post tries to answer.
From the piece...
I use these two authors as examples of two sides of the self-publishing coin. It is clear that many methods of traditional publishing are undergoing seismic shifts. The notion of self-publishing does not carry the same stigma it did just a few years ago. Yet there is a danger in self-publishing that becomes clear when you compare these two authors, and how they got to where they are. I wonder, with the incredible ease in which authors can now publish their rejected manuscripts online, whether fewer authors are going to take the time to hone their craft, get good at what they do, and achieve their full potential. Will new technology stifle budding talent?
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Michael Pollan, for the New York Review of Books, reviews several new books on food.
From the piece...
It might sound odd to say this about something people deal with at least three times a day, but food in America has been more or less invisible, politically speaking, until very recently. At least until the early 1970s, when a bout of food price inflation and the appearance of books critical of industrial agriculture (by Wendell Berry, Francis Moore Lappé, and Barry Commoner, among others) threatened to propel the subject to the top of the national agenda, Americans have not had to think very hard about where their food comes from, or what it is doing to the planet, their bodies, and their society.
Most people count this a blessing. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than any people in history—slightly less than 10 percent—and a smaller amount of their time preparing it: a mere thirty-one minutes a day on average, including clean-up. The supermarkets brim with produce summoned from every corner of the globe, a steady stream of novel food products (17,000 new ones each year) crowds the middle aisles, and in the freezer case you can find “home meal replacements” in every conceivable ethnic stripe, demanding nothing more of the eater than opening the package and waiting for the microwave to chirp. Considered in the long sweep of human history, in which getting food dominated not just daily life but economic and political life as well, having to worry about food as little as we do, or did, seems almost a kind of dream.
NPR has a story about the great Irish writer, Roddy Doyle, and his completion of a trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart.
Arguably Doyle's most celebrated work is The Commitments; a book that was turned into a great movie:
Friday, May 21, 2010
There's a great essay in the Millions about that age old dilemma for writers: Doing what you need to to get paid, doing what you want to do and getting paid nothing and figuring out a way to both get paid AND do what you want to do.
From the piece...
There’s a famous drawing by William Blake of a figure standing at the bottom of a ladder that leads to the moon. The figure is reaching skyward; the caption reads, “I want! I want!” and seems to perfectly illustrate my relationship to my career, such as it is: I am on the ground while this career of mine lurks in the dark nearly 400,000 miles distant. After I got over wanting to be an investment banker for the ponies the profession could afford me, I went through phases of wanting to be a professional horseback rider, a folk singer, a Supreme Court justice, a vintner, a personal shopper, and a writer. While none of these—save scoring a spot on the Supreme Court—is a particularly lucrative career choice, the choice of writer is perhaps the least so of all. This makes it especially unfortunate that wanting to be a writer is the only one that stuck.
By the time I graduated from college, enough people had told me I couldn’t make a living this way for me to begin trying to jury rig my skills and interests into skills and interests that paid. I worked as an English teacher, a crime reporter, a waitress, a library assistant, and as a research assistant for authors. With each job I told myself it was temporary: just a job until I could forge a writing career. Alas, the most money I’ve ever earned for a piece of writing I’ve written because I wanted to write it is $50, and that was a month ago. Until recently I had—naively—not considered fully demoting my future writing career to past, present, and future hobby, but the reality is that the time has past come. I’ve paid the rent these ten years by looking at my resume and telling myself to “Make it work,” as well as with some generous support from my family. I now see that writing is proving at least as costly as a pony could have ever been.
I had the great opportunity to see the Scottish-born band Frightened Rabbit as they toured promoting their new album here in Seattle the other day. You can read said review, here. My pal Michael Fox took pictures there and my coworker swayed next to me there in the front row, so all in all it was a swell evening.
Here's Frightened Rabbit singing a track off their new album:
PopMatters has started a great new series...
Over 100 music scribes are confronted with this not-so-simple question: “If an eager young writer cornered you and asked ‘What’s the best advice you could give me?’ what would you have to say?”
They begin exploring answers, here.
Proust said original books were the offspring of 'darkness and silence', but there's not so much secret inspiration today. Can creativity flourish in the age of the internet where all is exposed? The Guardian tries to find an answer.
From the piece...
Art is a mystery whose lineaments are often obscure to its protagonists. The artist – writer, painter, musician – does not like, indeed often cannot begin, to explain his or her work. That will be because, if genuine originality is at stake, the artist will probably be in two minds about what he or she is up to, and unwilling to offer an easy account. This, I think, is where Perry's plea for "unself-consciousness" comes into play.
For new and original books to flourish, there must be privacy, even secrecy. In Time Regained, Marcel Proust expressed this perfectly. "Real books", he wrote, "should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk, but of darkness and silence."
How many "real books" enjoy "darkness and silence" today? Not many. In 2010, the world of books, and the arts generally, is a bright, raucous and populist place. The internet – and blogs like this – expose everything to scrutiny and discussion. There's a lot of self-expression, but not necessarily much creativity.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
It's coming. The San Jose Mercury News discusses what it all means in regards to what a library is and what it's there to do.
From the piece...
Science and engineering students agree, saying there is little nostalgia for paper.
"As far as research articles go, physics publication is already essentially entirely online," said physics graduate student Daniel Weissman. "And old journal editions from before the Internet era have largely been digitized, so you can get those articles online too. So that just leaves reference books — and yeah, you're starting to see more and more of those in online versions, too."
But the transition is tougher for Physics librarian Stella Ota, who is responsible for the fate of thousands of old books as she prepares for the June 9 closure.
"It is challenging — I'll look at a book and say, 'This is important work, but not currently used,' " she said.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Get your racket, your tennis shoes
Wimbledon has a poet. The Guardian has more, here.
And here's that famed battle between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal:
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
In the National Post, Steven Heighton offers short, but solid, pieces of advice for writers.
From the piece...
2 Novelty is nothing more than a fresh combining.
3 If nothing is new under the sun, nothing is old either. Time cycles back. The ode, the epithalamion, the epistolary novel—all can be made fresh again in the right hands.
4 In the long run, curiosity and stamina trump talent.
The Telegraph highlights houses with links to children’s classics that offer buyers a touch of magic. For instance, for 2.5 million pounds you can buy the property that Beatrix Potter first drew Mr. McGregor's potting shed.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Millions suggests we ask the Atlantic.
From the piece...
The cover of Fiction 2010 offers, to say the least, a provocative vision. To our left glides a gentleman in pegged red pants holding an honest-to-God—positively florid—paper-and-ink book. To our right saunters a young lady fixed on the lambent square of her Kindle. They are shortly to meet cute—heads bent, dogs lightly leashed—near a mailbox at the corner of Publishing 3.0. The attractive pair is surrounded by blooms, sunlight, even a deli’s beckoning door. Their future is plentiful and bright—and there is not an iPad in sight.
If you are swayed by certain unimpeachable sources, this vision is akin to blasphemy. The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta recently depicted that same future as a battle epic and brutal, the upstart iPad flashing its pretty UI and 60,000 titles against a staid Kindle, its inkless jabs a pathetic defense. Acknowledging that Amazon got a jump by getting Kindles into readers’ hands first, Auletta reasons that device-based argument is nonetheless is limited: “The analogy of the music business goes only so far. What iTunes did was to replace the CD as the basic unit of commerce; rather than being forced to buy an entire album to get the song you really wanted, you could buy just the single track. But no one, with the possible exception of students, will want to buy a single chapter of most books.”
That’s two assumptions, both incorrect. (This is why you don’t listen to writers whose publications slap up stories in teeny Times Roman.) 1) That all readers read alike, and 2) that whatever device prevails will accommodate books—not that books will change to accommodate the device.
Goodbye, Jane Austen. Hello, Brontes? That seems to be the call of Hollywood as the Jane Austen franchise is losing steam and Charlotte and gang are just pulling into the station.
From the piece in USA Today...
First published in the mid-19th century, Jane and Heights have never been out of print and continue to occupy prime positions in the Western literary canon, routinely studied in high-school and college literature classes. In fact, the Brontës are the inspiration for a clutch of recent and forthcoming novels, such as Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan, Romancing Miss Brontëby Juliet Gael, and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontëby Syrie James.
"Jane can be read as a feminist manifesto or as a romantic story or as a Gothic tale, to name but a few examples. Heights is different, because the novel is so timeless in its conception of love, passion, revenge and hate that it appeals directly to the subconscious," say Manuel Del Estal and Cristina Lara, fans who run BrontëBlog and eagerly await the new movies.
Filmmakers have been drawn to the Brontës almost from the beginning of moviemaking, as early as 1910 for a silent version of Jane and 1920 for Heights. Since then, at least a dozen adaptations for film or TV in English have been made from the books, including such famous examples as the 1944 Jane with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine and the 1939 Heights with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.