Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Care of Polite Dissent.
From the short piece...
Scott’s Second Law of Comic Book Medicine: Any hero with a “doctor” in their name or an advanced degree — no matter their actual field of specialty — will eventually be called upon to act as a medical doctor.
Dr. Reed Richards (multiple PhDs): Does a great deal of medicine, including delivering babies (on the moon, no less).
Booktryst discusses France's most famous prison and the famous writer's who were kept there.
From the piece...
Voltaire, Madame de Staal de Launay, and the Marquis de Sade were merely the best known of the Bastille's literary inmates. Others included François de La Rochefoucauld, Rene Auguste Constantin de Renneville, and Louis Pierre Manuel. And many writers made wonderful fictional use of the prison's unique setting. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Man In The Iron Mask, one volume of The Three Musketeers, based on tales of a mysterious real-life masked prisoner in the Bastille. And Dickens's Tale of Two Cities revolves around the eighteen-year imprisonment there of Dr. Alexandre Manette. The Bastille also figures in works as diverse as The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Little Princess, and Les Miserables.
The French National Library's exhibit, La Bastille, or Living In Hell continues in Paris through February of 2011. Whether or not you can visit the show in person, it serves as a reminder that the written word can be a dangerous thing. Given the choice of losing their liberty or putting down their pens, writers over the centuries, and throughout the world, have chosen to live in chains. We owe it to them to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press whenever, and wherever, they are threatened.
And, since we're on the subject of prison, Huffington Post offers this list of books that are accurate about life in prison, offered up by a writer in prison.
That's the question being asked in the Daily Beast.
From the piece...
The concept of the global writer is a relatively new one. There has always been the Sri Lankan writer, for example, or the English writer, or the Canadian, or indeed the American. It is only in recent years that a writer like Michael Ondaatje—born in Sri Lanka, educated in England, a Canadian citizen who wrote his first novel about a black American jazz musician—was able to comfortably fit the phrase “international mongrel” into the discourse. We are increasingly familiar with our hybrid sense of nationality: that wherever we are can be coupled with wherever we once were. Writers can carry the weight of a couple of extra countries: If you put the original brick in your pocket, you can still swim the river. We’re not shattered by our multiple hyphenations. We can be Irish and Argentinean, or French and Australian, or Chinese and Paraguayan, or perhaps even all of them at once.
The problem comes if you’re European. What exactly is a European writer? Is there a contained geography or an accepted history in which she or he exists? Is there some sort of European voice that justifies an anthology? What does it mean, apart from the very nature of fracture, to have a literature of Europe?
That's the title of a piece in the Los Angeles Times.
From the article...
This is the year that e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple's iPad are expected to break into the big time. This has been predicted before every Christmas buying season for years. But this time, thanks to the advance of technology and the decline of price (with one notable exception), we may actually move beyond hype and into reality.
So now may be the right moment for me to offer a subjective buyer's guide on what's good about these things and what's indifferent. I come at this task as a lifelong voracious reader and adherent of the books-as-totems school of household design: One entire wall of our family room is a bookcase, floor to ceiling, and piles of books unstrategically decorate almost every other room too.
Yet over the last seven months I've become a convert to e-reading, to the point where reading something bound and on paper seems almost quaint. I never thought I would make this transition, certainly not so effortlessly. I say this in full awareness that this trend may do incalculable harm to traditional bookstores, places where I have spent incalculable hours of my life.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Care of Nerve...
This guy I’ve been dating is a writer and things have really been going well between us. The problem is that he showed me some of his work last week and I didn’t know how to react — it was terrible! I know it’s a huge part of his life, so I lied and said I liked it. Is this a dealbreaker? I can’t lie forever.
Yes. Get out while you can. Bad poets have an impossible amount of vanity and a constant need for attention. You can either break up with him and continue to praise his palaver or you can continue to see him and end up saying some really mean things to a decent guy. You will save yourself a lot of anguish by making a clean break now – although this could be said, come to think of it, about relationships with partners who are not poets, too. If you do head for the exits, do not divulge the reason. He’ll expect you to say something like, “It’s not you, dude. It’s me,” so don’t disappoint him twice in the same conversation.
My girlfriend wants to cut her hair short, but I really like ladies with long hair. I know it's ultimately her decision, but I think as her boyfriend I should have some say. Am I being a controlling prick?
You probably are a prick, but life’s more complicated than that, and the Zen answer to your dilemma is to watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo, alone, and then cut your own hair short.
And, while we're on the subject of sex, the Bad Sex Award in Fiction was just announced.
Enjoy the gallery, here.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
That's the question posed, and answered, in the National Post.
From the article...
In 2004, I had a pair of Maud Frizon red snakeskin high heels that I found second-hand for twenty dollars. I wore these shoes through the snow when I met Derek Finkle and William Morassutti at Bar Italia to discuss the possibility of becoming the sex columnist for Toro magazine. I spoke about the undergraduate thesis I had written about Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. They spoke about guys. I pitched oysters. They pitched sex toys. I pitched poetry. They did not. They won. And they offered me the gig.
Four years later, Toro’s run as a periodical came to an abrupt end. I had written about the G-spot, aphrodisiacs, strap-on sex and much more. I had attended female ejaculation workshops (with, ahem, live demonstrations.) I had asked intimates and strangers: How do you initiate a threesome? How do you put on a condom in the dark? How about those Ben Wa balls? Writing under the pseudonym, Bebe O’Shea, I felt like a Spy in the House of Love. No more.
Two years later, after the publication of my first novel, Stunt, HarperCollins approached me with an idea for a sex book.
Brief aside: Two books explore how bodies were understood and sex was depicted in the Renaissance. Learn more, here.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Penguin will join with a Egypt-based publisher to bring Penguin Classics to Arabic-speaking countries.
From the story...
A list of titles—which includes famous European novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quixote," as well as some local Arabic classics—will start rolling out to bookstores across the Arab world in the first half of 2011.
Penguin and its Cairo-based partner, publisher Dar El Shorouk, will split the proceeds from the sales.
Ibrahim El Moallem, chairman of Dar El Shorouk, says the deal will make many of the classic Western titles, such as Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," easily obtainable in up-to-date Arabic translations for the first time.
"In Egypt, readership is rising, especially among the younger generation," says Mr. El Moallem, whose publishing house distributes books to all the countries of the Arab world, including those that are known to censor literary materials. Mr. El Moallem said that presenting the Penguin library as a series of the world's greatest books may help trump the censorship issue.
The New Yorker's Book Bench takes a little tour of tea.
From the piece...
Wainwright is being cheeky, but you don’t have to share Rudyard Kipling’s imperialist zeal to realize that without the tea plantations in India and Sri Lanka, Romantic and Victorian literature as we know it would all but cease to exist. Do you have favorite tea scenes in the novels by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, or the Brontë sisters? We started to make a list, only to find that tea is everywhere. Which important plot twists don’t involve tea? At teatime, would-be lovers exchange longing glances; mothers choose suitors for their daughters; and rivals trade veiled insults in polite, singsong tones.
In fact, there’s so much tea in Austen’s fiction, for instance, that Kim Wilson thought to write a book on the subject, complete with nineteenth-century recipes, quotes from the novels, and anecdotes from Austen’s life. Wilson writes:
At the center of almost every social situation in her novels one finds—tea. In “Emma,” does Miss Bates drink coffee? Of course not: “No coffee, I thank you, for me—never take coffee—a little tea if you please.” In “Sense and Sensibility,” what is everyone drinking when Elinor notices Edward’s mysterious ring set with a lock of hair? Tea, of course. And in “Pride and Prejudice,” what is one of the supreme honors Mr. Collins can envision Lady Catherine bestowing on Elizabeth Bennet and her friends? Why, drinking tea with her, naturally.
Wilson also gleans from Austen’s letters that the author herself frequented the Twinings warehouse to replenish her own supply of tea.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Libraries are facing widespread cuts and closures as councils try to save money following the government's funding cuts. But not only are libraries a crucial part of the book world, they also play an integral role within literature. Test your knowledge with the Guardian's quiz.
What can the first how-to book for fiction still tell us? That's the question Slate asks.
From the piece...
Cody's call for carefully detailed characters and settings remains timeless. New writers adopt an inadvertent shorthand, forgetting that the reader cannot see what is in their head. It's a plight How To Write Fiction compares to emptying out a quart bottle of molasses and finding that it only yields a pint. The rest is still stuck inside the container: "The young writer imagines he has a good story, but when he has a written it out the story is not half so good as he fancied, and he wonders what is the matter. The truth is, half of it still remains in his mind."
If Cody's advice from 1895 is familiar, it's probably because writers have changed much less than writing itself. Aspiring authors are still told to beware of their pet lines—their darlings—and most still don't listen. Ruthlessness with one's own copy remains the mark of a professional, because you have to stab yourself in the back. And the stricture to "write what you know"? It's still the universally misunderstood abridgement of Write what you know—so go out and know something. The writer who doesn't will only have one or two books in them. Writers in for the long haul don't have a great story—they have a dozen—and because they believe in their own ability to create more, they'll toss them aside whenever they're not wanted or needed.
It's here that How To Write Fiction is most haunting. Memoirs now bear authors the same peril that coming-of-age novels once did: namely, a self-centeredness that leaves them with nothing else to write. Cody leans on a fence to observe these one-trick ponies: "There are a great many writers who start out in the magazines with a few brilliant and interesting short stories. There are a few printed on the strength of their first reputation, which are not so good ... and the reader hears their names no more until one or two of their first stories are reprinted in some collection, and he wonders what has become of the authors."
The Daily Mail takes note of Kenneth Grahame as a father to a son who would commit suicide at 19.
From the piece...
While his father would send him installments of the story, their relationship was otherwise cold and the author apparently ignored his son’s pleas to visit him.
Mouse went on to Oxford University, but his poor sight and the weight of expectation he felt left him unable to cope. He killed himself in 1920 by lying in the path of train. He was 19.
Grahame never recovered from his son’s suicide. But in death they were reunited when Grahame’s wife Elspeth had her husband’s body moved from their local cemetery to Mouse’s grave in Oxford.
New light was shed on the fascinating real-life story yesterday when an inscribed first edition of The Wind In The Willows was sold at auction for £40,000 – five times the estimate.
Grahame was the 48-year-old secretary of the Bank of England when he wrote the book in 1907.
The edition was dedicated to Ruth Ward, a childhood friend of Mouse, and was sold along with touching letters from Elspeth to the young girl, and the only surviving photo of Mouse.
Friday, November 26, 2010
The New York Times has a piece on a new series of history books that the creator of Salon.com is creating.
From the story...
The rendezvous was set for 2 p.m. sharp at Cafe Sabarsky on the teeming island metropolis of Manhattan. This Old World outpost was dark and silent as a tomb — except for the music, lively chatter and oversize windows. Near the bar sat a white-haired gentleman in black and a vivacious blonde with a slash of blood-red lipstick. On the table in front of them lay a plate of spätzle mit schwammerln and a knife that glinted like the sharpened steel of a scimitar. Actually, the only thing it was used for was butter, as the team at this cafe, the brother and sister team of David and Margaret Talbot, save the gore for print. They are the mild-mannered creators of a new book series called “Pulp History,” rip-roaring nonfiction tales with enough purple prose, gory illustrations and va-va-va-voom women to lure in even reluctant teenage male readers.
As the recession claims more and more big chain stores, independent booksellers become hot commodities, notes the Boston Phoenix.
From the piece...
Consider: Asemi retired tech executive and his wife bought the Harvard Book Store in October of 2008 — two weeks after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. In mid-September of this year, a few days after Reuters reported United States poverty rates at a 15-year high, an investment-portfolio manager and his wife bought the Wellesley Booksmith. Last Wednesday, when Patrick Carrier told PublishersWeekly he was selling the Globe Corner Bookstore in Harvard Square, two people had already expressed interest in buying it. Argue all you want about whether people buy books anymore. In Boston, sales of independent bookstores seem to be recession-proof."People are scrambling to buy them," says Paul Siegenthaler, founder and president of the Needham-based brokerage Ridge Hill Partners. Siegenthaler brokered the sales of Harvard Book Store and the Wellesley Booksmith. When the owners of the New England Mobile Book Fair announced earlier this month that they were poised to sell, they chose Siegenthaler to make the deal.
Siegenthaler did not set out to become Boston's independent-bookstore broker. "We just sort of fell into it," he tells me. Although not deliberate, his role has afforded him a strange position in the literary marketplace, and the broker brings unlikely tidings of hope.
The late '90s and the aughts saw the massacre of hundreds of independents amid the rise of Borders and Barnes and Noble, whose monolithic size enabled them to offer discounts far greater than the stand-alone outlets whose turf they invaded. Among the casualties were local stalwarts like Wordsworth in Harvard Square and Avenue Victor Hugo on Newbury Street. Many assumed the arrival of amazon.com, and later, e-readers, would be the final nails in the coffin for indies.
But now, the chains are going belly-up, in part due to rapid expansion and outmoding at the hands of digital competition. Barnes and Noble, its stock in decline and its shareholders at loggerheads, went up for sale in August. Borders has been fighting bankruptcy rumors for at least a year. Neither made adequate or timely inroads into Internet sales or — the tardy, if comely, Nook notwithstanding — e-book platforms. Both companies are closing outlets.
As the bookstore megafauna topple, what's left is a warmblooded, hardier breed of independents, altered but thriving.
They're poised to take off, notes All Africa.
From the piece...
And the ease of access in Africa is also increasing rapidly, with new fiber-optic links, access through mobile phones, and increased competition among providers, although the pace is very uneven. With Amazon's recent expansion of Kindle to over 100 countries, including most African countries (see list at http://tinyurl.com/y8o692u), international Kindle usage is also increasing rapidly, although Amazon does not release detailed statistics.
Personally I still prefer the advantages of paper books for personal reading, and printing out selected pages from on-line files when I want to read more than a few pages. So I haven't yet invested in a Kindle (or asked for it as a gift!). But if I were traveling more frequently than I do, or living in a place with fewer bookstores and libraries, I would likely quickly change my mind, given the relative costs.
A Zimbabwean friend of AfricaFocus writes "I have used it in Zimbabwe and South Africa and it has worked very well for me. Average download time for a book is about a minute on a wifi connection. For use in Africa I think it is important to invest in a kindle with wifi capability(some are 3G only) because 3G is not as widely available as wifi. There are many wifi hotspots in Harare at restaurants, bars, etc and that is how I usually connect and download my books."
Kindle does ship to most African countries. But if you can't afford a Kindle, note that Kindle books can be downloaded and read (with a free application) on a PC or a Mac. And for those more at the cutting edge of change than I, and with better eyes, there are even Kindle apps for reading books on your Iphone, Blackberry, or other smartphone.
If you want a convenient way to make books available to friends in Africa who don't have access, note that just this month Amazon made it possible for you to give a Kindle book to anyone with an e-mail address and web access. They can read it on a PC or Mac even if they don't have a Kindle.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
The always fabulous Booktryst takes note of Lydia Marie Child.
From the story...
In 1833 Lydia Maria Child, a woman, published the first book-length, full-scale analysis of slavery in the United States, An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. It was, says the Michigan State website, "so comprehensive [in] scope that no other antislavery writer ever attempted to duplicate Child's achievement; all subsequent works would focus on individual aspects of the subject that Child covered in eight thoroughly researched and extensively documented chapters." It was also radical enough, and shocking enough, coming from America's best-loved culinary writer, that it caused Child to be ostracized from Boston society, and caused the children's magazine she edited to go bankrupt, as well as leading to the out-of-print status of her best-seller. Nobody wanted Martha Stewart to do an about face, and begin writing inflammatory political manifestos.
The truth is, the woman who wrote that charming ditty we trot out every Thanksgiving was a radical free thinker who was at least a hundred years ahead of her time. In 1824 she published her first novel, Hobomok, A Tale of the Times, in which a Puritan woman marries a Native American, and bears his child. The book's plot is melodramatic, but its depiction of an interracial marriage was amazingly daring. Child was a lifelong advocate of Native American rights when such an opinion was extremely unusual and wildly unpopular. In 1868 she published An Appeal for the Indians, which demanded that the government, and religious leaders, bring justice to the American Indian.
From a story on the New Yorker's Book Bench...
In November of 1905, the month he turned seventy, Mark Twain was exceedingly famous; the nation was a-tingle with affection for its most humorous and most American American treasure, and all the more so because his birthday that year fell on the most American of holidays: Thursday, November 30th, Thanksgiving day. The birthday is well documented in the historical record. There are photographs of his party, which was held at Delmonico's restaurant, and a transcript of the speech he gave there, which includes his secrets of longevity:
As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.
There are newspaper articles and interviews, which assert that Twain's life "is an additional reason why the American people should feel grateful." But if Americans did indeed feel grateful for their perfectly patriotic pet writer in 1905, they must also have been puzzled by his refusal to behave like one. Twain used the occasion to call attention to evils—the evils of King Leopold of Belgium, whose regime was busy brutalizing and massacring the native population of the Congo; and of the American financiers who held lucrative mining contracts there. When asked by the New York World what Americans should be thankful for that Thanksgiving, Twain said:
We have much to be thankful for: most of all, (politically), that America's first-born son, sole & only son, love-child of her trusting innocence & her virgin bed, King Leopold of the Undertakers, has been spared to us another year, & that his (& our) Cemetery Trust in the Congo is now doing a larger business in a single week than it used to in a month fifteen years ago.
Twain fans might know that he was political, but perhaps few of us know the extent of his politicization.
What was the menu, by the way, on his birthday, a few days after Thanksgiving, 1900? Here it is.
And what about Mark Twain hunting the deceitful turkey? Look no further.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
A rare hand scroll copy of ancient Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi's work fetched a staggering 308 million yuan ($46.40 million) at the China Guardian autumn auction in Beijing on Saturday.
From the article on Xinhuanet.com...
Wang, who lived in the Jin Dynasty around the 4th century, is traditionally acclaimed as the Sage of Calligraphy. However, none of his original works exist, making this cursive script, named Ping'an Tie (Safety Wish Script), especially rare for its high quality copy and the clear history of the succession of its collectors, which date back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
The script copy formerly constituted nine lines of characters. But it was torn into two parts, and the 24.5-cm-long, 13.8-cm-wide piece that was sold on Saturday is the first part with four lines composing 41 characters.
Although it was impossible to find out the exact year it was created, archaeologists believe the scroll came out in the 7th century, or even earlier.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Moroccan port of Tangier was once a hub for experimental writers, even forming the setting for William S Burroughs' Naked Lunch. But how much of its countercultural heritage remains? The Guardian finds out.
The King James Bible turns 400 next year, and even in multicultural, secular modern Britain its influence is still profound.
From a piece in the Guardian...
Any day now the English-speaking world will start to celebrate a number one bestseller of unprecedented literary significance. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it's actually a quatercentenary. I refer not to the collected works of William Shakespeare but a contemporary rival volume that has not only sold non-stop for 400 years but also shaped our imaginative landscape: the King James Bible.
As well as selling an estimated 1bn copies since 1611, the KJB went straight into our literary bloodstream like a lifesaving drug. Whenever we put words into someone's mouth, or see the writing on the wall, or go from strength to strength, or eat, drink and be merry, or fight the good fight, or bemoan the signs of the times, or find a fly in the ointment, or use words such as "long-suffering", "scapegoat" and "peacemaker" we are unconsciously quoting the KJB. More astounding, compared to Shakespeare's prodigal 31,000-word vocabulary, the KJB works its magic with a lexicon of just 12,000 words.
Will it be based in video games? Perhaps, notes the New Scientist.
From the story...
Picture a bunch of journalists. What do they look like? What stories do they tell? The beat reporter records events from afar, bringing the world to your recliner. The sleuth uncovers injustice, revealing the corruption of the crooked and the greedy. The television personality summarises off-the-cuff remarks about local issues from people on the street.
All of these stories focus on people, places and events. They take complicated issues and package them in manageable chunks with identifiable characters. They cover what every student learns about journalism: who, what, where, when, why and how.
Now think of a video game. You might imagine the gory carnage of Doom, the cute characters of Wii Sports or the colourful polyominoes of Tetris. Games may seem like a distraction or a leisure activity. But much like print and television, games are a medium capable of many uses - some of which we are just discovering.
Video games simulate rather than describe the world. They replace the tale of the crooked official or the sound bite about a local parade with interactive experiences of the political, social and economic circumstances that produce those events in the first place.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology's Digital Media Program, we are researching newsgames, the application of games to journalism. Newsgames reinvent journalistic principles through their design, using current events, infographics, puzzles, community action and more.
New York Magazine goes behind-the-scenes for Julie Taymor's, and Bono's, Spider-Man musical.
Here's some behind-the-scenes footage:
Bono and The Edge also talked to ABC News about the project, here.
The Millions celebrates the fictional writings based within the sweet science of boxing.
From the piece...
It’s no wonder boxing has fascinated so many writers. The late Budd Schulberg, author of the novel and screenplay On the Waterfront, traces literature’s affair with pugilism back to Epeius and Euryalus’ fist-fight during the siege of Troy in The Iliad. He also describes Lord Byron fancying the sixty-round bare-knuckled fighting popular in his day. In the 20th century, A.J. Liebling in the New Yorker famously set the bar high for boxing journalism, employing obscured latinate words between steak and whiskey dinners in West Side dives. In fact, his haughty tones and smart aleck descriptions can even sound condescending to the world he described. (Joyce Carol Oates has gone as far as to say his boxing writing is racist.) Boxing was clearly a serious matter for manly men, a tradition followed by the new journalists, who seemed to have viewed the boxing piece as a rite of passage. Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Hunter Thompson and Gay Talese, all wrote extensively about pugilism, but none of these portrayals of real life boxers nurse a bookworm’s dream of being a toughened fighter like fiction.
Ernest Hemingway was a master of fiction and a master of fictional boxing, a self-proclaimed boxing expert in Paris, who despite his lack of experience, trained poet Ezra Pound and coached the Spanish painter Juan Miro on his jab; unfortunately, his sparring matches with real boxers like Canadian Morley Callaghan got Hemingway pummeled. And yet despite his lack of talent, Hemingway continued following and writing about boxing. His stories “Fifty Grand” and “The Battler” are both based on pugilists, as is Robert Cohn from The Sun Also Rises.
There is plenty of bad boxing fiction, mostly old, mostly clichéd, mostly rotting away in used bins, or library sales racks, but then there are the gems, the ones that endure. In the last couple of years I’ve come across a few that are not just good boxing fiction but good fiction.
Monday, November 22, 2010
There's a secret chamber under the National Library of India.
From a story in the Times of India...
National Library has always been reputed to haunted. Now, here is a really eerie secret. A mysterious room has been discovered in the 250-year-old building a room that no one knew about and no one can enter because it seems to have no opening of kind, not even trapdoors.
The chamber has lain untouched for over two centuries. Wonder what secrets it holds. The archaeologists who discovered it have no clue either, their theories range from a torture chamber, or a sealed tomb for an unfortunate soul or the most favoured of all a treasure room. Some say they wouldn't be surprised if both skeletons and jewels tumble out of the secret room.
Bleeding Cool has the story of a comic book that never was, then was, then was turned into a big budget Hollywood movie.
That big budget movie? It's coming soon:
AFP has a brief story about Charles Bukowski's wife, Linda Lee Bukowski, who is hoping to make a museum for the poet.
From the article...
The last muse of Charles "Hank" Bukowski, the alcoholic and womanizing US author who used blunt prose to write about society's downtrodden, still lives in the home she shared with her late husband and hopes to turn it into a museum.
"That's exactly like living with a ghost," Linda Lee Bukowski told AFP. "His room is exactly the same. Clothes hanging around, you know, things like that."
Linda Lee is as shy as her late famous husband, but made an effort to speak to strangers at the Huntington Museum in the town of San Marino, just north of Los Angeles, which is holding an exhibit titled, "Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge," through February 2011.
The Princeton Alumni Weekly catches up with poet W.S. Merwin.
From the piece...
Gentle, fiercely intelligent, and quick to laugh, Merwin, now 82, is willing to lead a conversation about his life and his writing through loops and digressions for hours. As a young child in working-class Union City, N.J., during the Great Depression, he found comfort in gazing at the Hudson River. A few times he accompanied his father, who could be distant and punitive, to study in the church where he was a Presbyterian minister, and young Merwin gazed through the window at the river, with the ferries and freighters passing by. He was, he writes in his 2005 memoir Summer Doorways, “utterly rapt in the vast scene out in front of me ... Whole trains were crossing the river on railroad ferries, all shades of orange in the sunlight. White puffs of steam climbed out of unseen whistles and horns, the distant sounds arriving, faint and faded, a long breath afterward. I was seeing something that I could not reach and that would never go away.” His love of the water would remain, fueling a desire to travel as well as a tug toward the author and mariner Joseph Conrad.
Merwin was moved by the rhymes and rhythm of the hymns in his father’s church, first in Union City and then in Scranton, Pa. He delighted in the poetry that his mother read aloud. For Merwin, poetry was first an aural sensation, and to this day he has a strong sense of the music of a poem and believes that a poem must be read aloud to be truly understood. The young boy began writing poems himself — “atrocious poetry, as children do,” he says of his earliest efforts — but he kept at it through adolescence.
That's the question nakedly posed by the Independent.
From the article...
John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine who oversaw a special edition dedicated to sex earlier this year, says that although contemporary fiction abounds with eloquent discussions "around" and "about" sex, there is a level of apprehension among some writers who find themselves searching for a fitting vocabulary to describe its actual mechanics.
"The feeling that sex isn't fully represented in literature proves to be a false one if you expand just beyond the actual act, to all the things that sex encompasses. But once you get down to writing the act, it's very hard to do it without sounding like bad erotica or embarrassing self-disclosure. I remember Adam Foulds saying at our event: 'You can almost see many male writers' brain chemistry change as they write certain scenes and their ability to judge what is good writing get away from them'."
Mitzi Szereto, an author and teacher of erotic writing workshops, says writers on her courses are held back when they seek refuge in their own sexual histories: "You wouldn't rely on personal experience for any other kind of fiction writing so why would you when crafting a sex scene? I encourage people to write beyond their own sexual encounters, and when they do, they are less inhibited and more creative."
Szereto thinks the best kind of sex writing needs to explore the "psychology of desire". In an age in which sex has been divested of most of its mystery (hard-core pornography is a website away and Mills & Boon has invested in a "raunchy" series), it may be that the "psychology of desire" is the only unknown territory to explore.
Ask the Cataloguer's Desk to have your query solved.
Also solved? The person who recently stole a Potter book has been nabbed.
Also - Can the Harry Potter movies translate into people going back to read the books? That's the question posed by the Los Angeles Times.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
On Slate, Robert Pinsky discusses Sir Walter Raleigh's poem, "The Lie."
From the piece...
Denunciation abounds, in its many forms: snark (was that word invented or fostered in a poem, Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark"?), ranking-out, calling-out, bringing-down, blowing-up, flaming, scorching, trashing, negative campaigning, skepticism, exposure, nailing, shafting, finishing, diminishing, down-blogging. Aggressive moral denunciation—performed with varying degrees of justice and skill in life, in print, on the Web, in politics, on television and radio, in book-reviewing, in sports, in courtrooms and committee meetings—generates dismay and glee in its audience. Sometimes, for many of us, dismay and glee simultaneously, in an uneasy combination.
A basic form of denunciation is indicated by the slightly archaic but useful expression giving the lie.
No one has ever given the lie more memorably, explicitly, and universally than Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) in "The Lie." The poem, among other things, demonstrates the power of repetition and refrain.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
In Smithsonian, there's a discussion about how our first president used cartography to get a feel of the young nation.
From the article...
First in war.
First in peace.
First to look at a map whenever he had a question about waging the former and sustaining the latter.
It’s not how we typically picture George Washington: bent over a map by candlelight, scrutinizing, measuring and in some cases actually drawing the topographical details that would help conquer a wilderness, win a war, create a republic. But as historian Barnet Schecter shows us in his illustrated new history, George Washington’s America: a Biography through His Maps, many of our first president’s decisions during his long career as a surveyor, soldier and statesman were made only after careful readings of the existing cartographical materials.
Jewcy interviews publishing maven Richard Nash.
From the piece...
Navigating the etiquette of the book business is especially difficult. I’d imagine your perspective on this is quite unique.
What I learned at Soft Skull was that we were stewards of the community. That there was a Soft Skull community as it were. That there was a bunch of people out there that could tag themselves, amongst other tags, with the phrase “Soft Skull” and we existed to serve them. They were writers and readers, very often one and the same thing.
A friend of mine, Peggy Nelson, recently pointed out, writers and readers are behaviors, not different people. When we would get a submission, it would have a cover letter and the cover letter would describe the books we’d published that the person had read. I’m proud of a lot what we did, and I’m grateful that you perceived the important things of what we did because you just described them, but they weren’t nearly enough. I mean, they were enough maybe at the time but they’re not nearly enough now.
What we did was this: we had one or two interns look at them [manuscripts] and if they both liked it, me or someone else would somehow try to find the time to read them, which as the years went by it got harder and harder to even do that. So typically they were just rejected and this person who’d bought five of our books and had spent three years of their life writing this manuscript basically had it sent back to them with a dagger through its heart and we were forgiven. To some degree I think we deserved forgiveness but to some degree, I don’t think we did. Or certainly we are no longer as entitled to that forgiveness as we maybe once might have been.
When digital publishing first happened, by that I mean digital distribution and consumption, it permits sort of production, that was the digital production revolution and to some degree you could call the web the digital promotion revolution. So it allowed you to create a book and then the next bit, printing the book was analogue, distributing the book was analogue, buying the book was mostly analogue, getting people interested in the book was starting to become digital. So, the middle bit, the printing distribution and retail, when that was first started to look like it was becoming digital that was 1999, 2000, 2001, I was first starting to get involved with Soft Skull. At that point, I was like, “Holy shit, this could change everything. Because the corporate publishers are able to get book printed much more cheaply than us, but a PDF costs them the same as it costs us. This could be amazing.” Now that was sort of true. Now, it’s certainly true because of e-pub files and Kindles and that sort of thing, there is actually demand for this stuff. But, I was so used to thinking of myself at the bottom of the ladder, that I didn’t’ really realize that the ladder extended way beyond me in the other direction, to all the writers in the world that me and the rest of us were saying no to, these tools could work just as well for them as they could work for us. Those tools I think, only have so much utility. You can now build it, but will they come? So, a lot more people are building stuff.
It’s not just because of technology, our whole society has become relatively less, sexist racist, classist, and has so dramatically opened access to third level education and given far more people the social intellectual and cultural capital, required to construct a long form narrative, that it’s increased the possibility for the number of books to be created. Then there’s technology unrelated directly to books, but the technology that allows people to record songs and video, that allows them to blog. That I think has increased people sense of possibility, that “I too may express myself, I need not be a passive consumer.” All those have resulted in people feeling like they can and should be able to write and reach some kind of an audience.
The only way to truly narrow the gender divide in literature is for female novelists to write some great books, says Lionel Shriver in the Independent.
From the piece...
As I have observed before, what critics don't do with female authors is flop down and face east, blubbering and feet-kissing and throwing around extravagant if shopworn designations like "the Great American Novel", creating the sort of hoo-ha that recently surrounded Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. (By the way, I finally figured it out. "Great American Novel" = "doorstop of a book, usually pretentious, written by a man." That is actually what the expression means. So naturally it is never, and can never, be applied to works by women.) Thus the very top cultural tier in literature is rarely penetrated by female authors.
Yet let's get into a more awkward and thus more interesting area. I am often asked at festivals what writers I admire, or which novelists helped to inspire my choice of vocation. If I don't simply draw a blank (I can never seem to remember having read a single book in my life, under the gun), I grab a few of the following names: Richard Yates, Ian McEwan, Matthew Kneale, Pete Dexter, Philip Roth, Robert Stone, Richard Russo, Scott Spencer, T C Boyle, Dennis Johnson, Rupert Thomson, William Boyd, J M Coetzee, Richard Ford, Michael Cunningham, Russell Banks, Peter Cameron, and William Trevor. As for formative influences, I might mention Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, F Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Raymond Carver, Thomas Hardy, W Somerset Maugham, or Graham Greene.
Detect a pattern?
When I am mindful, I might recall one or two female authors whom I genuinely hold in high regard: Margaret Forster, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Helen Dunmore, Maria McCann, Kiran Desai, Amy Bloom, Barbara Kingsolver, Hester Kaplan, Joy Williams, Jean Thomson, Sadie Jones, or Hilary Mantel. As for formative influences, I might acknowledge Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, or Flannery O'Connor. Still, even with my library
to jog my memory, the list of women writers I revere is relatively short. Embarrassingly short.
Historically, of course, women were not encouraged to invade the world of letters, and it makes sense that a writer like Wharton was an anomaly in the early 20th century. But these days, with publishers so keen to capitalise on the fact that the vast majority of fiction readers are female, women have no comparative difficulty getting into print.
Also, on AbeBooks, female fiction is discussed and how little of it is revered as much as male fiction.
From that story...
In 1837, Charlotte Brontë wrote a letter and enthusiastic submission to then Poet Laureate Robert Southey, including some of her poetry. While Southey acknowledged the skill and talent within the writing, he was dismissive and discouraging of her efforts, and advised her not to bother attempting to write professionally, as the literary world belonged to men, and was no place for a woman. Rather than giving up, Brontë and her two sisters Emily and Anne continued to write, and were published - under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Men’s names. That story should be of little surprise, given the politics of the 19th century.
What about a full century-and-a-half later, in 1995? When J.K. Rowling published the first of her record-obliterating Harry Potter books, she was not “J.K.”, but simply Joanne. It was her publisher, fearing that young boys, whose interests they hoped to catch, might be put off by a female author, who requested she switch to the gender neutral “J.K’. As Rowling has no middle name, the “K” in J.K. Rowling is an invention, taken from her paternal grandmother’s name, Kathleen. Forbes Magazine estimated Rowling’s net worth at $1 billion in March 2010. Would Joanne Rowling have become the billionaire J.K. did?