Monday, January 31, 2011

For Places That Don't Have Libraries, There Is Hope

Introducing the library vending machine, care of 13 News.


Seven Pieces on Egypt

Following six days of upheaval in Egypt, The Daily Beast digs up eight outstanding pieces of longform journalism that illustrate the players at the heart of the protests—the president and his supporters, their opponents, and the Egyptian people. The oldest we've chosen is a 2003 piece in The Atlantic profiling those who might succeed an aging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The most recent was published in the New York Review of Books just last week.

Bizarro Fiction

Take elements of science fiction, fantasy and/or horror; throw in a little satire and elements of absurdism and the grotesque; mix liberally and ... voila! ... you get bizzaro fiction.

Nine Word Game Apps You'll Become Addicted To

The list, care of Huffington Post.

Babylon Revisited, Revisited

One of the finest short stories in the English language, 'Babylon Revisited’, written by F Scott Fitzgerald after the Great Crash, is an intensely personal portrait of a man who has squandered his life. It’s also a perfect tale for the times we live in, notes the Telegraph.

From the article...

Fitzgerald’s fortunes uncannily mirrored the fortunes of the nation he wrote about: his first novel, This Side of Paradise, became a runaway bestseller in early 1921, just as America entered the boom period that Fitzgerald himself would name the Jazz Age. He and Zelda became celebrities and began living the high life. They were the golden couple of the Twenties, “beautiful and damned”, as the prophetic title of Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel suggested, treated like royalty in America’s burgeoning celebrity culture. Glamorous, reckless and profligate, the Fitzgeralds were spendthrift in every sense. Much later, Fitzgerald would have to take account of all they had squandered – not only wealth, but beauty, youth, health, and even his genius.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Perils of Literary Profiling

How much can we know of someone by the books on their shelves?

From a piece in the New York Times...

Reading habits would seem to be relevant enough to someone’s biography, especially if that person is a writer. In his study “Built of Books,” Thomas Wright attempts to reconstruct the contents of Oscar Wilde’s library, which was dispersed and auctioned off between his imprisonment and trial. It’s worth knowing (though hardly surprising) that Wilde read the Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, Hegel and some French pornography, but difficulties arise when Wright tries, in a self-described moment of “quixotic madness,” to make the book a partial autobiography, in the belief that if he read everything Wilde had read, Wilde would become a “Socratic mentor, who would help me give birth to a new self.”

Forging a deep link between criminals and their books can be even more quixotic. Ed Sanders, in “The Family,” tells us that one of Charles Manson’s favorite books was Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but we’re also told that Manson was barely literate. Both John Hinckley Jr. (Reagan’s would-be assassin) and Mark David Chapman (the murderer of John Lennon) have been connected to “The Catcher in the Rye,” Hinckley by having a copy in his hotel room, Chapman by calmly reading the book outside the Dakota apartment building while waiting for the police to arrive after he shot Lennon. But it’s hardly surprising that a book that has sold well over 35 million copies has occasionally fallen into the hands of criminals.

The Magazine Illustrations of Anna Whelan Betts


The U.S. Rare Book Trade in 1933


The Book Cover Design of Peter Mendelsund


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Better Learning Through Handwriting

Handwriting, over using a keyboard, helps you learn more.

From a piece in Science Daily...

An experiment carried out by Velay's research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.

Other experiments suggest that the brain's Broca's area is discernibly more activated when we are read a verb which is linked to a physical activity, compared with being read an abstract verb or a verb not associated with any action.

"This also happens when you observe someone doing something. You don't have to do anything yourself. Hearing about or watching some activity is often enough. It may even suffice to observe a familiar tool associated with a particular physical activity," Mangen says.

Since writing by hand takes longer than typing on a keyboard, the temporal aspect may also influence the learning process, she adds.

Patti Smith: Detective Novelist

For reals.

Here she is singing in Stockholm:

A Short History of Anonymous Authors

The Daily Beast takes note of the new O novel (whose author is no longer anonymous) and books written by mysterious writers.

From the piece...

Today, in virtually any chain bookstore, the piles of Bush, Palin, Grisham, or Franzen, seem to demonstrate one simple equation: books equal a joyous, uncomplicated celebrity. In the age of Nook and Kindle, books and writers, like little bubbles of self-assertion, intoxicated by the oxygen of publicity, revel in the high winds of fame. Actually, this is a comparative novelty. Writers used to go to extraordinary lengths to remain anonymous.

With good reason. Books were a matter of life and death. Immediately after the introduction of the printing press, writers who challenged religious or political orthodoxy were in mortal danger. Translations of the Bible, especially, offered a short route to oblivion. Tyndale was burned at the stake. Lower down the slopes of Parnassus, even Shakespeare published anonymously.

Six Character Diets to Get You to Your Ideal Weight

The Curse of the Drinking Class is here to help you shed off those unwanted pounds, literate-style.

From the piece...

The Joads' Famine
Care of: John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

Dietary restrictions: Crops
Exercise: Route 66
Equipment: Hudson truck
Method: Dust storms and drought

This tale of famine follows the Joads as they traverse Route 66 to California from Oklahoma in search of jobs, land and dignity. Because that’s where it’s at. California. The sharecroppers' crops have been destroyed by dust storms and drought, which combined with the long trek, will trim any tubby tush. The Joads recommend unscrupulous banks and foreclosure to give your step that added determination.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The 100 Volume, 10000 Page, 2 Foot Thick Book of Poetry

Where does it reside? In Iowa.

From an article in the Press-Citizen...

The book, "Poetry City Marathon," written by Iowa City poet Dave Morice of Dr. Alphabet fame, is the culmination of a 100-day poetry marathon this summer.

From July to October, Morice wrote 100 pages of poetry daily as part of a UI Main Library exhibit about the history of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Actualist Poetry Movement and the celebration of Iowa City being named a UNESCO City of Literature.

The final product is 10,119 pages, which was bound in a single volume by Bill Voss of the UI Libraries Preservation Department.

It is the largest-ever binding project undertaken by the department, department head Nancy Kraft said.

"Sometimes, if we're going to try something unusual, we'll do a mockup or tests and sometimes you have to redo it, but on a project this large, we just had to research and just plunge in and do it, and there was no looking back," she said.

Although a 200-page book takes only a few hours to bind, she said, "Poetry City Marathon" took 24 hours spread over four days, with a half-day devoted solely to making a special press to put the pages together. The book was assembled in smaller units and then bound together with the special press.

Revealing J.D. Salinger

The great author J.D. Salinger died a year ago this month.

The Guardian takes note of his personal letters.

From the article...

The letters reveal the author enjoyed listening to the Three Tenors – Jose Carreras was his favourite – and particularly liked watching tennis, with Salinger disclosing a particular fondness for "Tiger" Tim Henman.

Salinger also told Hartog that he thought Burger King hamburgers were better than those from other chains, while he described trips to the Niagra Falls and the Grand Canyon.

The letters are not the only surviving correspondence by Salinger, but they cover a period late in his life when he was at his most elusive.

Also, NPR shares news about the new biography on Salinger's life, here.

Also, Sarah Collins Honenberger, who wrote a take off of sorts of The Catcher in the Rye with Catcher, Caught, talks about Salinger, here.

The Art of Good Writing

The Financial Times highlights a couple of new books that want to make better writers of their readers.

From the piece...

Fish is a sentence connoisseur who describes his enthusiasm as akin to a sports fan’s love of highlights, and relishes the craft of everyone from the endlessly refined Victorian critic Walter Pater (“To such a tremulous wisp constantly reforming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense of it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our lives fines itself down”) to Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia (“Interior decorating is a rock-hard science compared to psychology practised by amateurs”). You won’t come away with dictum such as, “Avoid the use of qualifiers” (Sec V, Rule 8, Strunk & White) but Fish’s catholic taste in prose offers a far richer introduction to the capacities of English language sentences.

Why is this important? Because the form and rhythm of sentences communicates as much meaning as their factual content, whether we’re conscious of it or not. In 1863, when General Grant took the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last hindrance to free passage of Union supplies along the river, President Lincoln wrote in a letter to be read at a public meeting: “The father of waters again goes unvexed to the sea.” It’s a poem of a sentence, “The father of waters” and “unvexed to the sea” perfectly balanced on the unexpected pivot of “again goes” rather than “goes again”, and all in the service of a metaphor that figures the Union as an inevitable force and the Confederacy as a blight on nature, without mentioning either. If cadence had no content, “Union supplies lines are now clear” would have the same power. And what is obvious in rhetoric is true in literature, as well.

Keith Olbermann: TV's Next Hot Comedy Writer?


Barnaby Conrad Revisits John Wilkes Booth

Conrad, after 60 years, keeps a promise he made with Sinclair Lewis.

From a piece in the New York Times...

The last time Barnaby Conrad saw Sinclair Lewis, three years after he served as Lewis’s personal secretary, they were at a bar in Paris and, by Mr. Conrad’s account, Lewis was thoroughly drunk. But not so drunk that he couldn’t chastise his former secretary for failing to execute a book idea that Lewis had handed him one morning at breakfast: a novel based on the conceit that John Wilkes Booth had escaped capture after assassinating Lincoln and had embarked on a secret life in the American frontier.

“You are never going to be a writer unless you write that book,” declared Lewis, the Nobel Prize-winning author of “Elmer Gantry” and “Babbitt,” as Mr. Conrad recounted the moment recently. Talk about pressure. “It was always on my mind,” he said.

That was 1950, shortly before Lewis’s death. And now, 60 years later — this must set a record for late authors — Mr. Conrad has published “The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth.” The novel follows the arc of the story Lewis sketched out: from Booth’s escape from the barn where history has him cornered and killed by Union soldiers, to a frontier town where, after being goaded into playing Lincoln at a county pageant, he was assassinated by a drunken fellow Lincoln hater.

Alice in Wonderland: A Book Cover Odyssey


Trade Union Poster Design

A very mini history, here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm Readin' a Book

Robert Burns, a Book of Poems, and the Potential for Acid Attacks

There's a feud over a book of poetry. It's gone to alarming heights.

From the piece in the Daily Record...

A BITTER feud between two brothers over a book of Burns poems led to threats of death, arson and acid attacks.

Andrew Lang, 42, became enraged when his older brother Thomas claimed the rare first edition when their father died.

He insisted the book, worth £2000, had been given to him by their dad, Thomas snr.

The feud simmered for years - until a drunk Lang lost the plot and made a series of threatening phone calls to his brother's home in Maidens, near Girvan, Ayrshire.

He spent a month in custody and has now been given probation and community service.

In other Burns news, less acidic, the Guardian has a slideshow of a new Robert Burns museum, here.

Then there's the ol' Burns flash mob:

The Hawk at the Library of Congress

Update: It's been captured and will be released.

Choose Your Own Adventure - The Movie

Moviefone makes note of a potential "Choose Your Own Adventure" movie based on the popular book series. If you think this is a good idea turn to page 42. If you think this is a bad idea turn to page 85.

Page 42: You have gone to the movie with your friend and half way through the previews you choke on a Milk Dud. You are now in the hospital with a coma.

Page. 85: You have gone to the movie with your friend and half way through the previews you notice that you're sitting next to a fairy sprite who turns you into a magic unicorn.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Interview with Former Colbert Report Head Writer Allison Silverman

From Splitsider...

Is this something you’d recommend for humor writers — to start with improv comedy?

Absolutely. I think there are a few reasons why it’s a great idea. One is simply that you learn timing — what does and doesn’t work with audiences. If you’ve never experienced an audience in this specific way, it’s more difficult to learn later on.

It also helps — if you are going to write for somebody else, like I have for Conan, Jon, and Stephen — to understand the needs of a performer. Sometimes writers become very enamored with their own material — especially those who write for print. But what is very, very funny on the page might not work before an audience. The material might be too difficult for the performer and for the audience to follow. Get rid of all the verbiage, and refine your way to the core of the joke.

Third, I think it’s vital that comedy writers don’t hole themselves up and work alone. They need to meet and have a community of like-minded people — some of whom might hire you down the line. It is much easier to create this community if you’re performing.

Do you get the same high writing that you used to when performing?

It’s a different high. I love being backstage and watching one of my jokes really hit. It’s the grace of being an anonymous donor, only better. My name is on the credits. It’s the best of both worlds.

Did you receive a drama degree from Yale?

I was a humanities major, but it’s been mentioned by a few journalists that I was a molecular-biology major — which I definitely was not.

I read that, too. I was very impressed.

I said at some point that I matriculated as a molecular-biology major, but that just means that I started Yale as one. Once I was there, I got much more into the humanities. I do love science, though. I worked in a lab for several summers and got my name on a paper in the journal Plant Physiology. The paper is called “Association of 70-Kilodalton Heat-Shock Cognate Proteins with Acclimation to Cold.”

Booksellers at Bicycle Shops

On NPR, there's a piece about how booksellers toured a D.C. bicycle store to see what they could learn about the retail business from a different angle.

From the article...

NEARY: But it goes beyond just selling products, Hammanwright says. It's also about creating a customer who will come back for more.

Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: So part of our process is to make sure that our consumer, now that they have the bike, what can I do with it. We actually want to encourage them to ride. In the end, even if it's a competitor of mine that sells a bike, that benefits me as a bicycle retailer because at some point they need a nutrition bar or a flat repair or want to get a new jersey or whatever. So I would rather they get a bike than a new TV, a new computer or go on a vacation.

NEARY: Revolution Cycles' newest store doesn't sell bikes at all. Instead it offers bike rentals and bike shares. Opening that kind of store was a risk, says Hammanwright.

Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: I need some risk. I need to be able to feel like we're trying to make significant change. So - and especially in this industry, sort of like your industry, you know, if you don't evolve and change, what's going to happen?

NEARY: I don't run my business on hope, Hammanwright said, and those were the words that made the biggest impression on Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic Connecticut.

The Fantastic Four to Become the Terrific Three?

One of the members of the Fantastic Four is going to die. WHO IS IT?! Spoiler alert, here.

In the New York Times, there's an article that discusses the life, and death, and life of superheroes.

From the piece...

Comic book stories, like soap operas, are a never-ending series of twists and turns. And fans of super-heroes have learned that seemingly no death is permanent. In the old days, a comic book death meant something special because it was unusual. In 1980, when Jean Grey, the super-powered mutant known as Phoenix, died in X-Men no. 137, it was a cosmic adventure with deadly consequences and a bittersweet love story (her soul mate was Cyclops, the X-Men’s leader) to boot. She returned in 1986 when Marvel wanted to unite the original X-Men members in a spin-off book, X-Factor, and she died again in 2003. To catch up with her varied dealings with death, check out “How Many Times Has Jean Grey Died?”.

Another big death was that of the Flash, a super speedster who died in 1985 thwarting the plans of the Anti-Monitor, a cosmic villain who threatened the entire DC universe, past, present and future. He returned in 2008 and has been a productive member of the super-hero community since. For more information on Flash, check out “Those Who Ride the Lightning”.

One of the biggest deaths in comics was in 1992 when Superman perished in his fight against Doomsday. The final issue of their epic-struggle came sealed in black plastic with only the Superman-emblem, dripping in blood, showing. This was during a boom time in the industry – when many collectors were buying comics as investments. That November, Frank Rich wrote about the frenzy to buy a copy: “The teen-agers who lined up at the nation’s newsstands and comic book stores on Wednesday had dollar signs, not tears, in their eyes. The issue of Superman in which the superhero from Krypton is killed by Doomsday, a villainous escapee from a cosmic insane asylum, was bound to be worth more than its face value of $1.25 someday. Or so its publishers would have young consumers believe.”

There Must Be a Better Way to Honor a Writer Than Peeing On His Grave

The Guardian makes mention of a urinary fiasco that's just happened. That is, a writer "as an artistic act," peed on the grave of one of the greatest Spanish language writers of the 20th century. Some people aren't all that happy about it.

Turn In Your Kindle...

Get a lot of real books and magazines and stuff. That's what's going on at a bookshop in Portland. More, here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Springfield Author Carries on the Legacy of Oz

The Springfield News-Ledger has a story about Roger Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

From the article...

Roger Baum, who lives in Springfield now, has penned 14 books himself and continues to write the Oz series. His first book, "Dorothy of Oz," is being made into an animated film, set to release in 2012. Some high profile actors will lend their voice to the animation: Kelsey Grammer is the Tin Man; "Glee" star Lea Michele is Dorothy; Dan Aykroyd voices the Scarecrow; Martin Short is The Jester; and Patrick Stewart voices Tugg.

The film is being produced by Summertime Entertainment.

Seated in his kitchen, Roger Baum shares tidbits about his famous great-granddad, a man he never met, but whose legacy is carried on in the family.

The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection Residing in Toronto

Blog To has a brief piece, and well photographed at that, of one of the world's largest collections of Doyle at the Toronto Reference Library.

From the story...

Oddly enough, Toronto has one of the world's finest Arthur Conan Doyle collections. Hidden on the fifth floor of the Toronto Reference Library and on your left after leaving the elevator it's tucked away in its own room: a well ordered explosion of all things Arthur Conan Doyle. Of course, there's also an overwhelming amount of Sherlock Holmes books and paraphernalia. After all, and much to Conan Doyle's chagrin, he was his most famous invention.

The Rise of the Mark Twain Impersonator

Due to the success of Mark Twain's recently published autobiography, there's a residual growth in popularity in Mark Twain impersonators.

From a piece in the New York Times...

“Mark Twain just makes you feel good,” said Jim Giancola, 62, a retired banker.

For some ersatz Twains, the popularity of the autobiography is motivation enough to kick-start a comeback tour. Ken Teutsch, 48, of Dyersburg, Tenn., had all but given up on his one-man show about Twain’s time working on the Mississippi as a steamboat pilot. Mr. Teutsch had not done a show in more than a year and had shaved off the bushy mustache he had grown for the role. Then last fall people began watching clips of his show on YouTube, and inquiries started coming in.

After celebrating Christmas cleanshaven, Mr. Teutsch made a New Year’s resolution to forgo the use of his razor and start booking Twain shows again. “My wife will not be happy, she’s not a fan of the mustache,” Mr. Teutsch said. “But hey, if I can make a little money with it, she might forgive me.”

For decades, Alan Kitty, 62, of Lawrenceville, N.J., made cold calls to businesses trying to sell his Twain act. Recently though, organizers started to call him. He expects to make 25 percent more this year than last and with fewer, better-paying events, including several in China, he said.

Herman Melville's 25 Words for Beard


Monday, January 24, 2011

Mary Worth Discovers the Kindle, Or Some E-Reading Device Thingy

A Farewell to Handwriting?

What if Princess Diana Had Lived?

That's the question Monica Ali poses in her new book. Media Bistro has more, here.

The Sky is Black

Encyclopedia Britannica discusses world languages and how the language we speak defines how we see of the world.

From the piece...

The natives of Murray Island (one of the Torres Strait Islands of Queensland, Australia) call the sky black. The Greek poet Homer described honey as green, iron as violet, oxen as wine-colored. The description of the world differs from language to language. What accounts for this difference?

Each language exhibits unique nuances in vocabulary as well as in morphological and syntactic structures. This then forces speakers to think a certain way when formulating linguistic expressions, they need to consider or ignore certain aspects of the information conveyed. At one end of the spectrum are the heavily inflected synthetic languages that impose a special attention to declension, conjugation, gender, complex sentence structures, etc. Other languages have been grammatically simplified to eliminate the need for such complexity in one area or the other. Did anything get lost in that process?

Barnes & Noble - From Thug to Love

Publishing Perspectives takes note that B&N, once blasted for sweeping in and taking away indie booksellers right and left, is now, perhaps, the last, best hope for American bookselling.

From the piece...

These days, all the grumbling is about Borders, America’s second largest chain, which is flirting with bankruptcy (again!) and Amazon, which has for the last decade or so taken on the role of Bully-in-Chief. You don’t hear so much complaining about B&N. Why? The company now stands as perhaps the last, best hope of American bookselling.

Sorry Indies, but it’s the truth. B&N still has enough consolidated power to “make” books. Its buying power makes it indispensable to publishers who need advance orders to justify print runs and the various other knock on effects that entails. They are providing –- via their Nook device –- the biggest rival to Amazon’s e-reader hegemony. And, let’s face it, if they –- along with Borders -– disappeared, how many communities would suddenly be underserved or not served at all? This is the reason small towns lobby B&N to open stores in their community: people are now, like it or not, accustomed to the selection available at big box retailers. True, perhaps half of those who shop at B&N’s aren’t there for the books, but what better chance is there to entice a not-so-avid reader into picking up a book?

I live in Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, which has only two independent bookshops of significance -– Brazos Bookstore and Blue Willow Book Shop — as well as a premier independent mystery bookshop, Murder by the Book. The distance between the two indies takes a good 45 minutes to drive, in decent traffic. And the mystery shop happens to be all but across the street from one of the indies. What else is there? Well, there is a brand spanking new Barnes & Noble that’s a ten minute drive away, and several older locations (and several Borders –- though for how long remains to be seen). And before you suggest that it’s just Houston, please note this is the same situation in all the big cities throughout Texas -– Dallas, San Antonio, and yes, even Austin -– and in many other cities across the United States. (And before you suggest it might just be Texas, let me point out that some 45,000 doctors work and live ten minutes from where I’m sitting).

Is Reality Based Storytelling Destroying the Real Act of Telling Stories?

The Guardian thinks so.

From the article...

What has prompted this flood of fact-based storytelling? The reasons for these kinds of cultural shift are never easy to pinpoint, but this one surely has a lot to do with changing ideas about privacy and truth. Over the past decade or so we have, as a culture, become much less attached to the idea that certain aspects of life should remain private. An increasingly intrusive press regards it as its job to sniff out the secrets of the rich and famous. Respect towards those in positions of authority has dramatically declined. The result is that a terrain to which entry was once largely barred – the private lives of those in the public gaze – has become accessible. And this has given new licence to artists. Even a decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine a film like The Queen – dealing with the relationship between a living monarch and a serving prime minister – being made. Now finding yourself in a novel or film is one of the hazards of being famous.

This scaling back of the private sphere has coincided with something else: a growing belief that it is in personal relationships and feelings that the important truths about the world are to be found. While the concept of a public facade has always existed, it has never held greater sway than it does today. Most people intuitively feel that the majority of what is reported – in newspapers, history books, government documents – is false, or only partly true, and that the important stuff happens behind closed doors, or inside people's heads. This is reflected in the way the New Labour epoch is discussed, with an overriding focus on the relationships between the protagonists and, often, their psychological states.

Yet this belief in a private domain where ultimate truth lies creates a problem. For we can be fed endless information – diaries and memoirs, leaked diplomatic documents – but none will necessarily tell us what went on. The apparatus of factual exposure habitually falls short. This, of course, is where art comes in. Artists may not be better acquainted with the truth than anyone else, but they can do something that others can't: describe plausibly what might have happened.

Dante's Inferno - the Short Version

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The E-Reader Marketplace

Time Magazine takes a look at the wide variety of digital devices one can use to read.

From the piece...

I have a lifelong friend — let's call her Mom — who used to sneer at the very notion of e-books. Then she got an Kindle as a gift and sheepishly discovered that she adored it. But when her Kindle broke, she started reading the e-books she'd already bought from Amazon on her BlackBerry, using the Kindle app available for that phone. And she quickly realized that the phone that was already her constant companion was the ideal e-reader for her.

She's got plenty of company. Stand-alone e-readers still have their place: I like the Kindle (which starts at $139) and Barnes & Noble's Nookcolor ($249), both of which pack nice screens into booklike form factors. (The Kindle's E Ink technology has the additional benefit of letting you read for weeks on a battery charge.) Still, if you own a laptop and a smart phone — and maybe even a tablet such as Apple's iPad or Samsung's Galaxy Tab — one more portable device with a display may be one too many.

A well-rounded e-bookstore should offer free applications that let you read the titles you buy on major computer, tablet and phone platforms. It should also be well stocked with the books you're most likely to want. For the moment, that rules out Apple's iBooks, which has a limited selection and is available only on the iPad and iPhone. It also eliminates the Windows-only Blio, founded by tech visionary Ray Kurzweil. And while Google's recently introduced eBookstore claims 3 million titles and has apps for iPhone, iPad and Android, along with a browser-based reader that works on Windows PCs and Macs, its selection of best-selling fiction was skimpy when I visited this week. (Just six of the New York Times' top 15 hardcover novels were available.)

Fox in Sox

Thrilling Comics

A gallery of covers.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

20 Famous Authors, 20 Writing Rituals

From an interesting list of some of the world's great writers.

For instance...

Alexandre Dumas kept the doctor away.: Like Toni Morrison, Alexandre Dumas of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo fame enjoyed rising early and greeting the day with a personalized ritual. Rather than enjoying a piping hot cup of coffee, however, he preferred taking an apple to the Arc de Triomphe. At 7 AM every morning, Dumas noshed his nourishing breakfast and watched the people of Paris tend to their own unique routines.

Honore de Balzac gave himself the jitters.: Any discussions regarding the renowned writer's legendary coffee consumption posit his daily intake anywhere from 50 to 300 cups a day. No doubt he certainly consumed more than most people — Honore de Balzac infamously died of health problems related to caffeine poisoning — but many of the estimates are more than a little arbitrary. Turkish and Parisian blends particularly piqued his fancy, providing him with enough fuel to keep him writing throughout the evening and on into the night.

Henrik Ibsen made war, not love.: Playwright Henrick Ibsen, famous for his progressive values in works such as A Doll's House, really knew how to keep his enemies closer. An oil paint portrait of his polar opposite and fellow writer August Strindberg hung on his wall as a constant, intimidating reminder to always push himself. Any slacking would give his rival even more fodder for accusations, snide remarks and critical and commercial success. Ibsen even referred to the painting as "Madness Incipient."

Edith Wharton and the French WWI Effort

There's an interesting literary footnote on Radio France Internationale. It's about how the American novelist Edith Wharton helped the French during WWI.

From the piece...

In 1914, though, she opened up several apartments in the area, transforming them into workshops for women.

“When war broke out an immense number of benevolent women in Paris felt a violent but vague impulse to ‘help’,” Wharton wrote in the New York Times. “This impulse found its chief expression in the traditional pursuits of making lint, hemming towels and crocheting baby jackets.

"Such activities are harmless and even commendable in days of peace, but in war time any unpaid industry encroaches on the rights of the unemployed, and this fact was so promptly understood in France that I can claim only by a few weeks’ priority the honor of having founded the first paying workroom in Paris.”

Soon her workshop in the rue de l’Universit√© was overflowing and she was obliged to open up others around the arrondissement.

When refugees began pouring into Paris in September 1914 – “they all came at once in a terrible tidal wave” – Wharton took up their cause.

Literary Archives are Like Monkfish

So says the Guardian.

From an article...

However, though I spend a lot of my time with archives, this does not mean that I take unalloyed pleasure in them. Let's start at the beginning. An archive consists of the mass of personal papers that fill a writer's study, and attic, and (if you ask their partner) most of the rest of the house: the terminal moraine of an author's life. What is to be found there? Well, in ideal state – with, as Gertrude Stein put it, "no pieces of paper thrown away" – you might find: the author's manuscripts and drafts of work both published and unpublished; diaries or journals; incoming correspondence, and (if you are very lucky) copies of the author's outgoing letters as well; historical material that documents the author's life, like photographs and family memorabilia; objects of significance: the writer's desk, or typewriter, or (even) best Sunday suit. This material will have spread like an infestation through the house, and found its nesting places in boxes and cartons, filing cabinets, bookshelves, and drawers both open and secret. ("No one is looking into my drawers!" William Golding once told me, a little ambiguously).

When first encountered, an archive, I remarked at the conference, reminds me of a monkfish. When it is eventually served up to you in bite-sized morsels, accompanied by rice and a salad, it is enticing, but when you see it in an unfilleted state it is ugly, cumbersome and unappealing. I have spent a lot of time in attics, studies, and cellars, sifting through myriad unsorted boxes and cartons of a writer's manuscripts, letters, diaries and miscellanea – dust! damp! – and there is something lowering about the process, something dirty and invasive that makes you both literally and figuratively need a wash. My audience was not amused by my fish metaphor, and glared at me disapprovingly – "A monkfish!" muttered Tom Staley, the legendary director of the Ransom Centre – and I made myself an inward promise to stop trying to be funny, and to shut up. (I didn't keep it.)

Madeline, the Lobbyist

There's a new Madeline book out by Penguin. Find out more about it, here.

The Sylvia Plath Effect

Is how we see someone's work colored by their suicide? The Wall Street Journal investigates, care of the photography of Francesca Woodman.

From the piece...

The photographer Francesca Woodman has received far more attention from critics and collectors since her death in 1981 than ever came her way when she was alive. Indeed, before she threw herself from a New York roof at age 22, she was unknown as an artist. She had never had a major exhibition and her only book, "Some Disordered Interior Geometries," was published the month she died.

The cultural machinery that produces judgments about an artist's lifetime of effort has less material to process when that artist dies young. The wheels grind faster and on thinner stuff. And when that young artist (or writer or actor) is a suicide, the quality of the material is often overlooked because it is immediately more valuable. The lurching randomness of existence suddenly has a steady meaning. Everything done or said by the deceased seems to be a clue that will explain why someone would choose to die rather than live. The last act suddenly becomes the most important act.

Call it the Sylvia Plath Effect or the Diane Arbus Syndrome.

The documentary "The Woodmans" is an example of this teleology operating on the legacy of Francesca Woodman.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Alice in Wonderland - The Ballet

The Independent takes note of the show.

Confessions of a Book Fiend

Some literary humor, care of Grant Snider.

Hideous Fonts May Boost Reading Comprehension

So says Laura Miller at Salon.

From the piece...

On the subject of fonts (or, typefaces, to use the more technically accurate term), feelings often run high. People have their favorites, for reasons both practical and sentimental. The story of how Helvetica became the preeminent typeface of our times has inspired a documentary film, while loathing of Comic Sans has prompted what can only be called a typographical jihad. A surprising number of older authors name Courier as the font they prefer to write in because it resembles the characters of a typewriter and therefore kindly suggests that the current draft is still available for improvement. But surely everyone can agree that a good typeface is easy to read, right?

Not so. A recent study out of Princeton, and brought to wider attention by Jonah Lehrer at, suggests that ugly, irregular fonts can boost the amount of information readers retain from a text, while easy-to-read type is more likely to just sort of slide out of their minds. The study, titled "Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes," found that people remembered more from worksheets and PowerPoint presentations when they were composed in a hot mess of hated fonts like Monotype Corsiva, Haettenshweiler and the dreaded Comic Sans Italic.

Library Clears Its Shelves in Protest

The Guardian has a great story.

From the piece...

The library at Stony Stratford, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, looks like the aftermath of a crime, its shell-shocked staff presiding over an expanse of emptied shelves. Only a few days ago they held 16,000 volumes.

Now, after a campaign on Facebook, there are none. Every library user was urged to pick their full entitlement of 15 books, take them away and keep them for a week. The idea was to empty the shelves by closing time on Saturday: in fact with 24 hours to go, the last sad bundle of self-help and practical mechanics books was stamped out. Robert Gifford, chair of Stony Stratford town council, planned to collect his books when he got home from work in London, but left it too late.

The empty shelves, as the library users want to demonstrate, represent the gaping void in their community if Milton Keynes council gets its way.

Free H.P. Lovecraft Documentary

"Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown," a 90-minute documentary can be found, here.

The Best Novels on Newspaper Journalism

The list, care of Robert Cottrell.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Borders Blundered

Just in Time, or a Short History of Production

A book printed through a printing chain made of four desktop printers using four different colors and technologies dated from 1880 to 1976. A production process that brings together small scale and large scale production, two sides of the same history.

The art of Xavier Antin.