Monday, February 28, 2011

James Franco Talks Poetry

How did the actor, director, Oscar host, performance artist, and PhD candidate became America’s most famous poetry geek?

From an interview with the Poetry Foundation...

Travis Nichols: You seem to read poetry that has a little more crunch to it than your standard “refrigerator door” poetry. I was wondering when you were able to make that leap—from historical, dorm room poetry like Neruda and Ginsberg to contemporary poets like Frank Bidart and Spencer Reece. Did you make the leap on your own?

James Franco: I came across Ginsberg and the Beats when I was in high school. And then I suppose my first intro to what I guess you’d call the opposite pole of the poetry world at the time—Lowell and Bishop and, in that tradition, Anthony Hecht—was when I went back to UCLA. I had a teacher named Jonathan Post who had been a student of Hecht, and so he taught a class that covered American poetry up until the ’60s or ’70s. But it really wasn’t until I went to Warren Wilson that I was exposed to contemporary poetry in a real expansive or in-depth way.

When I was at Columbia there were some great poets there, and I wanted to study with Richard Howard. I was in one of his lectures, but I wanted to take a poetry workshop with him, but they just said no [laughs]. You can cross over in the lectures and seminars, but fiction writers are not allowed to go to the poetry workshops. So I asked this guy named Ian R. Wilson, who taught me at UCLA Extension, what I should do. I had gone to UCLA when I was 18 to get my bachelor’s in English, and then I left after a year to act. I went back eight years later to finish, but before I re-enrolled, I took some classes through UCLA Extension. And I took a couple of writing classes with this guy named Ian R. Wilson.

It’s funny because the UCLA Extension writing classes have a great history—Michael Cunningham taught there, and John Rechy and Janet Fitch—so I took some classes there, and this guy Ian R. Wilson was my teacher. He wrote both fiction and poetry, and so when Columbia told me that I couldn’t take the poetry classes, I was pissed off. So I asked him, “Where should I go? I want a place so I can study poetry seriously.” Even though I am at Yale now, sure there are some classes on contemporary poetry, but not in the way that it’s studied at Warren Wilson.

At Yale, you study the Romantics, you study Whitman, but not contemporary poetry. Ian said, “For my money, Warren Wilson is the best poetry program in the country as far as the faculty goes and the way the program is run and the attention you get. You should go there.” And so I applied and they let me in. That’s where I was really exposed to everything. They have a wide range of features, but there is still a heavy emphasis on craft and less experimental kinds of poetry. It seems like maybe a place like Columbia—I don’t know, I didn’t get to take any of the classes, right?—but it seems like a place like Columbia would push more kind of experimental work or, I’m not quite certain, but maybe Chicago or Iowa might push more experimental stuff, more experimental than Warren Wilson. But Warren Wilson is very strong on contemporary poets.

The Prince of Wales' Book Finder

Meet Angus Robb. He finds rare books for rarefied clients.

From a piece on Bloomberg...

Angus Robb is a senior executive with a knack for turning mildew into money.

“I love nothing better than traipsing around smelly places to find the right book,” says Robb, who wears tailored suits and red-and-green gumball cufflinks. His official title is store director of Asprey’s flagship luxury-gift emporium on New Bond Street in London.

“I wouldn’t stay here if Asprey took the rare books away from my brief,” Robb says in a salon that since 1781 has been celebrated for offering the rich and royal polo-pony bridles, ostrich-skin satchels and walking sticks tipped with sterling- silver badger heads. “We’ve always had an odd, eccentric mix of products.”

For 700 of Asprey’s clients such as the Prince of Wales, investing in blue-chip books is top of that peculiar pile. Robb says the trade in ephemera is a meager $500 million-a-year global market that’s controlled by some 10 book brokers whose wares won’t be found on Inc.’s website.

“Most investors don’t see books as an investment,” Robb says. “But everything today must be monetized.”

Nancy Drew, the App

Techland has the story.

From it...

The Nancy Drew series might have been around for 80 years, but that doesn't mean that the art of the mystery novel is outdated. Her Interactive has updated the fan favorite female detective's adventures with the Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries app. Using text inspired by the original books, the app creates an interactive story for readers. You don't have to imagine you're on the case with Nancy Drew, now you can be part of it as well.

“By combining a book and a game, we're trying to create a whole new form of interactive entertainment,” chief executive of Her Interactive Megan Gaiser said in an interview with Venture Beat. “You get to play the story.”

The first title released for the app, available on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, is Shadow Ranch, but there are plenty more in the works. Nancy Drew Mobile Mysteries: Shadow Ranch is the first release from the company, and they are banking on the Nancy Drew name to take them to the next level. The game is targeted towards girls between 9 to 14. Interestingly enough, women make up 40 percent of video game players according to the Entertainment Software Association and have very few titles targeted directly toward them.

Long Overdue, the Bookmobile is Back

Smithsonian Magazine sings its praises!

From the piece...

By the mid-20th century bookmobiles had become a part of American life, with more than 2,000 plying our inner cities and rural roadways. But shrinking budgets and rising costs have dimmed their prominence. Less than 1,000 bookmobiles now serve the continental U.S. and Alaska and they often show up in some unlikely places. The last bookmobile I encountered, before Tom Corwin’s, was parked at the sprawling Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. A surprising number of celebrants were happy to forego the all-night revelry, and curl up instead with borrowed copies of Tender is the Night or The Yiddish Policeman’s Ball.

Bookmobiles are still in service abroad. In at least three African and South American countries, camels and donkeys draw mobile libraries from town to town. Thailand drafts elephants into use, while Norway’s modern library ship Epos has served tiny coastal communities with its cargo of 6,000 volumes since 1963.

If Corwin realizes his vision, bookmobiles may slowly edge their way back into the mainstream.

Vintage French Noir Dust Jackets


The Lord of the Rings from Mordor's Perspective

Kirill Yeskov explains, for Salon, what led him to write The Last Ringbearer, his parallel version of Tolkien's classic.

From the story...

"The Last Ring-bearer" was written for a very specific audience, too – it’s just another "fairy tale for junior scientists" of which I am one. It is meant for skeptics and agnostics brought up on Hemingway and brothers Strugatzky, for whom Tolkien is only a charming, albeit slightly tedious, writer of children’s books. Those were the people who got the biggest kick out of the novel; theirs were the reviews that used the expression "sleepless night," dear to any writer’s heart, most often.

On the other hand, I can somewhat understand the feelings of "professional" Tolkien fans who foolishly parted with their money to buy this… this… whatever. This is not unlike some teenager, besotted with pirate fiction, tricked by the "Corsair" title into buying a book by a certain G. G. Byron, and then inveighing on the net: "Total baloney – loads of stupid love stories and not one decent boarding! The name must be there to trick the readers, otherwise who’d buy this crap!" Guys, please understand that this was not written for you! If you do grab something not meant for you – which ought to be obvious after reading about three paragraphs, n'est-ce pas? – then don’t whine like an Arkansas bumpkin who got taken by "The Royal Nonesuch."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Pilcrow

Did you know the grammatical symbol above is called the pilcrow? I didn't either. Shady Characters is a site that highlights all things grammatical symboly.

It Could Be Worse

Peter Steinberg, for Huffington Post, notes twelve must-read dystopian novels.

Does African-American Literature Still Exist?

That's the question posed recently by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the piece...

I'd like to make a claim that runs counter to much of literary scholarship. Historically speaking, the collective enterprise we call African-American or black literature is of recent vintage—in fact, it's just a little more than a century old. Further, it has already come to an end. And the latter is a fact we should neither regret nor lament.

African-American literature was the literature of a distinct historical period, namely, the era of constitutionally sanctioned segregation known as Jim Crow. Punctuated by state constitutional amendments that disfranchised black Americans throughout much of the South, legitimated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 with the infamous "separate but equal" ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, and stumbling into decline in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, Jim Crow and the fight against it gave rise to—and shaped—African-American literary practice as we have come to know it. Like it or not, African-American literature was a Jim Crow phenomenon, which is to say, speaking from the standpoint of a post-Jim Crow world, African-American literature is history. While one can (and students of American literature certainly should) write about African-American literature as an object of study, one can no longer write African-American literature, any more than one can currently write Elizabethan literature.

That this fact should occasion no lament is because the society that gave us what we know as African-American literature is a society that black Americans did not want then and certainly don't want now.

What Makes a Great Speech?

That's the question the Guardian asks looking back through time at all the great speeches, and wondering why so few were done by women.

From the piece...

The modern world has largely inherited the ancient view that oratory is a matter of technique. True, we do have a romantic notion that some people are "naturals" at public speaking – whether it is something in the air of the Welsh valleys that produces the gift of the gab, or the "natural" sense of timing that great orators share with great comedians. But modern speech-writers always stress the importance of technique, and they advocate many of the same old tricks that the ancients used ("group your examples into threes", they advise – that's the classical "tricolon", which was taken to extremes in Blair's famous "education, education, education" soundbite). And the pundits who have turned their attention to Obama's great speeches have emphasised his technical rhetorical sophistication, some of it handed down, directly or indirectly, from the Roman star orator, Cicero: the judicious repetitions ("yes we can"); the subtly placed "tricola"; the artful references to earlier oratory, in Obama's case especially to the speeches of Martin Luther King.

Yet there is something problematic about the very notion of "great oratory". For a start, it is an almost entirely male category. I doubt that there have been many, if any, "great" female orators, at least as "great oratory" has traditionally been defined. Margaret Thatcher may have delivered some memorable soundbites to the party faithful ("The lady's not for turning"), but she did not give great persuasive speeches. In fact, when a few years ago the Guardian published its own collection of great oratory of the 20th century, it obviously had a problem with the female examples.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Jewel of Welsh Manuscripts, Now Online

Booktryst revels in the 14th century volume known as The Laws of Hywel Dda.

From a post...

The copy digitized in February 2010 is particularly rare, as unlike virtually all other Welsh manuscripts of this period, it is heavily illustrated. According to manuscripts librarian Dr. Maredudd ap Huw, "The monk who transcribed the text combined secular and devotional elements to 'decorate' his work, which makes it today one of our most interesting medieval manuscripts." This copy of the The Laws of Hywel Dda is also much larger than most other law books of the period, and was probably created for a library, rather than meant to be carried in the pocket of a lawyer. It was clearly made for a scholarly client, as it is written in Latin rather than in Welsh.

How to Spot a First Edition

The Awl explains it for budding collectors, here.

Waiting for Godot - The Game

Play it, here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mr. Funnypants: Michael Showalter Explains Comedy Memoirs

He explains on Salon.

From the post...

Who do you think is doing great comedy these days, in or out of Hollywood?

Will Ferrell, to me, is the archetype of the great, Hollywood comedian. I like him now, but I know that if I saw him in high school, I'd idolize him like I do Bill Murray. He and his collaborators are doing what I think is great, mainstream stuff. Outside of the system, I think Tim & Eric [of "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!"] do really interesting work. I'd throw Jim Gaffigan into that group as well. As far as modern-day sitcoms go, there's nothing out there right now that really calls me.

Why do you think that is?

Until I graduated from college, I never missed an episode of David Letterman and I'd watch sitcoms compulsively. At this stage of my life, I'm not nearly as big a consumer of comedy as I was when I was younger. Once I made it my profession, my enjoyment of it changed because it no longer provided a form of escape. Suddenly, I began to see the infrastructure behind each joke and set piece and the illusion was lost. But I do feel like comedies were different when I was a kid. They felt less market-tested and focus-grouped within an inch of their lives. The British version of "The Office" was one of the few shows to bring me back to a childlike state of wonderment.

Talking about stand-up, here's my old high school pal on stage:

Will the Real George Washington Please Sign Here

As part of Fraud Week, Past is Present takes note of master forger Robert Spring.

From the post...

How did Spring actually create his forgeries?

Here is where the newspaper account of Spring’s life becomes so detailed it reads almost like a how-to guide to forgery:

Every one has seen the old-fashioned washstand, with a round hole in the top, in which the washbowl was placed. Spring took such a stand, placed a pane of glass over the hole, over this a genuine Washington signature, and over this a sheet of blank paper. Then beneath the glass he placed a lamp and darkened the room. Thus the signature was illuminated from beneath and could easily be traced on the blank paper. … He easily stained the paper to the color of age, and would crease it and give it a worn edge by wearing it between this stocking and the sole of his shoe.

Upon first read this account, I wondered: why Spring would have to stain the paper to age it? After all, one of the reasons he even began this life of crime was the tempting possibilities of reams of old foolscap contemporaneous with the genuine Washington artifacts. Yet unused paper that has been stored away from light and air will age quite differently than paper that has been out-and-about in circulation, so it makes sense Spring would have to “rough up” his paper supply, even if it was the right age.

The stained paper was one of the first things that stood out as odd when I first examined the two Spring forgeries at AAS in person. It’s hard to describe exactly what seemed wrong with it: the staining is almost too perfectly irregular, perhaps? The best way I can put it is that it reminded me of an elementary school history project for which I had to write a letter pretending to be from the eighteenth-century. I soaked my letter in tea in an attempt to make it look more authentic, although mine turned out a little spotty. Did Spring resort to this same tea-staining method to artificially age his forgeries? Were the examples that survive at AAS done on the original Revolutionary-War era foolscap that Spring purchased, or had his supply run out forcing him to substitute later 19th-century paper and more tea to achieve the effect? Perhaps these are questions for the History Detectives!

Borders Fails But Indie Bookstore Strand Thrives

How can that be?

From a piece on the Daily Beast...

How has the Strand been able to stay afloat financially amid the growing popularity of e-books and ordering books through online sites, such as Amazon?

We try very hard to give our customers the best service and best shopping experience possible. If we don't have a certain title in stock, we can easily order it for pickup in two days.

Our staff is incredibly passionate about reading and they love to recommend books and talk to customers about shared interests.

Because we are a family-owned business, we are able to make changes quickly in response to the needs and desires of our customers—we recently overhauled our website, which makes up about 25 percent of our annual sales; we added a nostalgic candy line so customers can reward themselves after shopping; and we are close to adding a stationery "store" within the store as stationery is very popular with our customers.

Is there still a future for traditional bookstores?

I really believe there is. I know so many people who love their e-reader for travelling but still prefer handling a book when they are in the comfort of their home. I think traditional bookstores just have to think outside the box and listen to their customers. Traditional bookstores can offer a unique space for community-building, where people can share ideas.

From Comic Book to Reality

The Voice of the Beats

It's more than half a century since Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" landed like a bombshell in the staid world of 1950s America.

The Guardian asks, "What was the poet really like?" Friends and colleagues remember him.

From the piece...

John Cassady

Neal and Carolyn Cassady's son is a musician who grew up around Ginsberg and remained friends with him all his life.

"I call him my second father, but he was more like an uncle. I remember in 1964, the Beatles had just hit [the US] – I was 14 and a huge fan. I was living with my parents in the house in California and Jack [Kerouac] and Allen and everybody was in and out. It was kinda an interesting childhood, as you can imagine. I'm sitting across the coffee table from Allen and he goes: 'Johnny! D'you wanna scoop? You want some dirt?' He looks both ways conspiratorially and goes: 'The Beatles smoke pot!' And I say: 'What's pot?' And Allen looked so crestfallen. He gave me this look like, 'aren't you Neal Cassady's son – whaddya mean "what's pot?"' He was so excited to tell me: so here's Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan turning the Beatles on to pot in the hotel room after the Ed Sullivan Show – how many kids get this story?

One time my mother threw this huge party in 1973, I forget the excuse. Allen showed up with this big cast on his right leg, on crutches. I say what happened and he gives me a wink and a nod and says: 'Chasin' women.' Well, he knew better than that but that gave me a big laugh – he was such a funny, clever guy. When the police showed up at the party – we had cars up and down the street for three miles – they saw Allen and asked for his autograph: the cops were fans. I mean, is this a great world or what?

Allen was always very kind and a real gentle soul, never selfish at all. It wasn't until years later that I realised he was a rock star as far as literary history goes."

If you're wanting to hear him read "Howl," go here.

All About Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five"

Care of Neatorama.

Stan Lee's Most Daring Comic of the Silver Age of Comics?

Silver Surfer, according to Comics Alliance.

From a recent post...

The Silver Surfer first appeared in Fantastic Four #48 as a Jack Kirby brainfart. While drawing the pages, Kirby just threw in an illustration of a bald guy riding a surfboard, figuring Galactus the World-Devourer needed a herald. As ridiculous as a bald surfer working for a cosmic entity is, the idea worked and inspired Lee and Kirby to create one of the best stories of the era.

As we all know, when the planet-eating cosmic demi-god Galactus came to Earth, his Herald the Silver Surfer met Alicia Masters, who showed him the beauty and potential of mankind. The Silver Surfer turned against Galactus and helped save the world, but as punishment, he was to be forever confined to Earth, no longer allowed to skirt the heavens.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What Is Graphic Design?

What is graphic design ... what a graphic designer does from Design Council on Vimeo.

The Civil War, 150 Years On

The Daily Beast looks at the battalion of new books on the anniversary of America's Civil War.

From the piece...

Beginning in November 1860, with Abraham Lincoln’s election, the initial volume in this series re-creates—through diaries, speeches, letters, poems, and newspaper accounts—the thoughts and actions of star players and everyday citizens on both sides of the conflict. Some of this material, such as Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address or the diaries of George Templeton Strong and Mary Boykin Chesnut, is familiar. Much, however, is fresh, and all the entries become more striking by being placed in the context of time unfolding. Many would be striking no matter what the context.

Riding across the Bull Run battlefield in the wake of the fighting, Confederate soldier Charles Minor Blackford writes, “I noticed an old doll baby with only one leg lying by the side of a Federal soldier just as it dropped from his pocket when he fell writhing in the agony of death. It was obviously a memento of some little loved one at home which he had brought so far with him and had worn close to his heart on this day of danger and death. It was strange to see that emblem of childhood, that token of a father’s love lying there amidst the dead and dying … I dismounted, picked it up and stuffed it back into the poor fellow’s cold bosom that it might rest with him in the bloody grave which was to be forever unknown to those who loved and mourned him in his distant home.”

That, astonishingly, is a typical entry in this splendid literary tapestry.

Making Books

Edward Gorey

For anyone who knows me, they know I'll forever love the work of Edward Gorey. That said, I can't help but post this, from NPR.

Kurt Cobain - The Graphic Novel

It's been written. And now, thanks to the Den of Geek, it's been reviewed.

And here's Nirvana on that legendary night for MTV Unplugged:


Write a sentence. Someone else writes another. A story forms. Welcome to Neovella.

Thomas Jefferson's Books

They've been found at Washington University at St. Louis.

From a piece in the New York Times...

“My reaction was: ‘Yes! It makes sense,’ ” said Shirley K. Baker, Washington University’s vice chancellor for scholarly resources and dean of university libraries. “It strikes me as particularly appropriate these are in Missouri. Jefferson bought this territory, and we in Missouri identify with him and honor him. And I was thrilled at the detective work our curators had done.”

The Washington University library learned of the Jefferson bonanza a few months ago from Endrina Tay, project manager for the Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries project at Monticello, the former president’s home near Charlottesville, Va., a National Historic Landmark. She has been working since 2004 to reconstruct Jefferson’s collection and make the titles and supplemental reference materials available online. Jefferson had several collections, including 6,700 books that he sold to the Library of Congress in 1815 after the British burned Washington. Writing to John Adams that “I cannot live without books” and confessing to a “canine appetite for reading,” Jefferson immediately started another collection that swelled to 1,600 books by the time he died on July 4, 1826. That collection became known as his retirement library.

Those books were dispersed after Jefferson’s heirs reluctantly decided to sell them at auction in 1829 to pay off Jefferson’s debts; auction catalogs survive, but not a record of who bought the books.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Organizing the Bookcase

Read a Comic Book. Plant It. Grow Flowers.

For reals.

Poor Poetry Mothers

Sandra Simonds has an interesting essay on her website.

From the piece...

I have been thinking about mothers who are poets who live in poverty or close to the poverty line. Some of them are writing within academia, some of them not. Most of the mothers who I have been thinking of are adjuncts. They teach five or seven or sometimes more classes a semester. They do not have health insurance and I think about their struggles to write poetry. I want you to know that in many cities it costs 1,000 a month to put a child in daycare. I also want you to know that in many places, you only get a few thousand dollars to adjunct a class. There are so many mothers who get up at 5 am to write poetry and they are poor and they keep going on. They teach their classes and they come back home and they love their children and they are very tired and then they get online and they tutor for extra money. I want to tell you that no matter how much they work, they are still poor.

I want to tell you about these mothers because you might not know them or know anything about them or maybe you don’t want to think about them. It could be that you are a young man in your twenties and you spend a lot of time at the bars, drinking and hanging out with your friends and having sex with random girls or boys—and then you go home and you feel such inspiration to write your poetry about the moon and your half-cooked romances and how the streets look as you make your way home from these bars.

I want to tell you that there are mothers who get up at 5 am when you are walking home to write poetry and these mothers are very tired and these poets are your mothers also and their fatigue is real and not made up or imagined.

Henry Miller's Widow - Hoki Tokuda

The Los Angeles Times catches up with Henry Miller's widow, Hoki Tokuda.

From the article...

Reporting from Tokyo — For Hoki Tokuda, the whole crazy affair was like an inside joke her ex-husband, the late author Henry Miller, would have found irresistible — if it weren't all true.

He was the literary satyr of his generation, a famously virile writer riding high on the U.S. publication of his latest scandalous novel, penning passionate letters to a woman nearly five decades his junior.

He described his late-night longing for her: "I am truly at the end of my rope. I can't work, I can't sleep; my mind is on you perpetually, without let-up. It's not a sickness anymore, it's a mania. I am obsessed and possessed."

But here's the part that still makes Tokuda smile: The pursued wasn't impressed with her pursuer's fame or steamy prose. She never even read many of the amorous letters that were later published as a collection, "Letters From Henry Miller to Hoki Tokuda Miller." And she could get through only three pages of his classic novel "Tropic of Cancer."

Stranger still, she says, is that during 11 years of marriage, following her stipulations, they never made love or even slept together. "I kissed Henry just once and he was a terrible kisser," Tokuda says now, her mouth crooked, like she's just tasted a lemon. "It was not romantic. It was all … " she pauses, "wet."

And speaking of Henry Miller:

Rare Anti-Communist Comics

Heritage Auctions has an interesting lot up on the blocks.

From a piece on Art Daily...

“The youth of America was seen as fair game for the ever-gathering storm of Soviet and Chinese Communism in the 1950s,” said Steve Borock, Consignment Director at Heritage, “and concerned patriots wanted to make sure the nation’s future was not compromised by those dark forces.”

How better to combat those nefarious influences than through comics books, which every kid in the 1950s was religiously reading. Add in the bonus that these comics were free – a bonus to any kid who save nickels and dimes to buy the latest Superman or Batman – and publishers figured they had direct access to those impressionable young minds.

Mr. Warren, a collector based in Pennsylvania, assembled the rare collection over the course of a 20 year period. The result is nothing less than a pop culture survey of the reaction to the Red Scare in post-war America.

“Blood Is The Harvest from 1950, which shows a Red Army firing squad on the cover, is a very rare book – according to the Overstreet Price Guide, only 13 copies exist,” said Borock. “It turns out that Todd Warren had four of them. There are fewer copies of this then there are of Action comics #1!”

The Future of Books

15 predictions, care of Nervous Breakdown.

From the piece...

1. Superstores as we know them will disappear.

I believe Barnes & Noble’s superstores will hang on for a good long while, but in ten years you won’t recognize them. Internet stores are more comprehensive than any brick-and-mortar building could hope to be. Even if B&N survives on the strength of its ebook store, the company will have to find ways to build traffic at retail, which means they will migrate to a broader selection of merchandise. What kind? Who knows? Alas, it will not be more books.

2. Independent bookstores will survive.

In cities niche bookstores may continue to thrive, places like Partners & Crime in New York and The Writers Store in Los Angeles. Also, major independents may continue to do well. But in order for this to happen they will have to go into the experience business (see my last post on “8 Predictions for the Future of Bookselling”), offering paid appearances by authors and intellectuals, live shows, classes, etc. Any store not following this impresario model will not get out of this decade alive. It will wither under the ebook onslaught.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dewey Decimal - An Endangered Species?


From a piece in the Chicago Tribune...

"I like it a lot," Rina said of the library. "You can find books easily."

Score one for the library's bookstore-style layout. And shed a tiny tear for the Dewey Decimal Classification system, long the standard in the industry.

A handful of pioneering suburban libraries are transitioning from the librarian-loved but misunderstood Dewey to the type of organization system used by booksellers. The new layout groups books by subject rather than number, uses signs to highlight contemporary, popular categories, and displays books by their covers.

Critics say the new system is a nightmare for anyone trying to find a specific book that doesn't fit into an obvious category. Supporters counter that the system does what libraries should be doing: encourage people to read more books.

David Foster Wallace - A Documentary

Endnotes: David Foster Wallace from georgelazenby on Vimeo.

Books That Rocked Your World at 16 But Fall Flat Now

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Twain Tales

How did a university, a press and a library create a bestseller, anyway? That bestseller being the much talked about autobiography of Mark Twain?

From a piece in the Chronicle for Higher Education...

The editor was in town to talk about the process of getting the Autobiography into the hands of Twain's still-adoring public—and to emphasize the role public money, in the form of financial support from the humanities endowment, helped play in making it happen. In a lecture chock-full of colorful Twain anecdotes—always a crowd-pleaser—Mr. Hirst described how Twain Project editors and graduate students spent the last five years sifting through and collating 5,000 pages of manuscript and trying to figure out how to organize it as Twain wanted.

A lot of that work involved discarding the less-than-tender ministrations of earlier editors. The Autobiography has never been published in full before—Twain wanted to make sure everybody mentioned in it would be long dead before it saw print—but sections of it have appeared over the years. According to Mr. Hirst, previous editors felt free to cross out, change, and censor some of what Twain wrote. The current editorial team, led by Harriet Elinor Smith and overseen by Mr. Hirst, had to sort out Twain's handwriting from that of various editors—sometimes four or five different sets of markings on a single page. "It's very hard to say that anyone's deletion of a comma is distinctive," Mr. Hirst told the audience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Dim Future for Marginalia

The digital age is here and no one is scribbling in books anymore.

From a piece in the New York Times...

Like many readers, Twain was engaging in marginalia, writing comments alongside passages and sometimes giving an author a piece of his mind. It is a rich literary pastime, sometimes regarded as a tool of literary archaeology, but it has an uncertain fate in a digitalized world.

“People will always find a way to annotate electronically,” said G. Thomas Tanselle, a former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor of English at Columbia University. “But there is the question of how it is going to be preserved. And that is a problem now facing collections libraries.”

These are the sorts of matters pondered by the Caxton Club, a literary group founded in 1895 by 15 Chicago bibliophiles. With the Newberry, it is sponsoring a symposium in March titled “Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell.”

The symposium will feature a new volume of 52 essays about association copies — books once owned or annotated by the authors — and ruminations about how they enhance the reading experience. The essays touch on works that connect President Lincoln and Alexander Pope; Jane Austen and William Cooper; Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.

Gym Class Helps Kids Read Better

The End of the Chain Bookstore Era

Is it?

From a piece in Off on a Tangent...

Obviously, the chain bookstore story is by no means over. Borders believes it can emerge a stronger company; publishers and other people with a vested interest are more skeptical, when Borders’ financials are a little too similar to Circuit City, which tried to emerge from Chapter 11 and ended up liquidating completely. Books-a-Million plods along, the strong, silent 3rd-largest (and never-national) retailer, piggybacking onto B&N for its e-book strategy and making do with okay-ish same-store sales.

And of course, B&N, transitioning more and more into a digital book-first company now that the proxy fight sideshow with Ron Burkle has reached a rest point. (So long as Burkle still has a significant stake in the company, I can’t say with absolute certainty that he’s out of the picture, though he has certainly been discouraged from making another run for the board.) They do stand the best chance, but it depends on whether they continue as a public company or go private.

The Dead Chipmunk

In the Believer Chris Bachelder discusses the mechanisms of jokes.

From the piece...

I. Anecdote

One day in August I went to campus to make some copies and retrieve a book from my office. My three-year-old daughter came with me as my “helper.” I had packed her a muffin and some milk, and I had promised her we would have a picnic when I finished what I had to do. After she helped me by pushing all the buttons in the elevator and spinning around fast in my swivel chair, we left the building, and I began to look for a good place for our picnic. I spotted a shady bench in a small courtyard, and I pointed the way. As we approached, however, I noticed, directly in front of the bench, a dead chipmunk splayed beneath a cloud of flies.

“Honey,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder, “let’s look for another place.” I know by now I can’t shield or distract my children from all unpleasant things, but if I had the choice, I would rather not picnic by a dead animal and answer the inevitable barrage of questions about the chipmunk’s condition.

“Why?” she asked.

“Let’s just keep looking,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

With my hand on her shoulder I managed to turn her away from the bench. “This is just not a very good spot,” I said. “How about over there?”

“Why, Dad?” she asked, trying to turn back around.

“There’s something over there,” I said, in effect rendering the bench irresistible.

“What is it?”

“It’s a chipmunk,” I said.

“Chipmunk?” She shook free from my hand and looked back toward the bench.

“Let’s go, honey,” I said. “That chipmunk is not alive.”

My daughter took a couple of steps toward the bench and stopped. Evidently she spotted the chipmunk. “Why?” she asked.

“It’s dead,” I said.

She turned back to me, her face clouded with worry. I knelt down beside her, put my hand on her head. “Let’s just go somewhere else,” I said.

“Yeah, Dad,” she said quietly. “We don’t want the dead chipmunk to eat our food.”

Zombie Sonnets


From the site...

Zombie 13

And some are children. Thin, and fierce, and fast.
It takes them quickly, and it dries them out..
The old ones moan; the small dead children shout
and yell as if in playgrounds. They'll run past

you, double back. You see their teeth
and their dead eyes, and open bloodless wounds.
Their shrieks are wordless, just unthinking sounds.
And through their wounds you see dried bone beneath.

They're many. You can fight them off. You cut
them down, and trample them. Something will break
inside you. Once you thought it for hope's sake
you went on fighting. Bitter in your gut

an acid sense, that hope has told you lies.
The future's vicious jaws and mad dead eyes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nabakov on Lolila Book Covers


A documentary about the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) and its members:

Your Borders is Closing. Now What?

Fear not. Ed Champion did a great thing. He listed independent bookstores that are within the proximity of the closing stores. Check out the list, here.

On Bibles

The Browser discusses five Bibles with Timothy Beal, Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University.

From the piece...

Your first choice is The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

I teach biblical studies at a secular university and I use this version a lot. It’s the standard critical edition for academic study, but many people use it for personal reasons. It uses the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation, which I think is among the best.

Do you mean the most accurate?

‘Accurate’ is a problematic word when talking about biblical translations. We don’t have a single original Hebrew or Greek source for anyof the books of the Bible, let alone the Bible as a whole. There are many different manuscripts. The people who produce these translations work in large committees of language and biblical scholars. Some are Christian, some are Jewish and some aren’t religious at all. They sort through the manuscript evidence and decide which texts to use and translate.

Do you understand Greek and Hebrew?

Yes, I read and translate them.

And are parts of the Bible in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke?

Some of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic. Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew and looks the same. There are some differences in vocabulary and grammatical forms. The translation committees also look at the early biblical manuscripts in other languages. For example, the apocryphal texts are in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the Syriac and Arabic versions.

Sorry, you were talking about the NRSV translation…

There’s a kind of lineage from the Geneva Bible and the King James Version to the Revised Version Bible of 1885. The Revised Standard Version is a mid-20th century revision of the Revised Version. The New Revised Standard Version was published in 1989 and has a flavour of the familiar King James English.

There are many translations out there, including ‘functional equivalent’ ones. These are where you might take a sentence, or even a whole paragraph, from the Greek and put it into modern English. It becomes extremely hard to know what’s behind it. ‘My cup runneth over’ becomes ‘you blow me away.’


Also, on the Guardian, the King James Bible is discussed, here.

Also, if you want to find a Bible that promotes adultery, look no further!

Spy Magazine

The famed satirical magazine, from the 80s and 90s, founded by Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen is now on Google Books. What's this mean? You can read all of them, here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Will My All-Time Favorite Bookstore Survive in the Digital Age?

Powell's City of Books, in Portland, is trying to make its way through the storm of the digital age.

From a piece in the Oregonian...

The nearly 40-year-old retailer, a tourist destination that requires a map for many to navigate, is defined by its 68,000 square feet of new, used and rare books. Indeed, Powell's and other independent bookstores have flourished for years thanks to their deep collections, comfy chairs, hot coffee and clerks who can almost read book hunters' minds and lead them to sought-after works.

That may not be enough anymore.

These days, bricks-and-mortar stores have become a bookseller's biggest liability.

It's simply easier and cheaper to buy books online. Shoppers often can track down titles, especially bestsellers by big-name authors, for as much as half off through electronic readers such as a Kindle, or at or They can be shipped to your front door or downloaded almost instantly on to an e-reader.

Perhaps, mused one industry expert, bookstores of the future will be showrooms, allowing shopper to thumb through pages and then download a selection.

"The Powell's model that has been so successful is really being challenged by new competitors, new technology and new shopping habits," said Tom Gillpatrick, a retail marketing professor at Portland State University.

"They need to go back and rethink that business model," he said, "otherwise it'll just be ratcheting down and down -- unless there's some huge wave of nostalgia."

Thanks to McSweeney's, Kids'll Have More Fun Now with Newspapers

Why? McSweeney's is launching a newspaper comics page for kids.

From a piece in Publishers Weekly...

In its ongoing effort to keep print journalism alive and breathing, McSweeney’s has launched ‘The Goods,’ a standalone newspaper comics and activities page it is hoping newspapers will carry. McSweeney’s is partnering with Tribune Media Services for the venture to make the page available to papers in the US and Canada. McSweeney’s will curate a new page each week, featuring a rotating cast of contributors, some of whose names will surely be familiar to McSweeney’s fans.

Cult Books That Need to Be Adapted to the Big Screen

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Do You Write Like a Man or a Woman?

Ask the Gender Genie!

Reading is Overrated

Too many people will have you believe that our very humanity resides in books, says the Guardian, and that's reading a little too much into it.

From the post...

Let's take the following, by way of almost random example, from Charles Kingsley: "Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book." Gosh. Any living man? Any book? Nothing else can compete? Flowers? Sunsets? Palladian villas? Pastrami sandwiches with extra pickles? Rubbish. One remembers Norman Mailer's definition of a "conservative" as one who, given a choice between saving the life of a man and that of a tree, will ask to view the tree and to meet the man before making his decision. You have to look at what is in front of your nose, after all. It's not too much to ask.

And then we have this, from Somerset Maugham: "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life." Well, almost all? I wonder which miseries reading is a refuge from, and which not? And if it is such an escape, are we not likely to doubt that what we were protected from was not a misery, but an inconvenience or an occasional source of bad temper? I suspect that a good definition of "misery" might well be "pain so acute that even reading will not assuage it". I'd be surprised if reading provided a "refuge" from the pains of toothache, colic, or childbirth, the deaths of loved ones, the decline into dementia, the experience of war, famine, or grinding poverty, or the relegation of Coventry City FC.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Great Gatsby for NES

Play the game, now!

The Atlantic has more on turning literature into video games, here.

Guide to Collecting Rare Books

You can find several other short informative videos, here.

Brooklyn Book Quiz

Have fun!

How Does a 20-Something from Boulder Get a Story Published in the Esteemed Paris Review?

The Daily Camera has her story.

From the piece...

When Boulder writer Alexandra Kleeman first wrote her short story, "Fairy Tale," she never expected to find it published alongside the likes of award-winning author Jonathan Franzen in the latest issue of The Paris Review.

Particularly given that she never even submitted the story to the world-renowned literary magazine, whose past contributors and interviewees include Samuel Beckett, Stephen King, Salman Rushdie, Simone de Beauvoir, Graham Greene, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, and William Burroughs, to name just a few.

"'Fairy Tale' came to us under unusual circumstances," says Lorin Stein, editor of the magazine, who last year took over the coveted post originally held by founder George Plimpton.

Boulder author Alexandra Kleeman had a story published in the winter 2010 issue of the Paris Review. "It was sent by a book editor, who happened to teach Ms. Kleeman in a class. He didn't give her name or say anything about her or the story. I believe the text of his email was simply, 'Dude.'"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Fact Checkers at the New Yorker Don't Check The Poetry, Too, Do They?


The Ten Worst Superhero Injuries of All Time

The list, care of MTV.

From the piece (character pictured above)...

Box Gets the Bends

One of the more tragic characters in comics, Roger Bochs lost his legs prior to ever appearing in Marvel’s Alpha Flight. Chronically depressed and overweight, he nevertheless attracted the attention of the beautiful but crazy Aurora, finding happiness for the first time in his life… Only to end up getting decompression sickness (a.k.a. The Bends), and ending up confined to his robotic box armor. He was eventually cured, and even given legs, but then those legs decomposed, Aurora broke up for him, he went crazy, and died. Point being, don’t get the bends.

The Fifty Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time

The list, care of Ugo.

The Shakespeare Book Snob Quiz

Have fun!