Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Do 19th Century Novels Continue to Appeal to Movie Makers?

That question was recently explored in the Guardian.

From the article...

Yet the fact that the basic narratives have been told so often makes it even more striking that these 19th-century fictions should be the stories that some of the 21st century's leading cinematic talents want to tell next.

Few admirers of the dark contemporary dramas of Andrea Arnold – Fish Tank and Red Road – would have bet on a future project being the Emily Brontë story of ghostly romance made musically famous by Kate Bush. (Although this transition has an interesting precedent: Peter Kosminsky, best known for political and topical dramas and documentaries, also made a movie of Cathy and Heathcliff's story.) And, while Mike Newell has often worked on dramatisations of novels, these have been first takes on tales by contemporary writers (Gabriel García Márquez, JK Rowling, Timothy Mo) rather than an engagement with characters as familiar as Dickens' Pip and Magwitch (Newell has cast Ralph Fiennes), who pop up in TV adaptations about as often as the Olympics.

Joe Wright's desire to direct Keira Knightley as Tolstoy's adulterous heroine is possibly less surprising – director and star have period and mock-period form in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement – but, in choosing this project, they are only a decade away from a high-profile, award-winning Channel 4/PBS mini-series.

This surge of versions is also odd because, in one crucial and possibly ruinous sense, none of these 19th-century classics is well suited to cinema.

David E. Kelley's "Wonder Woman" TV Show

The pilot wasn't picked up by NBC. Was it so bad? iFanboy reviews the show, here.

From the article...

As Wonder Woman/Diana Themyscira/Diana Prince, Adrianne Palicki was a revelation. I was already a big fan of hers from Friday Night Lights but here she takes center stage and pulls off what is an extremely difficult role. She’s tough, she’s charming, she’s sexy, she’s vulnerable, and she’s got a little bit of an angry edge to her when she’s Wonder Woman that adds just a dash of exciting unpredictability. This could have been a star making turn for Padlicki who certainly deserves one.

The Wonder Woman on this show is a badass who is not above choking dudes with her lasso (her favorite move) or throwing a piece of pipe through your throat if you won’t stop shooting at her. For a weekly television show, the action scenes were fairly well executed and at times quite thrilling. The whole final sequence where she storms Veronica Cale’s compound and decimates her ‘roided out super-soldier army is really fun to watch.

Best Film Adaptations from Books

The list, care of the Daily Beast.

Greek Mythology - The Latest Trend in YA Literature

So says the Los Angeles Times recently in reviewing a couple Greek myth-based stories.

From the piece...

America seems to be a good place for Greek gods these days. Chiron, the centaur who taught Hercules and countless demigod heroes of legend, explains the migration of the Greek pantheon like this in the first Percy Jackson book: "The gods simply moved.… Like it or not — and believe me, plenty of people weren't very fond of Rome, either — America is now the heart of the flame."

Whereas Riordan located the entrance to Hades' Underworld beneath a recording studio in Los Angeles, Meg Cabot locates it under a cemetery in the Florida Keys. Based on the myth of Persephone, "Abandon" (Scholastic/Point: $17.99 ages 14 and up) asks the question: What if Death and his mistress were American teenagers? The push-pull of attraction and resistance being a key element in the discovery of sexuality, there is a fantastic romantic premise in the story of a girl who is kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld but refuses to be his consort.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Write to Freedom

Can prose stop young prisoners reoffending? The founder of a groundbreaking scheme reveals how writing can lead to rehabilitation for young offenders and talks to four inmates with whom he works in the Guardian.

From the piece...

Over the years, I've refined a programme tailored to suit the needs of "kids like me", with an emphasis on writing. During this time, I've pursued my career as a writer of plays and books. My prison writing programme is successful because I've been through much the same experience as the young people I work with. I know what it's like to be locked up, rejected by friends, family and society, and I know that it's possible, with a lot of hard graft, to turn your life around. My main focus is on pre- and post-release support, using writing and one-to-one mentoring to help prisoners stay out of trouble and support them – I hope – into a meaningful and productive life. My team and I present positive role models, something I severely lacked as a young adult.

The scale of our project is currently small; we work in several prisons in and around the south-west and Wales. We see roughly 15 to 20 prisoners every month. I have recently established a charity, Write to Freedom, and, funding permitting, this autumn will see the start of the Write to Freedom year-long wilderness and writing course based on Dartmoor. This course will involve four weekends focused on helping young people with the transition into adulthood. When their year is complete, students will be invited to apply for the staff training course, which can lead to paid work within Write to Freedom as well as help them with other careers.

Is Great Literature Possible in an E-Book World?

That's the question posed by "Super Agent" Andrew Wylie in the Wall Street Journal.

From the story...

I think most of the best-sellers list is the literary equivalent of daytime television. This is a world in which Danielle Steel is mysteriously more valuable than Shakespeare. Now, she may be more valuable than Shakespeare for a period of days, months or even years, in purely economic terms. But over time? We have the Royal Shakespeare Company's collection of Shakespeare works, which pays a royalty each year, a strong royalty. So the business we're in is to identify and capture and anticipate the value of books that are inherently classics, future classics. If publishers did the same there would be less of the wild weekend in Las Vegas approach to acquisition that distinguishes the industry and its decline.

Things are generally tough and getting tougher across the industry. In the U.S., publishers are continuing to pay advances at pretty much the same level as five years ago, but they've reduced the number of high bets they're making. This is a trend that should be encouraged. The front list is overvalued and the backlist is overvalued.

250 Books By Women Every Man Should Read

The list, care of Joyland.

Publishers' Bindings Online


From the website...

In September 2003, The University of Alabama, University Libraries, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, received an IMLS National Leadership grant to create the digital resource, Publishers' Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books (PBO).

All academic libraries have within their holdings books bound in 19th century decorative bindings. These materials are significant in their place within the fabric of American history and culture, but efforts to present these bindings in a collection that is representative of the era as a whole and to make them available virtually, via the World Wide Web have been limited.

PBO, a significant digital collection of decorative bindings, along with a comprehensive glossary and guide to the elements of these objects, will strengthen the growing interest in and create broader awareness for this “common” object called the book.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

18 Cool Bookshelves

The list, care of Neatorama.

Do Rare Books Appreciate in Value?

That's the question posed recently on the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers website.

From the piece...

2) What does the value of a book depend on? And what leads to an appreciation in value?

Many factors dictate the value of a book, but the four basic variables are edition, condition, scarcity, and desirability. For most titles, the first printing of the first edition of the book is generally the most desirable, often by so wide a margin that nothing but the first printing has any value as a collectible. This is partly because most books have a smaller first printing than their subsequent printings, partly because in many cases the first printing is closest to the author’s desired text (republished editions are more likely to be edited by someone else), and partly because historically this is what the book collecting market wants.

In addition, most collectors desire copies of books that are as close to the original condition of the book when it was first offered for sale. They often pay considerable premiums for copies that are considered in “fine” condition, particularly if such copies are difficult to obtain, and if the condition of the book has not been restored or repaired. Some books, such as the latest releases by bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling, have very large first edition printings and such books will never be sufficiently scarce to be collectible, even in fine condition (excluding books signed by the author or otherwise special copies). But other books, such as J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, had very small first edition printings and copies are quite difficult to find. Scarcity is not only determined by the size of the first printing, but also by how many copies survive. For example, the first edition of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick did not sell very well and it languished in literary obscurity for several generations before it was widely accepted as a classic in the early 20th Century. To add injury to insult, 272 copies of the first edition were destroyed in a warehouse fire. So, relatively few of the originally printed copies survive, and the book is scarce.

All the preceding variables (edition, condition, and scarcity) can be in alignment, but if the book is not one that many people care about, or at least two people are willing to compete for, the book will have little value. Conversely, there might be many copies of a first edition, but if a great number of people of means are willing to compete for them, then that book can have substantial market value. Some books, such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, had very large first printings but copies of the first edition are nevertheless expensive because there is still a greater demand for nice copies of the first edition than there is a supply.

In addition to the four basic variables already mentioned, there is a fifth variable, association, which distinguishes the most exceptional copies. An association copy is one that was presented to or owned by someone whose life or work has bearing on the author and the author’s work. A copy presented by the author to his parents, spouse, or mentor would be such a copy. These copies often appreciate at a much higher rate than other signed copies.

Many books see a slow but steady rate of appreciation in value – these tend to be works which are to some extent canonical in either academia or popular culture. The American novelist William Faulkner, for example, is now routinely taught in American high school and college courses, and probably always will be. Thus a large number of literate people, some small percentage of whom may become book collectors, are exposed to his work in their schooling. To give another example, the children’s book The Wizard of Oz was the beginning of a popular book series and then made into a film which is viewed every year by millions of children on television. The characters of the book have entered popular culture and so, even if the book series is not as widely read as it once was, the book itself will always be very collectible.

From time to time a few books and authors have a quick and significant rise in desirability, which creates a commensurate rise in value. The American writer Cormac McCarthy, for example, has been publishing novels since the mid-1960s. But he was not well known until the 1990s, when his books started to hit the best-seller lists, were adapted into films, and won major awards. Any one of these three changes (best-sellers, film adaptations, major awards) is likely to increase interest in an author’s works, raise the desirability of collectible copies, and so raise the values. In the case of McCarthy, before 1990 most of his first editions could be purchased quite easily for under $100, whereas after 1990 they cost several hundred and now many are several thousand dollars.

What's Superman's Stance on the Death Penalty?

That's a question recently posed by a professor in Oklahoma.

From a story in the Oklahoman...

DiPaolo’s book is about how superheroes in comics and film can be a mirror to the politics of their time.

In his chapter on Superman, DiPaolo writes how the Superman radio show used leaks from a human-rights activist to inform a story about Superman battling the Ku Klux Klan.

In the 1940s radio serial, “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” the radio show revealed tactics and secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, discovered by activist Stetson Kennedy in his undercover investigation.

“While ‘The Adventures of Superman’ radio serial has significance for fans of the character for introducing both boy photographer Jimmy Olsen and the radioactive rock Kryptonite — the only thing that can harm the invincible Superman — the ‘Clan of the Fiery Cross’ is definitely that radio show’s finest hour,” DiPaolo writes in his book.

With chapters on Wonder Woman as a feminist icon, the X-Men and civil rights, and President Barack Obama as a comic book character in his own right, DiPaolo covers multiple characters and companies.

“A lot of times comics are their most dynamic when there’s a war going on or there’s a very divisive president,” DiPaolo said. “Any time there’s a big cultural fear — a big recession, a big war — comics get very interesting.

Caught Telling Fiction

The gap between literary and historical fiction is mostly a marketing ploy—at least until a novelist meets a survivor of her story’s plot. For the Morning News, Jessica Francis Kane argues for the truth of novels.

From the post...

My first novel is labeled as and widely considered to be historical fiction, but I can honestly say I never thought of it that way, not in all the years it took me to write it.

Although it is based on a historical event, it was not until after the events of 9/11 that I began to think the accident at Bethnal Green might be something I could write a story about. I was thinking a great deal then about disasters, about communal loss, about how we attempt to publicly reckon and eventually commemorate tragedy. I was following in the press the demands for an independent investigation into 9/11, and as I wondered what would happen, I found myself pulling out my notes on Bethnal Green. It seemed to me there were parallels: A community had been deeply shocked and wanted an official investigation to tell it what had happened. Though the scale of the tragedies is different, in both instances a great deal of hope—for explanation, reform, even redemption—was placed in the inquiry and report-writing process. That is what interested me. The inspiration was always contemporary.

I find it hard to define exactly the difference between fiction and historical fiction. When is the cutoff date? Who decides? Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, published in 1951, is set during WWII but is not generally described as historical fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, published in 2006, is based on political events in 1960s Nigeria, but is referred to as historical fiction. In the simplest terms, let me say that there seem to be books about which one is compelled to use the terms “epic,” “sweeping,” “grand”—dare I say, “historical.” Let’s put The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer in this category, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Then there are books that are arguably “historically imagined” (a term I prefer) about which one would not necessarily use those words. Here I would put Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and almost everything by Penelope Fitzgerald, including The Beginning of Spring (my favorite).

I always wanted my novel to be in the latter category.

What Does it Mean to Be a Bestseller, Anyway?

American bestsellers are discussed on Bookforum.

From the piece...

The term best seller has always been a misnomer. Fast seller would be more appropriate, since the pace of sales matters as much as the quantity. The first list of books "in order of demand" was created in 1895 by Harry Thurston Peck, editor of the trade magazine The Bookman. Publishers Weekly started its own list in 1912, but others were slow to follow: The New York Times did not create its best-seller list until 1942. Now, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today also compile national lists, and each of the major regional papers has its own—all generated in slightly different ways. The Times bases its list on sales reports from around four thousand booksellers, which it declines to name (a column by the paper's public editor a few years ago said only that they change constantly). The Wall Street Journal used to track only sales in major chain stores but now bases its rankings on data from Nielsen BookScan, an authoritative industry source that includes as many as three-quarters of the nation's bookstores, around eleven thousand. IndieBound surveys only independent bookstores. Amazon.com offers its own list, updated every hour, but—like all the others—it is based on orders, not actual sales (since returns are not taken into account). Thus a writer with a carefully timed marketing blitz can push his book to a relatively high Amazon ranking for a day or so, allowing him to claim that it was, say, a "top ten Amazon best seller." The system's vulnerability to manipulation has resulted in the perception that, as Eliza Truitt wrote in Slate, the term best seller on the cover of a book means "about as much as the phrase 'original recipe' does on a jar of spaghetti sauce."

From the start, Peck seems to have had mixed feelings about the arbitrariness of the mechanism he had chosen to anoint books. "The period during which a popular novel enjoys favor is growing shorter all the time nowadays," he wrote in 1902, lamenting "the flood of fiction that is being placed upon the market and vigorously promoted practically every month in the year." While there has never been a defined threshold for making it onto the list—there is no guarantee that a book will be a top ten best seller if it sells fifty thousand copies, one hundred thousand, or even five hundred thousand—both the level and the pace of sales have increased exponentially. (For the sake of simplicity, the statistics in this essay are drawn mainly from the annual ranking of hardcover fiction by Publishers Weekly, which is the most comprehensive historical source.) During the list's first few decades, No. 1 best sellers typically sold about a quarter million copies in the first year after their release. The first superseller, the picaresque novel Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen (1933), sold six hundred thousand copies over its first four years. Its record was promptly beaten by Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (1936), the first book to sell one million copies in a single year. In 1956, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious—still one of the best-selling novels of all time—sold sixty thousand copies within ten days of its publication: It was at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for fifty-nine weeks. Now, each of the top five novels easily sells one million copies in hardcover. The best-selling novel of 2010, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson, sold nearly two million copies last year.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seven Years as a Freelance Writer

There's a great little essay on The Awl by Richard Morgan about the trials and tribulations of freelance writing.

From the piece...

Even before I attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, I was writing features for Details that were being debated on "The O'Reilly Factor." I wrote one of the rare freelanced cover stories for the New York Daily News —a school scandal I had pitched to the New York Times only to be told never ever to use the word "scandal" in my pitch (they ended up chasing the story the next day; it took two reporters to re-report my story). I went to the Turkish countryside to write about a 600-year-old Turkish olive-oil wrestling tournament for ESPN. I lived at a research station in the Alaskan Arctic for the Times. I went to Peru for National Geographic. I went to keggers at New York magazine and went to parties with Sigur Ros and the cast of "Saturday Night Live." (Note: not the same party.) I was part of Topic, a genuinely cool-if-a-bit-precious "nonfiction literary journal" in Brooklyn. And I'm part of a new magazine, about videogame culture, called Kill Screen. Passion projects!

There's a lot of good times in freelancing! I had a bet with a Times reporter about who could get the phrase "that's how we roll, yo" in the paper without quotes; I won (though somewhat on a technicality), with an essay that, upon submission, got my editor to come over to me and give me an actual explicit compliment. I wrote about men in a wet T-shirt contest for the Wall Street Journal and got a gay male porn mention (with photo!) in Playboy. State attorneys general in California, Connecticut and New Jersey launched investigations into a shady business after I wrote a story about it in the Times. I wrote crazy opening sentences about boobies and gay Jews in a paper that prides itself on running "all the news that's fit to print." I was called "a great interviewer" by Dan Rather. I won awards. I was on television. There was just one day in all these seven years that I had an actual job, at Gawker; I quit after the first day, an event that ended up becoming good anecdote for someone else's story in the Sunday Times. I get invited back to my journalism school to speak to the class about "how to be a successful freelancer" and "the art of freelancing."

I once got paid $100 a word.

What's more, I did this all from my $875-a-month-Craigslisted apartment in the West Village, where I've lived for the past five years, mostly spending my days watching television, napping, noshing, strolling around, seeing matinees, playing The Sims, having sex and getting intoxicated.

That sounds like success, right? It may or may not be. Decide after reading.

Stop Using Em Dashes - Seriously

This, according to a recent post on Slate.

What American Cities Have the Most Readers?

These ones.

The Case for Self-Publishing

The great Neal Pollack makes it in the New York Times.

From the piece...

In addition to a great many bad books lost to the sands of time, there’s also a long history of successful self-published authors getting big deals with major houses. Today, though, self-publication crackles with possibility as never before. Witness the March news that the thriller author Barry Eisler had backed out of a half-million-dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press, his new publisher. He’d decided that he could, over time, make more money publishing without their help. Conversely, young Amanda Hocking, she of the vast success generated from self-publishing nine e-books, accepted a seven-figure advance from St. Martin’s, the same publisher that had just lost Eisler. Hocking issued a sassy statement that she was tired of answering e-mails all the time and just wanted to write. One way or another, it suddenly seemed that self-publishing was the key to infinite auctorial riches.

It’s unlikely that such riches will reach me, but I’ve decided to give self-publishing a try myself. It seems to be what the kids and Barry Eisler are doing. Within a month or so, I’ll finish the first draft of a short novel. Sometime soon after, I plan to release it as an e-book, and there may be a limited-edition print run. We’ll see what happens from there.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to a first-time author. A self-published book is almost certainly going to end up on the digital slush pile, with fewer readers than the average blog post. But for a writer like me, which is to say, most working writers — midcareer, midlist, middle-aged, more or less middlebrow, and somewhat Internet savvy — self-publishing seems to make a lot of sense at this point. Early in my career, because of some lucky breaks and a kinder economy, I was able to get advances that helped me support my family over the months it took to write a book. I haven’t been a huge best seller, and I’ve never seen a residual check except for an independently published book of crime stories that I edited, and that was only because I got nothing up front. But I’ve built a modest audience and a name. Now that the advances are smaller and the technology is available, why not start appealing directly to those readers?

75 Books Every Man Should Read

The list, care of Esquire.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lost E.E. Cummings Poem Found

From the piece on The Awl...

One day last year, while working on a biography of the publisher Scofield Thayer, I opened a folder of papers related to his magazine The Dial. The folder contained undated letters from the poet E.E. Cummings to Thayer, early versions of a couple Cummings’ poems and one poem by Cummings I couldn’t remember ever seeing before. It was called "(tonite" and, until I came across it, it was unknown. Evidence suggests that the poem was sent sometime around 1916, when Cummings was embarking on his career as a poet and artist. At this time the two men had known each other for about three years. Their friendship, which would last until Thayer succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia a decade later, was based largely on a shared passion for art and literature. Cummings benefited most from the relationship, as the wealthy Thayer gave Cummings money to write and paint, launched his career with publication in The Dial, and blithely assented to Cummings romancing, bedding (and, as it happened, impregnating) his beautiful wife.

Self-Appointed Superhero Doing Good in Wenatchee

Deadpool is here to help.

From an article in the Wenatchee World...

Pay attention, Wenatchee. You have a superhero. Deadpool is walking the streets, dressed in a mask and body suit to look like the fictional Marvel comic book character by the same name.

Marvel’s Deadpool is an anti-hero and a mercenary. Wenatchee’s Deadpool said he chose his character “because I allied with his humor and his ideal that what once was bad can become something better and good. .... And not his outlook on heroism or his methods.” Deadpool has been putting up flyers around town so people know what he’s up to and won’t be alarmed when he rushes to help them. He asks anyone who needs help with just about anything to contact him via email at ncwdeadpool@hotmail.com.

The First Edible Magazine Ad?

Quite possibly.

Everyone's Talking about Ayn Rand

A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, a BBC documentary and the support of rightwing economists have put the philosopher-novelist back in the news.

From a story in the Guardian...

Ayn Rand's gospel of unadulterated laissez-faire capitalism seems to be gaining popularity among a new generation of followers.

It may not come as a surprise that the Tea Party movement in the US is using Rand, the Russian-American who developed a philosophical system called Objectivism, as a posthumous poster girl for lower taxes, with banners reading "I am John Galt" – a reference to the idealised hero of her 1957 magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. Or that elaborate public talks on her radical philosophy are being sponsored by the economically rightwing Adam Smith Institute in London. But this week she also surfaced in popular culture with a starring role on BBC2 in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, the documentary by Adam Curtis.

Speaking Out Against Censorship

Publishers Weekly takes note of a recent panel that provided an update about book banning in America.

From the piece...

Book banning involves “not just books you might expect,” Bertin said. “Those books considered edgy, because they talk about vaginas or penises; but also books you might not expect.” She then read down a list of fiction and nonfiction titles considered classics. Dictionaries that include images of the human body have been censored recently, she noted. The National Coalition Against Censorship has been receiving reports of books assigned at every grade level from kindergarten to high schools being banned.

“We’re seeing more complaints about high school AP classes,” she commented. Book banning has also been a growing problem in school’s gifted student programs, with panelist Pat Scales saying that “on the one hand, they want to push their kids, and on the other hand, they want to label the books, blame the books.”

Robie Harris, a children’s book writer who has written 25 books for children about their bodies, including It’s Perfectly Normal, It’s So Amazing!, and It’s Not the Stork! was described by Bertin as a frequent target for book banning. “She must be doing something right,” Bertin said. “We get lots of complaints about her,” prompting Harris to assert that writers aren’t the real heroes, it’s librarians who are the heroes. “They’re on the front lines, while we’re safe, sitting behind our computers,” she said.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Publishers as Partners in Literacy

The New York Times discusses how publishers are assisting in literacy efforts.

From the post...

There is nothing about reducing the price of books that competes with promoting the use of libraries; these efforts are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary. What is important to note, however, is that new books can be particularly powerful, especially for children who don’t grow up taking books for granted. Elise from Jackson, Miss. (8), who teaches in a Title I school, observed: “While … used-book donations and swaps are great ways to increase access to books for low-income families, I do think there is something special about a brand-new book that kids, especially, get excited about.”

That’s the experience of Martha Bernadett, who founded the Molina Foundation, based in Los Angeles, which has distributed more than 2.5 million books — more than a million of which were acquired through First Book’s book bank and marketplace — to schools, libraries, hospitals, after school programs, and even local medical and dental clinics. “My parents taught me, ‘Don’t ask people to come to you. Go to where they are,’ ” explained Bernadett. The foundation switched from using book drives to using First Book because donations were so inefficient, and because low-income children responded so powerfully to new books.

“There is a self-worth issue that’s important,” says Bernadett. “When a child receives a new book, it not only creates a value for the book, but the recipient also feels more valued.” Bernadett suggested that it’s difficult for some Americans to appreciate the depths of poverty that persist in the country. She recalled meeting a young boy who had been given the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” and had fallen in love with it. “He asked if he could keep it at school,” she recalled. “We learned that his family was living in their car. The teacher told us that he read it again and again at school.”

Bukowski Rarities Go to Auction

Fine Books & Collections Magazine highlights Charles Bukowski items up for auction.

What's It Like for a Woman To Write in a Man's Point of View?

Ask Kate Christensen

Top Shelf Cookbooks Picked By Top Chefs

Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Sat Bains and Simon Rogan reveal the books they couldn't be without in the Guardian.

The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook

Comics Alliance goes into the kitchen with Spider-Man.

From the post...

A while back, ComicsAlliance brought you a look back at the 1976 Mighty Marvel Strength & Fitness Book, in which the kids of the '70s were invited to slim down with exercises like the "Torchie Twist." It's hardly the only strange piece of strange Marvel ephemera from the era, though, and apparently it did its job so well that by the next year, it was time to fatten up those kids all over again with The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Cookbook!

Featuring the art of Joe Giella -- who also illustrated Strength & Fitness and who currently handles art chores on the meddlesome Mary Worth -- the Mighty Marvel Cookbook features pages upon pages of recipes that are only vaguely tied into the super-heroes. A lot of them actually look pretty tasty, but there are plenty that are extremely dubious. I mean, writing a cookbook for kids is one thing, but when you count "make a sandwich" as a recipe, you've crossed the line into sheer insanity.

Things start to go south for the cookbook right off the bat in the breakfast section, with the Spider-Man inspired Chocolate Web Pancakes.

Rare Books Education

Want to learn more about rare books? Fine Books Magazine is here to help.

From a post on their blog...

Are you one of those people who have always been intrigued by the idea of collecting old and rare books but who doesn't know enough about such things to even know where to start? Are you someone who finds the career of antiquarian bookseller intriguing but mysterious? Are you someone who really loves books and just wants to know more about them?

Yes? I, too, was, until a few years ago, a person just like you. I've often lamented the fact that there was no major in college for antiquarian books. Sure, there's the much more general and all encompassing "English" major, but other than teaching one to appreciate and analyze literature and how to write well, it really doesn't do the trick for those of us who love the smell of leather bindings or who want to know about how paper is made and what printing processes were used in the 18th century.

I am a firm subscriber to the belief that it's never too late to learn. And, as my endeavor to become an antiquarian bookseller proves, indeed it's not.

Top Ten Outsiders' Stories

The list, care of the Guardian.

The Alphabet Building of Amsterdam


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The King and I

Jessica Winter has a quest to build the perfect production of Shakespeare's King Lear.

From an article on Slate...

Thackeray found King Lear boring. Tolstoy was no great fan. Samuel Johnson dreaded rereading the play—he recoiled from the death of Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia. (Johnson preferred playwright Nahum Tate's sentimental rewrite of Lear, published in 1681, which inserted a happy ending and supplanted Shakespeare's version onstage for more than a century.) Nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb declared that staging Lear "has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting," concluding, "The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted." Nearly two centuries later, Harold Bloom concurred: "You shouldn't even go and see somebody try and act the part," the scholar said, "because it's unactable… I've never seen a Lear that worked." Beginning with a vain, irrational king rejecting both his favorite child and his most faithful servant on a whim, ending with a mad, uncrowned derelict dying of a broken heart—with a detour wherein another foolish old man's eyes are gouged out—King Lear is a shocking spectacle of two families eating themselves alive.

Ten Greatest Superhero Dogs

The list, care of io9.

The Return of the Scots Language

In an independent Scotland, might Scots become the official national tongue? That's the question recently posed by the Guardian.

From the article...

In the middle ages, Scots – the language of makars, or poets, including Robert Henryson and Gavin Douglas – was one of the great literary languages of Europe. But closer ties with England eroded confidence in it: the intellectuals of 18th-century Edinburgh, including David Hume, sought to remove "Scotticisms" from their writing and speech.

The reversal of this process, championed by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid and continued by the current Scots makar, or poet laureate, Liz Lochhead, has now been taken up by policymakers. After a 2010 survey revealed that a majority of Scotland's population still speak Scots, and want it taught in schools, the SNP committed to follow recommendations from an advisory group led by pro-Scots scholar J Derrick McClure. McClure envisions an independent Scotland in which Scots is as different from English as Swiss German from German, and English tourists pack phrasebooks alongside the midge spray and cagoules.

So is the promotion of Scots an act of preservation or revivalism?

Indie Bookstores vs. Amazon

Are independent booksellers making a comeback?

From a piece in Forbes...

Amazon made headlines recently, reporting that its customers are purchasing more Kindle books than all print books, both hardcover and paperback, combined.

There were a few raised eyebrows about its number-crunching (helloo Amazon, breaking out the different categories according to their sales revenues would have been more telling), but all in all it was a striking announcement. E-books as a trend, it seems, is firmly entrenched and will only deepen as more e-readers come to market and the devices drop lower and lower in price.

That is all right with Jeff Mayersohn, owner of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass. An independent book store not associated with the eponymous and, of course, quite famous university across the street, has carved out its own niche in the e-book market. What’s more, he tells Selling It, in some ways the bookstore has a competitive advantage over Amazon, at least locally.

“People can come into the bookstore and can get a book printed within four minutes. We also deliver books by bicycle. So in essence we have our own local manufacturing and distribution operation that, in some cases, they would have a difficult time matching.”

The Power of Metaphors

Just a few well-placed words can change the way we think about serious issues. So says Psychology Today.

From the article...

Let's say that we are comparing cities we have visited or would like to visit, and I mention one that I have not yet been to but you have. You say, "It's a massive, stinking cesspool filled with garbage and crawling with every form of filth imaginable." Immediately my mind conjures an image of a filthy retention pond covered with scum, loaded with trash, and lousy with rats and roaches.

How close the metaphor you have chosen is to actually describing the city is debatable, but in the few minutes we are speaking this doesn't really matter. What matters is that you have provided the metaphorical rudiments for me to construct an image that is now schematically associated with the city in my mind. One day I may visit that city and determine that your metaphor was inaccurate, or I may conclude that it was dead on right. Until then--or until I come across information that contradicts or verifies your description--the image will be there. And even after that, I'll find removing that image from my mind very difficult.

That is the power of metaphor -- a power so subtle we barely notice how much it impacts our thinking.

The Bronte Sisters - Science Fiction Writers?


From a piece on Flavorwire...

Did you realize that the Brontë sisters (and their brother, Branwell) wrote fantasy stories about a group of imaginary countries called the Glass Town Federation back when they were kids? Neither did we. Branwell and Charlotte invented the kingdom of Angria, while the younger two, Emily and Anne, created a world called Gondal. The resulting sagas, hand-written in incredibly tiny script, featured a mix of fictional and real-life characters, like the Duke of Wellington.

“The Brontës are well known authors with no apparent association with science fiction but their tiny manuscript books, held at the British Library, are one of the first examples of fan fiction, using favoritism characters and settings in the same way as science fiction and fantasy fans now play in the detailed imaginary ‘universes’ of Star Trek or Harry Potter,” explains Andy Sawyer, guest curator of the British Library’s Out of this World: Science Fiction exhibition. “While the sense of fantasy is strong, there are teasing examples of what might be called the beginnings of science fiction.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Even Though Michael Crichton Is Dead, It Doesn't Mean He Can't Still Be Publishing Books

Micro is coming even though he only had written a 1/3 of it before he died.

From an article in the USA Today...

Publisher HarperCollins has announced that a new novel from Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton with help by Richard Preston will be out in November. The publisher describes the posthumous Micro as "a high concept thriller in the vein of Jurassic Park."

Crichton, who died in 2008 after a battle with cancer, had written one-third of Micro, a thriller about a biotech company in Hawaii and graduate students who end up stranded in a rain forest. Preston, known for his best-selling nonfiction work about the Ebola virus, The Hot Zone, turned to the late author's outline, reference materials and notes to complete the book.

The Oprah Effect

How did Oprah influence book publishing during her reign as a talk show host? Plenty.

From an article in the USA Today...

It began Sept. 17, 1996, with Winfrey's announcement that The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel about the kidnapping of a child, was the club's first selection.

Fordham University marketing professor Al Greco estimates that sales of "Oprah editions" of the 70 titles in her book club total about 55 million copies, "and there wasn't a James Patterson or a John Grisham among them."

Winfrey's critics cringed after some touchy-feely selections and after discussions that were more about the readers than the books they read. But no one doubted her power as the ultimate in word-of-mouth recommendations. It's called the Oprah Effect.

An Open Letter to Writers of Open Letters

The Morning News takes down open letter writers.

From the post...

We need to have a talk, under the illusion of its taking place in private but actually for anyone to read. Also, the talk will be unilateral and you will never respond to it. Ready? It doesn’t matter, because I’m not listening to you!

The practice of writing open letters must stop. Sure, it was a creative epistolary form back in the days of the Bible, and was used effectively throughout history by such figures as Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, and Luther Vandross.

But now every Tom, Dick, and Luther with internet access can write an open letter for potentially everyone to read, and most of our discourse is already public (I actually originated that last phrase in 1996, which is no. 8 on my list of 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me, just after no. 7—“I murdered a man in Laos on 6/19/2002 and have never been apprehended!”)

Top Ten Books Set in London

The list, care of the Guardian.

A Pop-Up Book with Exquisite Sentimental Beauty

Booktryst revels in an old pop-up book.

From the post...

Mister Nister was a printer and publisher based in Nuremberg, Germany. He established a London office in 1888 under the direction of the writer Robert Ellice Mack and, specializing in children's literature, soon issued pop-up, movable, transformation, and panorama books, as well as standard children's fare, operating until c. 1917.

"Though primarily involved with his successful color-printing business, publisher and printer Ernest Nister (1842-1909) specialized in colored toy and movable picture books. Operating in both Nuremberg and London in the 1890s, this entrepreneur developed a distinctive style firmly lodged within nineteenth-century aesthetics.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Film on Paper

For movie poster buffs, you're in luck.

From the introduction to the site...

After two years of preparation, I am very proud and excited (and a bit nervous) to finally reveal this personal project to the world. Film on Paper was created because I decided I wanted to photograph my collection of original film posters and share them with a wider audience. The site represents 17 years worth of collecting and features posters from all genres as well as several countries, multiple sizes and various formats.

The Greatest Dinosaurs in Comic Books

The list, care of Comics Alliance.

Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Print Books

'Tis true.

From an article in the Los Angeles Times...

In a major e-book news, Amazon.com announced Thursday that it now consistently sells more Kindle e-books than print books.

Since April 1 of this year, Amazon sold 105 Kindle e-books for every 100 print books sold, hardcover and paperback combined.

Kindle e-book sales, which do not include Amazon's popular free e-book downloads, have been bolstered by the popularity of the newest, cheapest Kindle. The company says the $114 Kindle -- whose price is low because it includes advertising -- is the bestselling Kindle ever.

Fonts That Could Have Been Great

Salon highlights the lowlights of 23 failing fonts.

Hot Dystopic

The new Los Angeles Review of Books continues to provide readers with swell essay most every day. This time - Jeffrey Wasserstrom discusses the dystopian worlds of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

From the article...

The long-standing Huxley vs. Orwell debate got a 21st century New Media makeover in 2009, courtesy of cartoonist Stuart McMillen. In May of that year, he published an online comic entitled “Amusing Ourselves to Death” that quickly went viral. At the top of this strip, which has been tweeted and re-tweeted many times and can now be found posted on scores of websites, we see caricatures of the two authors above their names and the respective titles of their best-known novels. Below that comes a series of couplet-like contrastive statements, accompanied by illustrations. The top couplet reads: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books; What Huxley feared was that there would be no need to ban a book, for there would be no one who would want to read one.” The first statement is paired with a picture of a censorship committee behind a desk, with a one-man “Internet Filter Department” off to one side, a wastebasket for banned books off to the other. The illustration for the second statement shows a family of couch potatoes waiting for The Biggest Loser to return after a word from its sponsors.

McMillen’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” might best be called an homage, or perhaps a reboot, for the lines in it all come straight from media theorist Neil Postman’s influential 1985 book of the same title, which made the case for Huxley’s famous 1932 novel being a superior guide to the era of television than Orwell’s from 1949. But Postman himself was far from the first to play the Huxley vs. Orwell game. The tradition of comparing and contrasting Huxley and Orwell goes back to, well, Huxley and Orwell, two writers who — though this is not mentioned as often as one might expect — knew one another from Eton, where Orwell was Huxley’s pupil in the 1910s.

Orwell had not yet written 1984 when he first questioned his former teacher’s prescience. In the early 1940s, a reader of his newspaper column solicited Orwell’s opinion of the danger that consumerism and the pursuit of pleasure posed to society. Orwell replied that, in his view, the time to worry about Brave New World scenarios had passed, for hedonism and “vulgar materialism” were no longer the great threat they once had been.

In October 1949, just a few months after Orwell published 1984 (a work that presumably spelled out the more pressing threats he had in mind), Huxley wrote to his former pupil to make the opposite point. Orwell’s book impressed him, he said, but he did not find it completely convincing, because he continued to think, as he had when crafting Brave New Word, that the elites of the future would find “less arduous” strategies for satisfying their “lust for power” than the “boot-on-the-face” technique described in 1984.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Top Ten Jazz Books

Reggie Nadelson's list, care of the Guardian.

The Tao of Travel

In a new book, The Tao of Travel, Paul Theroux has distilled his experience as a traveller and reader. From the Telegraph, he considers great feats – from swimming the Panama Canal to riding through the Americas – that have given rise to memorable books.

From the piece...

There is a strong urge to conquer the dreadful forces of nature, and perhaps to get consciousness of ourselves, of life, and of the shadowy workings of our human minds. Physical capacity is the only limit. I have tried to tell how, and when, and where. But why? That is a mystery.”

Maybe there is an answer. When I was preparing to write the introduction to the American edition of Alone, Gérard d’Aboville’s account of his single-handed journey rowing across the Pacific, I pressed d’Aboville on his reasons for making this dangerous voyage. He became silent. After a long while he said, “Only an animal does useful things. An animal gets food, finds a place to sleep, tries to keep comfortable. But I wanted to do something that was not useful – not like an animal at all. Something only a human being would do.”

What separates some feats from others is the way the tale is told. Sir Richard Burton’s book about how he, an infidel, travelled to Mecca in disguise is a classic.

Irish Book Covers of the 1930s