Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm a Writer, You Monsters!

What Happened in the Final Hours of Poet Frederico Garcia Lorca?

A historian claims to know.

From a piece in the Guardian...

One of the great mysteries of Spain's recent history may have been solved by a local historian from the southern city of Granada, who claims to have found the real grave of the executed playwright and poet Federico García Lorca.

Miguel Caballero Pérez spent three years sifting through police and military archives to piece together the last 13 hours of the life of the author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who was shot by a right-wing firing squad early in the Spanish civil war.

He now claims to have identified the half-dozen career policemen and volunteers who formed the firing squad that shot Lorca and three other prisoners, as well as the burial site. And he blames Lorca's death on the long-running political and business rivalry between some of Granada's wealthiest families – including his father's own García clan.

"I decided to research archive material rather than gather more oral testimony because that is where the existing confusion comes from – with so many supposed witnesses inventing things," explained Caballero, who has published his results in a Spanish book called The Last 13 Hours of García Lorca.

Art That Speaks Volumes

Web Urbanist revels in artists who use books as their medium.

The HIgh School Yearbook Going the Way of the Dodo?

No, say it isn't so. Say your best friend won't be able to write "Have a great summer! Don't ever change!"

From an article in CNN Money...

As graduation day arrives, students will say goodbye to their classmates and teachers. And many are departing without a traditional yearbook to preserve those memories.

State budget cuts and the weak economy are causing elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country to either do away with yearbooks or look for more cost-effective publishing options.

Research firm IBISWorld estimates that the traditional yearbook publishing industry has seen sales to schools decline by 4.7% a year over the past few years.

The decline has come as both public and private schools struggling with insufficient funding put their limited resources toward areas like staffing instead publishing yearbooks -- many of which go unsold, especially in recent years as disposable incomes have suffered.

"Our country is handing out pink slips to teachers right and left, and if it comes down to teachers versus yearbooks, yearbooks are going to lose," said Marc Strohlein, principal at consulting firm Agile Business Logic.

Top Ten Historical Novels

The list, care of the Guardian.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Josh Ritter - The Singer/Songwriter/Novelist

NPR profiles Josh Ritter now that his first novel, Bright's Passage, has been published.

William Shakespeare - Toker

Did the Bard smoke doobies?

From a story in Mother Jones...

If he were alive today, would Shakespeare have really, really liked listening to the Grateful Dead?

That's the question a group of scientists, led by anthropologist Francis Thackeray, is attempting to answer. Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution in Johannesburg, South Africa, told Fox News he has formally asked the Church of England to green light his exhumation of the Bard of Avon's remains to determine the cause of his death and, among other things, if the playwright had traces of pot pumping through his system. This comes over a decade after Thackeray and the South African Police Services Forensic Science Laboratory both uncovered "suggestive evidence of cannabis" and "signs of what looks like cocaine" on clay pipes found in the garden of Shakespeare’s old house.

Pixar's First Fairy Tale

A Home Before the End of the World

Do novelists need to stick with the facts when describing world scenery? Does it matter?

From a piece on the Design Observer Group site...

I later read the chapter with the armadillos and the Joshua trees. And sure enough, I stumbled across more eco-confabulations. At one point in the book, Jonathan and his father take a nighttime walk into the desert for a heart-to-heart conversation. Jonathan describes looking up at the sky "as the sickle shape of a hawk skated over the stars." A hawk, huh? Hawks are sight-feeders, flying during the day in search of desert rabbits and birds. Could the writer have meant nighthawks, a bird that trolls the sky for insects, primarily after dark? They are unrelated species, as different as, say, a Wall Street broker and a kindergarten teacher. But I can see how the two birds might easily have been confused. After all, they both have wings and fly.

I've been mulling over these eco-bloopers for some time now. Like a dog with a bone, I dig them up every now and again, gnaw on them for a while, and then rebury them in the back forty of my study. Mind you, I'm not one of those readers who goes snuffling through the pages of a book hoping to catch the author with his pants down and then trumpets the fact that I know a butt from a hole in the ground. So why then can't I just let them go?

It wouldn't have mattered so much if the book were some cheap airport paperback. But it was A Home at the End of the World, the 1990 novel by Michael Cunningham, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for The Hours. On the back cover there's an excerpt from a review in The Wall Street Journal that describes the book as "so finely pitched that even the smallest details are sharp-edged and vivid." A review in The New York Times makes a similar point: "Michael Cunningham appears to believe ... that 'our lives are devoted to the actual,' and that, in the rendering of those actualities, a novel discovers its themes." The Times praised Cunningham for his "reverence for the ordinary, his capacity to be with the moment in its fullest truth."

The fundamental issue here, I think, is not that Cunningham got the details wrong, but that he didn't seem to care about getting them right. Neither did his publisher or editor or the critics.

Why Are Bookstores Important for Communities?

Ann Patchett discusses why on American Public Radio.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mellow Brick Road

The Rise and Fall of Pseudonyms

The New York Times discusses the pseudonym history and what's its current state.

From the article...

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the nom de plume, and rarely talked about, is its power to unlock creativity — and its capacity to withhold it. Even when its initial adoption is utilitarian, a pen name can assume a life of its own. Many writers have been surprised by the intimate and even disorienting relationships they have formed with their alter egos. The consequences can prove grievous and irrevocable.

There is no greater example of the shape-shifting force of a pen name than that of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, who took the notion of reticence to unparalleled, even pathological levels. In maintaining more than 70 literary identities he called “heteronyms,” he did not employ them as a mode of deception. Instead, he insisted that he was amanuensis to the multiple beings that dwelled within. They transcended gender, ideology and genre. They bickered with one another, mentored one another, clamored for attention like children. He once described his work, aptly, as “a drama divided into people instead of into acts.”

Why Pessoa, whom George Steiner once called “one of the evident giants in modern literature,” had to engage in self-breeding will never be known. The most obvious explanation might be mental illness. That he remained an obscure, isolated figure in his lifetime (he died in 1935) only adds to the poignancy of his — their? — vast creative output. One scholar speculated that Pessoa’s heteronyms were a way to “spare him the trouble of living real life,” which makes his bizarre endeavor seem enviable.

How to Survive the Age of Distraction

Read a book with your laptop thrumming. It can feel like trying to read in the middle of a party where everyone is shouting.

From an article in the Independent about trying to get on a digital diet...

In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten. To pluck just one, Gary Steynghart's novel Super Sad True Love Story describes a world where everybody is obsessed with their electronic Apparat – an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn – and have somehow come to believe that the few remaining unread paper books let off a rank smell. The book on the book, it suggests, is closing.

I have been thinking about this because I recently moved flat, which for me meant boxing and heaving several Everests of books, accumulated obsessively since I was a kid. Ask me to throw away a book, and I begin shaking like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice and insist that I just couldn't bear to part company with it, no matter how unlikely it is I will ever read (say) a 1,000-page biography of little-known Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar. As I stacked my books high, and watched my friends get buried in landslides of novels or avalanches of polemics, it struck me that this scene might be incomprehensible a generation from now. Yes, a few specialists still haul their vinyl collections from house to house, but the rest of us have migrated happily to MP3s, and regard such people as slightly odd. Does it matter? What was really lost?

Literary Stamp Collecting

There's been oodles of authors on stamps. Flavorwire collects some of them, here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Literary Greats in Their Bathing Suits


Against Reviews

Elizabeth Gumport takes down book reviews in N+1.

In the piece...

If book reviews are nothing but free advertising, they are among the most ineffectual, ill-conceived marketing campaigns ever conceived. It’s strange to think that an account of what’s inside a book would be a good way to sell it. Imagine if McDonald’s commercials told you what went into a Big Mac: rehydrated onions, high-fructose corn syrup, ammonia-treated beef.

Woolf imagined reviewers of the future using “an asterisk to signify approval, a dagger to signify disapproval.” Today both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly use stars to indicate books of especial interest. Reviewers, however, are not yet called “Tasters,” the term Woolf proposed, but fiction is indeed assessed in the same terms as a fish entrée: fresh, insipid, visionary, uninspired. Reading a book review is like reading about a restaurant in a city you’ve never been to, and have no plans to visit.

If there is a point to reviews, it is one that could be made more effectively, and without spectators. “With some differences,” Woolf wrote, “the medical custom might be imitated—there are many resemblances between doctor and reviewer, between patient and author. Let the reviewers then abolish themselves, or what relic remains of them, as reviewers, and resurrect themselves as doctors. . . The writer then would submit his work to the judge of his choice; an appointment would be made.” But true criticism, like an autopsy, could only be performed after death. “It is impossible for the living to judge the works of the living. Years, many years, according to Matthew Arnold, have to pass before it is possible to deliver an opinion that is not “‘only personal, but personal with passion.’”

As modified recapitulations of what already exists, reviews are inherently conservative. Space constraints inhibit speculation and dissent, which is why even elegant reviews tend to be dry, aimless, and unmotivated. Still, cramped quarters tend to strike authors as preferable to homelessness. Many aspiring and even established writers who wish to see their work in print —and to be paid for it—find non-review outlets hard to come by. The result? “A generation hid its real ideas in book reviews.”

The Los Angeles Times Review of Books responds to the charge, here.

Rare Billy the Kid Photo Auctioned for a Tidy Sum

Tidy, like $2.3 million.

What Can 21st Century Books Tell Us About Feminism?

That's the question recently posed in the Guardian.

From the article...

What is feminism? "Simply the belief that women should be as free as men . . . Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are."

Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman is firm, delightfully firm, on many things – heels (against), pubic waxing (against), abortion (for), the disadvantages of economising on sanitary products – and she is firm, she insists on, this simple definition of feminism. Feminism is just equality. Would a man be allowed to do it? Then so should you. Would a man feel bad about it? No? Then nor should you. Everything else – the pressure to be sisterly ("When did feminism become confused with Buddhism?"); the idea that we should be held to account, as feminists, for every possible ill that could befall the modern woman ("There's a whole generation of people who've confused 'feminism' with 'anything to do with women'") – all of that is just hassle in disguise.

Moran is right, it is simple: and yet, for such a simple message, its cultural penetration has been patchy, fluctuating and disappointing. People who like to sound the death knell for the ideology – it's remarkable even that such people still exist – point to the fact that young women tend not to describe themselves as feminists. There is a certain sour enjoyment from pointing out all the privileges that they owe to the sisterhood – the equal pay, the maternity leave – but I would query the importance of the self-description. One can promulgate the values of feminism quite effectively by just living them, by expecting fairness at work and at home, and young women are better at this, less surrendered, than anyone. Much more chilling for me was the recent debate around the Slut Walks. On mainstream television (Newsnight) the Conservative MP Louise Bagshawe said that the word "slut" could never be reclaimed, would always be a horrible word, because it "lionised promiscuity". Meanwhile, in mainstream print (the Sunday Times), columnist Minette Marrin wrote: "There is no universal human right to dress and behave like a sluttish streetwalker touting for sex, without occasionally being taken for one." These are not young women; they have been many years in this culture, without apparently encountering feminism's basic precepts. It ought to be taken as given, by now, that you can object to promiscuity generally, if you like, and I imagine this would be on faith grounds, but if you object to promiscuity in women, specifically, then you are barking up the wrong skirt. It ought to be obvious, beyond remarking, that a woman should be able to sleep with whom she wants, when she wants, as often as she wants, without danger and without shame. It surely should go without saying that being a prostitute and being raped are two different activities. The fact that so little progress has been made in the specific area of female sexuality is partly because of divisions within feminism – many of the boldest voices see the Slut business as a post-modern stunt, where sexual violence is used as a stalking horse to co-opt young women into hot pants and thence into the raunch culture that oppresses them further. Sylvia Walby, in her new book, The Future of Feminism, adjudicates on this magisterially. But divisions alone cannot account for this.

What Might Have Been

The French National Library has a wonderful exhibit of prints from 1910, imagining the wonderful new world of the year 2000. Enjoy!

Bookstores Forced to Turn a Page

To remain viable, bookstores are finding ways to innovate and change.

From an article in the Boston Globe...

Booksellers say surviving is more than a matter of selling books. Bookshops, owners and managers say, must look for new sources of revenue and consider radical changes such as becoming a nonprofit.

Or in the case of Brookline Booksmith, trying a little bit of everything. The 49-year-old store now sells Google e-books online, holds on average five events a week with authors, and may invest in an in-store printing press.

The events, including celebrity book signings, draw new customers and publicity, said Dana Brigham, one of the owners of the Booksmith. The printing press would allow the store to publish books for first-time authors as well as produce more copies of out-of-print books.

“We can’t sleep through the changes going on all around us,’’ Brigham said. “For most of its history, [Booksmith] has been in a constant state of responding to changes and challenges in our market.’’

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Collectible Pop-Up Books

What Makes a Book Rare?

That question, among others, is posed to Dr. Bidwell of the Morgan Library.

From the article in the New York Times...

What makes a book rare: There are plenty of books that are valuable and not rare, and plenty of books that are rare and not valuable. Example: The Morgan is celebrated for being the one institution in the world for having three Gutenberg Bibles. You might say it’s not extremely rare because there are 50 known copies in various states of completeness in the world. On the other hand, we have plenty of early books that are the only known copy in the world, some of them deservedly so.

Why books become rare: Print media is supposed to make books common. It’s a mass production form of visual communication. So what went wrong to make that book so rare? Books may have been suppressed because of censorship, or books have gone out of fashion. So texts that we could consider very interesting now may have gone through a period of neglect that was nearly fatal.

Five Comic Book Heroes That Made a Real World Difference

The list, care of Neatorama.

From the piece...

2. Popeye Helps America Survive the Great Depression

Everyone knows Popeye’s secret. Whenever the cartoon sailor is on the verge of losing a fight, he squeezes open a can of spinach, pours the greens down his throat, and uses his supercharged muscles to pummel opponents. But fewer people know that the U.S. government is directly responsible for his dependence on canned vegetables.

In the 1930s, America was mired in the Great Depression, and the government was looking for a way to promote iron-rich spinach as a meat substitute. To help spread the word, they hired one of America’s favorite celebrities, Popeye the Sailor Man. It was a smart plan. In all of the comic strips to that point, Popeye’s superhuman strength had never been explained. But with the government’s campaign in place, Popeye was suddenly more than willing to share the secret to his strength. Sure enough, soon after Popeye took up spinach, American sales of the mighty veggie increased by one-third. Better still, American children rated it their third favorite food, right after turkey and ice cream.

But it wasn’t just spinach the government was endorsing. They were also pushing the merits of canned food. U.S. officials wanted Americans to know that cans were the perfect way to stock up on emergency rations.

While Popeye should be applauded for persuading a nation to eat its greens, he did mislead people a bit. The government’s enthusiasm for spinach was based in part on the calculations of German scientist Dr. E von Wolf, who’d discovered in 1870 that spinach contains iron. When calculating the results, he misplaced a decimal point, thereby making it “official” that spinach had 10 times more iron than it actually did. Not until years later were these figures rechecked. But by then, everyone was downing their spinach, hoping to be as tough as Popeye.

The Diets of the Romantic Poets

An interesting story about one of the most fabled dinner parties in literary history, and about, yes, the diets of the Romantic poets, is in Lapham's Quarterly.

From the piece...

Two decades of opium addiction wreaked havoc on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s digestion (one of its chief side-effects was an awful, binding constipation). Subject to frequent and recurring “bowel attacks” that made him “weep and sweat and moan and scream,” he was off solid food for weeks at a time, and accordingly ate a lot of broth. He even dabbled in vegetarianism for a while, but believed it gave him insomnia. When he was well, Coleridge loved to go out to dinner, and his hosts never failed to find him the consummate companion—witty, erudite, able to recite long poems by heart, and with more natural intelligence than any writer of his generation—although he could also be a handful. At one dinner party, encouraged by the host, he smashed a window and several wine glasses, and started pitched the cutlery at the tumblers. Coleridge particularly loved apple dumplings.

If the first generation of Romantic poets had an unhappy relationship with food, the second were little better. Lord Byron, scarred by being a “fat school-boy,” had transformed himself into a “leguminous-eating Ascetic” by the time he went up to Cambridge in 1805. But the fat wanted him, and he spent his entire life dieting, caught up in a vomitous cycle of binge and purge, fasting all week and then gorging himself on “a pint of bucelles [Portuguese wine] and fish.” While convinced that he always felt better when he was a bit heavier, he was similarly certain that the extra weight caused him to misbehave, and that it was his duty to “starve the devil out.” Byron rarely accepted dinner invitations and claimed to be especially repulsed by the sight of women eating, although at least some of this can be attributed to the creation of his own myth. When Byron went to Samuel Rogers’ house for dinner, he refused soup, fish, mutton, and wine, and when asked what he did eat, replied, “nothing but hard biscuits and soda-water” (Rogers eventually served him potatoes, “bruised down on his plate and drenched with vinegar.”) A few days later, Rogers met Byron’s best friend John Cam Hobhouse, and asked him how long Byron intended to continue with his diet. “Just as long as you continue to notice it,” was the reply.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Christopher Walken Reads Goodnight Moon

Vaguely Threatening Pro-Library Letters from Children


Literary Charades

The Death of Spider-Man

Peter Parker perishes in new comic, but a new Spider-Man is on his way.

From an article in the Guardian...

Not since Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes has such a dramatic death hit the pages of fiction. Those with a sensitive disposition should look away now: Spider-Man is set to meet an unpleasant end in a new comic.

The conclusion of the Death of Spider-Man story from Marvel's Ultimate Comics will see Peter Parker's alter ego succumb to his nemesis the Green Goblin, dying in the arms of Mary Jane following a valiant battle. "We've never seen a world without Spider-Man, a world without Peter Parker, so his death is a significant event for the Ultimate Comics Universe and we're going to see how quickly it changes everything," said Marvel Entertainment editor-in-chief Axel Alonso.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis told USA Today that he wrote the story "with tears in my eyes like a big baby".

"I went upstairs to my wife, and I go, 'I am so embarrassed. I think I've literally been crying for 45 minutes.' I've had real things happen in my life I didn't cry about, and yet I'm crying about this," said the author.

Self Publishing Comes of Age

What used to be seen as a last resort is fast becoming the most successful trend in writing. Alison Flood talks to the authors doing it themselves in the Guardian.

From the piece...

GP Taylor is one of self-publishing's success stories. The former vicar sold his motorbike to fund the first print run of his children's novel Shadowmancer; its popularity, driven by the author's tireless campaigning, led to a publishing deal with Faber & Faber and a career as a New York Times bestselling author. He seemed to have made the transition from amateur to professional without a backward glance - but eight years on, he's considering going back to self-publishing.

He's not the only one. With Bowker reporting an "explosive growth" of 169% last month in "non-traditional" publishing, it's not just vanity projects that are taking the self-publishing route these days. Amazon announced last week that John Locke had sold 1,010,370 Kindle books using Kindle Direct Publishing, making him the first self-published author to join the "Kindle Million Club", alongside the likes of Stieg Larsson and James Patterson. Meanwhile, self-published authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards currently top's Kindle bestseller list, and say they're selling up to 1,900 copies a day of their jointly-written thriller, Catch Your Death. Faulkner award-winning author John Edgar Wideman last year chose to publish his new collection of short stories through; the site, offering authors an 80/20 revenue split, has published over 1.1 million authors to date, adding 20,000 titles to its catalogue a month. Writers around the world are getting their books to readers – and getting paid for it – without a publisher standing in between. Self-publishing, it seems, is becoming respectable.

"I'm a real advocate of self-publishing," says Taylor, explaining why he's thinking about going back to self publishing for his new book, an adult crime novel. "With the number of authors out there, I'm just one of many midlist writers. I'm not a celebrity, and book sales are pretty bad at the moment. [But] with self-publishing, it's a case of if it's good, people will buy it, and with the internet you can get people to notice it." And David Moody, who was making a £1,000 a month self-publishing his horror novels until he attracted the attention of film producer Mark Johnson and landed deals with Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Gollancz in the UK, also believes self-publishing is a serious option for new writers. "I'm actually a little miffed that I'm not self-publishing right now! I might even go back to it at a later stage," he says. "This new route to market is, in my opinion, becoming a viable alternative to the old submission and rejection merry-go-round … it's undoubtedly easier for writers to get their books out and for readers to find them today than it was just a few years ago. Sites like Lulu and Amazon's CreateSpace allow them to produce print editions of their books without the hassle of setting up a publishing business and dealing directly with print-on-demand publishers."

Friday, June 24, 2011

James Franco and Hart Crane

James Franco wrote, directed, produced and starred in a black-and-white film about poet Hart Crane.

It was recently released.

From a story in the Los Angeles Times...

Crane’s verse, which was largely influenced by Romantics such as Whitman and Poe, was heavy on metaphors, blank verses and homosexual innuendo. Both the greatest criticism and praise of his poetry concerns the “logic” of Crane’s metaphors; his poetry is so loaded with them that many readers (including Franco) could only appreciate and understand Crane’s poetry in bites.

“His poetry is difficult for me too,” Franco admitted during a discussion after the premier with Francisco Ricardo, a critic of new media and contemporary art and literature at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I couldn’t even tell you what half his stuff means. But what inspired me is his spirit and drive. He cared so much about his work, even when nobody else understood it.”

“You just stated your own repertoire,” Ricardo teased Franco.

Indeed, Franco’s decision to feature Crane isn’t so surprising if you’re familiar with Franco’s academic interests in literature (he studied English and creative writing at UCLA, graduated from Columbia’s MFA writing program, has taken classes at Brooklyn College and Warren Wilson College and is pursuing a doctorate at Yale) and his more cerebral film work.

This is the third time Franco has played a gay character (after his roles in “Milk” and “Howl”), which seems likely to add to the frequent speculation about his sexual identity.

The 99-minute film captures Crane’s life in an unsettling stream of scenes of explicit sex, drunken rages, depressive lows and literary genius.

Poetry Magazine Profiled

A decade ago Poetry Magazine received a $200 MILLION donation. How's it been doing since?

From a piece in the Chicago Tribune...

In 2002, Ruth Lilly, an heir to a fortune built by Indianapolis pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, donated $200 million to Poetry magazine, which then had a modest circulation of 10,000 and annual budget of $700,000. "I was one of those people in an arts organization who thought, 'Wow,'" said Tree Swenson, executive director of the New York-based Academy of American Poets. "That's a lot of cash for one group. So out of proportion to the scale of the magazine. In one swoop, it basically made them the largest poetry organization in the country."

To administer the gift, the magazine set up the nonprofit Poetry Foundation and created a raft of initiatives to promote poetry. Today, the foundation has a budget of more than $6 million. The magazine gets $1.5 million a year, and $2.2 million goes to educational programs. Poetry's website alone receives a hefty $1.2 million, a point of contention in literary circles. Then there's $1.3 million for administrative costs, including salaries for the 20-person staff. "We have a guideline that forces us to never spend more than 5 percent (annually) of the total market value of the endowment," said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation.

"But poetry is not a moneymaker," he added. "And so the grand experiment here was to throw money into this art form that had no history of making money and see if poetry would be OK at the end of the day."

The answer is complicated.

How Did J.R.R. Tolkien Keep the Spirit of Christmas Alive in His Children?

Like this.

What is This Pottermore?

North Korea Comic Book Propoganda

Slate reads it.

From the piece...

This spring, the comic book world awoke to the earth-shaking news that Superman—the quintessential American superhero—was no longer a U.S. citizen. The revelation came in Action Comics No. 900, published in April, in which the superhero renounced his citizenship after getting the U.S. government into hot water by participating in an Iranian street protest. "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy," Superman says with gravitas. " 'Truth, justice, and the American way'—it's not enough anymore."

Superman's shift away from his adoptive country suggests that being a crusader for global justice is no longer the simple occupation it once was. There are no such qualms for Gen. Mighty Wing, who is the star of comic books in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The North Korean regime's comics, known locally as gruim-chaek ("picture books"), are mass produced on thin, low-quality paper and distributed widely among the isolated regime's privileged classes. As you might expect, they are unabashedly propagandistic, serving up outlandish plots that help inculcate reverence for Great Leader Kim Il Sung and the regime's perennial battles against imperialists of all stripes.

In Great General Mighty Wing (1994), a sort of Kimilsungist Disney fable, the honeybee general Mighty Wing leads his hive in a successful attack on an alliance of wasps and spiders that are plotting to seize control of the hive's Garden of 1,000 Flowers. Mighty Wing also discovers a way to irrigate the garden and drive up honey production, all while fighting against traitorous internal elements and the wasps' secret air-borne "missile"—a bow and arrow. Mirroring the action, the margin of each page bears a revolutionary aphorism, ranging from the homely ("Happiness seeks out the home where laughter blooms") to the paranoid ("Never think of the enemy as a lamb—always consider him a jackal"). The more militant the sayings get, the less comfortably they sit alongside the brightly colored, child-friendly insect characters.

Dorothea Lange Documentary

Watch a documentary about the Depression-era photographer, here.

The History of Haiku

The Boston Globe reveals its long history.

From the piece...

Haiku, for all its simplicity, grew out of a complex tradition of Japanese collaborative poetry called renga. In renga, Carter explains, a group of poets -- sometimes more than a dozen -- gather under the supervision of a renga master, or sōshō. Each poet contributes a stanza in turn, with the sōshō guiding composition by mandating the use of particular words or the exploration of certain topics. In one renga session, the poets might produce as many as 100 linked stanzas, which mutate over time to take the renga through different movements. The first verse of the renga, called a hokku, is identical to a modern haiku.

The Library That Straddles Two Countries

It's the Haskell Free Library and Opera House.

The Heated Debate of Burning Books

The New Yorker takes a look at what looks to be a growing trend, burning books.

From the piece...

When we think of book-burners, we mostly think of backward, reactionaries blocking against dissent, free thought, radical art, or progressive political reform. We think of official religions censoring the unorthodox, and of totalitarian states issuing edicts against anything threatens centralized control. Or we think of the powerful inciting the masses into fits of destruction. In history, we indeed think of the Inquisition and of the Third Reich. And in novels, the image of top-down state-sponsored madness comes most notably from Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

Yet, recently, small groups who reflect extreme minority opinions across the political spectrum have turned to burning books. It has become as much an act of provocation and one of censorship. This spring, Terry Jones, the radical pastor of the Christian Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, put the Koran “on trial,” and then after condemning it, a copy of the document was burned, which caused violent reprisals in Afghanistan and elsewhere. (Months earlier, Jones had backed away from plans to burn the Koran after he was roundly condemned by American officials and by people throughout the world. By March, perhaps tired of being out of the headlines, he changed his mind.) And now, in Amsterdam, another small, passionate political group is using book-burning as a way of getting attention. The political motivations and desired ends are much different, but the means are precisely the same: spectacle, provocation, brutish and simple acts in response to complex issues.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald Cracks Up

In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the perils of fame for Esquire.

From the essay...

Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work -- the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside -- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within -- that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick -- the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.

Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation -- the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both. It seemed a romantic business to be a successful literary man -- you were not ever going to be as famous as a movie star but what note you had was probably longer-lived; you were never going to have the power of a man of strong political or religious convictions but you were certainly more independent. Of course within the practice of your trade you were forever unsatisfied -- but I, for one, would not have chosen any other.

A Candle That Smells like the New York Times?


The Current State of the Comics Industry

Comics Alliance chats with the head of Fantagraphics about it.

From the piece...

CBR News: The biggest change in comics in recent years is probably the shift from pamphlet comics to graphic novels. From your perspective, why has this change been occurring, and how has it changed opportunities for cartoonists, especially alternative and independent cartoonists?

Gary Groth: It's even more acute in alternative comics than it is in mainstream comics. They still publish comics at Marvel and DC and so forth. For alternative comics, the comic book format is pretty much dead. We publish literally three or four a year for unique and anomalous reasons. By and large, nobody publishes alternative comic books anymore. The reason is fairly obvious; since the reader knows it's going to be collected in a graphic novel, there's very little reason for them to buy a twenty-four page comic of something he's going to get a year or two down the line as a graphic novel, and in the way it probably ought to be published anyway, collected in a single work. I think it's just an inevitability of the rise of the graphic novel as the dominant form of alternative comics. I don't know how accelerated that's going to be for mainstream comics. It feels like it's headed that way. Mainstream comic books might last much longer. That's more of an addictive habit than alternative comics have ever been because mainstream comics come out on a monthly basis and alternative comics almost never did. Mainstream comics have that habitual angle going for them which is probably what's keeping them alive.

Palin Poetry Created from Her Emails

For reals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Top Ten Island Stories

The list, care of the Guardian.

Keanu Haiku

For reals.

Ugly Details in Selling Newspapers

The New York Times reviews a book about the goings-on of newspaper selling at the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

From the piece...

James O’Shea, the former editor in chief of The Los Angeles Times, found a classic of the genre in the course of reporting out “The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers,” his deep dive into the two deals that tipped over the companies that owned, among many other newspapers, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.

Here’s the capsule version: in 2000, The Tribune Company, owner of the Tribune and many other papers, bought the Times-Mirror Company, owner of The Los Angeles Times, for a then-record $8.3 billion. The merger never yielded much in the way of synergy, and the combined company put itself in play in 2007, when there were few buyers left.

Enter Sam Zell, a real estate tycoon with a fondness for distressed assets, who took over the business with the help of an Employee Stock Purchase Plan that saddled Tribune with $13 billion in debt. The company is now mired in a two-year, hugely expensive bankruptcy.

That’s all known.

Tennis in Literature Quiz

Good luck!

Will the iPad Revolutionize the Comic Book Industry? Or Kill It?

That's the question recently posed by Wired.

From the article...

American comic book fans live for Wednesdays. That’s the day the new issues arrive. Every major American comic book publisher uses a single distributor, Diamond, to ship boxes of their latest releases to roughly 2,200 comics retail stores across the country. The shop owners—or their minions—put that week’s crop of Batman or X-Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the shelves, and then the fans arrive. A lot of them go to the same store every week, where they have a “pull list” on file, books they’ve asked to be set aside so they’ll never miss a single pulse-pounding issue. It’s a tradition.

To be more specific, it’s a dying tradition. The Wednesday crowd is the old-school audience, collectors who are willing to shell out $3 or $4 for a stapled-together pamphlet that they’ll put in a plastic bag with acid-free cardboard and store in a long white box. Those customers have been trickling away for years.

But that’s OK, because about two decades ago publishers picked up a second category of customers. These newer readers generally prefer the classier term graphic novel and would rather buy their comics as squarebound books. They might pick up a stack of them five or six times a year, rather than chasing issues every week. That was just fine with publishers, especially the industry’s 8,000-pound super-gorillas Marvel (owned by Disney) and DC Comics (owned by Time Warner). For them, graphic novels meant that decades’ worth of back catalog could generate income again and provide an entrée into bookstores.

A third group of readers has come along even more recently: Internet- savvy young fans who download pirated versions of everything. At first the comics industry didn’t pay much attention to this new generation. Unlike the music and movie businesses, comics experienced an unprecedented boom in the mid-2000s, thanks to the rise of graphic novels, as well as manga from Japan. Besides, the fan-made scans of new issues that showed up online, usually just a few hours after the print versions arrived in stores, were kind of a hassle to download and read on a computer. The unwieldy nature of the whole process made the print-comics industry feel as though digital comics, legit or otherwise, weren’t worth the trouble.

Then Apple introduced the iPad.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Literature Map

Discover what books and authors to read next, here.

Typewriter Art of Keira Rathbone

Latin Versions of Beloved Classics

Enjoy (err...occupo)!

Not Your Ordinary Book Light

Not Your Ordinary Book Light from Grathio Labs on Vimeo.

A Tour of Hemingway's Madrid

The New York Times travels to Spain's capital to see if Hemingway's ghost can still be found.

From the piece...

I was instead following the tracks of that American writer, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is associated with a handful of places around the planet — most notably Paris, Pamplona, Havana, Key West and Ketchum, Idaho, where he took his own life in July 1961. But none may have held a warmer spot in his heart than Madrid, which he called “the most Spanish of all cities,” referring to its diverse population from every region of the country. He also titled a short story based in Madrid “The Capital of the World.”

“Don Ernesto,” as he was known to the Spanish, spent enough time in Madrid — he was there for chunks of the late 1920s, late 1930s, and parts of the 1950s, with his last visit in 1960 — that he left a distinct, mostly booze-stained trail. With the exception of the revamped Matadero, the modern version of Hemingway’s Madrid is an old-school itinerary of bars, bullfighting arenas and restaurants. So in advance of the 50th anniversary of his death, I set out to experience all that drew Hemingway back again and again to the city.

After starting my tour at the Matadero, I met up with my wife, Jessie Sholl, in front of our hotel, the Tryp Gran Vía, one of the spots where Hemingway stayed (the second-floor breakfast room, named for the writer, displays photos of him in various acts of masculinity like firing a gun or pulling in a huge fish from a boat).

From there we headed down the Gran Vía, a wide boulevard Hemingway described as Madrid’s answer to Broadway and Fifth Avenue combined, passing by Museo Chicote, a cocktail bar he frequented in the 1930s, when it was popular with international journalists. We then zigzagged through the streets around Puerta del Sol, many recently made pedestrians-only, crossing narrow Calle Victoria, where Hemingway often purchased scalped bullfighting tickets. We walked through leafy Plaza Santa Ana, home to Cerveceria Alemana, a 1904 beer hall that was such a favorite of Hemingway’s that he had his own table (just to the right of the entrance, the only marble-topped table overlooking a window).

Michael Chabon Penning Screenplay

It's about Disneyland and it's going to be directed by "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau. More, here.

A busy man, Chabon is also working on an HBO TV series.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What's Tom Clancy Been Up to Recently?

Writing another big ass book.

The Muppet Movie is Coming!

Do You Want to See Shakespeare's Death Mask?

Look no further!

The Unholy Trinity

Let's stop using "awesome," "amazing," and "ridiculous."

From a piece in Good Magazine...

The other day, I decided to go 24 hours without using the words “awesome” and “amazing.” A few hours later, I upped the ante and added “ridiculous” after initially giving it a pass. 'I'm an educated, verbal woman,' I told myself. 'I write for a living. I've read thousands of books. There is no reason at all why I should be using the same three words over and over.' Pleased with myself and emboldened by the encouragement of others (mostly old people), I faced the day with confidence.

Unfortunately, I failed miserably.

I was saying all three almost unconsciously. I was stopping myself mid-sentence, writing the words down and then erasing them on gchats. I'm not alone in having this problem. You know the types: young people, usually but not exclusively white, coastal, fun-loving, liberal, tan, and/or excitable. Don't feel bad; it's a problem a lot of us have. GOOD is certainly guilty of the unholy trinity. But we all need to do something about it.

The Collectibility of Publisher Proofs

Salon takes a stroll down the (expensive) rows of uncorrected proofs.

From the introduction...

If you thought the hardcover edition of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was expensive at $35, you may be in for quite a shock. Online bookselling service Abebooks recently scoured their partner stores' inventories for rare review copies of literary masterworks; here we've highlighted ten of the most interesting items they found, from vintage Potter to Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific." We've added salient details -- including, of course, price.

Chapter and Verse

Does literature today reflect the commercialism of the entertainment industry, or is it keeping a high standard and thus rendering itself obsolete? Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, and Israeli writer Nir Baram compare notes on Haaretz.

From the piece...

In your opinion, what is the ultimate achievement an interview with an author should aspire to? Do you think there should be a substantial difference in the questions, topics, emphasis, and tension between discussion about a certain novel and discussion about the outside world ‏(political and economical, etc.‏) between an interview with T.S. Eliot in 1959 and an interview with a contemporary author or poet?

“Temperamentally, maybe; I’m less interested in the theoreticians. There are exceptions. While we were editing the interview with Samuel R. Delany, the science-fiction writer and literary theorist, I became so fascinated I ran out to the bookstore and bought his autobiography ‏(which is wild‏). As a rule of thumb, we try not to discuss any one book in too much detail. You should be able to follow the interview without being an expert − or an obsessive fan. And as I mentioned before, we try to steer the interviews away from litanies of influence − unless they are truly surprising and revealing.

“We always ask questions about the writer’s process − about how the work gets done, from hour to hour, week to week − and often we ask about the writer’s artistic development. Usually this becomes a story about growing up. Apart from that, the interviewer and subject have to shape the interview according to their own best lights − because you know, each interview is a collaboration. Subject, interviewer, editor all revise the transcripts together, sometimes changing very little, more often writing and rewriting. Everyone has veto power. An interview can often take years. In a letter to his parents in 1953, George Plimpton − the first editor of The Paris Review − described the first interview ‏(with E.M. Forster‏) as ‘an essay on technique, in dialogue form.’ That’s what these interviews are − essays arrived at through dialogue.”

What’s the most important thing you have learned about literature since you became the editor of The Paris Review?

“One thing I’ve noticed is how relatively few young writers are working on short stories compared to 10 years ago. That’s not to say that there has been a drop-off in quality, only that students of creative writing are likely to launch straight into a novel or novella − to write the epic and skip the eclogue. Market forces have made themselves felt.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Best Dads in Literature