Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The Guardian offers up some spooky reading ideas, here.

The Huffington Post suggests some literary tricks or treats, here.

Biblioklept takes note of seven horror stories masquerading in other genres, here.

And talking about spooky reads, was there an actual Dr. Frankenstein? Find out, here.

Here you'll find a Halloween slide show of cautionary tales for children.

Oh, William Blatty has polished up The Exorcist, by the way.

Oh, and the newest issue of Granta revolves around horror.

Byliner also offers up some Halloween-themed magazine journalism, here.

Sign of the Times

How much can you tell about a person from their signature? That's the question recently asked in Mercurius Politicus.

From the piece...

One legitimate answer to that question is nothing. That’s probably the right answer if you interpret the question in terms of whether the idiosyncrasies of someone’s handwriting reveal anything about their personality.

In other respects, though, a signature can be incredibly revealing. This is particularly the case for the early modern period, where a person’s signature – on a title deed, on a will, on a book – may be the only surviving material trace of their existence. From a humanist perspective, seeking to recover what we can of the past, finding someone’s signature is exciting. It is a way of connecting with someone long gone, across a void of hundreds of years. And while trying to discern actual personality traits from signatures may be a dead end, the material aspects of a signatures can still tell us things.

Signatures are a means of expressing one’s identity in textual form. The fact that they became, and remain, the primary legal means of asserting one’s identity means that there are all sorts of culturally-specific assumptions bound up with them. To know how to write, you had to know how to read: the latter was taught before the former. The fact that a person in the sixteenth or seventeenth century could write their name instantly tells you something about them. It also tells you something about how their contemporaries might have perceived them. The ability to sign one’s name demonstrated to others that you had at least some degree of education, and that you had a certain amount of agency with which to engage in the worlds of commerce, politics or law.

The Ten Best Graphic Novels

The list, care of the Guardian.

Will Video Games Kill the Novel?

That's the question recently posed by the Guardian.

From the post...

Instead my kids are part of the digital generation, born to the bip-bip-bip of Space Invaders and 80s electro-pop. Their world revolves around the microchip. If you buy a new computer, you can take it out of its box, plug it in and instantly you are sitting there, like Captain Kirk, at the helm of an enormously powerful machine that can take you anywhere in the universe. A modern computer can be your office, your communications device, your reference library, you can listen to music on it, you can make music on it … and, of course, you can play games.

To my kids, computer games are the most important thing in the world. In the same way that we might have waited for the new Rolling Stones album or the latest Clash single, my kids now wait expectantly for the new Fifa simulation, or the latest Gears Of War, and the amount of time they put into playing these games is terrifying to someone of my generation.

That's the important part, though. That is how they've rebelled. It is the thing they do that I did not do when I was their age. I do play a lot of games, but gaming has not completely taken over my life.

For my boys, games are more important than TV, films, music and books. Because, of course, games incorporate all of those elements so comprehensively and so seductively.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

50 Funniest American Writers

Andy Borowitz discusses his new anthology of American humor on NPR, here.

From the accompanying article...

Writer and comedian Andy Borowitz says he initially got into comedy for one simple reason: girls.

In addition to using his jokes to charm women, Borowitz has also written for The New Yorker and runs a satirical blog called The Borowitz Report. His latest project is The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion.

Borowitz read more than 1,000 stories before whittling his selection down to 50. Comedic writers who made the cut include Woody Allen and David Sedaris. But the book also features writers who are more famous for their serious work, like Langston Hughes and Sinclair Lewis.

"Sinclair Lewis could be funny when he wanted to be," Borowitz tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

The Lewis story he included is an excerpt from the 1922 book Babbitt, which Borowitz calls "a great satire of Midwestern, middle-class conformity."

Alice in Wonderland's Alice

One of the most recognisable figures in fiction is Alice, the little girl at the heart of Lewis Carroll's two classic stories. An exhibition at Tate Liverpool follows her development from John Tenniel's original illustrations.

From a piece in the Guardian about said exhibition...

It's perhaps surprising that an art gallery, rather than a library, is holding a huge survey exhibition about Alice, but then Carroll's creation has been and still is the inspiration of artists, photographers, theatrical designers, animators, film-makers. The new Tate Liverpool show explores this territory, from the author's own rarely seen manuscript illustrations and marvellously evocative biographical materials (Carroll's perceptive and often lyrical photographs, works of art by his pre-Raphaelite friends) to the Surrealists, for whom Alice became a cherished myth. The Surrealist movement is represented by some of the most potent works in the exhibition: Salvador Dalí's illustrated edition of Alice, and the finest painting in Dorothea Tanning's oeuvre, the eerie Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with sunflowers bursting colossal tentacles around the little girl with her hair on end in spikes of flame. The Surrealist legacy is still very fertile, in the context of a growing return to myth, fairytale and romanticism. Alice is the prototype of wise child and naive innocent – as seen in the vision not only of such artists as Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden, but of their successors in disquiet, Annelies Štrba and Alice Anderson, practitioners of the contemporary uncanny who give a new feminist twist to the heroine. Alice has grown older and more knowing than her original model, and turned into the receptacle of erotic dreams, a femme enfant with whom women artists strongly identify: the knowledge you are Alice as strong as the longing for her.

The character of Alice was inspired by Alice Liddell, the second daughter of the growing family who came to live in the Deanery, Christ Church, the college where Charles Dodgson was a fellow. A very pretty child with a melancholy cast of feature, she became the dearest of the author's child-friends, his chief love from among a host of girls – and boys – whom he entertained with puzzles, riddles, jokes, poems, gadgets, ditties and caricatures. He had begun photographing children several years before he wrote the Alice stories. He would focus on the families of artists, inviting himself into the houses of Rossetti, Millais, Arthur Hughes, and the fantasy writer George Macdonald, in a forward way that seems at odds with the shy, stammering persona of the rather undistinguished mathematics lecturer, who was deaf in one ear, and very partial to jelly and cakes. The eccentric and miraculous creator of Alice was one of history's great refusers. Like Kafka, with whom he has more in common than usually recognised, Dodgson could never resolve himself to move to the next stage of his life: he never took holy orders, never rose in the college hierarchy, never married. He was happy only in the company of children. However, he looked after a large number of other unmarried siblings (especially after he made so much money with the Alice books), campaigned against vivisection, seems to have devised the single transferable vote, and successfully pressed to improve the living conditions of child performers.

Creating a Magazine Cover

Novum 11/11 – Making Of Cover from Paperlux on Vimeo.

20 Must-Read Fantasty Epics

The list, care of the Ranting Dragon.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Lorax

How Do I Know It's a First Edition?

Joan Didion's Blue Nights

What's With All the Profanity in Book Titles Lately?

That's the question posed by USA Today.

From the article...

•S--- My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. Originally a Twitter feed, the book became a CBS series that was canceled in May. It peaked at No. 9 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list.

•A------- Finish First by Tucker Max. Peaked at No. 14.

•Go the ---- to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, a parody of a children's book directed at adults. Peaked at No. 6.

•Out this week: If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the ---- Up? ($14.99) by Marcy Roznick, a parody, aimed at adults, of the 1985 children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ….

St. Martin's Press executive editor Marc Resnick, 37, is editor of the Cookie parody, which was inspired by Go the ---- to Sleep. "Whether they verbalize it or not, every parent has that moment when they want the kid to shut the ---- up," he says.

To critics, he says: "It's a book for adults who have heard these words. If you don't like, don't buy it. Books have a lot to compete with these days."

Publishing has met with little or no resistance from booksellers.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Getting Saved - There's an App for That

The New Yorker explores how churches are incorporating digital technology in their communities.

From the piece...

The question of how, exactly, digitized texts will change religious practice has been a pressing one in religious communities for at least a decade. (A recent article in Christianity Today wondered whether the People of the Book shouldn’t be rechristened the People of the Nook.) But the era of digital religion is only now poised to begin in earnest, ushered in by technological advancements—the widespread adoption of tablets and smartphones—and by religious leaders eager to harness the power of that technology to inspire and instruct their flocks.

Last week, I contacted leaders of several religious institutions in New York and asked about how the digital was being used in their communities. Cregan Cooke, the director of communication and media at Redeemer Presbyterian, Manhattan’s best-known megachurch, told me that parishioners use mobile devices during services to look up Bible verses; that pastors like having multiple translations of the Bible on their tablets to refer to “whenever they’re away from their physical libraries”; and that the church has recently developed its own app, which contains a sermon podcast and community news. It’s been downloaded more than twenty-five thousand times.

This isn’t surprising at a church whose senior pastor, Tim Keller, is an Internet video star with his own publishing imprint. But more traditional congregations have also eagerly embraced digital technology. Kevin Gabriel Gillen, a Dominican friar at the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village, wrote me that iBreviary is in common use in the church. “Walking into a chapel with an iPhone may raise the eyebrow of another friar, because they may think you are about to make a phone call or text, but the iPad seems to be accepted.”

Bookcase Tetris

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo...and the Clothing Line

H&M launched one.

From a story in the Guardian...

Lisbeth Salander is many things. A heroine, a techno-whizz, a hard nut with a soft centre, and, yes, the fictional character at the centre of Stieg Larsson's hugely successful Millennium Trilogy. But fashionista? Considering Larsson went out of his way to portray Salander as a goth-punk styled sartorial rebel, we're surprised to see H&M have produced an entire clothing line in her honour.

"Salander's look is very real and very lived in, with pieces that her character has worn for a long time," said Trish Summerville, costume designer on the latest version of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo and the designer behind H&M's new range. "I wanted the collection to have the essence and strength of Salander, with a fashion edge, and I'm pleased with the result! My goal is for women to find pieces in it that they love and then mix them with their own wardrobe to create their own personal style."

The Best Horror Writer You've Never Read

Say hello to Todd Grimson.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Authors Ranked by Beard Weight


Posters of the Canadian Pacific Railway

Bad Things Happen to Bad Children

Pinnochio is nothing like you remember.

From a piece on Slate...

I always imagined him as a cheerful little puppet who desires nothing more than to be transformed into a real live boy. That is the Pinocchio depicted in Walt Disney’s adaptation, which whitewashed Collodi’s tale when it was released in 1940. It’s hard to blame Disney—Pinocchio is a rotten kid.

Early in the project, in fact, Disney became so frustrated with Collodi’s story that he halted production. It was unsuitable for children, Disney concluded: Pinocchio was too cocky, too much of a wiseguy, and too puppetlike to be sympathetic. Finally a compromise was reached. Pinocchio’s wish would be fulfilled from the start. He would not be depicted as a puppet after all but as a real boy, and a gentle, winsome one at that. Similarly the “Talking-Cricket,” a minor nameless character, became Jiminy Cricket, a tiny bald-headed man who serves as the puppet’s voice of conscience. (In the book, when the cricket scolds Pinocchio for rebelling against his father, Pinocchio bashes the insect’s brains out with a hammer.) And Disney turned a single scene—in which Pinocchio’s nose grows when he tells a lie—into a central motif. The moral of the film is that if you are brave and truthful, and you listen to your conscience, you will find salvation. Collodi’s moral is that you if you behave badly and do not obey adults, you will be bound, tortured, and killed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Do You Want to Have a Dictionary Wall?

Of course you do.

Much Ado About Nothing...By Joss Whedon?


Happy Birthday, Statue of Liberty

To celebrate - write a poem.

The Books They Gave Me

It's a site that highlights specific books given to people by their lovers.

For instance...

He, lovelorn literary loser, just like me—but better at even that than I was, for I was a mere apprentice—gave me a hardcover edition of the complete poems of William Blake.

I’d brought him to the legendary Hyde Park, Chicago Powell’s, and the Blake edition was on my shopping list. I was back in school at 34, newly divorced, to finish the BA in English Literature I should have taken the first time around.

Starry-eyed, in love with the man and the poems, I found the book, but sadly noted its $70 price tag. I slid it back onto the shelf and pulled down another copy, a shop-worn softcover that was only $15. He took it from me, put it back, and took down the pristine hardcover, clasping it to his chest like the treasure it is.

“Will you let me buy it for you?” he asked, his eyes shining. I did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tintin - Nazi Sympathizer

The Financial Times takes a look at Herge and the history of Tintin.

From the piece...

The early Tintins, though flawed, were fantastically successful. By 1932 Le Vingtième Siècle was “selling ten times more copies than normal on Tintin day”, wrote Harry Thompson. During the 1930s Tintins steadily improved. The books acquired good plots and plausibility. Hergé was following current events, and saving newspaper cuttings, albeit more as a source of realistic story ideas than out of any political commitment. He did so much research that some Tintin books read like fictionalised documentaries for children. Their precision gives them the quality of vivid dreams, fairy tales set in the 20th century.

Gradually the prewar books turned into commentary on the “low, dishonest decade”. “Hergé had a great political and satirical dimension,” his admirer Andy Warhol noted later. Many of the villains in these prewar stories are fascists. The Blue Lotus (1936) takes the Chinese side in the Sino-Japanese war. The Black Island (1938) features a German villain, Dr Müller. King Ottokar’s Sceptre (1939) reworks the German-Austrian Anschlüss in a Balkan setting, with the scary fascist leader Müsstler whose name derives from Mussolini and Hitler. And after European war broke out Hergé was publishing Land of Black Gold, in which Dr Müller sabotages global petrol supplies, when in May 1940 the real Germans rudely intervened by invading Belgium. The 1930s Tintins are (to use the jargon of the day) lightly anti-fascist. This is surprising given where Hergé was publishing them, and worth remembering given what happened later.

In war, wrote Harry Thompson, Hergé was no Tintin. He didn’t even seem to aspire to heroism. He had spent the first months of conflict in the Belgian army, mostly requisitioning bicycles, and when the Germans came he fled to France. After Belgium surrendered, King Léopold issued his famous summons to his countrymen: “Tomorrow we will return to work.” Hergé did. He needed money. Because Le Vingtième Siècle had closed down he joined Le Soir, or as Belgians were already calling it, Le Soir volé (The Stolen Soir). Many of its journalists had resigned after the Nazi takeover. But Hergé liked Le Soir’s massive circulation of 300,000, and any pro-Nazi paper could do with a dash of Tintin’s popularity.

The war changed Tintin. From 1940 Hergé was going to write stories that couldn’t get him into trouble. Adventures inspired by current affairs were out. During the occupation he barely drew a picture that even hinted at the war.

Tenth of December

Whenever George Saunders publishes a new story in the New Yorker, I post it. Why? Because George Saunders is brilliant, that's why.

Romance Blooms at Occupy Wall Street

Poems about the romantic repercussoins of the demostrations were "found" this month in the Missed Connectoins section of Craig's List.

From a piece in the New York Times...

You are a Cop

I was only visiting the city

during the protest

was with my mom

in Time Square

we chatted about why

I was visiting

and where I was from.

I wanted to ask you

for your number

for a good last hoorah before I left...

but I chicken out.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unseen Hobbit Art to Be Published

This, according to the BBC.

From the post...

Next year marks The Hobbit's 75th anniversary. Director Peter Jackson is making a two-part movie adaptation, the first part of which is due out in 2012.

His previous adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy have picked up a raft of movie awards, including the Oscar for best picture for The Return of the King in 2004.
The White Dragon Pursues Roverandom & the Moondog by JRR Tolkien Tolkien was a talented amateur artist before The Hobbit's publication

When it was originally published, The Hobbit had 10 black and white pictures, two maps, plus binding and dust jacket designs by its author.

More than 100 pieces of Tolkien's new artwork, including drawings, maps and plans have been collected for the new publication, The Art of The Hobbit, which is published on Thursday.

The Ten Best Songs Based on Books

The list, care of the Guardian.

The Art of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes's life together inspired some of the most brilliant poetry of the last century. But Sylvia was also an accomplished artist. Frieda Hughes reveals the stories behind her mother's exquisite drawings in the Guardian.

From the piece...

On 2 November, an exhibition of my mother Sylvia Plath's pen- and-ink drawings opens at the Mayor Gallery in Cork Street in London. These pictures were given to me by my father, the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who died on 28 October 1998. But they were not my only legacy from my parents, if genetic make-up has anything to do with our inclinations; I have the frequently conflicted desire to write poetry and to draw and paint also. While my parents chose to direct their primary energies into writing, despite their ability as artists, I have found it impossible to do one without the other.

Although my mother is known primarily for her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar and her poetry – particularly her last collection, Ariel, published posthumously in 1965 following her suicide on 11 February 1963 – her passion for art permeated her short life. Her early letters and diary notes and poems were often heavily decorated, and she hoped that her drawings would illustrate the articles and stories that she wrote for publication.

Secret Belgium Bookbinding Instructions

Here's how to make a book like the one above.

The Resurgence of 'Zines

They've made a comeback and the New York Times has taken note.

From the article...

The word “zine” is a shortened form of the term fanzine, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Fanzines emerged as early as the 1930s among fans of science fiction. Zines also have roots in the informal, underground publications that focused on social and political activism in the ’60s. By the ’70s, zines were popular on the punk rock circuit. In the ’90s, the feminist punk scene known as riot grrrl propelled the medium.

Lately, it seems, the zine is enjoying something of a comeback among the Web-savvy, partly in reaction to the ubiquity of the Internet. Their creators say zines offer a respite from the endless onslaught of tweets, blog posts, I.M.’s, e-mail and other products of digital media.

“There’s nothing more joyous than having a little publication in your hands,” said Malaka Gharib, a social media coordinator for a nonprofit organization in Washington. In her spare time, she publishes a colorful food zine called The Runcible Spoon with her friend Claire O’Neill.

“It’s a much more tangible feeling than collecting things on a Pinterest board,” she said, referring to a service that lets people save and store interesting links and pictures found on the Web.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Inside Scholastic Headquarters

The Marvel Layoffs

The Beat takes note of Marvel Comics' recent downsize.

From the post...

Perlmutter and his then partner Avi Arad rode in to save Marvel from bankruptcy when they ran ToyBiz back in the late 90s. Keeping an eye on the bottom line was key to turning the company around. Bold moves like setting up their own $500 million movie studio took Marvel from penniless publishing company to a Wall Street darling with numerous stock splits. And of course, it led to Disney shelling out all that cash for a ready-made, boy-friendly franchise factory.

Although he no longer owns Marvel, Ike still runs it. And rather than sit back and enjoy his sunset years—he’s 68—with his $1.7 billion fortune, he’s chosen to keep a very active hand in running the company. In recent months he’s become even more active, showing up at the office daily. And it seems the only way he knows how to run a company is by increasing profits — not by investing in new businesses, but simply squeezing the bottom line for every last penny by any means.

If Ike thinks an expenditure is unnecessary, there’s no way around it, and anyone caught doing it is in danger of losing their job. Why did Marvel not have a booth at conventions for years? Ike wouldn’t allow it. Marvel got around this in various ways — one year at San Diego, a cookie giveaway was used to mask a barebones signing table. In other years, Marvel exhibited with its video game partner, Activision. Since becoming a movie studio, Marvel has been able to spring for more lavish and spectacular booths — remember Thor’s throne? But promoting comics isn’t in the budget.

The current problem seems to stem from a publishing forecast that didn’t get hit when the actual numbers came in.

Centers for Disease Control Publishes Comic Book on....the Zombie Pandemic?

It's true!

From a story on Comics Alliance...

Though the Centers for Disease Control doesn't ever expect to have to grapple with the undead or their virus-afflicted kin, its free downloadable comic, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, uses the fictional threat to remind readers of the importance of being ready for real life disasters. Prompted by the success of the CDC's Zombie Preparedness blog launched in May, the new comic follows a young couple and their dog who stay safe and levelheaded through a burgeoning zombie apocalypse by following basic CDC disaster preparedness instructions.

According to USA Today, the comic was a hit as a giveaway at New York Comic Con 2011 when director of the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Ali Khan passed out free printed copies at the "Zombie Summit: How to Survive the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse" panel. If the CDC has its way, the online version will draw a similarly significant number of eyes and help better prepare the public for emergencies.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Emily Dickinson - Master Baker

It's true. Make some of her coconut cake for yourself.

Captain Underpants - The Movie

'Tis true.

From a piece on Deadline New York...

After a spirited auction, DreamWorks Animation has acquired rights to make a feature out of Captain Underpants, the popular 8-volume book series by Dav Pilkey. DreamWorks Animation wasn’t the only bidder, but won the title this morning.

The books revolve around a couple of precocious fourth graders named George Beard and Harold Hutchins. Looking to get back at nasty, student-hating principal Mr. Benny Krupp, the boys hypnotize the principal and cause him to become Captain Underpants. He’s a superhero who is nice and helpful to children and manages to get into all kinds of misadventures with the fourth graders shadowing him to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. The principal has no recollection of his heroics when he returns to normal. Pikey has completed eight volumes with a ninth in the works, Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers. Scholastic publishes the books.

This Book Belongs To...

Forbes revels in bookplates.

From the piece...

The bookplate first appeared in the late 15th century, when books were still rare and highly valuable (for example, only about 180 copies of Gutenberg’s Bible were printed when it was first published in 1455). Rich book owners — almost always nobles — began commissioning artists to design and make woodcuts with their coat of arms to signify ownership. It wasn’t until the 19th century that bookplates reached their full artistic expression, when a new middle class began commissioning them. Without a coat of arms, these individuals — academics, museum officials, doctors, artists, lawyers, architects and other members of the bourgeoisie — asked for bookplates that would highlight their own achievements and interests, rather than their lineage.

Many of these bookplates included images of libraries, books and owls (conveying knowledge and wisdom — something that surely flattered those who commissioned them). One particularly ego-stoking one for the medical doctor George Burckhard portrays a heroic St. George slaying a dragon, no doubt equating Burckhard’s profession with the saint’s brave, noble act. Many of the bookplates are clever — one for a neurologist depicts a mermaid, a creature that was supposed to teach humans cures for diseases.

And several said something not only about the owner, but about the artist as well.

Readings from the BOO-kshelf

The New York Times offers up some Halloween reading ideas for the kiddos, here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Star Wars Art: Comics

When You're Strange

Should we consider Jim Morrison, rock’s Bozo Dionysus, a real poet?

The question is pondered by the Poetry Foundation.

From the piece...

But the Lizard King is not dead.

Although it may not shock that Doors music is still popular, what might surprise is that Jim Morrison’s poetry still has an audience. As I write this, the remastered CD of An American Prayer, a Jim Morrison spoken-word album posthumously released in 1978, sits at number one on Amazon’s “Music > Miscellaneous > Poetry, Spoken Word & Interviews” chart, ahead of Jim Carroll and Alcoholics Anonymous and neck-and-neck with Tom Waits. Morrison’s collections of poetry continue to sell, too. Two of his three poetry titles reside semipermanently on Amazon’s poetry best-seller list—Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, Volume 1 (#26) and The Lords and the New Creatures (#40)—sitting alongside Allen Ginsberg, Mary Oliver, and Tupac Shakur, and ahead of Eliot, Frost, Poe, and Bishop.

This is irritating to serious poetry people. But maybe there is something to Morrison’s poetry beyond the laughs. Maybe it’s time we considered him to be something beyond the “Bozo Dionysus” Lester Bangs saw him as. Maybe it’s time we accepted him as a bona fide American poet.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's Wardrobe

Care to see the real wardrobe? You're in luck.

The 9 Best Universities in the World to Study Literature

The list, care of the Huffington Post.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Joan Didion - Profiled

New York Magazine profiles her, here, upon publication of her new book, Blue Nights.

From the piece...

In person, Didion does concede to me the occasional hard criticism. She admits that her writing might lack empathy, even human curiosity. “I’m not very interested in people,” she says. “I recognize it in myself—there is a basic indifference toward people.”

But there is one critique that still gets her hackles up, decades later. In “Only Disconnect,” published in 1980, Barbara Grizzutti Harrison called Didion a “neurasthenic Cher” whose style was “a bag of tricks” and whose “subject is always herself.” That wasn’t the worst of it: “My charity does not naturally extend itself,” Harrison wrote, to “someone who has chosen to burden her daughter with the name Quintana Roo.” Asked 25 years later, in this magazine, whether she felt Magical Thinking was criticproof, Didion replied, “Not if my daughter’s name wasn’t criticproof.”

It's a telling scar.

The Morgan's Dazzling Islamic Manuscript Paintings

They're on display now.

From a post on Salon...

Roughly when, and under what circumstances, did most of these manuscripts come to the Morgan?

Actually, in a funny kind of way, the collection was the offspring of a love affair. Belle da Costa Green was [Pierpont] Morgan’s rather attractive librarian; in November of 1908, Bernard Berenson, the famous art historian of the Italian Renaissance, came to the library — and it was love at first sight. About two years later, they went off together to the great exhibition that was being held in Munich in 1910. This was one of those great blockbuster shows on Islamic art. And after having fallen in love with each other, they fell in love with Islamic manuscripts. Interestingly, Berenson, between 1910 and 1913, actually developed a small collection of these things; in a letter, Belle da Costa Green also said that she should like to collect in this area for herself. And she did.

At the exhibition in 1910, they saw two magnificent portfolios of album leaves [individual pages from separate works, drawn together by collectors]. These had been lent by Sir Charles Hercules Read, who was working at the British Museum — he was the keeper of anthropology and antiquities. Belle da Costa Green wrote to him; she said that she had seen his beautiful leaves, and that she thought they were the best things in the show, and should he decide to sell them, would he be so kind as to give Morgan the first refusal? He did — and so Morgan bought the Persian album and the Mughal album from Charles Hercules Read, and those are of course two of the things that are featured in the exhibition. So it was through Belle da Costa Green, really, that Morgan was “turned on” to Islamic manuscripts.

The core of our collection was purchased by Morgan between 1910 and 1913. When Morgan died, in March of 1913, Belle da Costa Green wrote a letter to Berenson, and said, “Isn’t it a pity that, just as I got my Mr. Morgan interested in collecting these things, he died?” And the second group of manuscripts that we received of Islamic nature were indeed those that were bequeathed to us by Belle da Costa Green when she died, in 1950. These are the two big clusters of these materials in the collection.

Trip Print Press

Trip Print Press & The Making Of FreshSox from Brought To You By ... on Vimeo.

The Rum Diary

Playboy has a collection of all the work Hunter S. Thompson did for their magazine, here.

And talking about The Rum Diary...

And talking about the movie is Johnny Depp.

Cryptic Clues to Dracula

A private notebook discovered by Bram Stoker's great-grandson has 'clear parallels' with Jonathan Harker's journal in his famous vampire novel.

From a piece in the Guardian...

The 100-odd-page notebook covers the period when Stoker was a student at Trinity College in Dublin and a clerk at Dublin Castle, written in a clear precursor to the journalistic style of Dracula and containing the author's earliest attempts at poetry and prose. "There are some definite parallels between this notebook and Jonathan Harker's journal, and certain entries from Bram's notebook actually resurfaced twentysomething years later in Dracula. Because he wrote little about himself, Dracula fans and Stoker scholars have largely been free to speculate about Bram. Rumours and myths have taken on a life of their own. Now, with this chapter of Bram's life revealed, the rest of his life will be more accurately interpreted," said Dacre Stoker.

The notebook opens with an entry entitled Night Fishing – the earliest known example of Stoker's writing – which Dacre Stoker and Miller said "shows an aspiring writer composing an excessively descriptive passage in flowery prose". It also reveals the author's connection with the sea and his respect for the people at its mercy, an interest which would re-emerge in published works including Dracula (1897), The Watter's Mou' (1894), The Mystery of the Sea (1902) and Greater Love (1914).

Penny Postcards from the 50 States


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rise of Robot Authors

The New York Times discusses the rising scourge!

From the article...

But the invasion of robot-books is unsettling for another reason. I think we can all agree that it’s O.K. for robots to take over unpleasant jobs — like cleaning up nuclear waste. But how could we have allowed them to commandeer one of the most gratifying occupations, that of author?

Which brings me back to Lambert M. Surhone. Might he be a robot? Reading the fine print, I traced some of Surhone’s books to a VDM branch office in the island nation of Mauritius, off the coast of Madagascar. I called. As the faraway phone rang, I fantasized about what I would say to Surhone. By now I imagined him as a character in a Vonnegut novel, and so I was tempted to ask whether he hailed from Tralfamadore, the planet inhabited by robots. But I never had a chance. No one at the company answered the phone.

Then, when I least expected it, Surhone came for me. One day, a book titled “Pagan Kennedy” popped up on Barnesandnoble­.com, priced at $50. The lead editor: Lambert M. Surhone. I was both thrilled and creeped out. Reader, I ordered it. Within a few days, the book appeared on my doorstep. The cover was adorned with a stripy abstraction that looked like a beach towel. Inside was the Pagan Kennedy Wikipedia entry, and then a random collection of wiki-text tenuously connected to my path through life. (About a quarter of the book is devoted to Dartmouth College, where I worked as a visiting writer a few years ago.) Some of the text is so small you might need a jeweler’s loupe to read it. So the book was, as advertised, Wikipedia content — though it’s hard to imagine anyone would want it in this format.

Around that time, I also heard from a managing director of VDM, who responded to my badgering questions about robots. “Our wiki-books are produced by a group of about 40 editors,” Wolfgang Philipp Müller told me via e-mail. “Editors start at A and end their work at Z. Every topic that has enough content for a book is our target.” He said that last year, the company sold about 3,000 wiki-books — not a lot. Still, with prices that average around $50, it’s likely the company sees a high profit on each one.

Favorite Winter Books

Adam Gopnik picks them by way of the CBC.

Moby-Dick - The American Bible

Nathaniel Philbrick thinks it part of our country's DNA.

From a piece on NPR...

It's his "favorite book." He refers back to it almost daily. He finds it "full of great wisdom" — and yes, that includes the whale anatomy parts, which Philbrick says are part of a system of what might seem to be meanderings, but are in fact "wormholes of metaphysical poetry that are truly revelatory."

But that's really thinking too small to fully understand why Philbrick thinks you should read Moby-Dick. As he tells Robert Siegel, he thinks you should read it not only because "the level of the language is like no other," but because "it's as close to being our American Bible as we have."

What does he mean by that fairly weighty reference? Moby-Dick, Philbrick explains, published in 1851, was itself born in the pre-Civil-War churn of a very tense American consciousness. While it wasn't a critical or popular success upon publication (critically, he calls it a "great disaster"), Philbrick notes that after World War I, Americans here and abroad came to understand that it contained "the genetic code" for much of what happens in the country where it was written. And he predicts it will cycle back to relevance in difficult times, "whenever we will run into an imminent cataclysm."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unwanted Books as Halloween Decorations?

Here's how.

The Keaton Music Typewriter


A Dark Lyricist Turns to Tales for Children

Colin Meloy is the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Decemberists. He's also a children's writer.

From a story in the New York Times...

The brain behind the brainy rock band the Decemberists is changing course, putting his musical pursuits on hold to write a trilogy of children’s novels with his wife, Carson Ellis, an illustrator. They contain, in drips and dribbles, one of Mr. Meloy’s favorite motifs.

That would be blood. The dark colors in the first volume of “The Wildwood Chronicles,” titled “Wildwood” and recently published by Balzer & Bray, should not surprise anyone familiar with the band’s playfully roguish songbook, which includes, amid seafaring yarns and espionage procedurals, blanching descriptions of rape, torture and the serial murder of children.

The book, intended for ages 9 to 12, brims with grimly comic violence. Coyotes dressed in Napoleonic uniforms train musket, cannon and bayonet on woodland bandits, talking birds and an industrious rat named Septimus. Many perish in the fight, although not nearly as many as Decemberists fans might be accustomed to.

Mr. Meloy reined himself in, not only because he was writing for a young audience, but also because he had to keep his story sufficiently peopled for 541 pages. “In a book you have to consider the repercussions,” he said. “In a song, after three and a half minutes, it’s done. So you can kind of kill people off willy-nilly.”

Nat Tate

One of my favorite writers is William Boyd. He discusses his creation of his most realistic character, Nat Tate, for the Guardian.

From the piece...

I put together the details of Nat Tate's life fairly swiftly. Born in New Jersey in 1928, he had been orphaned as a young boy and adopted by a rich couple who lived in Long Island. Showing some aptitude for art, he went to art school and then – funded by his doting father – set himself up as an artist in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. New York was becoming the centre of all that was fashionable in modern painting and Nat began to enjoy some acclaim in the 1950s as a young painter, and was linked with the artists who formed part of the Abstract Expressionist movement. But as the decade ended Nat Tate was in a bad way. He was drinking too much and he had been profoundly shaken by two encounters with unequivocal artistic genius – namely Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Nat had met them both in France – the one trip he took abroad in his life.

Disturbed and made insecure by the meeting with these two contemporary giants of the art world, Nat had looked again at his own art and whatever talent it displayed and had found it seriously wanting. Depressed by this self-knowledge, he gathered together everything he could find of his paintings and drawings – some 99% of his output – and burned them in a fervid auto da fé over one weekend. He then committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island ferry as it crossed the Hudson River from New York towards New Jersey. It was 12 January 1960. His body was never found.

Another member of the Modern Painters editorial board was David Bowie (we had joined the board at the same time). Bowie, with some collaborators, had set up a small publishing company called 21 Publishing and he suggested we publish the story I had written about Nat Tate as a small, beautifully produced, coffee-table art-monograph. I agreed, unhesitatingly.