Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Corporate Identity Through the Eyes of a 5-Year-Old

How Do You Get a Book Published?

Start here.

How We Made the Gruffalo

"My original Gruffalo was scarier, with bigger claws – and the mouse had a Bavarian hat and lederhosen," says Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler for the Guardian.

From the story...

I quickly realised that using a tiger would be a problem; I had to invent a predator who wouldn't really have been in the wood. It was then that I came up with the "Silly old fox, doesn't he know/ There's no such thing as a …" couplet. "Gruffalo" just fitted the rhyme.

I submitted the story to the publisher, and they sat on it for a year. I started to think it would never see the light, but one day my husband said: "Look, it's so good. Why don't you just send it to Axel?" So I did, although I hardly knew him; he'd illustrated my first book, but I'd only met him once or twice. Within a week I got a letter from Alison Green, Macmillan's picture book editor, saying he'd shown it to them and they were desperate to publish it.

It wasn't all plain sailing; Alison phoned me at one point to ask: "Do you envisage these animals wearing clothes?" Axel's first sketches had the mouse in a checked shirt and the fox in a frock coat, which was almost OK – but the snake in a bow tie was a definite problem. The Gruffalo took a couple of attempts. I still have some original sketches: in one he's very upright and ogreish, in another he's on all fours and looks like a wild boar. I'd originally imagined him as a bit more colourful and weird – but he's absolutely right the way Axel drew him.

You Never Know What Might Happen After a Typo in an Email

To RP Salazar, with Love from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

What Not to Put in Books?

36 pounds of cocaine.

Seriously, stop with the cocaine already.

Reconsidering the Genius of Gertrude Stein

The New York Times reconsiders.

From the article...

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) is called a genius, and it’s from that vantage her writing is read — or not read, since awe and reverence are regularly met by dismissal and ridicule. Curiously, not every “genius” is equally suffocated by the label. Readers know the extraordinary reputations of Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf, but some prefer “Richard III” to “Richard II,” or “Mrs. Dalloway” to “Orlando.” They feel at liberty to discriminate.

Fewer readers imagine they can create their own Stein; many feel she is beyond their capacity to understand. Maybe this is because she has been claimed as the sine qua non of the avant-garde. But she aligned herself with her time. Being part of the “contemporary composition” was central to her work, a point she made in her trenchant essay (originally a lecture) “Composition as Explanation”: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything.”

Literary Gender Bias at NPR

The Boston Phoenix examines it.

From the piece...

My own research has turned up even more damaging statistics. To test Weiner's hypothesis, I turned to another literary gatekeeper: public radio. NPR is one of the few mass media outlets to devote regular coverage to books and novelists. According to their own Web site, 34 million people tune into NPR stations every week, and almost 27 million listen regularly to at least one NPR show. And NPR drives sales: as any bookseller will tell you, a guest spot on Fresh Air sends droves of right-minded Americans scurrying to their local independent.

Does NPR, arguably the most far-reaching book-review outlet in America, favor women or men? I tallied the genders of novelists reviewed or interviewed between August 1 and November 31, 2011, on the NPR shows Fresh Air, All Things Considered,Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition, and the WBUR shows On Point and Here and Now.

As it turns out, public media is worse than even the New York Times. Far worse. NPR and WBUR talked about male writers about 70 percent of the time. Of the roughly 60 works of fiction discussed on NPR, only about 20 were written by women. Of the six novelists featured on more than one program, all but Amy Waldman, author of The Submission, were men. Of the three novelists interviewed on more than one program, all were men. Terry Gross interviewed twice as many male as female novelists, and Morning Edition apparently dedicated no coverage at all to women fiction writers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun with Homonyms

Book Riot revels in them.

From the piece...

If you said “newspaper,” congratulations—you know how to recognize a homonym! Also, you must remember a time when newspapers were actually “read all over.”*

*I prefer this less-tactful version: “What’s black and white and red all over and can’t fit through a revolving door? A nun with a spear through her head.” But, alas, no homonyms.

In the technical linguistic sense, a homonym is a set of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but have different meanings.

Want a list of homonyms? Alan Cooper's obsessed with them.

Ansel Adams - Photographer of...Los Angeles?


Why Movie Posters Are Trying to Throw Off Your Balance

There's a short piece in New York Magazine about titled movie posters.

From the piece...

Key art, of course, moves in cycles. Witness the “distressed type” fad of a few years ago, which has given rise to the current obsession with Futura font. The idea behind the tilting trend is that it forces our brains to engage with the poster's image and mentally correct it: Just as we can't help ourselves from adjusting a picture frame that's hanging askew, you've mentally engaged with and corrected the poster before you even realized you've been paying attention to it.

"A Wrinkle in Time" and Its Sci-Fi Heroine

The New York Times revels in the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time.

From the essay...

But for those who came of age anytime during the past half-century, the most startling transformation occurred upon reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Medal-winning classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It was under L’Engle’s influence that we willed ourselves to be like Meg Murry, the awkward girl who suffered through flyaway hair, braces and glasses but who was also and to a much greater degree concerned with the extent of her own intelligence, the whereabouts of her missing scientist father, the looming threat of conformity and, ultimately, the fate of the universe.

Meg Murry, in short, was a departure from the typical “girls’ book” protagonist — as wonderful as many of those varied characters are. Meg was a heroine of science fiction.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are Germans Ready for a Republishing of Mein Kampf?

That's the question posed recently by the Christian Science Monitor.

From the article...

Will a German magazine’s attempt to republish excerpts of the anti-Semitic manifesto propagate hate and inspire neo-Nazi groups? Or will it deflate the aura that surrounds the restricted work and expose it as a confused, rambling screed?

Peter McGee was counting on the latter. The British publisher had planned to run three 16-page segments of “Mein Kampf” as pamphlets inserted into issues of German magazine “Zeitungszeugen” starting next week. Critical commentary of the text was to accompany the excerpts. As of midday Wednesday, however, the plan was put on hold under threat of legal action from the state of Bavaria.

“It’s long overdue that a broad public should get the opportunity to deal with the original text,” McGee had told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

25 Pieces of Awesome Literary Street Art

The list, care of Flavorwire.

The Five Books That Inspire the Most Tattoos

The list, care of Publishers Weekly.

The Amazing 1966 Batman Trading Cards


Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Master of Arts in...Crime Writing?

You betcha.

From a piece in the Guardian...

As the underworld steadily increases its grip on literary culture, City University in London is turning to crime, with the launch of an MA devoted to teaching crime fiction and thriller writing.

Launched in response to student demand, and to the growing popularity of the genre, the UK's first creative writing masters dedicated to crime and thriller novels is another harbinger of a "second golden age of crime writing".

The genre is the second biggest in the UK, according to official data, with sales of £87.6m in 2011, while debut thriller Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson topped the charts last week. The course will teach budding Agatha Christies and Ian Rankins everything from how to create suspense to new ways to tackle new crimes, thoroughly investigating all aspects of the genre, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers.

Conserving the Magna Carta

Ten "Alice in Wonderland" Inspired Tales on Film

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Six Authors Who Moonlighted as Lyricists

The list, care of the L Magazine.

On the Making of Habibi

It took the graphic novelist Craig Thompson seven years to complete Habibi, his epic exploration of child slavery and sexual awakening in an imaginary Middle-Eastern kingdom.

He charts its creation from first thoughts to finished pages, here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Doomsday Speeches

What if D-Day failed? What if the first men on the moon didn't come back? If these landmark events had ended in tragedy, what would General Eisenhower and President Nixon have said?

From a piece in the Atlantic...

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

70 Years in Comics

IGN interviews the legendary Stan Lee.

From said interview...

IGN: [laughs] What would you say is the biggest way that the comic book industry has changed in your lifetime? From when you started to where you are now?

Lee: To me, the two biggest changes are, one, they use computers now for the coloring and for the lettering. Another way is, it used to be you just had people that wanted to write and draw comics in the business. Now, you get people who are professional and highly selling novelists writing comics. You get the top artists drawing comics.

And the reason is, they're always thinking, "Gee, if this books turns out good they'll make a movie out of it and I'll become rich and famous!" Or, richer and more famous. So we have very important people now working on comics that wouldn't have gone anywhere near them a few decades ago. That's a big change.

The Poem Forest

Poem Forest took place November 2011 at the New York Botanical Garden, which was celebrating the renovation of its 50-acre old-growth forest. The Garden, in conjunction with the Poetry Society of America, asked Jon Cotner to do something poetry-related on site.

Here is what he did

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maurice Sendak on the Colbert Report

Part I:

Part II:

Top Ten Book of the Night

The list, care of the Guardian.

Moby-Dick Toilet Paper?

Moby-Dick toilet paper.


Twelve 506 page volumes printed-on-demand, representing a scale model of our solar system from the Sun to Pluto.

In other words, awesome...

ASTRONOMICAL - The Movie from Mishka Henner on Vimeo.

The Month of Letters Challenge

Can you send out a letter every day in the month of February?

From a piece on Mary Robinette Kowel's blog...

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? December sees a lot of mail and you remember that sense of delight when the first card arrives. You can have that more often.

I have a simple challenge for you.

In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.

Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

Man Ray's Avant-Garde Photos of His Famous Friends


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Robert Burns - Terrorist?

If he were alive and writing today? Yes.

From an article in the Scotsman...

ROBERT Burns’ great song Scots, Wha Hae Wi’ Wallace Bled is considered by many to be an appeal for insurrection. It is not so much about Wallace and Bruce but about Burns using their example to incite the struggle against an increasingly tyrannical and corrupt government in London. The last line “Liberty’s in every blow / Let us do – or die” is not only an incitement to direct violence, it also directly connects Burns with the armed revolutionary struggle then ongoing in France; “Let us do – or die” being the French revolutionaries’ battle cry

Samina Malik, a shop assistant at Heathrow Airport, was the first woman to be convicted under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. She was charged with the crime of “possessing records likely to be used for terrorism”. Among these “records” were a number of poems inciting jihad. She was found guilty and sentenced, a judgment later overturned on appeal.

The parallels between Burns and Malik are obvious: radicalised politics; associating with others of a like mind; connections with foreign terrorist groups and a call to insurrection. So how would Robert Burns, who styled himself a “son of sedition”, fare if he were to be judged by the standards of our current anti-terror legislation? Would we find him detained in Barlinnie Prison, languishing in solitary confinement and composing his jail diaries? If Scots Wha Hae could be indictable under our contemporary terror legislation, for what else might Burns have been prosecuted?

The Avengers - the Cologne?

Smell like Thor today!

NBC News - Book Publishers?


Shelf Lives - Four Centuries of Book Collectors and Their Books

This sounds like a great exhibit.

From the Cambridge University Library...

With more than eight million items on its shelves, Cambridge University Library is one of the largest accumulations of books and manuscripts in Europe, and one of the most important in the world. But its holdings are not a single, uniform entity: instead they consist of a great variety of different collections which, over the centuries, by one route or another, have come to be housed under the same roof. Some of the most remarkable of these are the collections gathered by ardent individual book-lovers, whose intensely personal passions for acquiring rare and beautiful volumes have, through the eventual deposit of their treasures in the Library, gone on to enrich the national heritage.

This exhibition presents ten such collectors, whose lives span the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. As well as placing on display some of the most splendid, distinctive and—in a few cases—unexpected items held in the Library, it allows us to observe the changing motives, fashions and tastes of book-collectors over the course of four hundred years.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Photographers With Their Famous Photographs


Holy Solitude

Kong Yalei, for Granta, revels in the quiet revelation that is reading.

From the short essay...

I felt satisfied because I felt solitary. I treasure this solitude. It’s my holy solitude. Maybe now there is nothing holy in modern China – except Money. But at least to me, Solitude is holy. It means that in spite of everything else, I still can do something I want to do, such as reading. I’m always a keen reader of western literature. I love Raymond Carver, Paul Auster, Geoff Dyer, Alice Munro and many others. My favourite magazines on this planet are The New Yorker, Harper’s (an American friend ordered these two magazines’ digital subscriptions for me as a gift), and, Granta (I met with the editor John Freeman, in Beijing, just two days before the Congress, and we talked about books so happily – like two killers talking about guns – that he also gave me a digital subscription, also as a gift). I always think, either as a reader or as a writer, one person – anyone – can struggle against this filthy world by entering into a world of literature.

How to Write Like a Funny Woman

Elissa Bassist recently took some improv classes. She's trying to use those tools in her writing.

From a story on the Rumpus...

1. Be in a scene (a place, a time, an action). I used to start scenes with a joke and go from there; one day my teacher, the venerable Chelsea Clarke, stopped me and said, “Be rowing a boat.” I began rowing a fake boat, and suddenly, I was a character in a boat; the audience knew where I was and what I was doing.

It’s similarly knee-jerk to start a chapter discussing the metaphysics of unrequited love or whatever, but that’s disorientating to your reader because it’s like soliloquizing in space. Put your reader in a scene. Make one character be unrequitedly in love with another character rowing her boat.

1a. Relatedly, I wrote a chapter that is 80% me talking about my emotions and blowjobs. After an hour-long conversation with an editor about how to organize/overhaul this chapter, she finally said, “Elissa! Get out of the talky headspace, and present [verb] moments, rather than talk on and on about them. Basically, I need to see the blowjob. Take me into the blowjob room.” Take your readers into the blowjob room.

2. Play to the top of your intelligence. I wish I could explain this one better, but I think I just like the phrase, “Play to the top of your intelligence.” (Here is what Google says: ”If your character is stupid, be smart about how you’re stupid,” which I take to mean, be stupid in a specific way).

2a. I am trying to write a book. The book begins with me as a college student, a nineteen-year-old girl. I did a lot of dumb shit at that age. As the writer/present-day narrator (no longer a college student, no longer a teenager), I have to be smart about showing that young girl doing dumb shit.

What Fiction Can Teach Us About Love

Reading fiction, from Virgil to Jane Austen to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a great way to learn about the ways of the heart—and to avoid getting heartsick.

From a piece in the Daily Beast...

When E.M. Forster asked a hypothetical reader in his book Aspects of the Novel why he read fiction, the character said, “It seems a funny sort of question to ask—a novel’s a novel—well, I don’t know—I suppose it tells a story, so to speak.” The story is essential, of course, to keep us engaged. But those of us who are drawn to novels aren’t there purely for entertainment (particularly not in this era when we can watch all the movies, television shows, and viral videos we want). No, most of us go between the pages to get inside different minds and learn more about how people tick. It’s no coincidence that the world’s best novelists are some of our most outstanding psychologists. (Just ask Freud, who thought Dostoyevsky was revelatory.)

When it comes to figuring out crucial lessons of human behavior, timeless works of fiction are unparalleled primers. As Keith Oatley, a professor in the department of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, recently told the Guardian: “Reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way [of] making the world a better place by improving [empathy] … but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.” Fiction can also, I’ve found, shed plenty of light on our romantic lives. In fact, I myself have learned so much about my own amorous trials and tribulations from great stories that I was inspired to write a book about it: the just-published Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-so-great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Dating.

Woven Newspaper Portraits

The beautiful artwork of Gugger Petter.

Amazon.com - The Predator

Publishers and booksellers discuss Amazon.com's foray into book publishing on NPR.

From the piece...

Publishers have a problem when it comes to discussing Amazon: They may fear its power, but they are also dependent on it, because like it or not, Amazon sells a lot of books. But lately, the grumbling about Amazon has been growing louder, with some in the book industry openly describing Amazon's tactics as "predatory."

Publishers have long complained about Amazon's pricing policies; it sold e-books at cut-rate prices in order to win customers for the Kindle. Now, explains Joe Wikert, general manager and publisher at O'Reilly Media, Amazon is undercutting competitors by selling e-readers, like the new Kindle Fire, at a loss.

"The word 'predator' is pretty strong, and I don't use it loosely," he says, "but ... I could have sworn we had laws against predatory pricing. I just don't understand why that's not an issue — because that's got to be hurting other device makers out there in trying to capture this market."

States of Play

The Financial Times discusses Americans' love of sports and then writing about it.

From the piece...

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a1322128-41d2-11e1-a1bf-00144feab49a.html#ixzz1kI3WO0TJ

I first read The Sportswriter not long after it was published – it was a gift from my father – and it seemed entirely new and fresh, so unlike the English novels I’d read. I couldn’t imagine that the English writers I was being encouraged to read at that time – William Golding, Graham Greene, John Fowles – would begin a novel as Ford did or write with the same idiomatic freedom and confidence about the centrality of sport in our lives. I used to think that a choice had to be made between sport and literature; that you couldn’t be both a sportsman and a book man. They represented two separate and distinct cultures, the life of the mind and the life of action, and there was no connecting bridge between them.

I was wrong, of course, but it took me many years and the emergence of the new memoir-writing about sport, inspired by Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and Pete Davies’s All Played Out in the early 1990s, to understand why. I realise now that my misunderstanding was bound up with class anxieties about what was an appropriate subject for serious and considered study and reflection, the failures of English education (mine, at least) and, above all, with the absence of a literary tradition.

The End of Pop-Up Books?

It’s too early to say that pop-up books are dead, but it seems clear that a lot of the fun they presented has been channeled into ebooks and book apps for kids.

From a story on the Daily Beast...

Anyone worried about the future can exhale—sort of. Pop -up books aren’t dead, they’ve just turned into book apps. The apps for, say, Peter Rabbit or Alice in Wonderland are the easiest to compare to old fashioned pop-up books, thanks to their traditional stylings and digital pull-tabs. They inhabit a strange middle ground between ebook and app: not strictly text but also not quite Angry Birds. They are what ebooks would look like if their illustrations came to life.

The other digital successors to old fashioned pop-ups are magazine apps, such as those for GQ and Esquire, with their interactive doodads, moving images, and digital easter eggs if you shake your screen just so.

Magazine apps and book apps for kids may be the new pop-ups, but that doesn’t mean we should go all Fahrenheit 451 just yet.

Botanists Agree to Loosen Latin's Grip

Latin's dead and getting deader. From a piece in the Washington Post about how botanists are starting to name things in English...

For at least 400 years, botanists across the globe have relied on Latin as their lingua franca, but the ardor has cooled. Scientists say plants will keep their double-barreled Latin names, but they have decided to drop the requirement that new species be described in the classical language. Instead, they have agreed to allow botanists to use English (other languages need not apply). In their scientific papers, they can still describe a newly found species of plant — or algae or fungi — in Latin if they wish, but most probably won’t.

“The new chatter is in chemicals and molecules,” said Laurence Dorr, one of three Latinists in the Smithsonian Institution’s botany department who would help their colleagues translate. “It was heading toward extinction,” said Warren Wagner, department chair.

The change, which took effect Jan. 1, is more than just academic. Smithsonian botanists alone might introduce as many as 100 new plant species a year, discovered either on their travels or in the national herbarium, a collection of 5 million dried specimens housed at the Natural History Museum. Globally, scientists discover 2,000 new species per annum. As many as one in five of the world’s plant species have yet to be identified, and not until they are named and known to the scientific community can they can be protected and studied further. “You can’t talk about it until that point,” said James Miller, vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden. “It’s not the end of knowing a species, it’s the beginning.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

War Horse - From Page, to Stage, to Screen

Audubon's "Birds of America" Flies High

How high? An American just spent $7.9 million on a first edition.

From a piece in the New York Daily News...

The winning price was within the presale estimate of $7 million to $10 million for the work, which depicts more than 400 life-size North American species in four monumental volumes and is considered a masterpiece of ornithology art.

Another complete first edition of “The Birds of America” sold at Sotheby’s in London in December 2010 for $11.5 million, a record for the most expensive printed book sold at auction.

The 3 1/2-foot-tall books feature hand-colored prints of all the species known to Audubon in early 19th-century North America. Audubon insisted on the book’s large format — printed on the largest handmade sheets available at the time — because of his desire to portray the birds in their actual size and natural habitat.

He found creative ways to paint them to fit the page, including showing large species feeding with their necks bent.

The set at Christie’s was offered for sale by the heirs of the Fourth Duke of Portland, who died in 1854.

The Handmaid's Tale

It has been banned in schools, made into a film and an opera, and the title has become a shorthand for repressive regimes against women. Margaret Atwood discusses her most famous work in the Guardian.

From the piece...

The Handmaid's Tale has not been out of print since it was first published, back in 1985. It has sold millions of copies worldwide and has appeared in a bewildering number of translations and editions. It has become a sort of tag for those writing about shifts towards policies aimed at controlling women, and especially women's bodies and reproductive functions: "Like something out of The Handmaid's Tale" and "Here comes The Handmaid's Tale" have become familiar phrases. It has been expelled from high schools, and has inspired odd website blogs discussing its descriptions of the repression of women as if they were recipes. People – not only women – have sent me photographs of their bodies with phrases from The Handmaid's Tale tattooed on them, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum" and "Are there any questions?" being the most frequent. The book has had several dramatic incarnations, a film (with screenplay by Harold Pinter and direction by Volker Schlöndorff) and an opera (by Poul Ruders) among them. Revellers dress up as Handmaids on Hallowe'en and also for protest marches – these two uses of its costumes mirroring its doubleness. Is it entertainment or dire political prophecy? Can it be both? I did not anticipate any of this when I was writing the book.

I began this book almost 30 years ago, in the spring of 1984, while living in West Berlin – still encircled, at that time, by the Berlin Wall. The book was not called The Handmaid's Tale at first – it was called Offred – but I note in my journal that its name changed on 3 January 1985, when almost 150 pages had been written.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

10 Cult Literary Traditions for Die Hard Fans

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Guidebooks to Babylon

Old guidebooks of vice are warmly discussed on the New York Times.

From the piece...

To the uninitiated, these clandestine directories make the most dubious of all literary subgenres. They were created, of course, to provide practical information for gentlemen travelers venturing through a city’s demimonde, and so have titles that range from mildly risqué (“The Pretty Women of Paris,” “Directory to the Seraglios”) to unashamedly coarse (“A Catalogue of Jilts, Cracks and Prostitutes, Nightwalkers, Whores, She-Friends, Kind Women and Others of the Linnen-Lifting Tribe”). The prose is rarely distinguished. Many of the guidebooks doubled as cheap erotica, filled with unsavory jokes and double-entendres. And even the most successful were designed to be disposable. Written anonymously (or with pseudonyms worthy of Bart Simpson, like A. Butt Ender or Free Loveyer), they were printed on poor-quality paper in pocket-size editions, distributed under the table and generally discarded soon after use.

But today, the rare survivals of these flimsy publications are revered — at least by social historians. There is no more vivid means of evoking the shadowy back streets, raucous taverns and perfumed boudoirs of a vanished city than to pore over a prostitute directory’s brittle, yellowed pages. “Historians love it when they stumble across these guides,” said Debby Applegate, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who is working on a biography of Polly Adler, Manhattan’s most famous madam from the 1920s to the ’40s. “They’re like underground directories to a city. They tell you a huge amount, including how prostitution was so much more widespread than people realize, seeping far beyond the red-light districts.”

15 of the Greatest Literary Mustaches

The list, care of Flavorwire.

The 50 Most Quoted Lines of Poetry

The list, care of the Inky Fool.

Hint: The #1 entry is written by the guy above (Alexander Pope).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Like Big Books

Visions of the Arabian Nights

What's the history of the Western interpretation of the Arabian Nights?

From a piece in the Times Literary Supplement...

Nowhere is the fascination felt in Western culture for the East more evident than in its avid consumption of The Arabian Nights. Ever since Antoine Galland issued the first translation in French in the early eighteenth century, the stories have become a permanent part of the Western literary and visual landscape, spawning numerous adaptations, tributes and imitations. Princess Scheherazade, Aladdin, Sinbad the sailor and Ali Baba have acquired the status of cultural icons; genies, flying carpets and magic lamps, once curiosities of medieval Arab and Persian mythology, are now the stock-in-trade of modern occidental fantasy. There have been musical interpretations of the tales by Rimsky-Korsakov and Weber; cartoon versions by Disney, and lavish Hollywood incarnations. The influence of the Nights extends from the poetry of Goethe to Wordsworth to Rilke, to modern fiction from Fielding through Proust to Borges. In fact, so much of European and American literature has been influenced by the tales that it would be far easier, as Robert Irwin suggests in his The Arabian Nights: A companion (1994), simply to list the handful of writers who were not influenced by them.

Irwin returns to the theme in this sumptuous history of the illustrated Western editions of The Arabian Nights. Visions of the Jinn is part bibliographical exposition, part dazzling magic lantern show: its 164 colour-saturated facsimiles, photographs and black-and-white images and their accompanying analysis offer a visually stunning and sensitive account of the European response to this important text.

Batman vs. Fox News

DC Comics' superheroes come under attack in news report with echoes of 50s witchhunt.

From a piece in the Guardian...

On Wednesday, Fox 5 – a regional division of the network – aired a special report headlined "Relaunched comics using sex and violence to sell", which focused on DC comics' much-publicised back-to-basics revamp of its entire line last autumn (the publisher started all its comics again from issue number one with fresh creative teams in a bid to get new readers on board and tidy up decades of confusing continuity).

"DC Comics' characters include the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Today, some of these superheroes would make Archie and Veronica blush," ran the report, while comic collector Joe Blackwell opined: "They more or less darkened the characters up. Today, they introduce a lot more reality into it like homosexuality, adultery, all that stuff. It's in the books now."

Neil Bernstein, PhD, a child psychologist and author of How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble commented: "It's sort of like a fictionalised Playboy for kids at its worst."

There are obvious echoes here of a similar furore in 1954, when accusations of moral turpitude threatened to bring the entire artform crashing down.

The Essential Charles Dickens

What are the must-read books written by and about the famed British author?

Ask Smithsonian.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Audible

Seriously, What was J.D. Salinger Working On?

The reclusive author died two years ago. We've learned lots about his life since, but one big question remains.

From a story on Slate...

What was Salinger writing all of those years, and is it any good?

If the fistful of Salinger letters that have emerged since 2010 impart any significant news, it is the constant confirmation by Salinger himself that he was indeed still writing during the decades of his seclusion and amassing a considerable body of work. Pages that dissatisfied the author, he burned rather than risk them being retrieved from the trash. A fire that destroyed much of his home in 1992 providentially spared his writing studio where he stored his manuscripts, convincing Salinger to purchase a small fireproof vault in which to safeguard the trove. Neighbors recall him, even at age 90, intently filling in a small notebook he apparently carried everywhere.

These and numerous other references are tantalizing clues to what may potentially prove to be the greatest group of posthumous publications since Kafka – and the hope of Salinger enthusiasts worldwide. But where is Salinger’s Max Brod?

What is the Best Vampire Novel of the Century?

One of these.

Abraham Lincoln Manuscript Found

President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress dated Dec. 1, 1862, containing some of his most memorable quotations about the reason for continuing to fight the Civil War has been rediscovered.

From a piece in the Journal Review...

The whereabouts of the first two of the 86 pages of Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress had been a mystery for more than a century. Researchers with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project to identify and publish all documents written or signed by Lincoln or written to him, solved part of that mystery recently during an ongoing search at the National Archives.

The message, written by several clerks, is among Lincoln’s most famous official communications to Congress. It is a forerunner of the modern State of the Union address. Although a Congressional clerk, and not Lincoln himself, read the message to the assembled Senators and Representatives, Lincoln’s words resonate with us today. It closes with the admonition, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves … The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation … We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, this last best, hope of earth ...”