Saturday, March 31, 2012

10 Books Every Fantasy Author Should Read

The list, care of io9.

An AbeBooks Office Tour

The Power of Young Adult Fiction

How did it get so popular? Why is it so well-read among those that are no longer young adults?

From a story in the New York Times...

If "Harry Potter" made it safe for grown-ups to read kids’ books, "The Hunger Games" has made it cool.

Why are so many adults reading young adult books? No need to page Dr. Freud. This isn’t about the guilty pleasures of communing with one’s inner child. It doesn’t signify a huge baby boomer regression. It isn’t even about nostalgia.

It’s because adults are discovering one of publishing’s best-kept secrets: that young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there. Authors who write for young adults are taking creative risks -- with narrative structure, voice and social commentary -- that you just don’t see as often in the more rarefied world of adult fiction.

The Top 25 American Novelists...of 1929

The list, care of AbeBooks.

25 Novels to Honor Womens History Month

The list, care of Accredited Online Colleges.

A New Chapter in Rare Book Collecting

Book dealing was once, as Graham Greene told me, a 'treasure hunt'. But the internet has made it all about pots of gold.

From a story in the Guardian...

A few years later I was sitting with Graham Greene over lunch at Chez Felix in the marina in Antibes having just bought some manuscripts from him, swapping stories about scouting and collecting rare books. He paused, and took an abstemious sip of the indifferent local white wine.

"You know, Rick," he said, "I really envy your life … If I hadn't been a novelist I would have been a rare book dealer. You're always on a treasure hunt."

And that, of course, is exactly right. The world of dealing and collecting, of museums and curators, of connoisseurship and scholarship, rests, like so much essential human activity, on an underlying and animating archetype. For schoolteachers, it is passing on the wisdom of the tribe to the young; for lawyers, insuring that justice and representation are widely available; for doctors, that all are entitled to health care. And for a serious dealer or collector? That the treasure hunt must go on: there are buried, unlocated, misunderstood, misrepresented objects of every kind which are of value both commercial and cultural, and are essential to our understanding of ourselves. It is our job to find, to understand and to preserve them.

That conversation with Greene took place in 1989, which doesn't seem all that long ago, but things have now changed so radically in the rare book world – dragged along limply in the wake of the IT revolution – that, today, neither integer of Greene's description pertains as it used to.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rare Movie Posters Make $500K at Auction

Some posters, 'The Holy Grail' for some collectors, went under the hammer recently.

From a post on Contact Music...

The collection was discovered at home in Pennsylvania before going under the hammer at Heritage Auctions.

An incredibly rare poster for 1931's Dracula sold for £143,000 (£89,00) - only four copies are known to exist, while a poster for 1931 western Cimarron was expected to sell for $12,000 (7,500), but ended up fetching $101,000 (£63,000).

A poster for James Cagney's classic gangster film The Public Enemy sold for $59,000 (£36,000) and Edward G. Robinson's Little Caesar fetched $41,000 (£25,000).

Director of the auction, Grey Smith, said before the sale, "These posters are among the rarest, most sought after 'Holy Grail' pieces. The Public Enemy one sheet picturing James Cagney and Jean Harlow is particularly stunning and has never been offered at auction and the Little Caesar one sheet is one of only two known copies, making this a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the right collector."

The 10 Best LGBT Romances in Literature

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Tick Tock

Cool clocks, here.

What Your Kindle Cover Says About You

Find out, here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Nation of Illiterates

The New York Daily News laments our inability to read thoughtfully anymore.

From the piece...

We are becoming a nation of illiterates. That is all I can conclude.

Yes, I know that many adults enjoy "The Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" in their leisure time. So do kids, of course. But the report, "What Kids Are Reading," is at least partly based on classroom assignments, even though Renaissance Learning, which commissioned the report, did not break down inside/outside classroom reading. Still, it recorded the 2,290,522 books read by 388,963 9-12th graders during the 2010-2011 school year. In purely statistical terms, "The Hunger Games" could not be the most popular high school book in the nation unless a significant number of teachers and school librarians either assigned it or actively, repeatedly encouraged students to read it.

Another surmise: They aren't reading "The Hunger Games" in China. Or in Finland. Or in any of the other countries that consistently beat us in standardized tests. Fair bet is that they're reading Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen and Hurston (or their high-culture equivalents), all of which are on the Common Core standards for high school and yet, by and large, remain ignored in the American classroom, where the intellectual rigors of the fifth grade linger right up until college.

Not only that, but some openly celebrate the demise of serious literature. “I don’t like Shakespeare,” writes novelist Dan Gutman in the report’s confounding foreword, confessing to never having finished “Madame Bovary,” “Don Quixote,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Ulysses.” With the ease of a supermarket shopper choosing between detergents, he calls “The Great Gatsby” dull.

The diatribe is transparently glib. For this is how it concludes: “This year my 100th book will be published.” Previous masterpieces include “The Kid Who Ran For President” and “The Million Dollar Shot.” Gutman’s point seems to be that his books are more relevant to today’s youth, and for good reason. Unlike Shakespeare and Joyce, they aren’t boring.

RIP Adrienne Rich

She has died at the age of 82.


In paradise every
the desert wind is rising
third thought
in hell there are no thoughts
is of earth
sand screams against your government
issued tent hell’s noise
in your nostrils crawl
into your ear-shell
wrap yourself in no-thought
wait no place for the little lyric
wedding-ring glint the reason why
on earth
they never told you

More poems from Rich, here.

And recordings, here.

Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

A Slow Books Manifesto

Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.

From a post on the Atlantic...

In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. They'll help us unwind better than any electronic device—and they'll pleasurably sharpen our minds and identities, too.

To borrow a cadence from Michael Pollan: Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.

Aim for 30 minutes a day. You can squeeze in that half hour pretty easily if only, during your free moments—whenever you find yourself automatically switching on that boob tube, or firing up your laptop to check your favorite site, or scanning Twitter for something to pass the time—you pick up a meaningful work of literature. Reach for your e-reader, if you like. The Slow Books movement won't stand opposed to technology on purely nostalgic or aesthetic grounds. (Kindles et al make books like War and Peace less heavy, not less substantive, and also ensure you'll never lose your place.)

But Slow Books will have standards about what kinds of reading materials count towards your daily quota. Blog posts won't, of course, but neither will newspaper pieces or even magazine articles.

Also excluded: non-literary books.

Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains.

10 Best Belfast Books

The list, care of the Guardian.

Australia's Hidden Stash of Censored Books

In 2005, Australian literary historian Nicole Moore discovered a nearly-forgotten archive of her country's banned books packed in nearly 800 boxes stored seven stories underground in a government repository.

From a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald...

Intrigued by rumours of a censor's library, literary historian Nicole Moore went searching for the old customs archive of banned books. In 2005, she tracked down the collection seven storeys underground in a huge repository in western Sydney. Thousands of banned books, all neatly covered and catalogued, filled 793 boxes. As Moore shows, such secret collections have accumulated in many parts of the world, often carefully tended by censor-librarians. Private Case, Public Scandal, the book that revealed the contents of the British Library's secret collection, was itself banned in Australia in 1966. Not surprisingly, the 20th century's largest and most notorious repository of forbidden literature was in the Soviet Union, with more than 1 million items.

Having uncovered this long-buried Australian archive, Moore set about the daunting task of charting its history. She was aided by Peter Coleman's pioneering work, Obscenity, Blasphemy and Sedition, first published 50 years ago. The Censor's Library is a much more substantial work, analysing in forensic detail the major controversies and teasing out the narrative of how such restrictions, and the ensuing protests, shaped Australia's cultural, intellectual and literary landscape.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Birth of a Book

Birth of a Book from Glen Milner on Vimeo.

The Missing Lorax

Henry Miller Documentary

The Making of a Blockbuster

How did The Hunger Games get so huge?

From a piece on Salon...

The Hunger Games franchise, with Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence in the starring role, aims for a spot in a select but very sweet pantheon: movie adaptations of bestselling children’s book series that have become box office juggernauts. The Harry Potter movies set the pattern, and the Twilight films proved that it could be replicated. So far, the Hunger Games’ chances look good; according to a poll conducted by MTV’s, the film version of Collins’ dystopian young adult novel is even more eagerly anticipated than “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.”

Being made into a movie can do a lot for a book. But consider the boost a book this popular can give to the movie. The Harry Potter and Twilight series delivered up obsessively devoted audiences who speculated about casting for years before the films were released, who debated and pored over every still, poster, teaser, trailer — in short, every shred of news about the forthcoming cinematic realization of their favorite characters and stories. They loved those books as only kids can, with an intensity that makes for sprawling fan sites and mobbed midnight release parties at your ordinarily sleepy neighborhood bookstore.

The Hunger Games is that kind of series, if for a more serious-minded, science-fiction-loving breed of teen. And then there are the adult fans. The actress Kristen Bell (star of the cult-TV series “Veronica Mars”) recently told the Huffington Post that “The Hunger Games” is “all I think about.” Bell threw an elaborate Hunger Games-themed party for her 30th birthday: “All my friends dressed as the characters and I dressed as Katniss [Everdeen, the books' heroine].”

As of this writing, the first book in the Hunger Games series has been parked on the USA Today bestseller list for 132 weeks; the second, “Catching Fire,” for 131. There are more than 24 million copies of all three books in print.

Val Kilmer as Mark Twain?


Ian McEwan Interviewed

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Collapsing Baseball Card Industry

Why Brainstorming Doesn't Matter

Jonah Lehrer talks about why brainstorming doesn't work and why artists need to cultivate grit on Slate.

From the post...

There are all sorts of romantic misconceptions about creativity. We’ve long believed, for instance, that the imagination is hindered by constraints and constructive criticism. But the scientific evidence clearly suggests that the opposite is true. We think of creativity as being an innate trait — you either have it or you don’t — when studies have consistently shown that even seemingly minor factors, such as the color of paint on the wall, can dramatically increase creative output. And then there’s the myth of effort. Because creativity has long been associated with the muses, we’ve assumed that creativity should feel easy and effortless, that if we’re truly inventive then the gods will take care of us. But nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, creativity is like any other human talent – it takes an enormous amount of effort to develop. And then, even after we’ve learned to effectively wield the imagination, we still have to invest the time and energy needed to fine-tune our creations. If it feels easy, then you’re doing it wrong.

Why Literary Magazines Matter

Lorin Stein, of the Paris Review, discusses the reasons they do for Johns Hopkins Magazine.

From the piece...

At the same time, digital literary magazines, journals, and blogs didn’t just pick up the book reviewing and author interviewing slack created by conventional media. These sites became culture portals and online communities, whether litblogs (Jessa Crispin’s Bookslut, author/essayist Maud Newton’s personal website), literature magazines (Giancarlo DiTrapano’s New York Tyrant, the Los Angeles Review of Books), or literary journals (Action Yes, Electric Literature, jubilat).

Today’s Paris Review stands at the corner of ye olde newsstand and the e-reader. “There was a time when the main job of a little magazine was to put stuff out there that we wouldn’t have found otherwise,” Stein says. “Now that is not at all the job anymore. Now, it’s recreating the experience of walking into a good bookstore or a good music shop or talking to someone whose tastes interest you. Without that, there’s no point in having a little magazine anymore.”

In the editor’s note to the first issue he assembled, Stein praised the founders’ efforts to find and publish “things they actually loved” and observed that even then this strategy was a “distinctly retro” throwback to the little magazines of the 1910s and 1920s.

Why Kerouac Matters

The Globe & Mail discusses the literary legacy of Jack Kerouac.

From the article...

Nearly 45 years after his death, Jack Kerouac has become a part of that select society of North American authors whose work it is not necessary to have read in order to talk about, and who need only be identified by their last name. Like Hemingway, Plath and Poe, Kerouac is a literary rock star.

It is almost always non-literary factors that generate literary fame (posthumous and otherwise), an appropriately debauched life and an equally scandalous death the standard formula for creating and maintaining artistic celebrity.

On both counts, Kerouac more than qualifies, being the handsome figurehead of the media-manufactured Beat Generation, as well as riotously drinking himself into an early grave. Tragedy compels and tragedy sells, which is why we see not only countless biographies and memoirs about Kerouac, but why there are T-shirts and coffee mugs and posters with his picture on them, why his image is selling khakis for the Gap, and why a movie version of On the Road starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart is about to open.

Yet there’s something else – something gratifyingly non-salacious – as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Lost Manuscript of "A Confederacy of Dunces"

I had nearly given up on the original manuscript of Confederacy of Dunces until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of John Kennedy Toole's best friend in high school. “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent. “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.”

From a piece in the Millions...

I have been researching and writing about Toole for seven years, digging through archives, interviewing his friends and family, trying to decipher Toole’s character, his fears, his desires, his angels and demons. And I have often contemplated that missing manuscript. His mother claimed she discarded all the “Gottlieb edits” in order to showcase her son’s “pure genius.” Still, seeing how Toole altered the creation that he felt defined him would certainly offer insight into his final years. But no one I interviewed seemed to know its whereabouts. The Toole Papers at Tulane University does not have it, nor does the Walker Percy Papers at UNC Chapel Hill. Some of Toole’s friends had heard that Percy’s typist threw the “badly smeared, scarcely readable carbon” away after she retyped it. Walker’s wife, Bunt, didn’t believe that story. She suspected it might be in Walker’s miscellaneous papers that had been boxed-up after his death in 1990. But the family scoured the boxes and found nothing.

I had nearly given up on the question of the original manuscript until a year ago when I interviewed Lynda Martin, the sister of Toole’s best friend in high school. “The manuscript?” she said in a soft southern accent. “Yes, well I have it in my closet here at home.” I nearly dropped the phone as she explained Toole’s mother had given it as a gift to her brother after the novel was published. When her brother passed away in 2008, she acquired it. It had a few penned-in edits, she explained, but not drastic revisions. “I don’t know what to do with it, really” she said. “I considered selling it at auction.” Christie’s estimated its value up to $20,000, if deemed authentic. She hadn’t called Sotheby’s yet. “Please” I begged, “just hold on to it. I’m on my way down.”

Literary Las Vegas

The Guardian goes in search of it.

From the article...

It's amazing anybody could miss the Neon Boneyard Museum, which at first glance resembles a Scrabble set designed for a giant. The metal tips of lorry-sized words peak out over the fences of a huge industrial lot – the curl of an "S" visible through the barriers, the peeling paint of an obese red "B" glinting. This is where the neon signs of Las Vegas come to die, forming a higgledy-piggledy poem to the city's history. Spanning from early neon offerings of "beer" and "girls" through to the atomic font of the cold war, this is Vegas in her own words. "Literary tours" might not be advertised in this city's neon, but fiction is everywhere in Las Vegas.

When I ask a taxi driver to take me from the Neon Boneyard to the nearest library, he nervously replies: "You mean the Library strip joint on Boulder Avenue?" Vegas might be a literary inspiration, but the most popular "Library" in Vegas involves strippers wearing glasses.

High School Students Reading at 5th Grade Level


From a piece in the Huffington Post...

A compilation of the top 40 books teens in grades 9-12 are reading in school shows that the average reading level of that list is 5.3 -- barely above the fifth grade.

"A fifth-grade reading level is obviously not high enough for college-level reading. Nor is it high enough for high school-level reading, either, or for informed citizenship," writes Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas.

The results come from "What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools," a report by Renaissance Learning, Inc. The data covers book-reading records for the 2010-2011 academic year among 2.6 million students in grades 1-12 from 24,465 schools in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

At the top of the list for high schoolers: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, followed by John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

What are the Top Literary Fistfights?

That was the question recently posed by the Guardian.

Book Series That Defined Generations

The list, care of the Huffington Post.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Titanic Ticket at Auction

A rare and possibly unique ticket for the launch of Titanic in Belfast on May 31, 1911, is set to fetch between 50,000 and 70,000 dollars at an auction in America next month.

From a piece on the Daily Echo...

Gregg Dietrich, marine expert at Bonhams in New York, said: “Titanic launch tickets are rare, but the one we are selling is the rarest as it is the only fully intact ticket in existence.

“Only one or two other launch tickets have come up for sale, but they were not fully intact.’’ Around 100,000 people attended the launch of Titanic, but in a move away from tradition owners White Star Line and Belfast builders Harland & Wolff did not formally name or christen the liner and many now believe the break with tradition was the beginning of the end for the ill-fated luxury liner.

How Popular Words Originate

The surprising origins of 15 very common words in the English language, care of the Atlantic.

Avant Garde Books from Behind the Iron Curtain

A collection, care of Abe Books.

Holland's Most Sacred Bookstore


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Part Book Reading, Part Electro-Dance Party?


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

What is it with kids today? All they want to do is go to their dance clubs and listen to house music. Why don't they read a book, for God's sale?

Well, hold on. Fresh out of Germany is an idea that, I hope, will soon sweep the United States, from Miami Beach to the Meatpacking District: combining reading and clubbing.

Oh, yes. This is really, truly happening.

According to a report in Deutsche Welle, the "Klubbing" series sponsored by a Cologne radio station "is part book-reading, part electro music club-night."

Perfect. Nothing brings out the nuances of Goethe like the thrumming rhythms of deep house.

30 Graphic Novels for Earth Day

The list, care of the Library Journal.

10 Marijuana Loving Authors

The list, care of Melville House.

Books That Smell Like Farts

Autumn Publishing is to inject fun into the reading experience with books that smell of bubblegum, berry flavours – and farts.

From a story in the Guardian...

Autumn is launching a "scent-sational" new division, it said this morning, which will be called Smellessence. This new imprint will bring out a range of scented books based on its acquisition of rights in "ground-breaking new technology based on micro-encapsulation and touch activation". I remember a number of scratch-and-sniff books from the 1980s (I rather liked them), but this technology, I'm told, is new: the smells have shelf lives of up to three years, and it hasn't been used in books before.

"This advanced technology and the smells it creates are so real they take children's reading to a magical new level. We wanted to inject some fun into the reading experience and this is a powerful way to do just that," says Autumn managing director Perminder Mann in the announcement.

Friday, March 23, 2012

An Unpublished Vonnegut Novella Going to Press?


From a story in the New York Times...

A previously unpublished novella by Kurt Vonnegut will be released on Friday by RosettaBooks, close to 60 years after it was written, the publisher said on Thursday. The 22,000-word novella, “Basic Training,” was rejected by the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940’s, long before Mr. Vonnegut had become famous through works such as “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle.”

The History of the English Language in 10 Minutes

10 Novels Lost, Then Found

The list, care of the Daily Beast.

1984 to the Big Screen?


From a story in the Guardian...

The new version is being put together by a consortium of Hollywood production companies including Imagine Entertainment, which is partly owned by Oscar-winning film-maker Ron Howard. Shepard Fairey, the street artist who produced the iconic Barack Obama "Hope" poster, was instrumental in bringing the project to the attention of the producers.

The consortium has secured rights from Orwell's estate and is currently searching for screenwriters, so the project is at an early stage. It's not known whether Howard himself is considering a director's role.

Nineteen Eighty-Four takes place entirely in the Oceania province of Airstrip One, formerly the United Kingdom, and while the new producers are firmly US-based there is nothing at this stage to suggest that they plan to relocate the action.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How Fast Do You Read Compared to the National Average?

Find out, here.

You Know What's Good for Your Brain?

Reading fiction.

From an article in the New York Times...

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

Hemingway Inc.

How did the great American novelist became the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh?

From a piece on Slate...

Ernest Hemingway would be aghast to see what has become of Ernest Hemingway. Against the gray obscurity that awaits most writers in death, his image, 50 years later, has become the literary equivalent of the Nike swoosh or golden arches. Who doesn’t have a mental picture of the gray beard and safari shirt? Who couldn’t vamp a Hemingway-like sentence in a pinch? In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s recent Oscar favorite, Papa turned up unsmilingly in a range of Jazz Age hideaways to make pronouncements about fighting men who are “brave and true” and who write with honesty and die with grace. Other recent work has burnished this image still further. Paul Hendrickson’s book Hemingway’s Boat narrates the novelist’s middle and late years through his interaction with the cruiser he loved. The Cambridge University Press not long ago released a fresh edition of his letters, offering new insight into his decades of adventuring. The most striking new portrait of the master may be yet to come: a made-for-TV adaptation of the love affair between the writer and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman starring. The Hemingway of Hemingway & Gellhorn, trailers suggest, is an Indiana Jones-style buckaroo raging through war zones, chasing lovely dames, and wisecracking in the spirit of Jack Paar. “How’d you learn to have fun in hell?” Kidman’s character asks him. Quoth the great American novelist: “Family vacations!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marvel Comics' 3D App

The Definitive Mad Men Reading List

Thanks, Flavorwire.

B#tches in Bookshops

There's a little language, but it's funny:

I Was a Cookbook Ghost Writer

How do celebrity chefs keep churning out recipe book after recipe book? With help.

From a piece in the New York Times...

Many real-world cooks have wondered at the output of authors like Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Jamie Oliver, who maintain cookbook production schedules that boggle the mind. Rachael Ray alone has published thousands of recipes in her cookbooks and magazine since 2005. How, you might ask, do they do it?

The answer: they don’t. The days when a celebrated chef might wait until the end of a distinguished career and spend years polishing the prose of the single volume that would represent his life’s work are gone. Recipes are product, and today’s successful cookbook authors are demons at providing it — usually, with the assistance of an army of writer-cooks.

“The team behind the face is invaluable,” said Wes Martin, a chef who has developed recipes for Ms. Ray and others. “How many times can one person invent a new quick pasta dish?”

Mr. Martin, and dozens of others like him, have a particular combination of cooking skills, ventriloquism and modesty that makes it possible not only to write in the voices of chefs, but to actually channel them as cooks.

“It’s like an out-of-body experience,” Mr. Martin said. “I know who I am as a chef, and I know who Rachael is, and those are two totally separate parts of my brain.”

Teen Starts Youth Library On Her Own


From a story on the Dearborn Patch...

There’s only one thing that Dearborn High School senior Dema Fawaz enjoys more than reading, and that’s helping others.

But recently, the 17-year-old got the chance to honor both passions with a fundraiser she initiated for Oakwood’s Center for Exceptional Families.

At her mother’s suggestion, Fawaz went to the CEF to explore volunteer opportunities. But she found a much greater calling during her visit.

“I went there and loved it and the atmosphere and the staff were so friendly,” she said. “But I walked by the library and saw that they had no books, and I thought, ‘Something needs to be done about this.’”

5 Best Novels about Brothers

The list, care of Tim Lott at the Browser.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Beat Hotel

Words Are Dying. Why?

Spell check.

From a story on Hot Word...

A group of physicists recently collaborated on a statistical survey of words. You may be wondering why physicists are interested in language. In this case, it is not language per se, but how words imitate the statistical patterns of the stock market and animal populations. This group of researchers, led by Alexander Petersen of the IMT Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies, culled data from Google’s digitized books to analyze how word use varies over time.

In particular, the scientists looked at “word competition.” Why would words compete? Well, this isn’t about competition between words. Obviously, for language as a whole to function, nouns need verbs, which need prepositions and adverbs. In this sense, competition refers to aggression between different variations of a word: is “color” used more than “colour”? It may be hard to imagine this, but before spell-check there were often misspelled words in newspapers and published books. As the researchers point out: “With the advent of spell-checkers in the digital era, the fitness of a ‘correctly’ spelled word is now larger than the fitness of related ‘incorrectly’ spelled words.”

Innocent and Abroad: Mark Twain and the Art of Travel Writing

In the end, travel books -- or personal essays -- are doomed. Try to describe the gorilla and you fail. Words are never enough, and most will ultimately be forgotten. And if that gorilla is a man? Maybe better not to have begun at all.

From a piece on the Millions...

Not long ago, I lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where I wrote stories about, among other topics, a meet-up of Twitter users, a dire sandstorm that befell a mixed-gender rock show, a tour of one of Riyadh’s oldest hotels, and what happens when the most Islamic country in the world attempts to hold a festival to “celebrate culture.”

I was young and proud and eager to share my work. So every month or so, I’d send out an email to friends and associates with a link to my latest. Not too many complained. Some, apparently, even enjoyed what I sent.

But among my harshest critics was a writer friend, who in a scorching series of emails said mine was this obnoxious, privileged gaze, that in every description of Saudi lives, I mainly revealed that I wanted Saudis to grow up and be good democratic Westerners — which was an impossible goal, he said, because good democratic Westerners are monsters who started wars and were a menace to the whole world.

Years later, I lived in Beirut, where I was still writing stories. As part of an effort to do better this time, I began to read The Innocents Abroad, a record of traveling by Mark Twain.

As a traveler, I had always written earnestly about my observations. Twain, it seemed, was all too eager to write wryly about his own ignorance. There was probably a lot I could learn.

Dystopian Futures and Teenage Readers

Why are teens so interested in "Hunger Games" and the like?

From a piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune...

Teens and parents alike are devouring these books, which carry a strong message beyond the shock value. Collins' primary theme is war, but the book also addresses issues of privacy, poverty, class, oppression and individualism.

"Dystopian and apocalyptic fiction has been around for a long time," said young-adult author Laura Ruby, who teaches in Hamline University's MFA program in writing for children and young adults.

"This comes right out of 'Fahrenheit 451,' 'Brave New World,' '1984,' " she said. "Each of those books sort of captured that generation's specific anxieties. And what writers do a lot of times is just extrapolate and exaggerate from the horrors they see every day."

Unlike apocalyptic novels written for adults, YA dystopian fiction generally ends on a redemptive, positive note.

"The point is not to dwell on the apocalypse, but to survive it," Ruby said. "These books, I think, offer some sort of hope, as violent as they can be."

Monday, March 19, 2012

8 Drinking Benders and Hangovers in Literature

The list, care of the Huffington Post.

The Shapes of Stories

Another 100,000 Galleys

The Los Angeles Review of Books highlights how difficult it is to get self-published books reviewed by the media.

From the piece...

Editors, reviewers, and even many authors believe that if you self-publish, you’re branded a sinner of sorts. You wear a scarlet S-P, signifying that you can’t get published because your work is inferior. If you promote your own work on the Internet, you must sheepishly precede the phrase “self-promotion” with “shameless.” It’s difficult to quantify the extent of the stigma, but we all know that publishing your own work has been frowned upon by writers for decades. Recently, genre authors Amanda Hocking (who writes young adult vampire novels) and John Locke (pulp thrillers) have had so much success independently publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of their own books that you’d think the self-publishing wall would’ve been kicked down and lying in a crumbled mess by now. But the stigma attached to publishing, promoting, and selling your own written word persists. Most writers, like Susan Shapiro, who’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and has conventionally published eight books, including comic novels and nonfiction through St. Martin’s Press and Delacorte, remain convinced that it’s better to get a mainstream publisher. Shapiro, who’s helped hundreds of her students get published, recently told me she would consider self-publishing, but only “if everybody else turned me down.”

No one ever faulted Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, or Charlie Chaplin for writing, directing, and producing their own movies. No one disrespects musicians for distributing their music without a major label behind them. And poets — think of Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the authors of contemporary poetry chapbooks — have long been used to publishing their own work. Why then should independent publishing be regarded any differently? Especially when even established writers, in today’s traditional publication market, can have difficulty getting their publishers and agents behind a book? A slumping economy has pushed already-teetering bookstores into bankruptcy, further squeezed publishers’ profits, and reduced and in some cases eliminated book review space.

Bemelmans Books That AREN'T Madeline

Enjoy a collection, care of Abe Books.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mad Men's Book Spawn

"Mad Men" is popular. There's a series of books about that era now.

From a piece in USA Today...

As we count down to the premiere of Season 5 on March 25, fans of Don Draper, Roger Sterling and Peggy Olson can immerse themselves in Madison Avenue and the '60s lifestyle by dipping into a groaning cocktail cart of new books.

Among them: Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99), written by Jane Maas, dubbed the "real-life Peggy Olson" by Ad Age magazine.

Like the fictional Olson, Maas, 80, began working as a copywriter on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Her memoir and her workplace recollections indicate "there's a lot of stuff Mad Men gets absolutely right," Maas tells USA TODAY.

How Should Shakespeare Really Sound?

Like this.