Saturday, September 29, 2012

5 Best Novels on Racial Harmony

The list, chosen by Michael Chabon, care of the Telegraph.

The Underrepresentation of Overweight Characters in Literature

The Huffington Post takes a bite out of the issue.

From the piece...

So here's the thing: With the exception of maybe Ignatius J. Reilly (and even he seems mostly like a caricature) or maybe Dolores Price or Sapphire's Precious, all of these overweight characters are flat characters (i.e., rather than round characters, to use E. M. Forster's categories). I know, it's pretty ironic. Generally, their weight becomes a defining characteristic that exhibits just a descriptor or two--comic, lazy, weak, evil, etc. Generally, there hasn't been a big range for overweight characters. They have often been a kind of cheap entertainment. 

But maybe that is beginning to change. When I was growing up, people didn't talk about obesity the way we do now. It was a kind of taboo subject. But now that 34.4% of American adults are overweight and another 33.9% are obese (CDC, 2008). Obesity has become normalized in a way and it's beginning to be portrayed more fully in today's fiction. The title character of Big Ray weighs over 500 pounds and the narrator's feelings toward him (that is, my feelings toward my father) are complicated and complex, but this is only in part because of his obesity. The issues that led Big Ray to eat himself up over 500 pounds played out in other parts of his life, most notably for me in the way he treated his family, including me. He was the dominant personality in my childhood household and he expressed this emotionally and physically. I'm not suggesting obesity leads to violence and abuse, but in this particular instance, the troubles with food and the troubles with temper were inextricably linked. I don't have to forgive my obese father for the things he did, and I probably never will, but I can still appreciate the good that was in him. And in the character I based on him, I wanted to present the full range of his personality. Like all of us, no matter what size we are, he was human.

City Lights

Brief aside - if you haven't watched this film yet, you owe it to yourself to watch it now...

10 Great Novels and the Great Novels You Should Pair Them With

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Rare Hemingway Works Going to University of South Carolina

A Hemingway collector has bequeathed his collection to USC.

From a piece in the Huffington Post...

The 70-year-old Grissom was joined by his wife Julie, 46, at a special showing of the collection in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collection Library on USC's Columbia campus. Dozens of books in their original dust jackets, along with pamphlets, magazines, proofs and papers are on display in glass-covered cases.

Teachers will be able to access the collection to help students better understand Hemingway's creative writing process, university officials said.

"It provides a tremendous resource. It makes writing real in a very powerful way," said William Rivers, chairman of the university's English Department. "There is no other place in the world now where scholars can go to look at Hemingway's primary materials."

Grissom said his efforts began in his 20s as a medical student, and grew over the years. From the time he first read "The Green Hills of Africa," until he published his own bibliography of Hemingway's work in 2011, Grissom said he intended his collection to be used by scholars.

Grissom said the collection includes more than 1,200 copies of novels and first editions as well as 2,500 additional items such as editor's proofs that few collectors even know exist.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Neverending Stories

Do fairy tales still have appeal? The world’s stubborn refusal to grant our wishes lies behind the sudden revival of old stories.

From a story in the Prospect...

At the same time that storytelling seems an obsolete handicraft, classic stories—the bloody, surreal folk inventions we know as fairy tales—seem to be having a revival. It’s even possible that in a time of economic uncertainty, readers are drawn to the oldest, most familiar stories. What else explains the simultaneous appearance of Grimm Tales: For Young and Old, in which Philip Pullman has translated 50 of his favourite stories from the classic German storytellers; a slimmer selection of tales, Long Ago and Far Away, that draws from French and Italian sources; and the new study The Irresistible Fairy Tale, by Jack Zipes, the dean of academic fairy-tale studies? And that’s just the books: the last few months have seen two movie versions of the Snow White story, Mirror, Mirror, starring Julia Roberts, and the darker Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart. Viewers of American TV can tune in to Grimm, a show about a police detective with magic powers who is called upon to fight supernatural monsters; and Once Upon a Time, in which ordinary human beings are revealed to be the avatars of fairy-tale characters like Prince Charming and Rumpelstiltskin.

Consider it all proof of what Jack Zipes calls the irresistibility of the fairy tale. “Think of a gigantic whale soaring through the ocean, swallowing each and every fish of any size that comes across its path,” Zipes writes. The fairy tale evolved from unknown origins into a gigantic cultural juggernaut, and survives by digesting every new medium, from print to films to the internet. Like Vargas Llosa, Zipes traces the origin of storytelling back to a primal past: “the fairy tale was first a simple, imaginative oral tale containing magical and miraculous elements and was related to the belief systems, values, rites, and experiences of pagan peoples.”

The reason they survive to this day, Zipes suggests, is because the classic fairy tales—such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, which all have analogues in cultures throughout the world—are perfect examples of “memetic” engineering.

Zora Neale Hurston Sings

Rare "Calvin and Hobbes" Art to Be Auctioned

Save your pennies. The auction happens in November.

From a piece in Comics Alliance...

If you've been wondering what to do with that massive inheritance some distant relative left you in their will, or pondering whether we were finally in the kind of financial reality that could support rash overspending that could leave you in incredible amounts of debt, here's something that may help you in your decision making: The original art from a 1986 Calvin and Hobbes Sunday page is going up for auction.

The page is being put up for auction by cartoonist Brian Basset, who was given the strip by Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson himself twenty-six years ago.

The Hunger Games - A Bad Lip Reading

Writers' Favorite Punctuation Marks

The Atlantic rounds up some authors to wax poetic about semi-colons, em-dashes and the like, here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Significance of Edgar Allan Poe

Written by Walt Whitman, 1880.

From a piece on Writing Sense...

By common consent there is nothing better for man or woman than a perfect and noble life, morally without flaw, happily balanced in activity, physically sound and pure, giving its due proportion, and no more, to the sympathetic, the human emotional element—a life, in all these, unhasting, unresting, untiring to the end. And yet there is another shape of personality dearer far to the artist-sense, (which likes the play of strongest lights and shades,) where the perfect character, the good, the heroic, although never attain’d, is never lost sight of, but through failures, sorrows, temporary downfalls, is return’d to again and again, and while often violated, is passionately adhered to as long as mind, muscles, voice, obey the power we call volition. This sort of personality we see more or less in Burns, Byron, Schiller, and George Sand. But we do not see it in Edgar Poe. (All this is the result of reading at intervals the last three days a new volume of his poems—I took it on my rambles down by the pond, and by degrees read it all through there.) While to the character first outlined the service Poe renders is certainly that entire contrast and contradiction which is next best to fully exemplifying it.

Almost without the first sign of moral principle, or of the concrete or its heroisms, or the simpler affections of the heart, Poe’s verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demoniac undertone behind every page—and, by final judgment, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat. There is an indescribable magnetism about the poet’s life and reminiscences, as well as the poems. To one who could work out their subtle retracing and retrospect, the latter would make a close tally no doubt between the author’s birth and antecedents, his childhood and youth, his physique, his so-call’d education, his studies and associates, the literary and social Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia and New York, of those times—not only the places and circumstances in themselves, but often, very often, in a strange spurning of, and reaction from them all.

Happy Birthday, Bilbo Baggins

It's the 75th anniversary of the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Why has it been such an enduring success?

From a story in the Telegraph...

Today The Hobbit has sold 100 million copies and been translated into something like fifty languages, including (two of Tolkien’s favourites) Icelandic and West Frisian. One hopes Tolkien’s colleague got him to sign those first editions he bought in 1937, and that his children held on to them, for a good copy with a dedication by Tolkien in it went for £60,000 four years ago. Prices will undoubtedly go up once Peter Jackson starts to bring out his Hobbit movies — three of them now planned, so we hear — beginning late this year. 
What has made the book such an enduring success? There are lots of reasons why one would not have expected it to be. Too much poetry! No female characters at all! (How will Jackson get round that one?) A lot of professorial quibbling over words! 
But maybe Tolkien’s boldest defiance of accepted children’s-fiction practice was that he offered no child figure for the reader to fix on. It’s true, the hero Bilbo Baggins is “only a little hobbit”, so he’s a kind of surrogate child, but he’s put in positions no child could be expected to identify with.

Smash Mouth - the Cookbook?


Slam Poem to Bacon

Biografías VI

What a cool sculpture.

2nd Life of Pi Trailer

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are You America's Next Top Author?

Find out by entering this contest.

10 of the Creepiest Ghosts in Literature

The list, care of Flavorwire.

New Novel Based on Classic Rush Album

Clockwork Angels - the Novel.

From a story on the Huffington Post...

I've known Rush's drummer and lyricist Neil Peart for more than 20 years (a friendship that began, appropriately, when I acknowledged that my first novel, Resurrection, Inc., was inspired by the Rush album Grace Under Pressure). Neil approached me as he was developing the overall story for Clockwork Angels. He had visions of a steampunk world and a grand adventure; I helped as a sounding board as he created some of the scenes, characters and plot twists. We had written a short story together years ago and were looking for a larger project to merge our different creative toolkits. Clockwork Angels seemed to be that project--we were off and running, as Neil finished writing the lyrics to the songs, and I fleshed out the characters and mapped the details of the plot. 

Like young Owen Hardy, the main character in Clockwork Angels, I grew up in a very small town (mine was in Wisconsin, while Owen's is in the imaginary land of Albion). I was surrounded by cabbage farms that serviced the local sauerkraut factory; Owen is an assistant apple orchard manager--but we both had dreams of grand adventures and imaginary lands. To quote the lyrics of "Caravan," the album's first track: "In a world where I feel so small, I can't stop thinking big."

Crazy Bookcases


What Character Was Removed from the Alphabet But Is Still Used Every Day?

This one.

From a piece on Hot Word...

The shape of the character (&) predates the word ampersand by more than 1,500 years. In the first century, Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word et which means “and” they linked the e and t. Over time the combined letters came to signify the word “and” in English as well. Certain versions of the ampersand, like that in the font Caslon, clearly reveal the origin of the shape.

The word “ampersand” came many years later when “&” was actually part of the English alphabet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

J.R.R. Tolkien - the Illustrator

Enjoy these Hobbit illustrations!

Fictitous Dishes

The photographs in the series, Fictitious Dishes, enter the lives of five fictional characters and depict meals from the novels The Catcher in the Rye, Oliver Twist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Moby Dick.

The artwork of Dinah Fried. 

150 Best Science and Tech Reads

The list, categorized by subject matter, care of Electric Typewriter.

Can White Authors Write about Black Characters?

That was the question recently posed by Slate.

From the piece...

“White person tackles race” shouldn’t have to be such a big deal. From Herman Melville to Harriet Beecher Stowe to Mark Twain to William Faulkner to Harper Lee, the grand American narrative of race was always tackled by white writers, writers who created and inhabited black characters as they would any other. Together with black authors who would finally be given a platform in the 20th Century, like Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, white novelists addressed the issue head on, thoughtfully and meaningfully, thereby leading to a deeper and richer understanding of the country we live in.

But all of that changed, as critic Stanley Crouch noted in his 2004 essay “Segregated Fiction Blues,” in 1967, with the backlash to the publication of William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner.  Written by the lily-white Styron but told from the point of view of Turner, the insurrectionist leader of a slave revolt, Confessions was a well-intentioned gambit to join the canon of Great Books About Race. But it had the severe misfortune to be published right at the ascendancy of the Black Power movement. Alongside a philosophy of militant political and socioeconomic solidarity, Black Power asserted itself on the cultural front as well. The movement demanded ownership of its turf: black studies, black history, black theater, black art, and black fiction. It was a natural and understandable response to centuries in which black voices had been wholly excluded from the cultural dialogue, in which the story of race was reduced to minstrel shows and white-supremacist propaganda like D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.

Happy Birthday, Waldo

Where's Waldo is 25 years old...and is still missing.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

David Chang in a Cookbook Store

Batman - Live

The Man Who Turned His Home Into a Public Library

If you put all the books you own on the street outside your house, you might expect them to disappear in a trice. But one man in Manila tried it - and found that his collection grew.

From a piece on BBC News...
The idea is simple. Readers can take as many books as they want, for as long as they want - even permanently. As Guanlao says: "The only rule is that there are no rules."

It's a policy you might assume would end very quickly - with Guanlao having no books at all.
But in fact, in the 12 years he's been running his library - or, in his words, his book club - he's found that his collection has grown rather than diminished, as more and more people donate to the cause.
"It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That's why it multiplies like that," he says with a smile. "The books are telling me they want to be read… they want to be passed around."

The Book Monger

The Book Monger from The Keep on Vimeo.

Top 10 17th Century Food Books

The list, care of the Guardian.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Are You Slated for Crashville?

26 Beatnik slang words and phrases we should start using again, immediately.

12 Essential Presidential Campaign Books

The list, care of the Los Angeles Times.

The Great Gatsby and Its Book Jacket

Is the End Near for Hard Cover Novels?

It's certainly heading that direction.

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

After decades of anticipation, will the paperback original finally have its day in the sun? 

Certainly, great books have been published without having been sheathed in a dust jacket: maybe most notably, Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.” The decision by Viking to publish it in 1973 as a $4.95 paperback original contributed to that book’s high early sales, especially among young readers.

And there are signs, finally, that publishers are returning to that model — and for good. Perhaps the reason is no more than pure economic necessity: between the rise of the $10 e-book and the growing untenability of buying a $35 hardback as American disposal incomes continue to dwindle, the time is ripe for the paperback original to seize a greater portion of market share.

Understanding Racism in the Comic Book Industry

Bleeding Cool sheds light on the topic, here.

From the piece...

One more thing, I’m not an advocate of affirmative action in comics. Either you have talent or you don’t. The problem is that those with talent aren’t getting the same opportunity to pitch ideas as others. The numbers don’t lie. The question is why are the numbers so low?

I should delineate between comic book illustrators and comic book writers. To break in these days, a writer must distinguish themselves in Hollywood and/or the independent comics scene and/or be a creator of something in popular entertainment. The few Black writers who’ve been employed by Marvel or DC in the last few years have fit the bill (Eric Wallace, Felicia Henderson, Eric Jerome Dickey, Hudlin). However, there have been writers at Marvel and DC who never had to be someone notable outside of the realm of graphic novels to get a gig.

It’s not a racist or biased statement to say that the majority of the editors at Marvel and DC are White males from suburban backgrounds. Just as it isn’t a racist statement to say that the majority of NBA players are Black males from working class backgrounds. It’s not the statement, it’s the sentiment. The argument usually is this: “The reason the mainstream comic book industry infrastructure is predominantly White is because mainly White males read comic books. These same White males fall in love with the characters and then fall in love with the industry and then a few of them pursue it seriously as a career. The numbers in the industry reflect this and it’s not the result of racial engineering.”

That argument wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t a flat out lie. While there is no way to accurately measure the ethnic makeup of the mainstream comic book audience, one only has to use their eyes and ears to reach a cursory conclusion that it’s not a White-males-only party.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Franz Kafka

5 Bizarre Book-Inspired Experiences

The list, care of Lit Reactor.

From said list...

Hunger Games Adventure Weekend

For fans of: The Hunger Games, zip-lining, archery, dystopia, murder, bloodsport
Location: Brevard and Transylvania County, North Carolina
Cost: $389 

Ever wanted to hunt down other human beings in the woods and pretend to murder them? Then do we have the trip for you, the Hunger Games Adventure Weekend. On select dates, you can join twenty-seven other strangers in the North Carolina woods to make-believe that you're learning how to fight one another to the death. What could go wrong? Your journey begins with a lottery that will separate you and your fellow participants into Districts because all vacations should begin with a divisive ceremony that pits you against your fellow travelers. By day, you'll participate in "survival classes," learning archery and sling-shot skills, fire- and shelter-building techniques, and orienteering. You'll paint your face in camo and try not to let the situation devolve into a Lord Of The Flies scenario involving a severed pig head. By night, you'll zip-line through the forest canopy where your face will careen—high-speed in the dark—into spider webs, leaves, and flying nocturnal insects. On the final day of your adventure, you'll participate in a Hunger Games "simulation." According to the website, this simulation does not involve actually putting an arrow through your fellow competitors' heads, but rather time trials of the skills you learned during the weekend.

Writers in...Underpants


Banned Books Week is Coming

For Sale...

Thomas Edison's notebook.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Did Someone Say Typewriter Cocktail Machine?

Action Abstraction

The artwork of David Leblanc.

Shakespeare: Staging the World

Top Ten Literary...Otters

The list, care of the Guardian.

New Novel from Harlem Renaissance Found

A manuscript by Claude McKay has been found.

From a story in the New York Times...

“This is a major discovery,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard University scholar, who was one of three experts called upon to examine the novel and supporting research. “It dramatically expands the canon of novels written by Harlem Renaissance writers and, obviously, novels by Claude McKay. 

“More important, because it was written in the second half of the Harlem Renaissance, it shows that the renaissance continued to be vibrant and creative and turned its focus to international issues — in this case the tensions between Communists, on the one hand, and black nationalists, on the other, for the hearts and minds of black Americans,” said Mr. Gates, the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard. 

This literary detective story began in the summer of 2009, when Jean-Christophe Cloutier, a doctoral candidate in English and comparative literature, was working as an intern in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Book Covers of On the Road


5 Dessert Cookbook Classics

The list, care of Hazlitt.

Play It Again, and Again

The trade in music manuscripts is usually tranquil, but many specimens of inestimable value are going under the hammer.

From an article in the Financial Times...

Every so often the usually tranquil trade in music manuscripts is rocked by a remarkable event, and the sale of the André Meyer collection in Paris on October 16-17 will be one such. In Dr Roe’s view, this is the most important private collection of musical manuscripts and early printed scores in Europe. It was compiled as a labour of love by the Paris-based textile magnate André Meyer (1884-1974), who generously opened it to researchers; Rostropovich worked there on Debussy’s early albums, and it was there that Stravinsky joyfully rediscovered one of his manuscripts for The Rite of Spring. Since Meyer’s death it has been locked from view.

Among the treasures now going under the hammer is the libretto for Monteverdi’s lost opera Ariana, the first collected edition of Bach’s keyboard partitas, a first edition of Rameau’s Traité de l’Harmonie with the composer’s annotations, and a signed autograph manuscript of Schoenberg’s Opus 10 string quartet. And something to set the pulse racing: an unpublished page of piano exercises by Beethoven, with a sketch for a major composition – which neither Roe nor anyone else can identify – on the reverse. It was bought by a collector after Beethoven’s death, then presented as a gift to Chopin when he visited Vienna in 1830: it may comfortably exceed its estimate of €100,000- €150,000.

To scholars, an untampered-with manuscript is of inestimable value, being a unique indicator of a composer’s intentions. This is why the dismemberment (for commercial reasons) of Beethoven’s sketchbooks after his death was such a disaster, and why Roe and his colleagues are so opposed to the well-meaning but misguided “restorations” which some of the biggest libraries have carried out.

Jon Contino

Jon Contino from Kevin Steen on Vimeo.

10 Great War Books Written by Women

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It Was Written - Books By Rappers

N+1 takes a look at the recent proliferation of rapper memoirs.

From the piece...

The last few years have been good for hip hop nerds, bringing along with the usual mixtapes and albums an unexpected load of books. It began with Jay-Z’s deluxe coffee-table memoir Decoded. Then there was My Infamous Life by Albert Johnson, otherwise known as Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and an autobiography by Common. Ice-T has added to the pile, and Fifty Cent has released a young adult story about bullying. (He’s against it.) Nas is apparently at work on something, as well as Lil Wayne, Cee-Lo, and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. It may seem predictable that rappers would sooner or later capitalize on our memoir-happy times—can’t knock the hustle now—but the amount of ink being spilled suggests that more is at play.

Also relevant here is Yale’s The Anthology of Rap. For the unfamiliar, the book is just what it sounds like: a hefty collection of rap lyrics. It’s the first of its kind, so it’s been enjoyable and salutary to see the literary world come to terms with it. Hip hop has long been written about, of course, but it’s not everyday you see it treated in the New York Review of Books, or hear people, Sam Lipsyte in this case, praising the “lush Keatsian soundplay” of Jay-Z. That said, responses to the book have been mixed. The editorial writing is informative and the contents are, for the most part, inclusive. There may be nothing by Redman, and The Pharcyde are relegated to the perfunctory “Lyrics for Further Study” section, but why quibble? After all, here’s Ultramagnetic MCs, Freestyle Fellowship, and Devin the Dude. The lyrics themselves, however, often so memorable in their natural  element, can look lifeless or painfully silly on the page. And though hip hop has been an object of academic study for years now, institutionalization seems to jar with its spirit.

Whatever you make of it, the anthology was going to happen, and is a sign that hip hop is reaching a place of wider legitimacy.

There's a Pencil Museum?

Yes. Pencil in a visit, will you?

Dungeons and Dragons: A Documentary

Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary from Westpaw Films on Vimeo.

10 Books to Impress Any Music Snob

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Bad Children's Books