Friday, March 29, 2013

Music Inspired by Classic Fantasy Stories

The list, care of Flavorwire.

22 Most Iconic Book Jackets of All-Time

The list, care of Buzzfeed.

The Death of a Pronoun

The word whom is going the way of the dodo.

From a piece in the Atlantic...

Whom, I am thrilled to inform you, is dying. But its death, I am less thrilled to inform you, has been slow. According to Google’s expansive collection of digitized books, the word has been on a steady decline since 1826. The 400-million-word Corpus of Historical American English records a similar slump. Articles in Time magazine included 3,352 instances of whom in the 1930s, 1,492 in the 1990s, and 902 in the 2000s. And the lapse hasn’t been limited to literature or journalism. In 1984, after all, the Ghostbusters weren’t wondering, “Whom you gonna call?”

Whom, in other words, is doomed. As Mignon Fogarty, the host of the popular Grammar Girl podcast, told me: “I’d put my money on whom being mostly gone in 50 to 100 years.”

But why? One explanation is that the word has outlived its ability to fulfill the most important function of language: to clarify and specify.

Top 10 Books on Afghanistan

The list, care of the Guardian.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Letters to a Young Poet

Photos of Famous Authors When They Were Teenagers


The Sci-Fi Novel That Got it Right

Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner, published in 1969, made a pretty solid guess at what 2010 would look like.

From the piece...

(3) Prices have increased sixfold between 1960 and 2010 because of inflation. (The actual increase in U.S. prices during that period was sevenfold, but Brunner was close.)

(4) The most powerful U.S. rival is no longer the Soviet Union, but China. However, much of the competition between the U.S. and Asia is played out in economics, trade, and technology instead of overt warfare.

(5) Europeans have formed a union of nations to improve their economic prospects and influence on world affairs. In international issues, Britain tends to side with the U.S., but other countries in Europe are often critical of U.S. initiatives.

A Brief History of Book Vending Machines

The Huffington Post looks back.

From the piece...

There are lots of reasons why a white elephant technology doesn't catch on. Sometimes the technology is ahead of its time. In other cases, no amount of time can make a misguided technology useful or attractive. 

Then there's vending machines that sell books. 

The first book-dispensing vending machine was built by Richard Carlile in England in 1822. Carlile was a bookseller who wanted to sell seditious works like Paine's Age of Reason without being thrown in jail. His answer was a self service machine that allowed customers to buy questionable books without ever coming into contact with Carlile. The customer turned a dial on the devise to the publication he wanted, deposited his money, and the material dropped down in front of him. It's unclear whether this was an automated process, but that didn't stop England's own automated process from convicting one of Carlile's employees for selling "blasphemous material."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Robo-Librarian


Finnish Passports are Fun

Taking Classes from Vladimir Nabokov

Edward Epstein, for the New York Review of Books, recalls taking college courses for a literary heavyweight.

From the piece...

I wandered into Lit 311 at the beginning of my sophomore year at Cornell in September 1954. It was not that I had any interest in European literature, or any literature. I was just shopping for a class that met on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings so that I wouldn’t have any Saturday classes, and “literature” also filled one of the requirements for graduation. It was officially called “European Literature of the Nineteenth Century,” but unofficially called “Dirty Lit” by the Cornell Daily Sun, since it dealt with adultery in Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.

The professor was Vladimir Nabokov, an √©migr√© from tsarist Russia. About six feet tall and balding, he stood, with what I took to be an aristocratic bearing, on the stage of the two-hundred-fifty-seat lecture hall in Goldwin Smith. Facing him on the stage was his white-haired wife Vera, whom he identified only as “my course assistant.” He made it clear from the first lecture that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number. Mine was 121. He said his only rule was that we could not leave his lecture, even to use the bathroom, without a doctor’s note.

Estonian Candy Wrappers


Monday, March 25, 2013

Literarily Drunk

The Film Before the Film - Celebrating Title Sequences

THE FILM before THE FILM from ntsdpz on Vimeo.

50 Reasons You Should be a Bookworm

The list, care of Kwiklit.

The Death of Robin

The Huffington Post interviews Grant Morrison about the death of Batman's Robin.

From the piece...

BY: Why did you feel now was the time to kill him?

It's about resetting Batman's status quo. For a long time Batman's had a dead Robin in the cave and it's always been a glass case with a costume in there and it's the one Robin that Batman couldn't save and it used to be Jason, but he's come back to life but he's still got that case in the Batcave.

BY: What made you decide that this was the best route to take for Batman comics?
GM: Well it seemed natural to the genesis of Batman, you know, a way to get to the roots of these characters and to the engine that makes them work. Batman is all about the death of his parents. So I kind of thought that Bruce Wayne, for all that he loves his parents, there must be parts of him that hates his father for not being Batman that night and saving everyone and there must be parts of him that hates his mother for leaving him alone in this bizarre and peculiar life, so what I did was base my entire run on this idea of the bad father, the bad mother, and the bad son.
And the bad father was Dr Hurt. And in the story the bad mother is Talia and the bad son is Damian, and he becomes a good son in the end but it's too late and he dies because really what he represents is this whole twisted loss that's at the heart of the Batman myth. But yeah, it was all based on that original idea about Batman watching his parents die and how that must have affected him and how it affects all his relationships and all his battles with villains, it's all in there. So we just made it a bit more obvious by playing on, very specifically, is it a bad father, is it a bad mother? And here's a bad little kid who becomes good, which is Batman's story as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Herb Weitz - Bookbinder to the Stars

10 Books Guaranteed to Make You Cry

The list, care of Flavorwire.

How Much Do People Make in the Book Publishing Industry?


Anatomy of a Cover Design

The Graywolf Press discusses the difficulties in creating a cover for a book of poetry.

From the piece...

Almost a year ago, Katie Dublinski assigned me the cover job for The Virtues of Poetry. I always find that poetry books and books about poetry are some of the more elusive subjects to capture on a cover. Designers often use evocative fine art, paired with beautiful type, for these books. For this project, I was struck by one word that the author, James Longenbach, wrote in his cover design notes: “elegance.” In fact, an entire paragraph stayed with me and set me down the path of designing with type for these comps:

If anything, I lean toward a clean, classic looking page—a great typeface, good spacing. I like the look of type itself, and I’m less inclined toward any other kind of ornamentation on the page. Elegance.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Urban Planning...Through Children's Books

30 Things Every Writer Should Know

The list, care of the Telegraph.

From said list...

- There are two types of friends. Actual friends, and the other kind.
- When I was little I didn't believe anyone really said "hurrah" but there are plenty of people who do.
- Ninety per cent of people in the publishing industry are twenty-six years old.
- If you sell the film rights to your book it doesn't mean there will be a film. I have sold the rights to five books, and had zero films made. Take the money and be thankful.
- Having my name on a book never makes me more confident.

How Roy Lichtenstein Used Comics

Paul Gravett discusses it, here.

From the post...

The eager embrace of Pop Art is clear from this effusive editorial in SMASH! No. 79 in August 1967:
“All of a sudden (after years of incredible neglect by some eggheads who should have known better) comics are the ‘IN’ thing!! You can see what we mean all around you! The design of up-to-the-minute posters and advertisements, the editorial pages of the big, glossy magazines… all are ‘switched on’ to comic-style art and illustration, to the comic-style use of ‘speech balloons’ to put across the message! And that’s not all! Serious pop art painters find their inspiration from such sources as the ‘good ol’ Power Pack’! The Tate Gallery (and you can’t get much more high-brow than that) recently purchased a high-priced painting by American artist Lichenstein [sic] called ‘WHAAM!’ which is based on a section of an adventure comic strip! That’s the way it is today! Everyone’s getting the message! Comics are FUN! Comics are STYLISH! Comics are TREND! We could have told them a long time ago, right? But isn’t it nice? ... knowing that WE’VE been on the swinging wavelength all along!”

Those celebrations were somewhat premature. Not everyone has tuned into that ‘swinging wavelength’ quite yet! There have been significant advances, of course, within the art world. Just look at those recent solo exhibitions of Moebius, Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman in major galleries in Paris, Daniel Clowes getting a retrospective at Oakland’s Museum of California, and the Louvre presenting specially commissioned artworks by Enki Bilal. For a few years now, every issue of ArtReview magazine has commissioned a new two-page comic. Tate Publishing itself is bringing out its first graphic novel this month, the astonishing Ambedkar: The Fight for Justice, originally released in India.

How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism

The Atlantic discusses it, here.

From the piece...

Feminist romance authors often embrace the problems in romance fiction and then write plots that actively do the opposite of what readers expect. This subversion of audience expectations is often jarring because, as a reader, you are bound to notice actions and emotions that are not what you assumed would happen. 

Grant sees this tension between feminist ideology and the traditionally conservative genre as a welcome challenge to feminist romance authors. "How, respecting the genre and working within its defined parameters, can I write a love story that's palatable to me?," Grant asks herself when deciding the plot for her next novel. "Are there specific trends and devices it might be worthwhile to subvert?" In Grant's first novel, A Lady Awakened, the heroine uses the hero in order to get pregnant. She is not initially interested in emotional intimacy or love. The heroine is the one taking charge of her sexuality and her future while it is the rake who we find crying about how he feels used and eventually begging his love for a long-term commitment.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dave Eggers' TED Talk

Book Heaven in Paris

Shakespeare & Company.

Jimmy Fallon's "Do Not Read" List

On the Business of Literature

Richard Nash discusses it in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

From the piece...

Publishing is a word that, like the book, is almost but not quite a proxy for the “business of literature.” Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself. We have come to believe that the taste-making, genius-discerning editorial activity attached to the selection, packaging, printing, and distribution of books to retailers is central to the value of literature. We believe it protects us from the shameful indulgence of too many books by insisting on a rigorous, abstemious diet. Critiques of publishing often focus on its corporate or capitalist nature, arguing that the profit motive retards decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. But capitalism per se and the market forces that both animate and pre-suppose it aren’t the problem. They are, in fact, what brought literature and the author into being. 

The story of the book as technology—the book as revolutionary, disruptive technology—must be told honestly, without triumphalism or defeatism, without hope, without despair, just as Isak Dinesen admonished us to write. A great challenge in producing such an account, however, is the “availability heuristic.” This is a model of cognitive psychology first proposed in 1973 by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, which describes how humans make decisions based on information that is relatively easy to recall. The things that we easily recall are things that happen frequently, and so making decisions based on the samples we have at hand would seem to make sense. The sun rises every day; we infer from this that the sun rises every day. A turkey is fed every day; it infers that it will be fed every day—until, suddenly, it isn’t. Heuristics are great until they aren’t. A person sees several news stories of cats leaping out of tall trees and surviving, so he believes that cats must be robust to long falls. These kinds of news reports are far more prevalent than ones where a cat falls to its death, which is the more common event. But since it is less reported on, it is not readily available to a person for him to make judgments.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

N+1 on the McSweeney's Empire

The Bookseller Who Cannot Read

Her name is Mary. She works in Chennai, India.

From a piece on Hindu Business Line...

Though the shop doesn’t have an address, Mary still receives couriers. And though she doesn’t know how to read, she digs out all the books her customers need – from 5th standard texts to engineering guides, law to Chartered Accountancy, test banks to crack IIT’s entrance exam, the GMAT and GRE to comics and classics.

“I am telling you Jeffrey Archer is not there!” She snaps at a customer who doggedly tries to sift through her mountain of books. She says that it becomes difficult to find books if people keep shuffling through them. She has become distrustful of her customers because even those who ‘look decent’ have stolen many of her precious books.

“Regular patrons who used to visit and buy a few classics every day are now long dead,” says Mary. “Now the demand is for comics, novels, school books and engineering books.”

Literature from Librarians

AbeBooks highlights great books written by great librarians.

Are E-Readers and Poetry Incompatible?

That's the question posed, recently, by the Washington Post.

From the story...

Form is essential to the art, Miller says. Line breaks, stanza breaks and pacing — that’s the poetry; otherwise it’s just words. And form, he says, is precisely what gets lost when poems get converted to e-readers, which is why Miller doesn’t publish on e-readers. He says they don’t honor his work.
That’s a widespread feeling among his fellow poets and a debate that can pit poetry purists against futurists. “The technology has to get it right,” says Miller. Or poets won’t use it. 

“Right now, we’re talking about conversion of print files to digital files and the greatest issue is in the poetry community,” says Ira Silverberg, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. “If you’re working on a Kindle or Nook or Kobo device, and you shoot up a page, you lose the line breaks depending on how you’ve formatted your preferences.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Robert Mapplethorpe Documentary

Robert Mapplethorpe: Arena, 1988 by superalbertofilho

The Rise of Webcomics

Making TV's "The Bible"

The Novel Resurgence of the Independent Bookstore

The Christian Science Monitor monitors the indie bookstore's rising from the dead.

From the piece...

A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

While beloved bookstores still close down every year, sales at independent bookstores overall are rising, established independents are expanding, and new ones are popping up from Brooklyn to Big Stone Gap, Va. Bookstore owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders to the rise of the "buy local" movement to a get-'er-done outlook among the indies that would shame Larry the Cable Guy. If they have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, add it to the to-do list.

"2012 was the year of the bookstore," says Wendy Welch, co-owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine in Virginia and author of the 2012 memoir "The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap." In her memoir, she recounts how she and her husband, Jack Beck, created – sometimes despite themselves – a successful used-book store in a town that, by any business measure, is too small to support one.

"Jack and I will never be rich. But we found a place where people said there wasn't a market and we said 'yes there was,' " says Ms. Welch. "We feel like it's important for bookslingers to hang together – we'll hang together or we'll hang separately.... And we're holding the line."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stripped: A Documentary about Comic Strips

You'll Have to Save That For Another Time

A webcomic, drawn by Noah Van Sciver and written by Dave Eggers.

Picasso's Women in Real Life


The Joy of the Joy of Cooking

Book Patrol takes a look at one of the most important cookbooks in history.

From the piece...

It is the most popular and best-selling cookbook in American history, with nearly 18 million copies sold.

It is the only cookbook to be included in the New York Public Library’s list of 150 Influential Books of the Century.
The original edition was privately published by the author in an edition of 3000 copies and was illustrated by the author’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who also designed the spectacular dust jacket featuring St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooking, taking up a mop to fend off the dragon Tarasque.

The author marketed the book herself, selling copies out of her apartment for $3.00 apiece and sold approximately 2000 copies in two years, no mean accomplishment in the early years of the Great Depression. 

But the real joy came when Bobbs-Merrill took over the commercial publication of the book in 1936. 

The rest they say is history.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Bloodsport of Slam Poetry

20 Most Beloved Children's Book Characters

The list, as chosen by children, here.

Great Books about Wandering the City

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Not Enough - An Interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Poetry Foundation sits down with him.

From the piece...

Caples: I’ve got another question; you have a passage about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash: “the popular poets of America…” I feel this is a line you’ve been pushing a bit, that there’s a lot of lost musicality in a lot of contemporary poetry. But it seems like an unfair comparison. I mean, poets are poets and songwriters are songwriters, you know? What’s the point of comparing poets to folk musicians, ultimately? They’re two different…

The folk musicians are the real poets, the real popular poets of America. The poets that are printed in books, how many people read them compared to the vast audience of the folksinger? A lot of the folksingers’ poems are greater than the printed poems! Dylan’s early songs were long surrealist poems. They were wonderful poems on their own. You could say the same of some of the Woody Guthrie lines… The printing press made poetry so silent. Before the printing press, poets spoke and sang aloud! They didn’t depend on the book. The Beats were the first poets since Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay to make performance aloud more important than the printed version. The oral message came first.

Caples: But still at the same time it seems like there are folksingers and there are poets. Poets aren’t folksingers, so why hold them to the standard of a folksinger in that sense? Of course, a folksinger is going to be more popular than a poet.

Why not hold them to the same standards as folksingers? Or do you want to keep them forever in their cubbyholes?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kate Moss Reads "50 Shades of Grey"

Is Masculine Writing Dead?

Novelist Frank Bill looks around a bookstore and finds very few writers that capture his life of deer hunting, physical labor, and ruggedness.

From a piece on the Daily Beast...
What I’m saying is, a large number of men have lost their ruggedness. Maybe they never had it. I believe to be a man is to be tough mentally and physically. To have a small set of skills to survive from day to day when needed. Like lifting weights or boxing in a dust and spider-web-infested concrete shed with a tin roof. Where it’s sweltering in the summer and freezer-burn-cold in the winter, to keep the body and mind tough. Hunting and fishing to hone the skills my father and grandfather passed onto me.

I’ve met guys who take great pride in their cars but can’t even change a flat tire, guys who glory in a steak dinner but squirm when I speak of killing a deer. They struggle with baiting a worm onto a fishing hook and can’t stand the site of gutting, scaling, and cleaning fish. My mother and grandmother did all of this and without effort. I grew up around strong-willed and even more capable females the same as I did males.

And when walking the isles of a bookstore, those are the characteristics that interest me most, writers who shed light on what masculinity means, what it is to be tough, to be rugged, to be able to take care of your damn self.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II

WWII - A Likely Excuse

A man returns a book 69 years later. Blames the war.

From a piece on the Huffington Post...

An Estonian man has returned a library book 69 years late, partly blaming a World War II aerial bombing that damaged the library for the late return.

Ivika Turkson of the Tallinn Central Library says that last week the man in his mid-80s returned the overdue book – which was checked out on March 7, 1944, while Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany – along with an apology and an offer to pay a late fee.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Making of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Tim Wallach

A man is attempting to collect every Tim Wallach baseball card. Literally, he wants every Tim Wallach baseball card ever produced.

Check out his site, here.

Do Poets Sleep?

The New York Times talks insomnia and poetry.

From the story...

Poets may not suffer from insomnia more than other people, but they seem more likely to write about it. For centuries, long before Thomas Edison (himself a famous insomniac who called his scientific team the “insomnia squad”) facilitated the insomnia of so many of us by helping to invent the electric light bulb, poets from a wide range of cultures have written about their wakeful, nocturnal anguish and ecstatic vision. In the eighth century, the Chinese poet Tu Fu, in a translation by Sam Hamill, pined, “Sleepless, memories of war betray me: / I am powerless against the world.” Patumanar, a poet of the Tamil period of Indian literature, writes (in a translation by A.K. Ramunujan), that “Even the far-flung world / has put aside its rages / for sleep. / Only I / am awake.”

Does the study linking insomnia to troubled breathing, which, as one article stated, challenges “the predominant theory of insomnia as a problem of ‘hyper-arousal,’ in which the body idles on high psychologically and physiologically,” change the way we think about and “read” insomniacal art? A dark night of the soul, heartache, remorse, guilt, desire, God-hunger — surely this, and not obstructed airways or a drop in oxygen levels, is the stuff of poetry.

John Steinbeck Reads

Hear him read two short stories, here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

George Saunders on Morning Joe

Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters


Top 25 Most Famous Librarians in History

The list, care of AbeBooks.

Spider-Man Turns 50

The Atlantic celebrates.

From the piece...

Amazing Spider-Man #1 hit shelves 50 years ago, on March 10, 1963. Since then, Spider-Man has spawned four—soon to be five—big-budget movies, nine TV shows, a stage play, a radio drama partially masterminded by Brian Mays of Queen, a few dozen video games, and, of course, thousands of comic books and toys. He's a major figure, and he deserves to be: Spider-Man redefined our idea of a hero by making superheroes a lot more relatable than they were before.

To understand how revolutionary Spider-Man was, it helps to understand the most important hero who came before him: Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1932, Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938 as more force of nature than fully fleshed-out character. Rather than fighting the colorful super-villains that would later define him, Superman attacked a wife beater and rescued a woman from being wrongfully executed by the government by storming a governor's mansion with proof of innocence. The creation of Superman led to plenty of direct imitations—Captain Marvel being the most popular off-brand Superman, I believe—and eventually the complete dominance of superhero comics over most other genres in comics, a status quo that survives to today.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vintage Frankenstein Covers


Uncreative Writing

A discussion of plagiarism (maybe it's not so bad?):

11 Writers Who Really Loved Cats


Should We Equate Comic Books with Traditional Literature?

That's the question posed by Varsity Online.

From the piece...

Even the terminology surrounding this question is fiercely debated. Whereas most like to refer to works such as Maus as ‘graphic novels’, the term seems to be a hopeful attempt to disassociate the new breed of ‘intelligent’ comics from tales of superheroes, making a clear distinction between comic- book-pulp-fiction and high-art -visual-narratives. Publisher Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape chooses not to make a distinction between comic books and graphic novels, although he admits that, “because the books we publish are at the more literary end of the spectrum I’m probably inclined to think of them as graphic novelists first.” Comic book theorist Scott McCloud – at the forefront of the new ‘academicising’ movement – prefers to call them ‘sequential narratives.’ However, this term is yet to catch on in popular usage. Practitioner Nick Hayes, a former  student at Emmanuel College and author of acclaimed graphic novel The Rime of the Modern Mariner, is more relaxed about the matter: “people get all in a fluster about this. The most pretentious of the lot is Sequential Artist, but I think you may as well print up a T-shirt that proclaims your own self-esteem paranoia... I tend to change my job title to suit its audience.” 

 This year, two graphic works were shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards for the first time in the prize’s history. Winning the biography category was Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, by Mary and Bryan Talbot - a comic-strip life of James Joyce’s daughter, blended with memoirs of Mary’s father; in the novel category Joff Winterhart’s linear story of a holiday, Days of the Bagnold Summer, went up against Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies. Is it fair to judge such different mediums against each other? In his 1766 work Laocoon, Lessing criticised the comparison of pictures with words, contesting that they are so different that they should never be compared. However, such a simple division of the two is not possible with comic books. Hayes thinks that the best comic books have an equal emphasis on both elements: “I think the best comics place equal emphasis on the words and the images, or at least make some kind of balance – I think the most striking effect a comic has is the initial view of a two-page spread, when you have just turned a page – at that point, the words have no meaning, as they are not immediately discernible, but they operate as shapes which break up the flow of other shapes. That’s how I try to see them when designing my pages.”