Monday, June 30, 2008

Pictures of 100 poems by 100 poets...

Explained by a wet nurse.

If the "Magpie Bridge"
Bridge by flight of magpies spanned,--
White with frost I see:--
With a deep-laid frost made white:--
Late, I know, has grown the night

From the site:

The poem tells of lovers eternally separated by the Gods. But for one night each year the magpies are permitted to form with their wings a bridge allowing the couple to get together. Hokusai shows two men on a boat looking at three occasional magpies. Two other men on the boat look to the village on a peninsula. In the real world boats are universal mobile replacements of bridges. Yeah, most probably also replacing the also not permanent bridges formed by magpies. Hokusais boats are extremely robust without a grain of romance. The closed windows hide the lovers secrets from our eyes. At the same time they alert our imagination.

Jon's Writing in Fine Books & Collections

The cover story in the most recent edition of Fine Books has been written by yours truly. It was a great story to write in that the subject was interesting, the people I interviewed were interesting, and the process was enriching indeed.

Botanica Magnifica is a set of books created, in part, by Jonathan Singer, a podiatrist in New Jersey. He is one of the best photographers of plants in the world. He's taken pictures of some of the world's rarest plant life (orchids, rare plants found in the now ravaged Myanmar, etc) and has now put hundreds of these photos into a five volume set called Botanica Magnifica.

What's so amazing about that?
The books are huge, each weighing about 35 pounds.
The books were created by Tini Miura, the "Picasso of Bookbinding"
The books were printed on the largest printing press in the world.
The set of books retail for $2.5 million.
The first set of books is already in the Smithsonian.

Those are just some of the interesting details I learned while crafting the story. Also, to note, CBS News contacted the editor of Fine Books with thoughts of doing their own story on Singer and his work because of my story. Wonderful! Not nearly, as wonderful, however, as Singer's photos.

The Mark Twain Project

Want to know everything there is to know about Mark Twain? Start here.

From the site:

Mark Twain Project Online applies innovative technology to more than four decades' worth of archival research by expert editors at the Mark Twain Project. It offers unfettered, intuitive access to reliable texts, accurate and exhaustive notes, and the most recently discovered letters and documents.

Its ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote. MTPO is a collaboration between the Mark Twain Papers and Project of The Bancroft Library, the California Digital Library, and the University of California Press

Also, if you want to see Mark Twain in autochrome, go here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Quote of the Week

Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.
- Norman Podhoretz

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday's Poem

Ballad inspired by John Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci":

The Book Review's Booty

From the introduction to the slideshow:

Here at the Book Review, we get a ton of mail.

Every once in a while, when we’re pulling the endless books and press releases from publishers out of envelopes, out plops a little item of some sort. In fact, of every sort. From tennis balls to whoopee cushions, we’ve seen it all.

Collectors call this kind of stuff “literary ephemera,” and some of it is quite collectible. But not much of it.

Some of the Best Political Books of All-Time

According to politically-minded folks at NPR, including the picks of Don Gonyea, White House correspondent, Beth Donovan, elections editor and news analyst Juan Williams.

Pictured above: "Washington, D.C., 1861." [Lincoln Inauguration.] Copyprint deposit, 1861. American Treasures of the Library of Congress exhibition.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Simon Le Bon - More than Just a Rock Star

I always knew why I loved Duran Duran. For one reason, they're awesome. For another, Duran Duran's lead singer, the musical wonder that is Simon Le Bon, has a book club.

Turkish Poetry

Enjoy it.

Pictured above: The İshak Paşa Sarayı was begun in in 1685 by Çolak Abdi Paşa and completed in 1784 by his son, a Kurdish chieftain named İshak. It's 6 km uphill from the city of Doğubeyazıt in Far-Eastern Turkey, 30 km from the Iranian border.

Breaking the Silence

The Guardian talks about Dave Eggers's newest foray - giving voice to the voiceless.

From the story:

Underground America is the latest in an oral history series published by the San-Francisco-based Voice of Witness project, started by author Dave Eggers.

"(This) is not a compendium of suffering. This is a collection of voices," insists editor Peter Orner, who's an asylum lawyer and a fiction writer.

The book focuses on undocumented workers from all around the world trying to make it in the United States - most of them separated from their families for years on end. Many suffer violence and injuries or end up doing forced labour, but few complain or seek medical attention because of the constant fear of deportation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Books Do You Loathe?

This is the question put forth to literate types recently, by the Times Online.

Some responses:

"The Waves by Virginia Woolf is everything a novel should not be – and so much less."

"The first book I really remember hating was Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer. I was studying American literature at university, and he was supposed to be a leading writer. I gave up at about page 600, tired of pharaohs and anal sex."

"I have lost count of the number of times I have taken Crime and Punishment on holiday and ended up throwing it in the pool."

The Importance of Story

In the Arcade Journal (Architecture and Design in the Northwest) Lynn Casey discusses the importance of stories.

From the article:

Stories have been with us from the beginning of time, and for good reason. They add substance to the challenges of everyday life, enthrall us with the range of human experience, and add texture to the objects that fill our days. So what happens in this brave new world of Web 2.0 — where the economy of a place called Second Life outpaces that of many small European nations? Is there any value to provenance, to craft, to the individual design?

The Internet has created a vast shopping emporium, allowing consumers endless selection and an incredible variety of price points. As digital commerce and communication continue to flourish and the simple commerce of vendor and buyer becomes reduced to bits on a chip, a vacuum has been created. Real touch, real time is becoming scarce — and we all know scarcity begets desire. The critical motivation for choice of non-commodity items is now one of relationship. Those vendors who can imbue their products with story and feed the hunger in the coming generations for history and connection will thrive.

Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, believes that the future belongs to those who can tell a story through their art, their work and their lives. He says: The era of "left brain" dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which "right brain" qualities — inventiveness, empathy, and meaning — predominate. The challenge lies in revealing the inspiration and passion that leads us to create meaningful art and design and then translating that into relevance for the consumer.

How Graphic Novelists View the War in Iraq

The Independent has a story about the new generation of graphic novelists and how they're exploring the war in Iraq.

From the story:

Matty Roth, a young photojournalism trainee, is taking his first trip into a war zone with the famous (and famously objectionable) Viktor Ferguson of the Liberty News Network. But soon after their helicopter lands, the team comes under attack. Matty is forced to watch, helplessly, as the chopper – and Ferguson – take off without him, only to be blown out of the sky seconds later, leaving Matty, lost and alone, in an urban no man's land. Baghdad? No – Manhattan Island, otherwise known as the DMZ.

This is the explosive opening of a comic book series, also named DMZ, by New Yorker Brian Wood, and it's the pre-eminent example of a growing fashion for comics and graphic novels about, or inspired by, the Iraq war.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Creation of a Book Cover

On Scamp, an illustration blog, illustrator PJ Lynch takes readers step-by-step through the creation of the cover of his latest book, O. Henry's famed The Gift of The Magi.

The Bookseller of Beirut

As anywhere, Lebanon's independent bookstores have slowly been eaten up by big, bland chains. Set in the once thriving district of Hamra, Esquire stands out as a slightly dusty, but proud, pillar of independence. Today its income comes largely from newspapers, magazines and books on Lebanon's modern history. Yet what makes Esquire so charming is the treasure trove of racy paperback novels from the seventies. Monocle's Robert Bound reports.

The New Classics

Entertainment Weekly lists the 100 best books since 1983. It's a pretty solid list and I can't disagree with the top pick (Cormac McCarthy's The Road). Quite a lot of great authors are listed near the top of the list including Jose Saramago, Jon Krakauer, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel García Márquez.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jon's Writing in Art Lies

In the most recent issue of Art Lies: A Contemporary Art Quarterly, you'll find a review I did of a Charles LaBelle show that was up at the Lawrimore Project in Seattle.

It was rather fascinating, the show. And it was fun doing an art review never having had any formal knowledge in regards to, well, reviewing art. Certainly, I appreciate art. Some of my favorite memories of traveling include seeing a room full of William Blake artwork at the old Tate Gallery in London, wandering around the odd and fascinating Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain, standing in front of a Hieronymus Bosch triptych all alone in a small museum in Lisbon, and seeing a Cezanne painting in Paris whose facsimile has been hanging in my mom's dining room since I can remember.

Hopefully I can review more art in the near to distant future, if not for Art Lies (though I'd like to continue writing for them, no doubt), for other arts-minded publications.

The Solitary Vice

From PopMatters, has reading really made you a better person?

Font Haiku

Swell little haiku poems based on fonts.

For example:

Loathsome Comic Sans'
uneven inky slugtrails.
That vile, hated font.


Arial, the clone
But not of helvetica.
Grotesque is its sire.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Quote of the Week

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
- Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Collecting Library Cards

A groovy story via the Fine Books & Collections blog. A kid is collecting a LOT of library cards, including one that I had when I was a kid growing up in Olympia, Washington (pictured above).

From his website:

Hello, and welcome to the website for the Great Library Card Collection. My name is Cory Peterson, and I am the proud owner of this collection. I am 15 years old, and I live in Suisun City, California. I am attending Buckingham Charter High School, where I am a 9th grade student. My collection has over 3,000 library cards, and growing every day!

Someone’s in the Kitchen With Ignatius J. Reilly

There's an interesting piece by Elizabeth Kiem I found recently on The Morning News site.

The beginning of said essay:

In total defiance of the accepted notion that reading unfetters the imagination, I have been setting the domestic scenes of 30 years’ worth of novels on just a few familiar and well-trod stages.

They work together, shifting measurements and accommodating amenities to fit textual requirements (a dumbwaiter, a patio fountain, a half-door and mansard window), but they are always recognizable behind these architectural liberties. Cognitive scientists claim you can’t dream of a face you’ve never seen. Well, I can’t read a room I haven’t inhabited.


In PopMatters, Secondhand Wonderland: The World of the Used Book.

From the story:

Oh, new books have their pleasures. The uncracked spine, that Chip Kidd design, the author beautified in a portrait by Marion Ettlinger or Brigitte Lacombe. But they are so breathtakingly expensive, like gasoline. And they will not tell you the cauliflower cheese pie was “very good better the next day”. Nor will you find a new paperback called Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, translated before the hit film and the smoothing hand of translator Tina Nunnally. My 1950 edition of Madame Bovary contains line illustrations and, in lieu of a dustcover, a protective box. Fourteen bucks. My 1937 Marie Curie has no dust jacket, but carries the inscription “To Mom—with love—1939.” Six dollars. Six dollars for a book predating Israel, Iraq, the fool in the White House, television. The recipient is probably dead now. The giver, too.

I want these books, I need them to feel marginally human, and I can only get them in used bookstores, where the thick smell of paper commingles with dust and endless pages of nine-point font that make me squint though my trifocals.

I need used bookstores to pull me back from the edges, from where I reside, out on the furthest ends of the lonely long tail, geeky, still solitary. Only in used bookstores am I among my kind, people irresolutely stuck on prose, people who, like me, willingly navigate the Internet or try their own hands at novels, tapping, as I am this minute, into laptops smaller than magazines. People who return, with relief, to the calming sight of shelves and shelves of books, that soothing paper scent. We are as junkies amid a field of opium poppies, hopping amongst the blooms, Molly or otherwise.

And, as a brief point/counterpoint...

Why I Hate Second-Hand Books.

The 50 Greatest Novels of All-Time

The Telegraph shows us the big list, garnered from a recent poll. It's pretty solid. To Kill a Mockingbird is number 1, Lord of the Rings is number 2, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is number 3, followed close behind by the beloved Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. But number 5 is, well, I hate to say it. It PAINS me to say it...Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code? SERIOUSLY FOLKS?! THE DA VINCI CODE?! Oh, the humanity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Films of Joel & Ethan Coen: A Tribute

A brief post, just because I think they're so damn awesome:

Did Shakespeare Write A Lover's Complaint?

Slate looks into the mysterious authorship of a Shakespearean poem.

From the story:

I'm speaking of the decision by the Royal Shakespeare Company's publishing wing, in its recent edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, to subtract, delete, erase one long-standing four-century-old fixture of the Shakespearean canon: a 329-line poem called "A Lover's Complaint."

And its decision to attribute to Shakespeare a relatively recent discovery, an 18-line dedicatory poem called "To the Queen."

These changes are no small matter: Casting a poem as long as the "Complaint" out of the canon means redefining the artistic identity of our greatest poet and dramatist in a small, subtle but significant way.

Getting Boys Into Books

What books might spur young chaps into reading? The Telegraph gives oodles of ideas.


Most everything George Saunders writes makes me laugh. His latest bit is in The New Yorker.

From the story:

I just had a great idea for a TV show: People from all over the world begin to sense they have superpowers. One guy can fly. Another can walk through walls. A cheerleader is impervious to physical harm. A kid can move back and forth in time. You get the idea: normal people, sick and tired of living under constraint, are busting out, into a world without limits!

But here’s the twist: These people, who believe they have superpowers? They don’t. They never have and never will. There is no such thing as a superpower.

The guy who thinks he can fly? Jumps off his minivan and sprains his ankle. The one who can walk through walls? Tries to run through the living-room wall and breaks a photograph of his wife’s mother. His wife is really upset. The cheerleader impervious to physical harm throws herself down a flight of stairs, breaks her back, then lies there waiting for it to miraculously mend. But no. The cat steps over her. So much for cheerleading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Future of Creativity

Care of the Utne Reader.

From the story:

Adult life begins in a child’s imagination,” said poet Dana Gioia, speaking before the graduating class of Stanford University in June 2007. “And we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.” By that, Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, meant that we’ve pawned off the task of imagination to commercial manufacturers of marketing and entertainment. They feed us an endless stream of stock imagery and flashy distractions—“content” that comes predigested and does little or nothing in the way of encouraging us to form our own mental images, ideas, or stories.

Gioia’s speech lamented a cultural impoverishment that he said was evident in a widespread lack of interest in the arts and artists, a situation that he blamed on the media’s preoccupation with entertainers and athletes. Indeed, some members of Stanford’s graduating class were rather unimpressed with the selection of Gioia as speaker: They didn’t think he was famous enough. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t really show up on TV—or YouTube or MySpace or anywhere that might have given him some credibility or at least name recognition among the graduates. It’s hard for scientists, writers, painters, and thinkers to compete with the continual stream of spectacle produced by the likes of Britney Spears and David Beckham, in a market where young people spend 44.5 hours each week in front of computer, TV, and video-game screens.

Much has been discussed about whether all these hours of screen time have contributed to the explosion of ADD, aggression, autism, and obesity in children and teenagers. What I’d like to consider is what kids are not doing during those 44.5 hours of screen time (besides not reading Gioia’s poetry) and how it could haunt them in later life.

“We’re engaged in a huge experiment where we’ve fundamentally changed the experience of childhood,” says Ed Miller, senior staff member for the Maryland-based Alliance for Childhood. “We don’t know what the outcome is going to be. We’re robbing kids of their birthright: the access to free, unstructured play of their own making.”

Thoreau's Walden Pond

Graphic novel style.

Lit 101 Class in 3 Lines or Less

Care of our friends at McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
- Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Poem

Setting by Matthew Brown of four poems by Christina Rossetti for soprano (Erica Miller) and guitar quartet (Adam Pettit, Joe Spoelstra, Adam Brown, Tom Echols):

Are You a Beatnik?

Well, take the questionnaire and find out.

Welcome to Loookybook

Lookybook is a pretty swell website if you're into reading children's books, presumably to a kid or two. Lookybook lets you thumb through picture books cover to cover, in all their splendor. From their site, "We'll never replace an actual book in your hands, but we hope to show you new books and help you make informed choices for you and your kids."

They've already got a long list of writers and illustrators that you can pick and choose from, including John Updike, Lemony Snicket, Nancy Tobin, Paul Rand, and Lewis Carroll.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Woo Your Sweetheart

The Top Ten Love Poems, ever. Not having any love poetry by Pablo Neruda on the list, however, makes the whole thing a bit suspect.

Introducing Science Fiction to People Who Think They Don't Like Science Fiction

How do you introduce sci-fi to someone who doesn't read sci-fi? David Louis Edelman gives up some ideas.

The Life and Times of E.A. Poe

On the website for Nigel Beale Nota Bene Books is an audio interview with critic Edward Pettit on Edgar Allan Poe. A Poe fanatic, Pettit is working on a book about Poe's years in Philadelphia, due out in 2009, the bicentenary of Poe's birth. The interview listeners get a thumbnail biography of Poe, his childhood, where he lived, studied and worked, what he wrote, which relative he married, which street corner he collapsed on, who championed him and who wrote the best books about him.

As a brief side note, my favorite poem by Mr. Poe is "Annabel Lee"...

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea:

But we loved with a love that was more than love--

I and my Annabel Lee;

With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven

Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,

In this kingdom by the sea,

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

My beautiful Annabel Lee;

So that her highborn kinsman came

And bore her away from me,

To shut her up in a sepulchre

In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,

Went envying her and me--

Yes!--that was the reason (as all men know,

In this kingdom by the sea)

That the wind came out of the cloud by night,

Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love

Of those who were older than we--

Of many far wiser than we--

And neither the angels in heaven above,

Nor the demons down under the sea,

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side

Of my darling--my darling--my life and my bride,

In her sepulchre there by the sea,

In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Maurice Sendak

Video Tour of New Yorker Cartoonist's Studio

Care of one of my favorite websites, Drawn!.

The Strange Allure of Making Your Own Font

Slate highlights fonts in all their entertaining glory and shares where one can create their own.

Learning from Emily Dickinson After 9/11

The Boston Review has an extensive story rereading Dickinson's poetry after 9/11.

From the story...

One thinks of the failure of representation since 9/11, the proliferation of novels, the media glut, the surfeit of images that somehow slide too easily into a banal repertoire, commodified shock. Here Dickinson’s ceaseless instinct for negation, distinction, refinement, annihilation, seems wholly relevant, when things are

most like Chaos—Stopless—cool—
Without a Chance, or Spar—
Or even a Report of Land—
To justify—Despair.

Her lines can seem uncannily, New Englandly, to anticipate some of the more controversial responses to 9/11. For example, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s infamous (and, when read in full, complex) meditation on the destruction of that day as infernal art, aesthetic cataclysm:

’Tis so appalling—it exhilarates—
So over Horror, it half Captivates—

Or Susan Sontag’s dissenting remarks published in The New Yorker, Sept. 24, 2001—

The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?

—remarks that launched—as Faludi reminds us—an ecstasy of righteous denunciation. Per Dickinson:

Assent—and you are sane—
Demur—you’re straightaway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain—

So, too, the politics of memorializing Ground Zero might be chastened by Dickinson’s astringency:

After a hundred years
Nobody knows the Place
Agony enacted there
Motionless as Peace

Monday, June 09, 2008

Literary Tattoos

A brief discussion and a gallery of literate tattoos can be found here.

Pictured above: A tattoo inspired by Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

National Bathroom Reading Week

Don't forget to celebrate.

How to Win the New Yorker Caption Contest

According to a winner, found in Slate.

From the story:

Most people who look at the winners of the caption contest say, "I could've done better than that." You're right. You could have. But that doesn't mean you could've won the caption contest—it just means you could've done better. And if your goal is not to win the caption contest, why bother entering? There is one mantra to take from this article, worth its own line break:

You are not trying to submit the funniest caption; you are trying to win The New Yorker's caption contest.

Humor and victory are different matters entirely. To understand what makes the perfect caption, you must start with the readership. Paging through The New Yorker is a lonesome withdrawal, not a group activity. The reader is isolated and introspective, probably on the train commuting to work. He suffers from urban ennui. He does not make eye contact. Laughing out loud is, in this context, an unseemly act sure to draw unwanted attention. To avoid this, your caption should elicit, at best, a mild chuckle.

As for me - I've entered pretty much every week it's been running and sadly, I have yet to even make it to the finals. Of note, however, captions VERY similar to mine HAVE been in the finals. Small victories, I guess, until I get that golden laurel of winning the contest outright. And, yes, I will win...if I elicit mild chuckles from readers.

Why Typewriters Beat Computers

They're clunky, dirty and can't access the internet, yet every year thousands of people buy typewriters when they could probably afford a computer. Why? BBC News finds out.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Quote of the Week

It is books that are a key to the wide world; if you can't do anything else, read all that you can.
- Jane Hamilton, The Book of Ruth

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday's Poem

ee cummings' "yes is a pleasant country":

Found in Books

AbeBooks discusses the stuff booksellers find within the pages of used books.

From the story:

Be careful what you use as a bookmark. Thousands of dollars, a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hickson are just some of the stranger objects discovered inside books by booksellers.

I recently opened a secondhand book and an airline boarding pass from Liberia in west Africa to Fort Worth, Texas, fell to the floor. Was there a story behind this little slip of paper? Was someone fleeing from a country ravaged by two civil wars since 1989? I will never know, but used and rare booksellers discover countless objects - some mundane, some bizarre, some deeply personal - inside books as they sort and catalog books for resale.

Adam Tobin, owner of Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, New York, has created a display inside his bookstore dedicated to objects discovered in books.