Saturday, January 31, 2009

Congratulations Ramsey Nasr

Well done, young man. You are now the National Poet of the Netherlands!

To read one of his poems about poverty, displayed in Antwerp, go here.

What's this? STILL interested in Dutch poetry?! Very well, for a collection of Dutch poems in Dutch and English go here.

Yes, okay, fine. Here's a post on clogs...and windmills...and dikes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's Poem

Denise Levertov's "What Were They Like?":

The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English

The list, according to alphaDictionary. Granted, there are some beautiful words (champagne, jejune, panacea), but where's my favorite word?

Damien Hirst, Meet Charles Darwin

What do you get when you cross the world's most famous living artist and famed long-dead naturalist Charles Darwin? A new edition of On the Origin of Species.

In Praise of the Humble Comic Book Store

An essay, care of Den of Geek.

From said essay...

Comic book shops, or stores if you’re American, are the one place in the universe where a geek can truly be a geek. The normal rules of day-to-day life do not apply. You are among friends, all of whom understand that joy is all about discovering that lost issue (the one you thought you might never find), or owning a complete run of a series.

The humble comic store should be celebrated. It is a place where we spend most of our lives, and most certainly most of our disposable income. Friendships can be forged. Dreams can be realized and collections can be built.

As a brief aside, can you name the original members of the Justice League of America?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ira Glass, Interviewed

This American Life's Ira Glass is interviewed on the AV Club website. And, if you haven't watched This American Life on Showtime, you're missing out.

Also, as a brief aside, Ira ATTACKS! Indeed, recently Ira Glass attacked print and television news saying, in part, "Newspapers are mostly really terrible and they deserve to die. And network news is mostly really terrible and it deserves to go down."

Unlocking the Secrets of Medieval Manuscripts

An interesting story from e! Science News. Scientists are using DNA testing to find out when and where medieval manuscripts were written.

From said story...

Now a researcher from North Carolina State University is using modern advances in genetics to develop techniques that will shed light on the origins of these important cultural artifacts. Many medieval manuscripts were written on parchment made from animal skin, and NC State Assistant Professor of English Timothy Stinson is working to perfect techniques for extracting and analyzing the DNA contained in these skins with the long-term goal of creating a genetic database that can be used to determine when and where a manuscript was written.

The Sentence is a Lonely Place

The Believer has an lecture by short story writer Gary Lutz to the students of Columbia University's Writing Program.

From said lecture...

It took me almost another decade after graduate school to figure out what writing really is, or at least what it could be for me; and what prompted this second lesson in language was my discovery of certain remaindered books—mostly of fiction, most notably by Barry Hannah, and all of them, I later learned, edited by Gordon Lish—in which virtually every sentence had the force and feel of a climax, in which almost every sentence was a vivid extremity of language, an abruption, a definitive inquietude. These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.” The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grand Alphabet Amusant

Another wonderful set of images can be seen on BibliOdyssey.


At the zoo the primates were eating treats. There were four of them - Bobo, Dubdub, Chucho, and Ned - and were huddled near the visitor viewing platform gobbling away at carrots and greens.

"This isn't much of a treat anymore," Bobo said.

"Yeah," Dubdub said. "A treat connotes something special, something out of the ordinary."

"We get carrots all the time," Chucho said. "Nothing special about carrots."

"I like carrots," Ned said, smiling.

They were finishing up their food when the first school group hustled over to gawk at them and mock them with monkey sounds.

"Stupid kids," Bobo said.

"Yeah," Dubdub said. "We're smarter then they are at that age. We should be the ones out there mocking them."

"Good idea," Chucho said. "Ned, hop the fence."

"No way."

"Come on, we've all done it. Us primates are smart. We'll show them! Hop the fence and follow the school group around."

"No way. I'll get busted." Ned picked at his hair. He ate a louse.

"We'll give you all the treats in the cage tomorrow if you hop the fence."

"Knock it off, guys," Ned said. "Just leave me alone." He scuffled across the cage to a burlap sack and sat in it before he swung on a rope.

"Geez," Dubdub said, thumbing his hairy knuckles towards Ned, "what a chimp pansy."

Give Love to the Loo!

Quite an intriguing story coming out of The Mainichi Daily News. It involves toilets...and poetry.

From said story...

It is estimated that an average Japanese person uses 55 rolls of toilet paper per year. Furthermore, the machine-made Japanese paper association states that an increase in the number of public washrooms has caused toilet paper shipments to rise 14 percent over the past decade.

The research center has created three "toilet poems" to be printed on A4-size stickers under the catch copy "Give love to the toilet," and will be put up in public restrooms. The poems include such verses as "That paper will meet you for but a moment," and "Fold the paper over and over and over and over again." The campaign is scheduled to begin in mid-February.

As a brief aside, I'm sad to note that Mayor Toilet has died.

A Lot of Things Seem to Change the World

Things like bananas, molecules, and William Shatner. The Rumpus has a list of books whose subject matter helped changed the world.

For example...

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, by Simon Winchester, and Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 and 1965 Tours That Changed the World, by Larry Kane.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

World's Most Curious Ephemera

Dark Roasted Blend has a wonderful collection (and links to other collections) of paper ephemera - including luggage labels, car brochures, Valentines, and more.

Al Roosten, by George Saunders

Oh, good ol' George Saunders. What a super writer he is. His latest short story is currently in The New Yorker.

It begins...

Al Roosten stood nervously behind the paper screen. Was he nervous? Well, he was a little nervous. Although probably a lot less nervous than most people would be. Most people would probably be pissing themselves by now. Was he pissing himself? Not yet. Although, wow, he could understand how someone might actually—

“Let’s fire it up!” shouted the m.c., a cheerleaderish blonde too old for braids, whose braids were flipping around as for some reason she pretended to jog. “Are we fighting drugs here today or what? Yes we are! Do us businesspeople approve of drugs for our kids? No way, we don’t, we’re very much against that! Do we use drugs ourselves? Kids, those of you who are here, believe me when I say we don’t, and never did! Because, as someone who does feng-shui for a living, there’s no way I could do my feng-shui if I was wacked out on crack, because my business is about discerning energy fields, and if you’re cracked up, or on pot, or even if you’ve had too much coffee, the energy field gets all wonky, believe me, I know, I used to smoke!”

Ten Extinct Languages of the U.S.

A sad list, really, from Mental Floss. The list includes a language that became extinct last week.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Scotland's National Poet, Robert Burns had a birthday just this last weekend. Well, he's dead, but you understand. Me and my friends, each year, celebrate Burns Night, a worldwide dinner party in honor of Burns.

I was asked to give The Immortal Memory, a portion of the evening in which one gives a brief overview of Burns' life and times. Here it is for your edification:

Tonight we celebrate the life of Scotland’s favorite son, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire, the National Poet of Scotland, the famed Scribe with Syphilis. He’s celebrated worldwide, Burns is and, talking about burning, he had that sensation when peeing, due to the syphilis.

Burns was born January 25th, 1759 in Ayr, Scotland. He was the eldest of seven children. There was Robert, Robbie, Rabbie, Roberta, Robesy, Bert, and Cripple Sam. His father was William, a self-educated tenant farmer. His mother was Victoria Tennant.

Burns, the syphilitic poet, as a youngster, worked on a 70-acre farm. He grew up in poverty and hardship, and the severe manual labor lefts its traces in a premature stoop, a weakened constitution, constipation, boils, piles, tuberculosis, Crohn’s Disease, diphtheria, wisteria, gall stones, a prehensile tail, scabies, rickets, rabies, mumps, a hunchback, dropsy, droopsy, and, well, the syphilis, acquired from various and copious amounts of copulations, including his favorite sexual position, something he called “Forking the Hay.”

With little formal schooling, his father taught all the children, even that stupid cripple one, reading, writing, arithmetic, math, geography, history, and wrote two books to help with their studies, A Manual of Christian Belief and Fun with Fiber, subtitled Poop Like You Mean It.

At the age of 15, Robert Burns was the principal laborer on the farm and was also the lead lute player for the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association thrash metal band, Flaxie and the Flax Gatherers.

It was at this time that Burns turned sissy and started writing sissy poems. Poetry is for sissies. Burns, what with the rickets and scabies and all, was made fun enough by the other farm laborers (Dell, Dill, Don, Doc, Spanky O’Hoolihan) that they felt making even more fun of him and his love of sissy poems would send him over the edge. Little did they know that he was already teetering on that edge because the syphilis was eating up his brain, big time.

His sissy image did not improve when, in 1779, he joined a country dancing school in Tarbolton, Scotland. He was a good dancer, even with the stunted leg and iron lung. He began writing more sissy poems and songs, courting Alison Begbie. He forked the hay with her and wanted to marry her. She rejected him, calling him a sissy and asked that he get his genital condition looked at.

Continuing farm life, and a brief ever exciting foray as flax dresser, Burns wrote poems and songs for a Commonplace Book in 1783 but mainly the poems were to get girls to sleep with him – that rascally syphilitic boy!

Indeed, Robert Burns’ love affairs were many. Jean Armour he was amorous with. The daughter of a stonemason, she was beautiful and well-regarded in the community for her unibrow. His mother’s servant, Elizabeth Paton, was also his lover, and gave him his first, of 4393 illegitimate bastard kids, named Elizabeth Bastardina Burns (1785-1817). Then this Armour lady married him and gave birth to nine more Burns kids – Bastard I, Bastard II, Bastard III, Bastie, Illegitimate Boy, Bratty, Snotnose, Runt, and Steve.

There were more women as Burns tried to get a patent for his mighty sperm. Thinking he could produce great sperm due to a regiment of cold soaks, beer drinking, hyperbolic sleep, and a masturbatory exercise he called “Picking the Mountain Daisy,” he bottled and sold his sperm from village to village. He made little money at this and his groin became strained to the point of him stooping at all times, even during Scotland's national anti-stooping campaign of 1786. Three surgeries later he was able to not stoop but he still had the syphilis and that must have sucked.

He had an affair with Mary Campbell. Poems were dedicated to her – “The Highland Lassie O, Highland Lassy,” and “To Mary in Heaven,” and “Mary, My Loins Are On Fire.” This was literal.

His first book of poetry, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was published to great acclaim. “This sissy can write!” cheered the Edenborough Post. “For a self-taught syphilitic ploughman who sells his sperm from village to village, he’s a fine poet,” noted the Glasgow Gazette.

Published in 1786, the book included much of his best writings, including “The Twa Dogs,” “The Two Dogs,” “The Dog Duo,” “The Cutter’s Saturday Night,” “Address to the Deil,” and “Address To Those Who Don’t Know What the Hell a Deil Is.”

He got famous, Robert Burns did. Traveling aristocratic circles in Scotland’s capital, he was hailed as a brilliant man of letters. Women swooned, like Agnes McLehose and Jenny Clow, who born him, yes, another bastard.

Still a farmer, more prosperous now than ever before, he wrote “Tam O’ Shanter” in 1790. The first draft, “Tam O’Shatner” was utter crap. Asked then to write lyrics for The Melodies of Scotland he contributed over 100 songs. It is these contributions (other than his mighty sperm) in which his immortality lies – being one of the best lyric poets to ever live. He wrote, for example, “Beat It,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and most of the Ace of Base catalogue.

He also sought to collect and preserve Scottish folk songs, including the collection The Merry Muses of Caledonia, a collection of bawdy lyrics popular in Scottish music halls at the time. 80% of these songs, however, were about forking hay, and touting, via rhyme, his Magical Sperm Enhancement Elixir (trademark sign here) that he sold with his bottled sperm. As a free gift, he often included either free beef or one of his bastard kids.

Many of Burns’ most famous poems, by the way, are songs with music based on older songs. “Auld Lang Syne” (translation: Old Lungs of Mine, Filled with the Soot of Unfiltered Cigarettes) is set to the traditional tune of “Can Ye Labour Lea.” “A Red, Red Rose” (translation: a really red rose) is set to the tune of “Major Graham.”

His songs struck on many themes including republicanism, radicalism, the Bull Moose Party, patriotism, cheese, anticlericalism, class inequities, rickets, gender roles, bocce ball, sexual mores, poverty, goats, cultural identity, socialism, Scottish self-government, autoerotica, liberalism, and Moncheechees.

A Romantic poet, Burns influenced William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, all sorts of bastard kids, women tainted with STDs, tenant farmers, and stakeholders of his Magical Sperm Enhancement Elixir (trademark sign here).

He was a Freemason and became Deputy Master. He was also an Elk, Moose, an Eagle, a Shriner, an Odd Fellow, and started the International Helper of Peoples (IHOP).

He was well-regarded in Freemason circles in his later years. Masons who were not free pined to be so. Slave Masons, though not as highly regarded as Freemasons, have made many contributions to our world including inventing Velcro.

Robert Burns died, in 1795. The cause was bacterial endocarditis exacerbated by a streptococcal infection reaching his blood following a dental extraction (he refused the Castrato Procedure). He was 37 years old. On the day of his funeral, one of his bastard kids was born. Seriously.

He’s everyone now, Robert Burns. Actually, no, that’s not true. His syphilitic body is mouldering in a mausoleum in Dumfries. But he’s on stamps! And this year he’ll even be on a two pound coin. That’s a heavy coin and it will probably rip the seam off of many pant pockets and people will probably, when buying new pants, call him a bastard for ripping their old pants. It’s fitting, really.

15 Photographs by 100 Photographers

You can see a plethora of beautiful photographs here.

Random Jack Kerouac Quotes

The man was certainly quotable.

A Group Exhibition of Web Comics

Curated by John Mitchell at Greylock Arts.

Quote of the Week

The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
- William Saroyan

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lit Spirits

Mixologist Michael Cicconi, on the New Yorker's Book Bench, combines cocktails with literary characters. Today's entry? Holden Caufield neets a Sparkling Sunset.

The Meaning of Modern Poetry

Contemporary poetry is lacking in what people really want from the arts — a bit of mystery and drama, argues Jeremy Noel-Tod in The Telegraph.

Photo above: Elizabeth Alexander reading her praise song at Obama's Inauguration.

The poem...

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday's Poem

Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XLIX, sung by Luciana Souza:

Pants Optional

Take old illustrations from texts, add new wordage, and you've got something funny, something like Pants Optional: A Relatively Civilized Fashion Primer for the Well Clad.

Virginia Woolf On Her Love of Reading

The Guardian showcases a rare essay by Virginia Woolf on the joys of reading.

From said essay...

At this late hour of the world's history books are to be found in every room of the house - in the nursery, in the drawing room, in the dining room, in the kitchen. And in some houses they have collected so that they have to be accommodated with a room of their own. Novels, poems, histories, memoirs, valuable books in leather, cheap books in paper - one stops sometimes before them and asks in a transient amazement what is the pleasure I get, or the good I create, from passing my eyes up and down these innumerable lines of print? Reading is a very complex art - the hastiest examination of our sensations as a reader will show us that much. And our duties as readers are many and various. But perhaps it may be said that our first duty to a book is that one should read it for the first time as if one were writing it.

The Collection of David Kaufmann

There's some beautiful munuscripts within David Kauffman's collection. It's a collection of medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the Oriental Collection of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jon's CD Review on Three Imaginary Girls

I reviewed Hey Marseilles' great debut album To Travel and Trunks for Three Imaginary Girls recently.

They're definitely worth a listen. Here they are singing the title track at Q Cafe in Seattle:

The Thief Who Stole Pages from History

Farhad Hakimzadeh has been jailed for two years for stealing pages from rare books in London's famed British Library (pictured above).

From the story...

When police visited Hakimzadeh at his Knightsbridge home, they found matching copies of the same texts he had looked at in the British Library.

A painstaking examination, involving the inspection of such elements as the gilt edging of pages, water stains, and even worm holes, revealed pages from British Library texts that were either fixed or loosely inserted into books owned by Hakimzadeh.

It seems he often used a scalpel to cut pages out and had managed to evade CCTV cameras when doing so, employing "skill and deceit", the library said.

For example, police found a book at his home which contained an engraving of a world map by Hans Holbein the Younger, an artist employed by King Henry VIII.

The rare sixteenth century map - taken from the British Library - was visibly foreign to Hakimzadeh's copy of the book, because it had gilt edges unlike the rest of the pages.

That document alone is worth about £30,000.

The Inaugural Address

Bartleby has collected all the inaugural addresses of the Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, including, of course, James K. Polk's (pictured above) speech.

From Polk's speech, given March 4, 1845...

In assuming responsibilities so vast I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land against the mischiefs which without His guidance might arise from an unwise public policy. With a firm reliance upon the wisdom of Omnipotence to sustain and direct me in the path of duty which I am appointed to pursue, I stand in the presence of this assembled multitude of my countrymen to take upon myself the solemn obligation "to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Good ol' Polk!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poetry at Its Finest

Good ol' "Get Fuzzy" (click to enlarge):


Two days from now I’ll be swimming with manatees. This was Nick’s mantra standing at the front of the church marrying Sestina Rogers. Two days from now I’ll be swimming with manatees. Sestina nearly forced Nick to marry her, now that she was pregnant with his baby, and Nick felt trapped, desperate for a way out. Two days from now I’ll be swimming with manatees, he thought, knowing his “I do” was nothing more than “I don’t.” Who was she to corral him up to the altar?

“Be a man,” she said over an IHOP breakfast when she found out she was with child. “Take some responsibility.”

”I am,” he said. And in truth, he was taking some responsibility. Not for Sestina, no. Nor for his unborn child. Of course not. He was going to be responsible for the manatees. He was going to move to Florida (Sestina knew none of this) and take up a volunteer position with the Save the Manatees Club. He was going to help people learn about manatees and their plight! He had already found a house to rent, right near the wintering manatees in the Crystal River, and had already told club members that he would do whatever it took to save the manatee. He loved the manatee. More than Sestina, obviously. Much more than unborn child. Sure, no doubt. He knew the manatees were on the decline, a rare and endangered species and felt in his heart, deep in his heart, that he could do something about it. He didn’t know what really. He just knew that if he was immersed in the club the world of the manatee would change for the better. More than that, the world itself would change for the better. And, really, how would the manatees get better if he was in Duluth married to Sestina and fathering a tow headed kid?

No. No. That would not do and so he made some phone calls, diverted some funds from his bank, and set up everything so that he’d marry Sestina and then leave her the next day (perhaps leaving early morning from the Comfort Inn where they were spend their honeymoon night) for the manatee rich waters of Florida and never come back. Never ever.

Why come back? There were no manatees in Duluth and Nick knew the manatees needed him. They were CALLING to him. Come, Nick, the manatees said, come.

After the wedding service everyone was at the reception at the YMCA conference room. Sestina was holding Nick’s hand and looking at everyone looking at her in her beautiful brocaded yellow wedding dress. “We’re so happy,” Sestina said. Then she saw her aunt Mildred in line for the buffet before everyone else. “Look!” Sestina growled to Nick who was thinking about manatees. “Look at what Mildred is doing! You see that cow?”

Sea cow, Nick thought, and smiled as Mildred piled cold cuts on her plate. In two days I’ll be swimming with manatees.

Huckleberry Finn - You're Expelled


Now that Obama is President, we should no longer read potentially offensive novels like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird. This from a teacher who wants to remove these titles from schools.

From the story...

Foley had wanted to talk to the staff at Ridgefield High School about his proposal, but after his op-ed was published, it was as though a stink bomb had landed in a crowded room.

"Obama would be horrified if he knew this censorship was done in his name," wrote Trudy J. Sundberg, a retired teacher of American literature from Oak Harbor, Wash. Her response to Foley's column was just one in a barrage of letters and e-mails that the newspaper received.

"What an amazingly stupid teacher this is," another reader wrote. "There is nothing in American literature that more succinctly and directly attacks racial prejudice than Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' This is another teacher anxious to pursue political correctness more than seek to understand what is involved in truly 'reading' a book."

One Sentence

True stories, told in one sentence.

Some rather timely entries...

We canvassed, phone banked, walked miles in all different weather conditions, all for what is happening today.

I slept through the inauguration.

There was a beautiful quote by Martin Luther King on TV last night, but it was cut short midsentence because King of Queens was starting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

33 1/3: The Longlist

Many of you may know that I wrote a book proposal for the great 33 1/3 series. I wasn't the only one to write a proposal in hopes of getting a book done. There's about 600 others I'm competing with.

The basis for the book series is to write one book about one particular rock album. The parameters in regards to what to write about the album is totally up to the author. The last time they requested proposals, I did one on the John Denver and the Muppet Christmas album. They didn't accept my proposal.

I think I may have better odds with the one I wrote this time around - Beck's Sea Change album, arguably the best album Beck's done.

We'll see what happens (and I'll be sure to keep you apprised as to progress).

In the meantime, you can do two things. Try and win every 33 1/3 book yet published and/or enjoy Beck's video "Paper Tiger," one of the great tracks on the Sea Change album:

Novels Help Drive Social Evolution

This, according to new research discussed recently in New Scientist.

From the story...

WHY does storytelling endure across time and cultures? Perhaps the answer lies in our evolutionary roots. A study of the way that people respond to Victorian literature hints that novels act as a social glue, reinforcing the types of behaviour that benefit society.

Literature "could continually condition society so that we fight against base impulses and work in a cooperative way", says Jonathan Gottschall of Washington and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania.

Gottschall and co-author Joseph Carroll at the University of Missouri, St Louis, study how Darwin's theories of evolution apply to literature. Along with John Johnson, an evolutionary psychologist at Pennsylvania State University in DuBois, the researchers asked 500 people to fill in a questionnaire about 200 classic Victorian novels. The respondents were asked to define characters as protagonists or antagonists, and then to describe their personality and motives, such as whether they were conscientious or power-hungry.

The team found that the characters fell into groups that mirrored the egalitarian dynamics of hunter-gather society, in which individual dominance is suppressed for the greater good (Evolutionary Psychology, vol 4, p 716). Protagonists, such as Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for example, scored highly on conscientiousness and nurturing, while antagonists like Bram Stoker's Count Dracula scored highly on status-seeking and social dominance.

Joss Whedon's Ten Writing Tips

Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, of course, the silly and wonderful Dr. Horrible, offers some writing tips.

For example...

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

The macabre writer celebrates a birthday today and many folks are taking notice.

The New York Times' Paper Cuts blog showcases his works and manuscripts, via slide show. They also included a bit about how the NY Times celebrated his birth 100 years ago.

Across the pond, The Guardian asks the question, with Poe as part of our "cultural furniture," "Should we still bother to read him?" The short answer: Yes. They also have a Poe Quiz for those who consider themselves to be a literary smartypants.

But there's more on this, his happy day! You can watch a video with Poe reenactors at his old home.

Personal note: When I was a kid I had two books that I read voraciously. The short stories of Jack London and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Both, I do believe, shaped me and made me want to write my own stories. My favorite Poe piece of fiction? This one.

And, no Poe post would be complete, without Vincent Price reading "The Raven":

Jon's CD Review on Venuszine

I listened to and reviewed Andrew Bird's latest album, Noble Beast. Do you not yet know the musical stylings of Mr. Bird? You should get acquainted.

Here his "Imitosis" from the Armchair Apocrypha album:

Touring the Library of Congress

With your guide, The New York Times.

Quote of the Week

The writer, when he is also an artist, is someone who admits what others don't dare reveal.
- Elia Kazan

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Luckiest Novelist in the World

The Guardian interviews Vikus Swarup, whose novel, Q&A, was turned into one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year, Slumdog Millionaire , a movie you owe it to yourself to see.

The trailer of, what I think, will win Best Picture at this year's Oscar Awards: