Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Poem

Robert Burns's Auld Lang Syne, Poseidon Adventure-style:

Internet-Age Writing Syllabus and Course Overview

Some hilarious writing/academia humor on McSweeney's, care of Robert Lanham.

From the piece...

Week 1:
Reading is stoopid

This fundamental truth may seem obvious to today's youth, but this wasn't always the case. Students will examine why former generations carried around heavy clumps of bound paper and why they chose to read instead of watching TV or playing Guitar Hero.

Week 2:
Printing words isn't good for the environment

Students will evaluate why, as BuzzMachine founder Jeff Jarvis articulates, "Paper is where words go to die." Paper is also where rainforests go to die, which, needless to say, isn't good for the Hyla rhodopepla tree frog. Thus, while older generations wax nostalgic about curling up by the fireplace with a good book or the Sunday paper, students will be encouraged to remember The Lorax (the animated anti-logging-industry television special, not the book).

Week 3:
Curling up with a good book/newspaper is dangerous

Students will explore the dangers of curling up by fires with books and newspapers. That paper could catch fire should an ember unexpectedly pop out. And all that curling is not good for people's backs. Especially since most readers of books, magazines, and newspapers are elderly and are thus already more likely to suffer from back ailments.

Have You Ever Wanted to Know the History of the Aldine Italic?!

Of course not, but that doesn't make it any less interesting! The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers details the font's history.

From the piece...

We cannot understand the work of Aldus Manutius and the Aldine printing-office, or the innovation made by books in small format printed in italic type, unless we know something of the intellectual condition of Europe at the time of Aldus, and about an experiment which he made in type-cutting some years earlier. “In 1500, men were thinking of new things,” says Pollard. “New editions of many of the old religious and didactic treatises, the old poems and romances, continued to be printed, though mostly in a form which suggests that they were intended for a lower class of readers; but the new publishers would have little to do with them. Scholarship, which till now had been almost confined to Italy, spread rapidly to all the chief countries of Europe, and, amid the devastation which constant war soon brought upon Italy, was lucky in being able to find new homes. With the new literary ideals came new forms for books, and new methods of housing them…. The men for whom Aldus catered wanted books which they could put in their pockets and their saddlebags, and it was not long before the publisher of Paris and Lyons outdid Aldus in the smallness and neatness of their editions.”

The reasons for the invention of a new condensed type were (like most reasons for things) so simple that they are in danger of being overlooked.

Arthur Conan Doyle and the Curse of Sherlock Holmes

How does an author deal with a character he created that's more famous than himself? Doyle's relationship with Sherlock Holmes was a challenging one. The Wall Street Journal discusses it.

From the piece...

In the early 1890s, Doyle moved Holmes out of novels and into short stories. It was a commercial decision. In London, the number of magazines was booming. Doyle believed that stories with a recurring character would enjoy an advantage over serialized novels, which turned off readers who missed installments. Moreover, Holmes and his puzzles were a better fit for a shorter form. "Sherlock Holmes was a sprinter, not a distance runner," wrote Daniel Stashower in "Teller of Tales," his biography of Doyle.

The stories were an immediate and astonishing success. Readers lined up at newsstands for each new episode. For two years, Doyle dedicated himself to his brilliant and insufferable hero, receiving ever-higher payments for his efforts. Yet the relentless deadlines soon became a burden. Although each story could be read in a single sitting, Doyle complained that the intricate plots demanded the mental work of novels. He also continued to think they were lowbrow achievements.

By 1893, Doyle had resolved to kill Holmes—"even if I buried my bank account with him," he wrote in his autobiography. He set the scene at Reichenbach Falls, an Alpine cascade in Switzerland. Doyle's editors despaired, but the author felt only relief: "I have been much blamed for doing that gentleman to death, but I hold that it was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defense, since, if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me."

Finishing off Holmes had the paradoxical effect of breathing life into the franchise. Had Doyle kept churning out mysteries throughout the 1890s, their quality inevitably would have declined—a common fate of series from Doyle's day to now, on both the page and the tube. Instead he observed the showbiz dictum: Always leave 'em wanting more.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade in Poetry

How has poetry changed in the last 10 years? The editors of the Poetry Foundation asked poets that question. Poets like Annie Finch, Marjorie Perloff and Eileen Miles.

Books You Can Live Without

The New York Times poses to writers, "With so many books in your personal library, what do you keep and what do you pitch?" The writers who answered the question include Francine Prose, Jane Smiley, and Billy Collins.

And, while we're at it, what books can you simply not part with? The New York Times asks that, as well.

Fast Track to a 1934 Bestseller

The Design Observer site has a magnificent post on the background wranglings of getting James Joyce's Ulysses published.

From the story...

Imagine you’re a big American publisher, and there’s a book infamous for its subject and language that you want to publish — but first, you have to go up against the US government to prove it should no longer be banned. And, given the publicity of the court case, you want the book in the bookstores as soon as it’s legal.

This describes the situation facing Random House in 1933 as they waited to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses, which had not been allowed into the US for 12 years. How they got the ban dropped and delivered the book at just the right moment is a short tale of legal, design and production choreography.

And more...

The typographic design of Ulysses was highly praised at the time of its publication, and the book has gone on to represent a kind of incipient modernity in American book design, particularly in typographic and publication histories. When reproduced, the arresting title spread has stood for the whole. But this isn't the whole story. As Reichl explained in a 1979 interview, “Bennett Cerf wanted it to come out as soon as possible, for the sake of publicity, after the book had been cleared for publication. So he told H. Wolff to start the composition on it, which was not an easy thing to do, because every edition of Ulysses at the time had misprints in it.”

Reichl later described their still-risky production scheme: “What with repeal (of Prohibition) and a number of wine books going to print in a hurry, what with 6,000 copies of Anthony Adverse (that year’s best seller) having to be delivered every day, two months had about gone when the dummy of Ulysses was finally done. Judge Woolsey’s decision was expected shortly, and everything had to be co-ordinated in such a manner that the book could be set, proofread, paged, read again, plated, read for a third time, printed, bound and delivered within five weeks. All materials were selected and work scheduled in such a way that it would proceed in relays: while the last part was still being set preceding chapters were to be made into pages, the middle of the book being plated and the beginning actually on the presses. The initials were drawn, the wrapper marked up for type. To prevent any mistakes it was decided to set from the French edition, published by Shakespeare & Co., in Paris and to read against the German edition of the Odyssey Press in Hamburg….”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Celebrity Lullabies

Ricky Gervais can do no wrong in my book. A sweet little song, dedicated to the letter N:

The End of Aesop

Around this date, circa 560 B.C., Aesop was executed in Delphi by being hurled from the Hyampeia rock. You can learn more about his demise on Executed Today. You can also read Aesop's many fables, here.

Pleased to Meet You. I'm an Espresso Book Machine

The Stranger's Paul Constant visits one of Seattle's first Espresso Book Machines at Third Place Books.

From the piece...

Verano pushes a few buttons and the device sets to work. First, the cover is printed, and then the Kyocera starts spitting the pages of the book inside the transparent chamber. Once the interiors have been printed, a glue pot, which has been heating up and churning to life as the pages have printed, lines the inside spine of the cover with a viscous brown glue, and the pages get pressed into place. A whirring saw-blade arm sizes the book down, and the whole thing is dumped—ker-CHUNK—into a vending slot on the side of the machine. Besides the generic cover (just the title, author's name, and the name of the bookstore, in aqua blue), the finished copy of the book is virtually indistinguishable from any other paperback in the bookstore. It's still warm, and it smells of ink. Total time, from inception to completion: 15 minutes. Like all the other public-domain Google Books, the cover price is $8. The store is working on creating a widget for its website in the next few weeks that will enable customers to browse and order books. There will also be a dedicated computer for that purpose available to customers in the bookstore.

Printing out-of-print books is pretty neat, and so is the fact that the bookstore now has almost-immediate access to 800,000 contemporary print-on-demand titles (like The Tooth Fairy and A Frolic of His Own) that would normally take four to six weeks for a brick-and-mortar bookstore to acquire (the EBM exponentially increases Third Place's stock from 200,000 titles to millions)...

To learn more about the EBM (and watch a video) go here.

The Literate Gourmet

Care to make Herman Melville's chowder? Perhaps Thomas Jefferson's ice cream? Fancy Washington Irving's (pictured above) doughnuts? Best Life Magazine has a recipe book from some of history's greatest icons.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Books from Old

Publishers Weekly takes an extensive look at turning classics into comics.

From the piece...

Graphic novel adaptations of classic and contemporary prose works have surged in the past few years as more publishers explore ways to create book-length comics that can be used to encourage literacy and can also function as legitimate works of art in their own right. The earliest comic adaptations of classic prose works were Classics Illustrated, started in 1941 by Albert Kanter. Highly abridged, these comics were meant to “slip some literature in as a gateway drug to real books,” says Jim Salicrup, the editor of the current line of Classics Illustrated from Papercutz, a publisher of children's and YA graphic novels.

The original Classics Illustrated were published until the early 1970s, according to Salicrup. Then, in 1990, First Comics and Berkley Comics brought the line back, “using top writers and artists” to create “more contemporary-looking books.” Papercutz acquired the line in 2007 and is now reprinting these First and Berkley books as hardcover editions, as well as publishing Classics Illustrated Deluxe, a new line of classic adaptations produced in Europe and translated for the U.S. market, which Salicrup said has “almost three times the pages of the original [Classics Illustrated].”

The Berkley and First Comics “were 20 years too early,” Salicrup claims. The publisher ran into a problem faced by other early publishers of adaptations and graphic novels in general: getting the books into general bookstores. Diamond Comics, the dominant distributor in the comics shop market, did not distribute to the general book market until recently, and trade bookstores chafed at buying on a nonreturnable wholesale basis as comics shops did. “Marketing the books proved difficult at first,” says Tom Pomplun, who started the Graphic Classics series of adaptations in 2001. Graphic Classics has published 18 books, “[concentrating] on presenting shorter pieces. The print run for graphic classics ranges from 3,000 to 10,000, he adds, and they are “never [selling] as much as I would like them to.”

But in recent years publishers from Marvel and Image Comics to trade book houses such as John Wiley, Penguin, and Abrams as well as educational publishers like Capstone and Abdo are adapting classic works of prose into comics in hopes of reaching new readers.

Rare JFK Photos + Thrift Store = Story

Miss Destructo tells the tale of finding some rare photographs of one of our more famous presidents.

From the piece...

Today Mr. D and I were at our favorite thrift store and we stumbled upon a collection of 8×10 original archival photos from CBS featuring design manager Lou Dorfsman (He branded CBS and designed the eye) many of the photos were labeled with “My boss Lou Dorfsman” and seemed to be of CBS staff. Then further on down the pile I stopped as my jaw dropped at the sight of President John F. Kennedy doing what seems to be an interview, many of these are candid shots printed on 8×10 with archival numbers scratched on the back in pencil.

Quote of the Week

Libraries are places where we writers go after we die, if we're lucky. We're going to live on through libraries. But there is also something more. In addition to being a place that we go after we die, if we are lucky, libraries are also the place where a great many writers are born.
- Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors and The Running Mate

Sunday, December 27, 2009

How You Can Make Like Sherlock Holmes

The Los Angeles Times reviews a new book on how laypeople, you and me, can be like Sherlock Holmes.

From the piece...

Sherlock Holmes' powers of detection are legendary. Holmes was so beloved that when author Sir Conan Doyle killed the character off, popular outcry forced him to revive him. Holmes has been bobbing to the surface of our cultural slipstream ever since; he'll make his latest splash on Dec. 25, when Guy Ritchie's film starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson hits screens.

But aspiring sleuths need not wait until then to make like Sherlock Holmes. A new manual from Quirk Books (the publisher that brought us "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies") takes lessons from all Doyle's writings to provide a kind of do-it-yourself detective guide. "The Sherlock Holmes Handbook -- The Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective" by Ransom Riggs includes sections like "How to Locate a Secret Chamber" and "How to Keep Your Mind Sharp: Opium Dens and Narcotics in the Victorian Era."

Some of the lessons seem obvious, but it takes a keen mind like Holmes' not to miss things others might. In "How to Examine a Body at a Crime Scene," the first lesson is Make sure the victim is actually dead. In two different Holmes stories, victims were deeply unconscious -- and one had been nailed in a coffin. Get the Lady Frances Carfax out of there, pronto!

If you care to read the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, go here.

If you care to watch the movie (I just might today), here's the trailer...

Welcome to Alphabet City

From the head and hand of master draftsman Scott Teplin comes a series of 26 dream-houses fashioned after our alphabet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best Best Books of 2009

There are about 2009 Best Books of 2009 Lists. The Daily Beast has done some calculating and found the books that are most on those Best Books of 2009 Lists. So, without further ado, their list of the 5 best works of fiction, 5 best works of non-fiction, and some honorable mentions just in case you don't have enough to read.

Cinderella in Autumn

Hilary Mantel, 2009 Man Booker Prize-winner, has a new short story, Cinderella in Autumn, on The Guardian. Enjoy reading it amongst your unwrapped holiday gifts this morning.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Happy holidays, readers!

Why was "A Christmas Carol" a financial flop for Charles Dickens? The Guardian has the answer.

"Marley and Me" is a brief essay on The Smart Set.

And, finally, don't forget to read my story about Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in Fine Books & Collections Magazine.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Curious in Nuclear Reactor Schematics?


15th Century Book Making

Eye Blog discusses the form of the book, specifically how they were created in the 15th century.

Poets Remains Not Yet Found

Excavations in southern Spain, notes Reuters, have failed to find the remains of Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. His killing in 1936 became a symbol for Spain's brutal civil war.

The Guitar
by Federico García Lorca
Translated by Cola Franzen

The weeping of the guitar
The goblets of dawn
are smashed.
The weeping of the guitar
to silence it.
to silence it.
It weeps monotonously
as water weeps
as the wind weeps
over snowfields.
to silence it.
It weeps for distant
Hot southern sands
yearning for white camellias.
Weeps arrow without target
evening without morning
and the first dead bird
on the branch.
Oh, guitar!
Heart mortally wounded
by five swords.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Six Great Christmas Comic Book Adventures

The list, by way of Mental Floss.

Included in the list, is the title above...

A Swinging Christmas Carol (1968)

Back in the sixties, the Ten Titans was a group comprised of the young sidekicks of DC Comics superheroes, with hipper-than-hip dialogue… and some pretty weird stories. In this one, vicious Ebenezer Scrounge’s business partner Jacob Farley escapes from prison to get his revenge, while Scrounge’s employee Bob Ratchet struggles to care for his disabled son Tiny Tom. The Titans—Robin, Wonder Girl, Aqualad and Kid Flash (who later took over as the “real” Flash)—agree to teach Scrounge a lesson.

Somewhere in the story, it occurs to these well-read youngsters that the plot has a few things in common with A Christmas Carol. Perhaps this is why decide to play the Spirits of Christmas. This being a superhero comic, Scrounge is actually being manipulated by a mobster, but the Titans stop him in time for Christmas festivities. “Hey Robin-O, how could anyone have as marv a Christmas as we are?” asks Aqualad. As I wasn’t a hipster in 1968 (or any other year, come to think of it), I’m not sure what he meant by that.

10 Most Influential Desks of the Modern Age

The list, according to The Toy Zone. Desks include those owned by Bill Gates, William Shakespeare, and Hitler.

Pictured above: Albert Einstein's desk.

Steal These Books

The New York Times has an essay about shoplifted books.

From the piece...

With the recession, shoplifting is on the rise, according to booksellers. At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., the rate of theft has increased to approximately one book per hour. I asked Steve Bercu, BookPeople’s owner, what the most frequently stolen title was.

“The Bible,” he said, without pausing.

Apparently the thieves have not yet read the “Thou shalt not steal” part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. “Some people think the word of God should be free,” Bercu said. As it turns out, Bibles are snatched even at the Parable Christian Store in Springfield, Ore., the manager told me, despite the fact that if a person asks for a Bible, they’ll be given a copy without charge.

Personally, the biggest heist I ever had was at a B. Dalton Bookseller when I was a kid. Circa 1980, Capital Mall, Olympia, Washington - Jonathan Shipley unbuttons his long-sleeved shirt, places a large baseball card price guide against his belly, rebuttons said shirt, and walks out of the store. He hides the price guide under his bed for one year so no one finds out. What he finds out is how much his Dale Murphy rookie cards are worth.

Monday, December 21, 2009

50 of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World

It looks like I'm off the list (perhaps #53?). Either way, Poets & Writers has a list of authors that inspire authors.

From the list...

Toni Morrison
A portrait of strength and beauty, the 1993 Nobel laureate writes utterly compelling novels about the whole arc of American experience.

Haruki Murakami (pictured above)
He consistently demonstrates how far the narrative form can bend and proves that a story with surrealist tendencies can be both moving and compelling.

Barack Obama
Let's never forget that our first African American president is also a best-selling author.

Tim O'Brien
In The Things They Carried, he gave us the ultimate meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Modern Alphabets of 1864

You've always been intrigued by what alphabets must have looked like during the American Civil War, haven't you? Haven't we all. Luckily we have Flickr to quench our desires to see the modern alphabets of 1864.

Quote of the Week

Write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing
in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought nor afterwards in a recasting... It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.
- Gertrude Stein

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pictorial Webster's - The Process

Pictorial Webster's: Inspiration to Completion from John Carrera on Vimeo.

Five Great Fairy Tales You've Never Heard Of

Wonders and Marvels illuminates readers with fairy tales that aren't all that known about.

For instance...

3. Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree

Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree is a Celtic Snow White variant, closely related to the Lay of Eliduc by Marie de France. It is one of my favorite variants because the second wife is the true heroine, saving the day, while most variants only have a villain and a victim.

Each description is then linked to the story itself. Enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday's Poem

Since we discussed Rita Dove earlier this week, why not a little more for the weekend? Here she is with Dave Matthews Band's Body Tinsley at Virginia's Festival of the Book:

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

It's a topic that interests you, doesn't it? Anthropodermic Bibliopegy. Well, it IS rather fascinating, books bound in human skin. The Private Library has more somewhat queasy examples of it, here. The site mentions that the art of binding books in human skin started in the 17th century. Sometimes they would bind anatomy texts with the skin of dissected cadavers. Sometimes copies of judicial proceedings would be bound in the skin of the murder convicted in those proceedings. Sometimes they use skin with a visible tattoo!

The Exotic Flavor of Literary Food

The Guardian discusses the tantalizing description of food in literature.

From the piece...

here is a strong synesthesia that takes hold of the reader when food is described in literature. A simple sketch easily conjures up the platonic essence of food and drink. When you read the description of frying kidneys at the beginning of Ulysses it is advisable to open the curtains and at least one window.

But the corollary of this is that no cherries will ever taste as delicious as the ripe cherries in The Snow Queen and no Martini will ever be able to match James Bond's in Casino Royale, shaken or stirred.

And, talking about literary food, perhaps for Christmas dinner you can make George Orwell's Christmas Pudding. You can find Orwell's recipe, typed out on his own typewriter, here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Think Interview with Poet Rita Dove

Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants

On the Copyblogger site is a story worth reading about a freelance writer (a woman) who pretended she was a man for writing gigs. Why? Because, using a male pseudonym, she got more gigs and was paid more.

Stereotyping People By Their Favorite Author

Lauren Leto does a fun job of it.

From the piece...

H.P. Lovecraft

People who can quote the Comic Book Guy from Simpsons.

Brothers Grimm

Only children with Oedipal complexes.

Lewis Carroll

People who move to Thailand after high school for the drug scene.

C.S. Lewis

Youth group leaders who picked their nose in the 4th grade.

Elmore Leonard

People who know how to perform a “Michigan left”.

Shel Silverstein

Girls who can’t spell “leheim”.

Photo by Mark Ushartel.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick

The drawing above is from Moby-Dick, page 103. It's entitled, "...let me assure ye that many a veteran who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly recoil at the apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail, fanning into eddies the air over his head."

Matt Kish has a lot of pages done, with a lot to go.

Jon's Writing on Executed Today

Solomon Molcho (whose cloak is seen above) died in 1532, burned at the stake for apostasy. You can read about his life, and death, on Executed Today. Enjoy!

Makin' Copies: A Short History

Ever wonder the history of carbon copies? Me either, but it doesn't mean it doesn't make for an interesting story. Mental Floss has the lowdown.

From the piece...

Englishman Ralph Wedgwood and Italian Pellegrino Turri developed the first manifestations of carbon paper independently around the same time. In 1806, Wedgwood patented a composition aid for the blind, the stylographic writer. The device replaced the standard quill with a metal stylus and substituted a sheet of carbon paper in place of liquid ink. The carbon paper was placed between two pieces of stationery and slid between metal guide wires. Pressure from the metal stylus left impressions of the writer’s penmanship on the bottom sheet of paper, which became the original document. The top piece of paper, meant to keep the writer’s hand clean, picked up a mirror image copy of the manuscript on its underside. When Wedgwood’s intended market showed little interest, he modified the stylographic writer and repackaged it as a document copier.

By at least 1808, Pellegrino Turri had also developed carbon paper as a composition aid for the blind — specifically, his ladyfriend, Countess Carolina Fantoni. He built a machine, not unlike a mechanical typewriter, that allowed the Countess to correspond with him without dictating her innermost thoughts to a third party.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Batgirl - The Librarian!

Winslow Homer and the Women of "The New Novel"

Book Patrol highlights American artist Winslow Homer's love of women and, in turn, the women who loved reading in his well-known women-reading trilogy of paintings.

Pictured above: The New Novel. Watercolor, 1877.

Final Edition: Twilight of the American Newspaper

Harper's Magazine has an extensive, and illuminating story, about the fall of newspapers in this digital age.

From the piece, written by Richard Rodriguez...

I became a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle when I was in high school and lived ninety miles inland, in Sacramento. On my way home from school, twenty-five cents bought me a connection with a gray maritime city at odds with the postwar California suburbs. Herb Caen, whose column I read immediately—second section, corner left—invited me into the provincial cosmopolitanism that characterized the city’s outward regard: “Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?”

Newspapers have become deadweight commodities linked to other media commodities in chains that are coupled or uncoupled by accountants and lawyers and executive vice presidents and boards of directors in offices thousands of miles from where the man bit the dog and drew ink. The San Francisco Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, once the Chronicle’s archrival. The Hearst Corporation has its headquarters in New York City. According to Hearst, the Chronicle has been losing a million dollars a week. In San Francisco there have been buyouts and firings of truck drivers, printers, reporters, artists, editors, critics. With a certain élan, the San Francisco Chronicle has taken to publishing letters from readers who remark the diminishing pleasure or usefulness of the San Francisco Chronicle.

When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed; a sense of place has failed. If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death—and why else would the editors celebrate its 144th anniversary? and why else would the editors devote a week to feature articles on fog?—it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.

Most newspapers that are dying today were born in the nineteenth century. The Seattle Post–Intelligencer died 2009, born 1863. The Rocky Mountain News died 2009, born 1859. The Ann Arbor News died 2009, born 1835. It was the pride and the function of the American newspaper in the nineteenth century to declare the forming congregation of buildings and services a city—a place busy enough or populated enough to have news. Frontier American journalism preserved a vestige of the low-church impulse toward universal literacy whereby the new country imagined it could read and write itself into existence. We were the Gutenberg Nation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hallelujah! Handel's "Messiah" Manuscript

You can flip the pages of Handel's draft of his most famous work on the British Library website now. Enjoy.

While viewing, why not listen to the Bethany College Choir?

Behold, the World's Largest Thesaurus

It's massive. 4,448 pages. 2 volumes. 920,000 entries. Over 40 years of work compiling it. Poets & Writers Magazine has a behind-the-scenes look about how it was created.

From the piece...

Begun in 1965 under the auspices of the University of Glasgow, the project has passed through several technological incarnations—moving from paper slips to microfilm to computer files—and survived the death of founders and dodgy financial backing. Christian Kay, one of the work's four coeditors, was twenty-seven when she joined the endeavor as a research assistant. She's now a sixty-nine-year-old professor. "Fund-raising produced all sorts of cliff-hangers," Kay told the Times of London. "People didn't know if they would get paid or not. Just as the money was about to run out, you would get a little bit more from one academic foundation or another."

Work in the early years progressed slowly, with researchers combing the twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary and transcribing lists of synonyms on 6 x 4-inch cards. In 1978, things nearly went up in smoke when the building housing the sole copy of the work-in-progress caught fire. The nineteenth-century structure was burned to a shell, but the thesaurus—safely ensconced in metal cabinets—survived the blaze. "We were always very good about putting things away at night," Kay told the Daily Mail, "and the Victorian doors stood up well, although you can still see singe marks on some of the documents."

The project's chief intellectual hurdle was devising a classification system capable of organizing the more than 920,000 lexical items collected over the decades.

Travel Book Sells for Record Sum

I wonder how many travels to Paris one could do with $758,000. That's the new record amount spent for a travel book that was on the auction blocks recently. Auction Central News has more about the sale of De Orbe Novo Collection: Exploration of the New World 1492-1625.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Collecting Tolkien

ABE Books give an overview about collecting the books of the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien.

Scotland's Oldest Book

You can see it now. The Telegraph offers some background on the medieval Celtic psalter with vivid illustrations in green, red, purple and gold, that's been put on display for just the second time in 1,000 years.

Holden Caulfield is Unactable

This is what J.D. Salinger wrote to a movie producer wanting to bring Salinger's classic tale, Catcher in the Rye, to the screen. You can read more of the letter on one of the more fabulous new websites I've found on the web, Letters of Note.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Is There Such a Thing as "Women Writing"?

This is the question Rachel Cusk asks on The Guardian.

From the piece...

Can we, in 2009, identify something that could be called "women's writing"? To be sure, women are sometimes to be found receiving the winner's cheque for the Man Booker or Costa prizes, just as they are sometimes to be found piloting your flight home from New York. It may be that in both cases certain sectors of society do not feel entirely secure. But it seems to me that "women's writing" by nature would not seek equivalence in the male world. It would be a writing that sought to express a distinction, not deny it.

When a woman in 2009 sits down to write, she perhaps feels rather sexless. She is inclined neither to express nor deny: she'd rather be left alone to get on with it. She might even nurture a certain hostility towards the concept of "women's writing". Why should she be politicised when she doesn't feel politicised? It may even, with her, be a point of honour to keep those politics as far from her prose as it is possible to get them. What compromises women – babies, domesticity, mediocrity – compromises writing even more. She is on the right side of that compromise – just. Her own life is one of freedom and entitlement, though her mother's was probably not. Yet she herself is not a man. She is a woman: it is history that has brought about this difference between herself and her mother. She can look around her and see that while women's lives have altered in some respects, in others they have remained much the same. She can look at her own body: if a woman's body signifies anything, it is that repetition is more powerful than change. But change is more wondrous, more enjoyable. It is pleasanter to write the book of change than the book of repetition. In the book of change one is free to consider absolutely anything, except that which is eternal and unvarying. "Women's writing" might be another name for the book of repetition.

Image: Detail of Giambologna's "Woman Reclining and Writing (Geometry and Astrology)."

The 25 Greatest Gen X Books of All Time

The list, care of Details Magazine.

Friday, December 11, 2009