Friday, December 31, 2010

A Song for New Year's Eve, by William Cullen Bryant

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
For his familiar sake.
Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.

The kindly year, his liberal hands
Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
Because he gives no more?
Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
Of all they said and did!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
Oh be the new as kind!
Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away.

Dinner Party Menus Based on Literary Taste

Plan on having a dinner party tonight to ring in 2011? Are you a book nerd? If you've answered yes to both questions, Flavorwire has some suggestions.

The End of LGBT Bookstores - a Good Thing?

Gay Rights takes note that the reason so many gay bookstores are closing are because gay equality is upon us.

From the piece...

Surely big business has squeezed out the little guy, gay and straight alike, but not everyone sees the closings as necessarily negative.

Deacon Maccubbin, founder of Washington DC's long-running bookstore Lambda Rising, also had to shutter his beloved business this year. Instead of fretting, though, he saw the end as an achievement.

"The phrase 'mission accomplished' has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but in this case, it certainly applies," he said last January. "When we set out to establish Lambda Rising in 1974, it was intended as a demonstration of the demand for gay and lesbian literature. We thought... we could encourage the writing and publishing of LGBT books, and sooner or later other bookstores would put those books on their own shelves and there would be less need for a specifically gay and lesbian bookstore. Today, 35-years later, nearly every general bookstore carries LGBT books..."

Suddenly the dollars and cents of these businesses appears to be something else: a much larger discussion over whether it's best to have a "gay only" space safe from a sometimes hostile world? Or would it be better if gay become blasé, and we were fully integrated in the culture at large? Does self-segregation serve a purpose, or should the end goal be complete, seamless assimilation?

At their inception, gay bookstores weren't simply about wordsmiths. They were an organic outgrowth of a repressed culture, the manifestation of a collective need and want; they were part of a revolution.

E-Books Are Good News for the Literary World

So heralds David Ulin at the Los Angeles Times.

From the article...

The great debate of the last several years — whether readers would read book-length material onscreen — appears to have been settled with a resounding "yes." What does this mean for reading? It's too early to tell, but I see a lot of cause for optimism as the e-book experience becomes more sophisticated and more and more of us explore the world of digital literature.

I should admit here that I am not yet much of an e-book reader; I have a Kindle but I rarely use it, and I don't have an iPad, although I covet one. That doesn't matter, however, for a few reasons — the first of which is that print books aren't going anywhere. E-books may represent an exploding corner of the market, but it's a small exploding corner. Beyond the cultural question (page or screen?), it will be a long time before they displace the economies of print. Even more important, none of these media are in competition. They are complementary. The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing; by altering the conditions of the conversation, e-books and e-readers have already served an essential purpose.

Of course, as the e-book continues to develop, technology will increasingly become a literary métier. Already, we have authors experimenting with software as a format, writing for the screen. Ander Monson seeded his March essay collection "Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir" with symbols that direct readers to a website featuring regularly updated augmentations as a strategy to comment on the fluidity of our relationship with text. Jennifer Egan used PowerPoint to frame a chapter of her novel "A Visit from the Goon Squad," published in June, and if it's a bit static on the page (much less so on Egan's website), it also suggests where things are likely heading as more authors blend digital and print. For some, this is scary, a blurring of the lines of bookness, a challenge to the boundaries of the form. But I prefer to see it as an enhancement, a way for literature, for reading and writing, to expand itself through direct engagement with the world.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

You Are a Stupid Ignorant Writer

Be careful who you send your submissions to. So says Jason Sanford, anyway.

The Newspaper is the Best E-Reader on the Market

Some literary humor care of McSweeney's.

From the piece...

The Newspaper also had other, unique features that added value to the overall experience.

The device's internal security system was chief among these attractions. We left one Newspaper on a park bench for six hours and, upon return, found it in the exact same place. Another we left in a bar after a thorough evening of testing. When we came back the next afternoon, The Newspaper remained untouched. The proprietor, incidentally, was curious why engineers would return for a day-old e-reader. We tried to explain the tests, but he gave us all dirty looks. When we tried to explain the process again, he became testy and said if we were going to bring that kind of claptrap in here, we could get the hell out. We did and went elsewhere to continue testing.

Battery life was also a plus, as The Newspaper lasted 24 hours—much longer than its next-best rival.

Electrifying Language

American Scientist takes a look at writing technologies from way back when to the iPad.

From the piece...

The world’s first technology for writing was invented not by poets or prophets or the chroniclers of kings; it came from bean counters. The Sumerian cuneiform script—made up of symbols incised on soft clay—grew out of a scheme for keeping accounts and inventories. Curiously, this story of borrowing arithmetical apparatus for literary purposes has been repeated in recent times. The prevailing modern instrument for writing—the computer—also began as (and remains) a device for number crunching.

Dennis Baron’s extended essay A Better Pencil looks back over the entire history of writing technologies (clay tablets, pens, pencils, typewriters), but the focus is on the recent transition to digital devices. His title implies a question. Is the computer really a better pencil? Will it lead to better writing? There is a faction that thinks otherwise.

North American English Dialects Map, Based on Pronunciation


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

J-School Confidential

"For our inaugural glimpse inside the archives," notes the New Republic, "we bring you “J-School Confidential,” Michael Lewis’s perceptive and hilarious look inside Columbia University’s graduate program in journalism. At a time when our profession is reassessing its very purpose, it’s good to have a reminder of what journalism is—and isn’t."

From the piece...

The morning I arrived, the associate dean for academic affairs, Steven Isaacs, was putting his class through its paces. A masters of science in journalism requires about seven months of study. The first semester consists of core courses, including a course in ethics taught by Dean Isaacs. The second semester consists of electives with names such as "Developing a Personal Writing Style," "Reporting on Ethical Issues in Science," "Broadcast News: Content and Management" and "Research Tools." The title of Isaacs's course was "National Issues."

The first morning session I attended was given over to an exercise designed to cultivate "the creative side to the thinking process," according to the description in the course brochure. Isaacs removed a UCLA baseball cap from the head of a student named Karen Charman, placed it on the table in the middle of his classroom and told his students that they weren't to leave until each had thought of 100 ideas for articles based on the UCLA cap. For the next two hours there was no sound in the room save for the clicking of the ancient radiator. By the end of the class all but one student had compiled a list of 100 ideas. The failure had come up with just fifty but argued that they were fifty especially good ones.

The next week Isaacs distributed the fruits of the exercise. They ran for ten pages, single-spaced, and began:

men wearing more hats as monoxidil fails

the rise of popularity of caps

baseball caps as appropriate head ware [sic], even for jogging presidents

the appropriate ways to wear a hat

Isaacs then moved from the conceptual to the practical: the actual act of composition. He assumed a position in the middle of the room beside an overhead projector, which beamed short, unsigned articles onto the wall. Isaacs had assigned the students to write sidebars to a New York Times article announcing the wedding of Rupert Murdoch's daughter. They now loomed large before us. We read the various efforts while Isaacs, himself looming large in a brown suit and a Minneapolis Star baseball cap, swapped the pages in and out. Once we'd finished reading each piece, Isaacs, sounding like a gentle parody of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, offered advice about how not to write. Early on he had banned from student assignments the use of all adjectives and adverbs, as well as the verb "to be." The students ceded the adjectives and adverbs, but struggled to preserve various forms of "to be," which, after all, had served journalists nobly for centuries. Having lost the skirmish for "is," they retreated and retrenched to defend "isn't." But Isaacs advanced mercilessly, and the class finally agreed to eliminate "isn't," "were," "was" and "has been" from their practice articles.

The Top 12 Civil War Books Ever Written

The list, care of Salon.


The Biography, via Graphic Novel

The New Yorker takes a look at a couple sterling examples of biographies that have been done up lately as graphic novels, including works on Anne Frank and Vlad the Impaler.

From the piece...

The Anne Frank book is aimed at early high-schoolers, and the authors take care to note that it’s a biography, not an illustrated version of the diary. The form affords the opportunity to present, say, a precise rendering of 263 Prisengracht, with its Annex, in clean lines. Still, the captions shock: “The first experiments in killing camp prisoners in a gas chamber took place in Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941.” The rich drawing depicts rows of emaciated prisoners with color-coded tags; Anne’s sister, Margot, fleeing to the Annex on her bike, under the cover of a rainstorm. Alongside careful maps and detailed timelines, the frames teach chilling vocabulary: “During the first years of the war, mobile killing squads called Einstazgruppen were used to kill mainly Eastern European Jews”; “There was even a special unit, consisting of around fifty Dutch Nazis and known as the Henneicke Column, which captured Jews in hiding.”

When Done Right, Little Gets Lost in Translation

NPR discusses the role of, and profiles, contemporary literary translators>

From the piece...

When Edith Grossman translates a book, she begins to feel a closeness to the author who wrote it. "The more talented the writer, the more open the door is into his or her mind," she explains.

And Grossman should know. She is perhaps best known for her translation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. Not only did Cervantes invent the modern novel, says Grossman, he was a cutting-edge writer 400 years ago. When Grossman talks about the author, it's almost as if he is still alive.

"I dearly love him," she says. "I would love to have a meal with him, I'd love to have a couple of drinks with him, to sit and chat and talk about literature and all the other things you talk about with someone you are really very fond of."

5 E-Book Trends That Will Change the Future of Publishing

The trends, care of Mashable.

From the piece...

1. Enhanced E-Books Are Coming and Will Only Get Better

Consumers have already shown that they love e-books for their convenience and accessibility, but ultimately most e-books today are the same as print, just in digital form. The e-book of the not-too-distant future will be much more than text. Interactivity has arrived and will change the nature of the e-book.

Imagine video that shows how to fix a leaky faucet or solve complex math problems in statistics; audio that pronounces foreign language words as you read them, and assessment that lets you check what you remember and comprehend what you just read. These interactive features and more are being developed now and will be on the market in a matter of weeks, not months.

Publishers are already conjuring up designs for the enhanced e-book of the future. Imagine still: If you miss five questions on your geometry test, will your book adapt and change to help you learn the questions and concepts you missed? Will your new novel provide a platform for live exchange with reading groups where you can discuss the book with the author? Today’s enhanced e-books that feature talking heads or out-takes from movies are yesterday’s ideas. Consumers will expect a much greater experience.

Literary Mixtape: Tintin

What do you think is on the young chap's iPod? Flavorwire offers up some ideas.

In Defense of Liberal Arts

From the National Review, this...

But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.

Citizens — shocked and awed by technological change — become overwhelmed by the Internet chatter, cable news, talk radio, video games, and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.

And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Nation's Bookbinder and the Presidential Papers

From an interesting piece in the Washington Post...

The nation's bookbinder runs his index finger over a rough cut of goatskin. He bears down gently, hunting for blemishes. The leather, flown from London to the bindery of the Government Printing Office, has no major flaws. It is fit to enshrine the utterances of the president.

"It's workable," Peter K. James pronounces. He will glue the frontispiece, trim and sew the stacks of pages, attach the endpapers styled in silk moire, round and hollow the spine, fasten the boards and smooth, gold-stamp and polish President Obama's first set of public papers.

"You know you've got a full goat here?" jokes James, whose title is head forwarder at the printing office. His job is assembling and hand-binding some of the government's most important documents and then forwarding them to the finishers. The craft has changed little since the 17th century.

Celebrity Worship

From The Iliad to Us Weekly we have a long history of celebrity gossip.

From a piece in the Atlantic...

I am going to tell you a deep, dark secret. When I was 14 years old, Courtney Love was my idol. I got dressed every morning before high school by carefully layering ripped fishnets over purple tights, fastening the clasps on my vintage baby doll dress, combing out my peroxided hair, and adjusting my nose ring. The goal was this: if Courtney Love were to come to my high school and pick the coolest person there, she would surely pick me. It never occurred to me to wonder why she would be dropping by a small town in Rhode Island, or why, if she did so, she would hold some kind of high school fashion show. I knew only that I was dressing to impress.

Bear in mind please, that this was 1994 Courtney Love. Surely there were better role models at the time, but there were also worse. Kurt Cobain, Love's husband, had only just recently killed himself by shooting himself in the head in a small room above the family garage. This act of violence and finality shocked and bewildered me, and I remember feeling somewhat complicit in his death. He'd stated many times he didn't want to be a rock star. But I wanted him to be. As a confused and lonely teenager, I needed him to be. So my special relationship to Courtney Love was a kind of mourning, an atonement for a terrible act I had been powerless to prevent. If I could not save Kurt, I could be best friends with Courtney, and dressing just like her would prove how right we were for one another.

In Tom Payne's new book FAME: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity, he makes the argument that this kind of celebrity worship is anything but new. From Greek and Roman mythology to the tales of Dr. Faustus, Marie Antoinette, and the Christian martyrs, Payne shows how humans have been obsessed with fame and stardom throughout civilization. For all the contemporary hand-wringing over a culture overwhelmed by media gossip, Payne takes a well measured step back to argue that, "The media, they're us. Or at least the media are the people who buy newspapers and magazines...our tastes and desires affect how we take in the world around us."

Side note: The 18 biggest celebrity book deals of 2010, here.

The First Personality in the History of Engraving

An anonymous artist and engraver from the early 15th century is conceivably the first major master in the history of printmaking. Booktryst discusses the artist, here.

From the post...

The Meister der Spielkarten, or The Master of the Playing Cards is known only through the 106 engravings that have been attributed to him, including the set of playing cards that he is named for. The term “master” is reserved for someone who has completed an apprenticeship and ran his own workshop, teaching apprentices. His presumed students are also unknown but have similar names, such as The Master of the Nuremberg Passion, The Master of 1446, and The Master of the Banderoles.

The first woodcuts on paper were playing cards. Prior to this playing cards were hand-colored and very expensive. A way was needed to mass produce them and make them affordable to more people, as playing cards caught on quickly. While French and Italian manuscripts in the middle 15th century mention woodblocks made for printing playing cards, a German manuscript from 1402 specifically mentions "kartenmahler" (card painter) or "kartenmacher" (card maker), according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

There was a distinction in the process of woodcuts between the designer who made the drawings and the artisan who cut the drawings in wood. Since engravers came from professional craftsmen, goldsmiths and armor makers who were designers themselves, this process could be accomplished by one person instead of two, making control of the entire process achievable.

Children of the Bible

The great N.C. Wyeth illustrated Biblical scenes for Good Housekeeping long ago. You can see what he created, here.

Classic Novels Enjoying a Renaissance

Why? They can be downloaded for free on e-readers.

From the story in the Telegraph...

Owners of ebook gadgets like Amazon’s Kindle and the Apple iPad can snap up the works of many dead literary greats without paying a penny because they are out of copyright.

Coupled with the proliferation of these devices, titles such as Pride and Prejudice and Treasure Island have shot to the top of the ebook charts.

The most popular e-books over the Christmas period were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Even Homer’s The Iliad made it into Amazon’s top 20 of free Kindle e-books last week.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Care for Some Very Odd To Kill a Mockingbird Humor?

Seek out the White Ninja!

Newspaper Nonsense

Care of Mental Floss.

Making True Grit a Bestseller

The New York Times takes note of how True Grit became a 1968 bestseller.

From the piece...

Chatting recently about his adventures as a Paramount publicity executive assigned to “True Grit” — the old one, with John Wayne — Bob Rehme, the longtime film executive and producer, discussed some machinations that helped make a Hollywood hit of the novel by Charles Portis. Both “True Grit” and the new version of the same name, by Ethan and Joel Coen, are based.

The producer Hal B. Wallis bought rights to the Portis book before it was published by Simon & Schuster in 1968. The underlying story, about young Mattie Ross’s pursuit of the man who shot her father, certainly had fans. Even before the book appeared, a slightly different version was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post.

But Mr. Rehme recalls that Paramount, which collaborated with Mr. Wallis on the film, had an interest in seeing that the book lived up to its reputation as a best seller.

So Mr. Rehme, by his own recollection, did what any really enterprising publicity executive of the era would have done: he set out to rig the game.

Most Expensive Books of 2010

AbeBooks counts down their highest selling items on their site in 2010.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Season's Readings

The Huffington Post offers up 9 books about the real Santa Claus and the history of Christmas, here.

The Huffington Post also offers up a survey of Christmas literature, here.

The Washington Post offers up 5 novels about Christmas, here.

New Yorker
fans, rejoice. They pulled several holiday themed pieces, here.

For Mark Twain fans, a Mark Twain Christmas story.

If you want to read that famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," newspaper clipping, go here.

Want some Christmas poetry? Go here. Or something more wintery? Go here.

Did you get yourself a Kindle as a gift? Swell, here's some ideas to get you started e-reading.

If you're too busy to read, perhaps watch one of these 29 literary films to fill your holiday.

And, if you're wanting something to drink while you're reading, how about some of Charles Dickens' Christmas Punch?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Night Before Christmas

The artwork of the great Arthur Rackham illustrating the gream poem by Clement C. Moore can be found, here. Well, that is if Moore really wrote it. Mental Floss has more, here.


by Karen Ann Duffy...

Then all the dead opened their cold palms
and released the snow; slow, slant, silent,
a huge unsaying, it fell, torn language; settled,
the world to be locked, local; unseen,
fervent earthbound bees around a queen.
The river grimaced and was ice.

               Go nowhere-
thought the dead, using the snow-
but where you are, offering the flower of your breath
to the white garden, or seeds to birds
from your living hand. You cannot leave.
Tighter and tighter, the beautiful snow
holds the land in its fierce embrace.
It is like death, but it is not death; lovelier.
Cold, inconvenienced, late, what will you do now
with the gift of your left life?

David Sedaris Reads from "Santaland Diaries"


Books for Christmas?!?!

Illumination for the Masses

Booktryst highlights illuminated manuscripts, specifically old choir books.

From the piece...

Another type of book that is seldom found complete and is thus a good source of individual leaves is the antiphonary, or choir book. These books contained the music to be sung by church or monastic choirs at services, and they had to be large enough to be seen by everyone, as individual hymnals would have been an unjustifiable extravagance. Very expensive and grand antiphonaries might have "historiated" initials that contained a small scene in the open space of a "D" or "O." In the grisly example above, we see five Franciscan martyrs with scimitars buried in their heads.

"Paul Revere's Ride" Turns 150-Years-Old

The Atlantic takes a look back at Longfellow's anti-slavery poem.

From the piece...

A century-and-a-half ago today, in our January 1861 issue, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published what's still his best-known poem, "Paul Revere's Ride." In Sunday's New York Times, Jill Lepore explains what the poem was doing here: Despite the demure Longfellow's aversion to playing directly into public debate, he was -- like The Atlantic's whole founding generation -- an intensely committed abolitionist, who wrote "Paul Revere's Ride" with the coming Civil War, as much as the War of Independence Revere rallied for 85 years earlier, in mind. In 1842, Longfellow had put out a volume called "Poems on Slavery" for his best friend Charles Sumner (later a leader of the anti-slavery movement in Massachusetts and, later still of the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Senate during the Civil War and Reconstruction); for years, Longfellow quietly spent the earnings from his best-selling poetry to buy slaves their freedom; and on December 2, 1859, the day when the radical abolitionist John Brown was executed for treason against the state of Virginia, Longfellow wrote in his diary, "This will be a great day in our history, the date of a new Revolution quite as much needed as the old one."

The Top Fifty Comic Book Artists Ever

Comic Book Resources have been counting them down. Who is number one? Find out, here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Writing at Night

The Guardian discusses writerly night owls.

From the piece...

I write this from a swivel chair at 4.17am. Twitter has gone quiet. There is darkness for miles. I can hear a watch tick. It's the longest night of the year, and if I time things carefully, I could avoid daylight for 48 hours. What's more, research suggests it won't just be me. There's a mislaid family of readers and writers at night, and at this hour there's nothing else to do but search for them.

Robert Frost was up late. So were Delmore Schwartz, Alan Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Charles Dickens and Carol Ann Duffy. "The hour is midnight and the library is deep and carried like a dreaming child into the darkness of these pages," wrote Richard Brautigan. James Tipton seems to suggest that poetry itself is sleeplessness, a oneness with things only amassable at night. "A child," said Sylvia Plath, "forming itself finger by finger in the dark."

Does the night absolve the day? Susan Rebecca White wrote after long shifts at a Middle Eastern restaurant, "still smelling of hummus and lamb". Tennessee Williams wrote after days as a clerk at the International Shoe Company, Kafka after insurance, TS Eliot after banking. JD Salinger was sent to military school aged 15, where he wrote under bedsheets by torchlight. His last, unpublished work – written in slippers and robe in New Hampshire, and burned at dusk – was a song to insomnia, a "memoir of the night" of which only 16 pages remain.

Forget Journalism School and Enroll in Groupon Academy

The Atlantic asks, is the future of writing with Groupon?

From the piece...

It's a Friday afternoon and Jane Flotte is getting a little tired of spa treatments. "Today I've written a lot of salon deals," the Groupon employee said. "And I'm getting kind of sick of talking about facials."

If today is bad, though, yesterday was even worse. "I had to write a cupcake deal, and it was really late [in the day] and I was so hungry," she laughed. "It was terrible." But Flotte isn't actually complaining. She, like the rest of Groupon's army of twenty-something writers, is eager to churn out prose and study the craft.

She may be in the best possible place to do it. With a team of experienced editors, a new program called Groupon Academy, and a vigorous -- but rewarding -- recruiting process, the Web-based coupon company is investing significant time into teaching and training its writers.

And it's paying off. Business Insider recently listed Groupon as one of this year's most innovative alternative storytellers alongside USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and other traditional news outlets. "Groupon isn't a news website," they explained. "But as Thrillest CEO Ben Lerer said, 'The most well-read publication now might be Groupon.'"

Forty percent of Groupon's writers have prior journalism experience, 70 percent were creative writers and 20 percent wrote marketing or business copy. As of this writing, there are 59 writers, 16 editors, 15 image designers, 24 fact-checkers, 11 copy editors and four editorial recruiters. They've hired 40 writers in the last six months.

Hear F. Scott Fitzgerald Read Poetry

Open Culture shares Fitzgerald reciting "Ode to a Nightingale," here.

The Five Most Insane Christmas Comics Ever

The rundown, care of Comics Alliance.

From the piece describing the Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special Issue...

Eventually, he makes it to Santa Himself, who -- just like in all the stories you heard growing up -- lives with a gorilla.

Santa challenges Lobo to a knife fight and -- this being a Lobo comic -- Lobo not only wins, but uses Santa's list, sleigh and reindeer to drop nuclear warheads on every child in the world. And then, in the framing sequence, a man kills his family with a shotgun. And then Lobo literally gives the reader the middle finger.

That One Guy With The Ponytail hailed it as "the best f---in' Christmas story, like, ever, man," just before he got a tattoo of barbed wire around his bicep.

How to Write Great Fiction

Who better to tell you then folks like Salman Rushdie, John Irving, Anne Lamott, Sherman Alexie, and others? Thanks, Big Think.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Unread Bestselling Author

The Guardian takes a look at the writings of John Wyndham, most famed for his novel The Day of the Triffids.

From the piece...

One of the drawbacks of being a bestselling author is that no one reads you properly. Sure they read you, but do they really read you? I've been thinking about this because Nicola Swords and I have just made a documentary for Radio 4 about John Wyndham. Wyndham is probably the most successful British science fiction writer after HG Wells, and his books have never been out of print. He continues to haunt the public imagination – either through adaptations of his own work (last Christmas gave us a new Day of the Triffids on the BBC) or through thinly disguised homages (witness the opening of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, which almost exactly resembles the first chapters of The Day of the Triffids, and is in its turn parodied in the opening of Shaun of the Dead). But because his books are so familiar, maybe we don't look too closely at them.

I read a lot of Wyndham when I was a teenager. Then, a few years ago, when I was looking around for books to adapt as a Radio 4 "classic serial", I thought of The Midwich Cuckoos. Rereading it, I was startled to find a searching novel of moral ambiguities where once I'd seen only an inventive but simple SF thriller.

Here's the trailer to the 1962 Triffids movie:

Ron Howard and the Dark Tower

The Los Angeles Times updates us on the ongoing thoughts to adapt Stephen King's beloved Dark Tower series onto the screen.

From the piece...

Howard, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman -- who successfully teamed up on "A Beautiful Mind" -- are talking about doing the project as not just one movie, but three. And that's not all -- because the Dark Tower story is so big, the plan is to have a television series that runs between the films. Hero Complex explains:

he target release for the first movie is 2013. The television series would then follow and bridge to the second film. After the second movie, the television series would pick up again and carry forward to the final film in the trilogy. A television series that functions as the mortar between cinematic brick? It’s an audacious plan but in a September statement Goldsman said grand-scale storytelling is needed for the grand-scale source material....

The idea hasn't yet been given the final OK by Hollywood, but the first film is said to be planned for 2013. And one important player is happy with the plans: Stephen King.

Superheroes and Supervillians Have Their Day in Court

The New York Times profiles the creators of a new blog, one in which they discuss law...and comic books.

From the piece...

Is Superman’s heat vision a weapon? If so, would the Second Amendment protect his right to melt pistols and cook hamburgers with it?

You might not have thought to ask these questions. You might have, in other words, a life. But a new blog and the interest it is generating shows that there are people who look at an epic battle between superheroes and supervillains and really, really want to know who should be found liable for the broken buildings and shattered streets.

Those people now have a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, supervillains, and the law. Kicked off on Nov. 30, it addresses questions like: “What if someone is convicted for murder, and then the victim comes back to life?” And whether mutants are a legally recognizable class entitled to constitutional protection from discrimination.

Law and the Multiverse is the deadpan creation of two lawyers, James Daily, in Missouri, and Ryan Davidson in Indiana. Both are 28; they have only met online but collaborate like old friends.

Mr. Daily said the inspiration for the blog came, as so many great ideas do, over dinner with his wife and friends.

What Do You Do with a Qur'an Written in Saddam Hussein's Blood?

That's what the Iraqi government is pondering. The despot commissioned the project, and over two years, sat with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher and donated 27 liters of his blood to be used in the creation.

Reading Copy has more, here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Care to See Charles Dickens' Old Pet Cat's Paw Mounted to a Letter Opener?

Look no further!

Thirty-One John D. MacDonald Titles and Taglines

The list, and brief intro, by the Daily Rumpus.

From the piece...

Part of what this means is that many, many books no longer have any value at all—and will disappear into recycling. A while back I found a few bushels of paperbacks in a library recycling bin. They were unmarked, donations, but were adjudged to be worthless. I found a few things of which I’d never heard and a great many more by pulp novelist John D. MacDonald. My dad likes MacDonald and I pulled about forty titles back from the brink. Before I mailed them, I wrote down the taglines and titles.

We all know about pulp cover art, but here, like rubbings off tombstones, a fossil record of casually unacceptable social mores, and as ephemeral as salty candy, are thirty-one John D. MacDonald titles and taglines...

Grant Morrison: Writing Comics that Put Novels in the Shade

The Guardian writes about "one of the most interesting writers in the comics medium."

From the piece...

Morrison's friend Warren Ellis, another excellent comics writer, points out that Morrison's occultism is actually very pragmatic. The only reason he was abducted by aliens in Kathmandu in 1994, says Morrison, is "because I went to Kathmandu in 1994 to be abducted by aliens. And it works! These fuckers, they will turn up!" Morrison practises magic, and encourages his readers to do the same. He's matter-of-fact about it: "Anyone can contact the scorpion gods."

At their best, Morrison's comics are crammed with ideas. They are exhilaratingly strange, and kind of puckish. His Doom Patrol featured a gang of supervillains called The Brotherhood of Dada, a sentient piece of roadway called Danny the Street and a painting that ate Paris. But Morrison's masterwork remains The Invisibles, a series about a cell of existential resistance fighters – including a transsexual shaman, a grumpy Scouser, a telepath from the future and their bald-headed leader King Mob, who is the dead spit of Morrison himself. No summary can do justice to how mind-bending and bizarre – and yet compellingly in earnest – this comic is.

Its themes are: order v chaos (the Invisibles are fighting the Archons of the Outer Church, a race of inter-dimensional beetles with obsessive-compulsive disorder), time and timelessness, occult magic, and psychedelic or hallucinatory experience. But, rather than being sombre or preachy, it's rollicking good fun.

Ever since mainstream comics "grew up", with Alan "Watchmen" Moore as instigator, the way they tended to show their maturity was by ditching ass-kicking in favour of ideas. Morrison, although he shares Moore's occult interests, is much more into the biff-pow-bang.

Using Poetry as a Way to Survive

The New York Times goes into the schools, seeing if poetry is making a difference in teen lives.

From the piece...

Acting as visiting artists, three educators — a former science teacher, a filmmaker and poet, and an advocate for arts education — teach an optional three-hour-a-week class at University Heights High School in the Bronx. Their goal is to teach students how to wield words as weapons in spoken word poetry. Honesty and making trouble in the world are among the class’s guiding principles. There are no grades, and the rough language of the streets is welcomed.

“The most simple and basic way you empower yourselves is through self-awareness,” Roland Legiardi-Laura, a self-described old ’60s lefty, tells a classroom full of students. “You’re in this room to teach yourselves how to be heard in the world.”

Mr. Legiardi-Laura and his fellow teachers hold sessions in their homes, take students to visit museums and colleges, and encourage them to participate in citywide poetry competitions. They develop personal relationships well beyond what is traditional, offering help when students are in trouble.

The teachers acknowledge that their approach is controversial, but do not apologize. “The most important thing we’ve done,” Amy Sultan, one of the teachers, says, “is to create a safe space, and we take that safe space into the world. And they come to see that the safety is really within them.”

Five Forgotten Literary Vampires

Flavorwire praises those vampires that have gone before those in Interview with the Vampire and the Twilight series.

From the post...

Varney the Vampire (1847)

First published as a serialized gothic saga, Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood was later adapted from its cheap “penny dreadful” format into a single epic volume. Although authorship remains unclear between either Thomas Preskett Prest or James Malcolm Rymer, Varney is most often attributed to the latter (as is Sweeney Todd, incidentally). The saga concerns the titular vampire, who emerges as a rather sympathetically self-loathing figure despite terrorizing the Bannerworths (his implied mortal family). Varney establishes archetypal vampire characteristic like fangs, superhuman strength, and hypnotic powers.

James Joyce's Death Mask

See it, here.

Does Creative Writing Help Kids Succeed?

That's the question recently posed by Mother Jones.

From the piece...

Their English teacher, Mr. Scott, is dressed in a white shirt, tie, and a dark green jacket topped with a purple hat. He tells students in a congested, raspy voice that he is recovering from "something between a cold and an pneumonia." Meg Day, a resident artist from the local WritersCorps chapter, is here to help him lead the class in some writing exercises while he recovers. Day, who has an MFA in poetry from Mills College, writes down these rules on the whiteboard:

"There are no wrong answers."
"The standard is yourself."
"Don't talk, don't stop."

Day warms up the students with two "freewrites." Today's freewrite prompt is "When I grow up..." "Go!" she prompts the students. "Five minutes. Don't talk, don't stop." She claps her hands. The sound of pencil scribbling fills the room.

Meanwhile, Scott shows us the "student portfolio" of a girl I'll call Tina. Tina's thick, black binder is filled with essays, drawings, poems, and research papers. On the portfolio's first page, Scott has written the question: "Tell me one thing you want me to know about you?" Tina's written response: "I hope Harvard will accept me one day." But in today's test-driven education system, are these portfolios really likely to contribute to that goal's achievement?

Maybe. Scott believes these student portfolios provide crucial outlets for creativity and critical thought. Many students at Mission High have learning disabilities, or are still learning English: For those students who also don't test well, portfolio work can boost confidence and provide useful writing practice.