Friday, September 30, 2011

Courtney Love to Write Memoir

Hole's lead singer, and, you know, the former wife of Kurt Cobain, will pen a tell-all.

From a piece in Galley Cat...

Here’s more from the release: “Although Love is often associated with deceased husband, music legend and front man of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, she has had an incredible artistic career of her own crisscrossing into music, film, popular culture, and fashion…The as yet untitled memoir will offer a no-holds-barred look into Love’s life from childhood to the present day.”

Typographical Adhesive Tape Installations


In The Gym from Doyle Partners on Vimeo.

The $50,000 Flower Seed Catalog

Booktryst highlights Robert Furber's classic, Twelve Months of Flowers (1730).

From the post...

Furber's intent was "to make the Love of Gardening more general, and the understanding of it more easy, I have from time to time published Catalogues, containing large Variety of Trees, Plants, Fruits, and Flowers, both Foreign and Domestic, cultivated by me for Sale" (Short Introduction to Gardening). The flowers were grouped into bouquets according to the month they bloomed, and referenced with numbers and captions so that Furber's customers could order particular specimens. In this regard, the publication follows in the tradition of Emanuel Sweert's Florilegium (1612-1614), a similarly elaborate sale catalogue.

Furber spared no expense, commissioning the celebrated Antwerp-born painter Pieter Casteels and the skilled engraver Henry Fletcher. The illustrations transcended their original commercial purpose and were reprinted throughout the 18th century to capitalize on their decorative appeal. Graphic Novels

The Philadelphia Inquirer takes note of a recent trend in turning classic works into graphic novels.

From the piece...

September brought the release of two epic books given the graphic-novel treatment: a modern classic, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, adapted by cartoonist Seymour Chwast.

These new publications represent very different approaches in adapting prose for panels. The Kite Runner Graphic Novel, illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Andolfo, is realistically rendered, taking advantage of a luscious palette of color, light, and shadow to enhance the book's emotionally compelling and dramatic story. The comic version doesn't stray much from the original, with the text adapted by Hosseini himself.

In The Canterbury Tales, Chwast takes a much more minimalist approach. Chwast's drawings are simple and playful, and he adds many of his own jokes, creating a lighthearted read. The title of each story is introduced alongside a silly quip from little characters, sometimes a cartoon of Chaucer himself, saying things like, "Readers must be eighteen or over." Cartoonish touches and playful anachronisms help bring these stories into this century.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Abandoned Manuscripts Found

Beethoven, Arthur Conan Doyle and Kafka are among many artists who gave clear instructions that some work should not be published. They were ignored.

From an article in the Telegraph...

The world premiere today in Manchester of a lost movement from a Beethoven string quartet raises the old question of whether some works, as their creators may have intended, are best consigned to the cutting-room floor of history. The section in question, written in 1799 as part of his Quartet in G, was subsequently completely rewritten by Beethoven, who then discarded the original. “Only now do I know how to write quartets properly,” he confided in his sponsor, Prince Lobkowicz, urging him not to pass the first draft to anyone.

But Barry Cooper, Professor of Music at Manchester, who has fitted together fragments found of the original for tonight’s unveiling, is convinced this rediscovery provides compelling new insights. “The prospect of hearing a Beethoven work that has been absent for over 200 years,” he says, “should be of much interest to anyone who loves his music.”

Ignoring an artist’s stated wishes like this is surprisingly common. This week, The Narrative of John Smith, a “lost” first novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, found in papers in the British Library, hits the bookshops, despite the consensus among experts that the creator of Sherlock Holmes considered it substandard and therefore suppressed it.

Andy Griffith...and Romeo and Juliet

Dante's a Sand Castle


Toddler Book Apps

Interactive versions of books for very young children are becoming mainstream. Are they enhancing early reading experience – or diminishing it?

From an article in the Guardian...

I love huddling over books with my daughter – sharing words, stories and ideas. The relationship between adult narrator, child and book is complex. I just don't see how there can be an app for that. Am I deluded? Is the digitalisation of picture books inevitable?

Children's laureate Julia Donaldson certainly doesn't think so. She vetoed an ebook of her bestselling The Gruffalo, because she thinks interactive book apps for the very young are a bad idea. Her opinion is shared by children's librarian Ferelith Hordon, who chairs the judging panel for this year's Kate Greenaway and Carnegie medals.

"I have concerns about how such apps are presented," Hordon says. "I don't think that they're the book, and I think that that should be made very clear. They are great fun and they have their place. But on the whole, they distract from the reading experience. For very small children there is something very special – and something that needs to be treasured – in listening to the parent's voice reading.

"If you start putting pop-ups and twiddles and voices into the picture book experience, where is the difference between that and a film or a game? In this world in which there is so much noise and movement is there no value in promoting stillness and thought?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Bacon Alphabet?


Good Show, Sir

Only the worst in sci-fi/fantasy book covers.

Familiar Faces Wear Classic Roles

The New York Times looks at the theatre season and the preponderance of King Lear shows (and, also, Kevin Spacey in Richard III? Cool!).

From the article...

SHAKESPEARE’S saddest monarch will be out on the heath again this fall, yelling at the elements and courting death by lightning, when the Public Theater opens its new production of “King Lear,” starring Sam Waterston, in November. New Yorkers may feel that this demented curser of the gods has been hanging out a lot in their neighborhood recently. You could even say he’s become sort of a cautionary fixture in this town, like that homeless guy on the corner who talks to space aliens and throws rotten fruit at passers-by.

Mr. Waterston’s interpretation, as it happens, will be the third to grace a New York stage in six months, following two imported British productions: Derek Jacobi’s version for the Donmar Warehouse (seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in May), and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “King Lear” of this summer, with Greg Hicks in the title role. It was only four years ago that Ian McKellen played Lear at the Brooklyn Academy (in another Royal Shakespeare Company production), while Christopher Plummer wore the same painful crown at Lincoln Center in 2004.

What gives?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Statues of Famous Authors All Over the World

The gallery, care of Flavorwire.

Stephen King Reads from His Coming Sequel to The Shining

Quixote, Colbert and the Reality of Fiction

Did Cervantes invent “truthiness”? A writer, for the New York Times, examines how the 17th-century master’s multilayered world mirrors the realities and absurdities of our modern age.

From the article...

As a literary theorist, I suppose I could take umbrage at the claim that my own discipline, while fun, doesn’t rise to the level of knowledge. But what I’d actually like to argue goes a little further. Not only can literary theory (along with art criticism, sociology, and yes, non-naturalistic philosophy) produce knowledge of an important and even fundamental nature, but fiction itself, so breezily dismissed in Professor Rosenberg’s assertions, has played a profound role in creating the very idea of reality that naturalism seeks to describe.

We especially revere the genius of Shakespeare in the English-speaking world, but I’d like to focus on the genius of another writer, a Spanish one, Miguel de Cervantes, who shaped our world as well, and did so in ways that may not be apparent even to those aware of his enormous literary influence. With the two parts of “Don Quixote,” published in 1605 and 1615 respectively, Cervantes created the world’s first bestseller, a novel that, in the words of the great critic Harold Bloom, “contains within itself all the novels that have followed in its sublime wake.”

As if that were not enough, in writing those volumes Cervantes did something even more profound: he crystallized in prose a confluence of changes in how people in early modern Europe understood themselves and the world around them. What he passed down to those who would write in his wake, then, was not merely a new genre but an implicit worldview that would infiltrate every aspect of social life: fiction.

Superheroes are for Girls, Too

A celebration of comic book fans who happen to be girls.

And talking about women and comic books, Newsarama discussed women IN the industry. Are there enough of them?

From the piece...

While public eyes have recently focused on rebooted comics, people within the tightly knit fan community have been buzzing about a different subject:

The low percentage of women on the creative side of the comic book industry.

The conversation has become particularly heated over the last three months. Comic writers have publicly argued about it. Comic conventions have been disrupted by it. Bloggers have analyzed it. And even comic book companies have responded to criticism about it.

"There seems to be this sort of 'boiling up from the bottom' interest in talking about women working specifically on superhero comics," said Jen Van Meter, the writer behind comics like the upcoming Marvel title Avengers: Solo.

Judd Winick, who's currently writing two comics for DC, said it's also something that's been a topic of conversation among publishers. "This was a behind-the-scenes discussion over the last many months," he said. "Out of Comic-Con, believe me, it's been discussed."

Astronomers and Frankenstein

Frankenstein's hour of creation has been identified by astronomers.

From a piece in the Guardian...

Texas astronomers have used the light of the moon to highlight the hour of creation for Victor Frankenstein and his notorious monster – and defend the memory of their teenage creator, Mary Shelley.

The inspiration came in a waking dream between 2am and 3am on the morning of 16 June, 1816, during a stormy summer on Lake Geneva, they explain in the November issue of Sky and Telescope.

In the preface to the third edition of Frankenstein Shelley described a villa party: Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, herself and Byron's physician Polidori, and the famous challenge by Byron that each of them should begin a ghost story. She also described her repeated inability to come up with an idea until a moment of inspiration during a sleepless night in her dark room, behind closed shutters "with the moonlight struggling to get through".

And then, she continued: "I saw with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life …"

The Magic of an Inscribed Book

Mary Schmich loves them.

From a piece of hers in the Chicago Tribune...

From the heap of abandoned books, two plaintive words stared up at me: "Dear Mary."

I picked up the book the way you might a pet you'd accidentally run over. The sight of one of my dearest friend's handwriting, wishing me a Merry Christmas from so many years ago, made me a little misty.

How had I been so cavalier? What kind of brute gets rid of books inscribed with names, dates, love, admiration? Even worse, what if the book-giver found it in a bookstore one day and saw I'd treated it as if it were as disposable as, say, newsprint?

There's a story of some famous author who once, while perusing a used-book shelf, spotted a book he'd written. He opened it. When he saw he'd inscribed it to a dear friend, he bought it. And gave it to the friend again.

My friend Nancy fell into a similar inscription trap after giving away a book signed to her by the colleague who wrote it. A couple of years later, the colleague, in search of his own book to give as a gift, bought a used copy on When it arrived, he discovered an inscription: to Nancy. And he let her know it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Top Ten Books Lost to Time

The list, care of Smithsonian Magazine.

From said list...

1. Homer’s Margites

Before the Iliad and the Odyssey, there was the Margites. Little is known about the plot of the comedic epic poem—Homer’s first work—written around 700 B.C. But a few surviving lines, woven into other works, describe the poem’s foolish hero, Margites.

“He knew many things, but all badly” (from Plato’s Alcibiades). “The gods taught him neither to dig nor to plough, nor any other skill; he failed in every craft” (from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics).

It is unfortunate that no copy of Margites exists because Aristotle held it in high acclaim. In his On the Art of Poetry, he wrote, “[Homer] was the first to indicate the forms that comedy was to assume, for his Margites bears the same relationship to comedies as his Iliad and Odyssey bear to our tragedies.”

The $72,000 Comic Book

News Antique discusses the sale of an old comic book.

How to Run a Bookstore

The great Larry McMurtry lets you know in BusinessWeek.

From the piece...

The first essential is to have good stock. The better the books, the more people will come. We were fortunate that when we started this business in 1971, we came into the secondhand book trade just as a lot of ancient families were dying out and selling grandpa’s books, so we were able to get a respectable stock very cheaply.

For a large bookshop to survive today, you need cheap real estate, or you have to be an institution like Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., or the Tattered Cover in Denver. They have everything from lunch counters to day care to get families to spend the day at the store. We are here in Archer City, Tex., where we can get buildings for $30,000 to $50,000. If we have two customers a day, it’s like a riot. We’ve had our first significant Chinese customer, and if we stay open another 10 or 15 years, a large part of our clientele will be from overseas.

The History of Little Golden Books

Mental Floss gives us a brief history of those books we all read as kids.

From the piece...

Before the introduction of Little Golden Books in 1942, children’s books were not really made for children. They were usually large volumes that were too difficult for young readers to handle or comprehend, and were awfully expensive at $2 to $3 each (about $28 – $42 today). But George Duplaix of the Artist’s and Writer’s Guild, in partnership with Simon & Schuster Publications and Western Printing, wanted to change all that.

Duplaix had the idea of creating small, sturdy, inexpensive books with fewer pages, simpler stories, and more illustrations so little kids could actually enjoy them. Western was already publishing a line for kids called Golden Books, so they piggy-backed on the marketing and called this new line Little Golden Books.

The first 12 titles were released on October 1, 1942, at a price of only a quarter a piece—and they were an instant success. After only five months on the market, 1.5 million copies had been sold and many titles were already in their third printing; by 1945, most were in their seventh printing. One of the keys to sales was the fact they were sold in unusual places like department stores, drug stores and supermarkets. This gave busy moms a great way to keep rambunctious kids occupied while shopping, and it was cheap enough to be tacked onto the final bill without much concern.

A Visual History of Literary References in The Simpsons

The Atlantic revels in America's longest running sitcom.

From the piece...

With 23rd season of The Simpsons premiering on Sunday, America's longest-running sitcom is still going strong. Despite the perennial complaints of declining quality, the Simpson family maintains a huge audience and the ability to attract new viewers, averaging 7.2 million viewers per episode during the 21st season. An all-Simpsons television channel is rumored to be in the works.

But beyond the series' longevity, The Simpsons has had a profound impact on American society, both as the forerunner for an entire generation of irreverent, animated satire (see Family Guy most prominently and, to an arguable extent, South Park) and as a unique form of cultural criticism. The world that extends around 748 Evergreen Terrace looks very much like our own: politicians, movie stars, artists, and other cultural figures (or at least their caricatures) inevitably find themselves in Springfield U.S.A.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rubber Bookshelves

Check 'em out, here.


Ten Best Writer/Illustrator Teams

The list, care of the Guardian.

The Last Lion

After 34 books, endless Hemingway comparisons, and too many battles with gout, legendary author Jim Harrison is unsurpassed at chronicling man's relationship with wilderness. His secret? Ample wine, cigarettes, fly-fishing—and an inability to give a damn about what anyone else thinks. Our author takes a literary pilgrimage to Montana.

From a story in the magazine Outside...

If you are describing Jim Harrison physically, you are pretty much forced to start with his eye. When he was seven a young girl, her motives unknown, pushed a broken glass bottle into his face, permanently blinding his left eye. When Harrison looks at you straight on, his left eye appears ­almost cartoonishly miscentered, as if he has taken a blow to the head and needs another, corrective blow to fix the problem. After six decades of double work, his right eye has weakened, as evidenced by a milky blue rim around the iris. But it is an amazing face, an iconic face, and Harrison’s goofy left eye is an essential, defining imperfection.

Everything else about Harrison seems big. His head looks as though it belongs on the end of something a Viking would use to knock down a medieval Danish gate. His body is big, too, but not fat. Rather, it seems full—the body of a skinny person that has been forcibly stuffed with food. Harrison’s face and hands are an identically bright blood-pressure red.

It was something of a relief when we ­finally took our seats. Linda, whom Harrison has described as “the least defenseless woman I’ve ever known,” sat beside me. She and Har­rison have known each other since they were teenagers. One day Harrison spotted her climbing stairs in her riding pants and thought, I must have her. She was 15, he 17.

The Average Font

This project shows what a font would look like if it consisted of all typefaces installed on Moritz Resl's system. Every character from a to z is drawn using every single font with a low opacity.

Average Font from moritz resl on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The World's Rudest Hand Gestures

The Atlantic takes note of a new book - Rude Hand Gestures of the World.

Can you guess what the gesture above signifies?

Fool for Proofs

How is it that an uncorrected proof of a book can be valued at 50 times a finished version?

From a piece in the Guardian...

ARCs will often have plain covers, or covers carrying publication information and quotes from those who have already seen the book. For a reader, the appeal of a proof is almost negligible. True, you may get to read the book a month or so before publication, but proofs are often uncorrected, unedited and sometimes even early drafts. A proof of Grant Morrison's non-fiction treatise on superheroes, Supergods, which I recently received, had whole sections that were changed in the final product. But proofs are, by their nature, of limited availability – which is why those who like to collect rarities in the book world trade them. But such trade is rife with legal grey areas – and the market is currently convulsed by one of its periodic kerfuffles.

There will be those who boggle at the item on eBay that has caused the latest flap. I certainly did. One uncorrected proof copy of Hannu Rajaniemi's critically-acclaimed science fiction debut The Quantum Thief can be yours for just … £275.

Even when seller Brito123 describes this "2010 Gollancz hardcover, London, UNCORRECTED BOOK PROOF" as "EXTREMELY SCARCE", it's hard to imagine why anyone would shell that much out for a book that you can pick up in a brand new paperback edition for £7.99 - £4.87 if you buy from Amazon.

Granted, no one appears to have taken the seller up on their offer yet, but the fact is, it's out there, at that price. Jon Weir, senior publicity manager at Gollancz, an imprint of Orion, expressed his puzzlement on Twitter, commenting that the book was being sold "with my press release in. I mean, it was a good press release, but not worth £275!!"

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens

Celebrate with the Guardian.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Schwarzenneger to Publish Memoir?


From a piece in the New York Times...

Now Mr. Schwarzenegger, 64, is promising to write about his experiences in a memoir, expected to land in bookstores in October 2012.

Simon & Schuster announced on Thursday that it had acquired world rights to Mr. Schwarzenegger’s book, tentatively titled “Total Recall.”

How much Mr. Schwarzenegger will tell about his life is unknown. Simon & Schuster said the book would discuss Mr. Schwarzenegger’s early journey to the United States and his careers in bodybuilding, moviemaking and politics.

Handling Harvard's Special Collections

The Last Words of 25 Famous Authors

The list, care of Buzzfeed.

The Alphabet

The Alphabet 2 from n9ve on Vimeo.

The Worst Paranormal Book Sex Scenes

The list, care of the Huffington Post.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Last Days of Ernest Hemingway

Men's Journal writes of his long decline to suicide.

From the piece...

We know what happened on Sunday morning, July 2, 1961. A writer who’d lost the prairies of his childhood in Illinois, the woods of his Michigan teenage summers, the seemingly illimitable fishing riches of the Gulf Stream off Havana, and now, or so he was convinced, the center of who and what he was stepped inside a five-and-a-half-by-seven-and-a-half-foot space at the entryway of his Idaho house and destroyed himself.

He aimed for just above the eyebrows, and nothing went awry. He’d been home from Mayo Clinic for two days, having been driven back from Minnesota to Ketchum in a Hertz rental car in the company of his wife and an old boxing friend whose Manhattan gym he used for his workouts. His wife had gone to bed the night before in the big bedroom that occupied most of the upper floor of their charmless two-story block house, which sat a couple of hundred yards up the steep slope from the west bank of the Big Wood River. He’d taken the small room down the hall.

From their respective bathrooms, as they readied for sleep, they’d called out to each other snatches of an Italian folk song. At about 7:25 am, Mary Hemingway was brought awake to what sounded like two muffled thumps. It was, she later said, like the sound of bureau drawers pulled out too far and falling to the floor. She rose on one elbow and called out her husband’s name. She threw back the coverlet and ran down the hall. One of the twin beds was mussed, but he wasn’t in it. She reversed direction, went to the head of the stairs, held for half a second, and tore down the 20-odd steps, across the living room to see what her husband had done.

A Piano Piece Inspired by Franny and Zooey

Listen to it here.

What's It Like to Work in an Amazon Warehouse?


From a piece in the Morning Call...

He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers.

"I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one," Goris said. "They can do that because there aren't any jobs in the area."

Goris' complaints are not unique.

Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.

Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work. responds, here.

A Scratch and Sniff Guide to New York City?


From an article in the Guardian...

Featuring both the good (strawberry, pizza, hot dogs, churros) and the bad (garbage, sewer steam, horse manure) smells which sum up the city, New York, PHEW York was dreamed up by hotel concierge Amber Jones. "I work in Times Square and one day while I was walking to the train I got a delicious whiff of pizza. As I was was looking in the window at the pizza, deciding if I should buy a slice, I didn't realise I was steeping in horse manure," said Jones. "I went to the corner to make sure I didn't get any on my shoe and was engulfed by shish kebab smoke from a food cart. It's then I thought 'there should be a scratch-n-sniff guide of New York'. Wha-la! The idea was born."

Is the Death of Borders Good for Independent Bookstores?

Quite possibly!

From an article in the Atlantic...

There was a time when the independent bookstore seemed fated to die: In the early 1990s, chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble began their impressive rollout, and their guiding principle of bigger-is-better drove many independently owned shops out of business. But now, about two decades later, Borders is the one bowing out in dramatic fashion. After suffering from declining sales and missed payments, the 40-year-old chain filed for bankruptcy in February and has proceeded to liquidate its stores. Articles with headlines like "Borders shutdown shifts independent booksellers into the spotlight" and "Borders' demise could pave way for expansion of independent bookstores," claim that the superstore's collapse will bring better tidings for the independent.

Given the fraught history of chains vs. independents, such a prediction is understandable—but is it accurate? Mark LaFramboise is a book buyer at Politics & Prose, an independent shop in Washington, D.C., and he says that the shuttering of the closest Borders earlier this year, during the chain's first wave of closings, has had no discernible effect on business. "Does this herald a renaissance of the independent bookstore?" LaFramboise says of Borders' closing. "Probably not. Put me down in the 'I hope so' category. But stop short of the 'I think so' category." Scott Abel, the general manager of Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in D.C., says his store has not witnessed radical windfall either, though he has certainly spoken with a few customers who mentioned that they used to shop at Borders.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The History of English in Ten One Minute Movies


You can find the other bits, here.

Ziggy's Creator Dies at 80

Flavorwire remembers Tom Wilson, here.

The $175,000 Dust Jacket

Booktryst discusses F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and what it goes for at auction.

From the piece...

The incredibly rare and desirable dust jacket to the first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is coming to auction via Sotheby's-New York Library of an English Bibliophile Sale Part II on October 20, 2011. It is estimated to sell for $150,000-$180,000. An excellent copy of the first edition, first printing of The Great Gatsby, a book that in near-fine/fine condition sells for $7,000-$10,000, is included with the dust jacket.

The dust jacket is in the corrected first state, i.e. the "j" in Jay Gatsby on the rear panel was printed in lower case and carefully hand-corrected in ink to upper-case by the publisher. No uncorrected copies of the first state dust jacket are known to exist. In the second state of the dust jacket the "J" was corrected by the printer.

This copy of The Great Gatsby sold at Bonham's-New York, June 10, 2009, lot 3252, for $182,000.

There's Space in the Living Room for Poetry

In "Happy, Snappy, Sappy," Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) discusses poetry.

From the piece on the Poetry Foundation site...

If you were to walk into my living room on some weekend night, that would be creepy. But before I stood up alarmed and demanded to know what you were doing there, you would see me in a big black leather chair that, I’ve been told, is too big for the room. I’d be all dressed up, and reading poetry.

I’ve never had any of the problems with poetry that most people do, i.e., that it’s boring and/or incomprehensible. A voracious reader, I spent my childhood reading things for adults, and learned early to find peace in the stasis of literature. Having read The Rainbow at fourteen (I’d heard D.H. Lawrence was dirty), a Robert Hass poem feels action-packed. And as far as comprehension goes, I find poetry actually has very little mystery compared to anything else. Just this morning at the bus stop, a little electronic sign told me my bus was arriving in two minutes, then one minute, then “arriving,” although the street remained empty. Then it was gone. I’d missed a bus that had never arrived. Not a phrase in The Tennis Court Oath can touch that for sheer befuddlement.

My problem with poetry was when to read it—for pleasure, I mean. I know how to read poetry when studying it (Donne out loud in my dorm room, for instance, with my college girlfriend feigning interest); I know how to read it when trying to write it (I ripped off so much of the collected Bishop that she really should have been awarded the 1992 Connecticut Student Poet Prize instead of, ahem, me); and I know how to read it when I’m reviewing it (in three long sittings at my local bar, with bourbon deliciously swaying my critical opinions). When I’m Lemony Snicket, I most surely know how to read Les fleurs du mal to tatters while writing thirteen books about terrible things happening to orphans I named Baudelaire in what the French call hommage. But, until a few years ago, I was having trouble figuring out when to read poetry when I just wanted to read.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Ode to a Bookstore Death," by Borders Employees

15 Wonderful Songs Inspired by Poets

The list, care of Flavorwire.

Here's one by M. Ward based on William Blake's poetry...

Openly Gay Superhero in Teen Titans?


From a piece about the superhero, Bunker, in Comics Alliance...

Miguel Jose Barragan, an openly gay superpowered teen from Mexico is joining DC Comics' flagship team of teenage heroes. As announced online by artist Brett Booth, the hero known as Bunker will debut in November's Teen Titans #3. Bunker will apparently come from an accepting background that's contributed to a slightly more flamboyant attitude than fans might have seen from other gay and lesbian characters in the DCU so far, including Batwoman, Apollo, Midnighter and more. According to writer Scott Lobdell, "He was born out of the closet and so he has a very refreshing outlook on life."

Bunker's powers, as described by Booth, include the ability to create small force fields that look like bricks. His costume is notably purple, though according to Booth that wasn't his first color choice given how that connotation might be perceived.

Working to positively portray a population that's as diverse as any in the world through just one character -- or even the growing, but still proportionately small number DC has -- is nearly impossible, but both Lobdell and Booth seem to be working to address issues of tokenism months before the character's reveal in comics.

Do Christian Bookstores Have a Prayer?

With the economic climate as it is, it's not easy.

From a piece in Publisher's Weekly...

Struggling,” challenging,” “difficult”—these are the words used to characterize the current state of Christian retailing. It’s a story that has unfolded over the past 10 to 15 years, mirroring what general-interest indies experienced earlier—hundreds of stores closing and a shrinking cohort of booksellers.

The downward spiral began when, in the early 1990s, the new chain bookstores began to carry Christian books in significant numbers. While once Christian bookstores were the only places these books could be found, suddenly sales were siphoned off as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million began to stock bestsellers like the Left Behind series and Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, as well as popular genres like prairie romances. Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sam’s Club also got into the act, selling top titles at prices Christian specialty stores couldn’t match. It was great news for publishers, but a death knell for many stores.

Another body blow was the loss of the music segment of their business to digital downloads. Music once brought in a significant percentage of the revenue at the average Christian store, with some having up to 50% of their inventory in music. When those sales went away, so did many stores.

Dear Novelists, Be Less Like Moses and More Like Howard Cosell

That is the request of Dwight Gardner of the New York Times. If novelists want to be more relevant and keep book publishing from failing, write more than one novel every decade.

From the piece...

Distressingly, this kind of long gestation period is pretty typical for America’s corps of young, elite celebrity novelists. Jonathan Franzen took nine years to follow “The Corrections” (2001) with his next novel, “Freedom” (2010), and “The Corrections” itself was nine years in the making. Donna Tartt vanished for a decade between “The Secret History” (1992) and “The Little Friend” (2002); at this pace we’re due for a fat new Tarttlet next fall. Michael Chabon has gone seven years between major novels. David Foster Wallace was still working on his follow-up to “Infinite Jest” (1995) when he died in 2008, though in between he published excellent books of nonfiction and stories.

Obviously, some of this is about personal style. There have always been prolific writers as well as slow-moving, blocked, gin-addled or silent ones. It’s worth suggesting, though, that something more meaningful may be going on here; these long spans between books may indicate a desalinating tidal change in the place novelists occupy in our culture. Suddenly our important writers seem less like color commentators, sifting through the emotional, sexual and intellectual detritus of how we live today, and more like a mountaintop Moses, handing down the granite tablets every decade or so to a bemused and stooped populace. We roll our eyes at how seldom Time magazine puts writers on its cover — it once did so quite often — and sense this is evidence of the public’s shrinking appetite for quality literature. Perhaps it has got more to do with our novelists’ lagging output, their eroded willingness to be central to the cultural conversation.

Take, as a counterpoint, Saul Bellow, who over 11 industrious years delivered four novels, several of them among the 20th century’s best: “The Adventures of Augie March” (1953); “Seize the Day” (1956); “Henderson the Rain King” (1959); and “Herzog” (1964). Bellow snatched control, with piratical confidence and a throbbing id, of American literature’s hive mind. “We are always looking,” he once said, “for the book it is necessary to read next.” For this vivifying span, the book to read next was nearly always one of Bellow’s own.

Bellow could have spent those 11 years differently. He might have toiled on a “grander” book, let’s say a slablike “Augie March.” This hurts my head to ponder.

Who Has Been Leaving Book Sculptures in Scottish Libraries?

No one knows.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Children's Authors That Broke the Rules

The New York Times revels in Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss.

From the article...

The stylistic eccentricities of Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein and Theodor Geisel, a k a Dr. Seuss, are so much a part of the childhood vernacular today that it’s hard to imagine their books were once considered by some to be wholly inappropriate for children.

Yet these three authors — who each have a new book coming out this month in what can only be described as a Seussian coincidence (“But, see! We are as good as you. Look! Now we have new books, too!”) — challenged the conception of what a children’s book should be. And children’s literature, happily, has never been the same.

Once upon a more staid time, the purpose of children’s books was to model good behavior. They were meant to edify and to encourage young readers to be what parents wanted them to be, and the children in their pages were well behaved, properly attired and devoid of tears. Children’s literature was not supposed to shine a light on the way children actually were, or delight in the slovenly, self-interested and disobedient side of their natures.

Seuss, Sendak and Silverstein ignored these rules.

Raunchy Lit

A syllabus, care of Book Forum.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Download John Le Carre's famous book for free - here.

And get an A to Z understanding of the book - here.

Literature After the Revolt

In an interview with Spiegel Online, Moroccan-born author and poet Ben Taher Jelloun talks about the Arab Spring and the burgeoning creativity in post-dictatorship countries. He also describes the challenge of writing from the perspective of Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

From the piece...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How has the revolt reflected in the literary scene?

Jelloun: I think there will be a creative boom. The fact that people are finally free means that we are seeing a surge in creativity of all sorts.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was the situation for writers during the dictatorships?

Jelloun: There was a lot of state censorship but there was also the powerful force of auto-censorship. Even those who lived in exile were very, very cautious. Exiled writers from Iraq and Syria, for example, could not talk or write freely out of fear for the safety of family members still in their home countries. For instance, Lebanese writers who criticized Syria and its role in Lebanon have received death threats. Samir Kassir, a Lebanese writer who published articles speaking out against the Syrian dictatorship, was assassinated in June 2005. It is widely thought that the Syrians killed him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will there now be a wave of writers in exile returning to their countries?

Jelloun: Yes, that is happening already, for example, in Egypt. This trend is not restricted to intellectuals. We are also seeing a wave of entrepreneurs and high-level businesspeople returning to their native countries because they see new opportunities there. There is reason to be hopeful, but our hopes may be disappointed in the long run.

My Favorite Travel Book

Named by some of the world's foremost travel writers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Borders is Closed Forever (as of Today)

And now, Buzzfeed gives us 25 depressing photographs of closed bookshops.

Everybody Loves Our Town

The town is my hometown - Seattle. The reason - it was the birthplace of grunge. There's a new book about the history of grunge reviewed on the Guardian.

From said review...

In your standard rock narrative, there is a middle phase of joyous success before the hubris, unravelling, and so on, but grunge entered the harsh realm almost overnight. Within months of Nevermind's release, backbiting was rife, drug habits were burgeoning and flights from LA to Seattle were stuffed with A&R men scooping up bands such as the inauspiciously named Flop. It seemed like every group suddenly wanted to sound and look like Nirvana, except Nirvana themselves. Even as Cameron Crowe's 1992 movie Singles celebrated the Seattle scene, Mudhoney's typically sardonic contribution to the soundtrack, "Overblown", sought to bury it: "Everybody loves our town/ That's why I'm thinkin' lately/ Time for leavin' is now." Most music scenes are at their best in the darkness of relative obscurity but Seattle's burned up unusually fast on exposure to light: an unstable compound. One thinks of the description of Nirvana's messy "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video shoot: "The thing was never integrated enough to disintegrate."

Careful though Yarm is to chronicle those bands, like Cat Butt and the Gits, who were never destined for Time cover stories, the book's dramatic centre was always going to be Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, a character who could start a war in an empty room. By this stage in the narrative, the playful misinformation celebrated by Everett True has curdled into savage disputes over Cobain's brief, tormented spell as America's biggest rock star. "How do you know when Courtney Love is lying?" asks Buzz Osborne of the Melvins. "Her lips are moving."

Studio 360 discusses "Nevermind" here: