6/29/2009 1:24:31 PM
All over Iraq, American forces are striking camp and withdrawing from cities. Blogging for the Atlantic, Graeme Wood offers a snapshot of the withdrawal, with an eye for the details most news reports leave out:
The only thing uglier than a military base is a military base that is being torn down. Camp Tash is nearly gone, and it is already half landfill and all eyesore. While walking around I tallied the objects buried in the sand: a leather sandal, frayed coaxial cables, many plastic bags, scattered live 5.56mm rounds, plastic bottles galore.
And stacks of old wood are everywhere. The Marines' weapon of choice is the crowbar, with a claw-hammer for a sidearm. They crawl over SWA huts, ripping out plywood and wearing rifle vests if they rise above the berm and into the sights of potential snipers. In the middle of the afternoon, three Iraqis show up, one in a police uniform, with a truck. They scavenge as much wood as they can carry. One of them, Adnan Yusuf, is plump and huffs smoke through the gaps in his teeth. He is smiling, because there's money in that wreckage. “Business is good," he says. "I just spent three months tearing apart bases in Hit and Ramadi.”
Source: The Atlantic
6/25/2009 8:22:38 AM
Jeanne Bogino, a librarian in New Lebanon, New York, shares a host of zombie-lit recommendations in Library Journal, with a fabulous, well-rounded list that’s likely to whet lots of appetites for gory summer reading.
Bonus: Bogino also cobbles together a great list of zombie movies, and a Library Journal colleague contributes an eclectic “zombie reading soundtrack.”
Source: Library Journal
6/24/2009 4:17:05 PM
For those who want spicier love lives, or at to least read about them, novelist Ewan Morrison has compiled a top ten list of his favorite literary ménages à trois for The Guardian. Writes Morrison:
The ménage à trois is a rich and rarified fictional seam which arose in the 19th century and originated from memoirs or fictionalised accounts of real-life events.The number of ménages à trois (as yet barely documented) which occurred in the lives of artists, writers and leaders from the 19th century to the present day – from DH Lawrence and George Bernard Shaw to Pablo Picasso and Jack Kerouac – is intriguing, and begs the question: was the ménage à trois the ideal (if publicly unacceptable) lifestyle of the modern 'radical'?
His list includes the following high-profile threesomes:
1) Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway. This erotic and allegedly autobiographical novel tells the story of a writer, his wife, and the young woman they share.
2) A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham. Eventually made into a film with Colin Farrell, this novel by the author of The Hours is about a gay man, his female friend, and their bisexual lover in the era of AIDS.
3) Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady. The story behind the story of On the Road, as told by the woman who was Neal Cassady’s wife and Jack Kerouac’s lover.
4) Henry and June from the diary of Anaïs Nin. You’ve probably seen the movie, but have you read Nin’s actual accounts of her affair with Henry Miller and his wife June?
5) The Book of Genesis from the Bible. Morrison writes:
In the garden there were not two but three. The temptation of the apple was adultery, and Adam tasted it too. Thus began monogamy and a long history in which couples blamed each other for something involving a third party who was then kept out of the picture. The eradication of the third – this was the original sin.
Source: The Guardian
Image by mthaeg, licensed under Creative Commons
6/23/2009 12:17:47 PM
The Virginia Quarterly Review has posted our favorite Iran reading list yet. It includes a graphic novel (guess), a book of 60,000 rhyming couplets, a work of admirable political and religious history, and a memoir called Funny in Farsi. "No one book could ever hope to encompass an entire country, let alone one as complex and multi-faceted as Iran," writes Michael Lukas. "But if you read these four, you’ll be on your way to understanding the home to 66 million people, eight major ethnic groups, seven languages, five religions, and thousands of years of history."
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review
6/19/2009 5:08:23 PM
Street Artist Invader Invades New York Gallery: French artist Invader is credited with originating “Rubickubism,” an art form that uses Rubik’s Cube squares as the medium for a sort of digital pointillism.
On the Cover of Time: PANIC!: The Porno Plague. The Occult Revival! The Columbine Effect! Cyberporn! Crack Kids! Step right up and see the Top 10 most Absurd Time Covers of the Past 40 years.
Plants Send Text Messages: I could use some water, IMHO.
The Organic Farm Fantasy Meets Reality: These nitty-gritty details of organic farming might temper your modern agrarian fantasies.
Composting Your Body: The Greenest Burial: Green funerals are all the rage in environmental circles, and now eco-conscious people can add one more green technique to the list: promession.
Jewelry That Gets Its Geek On—Beautifully: Most jewelry is mass produced. Nervous System uses open-source software that allows people to design unique pieces based on gorgeous, biological patterns.
Makin’ Bacon Soap: You too can wash yourself with the grease of the gods. Just follow these steps from Make magazine.
Three Ways to Support the Pro-Democracy Protesters in Iran: Iran is blocking journalists from covering events in Tehran and still, thanks to the likes of Twitter and YouTube, the whole world is watching.
Exercise Freaks Are Soulless, Disgusting, Putrid: Not only do fitness fanatics make horrible dinner companions, they can also be soulless narcissists who should be avoided at all costs.
North Korea's Hidden World: Tomas van Houtryve documents the people and landscapes of North Korea with his photo essay: The Land of No Smiles.
Yarn Bombing: Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You: Yarn graffiti artists leave their knitted and crocheted creations around city streets. These “yarn bombers” are part of an international guerrilla knitting movement.
Image courtesy of Invader.
6/19/2009 11:00:54 AM
Right now I’m killing the third person. With this very blog post, I am contributing to the sneaky, first-person narrative trend that currently runs our written world (and by reading this, so are you). According to Nathaniel G. Moore in Broken Pencil, we’ve all been too busy talking about ourselves to notice the third person slipping beneath the pages of time.
Moore investigates the opinions of several literary aces and provides a multi-faceted look at why we're so obsessed with “I” these days. Here are a few of their thoughts:
Writers don’t seem to want the excess baggage of a big, baggy, third person story or novel. The standard compulsions of the third person author seem outdated, less cheeky and immediate, than the prattle of a typical first person present narrator. —Spencer Gordon
Lately I have been seduced by the first-person siren song, because for some reason this point of view lets me write meaner people, which is exciting since I usually go for characters on the nicer end of the spectrum. —Jessica Westhead
When people write about what they know, they install themselves in the story with devastating first person results. It comes down to laziness. Pure and utter laziness. —Gradey Alexander
Source: Broken Pencil
Image by My Buffo, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/18/2009 5:29:04 PM
Trees of all sizes loom large in the world of Linda Underhill, the author of the new book The Way of the Woods: Journeys Through American Forests (Oregon State University). Underhill’s writing is clear, crisp literary journalism, moving with an understated grace as she covers specific types of forests, from rainforests to urban woodlands to the threatened hemlocks of Appalachia. Her writing on old-growth forests displays her deft touch:
Compared to tree plantations or woodlands managed for growing a certain kind of timber, the old-growth forest is an incoherent prayer, devout but disorganized, oblivious to any demands but its own growth and decay. This sacred chaos holds the key to natural processes scientists are eager to study, but there are few places left where people have not already altered their rhythms or otherwise destroyed the evidence of creation at work. The valuable timber in old-growth forests, where trees grow hundreds of feet tall and many feet around, has proved irresistible to those who know the price such wood can bring. But an old-growth forest also offers something less easy to price in the marketplace. It invites us to witness the miracle of creation and change the way we look at our own short lives. The tall trees inspire a reverence equal to any of our own great cathedrals, and they belong only to themselves. Chopping down old-growth trees and hauling them away seems akin to scattering the stones of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and selling them off as souvenirs.
I read the book last week while camping for a few days in the Midwest: first under a giant oak in the Mississippi bottomlands, then beneath the canopy of a maple forest, and finally under a small grove of black walnuts. My copy is a bit dog-eared, having been dripped on by rain-soaked maples and showered with pollen-filled oak catkins. But somehow I suspect the author wouldn't mind.
Source: The Way of the Woods
6/18/2009 12:46:30 PM
The relationship between Salt Lake City and its non-Mormon inhabitants is a curious one. Scott Carrier—whose distinctive, wavering monotone has been an NPR cornerstone for more than two decades—delivers a lovely soliloquy about the Stockholm syndrome-esque attachment he has for his hometown in the Spring ’09 issue of the High Desert Journal.
I’ve tried to leave, many times, but I always come back. Now, after living here for nearly 50 years, I’m starting to realize I need to see these mountains, the central Wasatch. Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, Mt. Olympus. I need to watch how they change shape with the light in order for my mind to stay calm. On a clear morning after a snow storm they rise up like a wave about to crash down on the city, in the summer haze they are so small and far away. Up there with tundra grass and mountain goats, limber pines on the ridge lines, walls of white granite 800 feet tall that turn the sky beyond dark blue. I need to be up there, looking back down on the city, with skis attached to my feet, in order to feel at home.
Laced within Carrier’s beautiful descriptions of the city itself, is the fascinating narrative and sometimes problematic beliefs on which the Mormon faith is based. And true to Carrier form, there is a touch of desert-dry humor involved.
They told me they’d been baptized in the Temple, and now they were going to a different heaven than I was. They said there are three levels of heaven and they were going to the highest one, but unless I converted and got baptized the best I could hope for was the second level, which wasn’t bad, and even the lowest level was so good I would kill myself right now just to get there if I knew how good it was, or is.
Source: High Desert Journal (full text not available online)
Edgar Zuniga Jr.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/18/2009 10:50:34 AM
The New York Times’ audience, erudite as they may be, can still be stumped by words like “antediluvian,” “sumptuary,” or “hagiography.” The newspaper of record recently gave reporters a glimpse into which words confuse their readers the most when they gave Nieman Journalism Lab a list of the 50 most looked-up words on their website.
A (rather annoying) feature on NYTimes.com allows readers to look up a word, simply by double clicking the text on their computers. Using data from that function, the paper released an internal memo, gently urging editors to shy away from words like “louche,” which editors managed to use 27 times so far this year.
In the memo, deputy news editor Philip Corbett reminded writers and editors that readers “probably don’t carry an unabridged dictionary along with the newspaper as they take the subway to work. And they don’t expect a news article to pose the same linguistic challenge as Finnegans Wake.”
Source: Nieman Journalism Lab
6/17/2009 11:13:40 AM
Just in time for summer, The Believer recommends eleven essential nonexistent books for your reading lists. Perfect for anyone who’s looking to either not read or imagine to read. Here are a few hilarious examples with descriptions:
1) Fibre Strands of Luxurious Abrasion (nonfiction), by Simon Gaspeth. “Surfaces—cheap carpet, a linoleum countertop after bread has been sliced, wet Astroturf—are what interest Gaspeth, an essayist and lecturer in material culture at King’s College London.”
2) Whole Hog (nonfiction), by Arthur Allens. The author “shows his willingness to stare his meat in the face as he follows a single Iowa pig from his first day’s suckling, through his corn-dosed adolescence, to his ultimate fate: divvied up among Korean wholesalers, makers of artisanal bacon, and an agribusiness conglomerate that serves what’s left of him back to his brethren.”
3) The Men Who Pour Cement (fiction), by Kimball MacAleese. “MacAleese is the great also-ran of the twentieth-century American letters, behind his contemporaries Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway—whom he once challenged to ‘write about your own g-damn country, and let the matadors and spaghetti-eaters write about theirs.’”
4) Workshop (fiction), by Nick Lowey. “MFA students writing—and failing to write—form the subject of Lowey’s debut...Lowey displays an enviable judiciousness and a keen eye: a box of cheap wine is described as ‘a store-brand Lethe, a vermillion river of solace and forgetting.’”
Source: The Believer
6/16/2009 4:29:17 PM
Chronogram is a luscious magazine, its 10-by-13 inch pages filled with articles that “nourish and support the creative, cultural, and economic life of the Hudson Valley.” One of its latest efforts in that vein—which non-Hudson Valley residents will have no problem enjoying—is a delightful 2009 Summer Reading Roundup for kids (from picture books to young-adult readers). Compiled by Susan Krawitz, Anne Pyburn, and Nina Shengold, the reading list is a smorgasbord of intriguing suggestions for children. Enjoy.
6/15/2009 1:56:08 PM
Increasingly, we are a global community of migrants. In this era of unprecedented mobility, boundaries seem more permeable, and indeed arbitrary, than ever.
Enter the hybrid. Not the car, the literary genre. Are genre categories like poetry and prose just so 20th Century? The spring issue of Dislocate magazine seems to say, yes. The editors have put together a collection of prose poems, lyric essays, and flash fiction that address the theme of migration through either form or content. By resisting proscribed boundaries, the writing opens up new possibilities in form and content.
Take Gregg Willard’s “Pop”, which gleefully straddles the line between poetry and prose. It begins:
When I was a boy my father told me, “If you go to any more movies, you’re going to turn into a movie.” I kept going to movies. When I turned into a movie it turned out to be a Japanese science-fiction movie. The dubbing was very bad...
“We are interested in work that addresses form but also breaks away from it,” says Editor-in-chief Shantha Susman. “What does it mean to dislocate, to take it away from its natural place?”
The issue features poetry by Peter Johnson, Nin Andrews, and Todd Boss, an interview with author Ethan Canin, a never-before-published English translation of Haitian poet Jacqueline Beaugé-Rosier by Gabrielle Civil, and gorgeous photos by Kyle Rand.
Also featured is work by women of Chicago’s Grace House, a transitional facility for women recently released from prison. For this collaborative project between The Field Museum and Northwestern University, Grace House residents wrote responses to painter Jacob Lawrence’s “The Great Migration” series, which portrays the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the early 20th Century. Their powerful, spare prose speaks to the unstable nature of migration.
As resident Racheal M. Harris writes, “Don’t ever be afraid of change—ain’t nothing constant but change.”
Source: Dislocate (full text not available online)
Images courtesy of Dislocate and Kyle Rand
6/12/2009 2:41:19 PM
Oh the balcony. It’s an iconic symbol that takes on nuanced incarnations that span cites, countries and cultures. From giant, barred bird-cage like enclosures to tiny stucco patios housing plants, the spaces differ both in form and function. The recent issue of Canada’s maisonneuve featured some beautiful images and a little ode to the “lost art of balcony culture,” with some lovely observations:
They’re a bridge between the private and the public, inviting domestic activity into the street and social life into the home. If the city is a stage, the balcony is just that—the balcony, a spot for observing drama and, as with the two old men in The Muppet Show, occasionally participating in it. And balconies are unique in every city. In Vancouver’s West End, where apartment buildings nestle into lush greenery, they are for quiet post-dinner conversation and solitary reading. Neighbors are glimpsed, voyeuristically, but interaction is rare. In the coastal Indian city of Chennai…mothers to warn their daughters against spending too much time on the balcony.
Here in Minnesota, as in Montreal, we’re just happy for warm enough weather to step out on ours to do anything.
Source: maisonneuve (not yet available online)
Image by david.nikonvscanon, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2009 2:09:50 PM
Behold the capercaillie, a large, elusive grouse that’s the object of much bird-watching lust across the pond. So much so, in fact, that when Victoria James sets out to spot it in the forests of Scotland, she finds the 5:30 a.m. trail crowded with hyper-competitive birders in earnest (read: non-communal) search of same. Her tale, shared in the British current affairs magazine New Statesman, is really quite funny, in particular her sharp, somewhat scientific description of her fellow bird-devotees:
For this is the dark secret of birders, normally the most affable people alive: Until the target has been spotted, it’s every man for himself. Like the object of his fascination, the male birder is both competitive and highly territorial. In the hide this morning, a successful breeding male (the dowdier female and offspring huddle nearby) has staked a prime position for his scope. Behind him, a thwarted smaller male gives a hopping, ducking display of frustration. This is war, except that all the scopes, lined up like Gatling guns, are pointing in the same direction.
Source: New Statesman
Image by Richard Bartz, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/9/2009 3:51:29 PM
Anyone can be a bad travel writer. It’s as easy as using clichés, not quoting locals, and writing about your husband Larry as much as possible. David Farley, who’s clearly read a few too many bad travel articles, gives a few tips on World Hum about how to create the worst, most unenlightening, hackneyed travel writing ever. Here’s one of his tips:
Tell, don’t show. Sure, you could write something like, “We traipsed across the chunky cobblestones of the village’s only lane, flanked by half-timbered, thatched-roof houses, and we could smell the morning’s first offerings from the village bakery.” But why, when you could just as easily write, “The village was quaint and charming”?
Source: World Hum
6/9/2009 1:59:05 PM
There’s a forgotten world that lies beyond the tourist maps and double-decker bus tours of New York City. For the latest issue of A Public Space, John Wray and Matt Dojny take readers on an illustrated tour of impossible sites that aren’t endorsed by the New Your City Department of Tourism. The Interbourogh Rapid Transit Company’s abandoned City Hall Station (above) can be found by riding the subway one stop past the end of the 6 line. While location of the Home of Tomorrow, built 15 feet underground for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, remains a mystery.
A Public Space
6/8/2009 2:09:36 PM
Busy executives don’t have time to fire all the employees they need to in the midst of this financial crisis, and human resources departments can be expensive. Writing for McSweeney’s, Marco Kaye came up with the idea of a Netflix-style service called Netloss, where execs can send pink slips automatically through the mail. Managers create a queue of all their employees, and Netloss will fire them automatically. No late fees, and no need for a messy talks. There’s even a program that can suggest other employees to fire based on your firing habits and preferences.
The service sounds like a great idea, but it lacks that personal touch that only a trained HR professional can provide. In an episode of This American Life, Ira Glass sat down with someone who has fired more than 1,500 people. He never uses the term “fired” in fact. Instead, people are “exited” or “part of that downsizing” or there is simply “a parting of the ways.”
, licensed under
Sources: McSweeney’s, This American Life
6/5/2009 5:14:02 PM
Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Afraid of Mice?
The International Society for Human Rights has created a compelling collection of posters depicting the threat of cyber dissent to regimes with a less-than-friendly disposition towards free expression.
My Wind Turbine is Bigger Than Yours
"A green building is green because it’s compact and resource-efficient, because it’s healthy, and because it’s stingy on water use. The heavy lifting in green design has to come from these measures, not from the window dressing."
Bionic Beetles, Spy Cats, and Other Military Critters
Researchers have tricked out a beetle with tiny electrodes that allow them to control its flight. Next step: Outfitting the insect with onboard sensors that relay information back to mission control. Hello, coleopteran espionage!
Fatherhood is Good for Your Brain
While recent studies show that pregnancy and childbirth positively alter the brain chemistry of mothers, could parenting have a similar impact on men?
The Smartest Videos on the Web
It’s tough to find intelligent and educational videos among the teeming masses of cat movies and puppy cams that clutter the web.
When Volunteerism is Like Slavery
Conservatives are going apoplectic over the whiff of a national service plan in the United States.
The Lost Art of Lettering
Hand-lettering extraordinaire Alison Carmichael, has made a name for herself by producing elegantly-scribed messages.
A Guided Tour of David Byrne's Insane Office
A three part audio and photo tour of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s enormous workspace. Byrne’s commentary is fabulous. Enjoy.
The Art of the Literary Introduction
"Once, the person introducing me bit his tongue so badly that blood poured over his necktie onto the index card on which he had inscribed my entire life."
Inside the Tank at Tiananmen Square
A new look at the famous "Tank Man" standoff in 1989.
6/5/2009 11:52:12 AM
Street lit, ghetto lit, urban fiction, gangsta lit—these are the various names given to the genre that exploded onto the literary scene starting with rapper Sister Souljah’s 1999 debut, The Coldest Winter Ever. Since then street lit has become one of the fastest growing book genres in the U.S., according to the urban fiction website streetfiction.org. Almah LaVon Rice reports for Colorlines that street lit’s meteoric ascendance over the past decade has cultural critics debating its merits and mainstream publishers salivating over its sales potential.
Urban fiction consistently appears on Essence magazine’s bestseller list, which tracks black bookstores, although Rice reports that even more street lit is sold via barber shops, beauty salons, sidewalk kiosks, and online. Characterized by “unapologetic materialism and luxury brand fetishes, explicit sex and violence, and profanities that flow as freely as Cristal on VIP nights,” street lit has been credited with drawing formerly new communities into reading. It’s become so popular that even rapper 50 Cent has his own imprint, G-Unit Books.
But critics contend that the line between representation and exploitation is blurry, and that street lit could be feeding stereotypes and promoting a destructive way of life. Still others point out that, as with hip-hop, many consumers of street lit have no direct experience with the urban lifestyle it chronicles.
It’s not surprising that publishing bigwigs like Kensington Books, Simon & Schuster, and St. Martin’s now have their own urban fiction divisions, which begs the question that Paul Chaat Smith raises in his essay “Why Indians Love the Movies So Much”: What happens when mainstream media controls and defines the images of marginalized groups?
Here’s a video of wildly popular street lit author Teri Woods, talking about how she hustled her books into bestsellers:
6/2/2009 3:47:17 PM
It’s no easy task, setting the stage for a literary speaker. You want to be eloquent, informative, admiring, perhaps a bit witty; you want to please both the audience (who haven’t come to see you) and the writer in question (who has probably heard some slight variation of what you’re saying a hundred times or more).
The writer and poet Paul West explores this “ancient little-honored literary form” in an entertaining essay for Gargoyle magazine (issue #53, not available online). West, who has written more than 20 books and, I’m guessing, been the subject of more than a few introductions over the years, shares some tales from the trenches.
Once, the person introducing me bit his tongue so badly that blood poured over his necktie onto the index card on which he had inscribed my entire life. Another time, one of the more combative younger poets introduced a colleague in terms so stark and acidulous the speaker seemed struck dumb: ‘If I were you,” our host opined, “I’d go do something else, not listen to this genius’s gibberish; he screws better than he writes.”
On the other hand, West notes, there are those whose introductions outshine the actual speaker, such as the writer and essayist Stanley Elkin, who was known for giving introductions “of such glistening eloquence, such magisterial authority, such daunting length, that the speaker, humbled, only mumbled, aching to get off and away, not having been warned what he/she would have to follow.”
. . . William H. Gass used to do a similar thing, reading an introduction even more resplendent than anything of Elkin’s, achieving something between encyclopedia entry and red-hot book review, leaving you more or less to flounder (or shine) in the afterglow, but with one big plus: he left behind him a cloud of menthol and eucalyptus from the big toffee on which he had sucked to clear his tubes. So, even as you trotted up into that aroma and began, your sinuses behaved and you excelled. Or, choked by newly descended phlegm, you choked on your finest phrases.
Image by PaulTCowan, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/2/2009 2:58:06 PM
The story of the death and burial and 15-year-old Delvon Reshad Butts, published in Baltimore’s Urbanite, ought to be read aloud in every journalism school classroom in America. Reporter Martha Thomas begins her piece with Delvon’s murder on the sidewalk around the corner from his house and somehow, without ever loosening her grip on that unspeakable tragedy, she writes of the conflicting theologies of a mourning mother and a preachy pastor; the brutal economics of burial for poor people; and African-American mourning rituals. Stories like Delvon’s are often exploited by ratings-crazy television news crews or quick hit newspaper coverage. Martha Thomas spent months with this story and it shows. You’ll have a hard time convincing me of the imminent demise of journalism so long as reporters and storytellers like Martha Thomas walk the streets.
Image by Christopher Myers.
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