2/20/2013 9:07:48 AM
Nostalgia for a legendary pencil no longer in production paves the way for its return.
For fans of the vintage
Blackwing 602 pencil produced by Eberhard Faber from 1934 to 1998, a great pencil is hard to find.
Made legendary by John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim, and
Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones, the Blackwing 602 featured smooth, dark lines
and was known for its resilience. But in 1998, Eberhard Faber decided to cease
production of the fabled writing utensil, forcing its cult following to pay as much as $40 for single, unsharpened examples on eBay.
The good news for Blackwing fanatics is that it’s back,
albeit under a slightly different name. As Sam
Scott reports in the January/February 2013 issue of Stanford, the Palomino Blackwing 602 produced by California Cedar
Products Co. in Stockton, Calif., has earned recognition from
enthusiasts as the second coming of the Blackwing. While it’s just an article
about pencils, Scott’s piece about the resurrection of the Blackwing 602 is a
fascinating look into how nostalgia still has value in our quickly changing
Image courtesy tsuacctnt, licensed under Creative Commons
1/5/2012 3:28:25 PM
Are there any words that you just hate? Maybe it’s the way they sound, or how often they’re said, or how everyone always uses them out of context. My ears start turning red whenever someone describes a situation with possible unintended consequences as a “slippery slope.” “Irregardless” is an old pet-peeve. And don’t get me started on music writers who use “psychedelic” to mean “weird” and “loud.”
That’s why I’m thankful for the faculty at Lake Superior State University in Michigan, who collectively are one of the few vanguards of the English language—not culture warriors, but cultured warriors. “37th-annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness,” a list that LSSU cheekily describes as “an amazing list that is bound to generate some blowback.”
The 2012 list includes such offenders as “Thank you in advance,” “trickeration,” and “man cave.” Call me a snob, but I’m all for fewer people saying less-obnoxious things.
So, then, what are the words and phrases that you’d strike out of the Oxford English Dictionary given the chance?
Image by LearningLark, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/24/2011 10:43:22 AM
As a creative writing student reading Minneapolis feminist Brenda Ueland’s bestselling 1938 book If You Want to Write several years ago, I was smitten. She was funny and fierce and wise and had an utterly engaging voice; there was nothing precious or false or pompous like so many writing guidebooks. It propelled me to read her autobiography, Me: A Memoir (1939), which turned out to be equally dreamy—full of heartbreak and energy and adventure. I was thrilled, then, to learn recently that Utne Reader founder Eric Utne is Ueland’s step-grandson—and that he was editing a book of love letters between Ueland and the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, with whom she had a passionate, albeit largely epistolary, affair. Ueland and Nansen met in person only in one flaming-hot weekend in 1929, when she was 37 and he 67, and thereafter wrote letters overseas for a year until his death.
Titled Brenda, My Darling, the book is being published simultaneously in Norway by Orfeus Publishing as Nansens siste kjærlighet (Nansen’s Last Love) and launched this week. Here in the states, Fridtjof Nansen’s name may be known only to the most ardent Arctic explorer enthusiasts among us, but he’s a hero in Norway—a Nobel Prize winner whose humanitarian work famously saved the lives of millions of refugees and prisoners of war. The letters to Brenda reveal an entirely new side of the austere hero as a sensual and vulnerable lover: “O Brenda,” he wrote, “there is not a corner of my heart or soul which I do not wish you to look into.”
The Norwegian edition of the book also reveals the full frontal: nude photos of Nansen that he mailed to his extramarital lover. These photos have erupted in controversy in Norway, where Eric Utne is currently launching the book (Views and News from Norway, Oct 19, 2011). The newspaper Aftenposten (the Oslo equivalent of the New York Times) reproduced the nude photos in an article—an act that has the public focused more on the sex sex sex than on the romance and humanity of the letters. According to Views and News from Norway:
Utne regrets how the naked photos were used in the media … explaining that he opted to crop them in the American version of his book “because I was uncomfortable” with running the full frontal photos as they’re displayed in the Norwegian version. [Orfeus Publishing director] Høisæther argued that “there’s a different view on nudity in Scandinavia” and he ran them unaltered, but complains the media blew them up and took material in the letters out of context.
It’s reassuring to know the urge to bare body and soul for a heart-thumping romance isn’t limited to the internet-scandal-ridden present but transcends time and place to include stately heroes and old-school feminists. The pictures, by the way, seem quite dignified by today’s standards, with Nansen assuming a series of statuesque poses. And Utne Reader will proudly be publishing an excerpt from Brenda, My Darling in our January–February 2012 issue—although we will primly be abstaining from the nudie pics; for that treat, you’ll have to special-order a copy of the Norwegian edition.
Source: Views and News from Norway
Image from the
Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
10/21/2011 11:11:40 AM
Growing up, my mom had serious cred with friends of mine for having palled around with Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and other Haight-Ashbury (less famous) standards—once, even kicking Jimi Hendrix out of her house when he’d shown up with a friend of hers extremely drunk (or extremely something). With this history running through my veins, I could never bring myself to take Jim Morrison seriously. He always seemed, in my view, to be trying too hard to force his way into the company of 60s greats. Nothing about him ever felt authentic. (Years later I’d feel similarly about a rock god of my own generation, Kurt Cobain. That’s a different story for a different time, but real quick, try to imagine starting high school in 1993 and not liking Nirvana all that much.) So, feeling like his whole persona was a put-on, I could never bring myself to take too seriously the music of The Doors. Don’t get me wrong, I have fond teenage memories in which The Doors provide the soundtrack. (Driving over a bridge, toward an oncoming thunderstorm, while “Riders on the Storm” played loudly on the radio.) But most of those were fueled by something other than the music, something that always seemed necessary in order for The Doors’ music to feel inspiring, to lose its self-consciousness.
So when I received an email yesterday from the good folks at The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, with the subject line, “Was Jim Morrison a poet?” I had my answer ready before the email even opened: “No. No way was Jim Morrison a poet.” Something, though—maybe some mystical force brought in by some desert wind—made me hesitate before hitting the delete button. (More likely it was simply that the question came from The Poetry Foundation and not some would-be author hawking a book on the great mystic poet, Jim Morrison.)
The email was referencing an essay by Daniel Nester on The Poetry Foundation’s website, where the author tackles that very question: “Should we consider Jim Morrison, rock’s Bozo Dionysus, a real poet?” Nester’s first sentence gets the discussion off on just the right foot: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think the Doors are a hokey caricature of male rock stardom and those who think they’re, you know, shamans.” That’s about it, isn’t it? From my story above, you know which camp I fall in. And I’ve known those people on the “shaman” side of the aisle and have no idea where they stand on the matter years later. Nester’s essay assumes most of them, in their elder, wiser years, are slightly embarrassed by their devotion to the man and the band. He’s probably right. But he comes across serious people who have thought about the matter seriously and have concluded that The Lizard King was a serious poet. But maybe it’s all beside the point. As Nester reasons, “I have stopped worrying whether James Douglas Morrison…can join the tenuous tribe of poets. He’s been showing up for the meetings for so long now, there’s no sense in throwing him out.”
I don’t know if Nester’s essay has changed my mind about Jim Morrison, but at one point, after David Lehman is quoted talking about “People Are Strange” (“Lehman types out the lyrics in his email to ‘show how rhetorically balanced the first stanza is, each line divided into two clauses conjoined by ‘when.’’”), I found myself on some lyrics website, rereading those first few lines a bit more seriously than I ever had before.
What’s your take on Jim Morrison as song writer and poet? And after reading Nester’s essay have your views changed? Leave your comments below.
Source: The Poetry Foundation
Image by murdelta, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/17/2011 2:13:42 PM
For the past decade, a team of researchers led by Penn State English professor Sandra Spanier has been searching the world over for Ernest Hemingway’s personal letters. They’ve managed to bring together—and clear permission to reprint—6,000 previously unpublished letters that were scattered throughout 70 libraries, universities, and institutions as well as many more from the personal collections of Hemingway’s family, friends, and descendants. “For instance,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article about the Hemingway letters project, “a descendant of the pilot of the plane that crashed with Hemingway aboard during an African trip in 1954 got in touch to share some letters the editors hadn’t known about.”
It’s an enormously ambitious project that Spanier hopes will span 16 published volumes. The first volume, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1907-1922, has just been published and is now available in bookstores. According to The Chronicle:
Volume I covers not just the budding writer’s childhood in Oak Park, Ill., but also his time as a reporter for The Kansas City Star, his experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, the heartbreak of his romance with Agnes von Kurowsky—an episode that helped inspire A Farewell to Arms—his marriage to Hadley, and their plunge into artistic life in Paris.
The correspondence is published with the blessing of son Patrick Hemingway, who believes the letters will reveal a truer side of his father, labeled by many scholars as a tortured and tragic misogynist. “My principal motive for wanting it to happen was that I think it gives a much better picture of Hemingway’s life than any of his biographers to date,” says Patrick. “He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” Spanier agrees that the letters will have a revolutionary impact on Hemingway’s personal reputation. “It’s sort of a commonplace that Hemingway hated his mother, and it’s true that they had a very strained relationship later on,” she says. But “what’s striking about these early letters is the closeness of the family, the loving tone in which he speaks to both his parents.”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Image courtesy of Cambridge University Press.
9/9/2011 4:38:23 PM
President Obama’s summer reading list features five books by men authors (including Aldous Huxley and Abraham Verghese) and just two by women writers (Isabel Wilkerson and Emma Donoghue). That’s 70 percent male, reports Robin Black at Salon (Aug 24, 2011) with a gasp of disapproval even while admitting that this turn of events “is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation.”
It’s true, critiquing the author gender ratio of the president’s beach reading at Martha’s Vineyard makes about as much sense as the media castigating Princess Kate for spending too much on candles to furnish the palace. But it is the perfect opening to suggest some terrific books by women that President Obama—and all men—might enjoy reading. Because it is true that, as a general rule, men tend to read men, and male-authored books get more airtime from critics. We know it anecdotally, and we know it statistically: The New York Times, for example, reviewed 524 books by men in a single year versus 283 by women, reveals a VIDA study.
So what books by women authors do you invite men to read? I’ll start the list off with Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful interconnected story collection; Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir of growing up in Somalia; and West With the Night, Beryl Markham’s 1942 autobiography of bush piloting over Africa. What other gems, new or old, do you recommend?
Image by ruifernandes,
licensed under Creative Commons.
9/2/2011 3:05:29 PM
When Muammar Gaddafi’s stranglehold on Libya cracked, the public was finally able to peer into the dictator’s compound. Images from inside revealed a life of extreme extravagance—and went viral instantly. Gaddafi was gone—nowhere to be found—but he left behind plenty to gawk at: a golden chaise lounge fashioned in the likeness of his daughter Aisha, a built-in cinema, replica 14thcentury furniture, and a small amusement park, Spinning Teacups and all.
Inspired by the unbelievable opulence of the Libyan compound and the dictator’s disappearance, Salon commissioned eight novelists and short story writers to imagine what Gaddafi’s life in hiding is like. As they put it: “A fall so sudden and dramatic is perhaps best told in fiction.”
In my favorite story, “The Supreme Leader Dreams of Love” by Steve Almond, Gaddafi reminisces about meeting former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Here’s an excerpt:
He had met her, the first and only time, in a room choked with myrrh. He stood in a corner and she walked toward him, smiling professionally. The cameramen shone their cruel light. She was thinner than she appeared on the television. Her eyes were lighter than expected. Her hair had been carefully straightened and smoothed, like a fine wool.
Much had been made of protocol. She reached to touch his hand and he demurred. This was the term used in the news reports. Demurred.
Later, he had taken her to his private kitchen for iftar, spiced goat and rice, a dish from his childhood. The two of them, and Tarek, who translated. They ate from a common bowl. In the fleeting moment before she applied a napkin, her lips shone.
For two hours and more he told her his ideas, made his little speeches, but neither of them listened. Something else was happening. She looked up at him and he felt like a boy again, wandering after the animals, dreaming of his father’s gun.
Image by ssoosay, licensed under Creative Commons.
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