Tuesday, December 28, 2010 12:37 PM
It’s hard to know what to believe about the book anymore. Bookstores and publishers may be struggling, libraries might be imperiled, and readers are supposedly disappearing (or just hiding behind illuminated screens), yet books—the real, physical objects—just keep appearing in the world. Surely no endangered species has ever bred quite so profligately as does the publishing industry.
I’m certainly not going to complain, even if I might sometimes wish that, given the purportedly uncertain economics of the industry, these characters would stop throwing so much paint at the walls and spend a bit more time (and money) on quality control. Still, this is the time of year when all sorts of people who still love books and reading knuckle down and apply themselves to scouring the Library of Babel for the very best of the newest acquisitions. And no matter how widely you read or how much time you spend in bookstores, there are always plenty of surprises, enticements, obscurities, and genuine curiosities to be found on the best-of lists that proliferate around the holidays. Here are a bunch of the things, and please feel free to quibble or offer up your own suggestions:
The New York Times
10 Books of the Year (Alas, not a single surprise here), and the 100 Notable Books of 2010.
Anis Shivani at the Huffington Post: 10 best books of the year (plenty of surprises).
Five Best Books You Probably Didn’t Read
The Guardian queries a batch of writers on their favorite books of the year. As does The Millions in its sprawling Year in Reading feature. And Bookforum does the same.
asks independent booksellers to name their favorites from 2010.
Chicago’s estimable Seminary Co-opassembles its 20 favorites.
Photographer Alec Soth winnows down the year in photobooks.
For the Yoga folk, Daily Cup of Yoga has the year in Yoga books covered.
And if you still haven’t had enough, head over to Largehearted Boy for a ridiculously exhaustive roundup, and all the evidence anyone should need that books are still hanging around and –at least here and there (here, certainly)—making a dent in the culture.
Source: New York Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Esquire, Seminary Co-op, NPR, Alec Soth, Largehearted Boy, The Millions, Bookforum, Daily Cup of Yoga
Image by dweekly, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:26 AM
David Byrne’s successful book, Bicycle Diaries, probably would have sold just fine as a traditional audiobook, as well. However, never one for the status quo, Byrne wanted to do something a little more interesting than simply reading the book in silence and releasing it as a download or cd. Instead, he looked to other successful audio formats for inspiration, namely NPR shows that incorporate scene sounds and podcasts.
Starting with the chapter on New York, Byrne experimented with the sounds of the city to bring his book to life. He liked the results so much that he decided to make the whole book a fuller experience, with sounds working in tandem with the author’s essays about his experience viewing the world from his bike. Chapters are also available separately, similar to a podcast model.
Technology had, it seemed, created an opportunity for a whole new format to come into being. I’m not sure anything exactly like this has ever been done before. Sure, there are NPR radio shows with sound effects (Joe Frank comes to mind) as well as ye olde radio dramas (The Shadow was one), but if there’s anything similar out there I’m unaware of it. And yes, there are loads of downloadable audiobooks—but you have to listen to the chapters in the prescribed order, unless you are into self created meta fiction.
You can listen to and download the introduction, and pre-order the rest, which will be released on September 28.
Friday, November 13, 2009 4:51 PM
Prosthetics engineer and Utne visionary Jonathan Kuniholm was interviewed on NPR this week. Fresh Air sit-in host Dave Davies spoke to Kuniholm about his work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics Program. If you missed the episode live, you can still catch Kuniholm talking about open-source prostheses and his hopes for the future of the industry, or check out the previous coverage we’ve done on him, including this online exclusive, “The Hype and Hope of Prosthetics.”
Monday, January 19, 2009 3:18 PM
At just a year old, poet Elizabeth Alexander was in the crowd on the National Mall when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before the country and proclaimed, “I have a dream.” This week, at age 46, Alexander will be in Washington D.C. for another historic moment—but this time with a front row seat.
Alexander, who is a professor of African-American studies at Yale, is the writer selected by President-elect Barack Obama to deliver an original poem at his swearing-in, a privilege bestowed on only three other poets in American history: Robert Frost, who read at JFK’s inauguration, and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, who lent their voices to Bill Clinton's ceremonies.
In an interview with Newsweek, Alexander summed up the feelings of many art lovers, hailing Obama’s choice to include poetry in the inauguration as “an affirmation of the potential importance of art in day-to-day and civic discourse.”
For Alexander, joining the distinguished ranks of inaugural poets is certainly a high honor, but actually writing an occasional poem—verse composed for a specific event—with staying power can be a tricky task for a poet. “Once the function has passed,” writes Jim Fisher for Salon, “the poem loses the immediacy of its audience, and with it the power to summon meaning and emotion over time.”
But Alexander told NPR’s Melissa Block that she’s “challenged, not scared” by the assignment. And she seems to have crafted her poem with the predicament Fisher describes in mind. “[W]hat I’ve been able to do is ask myself how I serve the moment," she told the New York Times, “but hopefully in language that has value and resonance when the moment has passed.”
You can read some of Alexander's poems at her website, or listen to two recitations at NPR.org.
Friday, January 09, 2009 12:48 PM
Coverage of the conflict in Israel and Gaza rarely has a nuanced human face. But citizens from both sides of the border are working to change that.
Peace Man and Hope Man, for instance, are friends who maintain a blog about the violence and their daily lives. Peace Man is a Palestinian, living in a refugee camp in Gaza, and Hope Man is an Israeli living in Sderot. Though the two live only about 10 miles from each other, Hope Man, whose real name is Eric Yellin, told NPR’s Melissa Block that they both knew virtually no one across the border before the blog.
“But as soon as I started meeting people,” Yellin said, “it created a real connection and understanding that on the other side of the border, there are people exactly like us who are suffering. We are suffering, too, through this conflict. But the only way to end this was through some kind of connection and dialogue.”
“Gaza Sderot: Life in Spite of Everything” is an online video project similarly aimed at fostering dialogue and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. For two months, two two-minute videos—one following a resident of Gaza, the other an Israeli from Sderot—were posted to the site every day. The videos depict scenes of everyday life as its lived by normal people.
“When you realize that people have the same issues about work or about love, about raising your kids, in places where you don’t first think in these terms, well then I get the feeling that we’re doing good work. And that happened quite a few times,” the project’s executive producer, Serge Gordey, told The World’s Carol Zall.
These alternative lenses not only initiate dialogue, they effectively communicate the weight of the situation for both sides, a particularly important function given the lack of on-the-ground reporting from Gaza. In a recent post, Hope Man writes, "Many people of our region have left it for good over the years. Bringing up children in such a reality seems almost abusive and certainly irresponsible." Just above that, Peace Man's latest post from Gaza ends with this reflection: "I hope I will have the chance to write you again."
Image by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 21, 2008 11:14 AM
Instead of gorging yourself on industrialized, Butterball turkey, canned cranberries, and just-add-broth stuffing this Thanksgiving, take a cue from the folks at Slow Food USA, who have given serious thought (and research) to the dishes that will populate their Thanksgiving spreads.
To aid in menu planning, the Slow Food USA blog is referring readers to their US Ark of Taste list, which catalogs hundreds of rare, regional American foods. These foods make for an inspired family feast, the blog contends, because it's only "fitting to prepare foods that support people in our communities and reflect our local traditions," on a holiday that's all about celebrating thankfulness through food.
Here are a few of the foods in the Ark catalog that should blend seamlessly into your Thanksgiving meal:
The site highlights eight heirloom turkey varieties, including the Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Midget White, and American Bronze. (NPR's Monkey See blog makes a good argument for embracing these turkeys and leaving Butterball behind for good.)
It offers a list of American apples long enough to fill a whole bakery with pies.
And, it also suggests the Ivis White Cream Sweet Potato, produced in the northern U.S., and two white potato varieties, the Ozette and the Green Mountain.
Each of the ingredients on the Ark list is accompanied by a thorough description of its heritage and cultural significance, which provides the added bonus of great fodder for dinner table conversation.
Image by CarbonNYC, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 17, 2008 3:32 PM
As Barack Obama enters his presidency, he doesn't plan to let the commanding presence he built on YouTube fall by the wayside. Continuing the investment in viral communication he started during the campaign, Obama tested out the presidential radio address format on You Tube last Saturday, a technological shake-up that didn’t go over so well with some radio loyalists.
“What is he thinking?” Susan Stamberg asked fellow NPR personality Andrea Seabrook on All Things Considered.
Stamberg continued, “there are so many advantages to radio, but one of the main ones is you can’t fool around on it. I mean you can have fun, but you can’t fake it. You cannot fake sincerity. People hear that voice and they know if it’s telling the truth, if it’s speaking with conviction, if it means what it says. Television, you, ya know, you put on makeup, you curl up the side of a mouth, just smile photogenically, it’s all so distracting.”
Putting the traditional radio address on video is “like roast beef for Thanksgiving,” she said.
You can watch Obama's latest address here:
Wednesday, October 01, 2008 9:27 AM
The press finally found something more compelling to cover than Sarah Palin: “It's the economy, stupid,” according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Each week in its news index, PEJ breaks down the storylines that are filling the nation's news holes, and the results can be quite telling. The week of September 15–21 marked the first time since the Democratic National Convention that campaign coverage had been dominated by a story without Palin as its central character. According to PEJ, the economy sprinted to the top of the pack that week, accounting for 43.3 percent of campaign coverage.
But, “the focus on the economy practically came out of the blue,” despite the fact that our financial woes had been brewing for some time, says PEJ. Take a look at campaign coverage for the week of September 8 – 14:
NPR aired a story this week that may offer some explanation. Media consultant Jeff Jarvis tells David Folkenflik that even the media are overwhelmed by the nature of the news these days. “It’s just too big and too complicated, and it requires both too much background and fundamental understanding about economics,” Jarvis said. Folkenflik writes that the media is struggling to keep up with such huge national developments in the midst of a presidential campaign. “The breakneck pace of developments means a lot of news worth knowing receives the briefest burst of attention before being dropped for something hotter.”
Charts courtesy of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a project of the Pew Research Center. "Top Campaign Storylines of the Week, September 15-21," published September 22. "Top Campaign Storylines of the Week, September 8-14," published September 15.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 12:44 PM
Sometimes great writing is absorbed best through the ears, not the eyes, as bedtime stories and poetry slams prove. A recent episode of Poetry Off the Shelf—a Poetry Foundation podcast distributed by NPR—featured an organization called From the Fishouse that really drives that point home.
From the Fishouse is an audio archive of emerging poets reading their own works; it takes its name from the tiny writing shack that belonged to Lawrence Sargent Hall. The Poetry Off the Shelf episode featured a Fishouse recording of West Virginian poet and cabinetmaker Steve Scafidi reading “To Whoever Set My Truck on Fire.” Poetry like Scafidi’s is the perfect raw material for audio, packed with passion and powerful images: “You were miles away and I, like the woodsman of fairy tales, / threatened all with my bright ax shining with the evil / joy of vengeance and mad hunger to bring harm—heavy / harm—to the coward who did this….”
Listening to Scafidi speak about a stranger invading his property is especially evocative with the sound of chickens clucking in the background; the poet had retreated to the quietest spot on his property, his coop, to record. One other nice thing about From the Fishouse recordings is they’re the perfect length for antsy lit lovers like me who lack the patience to sit through entire audio books.
Image by Yvonne Tsang, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 18, 2008 9:56 AM
This Sunday, Utne Reader reprint author Annaliese Jakimides will have an essay featured on NPR’s This I Believe series, a weekly radio segment broadcast during the Sunday morning Weekend Edition. I’ll definitely be tuning in, and you should too.
Jakimides first popped on our radar in 2006, via an excellent essay we reprinted from the parenting zine Hip Mama. In “My Son the Marine,” she describes coming to terms with the positive impact military life has had on her child—who she raised on “organic carrots and wheatberries and peaceful resolutions,” but “could not comfortably hug or kiss.”
“My son is a Marine,” Jakimides writes, “and the Marines have taught him to love, at least given him voice to the speaking of love and showing of love to his mother.” Her frank essay prompted a rash of impassioned letters in our mailbag, and I can’t wait to hear what wise words she has to share this Sunday.
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