Friday, March 19, 2010 10:37 AM
In November 2003 we published a blog post called How to Find That Book You’ve Spent Years Looking For. Years later, the post is consistantly one of our most popular.
The online resources in the post are all still active and so is the comment thread. Mostly people post desperate appeals from readers who have forgotten the title of a book they loved. These appeals make for wonderful reading. Here are just a few. Can you help these people? Do you have an appeal of your own?
I’m looking for a children’s book, about a little old Chinese lady, and she makes these rice patty balls and they fall off the table and roll places and she chases them and she ends up chasing them through some cave.
I am searching for a book based in England. The subject went to a boarding school and was befriended by a lesbian type girl who was on the hockey team.
I'm looking for a book about a girl who travels into the magical realms through these energy paths. Everyone is fighting for control of the land and I believe she meets Satan (possibly her father)?
I am looking for a book that I read back around 1992 about a boy and a girl that were trapped in the basement of an old theatre or something to that effect.
I'm looking for a book I read about 10 or 15 years ago that takes place in heaven. It's a mystery about a murder/death of an angel.
I read a nonfiction book 20-30 years ago about a homesteading family in Canada that had a pet goat named Annabelle. Anybody ever hear of it?
I'm trying to locate a book I read in the mid or late 70's. I think it was book about Casper but it could have been another ghost. There were three ghosts all together, I believe, and it had robbers in it.
I'm looking for a book about a girl and her brother who go through a mirror or something similar and end up in a castle (I think) and there's a girl there who is the girls twin, only evil. It's not a scary book.
I'm looking for a book that I read as a child about a little girl that goes to visit her grandmother (I think it was her grandmother) and has some magical experiences. The one part I clearly remember is when she is pouring water into the wash jug in her room the wall opens into a garden or something like that.
I'm trying to find a book that I read as an elementary student in the 80’s, but I think the book was old. It’s called Best Friend or Best Friends. The main character is a young girl who is embarrassed by her eccentric grandmother who wears bandannas and fixes bikes.
In the ‘90s, I was reading a book about a girl who couldn’t find a lover since she thought no one would be a better lover than she was to herself. Anyhow, I lost the book and forgot what it was called. Does anyone know what book I'm talking about?
I am looking for a book I read in HS is was about a guy who was born into a techie future city, he is curious about things meets a joker type guy. He discovers a hidden passage in a statue which leads to a station with many ways out but only one way was kept up. He meets other people who are more mentally developed. In the end he is followed up a tower were he gets into a space ship and leaves.
I am looking for a book from the 1980’s or 90’s about a reporter who meets with a man. The man forces him to drink a potion that turns him into a werewolf. The first half of the book is about the man killing people. The second half is about him in a test facility where he escapes and stalks the people in the facility. This is driving me crazy.
I am going CRAZY remembering a book from early childhood (late 60's early 70's) about a glockenspiel.
Looking for a science fiction book I read years ago. I can only remember that earth was changing and people were having to move farther and farther north, they had wall to wall plants in their homes for air purification and there was one man that for some reason was chosen as the only one that the whole world would listen to so that they could change the way we used the planet's resources. Any idea?
I am trying to identify a book I read as a young lad around about 1960ish. I found it in my local library in Southend, England. I have no title or author. The story was about a young American boy who was a hobo, traveled on trains and got a job setting up pins in a bowling alley. I remember it as an absorbing story and would like to rediscover it.
There is this book I read over 3 years ago I never got to finish it because I was going into 6th grade. I don’t remember the title but the plot was about this boy when he went to sleep his sister was kidnapped in his dreams he went to go save her on the way he met up with this girl who was a warrior (guess you could say) who saved him from the people that they were in war with but that was her job to help people like him but he wanted to save his little sister they couldn’t leave unless they had a master of some sort (I guess you could say) witch he did and made the girl his apprentice he was the same man that was her older brother’s master and I remember on there journey there the boy met the leader and gave her some kind of plant leaf she signed the papers then burned the plant along with papers to get rid of the smell. That’s all I remember please if you no about that book help PLEASE!
Image by Bacteriano, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 15, 2010 5:25 PM
In a literary experiment that perhaps only The Believer could have dreamt up, critic Justin Taylor accepts a challenge to review a book—stripped of identifying marks. Check it out:
A few months ago, the editors of this magazine asked if I would be interested in being part of an experiment in criticism. They were curious what would happen if we inverted the standard “anonymous review” formula—if instead of the reviewer having the cloak of anonymity, we were to keep the book under review anonymous from its critic, and thereby shield it from any and all prejudice—whether positive or negative, whether directed at the author, the publishing house, the blurbers, the cover art, etc.
I swore several oaths to stay true to the project (Eds.: “No googling”), and soon enough a book arrived at my house. Its covers, front matter, and endpages had all been stripped, and the spine blacked out with a Sharpie. I didn’t know what it was called or who wrote it or who was publishing it or when. I didn’t know if it was the author’s first or twenty-first publication. Fiction? Nonfiction? Genre? Self-published? I didn’t know anything (and at this writing, I still don’t) except that it wasn’t poetry.
What could I do? I began to read.
Intrigued? Read Taylor’s account of the anonymous reading experience that prompts him to conclude: “Every reviewer—every reader—should hope to be so lucky.”
Source: The Believer
Image by j/k_lolz, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 12:18 PM
There’s a promising new book review site created by the good people at The New Republic. Introducing The Book: An Online Review, executive editor Isaac Chotiner writes: “The slow and steady transfer of people’s attention to the web is a fact of our culture. And the absence of any site for the serious consideration of serious books is also a fact of the web.”
Jacob Silverman over at the Virginia Quarterly Review takes issue with Chotiner’s diagnosis, and does us all the favor of collecting some of the best book review websites:
Although they may not have the institutional prestige of The New Republic, nor always the resources to pay writers, here are some web-only outlets that show a deep intellectual engagement with books and literary culture:
I urge Isaac Chotiner and Leon Wieseltier to take a look at these sites, if they are unfamiliar with them. They all publish excellent work—too much, perhaps, for one person to keep up with—and many of them feature very talented writers who are sometimes paid in nothing more than advance reader copies. (I’d be remiss for not mentioning The Complete Review, which over the years has led me to several of these sites. There are also, I’m sure, many sites I’m missing that deserve to be on the above list, including some, like Bookforum, that publish a print edition as well.)
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review, The Book
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 3:04 PM
Vintage International recently unveiled its beautifully redesigned Vladimir Nabokov backlist, with fresh covers for Nabokov classics like The Enchanter and The Luzhin Defense.
“Every so often, a dream project lands on your desk,” writes Vintage art director John Gall at the Design Observer blog. “Here's one: redesign Vladimir Nabokov's book covers. All twenty-one of them. Let me rephrase. Every so often the most daunting project of your entire life arrives on your desk.”
Gall enlisted a number of artists (including Utne visionary Dave Eggers, who designed the new Laughter in the Dark cover) to play on the concept of specimen boxes, as a way to honor Nabokov’s passion for collecting butterflies.
“Each box would be filled with paper, ephemera, and insect pins, selected to somehow evoke the book's content,” Gall writes. “And to make it more interesting for readers—and less daunting for me—I thought it would be fun to ask a group of talented designers to help create the boxes.” The final covers aren’t the actual boxes, of course (they’re photographs of the finished projects), though perhaps those will resurface as extra-extra-special collectors’ editions?
Source: Design Observer
Thursday, November 12, 2009 5:29 PM
Ah, cookbook season. Publishers tend to release a lot of cookbooks right-before-the-holidays, and wouldn’t you know: We’ve been seeing a lot of fine food volumes pass through the Utne Reader library lately. Here are a few highlights:
Multi-cookbook authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero continue their dessert domination with Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, which Da Capo will publish on November 15. Their previous effort, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is a standby in my kitchen; the straightforward recipes deliver delights that shame dairy-laden alternatives. Vegan Cookies contains a lot of promising recipes—including one for graham crackers, yum. Moskowitz also published Vegan Brunch this past June.
Also in the category of sequel cookbooks: Jennifer McCann’s Vegan Lunch Box Around the World, a charming cookbook that Da Capo published in September. McCann’s previous, Vegan Lunch Box, is a collection of simple-to-make, fun-to-eat foods inspired by packing school lunches for her son.
Anyone interested in eating seasonally might want to check out Clean Food by Terry Walters. Walters is a certified holistic health counselor, and Clean Food, published by Sterling this September, is based on the concept that people are “better off eating closer to the source and relying on Mother Nature for seasonal produce to keep us in balance.”
Also seasonally organized: Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food, easily the prettiest cookbook in the bunch. Shafia, a chef and educator, runs an ecofriendly food consultancy and catering company that shares her cookbook’s name. Lucid Food, published by Ten Speed later this month and packed with gorgeous photographs, continues in the publisher’s tradition of coffee-table worthy cookbooks (a la Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking on the Celestial Arts imprint).
Finally, from chef Daniel Orr and Indiana University Press, FARMfood is an ambitious volume of inventive recipes, like tuna steak au poivres and cabbage putanesca. Orr left behind the globe-trotting phase of his career to open FARMbloomington in Indiana, his home state, and FARMfood is a cheerful blend of haute- and down-to-earth cuisine.
Sources: Da Capo, Sterling, Ten Speed, Indiana University Press
Thursday, October 15, 2009 12:34 PM
Nearly everyone knows the adage don’t kiss and tell—but what if we ought to apply the humble ethos to books? Writing for The Walrus, Adam Sternbergh argues that reading is a supremely intimate act, singular among the arts in the way that writers “hijack” our minds.
“Consider something even as silly and modest as this article,” Sternbergh writes. “I’m in your head right now. You have graciously allowed me to slip inside the private sphere of your consciousness, if only for a few minutes. . . . This is very different from how we experience any other kind of art: No matter how much you enjoy a painting or revel in a symphony, there’s not a sense that the painter has hijacked your eyes or the composer has hijacked your ears.”
Thus, Sternbergh concludes: “So if reading—in this sense of pleasurable invasion—is a sexual experience, then the book club is the equivalent of a locker room. It’s the place where we gather to swap and compare notes after the fact, clumsily recounting the deed in a way that can’t help but undermine and cheapen the very experience we’ve gathered to celebrate.”
Is it a sign of how far solitude has fled from our socially-networked culture that reading a book, adoring it, and not trying to explain why to anyone . . . sounds like quite a clandestine thrill?
Source: The Walrus
Image by Stephen Brace, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:32 PM
“More crappy news for short story writers,” is how The Rumpus interpreted a literary agent’s polite rejection note to short story writer writer Mark Tainer:
... I have no confidence in being able to place a collection at this time in the world of publishing. Publishers don't like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can't in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad. I am very sorry. If you write another novel, I will gladly read it...
This triggered Rumpus blogger Seth Fischer. “The form of the short story collection is so uniquely well-suited to the Internet age,” writes Fischer. “A good short story should grab you by the junk and make you yelp in that first line. So should good web copy. A good short story should be no longer than it need be. So should good web copy. There are many very important differences between the two types of writing, but the publishing houses could be taking advantage of the similarities to develop a model that could turn a profit.”
Is the publishing industry’s lethargy towards short story collections really news? A commenter at Tainer’s blog points to a newspaper column by short story writer Dennis Loy Johnson, who took up the issue way back in 2001:
The problem, it is often said, is that story collections have never sold much, although I'd point out that they've never been promoted much, either. Hype them as heavily as some novels get hyped — Raymond Carver, Melissa Bank — and they sell just fine, thank you. I mean, no American should ever forget that we live in a country where someone not that long ago made a fortune selling pet rocks at Christmastime.
“It seems to me that all it would take is a tiny bit of ingenuity to make money off the right short story collection,” writes Fischer. “Why aren’t the publishing houses trying it?”
Are you supporting the lowly short story writer? When was the last time you paid for short stories?
Source: The Rumpus
Image by ginnerobot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, September 14, 2009 10:00 AM
Get out your awesome-nerdy-tech hat and strap it on securely: Robin Sloan, a San Francisco-based writer (and web worker), is using Google ads to select a name for the lead character in his forthcoming detective novel—a cool and fitting experiment for a book funded through Kickstarter.
“I’m trying to craft a central character with some of that same iconic strangeness that makes Sherlock Holmes so appealing,” Sloan writes on RobinSloan.com. “There’s a lot that goes into that, but for now, focus on the name. Sherlock Holmes. It leaves an indelible mark on the brain.”
Sloan spent $40 to take out a series of Google AdWords spots—those little ads that pop up next to any search based on keywords. Each ad included a different potential name and the same blurb, like this: Julie Hanus. She’s the Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century. robinsloan.com.
A ranking emerged based on the number of clicks each ad received out of the number of pages it appeared upon. His original idea came in at a .21 percent click-through rate, Sloan writes, while a name he’d been most fond of netted a paltry .07 percent.
Sloan admits the exercise was “mostly an excuse to try a new tool,” but he’s also got his eye on the possibilities. “I mean, imagine—this is the sci-fi extrapolation—imagine highlighting a block of text, choosing a menu item called Test the way you’d choose Spellcheck today, and when you do, a little timer appears next to it,” he writes.
“Five minutes later, ding—the timer goes off and you have the results right there, floating over the text. Aggregated feedback from an anonymous swarm of readers: ‘I stumbled here,’ ‘this variation works better,’ ‘this line rings false.’ ”
Bonus item: Check out my write up of Kerry Skemp’s You’re Talking a Lot but You’re Not Saying Anything for more intriguing thoughts on the future of online feedback-and-commenting.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009 5:05 PM
The next person to press their forehead to my shoulder and weep over the fate of the printed word will be fined (standard practice) and then made to sit in a comfortable chair with a copy of the emerging writers issue of Urbanite. In it, there is a down right inspiring interview with the husband and wife team (writer Matthew Swanson and illustrator Robbi Behr) who run a tiny press called Idiots’ Books. They are purveyors of “odd, commercially non-viable illustrated books” distributed through a subscription service. As long as there are relentlessly innovative storytellers like these two around, words will find their way to the page and the page will find its way to a reader (who will pay for it, I assure you).
Lately, Swanson and Behr have been creating short stories they call One-Page Wonders, which Urbanite describes as “circular confections of words and images whose elements can be cut, folded, and manipulated by enterprising readers.” One of these delightful creations is included in the magazine, and you can watch how it works in the video at the bottom of this post.
Swanson and Behr are also teachers, and Urbanite asked them about the advice they give to aspiring writers:
When you’re teaching student writers, do you give them the brutal truth about their dim prospects for actually making a living with this skill? How do you prepare young people for a career in
Matthew: Our bottom line is to try to teach them to be thinking people. Even though we are helping them with their craft, we care far more about the evolution of thought and the development of concept and the ability to draft an idea and articulate it. That is paramount to us.
Robbi: For the writing to work, it’s not just about spinning an interesting narrative; it’s about getting an idea across in a thoughtful way. In terms of preparing them to be writers, mostly we just tell them it’s work. No matter what you do, if you’re going to be successful at it, you have to work. If you’re not willing to just do the hard work, it’s not going to happen.
Matthew: We also tell them that both of us had to spend a decade mucking through the professional world while developing other skills and creating salaries for ourselves so that we could go off the grid. This myth of just sitting in your apartment and creating art and having it become your career might work for a few really lucky people, but in general making art is kind of a deliberate byproduct of a life plan that includes some other things that you have to do along the way. Hopefully, they are things that you enjoy and have relevance.
Here's the (very charming) video demonstration of a One-Page Wonder:
And hey! Visit our new homepage for great writing, curated by Utne Reader editors and always changing.
Image courtesy of Robbi Behr.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009 10:36 AM
In the category of brilliant ideas: If you make less than $25,000/year, you can request a free galley copy of Stephen Elliott’s true-crime memoir The Adderall Diaries, released today from Graywolf Press. (Galleys are those advance reader copies, soft-cover editions that sometimes find homes in reading programs and the like, but too often end up in recycling bins.)
Read about the free book offer at The Rumpus, which Elliott edits, plus details of his book tour.
Source: Graywolf Press, The Rumpus
Monday, August 24, 2009 8:06 AM
Allow me this personal aside: I blame featherproof books. Until today, I was impervious to iPhone envy. No more.
This September, featherproof is releasing its first iPhone app: TripleQuick fiction. Almost too cute/cool to bear, TripleQuick will allow users to download super-short stories (exactly 333 words, or three iPhone screens) to their mobiles. The Chicago-based publisher, which already offers free, downloadable mini-books from an impressive array of hip writers, reports that it has a bunch of fun writers lined up for the launch.
Here’s the most forward-thinking part: TripleQuick is a two-way street. “Those with the writerly inclination can just type in three screens of their best work, type in a bio, even take an author photo using the iPhone’s camera, and submit the story to the featherproof editors,” copublisher Zach Dodson writes.
“So, what more could you want? Oh yeah, an iPhone. Well now you have the best excuse yet: great literature compressed for the digital age.”
Yeah, I’d tend to agree.
Source: featherproof books
Image courtesy of featherproof books, featuring Shane Jones, author of Light Boxes.
Thursday, August 13, 2009 1:49 PM
What’s the future of fiction? The stalwart American Book Review has the answer. Well, answers: The publication collected opinions from over 60 people (largely scholars, writers, and literary critics), and printed the delightful/depressing offerings in its July-August 2009 issue.
From mini-dissertations to one-liners, from quoted lyrics to URLs, the collected thoughts aren’t merely prophecy; they’re also a sounding board for the mood of the literary community at this moment when print is largely considered to be in peril. Here are some standouts:
Jim Ruland: Fiction is alive and well; it’s the machines through which these inventions are expressed (i.e., books) that are going the way of the dodo. If this process comes to be known as the de-commodification of fiction, then the next few decades will be extraordinary.
Michael Bérubé: I’m inclined to reply with a URL:
Kelly Cherry: The future of fiction may lie in some combination of hypertextuality, intertextuality, and video, but if so, it will have to do without me. Of course, it will ultimately have to do without me no matter what direction it goes in, so at this point I’m not very invested in the question. But I believe that no matter what fiction will continue to be interested in character and language. How otherwise?
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: I see fiction’s future as strong in the coming years: in tough times, people turn more than ever to stories, which tell the truth aslant and cleanse us through catharsis, and novels are still the least expensive and most meaningful way to travel the world.
Marjorie Perloff: I predict future fiction will be much more transnational than it was in the 60s–70s. Witness the attention Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, W. G. Sebald, and others are receiving.
Larry Fondation: The future of fiction rests with its ability to regain its public function—as a principal way we relate narrative, as an indispensable means of telling our story and that of our era.
Stephen Graham Jones: Fiction’s future: it’s all made up.
Source: American Book Review
Image by helgasms!, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009 11:32 AM
If the internet is killing books, the blog to book deal is an ironic reward for blogosphere fame, writes Sarah Hromack in the July/August issue of The Brooklyn Rail:
How strangely anachronistic is it (and yet, extraordinarily telling) that those who participate in perhaps the most monumental democratic exercise ever—and who do so daily, often for a living—would seek to tame the great, unbridled, immaterial beast that is the Internet with some high-gloss stock and two binding boards? How thoroughly odd it is that one would attempt to translate the particular digital reading experience of the Tumblr blog, or Twitter feed, or Facebook update into an analog one.
Source: The Brooklyn Rail
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 5:44 PM
Book nerds and children’s literature nostalgics alike were treated today when Twitter exploded with the trending topic #failedchildrensbooktitles. Plenty of “failed titles” took the raunchy road—can it ever be helped on the internet?—while others proved good old fashioned humor still has a place online. Some of my non-offensive favorites (with their twittering creators in parenthesis):
Ramona Quimby, age 38 (@
Furious George (@
Little House on Stolen Land (@
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Mercury Poisoning (@
Horton Hears The Who (@
The Bailout Tree (@
Punch the Bunny (@
Nobody Else Poops (@
Where the Wild Things Eat You (@
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Bertrand Russell
And on that note, if you haven’t yet watched this clip of Will Arnett reading from Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, you’re in for another children’s classics take-two treat.
Friday, July 17, 2009 11:58 AM
You're a foreign journalist locked up in a notorious Iranian prison facing espionage charges, how do you pass the time? You ask your interrogators for their reading suggestions, of course! That's what Iason Athanasiadis did, and now that he's back on the outside he's assembled a list of his interrogators' recommendations and published them at Global Post. Here's an excerpt:
Westoxification, Jalal al-e Ahmad, 1962: A recurring point of reference for my jailers, this is the pre-eminent philosophical work on which the cultural wars that followed the Iranian Revolution were conducted.
The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances Stonor Saunders: Highly recommended by my interrogators as the definitive account of how the West funded leftist and right-wing intellectuals during the Cold War seeking to dissuade them from succumbing to the lure of Communism.
Death Plus Ten Years, Roger Cooper, 1995: Highly recommended by one of my interrogators, this is a memoir by a British man convicted of espionage in Iran in the 1980s who spent more than five years in jail and was exchanged for a number of Iranian prisoners with the British government. My interrogator told me that after reading it he was convinced Cooper had been a spy “because he exhibited an intelligence mentality.” He did not delve further into what is an “intelligence mentality,” presumably because he sought to establish the same parameter with me.
A Man, Oriana Fallaci, 1981: At the conclusion of my interrogation, I was told that I should not be so upset that it had dragged on for three weeks. “You shouldn’t be so negative about your experience,” the senior interrogator advised me. “Look at Oriana Fallaci, she spent so much time in prison. It formed her.”
Source: Global Post
Image by Biggunben, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 12:52 PM
Last year there were more than 275,000 new books published in the United States. That got Virginia Quarterly Review’s Jacob Silverman thinking: does every book deserve a review? His answer, in short, is a resounding no, which begs a better question: how does a reviewer find the books best suited to her tastes and critical talents?
The challenge for book-review outlets is to sort through the mass of unsolicited books that arrives every day, the e-mails from authors and PR reps, and the various other articles and notifications announcing the publication of new and interesting titles. Of course, the large publishing houses have an advantage in getting their books into the hands of reviewers and assigning editors, but even they struggle to get their authors the attention they very likely deserve. With that in mind, what is the best way to connect editors and writers with the books that interest them?
And that conversation begs a better question still: who do you trust in the vast but receding world of book reviews? What publications? What critics?
“Most writers put a lot of time, heart, passion, and effort into their books,” writes Silverman. “Editors and critics should do the same when considering what and how they review.”
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 12:17 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
Friday, February 20, 2009 11:49 AM
Publishing books is easy, says writer Stona Fitch. Making them profitable is not. But Fitch had a solution to this common conundrum in mind when he started his own publishing house: Give books away for free.
It may sound crazy, but there’s an inspiring method to Fitch’s financial madness. “The idea was to produce beautiful, interesting new books and give them away,” Fitch told the Independent, “then ask people to give money to charity instead of paying for them.”
And so the Concord Free Press was born. They’ve published one book so far, Fitch’s novel, Give and Take, and according to their website, it’s generated $30,000 in charitable donations (many of which are individually listed on the site).
(Thanks, Book Ninja.)
Sources: The Independent, Concord Free Press, Book Ninja
Friday, February 06, 2009 10:35 AM
In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Frank Rich contended that Obama’s notably austere inaugural address signaled a necessary shift away from poetic posturing to a direct call for action. Given the current state of the nation, according to Rich, this is no time for poetry.
Chicago-based poet, blogger, and small press founder B.J. Love is making a case for poetry in a troubled world. His Further Adventures Chapbooks and Pamphlets, a small press dedicated to breaking new poets and publishing new work by established poets, takes the innovative approach of marrying work by an established writer and an emerging writer within a single entity. For each chapbook Love selects two writers whose work he “deems compatible/coordinating/collaborative in some way,” thereby allowing their writing to riff off each other. Each poet contributes a mini-chapbook which is bound together with the other’s, allowing for a poetic conversation in concrete form.
So, is this a good time for poetry? “People may think art is a waste of time because it’s not ‘goods’ that can be bought, sold and taxed, but down the road art is all we got,” Love says. “The only historical documents I've read from the 1860s are the Gettysburg address, a poetic speech, and Leaves of Grass and THAT is how I understand those times, and I think years from now, poetry will still be how we understand times, these time included.”
Image by chillihead, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 30, 2009 9:54 AM
For the Winter 2009 issue of The Hudson Review, the quarterly's editors have assembled a primer on non-English works from around the world. This "Translation Issue" is a heady collection, featuring excerpts from seemingly every genre and time period: classics like Antigone and Le Cid up through A Doll's House; 19th century Japanese and Russian poetry; elegant contemporary reviews on books about language; and much, much more. Such a phenomenal swath of literary history in a single volume can't help but whet the appetite for more translated works (works that Utne, incidentally, has been championing for some time).
Monday, January 12, 2009 1:53 PM
With their kid gloves on, British parents are plucking classic fairy tales like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Hansel and Gretel from their children’s nightstands, replacing them with more innocuous bedtime stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Fairy tales are just too scary and no longer politically correct for modern parental tastes, according to a new survey of British parents. The Telegraph reports:
Two-thirds of parents said traditional fairytales had stronger morality messages than many modern children's stories.
But many said they were no longer appropriate to soothe youngsters before bed.
Almost 20 per cent of adults said they refused to read Hansel and Gretel because the children were abandoned in a forest— and it may give their own sons and daughters nightmares.
A fifth did not like to read The Gingerbread Man as he gets eaten by a fox.
George Murray at Bookninja is not one of these parents. Responding to the Telegraph story, he writes, “Guys, if my kid isn’t lying awake in bed each night, staring at the ceiling and thinking of what he’s just read or been read, then we’ve got the wrong books.”
Friday, January 09, 2009 12:54 PM
Who Owns the Sky? The Struggle to Control Airspce from the Wright Brothers On
by Stuart Banner (Harvard University Press)
Nowadays, aviation law isn’t something the average person thinks about, but when the Wright Brothers stunned the world in 1903 the phrase “aerial trespass” popped into the lay person’s lexicon—and trespass suits by worried landholders claiming control of their skies were soon to follow. In Who Owns the Sky: The Struggle to Control Airspace from the Wright Brothers On, Stuart Banner narrates the fascinating story of the challenged legal status quo cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum—he who owns the soil owns up to the sky—and lands at our current understanding of aviation law for landowners and nations respectively.
The UCLA law professor has clearly done his homework: Banner documents an exorbitant amount of information about the changing proprietary values of our atmosphere over the past hundred years. Perhaps more importantly, Banner demonstrates that legal chronicles aren’t exclusively engaging to lawyers. This book is a fascinating read about a forgotten issue—unless, of course, you live next to an airport . . .what, what did you say?!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 12:53 PM
It’s one of the beauties of reading used books: Sometimes, you stumble across tangible evidence of the reader that preceded you. Maybe you find their old bookmark, a dedication from a friend, a note they made to themselves in the margins of a page. These scribblings are my favorite. They register, if only briefly, what someone else was thinking while they were reading, offering a window into the normally private interface between a person and their book.
The Bounty Farmer found another reader’s musings in an old copy of Flaubert’s Parrot, but they’re not particularly illuminating. The notes match page numbers with the themes that interested this particular reader:
...101. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.
...150. That he was obsessed with style.
...193. Art & Life.
...208. do-it-yourself enema pump.
I’m not sure how to make sense of this chain of associations, and I wonder if the author of the list would be able to remember, either. But the cryptic annotations might give us something else. As The Bounty Farmer observes, they dovetail serendipitously with the tenor of the book, which follows a particularly fanatical reader of Flaubert. This narrator finds fault in overly critical approaches to books, and speaks up in favor of the casual reader's tack:
My reading might be pointless in terms of the history of literary criticism; but it’s not pointless in terms of pleasure. I can’t prove that lay readers enjoy books more than professional critics; but I can tell you one advantage we have over them. We can forget.
The list testifies to a more universal pleasure of reading—the joy of meandering through a text, guided only by the passages that capture your fancy in the moment. It’s a nice reminder that reading doesn’t need a goal; the act carries its own rewards.
Image by Alexandre Duret-Lutz
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 15, 2008 2:00 PM
Thanks to Chris Wilcox, scores of young writers will enter high school with a significant accomplishment under their belts: They’re already published. Wilcox is a fifth-grade teacher from Provo, Utah, and creator of the website MightyAuthors.com, which allows teachers and students to affordably self-publish books they’ve written and illustrated. Wilcox told the Salt Lake Tribune that the site is a tool to facilitate teaching writing and motivate students who “want to see a finished product.”
Sandy Lloyd, a teacher who has used the site, can attest to that. “When it’s actually published and [students] see it in color, they take a lot of ownership of it,” she told the paper. “It gives them confidence to say, ‘If I can do that, then I can do more.’ ”
After paying a one-time enrollment fee, students, teachers, and parents can purchase bound books of their own creations for between $7.95 and $22.95, according to the Tribune, or print their book for free on loose-leaf paper.
Image by Risen1, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 20, 2008 4:23 PM
Immersion journalism requires writers to throw themselves into the thick of things, spending months and even years with their subjects. (Think Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, or more recently, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.) It’s a genre not without criticism—some fret about lost objectivity, while others dismiss it as “stunt” journalism—but its unique merits shouldn’t be overlooked at a time when deflated budgets increasingly deny writers opportunities to do deep reporting.
For one, the story that emerges is often different than the one a writer sets out to find. Lee Gutkind, founding editor of the journal Creative Nonfiction and a contemporary master of immersion journalism, tells Fresno Famous about working on his latest book, Almost Human: Making Robots Think.
“Almost all of the cutting-edge research, software writing, and engineering is being done by people, mostly men, and a few women, under 25 years of age. I was stunned by that,” Gutkind says to the Fresno Bee-owned website. “I thought I was going to go meet all these people who look like me, with gray hair. You know, Einstein-like characters….”
You might go into an immersion with a particular idea, Gutkind explains, but after a few months, you have a new one—or a variation on the original. “If you spend another year or two, your idea sophisticates and focuses even more,” he says.
It’s not to say that all writers ought to (or can) adopt an immersion model, but Gutkind’s statement does nudge at a dilemma haunting the general journalistic pursuit of objectivity in an era of quashed resources:
If a beleaguered writer, strapped for time or cash or both, “parachutes” in on a story and spends only limited time with the subject (be it person, place, or thing), then the window for maturing comprehension slams shut. Whether we’re talking about jumping directly into the fray or reporting from the sidelines, without time to make discoveries, vet assumptions, and evolve perceptions, isn’t a writer destined to deliver a story closer to what he or she expected to find in the first place? And isn’t that its own kind of subjective slant, in the end?
Compare that hypothetical to immersive, time-drenched work like Dave Eggers’ What Is the What. Eggers, one of Utne Reader’s 50 visionaries, and Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, spent three years working closely together to complete what evolved into a fictionalized autobiography—written by Eggers in Deng’s voice.
“It was not until six months ago that I saw the book in the form of a whole book,” Deng says in an interview on his foundation’s website. “It was very strange how [Eggers] envisioned events through my eyes. Because we had spent so much time together by that time, it is not surprising that he could guess my thoughts.”
The men’s close relationship roils the traditional tenets of objectivity—but the resulting book, which many consider a masterpiece, couldn’t have been produced any other way. Among various reasons, “because Valentino was very young when many of the book’s events took place, there is no way he can recount his life with a degree of detail necessary for a compelling nonfiction book,” McSweeney’s FAQ explains. In its fictional hybrid state, What Is the What is more truthful than the truth.
That might not make it an objective tale, but then what is the pursuit of objectivity other than the pursuit of truth—a straining toward some kernel of certainty, untainted by overt bias or agenda? Books like What Is the What chart a course toward a compelling new way to tell the truth: one armed with facts, but also rendered with intimacy, subjectivity, and slowly-developed insight. When lack of resources pinches much of the writing overtly aiming at objectivity, it may be time reevaluate what kinds of stories are really cutting to the heart of their matters.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:10 AM
Books blog NewPages passes along an item from PhysOrg.com arguing that contemporary fiction is just as good an indicator of the global condition as academic nonfiction, especially in the realm of poverty and development.
A team of British researchers has found that novels often illuminate the complexity and human dimensions of poverty as well as, if not better than, academic research. “Fiction is important because it often concerned with the basic subject matter of development,” Michael Woolcock, a professor with Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute, told PhysOrg.com. “This includes things like the promises and perils of encounters between different peoples; the tragic mix of courage, desperation, humor, and deprivation characterizing the lives of the down-trodden.”
The team studied—and recommends—the following best-selling novels: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla; and Brick Lane by Monica Ali.
“Storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest methods of possessing information and representing reality,” David Lewis from the London School of Economics told PhysOrg.com. “The stories, poems and plays we categorize as literary fiction were once accepted in much the same way that scientific discourse is received as authoritative today.”
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 10:59 AM
For five years now, Continuum Publishing’s 33 1/3 Series (named for the speed at which an LP record spins) has given music-loving bookworms over 50 hip little volumes that marry their two obsessions beautifully.
Written mostly by musicians and music critics, each book in the series concerns a pop album that played a momentous role in the author’s life, and can take the form of an essay, extended review, memoir, novella, interview with the artist—or some hybrid thereof.
I found my way into the series via one of its more unique entries, penned by erudite pop songsmith Joe Pernice, of the Pernice Brothers. Its subject was the Smiths’ seminal 1985 album Meat Is Murder, but rather than a straight review, Pernice wrote an autobiographical novella about a high school subculture infiltrated by Morrissey & Co.’s angsty opus.
The series boasts a diverse range of authors and genres—both literary and musical. Colin Meloy, of the Decemberists, has published a volume on Let It Be by the Replacements. Eliot Wilder interviews Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, about his groundbreaking trip-hop album Endtroducing.... Pitchfork writer Amanda Petrusich memorializes Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.
33 1/3’s catalog is by now expansive enough that it probably includes a book on at least one Album That Changed Your Life Forever. But if you find it lacking, you can take matters into your own hands: 33 1/3’s editors are currently accepting proposals, due December 31, for the series’ next batch of volumes. Pick an album, put on your headphones, and start typing.
Friday, November 07, 2008 4:16 PM
So much of the world’s great literature is lost for lack of awareness. Sure, Harry Potter has been translated into 60 or so languages, but it’s not as easy to find lesser known written works. That’s why it’s quite exceptional to find an anthology that translates the writings of up-and-coming authors the world over.
Two Lines: World Writing in Translation
, is the Center for the Art of Translation’s annual collection of poems, short stories, and essays that “could never have been written first in English, as their necessities so clearly reside in the soil and local waters of their cultures,” according to co-editor Sidney Wade. This year's anthology, edited by John Biguenet and Wade, is titled Strange Harbors, with original works in Bengali, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish, to name a few, side by side with their English translations.
In "Thirteen Harbors," Vietnamese author Suong Nguyet Minh blends a local folk tale with the consequences of Agent Orange, the poisonous chemical herbicide the U.S. military sprayed during the Vietnam War. In the story, translated by Charles Waugh and Nguyen Lien, a young woman repeatedly fails to carry children to term. Unaware of the source of her birthing troubles, she believes herself to be cursed. Only later does she find out that her husband, Lang, was exposed to Agent Orange while he fought in the war:
“How could I know?” said Lang. “I feel fine. But after speaking with the doctor, I thought about the defoliated forests we had to cross. We drank water from streams running through them and even put some in our canteens. Once, in the jungle, we watched American planes flying slowly overhead spraying a dense white mist. A few days later, the leaves shriveled and came down easily in the breeze. All the trees withered and turned the color of death.”
Wrapped in my husband’s heart, I felt a pain there like one I’d not yet seen. Withered and bitter myself, I had no comfort to pour into him.
More lighthearted is Teolinda Gersao’s story “Four Children, Two Dogs and Some Birds,” a wry account of one woman’s difficulty trying to do both the traditional tasks of a wife and mother and take care of her career. Originally written in Portuguese, Gersao’s story presented a challenge for the translator, Margaret Jull Casta, because first-person narratives have a distinct tone of voice that is not easily carried over to another language. In stripped down syntax, Casta succeeded in capturing the humor and latent sadness of Gersao’s main character:
The number of times I regretted having given in to the children and bought the animals. And the number of times, too, that I regretted having had the children. Not, of course, that I said as much.
Anyways, what was done was done, and now I just had to get on with it and look after the whole lot of them.
And then one day, I got really angry; enough is enough, I thought, and it was then that I decided o look for a live-in help.
A loving help, asked the concierge, puzzled, mishearing what I said when I informed her of my plan.
Exactly, I said, and the sooner the better. Today. Yesterday even.
Because I’ll be dead tomorrow, I thought, starting up the car. Tomorrow I’ll be dead.
Nothing in translation can be exact. Obscure connotations can throw an intricate metaphor off balance or lead it astray completely. Alliteration and quirks of diction are often forfeited, and cultural idioms may go tragically unnoticed. For this reason, reading literature in translation can be a strange experience, shrouded in doubt about the translator’s adherence to the original text but spiked with awe at the thought that you have the opportunity to read it at all. A good translator, however, can deliver a story as close as possible to the way in which it was initially written, and for that I am grateful. The stories and poems within Two Lines open the reader up to a world that would otherwise be closed entirely, and to connect with that world is truly fortunate.
Friday, November 07, 2008 3:02 PM
Last month, the book blog Omnivoracious kicked off its “Books of the States” project, which highlights essential books and authors from each state in the union. In his introduction to the series, editor Tom Nissley explains the strategy: "We're going to use the clunky structure of the electoral college to build a map of our own, a reader's map of the United States."
Every weekday, the Omnivoracious blog editors endeavor to post a new state, nominating as many books as that state has electoral votes (i.e. Delaware gets three; California, a whopping 55). Readers are invited to weigh in via the comments section. Once all states are tackled and all suggestions have been accounted for, the blog will post a final list of the 538 essential state-centric books.
Books qualify as state representatives either by their setting (e.g. Winesburg, Ohio) or the origins of the author (Kurt Vonnegut represents Indiana). So far, the list contains a good mix of fiction and nonfiction, and Nissley encourages suggestions spanning “history, kids' books, art books, anything you can make a case for. We're relying on your local expertise.”
It's worth noting that while the editors began with the goal of 51 consecutive daily posts, the entries gradually petered out with the last one posted on October 27. Perhaps they were distracted watching another electoral map unfold? Whatever the status of the project, it’s fun to see what they’ve come up with so far.
(Thanks, Maud Newton.)
Friday, October 31, 2008 12:31 PM
In the spirit of literary cleverness (and maybe Halloween masquerade) Bookninja recently held a book cover redesign contest. Participants were asked to fire up Photoshop and remix the covers of popular books; in doing so, many of them have altered the book’s entire theme, genre, plot, and more.
For example, Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland becomes a wine-making companion. To the Lighthouse is a pulpy maritime adventure novel. And A Confederacy of Dunces makes the inevitable Sarah Palin joke.
But my favorite is probably The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, rebranded as a parenting manual for fathers:
On a somewhat related note, Minnesota Reads found an odd little game challenging you to literally judge a book by its cover: Guess its average Amazon star-ranking based solely on the cover image. It’s surprisingly difficult.
Bookworms play the nerdiest games.
Thursday, October 30, 2008 1:24 PM
After two years of litigious wrangling, on Tuesday Google announced an agreement with the U.S. book industry that will allow the media giant to sell online access to millions of titles—many of them out-of-print or hard-to-find.
For several years now, Google has been laboriously scanning books, making their pages available through the company’s Google Book Search. Two years ago, the Authors’ Guild and representatives of the American Association of Publishers filed class action lawsuits against Google, charging copyright infringement.
The three parties hailed the $125 million settlement—which awaits approval by a federal court in Manhattan—“as a key moment in the evolution of electronic publishing,” reports the Guardian. If the deal is approved, users will be able to search for books via Google, sample the contents, and purchase reading rights. Google will fork over a share of the proceeds to a newly established nonprofit Book Rights Registry (BRR), which will then distribute funds to authors and publishers.
The BRR also would “locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project,” according to Google.
In short, the BRR would operate a whole heck of a lot like ASCAP does today, writes Adam Thierer at Technology Liberation Front. That’s a good thing for writers and publishers, but the architecture of the deal also has Thierer wondering: “Could this be the beginning of a move toward a more comprehensive online collective licensing system for other types of content as everything moves online[?]”
The magic ingredient to collective licensing schemes, as Thierer and others have pointed out, is a gigantic, trusted middle organization—capable of handling all the transactions. (Who else but Google can tap the resources to scan and digitally archive the individual pages of 7 million books?) In the current media-and-publishing landscape, we’re probably to be forgiven if the words trusted and gigantic don’t seem a natural coupling.
Assuming the settlement goes through, however, we could have a glimpse of our digital future. “This will make it substantially easier for authors and publishers to find, distribute and monetize out-of-print books—in effect, creating or enhancing a ‘long tail’ for book publishing,” writes Mathew Ingram, a technology writer for the Globe & Mail, on his personal website. Ingram also points out that libraries stand to benefit—as part of the settlement, Google will provide free online access to millions of books through public libraries and universities.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 9:47 AM
Non-profit literary firm Dzanc has taken the marathon fundraiser to a novel place (pun intended). On November 15, the Michigan-based organization will hold its first write-a-thon to raise money for its writer outreach programs and publishing operations. Dzanc, which was founded in 2006, works with new or outside-the-box writers to publish their writing without worrying about the “the marketing niches of for-profit presses.” They also fund writer-in-residence programs for schools all over Michigan and beyond.
Volunteers interested in participating in the write-a-thon must find sponsors, who can pay them either a flat fee or a per word rate. The topic of the write-a-thon will be posted the day of the event, and the volunteers’ essays, poetry, and stories will be compiled on the site afterwards for all to read.
You can read more about Dzanc’s history and mission here.
Image courtesy of
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008 2:03 PM
The Sound of Young America’s podcast aficionado Podthinker (née Colin Marshall) recommends the New York Review of Books’ new(ish) podcast, which debuted in June and already is filling out an impressive archive of conversations with literary luminaries such as Oliver Sacks and Edmund White.
I am grateful to Marshall for turning more people on to this terrific podcast, but I take issue with his one criticism of the NYRB’s audio and print content: that it’s too political. “Evidently, the editorial board of the magazine will not rest until a certain number of otherwise pleasing articles are dragged into the much [sic?] of unseemly political territory,” Marshall writes. “Your podthinker has, in other venues, repeatedly reached the conclusion that when it comes to the place of politics in art, it doesn't have one.”
Really? There’s no place in art for politics? I know a few people who’d disagree—namely, 99 percent of my favorite writers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists.
It still amazes me when people deem politics a separate and easily demarcated external force we can segregate from the rest of our world. Marshall evidently prefers a “pleasing” aesthetic universe free of political content—which, remember, includes but is not limited to gender, race, class, education, the economy, transportation, healthcare, and war (or “something about Iraq,” as Marshall refers to an interview with CJR contributor and foreign affairs scholar Michael Massing). Because really, who cares about such trifles? And who could possibly be interested in Joan Didion’s ideas about the narratives of presidential campaigns or Samantha Power’s global policy analysis?
I encountered this same desire to segregate politics from life while writing about the politics of bicycling. While I certainly share the public’s weariness of partisan rancor and have developed an acute allergy to the mere mention of Sarah Palin’s name, I firmly believe that it’s naïve and unwise—let alone impossible—to try and scrub our daily lives clean of politics.
Pardon me. I seem to have lost focus and let the unpleasantness of politics divert me from my main point, one on which Marshall and I agree: the NYRB Podcast is definitely worth checking out. And so is the Sound of Young America, which boasts shows featuring art/media darlings like Patton Oswalt, George Saunders, and cast members of the Wire—three cultural forces whose work is, no doubt, completely devoid of political overtones.
Monday, October 20, 2008 11:13 AM
Halloween is just around the corner and what better way to get in the spooky spirit than by digging into a good vampire novel? Sharon Fulton, writing for Open Letters, says vampire fiction has been “taking America by storm lately.” She attributes the surging interest in vampires to movies like Interview with the Vampire and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And rounding out her theory on America’s vamp obsession is this: “I believe that a majority of teenagers today were turned into soulless vampires by rogue government agents working on behalf of the CW, and so their intense interest in the genre is perfectly understandable.”
Fulton has taken it upon herself to sort through the vampire titles flooding shelves, scoring the books on a one-to-five fang scale. She finds that while there are quality books in the vampire genre, there are also many "that are only trying to profit from the public’s seemingly insatiable craving for men with fangs." The only book receiving five fangs is The Vampire Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas, originally published in 1980, but reprinted this year. The story, told in five parts by different narrators, centers on Dr. Edward Weyland, an anthropologist, academic, and vampire. Fulton says “its themes and observations will interest people who don’t spend all of their time fantasizing about tall, dark, and handsome blood-drinkers,” concluding that the book “glances at humanity from an alien, monstrous, and, yes, anthropological viewpoint.”
Friday, October 17, 2008 12:55 PM
Houghton Mifflin recently published its 2008 edition of The Best American Essays with Adam Gopnik serving as guest editor. The Best American series is always a good showcase of the year’s finest offerings in a genre, and a reliable gauge of each form’s contemporary direction.
While this collection is led, as usual, by standout pieces from the New Yorker and Harper’s, it also culls some brilliant offerings from smaller magazines and literary journals, providing a modest cross-section of the essay-writing talent in the independent press. Pieces from PMS (Poem Memoir Story), Transition, Pinch, Swink, and Open City have all made the cut.
Part of the fun of these collections for essay-geeks like me is to see which luminary they’ve invited to guest edit. David Foster Wallace presided over last year’s collection, and the essays he chose had an immediacy that previous editions lacked; several of them addressed pressing issues like war, class, and politics, contradicting the frequent charge that personal essays are too solipsistic.
Gopnik’s introduction is similar to previous editions’ in that it makes a compelling case for the importance of good nonfiction in today’s literary world, and continues to defend the form—especially the subgenre of memoir—against the too-frequent charge of self-indulgence. But Gopnik provides a solid argument about the universal urgency of even the most personal essay:
Certainly people attack the memoir, and the memoir essay, in exactly the way people once attacked the novel. . . as vulgar and above all self-indulgent. But “self-indulgent,” fairly offered, means that expression is in too great an ascendance over communication. . . .In truth, the impulse to argument that is part of the essay’s inheritance. . . makes the memoir essay, even of the mushiest sort, the least self-indulgent of forms, the one where the smallest display of self for self’s sake is practical. A novelist can muse motionlessly for pages on the ebb and flow of life, but if an essayist hasn’t arrived at the point by the top of page three. . . if the leap into a higher general case, from the specific “I” to the almost universal “you” doesn’t take place quickly, the essay won’t work. . . . Memoir essays move us not because they are self-indulgent, but because they are other-indulgent, and the other they indulge is us, with our own parallel inner stories of loss and confusion and mixed emotions.
Gopnik and the series editor, Robert Atwan, have chosen big names like David Sedaris, Lauren Slater, and Jonathan Lethem to sit alongside relatively obscure writers: Joe Wenderoth, Patricia Brieschke, and the British-Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub.
I’m personally hoping John O’Connor’s “The Boil” makes it into next year’s collection—but I won’t hold my breath.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 10:01 AM
Minnesota literature lovers were in hog heaven this past Saturday, when Rain Taxi pulled off another spectacular Twin Cities Book Festival. The annual event brings together local publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, and writers for a day-long celebration of books.
I spent the day sitting at the Utne Reader table with librarian Danielle Maestretti and editorial assistant Elizabeth Ryan, chatting with people about our magazine’s great love of indie publishers and handing out homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Later, with a little help from assistant web editor Bennett Gordon, we fanned out on a mission to find out the must read books of 2008.
Here's a quick recap:
Eric Lorberer, editor of Rain Taxi, recommended The Dream We Carry: Selected and Last Poems of Olav H. Hauge, just released by Copper Canyon Press. Translators Robert Bly and Robert Hedin gave a joint reading at the festival.
Jessica Deutsch, marketing and publicity director at Milkweed Editions, singled out Driftless by David Rhodes, while one of her compatriots suggested A Whaler’s Dictionary, a Melville-inspired collection of poetry from Dan Beachy-Quick.
Ian Graham Leask, publisher of Scarletta Press, offered two picks from his catalog: the nonfiction Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006 by Cathy Sultan, and The Once and Future Celt, a memoir by Bill Watkins.
Esther Porter, marketing assistant at Coffee House Press, was quick to pick up their recently released debut novel by David Mura: Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire. From Graywolf Press, administrative assistant Leslie Koppenhaver was excited about their collection of short stories: Refresh Refresh by Benjamin Percy.
Former Utne Reader editors Craig Cox and Jon Spayde also chimed in. Cox recommended David Carr’s Night of the Gun, while Spayde humbly proposed his new book—How to Believe, published by Random House—as well as The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault, from Shambhala Publications.
Monday, October 13, 2008 2:39 PM
Being a music fan and a writer, I am very particular about the music I listen to while writing, and am careful to note which artists and albums are most conducive to a good writing session. (This way, if I get blocked or my prose is lackluster, I can always blame it on the background music.)
It appears I’m not alone; many writers give ample consideration to the relationship between music and their own work, and their musings on the subject are gathered by Largehearted Boy, which stands out from the overpopulated music blogosphere with its thoughtful prose, guest columnists, and mp3 downloads. My favorite department at Largehearted Boy is Book Notes, wherein authors “create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.”
Book Notes includes some big names, like Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Klosterman, who have always made a point of incorporating pop music into their writing. But the roster is dominated by relatively obscure authors and poets (David Breskin, Christina Henriquez, Ander Monson) whose musical tastes are all over the map, from mainstream (The Eagles, Radiohead) to avant-garde (Arvo Part).
There’s also Note Books, which inverts the formula by having indie-rockers write about some of their favorite books. This list includes famously erudite artists like the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson, and John Vanderslice.
(Thanks, Minnesota Reads.)
Image by el monstrito, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, October 10, 2008 9:09 AM
In recent years, the popularity of green-themed books has exploded, with titles like The Omnivore's Dilemma and An Inconvenient Truth hurtling from the niche market onto bestseller lists. As publishers scramble to grab a piece of the green pie, pumping out evermore eco-themed books, Quill & Quire magazine (article not available online) reports that some industry insiders are unsure if the trend has staying power.
Some publishers and booksellers fear the market for green books is expanding too fast. The genre already has bulged to include what Judith Plant, copublisher at New Society, described to Quill & Quire as "dross, light green" fare—such as insubstantial lifestyle guides and diet books. If publishers put quantity before quality in their rush to address consumer demand, the market may soon hit a point of saturation. That, booksellers point out, will have unintended (and sadly ironic) environmental consequences. If the buying trend trails off, all the go-green books that don't sell must be returned to the publishers. More unsold books means more wasted paper and more carbon emissions released from return shipping.
Thursday, October 09, 2008 1:03 PM
Going for a long drive and want to listen to some classic literature? Before you shell out serious money to buy an audiobook from iTunes or Amazon, check out LibriVox, the completely free, user-driven audiobook library.
At LibriVox, volunteers can upload recordings of themselves reading books aloud, as long as the literature is in the public domain. So you won’t find the latest New York Times bestseller, but if you need Shakespeare, the U.S. Constitution, or (gulp) Ulysses, you can take your chances with the site’s amateur voice talent.
Or, if you notice a gap in LibriVox’s extensive catalog, you can fill it yourself. Check out the guidelines for recording, clear your throat, and get started.
Image by suchitra prints, licensed by Creative Commons.
Monday, September 22, 2008 11:59 AM
British television writer Richard Wilson can’t be arsed to do a lot of things. (Translated from the British, that means he’d rather not do them.) There are 101 such things, to be precise, collected in his new humor book Can’t Be Arsed: 101 Things Not to Do Before You Die, excerpted in the London Times.
Ten of those things are “essential” books that Wilson argues are overrated piles of rubbish not worth our time. His own book isn't on his list of 10 Books Not to Read Before You Die, but you will find such classics as Ulysses, A Remembrance of Things Past, and War & Peace.
Best/worst lists are primarily meant to provoke debate, and one assumes Wilson is being contrarian for humor’s sake. All the same, I’d love to see the angry emails he’s been getting from literature professors and other bookworms in response to this list, and plenty of readers have already weighed in with their comments.
This list made me wonder if there are books I couldn’t be arsed to read. There aren’t many, but I will admit that I have never made it beyond the first hundred pages of A Confederacy of Dunces.
There. I said it. I feel so much better now.
What Big Important Books do you find not-so-essential? Are there sacred cows you’ve always been afraid to slaughter? Let us know in the Great Writing Salon.
(Thanks, Minnesota Reads.)
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Thursday, September 18, 2008 11:36 AM
In a web 2.0 world, there's apparently no need to labor alone on that unfinished masterpiece. Launched in April, WEbook.com is an online publishing company based entirely on user-generated content. Members can start new books or upload works in progress. Once a "project" is in the sytem, any registered user can add to or give feedback on it. The community even votes for its favorites to get published, which the website creators claim will do for the publishing industry “what American Idol did for music.”
The site has been successful enough to recently net 5 million dollars in venture funding, reports Anthony Ha for VentureBeat. Despite the site's popularity with budding authors, the self-described "wannabe fiction writer" scorns the idea of “crowdsourcing” the novel. “It literally embodies the clichéd insult of ‘art by committee,’ ” he writes. Ha has a point: When’s the last time we saw a bestselling book with more than one author? Then again, the group feedback system is employed in writing workshops across the nation as method for developing one's skills. Ha concedes nonfiction collaborations might be a different story, but will remain skeptical until he sees a WEBook project hit the big time.
Image by Jsome1, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, September 15, 2008 11:49 AM
Toward the end of the last century David Foster Wallace appeared on the literary scene and blew the minds of countless readers, overhauling the way they thought about literature and life—first with his debut novel The Broom of the System, then with his superb short story collection Girl With Curious Hair. But as impressive as those books were, they were simply clearing the decks for his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, which landed on bookshelves with a brainy thud in 1996.
Infinite Jest is a sprawling but meticulously constructed epic about addiction, depression, and the insidious toxicity of mass entertainment, weaving intricate plotlines and beloved characters into something far more than a post-structuralist literary stunt. It is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. It is a clever and complex but eminently readable book that I eventually picked up in college when I read all of Wallace's then-published works in rapid succession. I plowed through Infinite Jest’s 1,079 pages in only three weeks, not because I’m a fast reader—I’m not—but because I was simply unable to put it down.
Until I discovered David Foster Wallace I didn’t really have a favorite author, which was odd for an English major and aspiring writer. I was passionate about Kundera and Brautigan and the Beats, but had yet to fall obsessively in love with a single person’s writing. That semester when I read Infinite Jest marked the moment when I finally left a certain intellectual plateau, transcending everything I thought I knew about literature and entering the next phase of my development as a writer and thinker.
It was a phase marked by fitful, pretentious attempts to emulate Wallace’s writing in my own. As so many novice writers besotted with Wallace probably have, I peppered my short stories with footnotes and digressive asides and sentences whose objects were miles away from their subjects. (Some of these tendencies are obviously still on full display.) Like we inevitably do when we mimic our artistic role models, I approximated Wallace’s style but not his substance. The latter is far more difficult than the former, and I will spend a lifetime attempting to infuse my writing with even a scintilla of the wisdom he could pack into a single sentence, knowing I’ll probably never even come close.
It’s my experience that the people most critical of Wallace’s writing are those least familiar with it, who seize on the surface facts of his books—extremely long, dense, riddled with footnotes and endnotes—without ever addressing their content. These critics write him off as the poster-boy of postmodern irony and literary absurdity while failing to notice that in both his fiction and essays, Wallace was strongly anti-irony, bent on moving beyond post-millennial ennui, satirizing the noise of contemporary pop culture, and exploring life’s perennially unsolvable riddles. The pyrotechnics of his prose were not just there to dazzle; they were put to writing’s best possible use, illuminating the darkest recesses of the human condition.
And they could be pretty dark recesses. His last two short story collections, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and Oblivion, are populated by miserable characters at the end of their ropes and about to let go. While Infinite Jest and Girl With Curious Hair can rightly be described as fun, his latter work was still occasionally humorous but far more somber. One could almost see, on any given page, the author’s formidable mental gears grinding in an attempt to unravel and express the reasons why people do unspeakably terrible things to each other and to themselves.
So it was not, unfortunately, a total surprise that Wallace’s death would be self-inflicted. Time and again, his characters literally destroy themselves, most recently in Oblivion’s “Good Old Neon,” whose narrator describes his own suicide from beyond the grave. A half dozen of Infinite Jest’s primary characters attempt suicide, some of them succeeding with gruesome finality. And Brief Interviews features “The Depressed Person,” a crushingly dense narrative whose title character’s various attempts to avail her own misery are fruitless.
But for as much as Wallace expended his prodigious talent plumbing the harrowing depths of depression, addiction, violence, and loss, and for as much as his biography suggested he’d known those demons intimately, I was confident he’d found a way to transcend them. I took solace in the notion that, by carefully and exhaustively reasoning out the ways in which we destroy each other and ourselves, he’d emerged on the other side whole—if not in a place of understanding, then of compassion—and could help his readers do the same. The few characters in Infinite Jest who manage not to destroy themselves—most notably, the recovering drug addict and reformed criminal Don Gately—seem to have figured something out their peers haven’t: a way to keep the pieces glued together and cope with the pain in their lives while never dispelling it entirely.
Suicide is baffling, the most absurd and haunting end to a human life. Mapping any kind of logic onto suicide is futile, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. I had always believed, perhaps naively, that by examining—with great patience, compassion, and wit—the frailties of human existence, Wallace had found a way to cope with them, much like the damaged but redeemed Don Gately. I had to believe that, like Gately, he was coping, because to imagine that he wasn’t—which, as we learned over the weekend, he surely wasn’t—is so bleak: to think that one of the smartest writers in history had spent his entire adult life wrestling with the absurdities and injustices of the human condition, and still hadn’t found a solution—well, where does that leave the rest of us?
Image by Steve Rhodes, used with permission.
Monday, September 15, 2008 10:19 AM
Very few of us today ever experience true darkness. Artificial lighting smudges out the stars, confuses creatures of the night, wastes energy, and has damaging effects on human health. In “Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark,” (University of Nevada Press, 2008) , editor Paul Bogard compiled thoughtful and evocative essays from 29 writers, poets, scientists, and scholars. Bogard encourages readers to take “this collection to their own favorite nighttime roost, somewhere with amber light to shade the darkness, somewhere with stars close by, somewhere with the scents and sounds of darkness.”
If we heed Bogard's advice, there's a lot we might glean from darkness. In one essay, environmental activist and writer Janisse Ray draws from personal experience to expound on spirituality: “What has confused us is the double entendre. Our desire for meaning keeps us reaching for greater clarity and luminosity. But we confound lucidity with kilowatts. We confuse artificial light with enlightenment. Therein lies a greater fear: that we humans might be so afraid of darkness that we, for a time, would destroy it, thus banishing the illumination that darkness brings.”
Thursday, August 28, 2008 1:08 PM
My name is Jake and I am addicted to addiction memoirs. So of course I am caught up in the sordid web of David Carr’s harrowing, sprawling, unsentimental, booze- and drug-addled, New-York-Times-best-selling, luridly compelling addiction memoir, The Night of the Gun.
It’s more than simply an addiction memoir, however, and Carr takes great pains to assure himself as much as his readers that he is not simply throwing another perversely boastful drug confessional into a literary market already glutted with the genre. He is primarily concerned about the accuracy of his memory, warped as it is by time and chemicals, and the questions of subjective versus objective truth that both plague and compel writers of nonfiction—issues which seem academic until they arise, perennially, amidst scandals involving fabricated memoirs.
Because he is a reporter—an award-winning writer for the New York Times—Carr gathers as much hard evidence as he can about the hard living he did in the 1970s and 80s while working as a journalist in Minneapolis. He pores over police and court records and interviews friends and witnesses from the era, but suspects even before he’s done that his project will most likely remain incomplete.
What emerges instead is an absorbing tale of addiction and recovery that does dwell a bit too long on Carr's countless bad decisions, recounting war stories long after the reader has gotten the point: he was a miserable asshole. Carr also veers dangerously close to the clichéd narrative perils of ruin and redemption that so often befall memoirs, but always manages to pull away before it’s too late. The second half of the book, tracing his slow recovery, is intriguing for its discussions of the paradoxes of substance abuse and cultural attitudes toward addiction.
Ultimately, The Night of the Gun isn’t so much about drugs and addiction as it is about something more universal: our relationship to our own histories, and how our memories are altered and ablated by time’s inexorable, unsympathetic progression.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 10:30 AM
Is dividing science-fiction lit into “Adult” and “Young Adult” (YA) classifications a way for the genre to better connect to specific audiences? Or are those labels a deterrent for both age groups? Two staffers from the hip sci-fi website io9, part of the Gawker network, argue the issue, and the end result is intelligent discourse that extends to any genre.
News editor Charlie Jane Anders credits YA sci-fi with almost singlehandedly pushing the entire genre forward: “Luckily, we can have both grown-up science fiction and the YA version. But to the extent that one is shrinking and the other one is growing, that may not be entirely a bad thing. Look at it this way: is it better to have [sci-fi] written for a subculture, or anybody of a certain age?”
Editor Annalee Newitz, on the other hand, insists that the YA classification is off-putting to both teens and adults: “You will certainly alienate possible adult readers, who feel vaguely nasty for cozying up with a genre aimed at teens. And I believe in the end you will lose teen readers, who are exactly the sorts of people who dislike being told that their youth bars them from understanding adult novels. What self-respecting 15-year-old wants to read ‘young adult’ fiction when she could be reading stuff actually written for adults?”
Photo by Phillie Casablanca, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 1:42 PM
Hip, young, Russian-born American fiction writers are a hot literary trendlet, one that all began with Gary Shteyngart's 2002 novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, argues Emily Gould for Russia!.
These writers, Gould explains, offer U.S. readers an outsider’s view of America, coming from a “writer with a sellable life story.” American audiences can have their pick: “a witty, suffering exotic with Chekhov and Dostoevsky in his bloodstream, or an underdog whose very completion of a book in English represents a triumph.”
Despite traits their works seem to share—"a wry, fatalistic humor... and characters with an unhealthy dependence on vodka"—most Russian-American authors, Shteyngart excluded, chafe at being corralled into an “ethnic literature” category. (Even though they do have a pretty good moniker—the Beet Generation—coined by author Anya Ulinich’s husband.) Most just want to be known as good writers, not as good Russian-American writers.
“I have no national allegiance when I write,” Ulinich told Gould. “It’s not my role to give my readers some kind of rounded, objective, and definitive view of Russia and Russians. I only represent my characters to my readers.” Ulnich's 2007 novel Petropolis is about a Siberian mail-order bride from the fictional town of Asbestos 2.
Marketing novels as “Russian-American,” however, doubtlessly will continue, as long as book-buying readers are tempted by offers of insight into the Russian soul that can’t be gleaned from, as Gould puts it, “reading the front page of the newspaper” or “wading through reams of analysis.”
Image by Darwin Bell, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008 6:13 PM
Gary Brecher is the War Nerd—a pseudonymous columnist for the English-language Moscow-based publication, the eXile. (The print-edition eXile was shutdown this spring, but the feisty periodical has found a new home online.) Soft Skull recently published a compilation of Brecher’s columns, which we reviewed in our July-August 2008 issue.
Brecher’s eponymous War Nerd is a curious, in-your-face book, as Utne associate editor Hannah Lobel points out in her review, calling the tome a “raucous, offensive, and sometimes amusing CliffsNotes compilation of wars both well-known and ignored.” Lately, the man who produced such a volume has attracted some curiosity himself.
War Nerd netted a review in Mother Jones that expresses skepticism regarding Brecher’s authority, given that he makes “continual narrative detours,” many about how he “is overweight, underpaid, and has a hard time getting a date.” Brecher offered explanation for those digressions on the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge. The nerd moniker was a “defensive move,” Brecher says. “Look, I understand that you can do all kinds of psychoanalysis about why I like war, so let me say up front, ‘Yeah, I’m a fat loser and I flunked puberty.’ And you can link that up with me liking war all you want, but I’m the statistical norm, and there are a lot of me out there.”
Far from shooting himself in the foot—a little war metaphor for you there—Brecher demonstrates his knack for the “surprising analysis” of which Lobel wrote.
You can listen to the seven-minute segment here:
(Thanks, Richard Eoin Nash.)
Friday, August 01, 2008 11:53 AM
An economic downturn could be a mixed blessing for U.S. libraries. On the one hand, recession drives up library usage, as more people borrow—instead of buy—books. Libraries also provide information (and computer access) for job seekers, as well as cash-strapped citizens who are learning about a more frugal DIY ethic. Both the New York Times and National Public Radio have recently reported on this phenomenon.
Caveat lector, though. As we saw in 2003, tough economic times can also spur budget cuts, putting a strain on already-thin public and school library resources. Better-but-not-best-case-scenario, libraries will have to serve increased demand on static budgets. The FISH Bits blog, all about “creating great school and public libraries,” has some smart thoughts on how libraries can thrive during this crunch time.
Thursday, July 31, 2008 1:10 PM
Beginning August 9th, the late George Orwell’s diary will be published as a blog, each entry appearing 70 years to the day after the British writer first penned it. Orwell (1903-1950) is best known for the classics 1984 and Animal Farm, although he was also a fiery essayist. The online publication of his diary is a project of the Orwell Prize, a British award for political writing.
Orwell kept his diary from 1938 to 1942. Gearing up for August, the Orwell Prize folks hint at what the entries contain:
What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and—above all—how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations. . . . Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell’s perceptive eye and rebellion against the ‘gramophone mind’ he so despised are obvious.
Image by mushroom and rooster, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008 1:15 PM
Brick-and-mortar bookstores, take note. The next hurdle to your continued existence has arrived, and it’s called Zoomii. Perhaps a bit cute of a name for a nemesis, but don’t underestimate its powers: Zoomii is a website that approximates the browsing experience for the online shopper—synching up its virtual shelves with Amazon.com’s selection.
Zoomii’s shelves—or bays, as they’re called in the biz—hold over 20,000 books, which are displayed as cover images. Zoomed all the way out, the array looks like something Chris Jordan cooked up, but a spin of the mouse wheel pulls you in on a particular shelf for high resolution browsing. See a book you like, click on it, and all the information you’d find on Amazon pops up. The search function displays results as cover images too, culling from a bank of 170,000 titles.
I’m a fan of real-life bookstores, and here at Utne we’re well aware of their struggles and victories in adapting to an online-retail-driven world. While Zoomii doesn’t offer the smell, feel, or chance to crack a book open (yet?), I can’t say it’s not bittersweet to report on a website that cuts into browsing as an exclusive perk of the bookstore experience. That said, it’s darn near impossible not to marvel at developer Chris Thiessen’s ingenuity. Zoomii is nothing more than a portal. All of the actual shopping is done through Amazon, and Thiessen gets a percentage cut as a member of the Associates Program.
Check out Zoomii here:
(Thanks, A Public Space.)
Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:38 AM
The Translators Association of the Society of Authors is 50 years old this year, and to mark its anniversary, the group has released a list of 50 outstanding translations—from the past 50 years, but of course. Are your favorites on the list?
Translating is a noble but complicated endeavor, as we’ve discussed in some recent posts, which is why I’m happy to partake of the organization’s expertise, in spite of its modest claim that the list is “a sampler… by no means definitive.”
Image by Kenny Louie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 28, 2008 5:51 PM
The Los Angeles Times published its last standalone Book Review (LATBR) on Sunday, July 27. It must have been difficult reading for subscribers who’ve been lamenting the loss of the LATBR since news of its demise broke on July 21. L.A. Times book coverage, what remains, supposedly will be grafted into the larger paper. Cue my unimpressed cheer.
It’s not that you couldn’t have seen this coming. Over the past year, death knells have been sounding ad nauseam for every subsidiary of the printed word. Newspapers are dying; publishers are struggling; essayists are flopping; book reviews are becoming extinct. No one is reading, at least not as much as they used to, and with less patience.
It’s still remarkable to witness one of the Goliaths fall—if only for how it exposes the flawed sense that something so established couldn’t be flushed away so fast. A July 7th memo from the Tribune Company’s chief innovation officer seems to rail against just this outcome. “Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn’t generate revenue and may have to go away,” writes Lee Abrams. “WAIT! Maybe Book reviews and coverage are one of those things that don’t generate revenue right now, BUT—are trademarks for newspapers and elicit high passion from readers.”
Abrams is on to something, until he offers a less-than-innovative plan for revamping book sections—which are “maybe too scholarly”—by including more popular, retail-oriented picks. If the Tribune Company messed up in axing the LATBR, at least it got one thing right: Abrams’ fix wouldn’t have made anyone any less upset.
We want our culture, and we want it uncompromising. In a public letter, four former editors of the Review condemn the decision as a “philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of [Los Angeles] and the region.” All around the literary blogosphere, folks are dismayed at the loss of cultural cachet, angered that the Tribune Company could fail to see the edifying nature of the section. A less-literary book review only would have prompted a different strain of disgruntled hand wringing.
Maybe it’s not reasonable to petition a for-profit organization to recognize and uphold the cultural value in a non-revenue-generating section. Maybe it’s not even fair. Even the letter-writing editors concede that problematic reality, closing their reproof with the one threat that matters: “Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review…will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.”
If the demise of the Los Angeles Times Book Review has one thing to offer, perhaps it could be a kick in the derriere, a reminder that we’re on our own out here (and that big, stalwart publications can and will drop the ball). Scott Esposito, editor of the Quarterly Conversation, puts it nicely. Esposito is reflecting that as the LATBR folds he’s begun paying his contributing writers:
I think there's a corollary to this, and it's that just as periodicals have certain responsibilities to their contributors, so do readers have responsibilities to their periodicals. That is to say: I'd like to strongly encourage everyone who reads online book reviews, literary journals (and here I'm grouping in print publications like Rain Taxi that continue to support good criticism), literary blogs, and whatever else out there is fighting to keep intelligent literary discourse alive, to support the publications they read. I'm not just talking money here, although I've never met someone who didn't appreciate a little cash; I'm also talking buying a subscription when you could read it for free on the Web, offering in-kind support and/or volunteering, offering submissions and contributions to places you like. Even something as simple as buying through a site's Amazon links adds up in the long run.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 21, 2008 5:46 PM
Vanity publishing takes on a new meaning at PulpStar.com, where noir and sci-fi junkies can pay to have their names and physical descriptions inserted into prewritten texts. There are two choices—Reunion with Death and The Stars are Screaming—although for extra dough tacked on top of the $50 fee, you can fiddle with the title, too, or have your face photoshopped into the cover art. PulpStar.com also hawks equally spendy customized greeting cards and poster prints.
(Thanks, Venus Zine.)
Image by Hryckowian, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 03, 2008 12:22 PM
These days, poets can’t honestly argue “Why Poetry Pays Well,” but they can truthfully defend the modest statement, “Why Poetry Matters,” as poet and teacher Jay Parini does in the June 27 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education's Chronicle Review. Parini's book of the same title was published this April by Yale University Press.
Poetry’s virtue, Parini writes, lies in stilling the disorder of the outside world:
We listen to the still, small voice of poetry when we read a poem, and that voice stands in ferocious contrast to the clamor in the culture at large and, often, to the sound of society's explosions. . . . [Poetry] doesn't shift the stock market or persuade dictators to stand down. It doesn't usually send masses into the streets to protest a war or petition for economic justice. It works in quieter ways, shaping the interior space of readers, adding a range of subtlety to their thoughts, complicating the world for them.
Image courtesy of Scott LaPierre, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 12:28 PM
Another feminist bookstore nearly disappeared this month: the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis. As it turns out, Amazon will no longer be a co-op, but the bookstore will stay open. “After surviving the invasion of chain bookstores, weathering the shift toward digital media, and body-slamming Amazon.com with a lawsuit, did you honestly expect anything else?” writes the Twin Cities alt-weekly City Pages. Well, yes, actually. Amazon owners and patrons expected the store to close by June 30, and several articles eulogized Amazon in the past few weeks.
The store’s savior is Minneapolis resident Ruta Skujins, reports Minneapolis Metroblogging. Skujins, according to MinnPost.com, is an editor at the lesbian publishing houses Regal Crest Enterprises and Intaglio. (Ironically, the first link for “Ruta Skujins” that popped up in a Google search was her Amazon.com profile. On the bright side, the page lets curious patrons peek at the new owner's taste in books.)
Skujins looks to have the necessary business sense to make Amazon thrive, and plans to transform it into a neighborhood spot in addition to being a home for the feminist and lesbian communities. (She hasn’t ruled out a name change for the store, either.) I stopped by Amazon last Friday, and the neighborhood was hopping—a family getting ice cream before strapping the toddler into a Burley, 20-somethings chatting over wine and appetizers at the corner café, hand-holding couples taking a walk around the block. If Amazon can become an inviting community space without losing its feminist personality, it could have a long life ahead of it.
Image by anonfx, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 13, 2008 12:30 PM
In terms of reader pooh-poohing, speculative fiction (the umbrella term for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and magical realism) ranks almost on par with sports writing and poetry, according to a recent Bookmarks survey (article not available online). But looking closely at science fiction, Bookmarks argues that it's a genre full of worthy reads, just caveat lector: with prolific production comes varying levels of quality.
Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, quoted in the Bookmarks piece, describes the perils of choosing a sci-fi book at random:
First, a person who has become interested in SF through the media, or because of vague childhood memories, will pick up a book from the vast SF rack and be turned off. He or she will be turned off because the work will almost certainly be crap. . . . Yup, you could read a good SF novel a week each week of the year, no doubt. But if you read an SF novel a week picked at random from the rack, you'd never come back for a second year of such torture.
To prevent such a turn-off, Bookmarks provides seven pages of sci-fi picks and subgenre definitions in its July-August issue to guide wary readers through the saturated market. The subgenre recommendations include time travel, cyberpunk (“Cyberpunk’s characters are alienated loners living on the fringes of chaotic societies. The settings are dark, the outcomes gloomy, and the boundaries between reality and illusion often indistinguishable”), and space opera (“Big ideas, big egos, big ships, big problems. Space opera means interplanetary travel and sexy technology, unsolvable philosophical conundrums, war on a galactic scale”).
For an intelligent argument about why science fiction is timelier than ever, read this.
(Thanks, Arts & Letters Daily.)
Thursday, June 12, 2008 5:17 PM
John Porcellino, the quirky cartoonist-writer-illustrator behind King Cat Comics, has gone and compacted Walden, Thoreau’s magnum opus, into a tidy graphic novel. Presented by the Center for Cartoon Studies and published through Hyperion, Thoreau at Walden is, well, damn cool: Porcellino’s simple, straightforward style uncannily complements pared-down text from the transcendental philosopher himself. It’s a distillation, yes, but a refreshing, artistic, insightful one—and (in the most pedestrian of reactions) reading it made me want to instantly recommend it to any student ever tempted to grab for those proverbial CliffsNotes, in addition to fans, obviously, of graphic novels, Thoreau, or Porcellino.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008 12:39 PM
Canada is no bucolic backwater, writes Canadian novelist John McFetridge for Canada's book news magazine, Quill & Quire (article not available online). It's a criminal hotspot, and it's providing plentiful material for crime writers. McFetridge points out Canadian criminals like the Montreal mafia that ran the French Connection drug smuggling ring; warring biker gangs in Quebec who killed more than 200 people; and an estimated 100,000 people working in Canada's $4 billion marijuana industry. Canadian crime fiction writers Louise Penny, Giles Blunt, Sandra Ruttan, and Anne Emery are reaping the creative benefits of domestic disorder, “beginning to stay home and investigate what's going on here” with crime novels set in Canada.
Image by Simon Davison, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 1:29 PM
Megan Hustad has written a book called How to Be Useful, a self-described “beginner’s guide to not hating work.” Rather than bombard us with, say, seven habits of highly successful people, or try to tell us what color our parachute is, Hustad explores some fundamental ways in which people can be happier at their jobs by making themselves more useful, even if they’re not at their Dream Job, or are stuck working for The Man.
Hustad's career counseling comes at a fortuitous time for the under-30 set entering the workforce and struggling to find their niche, while their older colleagues wonder, sometimes bitterly, how to best manage coworkers in this generation. It's a clash we documented in “The Kid in the Corner Office” in our January/February 2008 issue.
Over at the Millions, Hustad is responding to various contributors’ descriptions of their first jobs out of college, positions at which—surprise surprise—they didn’t feel terribly useful. Readers can even submit their own first-job anecdotes, because misery sure loves company. In today’s troubled job market, we could all use a morale boost, and maybe become more useful in the process.
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