2/27/2008 9:30:05 AM
Don’t have time to read for fun? Me either, yet I spend a couple hours each day sifting though dry e-mails at work. If you’re in the same boat, check out DailyLit, a website that will send you daily installments of books via e-mail or RSS feed. There are over 750 books available for free, but even the copyrighted titles usually cost well under $10.
(Thanks, Poets & Writers)
Image by Jannis Andrija Schnitzer
, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/26/2008 5:26:23 PM
Celebratory months honoring groups of people can be tricky. The honored sometimes wonder if all the attention is just a ploy, perhaps an excuse to go on ignoring them the rest of the year. The rest of us try to toe the line between acknowledging complaints while still celebrating the spirit of the matter.
As Black History Month draws to a close, Tayari Jones writes for the Believer about being an African American author during the month of February, and the problematic paradoxes that arise from the inevitable glut of speaking invitations. She writes:
Although many black people grumble that it is not their responsibility to educate white people about our worth, most would agree that racism stems largely from ignorance, the antidote to this is obviously education, and somebody’s got to do it. The question is whether refusing the invitations serves any purpose besides giving the writer a sense that she is doing something to address the problem. This, of course, brings in a second irony: performing a symbolic action to critique the symbolism of another equally symbolic action.
2/26/2008 4:51:08 PM
Have you spent hours mulling the future of Texan literary culture? Well, stop right there, buckaroo, and read Don Graham’s satirically speculative piece in the Texas Observer. Launching from the run-of-the-mill idea that it will someday be the year 2043, Graham’s essay creatively details the future repeat successes of Texas luminaries such as Larry McMurtry, who, in 2043, is unable to cease writing novels.
Mocking everything from politically correct grammar (imagining “ze” as a popular, gender-neutral pronoun) to a general lack of wisdom (“It wasn’t clear what anybody learned about anything anymore from any source anywhere”), Graham imagines a future for Texas culture that magnifies nothing so much as current peccadilloes, for instance anti-ecofriendly sentiments:
The only automobiles permitted in the city were for political dignitaries and those wealthy enough to participate in Nostalgia Day, when they drove vintage automobiles around and burned up lots of ethanol, running over a cyclist or two to get in touch with their old feelings.
May Texas always seem a real hoot.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/25/2008 10:49:03 AM
Ever wonder if you’ve specialized yourself into a career corner?
You could be P. Joseph Potocki, a guy who worked his way through a human sexuality Ph.D. program as a library intern, archiving his university’s expansive collection of old stag films. As he describes in a light and amusing piece for Metroactive, he later finds himself guest lecturing to a class of blank-faced undergrads at San Francisco State about “American Cinematic Pornography,” which prompts him to muse:
“Could it be that the 21st-century student no longer finds bulbous men in leisure suits or hippie chicks sporting furry armpits and fat pimply butts sexually enticing? Odd, but demonstrably true. Following this scientific line of inquiry to its logical conclusion, I finally had to ask myself: Just where was my narrowly gauged expertise taking me in life?”
2/25/2008 10:17:42 AM
“Poetry slams are a device, a trick to convince people that poetry is cooler than they’ve been led to believe by wearisome English classes and dusty anthologies,” writes Scott Woods in World Literature Today. “By dressing up poetry in the raiment of a fight or contest, it appeals to the modern taste for sensationalism in art without—when done right—delving into mere caricature or entertainment." This is one reason slam poetry has become increasingly popular since its creation in Chicago 21 years ago.
Woods' essay is part of a larger feature section on performance poetry in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of World Literature Today (some content available online). Go check it out. Performance poetry is a “vital and longstanding literary form that is often ignored or given only limited coverage in most literary magazines and journals,” explains editor-in-chief David Draper Clark in his editor's note.
Image by Soon Van, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/18/2008 9:43:13 AM
While the Internet’s democratization of literary reviewing in some ways has managed to surmount, or at least skirt, the strict hierarchy and political machinations of the publishing industry, it can go both ways. When book reviews (such as Amazon’s customer reviews) rest in the hands of the common blogger, we trade the transparency of a known reviewer, with all her predictable biases, for an unknown agent. As points out in his article for Slate, the motives of online reviewers can be even more self-serving than those of their mainstream counterparts.
Amateur reviewers are subject “to the same pressures that confront the professionals they were supposed to replace,” Hallberg writes. “To keep writing, lest another reviewer usurp one's spot. To say something nice, in hopes that someone will say something nice about you. And to read for work, rather than for pleasure.”
Image by cindiann, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/15/2008 5:07:50 PM
When British author and journalist Robert Fisk received a copy of Saddam Hussein’s biography in the mail from a friend in Egypt, one thing struck him as strange. He was listed as the author, but he had never written the book. In an article in the Independent, Fisk tells the story of his search for the true identity of the author of the ersatz book. His search for the Forger of Cairo takes him through government archives and back-alley bookstores as he navigates the seedy underworld of Egypt’s lit-forgery market.
2/13/2008 7:09:00 PM
Americans are reading less, reports the Writer’s Chronicle. The article cites a November 2007 report (pdf) by the National Endowment for the Arts, which found that Americans of all demographic groups are voluntarily reading less than 10 to 20 years ago. “If, at the current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks,” the study concludes.
Ursula K. Le Guin offers an alternative perspective in the February 2008 issue of Harper’s (excerpt only available online). “I want to question the assumption—whether gloomy or faintly gloating—that books are on the way out,” Le Guin writes. “It’s just that not all that many people ever did read them. Why should we think everybody ought to now?”
2/13/2008 6:55:27 PM
Judy Blume, beloved and oft-banned author of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Forever, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, turned 70 on February 12. We at Utne want to give her a big shout-out for teaching us about spirituality, sex, and growing up. But most of all, we want to thank her for writing books that encourage young people to read thoughtfully and challenge adults to think openly.
2/12/2008 4:29:08 PM
In Philip M. Parker’s world, there’s no need for a writer to create a book. Parker has created a machine that can write books without the need for pesky and temperamental pencil pushers. According to an article by Marc Abrahams in the Guardian, the machine takes a topic, taps into a vast database of information, and spits out a book. “Parker estimates that it costs him about 12p to write a book, with, perhaps, not much difference in quality from what a competent wordsmith or an MBA might produce,” Abrahams writes. Looks like I should start searching for a new job.
2/7/2008 9:39:17 AM
In this music, money, and drugs version of a whodunit, Keegan Hamilton follows hip-hop label Lock 'Em Down Records’ run-ins with the law for St. Louis alt-weekly Riverfront Times. I was drawn into this story because it reads like a potboiler.
After a five-year stretch of multi-agency surveillance, the label’s offices are raided for suspicion of drug trafficking and co-CEO Dewanzel Singleton is arrested. The raids were triggered by purported slang Singleton used in the wiretaps, including references to look-alike girls and a medium-rare steak, but Singleton says the police found “no drugs, no money, no guns. Nothing.”
Hamilton writes, “If the DEA's version of events is true, then Dewanzel Singleton has led an improbable double life. And if he's innocent, Singleton is the victim of an equally astonishing string of coincidences, betrayals and poor judgment.”
2/6/2008 5:26:19 PM
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Sound familiar? Catchy? Both? It’s the mantra of Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, which was released last month. In response, Gristmill and the Natural Resources Defense Council blog Switchboard have invited readers to create their own seven-word, two-three-two-structured poems on climate change. Some of the better submissions:
Use energy. Not too much. Mostly renewables.
Drive less. Ride a bike. Every day.
Climate challenge. Our greatest opportunity. Seize it.
Even though it’s hard to squeeze anything very substantial into seven words, the structure is addictive. Check out the websites, and contribute some of your own poems. Or, rather: Dig Pollan. Check it out. Write poetry.
2/6/2008 5:17:12 PM
If the human body is a temple, as some clean-living optimists would have us believe, then it’s more like the imploding, booby-trapped one in Raiders of the Lost Ark than King Solomon’s long-standing tabernacle in Jerusalem. The deterioration of this quickly-crumbling vessel is painful and often embarrassing, as John Dolan points out in his chilling yet uproarious guide to aging in the Russian alt-weekly The eXile. The article is divided into four stages of aging—or decaying, depending on your penchant for the macabre—to maximize user friendliness. That way, you can quickly reference where on the spectrum your earthly husk falls, from “tetraplegic feces-factory” to “senile living corpse spew[ing] up pea soup like an aged Linda Blair.”
2/5/2008 1:26:08 PM
A novel begins as a whiff of an idea that a writer's scribbles then give flesh. But most books remain unwritten. The British newspaper the Independent asked ten contemporary authors about the books they had failed to write. My favorite responses were from Will Self, who wanted to write a superhero saga about unremarkable people—an idea squashed by the recent television hit Heroes—and the gutsy premise behind D.J. Taylor’s “religio-political epic” God: The Novel. Maybe some enterprising creative writers in our readership will take up their pens and complete these unfinished potential masterworks?
2/5/2008 1:13:48 PM
I’ve never played a drinking game, so I was glad to stumble upon this humorous guide to playing them in the Portland Mercury
before my ignorance brought shame upon my family (and alumni association). The piece is a fun introduction to a culture that I still don’t understand, but got a kick out of learning about.
Watch out for my favorite game, “I am Spartacus,” which, to my surprise, in no way involves taking body shots out of someone’s Kirk Douglas-like dimpled chin.
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