3/28/2008 5:26:07 PM
The oddest book title of the year is You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs (Simon and Schuster), according to a recent contest from the British magazine the Bookseller. Runners up included I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen (Nazca Plains Corporation) and Cheese Problems Solved (Woodhead Publishing).
(Thanks, BBC News.)
3/27/2008 8:29:19 AM
Shortly after I moved to Chicago’s far north side, I came home to a sign warning me of gangs of African American kids in white T-shirts and black do-rags who had recently been throwing rocks and bricks at random passersby. This apparently was happening in broad daylight and in busy areas of the half square mile or so around my building. I was skeptical, but I was also scared.
“Gangs are real,” says Eula Biss in the Believer, “but they are also conceptual. The word gang is frequently used to avoid using the word black in a way that might be offensive. For instance, by pairing it with a suggestion of fear.”
Biss describes her own experience living in my old neighborhood, an extremely diverse and densely populated spot as tense as it is vibrant. She writes eloquently about the thought patterns involved with trying to resist our assumptions about people:
One evening not long after we moved to Rogers Park, my husband and I met a group of black boys riding their bikes on the sidewalk across the street from our apartment building. The boys were weaving down the sidewalk, yelling for the sake of hearing their own voices, and drinking from forty-ounce bottles of beer. As we stepped off the sidewalk and began crossing the street toward our apartment, one boy yelled, “Don’t be afraid of us!” I looked back over my shoulder as I stepped into the street and the boy passed on his bike so that I saw him looking back at me also, and then he yelled again, directly at me, “Don’t be afraid of us!”
I wanted to yell back, “Don’t worry, we aren’t!” but I was, in fact, afraid to engage the boys, afraid to draw attention to my husband and myself, afraid of how my claim not to be afraid might be misunderstood as bravado begging a challenge, so I simply let my eyes meet the boy’s eyes before I turned, disturbed, toward the tall iron gate in front of my apartment building, a gate that gives the appearance of being locked but is in fact always open.
It’s a thoughtful essay, one that asks tough questions about a difficult subject without condemning anyone. It’s also noteworthy for its framing device: a provocative reading of Little House on the Prairie as a deeply ambivalent take on American pioneerism—an ambivalence echoed by Biss and by many who share her position as a privileged settler in a troubled urban frontier.
that kat chick
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3/26/2008 4:41:04 PM
The alternative press is not typically the province of kickass sports coverage. Imagine my delight, then, when I found author Sherman Alexie’s column, Sonics Death Watch, at the Stranger. As you may or may not know, the SuperSonics, Seattle’s NBA franchise, is poised to decamp from Washington and re-settle in Oklahoma. Hence the title of Alexie’s column, which is typically short and elegant: an entertainingly touchy and morally incisive fan’s take on spectatorship. Alexie peppers his writing with bits of political diatribe and self-deprecating stories, and, all in all, provides the incensed footnotes to a professional sport that is as frustrating as it is intoxicating.
nat zipsky 2.0
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3/25/2008 6:08:50 PM
Not one to sit in idle surveillance of the decline of proper punctuation, the lit-mag Taddle Creek has launched a bold (and humorous!) campaign against the maddening misuse of the common apostrophe.
Grammatically speaking, the apostrophe plays several roles, but it’s when the little fellow stands in for letters or numbers that’s got the folks at the Toronto-based magazine all worked up, citing atrocities such as Guns N’ Roses, Nice ’n Easy, and rock ‘n’ roll, which “translates to a sarcastic letter ‘n’ framed by the word ‘rock’ on one side and ‘roll’ on the other.”
Here’s how it’s supposed to happen: Apostrophes always curve to the right, like this ’, and never to the left, like this ‘, which is just a left-facing quote mark frontin' like it can do the apostrophe's job. For sassy ’n’ superb results, apostrophes should go wherever letters and numbers are missing. Taddle Creek points a wagging finger at the computer, which assumes “the depression of the apostrophe key before a word is meant as a single left quotation mark, turns the apostrophe around, and ignorance is off and running.” Blasted technology.
But this isn’t just an idle rant: The magazine intends to send letters to parties guilty of apostrophe misuse, and encourages its readers to do the same. Any interesting responses will be printed in a future issue.
3/24/2008 5:25:13 PM
Smart, feminist women want to look good too, but stereotypes uphold fashion and intelligence to be mutually exclusive. Fashion guides either display impractical pieces (such as $1,500 leggings) or advise women on how to disguise “flaws,” and in doing so fail to address the tastes and needs of feminist women, argues Jessa Crispin on the Smart Set.
Good fashion writing, says the Bookslut founder, provides advice for sensible women: “Women who have to wait for buses in the middle of winter. Women who like to dance at parties, and do not want to have to sit in the corner because their feet are bleeding.”
As an example of the above, Crispin extols Guardian fashion editor Hadley Freeman’s The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable, written for women who dress for self-expression and not solely to attract the male gaze. “If more fashion writing was done in the tone of smartypants Freeman, we could avoid the fear that caring about our appearance makes us a vain fool or a victim,” Crispin writes.
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3/14/2008 4:45:31 PM
A typical independent bookstore, in my mind, is like the record store in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity: a lair of connoisseurs communing and clashing over matters of taste. And of course, the occasional shoplifter skulks nearby. But even thieves have their canon, a former bookstore employee explains in the Stranger. The most aggravating aspect of shoplifting for independent sellers is the mindset of their thieves, the “self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man,” who confuse independent stores with said man—and abscond with hundreds of dollars worth of graphic novels, Beat poetry, and Philip K. Dick stories.
(Thanks, Arts & Letters Daily.)
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3/14/2008 4:34:46 PM
Something about the phrase “solar plexus” has the folks over at Bookgasm all worked up. The book-review website—devoted to “reading material to get excited about”—has launched an official Solar Plexus Watch to monitor appearances of the phrase in novels. There are already over 50 entries, mostly in violent contexts, such as, “Remo liked him, but not so much that he didn’t knock him out by releasing his shoulder, leaning forward, and driving a hard index finger into his solar plexus,” which hails from The Best of the Destroyer, by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir.
3/7/2008 9:59:24 AM
The American Book Review has made their list of the 100 best last lines from novels available online (pdf). The judges—a group of critics, reviewers, writers, and readers—picked their favorite closers from a list of some 400 nominees. Only last lines from novels, novellas, and short story collections that “unfold like a novel” were eligible.
The most popular last lines generally came from widely acclaimed books. In an essay accompanying the list, which first appeared in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of the nonprofit literary journal, James Phalen explains, “because the power and effect of these lines depend so much on what has preceded them, it makes sense that our judgments of those lines are influenced by our judgments of what has preceded them.”
Top honors go to Samuel Beckett in The Unnamable—the final 11 words of a nine-page sentence.
“…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Which last line do you think should have won? Post a comment below, or go chat in the Great Writing Salon.
3/7/2008 9:39:19 AM
Moment magazine editor Nadine Epstein chronicles a morning with neurologist Oliver Sacks, best known for his books The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings (made into a movie starring Robin Williams). In addition to showing off curiosities tacked to his corkboard and littered across his desk, Sacks shared his love of the elements with Epstein. His favorite element is the noble gas xenon, “the first inert gas which was persuaded to combine with other elements,” Sacks says. “So at the point when someone as solitary as myself is finally tipped into relationship and community, then I feel like xenon.”
Sacks first encountered the periodic table as a young adult, during a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington. He found the visual order of the elements comforting; “the periodic table was irrefutable confirmation that there was cosmic order in the universe,” he says. The insight lifted him up from damaging memories of his time at a makeshift boarding school, where a sadistic headmaster meted out unusual punishments that scarred Sacks’ brother and contributed to eventual psychosis.
Sacks, now atheist, was raised in an Orthodox household, and while his distaste for extremism of any kind keeps him distant from Israel, he fondly recalls spending three months there in 1955. “It was good for the xenon part of me,” he says. “It was a healthy, important experience for a solitary intellectual, pathologically shy person to work on a farm, do physical work and be in the community.”
Even though he enjoyed that period, Sacks champions solitude. “So much of the world’s real work depends on solitary thinking and depth.”
3/6/2008 4:56:54 PM
Colors. They define and characterize our lives. But so often we fail to recognize their impact or unpack their individual stories. As I type this I’m surrounded by no less than three shades of gray, and that saddens me. The quarterly arts magazine Cabinet has a piece in every issue that tells the unique story of a single color or a writer’s personal experience with that particular hue. The pieces are sometimes powerful, sometimes academic, and sometimes pretentious, but always engaging and illuminating.
Image by Steve Ryan
, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/6/2008 11:45:25 AM
A 2007 UIPA nominee for best writing and best design, Maisonneuve delivers food coverage in its Winter 2007 issue that pleases the visual, verbal, and vegetarian. OK, maybe not the last one, since the magazine opens with a piece on lapsed vegetarianism under the header “Iron Deficient Dept.”
After dismantling meat-free dogmatism, Maisonneuve offers up another battle for believers. The chart-article, “Methodists vs. Quakers” puts the denominations head-to-head in a potluck showdown, where Quaker silence prevails over Methodists who sing “twinkly worship songs” during supper. Deeper analysis goes into “Dining Among the Saints,” which connects Mormons’ fondness for the packaged foods of the 1950s to their cultural conservatism.
In another article, molecular gastronomy ignites debate over whether science can cohabitate in the kitchen with time-honored tradition. And if this is your first entrée into exotic eating, why not start it off with a light snack of scorpions?
3/5/2008 5:40:00 PM
Acclaimed author Suketu Mehta is preparing a new translation of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth, from the original Gujarati text. The tome has been translated into the English language before, but not properly, Mehta argues in an interview with the Believer.
The book was translated to English by two of Gandhi’s political secretaries, who lost an important quality of the original work—the concise wording that Gandhi hoped would appeal to the masses. “Gandhi’s style was like Hemingway: direct, short sentences, easily read, and subtle. Not so in the English,” says Mehta. “[They] were very good political secretaries but not necessarily good writers in English. Gandhiji did look over the translation and corrected it, but you know, he had had a few other things on his mind, like leading a country to independence!”
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