6/17/2010 11:24:17 AM
Maybe the future of the short story has nothing to do with e-readers or online distribution. Could vinyl be literature’s next frontier?
That’s the premise behind Underwood: Stories in Sound, an English “journal” launched by Nathan Dunne that publishes contemporary short stories recorded on 33-rpm vinyl LPs. Dunne was looking for an antidote to the streamlined, glossy sound of podcasts and stories on mp3 and cherishes the “sense of occasion” offered by vinyl recordings. Ensuring that people would sit down, kick back and listen to the stories, Publishing Perspectives found that Dunne deliberately omitted the short stories from the liner notes—the idea is to engage with the recording, not to read along.
Vinyl may even be a more stirring format than a book reading in terms of the author’s emotional delivery of the story. Toby Litt, commenting on the recording process of his side A-story “The Hare” in an article from The Daily Telegraph, expressed he felt an authentic appreciation of recording to vinyl: “It’s a very emotional piece for me, because it’s partly about the miscarriages my partner had before our first child was born. I felt I was able to read it better, to put more of myself into it, when there was no audience watching.”
Limited to a pressing of 1,000 and featuring illustrations by Los Angeles-based artist Jordan Crane, this piece of analog art will be nearly impossible to digitally recreate. Expect Underwood to release biannually, with the next recording slated for November. In the meantime, be patient and listen to the first recording—maybe even a couple of times.
Other news in the realm of literary nostalgia: now you can buy an accessory to add the click-clack clatter of typewriter keys to any device with a USB port. Jack Zylkin, head developer of the USB Typewriter, calls it a “groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence.”
Sources: The Daily Telegraph, Publishing Perspectives
6/17/2010 10:17:20 AM
Say there’s a room. In the room you have a chair and a desk. On the desk is a computer, with an internet connection. Then there’s another room, identical in every respect to the first room. Now, put two novelists in these rooms. Each gets his own room, but in order to be let out (for food and freedom), both have to have a long email exchange with one another about writing in the digital age. Say the writers in question are David Gates and Jonathan Lethem. Furthermore, let’s say that their intellectual agility is no less apparent in their written conversation than it is in their fiction.
Well, the PEN American Center has answered the call: Lethem and Gates, email after email after email, have chatted away an enjoyable 15 minutes of my time. Choice comment from Lethem:
Novels and the novelists who labor over them are, essentially, elephants, steamships, space probes. Slow-moving, slow-reacting, uselessly out of touch in the reaction-time marketplace, even before its digitalized redoubling. Half the time I’m interviewed by working journalists I seem to need to spend correcting their impression that I’ve written a given novel out of some sudden impulsive reaction to last week’s headlines, or out of feelings of rivalrous inspiration connected to other novels published a year or two before my own. Apart from the logistical impossibility of my writing anything in reaction to work I couldn’t possibly have read in time—sometimes I really do feel this patronizing urge to walk them through the timeline—I just don’t turn my thinking quickly enough to do it if I wanted to. The books take three or four years’ thinking about before I even begin the two or three years’ work (and then they sit at the publisher, fermenting, I suppose, for another nine or fifteen months). My reading’s out of date, that’s part of what makes it distinctive, if it is. In that sense, I suspect Hemingway was being quite honest when he talked about going into the ring with Turgenev, even if the ‘writing-is-fighting’ paradigm seems quaintly blustery to us now. Hemingway might have simply been making the point that for a novelist, Turgenev is still breaking news, hot off the presses.
And Gates’ choice response:
Ah, News That Stays News. The old sweet song writers sang each to each in Atlantis, as the sidewalks sank and the tsunamis loomed. Still, quaint as it seems, I agree. Lots of Shakespeare’s local and topical allusions are lost on us—just as yours or mine will be lost on those mutant future readers, if we’re lucky enough to have any, and so what?—yet there he still is, staring straight at you.
Source: PEN American Center
Image by Coletivo Mambembe, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2010 11:21:39 AM
Writers are full of peculiar and unconventional techniques when it comes to generating ideas and thinking about story structure. According to the Ryerson Review of Journalism, taking a lengthy dip in the bathtub or hitting the elliptical machine are not out to the question for some writers while others prefer binge buying new office supplies or creating a “sensory deprivation chamber” (think installing heavy blinds and using construction ear guards). But my favorite practice has to be this gem: “Gay Talese used to type up pages, pin them to Styrofoam panels in his office and observe them using a set of binoculars from across the room. ‘It’s like laundry on a clothesline,’ he would say.”
6/10/2010 2:12:53 PM
After famous writers die, their souls go the heaven. However, the papers and manuscripts they leave behind stay subject to our puny human laws, the laws of earth, where spouses and publishers and courts all contend to establish who can publish what of the deceased’s work. It isn’t always this way, but, as the Virginia Quarterly Review notes, when it goes bad, it goes annoyingly, stupidly bad:
Poor Inna Grade, wife of Yiddish writer Chaim Grade, was so overly protective of her husband and his work that her death was cheered in literary quarters, as it promised a flood of Chaim’s manuscripts; but it now seems that there are a will and heirs, complicating the issue further. Scholars will have to maintain their holding patterns.
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review
Congratulations to the Virginia Quarterly Review, which won a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for international coverage.
Image by a.drian, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/8/2010 12:15:09 PM
Here is a great, long essay on book reviewing—focused, in a surprisingly refreshing way, on the web-versus-print debate that everyone is always already sick of—from the pages of The Nation. The article doesn’t necessarily bowl you over with amazing insights sent down from I-wish-I-said-that Land. Rather, John Palatella articulates ideas that have been popping up in myriad places, but not usually expressed with the force and focus used here. Still, if you care about books, about writing on the web, about print coverage of the written word, you should read this essay (maybe even buy a copy of the magazine it appears in?). In the meantime, the following are some of Palatella’s best points, lightly contextualized for your reading pleasure.
On web versus print:
In some ways, Grafton points out, "the world of writing has not so much been transformed" by the web as restored to a ghostly, hyperactive version of the newspaper world of the early twentieth century.
On why book review sections have been disappearing from newspapers:
Yet of all the sections that fail to turn a profit on their own, it's the books section that is most often killed or pinched. Claims that books sections are eliminated or downsized because they can't earn their keep are bogus. It is indisputable that newspapers have been weakened by hard times and a major technological shift in the dissemination of news; it is not indisputable that newspaper books coverage has suffered for the same reasons. The book beat has been gutted primarily by cultural forces, not economic ones, and the most implacable of those forces lies within rather than outside the newsroom. It is not iPads or the Internet but the anti-intellectual ethos of newspapers themselves.
I use the word "anti-intellectual" to describe a suspicion of ideas not gleaned from reporting and a lack of interest in ideas that are not utterly topical.
After describing the narrowness and intellectual un-seriousness of online book reviewing:
One exception is the Barnes & Noble Review, a web-only venture that generally avoids gossip and trade talk. It is better edited than any newspaper books section, but it also happens to be owned by the country's largest corporate chain bookstore. Neither the quality of its reviews nor the generosity of its writers' fees can expunge from its pages its innate commercialism.
A sorrowing catchphrase for all those writers who struggle to be paid for work everyone expects to read for free online:
On the web, we are all interns now.
The uplifting conclusion, with a little fancy syntax thrown in, for your reading pleasure:
Despite the turmoil and doubts, I think there's no better time than the present to be covering books. The herd instinct is nearly extinct: newspapers inadvertently killed it when they scaled back on books coverage en masse; and the web, for all its crowds and their supposed wisdom, is a zone of unfederated cantons. The field is wide open. If you can't take chances now, if in such a climate you can't risk seeking an air legitimate and rare, when can you?
You should really read the whole shebang, if only so you can use, as I have, the word shebang when passing it along to your book-loving buddies.
(Thanks, The Second Pass.)
Source: The Nation
Image by gadl, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/3/2010 10:41:14 AM
If all you know about Iceland are its unpronounceable, un-spellable volcanoes, the musician Björk, and the fact that it’s near Greenland (but not as icy), then maybe you should read a bloodcurdling social history of the island nation. The Economist has a short and sweet (or maybe not-so-sweet?) review, which includes this choice passage:
The story is not wholly pleasant. Even readers with strong stomachs will find them tested. The book opens with an account of a man who rips his own testicles off with a cord after a tantrum involving allegations of infidelity. The pressure-cooker of emotions induced by isolation (the road round the island was completed only in 1974) dispel any stereotypes of Nordic stolidity. The dank squalor of the turf-built hovels in which most Icelanders lived is described with disconcerting relish, along with the suppurating sores, stoically borne, that resulted. Clothes were boiled in urine occasionally, but were otherwise worn without washing.
(Thanks, The Second Pass.)
Source: The Economist
Image by Atli Harðarson, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/2/2010 1:12:23 PM
We live in a tell-all society, where people post their deepest thoughts online and political gossip is raised to an art form, while he-said, she-said scandals fill the evening news. Yet there are still some things that we simply do not talk about, burdens that we are expected to bear in solitary, stoic silence. Caregiving is one of those things.
In a quietly beautiful personal reminiscence, Jonathan Rauch of The Atlantic describes caring for his aging father, who had a neurological disorder and required more and more attention from his son. Rauch didn’t want to commit his father to a nursing home against his wishes, but he struggled to deal with the demands of his new full-time role without a support network. When he finally begins to simply talk about his worries with people he meets, he is blown away—as was I—by the stories of love, anxiety, and loneliness that he gets back:
Above all, I got stories. Some were in the past tense, but a surprising number were in the present, and they gushed forth with the same kind of pent-up pressure that I felt. Washington is a city of middle-aged careerists like me, proper and dignified and all business. Yet time and again the professional exteriors would crack open to reveal bewildering ordeals.
A lobbyist. At a reception hosted by a trade group, he asks what I am working on, and I reply “Taking care of my father.” Without missing a beat, he tells me of having spent that morning in tears, sobbing in a meeting with the staff at the care facility where his 100-year-old father now lives.
A scholar. He is working on a book about interest groups and we go out for coffee to discuss it. He asks how I am. When I tell him, our original agenda melts away and he tells me that his life’s work, now, is flying back and forth to remote Wisconsin, where he takes care of a father with Alzheimer’s. . . .
As I walked the streets, did interviews, conducted business, I took to wondering which of the middle-aged people I encountered were quietly struggling to cope with their own crisis. How many of them felt utterly out of their depth? . . . According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, about 50 million Americans are providing some care for an adult family member. I was swimming in an invisible crowd of caregivers each day.
Source: The Atlantic
Image by DeaPeaJay, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/1/2010 4:46:09 PM
Well, yee-haw, some people who use purdy words real good has up and started one of them dial-up internet word-parties! Or something like that. Just today, The Paris Review has launched The Paris Review Daily, a new blog that will serve, in the words of editor Lorin Stein, as a “cultural gazette” for the book-crazed internet denizens among us. I looked up the word gazette to make sure I was catching all the subtext, but don’t worry—it still just basically means newspaper! Whatever, dictionary.
Personally, I’m excited for a Paris Review blog. Plus, the first non-inaugural post is all about Terry Southern, underappreciated satirical novelist and weirdo (also co-screenwriter of Dr. Strangelove). In fact, The Paris Review Daily has declared June Terry Southern Month. Bold move, new literary blog, re-naming a month on your very first day. If Utne Reader picks a month to rename, I vote for Utvember.
Anyway, why a new blog? Stein sums it up nicely:
If you are like us, you hear a lot of gloomy talk about the future of reading, but you don't quite recognize yourself in these discussions: books are the reading you care most deeply about, and you doubt that’s going to change. You love your favorite blogs, but you also know when to turn off your devices. You read your favorite magazines faithfully—and if sometimes you skip the fiction, it’s not because you think new writing is in some sort of inevitable decline. It’s probably because you are what Roberto Bolaño called a “desperate” reader, on the lookout for a story that will speak more directly to your condition.
“Perhaps the critics are right,” wrote William Styron half a century ago, in the Review’s first issue: “this generation may not produce literature equal to that of any past generation—who cares? The writer will be dead before anyone can judge him—but he must go on writing.”
In the same spirit, we say there is plenty to interest us in the writing of our moment, and not only in the writing. Everywhere we look, whether it’s the new painting, film, or YouTube clip, we find beauty sufficient unto the present day, the only one we’ve got.
Source: The Paris Review Daily
Image by bslmmrs, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/1/2010 11:16:03 AM
Surreal, funny, difficult: John Ashbery has also been called one of the greatest living American poets. But have you heard him read his poetry? Over at UbuWeb Sound, you can listen to dozens of recordings of Ashbery reading his work, from 1963 to 2009. If Ashbery doesn’t strike your fancy, maybe you should get a new fancy. Or you could listen to Jack Kerouac, or monologist Spalding Gray, or poet, novelist, and all-around champion of avant-garde awesomeness Gertrude Stein. Just pick something already.
Source: UbuWeb Sound
Image by julianrod, licensed by Creative Commons.
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