8/26/2011 2:15:24 PM
Book readings don’t usually have the, shall we say, glamour of a rock concert or blockbuster film. Many draw only a handful of people. The sound of crickets may be peaceful when reading a book, but will probably sound mocking when reading a book to complete strangers.
After one spectacularly under-attended reading in Minneapolis, five organizations, including three local independent publishers—Milkweed Editions, Coffee House Press, and Graywolf Press—the Loft Literary Center, and Rain Taxi Review of Books, were downright dejected. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and they presumed it wouldn’t be the last.
“The five organizations all put on book readings,” said Eric Lorberer, editor of Rain Taxi. “Over the years as things have changed, we’ve all noticed that some of our events have had fewer people than we wished were there. And we’ve had some big events.”
The organizations sought a creative way to get the Minneapolis and St. Paul literary communities together more often. Some bookstores have been charging customers to go to readings, but the literary quintet preferred to attract crowds and support authors with a carrot rather than a stick. Their solution resembles a trick that coffee shops have used to keep customers coming back: a punch card. Or in this case, a Literary Punch Card.
Here’s how the Literary Punch Card works. Take the card to a sponsored author event and you get one punch. If you purchase the author’s book while you’re there, you get a second. Once you complete 12 punches you can redeem the card for a $15 gift certificate for a participating bookstore (so far there are three), and a chance to win a “Mystery Package full of literary goodness.”
Rain Taxi and the other organizations made a conscious choice to only count free literary events toward the punch card. “If every event qualifies,” Lorberer said, “we’re not doing our job of highlighting events that might be in danger of being overlooked.”
So if all works out as planned, the bookstores will see bigger crowds for their events, authors will have an audience, and literature fans will save a little bit of money on their next purchase. Lorberer thinks that there may also be a secondary benefit from the program—one that humanizes the literary and publishing worlds: “My hope for an ancillary benefit is that our local audience develops a sense of what really goes into writing and publishing a book. It’s easy for people to take for granted that people put blood, sweat, and tears into an enterprise.”
8/23/2011 7:33:23 PM
Modern literature is uninspired, complains poet Bei Dao, whose acclaimed poems helped fuel China’s pro-democracy movement in the ’70s and ’80s and led to his exile for decades. He blames the literary decline on mindless consumerism and base entertainment, reports China Daily/Xinhua in an interview with the poet:
[Bei Dao] pointed out that previously a clear-cut division existed between “vulgar” culture and “serious” culture, but today vulgar culture is swallowing serious culture like a black hole, and unfortunately, many writers are forced to lower their writing standards to cater to vulgarity.
To overcome this debasement, he calls for a new generation of smart readers to reignite the art. And the place to start is the poetry classroom: “Modern education kills young people’s imagination and creativity, so we need to promote poetry instruction to sharpen their awareness of literature,” says Bei Dao, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Critics, it seems, are the key to our literary future.
Bei Dao’s most recent book is The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems (2010). Best known for his 1976 poem “The Answer,” written in response to an early Tiananmen Square protest, the meditative poet continues to write long-form poetry, saying, “I’ve always believed my best poem should be the next one.”
Source: China Daily
Image by DoNotLick
, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/12/2011 9:49:54 AM
“The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. ... Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say “and then?” If it is in a plot we ask “why?”— E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
In Berlin, pretty Berlin, in the spring time,
You are never not wondering how
It happened ...
— Robert Hass, “Bush’s War”
If I knew, even roughly, how Berlin died, I would lay out the facts in a chain of evidence. And if I had a theory, however tenuous, about the city’s post-mortem life, I would argue it straight up: major premise, minor premise, conclusion. As it is, even the rough arc of exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement feels a bit shaky at best. But I can tell you how it feels, in July, on a sunny day late in the month, at the end of my twelve-week stay in the world’s strangest city.
I’m in Berlin for one reason: to explore how fact and fiction might profitably be collided together. I’ve been in town since early spring, teaching a seminar on that topic at the Freie Universität, with two dozen students from all over Germany who were born knowing more about the topic than I can ever presume to teach them.
The course is an experiment, probably not a great thing to try while a guest in a foreign country. But I’ve always wanted to explore, in a classroom, how factual argument and fictive projection, set side by side, might triangulate into places that neither can reach alone. Shaw may be right that “The sign of a truly educated person is to be deeply moved by statistics.” But natural selection has shaped us to be moved mainly by things on our own private scale. Discursive argument models and projects, producing tremendous leverage, but without a hook that hits us where we live, facts rarely compel us to change our lives. Narrative imagination can twist our guts and shatter our souls, but it’s mired in local fates that must be small enough to look familiar.
Suppose, though, that you yoked the two together. Thought and feeling, argument and stories, statistical analysis and good old twists of the viscera: these two inimical modes, played off of one another, might produce a kind of deep parallax, tricking the mind’s eye into turning those two skewed planes into the illusion of three dimensions. I’ve come to Berlin to test the idea in a live clinical trial.
In class, we’ve read many strange and unclassifiable things, works that hover somewhere between factual knowledge about the world and fictional embodiment of the world’s would-be knowers. We’ve read Julian Barnes’s idiosyncratic but entirely reliable biography of Flaubert, told by a wholly unreliable fictional biographer. As Barnes’s invented mouthpiece meditates on either Emma Bovary or his own shadowy wife: “Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this.”
We’ve read Paul Broks’s chimerical excursion, Into the Silent Land, with its collage of neuroscience, clinical case histories, memoir, philosophical essay, and bare naked short story. Broks’s essays prove that there is no Self, no master narrative holding us together; but his fictive personal memoir can’t escape having one. The brain is condemned to think that it’s a soul, and to describe that impossible hybrid state, Broks says:
One has to be bilingual, switching from the language of neuroscience to the language of experience; from talk of “brain systems” and “pathology” to talk of “hope,” “dread,” “pain,” “joy,” “love,” “loss,” and all the other animals, fierce and tame, in the zoo of human consciousness.
My students have swallowed every bastard hybrid genre I’ve thrown at them. Fictocriticism, mockumentary, staged reality, Borgesian simulated lectures, psycho-journalism, unattributed sampling, hip-hop mashup, real actors playing imaginary authors making pixelated media appearances while selling brutally frank memoirs filled with the slightly altered real-life experiences of some other, dissembling author. My sales pitch has worked so well with this group that, by the end of the semester, I’m appalled at what I’ve unleashed. James Frey, J. T. LeRoy, lonelygirl15, COPS and Survivor and America’s Next Top Model: bring it all on, my German students say. The blurrier the better. They have grown up in a world that laughs at the very distinctions that I’ve come here to challenge, and in class, they regard me with affectionate pity for my quaint belief in the existence of boundaries that a writer might still hope to exploit by transgressing.
Read the rest of Richard Powers' essay
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Image by Frank Schirrmeister.
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