Saturday, October 29, 2011

Swell Books

From: Escape from Realty

"Upwards of 11,000 books have been challenged in American libraries and schools since Banned Books Week was born in the last week of September back in 1982. We wanted to draw some attention to books that have been censored over the years, so we got in touch with Sarah Murphy, a school librarian and co-founder (with Maria Falgoust) of The Desk Set, a 'social and philanthropic group for librarians and bibliophiles.' Sarah writes, 'Those who attempt to ban books are probably afraid of whatever is inside. So, what are they most afraid of? Judging from the dangers cited this year, it’s sex.' [...]
      Let’s celebrate our freedom to read by checking out the books that got the would-be book banners’ totally chaste knickers in a knot. Here are ten suggested titles; some are new to the list, others have been challenged for decades."
— Kathleen Massara, FLAVORWIRE

Friday, October 28, 2011

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." — Thomas Mann

Illustration: Michael Hale

"[...] what's the best time of day to write? and its corollary: how many hours are necessary?
     Some writers (Dickens among them) are larks. Others – more nocturnal – are owls. Robert Frost, whose remote Vermont cabin I visited recently in company with his biographer Jay Parini, never started work till the afternoon, and often stayed up till two or three in the morning, not rising until midday, or even later. Proust, famously, worked night and day in a cork-lined room. I remember reading somewhere that Raymond Chandler observed that it was impossible to write well for more than four hours a day. What do you do in the afternoon?
     There's also the question of how long it might take to complete a novel. Here, you encounter literary legends. Faulkner claimed to have completed As I Lay Dying in six weeks. In the mid-1930s, PG Wodehouse, who wrote fast once he had the mechanics of his plots straight, polished off the last 10,000 words of Very Good, Jeeves! in a single day. In his autobiography, A Sort of Life, Graham Greene describes writing Stamboul Train on benzedrine, to pay the bills, working against the clock. Further back, Samuel Johnson wrote Rasselas, which is short, in a fortnight to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral. Or so it's said.
     More usually, a 60-70,000 word novel seems to take at least a year to complete, allowing for two or three drafts, although often the first, rough outline can get written in a matter of weeks. The strange truth about a lot of fiction is that the dominant moments that animate an entire novel can occur to the writer in a matter of minutes. After that, in the words of one New Zealand writer I recall with affection, 'it's just typing.' " — Robert McCrum, Guardian

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ghost (in the machine) Writer

"Artist Jeremy Mayer creates striking representations of human anatomy using only typewriter parts. Mayer doesn’t weld or glue any of the components, preferring rather that the pieces hold together naturally. The resulting biomechanical artwork transcends 'steampunk' aesthetic and clicks neatly into place among surrealists like H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski. You can follow Jeremy Mayer on Twitter (@jeremymayer) or view a live webcam feed from his Palo Alto studio here..." — Josh Ellington, Laughing Squid

"One day, I stumbled across a book on Amazon called “Saltine Cracker.” It didn’t make sense: who would pay $54 for a book entirely about perforated crackers? The book was co-edited by someone called Lambert M. Surhone — a name that sounds like one of Kurt Vonnegut’s inventions. According to Amazon, Lambert M. Surhone has written or edited more than 100,000 titles, on every subject from beekeeping to the world’s largest cedar bucket. He was churning out books at a rate that was simply not possible for a human being.
     So who was Lambert M. Surhone? Just looking at the numbers, you could argue that he’s one of the most prolific creators of literature who ever lived. But was he even human? There are now software programs — robots, if you will — that can gather text and organize it into a book. Surhone might be one of them."
— Pagan Kennedy, The New York Times

How Ham Became Wilbur

"Not long before E.B. White started writing his classic children’s story Charlotte’s Web about a spider called Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur, he had a porcine encounter that seems to have deeply affected him. In a 1947 essay for the Atlantic Monthly, he describes several days and nights spent with an ailing pig—one he had originally intended to butcher. '[The pig’s] suffering soon became the embodiment of all earthly wretchedness,' White wrote. The animal died, but had he recovered it is very doubtful that White would have had the heart to carry out his intentions. 'The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig,' he wrote in the essay.
     That sentiment became part of the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web, published in 1952 and still one of the most beloved books of all time. Now a new book, The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims, focuses on White’s lifelong connection to animals and nature."
— Chloe Schama, Smithsonian

Buy Michael Sim's new book, and Charlotte's Web here...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teen Top Ten

"Fiction for teenagers is a comparatively new affair. When I was in my teens no one wrote any at all. You had to go straight from children's books to adult books without a pause. Even when I started writing in the 1990s, what was called teen fiction was really only for the first two or three years at high school at the most, with one or two honourable exceptions.
     Today, teenage fiction still covers a multitude of sins. It can range from books really written for children, which publishers call 'teen' for sales reasons, through books aimed at high-school students up to the age of 14 or so, to books for people nearing the end of their school careers.
     So here's a list of the top 10 writers who write (or wrote) especially for people of at least 14. It contains the most influential, the most popular, and in some cases simply the best."
— Melvin Burgess (author of Junk, The Cry of the Wolf, and Nicholas Dane), Guardian

Get all these books here...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

General Decline

Photo: Michael Hale

"On the morning of Feb. 11, 2011, hours before Hosni Mubarak submitted to the millions of his subjects clamoring for his resignation, a half-dozen retired generals sipped coffee poolside at the Gezira Club, kitted up for tennis and contemptuously dismissed the demonstrators in Tahrir Square. “Who do they represent?” scoffed a man who until recently had worked in state security. “They are loud, but don’t forget there are 79 million Egyptians who are not in Tahrir Square. They are the majority.”
     It never crossed their minds that Mubarak might capitulate, as he would do later that day, or that the passivity of most Egyptians did not equal support for a regime that had squandered Egypt’s position at the head of the Arab world while excelling only at abuse and corruption. That rank incomprehension — one might less charitably call it arrogant cluelessness — stretched from the coffee klatch at the Gezira Club through the entire government. Yet Egypt had managed to remain a stable linchpin of American policy in the Middle East for decades, until suddenly it wasn’t.

The joke goes that upon being sworn in,
Mubarak took his first ride in the presidential
limo. The veteran driver reached a fork in
the road. “Nasser always turned left here,”
the chauffeur said. “Sadat always turned
right. What would you like to do?”
After long thought, Mubarak decided:
“Just stay where we are.”

     This transformation, along with the internal decline from pride of the Arab world to shameful decaying autocracy, is the subject of Steven A. Cook’s Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (Oxford University Press). The book clearly was in the making long before the uprising. [...]
     Cook’s central contention is that since the military coup of 1952, Egypt’s leaders have never had an ideology. Instead, they have resorted to an increasingly complicated and cruel apparatus of coercion, bullying the citizenry into consent but failing to create any positive reason to support the state." — Thanassis Cambanis, New York Times
Buy the book here...

Monday, October 24, 2011

"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stainedglass window." — Raymond Chandler

Los Angeles, 1949 (from: We Had Faces Then)
"Farewell, My Lovely was published in 1940 by Raymond Chandler, the virtual inventor of the hard-boiled private detective.  It’s the second novel he wrote, and features the iconic detective Philip Marlowe.  Marlowe is not a very nice person sometimes (and one wouldn’t expect him to be, given the kind of people he has to deal with) but he’s honest, and strong, and brave to the point of foolishness.  That’s what we want in a private eye, anyway, right?
     [...] Even though Chandler finally pieces the puzzle together in a highly satisfactory way, one doesn’t read him merely for the story itself. His method of storytelling, along with his turns of phrase and imagery are as equally compelling as the plot itself."— TIME ENOUGH AT LAST

For a history of Los Angeles (and California), check out this series by Kevin Starr: Americans and the California Dream, which includes the previously published Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915, and Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era. The next installment is The Dream Endures: California through the Great Depression. From Oxford University Press

Get books by Raymond Chandler and Kevin Starr here...

Dirty Books

From: Wikipedia

"Why are there so many mistakes in the e-versions of print books?
[...] 'In the print book production process, typesetters work from an author's word processing files that have been electronically edited and are ready to proceed to the next stage: formatting and page layout. [says Maggie Dana]
     Typesetters strip the author's codes and import these word processing files into page layout programs, such as Adobe InDesign or Quark, and massage them into attractive book pages per the publisher's design specifications. At this point, all connection with the author's original files is lost. Any changes made from this point forward are made solely inside the page layout software, NOT in the Word document as well. It is not a parallel process.
     From these page layout documents, typesetters generate PDFs to send to the publisher as page proofs. The publisher and author mark their
 corrections on the PDFs and send them back to the typesetter, who makes the changes. There are often several rounds of proof corrections going back and forth before everyone is happy. Therefore the final PDF that goes off to the printer is often quite different from the author's original Word files.' "
— Karen Dionne, Huffington Post

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it." — Mark Twain, Notebook, 1898

From: Eureka Booksellers

"Federal Election Commission records show that the former Godfather's Pizza executive [Herman Cain] paid more than $64,000 of his presidential campaign funds to his motivational speaking company, T.H.E. New Voice Inc., for copies of his own books [...]
Cain says the books are being given away to supporters to acquaint voters with his life story. One of the books in question, Cain's autobiography This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House, was in fourth place on the New York Times bestseller list over the weekend." — Lindsey Boerma, CBS News

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paper Trails

From: A Writer's Ruminations
From: A Writer's Ruminations

Dylan Thomas (circa 1946)

From: A Writer's Ruminations
From: The American Society of Cinematographers

"What strikes me here with such force is the wonder that these fragile pieces of paper have survived the ravages of time. What record we do have of the artistic process recorded in these papers, is due to visionary/ obsessive collectors and scholars who have sensed that more than just information resides here: that there inheres a palpable sense of the artist himself that is the particular province of such papers."
The American Society of Cinematographers

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"... amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers..."


"Ayn Rand is one of America's great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that 'the masses'—her readers—were 'lice' and 'parasites' who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is 'evil' and selfishness is 'the only virtue,' she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?
     Two new biographies of Rand—Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller—try to puzzle out this question, showing how her arguments found an echo in the darkest corners of American political life.
     But the books work best, for me, on a level I didn't expect. They are thrilling psychological portraits of a horribly damaged woman who deserves the one thing she spent her life raging against: compassion. [...]"
— Johann Hari, Slate

Get books by Ayn Rand and the two new biographies here...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From: Tattered Cover

Author: 50% Reader: 60%

"What is the art of immersion? The focus of the book is on how the internet is changing storytelling; and the idea is really that every time a new medium comes along, it takes people 20 or 30 years to figure out what to do with it, to figure out the grammar of that medium.
      The motion picture camera was invented around 1890 and it was really about 1915 before the grammar of cinema--all the things we take for granted now, like cuts and point-of-view shots and fades and pans--were consolidated into first what we would recognize as feature films. Birth of a Nation being the real landmark. It wasn't the first film that had these characteristics but it was the first film to use all of them and that people settled on that really made a difference.
       I think we are not quite there yet with the internet but we can see the outlines of what is happening, what is starting to emerge; and it's very different from the mass media that we've been used to for the past 150 years. How so? Essentially, mass media is broadcasting, whether it's in print or over the air or whatever. It's one to many. [...] it was essentially one-way communication. There was very little way for people to write back. [...]
      But one of the things your book does is it makes you realize how pervasive storytelling is and how fundamentally human an act it is. We like telling stories, we like listening to stories [...] When we retell them, we retell them with our own additions, subtractions; we retell jokes all the time, the most primitive form of it. The audience communication among each other is one of the things your book brings out.[...] You give a marvelous example of 19th century participation with the serial novel. [...]
      Dickens as a young novelist was very influenced by the technology of the day, and so were his publishers. The situation was, in England in the 1830s, you had large numbers of people who had recently migrated to cities. Increasing numbers of them were literate, far more than had been the case even 50 years before. At the same time you had fairly rapid advances in transportation with the railroads, which guaranteed a distribution system, and printing presses, and the manufacture of paper. At the same time this sort of newly literate potential audience did not have a lot of money, so it wasn't very easy for them to go out and actually buy a book. But they could afford a small portion of a book. So, novelists like Dickens published their books in monthly installments, occasionally even in weekly installments. This meant that the writing of the novel was very much an iterative process. It was ongoing as the novel was being published. So, this made it possible for readers to make their feelings known.
     And Dickens was, I think, perhaps even more than other writers at the time, very responsive to what his readers said. He didn't always follow their suggestions. With Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, as it became increasingly apparent that she was going to meet an untimely demise, there was a great hue and cry."
— Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk in discussion with Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way we Tell Stories
Get The Art of Immersion here...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Booker Nominee Roundup

From: Huffington Post

Thrice-shortlisted author Julian Barnes is the favorite among gamblers to win the Man Booker Prize 2011. But is his the best book on the shortlist? All six are written from the point of view of fictional narrators.

     Which ones are worth reading, and which ones truly aren't?

     Here below is our Book Editor's reviews of the entire Man Booker Prize shortlist, along with short excerpts from each book. — Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post

News Flash!
Julian Barnes (The Sense Of An Ending) is the winner.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Stuff just turns up like that."

" [...] when he was writing Thief of Time more than a decade ago he decided to call one of his characters Ronnie Soak. Soak is the fifth horseman of the apocalypse – the one who left before they got famous. His name was picked at random, so Pratchett was astonished when he noticed what it sounded like backwards. Suddenly, he knew of what this particular horseman would be a harbinger. 'I thought chaos – yes! Chaos, the oldest,' he says. 'Stuff just turns up like that.'
[...] A.S. Byatt [1990 Booker Prize winner for fiction: Possession: A Romance] said on the book's publication that it should have been nominated for the Booker prize. But it was a fantasy novel; it was funny; it was a bestseller. Unsurprisingly enough, it wasn't. And despite Pratchett's immense popularity (75 million copies sold of his 67 books), it took a while for the literary establishment to notice – apart from Byatt. She is, she says, still a fan today, calling him 'a great storyteller, and splendidly inventive with the English language – both as farce and as comedy and as (successful) dreadful jokes for teenagers. I also think he's wise and morally complicated. And grown up, although he appeals to the young.'
[...] Today, Professor Sir Terry Pratchett is sitting in his local pub, a half of Ferret in front of him, awaiting his bubble and squeak. He's happy to be talking about his books; ever since he announced to the world in late 2007 the "embuggerance" that is his early onset Alzheimer's – or posterior cortical atrophy – he has been swamped with media attention as he fights to raise awareness of the disease." — Alison Flood, Guardian

Buy Terry Pratchett's books here...

Local writer David Beynon's novel The Platinum Ticket was shortlisted for The 2011 Terry Pratchett Prize.
Read more about David Beynon here...
And read his short story, "Symbiosis" in Evolve Two... you can buy Evolve Two here...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The saga of Rin Tin Tin begins in 1918 when army gun-mechanic Lee Duncan ventures out on a battlefield to inspect the ruins of an abandoned German encampment. There, in a kennel full of 20 slaughtered dogs, he hears the sound of whimpering, and finds himself rescuing a frantic female German Shepherd and her litter of five. 'From the moment he found these puppies, Lee considered himself a lucky man,' writes [Susan] Orlean.
     [...] Critics raved about [Rin Tin Tin's] unusual ability to act — or at least to appear to convey emotion on film. Some called him the Barrymore of dogdom. (These were the days of silent film, where a lot was read into an empathetic facial expression.) But like so many of his species, Rin Tin Tin excelled as an exceptional action-adventure star, able to leap effortlessly from one roof top to another and over walls. He could outrun horses, he could even climb trees. Unsurprisingly, every kid wanted a dog like Rinty. [...]
     By 1927 Rinty was not only designated 'the most popular performer in the U.S.' but was also named as the correspondent in the divorce between Duncan and his wife, who told the Los Angeles Times: 'All he cared for was Rin Tin Tin.' When the dog died in 1932, Duncan buried him in a bronze casket in his backyard with a simple cross."—Merrill Markoe, Los Angeles Review of Books
Get this book here...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Write, Eat, Write, Eat, Eat, Eat...

From: Monique's Passions

"In Balzac’s Omelette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honoré de Balzac, author Anka Muhlstein regales readers with anecdotes and excerpts from the great French writer’s life that underscore the importance of cuisine in his oeuvre. [...]
     During creative periods—which were often, as he had to write to fend off creditors—he stinted himself for days, subsisting on water and fruit. Muhlstein writes how on certain occasions Balzac breakfasted on 'a boiled egg … or sardines mashed with butter.' Come evening, he might nibble 'a chicken wing or a slice of roast leg of lamb.' To keep the creative juices flowing, he ended his meals with 'a cup or two of excellent black coffee without sugar.' These productive phases saw Balzac practicing austerities that would befit the strictest cloister, but once he sent the proofs to press he would race to the nearest eatery to down 'a hundred oysters' and chase them 'with four bottles of white wine.' And these delicacies were merely hors d’oeuvres. Subsequent courses consisted of 'twelve salt meadow lamb cutlets with no sauce, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridge, a Normandy sole.' Dessert followed, as did 'a special fruit such as Comice pears, which he ate by the dozen.' He usually sent the bills for these orgiastic bouts to his publishers."
— Christine Baumgarthuber, The New Inquiry

Shabby Chic

From: Slice of Style

"[According to Henry James] the story of their [the Brontë sisters] 'dreary' existence ('their tragic history, their loneliness and poverty of life') had supplanted the achievement of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. [...]
      James might be surprised to find that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are both widely read and critically esteemed today. There's been no let-up, either, in attempts to translate them into different media: the Enthusiast's Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations website lists 25 since the 1980s. New film versions of both novels are appearing this autumn: Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre (with a screenplay by Moira Buffini) was released on Friday, and Andrea Arnold's version of Wuthering Heights will follow in November. Still, the issue James raised back in 1905 remains pertinent. Is our infatuation with the Brontës more to do with their lives than with their work? How to explain their enduring popularity?" — Blake Morrison, Guardian