Sunday, December 15, 2013

sold down the river

“‘A shilling life will give you all the facts,’ wrote W. H. Auden, tipping his hat to the biographer’s art while lamenting its utter inadequacy. Jeff Bezos, whose total conquest of e-commerce has made him one of the most famous people on the planet, has until now evaded any serious biographer. There have been shilling lives in the strictest sense, from the cut-and-paste job of Richard L. Brandt’s One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of to the YA hagiography of Josepha Sherman’s Jeff Bezos: King of (“From the time he was a toddler, Bezos was busy trying to change his world. He felt he was too old to sleep in a ‘baby’ crib, so he found a screwdriver and took the crib apart!”).
     But Bezos has tightly controlled the flow of information about himself and his company. What readers have encountered is the same small fund of recycled anecdotes, most of them focusing on his childhood (brilliant nerd, inveterate tinkerer, ardent Trekkie) and the creation myth of Amazon itself, complete with the now obligatory reference to the role played by the founder’s suburban garage.
     Now, nearly twenty years after Bezos sold his first book online — for the record, it was Douglas Hofstadter’s appropriately brilliant and nerdy consideration of artificial intelligence Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies — a skilled, stubborn biographer has finally caught up with him.”
— James Marcus, Harper’s Magazine
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"the electricity goes on and off"

From: Haiku Poetry Project

“As literary coincidences go, it might not carry quite the same cosmic portent as Halley’s Comet appearing in the month of Mark Twain’s birth. But Monday [March 21, 2011] happen[ed] to be both World Poetry Day and the fifth anniversary of the moment when a young American software designer named Jack Dorsey sent out to the world the first message using the service that soon became known as Twitter.
     The ambrosial stuff of poesy it was not, except maybe to Dilbert fans: 'inviting coworkers.'
     But the confluence of these two events — both having to do with humanity’s deep and sometimes uncontrollable need to communicate — is occasioning a fresh outpouring of opinion about the future of Twitter as a vehicle for real creativity, not just for entertaining train wrecks like Charlie Sheen’s.
     For much of Twitter’s life, the idea that its 140-character stricture could be a crucible for a new kind of ambitious writing has been, more than anything else, a punch line.
     The 2009 publication of ‘Twitterature’ — a book in which 80 works of Western literature are boiled down into Twitter messages (“Laertes is unhappy that I killed his father and sister. What a drama queen! Oh well, fight this evening.”) — didn’t help matters.
     But there’s evidence that the literary flowering of Twitter may actually be taking place. The Twitter haiku movement — ‘twaiku’ to its initiates — is well under way. Science fiction and mystery enthusiasts especially have gravitated to its communal immediacy. And even litterateurs, with a capital L, seem to be warming to it.”
— Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
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“The fact that the smallest literary form - haiku - has the most rules never ceases to amaze and astound. The only real comfort one can find in this situation is the concept that this affords a wider range of rules from which a writer can pick and choose. You cannot follow all of the rules and several of them are so contradictory that there is no way to honor them both at once. You must always choose.
     In order to make a choice, you have to understand the reasons and methods. To write about one or two 'rules' as if these are the 'real rules' could (and should!) easily offend those of the society membership who have chosen to follow opposite or other guidelines. So let me make the disclaimer that in discussing these rules I am only discussing some of the current disciplines I am following in my own haiku writing and which are currently shared by a majority of writers.
     First and foremost, and certainly the guideline which I have consciously or unconsciously followed the longest, is the one that a haiku must be divided into two parts. This is the positive side of the rule that haiku should not be a run-on sentence.
From: SomeEcards
     There needs to be a syntactical break dividing the ku into two parts. From the Japanese language examples this meant that one line (5 onji) was separated from the rest by either grammar or punctuation (in the Japanese an accepted sound-word - kireji - was as if we said or wrote out 'dash' or 'comma').
     For purposes of this discussion, I would like to call the shorter portion, the fragment and the longer portion, or rest of the poem, the phrase.The need for distinguishing between the two parts of the ku takes on importance when one begins to discuss the use of articles (a, an, & the) because it is possible to have different rules concerning the different parts. Before getting into that, let me state that the fragment can be (or usually is) either line # one or line # three. A clear example of the first is;

rain gusts
the electricity goes
on and off

     Even without punctuation the reader can hear and feel the break between the fragment (rain gusts) and the phrase (the electricity goes on and off). Also one instinctively feels that the second line break would go after goes. Yet, another author may find merit in continuing the line to read 'the electricity goes on' and then let the final line bring in the dropped shoe - 'and off'. I chose to have 'on and off' as the third line because my goal was to establish an association between 'rain gusts' and 'on and off.'
     One can write of many qualities of 'rain gusts,' but in this ku, the 'on and off' aspect is brought forward and then reinforced by bringing in the power of electricity.”
— Jane Reichhold, AHApoetry

after the fall

From: Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive

“Think humans are way smarter than other animals? Not so fast, Einstein!

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia argue in an upcoming book, The Dynamic Human, that humans really aren't much smarter than other creatures -- and that some animals may actually be brighter than we are.

'For millennia, all kinds of authorities -- from religion to eminent scholars -- have been repeating the same idea ad nauseam, that humans are exceptional by virtue that they are the smartest in the animal kingdom,' the book's co-author Dr. Arthur Saniotis, a visiting research fellow with the university's School of Medical Sciences, said in a written statement. 'However, science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings.'"
— Dominique Mosbergen, Huffington Post
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“Does the rise in IQ scores over the past century mean people are getting smarter? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, IQ scores around the world have been increasing at a rate of around three points per decade, leaving intelligence researchers puzzling over whether historical gains in IQ—known as the 'Flynn effect'—reflect an increase in general intelligence or something else, be it better education, better nutrition or even bigger brains. A new paper published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences (2014) may have the answer: We’re getting better at taking tests.”
— Alice Robb, New Republic
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

artist as criminal

"More than 500 of the world's leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.
     The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people's digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.
     They have urged the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the internet age."
— Mathew Taylor and Nick Hopkins, The Guardian
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Monday, December 9, 2013

"[...] between two loud claps of thunder"

“Most of us will for a time occupy this anxious, transitional space between two worlds, as described by Lord Byron in Don Juan (Canto Fifteen): 'Between two worlds life hovers like a star, / ’Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.'
     Holy Saturday unfolds in this dark space, in the tomb where Jesus lay in a kind of unrealized state, perhaps plunging into psychic or spiritual depths in what has often been called the Harrowing of Hell — a legend without much scriptural basis suggesting that Jesus made a kind of wild descent, with mythic overtones, into the underworld.
     In fact, mythologies often describe a turn when the hero descends to a deep pit or a place of psychological, spiritual, or physical confinement, as when Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale or Gilgamesh descended into the underworld in a quest for immortality. Nearly all heroic or mythic tales include a part of the heroic cycle where the hero visits some version of Hell or Hades in his or her quest for immortality (Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess, is a female example).
     In any case, the Sacred Sabbath, as it’s often called with reference to Easter weekend, represents a place where Jesus dives into the darkness before the Resurrection. It lies between two loud claps of thunder, an emptiness wherein we sense a horrifying loss of life, on the one hand, yet remain expectant: in a state of gradually realizing awareness of the life to come. […]
     In John, Jesus passes through locked doors like a ghost — an unsettling image that suggests an incorporeal aspect, stressing his spiritual nature. In Luke 24:41–43, he astonishes his disciples by eating 'a piece of broiled fish' as well as swallowing honey.
     It’s as if, by looking at him, they didn’t expect as much. He has to prove his real presence. For the most part, the appearances of Jesus retain a dreamlike quality, as in Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, where he hears a voice from the Lord, which says: 'I am Jesus, the one whom you persecute' (Acts 9:5). When Paul opens his eyes, however, he sees nothing. The spirit has vanished.
     Huge questions confront anyone thinking about Jesus. Did he really rise from the dead? Was there an actual Resurrection? If so, what would that look like? A large number of Christians throughout history have imagined a resuscitation, refusing to countenance the slightest hint that the Resurrection should be regarded as something beyond human understanding. I myself would argue this: life and death are mysterious, at best, and the membrane between the living and the dead is a porous one, perilously thin.”
— Jay Parini, Salon
from his book Jesus: The Human Face of God
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“dark waters of desire”

From: Retronaut

See more "Lesbian Pulp Fiction" here…

“[…] a string of popcorn on a Christmas tree.”

“Science has long treated religion as a set of personal beliefs that have little to do with a rational understanding of the mind and the uni-verse. However, B. Alan Wallace--former monk, assistant to the Dalai Lama, and respected Buddhist scholar--proposes that the contemplative methodologies of Buddhism and of Western science are capable of being integrated into a single discipline: ‘contemplative science.’”
— Alan Wallace, Wisdom Quarterly
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"Over time, the practitioner [of shamatha meditation] begins to notice the sheer quantity of thoughts and feelings that his mind is generating. He sees the way that these mental phenomena have a mysterious life of their own — that they arise from nowhere and then disappear again. He starts to realize that it is possible to see thoughts and feelings without judging them, reacting to them, or identifying with them.
     As this happens, the practitioner begins to notice some of the stories he tells himself. Some of these are big stories — about the kind of person he is, the ‘meaning’ of his life, and so on. Others are much smaller — his narrative about why he should buy this toothbrush rather than that one, for example. But in both cases he starts to see that these stories are simply composed of thoughts and feelings — like a string of popcorn on a Christmas tree. In other words, he sees that his stories about himself are made-up, too. (Practitioners of contemporary cognitive behavioural therapy — CBT — might find such insights familiar.) […]
     OCD often feels like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except that all the choices suck and all the adventures hurt. However, as I’ve begun to learn through Buddhist study and ritual, those ‘choices’ are illusory, and there’s no one being hurt. In fact, there’s no one there at all. The attempt to attain pleasure or avoid pain, to stay consistent with a storyline, to ensure some kind of outcome, to be somebody — this is what causes so much suffering.”
— Matt Bieber, aeon
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“JK Rowling has revealed that the OCD-afflicted lead character in her new novel was actually inspired by her personal experience with the disorder.
     The 'Harry Potter' author describes how her own battles with anxiety and depression helped shape her protagonist in her new adult novel The Casual Vacancy.”
— ANI, Yahoo!
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a room of your own, with a view... and a book

See more "reading nooks" here...

“If you have a passion for books, a reading nook is likely a dream feature for your home. We count ourselves among those dreamers, which is why we're featuring these small-but-stylish spaces for this week's #SanctuarySunday round-up. We've chosen our favourite nooks from Houzz -- which one do you like best?”
Huffington Post

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french toast

“French authors routinely appear in the English-speaking world's lists of the best novels ever - Voltaire, Flaubert, and Proust… sometimes Dumas and Hugo too. But when it comes to post-war literature, it's a different story. Even voracious readers often struggle to name a single French author they have enjoyed.
     France once had a great literary culture, and most French people would say it still does. But if so, how come their books don't sell in the English-speaking world?
     Is that our fault or theirs?
     And how come the French themselves read so many books that are translated from English and other languages? […]
     Even Marc Levy, whose romantic adventures have sold more than 40 million copies around the world and whose first book If Only It were True inspired the 2005 Hollywood movie Just Like Heaven, finds the attitude of UK and US publishers deeply irksome.
     ‘The caricature of a British publisher is someone totally convinced that if a book is French then it cannot possibly work in the UK market,’ he says. ‘I often joke that the only way to get published in Britain if you're French is to pretend you're Spanish. If you've been a best-seller in France, it's a sure-fire recipe for not getting a deal in the UK.
     ‘As for US publishers, they're so convinced that with 350 million potential readers and a big stable of American writers, they've got everything covered - every genre, every style. So why bother?’”
— Hugh Schofield, BBC News Magazine
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Buy all of Marc Levy's books (in French and English) here...

Friday, December 6, 2013

“He was a tall string bean and weighed nothing.”— Ben Bradlee Jr.

“[…] Mickey Mantle would stand and watch him take batting practice. When Williams homered in his last at-bat in 1960, the on-deck hitter, catcher Jim Pagliaroni, dropped his bat and started to cry. [...]
     But Williams' personal life was a mess. Though he quietly committed countless acts of kindness and generosity, he also railed at sportswriters, cursed and spat at fans, and took out his rage on those closest to him, hurling profanity at his wives and children and ripping phones out of the wall. And in a truly bizarre ending to his life's story, his son had Williams' head and body cryonically frozen, generating a bitter family dispute that played out in the Boston media.”
NPR Books
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“An unfinished book. left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will and ruthless determination to tame it again.”— Ruth Ozeki

Andrei Roiter

“The novel, like all art, reaches for immortality, but the unfinished novel is bound up with mortality and the limits of time. In my view, that makes it even more beautiful than a finished novel. We're left to imagine the completion that is forever suspended. How was the writer ever going to tie up such a complicated plot? What was he or she going to do with all those characters and their noisy, difficult yearnings? And what was it all supposed to mean? As we circle these questions, the author becomes paradoxically more and more present to us in the work left behind. We feel his or her humanity because we see the traces of mortality everywhere on the page. These books are marked by the rush to finish coupled with the wish to never end.
     The universe of unfinished novels is large and diverse, full of acknowledged masterpieces, hidden gems, and many different kinds of incompleteness. Herewith a small selection: […]”
—Robert Siegel, BOOKFORUM
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A Marriage of Convenience

“A merged United States and Canada would have an economy larger than the European Union’s. The two would be an economic superpower, bigger than South America in size, with more energy, metals, minerals, water, arable land, resource potential, and technology than any other jurisdiction, all under U.S. military protection. […]
     Any merger, as the Germans and Europeans discovered, can be difficult. The U.S. and Canada have unique cultures, governments, healthcare, taxes, gun laws, and legal systems. But there are many ways to merge. One model would be a full-on merger as Germany accomplished in 1990, or a European Union-style merger involving the elimination of borders but not of governments.”
— Diane Francis, The Daily Beast
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“My erection beat time in my underwear.”

“An ecstatic bisexual orgy, which climaxes against a backdrop of imminent nuclear annihilation, has secured the prized Bad Sex in Fiction award for Manil Suri and his novel, The City of Devi.
     The Indian-born author joins Sebastian Faulks, Melvyn Bragg and Tom Wolfe among the pantheon of writers recognised by the Literary Review for producing the 'most egregious passage of sexual description in a novel.'
     Suri triumphed over authors including William Nicholson, who said he was 'ashamed' to have been shortlisted and Woody Guthrie, the Depression-era folk singer whose posthumously-published novel House of Earth featured ripe descriptions of hillbilly humping.”
— Adam Sherwin, The Independent
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There's a story here somewhere...

From: Retronaut

From: Jill Stanek
From: Retronut

Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013)

“Growing up in apartheid South Africa with widespread state censorship, it was hard to get to know our political leaders. The first time I actually saw a photograph of Nelson Mandela was in high school in the mid-1980s.
     A braver classmate had managed to sneak a few grainy images into our school — a full-face, younger Mandela, his fellow Robben Island inmate Walter Sisulu and the South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.
     We knew bits and pieces about the history of the struggle against white supremacy in our country, since apartheid-era history textbooks told only the manifest destiny-like tale of white settler triumph and the 'statesmanship' of figures like the mid-century Prime Minister Jan Smuts.
     So, the years since the end of apartheid meant catching up on our own history. After I came to the U.S. in 1995 to study at Northwestern University, I spent my Friday afternoons in the library, watching films that had been banned in South Africa. […]
     Since Mandela's release from prison in 1990 the myths and stories about him have grown, through many narratives constructed by journalists and the numerous films made about him and the many books written about his life. But these three, I think, provide a good introduction to this remarkable man, who always insisted that he was part of a larger struggle and a movement. [...]”
— Sean Jacobs, NPR Books
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013


“How to read a scroll that does not open because it is turned into charcoal? The short answer to this question is: with great difficulty. The challenge was prompted by the discovery of a large repository of some 1800 papyrus scrolls (made from plant leafs) in Herculaneum, a Roman city destroyed by an eruption of the Vesuvius in AD 79. They came to light in the 18th century, having been buried under tons of volcano ashes for almost 2000 years. Naturally, they were all pretty much toast. If you touch them they fall apart (pic 3), unrolling them is an impossibility. […]
     However, over the past few years various attempts have been made to visualize the scrolls’ contents by scanning them, including with the help of CT-scans. Although it allows us to look inside, even if the scroll is still embedded in hardened lava, no actual text has been retrieved as of yet.”
Erik Kwakkel
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From: YaleBooks

“‘We love great literature,’ it said. ‘We are excited by writing that changes the reader, and ultimately – even if it is in a very small way – the world. We love writing that is full of ideas, but that is also playful, funny and affecting. You won't write mass-market thrillers or children's fiction on our programmes. You'll be encouraged to look deep inside yourself for your own truth and your own experiences, and also outside yourself at the contemporary world around you. Then you'll work out how to turn what you find into writing that has depth, risk and originality but is always compelling and readable.’
     By the time I saw this, a number of children's writers including Philip Reeve had already protested. At first, the University couldn't see the problem. I tweeted the screenshot so everyone could see it and judge for themselves. It was picked up by the Guardian Children's Books feed, then by writers such as Patrick Ness and Michael Rosen, and is still being retweeted every few minutes, often accompanied by expressions of outrage and dismay.”
Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin, is
considered one of the best books ever
written for young adults.
— Philip Pullman, The Guardian (Books Blog)
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Here’s a list of classic children’s literature…

Buy all or any of them here...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

on the road in the 21st century

Photo: Nolan Conway (via Huffington Post)

“If you spend a lot of time on the road you may be familiar the unconventional Walmart policy allowing passengers to sleep in its parking lots. Photographer Nolan Conway delved into this American communal camping ground, capturing the faces and temporary homes of Walmart's contemporary nomads. […]
     The parked cars, packed full of belongings and memories, are a€œn unorthodox portrait of American life. "We sold everything we have and decided to find, as we put it, our American dream," photo subject Josiane Simpson told Conway.
     Yet not all of Conway's subjects were so optimistic. ‘There seemed to be a lot of people with mental disorders,’ Conway explained. ‘Many of them seemed to be sad and lonely a little bit, and being out there by myself I began to feel really similarly. But the stories were always really interesting.’”
Huffington Post
Read more and see the rest of Nolan Conway's pictures here…

“Based on a true story, Out There is a work of documentary fiction that begins by tracing Dr. Dee’s descent into homelessness. We are with her as she discovers the Rules of the Street: how to panhandle, how to feed herself from dumpsters, how to run from fights, how to find places to sleep.”
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Monday, December 2, 2013

André Schiffrin (14 June 1935 – 1 December 2013)

"PARIS - Andre Schiffrin, the literary editor who gave readers Art Spiegelman, Michel Foucault and Studs Terkel before he was forced out of commercial publishing in a defining battle between profits and literature, has died in Paris. He was 78. Schiffrin, who died Sunday of pancreatic cancer, had sought out authors through his final days, dividing his time between New York and Paris as founding editor and editor at large of the non-profit New Press, said Ellen Adler, the imprint's publisher. Schiffrin founded the New Press after his highly public departure from Pantheon Books in 1990. At least four other Pantheon editors walked out with him, as did numerous authors.”
— Lori Hinnant, The Associated Press via Yahoo!
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“The demise of a force in American literary publishing, André Schiffrin, in Paris at age 78, offers a moment to reflect on how Big Publishing works, and exactly how deep is its true reverence for the cultural and intellectual values that it wheels out periodically to defend copyright extension, DRM, the Apple price-fixing cartel, and its other self-interested curbs on free expression. For the former chief editor of Pantheon Books was the focus of a storm over editorial integrity versus commercial pressures when he was fired by the company’s parent Random House in 1990, in a move which many authors and others dubbed corporate censorship.
From: Melville House
     Schriffrin’s father Jacques Schriffrin was the creator of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, an imprint with immense cultural prestige in France. The Schriffrin family fled to New York when Vichy France’s anti-Jewish laws demanded his father’s dismissal from the company he founded. In 1962, Schriffrin joined Pantheon Books, already in the hands of Random House, as executive editor, and championed authors such as Marguerite Duras, Günter Grass, and Noam Chomsky. However, the imprint was concerned to use its revenues to finance less commercially successful books rather than to enrich its parent’s bottom line, and eventually there was a collision with Alberto Vitale, the new chairman of Random House, who asked Schriffrin to resign after he refused to cut either Pantheon’s list or its staff. Writers who demonstrated or spoke out against his dismissal included E.L. Doctorow, Studs Terkel, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.”
— Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead
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“Members of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s sister organization, the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ), demonstrated last week outside Montreal’s Great Library, calling for a nine-month period of discount control for new books. TWUC commends all recent protest actions in Quebec by writers, publishers and booksellers demanding subtle market regulation as a means of support for French-language literature.
     'More than anything else, the Quebec protests are about preserving the diverse, home-grown literature we’ve all spent so many decades building,' said Dorris Heffron, Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. 'TWUC stands with UNEQ in expressing our concern.
      The recent and rapid collapse of independent bookselling within the province of Quebec has led to a demonstrable contraction of available titles for Quebec’s book consumers. TWUC believes there is a place for retailers of all sizes in the book market, and that the pricing of books should reflect a fair and competitive market. The market damage from uncontrolled discounting leads to lower royalty rates for writers, discouraging the creation of new work. Market controls exist in other countries for similar reasons."
The Writers’ Union of Canada
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"In 1979, the legendary Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet won France's most coveted literary award, the Prix Goncourt, for the original version of this novel, Pélagie-la-Charette. In her acceptance speech, she said, 'I have avenged my ancestors.'
     Goose Lane Editions is proud to re-issue this classic of Acadian literature to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadie and the début of the novel's musical adaptation, Pélagie: An Acadian Odyssey. [...]
      This funny, lyrical account of a daring Acadian widow's journey home from exile is the Mother Courage of Acadian literature.”
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Saturday, November 30, 2013

"[...] a tool to show possible buyers"

Huckleberry Finn was already in press in 1884 when publisher Charles L. Webster received an alarmed letter from an advance salesman: A mischievous engraver had altered the illustration above to give it a rather darker character (NSFW).
     It certainly puts a new spin on the caption.
     Despite a reward of $500, the prankster was never identified. Webster had to call back all published copies of the novel, cut out the plate, and tip in a new one, delaying publication past the Christmas season. But it’s fortunate they caught it when they did — it could have ruined Mark Twain’s career."
Futility Closet
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“[…] It was too easy. Someone took the opportunity handed to him by the gods (most likely Loki or Hermes, depending on one’s cultural preference) and went for it. As with Twain’s other books, salesmen flooded American cities attempting to sell the book [Huckleberry Finn] through subscription before it was published. In lieu of showing a copy of the book that hadn’t yet been completed, the salesmen were given a prospectus as a tool to show possible buyers what the finished product would look like. The prospectus mimicked the binding of the book (including samples of the more expensive leather options), portions of the text, and examples of the illustrations. It was one of these traveling salesmen who first discovered the problem.
     The Uncle Silas plate had been defaced. A couple of minor strokes onto the engraved plate had given Uncle Silas a penis, sticking out obscenely in Huck’s direction. Uncle Silas was exposing himself to the boy.
     Suddenly Mrs. Phelps’s odd smile and the caption took on a new meaning.”
Aldine by Rebecca Romney
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"Castle Used Bookstore, Hay-on-Wye, Wales" – bookporn

“… a pinch of irony”

From: Z_loft

“Arms folded and cheek pressed on the keys. Sooner or later, at home or at work, we all end up by falling asleep on our computer’s keyboard. Turning the archetypal image of a keyboard, into a sofa bed, QWERTY is proposed to hold you on its soft 'keys' on evenings while working in the office or at home on a rainy afternoons spent watching the home video, bringing a pinch of irony in our daily life.
     Anyway QWERTY is much more than a sofa bed. Thanks to micro electric motors controlled by a remote control, every single key/cushion is adjustable in height to give total freedom to the full available surface. In this way, the furniture becomes a playful carpet, a comfortable support but an unconventional surface, to let the users to be able to design new configurations useful for everyday life, and to be happy to finally sleep on their keyboard.”
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Wordist's Block

In my darkest moments of advising budding writers, I used to say, “I have two words for all of you: ‘Plumber,’ and ‘Dentist.’”
     Now, bolstered by hard evidence (see below), I can streamline that suggestion:"Seek out a profession whose title has 'ist' at the end of it — but if you can't be swayed, try calling yourself a “Wordist.”

“Oops, did I mess up big time?! And you think you might want to be a writer too? Well, our chosen profession and vocation just happen to come out low and rock bottom in terms of career choices. At least according to, via the Wall Street Journal. Their poll of the Best and Worst Jobs of 2013, listing the top – and bottom – 200 professions, ranked “Author” as No. 156 and “Newspaper Reporter” as No. 200. Bummer, eh? If I’d turned right instead of left along that critical career path, I could have aspired to the heights of No. 1: “Actuary.” […]

   The lesson is clear. Parents, keep books away from your children at all costs. Except actuarial textbooks. Allow no Word in your house. Discourage all access to literature or fine writing whatsoever. You never know what bad habits they might pick up.
     And adults, any time you feel that deadly, seductive temptation to write words creeping over you, don’t hesitate: Call The heights of actuarydom await you.
     (The Society of Actuaries has confirmed that no actual actuaries were upset in the course of writing this article.)”
— Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead
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A gift from Nicholson Baker — who looks a lot like Santa Claus now

Nicholson Baker (Credit: AP/Pat Wellenbach/Salon) via Salon

“It’s very hard to put it in practice if you’re busy doing other things. For a while I was working with old newspapers; we were taking care of them in New Hampshire and people were coming to visit me as I played the role of an amateur librarian and I was asking people to help out with funding, so I had to get up very early in order to write every day. More recently, I have begun to realize that one writes in bursts. When you’re in the middle of writing a book, it’s very exciting and consuming and you think about nothing else, and then there are other periods where you are doing something else — I might be trying to write a song or maybe traveling places, giving readings or something, so I fudge a lot where I think, 'OK, did you write anything, did you write a text? Did you write an email? Did you write just notes on a scrap of paper? Did you write something?' So that’s how I get around it sometimes, by stretching the definition.
     Paul Chowder, the protagonist of my new novel, Traveling Sprinkler, is my soul mate and most of what is going through his head is also going through my head, although in sexual situations we’re a little different. But the thing that I found about writing is it’s wonderfully wasteful and that’s part of the usefulness of it. If you write every day, you’re going to write a lot of things that aren’t terribly good, but you’re going to have given things a chance to have their moments of sprouting.”
— Nicholson Baker, Salon

See a related post about Nicholson Baker’s latest book here…

Friday, November 29, 2013


"Howard University, 1946" (from: LIFE via  40's 50's 60's)

In the Beginning...

From: La Veja

“The name 'Codex Sinaiticus' literally means 'the Sinai Book'. It reflects two important aspects of the manuscript: its form and a very special place in its history.
     'Codex' means 'book'. By the time Codex Sinaiticus was written, works of literature were increasingly written on sheets that were folded and bound together in a format that we still use to this day. This book format was steadily replacing the roll format which was more widespread just a century before when texts were written on one side of a series of sheets glued together to make a roll. These rolls were made of animal skin (like most of the Dead Sea Scrolls) or the papyrus plant (commonly used for Greek and Latin literature).
     Using the papyrus codex was a distinctive feature of early Christian culture. The pages of Codex Sinaiticus however are of prepared animal skin called parchment. This marks it out as standing at an important transition in book history. Before it we see many examples of Greek and Latin texts on papyrus roll or papyrus codex, but almost no traces of parchment codices. After it, the parchment codex becomes normative.”
Codex Sinaiticus

“Despite its rather austere appearance, the Codex Sinaiticus is a treasure beyond price. Produced in the middle of the fourth century, its bound parchment pages hold the full canon of the Christian Bible and more […]
     Told here is the compelling story of how the Codex Sinaiticus was created and used in the ancient church; how it was preserved for centuries at the monastery of St. Catherine’s, Mount Sinai; its subsequent history and how its pages came to be divided and dispersed; and how it has been compiled again and made accessible to a worldwide audience for the first time.
     Publication in June 2009 coincides with the launch of the Codex Sinaiticus Project website, which includes a digitized 'virtual edition' of one of the most famous and remarkable manuscripts in the history of the church, the Bible, and book production in general.”
Read more…

Buy this book here...

a giant in the shadows

“Perhaps you’ve heard of [Margaret] ‘Maggie’ Millar. She’s a literary suspense author who, at the onset of World War II, explored female characters as they battled the daily accretions of frustrated ambition and blocked power, often while trying to keep a grip on their own sanity.
     Later, in the 1960s, Maggie’s perspective expanded, and she delved into the mores and corruptions of a stratified society that resembles our own today. She dissected the delusions of the Golden State at a time when the rest of the country still believed in the eternal sunshine of the Edenic kind. The people who lived in this paradise, and lived in Millar’s fiction, often reached far beyond their financial or moral means, playing dangerous games that pitted loved ones against each other. Sometimes, these people escaped the law, but they always wound up serving some sort of life sentence.
     Maggie, who spent much of her life in Santa Barbara, ranks among the best fiction writers of the late 20th century. She was a master of character, a genius of plot twists, and a superb stylist. It’s rare to find those three talents in one literary package, yet, over the course of a 55-year-long career, Maggie maintained her high standards throughout her 27 books, short stories, half a dozen screenplays, poems, radio stories, and one touching memoir. Plus, she did it while struggling to raise a child, keep a house, and deal with a husband who later became more famous than she.
     Perhaps you’ve heard of Ken Millar. He wrote under the pseudonym of Ross Macdonald and created the Lew Archer detective series, which paid homage to the hard-boiled detective masters Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, and he eventually joined them in that genre’s pantheon of men.
     Maggie was never included in that group, which annoyed her greatly.”
 — Los Angeles Review of Books
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See a related post here…

Buy all of Margaret Millar's books here...

An Open Book

From: doublebinding

“A Toronto woman denied a flight to New York as part of a cruise trip wants to know who told U.S. border agents about her history of mental illness.
     Ellen Richardson says she was turned away by a U.S. customs agent at Pearson International Airport on Monday because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression in June 2012.
     She missed her flight to New York City and a Caribbean cruise, for which she had paid $6,000, as a result.”
CBC via Huffington Post
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If border officials are making decisions based on medical records, what’s to stop them from checking on reading habits as well?

“For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.
     The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.”
— Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal
Read more…

“As recent weeks [July/August, 2013] of revelations [about the flagrant invasiveness of the NSA] have shown, there's a pretty wide gap between our expectations of privacy, and the privacies that an increasingly digitized world actually affords us. Whatever your feelings about your own privacy, the complexity and opacity of technology means it's often hard to know exactly what information you might be sharing at any given time. And while browsing in a local library, buying a book – with cash – on the high street, and reading at home or on the bus are pretty anonymous activities, as soon as ebooks are involved they're not.”
— James Bridle, The Guardian
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

big book, small book

Both photos from Erik Kwakkel


"In The Land Across, veteran science fiction master Gene Wolfe comes down to earth and gives us the story of a travel writer stuck in limbo in just such a strange land. The writer, named Grafton, has it in mind to write the first travel book about an unnamed Eastern European nation that he thinks of as 'the land across the mountains.' (Other western travelers have apparently visited the region, but few have returned.) Grafton finds that he can't get there by air: flights get mysteriously cancelled or diverted to Turkey. Determined to become the first travel writer to publish a book about the place, he takes a train across the border. He's immediately arrested — the authorities take his passport and deliver him to a house in a nearby suburban neighborhood where, as the odd custom of the odd country would have it, he becomes the prisoner of the owner. […]
     Life in this nation, as it emerges in these pages, appears to have more affinity with Kafka country than any other. Grafton's internment, his efforts to buy a place to live on his own, his relations with the wife of his "jailor," his encounters with the JAKA, the secret police, his liaison with a JAKA agent, and the local manifestations of a darkly supernatural strain of events: all this makes for a novel that's an amalgam of real and super-real forces, a supposedly realistic novel that gives off the feel of a closely viewed dream.”
— Alan Cheuse, NPR Books
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Buy all of Gene Wolfe’s books here…

dirty books

“Traces of herpes have been found on a copy of EL James’ popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
     Scientists in Belgium were undertaking an experiment to see how germ-covered library books are when the bestselling series tested positive for the virus.
     Herpes was found on one other title among the examined books, Belgian detective writer Pieter Aspe’s Tango.
     Reactions to the findings have been mixed, with one Time reader asking, ‘Are we slut-shaming books now?.’
     Traces of cocaine were also found in EL James' series, after scientists conducted toxicology screenings on the library's ten most-borrowed books.”
— Jess Denham, The Independent
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By spanking-new copies of these books here...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

“[…] a world without inwardness.”

“In Henry James's 1893 short story The Private Life, the narrator makes alarming discoveries about two members of his holiday party while holed up in a village in the Swiss Alps. After an evening spent listening to the table-talk of the London playwright Clarence 'Clare' Vawdrey, he steals up to Vawdrey's room where he sees, 'bent over the table in the attitude of writing,' the man he thought he'd left downstairs in the company of his friends. Vawdrey, it seems, is double: there is his public self, which according to the narrator is burdened by 'neither moods nor sensibilities,' and his private, writing self, which remains hidden.
     The effortlessly suave raconteur Lord Mellifont, meanwhile, suffers from the 'opposite complaint.' He is 'all public,' the narrator says, he has 'no corresponding private life.' There's nothing behind the pristine mask of his public self: Mellifont is all performance.
     Josh Cohen discusses this story in his elegant and suggestive book. For him, James's tale can be read as a premonitory parable of the modern culture of celebrity, at the centre of which is the public's apparently insatiable demand for celebrities to be 'no more or less than they appear' – that, like Lord Mellifont, they show us everything. Celebrities themselves collude in this demand and go to considerable lengths, as Cohen puts it, to 'disappear seamlessly' into their public persona. They persuade their acolytes that there's nothing left over, no private remainder that, Vawdrey-like, they keep locked away from prying eyes.”
— Jonathan Derbyshire, The Guardian
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time warp

I bought this book in 1965 for 50 cents (no tax). In today’s dollars that would be $2.83, give or take a dime or two to cover the exchange rate (the Canadian dollar was worth about 93 cents US in 1965). So let’s say the book really cost me $3.00 in today’s dollars.
     No wonder people are drawn to the bargain basement world of e-books.

Good Grooming

“At first glance, it would seem that Wendy Moore, a lively English journalist and social historian, has written an account of Victor Frankenstein’s reluctant endeavors to present his monster with the wife the lonely creature so desperately craves. Not so. Moore’s extraordinary subject is the compellingly repellent historical figure Thomas Day, a children’s book writer and ardent abolitionist.
     Fatherless but possessed of a fortune from a very early age, Day had a predilection for the sadistic treatment of vulnerable young women, a habit that seems to have been formed by his own capacity for stoically enduring — even thriving upon — the rough treatment meted out at the Charterhouse school. Seventeen-hour days and 'roastings' in front of a blazing fire were as regular a part of the curriculum for Day and his schoolmates as public floggings. What had been good for Thomas (or so this sullen, unkempt and exceptionally arrogant youth seems to have reckoned by the time he reached Corpus Christi College at Oxford) would also prove beneficial to his future wife. […]
     Acting in cahoots with John Bicknell, a lifelong friend from Charterhouse, Day visited the smaller Shrewsbury sister-branch of London’s Foundling Hospital and later the main hospital itself. At that time, children could be adopted from such institutions to become apprentices, and Bicknell and Day put the unknowing Edgeworth forth as a potential employer, performing a dual act of abduction. Two pretty little girls, one auburn-haired and one blond, were singled out, renamed Sabrina and Lucretia, and carried off to be trained as potential brides for Thomas Day.”
— Miranda Seymour, The New York Times
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Buy this book here...


Photo: Folded Sky Productions

“Chilling news for readers and writers alike: A new report has found that large numbers of American writers are concerned about government surveillance and are self-censoring their writing as a result.
     Some 85 percent of writers are worried about government surveillance of Americans, with 73 percent responding they have never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today, according to a survey by the PEN American Center and the FDR Group.
     'Freedom of expression is under threat and, as a result, freedom of information is imperiled as well,' the report stated.
     The report, which surveyed 528 PEN members in October, found that government spying, including surveillance by the National Security Agency, has had a serious chilling effect on writers, some of whom are avoiding speaking about or writing on controversial topics as a result.”
— Husna Haq, The Christian Science Monitor
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“The [NSA] document [provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden] contends that the three Arabic-speaking targets have more contacts with affiliates of extremist groups, but does not suggest they themselves are involved in any terror plots. Instead, the NSA believes the targeted individuals radicalize people through the expression of controversial ideas via YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites. Their audience, both English and Arabic speakers, 'includes individuals who do not yet hold extremist views but who are susceptible to the extremist message,' the document states. The NSA says the speeches and writings of the six individuals resonate most in countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Kenya, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. […]
From: International Herald Tribune (via Writing Cave)
     Another target [of surveillance], a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a 'respected academic,' holds the offending view that 'offensive jihad is justified,' and his vulnerabilities are listed as 'online promiscuity' and 'publishes articles without checking facts.' A third targeted radical is described as a 'well-known media celebrity' based in the Middle East who argues that 'the U.S perpetrated the 9/11 attack.' Under vulnerabilities, he is said to lead 'a glamorous lifestyle.' A fourth target, who argues that 'the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself' is said to be vulnerable to accusations of 'deceitful use of funds.' The document expresses the hope that revealing damaging information about the individuals could undermine their perceived 'devotion to the jihadist cause.’”
— Ryan Gallagher, Ryan Grim, Glenn Greenwald; Huffington Post