Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another Hallowe'en Alice

"Grimm Fairy Tales Alice in Wonderland Alice Action Figure:
Sculpted by none other than Clayburn Moore, this stunningly beautiful Grimm Fairy Tales Alice in Wonderland Alice Action Figure stands 6-inches tall, features multiple points of articulation, and comes with White Rabbit, a croquet mallet, and potion bottle accessories. As a special bonus, each figure will include a copy of Zenescope's sold-out Wonderland #1 comic book, with an exclusive cover available only with this figure. Don't miss this gorgeous debut figure to begin your Zenescope action figure collection! Ages 14 and up."
Entertainment Earth

The collecting of Action Figures has become another escape from the strictures of daily life. Like cosplay (see post below) it allows adults to return to "childish ways." Maybe it's a reaction to all the structured activities that seem to have dominated the agenda of parents in recent decades.

"Interest in play is very much on the upswing among psychologists, educators, and the general public, according to [Peter] Gray. 'People are beginning to realize that we have gone too far in the direction of teaching children to compete,' he said. 'We have been depriving children of the normal, noncompetitive forms of social play that are essential for developing a sense of equality, connectedness, and concern for others.'
    Gray stressed that the kind of 'play' that helped hunter-gatherer children develop into cooperative adults is similar to the sort of play that at one time characterized American children's summers and after-school hours in contemporary culture. This play is freely chosen, age-mixed, and, because it is not adult-organized, non-competitive, he said. This 'free play' is distinct from leisure pursuits such as video games, watching TV, or structured extracurricular activities and sports."
Science Daily
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Alice Cooper: Bogies Man and Cosplay Guru

When you look back at the over-the-top spectacle of seventies rock, Alice Cooper stands out as one of the progenitors of mass-market Hallowe'en. He made all things revolting and ghoulish hip and cool, and allowed his many fans to break through the borders and limitations of October 31.
     He legitimized year-round, multi-personality disorder… but in a good way.
     Cosplay and cross-dressing are now acceptable forms of public expression — it's not about candy anymore.

"Cosplay, in its simplest form, is a public extension of my geekery. It allows me to express my passion for a particular geeky genre through physical display. The more elaborate or impressive the costume, the louder the message is: 'This character has meaning in my life.' In addition, the knowledge that I can assume any role—male, female, young, old, etc, is very empowering. There are almost no limits with cosplay and crossplay, which can be very liberating for women who may feel restricted in their day-to-day lives."

"The Father of Shock Rock shares tidbits from his 40 plus years of stage experience and how golf helped save him from the alcohol that was destroying his life and music. Half memoir, half golf-tips, Monster is not terribly revealing or instructional for that matter.
     The good news is that none of that matters because the stories are so entertaining. Alice finally gets to the bottom of the whole live chicken incident and is rather frank about his conversion to Christianity and his decision to continue his stage-show rather than enter the Christian music arena."
— Paul Meyers, Non-Dis-Irregardless
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"The horror, the horror..."

 "The recently published horror novel Night Film by Marisha Pessl has this to say about being scared: 'Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are.'
     This is exactly why I write horror. Fear is crucial to my life. It always has been. My list of fears is long and legendary: leeches, ghosts, the Apocalypse, Skeksis, aliens, the coyotes I see skulking down my street at night, swimming in the ocean, a killer hiding in my backseat, basements, cougars, clowns, zombies, abandoned houses, swimming in a quarry, rat hordes, heights, getting lost in a cave like Tom Sawyer, being buried alive, rustling cornfields, pets that come back to life, buckets of pig's blood, reading "The Shining" with a flashlight at three in the morning in the dark in a dead silent house...
     My fear has helped me learn what I'm made of. It has shown me what I am. My list of scary books is not comprehensive, and leaves off some greats like The Road, Perfume, House of Leaves, and several Stephen King titles. But most of the books I mention I first read as an adolescent, and they still haunt me today. Which means something."
— April Genevieve Tucholke, Huffington Post

Find out what's on that list here…

Se a post about Marisha Pessl's latest book Night Film here...

Monday, October 28, 2013


"It’s a testament to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem that 'the banality of evil' remains one of our most enduring clichés, a convenient shorthand not only for bureaucrats but any 'ordinary' person complicit in a state’s war crimes. For readers of Hitler’s Furies, Wendy Lower’s chronicle of German women’s participation in the Holocaust, this trope is especially alluring. Like the subject of Arendt’s book, many of these women were 'desk murderers' — secretaries and administrators whose weapon was not a Luger or a gas chamber but a typewriter used to execute Hitler’s Final Solution.
     And yet despite these similarities, the analogy ultimately proves imperfect. Unlike Arendt’s portrait of Adolph Eichmann, itself challenged by academics like David Cesarani, Hitler’s furies were not ideologically neutral. Neither were their crimes confined to an office or a classroom. As Lower reveals in chilling detail, they were also capable of the same savagery as their male counterparts — a fact often overlooked by Holocaust scholars and historians."
— Jacob Sugarman, Salon
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There's a word for that...

"There ought to be a word for 'the limbo-like precincts of an airport baggage claim, where groggy travellers gather around the motionless treads of empty conveyor belts.' It is a singularly desolate scene, and there should be a succinct way for a forlorn luggage-seeker to text a quick apology to the friend who is idly circling the airport roads. Now, there is: 'baggatory.'

     That clever turn is just one of a couple hundred neologisms coined by Liesl Schillinger in her new book, Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century. […]
     The word 'neologism' dates to the seventeen-seventies, taken from Greek via French, meaning 'new speech.' But the practice of coining new words goes back to the beginning of language itself. It accelerated as culture accelerated, and by the nineteenth century conservative types were worried that industry and science were flooding the linguistic marketplace with all kinds of shoddy fad words, and that the language had to be protected from interlopers. Others embraced the dynamism. In a letter to John Adams, in 1820, Thomas Jefferson, a man of business and science as well as politics, wrote, 'I am a friend to neology. It is the only way to give to a language copiousness and euphony.'”
— Ian Crouch, The New Yorker
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"Shell out. Shell out..."

"In the young-adult section of bookshops, shelves that recently groaned under the weight of tales of tormented vampires and lovelorn werewolves, are now stuffed with stories of witchcraft and magic, from Ruth Warburton's much-praised Winter Trilogy to Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch Chronicles. Lower down the age range, last month the most recent in Jill Murphy's long-running Worst Witch series was published, while among the predictions for this Christmas's bestselling toys are the Bratz spinoff, House of Witchez. For adults, next year will mark the climax of Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, centring on the relationship between a vampire and a feisty American witch.
     However, it is on television that the season of the witch has truly taken hold. In addition to 'American Horror Story,' with its tale of voodoo queens and teenage witches, there's Lifetime's 'The Witches of East End,' adapted from a novel by Melissa de la Cruz and featuring a family of spellcasters led by Julia Ormond.
     'Vampire Diaries' spinoff 'The Originals' (on the Syfy channel) has a central storyline about witchcraft and in Universal's 'Sleepy Hollow,' Ichabod Crane deals with duelling covens in present-day America.
     So why witches – and why now? 'The idea of being able to manipulate supernatural forces still resonates,' says Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire and author of America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft after Salem. 'Witches and ghosts speak to something fundamental and innate in our psyche. It's an emotional connection.'"
— Sarah Hughes, The Guardian

Buy all the books mentioned in this post here...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Turn Away

"'Nearly a third of self-published ebooks are “erotica,' according to a new analysis from Digital Book World and the Book Genome Project, compared with about 1% of traditionally published ebooks.
     What’s more, nearly 10% of that subset of self-published ebooks has themes of incest or bestiality.
     How big of a problem is this for ebook retailers?
     'It obviously matters when you are perceived as being a wholesome, family oriented, though declining brand like WHSmith,' said Andrew Rhomberg, an ebook observer and founder of ebook discovery start-up Jellybooks, referring to the British ebook retailer that shut its digital doors last week temporarily until it had cleaned its shelves of much of its erotic content, adding, 'but should Amazon worry, probably not.'
     While 'electronic books' have been around in some form or another since the 1980s, they did not rise to commercial prominence in any form until 2007 at the introduction of the Kindle. Perhaps the ebook business is going through the same kind of growing pains the Internet as a whole had around adult content in the first five or six years of its commercial existence."
— Jeremy Greenfield, Forbes
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peer to peer

"Authors have it hard. Publishers scarcely exist, copyright is impossible to enforce and books become known not through stores or proper advertising, but by scattered personal recommendations. Even once-famous names end up trying to get their works noted by popular sites. The agony is not just that of our present digital era, but that of Cicero's Rome. And 17th-century England. And pre-Revolutionary France. And pretty much everywhere that Tom Standage - The Economist's digital editor and the most illuminating of Britain's technology writers - casts his searchlight gaze.
     That changed with the era of big newspapers and big publishing houses, which was boosted by the new steam presses of the 19th century. For 150 years communication was conceived in terms of Northcliffe's Daily Mail, or Reith's BBC. A handful of mighty beings stood at the top with hands folded, solemnly speaking out. The rest of us waited, passive supplicants, far below. Just a few years ago, all this seemed secure. But in the grand scheme of things, we can now see that it was only a blip. The media were different before, and Standage makes a strong case they'll be different again."
— David Bodanis, Literary Review
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the meme generation

"The International Tracing Service Archive, physically located in Bad Arolsen, Germany" (from: The Wiener Library)

"Canadian media scholar Darren Wershler, who has been making some unexpected connections between meme culture and contemporary poetry.
     'These artifacts,' Wershler claims, 'aren’t conceived of as poems; they aren’t produced by people who identify as poets; they circulate promiscuously, sometimes under anonymous conditions; and they aren’t encountered by interpretive communities that identify them as literary.' […]
     Wershler calls these activities 'conceptualism in the wild,' referring to the aspect of nineteen-sixties conceptual art that concerned reframing, and thereby redefining, the idea of artistic genius (think of Duchamp’s urinal). Conceptual projects of the period were generated by a kind of pre-Internet O.C.D., such as Sol LeWitt’s exhaustive photographic documentation of every object, nook, and cranny in his Manhattan loft, or Tehching Hsieh’s yearlong practice of taking a photo of himself every hour, on the hour.
     Today’s conceptualists in the wild make those guys look tame. It’s not uncommon to see blogs that recount someone’s every sneeze since 2007, or of a man who shoots exactly one second of video every day and strings the clips together in time-lapsed mashups. There is guy who secretly taped all of his conversations for three years and a woman who documents every morsel of food that she puts into her mouth. While some of these people aren’t consciously framing their activities as works of art, Wershler argues that what they’re doing is so close to the practices of sixties conceptualism that the connection between the two can’t be ignored.
     And he’s right. Younger poets find it stimulating: they are reclaiming this 'found' poetry and uploading it to the self-publishing platform Lulu. They create print-on-demand books that, most likely, will never be printed, but will live as PDFs on Lulu—their de-facto publisher and distributor. These are big, ridiculous books, like Chris Alexander’s five-hundred-and-twenty-eight-page McNugget, which reprints every tweet ever posted that contains the word 'McNugget'; Andy Sterling’s Supergroup, which appropriates over four hundred pages’ worth of Discogs listings of small-bit session players from long-forgotten nineteen-seventies LPs; and Angela Genusa’s Tender Buttons, which converts Gertrude Stein’s difficult modernist text of the same name into illegible computer code."
   — Kenneth Goldsmith, The New Yorker
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

getting naked

From: Found in Mom's Basement

"Beyond the world of storytelling, plot is defined as a secret scheme to reach a specific end. Or it’s a parcel of land. Or it means to mark a graph, chart, or map: the plotting shows us what has changed; our ship is headed this way. To a writer (me) interested in (obsessed with?) plot-making, all of these are significant definitions. The lessons abound.
     I once read somewhere that Margaret Atwood compared novel writing to performing burlesque: don’t take off your clothes too slowly, she advised, or the reader will get bored; get naked too fast, and the entertainment ends before it can really begin. I put that in my plot-pocket, too.
     Arc is tied into notions of plot because both concern action, event, and change as they relate to character. I want to say that arc is the structure on which plot hangs. And now, a second later, I want to say that arc is the unfolding of plot, the specific path that events take to enable a character to move through a story. And now, two seconds later, I want to say that if plot is the what and the why, then arc is the how. As you can see, I’m still working all this out in my mind."
— Edan Lepucki, The Millions
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behind the punctured canvas

Born in San Francisco, the precocious only child of Sicilian immigrants, [Philip] Lamantia discovered the expressive mode that would drive his imagination when, in 1942, exhibitions of the work of both Dalí and Miró arrived in the city. Entranced by images that appeared to emerge from an unknown reality, the fifteen-year-old immersed himself in Surrealist texts and resolved to attempt with words what he had seen done with paint. […]
     In 1953 Philip Lamantia read at what is probably America's most famous poetry reading. It was Allen Ginsberg's inaugural presentation of 'Howl,' which made the event at San Francisco's Six Gallery historic. Lamantia avoided the spotlight that night, but his Collected Poems reveal a turbulent and risky writer—one who was perhaps even braver than his Beat cohorts."
— Albert Mobilio, BookForum

crimes and tragedies

"Former Globe and Mail foreign correspondent Graeme Smith has won the third annual Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for excellence in non-fiction, at $60,000 Canada’s richest annual award for non-fiction. Mr. Smith, 34, received the prize on Monday evening at a ceremony in Toronto for his recently published memoir The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan.
     Mr. Smith’s book prevailed over those of four other finalists. In its citation, the five-member jury described The Dogs Are Eating Them Now as a 'painfully detailed, eyebrow-raising account of what [Mr. Smith] saw during his [2006-2009 stint] reporting for The Globe and Mail on [the West’s] effort' to bring what he calls 'the whole basket of civilization to Afghanistan: peace, democracy, the rule of law.' For the jurors, Mr. Smith’s text – which begins with the sentence, 'We lost the war in southern Afghanistan and it broke my heart' – presents 'a tragic mix of cultural ignorance, miscommunication, greed, brutality and naiveté that no amount of individual courage and dedication could ultimately overcome.'
     In a brief interview after receiving the award, Mr. Smith dedicated the prize to 'a few brave young men who decided to become translators instead of joining the gold rush of opportunists after 2001. I can’t use their names in public because it’s dangerous for them, but I’m going to bring this back to them.'”
— James Adams, The Globe and Mail
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"During the height of Canada’s combat deployment in southern Afghanistan, the young correspondent Graeme Smith stood out in the press corps because of his seniority in the city of Kandahar. Many journalists dropped in briefly, grabbed a story or two, and flew back to the safety of Kabul or the five-star luxuries of Dubai. But Smith kept coming back. He lived for long periods outside the safety of military bases to report for this newspaper from 2006 to 2009.
     His book on Canada’s war in Afghanistan, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, is a chronicle of disillusionment. The war, he writes, 'broke my heart': like many Canadians, he saw our mission there as fundamentally humanitarian and gave it a reasonably good shot at success. But his repeated encounters with reality quickly disabused him."
— Graeme Wood, The Globe and Mail
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Published in 1929 (from: Book Patrol)

ubermensch, uberfrau

"I strapped TDCS [Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation] electrodes to my head to see if I could make myself smarter by stimulating my brain. Here’s what happened.
      To catch you up on everything I know, TDCS (or tDCS — there’s something controversial about whether the ‘t’ should be capitalised or not, but I’m a tourist so I’m sticking with a big ‘T’ because it’s easier) is also called non-invasive brain stimulation. It’s non-invasive because nobody’s getting cut open. If you break all the words down it means you’re sending electricity through your head where it turns on, stays on for a while — usually 20 minutes — and then shuts off. During the session, the bit of brain directly beneath the anode (in my case, the red wire) is thought to become excited, whereas the region beneath the cathode (the black one) is thought to be inhibited.
     If you’re thinking of TDCS in terms of electroconvulsive therapy, like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Girl Interrupted, it’s not like that. Dr Marom Bikson, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the City University of New York, explained it to me like this: ‘The way to think about electrical stimulation is that you have a dose, just like with a drug. But instead of talking about what the drug is made out of in terms of chemical composition, we talk about the waveform, duration, and placement. Any alterations make it a different drug altogether.’ TDCS is two milliamps, ECT about 800. See, super-different. […]
     The funny thing about TDCS is that I’d never heard of it until I did, but once I had it started showing up everywhere. It’s like that movie with Jim Carrey where he sees the number 23 wherever he looks, but less boring. The articles on the topic are wonderfully seductive and because I’m such a believer I buy into most of them. The ones from British newspapers are my favourites. They crib juicy bits from clinical trials in Brazil or Germany, or else DARPA experiments, and pull-quote on and on about how TDCS makes you smarter by ramping up your maths skills and language skills, while giving you laserlike focus."
— Mary H K Choi, aeon
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My all-time favourite book about "smart" pills or devices (and the consequences thereof) is Daniel Keyes' classic, Flowers for Algernon.

Buy all of Daniel Keyes' and Ken Kesey's books here…

sotto voce

"Sometimes you need some distance to appreciate a classic.
     That was certainly the case for John Williams' novel Stoner. When it was originally published in 1965, the only publication to mention the book at all was The New Yorker, in its 'Briefly Noted' column. The novel received admiring reviews over the years, but sold just 2,000 copies and was almost immediately forgotten.
     Fast forward to today and the book is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. It is a best-seller across much of Europe, including the Netherlands, where it has been the best-selling novel for the past two months. But it is not the action-packed thriller or steamy romance you might expect to be topping the charts. It is a quiet, slim novel about a young man who leaves a hardscrabble farm in Missouri to become a literature professor in 1910."
NPR Books
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"In one of those few gratifying instances of belated artistic justice, John Williams’s Stoner has become an unexpected bestseller in Europe after being translated and championed by the French writer Anna Gavalda. Once every decade or so, someone like me tries to do the same service for it in the U.S., writing an essay arguing that Stoner is a great, chronically underappreciated American novel. (The latest of these, which also lists several previous such essays, is Morris Dickstein’s for the Times.)
     And yet it goes on being largely undiscovered in its own country, passed around and praised only among a bookish cognoscenti, and its author, John Williams, consigned to that unenviable category inhabited by such august company as Richard Yates and James Salter: the writer’s writer."
— Tim Kreider, The New Yorker
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Buy all of John Williams' books here...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Black bones; white bones

"For four generations Banesa Blemi's family, descendants of Haitian immigrants, put down roots as low-wage sugar cane cutters in their adopted homeland, and came to consider themselves Dominicans.
     Then, last month the country's Constitutional Court issued a decision effectively denationalizing Blemi and her family, along with an estimated 250,000 fellow immigrants born after 1929.
     'I have no country. What will become of me?' said Blemi, 27, standing with relatives outside the family's wooden shack near La Romana, the heart of the Dominican Republic's sugar cane industry and one of the Caribbean's top tourist resorts.
     'We are Dominicans - we have never been to Haiti. We were born and raised here. We don't even speak Creole,' she said, referring to Haiti's native tongue.
     The September 23 court ruling retroactively denies Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, under a constitutional clause declaring all others to be either in the country illegally or 'in transit.'
     The judgment is final, but human rights groups plan to challenge it before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where it could in theory still be overuled."
— Ricardo Rojas, Reuters

"The ugly part of all of this is that 'Haitianness' in the DR [Dominican Republic] is most often related to dark skin color. The irony in this is that the majority of Dominicans have African ancestry, though there is a visible difference at times between hues of "brown" and dark chocolate, and Dominicans are raised to embrace and aspire to lighter skin complexions.

     [...] The ugly specter of race/racism and anti-Haitian attitudes in the DR, and its history, is being explored in both academia and by noted novelists like Haitian-American Edwidge Dandicat in her award-winning book, The Farming of Bones."
— Daily Kos
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"Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets Star Trek meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history. An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose, it’s confidently steered through several decades of history by a madcap, magpie voice that’s equally at home talking about Tolkien and Trujillo, anime movies and ancient Dominican curses, sexual shenanigans at Rutgers University and secret police raids in Santo Domingo."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
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"Hitler's ideas gave Trujillo a racist and nationalist plan to distract Dominicans from their empty stomachs. Reminding Dominicans that they could not afford to feed foreigners too, Trujillo cracked down on migration from Haiti. But powerful American sugar cane plantation owners, who brought in Haitians to cut cane because, unlike Dominicans, they worked for practically nothing, forced him to make huge exceptions. He resorted to deporting Haitians and tightening border patrols, but the Haitians kept coming. On October 2, 1937, while Trujillo was drunk at a party in his honor not far from the Massacre River, he gave orders for the 'solution' to the Haitian problem.
     In the Book of Judges, forty thousand Ephraimites were killed at the River Jordan because their inability to pronounce 'Shibboleth' identified them as foreigners. On the Dominican border, Trujillo's men asked anyone with dark skin to identify the sprigs of parsley they held up. Haitians, whose Kreyol uses a wide, flat 'R,' could not pronounce the trilled 'R' in the Spanish word for parsley, 'perejil.'
     Dominicans still refer to the massacre as El Corte, the cutting, alluding to the machetes the Dominican soldiers used so they could say the carnage was the work of peasants defending themselves; only the government could afford to kill with bullets. El Corte also suggested to the Haitians' work of harvesting sugar cane (ironically, soldiers did not touch the Haitians who stayed on the Americans' sugar plantations)."
— Michele Wucker,
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Buy books by Edwidge Dandicat and Junot Díaz here...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

up and out "of deep isolation"

"Jhumpa Lahiri has published her fourth novel, The Lowland. At her Brooklyn home (she now divides her time between New York and Rome), Lahiri discusses the mysteries, frustrations, and universality of the creative process."
The New Yorker 

Buy all of Jhumpa Lahiri's books here...

"[,,,] radio-powered roller skates"

From: leemaslibros
"Sci-fi writers have been predicting the future for centuries. Jules Verne was describing rocket ships and submarines before these vehicles of exploration even existed. Although we don't delve into the ocean's depths inside of 'a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale,' his prediction, while distorted, more or less came true.
     This presents a 'chicken or the egg?' sort of question: Do writers simply notice the direction a cultural phenomenon is heading in, or do their ideas inspire cultural and technological change? In some cases, a fiction writer's imagination serves as a sort of catalyst for new technologies. But sometimes, like with Edward Belamy's lost classic Looking Backwards, it's difficult to say whether or not the author had anything to do with the eventual inventions.
     Here are 7 sci-fi predictions that came true:"
Huffington Post
From: davidszondy
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"A day at the office in 1972 as seen from 1922. We've got your radio-controlled planes, your radio-controlled ships, radio-powered heaters, radio-powered clock, radio-powered roller skates (roller skates?), and your gigantic and very terrifying power-transmitting radio tower. Do you have a feeling that radio was going to be a big thing in the future?
     Take a look at the man's work station. On the right you have a radiophone/television set for talking to the wife and kids. The globe on the right isn't ornamental, it's the future's version of a switchboard/yellow pages. Stick the pin in the globe and hope your hand is steady enough so you get New York instead of Jersey City. To the left is the radio business controller. We use our desktop marvels to make spreadsheets, play freecell, and download porn. This chap is using his to do everything up to and including unloading a ship by remote control. How does he manage this feat of science? Apparently courtesy of two very large rheostats.
   Whatever happened to those huge open-faced rheostats with the bare copper connectors? Technology just hasn't been the same since they went out of fashion."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Yours affectionately,

"Detective novelist Raymond Chandler's wife of 30 years, Cissy, died on December 12th, 1954 after a long and painful battle with pulmonary fibrosis during which the author wrote The Long Goodbye.
     As can be seen in the following touching and affectionate letter, written to friend Leonard Russell shortly after Cissy's passing, Raymond was deeply affected by the loss of his wife, and it seems he never really recovered. Sadly, he died five years later a broken man, having attempted suicide and returned to the alcoholism she had previously helped him to avoid."
Letters of Note
Read the letter here…

they want it both ways...

"[...] Amazon and others are 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater' by removing too much of the self-published erotic content and complains that Amazon in particular is not giving authors sufficient explanation as to why their ebooks are being taken down. Another post at International Business Times reports on how readers of such content are up in arms, too, signing a petition to have content reinstated at their favourite ebook retailers. (Kobo seems to be at the centre of this scandal and has recently released a letter explaining its position and what it’s doing about it.)
     Each of these retailers have policies on what kind of content authors can publish and sell with them. [...] Barnes & Noble says in its content guidelines that it may remove any book that 'graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal.'
     Amazon’s policy is similar: 'We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts. What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.'
     That would mean Fifty Shades of Grey, last year’s mega-best-seller (and the fastest selling book of all time), could be removed, which begs the question, who gets to decide what is and is not sold in bookstores?"
— Jeremy Greenfield, Forbes
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Wormwood, Chernobyl and the Devil

“[...] The Screwtape Letters, though, remains one of his most popular works. Continuously in print since Lewis published it in 1942, the novel has been adapted into plays, made into a comic book, and recorded as an audio drama by John Cleese. Fox owns the film rights, and Ralph Winter, best known for blockbusters like X-Men and Fantastic Four, has said he will produce it. Three years ago, I saw one of the stage adaptations in New York, where it was shockingly difficult to get a ticket. I remember wondering then, as I have been again since Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s interview, why the novel is still so popular.
     Its appeal, I think, comes from Lewis’s success in writing a theodicy of the everyday. Unlike Dante and Milton, he eschewed a grand theology of the cosmos, focussing instead on quotidian temptations of the common man. An epistolary novel, The Screwtape Letters features a senior demon called Screwtape writing thirty-one letters of advice and encouragement to his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, who is trying to win the soul of a nameless young man. 'The patient' is an unremarkable man who fights with his mother, falls in love, and then dies in an air raid during the Second World War.
     'My dear Wormwood,' the letters begin, and we meet the first-person voice of the spine-tinglingly charming Screwtape, who signs off, 'Your affectionate uncle.'
pe likes philosophy, admires history, and disdains science; he is so cultured that in one letter he talks about reading in the British Museum, so hip that in another he says how helpful it will be to make use of 'the "Life Force," the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis.'”
— Casey N. Cep, The New Yorker
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"The prophecy of the third trumpet emphasizes that the star called Wormwood made the waters bitter.
     As the nuclear cloud produced by Chernobyl drifted over the Soviet Union and over Europe, and Extraordinary amount of rain fell. The rain brought the radiation from the nuclear cloud onto the soil, the animals, the crops, the trees, and into the rivers. The greater the rainfall, the greater was the amount of radioactivity. These heavy rains greatly increased the magnitude of this horrible disaster. Much of Europe was affected.
     When the prophecy said that many men died because of the waters, it explicitly described the effect of Chernobyl."
The Forbidden Knowledge
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Buy all of C. S. Lewis's books here…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

“Listen to many, speak to a few.”

Penguin Audio Books illustration by Talha Nazim

hotchpotch (Chapter Three)

"[...] a bibliographer’s nightmare – or dream."

"There is a popular and persistent image of the ‘tough guy’ crime writer. A ‘loner’ sitting at a battered typewriter, a fedora tilted back on his head, a smouldering cigarette hanging from his lips, a half drunk bottle of whiskey in the desk drawer. They are usually called Mickey or Chester or Ross and they practise their dark arts in shabby offices in Los Angeles or New York. Whatever they are - they are not called Gerald and they don’t come from Teddington High Street… well not often.
     Gerald Kersh was born at 18 High Street, Teddington on August 26th 1911 into a large Jewish family and began writing when he was only 8 years old. His first book, Tom and Tilly Tadpole, was published in a limited edition of one copy bound in his uncle’s brocade waistcoat. At 13 he won a scholarship to Regent Street Polytechnic and it was there that he decided that he wanted to become a full-time writer."
St Margarets Community Website
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"'No mortal can write this well' marvels Harlan Ellison in his introduction to Nightshade and Damnations – nor, one might add, this much.
     Gerald Kersh was astonishingly prolific, hammering out twenty novels, twenty collections of short stories and thousands of articles in different publications, hacking pseudonymously as Piers England, Waldo Kellar, Mr Chickery, Joe Twist, George Munday, and others. He is a bibliographer’s nightmare – or dream.
     Born into a Jewish family in Teddington, South-west London, in 1911, he became an American citizen in 1959 and died in New York in 1968, by which point he had largely been forgotten. These reissues are signs of a revival of interest in this strange and compelling writer whose ramshackle cv included stints as a cinema manager, bodyguard, debt collector, fish frier, travelling salesman, teacher of French and all-in-wrestler.
     His literary career likewise avoided any taint of respectability. He was a mainstay of popular periodicals such as John O’London’s Weekly, Argosy and Lilliput, specializing in tales of war, freakishness, horror and science fiction."
— David Collard, The Times Literary Supplement
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Man Booker Erfolgtraurigkeit

"Youth and heft triumphed at the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday, as 28-year-old New Zealand author Eleanor Catton won the fiction award for The Luminaries, an ambitious 832-page murder mystery set during a 19th-century gold rush.
     The choice should give heart to young authors of oversized tales. Catton is the youngest writer and only the second New Zealander to win the prestigious award — and her epic novel is easily the longest Booker champion.
     Travel writer Robert Macfarlane, who chaired the judging panel, called The Luminaries 'dazzling' and [predictably] 'luminous.'
— Jill Lawless, Salon
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"'I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,' [Catton] says. 'In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.'
     And then there is the question of her youth. Though generally well-received in Britain, The Luminaries, she said, was subject to a 'bullying' reception from certain male reviewers of an older generation – particularly in her native New Zealand. 'People whose negative reaction has been most vehement have all been men over about 45,' she says.
     'One of those things that you learn in school about any kind of bullying is that it's always more to do with them than it is to do with you. I don't see that my age has anything to do with what is between the covers of my book, any more than the fact that I am right-handed. It's a fact of my biography, but it's uninteresting.'"
Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian
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Buy all of Eleanor Catton's books here...

"[…] cheerfully preposterous."

The Shining is introspective, austere, and unsettlingly plausible, which is why it comes to mind whenever you visit a creepy hotel, play croquet, or see an angry dad with his kid. But [Stephen King's] Doctor Sleep, which feels less like a sequel and more like a spinoff, is unapologetically fun, free-wheeling, and bizarre.
     It’s about a wandering band of psychic vampires who stalk clairvoyant children, kill them, and then inhale their 'steam,' or psychic energy, for food. A grownup Dan Torrance—the little boy from The Shining —must help a young girl fight off these vampires, who have sensed her psychic abilities from afar and have chosen her as their meal of the week. In place of its predecessor’s unsettling familial violence, Doctor Sleep has thrilling gunfights, absurd satanic rituals, and wildly entertaining telepathic showdowns. In a chatty author’s note, King more or less admits that he didn’t try to make Doctor Sleep as terrifying as The Shining: 'Nothing can live up to the memory of a good scare,' he writes, 'especially if administered to one who is young and impressionable.' Instead, he says, he set out to tell 'a kick-ass story.' He succeeded."
— Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker

Buy all of Stephen King's books here...

"the ostrichisation of America"

"Carl Reiner on Twitter last week, worried about the current government shutdown, said this was cause for great concern in the world's leading democracy. And I thought, leading? Who's following? The answer would appear to be no one.
     After one of the recent school shootings, a young mother said to me, 'What must you think of us? You must think we're all mad.' Mad certainly, but not all of you.
     Half of America seems to be entirely enviable: movies, books, TV, arts, liberal democratic institutions, great centers of learning and research, gay marriage, social freedoms, etc., etc.
     The other half does seem to be, well, nuts.
     Currently you appear to be almost in a state of civil war. If one party can shut down the government, then the social compact to rule is broken. In most other democracies this simply could not happen. In the UK, for example, the government would dissolve and the prime minister would call for an immediate general election, which would be held within three weeks. (Yes, that quickly.)"
— Eric Idle, Huffington Post
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fantasy and Science Fiction

From: Retronaut

blind injustice

"Tom Stoppard: winner of the 2013 PEN/Pinter prize" (from: The Telegraph)

"We are selling the family silver, by which I mean the family honour. I began in newspapers, and I revered them. Perhaps I romanticised them. A journalist photographer in one of my plays says 'I've been around a lot of places. People do awful things to each other. But it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. It really is. Information is light.' So my other mantra on human rights was: a free press makes all the other freedoms possible. […]
     Honest and brave journalism has not ceased, here or elsewhere. Because I believe in it and consider it vital where charmed lives are not the norm, I am proud to share the PEN/Pinter prize with the Belarusan journalist Iryna Khalip, who knows what it is to be beaten and incarcerated for telling truths, in her case for reporting in defiance of the regime of the dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Iryna is a correspondent in Belarus for the independent Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazyeta. Out of jail now, and no longer under house arrest but under constant surveillance by the KGB, Iryna continues her insightful reportage for Novaya Gazyeta on the knife-edge of self-incrimination and re-arrest. I salute her courage and her example; she is the reporter I wanted to be.
     I met Iryna in Minsk eight years ago. I was there for only four days. Afterwards I wrote an article about my visit. In Minsk I'd gone to talk to a film-maker who had made a documentary poking fun at Lukashenko. It was shown on television in Germany and France, and two days after that two men jumped him at his front door and left him unconscious and with a broken leg. His name was Yury Khashchevatskiy. I talked to him in his flat. He showed me his film.
     My article ended. 'I do my bit to Khashchevatskiy about how uncomfortable it feels to be a privileged visitor watching his film with him, knowing that soon I'll be on a plane home, where I can publicly call the prime minister a liar and a criminal if I want to. He lights up another Belarusan Kent and says, "The fact that you can call your prime minister a liar and a criminal is not his virtue, it is your virtue, the virtue of your people."'"
– Tom Stoppard, The Guardian

Independent Bookstores: as American as French Fries

James Joyce in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris, 1938
(from: Gisele Freund)
"Everywhere in the world may look more and more like everywhere else, but there are still a few proudly Gallic institutions that you can count on spotting in any city or town in France: cafés that thrive in spite of Starbucks, bakeries with their total indifference to things gluten-free, tabacs that keep hanging on as smokers turn to e-cigarettes.
     Most pleasing of all, in this age of Amazon, are the independent bookstores—around two thousand five hundred of them, all told. Paris alone has nearly seven hundred, one for every three thousand citizens, though the ratio of bookstores to readers often feels closer to one to one. If you can’t find the Colette novel you’re looking for on Rue de Reuilly, you just go two blocks over to the Rue de Charonne, or to Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where bookstores share the street with Algerian tea shops and furniture makers that predate the Revolution.
     This isn’t a university neighborhood with an intellectual pedigree. It’s just the way things are there—pretty different from here. In a recent study of the American cities with the most bookstores, and the most per capita, New York didn’t make the top ten in either category. To a New Yorker who spent her formative years witnessing the routing of independent bookstores by Barnes & Noble, and then the gutting of Barnes & Noble by Amazon, the situation in Paris is luxurious beyond belief."
—Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

Friday, October 11, 2013

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” — 1 Samuel 17:4

From: Canadian Business

"A new Malcolm Gladwell book [David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants] isn’t a publication, it’s an event. Since The Tipping Point was published 13 years ago, the New Yorker staff writer has made himself comfortable at the top of bestseller lists, built a lucrative second career on the corporate speaking circuit, inspired a mini-boom of counterintuitive quasi-academic books, and helped define this TED-talk era of public intellectualism. More than an author, Gladwell is an industry.
     […] we should have considered David the favourite the moment he entered the Valley of Elah with his sling. In those days, projectile warriors like David, armed with mere stones, regularly defeated heavy infantry, clumsier fighters weighed down by armor. Goliath was expecting hand-to-hand combat with a fellow warrior. David changed the rules on him.
     This is the problem with giants, Gladwell argues: 'The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.' Moreover, being an underdog can lead a person to change the way he or she operates. Underdogs take risks and chart strange new paths that the conventionally powerful rarely attempt."
— Nicholas Hune-Brown, Canadian Business
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"What if we lived in a world where the weak were really strong, and all of our disadvantages could easily become advantages? In his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, bestselling writer Malcolm Gladwell tells us we're already living in that kind of world. Even something as debilitating as dyslexia can be an ambitious man's ticket to success.
     'The one trait in a lot of dyslexic people I know is that by the time we got out of college, our ability to deal with failure was very highly developed,' says Gary Cohn, a man of humble origins whose bold decisions take him to the top of the U.S. financial industry. 'I wouldn't be where I am today without my dyslexia.'
     Gladwell, a staff writer at the New Yorker, has sold a ton of books explaining seemingly counterintuitive and complex arguments about psychology and the social sciences to a mass audience. In David and Goliath his mission is to show us how our thinking about power, influence and success is often misguided and wrong."
— Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
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How tall was Goliath? Go here...

Buy all of Malcolm Gladwell's books here...
(which is only 25 km or 15 miles away from his home town of Elmira, Ontario).

power reading... with 2013 Man Booker Prize judge Natalie Haynes

Thursday, October 10, 2013

hotchpotch (Chapter Two)

I sing the body electric

"The quintessential American poet Walt Whitman produced eight different versions of his magnum opus Leaves of Grass. Each was a labor of love, not only in terms of the additions to the text, but in the physical details of each edition. If I were a collector, I would love to collect each edition in the development of Whitman’s career. Each edition has its own aesthetic and its own story. But I would especially like to find the 1881 Suppressed Issue."
— Rebecca Romney, Aldine by Rebecca Romney
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"No one had previously looked specifically at the differing responses in the brain to poetry and prose. In research published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the team found activity in a 'reading network' of brain areas which was activated in response to any written material. But they also found that more emotionally charged writing aroused several of the regions in the brain which respond to music. These areas, predominantly on the right side of the brain, had previously been shown as to give rise to the 'shivers down the spine' caused by an emotional reaction to music.
     When volunteers read one of their favourite passages of poetry, the team found that areas of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than ‘reading areas,’ indicating that reading a favourite passage is a kind of recollection.
     In a specific comparison between poetry and prose, the team found evidence that poetry activates brain areas, such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes, which have been linked to introspection."
University of Exeter Medical School

Eat you heart out, Charles Dickens...

From: Flickr

"A woman who has been employed by the McDonald's Corporation for over 10 years says she was arrested last week after she confronted the company president at a meeting and told him she couldn't afford to buy shoes or food for her children.
     Nancy Salgado, 26, told The Real News that she felt like she had to speak out during McDonald’s USA President Jeff Stratton's speech at the Union League Club of Chicago on Friday for the sake of her children.
     'It's really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day,' she shouted as Stratton was speaking. 'Do you think this is fair, that I have to be making $8.25 when I've worked for McDonald's for ten years?'
     'I've been there for forty years,' Stratton replied from the podium.
     'The thing is that I need a raise. But you're not helping your employees. How is this possible?' Salgado asked.
     At that point, someone approached Salgado and informed her that she was going to be arrested."
Crooks & Liars

"[…] Chattel slavery has been abolished in most countries, whereas wage slavery still exists across the globe. Regulations and legislation has changed the atmosphere of wage slavery, work conditions have improved, compensation has become regulated, and education affects the status of the slaves. But they are all bound to their employer in some fashion.
     In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, wage slavery was as cruel, demeaning, and difficult as most chattel slaves were used to. As freedmen left their masters in search of the American Dream, they soon realized life wasn't that easy. They became bound to their landlords and shopkeepers through debt peonage. Each year crop prices fell and the cost of running a farm increased. Farmers had to buy materials, equipment, and supplies on credit just to get the planting season going. Credit prices were as much as 60% higher than cash prices, and shops were usually owned and run by the landowners. This kept these freemen in almost the exact same position as they were in during slavery.
     Wage slavery hasn't been limited to southern states. The northern industrialist had their ways as well; especially in the mining, lumber, and factory sectors. There were limited regulations on working conditions, compensation, and working hours. Laborers often worked long hours, 10-15 a day; and regularly involved young children. As Big Business grew, the control workers had over their conditions shrank. They became replaceable."
— Stefany Smith, Yahoo! Voices

Contact Jeff Stratton here...

Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

From: Hindustan Times
"Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first Canadian woman to take the award since its launch in 1901.
     Munro, 82, only the 13th woman given the award, was lauded by the Swedish Academy during the Nobel announcement in Stockholm as the 'master of the contemporary short story.'
     'We're not saying just that she can say a lot in just 20 pages — more than an average novel writer can — but also that she can cover ground. She can have a single short story that covers decades, and it works,' said Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
     Reached in British Columbia by CBC News on Thursday morning, Munro said she always viewed her chances of winning the Nobel as 'one of those pipe dreams' that 'might happen, but it probably wouldn't.' Alice Munro Munro's daughter woke her up to tell her the news. 'It's the middle of the night here and I had forgotten about it all, of course,' she told the CBC's Heather Hiscox early Thursday.
     Munro called the honour 'a splendid thing to happen.'
     Munro said her husband, Gerald Fremlin, a geographer/cartographer who died in April, would have been very happy, and that her previous husband, James Munro, with whom she has three children, and all her family were thrilled."
"Alice Munro near her home in Clinton, Ontario."
from: The New York Times

"Alice Munro, the renowned Canadian short-story writer whose visceral work explores the tangled relationships between men and women, small-town existence and the fallibility of memory, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. Ms. Munro, 82, is the 13th woman to win the prize.
     Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy said that Ms. Munro was a 'master of the contemporary short story.'
     Ms. Munro, who lives in Clinton, a town in Ontario, told a writer from The Globe and Mail this year that she planned to retire after Dear Life, her 14th story collection.
     In a statement from Penguin Random House, her publisher, Ms. Munro said that she was 'amazed, and very grateful' for the prize."
— Julie Bosman, The New York Times
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See related posts here, here, and here...

Watch an Alice Munro interview here…

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

resistance is futile

"If the long title of his breakthrough memoir, 2000′s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was not enough to indicate that Dave Eggers has always had lofty ambitions, then the frenetic tale between the book covers gave readers the first big work by one of America’s newest literary superstars. Since then, Eggers has been successful as a writer of other nonfiction, novels, and screenplays, but he really is first and foremost an idea man. He wants to help kids learn to write with his 826 National nonprofit, and spend his time publishing books and magazines through McSweeney’s.
     […] it has taken Eggers the 13 years since his breakout memoir to give us a book that truly matched A Heartbreaking Work’s gravitas — but with The Circle, Eggers has given us everything. The nearly 500-page novel performs a delicate balancing act, juggling the straight up Orwellian with a more modern-style dystopia typified by The Truman Show."
— Jason Diamond, Flavorwire
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"In Dave Eggers’s new novel, The Circle, Big Brother isn’t the government: it’s a Google-like, Facebook-like tech behemoth, called the Circle, that has a billion-odd users, controls 90 percent of the world’s searches and aspires to record and quantify everything that’s happening to everybody, everywhere in the world. The company credo is 'ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.' Some of its other Orwellian maxims are 'SECRETS ARE LIES,' 'SHARING IS CARING' and 'PRIVACY IS THEFT.'
     Mr. Eggers’s absorbing 2012 novel, A Hologram for the King, gave us a story about a middle-aged loser that opened out into a kind of allegory about the besieged American middle class struggling to hold onto its dreams in a recessionary and newly globalized world. The new novel similarly attempts to use the coming-of-age story of a young woman to create a parable about the perils of life in a digital age in which our personal data is increasingly collected, sifted and monetized, an age of surveillance and Big Data, in which privacy is obsolete, and Maoist collectivism is the order of the day."
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Buy all of Dave Egger's books here...

Sad but true.

"There are many theories about why humans cry ranging from the biophysical to the evolutionary. One of the most compelling hypotheses is Jeffrey Kottler’s, discussed at length in his 1996 book The Language of Tears. Kottler believes that humans cry because, unlike every other animal, we take years and years to be able to fend for ourselves. Until that time, we need a behavior that can elicit the sympathetic consideration of our needs from those around us who are more capable (read: adults). We can’t just yell for help though—that would alert predators to helpless prey—so instead, we’ve developed a silent scream: we tear up. […]"
— Elijah Woolfson, The Atlantic (via the New Shelton wet/dry)
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"Tom Lutz has managed to stuff hundreds of factoids about crying into Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears—everything from a hilarious explanation, circa 1579, of the brain being the source of tears ('when the brain is compressed it ejects great quantities of tears'), to a paragraph on the topic of Bill Clinton's crocodile tears. In fact, brain compression is precisely the effect of reading Crying, though Lutz's factoids, contrary to the 1579 theory, don't cause the reader to manifest Squirt-Gun Eyes. One does, however, feel glimmers of an illumination about the mysterious topic of shedding tears that never comes to pass.
     Many of the passages revolve around the Woman Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars axis (the author, to his credit, never actually quotes from that book), providing examples from various cultures where woman are expected to cry and men aren't, and vice versa depending of the circumstances. For example, Jackie O. doesn't cry at JFK's funeral, but Bob Dole cries at Nixon's funeral, and both are thought to be appropriate responses based upon a shifting set of cultural expectations."
— Sidney Moody, The Austin Chronicle

Buy both these books here...