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Hearsay Archive:

Here we store old Hearsay items (including their discussion links). You don't have to register or sign in for discussions, you can just click the "Post a new message" button and go.

Some of the links are likely to rot over time. Sorry about that, but our fridge isn't working.

2003:

August September October November December

2004:

January February March April May June July August September October November December

2005:

January February March April May June July August September October November December

December 2004:

...

12/01/04:

Trust the computer! The computer is your friend!
What's your favourite literary dystopia? (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The Atrocity Exhibition -- best title ever
Looks like Maud's finally finished lazing about and returned to posting. She mentions this book of quotes from the works of J.G. Ballard, which I'll add to my Xmas list right away.

Quotables crop up on every page, on the arts, media, religion, death, writing and writers. Sometimes they're wrong ("Politics is over. ... it doesn't touch the public imagination any longer," stated in 1996), and sometimes just glib ("Freedom has no barcode"). But often they compress the modern world with magnificent concision, as in definitions like "Modernism: The Gothic of the Information Age," and "Money: The original digital clock."

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Doh!
Where does William Gibson keep finding this stuff?

"On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a moron."

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Canadian icon Pierre Berton dead at 84

Berton, whom many considered a quasi-elemental embodiment of all that is Canadian, died of congestive heart failure and complications from diabetes on Tuesday. He was an icon of the highest magnitude and will be missed by millions. Expect weeks of encomium. (discuss) (posted by George)

The great book heist of '04
I've been wondering about this for quite some time. It's the curse of my life to always be on the wrong side of something like this. I go to America with an OAC grant only to have it halved by the exchange rate. I come home with a fat savings US account only to have the CDN dollar surge. And to top it all off, publishers are sucking me dry with their exorbitant Canadian prices. Unfortunately, this explanation uses the DaCode as its exemplar. (Fair enough given that its unlikely anyone in Winnipeg ever bought anything else. Oh, I kid youse guys. Yer a fine, if cold, bunch.)

The jacket lists the U.S. price as $35, not bad when you consider all the pretty images.

The Canadian price is $48. Not that anybody will pay that much.

Still, wait a minute.

Some elementary math tells us that the difference between the U.S. and Canadian price is 37.5 per cent, more than double the current difference between the U.S. and Canadian dollar.

Why the big spread? Are book-buyers, the most innocent and trusting of souls, being gouged as the loonie climbs in value against the greenback? And if so, by whom?

Several people browsing bookstore shelves in recent months have been heard grumbling over these questions.

At the risk of oversimplication, let me answer them:

1) The big spread exists because of the lag between planning and delivery. The Da Vinci Code illustrated edition was priced last February, according to its publisher, Random House. Six to eight months in advance is average.

2) Yes, we are being gouged a bit. But as the husband murderer told the judge, "Your honour, remember how long I lived with him." In 1998-99, when the loonie was sinking at an equal pace, the time lag worked to the Canadian bookbuyers' advantage.

3) The publishers, who suggest the retail price when they print the book jacket, are the ones to blame, not the booksellers.

That said, the publishers are also the ones taking the risk, speculating both as to what will sell and what the currency spread will be. Copyright law limits them to charging 10 per cent over exchange rate plus 10 per cent of the difference.

(Thanks to Arts News for posting the story) (discuss) (posted by George)

Poet gets out of jail
No, not the one in Halifax who spent a night in the tank, but the Cuban political prisoner Raúl Rivero. (What's with these Amnesty International people? Is nothing good enough for them? You release one wrongly imprisoned person and they point out the 60 others still rotting behind bars. How about a little amnesty for Castro, eh? Freaking ... um ... liberals... Wait a minute...) (discuss) (posted by George)

What if we throw the money up in the air and shoot at it with mustard and ketchup bottles? Okay, what about this...
The publishing world is agog over the gall of little writers overstepping their bounds. And nary a penny to their names. Such cheek.

Consider the red faces at Penguin, which paid £600,000 for Revolution Day, by the BBC Iraq reporter Rageh Omaar. It has sold only 16,000 copies, recouping perhaps 5 per cent of the advance.

Or contemplate the blushes of HarperCollins, which forked out £600,000 for Jon Snow’s memoirs and £500,000 for the bitter complaints of the former BBC director-general, Greg Dyke. Snow’s book has sold about 9,000 and Dyke’s sales lag below 6,000 on the trusty Nielsen BookScan monitor. "The right man, the wrong book," is the internal excuse for the poor showing by Snow.

Now witness the grins at Profile Books, which has seen its turnover leap from £3 million to £5 million on the back of the phenomenal lift-off of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Profile, which employs just 15 people, paid not much more than £10,000 for the grammatical primer by Lynne Truss, a journalist. It became last year’s Christmas No 1, selling 824,085 copies in Britain.

Or think Jordan, aka Katie Price. The pneumatic model was paid in the low five figures for her memoirs by John Blake, a Fleet Street journalist-turned-publisher. The book has so far sold 270,000 copies, dwarfing the puny efforts of the high-brow media men Omaar, Snow and Dyke.

In the more fragile field of fiction, HarperCollins paid Ann-Marie MacDonald $1 million (£523,000) for her epic novel The Way the Crow Flies. The book, published in June, has sold 2,188 copies in hardback and 9,881 in paperback worldwide. MacDonald may be very old indeed before her publishers recoup the extravagant advance.

This whole things stinks of an upcoming lockout -- the publishers want the writers to take an advance roll-back, but the players don't want it. And it's us hockey fans who get left out. Wait... Sorry, transference issues... (discuss) (posted by George)

The year-end book list
This time of year they come out like mice in Washington Square at night. Book lists. But what all goes into them? Mostly the shoulder chucks of friends, it seems. (discuss) (posted by George)

When art and promotion hook up for a quickie in the bathroom stall

An in depth (if you consider the interviewees) article on the blurb.*

Readers must remember, says Almond, that blurbs are "the collision of promospeak with a writer's advocacy for art. Promotion keeps moving the product, while what artists say moves people."

(From GalleyCat) (discuss) (posted by George)

Nietzsche: Zero to cuckoo in one day flat
I've always loved the story of Nietzsche and the horse. But the spirochetes taint it for me, somehow -- and in a way the syphilis didn't. (discuss) (posted by George)

The CSM blisses on Chabon
Some good press for an underacknowledged writer. Just what we like to see.

Creative inspiration is a myth, he says, and he frets over what might lurk beneath the lavish reviews and jacket blurbs. "There's always a voice in my head saying, 'Oh, what do they know? They don't know the real you, the total reject.' You're alone in your office with your computer and the praise doesn't help you."

Try doing it without the lavish reviews and praise, Michael... (discuss) (posted by George)

Foetry still fighting the good fight
Foetry takes the gloves off. (From Maud) (discuss) (posted by George)

Coffee table books for freaks
That pretty much sums it up... (discuss) (posted by George)

Richard Wilbur
One of my favs profiled at Slate.

Mr. Spock... Take us out of ... orbit. And find me something... that rhymes... with "orbit"...There are two Richard Wilburs. One is the author of a half-dozen of the most perfectly made poems of the 20th century, poems whose quiet elegance is unexcelled by even the most illustrious names American poetry can offer: Stevens, Eliot, Moore. The second Wilbur is an emblematic figure—a poet whose steadfast embrace of meter and rhyme has made him seem (depending on who's making the call) like either a reactionary or revolutionary force. This Wilbur has been set beside other poets in order to represent one or another idea about American poetry—usually dull ideas, the kind embraced by people who enjoy poetry readings but rarely read poems.

Shit, and I've only got books by one of them! And more Wilbur from the New Yorker. (Second link from Beatrice) (discuss) (posted by George)

Is e-publishing the saviour of books that don't sell?
The pros and cons of e-Publishing examined. The real news here being that there might be "50 Australian-based specialists in German cross-dressing"... (discuss) (posted by George)

Sad, but true
A new statistical analysis of Iris Murdoch's last novel reveals she was in decline long before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Reviews of Jackson's Dilemma suggested that literary editors were ahead of the medical profession in realising that Dame Iris Murdoch was in decline, though they "put it rather politely", said one of the team of neuroscientists who today publishes the first statistical analysis of her last novel in the journal Brain.

A S Byatt wrote that the structure was akin to an "Indian rope trick" in which the characters "have no selves and therefore there is no story and no novel".

Penelope Fitzgerald said that "Murdoch had let her fiction wear through", while another likened the novel to "the work of a 13-year-old schoolgirl who doesn't get out enough".

The stats about Alzheimer's frequency are very scary. Esp considering the boomers now entering that gap. Have you ever hung out with someone who's suffering? At times, it's like being with a sleepwalker - helpless and creepy. (discuss) (posted by George)

Maybe Indigo is on to something...
It appears Amazon is doing better with something other than books, too. (discuss) (posted by George)


George Saunders: Real American Hero
I could kiss this man. I really could.

I’ve completed the math.

There are approximately twenty-five million Iraqis in Iraq. There are approximately three hundred million Americans in America. This means that there are approximately twelve Americans for every Iraqi. This means that, if we all go, each American will be responsible for one-twelfth of an Iraqi. An Iraqi family of five will thus be attended by sixty Americans. We will come, this second wave of three hundred million of us, unarmed. We will bring nothing but ourselves. We will simply show up, saying, “What would you like for dinner?”

(discuss) (posted by George)

On top of the world, ma!
"Blog" is M-W's choice for word of the year. (discuss) (posted by George)

Believe it or not, I know this man's pain
I was once brought into my boss's office in NYC and told to tone the office newspaper back. I was the main (read: only) writer and I ran it like The Onion... This in a place where the brass all were all minor bureaucrats who walked around with the theme song from Law & Order playing in their tiny, one-track minds. These were people who held shocked discussions about minutiae at council meetings and gossiped about school board trustees. I remember sitting looking at them in meetings, thinking, "This is it for you guys, isn't it? This is THE SHIT for you. This is really where it all happens. Right here, the pulse of the city in these numbers right here on this board table in this bureaucratic equivalent of a sub-basement electrical duct." I was not a good match for the New York City government. (discuss) (posted by George)


12/02/04:

Bad Dirt
Annie Proulx's Close Range is in my Top 3 book list, if not No. 1. It's one of the smartest, most inventive books I've ever read -- definitely a book for writers. Now she's followed it up with Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2. The dilemma: do I rush out and buy it immediately -- an unusual thing for me to do -- or do I wait to see if Press Gal reads this entry and puts it under the old Xmas fire hazard for me? Decisions, decisions....

Although none of the stories in Bad Dirt achieves the creepy malevolence of "The Mud Below", or, say, the tender beauty of "Brokeback Mountain" from Close Range, they come awfully close. Indeed, if that collection of stories had not preceded this book, Bad Dirt would be lined up for ecstatic acclaim. Like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, the two American maestros of the short story she most resembles, Proulx has found a tone and style of delivery that allow her to be humorous and existentially black at the same time. No other writer in America gets away with this combination.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The invisible genre
The New Statesman argues H.G. Wells deserves more recognition for his sci-fi work. First time I've heard Shaw called "vile."

Between 1895 and 1898, H G Wells wrote four science fiction masterpieces -- The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Then, as now, SF was seen as not quite respectable by literary types. The vile George Bernard Shaw sneered at Wells, and even his own literary patron, W E Henley, told him: "You could also do better -- far better & to begin with, you must begin by taking yourself more seriously." In our day, Margaret Atwood has turned her nose up at SF, preferring to call the novels she writes "speculative fiction", a truly toe-curling piece of petty snobbery.

(From AL Daily) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Whither copyright?
Reason magazine looks at Lawrence Lessig's book about copyright, Free Culture, and wonders if there is an answer to the mess we find ourselves in thanks to the Internet.

What, if anything, is to be done? Lessig's position is clear: This "massive expansion" in copyright's scope needs to be corrected, and corrected soon; copyright needs to be recalibrated, rebalanced, reined in. In the second half of the book, he offers some specific proposals for how that rebalancing might be achieved. Some of his suggestions strike me as well-conceived: proposals to shorten the term of copyright, to broaden the scope of permissible "fair use," to reduce the copyright holder's ability to control the production of "derivative works," and to reintroduce copyright formalities (so that those who actually want the protection provided by copyright law have to take affirmative steps to obtain it).

(From Arts Journal) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Leaving you to the devices of a madman
Hey kids, I'm headed to NYC for the next four (blissfully childless, though I'm sure I'll miss him) nights - in part to appear at this Melville House sponsored blogging event at the Housing Works Bookstore, and in part to salvage my flagging book of poems. Look for me living the bohemian life in the Village. Nudge me if I don't have my cheeks sucked in far enough. Seriously, if you're a New York ninja and can make it, the event looks to be grand (quite a group of personalities from some great sites: Maud Newton, Bookslut, Moorish Girl, Beatrice, and Moby Lives), and I'd love to meet you. 7:00 on Friday at Housing Works. I'll be the guy with the beard and glasses and accent, eh? So, until Monday night, I leave you in the iron hands of my partner, herr Peter Darbyshire - known to schoolboys everywhere as Commandant McStrappenheiny. He'll be watching over the Stalag and knows about the radio in the teapot. (discuss) (posted by George)

Pierre Berton, 1920 -2004
More on the passing of a Canadian legend. (discuss) (posted by George)

Into the jaws of the beast I go
This is just unbelievable. If you read this in a novel you'd say the writer went too far. Wubblewoo has enabled this and it will be interesting to watch him ignore it as best he can. Rise up, people.

An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

"Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Allen said in a press conference Tuesday.

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.

I guess the positive here is that the more empowered these nutbars become, the more they run the risk of showing their true selves and ending up like Allan Keyes. (I really want to make a-yhuk noises about the inbred slackjaws of the south, but Maud and Michael Schaub have shamed me into silence.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Publishing's Y2K
In 2007 the publishing world will move from 10-digit ISBNs to 13-digit ISBNs. This will be part of a global effort to keep up with the production schedule of Joyce Carole Oates.

The new 13-digit ISBN, which has capacity for just under one billion numbers, will affect all aspects of the publishing supply chain right through to libraries and high-street book stores and the International ISBN Agency has warned firms to review all their IT systems well ahead of the 2007 deadline.

People, do we really need a billion books? Somebody shoot the guy in charge of the Star Wars stock writer puppy mill. I heard Richard A. Knaak is chained to a stake there and mounted daily by both Margaret Weiss AND Tracy Hickman. (From Moby) (discuss) (posted by George)

The last time we invaded they painted the House White when we left... If you get my drift
Canadian Sarah McNally spreads out in her posh new digs in downtown Manhattan. She's bringing a piece of the family book business to the town that publishing forgot. Oh wait, the opposite of that. I'll check out the store while I'm there and report back.

On Monday afternoon, the store was in a state of construction chaos: a table saw sat on the basement floor, sawdust caked around its legs, while workmen on scaffolding tried to finalize wiring in the ceiling and booksellers tucked volumes on shelves shielded by clear plastic drop sheets. After months of renovations, the opening looked unlikely, but McNally faced one hard deadline: a party tomorrow night for hundreds of media and publishing types, who expect to see a gleaming palace of books.

Assuming it's open, of course. (Speaking of which, I want to start a series of bookstore profiles. If you have a favourite independent bookstore in your town and want to write about it, send me a note here.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Book about X-Men wins Guardian First Book prize
If only it had pictures. Who says awards juries are all doomed to idiocy? When you get statements like this from the judges, I have no doubt the best, easiest read won.

"Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was undoubtedly the highest profile book in contention this year, but while everyone was impressed by the virtuosity of the writing, some complained that the sheer length made reading it a bit of a slog."

Classy. (discuss) (posted by George)

Will the internet replace the library?
"No!" says earnest small-town lady.

Then I thought about the fabled "paperless society" that was supposed to arrive by courtesy of the home computer and Internet. It hasn't happened in our home, where multiple copies of the same documents litter our work space. Yes, we depend on our computer, but it has certainly not replaced paper. The way we use paper has changed, but it is still an important part of our lives.

That's a relief, cause there's this really hot librarian here that makes me blush when I take out Thomas the Tank Engine books and I seriously doubt the internet has any hot women on it, much less anything that would make me blush. What? (discuss) (posted by George)

Powell's: a modern day poacher?
Powell's stocks new and used books side by side and is a great alternative to big-box stores like B&N and Borders. That said, there are some problems. When you buy a used book, the author and the publisher see none of that money. We all know that. So buy my book new. Ahem. But what you might not know is that Powell's, with it's giant retail outlets, goes trawling in smaller cities, depleting them of their best stock, and thereby draining the potential sales of local used book shops. Further, they then turn around in the truck and head back to their HQ and sell the books in another town. Fair? Would it be if your store were left with only Dean Koontz novels?

The remaining independent booksellers are as important to Lane County's culture as Powell's is to Portland's. They can't compete with the big boxes or the superstores in terms of price. Their advantage is in knowing their customers, and knowing their community. They promote local authors, cater to and shape local tastes, respond to local customers' interests and specialize in local topics. They can create an atmosphere that could exist only in Lane County, rather than replicating an experience available at any mall in the country.

Won't somebody think of the children? (discuss) (posted by George)

And in the latest installment of our bookstore blog...
WordsWorth Books has left the building. Massachusetts liberals weep like struck children.

At 6 o'clock on Saturday, Oct. 30, after the last customer had bid goodbye and the melancholy staff had departed for the farewell party at Charlie's Kitchen, at long last, after 28 years, it was time for Hillel Stavis and his wife, Donna Friedman, to lock the doors of their bookstore for the final time.

Hell, working at Coles as a teenager, I DREAMED of that day. I had plans to walk out with half the inventory. (discuss) (posted by George)

"I love a martini -- but two at the most. Three I'm under the table; Four, I'm under the host."
This disposably rich ought to check this out. I like the sound of that... "The disposable rich." Coming soon to a poem near you. (discuss) (posted by George)


Weekend Edition:

Breaking up is hard to do
Ryan Bigge ends his love affair with Douglas Coupland.

But don't blame yourself, however, Doug. It's not you, it's me. I'm the one who's changed. I've had a chance to experiment with Nick Hornby and George Saunders and Michael Turner. Don't be shocked, Doug. I realize how unfair my promiscuity might sound, but these other literary relationships have made me realize that maybe we're no longer compatible.

Please, try not to take this too hard. I can only imagine how you feel right now. I realize you're upset. But I still want us to be friends, Doug, if that's possible. You were once the voice of a generation -- back when irony and Kurt Cobain were still alive -- but your throat is sounding a bit hoarse.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Moot, the world's toughest language game
I saw this game recently at my local game store and I was thinking about buying it. After trying the sample questions, though, I'm not so sure. I generally don't need help to feel stupid.

It denotes a pedantic, exhaustive, point-by-point refutation of someone's political position and it was named for a British news-correspondent who employs it; what one-syllable neologistic eponym is it?

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Sure, every writer has horror stories about the publishing biz
But how many have to pay back their advance?

I explained to my editor what I wanted to write in advance -- a novel about a personal chef for a weirdo super celebrity, in lieu of the novel I'd proposed long ago in a single paragraph. She agreed. I wrote that book. But when I sent the manuscript, Serving Monster, to my editor, she informed me that, unbeknownst to me, I had violated my contract -- that it was late and it wasn't the book they'd wanted anyway. I knew then that I was going to get gotted. That this big-ass publishing house was going to come down on me.

Sure enough, Atria, subsidiary of that monster conglomerate Viacom, asked me to pay back the $41,000 they advanced me.

(From Sarah) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Annie over at Maud points us to this site, which has been around for a year and looks full of sci-fi goodness, including a piece about Mars sci-fi, a look at black sci-fi and an interview with Clive Barker, who has three houses to store his book!. And you have to love a website that lists its copy editors on the masthead. (Log in using shuriken@bookninja.com and waaaaa as the password.) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Copyright and the public domain
Some archivists in the States want to get old, rotting books read again, but the court has ruled against them.

District Judge Maxine Chesney dismissed the case filed by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, and Rick Prelinger, founder of the Prelinger Archives, in late November. The archivists allege that the government's sweeping changes in copyright laws are unconstitutional because they lock up creative works that should be returned to the public domain. The government filed a motion to dismiss, and the motion was granted Nov. 19.

(From Arts Journal) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Attn poets:
The real money is in soccer chants.

Mr. Hurst is the nation's first chant laureate, charged, he said, with "chronicling developments in the football season." (That's soccer, to Americans.) He makes twice as much money as the poet laureate, £10,000 ($19,200) for a year's work, but their responsibilities are vaguely similar. Interviewed while on the job the other day at a soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, Mr. Hurst said the poet laureate reacted to national events, and "I respond to footballing events."

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

What do you do with your book jackets?
Display them or toss them? The day I finally have an office bigger than a closet, I plan to frame my faves and hang them up as art. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Collecting Outram
I think George neglected to mention his Maisonneuve piece on Richard Outram, so here it is.

I've found several of Richard's works hard to come by. It may be my own poor scanning of the raggedy shelves of used bookstores, but more likely it's a matter of when I jumped on the bandwagon. Richard Outram is one of Canada's only poets (along with A. F. Moritz, Eric Ormsby and a few others) whose work is viable on a global scale. He is comparable more to the likes of Richard Wilbur or Geoffrey Hill than to most poets writing in Canada, yet he seems to have made a sport of avoiding fame. He publishes almost exclusively with small literary presses and self-publishes his Gauntlet Press chapbooks and broadsheets in tiny runs of sixty to eighty. This has led to a dearth of his titles in both the big-box chains and used bookstores. People who buy or receive his work tend to be fans and will hang on to whatever titles they have.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Oh, I think he knows the frequency
Harper's posts its essay on the beating of Dan Rather by a couple of men asking, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" (The event later inspired a song by REM.) Turns out it was Donald Barthelme's henchmen.

Imagine my shock at finding, quite out of the blue, the words "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" combined within the same text, by a writer from Houston, Dan Rather's hometown.

It was an odd coincidence. What are the chances of finding "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" in any way connected to each other, outside of the mouths of Mr. Rather's attackers? And yet here they were, inside Donald Barthelme's book.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

That is pretty weird
Sci-fi writer China Mieville sums up his life in a few short, sweet anecdotes.

The weirdest thing I ever saw was in Hyde Park. There was a crowd, I joined them, and for the next 10 minutes we stood aghast and fascinated watching a pelican eating a pigeon.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

"You need pscyhos like us"
The New York Review of Books takes a look at two books -- Generation Kill and The Fall of Baghdad -- about Operation What Plan B? over in Iraq.

Those who carry out this killing will pay a terrible price. As the unit approaches Baghdad they become weary with the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed Iraqis, including families that drive too close to roadblocks. Wright notes that "...the enlisted Marines, tired of shooting unarmed civilians, fought to be allowed to use smoke grenades." Many of these young men will never sleep well for the rest of their lives. Most will harbor within themselves corrosive feelings of self-loathing and regret. They will struggle with an unbridgeable alienation when they return home, something Evans sees glimpses of in the final pages of the book.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)


Weekend Edition:

Breaking up is hard to do
Ryan Bigge ends his love affair with Douglas Coupland.

But don't blame yourself, however, Doug. It's not you, it's me. I'm the one who's changed. I've had a chance to experiment with Nick Hornby and George Saunders and Michael Turner. Don't be shocked, Doug. I realize how unfair my promiscuity might sound, but these other literary relationships have made me realize that maybe we're no longer compatible.

Please, try not to take this too hard. I can only imagine how you feel right now. I realize you're upset. But I still want us to be friends, Doug, if that's possible. You were once the voice of a generation -- back when irony and Kurt Cobain were still alive -- but your throat is sounding a bit hoarse.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Moot, the world's toughest language game
I saw this game recently at my local game store and I was thinking about buying it. After trying the sample questions, though, I'm not so sure. I generally don't need help to feel stupid.

It denotes a pedantic, exhaustive, point-by-point refutation of someone's political position and it was named for a British news-correspondent who employs it; what one-syllable neologistic eponym is it?

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Sure, every writer has horror stories about the publishing biz
But how many have to pay back their advance?

I explained to my editor what I wanted to write in advance -- a novel about a personal chef for a weirdo super celebrity, in lieu of the novel I'd proposed long ago in a single paragraph. She agreed. I wrote that book. But when I sent the manuscript, Serving Monster, to my editor, she informed me that, unbeknownst to me, I had violated my contract -- that it was late and it wasn't the book they'd wanted anyway. I knew then that I was going to get gotted. That this big-ass publishing house was going to come down on me.

Sure enough, Atria, subsidiary of that monster conglomerate Viacom, asked me to pay back the $41,000 they advanced me.

(From Sarah) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Annie over at Maud points us to this site, which has been around for a year and looks full of sci-fi goodness, including a piece about Mars sci-fi, a look at black sci-fi and an interview with Clive Barker, who has three houses to store his book!. And you have to love a website that lists its copy editors on the masthead. (Log in using shuriken@bookninja.com and waaaaa as the password.) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Copyright and the public domain
Some archivists in the States want to get old, rotting books read again, but the court has ruled against them.

District Judge Maxine Chesney dismissed the case filed by Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, and Rick Prelinger, founder of the Prelinger Archives, in late November. The archivists allege that the government's sweeping changes in copyright laws are unconstitutional because they lock up creative works that should be returned to the public domain. The government filed a motion to dismiss, and the motion was granted Nov. 19.

(From Arts Journal) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Attn poets:
The real money is in soccer chants.

Mr. Hurst is the nation's first chant laureate, charged, he said, with "chronicling developments in the football season." (That's soccer, to Americans.) He makes twice as much money as the poet laureate, £10,000 ($19,200) for a year's work, but their responsibilities are vaguely similar. Interviewed while on the job the other day at a soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, Mr. Hurst said the poet laureate reacted to national events, and "I respond to footballing events."

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

What do you do with your book jackets?
Display them or toss them? The day I finally have an office bigger than a closet, I plan to frame my faves and hang them up as art. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Collecting Outram
I think George neglected to mention his Maisonneuve piece on Richard Outram, so here it is.

I've found several of Richard's works hard to come by. It may be my own poor scanning of the raggedy shelves of used bookstores, but more likely it's a matter of when I jumped on the bandwagon. Richard Outram is one of Canada's only poets (along with A. F. Moritz, Eric Ormsby and a few others) whose work is viable on a global scale. He is comparable more to the likes of Richard Wilbur or Geoffrey Hill than to most poets writing in Canada, yet he seems to have made a sport of avoiding fame. He publishes almost exclusively with small literary presses and self-publishes his Gauntlet Press chapbooks and broadsheets in tiny runs of sixty to eighty. This has led to a dearth of his titles in both the big-box chains and used bookstores. People who buy or receive his work tend to be fans and will hang on to whatever titles they have.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Oh, I think he knows the frequency
Harper's posts its essay on the beating of Dan Rather by a couple of men asking, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" (The event later inspired a song by REM.) Turns out it was Donald Barthelme's henchmen.

Imagine my shock at finding, quite out of the blue, the words "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" combined within the same text, by a writer from Houston, Dan Rather's hometown.

It was an odd coincidence. What are the chances of finding "Kenneth" and "What is the frequency?" in any way connected to each other, outside of the mouths of Mr. Rather's attackers? And yet here they were, inside Donald Barthelme's book.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

That is pretty weird
Sci-fi writer China Mieville sums up his life in a few short, sweet anecdotes.

The weirdest thing I ever saw was in Hyde Park. There was a crowd, I joined them, and for the next 10 minutes we stood aghast and fascinated watching a pelican eating a pigeon.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

"You need pscyhos like us"
The New York Review of Books takes a look at two books -- Generation Kill and The Fall of Baghdad -- about Operation What Plan B? over in Iraq.

Those who carry out this killing will pay a terrible price. As the unit approaches Baghdad they become weary with the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed Iraqis, including families that drive too close to roadblocks. Wright notes that "...the enlisted Marines, tired of shooting unarmed civilians, fought to be allowed to use smoke grenades." Many of these young men will never sleep well for the rest of their lives. Most will harbor within themselves corrosive feelings of self-loathing and regret. They will struggle with an unbridgeable alienation when they return home, something Evans sees glimpses of in the final pages of the book.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)


 

12/06/04:

What the Blog pics
Brooklyn Vegan was kind enough to post some photos of What the Blog, the panel of book bloggers George attended in NYC Friday. He seems to have fallen asleep at one point. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

L =A=N=G=U=A=G=E online
The good nerds at Metafilter point out that Princeton has put its archive of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine online. They also bring our attention to a fairly detailed essay by Marjorie Perloff on Steve McCaffery's work.

One of my favourite poetry readings ever was when McCaffery read at a bar in Toronto and an audience member's dog went insane and started barking at the speakers. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

In Canada, we feel bad about fighting back when people rob us
Poet Ryan Knighton was mugged by a crackhead in Vancouver and seems to feel the B.C. government is at least partially responsible, especially when it comes to its Safe Streets legislation.

I can live with the outcome. I mean, sure she probably needed the food more than I did and all that, and it's true, more than any other motive, I'd simply been lazy about sharing. I can't begrudge her the Fig Newtons. Really.

Besides, stealing a blind man's cookies is about as reliable a report on how successfully municipal and provincial action plans are working on poverty and addiction in my neighbourhood as anyone could deliver.

I don't know... I can't help but think if you steal Fig Newtons from a nearly blind poet, some of your problems may in fact originate with you. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

It's just beautifully written
Susan Glickman points us to the new Posy Simmonds cartoon. I can already see this one on publishers' doors everywhere. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)



12/07/04:

Coming soon to a red state near you!
A lot of women in the UK find Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale "life-changing."

The Handmaid's Tale, a 1986 satire by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is one of the top 10 novels that transformed women's lives according to a poll by Woman's Hour listeners on Radio 4.

(From Maud) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Revised Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I kind of liked the last Charlie Kaufman film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I thought the ending was weak and rather romantic comedyish. Not surprisingly, the ending in the original script is far more disturbing -- and poignant.

She shakes her head. He punches a couple of buttons on his computer console. A tape recorder starts up and his computer screen lights up so only he can see it. On it we see a whole file on Clementine Kruczynski: a list of fifteen dates of previous erasures stretching back fifty years, all of them involving Joel Barish.

(From Moorish Girl) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

He's baaaaaAAck! Our man in New York returns from represent'n
Well, I had a great time. New York slowly devoured my soul, much like the Almighty Saarlak, but it was good to see my old pals again. Some highlights:

  • hanging out with Jarret McNeil, my blogger at Maisy, and being accosted by his drunken love for one Jonathan Carroll (OMIGOD, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS GUY!!);
  • stopping in to my old job to see some chums realize they should have quit by now;
  • the blogging panel (more on this below) which turned six ordinary humans into one unified voice of ... something;
  • drinking with bloggers, which can go on and on and on (and is very good for your flagging immune system, esp when you feel it necessary to not do up your coat because pshah, you call this cold, you wimpy Americans?);
  • attending my first "karaoke + poetry = fun" reading, which is a lot less horrid than it sounds (I'm arranging an international tour for them - watch for Toronto and Montreal KPF appearance, and brush up on your Belinda Carlisle);
  • standing in the Bowery Poetry Club watching a book launch with my pants around my ankles (hey, there were at least four other poets with pants around their ankles too, so before you judge, let he who is not without pants cast the first...stone);
  • Being chagrinned to realize I too was supposed to run from the cab when poet Michael Schiavo (I'm proud to say he and I were the last ones standing) did because we were dead drunk and didn't have enough money to pay (next time I'll take the comically obvious hint of a quick, evil tiptoe down the sidewalk as a request to follow rather than to stand and yell in slurred drunkese, "Hey, Michael, where uuu gooing? We have to pay this guy!")

The blogging panel was interesting. It was great to meet the others, all of whom I read regularly. Maud and Laila and I had dinner ahead of the panel and chatted about life and the demands of the "trade". Very nice people. At the venue I met Ron from Beatrice and Michael from the Lit Saloon. Dennis of Moby was there too, leading the discussion. Jessa Crispin of Bookslut had been laid low with a toothache and had to cancel. It's cause she's so sweet, see.

Anyway, what surprised me the most was the number of people in attendance. It was quite a crowd. Very enthusiastic and sympathetic to what we're doing. People had note pads out. What the fuck would anyone want to quote me for? There was a question and answer period afterward that was also quite enthusiastic. So I guess people are reading.

Were I to have a second crack at it, I'd try to tone back my comments on the mainstream media (I mentioned my "fondness" for seeing stories appear on Bookninja one day and in the paper the next with nary a source cited). I guess papers can't really link out the way we can, and I felt our comments around the whole ms journalists vs. bloggers thing sounded a little paranoid after a bit. That said, I do think blogging is, or has the potential to be, a new kind of journalism. Maybe not a better kind, but a powerful alternative to corporate journalism. I consider my blog reading to be a form of primary research. An accessible way of getting immediate information. I consider the NYT and Globe to be places I go for an authoritative look at prevailing opinion. Blogs and papers each have their advantages and shouldn't war with one another because they don't really compete. Good readers will use both. However, given that anything printed on the internet seems to be immediately stamped with a big red "ILLEGITIMATE", it couldn't hurt for ms journalists to let the reading public know where they're getting their story ideas. We needn't be fighting an uphill battle for respect when those with respect are secretly using us.

And one more thing. I think I'd like to redefine what it is we do here. We're not really a blog. Like Michael at the Saloon, which is part of the Complete Review, we like to think of ourselves a web magazine that contains a popular newslog/blog. Not to back away from the term, but I realized that by the end of the programme, I hadn't really let the audience know there was more to us than comments on news stories.

Speaking of which: short posts tonight and back on schedule tomorrow. I just got back and I'm dead dead dead.

P.S. I didn't fall asleep, I was sniffing Maud, who's bouquet is reminiscent of a spring elf. (discuss) (posted by George)

Secret staircase to Brontë's WMD chemical lab found
We should have invaded England when we had the chance. You could hide just about anything in all that heather. (discuss) (posted by George)

Peter C. Newman
Now an old man and ripe for memoirs.

Most painful of all, for a writer, is his admission that his prose style was occasionally on the purple side. Newman is the author of perhaps the most famous bad simile ever turned out by a good writer in Canada — his description of Joe Clark as acting like a fawn caught eating broccoli. Newman ducks his head even now. "What the hell was I trying to say?"

(discuss) (posted by George)

America, book of the year
I love it. (discuss) (posted by George)

Oz loves the fantastic
A list of Australia's favourite books shows a distinct lean toward the fantastic: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hitchhiker's Guide, the Holy Bible.. the list goes on. (discuss) (posted by George)

How does a bestseller get made?
Well, honey, when an author and a story love each other very much... (discuss) (posted by George)


12/08/04:

Do books have genders?
I was browsing through the author interviews at Powells when I stumbled across this piece by Neil Gaiman about the genders of his books.

When I wrote the ten volumes of Sandman, I tended to alternate between what I thought of as male storylines, such as the first story, collected under the title Preludes and Nocturnes, or the fourth book, Season of Mists; and more female stories, like Game of You, or Brief Lives. The novels are a slightly different matter. Neverwhere is a Boy's Own Adventure (Narnia on the Northern Line, as someone once described it), with an everyman hero, and the women in it tended to occupy equally stock roles, such as the Dreadful Fiancée, the Princess in Peril, the Kick-Ass Female Warrior, the Seductive Vamp. Each role is, I hope, taken and twisted 45 per cent from skew, but they are stock characters nonetheless.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Europe's lost stories
Julian Evans muses on the history of the novel in Europe, and the gap between BritLit and the Contintent:

If the novel is a European form, it is more accurately a western European form, and only later central and eastern European (and Russian). It came to central Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and central European novelists impinged only slowly on western consciousness. Neither Kafka (d. 1924) nor Musil (d. 1942) was widely recognized as a writer of European rank until after 1945. The collected works of Joseph Roth (d. 1939), the great elegist of the tottering circus of Austria-Hungary, were not published in German until 1956. (In Britain, we began to read Roth only in the mid-1980s.) Kundera, first translated into English in 1970 with The Joke, was the exception, and his rapid ascendancy became the key to British readers' entry into the aesthetic identity of central Europe -- a unity of small nations cyclically kidnapped by "protective powers" and other tyrannies.

But not everyone agrees with him. (From Splinters) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Great Canadian Speeches
Quick, quote a line from one! Can't do it? Then you'd best get this book.

But although the book has been called "a history of Canada from the podium," the speeches aren't all historically or politically motivated: Pierre's not the only Trudeau in the book, for instance: Justin's teary eulogy to his father, "Je t'aime, papa," makes it in, as does an entry from David Suzuki about the environment, as well as a speech by Stephen Lewis on the HIV pandemic in Africa.

(From Sarah) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Just Pooh
Your one-stop info centre for all things Winnie, including Pooh history and the real Hundred Acre Wood.

'Winnie-the-Pooh' was published by Methuen on October 14th, 1926, the verses 'Now We are Six' in 1927, and 'The House at Pooh Corner' in1928. All these books were illustrated in a beautiful way by E.H. Shepard, which made the books even more magical. The Pooh-books became firm favorites with old and young alike and have been translated into almost every known language. A conservative figure for the total sales of the four Methuen editions (including When We Were Very Young) up to the end of 1996 would be over 20 million copies. These figures do not include sales of the four books published by Dutton in Canada and the States, nor the foreign-language editions printed in more than 25 languages the world over!

(From Things) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

When academia meets comedy, dude
About ten years ago I used to watch a lot of stand-up. I don't remember the name of the comedian, or the entire sequence, but this one fella had a bit on the word "dude" that went on about it's multiple uses. He said dude could be used as "hello" and made a happy-to-see-you face and waved and said, "Dude!"; he said dude could express disappointment and hung and shook his head and said, "Dude..."; he said dude could be a word of disgust and curled his lip and shook his head and said, "Dude!"; and my favourite: he said dude could be used to express "Is that you in the closet with a knife?" by craning his neck, looking frightened and whispering, "Dude...?" Now, years later, someone else raised on that same bit has turned it into an academic paper saying, it seems all the same things, but with bigger words.

Historically, dude originally meant "old rags" — a "dudesman" was a scarecrow. In the late 1800s, a "dude" was akin to a "dandy," a meticulously dressed man, especially out West. It became "cool" in the 1930s and 1940s, according to Kiesling. Dude began its rise in the teenage lexicon with the 1981 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Ah, academia... taking the raw materials of life and selling them back to you as intellectual product. (Thanks to ZW for the link) (discuss) (posted by George)

Now airport buyers can add "used" books to their wide selection of "crappy" books
In an effort sure to screw someone, I'm not quite sure who, an airport bookstore chain is offering the following:

The program works like this: A customer walks into a Paradies store, such as the CNBC newsstand at the international airport in Milwaukee, and buys My Life by former President Bill Clinton for the full retail price of $35. The cashier staples the receipt to the dust jacket or attaches it with a piece of Scotch tape. The customer also gets a bookmark that lists the airports nationwide where Paradies does business. Providing the traveler holds on to that receipt, he can return My Life within six months (whatever its condition) and get $17.50 back. The retailer then resells the book -- unless it has sustained too much damage -- as a used book for $17.50.

Oh, wait, writers. Yeah, screw the writers. (discuss) (posted by George)

[Click here to see a special graphical hearsay.](posted by George)


Asking the questions we don't want to hear the answers to

Michael Crichton is about to smash the world over the head with another book and Mad Max Perkins, pseudonymous proprietor of the best anonymous lit blog out there (if you haven't been following, he claims to be a bigshot editor in NYC, and from his posts I would tend to believe him), having talked to editors and writers, now reaches out to booksellers:

Popular as it is in blog-dom to bemoan cultural de-madeleinization, and book industry conglomeration, and brand proliferation, and literary marginalization, and animal exploitation for the purposes of a better facial lotion, is there any bookseller--

(HONESTLY, now)

--is there ANY bookseller who is not glad, in a dollars-and-cents fashion, that today is Michael Crichton Day?

I can't imagine a no in the house. Even the used bookstores ought to have copies the day after tomorrow. (discuss) (posted by George)

Firebombed library reopens
The United Talmud Torahs elementary school library in Montreal received donations of books and money from around the world. The piece(s) of shit responsible for this attack and racist graffiti are still at large. There's a special non-denominational hell reserved for them. I and my workforce of thousands will be in attendance to oversee the lakes of acid and fire pokers. (discuss) (posted by George)

Buddy-buddy reading lists
What happens when your best friend foists a book on you* and you hate it?

Reading literature is the solitary practice of a cultural minority, and fervent book recommendations -- like the book groups that have flourished over the past two decades -- are one way readers respond to how this situation makes them feel: lonely.

My secret is this: have friends who are invested enough in literature to be intrigued by your dislike of their favourite book. More frightening than any of this is the idea that a friend's new novel might be snorer. Then yer fucked. (discuss) (posted by George)

Berton gets the royal sendoff
A fet for Berton turns into a television special. (discuss) (posted by George)

Do computers impede learning?
I certainly believe they do. Especially when they have HalfLife2 loaded on them... Ooo... the graphics... (discuss) (posted by George)

Sorry we missed your book, please leave a message...
A books editor offers a recap of what he wishes he hadn't missed this year.

They were overlooked largely for the same reason that they were overlooked around the country -- their relative obscurity among the thousands of titles arriving at offices daily.
...
The competition for attention was tough and the logical approach was to go with the big names.

Can we blame him for this? Yes, but we can also thank him for the candid honesty. (discuss) (posted by George)

America gets some good TV
Hopefully someone from the US will report into our boards to give us some commentary on this documentary,* "The First Amendment"... As the little-brudah country that receives America's legislative hand-me-downs, the information could come in handy in the next few years. (discuss) (posted by George)

The "ambulance-chasing" bio
When the insta-book gets it's necrophilia on.

Less than six weeks after his death, two books about John Peel, the DJ and broadcasting icon, were in the shops - just in time for the Christmas market. Now his younger brother has launched an attack on the unseemly haste of the publishers who rushed out the works to cash in on the DJ's popularity.

I don't know anything about this fellow, but I think the sentiments here are fairly universal. Someone dies and people want/need to make money from it. It's like taking their boots. What I find the most revolting is the publishers trying to justify it as noble and affectionate. Just be honest graverobbers. (discuss) (posted by George)

What's the rent on your books?
Books are expensive to purchase and store. So if libraries are feeling the pinch, why don't they go electronic and outsource the storage and paperwork to the cheaper realm of the interweb?

Having a fully outsourced, electronic library would mean giving up control of the information available on your campus, and allowing lawyers, accountants, and vendors' content specialists to make decisions about access to published research -- much like HMO clerks deciding what medical care your doctor can provide. Can innovation and excellence flourish in that kind of environment? That is one of the questions that keep librarians awake at night, but it is a large question -- a bit too taxing for a tired librarian at the end of a three-mile run.

Interesting. So what you're saying is there's an insomniac librarian who can run three miles? (discuss) (posted by George)

You know you heard it here first, right?
I know I said we wouldn't bring you book of the year lists, but this is the Voice and two of our favourite Canajuns are on it. - Michael Redhill and Derek McCormack. Here's the blurb for shizzy D:

Gay vampires. Lonely highways. Country songs. No, it's not a Stephin Merritt musical (not yet, anyway). It's the double debut of Derek McCormack, who conjures creepy worlds using little more than elliptical triads. Weird, inventive, magical, the omnibus Grab Bag features a lonely closeted teenager named Derek McCormack and a grotesque fascination with carnivals, drifters, and disease. The Haunted Hillbilly reimagines Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, who in real life dressed Elvis in gold lam?, as a bloodthirsty undead Svengali with a crush on his doomed client, c&w legend Hank Williams?perverse, mesmerizing, heartfelt. With a morbid comic vision and a delightfully twisted imagination, McCormack delivers a one-two knockout punch that establishes him as one of the best new voices of the year.

Yahuh. (discuss) (posted by George)

Remember that Aussie favourite books thing?
Tolkien won it, right? Well, now a salmon of doubt has been cast over the whole voting process. See, some nutbar evangelist on the list too, and in a place that would make him Australia's third most popular author -- over people like Patrick White and David Malouf.

Now perhaps there are thousands of Stringer enthusiasts out there - there must certainly be a quite a few Stringer voters - but I found it hard to track down one of his books in my regular bookshops. Clearly the Christian fundamentalist vote has come out in force - much as it did it last month in the US presidential election.

Block voting like this casts the whole exercise into doubt. Given that there were 5000 titles nominated, it would be interesting to know exactly how many votes managed to propel the Reverend Stringer to such dizzy heights.

Hm. I knew they were a pious people, but... (discuss) (posted by George)

They used to seem so much smarter in Britain, didn't they?
Scum of the earth poetry.com reaches out to deceive and rip-off people from around the world. Can't someone put a stop to it? It's eating me alive! I actually had to ban their URL from our Google ads... (discuss) (posted by George)

Bible Only Work of Fiction in Family's Home
LAWRENCE, KS—After a weekend visit to the home of Gloria and Ben Kirchbauer, nephew James Fenderman, 26, said Monday that he was unable to locate a single work of fiction in the house. "I just wanted something to read before bed, but all my aunt and uncle had was a row of Time-Life how-to books, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, a yearbook, and Sincerely, Andy Rooney," Fenderman said. "The only book with any narrative whatsoever was the Good News Bible." Fenderman said he finally settled for a March 1995 issue of Prevention magazine that he'd found on a shelf with his aunt's cookbooks. (From The Onion) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/09/04:

The Naming of Parts
The other day I was walking to work and "The Naming of Parts" popped into my head. I couldn't remember who wrote it, and forgot all about it once I was at work. Then Metafilter linked to this site all about Henry Reed. Curious.

'Naming of Parts' is section one of a five-section sequence called The Lessons of War, and it can claim, without much fear of contradiction, to be the poem of the Second World War -- the cleverest and, by some distance, the most likeable: good-humoured, funny, sexy and resigned, it captures perfectly the period's strange mix of tedium and fear. Reed's parade-ground protagonist is being taught how to handle weapons but his mind is elsewhere: he is thinking about sex, he is thinking about spring, about renewal. He is thinking, in other words, about life, the life that wartime now prohibits and that he himself, the soldier-poet, is being taught how to destroy.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

"Dig a hole and dump them into it"
More on the Alabama monster leading the charge to burn gays "protect marriage" by outlawing open-minded homosexual propaganda texts such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Colour Purple and even Shakespeare. So I guess Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" about cowboy lovers is probably out too, huh?

Cutting off funds to theatre departments that put on A Chorus Line or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may look like censorship, and smell like censorship, but "it's not censorship", Allen hastens to explain. "For instance, there's a reason for stop lights. You're driving a vehicle, you see that stop light, and I hope you stop." Who can argue with something as reasonable as stop lights? Of course, if you're gay, this particular traffic light never changes to green.

Unless, perhaps, if you live in Canada.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Roald Dahl photo auction
Some new Dahl pics have turned up, just in time for the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The pics are so-so, but the article reveals some of the origins behind Dahl's more memorable creations.

Dahl's grandson, Luke Kelly, 18, an assistant photographer at American Vogue, came upon the photographs in the form of negatives and contact sheets in the writer's archive as it was being sorted for the new centre.

When he developed the negatives -- he did some of the work in a potting shed near his grandfather's hut -- Kelly was amazed at the insights they gave into Dahl's life and at the quality of the photographs. "They are very striking. The photos he took show what a strong, creative, highly visual mind he had," said Kelly who knew Dahl as Mouldy.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Gatenby update
Apparently the deadline has passed for Canadian buyers to drop $2 million on Greg Gatenby's book collection, and he's now free to sell it to the Americans lining up at his door.

At a press conference at his Toronto home on Nov. 24 to announce the proposed sale, Gatenby had hinted that he was prepared to sell at least part of his collection to an American buyer should he not find a willing party in Canada. Gatenby did not return calls yesterday to say if whether or not he had found a domestic buyer or if he would proceed with the foreign sale.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Look for the verb
Nobel lecture, delivered by video, postulates what 7 x Tuesday to the power of blue might be. Plus an eggtimer.

Please, dear language, don’t you for once want to listen first? So that you learn something, so that you at last learn the rules of speaking ... What are you shouting and grumbling about over there? Are you doing it, language, so that I graciously take you in you again? I thought, you didn’t want to come back to me at all! There was no sign, that you wanted to come back to me, it would have been pointless anyway, I wouldn’t have understood the sign. You only became language to get away from me and to ensure that I got on? But nothing is ensured. And by you not at all, as well as I know you. I don’t even recognise you again. You want to come back to me of your own accord? I won’t take you in any more, what do you say to that? Away is away. Away is no way.

Huh? Is this about me using a fork to scratch my back, again? (discuss) (posted by George)

Medal of honour
In other Nobel news, Tagore's stolen medal is replaced by the Swedish Academy. Also included in the package was a primer on making those delicious red jelly berries and an all black print out of Elfriede Jelinek's translator's brain scan. (discuss) (posted by George)

Is Michael Crichton too smart for his own good?
Hahahaha! Why no, you silly goose!! He just thinks he is...

Crichton is like a college professor who insists on lecturing 10 minutes after the class period ends, when his students are edging toward the door. In State of Fear, the narrative stops cold for climate charts that are printed on the page ("Goteborg, Sweden: 1951-2004"). When one of Crichton's heroic skeptics makes a controversial statement about global warming, Crichton tags it with a footnote—look it up for yourself, liberal critic! The novel ends with 20 pages of bibliographical references and the author's 25-point "message" about global warming. It's a bulwark for what Crichton thinks will be a backlash from the newspapers, the same sour reaction that greeted Rising Sun and Disclosure. But first, doesn't somebody actually have to finish reading State of Fear?

(discuss) (posted by George)

Killer has a way with words
Henry VIII's love notes prove he loved his wives to give head. I am so proud of that one. (discuss) (posted by George)

Book about death of god becomes film about birth of money
This is why these people feel empowered. Because they're powerful. The film version of His Dark Materials, a book about the defeat of God, won't contain references to God. Puke puke puke. And I for one, a huge fan of the books (well, the first two), won't go see this film.

Chris Weitz, the director, has horrified fans by announcing that references to the church are likely to be banished in his film. Meanwhile the “Authority”, the weak God figure, will become “any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual”.

The studio wants alterations because of fears of a backlash from the Christian Right in the United States. The changes are being made with the support of Pullman, who told The Times last year that he received “a large amount” for the rights.

I'm most surprised and disappointed to hear Pullman's going along with it. It kind of washes away the general admiration I'd built up for the man. For the love of Authority, Phil, at least pretend to care. (discuss) (posted by George)

Plish-Plath I was taking a blath

But is it a halcyon moment for Plath's poetry? The new edition is undoubtedly useful (though it is marred by several factual mistakes). But there's a good case to be made that Hughes' version of Ariel is actually superior to Plath's—and that Plath herself might have agreed.

I have no idea what that title is about. I'm just so sick of writing about this psycho. (discuss) (posted by George)

Can we have one meeting that doesn't end with us digging up a body?
Lorca's family thinks maybe it's not such a good idea to dig him up. Imagine the impudence! There are Discovery Channel specials to be filmed here! Reconstructive plastic surgeons to consult! Voice overs from academics to be recorded! Philistines! (discuss) (posted by George)


 

12/10/04:

Movie updates
Tis the season for film adaptations of great books. Boing Boing points out the trailers for Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Spielberg's War of the Worlds (Quicktime link). Meanwhile USA Today interviews Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) about the Unfortunate Events movie.

Last weekend, he saw the movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is based on the first three books, and says he's pleased. "I'm still in a continued state of amazement that it was made." It's "more Perils of Pauline than Wuthering Heights," he says.

And don't forget the librarian parody of Cops, Overdue. (From Moorish Girl) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

December OED newsletter
The new OED newsletter is online. My favourite part is the archivist's entry.

What is really satisfying about this job is seeing the looks on the faces of visitors when they are able to see some of the OED archives first-hand. I often conduct presentations of the archives for interested parties, be they members of OUP staff either from the UK or visiting from abroad, visitors to the OED, such as University and summer school groups, or researchers interested in OED history. Items of particular fascination include the original appeal for readers made by James Murray in 1879, the minute hand-lists of words compiled by the Broadmoor patient Dr Minor, slips for the entry for "walrus" worked on by J. R. R. Tolkien, and even a letter from Buckingham Palace granting permission for the Dictionary to be dedicated to King George V in 1927. We are fortunate at OUP that we have an in-house museum where I am able to display such items from the archive. Organizing displays and exhibitions is another great facet of being the OED Archivist.

So many archivists, such little time.... (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

OK, but how do they explain the talking dog?
Somebody needs to give Tintin an MRI.

Comic book hero Tintin never aged during his 50-year career because the repeated blows he took to the head triggered a growth hormone deficiency, according to an analysis in the Christmas edition of a Canadian medical journal.

Claude Cyr, a professor of medicine at Quebec's Sherbrooke University, said a study of the 23 hugely popular Tintin books showed the intrepid Belgian reporter suffered 50 significant losses of consciousness during his many adventures.

(From Elegant Variation) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Nice guy Nick Hornby
Everyone else is linking to this piece about Nick Hornby and the Believer magazine, so we may as well jump on board.

Sometimes Hornby and the Believer butt heads. He writes in one column that he and the magazine's editors reach an agreement "that if it looks like I might not enjoy a book, I will abandon it immediately, and not mention it by name." Listed at the top of that column are "Unnamed Literary Novel" and "Unnamed Work of Nonfiction." In the magazine's debut issue, Julavits wrote an essay arguing that most book criticism is too snarky and negative, and Hornby has more or less been instructed to avoid negative reviews.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Your Giftmas dilemma solved!
Check out the new Bookninja store. Aren't you tired of being a book geek who doesn't kill things? These shirts and assorted items are everything but bullet proof. And a small portion of each sale goes toward paying future Bookninja contributors. (We may tinker with some of the design and add and delete things over the next couple days, so let us know if there's anything you're looking for. Inexplicably, they don't seem to have black T-shirts. A crime against Robert Smith to be sure.) (The new logo was designed by the fantastic Charlie Orr. Thanks, C-money.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Licence to ill
Censors tell publishers to "get a licence" to publish foreign material from countries on the bad side of the Bush junta. PEN and others are going after the regulations with legal challenges.

The regulations seem shaded by Joseph Heller's classic novel "Catch-22."

U.S. publishers are allowed to reissue, for example, Cuban communist propaganda or officially approved books but not original works by writers whom the Cuban government has stifled.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Cleaning up for company
What happens when someone wakes you from your suburban slumber with a call asking whether you can entertain Michael Moore and assorted fans for a book signing on your dining table? Hypothetically speaking. (discuss) (posted by George)

League of extraordinary gentlemen
Poetry as social force as practiced by Cleveland's Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word.

Even at home, on the tough streets of Hough, Spencer says “people are dying for dumb stuff — drugs, guns, clothes and gangs. We ain't really where Martin Luther King would have wanted us to be, for sure.”

SPENCER IS ONE OF THE FOUNDING members of the group. For the last two years, they've spent their Saturdays reciting poetry under Ms. Honey's direction, which echoes with the phrases “do it again” and “sit up straight,” and “tuck your shirt in.”

Ms. Honey calls them by name. “Sammy, do ‘I Too Sing America,' by Langston Hughes,” she'll say. And he will. Next it's “‘Who'll Cry For The Little Boy,' by Antwone Fisher,” she'll say to Dimitrius General. “Not that fast, slow it down.”

When one of them stands up, the others sit down in prayer, hands folded, heads bowed, eyes lowered.

(From Bookslut) (discuss) (posted by George)

English about to explode, implode
By 2015 three billion people will be speaking or learning English. By 2050 that number will drop significantly, decimating a culture of shady ESL schools sure to have sprung up to take advantage of graduating BAs. All this from the author of a report titled "The Future of English" (as opposed to the recent Quebecois report "Deh Future of deh Hanglish", subtitled, "Get out of 'ere and leave your money when you go"). (discuss) (posted by George)

Lynn Coady
Ninja favourite Coady interviewed at TDR.

Maybe part of the problem, or part of the reason popular magazines don't have as much of an interest in promoting fiction anymore, is the ubiquity of the idea of the "New Yorker short story". The work of Munro is an exemplar of this, and it's fine work, but somewhere along the line this orthodoxy seems to have sprung up that the fiction featured in magazines has to be of a certain character -- third person narration (usually), carefully crafted, with no particular surprises when it comes to language, structure or voice. It's possible this is an outmoded ideal. Maybe magazine fiction needs to change with the times, adjust itself to the new media environment.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Richard and Judy blah blah blah
Rhubarb rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb rhubarb. (discuss) (posted by George)

Speaking of PEN and ex/implosions
"Songs that made the Hit Parade... Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days!"

The casus belli is apparently simple. In one camp are the ascetics, who believe that PEN's only purpose is its traditional one of working selflessly and frugally for persecuted writers around the world. In the other are the modernisers - decadents, say their critics - who envisage a rather more glittering future involving celebrities and media events. In both - as you might expect - are some of the most sharp-tongued people in Britain.

The reluctance by those involved for the fighting to be made public is, for others, a further reason to be bitter. This summer, after the executive of PEN defeated a vote of no confidence, president Alastair Niven pleaded with members to keep their grievances "in the family", and was accused of censorship - embarrassing for an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression. But one thing cannot be concealed: the rift has become a major literary feud; and it threatens to damage both PEN's reputation and its effectiveness.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Creative writing, Russian style

One CW programme for the entire country? Count me in, Comrades! (RB writes in the with link) (discuss) (posted by George)

Book biz Santa
Author MJ Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, is running letters to Book biz Santa this month. Very interesting stuff in some of these. Like this from an anonymous agent:

No queries that imply your protagonist will harm me if I reject you. Color me neurotic, but personal threats that come from strangers are... eh, not so funny. Especially if the culprit is, oh right, a fictional character.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Breslin blogging for transparency
Susannah Breslin's new novel, Porn Happy, is excerpted at her blog where she is trying to make the process of selling it completely transparent. Browr! (Not completely work safe) (discuss) (posted by George)


US not totally gone to pot
But Footloose 2 (subtitled, Electric Mormon Boogaloo) seems to be dead on the cutting room floor. (discuss) (posted by George)


Weekend Edition:

Annie Proulx profile
The Guardian has all you want to know about Annie Proulx, and lots of things you wouldn't have guessed, like Montreal is her favourite city.

She went back to university, studying history at the University of Vermont, then commuting to Sir George Williams University (now Concordia), in Montreal to do a PhD. It is her favourite city, and her eyes dance when she describes her time there, living, after she abandoned the PhD, post-orals and pre-thesis, "with somebody else" in a tall house near St Laurent market, occupied by a German ex-PoW landlord and his daughter, a man who drank a case of beer a day and never went out, and a 6'6" transvestite. She remembers "lots of friends coming to visit and having to sleep on the kitchen floor and under the table. It was a funky, crazy place."

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The next generation of text messaging
The cellphone novel?

One day soon, when your cellphone sounds, it could be a novel calling to recount how the headstrong heroine dumped the handsome heartbreaker. Or it might be a guidebook surfacing at a critical moment in a crowded bar to provide you with pickup lines in Spanish, French or German.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Erica Jong on Sylvia Plath?
In the New York Times?

Now the brilliant, bipolar Lowell is dead and so is the fierce, sexy Ted Hughes with his vampirish warlock appeal. He tried it on me full force when we briefly met in 1971 after his publication-day reading of ''Crow.'' He was a born seducer and only my terror of Sylvia's ghost kept me from being seduced. Now the children he raised are grown. Frieda is a painter and poet who somehow survived her childhood. She gets to tell her mother's tale, as is only right.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

What did you do/will you do with your first book?
Not many writers are proud of their first efforts.

My first novel, thank God, was never published. The typescript still lies at the bottom of some drawer box, its pages no doubt yellow and impregnated with dust. I have not destroyed it because, even though ashamed, I am grateful to it.

(From Literary Saloon) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Marginalia
I'm incapable of writing in books these days. I did it a little in university, but then I had a crisis and stopped. I used to lecture people I saw scribbling notes in their library books, then highlighting their notes in various shades of pink and yellow. You can imagine my popularity.

Many readers, thrilled or disgusted with a book, feel the overwhelming urge to reach for a pen (or, better, a pencil) to add their pennyworth in the margin: "Oh yes!" or "Oh yes???", "Nooo", or something earthier. Most of us, however, disciplined by school librarians and awed by the sanctity of the written word, resist the temptation. This is a shame, for marginalia once formed a vital element in literature, a way of taking part in the otherwise one-sided conversation that is reading. Books are now so cheap, and the sharing of books so widespread, that the time has surely come to restore the digressive art of marginalia.

(From Literary Saloon) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)


12/13/04:

Warning! Warning! Entering Holiday Mode! My hooks are flailing wildly!
Oh! The pain! The pain of it all!Just like we did last year, the Ninjas will soon be slipping into holiday mode - a somnolent state marked by periods of drunkenness, bloated abdomens, and fist-clenching induced by association with family. This means that from sometime this week until the start of the new year, posting will be light and/or sporadic. There'll still be new material, but just not as much and not so reliably often.

Look for (hopefully) a couple new features before the end of the year. And remember to check out our new store full of crazy gift items. You may even want to treat yourself! Who couldn't use a shuriken-spangled thong? I've killed giants with that sling-shot. I personally guarantee these items will make you a god among men (note: this is not a guarantee.) (discuss) (posted by George)

The Drunken Gunboat
Scholars gather in Ethopia to talk about Rimbaud, who after turning his back on writing, settled there for 10 years.

There are few remaining traces of Rimbaud in the town, and many of the town's residents confuse the poet with the American film character "Rambo".

I love waking up to stories like this. It just doesn't get any better than that. (From grandpa Moby) (discuss) (posted by George)

(Shaking head sadly) O Canada...
Ah, Canada: enlightened home of gay marriage, end of the underground railroad, beacon of opportunity to the world's emigrants... Filled with heartbreaking vistas, awe inspiring weather and a bunch of racist bigots.

"Furthermore, black and white presentation materials carry no meaning to aboriginals," says the study, commissioned by the Public Service Commission and Treasury Board Secretariat.

"Earth tones and aboriginal designs will immediately attract their attention."

The description was panned as "extremely racist" by Taiaiake Alfred, a Mohawk author, scholar and activist who teaches at the University of Victoria.

"What are we, monkeys?" Alfred said after an incredulous hoot of laughter.

When I was down in New York last week, I was explaining to some people that Canada's version of white guilt is directed towards a wider range of past atrocities, but primarily those committed against the aboriginal population. America seems to have forgotten (or absorbed into a fuzzy Hollywood dreamland) its own role in destroying these people, concentrating instead on its love/hate guilt over black slavery. We, on the other hand, can't walk past a street corner in Toronto without being reminded of our role in crippling some of the world's most beautiful cultures. That's why we "give" wide swaths of useless land "back" to the Natives. And why we try so hard to avoid/ignore stuff like this. It reminds us we're not as superior to those below us as we like to think... (discuss) (posted by George)

It's the lure of the book sales...
Another book festival founding director hits the road. The Vancouver International Writers Festival's Alma Lee is following in Greg Gatenby's footsteps (you have no idea how I'm restraining myself here), leaving her post and looking, perhaps, to cash in on her vast library of books. But in a striking illustration of the differences between Toronto and Vancouver, Lee is undercutting Gatenby's $2M asking price and holding out instead for some hash and a bag of chips. (Seriously, it's got to be burn-out city doing this kind of thing. I can't imagine being able to keep it up 20+ years.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Zut alors!
The language gap in Canada is growing like a poutine addicts waistline.

Language alarm bells sounded when the 2001 Census data was released in December 2002. While more than 43 per cent of francophones said they were bilingual, only nine per cent of anglophones - and only 7.1 per cent of anglophones outside Quebec - could make similar claims.

Soon barely anyone will speak joual, because of you fucking hanglish bas-tards! But seriously, folks, think of the children. (Story first seen at PFW) (discuss) (posted by George)

Which will she squeeze out first?
Suzanne Somers will play Ms Rowling in a musical adaptation of her life called, "Sitting on the Potter: A Journey through Song"JK Rowling is positively glowing these days, but she's also getting pushed back further and further from her keyboard. Will she finish Harry Potter 6 (subtitled, One for the Money) before she pops? Millions of children wait to see whether Rowling v 3.0 needs to get his/her ass kicked for holding up the process. Kids can be so mean. But they can also be highly perceptive. Oi! Rowling. Yer mum's the rich one, eh? Give us yer lunch money or we'll put the boots to yeh. (I hope she's taking her folic acid... And maybe not wearing the scads of mascara - that stuff looks lead based...) (discuss) (posted by George)

Micro-Marketing Man! The Boringest Man Alive! (Since Accountant Man was slain by Dr. Inexplicable Discrepancy and his henchwoman Miss Appropriation Probe)
Ever wondered how comic book stores promote themselves? Me neither, but here it is... (discuss) (posted by George)

Stepping stones to... what?
Educators are using comics* to reach out to reluctant readers (ie, boys). Is this a good thing?

Interest in comics as an educational tool is rising amid a publishing renaissance for comics and their grown-up cousin, graphic novels -- more-sophisticated combinations of words and pictures featuring longer stories.

Back in my first year of undergrad I wrote a paper outlining bridges from comics to classic literature and yet, despite my prof's overjoyed A+, I slowly lost faith in the strategy. See, my ethnographic research (ie, hanging out with highschool buddies) shows that comic book reading leads to Robert Jordan and David Eddings reading, not classic literature. Fewer pictures, same worth (and before you freak out, I'm talking about trashy comics and poorly done graphic novels, of which there are many). My suspicion now is, the people who are going to find literature find it, whether they read comics or not. (discuss) (posted by George)

That's more than I'm making...
Hee hee! It's a cat. And he's talking! Aw! (At least, I think it's a cat...) (From Bibliovixen) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/14/04:

Google U
First came Google Scholar, now Google is going to put the contents of research libraries online.

It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.

The influx of new information available online will no doubt add to the growing clutter of search results, so I'm hoping this will lead to a new way of managing searches as well. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Are literature profs too smart for their own good?
The Chronicle traces the evolution of literary scholarship and the idea of "smart," from good old-fashioned, strong scholarship to the imperative to come up with new theories and display a unique intelligence.

The dominance of smart in the academic world has not always been the case. In literary studies -- I take examples from the history of criticism, although I expect that there are parallels in other disciplines -- scholars during the early part of the 20th century strove for "sound" scholarship that patiently added to its established roots rather than offering a smart new way of thinking. Literary scholars of the time were seeking to establish a new discipline to join classics, rhetoric, and oratory, and their dominant method was philology (for example, they might have ferreted out the French root of a word in one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). They sought historical accuracy, the soundness of which purported a kind of scientific legitimacy for their nascent discipline.

And sure enough, the Germans find a way to turn thought into violence. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Books spread like diseases
Publishers have one more tool to help judge how soon they should toss your ass into the remainder bin. Scientists have examined the phenomenon of book rankings/sales and come up with a model that .... something about skeletons and fat people?

The model predicts how sales will decline after they peak according to how the peak occurred. The decline after an exogenous shock is fairly steep, while the decay after an endogenous shock is more gradual. The model was 84 percent correct in the researchers tests.

Book publishing houses and marketing firms could use the method to quantify how books will sell post-peak, and to time the market, according to the researchers.

If my last book were a disease, I think it would be bubonic plague. Or syphilis. Hopefully syphilis. (And thus begins a peculiar night of sexually off-colour posts... My apologies, I've only noticed the pattern in retrospect.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Three-Day Novel Winner Announced
It's a threeway tie between Imperial Tobacco, Starbucks, and the good odour people at Mennen! (discuss)

Novelists can't tell stories anymore
Well, finally someone's said it.*

Most people blame themselves for being unable to finish modern "literary" novels. I have another theory: it's not us, it's the books.

Somewhere in the course of postwar fiction, most highbrow novelists have forgotten how to tell a great story. They can sustain a theme, they can do symbolism, they can allude to history and Hamlet ... but they can't propel us to the end of their books.

The problem: too few rattling good yarns.

Personally, I blame education for it. If we were all dullards we wouldn't need literary novels or novelists and could just be spoon fed semi-literate pap. Think of how little political turmoil there'd be then! Nirvana! Gosh, how I wish I could just open up and say aw for the flaccid, anti-intellectual phalli of embossed cover set. Life would be so much simpler, if kind of choky. (For the record, I don't know any novelists who sit down to write with a "theme" in mind, though I imagine a few edit back to it after the first draft is out. Speaking of which, someone should take the letters T, H, E, am M, out of this chick's Alphabits.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Goob Dooking
A critical examination of Penguin's Good Booking promotion (I just typed that as Goob Dooking, which, while I don't understand it, is somehow far far more apt.) followed by some suggestions for sex-based book marketing strategies that might actually work.

Then Penguin could brand sex-enhancing accoutrements that sport the names of famous characters. For example, when the son doesn’t always rise, there could be a Jake Barnes line of herbal supplements, lotions, and videos. For the women attracted to bad boys, how about a Heathcliff riding crop? For those who always say yes, there could be Molly Bloom lubricant. Anais Nin French ticklers are a natural. Penguin is known for publishing classics, so how about honouring Anna Karenina’s obsession with a Vronksy vibrator -- cunningly shaped like a pistol.

This is my kind of article. (discuss) (posted by George)

When you have eliminated the nutbar, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the body
A Sherlock Holmes scholar commits suicide and, in a grisly act of revenge, tries to implicate a rival. Who knew the world of Holmes scholarship was so... stupid. I wish more fanatics would kill themselves in the styles/methods of their heroes.I'm holding out for the Xmen suicide pact. That should be messy. (From Moby) (discuss) (posted by George)

Funny enough, they've also told Joyce Carol Oates to "freaking relax"
France loves writers. What's more, while generally appearing to despise Americans, they love American writers. What they don't love is the frequency with which Americans publish.*

But if France loves writers, it is also impatient with them. Donna Tartt took quite a beating from a reporter at Festival America: ''I am sure you have been asked this question thousands of times, but let me ask again: why -- oh why -- are there 10 years between your first and your second novel?'' He seemed to expect to hear of an incarceration or dire illness. ''I guess I'm just slow,'' she replied. This, to the French way of seeing things, is inconceivable.

This ought to please a few folks I know. Finally country that understands their urge to publish everything they write. (discuss) (posted by George)

Novelist full of opinions about opinions
Jonathan Franzen, inciting Maud to bust a verbal cap his ass, says writers oughtta shaddap about their political views. I think the quote may be out of context... At least in this article, it seems more like he's bemoaning the state of the author as public intellectual than pulling a Neal Pollack. (discuss) (posted by George)

RIP: Emilio Cruz
Artist/playwright,* dead at 66. (discuss) (posted by George)

Don't "get" blogging?
Responding to upcoming books about blogging, this guy has made a list of books that will teach you everything you need to know about blogging without ever mentioning the word blog. (discuss) (posted by George)

Tom Wolfe is bad at sex
Mostly because he refuses to take the suit off. You're surprised? (discuss) (posted by George)


12/15/04:

Relax and put down those want ads
More funding is on the way for all you lazy arts types.

The sense of dread engulfing Canada's arts community is about to be lifted -- for now. Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla will announce today that Ottawa is renewing its Tomorrow Starts Today arts-funding program, the Toronto Star has learned. That translates into about $200 million for 12 months starting April 1, 2005.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Alice Munro starts looking about nervously for the Grim Reaper
Given her company in the Penguin classics line and all.

At a party at the AGO last night, Penguin's Canadian president Ed Carson and publisher David Davidar announced that nine Canadian books -- by Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley and Robertson Davies -- will join Penguin Modern Classics, a uniform international series that includes books by Evelyn Waugh, D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, Saul Bellow, Paul Bowles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, among others.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Will Google replace Babel?
Like me, Salon worries about being overwhelmed by information as a result of Google's new deal with libraries. Unlike me, they use it as an excuse to link to Borges. Damn their smug hides.

But where will it end? Certainly not with the inclusion of every book in the world that already exists. On the Internet, there will also be every critique of every book, every alternative history, every conspiracy theory, and all the real facts and fake facts to back every story up. You think we suffer from information overload now? Just wait until the sum total of all human knowledge is one click away. We are doomed! In a good way!

Well, a good kind of doom would be a nice change. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

The greatest Christmas story ever is...
"The Dead"?

Joyce was just 25 when he wrote the story, and Huston 80 when he filmed it, but the intentions of the self-imposed Irish exile and the American émigré who adopted Ireland were not dissimilar. Both the youthful writer and the aging filmmaker were coming to terms with their ambivalence toward both their families and Ireland; both gave themselves over to moments of reverie about home, family and the Christmas holiday (though, actually, the story is set on Jan. 6, 1904, on the Feast of the Epiphany -- the last of the 12 days of Christmas) that aren't to be found anywhere else in their work.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Bloggers sexing up the publishing world
Bloggers making the leap to print. Traitors. But I don't see anyone lining up at my door for a unique look inside the mind of a facetious, snide snark-machine. If I did, you could call me Benedict Arnold.

Several factors make bloggers' books attractive to agents and editors. "Word-of-mouth buzz is much more valuable than paid advertising," Ms. Lee said. "I think if there's a reason people come to your site, there's a built-in audience."

Hm. By this logic, I should have sold several thousand more books than I have. Maybe I need to write more about flinging shurikens into various people's eyes. (discuss) (posted by George)

Is England failing its poorest kids?
Why should they be any different than here? (Oh, the accent, right. Phonic intelligence.) Some recent statistics show the reading levels well below what they should be, particularly in the worst schools. (Well, duh.) There are some heartbreaking anecdotes here. (discuss) (posted by George)

George Bush: author
No, calm down. Not yet... And besides, when he finally gets around to it, it's almost a sure thing he'll use a ghoulwriter. But his ancestors are another matter entirely.

The fruits of bad breeding.The censors at al-Azhar, Cairo's center of Islamic learning, have recommended the government ban a 19th century biography of the Prophet Mohammad by a scholar portrayed in the Arabic media as an ancestor of President Bush.

An al-Azhar official, who asked not to be named, said on Monday the ban applied to the original English version of The Life of Mohammad by the scholar George Bush, first published in 1830 and reissued in the United States in 2002.

Oh, come on... we all know illiteracy is genetic... (discuss) (posted by George)

Berton tribute

By TWUC members. How come I don't recognize most of these names? (discuss) (posted by George)

A list of lists - or, to be sassy, a "metalist", as it were...
It's like freshman postmodernism. GalleyCat goes way above and beyond to bring together scads of holiday top ten lists and then performs some interesting analysis with them. Really good work that makes me wonder why I'm not doing this kind of thing. Oh, yes: inherent laziness. (O, for the days when "metalist" was about your musical leanings... I, my serious dudes, am a metalist.) (discuss) (posted by George)

A true web phenom
Bookcrossing profiled at CSM.

BookCrossing is one of those creations that could only exist because of the Web. Not only is there the unique encounter between complete strangers as they compare something as personal as their opinions about someone's favorite book, but there's also the fascinating - albeit occasionally depressing - act of tracking the movements of books that are better travelled than we are.

I have my own, semi-involuntary, version of Bookcrossing. It involves friends who never return my books. (discuss) (posted by George)

My vote for upstart blog of the year
Mad Max Perkins (notice I didn't say "start up"...) His coverage is actually clarifying some things for me.

Recently an unpublished writer--a businessman who is considering a second career as an author--offered some comments that provoked in me two somewhat contradictory reactions. In Part I we'll consider his plan to invest his own capital into the eventual publication of his book. In Part II (which will be posted in the next few days), we'll consider the ways in which an editor might respond upon receiving this manuscript.

(discuss) (posted by George)

In which Iron Man battles gay people and Democrats with rays from the palms of his hands...
Orson Scott Card will be writing for an "Ultimate Iron Man" miniseries. Before I found out he was a fucking nutbar I would have said, Oh joy! (I have an old friend who's got this great acid story about watching the "iron man" on the cover of a Black Sabbath album get up and go traipsing off into his parents house. Said friend proceeded to destroy his parents' home (in their absence) in hopes of ferreting the lil fucker out of the cupboards, but strangely couldn't find him until he returned to his room and looked at the album cover. Sneaky fucking Iron Man. I don't why I thought about that other than missing my old buddy.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Wanted: poetry terminator, ya
Here is the perfect proof that Republicans are completely out of touch with reality. Cali is looking for a poet laureate to take over from disgraced Quincy Troupe (who left two years ago after it was revealed he'd lied on his resume), but candidates should be rich as well as qualified.

In addition to transforming the ordinary, applicants will be asked to traverse the Golden State for little or no compensation. Although Gottlieb said legislation provides for an unspecified stipend, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman suggested that candidates who choose to forgo pay could earn a leg up in the selection process.

"As you know, this is a very tight fiscal year," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Terri Carbaugh. "Quite possibly, a poet laureate may step up to the plate and volunteer their time. Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

(With the exception of John MacKenzie, I can't think of a poet who could throw out the first ball at Dodger's stadium and make it to the plate.) (P.S. Does the rest of the world laugh too when they see " Schwarzenegger's office" delivered with a straight face? What office? You mean the humvee shaped humidor stocked with steroids, porn mags, and that bewigged skeleton he calls a wife?) (discuss) (posted by George)

"Bismarks"?
A dialect map of America. Note the lack of a linguistically distinct Jesusland. And check out Mormonville (#13) for some weird shit involving jelly donuts. It's the most pious that harbour the darkest secrets, says I. (From Incoming Signals) (discuss) (posted by George)

Tough Love for the bookclub set
What do you do when someone hogs the floor at your bookclub meeting? Eh, hotshot? What do you do? Turn the bitch out, yo. (From Bookslut) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/16/04:

Canada: arms folded, lip curled, body half-turned away
Google-schmoogle.*

Given Google's technological and financial clout, notions of a new wealth of knowledge being made readily available immediately spring to mind -- a Library of Alexandria at everyone's fingertips. But among major libraries and national archives, Canada's in particular, the push to digitize collections of books and documents is already well under way.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Plagiarism: not just for journalists anymore
Plagiarism is on the rise? Quite a stupid time for it, don't you think? When I was teaching I just plugged key (read: intelligent sounding) phrases from students' essays into Google. Busted. (discuss) (posted by George)

Let your Giftmas dollars vote
DLJ over at Moby tells us about Buyblue.org, a site that tracks corporate political spending so Democrats (and conversely, one would suppose, Republicans) can buy at companies that supported their candidates.

For example, wondering whether to buy books online at Amazon.com or at BarnesandNoble.com? Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N's corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon's went to the Republicans?

Or maybe you'll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an old–fashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?

Hmm. I read this about ten seconds before buying something from Amazon. Good thing. (discuss) (posted by George)

Hugh Grant takes Goob Dooking to the max
He's somehow weaseled his ever-so-charming arse onto the Whitbread judges panel. Let's hope your book is a romantic comedy with befuddled cardboard characters. (discuss) (posted by George)

Poet against the war
Sam Hamill is leaving Copper Canyon (simply one of the best American presses going) to concentrate fully on his website of protest. Now that's commitment. (discuss) (posted by George)

Nobel committee picks new chair for literary award
Note: not Hugh Grant. New chair promises to pick five unknown women from New York for next year's award. (From MoorishGirl) (discuss) (posted by George)

Last Poets
A brief profile of one of the real pioneers of rap.

“When I speak about victory in my poems, the real victory is to become content with yourself,” Bin Hassan says. “I’m not ashamed of that part of my life. The drugs and crack and all of that. That’s me. You have to stand up and face yourself, face the inner demons that lurk within your soul. You can’t hide and pretend. If I hadn’t faced myself and hit the bottom the way I did, I might not be alive today.”

If you haven't heard This is Madness, you should really try to track it down. It's amazing to think it was made in '71. (discuss) (posted by George)

JK Rowling gets her name back
Rowling has won an intellectual property war with a known typosquatter. Betcha he's a real charmer to meet. Sometimes I wish there were a leaf blower equivalent for humans. I could just walk around the world with this loud machine strapped to my back, and piles of idiots tumbling ahead of me. Aside from the trail of obnoxious two-stroke gas fumes, what could be a better way to spend your time? (Now she is free to build her own online casino at www.jkwowling.com.) (From TEV) (discuss) (posted by George)

Good Ol' Charlie Franzen
Patricia Storms gives her take on Jonathan Franzen as Charlie Brown, with accompanying illustration. God, she's good. (discuss) (posted by George)

Anyone got CSPAN?
Hell, anyone got TV? I don't. Could someone who loves me tape this for me? Dec 20th. It's the blogging panel I did down in NYC with the A-list bloggers (as apparently the panel was referred to in literary conversation at other venues that night). I'm a little afraid I sounded like a moron because I can't remember a word I said. And those CSPAN things go into rotation for about 20 years. (Check out the prime time slot, baby! Yeah! I think we're following an Ohio state assembly meeting. Woot!) (Thanks to Alex for tracking down the link) (discuss) (posted by George)



12/17/04:

Writer in residence job in Vancouver
The Vancouver public library has just started a writer-in-residence program. Details are here (PDF link). Salary is $4,000/month, for Aug.-Dec. 2005. Deadline for applying is Jan. 15. Thanks to Kevin Chong for this. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

No, we don't have any forks
Eye weekly (which has a new blog) draws our attention to the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest. It's no Litterati contest, but it'll do for now. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Philip K. Dick -- horror writer?
A comprehensive essay about Dick's genre wanderings. I hadn't even heard of many of these books before.

Dick may not be a writer of horror novels, yet he frequently exploited features of that genre to create his stories of multiple realities, whether parallel and distorted. Dick deals with paranoia and taboos -- central elements of horror fiction -- from different perspectives. The precarious psychological and mental situation of many of his characters fuses with Dick's inclination to create universes that fall apart.

(From Wood's Lot, who also links to this interesting collection of Czech book covers) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

No Country for Old Men
Cormac McCarthy has a new novel on the way. And a movie, it seems.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and over two million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes that Moss and his young wife are in desperate need of protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches along and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

(From Rake's Progress) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Patriot Act
What exactly does "censorship" mean today?

The definition of censorship has loosened so much that the word has become nearly devoid of meaning. Long gone are the days when the government banned racy books like D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer or James Joyce's Ulysses. When it comes to the written word, censorship debates are no longer about taste and decency -- although those issues are much in the news concerning the visual arts, television and radio. Instead, the debate over books tends to center on geopolitics, national security and foreign policy.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

I'm really sick today
So sorry for the lack of proper bile in my posts. A return to venom when my white blood cells get their fucking asses in gear. (posted by George)

Like the desert needs the rain
More on the return of money to the arts community. (discuss) (posted by George)

Bestseller lists: a tough sell
An interesting piece.

The worst of it is that nearly everyone involved in the world of books is a part of this cosy conspiracy, whether they like it or not. I write the kind of minority-taste titles whose publication is effectively subsidised by John Grisham and co, and to complain about his clogging up of the high street counters is to complain about one's own continued existence. In the meantime the task of letting the public know about the really good stuff grows ever more difficult.

(discuss) (posted by George)

The e-pistolary
A new mystery novel, delivered by email. (discuss) (posted by George)

The living dictionary
Ew. Touch it. It's warm...

Ever since Dr Johnson compiled his highly opinionated dictionary in 1755 (excise: "a hateful tax levied upon commodities"; oat: "a grain which in England is generally given to horses but in Scotland supports the people"), language has been a battlefield.

Collins Dictionaries today recognises that fact with the launch of an online Living Dictionary, in which netheads can suggest new words and argue over whether they should be added to the print version of the dictionary. In fact, "netheads" itself might be a useful starting point for discussion.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Random House to sell books
Now they just have to learn how to properly market them by sending out review copies when requested. (From Moby) (discuss) (posted by George)

Mad Max
Gives us an editorial response to self-publishing. Then he opens his mailbag. (discuss) (posted by George)

Holy Shit! Peaceful protest works!
The US backs down from its embargo against foreign authors. (discuss) (posted by George)

Art of the novella
I don't remember if I mentioned this before, but Melville House (run by DLJ of Moby fame) has started a series of novella reprints that quite exciting. They sent us some and I was floored by some of the titles I'd never read. Why? Because no one publishes novellas anymore! So go browse and maybe buy a few. They're really quite attractive, in an FF kind-of-way. (The Edith Wharton is divine.) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/20/04:

Holiday Reminder
Just a reminder that we're starting our holidays this week and so posts will be fewer and farther between, but not completely dead. If you're new to the site (as my email box suggests you might be after watching the CSPAN thingy), look around. Check out our reviews and the comics and some of our rants. Buy your loved ones a Tshirt and visit our advertisers. All money made here at Bookninja goes to paying for the site and to contributors, not us. Speaking of which, we have upcoming new material from Kevin Chong and Kathryn Gray (the Welsh poet shortlisted for the Eliot for her first book). Stay tuned. (posted by George)

The transparent jury
Alex Good of Goodreports leads a mock jury to reexamine the GGs of this past year. Steven Laird and Zach Wells participate. Interesting stuff. (discuss) (posted by George)

The bookphrodesiac
The writer, the groupie, and you.

And yet I have to concede that, as anyone who has earned an M.F.A. or attended a writing conference already knows, a surprising number of those over-the-top rumors about writers and their torrid affairs are actually true. If books aren't aphrodisiacs, then what else can account for a guest opening the coat closet at a post-reading party a few years ago in Greensboro, N.C., to find Mr. Very Famous 60-Something Poet and a young blonde, with whom he was not, apparently, discussing ''Ode on a Grecian Urn.''

Do you know how many friends I've lost (okay, given up) because of their groupie crushes on flaccid old men? Ew. And where in the name of god are my groupies? Am I just not old and disgusting enough yet? I'm getting there, I swear! Give me some time! I'm letting myself go to pot! I'll even grow jowls so big I can't shave in the folds! Will that do it for you? Ear hair? I'm dying here! (discuss) (posted by George)

Party on!
The Guardian examines literary parties in a very fun article.

There is nothing like impending doom to add pep to one's festivities and there is a kind of party whose carousers seem on the brink of disaster. (When you come to a chapter in DH Lawrence's Women in Love entitled "Water-Party", you can be fairly sure that it will conclude in tragedy.) Within the breast of every writer beats the heart of a moralist and in literature really smashing parties tend to come before the fall, the deluge, the end of all things. Vanitas vanitatis. Or carpe diem. Take your pick.

And then there was the time I danced to Mama Mia by Abba with Christian Bok. (discuss) (posted by George)

Goodbye, Frank
Frank magazine bites the big hotdog in the sky. (discuss) (posted by George)

File under: I hate to burst your bubble, but...
A book writing kit for kids sells like cabbage patches in the UK.

A book-writing kit for children has proved a massive hit - dispelling the myth that youngsters no longer want to read.

More than 40,000 My First Novel packs have been snapped up since it went on sale at supermarket chain Sainsbury's in the first week of December.

Um, I know plenty of writers who don't read... (From Moby) (discuss) (posted by George)

Merle Haggard for poet laureate
Yes, you read that right. Cali is looking for its new laureate. Hey, why not? They've already got a single brain celled sexist bigot in the governor's mansion...

If you're like most people, you probably haven't given much thought to the question of who should be California's next poet laureate.

Partly, that's because the poet laureate doesn't have much impact on most people's lives. But there's a larger reason, which is that contemporary poetry itself doesn't have much impact on most people's lives. Few people read poetry anymore, and the poetry they do read is sniffed at by literary types as "popular."

And before you say I'm one of the "literary types" this article speaks of, remember that California was a laughing stock years before I came along. It just keeps churning out reasons for people to shake their head. (discuss) (posted by George)

Christmas letters to Christopher Walken
Um, yeah. (From Incoming Signals) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/21/04:

Michael Moorcock's Christmas editorial
It's online over at Fantastic Metropolis, which is a very cool SF site.

For me visionary fiction is at its best when it references modernist concerns as well as the more objective concerns with which 'hard' science fiction is most commonly associated and which derives most of its literary machinery from Victorian popular fiction. For this is not exactly a 'post-modernist' form, as we see from the variety of material published here, but more an alternative to modernism. My generation did, to one degree or another, reject the concerns and methods of modernism, but the movement found its inspiration as much in pre-modernist work as post-modernist.

(From Wood's Lot) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Fantasy overview
The Boston Review takes a look at the state of modern fantasy novels (fantasy being the likes of Harry Potter and Jonathan Strange in this case). (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

You can't go wrong with punctuation humour
New Posy Simmonds cartoon. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Manybooks.net
At last, all the classics available for reading on your cellphone or PDA for free. I've only browsed through the site's selections, but they had everything I looked for, from Aristotle to Moby Dick. Check it out if you've got a device that'll let you read e-texts. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Black book gets boost from Canada Reads
Shamefully, this is still news. (discuss)
(posted by George)

Three novels Margaret Atwood won't write soon
Pity, I could really have gone in for Beetleplunge...

“Could we sprinkle salt on it?” Amanda asks, with appealing hesitation.

“Honey, it’s not a slug,” says Chris masterfully.

Should these be his last words? Should the sponge fall upon him with a soft but deadly glop? Or should he be allowed to defeat the monstrous bath accessory and save the day, for Florida, for America, and ultimately for humanity? The latter would be my own inclination.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Traditionalists receive short, stinging chop to back of neck
Did Chaucer invent free verse?

An English professor is taking a new look at Geoffrey Chaucer’s often-neglected short poems, and suggests the writer intentionally broke some of the rules he is so well known for following.

English professor William Quinn will present his paper, “Chaucer as the Father of Free Verse,” during the Modern Language Association convention being held from Dec. 27-30 in Philadelphia.

“Chaucer has traditionally been seen as the single poet who determined that, for the next four centuries, we’d be counting syllables,” Quinn said. “My title suggests he broke the rules on purpose, and anticipated change.”

The poet saw that there were problems with absolute regularity in such poetic forms as rhyming sequences and numbers of lines in a stanza, so he would try things, and if they didn’t work, he would move away from them, according to Quinn.

We've seen it before, folks. One academic striving to end the careers of others with one fell swoop. But it's so fun to watch! (discuss) (posted by George)

At the flag pole, three o'clock...
More on the publishing turf war* between publishers and booksellers-who-want-to-be-publishers-to-make-more-
money-which-seems-ridiculous-when-you-think-about-it... (discuss) (posted by George)


Yeah, but I don't want someone elbow deep in my pancreatic cavity to be itching to get home to his PS2...
It's a brand new day, kiddies.

Surgeons who play video games three hours a week have 37 percent fewer errors and accomplish tasks 27 percent faster, he says, basing his observation on results of tests using the video game Super Monkey Ball.

(I wonder what the powerups are like... do they get extra men? Now, THAT would be useful.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Speaking of doctors not concentrating on what they should: Gollum gets his head shrunk
A psychological profile of one of literature's most beloved, raw fish eating psychopaths. (From BoingBoing) (discuss) (posted by George)


12/22/04:

Looking for last-minute Xmas gifts?
How about Trivial Pursuit: Book Lover's Edition or Booktastic:

Booktastic is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly. Players move around a board that shows a town made up only of bookstores, reading rooms, and cafes.

Only in a game.... (From Rake's Progress) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Dear Elizabeth
Letters from Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Hullalaboo down under
Judges of an Aussie lit prize quit in protest.

Three judges of Australia's major book prize have resigned over a new charter that strips them of decision-making powers and has been branded the "ludicrous commodification" of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

The Melbourne bookseller Mark Rubbo, the Adelaide writer-critic Kerryn Goldsworthy and the Herald journalist David Marr left the five-judge panel just as they should have been cracking the spines of the 43 entries for next year's prize.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)


12/23/04:

Boxing Day cheer
Just a reminder to check out Michel Basilieres' dramatization of the life and works of Emile Nelligan on CBC Radio One, Dec. 26 at 10:00 p.m., or CBC Radio Two, Dec. 27 at 9:05 p.m.

The Nelligan Variations by Michael Basilieres, featuring the poetry of Emile Nelligan. The year ends with an hour devoted to a talented young poet named Emile Nelligan, whose career was cut tragically short. Emile Nelligan (1879-1941) is French Canada's most beloved and admired poet. His collected works were printed in 1904, shortly after a psychotic breakdown ended his writing career.

Awful lot of psychotic breakdowns in the French Canadian lit scene.... (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Where have all the good books gone?
Bert Archer thinks the selections of the Penguin Classics lines have little to do with merit. Except for Alice Munro, of course.

There's a problem with naming recent books classics, though, as evidenced by this initial selection; there are no sharp edges. Robertson Davies is a Canadian Dickens, predigested. Timothy Findley is a romance novelist whose literary credibility stems entirely from his fourth and fifth books (the two being canonized: highlights in a career that went nowhere). Mordecai Richler wrote the same book at least six times (though to his credit, it did get better in fits and starts). This Classicsfication is not a process of making the good popular -- Penguin founder Lane's initial business proposition -- but of dubbing the popular good.

And what's going on with Insomniac and Arsenal? (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Shakespeare on film
The London Review of Books considers The Merchant of Venice.

Many would agree with the general proposition that the best Shakespeare movies are not in English but in Japanese or Russian, the reason being that these works are treatments of the stories of Macbeth or Lear: the stories behind or inferred from the plays, rather than the plays themselves, so there is no direct debt to the English texts.

The hell with Shakespeare -- when are we going to see a film version of The Duchess of Malfi? There's a play that speaks to our times. (discuss) (Posted by Peter)


12/24/04:

Twas the night before Christmas...
...William Gibson style.

And while, from somewhere far above, now, came that sound, that persistent clatter, as though gunships disgorged whole platoons of iron-shod mercenaries, I could only wonder: who? Was it my estranged wife, The Lady Betty-Jayne Motel-6 Hyatt, Chief Eco-trustee of the Free Duchy of Wyoming? Or was it Cleatus "Mainframe" Sinyard himself, President of the United States and perpetual co-chairman of the Concerned Smart People's Northern Hemisphere Co-prosperity Sphere?

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)


12/28/04:

RIP: Susan Sontag
Writer, public intellectual, dead at 71. (discuss)
(posted by George)

What's to blame for the Democrats' losses of late?
Could it be the New Yorker?

Because of what enfeebling bad habit did the proud and potent thinking class that gave us F.D.R. and J.F.K. fade into a cynical, ironic, smirking bunch of spiritual weaklings headed up by Al Franken and Michael Moore? Was the problem attending movies instead of church? Deserting Burger King for Whole Foods Market? No, I've concluded. The blame lies elsewhere. The seduction of America's elites by the vices of humanism and skepticism can only be blamed on the New Yorker cartoon, an agent of corruption more insidious than LSD or the electric guitar.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Hard News
Two new books look at the New York Times' Blair affair and the role the paper played in selling the Iraq war.

Looking too closely into the Miller affair, then, would raise the question of how America's leading newspaper, which prides itself on its impartiality and its "non-crusading" character, was so readily hypnotized by a mendacious administration that it splashed that government's most spectacular untruths across the front page, over and over again. This question goes well beyond Judith Miller or Howell Raines or Bill Keller, all of whom have to look in the mirror every day and wonder to what extent they are responsible for a misguided war that has cost thousands of human lives and now feels like a bottomless disaster. Jayson Blair was just a weird kid who told some fibs.

(discuss) (Posted by Peter)

Barnes and Noble the best pick up joint in NYC?
That's funny... The same survey conducted in Georgia found Slippery McWillie's Bait Shop and Segregated Eatery to be the best. (discuss)
(posted by George)

Postmodern Poo
Those MLA eggheads are meeting this week* to decide what comes after "post-postcolonial".

My post-colonial eggs-egesis should be eggsactly what's called for.... mmhahaha!There is, in fact, something achingly 90's about the whole affair. The association has come to resemble a hyperactive child who, having interrupted the grownups' conversation by dancing on the coffee table, can't be made to stop. Citing Professor Crews's book in The Partisan Review last year, Sanford Pinsker said: "In my better moods, I try to convince myself that 'Postmodern Pooh' marks the end of the arrant foolishness that has turned literary studies into a laughingstock; in my darker moments, however, I fear that there are other, even more outrageous would-be celebrities hoping to cash in on whatever post-postmodernism turns out to be."

My guess is, sadly, "colonial". (discuss) (posted by George)

Little magazines: the wheel-chair kids of publishing
I love that places like the NYT still, however occasionally, give space to marvel at the world of little magazines,* but how about spreading the love around. What would it hurt to halve the repetitive little-guys-done-good human interest crapola and give a line or two each to a list of 25 actual mags? (discuss)
(posted by George)

The once and future library
Google's coming. Is it all good?

Coverage of Google’s agreement, announced this month, with a host of major research libraries (including Harvard’s, where I work) to digitize their collections and make them available on the Internet, might lead one to believe that we have entered a final phase in the long-sought emergence of a universal library – a compendium of knowledge at once comprehensive, densely cross-referenced, and instantly accessible.

And yet, as happened with the advent of the Web itself little more than a decade ago, we’ve lost sight, amid a flurry of splendid mystifications, of the impossibility of this goal, as well as the pitfalls that lie along the way. Op-ed pages in recent days have blossomed with talk of Flaubert and Alexandria, Borges and Babel. Such metaphysical speculation notwithstanding, Google’s project will begin modestly with a few tens of thousands of volumes belonging to elite institutions. Alternately smitten with and horrified by Google’s ambitions, we tend to overlook the challenges that libraries, books – and the word itself – face on their way to a digital future.

(discuss) (posted by George)

He said, she said
A roundup of quotes from the year in letters. I so desperately want to meet Jeannette Winterson's girlfriend now, booting down the road on her moped, bedecked in her purple wellies, cardigan, falcon gripping her shoulder... (discuss)
(posted by George)

Vixen freak out
Like a diva freak out, only hotter. Bibliovixen gets some bad post-holiday service at Borders.

...when I come to your fucking customer service department, I have not only the author, his latest work's title, the amount for the hardback, the ISBN and the edition, *but I've also checked your fucking store's own database* and have scouted the goddamn general section (twice) for the book before coming to your pathetic, eye-rolling, deep-sigh-bordering-on-hyperventilation self for further help. I do not approach you fresh from my car saying, "It's like a strange orange cover with some funny characters drawn on it."

Therefore, I expect fucking H-E-L-P from your sorry ass, I don't give a fuck the reason for your shitty-ass, fucked up sense of entitlement when a K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E-A-B-L-E customer arrives and patiently, calmly asks for your assistance.

I wish I had been there. Browr. (discuss) (posted by George)


12/30/04:

The Onion interviews Art Spiegelman
The creator of In the Shadow of No Towers reflects on his career and the solace of comics after 9/11.

I know poetry books spiked almost as much as religious books after September 11. When I couldn't take another moment of Internet or broadcast or radio news trying to figure out what the hell was going on, I had to have some kind of respite. The only things that would give it to me were comics.

(From Bookslut) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)

"There will be no betrayal of any kind"
Philip Pullman addresses the claims he's happily agreed to remove anti-religious overtones from the movie version of His Dark Materials.

To take an answer from one context, invent a question that hadn't been asked, and put the answer next to it is not what used to be called honest journalism. To flag that answer in large type beside the new story, as if it came from the story itself, compounds the dishonesty.

(From Bookslut) (discuss) (Posted by Peter)


12/31/04:

America beats Clinton...
Heh... I could go so many ways from here. A veritable banquet of innuendo and bad puns. Meh. (discuss) (posted by George)

inCivility
YourDictionary.com has released its top words and phrases of 2004, most of which seem to be lead by the election. I like the Van Buren tidbit at the end of this article. I find the list of California cool words to be surprising. How does a geezer like me know all of these? (discuss) (posted by George)

Burning books - the artistic way!
Altered books not nearly as fun as altered states, but somewhat less harsh on the body.

OK, it's not just about torching tomes; the obscure art of altered books also involves cutting, painting, writing, pasting, and just about any other modification that can be made to a volume to transform it into something not quite itself.

(discuss) (posted by George)

Regina Loses its bookstore
I'm sure there's more than one. Isn't there? Out by the hitching post? Just kidding. Not more than one like this, I suppose. Sad story. (Second item) (discuss) (posted by George)

File under: a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the current state of affairs
A woman is trying to raise money to adopt a child by selling her poetry on eBay. (From PFW) (discuss) (posted by George)

English is melting! Meeeelllllting!

When you had finished reading your October Prospect, were you purple with rage? One contributor, writing about Gordon Brown, described him as an "heir apparent" who might find that someone else inherited after all. But an heir apparent must necessarily succeed; the term the writer should have used was "heir presumptive." A second contributor discussed why parliament is "like it is"; that should have been "as it is," or so we used to be taught at school. A third contributor wrote about the norms of something being "flaunted," when he meant "flouted." So it seems that even Britain's intelligent conversation is being conducted by people what haven't been learned to talk proper. Fetch me my green ink bottle: I have an article to write.

(I can't remember who I ganked this from. Sorry.) (discuss) (posted by George)

Forgotten books
Are usually best left forgotten, but not if they just came out this year. Macleans rounds em up with its usual unintentional lightness and iron-fisted brevity. (discuss) (posted by George)

Coupland: smarter than I think?
I guess so... What a pleasant surprise this interview is. I may actually buy a book of his instead of reading it in the store.

"Depression is an extreme form of homesickness. The only cure for homesickness is going home. I think loneliness is when you feel homesick, but there's no home to go to. Even if your parents are both alive and living in the same house and you go back and sleep in the den or see your old school friends, there's no past to go back to. It's a mourning for something that doesn't exist."

(discuss) (posted by George)

Rare books stolen from Transylvania, KT library
My suspicion is it was either the Jiggy Jack the Crackhead Wolfman or Count von Fridgeontheporch who gone and done it. Those twins that's the ones what solved the bingo hall robb'ry last'n year says they's about due for a trot out to the haunted trailer park on the edge of town.. (discuss) (posted by George)

Fight Club: the video game
For losers who can't fight.

Maybe if you can forget that the fighting system is not only derivative but boring, and the game breaks just about every rule of Fight Club (inexcusable) you may squeeze some precious minutes of enjoyment out of it. Until you realize that Fight Club stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton (wisely) left themselves out of the game, and Fight Club novelist Chuck Palahniuk told the developers he wanted no involvement in any way, shape or form in its creation.

(discuss) (posted by George)


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