Wednesday, December 22, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald reads Keats

Another commemoration of the author's death provides us with audio of Fitzgerald rather oddly reading Ode to a Nightingale. Plus there's links to some other audio. It's all a little sad, actually.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The death of F. Scott Fitzgerald

It was 70 years ago. The piece in Reader's Almanac is quite poignant. 'F. Scott Fitzgerald was in his fourth year working as a screenwriter in Hollywood, although with fewer assignments and less pay. He hoped the novel he was working on, The Love of the Last Tycoon, would revive his literary reputation. Few people were still reading him. His August 1940 royalty statement from Scribner’s reported sales of forty copies of his works (including seven copies of The Great Gatsby and nine of Tender Is the Night) for a total payment of $13.13.' More...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keillor on Twain

If you didn't read the review in the NY Times, you might want to listen to the podcast.

Promoting lifelong literacy

If you don't start people reading as kids, they won't start later on. The Library of Congress, the Ad Council and Disney are trying to do something about that. 'The good news is that finding good books is increasingly easy. Today, kids can access literature through e-books, blogs, websites, magazines, and comic books, not to mention traditional bound books. The format doesn't matter; what matters is that the child is engaged in reading.' More...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Famous writers reading other famous writers

The Guardian is putting together a series of 12 podcasts, with the likes of Philip Pullman reading Chekhov and William Boyd reading J.G. Ballard. Thanks to Open Culture for the link:

Best children's books

There's so many best-of-the-year lists that if we covered them all, we wouldn't have to cover anything else. And I don't necessarily agree with a lot of them, for that matter. But I'll make an exception for this one, Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Books for Children. If you still have some Christmas shopping to do, you might want to start here.

Edward Hopper

I'm intrigued by Edward Hopper. What he does with composition especially gets me thinking, although most critics concentrate on the apparent lost-ness of his subjects. Granted this article has nothing to do with books, but if you've seen Hopper painings and thought about them, you'll enjoy it. 'Hopper spent time in Europe during the 1920s. He was living in Paris on and off when the ex-pat scene was at its very height. Impressively, it doesn't seem to have affected him much at all. That's what you want to admire about Hopper. His Americanness was so real, and so deeply rooted, that continental trends and ideas bounced right off him. He was still trying to find his way as a painter in the '20s. He had every reason to dabble in the trends. But he didn't. He didn't want to be an abstract painter. His mind was not blown by Cubism. He did not succumb to the excitement of any avant-garde. How many of us have ever shown that kind of resolution? It is not that Hopper lacked ambition. He wanted to be a great painter. He wanted to be relevant. And yet he stuck to his realism, to his representational style, to everything that was being rejected by so many of the celebrated painters of his day. Admirable.' More...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All about The Waste Land

The Queen Mother had nothing good to say about it—'We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem... I think it was called "The Desert." And first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles and then I did and then even the King'—but in general it's one of the most highly acclaimed poems of the 20th Century. A nice little backstory, and some great links, are over on the Reader's Almanac.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Did the butler really do it?

It's the oldest cliche in the book. This article in the Guardian gives us the details, including in which book, in fact, the butler really did do it! 'SS Van Dine, noted art critic and mystery writer, published a series of rules for would-be crime authors in a much-quoted essay. Number 11 reads, in part: "A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worthwhile person – one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion." Oops.' More...

Audio interview with Nicholas Sparks

The author of the recent Safe Haven (soon to be in Select Editions), and plenty of others, is interviewed on HuffPo. Enjoy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Non-existing author writes bestseller!

Okay: I'll admit that I'm a Castle fan. It's a cute TV show, trading on very enjoyable characters all the way up and down the cast. And I've seen the books written by Castle, who, of course, is a fictional character. I mean, I've seen them in bookstores and on the bestseller list! Details: 'Finding "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle simmering on the bestseller list wouldn't be unusual -- it's the second in a mystery series, with a sexy cover and a blurb from author Michael Connelly -- but for one thing: There is no Richard Castle. He's a fictional character.' More...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Female detectives

The Guardian brings us Anne Holt's top ten female detectives. Holt is a writer, with a history working for the police, in her own law firm, and for the government of her native Norway. She sounds like a composite of every one of these detectives! 'Female detectives, without the physical strength of their male counterparts, have to be more resourceful, intelligent and tactical to solve the case. The stories tend to focus as much on their character as on the whodunnit.' More...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saul Bellow reads from Humboldt's Gift

A tip of the hat to Open Culture for finding this one, and the 92nd St Y for publishing it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They're the wrong Dickens

You've heard the news that Oprah has picked a combo of Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations as what may be her final book club selections. As a rabid fan of Dickens, I wish she had picked something else. Tale is possibly the least representative of all of his novels, and as such, is far from the best. I like a Dickens who takes his time, who paints on a vast canvas. I get the impression that TOTC is recommended in high schools not because it's the best but because it's the shortest. I can understand that, but you can't make a Dickens fan out of a sow's ear, so why not go long and hope for the best? Expectations has the virtue of being long, and it is a better book, but it's so...obvious. In fact, it's the other book high schools make kids read (and I speak to this as a part time high school debate coach in my off hours, where I hear kids bemoan their assignments). If it were me, I would have given them David Copperfield, which I've always maintained is the most honest of the books, being so much based on the author's own life. After that, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are triumphs of literature and, of course, ridiculously readable. (Nowadays the author would never get the title Bleak House past an editor: too depressing, especially because the book is anything but.) No doubt people will as a result of this read some Dickens that they wouldn't otherwise read, and that's not a bad thing, but I don't think anyone will be turned into a Dickens fanatic because the gateway drug isn't potent enough. Oh, well. What can you do?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Young writers' site

Another article from the Times, this one on a new site for young writers called Figment. ' will be unveiled on Monday as an experiment in online literature, a free platform for young people to read and write fiction, both on their computers and on their cellphones. Users are invited to write novels, short stories and poems, collaborate with other writers and give and receive feedback on the work posted on the site.' More...

A seriously deep word count

This article in the NY Times discusses a project to feed enormous amounts of data into a computer—"the titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th century — 1,681,161, to be exact"—to see what words the Victorians used most often as a guide to what they were thinking. This concordance of a century or so of material is possible nowadays because of our ability to compute vast amounts of data, although, of course, the results are open to much discussion, as the article explains. Early results of this project are interesting, but as one scholar cited demurs, one must be careful. She did a search on the words syntax and prosody for a technical analysis of poetry, and found a sudden "explosion" of the two words in 1832. "But it turned out that Dr. Syntax and Prosody were the names of two racehorses. You find 200 titles with ‘Syntax,’ and you think there must be a big grammar debate that year, but it was just that Syntax was winning.” Interesting stuff.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Steve Martin is an author

I read Martin's latest, An Object of Beauty, before it was published. Not the right kind of story for SE, but quite a good book, demonstrating not merely that Martin can write, but that he knows the art scene. Last night there was a kerfluffle over a Martin appearance, where I guess the audience wanted him to tell jokes or something rather than discuss his book and the art world. Well, no, that wasn't what he was there for. Anyhow, I wasn't there, so I guess I can't comment, but I can point folks to the Powells interview, which is on the money as far as the book is concerned. 'From e. e. cummings, I learned about the rhythm of words. From T. S. Eliot, I learned about the intelligence of words. And from Dylan Thomas, I learned about the beauty of words. I try to bring all three of those elements into writing. Then, of course, you have to tell a story at the same time.' More...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Mongoliad

I'm a big Neal Stephenson fan. To read some of his books, being a big fan is almost a requirement, because many of them are really big books. (There's a rather tall pile of one of his typescripts at Seattle's Science Fiction Museum, if you don't believe me.) Now he's trying something new, a serialized, online project. I'm curious. 'The Mongoliad is a modern iteration of the subscription serial novel, an idea that is time tested -– after all, as is commonly pointed out, Charles Dickens and many other nineteenth century writers wrote episodically for serial publication, something that’s not a million miles from the contemporary soap opera. And while The Mongoliad is in that tradition, it has fully updated it for the Internet era. The creators understand that you cannot simply chop up a pre-existing novel for subscription, but have re-imagined the creative process altogether.' More...

How to write a novel

Or, maybe, how not to write one. This format of animation has been used in a variety of areas. Now we get to enjoy it! Link.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

E.B. White and a different pig

E.B. White writes about a pig that isn't named Wilbur, but is, nonetheless, some pig. 'I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting.' More... (Via)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stay home this Friday

Amazon has already announced it's Black Friday sale items, or at least some of them. Thanks to Me and My Kindle for the tip. At the moment, by the way, they don't seem to be inclined to offer a sale price on the Kindle.

Mark Twain tops the bestseller list

Well, you knew that. The "new" autobiography is selling like crazy. Some of us, unstoppable Twain fans, will read it no matter what. Others might be wondering, what, exactly, made it so important to postpone publication for a hundred years. The book may seem beyond analysis, so it's nice to get a straightforward review for those who might be on the fence, like this one from the Telegraph.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Author websites

You can judge these for yourself. HuffPo has posted a list of seven favorites from their readers, and they're a varied, interesting bunch. They're looking for more, if you've got them.

National Book Awards

The awards ceremony was last night. GalleyCat has the details and a few extras.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

George S. Kaufman

The Library of America celebrates the playwright's birthday with a short piece on his working with the Marx Brothers ('We wrote two shows for them which, by the way, is two more than anybody should be asked to write'), and a very old video with a very funny Kaufman. 'We learned that when an audience does not laugh at a line at which they’re supposed to laugh, then the thing to do was to take out that line and get a funnier line. So help me, we didn’t know that before. I always thought it was the audience’s fault, or when the show got to New York they’d laugh.' More...

Monday, November 15, 2010

An early start on the best of 2010

Mary Ann Gwinn at the Seattle Times gives it a go. 'Last week I got three best-of lists: from the retail giant; from Library Journal (magazine for the library profession) and Publishers Weekly (magazine for the publishing profession). May I just say that librarians think differently from retailers? ... So I mushed all these lists together, to give you an early look at books that have achieved some consensus that they are really, really good.' More...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

John D. MacDonald

Roger Ebert is nowadays one of the great presences on Twitter (@ebertchicago). And he just recently pointed followers to a piece he had written in 1976, a profile of the writer John D. MacDonald. It's nice to drop in again on the creator of Travis McGee. 'In 1945, his sixth year in the Army, John D. MacDonald sent a short story home to his wife. She typed it up and submitted it to Story magazine, which bought it for $25. "1 thought that was pretty damned good," MacDonald recalls. "I figured, hell, if I could sell about four stories a week, I could live pretty well."' More...

Unfinished Chabon novel

We learned from GalleyCat that one of our favorite authors, Michael Chabon, will be publishing in an upcoming edition of McSweeney's the first four chapters of a novel he abandoned in 1992 entitled Fountain City. That should be worth checking out. And for that matter, if you're unaware of McSweeney's, it's worth checking out on its own, Michael Chabon or no Michael Chabon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Profile of Leo Tolstoy from 1891

The Atlantic Monthly has been around for a long time. Long enough, in fact, to have published a profile of Count Leo while he was still alive. 'The count, who had been mowing, appeared at dinner in a grayish blouse and trousers and a soft white linen cap. He looked even more weather-beaten in complexion than he had in Moscow during the winter, if that were possible. His broad shoulders seemed to preserve in their enhanced stoop a memory of recent toil. His manner, a combination of gentle simplicity, awkward half-conquered consciousness, and half-discarded polish, was as cordial as ever. His piercing gray-green-blue eyes had lost none of their almost saturnine and withal melancholy expression.' More...

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Gettysburg Address

In my travels on the internet looking for articles, occasionally I find something out of our realm but so amazing that it's worth sharing anyhow. This video of the Gettysburg Address is that kind of article. Prepare to be moved.

T. S. Eliot

It would seem as if the master poet was, in his day, the most popular writer in the world, or at least the best known. How many people can even name a poet working today? A review of a book of Eliot's letters provides some great background. 'Part of what makes Eliot’s literary career so impressive is that he achieved all he did, in effect, in nationality drag. He willed himself into an Englishman, which technically he became only in the year 1927, when he acquired British citizenship. After attending one of Eliot’s readings in New York in 1933, the critic Edmund Wilson wrote to the novelist John Dos Passos: “He is an actor and really put on a better show than Shaw. . . . He gives you the creeps a little at first because he is such a completely artificial, or, rather, self-invented character . . . but he has done such a perfect job with himself that you end up admiring him.” ' More... (Via)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And now for something completely different

I don't know what this performance is from, but it's prime John Cleese and Connie Booth in a bookstore skit. Link.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Young Detective Zora

This was a surprising—and welcome—article in today's NY Times. 'Where is the black version of Caddie Woodlawn (a 19th-century Wisconsin tomboy) or Harriet the Spy (a 20th-century Upper East Sider), smart, spunky, fictional heroines for the tween crowd? Tanya Simon, a literary agent, asked herself that question while pregnant with her daughter, now 4. She answered by reaching back in time to Zora Neale Hurston, a canonical Harlem Renaissance writer, and imagining her as a girl detective.' More...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Behind the covers

HuffPo does a piece on what they call some of the coolest book covers of the year. They go behind the scenes, talking to the designer and authors about the why of them. It's a good article. Link.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Working with Tony Hillerman

Rosemary Herbert worked on two anthologies with the great Tony Hillerman. And she loves sharing her stories about him, and his insights on his craft. 'It may seem that his use of landscape was effortless, but one day, as Tony in typically trusting manner turned on his computer and revealed to me his then-current novel in progress, he told me about how he made sure to make his descriptions of landscape advance the plot, rather than serve as self-indulgent digressions. “What I want to do here is develop the character of these of these two by what they stop to look at…They’re going to cross the Hopi reservation,” Tony said, describing the work in progress. “Okay, from this road there you can see literally miles of sagebrush on this great flat [expanse] and the hills roll away, and you can see San Francisco Peaks sixty, seventy miles away. Not a tree, not a bush, not a shrub! It’s really pure sagebrush country. And on the fence there, somebody’s painted a real neat sign that said, ‘Woodcutting Prohibited'."' More...

Book buying

There's some books for sale you might be interested in. Hardcover—none of this electronic stuff. If I do the math correctly in translating from pounds to dollars, the cheaper of the two—the very first collected works of Shakespeare—is a steal at about $2,000,000. Link.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Writing advice from Mark Twain

Here's someone you can listen to when they tell you what to do with your writing. 'I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -- it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them -- then the rest will be valuable.' More...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rejected Science Fiction and Fantasy

Rejected as in, what were these publishers thinking? Via HuffPo, the site io9 gives us the backstory on 15 classics that had a hard time getting started. For instance, there's Carrie: 'Stephen King's first published novel sold four million copies in paperback. And garnered 30 rejections from publishers. One of them wrote, "'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." Tired of rejection slips, King reportedly threw the manuscript into the garbage — but his wife fished it out again, and he decided to try one more time.' More...

Bad characters

Are we supposed to like all the characters we read about? I mean, we probably like to hiss the bad guys, but what about books where even the hero is a bad guy, or there's just nobody all that good? '"I didn't like any of the characters" is a complaint made frequently, everywhere from televised book clubs to reviews on blogs and online bookstores...Why bother to engage with difficult, demanding characters when we don't have to? This is a great shame: it's reductive, and antithetical to what literature is about.' More... (Via)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do it yourself

Make what you wish of this one. November is National Novel Writing Month. In other words, drop everything and start typing. Last year one of the students I work with in my night job (I moonlight as a high school debate coach) went around for weeks with her computer on her lap, novelizing for all she was worth. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it. You might too. Check out the website. (Via)

Moby-Dick in England

One of my favorite books (I admit it) is Moby-Dick. Most people, when I say that, go running in the other direction. Maybe they read the original British version. 'On October 18, 1851, Richard Bentley published Herman Melville’s sixth novel The Whale in London: 500 sets in a beautiful binding of brilliant sea-blue wavy-grain cloth covers with cream cloth spines, emblazoned in gold from top to bottom with diving right whales. Why America’s great American novel was published first in Great Britain under a different name is a tale of pirates and misadventure—and ends by having a considerable impact on the fate of the novel’s reception in America.' More...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Belva Plain

Belva Plain passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. She was a popular author with our readers, and she was working right up to the end. I remember her coming up to our offices in Pleasantville once and telling us how she'd never consider writing on a computer. She stuck to her guns. This is the obituary from the New York Times.

No adjectives!

Alexander McCall Smith has little to say about these 'useful, helpful, intensely descriptive words.' They don't do much to help the writer who is attempting to use the English language successfully. 'The real aim, of course, is conciseness. Concise prose knows what it wants to say, and says it. It does not embellish, except occasionally, and then for dramatic effect. It is sparing in its use of metaphor. And it is certainly careful in its use of adjectives.' More...

Short stories

Some masters of the form talk about the idea of stories, and even read some of their work. For starters, there's T. C. Boyle. ' The joy of the story is that you can respond to the moment and events of the moment. The drawback is that once you've completed a story, you must write another even though you find yourself bereft of talent or ideas. The joy of the novel is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. The horror of the novel, however, is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow.' More...

A sequel to Huckleberry Finn

I had never heard about this. Twain not only considered a sequel, he began writing one. '“I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest,” said Huckleberry Finn, “because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.” It’s one of the most memorable lines from the last chapter of Mark Twain’s classic 1885 novel... But as soon as Mark Twain published the book, he’d also started writing a sequel about dangerous new adventures in the great American wilderness.' More...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bill Bryson

For a travel writer, Bryson isn't very much of a traveler. 'Mr. Bryson's career as a travel writer was wholly unplanned; he is not, he insisted, the adventurous type. "I once met Colin Thubron," he said, referring to the celebrated British author of "Mirror to Damascus," "Jerusalem," "Istanbul" and "In Siberia." "He genuinely likes to go to places where he might get malaria. But I absolutely don't want to get malaria and I don't want to be uncomfortable. I don't want to sleep on anything hard, or worry that an alligator is going to come up and take my leg off."' More... (Via.)

Tess Gerritsen interview

HuffPo has a nice interview with Tess Gerritsen, covering both her writing and her home life. 'I was a writer first, and knew I'd be a storyteller at age seven. But since my parents are very practical, they urged me to go into a profession that would be far more secure so I went to medical school. But after practicing medicine for a few years, while raising two sons (with a husband who was also a doctor) I realized that combining medicine with motherhood was more of a challenge than I could handle. So I left medicine and stayed home. And that's when I once again picked up the pen and began to write.' More...

Monday, October 18, 2010


Sometimes the classics seem awfully musty. Other times, they are as vital as the morning newspaper. In a review of a new biography, we revisit the world of Michel de Montaigne, which doesn't have even a hint of mustiness. 'Montaigne invented the personal essay, that unpredictable and strangely addictive literary form devoted, as Bakewell puts it, to "re-creating a sequence of sensations as they felt from the inside, following them from instant to instant." Montaigne constantly revised and expanded "Essays" throughout his life; it was never really finished. "I do not portray being," he wrote, "I portray passing. Not the passing from one age to another ... but from day to day, from minute to minute." More...

Friday, October 15, 2010

A national digital library?

This seems like a great idea. Robert Darnton writes about it in The New York Review of Books. The bottom line? Knowledge is good, and the free access to knowledge is one of the foundations of our country. Sure, there's copyright, but there's also the need for ideas to spread to all who want them. 'Can we create a National Digital Library? ... Despite the complexities, the fundamental idea of a National Digital Library (or NDL) is, at its core, straightforward. The NDL would make the cultural patrimony of this country freely available to all of its citizens. It would be the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress, but instead of being confined to Capitol Hill, it would exist everywhere, bringing millions of books and other digitized material within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, junior colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any person with access to the Internet.' More... (Via)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Book Awards finalists announced.

Check it out on MediaBistro.

Joe Hill on Elmore Leonard

Amazon provides a guest review of Leonard's new novel Djibouti by fellow author Joe Hill. Hill provides ten reasons why Leonard rules; it's a paean to craft. Here's reason number 6: 'The sound. Leonard famously said that if his sentences sound like writing, he rewrites them, but don’t be fooled. These sentences jump to their own dirty, hothouse jazz rhythm. There isn’t a better stylist anywhere in American letters.' More...

Betting on the literary prizes

In England, they bet on who will win the big prizes, like the Nobel Prize for literature. For a number of reasons, there doesn't seem to be the same urge to put your money where your reading glasses are in the US. Still, the concept is fun. 'For an industry dwarfed by the money showered on other forms of entertainment like movies, television and videogames, betting adds an enjoyable bit of competition to the mix, and makes the conversation about books both more serious and less serious.' More... (Via)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


On the Powells blog, Doug Brown goes into the past to look at a little Edgar Allan Poe. It's interesting what he finds back there. 'As part of my classics year project last year, I couldn't resist the opportunity to delve into some Poe. I had only ever read a couple of the stories, and of course "The Raven." I recommend the dive; most of the stories are only a few pages long and can be sipped in a short period. As would be expected, there are tales of the macabre, but more than that there are tales of psychology. Poe understood that the human mind imagining the supernatural is much scarier than the banality of actual supernatural events. What makes "The Tell-Tale Heart" such a great story is that the dead man's heart isn't actually beating; all we need is the murderer's conviction that he can hear it louder and louder.' More...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Philip Marlowe on the radio

The Internet Archive, which has a lot of really valuable material, now has old radio shows of Chandler's famous detective that were, in their day, quite popular. Check it out! (Via

Hey, kid! Stop reading books for fun!

The latest report is not promising: adults are pushing their kids away from picture books to serious books, apparently in aid of getting them into Ivy League colleges or something. Alex Palmer tracks the history of kid's books in his response to this on HuffPo. 'The big story on The New York Times today is that parents are again urging children to ditch children's books. Sure, Where the Wild Things Are and Green Eggs and Ham may be beloved by generations of kids, but many parents are concerned that colorful pictures and imaginative stories aren't going to give their 5-year-old a leg-up on their SATs...But beyond pros and cons, what's also interesting is that this recent push is not actually recent at all. Attempts to get kids reading books that are good for them, rather than what they want to read, go back centuries, and this is only the latest instance of adults trying to take the fun out of children's books.' More...

Mario Vargas Llosa interview

The Paris Review reminds us of an interview they conducted with the new Nobel laureate back in 1990.

''As far as I’m concerned, I believe the subject chooses the writer. I’ve always had the feeling that certain stories imposed themselves on me; I couldn’t ignore them, because in some obscure way, they related to some kind of fundamental experience—I can’t really say how. For example, the time I spent at the Leonico Prado Military School in Lima when I was still a young boy gave me a real need, an obsessive desire to write. It was an extremely traumatic experience which in many ways marked the end of my childhood—the rediscovery of my country as a violent society, filled with bitterness, made up of social, cultural, and racial factions in complete opposition and caught up in sometimes ferocious battle. I suppose the experience had an influence on me; one thing I’m sure of is that it gave rise to the great need in me to create, to invent.' More...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

David Sedaris

Sedaris has a new book out. The bio piece in the Washington Post is a solid introduction to the man and his unique work. 'He was an impoverished 30-something when public radio's Ira Glass heard him read some of his work at a Chicago bar. A few years later, around the holidays, Glass remembered the performance and phoned Sedaris to ask if he had any Christmas-themed essays. Sedaris sent him "SantaLand Diaries," about his work as a Macy's elf; Glass, then working for NPR's "Morning Edition," accepted based on the paper copy, not hearing the story out loud until Sedaris recorded it several days later. "He got to the part of the story where he sings like Billie Holiday," Glass recalls, "and I remember thinking, 'Oh, my, we have entered very unusual territory at this point.' " ' More...

The Joker

An awful lot of us were raised on comic books, and for that matter graphic novels are nothing more than comic books all grown up. And then there's the movies, which have drawn on comic books for inspiration since the very invention of comic books. A new book, covered in the NY Times, talks about artist Jerry Robinson and the invention of the Joker, one of the all-time great comic book villains. 'If a hero is only as good as his opponent, then the creation of the Joker cannot be underestimated. “Villains, I always thought, were more interesting,” Mr. Robinson said. He learned from his studies that some characters were built on their contradictions, so he decided that his evildoer would have a sense of humor. “I think the name came first: the Joker,” he said. “Then I thought of the playing card.”' More...

Monday, October 4, 2010

The history of the written word

A new exhibit covers the invention of writing. In fact, it was invented independently four times. Interesting. '[Exhibit curator Christopher] Wood said writing came about so bureaucracies and businesses could keep track of trades, herds of animals, production of beer and the labor pool for constructing large, monumental buildings. "Most people in those days worked for religious temples, so incomes had to be kept track of and paid, and the only way of keeping track of so many people and transactions was to record the information."' More...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger interview

The Telegraph offers a nice portrait of the multifaceted author of The Time Traveler's Wife. Why, you may wonder, does she have those human skeletons in the house? 'When I moved in all the neighbours came round very kindly and they said, 'Do you have kids?’ and I said no, and they said, 'What does your husband do?’ And I said, well, I don’t really have one, and they said, 'Well, do you have dogs?’ and I said, no, I have cats, and so that was the end of me, you know.' More...

The Big Thrill

The October edition is live. We've mentioned this site before, but it's worth mentioning again. If you're a thriller fan, you should be on board with them. Check 'em out.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unsuitable reading

'One of the Library Committee, while not prepared to hazard the opinion that the book is "absolutely immoral in its tone," does not hesitate to declare that to him "it seems to contain but very little humor." ... They all united in the verdict that "it deals with a series of experiences that are certainly not elevating," and voted that it could not be tolerated in the public library.' Okay, this was back in 1885, and the good news is that this year Huckleberry Finn is not among the top 10 banned books in the US. But, sadly, it often is, and in this case hindsight seems an awful lot like foresight. Read it all, including Twain's reply, here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Philip K. Dick

Open Culture points us to a long documentary on the highly respected science fiction author. There's interview material, film clips, criticism—it's quite a show.

Page 99

I like this. English author Ford Madox Ford once said about judging a book: "Open the book to page 99 and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." We are usually tied into beginnings. Does a book grab us from the outset? Or should we be looking elsewhere? This piece in the Guardian is a fun meditation on the whole business.

Overcoming writer's block

Hillary Rettig talks about getting the words down on paper (or whatever) over at HuffPo. You might find the tips useful if you're in a situation of having to produce on a regular basis. 'The work of becoming a prolific writer -- someone who writes easily and quickly, and has fun while doing it -- is the work of managing your moment-by-moment experience of your writing. Writing is one of those activities that looks easy, but really isn't. Besides the basic intellectual challenge, writing is also an act of self-exposure, and often to critical or harsh audiences.' More...

Monday, September 27, 2010

What should college students read?

This is a curious list, and probably not the list I would have come up with. Granted that the students who have read these books will have achieved a level of cultural literacy unusual among their peers, still... The list.

Banned books

It's American Library Association's Banned Books Week again. Roberta Stevens nails it: 'Book challenges are not simply an expression of a point of view; they are also an attempt to remove materials from public use, thereby restricting the access of others. Even if the motivation to ban or challenge a book is well intentioned, the outcome is detrimental. Censorship denies our freedom as individuals to choose and think for ourselves. For children, decisions about what books to read should be made by the people who know them best -- their parents or guardians.' More...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Connecting Robert Bloch to H.P. Lovecraft

The young Bloch (eventually to become most famously the author of Psycho), was mentored by the elder Lovecraft. 'One of the stories Bloch wrote while Lovecraft was alive featured Lovecraft as a character, killed by a monster. Weird Tales required Bloch to get the victim's permission before publishing the story, and Lovecraft authorized Bloch “to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled THE SHAMBLER FROM THE STARS.”' More...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Paris Review interviews

Open Culture tells us that The Paris Review has posted a major website with author interviews conducted over the last five decades. 'Rummaging through the archive, you will encounter conversations with TS Eliot, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, Saul Bellow, Jorge Luis Borges, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, John Steinbeck, Joan Didion, Kurt Vonnegut, Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, Russell Banks, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Paul Auster, etc. And, amazingly, this list only scratches the surface of what’s available.' More...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Maxwell Perkins

According to this article from LOA, there's a biopic coming soon with Sean Penn playing the role of the legendary Scribner's editor. Hard to imagine dramatizing the life of a guy marking up manuscripts, but one never knows. Perkins is, after all, the gold standard for guys like me. 'In a career spanning thirty-six years as an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, Perkins discovered and published three of the giants of twentieth-century literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. He inspired a mostly unswerving loyalty in his authors. No editor has ever had more books dedicated to him—68 at the time of his death.' More...

Raymond Chandler's final resting place

The creator of Philip Marlowe was no saint, by any means. But he unquestionably was in love with his wife. 'The man who put Los Angeles on the literary map with detective novels that dismissed the place as "a big, hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup" was a romantic who had planned to spend eternity alongside his beloved wife, Cissy Chandler. That the two would end up about a block apart, one in a cemetery, the other on a mausoleum warehouse shelf, and that it would take decades to unite them, is a story with as many twists and turns as a Chandler novel.' More...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wind in the Willows = not a children's book

That's the contention. We may sell it for children nowadays, but that's not how it started out. 'To begin with, neither the author nor the publisher thought it was a children’s book.... The publisher’s announcement described it as ‘a whimsical satire upon life’, reviewers described it as ‘an urbane exercise in irony at the expense of English character and mankind’. More...

Don't throw away those library shelves just yet

The idea was planted by Amazon that, essentially, ebooks were outselling print books. The reality is quite different. 'In July, Amazon announced they’d sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books...Morning talk shows seem to be informing their audiences that the book is already dying — Regis Philbin is talking about it, and even Whoopi Goldberg on The View. Obviously, the general public doesn’t know that hardcover sales represent a tiny portion of the overall number of books sold.' More...

Why do we need a new translation of that?

Lydia Davis, having recently finished a new translation of Madame Bovary, answers that question in the Paris Review. How many ways, for instance, has even a single phrase (bouffées d’affadissement) from Madame Bovary been translated:

gusts of revulsion
a kind of rancid staleness
stale gusts of dreariness
waves of nausea
fumes of nausea
flavorless, sickening gusts
stagnant dreariness
whiffs of sickliness
waves of nauseous disgust


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie

And Google is celebrating: 'Today’s Google logo (or Google Doodle, as the company calls its everchanging logo) is one of the most elaborate we’ve seen: It’s a murder scene with one of Google’s o’s depicting a lady lying dead in the middle of a room full of other characters.' More...

Things to do with books, other than reading

We have to admit: these photos are fun. But I'm not tossing my iPad just yet.

What Presidents read

LOA provides some information on the reading habits of our recent Presidents, and what those habits mean. There's even a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: 'Now and then one’s soul thirsts for laughter.... Mark Twain at his best stands a little apart, almost as much so as Joel Chandler Harris.... If any man feels too gloomy about the degeneracy of our people from the standards of their forefathers, let him read Martin Chuzzlewit; it will be consoling.' More...

Friday, September 10, 2010

In honor of Roald Dahl...

This is Roald Dahl month, although I'm not quite sure who was in charge of that pronouncement. But it does mark the publication of an authorized biography of the author, who was, if nothing else, a complex individual. 'Dahl’s kids’ stories, on the other hand, are full of characters who transcend narrative logic....The keynote of Dahl’s children’s books is delight in wild invention—and delight, too, in the way that invention manages to braid the two opposed strands of his personality, the nasty and the charming, into something unique in the history of storytelling.' More...

WSJ book reviews

The Seattle Times reports that the Wall Street Journal will be adding a weekly book review section to it's Saturday edition. This is good news indeed, insofar as most papers are cutting or have cut their book coverage. With all the books being published every day, on paper or electronically or who knows how, more than ever we need help finding the good ones (and avoiding the stinkers).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

George Bernard Shaw online

The Guardian reports that a treasure trove of photos of and by GBS will be coming online. I had no idea how the great playwright had died: 'The Dublin-born writer died aged 94 in 1950 when he fell out of an apple tree at his home in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, having got fed up with waiting for the gardener to prune a rotten branch. He left the house, Shaw's Corner, and its contents to the National Trust complete with an enormous photographic collection of more than 20,000 prints, negatives and glass plates.' More...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A nice free Alexander McCall Smith book

Starting Sept 13, you can get daily installments of McCall Smith's new Corduroy Mansions, either print or audio. Sounds like a good deal to me. Here's all the information.

How to open a new book

Okay, you can't do this on your Kindle. But a tip of the hat to BoingBoing for showing us this illustration.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Arthur C. Clarke predicts the future

In 1964, author Clarke nailed it, although his ideas on cities disappearing may not be exactly right. Still, how many science fiction authors ever predict so much so well? Check out the video at Publishing Perspectives.

This year's Hugo winners

And the nominees as well, courtesy of John Scalzi's Whatever blog. List.

John Le Carre excerpt

From the new book, Our Kind of Traitor. It's been getting very strong reviews, and it's nice to get a little taste of a master. The excerpt is here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

10 reading revolutions

In an article for, writer Tim Carmody lists 10 major events in the history of the word, not counting e-books, that changed everything. 'The phrase "reading revolution" was probably coined by German historian Rolf Engelsing. He certainly made it popular. Engelsing was trying to describe something he saw in the 18th century: a shift from "intensive" reading and re-reading of very few texts to "extensive" reading of many, often only once. Think of reading the Bible vs reading the newspaper.' More...

Is this Odysseus' palace?

The truth behind Homer, if any, may not even matter. Now the question is, not whether we have discovered Troy, but whether we have discovered the home Odysseus sought so fervently. 'Archaeologists from the University of Ioannina have found a three-storey building, with a well, steps carved out of rock, and fragments of pottery, all fitting Homer's description. Was this where Odysseus returned to save his wife Penelope from her wicked suitors, after 10 years fighting at Troy, and another 10 years wandering the seas off modern Greece and Turkey? The short, unromantic answer is probably no. There are just too many imponderables.' More...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Photos of people reading

What a remarkable collection, from photographer Steve McCurry. Who would have thought that something as simple as people reading could be so eloquent and so thought-provoking? 'As a photographer, McCurry is always on the hunt for the “unguarded moment,” that slice of time that reveals something personal and honest. “I have another gallery of people sleeping and of couples interacting. There’s an intimacy people have with a book and its author that is similar,” he says, adding. “We’re all different and we’re all the same. It amuses me that whether you’re fabulously rich and sophisticated or you happen to be someone on the street in the third world or a classroom in some remote area, reading is all the same act. It’s a common link in our shared humanity, a thing we all do that is regardless of where we are economically or socially.”' More...

Monday, August 23, 2010

How much money does everyone else make?

Okay, we saw what the big writers earn. What about everyone else? The Rejecter explains it all, and it's not a pretty picture. Or at least it's not a picture of big bucks. 'The only advice I can say when planning a writing career is: don't. ' More...

List of the highest paid authors

That James Patterson is at the top of the list will be shocking to you only if you shock really, really easily. After all, he seems to come out with a new bestseller every week. Check out the article in Forbes for the rest of the cash earners.

The ten best pigs in literature?

All right. The list says "ten of the best," which implies not the very best, which may explain why it inexplicably excludes Wilbur, the hero of one of my personal favorite books, Charlotte's Web. Still, there's some other interesting pigs to be considered. Check it out.

Ray Bradbury is 90 years old

And National Review Online has a great article by James E. Person, Jr. 'Moral truths appear not in obvious nuggets, like raisins in a raisin cake, but blended among the basic ingredients. They bespeak Bradbury’s beliefs that human beings are more than the flies of summer — they are in fact made for knowing beauty, truth, and eternity — and that each movement toward political centralization, materialism, sham intellectualism, and needless destruction of the natural environment endangers all that makes life fulfilling and worthwhile, rendering man little more than a trousered ape.' More...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jack London

An engaging piece on the author, in a review of a new biography by James L. Haley. 'In his 40 years of life, he was a "bastard" child of a slum-dwelling suicidal spiritualist, a child laborer, a pirate, a tramp, a revolutionary Socialist, a racist pining for genocide, a gold-digger, a war correspondent, a millionaire, a suicidal depressive, and for a time the most popular writer in America.' More...

This book is

Except what if it isn't? What if you detest the very paper it was printed on? The Guardian (via) considers the problem. 'Does this mean, when a fellow book lover gives you a book you hate, the person didn't really know you, or had an erroneous idea of you in their mind? Does it mean you don't really know yourself? Does it mean the self is fundamentally unknowable, at least through the contents of a bookshelf? Most importantly, does it mean you'll have to avoid the giver from now until the day one of you dies, just to be spared that excruciatingly awkward moment where they excitedly ask how you liked the book, and you lie unconvincingly to spare their feelings?' More...

He may not be a man some think of as handsome

But to many of us, Ira Gershwin carries the key to our hearts. On the anniversary of his death, LOA has a nifty remembrance. Said Ira, “Since most of the lyrics … were arrived at by fitting words mosaically to music already composed, any resemblance to actual poetry, living or dead, is highly improbable.” More...

Harry Potter 101

Yes, you can now study Harry Potter in college—Durham University, to be precise. This is not necessarily a bad thing. 'Exploring issues such as "prejudice and intolerance, peer pressure, good citizenship and ideals of adulthood, [as well as] ways in which the Harry Potter series has helped to rebrand Britain", the course has been reviewed and approved by the faculty's teaching and learning committee. "Harry Potter is a culturally iconic phenomenon and has already been the subject of many well-regarded academic studies over recent years, so it is only fitting that a leading university like Durham responds to new developments in our academic and wider social and cultural environment in developing new modules like this."' More...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Weird words

A quiz from the Guardian, courtesy of their Twitter feed. I'll be honest: if you know any of these, you're smarter than I am.

Obama's reading list

I'm impressed. Recently we commented on how world leaders ought to do some serious reading. According to The Daily Beast, President Obama is doing his part. It's quite a list! 'As reader-in-chief, Obama has thrilled the intellectual classes with his frequent book talk from the days of his campaign onward. The two-time bestselling author has shown a taste for the literary by name-checking the likes of Joseph O’Neill, Richard Price, and George Pelecanos. Since this fall, though, as the governing got tough, the president has been avoiding fiction for some hard-boiled history.' More...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Literature and leaders

Once upon a time, great leaders (and not-so-great leaders) turned to literature to learn lessons about humanity. Charles Hill in Foreign Policy thinks they still should. 'Statesmen have looked at literature not only as another source of strategic insight but as a unique intellectual endeavor. Of all the arts and sciences, only literature is substantially and methodologically unbounded. Literature's freedom to explore endless or exquisite details, portray the thoughts of imaginary characters, and dramatize large themes through intricate plots brings it closest to the reality of "how the world really works."' More...

On reading difficult books

A nice little essay in the Washington Post: 'We play tennis on vacation, or go for strenuous hikes. We might get just as much pleasure from working out some little-used parts of our brains.' (via)

Life imitates Frederick Forsyth's art

Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal, is still going strong. And in the research for some of his books, he found himself perilously close to the end of the line. 'A few minutes later, back at his hotel, Forsyth received a phone call warning him that he had 80 seconds to get out of the country. "I left all my clothes, grabbed my money and passport and ran across the square to the train station. There was a train pulling out so I did a parachute roll through the window, landing on a bewildered businessman. The ticket conductor asked me where I was going. I asked him where the train was going and he said Amsterdam. So am I, I said." ' More...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Those rare writers on Time?

Well, not quite so rare as Time has been saying, at least back in the Olden Days. Thanks to Amazon's Omnivoracious for real scoop (at the bottom of the article).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Map of the world's bookstores

We got this link from HuffPo. Made us immediately want to run out and take a walking tour.

Also known as...

Pseudonyms are not uncommon among authors—we are lately celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passing of someone called Mark Twain, for instance—so the practice does go back a ways. An interesting piece in the Washington Post (via) talks about some famous aliases, as well as the phenomenon of authors hiding behind names we know they're hiding behind. 'The reasons for hiding behind fake names are as varied as the writers who do it. Satirists such as François-Marie Arouet and Eric Arthur Blair (better known as Voltaire and George Orwell) used pseudonyms as a shield from critics and irritable sectors of society. Charlotte Brontë sidestepped the soft misogyny of the male-dominated publishing industry by first submitting the novel "Jane Eyre" under the pen name Currer Bell.' More...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pop-up books are fun, but...

They may not be doing the job when it comes to education, which of course is the reason many of them exist. In one experiment, 'Those exposed to the book with the photographic images were able to correctly identify their bird nearly 80 percent of the time. Those who saw the book with the drawings did so around 70 percent of the time. But those who were entertained by the pop-ups did so only 50 percent of the time — no better than chance' More... (Via.)

Dostoevsky in the subway

Russians love their writers, but sometimes things don't work out quite as planned. Some people are just so hard to please! 'The Dostoevskaya station — which opened this summer in memory of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky — met a fair share of opposition when psychologists expressed concern that dark murals of the violent scenes from Dostoevsky's books could put riders in gloomy moods — or, worse, even encourage suicidal impulses.' More...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Harry Potter in New York

The Potter books are doing gangbuster business, still, at the NY Public Library. And that is a good thing, if you believe in the value of reading. 'The books bring people together and create a love of reading that is contagious. "When classes come in, when one reads the book, they all want the book."' More...

Authors' last words

The Guardian has put together an interesting selection of them, from Dr. Johnson to James Joyce.

E-readers banned in coffeehouses

On the other hand, you can read an old-fashioned book to your heart's content. In other words, battle lines are being drawn. 'This culture does not have room for laptops and e-readers, but print books and newspapers are still “embraced” by owners and are part of the culture these coffeehouses are hoping to regain. In defining their values and the values of their customers, owners working to remove electronic devices from their cafés have drawn a definite distinction -– print books are cultured, electronic books are not.' More...

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Green Eggs and Ham got its name

I won't excerpt from the short article, which is a cute little piece of history, Sam I Am.

Kid book reviews

Got kids? You might be interested in this iPhone book review app. TeleRead gives us the details.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Peter Mayle's weekend

I want to be a writer. Or maybe I just want to be a writer in Provence, on the weekend, like Peter Mayle. 'I try to avoid having to rush, particularly at weekends. We lived in the United States for a few years and found the American passion for speed – in business, in social life, in everything – to be completely exhausting. I don’t think they appreciate the joys of taking it easy, of counting the stars and watching the grass grow. This is something the French understand very well. They are not ashamed to admit to liking pleasure, whether it’s two hours over lunch or a full month’s holiday in August. They like to have a good time and they’re not guilty about it. An infectious attitude.' More...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

100 best thrillers

Well, that's the hundred best according to NPR, anyhow. I like this list a lot. You can do worse than using it as a starting point. 'Who is the NPR audience's favorite thriller writer? It's the King, of course — Stephen King, who landed six titles in the top 100. Lee Child comes next, with four winning books. And, at three titles each, Michael Crichton, Dennis Lehane and Stieg Larsson tie for third.' More...

In defense of chick-lit

An article in the UK Guardian takes those to task who would put down an entire genre. "I take issue with those who dismiss all chick-lit as poorly-written fodder for the dim-witted reader. There are some appallingly bad books (as I discovered), but that's true of every single genre. And there are some dim-witted readers, and that's also true across the genres. But saying that chick-lit can't be well-written is a little like saying that pretty girls can't be smart. It's ludicrous. And it's wrong." More... (Via)

The creation of Charlie Chan

The detective has certainly been controversial over the years, but he was also popular, first in the novels by Earl Derr Biggers, and then, of course, in movies, comics and even animated television. A review of a new book in The New Yorker (Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang, Norton, $26.95) allows the magazine to lay out an interesting tale.

'Earl Derr Biggers did not invent Charlie Chan. “How can I write of Chinese?” he asked Chan, in that fictional conversation with his fictional detective. “I could not distinguish Chinese man from Wall Street broker.” (Chan had an answer for that. Chan had an answer for everything. “Chinese would be the one who sold you the honest securities.”) ' More...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lonely Planet on the iPad

I just saw this video courtesy of HuffPo. I've got an iPad and I want to travel. All I have to do is pick a country and, oh, save up a few dollars...

5 best book recommendation services

(Via). Lifehacker did a poll, and came up with this list. I will admit to following the serendipitous user lists on Amazon: you never know where they'll take you.

Nathaneal West revisited

From LOA: 'In his brief life Nathanael West wrote four darkly comic novels, two of them acclaimed masterpieces: Miss Lonelyhearts, a devastating portrait of a newspaper columnist overwhelmed by his readers’ sufferings, and The Day of the Locusts, an apocalyptic vision of the underside of the Hollywood dream. In a prescient article for The Boston Phoenix in 1997 Virginia Heffernan wrote “[West] seems to have become a writer, like Frank Norris or Djuna Barnes, whose work is periodically 'revived,' appreciated, and explained, and then returned to the hands of more stalwart fans.” Based on recent evidence a sustained revival of Nathanael West seems to be at hand.' The article reports that there's a Twitter account, a blog and some film clips, among other things. If you're a West fan, check it out.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Writers' homes

Plenty of famous writers have left behind their houses, with all the potential clues to their lives, that we readers can visit. LOA puts together a nice guide to writers' homes, attempting to answer the questions: 'So what do we get from visiting a writer’s home? How does turning a writer’s home into a museum affect the surrounding community?' More...

A live map of people buying books

It doesn't take long for you to figure out that what these people really want to do is sell you a book that they can ship to you for free, but, as John Scalzi points out, it is oddly mesmerizing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

Could there be such a list? See for yourself: link. (via)

Travels with Steinbeck

LOA talks about some summer travels inspired by John Steinbeck, going back to the author himself for the affecting piece that follows. Since last weekend I was up in Stockbridge and got a great look at the Rockwell painting, the image remains fresh in my mind.

"Fifty years ago, when Bridges was six years old, she was the first black student to enroll at the all-white William Frantz Public School in New Orleans. In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck witnessed her historic first steps into that school: 'The show opened on time. Sound the sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white.' " More...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Copy editing at the New Yorker

The New Yorker remains a golden example of fine copy editing. It is an art to maintain both the authorial voice and a high set of editorial standards. In an interview with their Mary Norris, you'll find out how it works. 'The main thing here is to respect the writer. The writers don’t have to do everything we want them to—we make suggestions. The ideal would be to give an editor a proof and have all your suggestions meet with approval. Sometimes you notice that your suggestions have not been taken, so if something bothers you, you try again. Sometimes you wear them down, sometimes you cave.' More...

(Note to copy editor: I use the single quote to save time if there's ever quotes inside the excerpt. Please don't yell at me. And yes, the itals plus the quotes are overkill, but, well, that's my authorial voice.)

China Mieville

The NY Times has a great profile of Mieville. If you're not a science fiction fan, you probably don't know him, but if you want to see what's happening in that field, he may be the best place to start. I read Perdido Street Station on vacation last year. Impressive!


Ex libris: from the library of. Dark Roasted Blend posts a gorgeous article on the history of those labels saying who this book actually belongs to. Those two on the left are from George Washington and Paul Revere. (Via.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

The complicated world of recommendations

Laura Miller at Salon discusses some options: 'Amazon and other online merchants have harnessed mighty algorithms to run their "If you enjoyed that, you might like this..." suggestion engines, but these are still crude instruments. Practically any novel you plug into Amazon's search engines at the moment returns the robotic announcement that people who bought it also bought one of Stieg Larsson's "Girl" thrillers — because seemingly everybody in America is buying those books. It's not like you need the world's most sophisticate e-commerce servers to tell you that. Recognizing that book recommendation may as yet defy science, a couple of literary types are currently offering artisanal advice.' More...

Meanwhile, the whole business of recommendations comes up a different way in this month's issue of Wired, which, unfortunately, isn't online yet. Then again, I read it in a real magazine and so could you! What a concept. Anyhow, the article discusses in length the engines of recommendation based on known data. It's a tough business, overall, and a fascinating one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle interviewed on film

This is simply fantastic. Open Culture brings us some rare footage of Sir Arthur talking about, first, Sherlock Holmes, and second, his thoughts on the paranormal, for which he was quite the, well, sucker.

In their own voices

Open Culture has put together a fine collection of authors reading their own work, or in a few cases, great works read by great actors. Joyce, Huxley, Capote, etc., to name a few. Link.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

P.D. James interviewed

Both in print and in a video. And she is a wonder. 'James will be 90 on August 3 and, as she sits like a small attentive bird in her sage green drawing room in Holland Park, surrounded by her bookcases, rubber plants and photographs of family and friends, you would not guess that she was approaching this grand old age. She never hesitates or has to search her memory for a word. Though she does have an elegantly handled walking stick by her side, she doesn’t appear to need it. And, as I discovered when I tried to find a free July morning in her diary, she is still an active member of the House of Lords, still writes books and still gives lectures, her next one being on a cruise to New York in the Queen Mary 2.' More...

Woody Allen on audiobooks

Woody Allen has committed some of his work to audiobooks. As an admitted luddite, he has interesting things to say about the process. 'The discovery I made was that any number of stories are really meant to work, and only work, in the mind’s ear and hearing them out loud diminishes their effectiveness...There is no substitute for reading, and there never will be. Hearing something aloud is its own experience, but it’s hard to beat sitting in bed or in a comfortable chair turning the pages of a book, putting it down, and eagerly awaiting the chance to get back to it.' More...

For the record, I agree and disagree. I love reading books, but with over an hour a day in my car commuting, I also love listening to a good performance of a good audiobook. In other words, you can have both.

Poems for kids

'As the most bodily of literary forms, poetry appeals to children. It also has a certain appeal for adults who read to children. For one thing, good writing in verse helps make one a more amusing or engaging reader vocally: The rhythms effectively coach us to read aloud well. Such bodily appeal should not entail hamminess or indicate intellectual or moral condescension; good verses don't need to be artificially sweetened.' Poetry editor Robert Pinsky at Slate gives us some good examples of what he's talking about, both written and spoken: Link.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not every writing contest is a great idea

I guess this sounded good on paper... 'A short-story competition to celebrate the works of HG Wells has failed to attract a single entry – despite the £1,000 prize. Budding young writers were invited to send their short stories creating a picture of contemporary life in Kent, to Reg Turnill, a former BBC aerospace correspondent who as a young reporter interviewed Wells. But due to what Mr Turnill now believes were over-strict rules, he has had to change the entry conditions. The 94-year-old said: “I wanted people to write the stories by hand as a condition of entry to address the low standard of literacy and handwriting these days.' And if that wasn't enough, the stories couldn't be science fiction! More...  Via.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not as bad as it sounds

The Great Gatsby video game, that is, via HuffPo. We had initially hoped someone was making this stuff up, but I think it's true. But the details make it sound a little less specious than one might suspect. 'Fans of the Dante's Inferno game may be disappointed to learn that Gatsby is a "hidden object" game and not a hack-and-slash action-fest. I was really hoping we'd get the chance to impale people on one of those canes that goes with top hats.' More...

Online literary magazine

It isn't easy being a book publisher these days, what with ebooks and the internet and every other modern plague against the printed word. So, each publisher tries to solve the problem its own way. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux has launched a literary magazine online. Take a look. Via.

Friday, July 16, 2010

One of today's best SF writers is Jules Verne?

In a review from B&N of a new translation, we learn a lot about Verne's rebirth. "Few people some twenty years ago...would have predicted that in the early twenty-first century some of the most entertaining and deftly rendered science fiction being currently published would derive from the pen of a Frenchman dead for a century, whose legacy had long been set in cement as amounting to nothing more than ham-handed adventure novels for juveniles. And yet at that distant time, the re-discovery of this Gallic genius was actually well underway, and today his stature is almost completely restored to its former glory." More...

Take a break

And now for something completely different. From HuffPo, a set of funny library videos. Really. My favorite is Ghostbusters.

Sherlock Rules!

Or at least he rules the Kindle bookstore, where he's the number one free mystery—I can't argue with free.

From the Me and My Kindle blog, an appreciation: 'My brother wouldn’t give up control of his book. He hid it in his room which was, of course, completely off limits to his little sister. I am now able to confess this crime — I went into the forbidden room, found the concealed Sherlock Holmes collection — and pilfered it! Luckily for me, he didn’t want the book, just control over it, so I read through the entire collection without him knowing it was gone. What joy!' More...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Faulkner lectures online

Via NPR, University of Virginia lectures from William Faulkner from the late '50s. It's amazing what's available to us these days!

On Shirley Jackson

The Library of America has recently released a collection of Jackson's work, and Salon has a good appreciation. 'Jackson told interviewers that "The Lottery," which depicts the lead-up to a sacrificial stoning, was based on her experiences living in the small New England town of North Bennington, Vt., where her husband took a job at Bennington College. Asked what the story was about, she replied "anti-Semitism"...To judge by her fiction, she regarded most people as reflexively vain, petty and censorious -- and she'd never even been on the Internet! Humanity did not disappoint her expectations. Of the hundreds of letters she received about "The Lottery," she found that at first "people were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch." ' More...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bookcases you can live in

Well, you do need 5 stories of height in your house for this, but you've got to love bookcases like these.

Ebooks and Ebert

I'm beginning to sort out in my mind the place for electronic reading. Since lots of manuscripts are submitted electronically, it's not as if I have any choice in doing at least some e-reading, but I have to admit, I don't mind it at all. Still, I've got enough physical books at home to sink the proverbial battleship, and many of them I haven't read yet, or intend to reread. Meanwhile, any two of them is about the same heft as my iPad, which can hold, I don't know, a gazillion books. So obviously e-reading is the ticket for travel, where you can handily bring the whole library. Other than that? My personal jury is still out. Reading articles like this one, on Roger Ebert's love of physical books, makes thinking about it that much more interesting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Put on your writing shoes

Maybe you've been waiting for this: a new line of shoes inspired by Ernest Hemingway. The author's son, Patrick, has bought a pair. 'Patrick chose the black and brown moccasin-style loafers while his grandson Steven chose a pair of black moccasin "driving shoes." "I love that you can wear these without socks. I hate socks. Hemingway hated socks too. Socks meant that summer was over and you were going back to school," Patrick said.' More...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Art and literature quizzes

Link. I did, well, okay... I should have remembered Long John Silver's parrot.

Thriller awards for 2010

They include an award as "ThrillerMaster" for Ken Follett. List.

Book videos

If you haven't noticed, YouTube is awash with videos from authors and publishers in the act of selling books. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not; I've certainly enjoyed a couple of videos, but I haven't felt compelled to watch a lot of them. The NY Times has a good article on the phenomenon: 'In the streaming video era, with the publishing industry under relentless threat, the trailer is fast becoming an essential component of online marketing. Asked to draw on often nonexistent acting skills, authors are holding forth for anything from 30 seconds to 6 minutes, frequently to the tune of stock guitar strumming, soulful violin or klezmer music. And now, those who once worried about no one reading their books can worry about no one watching their trailers.' More...

Speaking of Mark Twain: the autobiography

There are some nice new details in the NY Times on the unexpurgated Twain autobiography, volume one of which will be published this coming November. Here's why it's new: 'Versions of the autobiography have been published before, in 1924, 1940 and 1959. But the original editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, was a stickler for propriety, cutting entire sections he thought offensive; his successors imposed a chronological cradle-to-grave narrative that Twain had specifically rejected, altered his distinctive punctuation, struck additional material they considered uninteresting and generally bowed to the desire of Twain’s daughter Clara, who died in 1962, to protect her father’s image.' From now on, Mr. Clemens will speak for himself!

Mark Twain on interviews

In print for the first time, this is a little gem. 'Yes, you are afraid of the interviewer, and that is not an inspiration. You close your shell; you put yourself on your guard; you try to be colorless; you try to be crafty, and talk all around a matter without saying anything: and when you see it in print, it makes you sick to see how well you succeeded.' You can read the interview as handwritten by Twain, or you can follow the transcript, on the PBS NewsHour site.

Friday, July 9, 2010

All about Scout

At HuffPo, Anna Quindlen talks about why she loves To Kill a Mockingbird. And it's all about Scout. 'I've realized over the years that I have a completely different orientation toward the book than most people do, because at some essential level early on, and even as I got older, I don't really give a rip about Atticus. I mean, he is fine and he is a terrific dad and he does a wonderful thing, and so on and so forth. But for me, this book is all about Scout. And I don't really care about anybody else in the book that much, except to the extent that they are nice to Scout and make life easier for Scout.' More...

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Interesting blog posting on the old Fu-Manchu series by Sax Rohmer. 'Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (writing under the much more sexy name of Sax Rohmer) created the character of the evil Dr. Fu-Manchu. Sax belonged to the Golden Dawn, a real-life mystical society that combined Masonic rituals with ancient Egyptian Rosacrucion mysticism, along with other ancient mystical writings. Their first temple, which had opened in London in 1888, drew in the young writer and influenced his choice of a pen name — and the first Fu-Manchu stories, which almost drip with mysterious dangers from the Orient.' (Via)

Okay, it's hot out

Everybody is blogging about how hot it is, or tweeting about it, and quite honestly, none of them have made me the least bit less hot. I can't figure that out. Anyhow, if you're going to talk about the heat, why not get literary about it? The NY Times digs deep to point us to an old literary quiz. Give it a try.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Favorite book = David Copperfield

If I have to list favorite books, I inevitably include David Copperfield, often at the top. Author Gaynor Arnold has some nice things to say in agreement. (Time to add it to my iBooks, I think. It's been a while.)

Fame is not its own reward

There are some authors who have chosen not to seek the limelight, as we read at 'Proust, who soundproofed his studio with cork walls and installed layers of heavy curtains to keep the light out, would stay up for days on end working on his 3,200-page masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time. When greeting guests, he was often unsure of whether it was day or night. As his writer friend Leon-Paul Fargue described him at the time: “He looked like a man who no longer lives outdoors or by day, a hermit who hasn’t emerged from his oak tree for a long time.” ' More...

Friday, July 2, 2010

NRO's reading list, part two


Audiobooks for kids

I love audiobooks. Always have. When my daughter was young, whenever we went any distance in the car we used to listen to what was literally then books on tape. Things have changed since those dark ages, and in audiobooks, they've gotten better. Salon (via HuffPo) gives a good list of titles for today's kids, however they listen to them. (There's some other good kid book features lower down on the page.)

Top ten rare books

This makes for very interesting reading, from HowStuffWorks. I like the notes on the Poe book myself, a copy of which recently sold for over $600,000. 'What makes "Tamerlane" really exciting for the average book collector is that, for some reason, Poe wanted it published anonymously. The cover lists the author simply as, "a Bostonian." That makes it possible that someone acquired a previously unknown copy from a relative without realizing what it was, or sold it to a used bookstore that also failed to recognize its value. In other words, there just may be a copy of this rare work sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere with a sign that reads, "All Books $1," waiting for someone to find it.'

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night. Again.

"The dark, drafty old house was lopsided and decrepit, leaning in on itself, the way an aging possum carrying a very heavy, overcooked drumstick in his mouth might list to one side if he were also favoring a torn Achilles tendon, assuming possums have them."

Ah, yes. The annual Bulwer-Lytton awards for (deliberately) bad opening sentences are upon us. Or, as the Sherlock Holmes entry would have it, “Arm yourself, Watson, there is an evil hand afoot ahead."

A really classy summer reading list

This list is from the National Review Online, and it's both hip and smart. Here's a sample, from Orson Scott Card, who recommends audiobooks: "Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (Simon Vance, unabridged): There’s a reason why Charles Dickens was the most popular and beloved author in the world, and this book shows it. Long as it is, you’ll be sorry when it’s over -- but be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster it takes you on!"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's time for a costume change

Every book can't be Tolstoy, you know. And even if you don't care about reading Wonder Woman, who doesn't care about what she looks like? The new writer of the series has this to say: “She’s been locked into pretty much the exact same outfit since her debut in 1941...If you’re going to make a statement about bringing Wonder Woman into the 21st century, you need to be bold and you need to make it visual. I wanted to toughen her up, and give her a modern sensibility.” He added, “What woman only wears only one outfit for 60-plus years?” More...

The steamy side of Emily Dickinson

The steamy side? The woman hardly ever left the house! But get this: "Several times a week, during the last two years of Emily Dickinson's life, a weird and symbolic drama would play itself out in the old Dickinson family house, the Homestead. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the poet's brother, Austin—a married father of three, a pillar of Amherst society, and the treasurer of Amherst College—would leave his house next door, ostensibly to pay a call on Emily and his other sister, Lavinia. In fact, he came to meet Mabel Loomis Todd, the seductive young wife of the Amherst College astronomer David Todd." Mabel and Austin were going at it hot and heavy downstairs while Emily was upstairs—and guess who ended up publishing Emily's poetry. Yep. Mabel. It's quite a story, outlined in a review on Slate. I didn't know any of this!

Nice offer on Audible

I heard about this on the This Week in Tech podcast (our operation here has no connections with Audible, so this isn't a sales pitch or anything). For the next few days, you can get a free audiobook provided you're not already a member. Check it out: I just grabbed The Life of Pi, which I've never read and everyone raves about (both as a read and as a listen). Since our offices moved recently, and I have a longer commute, I'm pretty sure I'll be signing up for a regular Audible account forthwith. But it's nice, meanwhile, to start with a freebie.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

School libraries

This is scary. "And speaking of school libraries, NPR reported a few days ago that they are increasingly becoming seen as a luxury where school budgets are concerned. Since there are few laws mandating that schools must have libraries, they are beginning to go by the wayside as budgets dwindle." Libraries nowadays are about more than books. Can we afford to let them die out? Here's the whole article: link.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Should stories tell a story?

Neil Gaiman addresses this issue in the introduction to his new anthology, discussed in The Guardian. "What Gaiman alludes to and [Michael] Chabon tackles directly is the genre which we now know as 'literary': the fictional worlds inhabited by people who think a lot and say a lot and feel a lot, but don't actually do very much over the course of the narrative." More...

The world's longest novels

Okay, this being Select Editions, maybe we don't understand the meaning of the words "long novel," but's list is still interesting to us. "We have selected 15 of the best single volume behemoths - all true monsters of literature that could be judged on their weight alone. It is possible to find longer novels but we thought it would be unkind to recommend L Ron Hubbard books or horrendously lengthy self-published beasts. Those readers lacking stamina can look away now." More...

By the way, we were linked to this via John Williams's The Second Pass, which we quote: "Atlas Shrugged is probably the longest novel I’ve ever read. And boy, did it feel like it."