Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Our new link - Updated 8/16/11

We are now the Books & Entertainment blog on rd.com. Same great taste, fewer calories (or something like that).

Keep up with our Select Editions selections at this link.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We're moving!

We're moving this blog to a new site; we'll publish the URL as soon as it's set. Meanwhile, we'll continue to update the ongoing list of Select Editions titles at this link.

Thanks for your support. We're not going to change much, other than our address.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thoughts from a literary agent

Andrew Wylie has ruffled a few feathers recently, battling with publishers over digital book rights. You could say he's at the forefront of whatever we're doing in the future, but he's also a solid representative of quality publishing. So the thoughts he shared with Daniel Gross at WSJ.com are worth thinking about.

"So the business we're in is to identify and capture and anticipate the value of books that are inherently classics, future classics. If publishers did the same there would be less of the wild weekend in Las Vegas approach to acquisition that distinguishes the industry and its decline.... We try to avoid people who can't write. You can usually spot them from the first sentence, or from the cover letter. It's a little like sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall and watching someone walk up to a piano. If you're trained, you can tell the difference between someone who knows how to play and someone who doesn't. Of course, sometimes you want to work with people who have a significant achievement, which is not writing, and so that usually requires closer editing, and ghostwriting. Heads of state are not always the best writers."

Read the article, Andrew Wylie: The superagent on upholding great literature in an e-reading world.

Marilyn Monroe would be 85 today

Eighty-five years ago on June 1, Norma Jeane Mortenson was born. Also known as Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe. And Mrs. Joe DiMaggio. And Mrs. Arthur Miller. Our fascination with her did not end with her death in 1962. If anything, it became more intense, and even today, consciously or unconsciously, she is a career and role model for many performers and a person of interest to the general public.

We offer two clips that capture her essence. First, you can watch a short scene from "Some Like it Hot" at YouTube where she meets her new friends Daphne and Josephine (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis). And right here you can watch what is perhaps her most emblematic performance, singing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend." The human set design is more than a little bizarre, proving that there is nothing new under the sun with those modern day Marilyn wannabes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Aldous Huxley children's book

The Crows of Pearblossom, written in 1944, has been out of print for years. Now republished with new illustrations by Sophie Blackall, it gets a great reading from Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon from NPR.

Eddie Van Halen in the Smithsonian

Well, Eddie himself isn't in the Smithsonian, but his custom-made guitar Frankenstein 2 is now there. In an interview with Beth Py-Lieberman in Smithsonian Magazine, Van Halen talks about his guitar experimentations, and also a little bit about his playing, including one of his favorite collaborations, on "Beat It."

"Quincy Jones called me up and asked me to play on it. When I got there it took me 15 minutes to rearrange the song and I played 2 solos and told them they could pick the one they liked best. Then Michael walked in and said wow! I really like that high fast stuff you do. It was a lot of fun to do. It's crazy that something could take such a short amount of time and can grow into something beyond anything you could ever imagine."

Read Q and A with Eddie Van Halen.

How to review books

We review books all the time, but only for our own Select Editions series, so what we're concerned with is simply whether we think the book is right to be one of our 24 a year. We don't have to write up much except a note on why we recommend a book or not, and it's only among ourselves, so it doesn't have to be picture perfect. But how do actual reviewers do it? A couple of them are interviewed in The Guardian. Linda Buckley-Archer's approach sounds like the best way to handle any writing:

"Writing reviews is like baking bread. You add the yeast to the flour and let the dough rise. Then you give it a jolly good kneading and let it rise some more and only then do you bake it. Personally, I leave at least a day between finishing the book and starting the review. Then, once I've written it, I have to leave it another day and look at what I've written with fresh eyes. I always want to change something—make something clearer, tighten it up, add something..."

Read How do I write a book review?

Walt Whitman was born on this day in 1819

We have a mall named after him on Long Island, and a rest stop named after him on the New Jersey Turnpike. If you're really serious about him, check out The Walt Whitman Archive, where they even have a purported recording of his voice. And if you just wish you had read him, and always meant to, and maybe even keep a copy of Leaves of Grass by the bed, we offer this.

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Audie Awards 2011

With a 45 minute commute in each direction, I have become a fanatic about audiobooks. It doesn't take long to devour one and go on to the next. So it's nice to have a list like this of award winners, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. The big winner was Life by Keith Richards, narrated by Johnny Depp, Joe Hurley and Richards himself. I've listened to it, and I can't argue with its winning status: I've recommended it to everyone I know.

For all the winners (and nominees) in a long list of categories, check out The Audie Awards 2011.

Summer reading guide

I really like the way the L.A. Times has done this. You move your mouse around over a display of book covers and you get synopses of them popping out at you. Clever and simple. And there's plenty of categories, including kids and audio books.

Check it out: The reading season is heating up

The Eurovision Song Contest

A lot of people in the US have just finished watching "American Idol." In fact, the show had a big bump in the ratings this year. I've seen numbers like 20 million a night. Which is chickenfeed, when you compare it to the hundreds of millions watching Eurovision Song Contest. And if you've never seen any Eurovision, you don't know what you're missing (although in some cases you are also extremely lucky).

The way it works is that every member country of the European Broadcasting Union submits a song, on which the other countries vote. Abba won for Sweden in '74, and Celine Dion won for Switzerland in '88 (which means that either Canada is in Switzerland or else one need not be from the submitting country), and the nature of the songs is that sort of mainstream pop (with a lot of them in English). The Irish entry below is fairly typical:

One of my favorites this year is from Moldova. Well, I like their hats, anyhow. Like a lot of the official videos, this one opens with a little travelogue:

I honestly do like this one from Italy. Rather catchy:

And the winner is Azerbaijan. They're not bad at all, but I think they'd be better in Moldavian hats.

Remembering Mel Blanc

On May 30, 1908, Mel Blanc came into the world. He brought with him Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble, Jack Benny's Maxwell automobile—The list is seemingly endless.

There are plenty of videos out there celebrating Blanc or unreeling his characters, but this one was one of the most detailed and one of the longest. The recording quality isn't great, but the content makes up for it. What amazes me is how quickly Blanc can go completely into voice character. We know he can do all those voices, but look how effortless it seems.

Happy birthday, Mel!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The linotype machine

Invented in 1886, by 1954 there were 100,000 linotype machines in operation. Their name supplies their function: they can take a "line of type" and transfer it from a keyboard to the page. Or more to the point, a lot of pages, once you throw in a little hot metal (to make the type) and figure out how to fold the resulting pieces of paper. Apparently the life of a typesetter was a very romantic one, as these craftsmen roamed from town to town, living the good life, and apparently tippling whenever the opportunity presented itself. But let's face it. They were at the front lines of information technology. John Hendel captures their world at The Atlantic:

"Linotype machines powered newspapers, factories, a whole industry that was as American as any and existed for a century, at least until the tides of technology wiped it out as an occupation in the 1960s and 1970s -- and now, Linotype is nearly extinguished from American memory. Yet Thomas Edison, it's said, called the machine the Eighth Wonder of the World (no faint praise from the man who invented the light bulb)... Before its invention and implementation, no newspaper could easily run longer than a few brief pages, and this new way of producing text marked a radical evolution in the history of printing and typography. Linotype dominated for nearly a hundred years."

Read Celebrating Linotype, 125 Years Since Its Debut

A good look at the music industry

We hear this all the time: the poor music industry is being put out of business by all those pirates out there stealing music. When the music industry went to court to sue the Limewire music sharing site, the figure they cited for the money owed to them was in the neighborhood of 75 trillion dollars. Trillion dollars. They were laughed out of court, but that has hardly stopped them from complaining and defending their position. An article on The Quietus by Wyndham Wallace talks about a different side of the changing music economy, and how it affects those affected the most: the musicians.

"Touring's where the money is, the mantra goes, and that's the best way to sell merchandise too. But this is a similarly hollow promise. For starters, the sheer volume of artists now touring has saturated the market. Ticket prices have gone through the roof for established acts, while those starting out are competing for shows, splitting audiences spoilt for choice, driving down fees paid by promoters nervous about attendance figures. There's also a finite amount of money that can be spent by most music fans, so if they're coughing up huge wads of cash for stadium acts then that's less money available to spend on developing artists. And for every extra show that a reputable artist takes on in order to make up his losses, that's one show less that a new name might have won."

Read How The Music Industry Is Killing Music And Blaming The Fans

Source: TheQuietus.com

The James Bond authors

Yesterday we celebrated Ian Fleming's birthday. He created James Bond, but that was really only the beginning. Jeffery Deaver has just published a new installment in the series, and there were four other authors who tried their hand at 007 in print between the two. In a way, one can pick one's favorite author of Bond the same way one can pick one's favorite portrayer of Bond. (Me, I'm a traditionalist, a Connery man all the way.) As for the books, The Telegraph outlines who wrote what, and how.

Read: James Bond authors.

Happy Birthday, Bob Hope

May 29, 1903, was the day Leslie Townes Hope was born in Eltham, England. His family moved to Cleveland about five years later. Young Bob started as a street performer at age 12, eventually branching out into vaudeville, legitimate theater, radio, movies, television, and armed forces venues around the world.

His signature theme song was "Thanks for the Memory." He introduced it in "The Big Broadcast of 1938" as half of a formerly married couple who run into each other and reminisce fondly. It should be seen in its original incarnation as a reminder of what a great song it is. No wonder Hope hung on to it for the rest of his life!

Of course, all those years prior to Hollywood doing whatever the audiences wanted made him more than just an actor. In "The Seven Little Foys," he and another former song-and-dance man get to show their stuff.

There's plenty more to Bob Hope, but perhaps the most important thing he did was his shows for the troops. And perhaps that is what he is best remembered for.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jennifer Egan and the Goodreads Book Club

If you're unfamiliar with Goodreads, a social site for dedicated readers, this may be the perfect time to find out about them. This summer they are launching a book club, where folks will read Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and then participate in all sorts of fun challenges, topped off with a live chat with the author herself. The video from Egan inviting folks to join up is very appealing; who can resist an author who cites the influence of Iggy Pop?

Read: Introducing the Goodreads Book Club.

Ten top short stories of all time

Flavorwire is one of those great sites that is always worth taking a look at. And this list, which they solicited from the One Story folks, is a worthy conclusion to May and National Short Story Month. The names on the list include Salinger, O'Connor and Joyce, some other famous folk and some less famous folk. There's information on each story, and links to click if you're interested in reading the stories for yourself. If you'd like some classy short fiction, it's worth taking a look.

Read: ‘One Story’ Names the Top 10 Short Stories of All Time

How to Succeed after Harry Potter

Daniel Radcliffe is on Broadway these days. If you can watch this ensemble clip of "The Brotherhood of Man" without tapping a foot or two, there's something wrong with your feet.

"Fleming. Ian Fleming."

Ian Fleming was born on May 28, 1908. An intelligence officer in WWII, he introduced James Bond to the world in Casino Royale in 1953. Bond, like his creator, was also in the intelligence business, but unlike his creator, he had a license to kill, denoted by the double 0s in his code number, 007. But, of course, you know all that already.

The Bond books had a slow start in the US. It took a recommendation from then President John Kennedy to make the books bestsellers in the States. Around that time the first Bond film, Dr. No, came out, starting a series that continues to this day (Sony has recently signed up for the next installment).

There's an abundance of Fleming/Bond material on the internet. There's an offical site for Fleming that is as good a place as any to start feasting on all that material, from films to tv shows to books to rumors to parodies to you-name-it. I wish there was more Fleming video, though. This little teaser below really convinces me that, if he were an actor, he could have played the Bond part as well as anyone. And he was right not to go with Peregrine Corruthers!

Friday, May 27, 2011

A meeting with Miles Davis

This is just such good journalism. Jim Fusilli over at WSJ's Speakeasy talks about an interview he had back in the early 80s with the notoriously testy Miles Davis.

"Overly prepared and properly terrified – I was well aware Davis could be contentious – I turned up at least a half hour early for the interview, and then said nothing as Davis, fresh from swimming for exercise, walked past me. I didn’t know what to do – what’s the protocol when you’re dealing with a legend? Finally, a publicist arrived to introduce me. I was quaking when Davis and I shook hands."

Read My Terrifyingly Gracious Meeting With Miles Davis.

Ringo talks

I can't remember seeing anything like this, an extended interview with Ringo Starr. Cole Moreton of the Mail Online gets to perform the honors, kicking off with Ringo looking at a photo of his young Beatle self and saying, "We didn’t know what was ahead of us. You never do. We didn’t think it would last."

This one's a keeper.

"The career of Richard Starkey, born in 1940, would have been very different if the boy had listened to his family. Having made his first drum kit out of biscuit tins and bits of firewood at the age of 13, he faced a huge decision in the summer of 1960. ‘I was working in a factory, for Henry Hunt and Sons, a light engineering company. I was an apprentice engineer, which was very big news in our family. But I was also playing with Rory and The Hurricanes, and we got the offer of a three-month gig in Butlin’s at Skegness and Pwllheli, so we had to give up our jobs. All my uncles and aunties came over to try and tell me that drumming was OK as a hobby. I had to stand there and defend myself. I said, “No, I’m a drummer, I’m off.” That’s a Sliding Doors moment. Some decisions are good.’ "

Read 'Paul likes to think he's the only remaining Beatle': Ringo Starr on why the world's most famous band was lucky to have him

Egypt in the early 1900s

This series of photographs is fascinating. They're roughly a hundred years old, but for the most part, they could be a thousand years old. They're lantern slides, explained by Maria Popova at Brainpickings: "The lantern slide — a transparent image on glass that was magnified and projected onto a surface using a sciopticon 'magic lantern' — came of age shortly after it was first introduced by Philadelphia daguerreotypists William and Frederick Langenheim in 1849. The lantern slide greatly broadened the audience for photography, then still a young art, introducing it into academia and the cultural institutions of the day by allowing teachers and museum curators to illustrate their lectures and presentations with projected images."

View the photographs at Egypt in the Early 1900s: Rare Vintage Lantern Slides.

Steve Earle live

NPR performs such a great service, giving us performers doing their stuff live, making it available on the internet. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Steve Earle fan, so I had no trouble putting this one on and blasting it through the office. You can do likewise: go to Steve Earle On World Cafe. Just warn your officemates first.

Dashiell Hammett

"I've been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of."

The great hardboiled author, a former Pinkerton himself, was born on May 27, 1894. His glory days were the '20s and '30s; his last novel, The Thin Man, was published in 1934, although he lived until 1961, often in poor health. There's a lot of myth surrounding Hammett, especially his relationship with Lillian Hellman. And he refused to name names in the red-hunting 1950s, and spent time in jail for it. What survives is the books, and the wonderful characters. You can get a full biography of Hammett at Thrilling Detective.

Hammett only wrote the one Thin Man novel, but it was the basis for a successful film series and, later, a television series. Word is that Johnny Depp is going to take on the role of Nick in an upcoming remake; no Nora has yet been cast.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

China Miéville

We've covered Miéville before. He's absolutely at the cutting edge of modern science fiction, and he's also very good. So why not keep up with him?

Justin Jordans write in The Guardian: "Miéville's passions crystallised early on: 'Ever since I was two, I've loved octopuses, monsters, abandoned buildings . . . One gets asked, if you're into the sort of thing I'm into, how did you get into it, and my response is always: how did you get out of it? You look at a class of six-year-olds, they're all reading about witches and aliens and spaceships and magic spells.' "

Read A life in writing: China Miéville.

Oprah sold books

Oprah Winfrey, now retired from the daily broadcast TV grind, has pretty much dominated the airwaves for the last few weeks. Her exit from the scene has been examined from every direction, and as we saw recently, not only is she the second most powerful celebrity out there (Lady Gaga, for the moment, has her beat), she is also one of the few to also be on the list of billionaires (take that, Gaga).

Over the years, one of the most talked about features of Oprah's show was her bookclub. She touted some famous books, and she discovered some far from famous books. So how did those books do with the readers? Were they bestsellers? The numbers are pretty convincing. Over 3,000,000 Eckhart Tolles, well over 2,000,000 James Freys, 1,300,000 or so John Steinbecks. And the list goes on. These are serious sales. Some books, as this article on the Nielsen blog shows, were absolutely made by Ms. Winfrey. It makes for interesting reading. Publishers, and writers, are going to miss her.

Read The Oprah Effect: Closing the Book on Oprah’s Book Club.

King Lear? An impossible play!

Is King Lear a play that can't be performed? It does have its problems, and according to Slate's Jessica Winter, those problems can be murder. As a matter of fact, in the 17th Century a rewrite was published that dominated the stage for over a century or so, where Edgar and Cordelia get married and live happily ever after, as does Lear himself. In this Slate article, Winter puts together a more perfect Lear comprising a piece of this one and a piece of that one. It's fun to watch the different versions, as you might expect. And you can draw your own conclusions about whether anyone will ever get it right all at the same time.

And let's face it. As Winter says, it doesn't sound promising:

"Nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb declared that staging Lear 'has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting,' concluding, 'The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted.' Nearly two centuries later, Harold Bloom concurred: 'You shouldn't even go and see somebody try and act the part,' the scholar said, 'because it's unactable… I've never seen a Lear that worked.' Beginning with a vain, irrational king rejecting both his favorite child and his most faithful servant on a whim, ending with a mad, uncrowned derelict dying of a broken heart—with a detour wherein another foolish old man's eyes are gouged out—King Lear is a shocking spectacle of two families eating themselves alive."

Read Winter's quest to build the perfect production of Lear, The King and I.

John Wayne

Marion Robert Morrison was born on May 26, 1907. The Duke was playing secondary roles and doing low-budget work when his role as The Ringo Kid in John Ford's Stagecoach made him a star in 1939. How can you tell a star is born? Just look at this on-screen entrance (from a French clip of the film).

For many people, especially the cineasts of the 60s and 70s, the definitive John Wayne picture is The Searchers. The ending is absolutely iconic, with the lone character of Ethan framed in the doorway as all about him go off to their families. (He's holding his elbow in his hand that way to echo the stance of his old friend Harry Carey).

There's something about Wayne's simple presence that does the job by the time The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence came along. Even evil old Lee Marvin is wary of taking him on.

Probably the only time you'll see John Wayne cry? Watch him accept his Academy Award for True Grit. What a class act!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paper art

Okay, it's not books, it's just paper. But we'll stretch a point for these gorgeous works of art.

Paper, Naturally: 48 Gorgeous Works of Paper Art

14 (More!) Masters of Incredibly Intricate Paper Art

Philip Roth

There's been plenty of controversy about the Man Booker Prize winner, but that's neither here nor there. Or more to the point, you can make up your own controversy if you want. Meanwhile, if you follow Roth, this long-form interview is for you. He talks about his books from his own point of view.

Invitation to World Literature

That sounds a little forbidding, like an introductory lit class you can't wait to skip, but this is a great, eclectic series. Put together by the Annenberg Foundation, it covers 13 different books from all over the globe and all over history. Things Fall Apart, The Odyssey, The God of Small Things—it's that kind of mix. We went to the One Hundred Years of Solitude page and there was a video, maps, a Spanish glossary, a timeline of the settlement of South America, critical analysis, you name it.

The introduction says, "This multimedia series, Invitation to World Literature, offers you a passport to this rich heritage via thirteen works from a range of eras, places, cultures, languages, and traditions. These are books that we hope spark your interest, or satisfy long-standing curiosity about things you wished you had read, or introduce works that are new to you, opening up a world of connections and experiences."

You can get lost on this site: Invitation to World Literature.

Bill Robinson

AKA Bill Bojangles Robinson, born on May 25, 1878. First, a deleted scene [sigh] which shows him as he is best remembered: suave, sophisticated, and amazingly musical. But old Hollywood was hardly a racially enlightened environment, and most of the preserved clips of Robinson show him as anything but urbane and cool. But the cool cuts to the core, and it shows even when he's working with his most popular partner, Shirley Temple. She's cute, but he's astounding. In the solo section he is all over those stairs, and note that he makes all the music himself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Oxford University Press interviews the editor of a new edition of Dracula, Roger Luckhurst. What did the Victorians think about blood? What were the vampires like before Bram Stoker? What's the relationship of Stoker and Oscar Wilde? It's interesting material, with written questions and recorded answers, and a nice adjunct to reading the book on some upcoming dark, stormy night.

Check out Dracula: an audio guide.

The "American Idol" of opera

It begins with 1200 aspiring opera singers and narrows down to eight finalists performing at a concert at the Metropolitan Opera. Let's face it: becoming a professional opera singer is an unlikely goal. There's only so many opera companies, and you've got to be not just good, but great. You have to bring down cries of bravo from the rafters. You've practically got to become a legend.

This article in the New York Times Magazine tells the story of the national competition, narrowing down all those singers to a select few. There's a great video attached to it. Author Daniel Bergner tells the stories of all the competitors, including the charismatic Ryan Green:

"Ryan Speedo Green stands almost six-foot-five and weighs 300 pounds and wears size 17 shoes, and on a Sunday afternoon in March he was running in place and doing jumping jacks as he waited in the wings of the Metropolitan Opera for his turn to sing. It was the semifinals of the most important operatic voice competition in America, and Ryan was seized by such anxiety that he felt his massive body vanishing. Seventeen of the 22 singers left in the contest had gone before him; to his ears their performances were spectacular. He was fighting off the feeling that he didn’t belong here."

Read Sing for Your Life.


A propos of nothing, except that we love Pixar, a short video tribute.


5/24/41 - Bob Dylan is born in Minnesota. Twenty years later he drops out of college and heads for New York. He becomes famous.

Take your pick of celebratory video by period: fairly young, or fairly old, "Tangled Up in Blue" or "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." It's all Dylan.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Frederick Forsyth

The Day of the Jackal was a phenomenal breakthrough book when it was published in 1971, and it began the career of Frederick Forsyth with quite a bang. It was not a predictable success. After all, everyone reading the book knew that its unnamed hero, the Jackal, was not going to succeed in his attempt to assassinate Charles De Gaulle. But readers were undeterred (as were moviegoers in 1973). As for Forsyth, more bestsellers followed, and he's still at it.

Helen Brown talked with Forsyth about Jackal, and the rest of the author's career, in The Telegraph.

"If the terrorists really wanted the job done, Forsyth figured, they should hire an outsider: a professional hit man with no ties to them and no file with the French police. The thought simmered away. 'I would come back to it in airport lounges,' he says, 'but I never thought I’d do anything with it.... When I left the RAF in my early twenties all I wanted to do was travel, which is what motivated me to go into journalism. I just saw writing a novel – stupidly – as a way of making a bit of money. A means to get me out of a jam.' ”

Read Frederick Forsyth: 'I had expected women to hate him. But no...’

Best books for babies

We firmly believe (and the numbers back us on this) that reading when you're young leads to a lifetime of benefits. Best Books for Babies goes right to the beginning, and provides an annual list of great books for infants through 18-months, an age group not so easy to find books for.

The list for 2011 is available at Welcome to Best Books for Babies 2011.

Star Tours, Episode Two

If you're a part of the Disneysphere on the internet, or part of the Star Wars universe, you are well aware of where these two intersect, at the Star Tours ride at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The fans have been holding their breath for months waiting for the update. For everyone else, you've probably heard mumblings about it off in the corner. Whereas the old ride, built in 1987 (yeah, it's that old), had one trip, the new ride mixes and matches possibilities, so you never know where you'll end up. Early fan response has been strong (except, I gather, when riders run into Jar Jar Binks).

Anthony Daniels, the host for the ride in his role as 3-CPO, explains in the L.A. Times:

"It is beyond inventive,” Daniels said. “You’re going to much love it, and you’re going to much love it 54 times. You may never see all of it. It’s completely random. So you may see the same thing three times or you may have three different [ride sequences]. So there’s this extraordinary sort of slot machine effect, isn’t there? You don’t know what’s going to come up in the rows in those windows. It could be triple cherry. Each ride is gorgeous within in its own light. You will go back more than once.”

There's a great slide show, and good background, in Star Tours: Disneyland brings the Force.

"The King of Hollywood"

That's what he was, in the silent era. His wife Mary Pickford was the queen.

The Mark of Zorro was the movie that made birthday celebrant Douglas Fairbanks (May 23, 1883) into a superstar. The clip below captures not only his famous athleticism—he famously did his own stunts—but also his humor. It's all there on the screen; what's also there is the sort of action that still rules on a Saturday afternoon, provided the popcorn is fresh. Movies have gotten more technologically sophisticated, but they haven't changed much at the core.

For a real trove of Fairbanks material, check out The Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

TV changes the way we talk

It's not just catchphrases, but it does include them. It also includes accents, vulgarity, political correctness (or lack thereof) and, in some cases, improved vocabulary. ("Stop watching TV and go do your homework." "But TV is making me smarter.") We watch a lot—a LOT—of TV, and it has its effect. John Perritano explains it in How Stuff Works:

"Since the average American watches approximately 153 hours of TV every month, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some of what is said on TV has crept into our language [source: Nielson]. Admit it: How many times did you say 'yada, yada, yada' when 'Seinfeld' was all the rage?... It's no secret that TV has had a great influence on popular culture. TV often sets trends in fashion, music and in language. Sometimes TV buzzwords or catchphrases even make it into the dictionary. For example, 'd'oh, Homer Simpson's smack-in-the-head lament, is now part of the Oxford English Dictionary."

What's the total effect? Read 10 Ways Television Has Changed the Way We Talk.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Thus does Dr. Watson describe his roommate, Sherlock Holmes, in their first tale, A Study in Scarlet: "His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments."

Sir A.C. Doyle was born on this date, May 22, in 1859. His signature character was introduced to the world in 1888. Doyle did try to kill him off, tossing him over Reichenbach Falls along with Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem," but pressure from fans forced Doyle to resurrect him. Even after Doyle's death in 1930, Holmes would live on, not only in Doyle's own stories and the movies and other entertainments based on them, but in new adventures written by others. If any fictional character can be said to be immortal, it is Sherlock Holmes.

Fans wanting more should start with the official Doyle site, which goes beyond the famous detective to other aspects of Doyle's life.

The Irish dancing world championships

I've seen the occasional Irish dancer, usually during pledge drives on PBS. But this is something different, an amateur competition that is, for some, the end-all be-all. The film Jig captures last year's competition. According to its Facebook page, release information in the US is forthcoming. Claire Black at Living Scotsman explains:

"The real interest is working out what drives dancers, most of whom train every day, building speed and intricate routines, to excel in a sport where there's no prize money and very little attention outside an almost entirely closed community. Add to that the fact that they wear costumes which make them look something like oversized dolls - patterned short dresses, American tan tights, white ankle socks and huge, bouncing, curly wigs (to be fair, male dancers are more modestly attired in patterned waistcoats and ties with black trousers) - and it gets even more compelling. There's more than a touch of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding about it. 'It's a competition with all that tension," [director Sue] Bourne says. "And they wear funny wigs and funny dresses. It's a world that most of us don't know about and that's always interesting.' "

Read Interview: Sue Bourne - Lady of the dance.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lang Lang

He is, perhaps, the most popular classical musician in the world. He has inspired 40 million Chinese children to take piano lessons. On his website you can buy Lang Lang hats, Lang Lang gloves, Lang Lang shirts, Lang Lang sneakers, Lang Lang USB drives and, I think, Lang Lang's piano (although the link is in Chinese except for the words file not found—maybe somebody already bought it). Is he too popular to be good? Shirley Apthorp quotes him in The Australian:

"In the culture of my childhood, being best was everything. It was the goal that drove us, the motivation that gave life meaning. And if, by chance or fate or the blessings of the generous universe, you were a child in whom talent was evident, Number One became your mantra. It became mine. I never begged my parents to take off the pressure. I accepted it; I even enjoyed it. It was a game, this contest among aspiring pianists, and although I may have been shy, I was bold, even at age five, when faced with a field of rivals."

Meet Lang Lang close up in Piano man.

Great Science Fiction writers

This is a set of short interviews with Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, J.G. Ballard, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., talking about their work and how they got started. Consider Adams talking about where the idea for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came from:

"The actual title came when I was hitchhiking round Europe in 1971. I was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck – I've now told the story so often, I can only remember the story and I can't remember the event any more, so I have to take my own word for it that it's true – I was lying drunk in this field in Innsbruck and I had with me a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe. And it occurred to me as I stared up at the night sky that somebody ought to write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. I think this is largely because I thought that Innsbruck was dull."

Check out Great Voices of Science Fiction.

University of Chicago library

In all the talk about failing libraries, it's nice to report one that isn't failing. As a matter of fact, it's just finishing being built, and should be operational next year. You order a book, and a robot goes and gets it for you, using state-of-the-art retrieval methods. Cool.

Fats Waller

One never knows, do one....

Thomas Wright Waller was born on May 21, 1904. He was a master of stride piano, with that fantastic left hand never stopping, and the composer of "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose" and a whole slew of others. In addition to his playing, he was an over-the-top performer, mugging continuously and looking like he was having an awful lot of fun. These videos are a little ragged, but this does predate MTV by about fifty years, and they do capture the spirit and the music of the man. Happy Birthday, Fats!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Woody's women

Woody Allen has been making movies for a long time. And as Lynn Hirschberg explains in W Magazine, there's almost always a similar element:

"In nearly every Woody Allen movie, from Bananas to Midnight in Paris, which opened this year’s Cannes film festival, there is a central male character who’s a facsimile of Woody Allen (neurotic, brainy, urban). And, like a sun encircled by planets, Allen surrounds his cinematic twins with a constellation of fascinating, beautiful, and unique women. While the Allen men are consistent and familiar, his female characters are surprising—they defy the industry standard of one-dimensional moms, babes, or best friends."

And what a list of characters it is. Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Mia Farrow, to name a few. Learn how Allen chooses his actresses, and how he deals with them, in Woody’s Women.

School libraries, again

I don't think we can talk about this subject enough. Around our offices we just voted on our local school budgets. Most of them were tight, but most of them passed. It seems to me that if we're not doing our job educating the next generation, we're just not doing our job.

Nora Murphy, a school librarian, writes in the LA Times:

"When I taught seventh-grade English, I saw how critical it was that my students read. Those who loved books and read a lot found school easier and were more successful. I didn't fully understand, though, until a school librarian taught me, that I could help the students who didn't like reading become readers. By reading what my students read, I could learn what they liked and show them how to find other books they would like. I could create lovers of literature... That experience and others like it demonstrated to me that a school librarian performs the toughest, and most crucial, kind of teaching. Seeing it done well inspired me. Ultimately I returned to school to earn a library media services credential and a master's degree. I have never regretted the decision — until now."

For more, read L.A. Unified's librarians on trial.

k.d. lang

Thank you, KCRW/NPR: An intimate k.d. lang concert, to listen to or watch. Her voice is, in a word, amazing. For the details, go to KCRW Presents: k.d. lang.

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Stewart

Just for the heck of it, I thought it might be fun to start the day by noting famous birthdays. May 20, 1908 was the date of James Maitland Stewart's birth. This tribute from TCM is a little old—Stewart died in 1997—but it does capture the man.

Watch the video.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Most powerful celebrities

This will no doubt be all over the internet by the time you read this, but how can you see a list like this and not have thoughts about it? If you click on any of the names on the list, you get more information. It seems that Forbes believes that social reach is more important than money—an arguable premise—which explains why Lady Gaga is #1, but her $90 million salary pales against #2 Oprah (who is also on the billionaire list). Justin Bieber comes in #3, making a meager $53 million a year but, of course, an internet/YouTube star so a high ranker in social. The only top ten person who surprised me was Bon Jovi, #4 in money rank: the eighties must have come back, and I missed it. The first novelist on the list is James Patterson, all the way down at #37, but #10 in money rank. (Not on the billionaire list, though. Yet.)

The World's Most Powerful Celebrities

Getting books to kids

There's plenty of talk about ebooks and ereaders and getting fancy kids books onto the iPad—all of it fun and exciting, for readers and for publishers. But maybe we need to think about the rest of our economy, about the people who don't have a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. Who maybe don't have access to a library. Who maybe don't have a single book in their house. There are people trying to do something about this.

David Bornstein writes for the NY Times:

"Some 42 percent of American children — more than 31 million — grow up in families that lack the income to cover basic needs like rent, child care, food and transportation... In bookstores, most hardcover children’s books sell for $15 to $20, with paperbacks typically running from $5 to $10. Although lower cost titles are available, the pricing of books — especially the most popular and attractive children’s books, as well as baby board books — puts regular book buying out of reach for low-income families."

Learn more at A Book in Every Home, and Then Some.

A more modern stone age family?

The news is that animator Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, is going to reboot The Flintstones. Whether this is good news or bad news depends on your opinion of, first, MacFarlane, and second, The Flintstones. Still, it does give one an opportunity to think back to the day when there were no animated shows in prime time. In its day, The Flintstones was quite a breakthrough, and there is no question that it changed television. Even though it will little more than a cartoon version of The Honeymooners, it was Hollywood's first stab at adult animation, and that was its big creative leap. This video is more than a little aw-gee promotional, but it does remind us of a gentler time long ago.

Food stories

The James Beard Foundation, named after the famous chef and food writer, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving America's "America’s diverse culinary heritage and future." One of the things they do is give awards, to chefs and writers and restaurant designers and the like. As Good writer Peter Smith says, you may not live near to some of the restaurants that have been acknowledged, but you can read some of the great stories nominated in the journalism categories. From an attack on popcorn at the movies to the story behind preventing Chicago school kids from getting their vegetables, check out Smith's choices for The Best Food Writing from the James Beard Awards.

On reading long books

As the publishers of edited material (Select Editions, formerly known as Condensed Books), our opinions on long books may be presumed to be something of a thumbs down. But this is not necessarily the case in general. I mean, my personal favorite book is Moby-Dick, which isn't exactly a James Patterson, read-in-one-sitting work. What is worse to me than length per se is simply books that are overlong. I can't imagine thrillers that clock in over four hundred pages. How much thrill can one book maintain, and for how long?

Mark Connell at TheMillions.com talks about this from a different perspective, his own preference for short books being turned around with a bit of effort on his part.

"You finish the last page of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow and—even if you’ve spent much of it in a state of bewilderment or frustration or irritation—you think to yourself, 'that was monumental.' But it strikes me that this sense of monumentality, this gratified speechlessness that we tend to feel at such moments of closure and valediction, has at least as much to do with our own sense of achievement in having read the thing as it does with a sense of the author’s achievement in having written it. When you read the kind of novel that promises to increase the strength of your upper-body as much as the height of your brow—a Ulysses or a Brothers Karamazov or a Gravity’s Rainbow—there’s an awe about the scale of the work which, rightly, informs your response to it but which, more problematically, is often difficult to separate from an awe at the fact of your own surmounting of it."

Read The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels.

Fantasy opera costumes

Fashion is not normally our beat, but this is something special. The New York City Opera holds an annual sale for its donors, offering new and vintage designer merchandise to raise funds. For this year's event, some famous designers drew sketches of fantasy outfits for their favorite opera characters. These are little works of art all by themselves, regardless of how you feel about fashion or opera. Watch the slideshow on NYMag.com.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jeffery Deaver = Ian Fleming?

We've known for a while that Jeffery Deaver is taking over writing the James Bond franchise. His first novel continuing Fleming's series will be entitled Carte Blanche, which sounds very much like the title of a James Bond novel. Deaver is far from a casual choice to take up Fleming's mantle, and an interview with him on the HMSS Weblog (the blog of the James Bond webzine Her Majesty's Secret Service), shows how deep he is into the Bond material:

"I will say one thing: I am extremely aware of the responsibility of creating a character who echoes in the time of his creation. He was as you know, and as readers of the books know, unique in thriller fiction. Especially when he came about, we had never seen anyone like that before. Of course, suave and sophisticated, and yet a bit existential. He said, and this is not an exact quote, that he lived life to the fullest because he expected to be dead by the mandatory retirement age from the SIS, which was in the 40′s. 45 I think. So I am creating a character that has those elements that Ian Fleming created, and yet I am bringing them into a story of my own."

Read The HMSS Interview: Jeffery Deaver.

Children's books just right for you

Here's a quiz for kids to help them pick the books they'll like the most. You have to answer questions like what superpower would you like to have and how you would change the world. Then tot up your answers and a vast list comes up, sorted by age.

Give it a shot: Quiz: find the right books for your personality.

Haunted author's houses

In our present-day economy, getting people to tour the houses where famous authors once lived is not the most lucrative business. But throw in a ghost or two, and it might turn things around. At least it's helped Edith Wharton and Mark Twain.

Lucette Lagnado writes in WSJ online, "Twelve-year-old Hannah Emerson Clapp came to the Mount, a mansion surrounded by nearly 50 acres of woods and manicured gardens, to see where novelist Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth and entertained Henry James. The experience left her looking as if she'd seen a ghost—which was exactly what tour guide Anne Schuyler intended. Ms. Schuyler, attired in a long, dark hooded cloak, leads ghost tours, complete with spooky stories of hauntings, apparitions and shrieks in the night. There's even a nocturnal stop at the pet cemetery where Ms. Wharton's dogs Jules and Mimi are buried. 'Some people hear the sound of barking dogs,' Ms. Schuyler says."

Read about the latest idea in literary tourism, Landmarks Haunted by Debt Consult the Spirit World for Help.

Interview with Jodi Picault

The Guardian talks to the author Sing You Home and its difficult themes. Picault also reads a bit from the book.

Watch Jodi Picoult: "I write about the things that keep me up at night."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Douglas Adams, an appreciation

The author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy died ten years ago. But his books go on. It seems as if he was quite a remarkable fellow away from the page, an environmentalist and animal rights proponent and an unofficial Python, among other things. But, as this article says, mostly he's the author of this five-book trilogy, and that is as it should be.

David Garnett writes for the Guardian: "I came to his work through the 1981 TV adaptation of H2G2, as aficionados know it... At 11, I didn't know science fiction could be like this. I didn't know you could have heroes in dressing gowns and aliens who were destroying the earth just because it was their job. I didn't know people in space would go to pubs and computers might drink tea. I didn't know then that a lot of people would probably argue that H2G2 wasn't actually science fiction, it was comedy or satire. I didn't care. I bought the book."

Read the whole article, So long, Douglas Adams, and thanks for all the books.

Why TV dramas aren't working

This article is a little old—Blogger went down last week, and only now are unpublished pieces returning from the black hole into which they disappeared. So we know more now about the number of shows that will survive into next season, beyond the estimate in this piece that, according to the L.A. Times, only 5 of the 22 new shows that premiered this year are likely to survive for next season. However close that has proven to be, that's a pretty bad hit rate. What's going on? Is it the shows themselves? The answer isn't simple.

Joe Flint of the L.A Times offers some food for thought. "Part of the problem, explain producers, is that digital-age audiences don't just focus solely on their screens these days. Like traffic cops dealing with distracted drivers who text and blab on the phone while sailing down the freeway, networks executives are facing viewers who are often fiddling with their computers, phones or iPads. 'Most people are watching TV with a laptop on their legs,' said Laurie Zaks, executive producer of the ABC mystery 'Castle.' 'If you don't capture the audience in the first two episodes, you don't have a chance.' "

Read the article, A dramatic decline for network dramas.

Richard Chamberlain

There is a treasure trove of material at the Archive of American Television. There's interviews with all sorts of people, in depth and worth the time. The As alone include Edie Adams, Alan Alda and Bea Arthur, to name just a few, plus there's all those other letters of the alphabet. Under C comes a recent interview with the person I will always think of as Dr. Kildare, although many remember him better as Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds, back when TV miniseries were capital E Events.

Says Chamberlain, "The basic premise of The Thornbirds was ‘let’s make the best most high-class tragedy driven soap opera of all time.’ I don’t mean to denigrate it. It was brilliantly done, and brilliantly cast, and a wonderful story, but the absolute top of the heap of pure soap opera I think. I often am surprised when I think about it that it was, and remains so successful because it was one tragedy after another, after another, after another, after another, after another."

Read (and watch) A Conversation with Richard Chamberlain.

To Kill a Mockingbird

There's been a lot of talk on the internet recently about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, especially whether or not she cooperated in an upcoming biography. She says she didn't. Whatever. What we do know is that the book, published in 1960, is still around, and for most people, still as powerful as ever. A new documentary, Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, attests to that (check out the preview).

Adrienne Gaffney from Speakeasy interviewed filmmaker Mary Murphy and asked her why this particular book: "If you ask a person, they can tell you where they were and what was happening to them when they read 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Wally Lamb can tell you the color of the lamp in his sister’s room, other people can tell you what the chair felt like when they stayed up all night reading. It’s seared into your memory and I think it has a lot of meaning for people at that age. What is unusual and makes this a phenomenon, I think, is that you can go back to something you loved as an adolescent and, in this case, you can not only love it again, you can find more and more and more to pull out of it. I think that is very rare."

Read the whole interview, The Real Story Behind To Kill a Mockingbird.

Placido Domingo

Not that long ago, Domingo was one of the popular Three Tenors, along with Pavarotti and Carreras. But he started out as a baritone, and it took him years of work to get to those high notes. Now 70, he reigns as one of the greats of world music. In an interview with Richard Ouzounian of The Star, the maestro is especially warm in discussing his youth.

“ 'My life back then was like most other boys. I was very sports conscious. Football. A lot of football. I was born in Spain and moved to Mexico, but I cheered for Spain. Always. To this day.' His radiant smile breaks out as he remembers those days of infinite youthful possibility. 'I worked for anyone who needed me. I played the piano in nightclubs, I sang in the chorus, I played bells in the orchestra, I put the music on the stands. I did anything they asked me to. Anything.' ”

Learn more about the legendary singer in Placido Domingo: “The song is not yet finished.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

"As you go forth into the world..."

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Those words were spoken by Steve Jobs, addressing the Stanford graduating class of 2005. Jobs is just one of the speakers selected by Education Editor Liz Dwyer of Good Education as those we all wish we had had at our commencement exercises. As the grad season begins, it's fun to look back at some of the greats. (And if you're going to a graduation this year, or graduating yourself, good luck at getting someone comparable.)

Check out who said what at Ten Commencement Speakers You Wish You'd Had.

A legend examined

Superman first appeared in 1938. And, one way or another, he's still going strong. That's an awfully long life for a fictional character. (He is fictional, right?) Things have changed along the way, of course. Comic books used to contain multiple stories; nowadays multiple comics contain one story. They no longer cost a dime, and one of the best ways to read them is not on paper but on an iPad, which zooms in on each panel. As for Superman, long ago there was the flap about him dying. Well, he came back, changed in a number of ways. I found it all very confusing. The last time I looked he was married to Lois Lane (or maybe it was Clark Kent that married her) and Lex Luthor was President of the USA. Things change.

The latest flap that made the press was the thought that Superman might renounce his American citizenship. Real politicians were up in arms about this, which suggests that my parenthetical statement about about whether or not he is fictional may not be so silly. Geoff Boucher at Hero Complex writes the best summary of the whole story, explaining the Superman phenomenon for the average reader: "When you look at the history of American superhero comics, you realize that the most memorable good guys have one thing in common: Like Clark Kent, they’re outsiders, whether by birth, choice or accident. That gives them the narrative tension of a built-in internal struggle.... Then there’s Superman, who stands alone. His planet is in fragments, his people dead except for the odd superpowered straggler who turns up now and then. He has grown up in an archetypal American childhood – a farm outside a small Midwestern town – but is, despite everything about him, an impostor. He is very much American, and he is very much alien – not unlike the waves of immigrants, legal and otherwise, who have spent the last two centuries coming here to make, or remake, their lives against a blank canvas."

Read Superman: American patriot, illegal immigrant or both?

Science fiction writers choose their favorites

The British Library is going to host a science fiction exhibition. To celebrate, the Guardian has asked some leading SF writers to pick their favorites. It's a great list, with comments from the authors. For example, there's Ursula K. LeGuin on a surprising choice, Virginia Woolf:

"You can't write science fiction well if you haven't read it, though not all who try to write it know this. But nor can you write it well if you haven't read anything else. Genre is a rich dialect, in which you can say certain things in a particularly satisfying way, but if it gives up connection with the general literary language it becomes a jargon, meaningful only to an ingroup. Useful models may be found quite outside the genre. I learned a lot from reading the ever-subversive Virginia Woolf. I was 17 when I read Orlando. It was half-revelation, half-confusion to me at that age, but one thing was clear: that she imagined a society vastly different from our own, an exotic world, and brought it dramatically alive. I'm thinking of the Elizabethan scenes, the winter when the Thames froze over. Reading, I was there, saw the bonfires blazing in the ice, felt the marvellous strangeness of that moment 500 years ago – the authentic thrill of being taken absolutely elsewhere."

Check out the others in The stars of modern SF pick the best science fiction.

So you want to be a rock and roll star...

Well, then, "take some time and learn how to play." Nowadays it seems like there's all sorts of tools that allow anyone to set up a studio in the basement and create a perfect recording. I'm crazy about GarageBand on my iPad, which allows me to strum a whole bunch of virtual guitars as if I really know how to strum an actual guitar. Which I don't, which means that when push comes to shove, my future earnings as a rock star, regardless of how great my GarageBand recordings are, may not be all that much.

Dan Charness of the Atlantic explains: "So much time is spent discussing how the music industry is changing that it's easy to forget that there is one aspect of the business that has not changed and likely never will: the importance of the live performance. The quality of an artist's live performance has remained the one constant benchmark for success, the standard that levels the playing field for all up-and-coming artists. Scour the history of popular music and you will find that few artists have achieved notable commercial success without the ability to showcase their talents in a live performance that thousands of people would pay good money to see. And no home studio is going to change that anytime soon."

Check out Why GarageBand Can't Make You a Rock Star.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Keith Richards

Whether or not you've read his biography, Life, you'll enjoy watching this intelligent interview conducted under the auspices of the NY Public Libary. If you haven't read it, you might want to try the audiobook, narrated by Johnny Depp, Joe Hurley and, best of all, Richards himself. But no matter how you take it, you have to agree with Sheerly Avni on Open Culture: "Richards’ collaborator on Life is the respected British journalist named James Fox. Fox spent five years working with the guitarist, or rather, chasing him from continent to continent, recording hundreds of hours of their conversations, and then shaping those hours into a book that is not merely coherent or interesting but genuinely literary. He deserves a round of applause as well."

When it comes to Scrabble, we are separated by a common language

A while ago the news hit that Scrabble was allowing proper nouns.

Not true.

Now there's new news, the inclusion of 3000 new words like THANG and GRRL.

Sort of not true.

It turns out that the US and Canada do not play with the same lexicon as their British cousins across the ocean. North America has one set of rules, the rest of the world has another. Who knew?

Stefan Fatsis explains at Slate: "Scrabble's bifurcated ownership dates to the 1950s. Its bifurcated word-sourcing dates to the publication of the first Scrabble dictionaries, in 1978 in the United States and 1980 in the United Kingdom. Attempts at world Scrabble lexical unity so far have failed, largely because a majority of North American players has been unwilling to adopt the larger and more permissive British books, of which Collins is just the latest. How much larger? A total of 178,691 words two through 15 letters long are playable in club and tournament Scrabble in North America. Not including the new update, Collins, when combined for competitive play with the North American words in a book called Collins Scrabble Words, yields a total of 267,751 words."

Read the whole story at Word Freakout: The latest brouhaha over changes to the Scrabble dictionary.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Scandinavian crime wave

As Boris Kachka points out in New York Magazine, Stieg Larsson and his iconic, dragon-tattooed feminist sleuth Lisbeth Salander are only at the tip of the iceberg of northern European crime fiction. Perhaps the most famous in the US, other than Larsson, is Henning Mankell and his gloomy Wallendar series, which sell very well as books and have been dramatized on PBS's Mystery series. But there are plenty of others. Kachka goes country-by-country pointing out who to read and who to watch for. The Scandinavians, who know a cold winter's night when they see one, are very good at heating those nights up!

Read the article, No. 1 With an Umlaut.

The disappearance of Agatha Christie

It's one of the great real mysteries that has never conclusively been solved. Agatha Christie was becoming a most successful author, and then one day, she simply disappeared. Her car was found abandoned, and she had written a number of letters before this, including one in which she claimed she feared for her life. Given who she was and the nature of the situation, foul play was suspected.

As Elizabeth Kerri Mahon puts it on Criminal Element, "For eleven days, the nation was riveted as the newspapers speculated about what had happened to the author of The Mystery of Roger Ackroyd. When she was eventually discovered at a spa in Harrogate she claimed to been suffering from temporary amnesia. What led Agatha Christie to leave her home that cold December night? Even today, her biographers differ on what exactly happened during those two weeks in December 1926."

Kerry provides her answers in The Mysterious Disappearance of Agatha Christie.

How good an English major are you?

How about a list of 40 literary terms you should know? The first one (but not the last) to throw me was Death of the Author, which "stems from Roland Barthes’ argument that an author’s ideologies and life story have little to no bearing on a textual interpretation."

Maybe I should have gone on to graduate school.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dylan responds

Remember all the flap a little while ago about Bob Dylan going to China and being censored and buckling under? It seemed as if there were people who thought that Dylan ought to launch a one-man protest-singer attack on the entire Chinese nation. Now the man himself talks about what happened.

Says Dylan on his web page, BobDylan.com, "As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play."

Read the whole note, To my fans and followers. While you're on the site, take a look around. Needless to say, Dylan's official site is full of goodies.

Women and fantasy

When Game of Thrones hit HBO a couple of weeks ago, a reviewer at the NY Times asserted that fantasy is all boy-fiction, closed to women. Alyssa Rosenberg explains for The Atlantic why this may just be a bunch of hooey, and cites some examples worth checking out.

"It's true that the early fairy tales that influenced fantasy giants like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis may not resonate with modern women, with their tales of maidens saved by their patience and virtue from forced marriages, accusations of monster births, and devilish mothers-in-law. And Tolkien and Lewis didn't exactly write inspiring female heroines. But as fantasy matured as a 20th-century genre, authors began to use stories about magic and chivalry not as a way to reconcile women to waiting for better outcomes, but to imagine claiming kinds of power that were previously off-limits to them. Bravery and initiative shattered class barriers in early fantasy stories, turning poor boys and hobbits into knights of the realm and saviors of their worlds. It's only natural that fantastical settings should, at some point, apply those same meritocratic principles to gender."

Read the whole article, Why Women Love Fantasy Literature.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Literary quiz

I am a sucker for quizzes, and this is a fine one. I was rather pleased with myself for knowing as many as I did, and a little disappointed that I didn't know more. (And meanwhile, I've just stumbled upon the NY Public Library site—a nice serendipitous stumble, if you ask me.)

Try your hand at "Reader, I married him." A Literary Quiz.

Another version of books of the future

We are awhirl in the spin of the future of books. Will everyone switch over to digital? Will bookstores disappear from the face of the earth, to be replaced by clicking a button on your ereader and getting an instant download? The experience of browsing through a bookstore and finding buried treasure is not replicable on the internet; you don't browse amazon.com the way you browse your local bookstore any more than you browse a clothing store the way you browse an L.L. Bean catalog. Different contexts, different experiences.

Publishing giant Jason Epstein has his own opinion. "Physical books is the way [great texts] have been preserved and handed down for 5,000 years, and I think that’s not gonna end now." Epstein is behind the Espresso Book Machine, a contraption the size of a large office copier that prints books on-demand for prices starting at $8 apiece. This is not the whole future of publishing, but could it be one part?

Read the article by Ilya Marritz at Publishing Guru Bets on Book-Making Machine.

Woody Allen picks five influential books

The Five Books feature on TheBrowser.Com offers some famous folk commenting on five books that are important to them, and then allows them to explain why. Woody Allen chooses two novels, a collection of stories, a book about jazz and a biography. The story collection, by S.J. Perelman, is no longer in print, but there are other collections of the humorist. Allen explains the choice to interviewer Eve Gerber:

"Those of us who grew up with Perelman found it impossible to avoid his influence. In music, if you grow up listening to Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk or Louis Armstrong and you listen to their recordings over and over, then you start to play their kind of riffs and rhythms naturally. I’m sure an actor who adores Marlon Brando – worships him and sees every movie he’s made – starts to play a scene and a little bit of Brando creeps into it. It’s the same with Perelman: you read him over and over again – as I did and many of my contemporaries did when we were growing up – and then when you write, it’s hard to escape his influence. He had such a strong, inventive style."

Read the whole article: Woody Allen on Inspiration.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Disney days

Unofficial Disney days, that is. There are plenty of scheduled events at Disneyland and Walt Disney World; for instance, Star Wars Weekends have been going on in Orlando for quite some time now. The fun begins when you are met at the gates of Disney's Hollywood Studios by an army of those white storm troopers. But there are those out there who feel slighted by the official galas, and who have come up with some galas of their own, like Harry Potter Day (wear your taped eyeglasses) or Bats Day (for Goth fans). I sort of get a kick out of Dapper Day. As Rob Lammie explains on Mental Floss, "When the 'Imagineers' were planning Disneyland in the 1950s, the concept artists always envisioned families at the park dressed in their Sunday best – men wore suits, women wore skirts, and kids were seen running to the next attraction in dress shoes. The idea was that Disneyland was high-class entertainment; like a night at the theater, you wouldn’t wear just anything to a day at Disneyland... In an effort to bring back the original vision of the artists, designer Justin Jorgensen created Dapper Day, which asked that guests come to Disneyland dressed in mid-20th Century semi-formal attire. Considering 2011 was the first year, a small but respectable group of about 30 people dressed for the occasion. They looked like extras in Mad Men."

Read about all the jolly holidays at 8 Unofficial Special Event Days at Disney.

A history of classical music via YouTube

The Australian music journal Limelight Magazine has put together a set of clips that sums up Western classical music from the Middle Ages to the present. That's one of the great things about YouTube: once you get past the cat videos, there is a wealth of content, if you're willing to dig for it. In this case, Limelight has done the digging for us. They've collected 40 videos "to present a selective, chronological history of western classical music from the twelfth century to the modern age." It's a mix of concerts and recordings and documentaries, chosen with an ear on the recording quality.

Check out the series at Classical Music: a history according to YouTube.

J.D. Salinger reconsidered

This is an interesting article. There's so much Salinger love out there, perhaps because we all come to the author young, and he is all about the young. But how well does he hold up for adults decades after his published work saw the light of day? (Which of course raises the question of whether there's a body of unpublished work, but there's no answer to that yet that I know of.) One writer concludes that Salinger is no longer her cup of tea.

Mary McNamara writes in the L.A. Times:

"I was 10 when my father handed me The Catcher in the Rye, and I found not just a voice for all the wild despair and sudden inexplicable elation of adolescence but an acknowledgement that these feelings did not occur in a vacuum. Salinger reached into the 'vale of tears' catechism of my Irish Catholic upbringing and lifted me out by my hair — don't listen, he said, they're all phonies, just keep your eyes open for small moments of beauty, and you will find them between the lies and the obscenities. I felt like my life had been saved and in tribute spent the next few years of my life calling people 'Ackley kid' and prefacing far too many of my comments with 'if you want to know the truth.' "

Read the whole article, Getting over J.D. Salinger.

Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill is a great novelist, and also the quintessential journalist. He is also the author of Downtown: My Manhattan, a nonfiction book about the history, architecture and personality of lower Manhattan that I've used as an eye-opening guidebook. On the publication of his latest novel, Tabloid City, Hamill talks about the relationship of fiction to journalism, and his own experiences as a journalist taking up a different craft. As he points out, he is not alone:

"Novels are works of the imagination. The novelist is always asking one question that goes beyond journalistic basics: what if? But many novelists use some form of reporting. Charles Dickens walked the dark streets of night-time London, looking at places and people, letting them seep into his imagination, to marinate into fiction, after struggling with What if? Hemingway had been a reporter. Mailer became one, after starting as a novelist. Long before them, Stephen Crane worked for those Park Row newspapers that established the tabloid style (although not the shape of the tabloid newspaper) before going on to Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and The Red Badge of Courage. There are many, many others…"

Read the whole interview on BookReporter.com.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why we love Eeyore

He may be the most gloomy character in the Winnie the Pooh universe, but he is also a great favorite. Yesterday was his birthday, and it won't be long before he's seen on-screen again in a new Disney film. So what is the attraction of this almost tragic figure?

Chris Cox discusses it on Guardian's Book Blog:

"In literary terms, Eeyore is the archetypal outsider. The other animals – Pooh, Piglet, Owl and the rest – dwell happily within Hundred Acre Wood, knocking on each others' doors, having tea and embarking on adventures. But not Eeyore. He lives on the other side of the stream in his Gloomy Place – marked on the map as 'Rather Boggy and Sad.' Rather than venture out to see others, he waits for them to pass through his field, which doesn't happen often. 'I have my friends,' he notes ruefully. 'Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said "Bother!" The Social Round. Always something going on.' "

Read the whole article, Eeyore: Literature's archetypal outsider.

The Library of Congress's record collection

There is an amazing place in Virginia, an old underground Federal Reserve repository where cash was stashed in case of a nuclear attack (although one wonders how much cash would be worth after being nuked: they should have been storing canned goods, water, and some of those Road Warrior vehicles if you ask me). Nowadays it's the home of six million items in the Library of Congress, specifically music and film. Housing it, maintaining it, and most of all sharing it, is not so easy.

Reporter Randy Lewis of the L.A. Times writes, "The breadth of the library's stock is impossible to summarize. But in addition to copies of every published recording registered for protection in recent decades with the U.S. Copyright Office, the library has acquired personal collections from classical music giants such as Leonard Bernstein, composer Aaron Copland and pianist Wanda Landowska, in some cases including never-released test pressings, as well as every 78 rpm disc recorded by jazz titan Jelly Roll Morton. It possesses tens of thousands of lacquer discs from NBC Radio, including the network's complete archive of World War II coverage; documentarian Tony Schwartz's trove of audio recordings from the streets of New York; and half a million LPs, among which are dozens of surf and hot-rod music-themed discs that Capitol Records issued in the '60s to capitalize on those crazes, including 'Hot Rod Hootenanny' by Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos, with cover art and songs co-written by fabled car designer Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth... The question is how many people will have access to it."

Read the whole story at Library of Congress builds the record collection of the century.

Move Your Body

I just caught up with this, an initiative to get middle school kids up off their seats and dancing around, in aid of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative. With over 4 million views, a lot of people have enjoyed this already, and maybe as more kids watch it, they'll get the idea that movin' it is a lot better than sitting around lettin' it gain weight. (I will vouch for the fact that my cafeteria was nothing like this when I was that age.)

The Art of Racing in the Rain for kids

Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain has been a publishing phenomenon since day one. If you haven't read it, do so. The odds are that you will love it. If you're a dog person, I guarantee that you will love it: it is narrated by a wonderful dog named Enzo. Like most books for adults, though, it has language and situations in it not suitable for kids, although the content is otherwise very kid friendly. Now Stein has brought out a version of the book for junior readers ages 9-12, which is a great idea. And he encourages families to read it together, and to talk about it:

"I think it's important, when discussing a book, that we recognize every opinion is relevant. We all read a book differently, though our own values, experiences, and thoughts, and so we all identify with different parts of a book. With kids, especially, we have to understand that they may not have the same life experiences as an adult, so they will see different things. But most of all, when discussing a book with your family, be sure to follow Enzo's advice and LISTEN!"

Get all the details and read an interview with Stein at BookReporter.com.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Celebrities and their moms

Just a simple picture gallery for Mother's Day, courtesy of FlavorWire. (It took me a minute to sort out Divine and his mother, but at least now I know where he got his hair inspiration.)

Hollywood auction

Bring your wallet. The big one. There's an auction next weekend in Beverly Hills. A hoverboard from Back to the Future Part 2 is set to go for a mere $2000-$3000 (but, sadly, it doesn't actually hover). A blaster from Forbidden Planet is expected to go for upwards of $30,000 (and no, it doesn't blast, which seems like a defect at that price). The car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is fully operational, on the other hand. It probably doesn't fly, but for a minimum bid of a million bucks, it ought to at least get you cruising down Hollywood Boulevard.

Read the full article: ‘Aliens,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica’ items among Hollywood memorabilia going up for auction