Archive for March, 2012

Adrienne Rich, Influential Feminist Poet, Dies at 82

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Adrienne Rich, Influential Feminist Poet, Dies at 82 – NYTimes.com

Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.

She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.

 

Julie Otsuka’s ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ wins 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Julie Otsuka’s ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ wins 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction – The Washington Post

Julie Otsuka’s “The Buddha in the Attic” has won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It’s a disappointing choice from a list of finalists that gave strong preference to short fiction.

The Washington Post’s Ron Charles discusses the award and questions the judges.

Monday Miscellany: Big- & Small-Screen Edition

Monday, March 26th, 2012

The making of a blockbuster

Salon exclusive: The behind-the-scenes story of the readers and booksellers who launched the Hunger Games franchise

Laura Miller’s commentary:

The Hunger Games franchise, with Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence in the starring role, aims for a spot in a select but very sweet pantheon: movie adaptations of bestselling children’s book series that have become box office juggernauts. The Harry Potter movies set the pattern, and the Twilight films proved that it could be replicated. So far, the Hunger Games’ chances look good; according to a poll conducted by MTV’s Nextmovie.com, the film version of Collins’ dystopian young adult novel is even more eagerly anticipated than “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.”

Contributing to the appeal of The Hunger Games trilogy is its popularity among adults as well as young adults–popularity bolstered by Stephen King’s early review of the first book for Entertainment Weekly. And the battle sequences should appeal to boys as well as to girls.

Read Miller’s account of how the world of children’s and YA literature functions as a massive social network that pumps books like Collins’s long before they are ever published.

Schools debate educational value of ‘The Hunger Games’

Part of the huge network that publicizes children’s and YA literature, discussed by Laura Miller in the article above, is teachers who incorporate the book into their lesson plans. This article in The Seattle Times discusses how local schools and parents are approaching the question of whether the book and film are too violent:

Around here, the debate is playing out at a handful of middle schools, where administrators are hoping to tap into the movie’s popularity for educational gain while parents are worried the kids are too young to comprehend its themes.

The principal of one middle school initially approved a planned field trip to the movie but then cancelled the trip when some parents complained. Students from other schools will see the film in groups, “then participate in class discussions about issues it brings up, especially related to violence, youth empowerment and government abuse.”

Jeanne Brockmyer, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toledo, said the educational benefit of controversial books and movies depends on how they are used in the classroom. Research indicates that a discussion of the consequences of violence is the most effective avenue, she said.

This discussion of the appropriateness of The Hunger Games in the classroom is particularly intense in the Seattle area:

While the series is popular across the country — it currently occupies the top spot on The New York Times list of best-selling children’s series — it has an especially strong following in this area; Seattle ranked No. 4 on a recently released list of the top “Hunger Games” book-purchasing cities on a per-capita basis.

The Mockingjay Problem

Note: The article linked here contains spoilers about Mockingjay, so you may want to avoid reading it until after you’ve finished the book.

While schools and parents debate the discussion of The Hunger Games in the classroom, Slate is already wondering how the filmmakers will adapt Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, for film:

But if the first Hunger Games book introduces some awkward elements for a teen-friendly, mainstream movie, the third in the series, called Mockingjay, will force filmmakers to turn massacre and despair into blockbuster entertainment. . . . Whatever Mockingjay is—a bold and unflinching climax to a best-selling series or a disjointed leap into antiwar protest fiction—there’s one thing it probably isn’t: a book that’s easily adapted for the screen.

According to writer Erik Sofge, Hollywood has traditionally taken three approaches when forced to adapt “a beloved, but dark work of science fiction or fantasy to the big screen”:

  • Play chicken
  • Tactically rewrite
  • Screw the fanboys

Sofge says that Hollywood might use any one of these three approaches. Which one would you prefer?

Plan Your Own ‘Mad Men’ Dinner

AMC’s hit TV series Mad Men has been sidelined for almost 18 months by contract negotiations. If you want to throw a party to celebrate its return, consult “The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin, who have painstakingly gone through each episode to figure out where and what each character was eating or drinking.”

According to Publishers Weekly writer Mark Rotella, “All the classics are here—beef Wellington, Waldorf salad, rib eye cooked in a pan, chicken Kiev, and for dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake and an apricot apple pie.”

But wait, there’s more:

In the spirit of Mad Men and 1960s cuisine and culture, Running Press will publish in April The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook by Rick Rodgers (I Love Meatballs!) and Heather Maclean (who wrote The Skinny Italian with Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives of New Jersey fame). They offer fun and fact-filled recipes, cocktails, and menus for pigs in blankets; quiche Lorraine; date nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches; chicken Divan, and much more.

And there’s even a menu for your dinner party.

As an additional treat, Flavorwire offers The Definitive ‘Mad Men’ Reading List, “an extensive list of books featured in, based on, or that inspired Mad Men.”

The Way We Read Now

The best case I’ve seen for electronic books, however, arrived just last month, on the Web site of The New York Review of Books. The novelist Tim Parks proposed that e-books offered “a more austere, direct engagement” with words. What’s more, no dictator can burn one. His persuasive bottom line: “This is a medium for grown-ups.”

Dwight Garner admits that he still prefers to read his books “the old-fashioned and nongreen way, on the pulped carcasses of trees that have had their throats slit.”

It’s time to start thinking, however, about the best literary uses for these devices. Are some reading materials better suited to one platform than another?

Read what he has to say about these devices:

  • smartphone
  • ereaders
  • iPad

He offers suggestions for some texts that work well (or not) for each type of device.

And here’s his advice on how to listen to an audiobook on your iPhone without using earbuds:

Keep an audio book or two on your iPhone. Periodically I take the largest of my family’s dogs on long walks, and I stick my iPhone in my shirt pocket, its tiny speaker facing up. I’ve listened to Saul Bellow’s “Herzog” this way. The shirt pocket method is better than using ear buds, which block out the natural world. My wife tucks her phone into her bra, on long walks, and listens to Dickens novels. I find this unbearably sexy.

 

Photo of the Day

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Haven’t you always wondered where those shots for Google’s Street View come from?

Google Street Views car & camera

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 19th, 2012

11 Literary Friendships We Can Learn From

Although from a somewhat unorthodox source (accreditedonlinecolleges.com), this article presents fascinating information on the following literary friendships:

  1. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  4. Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis
  5. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus
  6. George Sand and Gustave Flaubert
  7. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau
  8. Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley
  9. Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  11. Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The sidebar offers links to a few more interesting book lists:

Map of Panem

If you’re in need of a Hunger Games fix while waiting for the movie, check out this marvelous example of extreme geekiness.

Encyclopedia Britannica ends print, goes digital

In yet another sign of the growing dominance of the digital publishing market, the oldest English-language encyclopedia still in print is moving solely into the digital age.

This news definitely marks the end of an era:

The Encyclopedia Britannica, which has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768, said Tuesday it will end publication of its printed editions and continue with digital versions available online.

When I got my first Real Job after grad school back in the early 1970s, one of the first major purchases I made was the Encyclopedia Britannica, with my educator’s discount.

Back when personal computers began becoming household items, Microsoft approached management at EB and asked to partner with them in producing a digital encyclopedia. EB management scoffed. They were, after all, the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. So Microsoft went to Funk and Wagnalls, who were smart enough to see the writing on the wall. F & W agreed to partner with Microsoft, and the result was Encarta, the digital encyclopedia that parents have been buying for their children ever since. When EB management finally realized that computerization was happening whether they liked it or not, they produced a “shovelware” version of their encyclopedia, scanned images of their pages shoveled onto discs for use in a computer. But this kind of encyclopedia could not compete with Encarta, which supplemented written articles with video and audio features. It was much more interesting and educational for kids to hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I have a dream” speech than to simply read about it. While sales of their print sets declined, EB desperately continued to try to play catch-up with a web site, on which they tried offering both free and paid content, but by then it was too late. This news is EB’s final capitulation to the computer revolution.

If you want a printed set of Encyclopedia Britannica, you still have time: “The company said it will keep selling print editions until the current stock of around 4000 sets ran out.”

I was able to find the EB app for iPhone on the Apple app store, and apparently there is a different version of the app optimized for the iPad. The iPhone app is free to download, but most content will run you $1.99 a month through an in-app purchase. The article referenced here mentions the availability of an online subscription for “around $70 per year,” but I was unable to find any information about that on the EB web site, www.eb.com . All I could find was a link to sign up for a free trial membership that required a credit card but offered no indication of what the monthly or annual fee would be.

How e-books made reading sexy again

In the U. K. Telegraph author Jojo Moyes laments, “Sales of digital novels are soaring – so why don’t best-seller lists reflect this trend?”

Here’s how she sees the problem:

E-books are skewing the book ratings. As digital sales are not collated anywhere, the true picture of what the British public is reading is becoming increasingly unclear – and hiding a rare success story. Last week, for example, my e-book sales totalled roughly 50 per cent of my paperback sales – 6,000 “invisible” sales on top of 11,500 visible ones. And I am not alone.

And here’s the reason: “while paperback sales are collated by Nielsen Bookscan and published by newspapers, digital sales are known only to the publishers and authors of each book. This is not just a problem for literary types. It has ramifications for what everybody else actually gets to read.”

E-books may be changing the way we read – and even write. I’m not the only women’s commercial fiction author experiencing an upsurge in the number of male readers. Freed from the trauma of publicly reading a book with a “girlie” cover, men are widening their choices. And one told me that his wife now feels free to read thriller writer Lee Child on her e-reader.

But there is hope:

And the situation may finally be changing. Late last year, in the US, where the Kindle’s dominance has been challenged by Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader, retailers finally started sharing e-book data. The Wall Street Journal now publishes weekly combined and e-book charts. Industry insiders say Britain may follow if the Kobo, and Waterstones’ own e-reading device billed for release later this year, prove to be serious competitors.

Searching for the Life of a Salesman

In an earlier post I referred to the New York Times’s online discussion of the current Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. In this article Patrick Healy reports on Hoffman’s preparation for the role:

“I tell you, it’s not the first thing that you want to do when you wake up in the morning,” Mr. Hoffman said of becoming Willy. “You have to find your way there, every morning, to do that. You have to find the reason why, and you have to find the will to do it, and then you do. And then you’re reminded why you do, because you finish and — whether it went well or not — you hope that some people will find it satisfying and memorable.”

Death of a Salesman has always been one of my favorite works of literature, and I am still hoping to see Hoffman in this role some day.

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

What delightful news!

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Von Schönwerth spent decades collecting these stories by “asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth.” And these tales aren’t just for children: “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”

You can read one of these fairytales, The Turnip Princess, through a link at the top of this article.

 

Harlan Coben Floods the Zone – WSJ.com

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Harlan Coben Floods the Zone – WSJ.com

“The most annoying and full- of- crap thing a writer says is, I write only for myself, I don’t care if anyone reads it,” Mr. Coben says. “A writer without a reader doesn’t exist.”

A good introduction to one of my favorite writers, Harlan Coben.

Related Blog Posts:

 

South Korean novelist Shin Kyung-sook’s ‘Please Look After Mom’ wins Man Asian Literary Prize – The Washington Post

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

South Korean novelist Shin Kyung-sook’s ‘Please Look After Mom’ wins Man Asian Literary Prize – The Washington Post

She is the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian award in its five-year history. The ceremony was Thursday evening in Hong Kong.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The private lives of great writers

What would we do without literary criticism wars?

Just how relevant is an author’s private life to our appreciation or understanding of his or her work? Many would argue that we should disregard it entirely. Others (myself included) might point out that while you can thoroughly enjoy a novel or poem without knowing who wrote it, any deeper grasp requires at least some basic information. It matters that Edna O’Brien is Irish, certainly, and it’s almost impossible to imagine how the writings of Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski could be separated from their life stories.

Here, Salon’s Laura Miller writes about a dust-up between novelist Jonathan Franzen, who wrote in a New Yorker essay that Edith Wharton’s lack of beauty affected her writing, and Victoria Patterson, who criticized Franzen in the Los Angeles Review of Books for “ranking a woman’s beauty before discussing her merits.” Miller argues that men are almost never judged in terms of their looks the way that women are:

It is, indeed, aggravating that for many male writers, as for most men, looks have had relatively little influence on their fates or reputations while the opposite is true for women. (That said, it’s difficult to imagine an ugly Lord Byron having cut so wide a swath in the imaginations of so many readers.) For women, prettiness or the lack thereof has long been treated as the most important measure of feminine worth: Accusing a woman of being unattractive is the fallback weapon for anyone trying to inflict a particular brand of shame, one designed to invalidate her as a woman.

People who can’t find something substantive to criticize about a woman’s artistic work can always fall back on the “she’s not even pretty” argument to put her in her place. “Disparaging a man’s looks simply doesn’t have the same impact,” Miller points out. The equivalent insult to a man is probably disparagement of his sexual prowess, and this article also addresses novelist Saul Bellow’s misfortune in this department.

Miller includes links to both Franzen’s and Patterson’s articles, so you can judge for yourself how weighty each one’s arguments are. And, as is often the case with pieces such as Miller’s, the reader comments section is also worth reading for additional (sometimes snarky) takes on the subject.

Great Beginnings

Elizabeth Bluemle, writing in Publishers Weekly‘s ShelfTalker blogs, offers a list of “opening lines that grabbed my attention, for one reason or another –  from this season’s middle grade and YA releases.”

She also includes a link to a similar list from last year.

Fact From Fiction: Writing Crime Fiction From Police Documents

“Ripped from the headlines” is a phrase that often appears in ads for TV police dramas and in blurbs on crime fiction covers. Rex Burns explains the work that writers do in turning news reports and police documents into compelling stories:

Real life by itself seldom makes a complete novel. The writer of police procedurals — and realistic television police dramas — must use imagination to convert factual happenings into a story with structure and purpose. This can occur in any number of ways: inventing fictional characters who perform the factual deeds; discovering motivations that were obscure or absent in the factual events; finding metaphors for other aspects of life in the originally limited facts; structuring the factual events into the shape of a thematically meaningful conclusion.

Literature represents life, but literature is not the same as life. All the insignificant details of daily living have to be stripped away until “The imagination has produced a fictional tale by using the techniques of story telling to structure the assorted facts of life.”

Why women are writing about sex – without shame

The UK’s first conference for sex writers reflects a surge in confessional blogs and the rise of ‘clit lit’. And as sex writing goes mainstream, some women are even ditching their pseudonyms

Helen Croydon reports in the U. K. Guardian on Eroticon 2012, the UK’s first ever conference for sex writers:

It isn’t just first-person narratives. So-called ‘clit lit’ – saucy fiction for women – is on the up, especially in the e-world. Mills and Boon says its electronic downloads doubled in 2010, and in the past few years mainstream publishers such as Random House, Penguin and Simon & Schuster have all inaugurated erotica imprints.

Croydon admits:

This idea of quashing taboo was a common one at Eroticon. But if sex writers are so intent on this, why do so few use their real names? Last year my first book was published, Sugar Daddy Diaries, a confessional memoir of my penchant for older men. I had planned to use a pseudonym but by the time publication came around, I felt comfortable enough about my subject matter that I was proud to use my real name. I expected and wanted to be judged by my work, not by the activities I wrote about.

Loaning Out Kindle E-Books

Some, but not all, Kindle books can be loaned out. The New York Times Gadgetwise blog explains how to find out if a particular book can be loaned and, if so, how to do it.

National Book Critics Circle Awards Go to Pearlman, Jasanoff, Gaddis

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The National Book Critics Circle Awards for the publishing year 2011 went to Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman fiction, Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff nonfiction, George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis biography, The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok autobiography, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer criticism, and Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke poetry. The awards were presented at the New School in New York on the evening of March 8.

via National Book Critics Circle Awards Go to Pearlman, Jasanoff, Gaddis.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Athena’s Library, The Quirky Pillar Of Providence

NPR offers a look at the Providence Athenaeum in Providence, RI, USA:

With a bit of reverence, librarians carefully wind an antique library clock near the circulation desk in a temple of learning called the Providence Athenaeum.

This is one of the oldest libraries in the United States, a 19th-century library with the soul of a 21st-century rave party. In fact, the Rhode Island institution has been called a national model for civic engagement.

Opened in 1838, the Athenaeum sits upon a plinth that gives the building the appearance of a temple. Inside, a bust of the goddess Athena overlooks visitors.

A hundred and 50 years ago, social libraries like the Athenaeum were all the rage. The concept of the Athenaeum, a member-supported library dedicated to social improvement, predated the modern public library as we know it. The Athenaeum is one of 17 remaining membership libraries.

The Athenaeum offers free programs every Friday night. Anyone, member or not, can browse through the building or attend a program. The institution has retained its original ambiance as a gathering place for families interested in literature and cultural events. It even still features a real card catalog.

How To Cure Reading Forgetfulness

How much do you remember about the books you read? I read a lot of mysteries, particularly series mysteries, and I usually can’t remember exactly what happened in each particular one. All the stories featuring the same character tend to coalesce.

Gabe Habash realized that he had the same problem:

when I think back to most of the books that I read last year, I come up with patches of the story (and, if I liked the book, usually patches of inner character workings), and a whole lot of fog.

Aside from putting an insidious terror in me, my memory’s failure made me consider how we pay attention and what we choose to pay attention to when we read. I’m not sure how much of a problem memory is for you out there, but it made me think, with my rickety brain, if tweaking a few reading variables might put a little grease in the old mental clockwork.

Analyzing his approach to reading led him to several realizations:

  1. The time it takes to read a book: He used to set a goal of a particular number of books to read in a given period of time. To achieve the goal he often read books too quickly to absorb them. Now he takes as much time as necessary with each book and doesn’t worry about the numbers.
  2. Reading more than one book at a time: Habash thinks that switching between a couple of different books keeps his mind fresh and allows him to concentrate more effectively on what he reads. The question of reading more than one book at a time periodically comes up in each of the book groups I’m involved in. The closest I’ve ever come to reading two books at once is reading one print book while having an audiobook that I listen to in the car and while doing household chores or exercising. Perhaps I should rethink this reading strategy.
  3. Keeping up with your “Favorite Lines” document:

In 2008, I was reading Blood Meridian and I got to the long passage in chapter 11 in which the Judge tells a story about the harnessmaker welcoming a traveler into his home, seeming to repent and becoming a brother to his fellow men, and then killing that man out by the road and stealing his money. I opened a new Word document and copied out the whole little story. Since then, I have a never-ending document in which I retype passages and lines that I like whenever I come upon them. I underline in books I read, so I save the document for only the best of the best. A lot of lines from A Sport and a Pastime are in that document, as is the entirety of “The Symphony” chapter from Moby-Dick, that perfect self-contained piece of writing that is one of the very best things I’ve ever read.

I don’t have a “favorite lines” document, but I have been keeping track of my reading in a database since 1991. (And I’ve been able to maintain that database through software updates and changes over the years. I even weathered the switch from Windows PC to Mac.) I find that when I take the time to write some notes and copy favorite passages, I remember more about the book later on. But I must admit I don’t always take the time necessary to do this. Sometimes I just record the book’s publication information and the date on which I finished reading it so that I can dive right into my next book.

Be sure to look through the comments beneath this article. I particularly liked this one:

Why would you want to remember everything that you read? I’m a re-reader. Often I find a book is better the second (third, fourth) time around. Because I don’t remember everything, I’m free to enjoy the unfolding of the narrative again. And when I run across one of those Favorite Lines, I stop and savor.

How about you? Do you suffer from reading forgetfulness? And if you do, do you do anything to counteract it?

America’s Major Magazines Still Aren’t Publishing Stories By Women

Vida, an organization devoted to examination and discussion of the roles women play in literature, has released its latest survey of the articles and reviews published by women in major magazines in 2011, and the results aren’t encouraging.

On AlterNet Alyssa Rosenberg comments on this survey, which analyzed work published by the following magazines:

  • The Atlantic
  • Boston Review
  • Harper’s
  • London Review of Books
  • The New Republic
  • New York Review of Books
  • New Yorker
  • New York Times Book Review
  • The Nation

“Granta’s the only publication that’s close to parity—in fact, it published slightly more pieces by women than by men, 34 to 30.”

Here’s Rosenberg’s response to the situation:

the only answer here is not that these publications can’t find women. It’s that they don’t really care if they do or not. These numbers, and the annual discussion of them, seem to have succeeded in making a lot of female journalists and readers angry and frustrated, but they don’t appear to have made editors feel ashamed, much less called to action. And I’m not quite sure what it would take to persuade them to shake off their lethargy and acceptance of the status quo, which really means accepting sexism. Do we really have to educate editors that women can bring new perspectives on major stories, and not just to stories about living as a single woman or going through a divorce?

Life of a ‘Salesman’: An Online Discussion

The New York Times‘s Charles Isherwood will be paying attention to a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s play about Willy Loman:

For the next few weeks I’ll be leading an online discussion here about the high hopes and hard life of one of the American theater’s most famous characters. Willy Loman, and the play that immortalized him, Arthur Miller’s 1949 classic “Death of a Salesman,” are returning to Broadway in a new production starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And Isherwood is asking readers to chime in on the discussion:

As is often the case with classic plays or novels we’ve lived with for most of our lives, “Death of a Salesman” can seem entirely different each time we renew our acquaintance with it. If your first exposure came in high school and you haven’t read or seen it since, you may be surprised at stylistic innovations that barely registered at the time. Pick it up and see if the same thing happens for you.

I last saw the play in 1999 when the touring company featuring Brian Dennehy as Willy Loman came to St. Louis. Since that time I’ve wondered if anyone could portray Willy any better than Dennehy did, but Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role is a tantalizing prospect. I can only hope that the company will go on tour and land here in my city.