Friday, July 30, 2010

Writers' homes

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

A live map of people buying books

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

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

Travels with Steinbeck

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

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Copy editing at the New Yorker

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

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

China Mieville

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


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

Monday, July 26, 2010

The complicated world of recommendations

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

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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle interviewed on film

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

In their own voices

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

P.D. James interviewed

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

Woody Allen on audiobooks

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

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

Poems for kids

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not every writing contest is a great idea

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not as bad as it sounds

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

Online literary magazine

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

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

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

Take a break

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

Sherlock Rules!

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

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

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Faulkner lectures online

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

On Shirley Jackson

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bookcases you can live in

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

Ebooks and Ebert

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Put on your writing shoes

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

Monday, July 12, 2010

Art and literature quizzes

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

Thriller awards for 2010

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

Book videos

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

Speaking of Mark Twain: the autobiography

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

Mark Twain on interviews

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

Friday, July 9, 2010

All about Scout

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

Thursday, July 8, 2010


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

Okay, it's hot out

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Favorite book = David Copperfield

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

Fame is not its own reward

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

Friday, July 2, 2010

NRO's reading list, part two


Audiobooks for kids

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

Top ten rare books

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

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night. Again.

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

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

A really classy summer reading list

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