Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It was 70 years ago. The piece in Reader's Almanac is quite poignant. 'F. Scott Fitzgerald was in his fourth year working as a screenwriter in Hollywood, although with fewer assignments and less pay. He hoped the novel he was working on, The Love of the Last Tycoon, would revive his literary reputation. Few people were still reading him. His August 1940 royalty statement from Scribner’s reported sales of forty copies of his works (including seven copies of The Great Gatsby and nine of Tender Is the Night) for a total payment of $13.13.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 2:21 PM
Monday, December 20, 2010
If you don't start people reading as kids, they won't start later on. The Library of Congress, the Ad Council and Disney are trying to do something about that. 'The good news is that finding good books is increasingly easy. Today, kids can access literature through e-books, blogs, websites, magazines, and comic books, not to mention traditional bound books. The format doesn't matter; what matters is that the child is engaged in reading.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 11:03 AM
Friday, December 17, 2010
There's so many best-of-the-year lists that if we covered them all, we wouldn't have to cover anything else. And I don't necessarily agree with a lot of them, for that matter. But I'll make an exception for this one, Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Books for Children. If you still have some Christmas shopping to do, you might want to start here.
Posted by Jim Menick at 11:46 AM
I'm intrigued by Edward Hopper. What he does with composition especially gets me thinking, although most critics concentrate on the apparent lost-ness of his subjects. Granted this article has nothing to do with books, but if you've seen Hopper painings and thought about them, you'll enjoy it. 'Hopper spent time in Europe during the 1920s. He was living in Paris on and off when the ex-pat scene was at its very height. Impressively, it doesn't seem to have affected him much at all. That's what you want to admire about Hopper. His Americanness was so real, and so deeply rooted, that continental trends and ideas bounced right off him. He was still trying to find his way as a painter in the '20s. He had every reason to dabble in the trends. But he didn't. He didn't want to be an abstract painter. His mind was not blown by Cubism. He did not succumb to the excitement of any avant-garde. How many of us have ever shown that kind of resolution? It is not that Hopper lacked ambition. He wanted to be a great painter. He wanted to be relevant. And yet he stuck to his realism, to his representational style, to everything that was being rejected by so many of the celebrated painters of his day. Admirable.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 9:36 AM
Thursday, December 16, 2010
The Queen Mother had nothing good to say about it—'We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem... I think it was called "The Desert." And first the girls [Elizabeth and Margaret] got the giggles and then I did and then even the King'—but in general it's one of the most highly acclaimed poems of the 20th Century. A nice little backstory, and some great links, are over on the Reader's Almanac.
Posted by Jim Menick at 12:40 PM
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
It's the oldest cliche in the book. This article in the Guardian gives us the details, including in which book, in fact, the butler really did do it! 'SS Van Dine, noted art critic and mystery writer, published a series of rules for would-be crime authors in a much-quoted essay. Number 11 reads, in part: "A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worthwhile person – one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion." Oops.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 4:00 PM
Monday, December 13, 2010
Okay: I'll admit that I'm a Castle fan. It's a cute TV show, trading on very enjoyable characters all the way up and down the cast. And I've seen the books written by Castle, who, of course, is a fictional character. I mean, I've seen them in bookstores and on the bestseller list! Details: 'Finding "Naked Heat" by Richard Castle simmering on the bestseller list wouldn't be unusual -- it's the second in a mystery series, with a sexy cover and a blurb from author Michael Connelly -- but for one thing: There is no Richard Castle. He's a fictional character.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 2:50 PM
Thursday, December 9, 2010
The Guardian brings us Anne Holt's top ten female detectives. Holt is a writer, with a history working for the police, in her own law firm, and for the government of her native Norway. She sounds like a composite of every one of these detectives! 'Female detectives, without the physical strength of their male counterparts, have to be more resourceful, intelligent and tactical to solve the case. The stories tend to focus as much on their character as on the whodunnit.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 4:29 PM
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
You've heard the news that Oprah has picked a combo of Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations as what may be her final book club selections. As a rabid fan of Dickens, I wish she had picked something else. Tale is possibly the least representative of all of his novels, and as such, is far from the best. I like a Dickens who takes his time, who paints on a vast canvas. I get the impression that TOTC is recommended in high schools not because it's the best but because it's the shortest. I can understand that, but you can't make a Dickens fan out of a sow's ear, so why not go long and hope for the best? Expectations has the virtue of being long, and it is a better book, but it's so...obvious. In fact, it's the other book high schools make kids read (and I speak to this as a part time high school debate coach in my off hours, where I hear kids bemoan their assignments). If it were me, I would have given them David Copperfield, which I've always maintained is the most honest of the books, being so much based on the author's own life. After that, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are triumphs of literature and, of course, ridiculously readable. (Nowadays the author would never get the title Bleak House past an editor: too depressing, especially because the book is anything but.) No doubt people will as a result of this read some Dickens that they wouldn't otherwise read, and that's not a bad thing, but I don't think anyone will be turned into a Dickens fanatic because the gateway drug isn't potent enough. Oh, well. What can you do?
Posted by Jim Menick at 5:02 PM
Monday, December 6, 2010
Another article from the Times, this one on a new site for young writers called Figment. 'Figment.com will be unveiled on Monday as an experiment in online literature, a free platform for young people to read and write fiction, both on their computers and on their cellphones. Users are invited to write novels, short stories and poems, collaborate with other writers and give and receive feedback on the work posted on the site.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 6:19 PM
This article in the NY Times discusses a project to feed enormous amounts of data into a computer—"the titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th century — 1,681,161, to be exact"—to see what words the Victorians used most often as a guide to what they were thinking. This concordance of a century or so of material is possible nowadays because of our ability to compute vast amounts of data, although, of course, the results are open to much discussion, as the article explains. Early results of this project are interesting, but as one scholar cited demurs, one must be careful. She did a search on the words syntax and prosody for a technical analysis of poetry, and found a sudden "explosion" of the two words in 1832. "But it turned out that Dr. Syntax and Prosody were the names of two racehorses. You find 200 titles with ‘Syntax,’ and you think there must be a big grammar debate that year, but it was just that Syntax was winning.” Interesting stuff.
Posted by Jim Menick at 4:07 PM
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I read Martin's latest, An Object of Beauty, before it was published. Not the right kind of story for SE, but quite a good book, demonstrating not merely that Martin can write, but that he knows the art scene. Last night there was a kerfluffle over a Martin appearance, where I guess the audience wanted him to tell jokes or something rather than discuss his book and the art world. Well, no, that wasn't what he was there for. Anyhow, I wasn't there, so I guess I can't comment, but I can point folks to the Powells interview, which is on the money as far as the book is concerned. 'From e. e. cummings, I learned about the rhythm of words. From T. S. Eliot, I learned about the intelligence of words. And from Dylan Thomas, I learned about the beauty of words. I try to bring all three of those elements into writing. Then, of course, you have to tell a story at the same time.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 2:02 PM
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I'm a big Neal Stephenson fan. To read some of his books, being a big fan is almost a requirement, because many of them are really big books. (There's a rather tall pile of one of his typescripts at Seattle's Science Fiction Museum, if you don't believe me.) Now he's trying something new, a serialized, online project. I'm curious. 'The Mongoliad is a modern iteration of the subscription serial novel, an idea that is time tested -– after all, as is commonly pointed out, Charles Dickens and many other nineteenth century writers wrote episodically for serial publication, something that’s not a million miles from the contemporary soap opera. And while The Mongoliad is in that tradition, it has fully updated it for the Internet era. The creators understand that you cannot simply chop up a pre-existing novel for subscription, but have re-imagined the creative process altogether.' More...
Posted by Jim Menick at 1:39 PM