Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stephen King started young

Since when he wrote this letter he considered himself something of a seasoned pro, you have to think that he was born writing. I believe it. 'I am 14 years of age, and have been writing as far back as I can remember, and submitting manuscripts for the last couple of years. I subscribe to your magizine, and my favorite feature is the Obituary department.' More...

The end of cursive writing

If I remember correctly, they started teaching us cursive writing in third grade. I was never particularly good at it, and managed to get my lowest grade in handwriting year after year. But at least what I scratched out, however unrecognizable its content, was nonetheless recognizable as mine. But these kids nowadays! Not only do you want to get them off your lawn, but if you put up a sign telling them to stay away, you'll have to print it if you actually want them to be able to read it. 'Might people who write only by printing — in block letters, or perhaps with a sloppy, squiggly signature — be more at risk for forgery? Is the development of a fine motor skill thwarted by an aversion to cursive handwriting? And what happens when young people who are not familiar with cursive have to read historical documents like the Constitution?' More...

Dog art

Yet another reason to prefer magazines printed on paper than on iPads: the collages of Samuel Price.

Poetry animations

I've seen some odd things on line, but I'm going to say that this is among the oddest. It's animations of famous authors reading their work. I don't know if I like them or not. Judge for yourself.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Classic film scores of Bernard Herrmann

Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, The Day the Earth Stood Still—all classic films, all scored by the legendary Bernard Herrman. His daughter was interviewed recently, and gave a little background on that most haunting of scores, the one from Psycho. 'When he saw the completed movie, Hitchcock didn’t like it and he wanted to cut it down to an hour and show it on television. My father persuaded him — he said, “Let me see if music can help it along.” Hitchcock said to him, “Write some music, but whatever you do, don’t write any music for the shower sequences.” Of course, my father disobeyed his wishes. Hitchcock went on vacation and when he came back, he saw what the effect added to that scene; he really felt that it added a great deal. So my father reminded him that he didn’t want any music and Hitchcock said to him, “Improper suggestion, my dear boy. Improper suggestion.” ' More...

Another step in the development of amazing ebooks

Reading just the basic text of an ebook is mostly what I'm looking for, to tell you the truth. I appreciate the convenience. So far I have not succumbed to the idea that the reading experience can be so much more. But that possibility remains intriguing. This TED video demonstrates a product—and a program—that might change my mind.

News: Edgar winners announced

The winners of this year's Mystery Writers of America awards are in. Steve Hamilton's excellent The Lock Artist took best novel. The rest are here. (via)

Musical instrument apps for kids

The title says it all. As the page says, 'Just download one of these awesome musical instrument apps and let your kid channel his mini Mozart while you grab a few minutes of harmonious downtime.' More...

How not to write a movie script

Screenwriter Dave Trottier gives the aspiring script writer 10 flubs to avoid. (And the comments to the piece are as good as the piece itself.) One example: 'I just read a four-page dialogue scene where the characters discussed what they had done and what they were going to do. Those four pages were followed by the following paragraph:

A raging gun battle ensues. Martinelli is eventually killed.

Riveting, isn’t it? Somehow, I think the reader would like to see more action details of this cinematic moment and hear a little less dialogue about all that’s been happening and will happen. At the very least, we’d like to know who killed Martinelli.' More... (via)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A history of comic books

This is fun. There are indeed great moments in comicdom, for instance the first appearance of Superman, the first sidekick (Robin), the first Marvel mix and match of good-bad guys (the Hulk). It's also a great trip down nostalgia lane. 'Sure, it may seem silly, but, comic books mean something. Soldiers used dog-eared copies of Captain America to keep their spirits up in WWII. The Green Lantern and Green Arrow made kids actually think about issues like racism and heroin. And millions gasped when they heard the news that Superman died. In fact, the vibrant medium is so often pegged as children’s pulp, or fun for the feeble-minded, that people tend to forget that comics have actually grown with and continued to reflect the spirit of our times.' More...

A more wild Picture of Dorian Gray

A new edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has been published. I guess we can think of it as the writer's cut, so to speak, and while it won't replace the accepted version, it will be a boon to scholars. Apparently the book was cleaned up quite a bit by Wilde's original editor on its first publication in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, but even that wasn't quite good enough for its Victorian audience. 'The public outcry which followed the novel's appearance – "it is a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction," wrote the Daily Chronicle – forced Wilde to revise the novel still further before it appeared in book form in 1891.' More...

Cars 2 from the automotive perspective

It's one thing to talk about Pixar and John Lasseter from the point of view of movies or entertainment. But AutoBlog, a car industry site, looks directly at the hardware. I love how whenever they mention someone's name, they tell you what that person has in the family garage. Lasseter's garage? Mercedes-Benz SL55, 1952 Jaguar XK120, 1964 Messerschmidt. (There was a 1964 Messerschmidt?) Their view of the upcoming movie is unique, and fun. 'The level of detail isn't just limited to the character's exteriors. Pixar's sound designers were adamant about getting the noises just right, recording not just engine sounds, but the clicking of starters to include before the characters motored away. Getting proper emotions also proved to be difficult, with Bernoulli's character in need of a new front suspension that allowed him to gesture in the most stereotypical Italian fashion. "The normal pushrod design just wouldn't work," according to Shuster, so he developed a telescoping control arm that allowed Bernoulli to emote with the kind of passion and fervor you'd expect from an Italian racing champion.' More...

More new uses for old books

We've posted on this in the past, but this is a nice entry with some examples we haven't seen yet. It's always fun to look at books taken out of their element. As this poster says, 'There are still far too many books in this world that are destroyed or contain terrible stories. Even if you like a book, you might end up with a copy you just can’t get rid of because there have already been 10 million copies of that book printed. So if you have a few extra titles you have no further use for, here are a few ways you can still use your books even after the words inside have lost their value.' More...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ayn Rand walking tour of New York

I have a couple of friends who have taken this tour and loved it. Curiously, one of them was a big Rand fan, and the other was a big Rand hater to about the same degree. (No one is neutral about this particular author.) But the New York part was satisfying to both of them. '[Tour guide Frederick] Cookinham is a trove of information: He points out where Rand lived, her publisher's office, her favorite buildings, even her favorite architect. He notes that in Atlas Shrugged, Grand Central Terminal becomes the Taggart Terminal. Then he points down Park Avenue to a green-roofed building that was built in 1927 by the New York Central Railroad Co. "That becomes the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad Building," he says. Today, it's known as the Helmsley Building, but in the novel it's where Atlas Shrugged protagonist Dagny Taggart works.' More...

Online help for aspiring writers

Writing is a lonely business, especially when you're starting out. Knowing what to do, knowing whether you're doing it correctly or not, knowing if your story is working—and that's just the beginning, because there's also the whole thing about getting it published. A new venture from Penguin might help: 'In its initial phase Book Country will allow writers to post their own work — whether it’s an opening chapter or a full manuscript — and receive critiques from other users, who can comment on points like character development, pacing and dialogue. Later this summer the site will generate revenue by allowing users to self-publish their books for a fee by ordering printed copies.' More...

Criminal Element

If you're a mystery fan, this is a site for you—excerpts, critiques, features, community, reviews in all your basic criminal categories. One of our editors sent this along to me, and I got lost in it immediately. The first place I went was their review of the latest Sherlock series on PBS, which I loved. (They loved it too.) Macmillan is behind it, but they are admirably publisher-neutral in their coverage. Bravo.

The last typewriters, but...

I haven't given the subject much thought, but I've been typing exclusively on a computer for almost thirty years now. I'm not alone in this, which means that the wonderful old manual typewriter is about to go extinct. 'There's something about the large, clunky, medieval device that appeals to the aspiring writers among us; they make you feel more connected to your work. When a story is done and has been pulled off the roller, you can still feel it in your fingers... Now that Godrej and Boyce, the last company left in the world still manufacturing the devices, has closed its doors, when typewriters make their way to landfills, there won't be any new ones to replace them.' More...

But there is another side to the story, albeit a homemade one. You can use the typewriter mod in this video to turn your iPad into... Well, see for yourself:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tina Fey

"Authors@Google" is a program where the internet company invites authors to one of their offices and interviews them in depth. Tina Fey's book Bossypants is a big bestseller, and she's a natural interviewee—more natural than Eric Schmidt as an interviewer, but given that the video goes on for an hour, fans will get their money's worth. (Via)

Harrison Ford in the saddle

As the article says, actor Ford hasn't done a lot of westerns. And anyone who has seen the original trailor for "Cowboys & Aliens" knows that while the concept was instantly recognizable, most people thought it was meant as a comedy, sort of a "Men in Black" on the prairie. Not at all, as it turns out. Ford has a lot to say about Westerns and movies in general, including special effects. 'The onetime pilot of the Millennium Falcon said that in the big universe of contemporary special-effects films, it’s easy to feel alienated. “I think what a lot of action movies lose these days, especially the ones that deal with fantasy, is you stop caring at some point because you’ve lost human scale,” Ford said. “With the CGI, suddenly there’s a thousand enemies instead of six – the army goes off into the horizon. You don’t need that. The audience loses its relationship with the threat on the screen. That’s something that’s consistently happening and it makes these movies like video games and that’s a soulless enterprise. It’s all kinetics without emotion. I don’t have time for that.” ' More...

Book printing (way back when)

Back in in the early 80s I took a tour of the plant where our books used to be printed, and it was a little like this video (via). One big difference was that the entire process was automated: no human hands touched anything. The text went in one end and then, in a Rube Goldberg process of presses, glue pots and little robots, on the other end boxes of books with addresses on them were dropped into the correct mail bag to be sent to customers. It was rather remarkable. It's probably not much different now, although we use a different printer (the old press was of pre-WWII vintage, if I remember correctly). But then again, if you want an ebook, that author at the beginning of the video simply needs to log on to Amazon, upload the text and—sort of—there you are. Things change...

Hugh Laurie sings

Yes, the actor from House does occasionally pick up a musical instrument on-screen. I remember him in the role of Bertie Wooster in the Jeeves and Wooster series, banging away on the piano much to the dismay of his long suffering valet. But in real life, Laurie is a decent musician, and he's got an album to prove it. 'Music has always been a driving force in Laurie’s life. At an early age, he fell in love with the blues; those gritty, impassioned songs of Leadbelly, Willy Dixon and Robert Johnson stayed with him and inspired him. With Let Them Talk, he pays tribute to the music he loves, putting his own spin on an album’s worth of old blues songs and, from the sound of it, he had a great time doing so.' More...

The album is only available in France at the moment. You can listen to samples of the tracks here. And they're not bad at all.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A house made of books

This is a work of art, but it's also a piece of work. It was harder than it looks. (Via)

Writing advice from V. S. Naipul

These are rules for beginners, actually, but they're pretty good ones. I wish I could adhere to them myself. For example: '3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.' More... (Via)

The Hugo Award Nominees

The 2011 nominees are posted. I always like a list like this as much for suggestions of what to read as rewards for what was written: RenovationsSF.

Gospel music mix

After a short break for Easter, what better way to get back to business than with a gorgeous mix of gospel music? From KUNM in Albuquerque, courtesy of NPR. If this doesn't get you out of your seat...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Michael Chabon on The Phantom Tollbooth

A fiftieth anniversary of the classic book by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer, is due out this October. Author Chabon captures the essence of what makes books so important in his introduction to that edition. 'The book appeared in my life as mysteriously as the titular tollbooth itself, brought to our house one night as a gift for me by some old friend of my father’s whom I had never met before, and never saw again. Maybe all wondrous books appear in our lives the way Milo’s tollbooth appears, an inexplicable gift, cast up by some curious chance that comes to feel, after we have finished and fallen in love with the book, like the workings of a secret purpose. Of all the enchantments of beloved books the most mysterious—the most phantasmal—is the way they always seem to come our way precisely when we need them.' More...

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Beatles at Shea Stadium

Just watch the opening of this video if you want to cheer yourself up. The Beatles are long gone, the screaming teenage fans are probably all grandparents, and even Shea Stadium is a thing of the past, but the joy remains. 'At the time, this was the biggest rock concert in history, with 12 cameras, a helicopter flyover, and 55,000 screaming fans. Best of all were the boys themselves, still giddy enough about their own fame that they were cracking up on stage.' More...

Authors and their cats

If we could show pictures of authors and their dogs, I guess it's only fair that we provide pictures of authors and their cats. The one on the left is, of all people, Jean-Paul Sartre; that is one existential looking cat! The link is on Tumblr. (Via)

Saving our libraries

We recently posted a piece about the libraries of the future, but what about the libraries of today? Not only are they under pressure to handle pressures to incorporate new technologies, not necessarily with the blessings of publishers, but they may not have the money to do it. The American Library Association speaks out through authors like Neil Gaiman and Kathy Reichs. Check it out. (Via)

Kidzania - An amusement park for kids who want to work

I'm willing to go out on a limb here and state that I find this a little weird. When I stumbled on a reference to Kidzania, describing it as some sort of capitalist amusement park for the pre-adolescent set, I had to click my way through. It's true. Apparently it's quite popular around the world, and it's coming to the US in 2013. 'Kidzania is a unique family entertainment center. It’s a child-sized replica of a real city, with buildings, shops and theaters, as well as vehicles and pedestrians moving along its streets... Once they are in, kids have five hours to try as many occupations as they like. Each experience usually lasts about 30 minutes. The jobs and workplaces they can experience include firefighting, police, courtroom, airline cabin staff and pilots, pizza and fast-food joints, hospital, dentist, beautician, bank, electric power company, rent-a-car, car mechanic, driving license center, cooking school, business school, research lab, bottling plant, fashion and retail stores, TV and radio, newspaper, gas station, parcel delivery, photography and many more.' More...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paul Simon's "Getting Ready for Christmas Day"

Open Culture gives us not one, not two but three videos of this song I simply cannot get enough of. (My personal favorite is perhaps the most plain vanilla, of Simon performing the song live, but the animated versions are both quite good). The site also gives us a little background on the song, and the quoted preacher, the Rev. J. M. Gates. (I will say, though, that as much as I love this song, I can't imagine getting the family together around the spinet to sing it on Christmas Eve.)

Emmylou Harris in depth

The singer has a new album out, "Hard Bargain," so this is a good time to find out who she is and what makes her tick. 'If anyone offers a lesson in how to grow old gracefully in the music business, it's Emmylou Harris. It's not just the way she looks... It's the way the singer and Nashville resident has conducted herself throughout her career, never playing to the gallery, nor attempting to pre-empt the tastes of her fans, yet all the while bringing a renegade spirit to her art... Over the past 40 years she has stayed true to herself and to the creative vision that first took shape in the early 1970s: to make traditional country music credible, and to help free the genre of the conservative stereotypes that have blighted it since the 1960s.' More...

The Library of the Future

Now that Amazon has announced that the Kindle will do libraries, one wonders exactly what the library of the future will look like. “The future library will be located in a spaceship. The spaceship will have blue tables and purple chairs.” Or so says one kid, quoted in an article from The Literary Platform. The article has a number of links to more serious suggestions of where we're going. It is our tax dollars, one way or the other, after all. We should all be concerned about it. '“This topic is particularly relevant these days, with ebook controversy and the talk of libraries becoming ‘obsolete’ and having our budgets slashed to oblivion despite the fact that our usage is steadily increasing.” In contrast to the often bandied about view that librarians are old fashioned, [New York librarian Rita Meade] says most librarians she knows embrace change and look to improve library services through technology advancement and listening to readers’ feedback.' More...


Figment is a site for teens who want to create. They can write, share their writing with others, and see what others are writing. There's no limits to how they do it or what they do. The Literary Platform has interviewed Jacob Lewis, Figment's co-founder and CEO. 'I believe Figment has tapped into something that people, especially teens, have been wanting for quite some time. Whether they are readers or writers, there aren’t outlets in which they can be creative, discover new content, interact with authors and books, and share stories. I also think we will become a home of discovery for new professionally created books, making Figment a home for amateur and professional content.' More...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Igudesman and Joo

If you're not familiar with the musicians Igudesman and Joo, this could keep you busy for a while. You can start with this video from NPR, and then go on to their website for a bunch of other videos and general information. These guys have been around for a while, and I can only wonder how I managed to miss them.

Dictators as authors

It is surprising that a number of people who want to rule with an iron fist would like to be grasping a pen in the other hand while they're doing it. It is probably not surprising that they're not particularly adept at it. We're not talking Mao's Little Red Book here; we're talking fiction and poetry, like Muammar al-Quaddafi's tale "The Astronaut's Suicide," the subject of which is exactly what the title says. The kicker? It's meant as a children's book. And he's not alone. 'If North Korean propaganda is to be believed, Dear Leader is the world's most prolific writer. Kim Jong Il claims to have written 1,500 books -- and that was just during his college years... According to B.R. Myers, author of several books about North Korea, Kim's books aren't actually meant to be read. "This is not a country like China where citizens are expected to read and learn by heart a dictator's work," Myers says. "In North Korea, it's more about reading about the dictator's life. If you actually ask North Koreans about the content of Kim Jong Il's writings, they know very little and they get embarrassed about that." ' More... (via)

Earth Day is coming: Books for kids

We all care about protecting the environment, but teaching kids about environmental challenges isn't easy. The Washington Post gives us five worthy books to consider. 'At its best, environmental writing can illuminate the world around us; at its worst, it is preachy and dull. Environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin looks at five books that belong in the first camp, providing smart looks at issues ranging from deforestation and poaching in African forests to green innovations that could change the way we live.' More...


There aren't many people who have their own amusement park. After Walt Disney, there's Dolly Parton, and that's about it. And while Walt invented the theme park, Dolly simply applied her personality to it. But apparently she's done a good job of it. 'Earlier this month, I became the envy of my friends when I visited Dollywood, the theme park that Dolly Parton founded in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 1986. Upon reflection, I've realized that Dollywood is much like the woman herself. It presents many identities at once, meaning it can speak simultaneously to wildly different types of people.' More...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The romance of writing at the coffee shop

You can envision writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald plugging away at their quiet tables in the backs of Parisian cafes. That's what writers used to do, at least the ones who embraced the romance of writing. If you've been to a coffee shop lately, you might think that this phenomenon is more popular than ever. And you'd probably be right. 'Screenwriter and columnist Rob Long... described the awful feeling that sometimes accompanies being at your desk with a discrete task to finish. It's plausible that you might be sitting there for many hours - even all day, and if you can't finish the script or the column that's due, perhaps all night too. And that's existentially terrible! Whereas at a coffee shop, it's accustomed to spend just a couple of hours, and at worst you'll be kicked out at closing time. That isn't so bad.' More...

National Poetry Month

We found out about this a little late. 'National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.' There's 30 ways to celebrate, celebration highlights, poem-a-day programs and a lot of other things on the site. (via)

Writing for a good cause

What You Wish For: A Book for Darfur, contains stories and poems for young adults by writers like Alexander McCall Smith and Joyce Carol Oates. 100% of the proceeds go to a good cause. Check it out.

Music hath charms

We know in our hearts that music affects us. But how and why are mysteries. Or are they? Are there things that music does, specific technical things, that have a physical effect we can measure? '[Scientists are] trying to understand and quantify what makes music expressive — what specific aspects make one version of, say, a Beethoven sonata convey more emotion than another. The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool. More...

Pulitzer Prizes

The awards have been announced for this year's prizes. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan took the prize in fiction. Here's a list of all of them: 2011 Pulitzers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Joel Grey

Joel Grey is back on Broadway, both on stage and off. He is, to put it mildly, a busy man. He's also a unique performer. 'Within the bounds of musical-comedy convention, his Moonface Martin, a low-grade gangster, is about as creepy as you can get. The expressionist black eye makeup he wears makes it look as if he’s been beaten up so much that the bruises became permanent. In the second act, after singing Cole Porter’s “Be Like the Bluebird,” he does a quiet dance that owes something to Bobby Clark and something to Charlie Chaplin but that is still recognizably a Joel Grey performance—which is to say, ambivalent, precisely detailed, and alone.' More... (Via)

Listen while you can

NPR is previewing new albums by Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. These will only be available for a short time, so check them out now.

The real Alice

Alice Liddell was the original Alice in Wonderland, one of the family to whom a shy Oxford don wove his tale of a little girl going down a rabbit hole. That same don was an avid amateur photographer, and Simon Winchester's latest book talks about what may look to modern eyes as, at the very least, suggestive pictures. The photograph printed here 'fascinates Winchester, and in dissecting it, and the story of how it came to be produced, he questions some of the myths. Dodgson's photographs of children would have been seen differently by the sentimental Victorians as portraits of innocence. Alice's siblings – also photographed that day – would have been present, as would, almost certainly, Alice's formidable mother Lorina, or at least her governess, Mary Prickett, any of whom could presumably have stopped anything inappropriate happening.' More...

H. W. Longfellow: A lousy poet?

All right. Who can't recite at least some of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? It starts haunting all of us starting at around third grade. But when was the last time you even gave a thought to Henry Wadsworth Longellow? As in, was he any good? 'Longfellow could speak eight languages and read more than a dozen. His own poems are thick with allusions, especially of the classical sort. But they were also so singularly accessible and so overwhelmingly popular that he has been blamed, preposterously, for the death of poetry, as if readers reared on Longfellow were ruined forever for anything tougher. He worked hard to make poetry look easy; his success was his failure.' More... (Via)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Audiobooks and kids

Speaking for myself, if it wasn't for audiobooks, I'd never get to work. We moved our offices last year, and my commute got about 50% longer, and it was audiobooks to the rescue. It turns out that audiobooks are good for kids too. 'Despite the increasing popularity of audiobooks, however, there still is a stigma attached to "just"listening to a book, instead of reading a print version. Reading experts, however, say that audiobooks are a great tool to expose all children to books, adding that the audio format can attract more young readers because it makes reading a "cool" activity.' More...

Kids vote for their favorites

The Children's Choice Book Awards allow kids to vote for their favorites. Not a bad idea. We read about this over at Omnivoracious, which has links to past lists of winners. It's worth looking at if you're in the market for good books for kids, or you're a kid with an itchy voting finger. Check it out.

Music from space

I would suggest that William Shatner's song stylings are... unique. Fans of the actor's interpretations of pop hits will be happy to hear that a new album is due out later this year, and the track list has been announced. A new version of Rocket Man is promised, but I have to admit, the one I just can't wait for is Bohemian Rhapsody, although I can't exactly see the space connection there. Oh, well. Hearing Shatner intone "Mama, just killed a man," is spacey enough for me. (Via)

One cure for the adolescent blahs

The act of reading, if not necessarily the content of what is read, may improve the mood of teenagers? 'I heard that a study published this month had found that reading books improves the moods of adolescents... Primack and his research team examined six types of media—television shows and movies, video games, magazines and newspapers, music, the Internet, and books—and concluded that major depressive disorder is common among pop-music-listening teens and drastically less common among their bookish counterparts.' More...

Strumming the old ukulele

The ukulele is making a comeback. which is a wonderful thing. The instrument has a long history, with many ups and downs, one of the most recent ups being Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole's beautiful "Over the Rainbow." 'It’s not hard to see the attraction. The light, carefree strum that has become the instrument’s sonic stereotype invokes innocence, sincerity and childlike wonder, as well as nostalgia for a pre-rock ’n’ roll era. It doesn’t hurt that the sound also conforms to ingrained notions of Hawaii as a consumer-friendly earthly paradise.' More...

Wonder cabinets

Some books are radically different from the norm. This is one we doubt will be on the Kindle any time soon. 'Only thirty copies of the book exist and, in the spirit of the Renaissance wonder cabinet, no two are exactly alike. For those of you unfamiliar with what a wonder cabinet is: aristocrats, philosophers, scientists, and artists used them to display their eclectic collections of natural and man-made objects, everything from Roman terracotta lamps to conjoined livers of Siamese twins. Every copy of Hodgson and Cohen’s book, which includes essays and images, comes inside an inlaid wooden box with its own distinct items, such as a cast of a Russian countess’s finger, a porcupine quill, a sea urchin’s skeleton, and Roman coins from Syria.' More...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Looking for love in all the Rand places

Those of us who are not fans of Ayn Rand might blanch at this, but the objectivists out there are probably happy as clams: a dating site for fans of the author of Atlas Shrugged. 'There are about 12,700 dating profiles on the Atlasphere, which Joshua Zader, 37, founded in 2003 after attending a few Rand-related conferences. "I realized that all the single people were using the conferences to search for another Ayn Rand fan they could fall in love with," says Zader, who modeled the site after's pay-to-view profile system. But the Atlasphere also functions as a social network (with some 22,000 nondating profiles) in which members can contribute essays and articles. I asked Zader how someone who espouses a me-first philosophy can also maintain a loving relationship. "Ayn Rand has a great quote in The Fountainhead," he told me. "She writes that a person cannot say 'I love you' without first being able to say the I."' More...

The future of books

There's plenty of people prognosticating the future of books, but Alberto Vitale, former Random House CEO, is worth listening to more than most. 'A lot is going to be changing ... but for the better. Digital technology has brought to publishers the ability to develop a new business. That doesn't mean that the book business will disappear. Actually, paper books will be with us for a very long time to come, if not forever ... except that they will evolve into much more precious products. [They will be] better-printed, better-bound, better-produced and better-marketed, even at much higher prices. E-books will turn out to be the equivalent -- not the same thing -- as the paperbacks of the past.' More... (Via)

8 songs in 8 hours

This is sort of intriguing. As the music business changes, artists change with it (or I guess it's really the other way around). 'Ben Folds, Damian Kulash (OK Go), Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls, solo), and author Neil Gaiman will write and record eight songs in eight hours (4:00 p.m. to midnight) at Berklee College of Music, Monday, April 25, and release them 10 hours later during Rethink Music, in Boston. Like Radiohead did recently, this group will show how recording and release schedules are no longer bound by distribution challenges.' More... (Via)

Friday, April 15, 2011

And the tension mounts!

You go to the movies, and before the feature starts there's about twenty hours of previews, all calculated to get you all heated up about these coming attractions. Of course, these previews are created before the movies are completed, and often bear little or no relationship to the final feature. And sometimes they bear such a resemblance that you think you've seen the whole movie and now you don't have to. But have you ever noticed the music? This article shows how the same music is used over and over. Play some of the samples, and if they don't make your heart race, you're probably not going to be going to the movies any time soon. (Via)

Where are the Broadway musical singers?

I admit to being a musical fan, going back to my first exposure to Broadway, Mary Martin as Peter Pan. (I also saw her in The Sound of Music. My parents loved Broadway and I went along willingly.) But this NY Times post raises an interesting question. Are we going to lose the great voices of Broadway in exchange for celebrity encounters? 'Are we entering an age when being able to sing to a high standard is no longer a requirement for making appearances in even first-class musical theater productions? The unhappy answer is probably yes. The casting of movie stars has been de rigueur for revivals of classic plays for some time now on Broadway, but in the past couple of seasons we’ve seen the trend encroaching on musical theater terrain, too.' More...

Book binding

MobyLives featured this video from the Toronto Standard. As they say, it "is an excellent reminder that, as books become more and more disposable, there are still people out there who value the book as an object and will go to great lengths to preserve the very special ones."

MADE IN TORONTO, THE BOOKBINDER from Toronto Standard on Vimeo.

Poetry films

Open Culture pointed us to this series on YouTube. There's something about seeing images while listening to poetry that synchronizes the images seen by the eyes with the imagery heard in the words. This is worth spending a little time with.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caroline Kennedy's poetry anthology

NPR talks to Caroline Kennedy about her new book, a collection of favorite poems. 'Kennedy's mother, Jacqueline, was instrumental in instilling in Caroline a love of poetry. Every holiday, Caroline and her brother, Jack Jr., were asked to present a poem as a "gift" to the family. "She [still] had to buy us presents," Kennedy clarifies with a laugh. "I just want to make clear that this was a one-way deal." But Jacqueline really wanted the children to select poems they liked as their presents to her. "I think it was a wonderful way of opening up an exploration and discovery that was completely self-motivated, no homework, no pressure."... It's a family tradition she has carried on with her own family.' More...

Robin Williams on Broadway

Williams is starring in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo; playing a tiger, actually, in a play about the war. takes the opportunity to ask the actor ten questions. His answers range from funny to serious. 'My feelings about the war are about ghosts. I was just there recently, and [everything is] "winding down." What do you leave there when it just ends? There's a line in the play: "The Americans think when something dies, that's it, it's over." But when you go to the Middle East, you realize there's a real sense that things stay around.' More...

Oscar Hammerstein

In this engrossing profile of the lyricist by his nephew, there are so many telling details and anecdotes, that picking just one was really difficult.

'It could take him a week to write a single lyric—a couple of hundred words at most—as he carefully considered each word and image. In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’!” for instance, he originally wrote “The corn is as high as a cow pony’s eye,” a simile that fitted easily into the Oklahoma landscape. But he then walked over to his Doylestown neighbor’s cornfield and saw that the corn was much taller than that... More important, he didn’t like how “cow pony” sounded to the ear, thinking it would be difficult for the first-time listener to grasp when sung, one of the many constraints on lyric-writing—perhaps the most difficult or at least confining of all literary forms. So he changed it to “elephant’s eye.”

'When he was finished with a lyric, he would turn the yellow-pad pages over to my mother to be typed. But before he decided he was finished, Oscar would read the lyric out loud to his wife Dorothy, a practice she called “trying it out on the dog.” Then a copy was sent by messenger to Rodgers so he could set it to music, which Rodgers usually did in minutes, not days, much to Oscar’s feigned annoyance.' More...

Ads in books

The announcement that a cheaper Kindle will be subsidized by advertising brings up the issue of the history of ads in books. The MobyLives blog sorts it out, and we won't repeat them here (they reference a couple of other pieces). But I have to say I remember these paperback book ads well, and I remember fighting against them in my earliest days in publishing (long before I joined Reader's Digest). Not surprisingly, I was against them. Ads on a Kindle? I don't know. We're so used to ad-supported software these days, at least software that is otherwise "free." Maybe it's not so bad? It's a tough, tough call.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Broadway auctions

Some of this may sound weird, but the money-making efforts of the stars of the season go to a worthy cause, Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. What happens is that stars are offering tours, props, and even the clothes off their back. 'The higher-profile the celebrity, the more an item will sell for. During the run of “Equus,” Mr. [Daniel] Radcliffe auctioned off a pair of jeans he wore in the show for thousands of dollars. “The most famous was when Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig auctioned their T-shirts from the stage,” during the run of “A Steady Rain,” said Mr. Viola {BC executive director]. “They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.” ' More...

Civil War books

We saw a lot of mentions across the web of the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter 150 years ago today. Ken Burns's TV documentary is probably hands down everyone's top choice for the most engaging approach overall. But as far as books are concerned, Amazon's Omnivoracious provides a very nice list of favorites, while providing some staggering statistics. 'According to biographer Edward Ball, "something like 65,000 books have been published on the war, more than one a day since it ended." (On Amazon, you can find over 15,000 history books on the subject alone).' More...

Happy Anniversary to Gone With the Wind

Margaret Mitchell published the novel in 1936, so the big 75th anniversary is coming up. And there will be celebrations, especially among the "Windies" like Selina Faye Sorrow. 'It started with the Scarlett O’Hara Barbie doll that Mrs. Sorrow’s husband gave her 18 years ago. Now, she has more than 500 items worth thousands of dollars. Twin Rhett Butler-Scarlett O’Hara pillows adorn the couple’s king-size bed. She has a replica of Clark Gable’s driver’s license, G.W.T.W. wine and water bottles and rare engraved invitations to Margaret Mitchell’s funeral, which were delivered after the novel’s author was killed, at age 48, by a reckless driver in 1949.' More...

Switching roles in Frankenstein

In the London production of Frankenstein, two actors—Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch—alternate in the roles of the monster and his creator. The reviews have been spectacular, but what is it like to do this switch with every performance? The actors explain in an interview. 'There are these two great scenes that you have together that are always fantastic to play, which ever way round you play them, so it's not a competition for us, in either of the parts. It’s a fascinating question of support and encouragements. Being there, it’s nice to have it both ways around, and not get too exhausted or bogged down by one or the other parts. You get to see the play inside-out, really.' More...

Banned books

I don't think many publishers are in favor of banning books. On the other hand, we would want books to be appropriate for younger readers, and for parents to have knowledge of what their kids are reading. Nowadays so many books for young people address the problems of the times, which are pretty hard to avoid not only in books but everywhere else, real or imagined. In any case, the American Library Association's list of the books Americans tried hardest to ban last year raises all sorts of questions that one must answer for oneself. 'Huxley's vision of a totalitarian future comes third on American Library Association's list of 2010's 'most challenged' books. Banned in Ireland when it first appeared in 1932, and removed from shelves and objected to ever since, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is still making waves today. The novel of a dystopian future was one of the most complained about books in America last year, with readers protesting over its sexually explicit scenes, "offensive" language and "insensitivity".' More...