Happy Halloween

Do you read Dracula every year on Halloween or do you broaden your horizons to include other thrilling novels? Something by Stephen King? The Woman in White? I have a friend that claims that the only book to make him actually jump was The Athenian Murders.
The Guardian book blogs ask what makes a book scary?

New Plath Sonnet

An unpublished sonnet supposedly written by Sylvia Plath was discovered by a graduate student. The sonnet -- named "Ennui" -- was supposedly written in Plath's senior year at Smith and ponders the themes in F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Look for it to be published tomorrow in Blackbird, an online journal. As a teaser, it begins:
Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur.

Cat Naps

All nappers have probably been chided by someone at some point in their lives. Get some caffiene and power through, they urge. No wonder there's a Starbucks on every corner. The world today just doesn't seem to value naps anymore.
We are a culture that celebrates action, doing, achieving, an attitude that leads to a disdain for sleep in general. We stay up late and get up early. We pull all-nighters. We'll sleep when we're dead, and in the meantime there's always a Starbucks on the corner.
Well, I say if you can nap, do so. Of course, I can't afford to buy a little nap pod at Metronaps, but one day, funds for that kind of thing will be worked into my contract.


Are you an election nut? The election is only one week away, after all. If you're going to get into it and follow all the races, now is the time to do it. If you've been following the races for months, then chances are, you're already aware of pollster.com... or you know even cooler sites that will give you detailed demographic information or something. Or you're working for a campaign and then you're just much more hardcore than I am.
If you're like me and you enjoy the info, but you're not devoting your life to it, then you'll appreciate pollster.com for its ability to make you feel in-the-know and up-to-the-minute and all-that-jazz.


Ancient Brothel

Visiting Pompeii any time soon? You'd better swing by the Lupanare, which translates as the Wolves' Lair.
I rarely endorse houses of ill repute but this one is the biggest and most richly decorated brothel in Pompeii. It opened to the public last week after extensive restoration.

Judge a line of books by their covers...

It's the 60th Anniversary of Penguin Classics and there's a new line of Designer Classics.

So while you may not be able to afford Manolo Blahnik's shoes... now you still can't afford Madame Bovary with his design for a cover (£100). Funny that we're celebrating the birth of an affordable line of books with some rather expensive editions.

Must-See Masterpieces

How important is it to see a work of art in person? It's incredibly important, I think, and most art lovers would agree. You may get unprecedented access to artwork on the Internet, but there really is no substitute for seeing a work of art in situ. The Guardian is asking you to help compile a list of definitive must-see masterpieces.

So what would be on my list? It's limitless but here are five works of art that astounded me as I stood in front of them. (Note: This is not a compiled wish list... that would be truly impossible to attempt with any chance at brevity.)
  1. Impression, Sunrise by Monet (and all the giant waterlily paintings) at the Marmottan in Paris
  2. The Kiss by Klimt at the Belvedere in Vienna
  3. Sainte Chapelle in Paris
  4. The Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin
  5. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) by Rousseau at the National Gallery in London
As previously stated, that's an incomplete list. Those are just a few that really knocked my socks off and meant something new to me as I stood in front of them. How anyone can do a top 20 list is beyond me. I'd feel too constrained by the need to represent various locations and to ensure that it wasn't all dead white men. But even these five don't include the Sistine Chapel, Exeter College Chapel, the panels around the main door at the Duomo di Orvieto, the Starry Night over the Rhone by Van Gogh, Bernini's Apollo & Daphne, Rodin's Kiss, The Elgin Marbles, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso... I have to cut myself off, otherwise I'll keep going.

Go buy Jim Crace's Useless America!

This is pretty fantastic if it's true... Jim Crace has supposedly written a novel called Useless America and it's being sold on Amazon.co.uk -- I say supposedly because Jim Crace hasn't written this novel at all.
When Penguin contracted me to write the novel a few years ago, I had not yet decided on a title. But the first line of the book was going to be "This used to be America". It was convenient to use that as a working designation. Nobody would know or care except me, my agent and my editor. Now we are in the world of guesswork. When the book was "announced" all those years ago, someone at Penguin couldn't type, possibly, or someone at Amazon was hard of hearing. "Used to" became "Useless", an amusing error. But an error with a life of its own.
Anyway, Useless America, complete with its own ISBN number, is now available for purchase. I am almost certain that not a word of it exists. Order your copy, while stocks last.

Speed Test

Can you write a (good) novel in a month? This man thinks he can and the Guardian will be letting everyone know if he fails.

Virgil's Aeneid

There's a new translation in town. Students "can now turn gratefully to Robert Fagles’s new English translation of 'The Aeneid' (Viking), in which that ancient war horse emerges as a work of surpassing beauty, feeling and even relevance, everything that teachers used to say it was."

Abstinence only... unless you're using an American brand condom.

US Jobs Shape Condom's Role in Foreign Aid. This may be one of the only times that the US will insist on making condoms for foreign aid -- when it concerns keeping US Jobs at condom factories. It's a question of "to what degree foreign aid is about saving jobs at home or lives abroad?"

What do women want?

What do women want? Apparently, a large kitchen.

Okay, so the article is about businesses "realigning their marketing and design practices, learning to court an increasingly female-centric consumer base that boasts more financial muscle and purchasing independence than ever before" but still... they open with an example of women wanting to change the design of kitchens. Come on, guys, couldn't you have led with the Best Buy example?

Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic...

It's 100 years since your birth -- do you know where your centenary celebration is?

If you're WH Auden, then you don't. Very little has been done in Britain to prepare for the 100th anniversary of Auden's birth (coming up in February), which is potentially irksome given the fuss made over Betjeman's centenary this year. Let's hope the BBC at least plans to air Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Village Halloween Parade

The weekend Halloween parties may be over, but for those of us in New York, there's still one last opportunity to celebrate your favorite holiday... the 33rd Annual Village Halloween Parade.


WorldChanging is trying to hack the publishing system.

On November 1st, at 11.11a.m. (EST), WorldChanging wants you to purchase its book, Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, on Amazon.com. If only for one day, it hopes to be Amazon's number one book.

Sounds intriguing, right? And it's for a good cause. Well, actually, I just assume it's for a good cause because Al Gore wrote the forward and I tend to do whatever Al Gore tells me to do. Perhaps it's therefore necessary that I get this book and educate myself on the issues discussed within. This is what WorldChanging has to say about the book:
Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century is a groundbreaking compendium of the most innovative solutions, ideas and inventions emerging today for building a sustainable, livable, prosperous future. From consumer consciousness to a new vision for industry; non-toxic homes to refugee shelters; microfinance to effective philanthropy; socially responsible investing to starting a green business; citizen media to human rights; ecological economics to climate change, this is the most comprehensive, cutting-edge overview to date of what's possible in the near future -- if we decide to make it so.

Dylan Thomas Award Winner

The first winner of the new Dylan Thomas award is 28 year-old Rachel Trezise, a Welsh novelist. The original voice that comes through in her novel, Fresh Apples, was compared to the Dublinders by Andrew Davies, and while the judges were still deliberating the very day the prize was awarded, it was that original voice that won her the £60,000 check.


The Queen

I went to a late show of The Queen last night at the Angelika -- and if you have not yet seen it, I suggest you sally forth and get thee to a cinema.
It simply was an incredible piece... no wonder you can hear the Oscar whispers. Helen Mirren was fantastic. It really was an amazing portrait of a living monarch during a week of unprecedented issues. The film (if you were unaware) focuses on Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair at the time surrounding Princess Diana's death. The struggle between the Queen's understanding of what constitutes proper mourning (Diana was the mother of her grandchildren, but was no longer an HRH) and the public's outcry over the palace's lack of comment. Mirren gave an excellent performance as a ruler who was raised to keep one's feeling's to oneself. Yet, with a need to "modernize" and still remain in touch with her people, she struggles with the very vocal and harsh criticism and her own sense of a monarch's image.
Praise is due to the entire cast, particular Michael Sheen who portrayed the new Prime Minister Tony Blair. While two Underworld movies and Timeline are in his past, he fit the role of Blair quite beautifully. It was almost painful to see the energy, enthusiasm and compassion that used to constitute my image of Tony Blair... before President Bush came along and destroyed him.
And so I heartily recommend that you go and see The Queen now so when Oscar season rolls around, you won't have to sit in the "Very Long Wait" queue on Netflix.



Alain de Botton posted a comment to my blog.

I could be hit by a bus right now and die happy.

The Carnegie of Carnegies

The Carnegie medal is Britain's oldest children's book award and they're opening the voting up to the public to name the Carnegie of Carnegies. You don't even have to be from Britain, so go on, browse the list and reminisce.

Will write for $$$$$

The Guardian crushes your hopes and diamond-encrusted dreams... if you want to get rich quick, don't become a writer.

Popping the question -- is Borders against teen sex?

Borders has declined to display the new YA novel Pop! written by Aury Wallington. Jessa Crispin (known for her blog, Bookslut) asks whether or not Borders is doing so as a result of the sexual content. Wallington wrote the book so young adults would have a book (about a seventeen-year-old virgin and her quest to have sex) to turn to for the difficult questions about sex. Wallington said, "I wanted to write a book that would serve a new generation of girls the way Judy Blume's Forever served me—answering questions that I was too embarrassed to ask anyone, and showing the emotional issues of sex and virginity through a character I could identify with."
Meanwhile, Borders says you can special order the book through them... but Barnes and Noble has agreed to carry it -- so order it there.


When I need to check a quick fact or get a brief summary of something, more often than not, I go to Wikipedia. Some people will chide me for this ("It isn't written my experts, you can't trust it!") but now I will send them this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education saying that Wikipedia is more dependable than you might think.

Stolen Literature

A librarian stole books worth £175,000 from the Manchester Central Library... and then put them up for sale on eBay. And we're not talking new books or bestsellers... we're talking about old, incredibly valuable books, like a 16th century Geoffrey Chaucer book that is worth £35,000. The librarian, Norman Buckley, started stealing the books and selling them after being dumped by his girlfriend. Oddly, he didn't really spent the money he got for the stolen items. He was busted after a book expert bought a copy of John Donne's Elegies (dated 1654) and saw the library seal on the book. The book expert contacted police, the wicked librarian was arrested, and they found about 400 more books in his flat. Buckley helped police locate the others and so far, 92% of the books have been recovered. He won't be doing time in jail, but he will be doing quite a lot of community service.

Meat on display?

From the Guardian:
A senior Muslim cleric in Australia has sparked a furore by comparing women who do not wear a headscarf to "uncovered meat", implying that they invited sexual assault.
Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali's actual quote is even worse. He delivered this speech last month, but his comments were just printed in an Australian paper:
"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside ... without cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat's?"
I'm so furious at people who think like this that I'll refrain from specific comments aside from a broad condemnation of this particular man's position on sex crimes. I hope he doesn't have a wife or daughters. Thankfully, "Muslim community leaders rounded on Sheik Hilali for his comments, insisting that he no longer deserved his title as Australia's mufti." I should say so.

Roman Holiday

Much like yesterday's article about friends going on vacations together, I'd also like to include this in my list of dream plans: buy property abroad that's as nice as this... Of course, they purchased this in Rome, but my favorite Italian location is Venice. I'd settle for a villa in Tuscany.


Over the past week or two, I've been getting the DVDs for the first season of MI-5 (which was known as Spooks in Britain). The show makes it look as though MI5 is run by about four people... and even this American knows that the British Security Service would have a rather crowded office.
Despite my anxious misgivings after the first few episodes, I find it oddly compelling and the season ended on such a cliffhanger that I did something I rarely do... I went online to find out what happened because otherwise, I'd have to wait for Netflix to send me the first disc from the second season and that would take days. Unacceptable. (It's amazing how your perspective changes when you stop watching regular television and you simply watch shows on DVDs.) By reading up on the show, though, I did learn that it appears to fall apart after a while... something about the three main characters leaving the show sometime in the third season, which usually signals a sinking ship. I'll probably watch the second and third seasons at some point, but now I'm somewhat reluctant to do so with any speed.


Equalized Marriage in Jersey

Three cheers for New Jersey! Jersey courts ruled in favor of legal rights for gay couples.

Another article about Kiran Desai

I've posted so many articles abour Kiran Desai that if I don't like her book when it arrives from B&N in the mail, I'll be much more disappointed than if I had otherwise just read a book I didn't really enjoy.

I get by with a little help from my friends...

Whenever I think of what I would do if I had large amounts of money, I think of two things.
  1. I would travel everywhere.
  2. I would invite my friends along.
Okay, well, I think of more things than that... like donating to charities and the Pottery Barn Greenwich collection couch and buying every single book and movie on my endless "to read/watch" list.
But when I read an article about people traveling with friends, I'm rather pleased. Sure there are complications and sure I'm jealous that I can't quite do this scale of trip now (we managed backpacking through Italy in hostels but a yacht would be cool, too), but hey, I'll file it away for future use. If my "gold-digger" costume yields positive results, then hey, maybe I'll invite you along on a trip sometime soon.

Happy Andy Warholidays

That would be the title of the Barneys catalog this season.... and this would be a Barneys display.


I love Halloween. I'm not sure when I'll consider myself too old to dress up but I don't see that happening any time soon. For last weekend's Halloween party, I was a black widow (black hat with veil, spiderweb stockings, and a red hourglass brooch). For *this* week's Halloween party, I'm thinking a gold digger... gold dress, gold accessories, gold make-up, and a little golden shovel. We'll see.
But some people out there don't like Halloween, including Roz Chast, a cartoonist I'm sure you've seen in the New Yorker and other publications. The amusing part is that her husband goes all out for the holiday while she bunks down in the house, waiting for November.

I scream, you scream...

We all scream for ice cream. At least, that's what big ice cream chain companies seem to think.

Personally, I think if you're anywhere in the East Village, you should pop over to Sundaes and Cones on 10th between 3rd and 4th Avenues. It's the best pistachio I've ever had and they have other cool flavors like taro and corn. It tastes way better than you think.


Liberal Pride

A manifesto for liberals in the waning Bush regime... you can add your name to a lengthy list of liberals who agree.

All You Need Is Love

A new Beatles album with their finest stuff.

Trains and Automobiles, But No Trains

And I thought my own trip from Sicily to Oxford without taking a plane was cool... this woman took trains from London to Koh Chang, Thailand.

You can't take it with you...

... but you can still accrue it once you're gone.
Kurt Cobain, the former lead singer of Nirvana, has joined the illustrious ranks of celebrities who find that death is no bar to making a fortune. The singer, who committed suicide 12 years ago, has replaced Elvis Presley at the top of the list of stars who continue to rake in millions even though they are no longer able to enjoy the benefits themselves.

How to Marry a Millionaire

I'm continuing on a bit of a Marilyn Monroe kick and, last night, I watched How to Marry a Millionaire.
The first surprising thing was the amount of screen time given to the orchestra at the beginning of the film. It meant that I spent a lot of time trying to determine if there were any female musicians at all (about three) and I watched the cymbalist, waiting for the poor man to have something to contribute. While looking at the trivia about the movie on IMDB, though, I learned that this was one of the first movies to have its score recorded in stereo, so the eight-minute, pre-credits introduction makes a little more sense.
In any case, my criticism is that there isn't nearly enough Marilyn in it -- her character is one large gag about a girl not wanting to be seen in glasses (if only they had included the Dorothy Parker line, "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses") and yet she's endearing. It's a cute little picture with a simple premise and an obvious conclusion. Three gold-digging girls rent an expensive, furnished apartment in an effort to snag wealthy husbands; the three are played by Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. My favorite line might belong to Lauren Bacall as she tries to insist that age doesn't matter: "I've always liked older men... look at that old fellow what's-his-name in the African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him." Her reference is to Humphrey Bogart... Lauren Bacall's real-life husband.
Naturally, the girls might plan on marrying money but life has other plans and it all turns out happily. (If you don't care to know the ending or somehow can't guess where this would all end up, then stop reading now!) One ends up happily married but poor as a churchmouse; one marries a wealthy man who's on the lamb and thus has no access to his money; and the final girl actually gets a millionaire to the altar... but she's already fallen in love with someone else who she believes is poor (in actuality, he's richer than Croesus and just happens to like greasy spoon diners).
Those seeking pointers on marrying millionaires in this day and age won't find much here to help them -- except that it's all about being in the right place at the right time. So if anyone is looking for another girl to go in on a plan to rent a posh, furnished apartment and sell the furniture to make rent, let me know.

A picture is worth a thousand words...

...or perhaps a couple thousand dollars if you a photography workshop/vacation. If you can't afford to go learn from the pros, then read this Guardian reporter's article that gives some (obvious) tips on shooting excellent photographs from a National Geographic photographer.

Play it again, Sam

Surprisingly, the Guardian does not list "Play it again, Sam" in its list of often misquoted famous lines.


All Powerful Google

I have to admit... if my life has to be totally controlled by some online conglomerate, I can imagine some candidates that are worse than the Google Empire. At least they do some interesting and useful things. Take for example... the Google Earth Voter Guide. Elections are in two weeks -- I hope we're all ready.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

A show of hands, if you please. Who really liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?

My hand wouldn't be up in that tally. I didn't have any intense ties to the characters, though did think it was quite interesting (if much too long). Well, if you thought it was long, too, just wait until you hear this... Susanna Clarke has published a new book (The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories) and it appears that the stories seem to come from cut pieces of the original novel.

That's right. It was supposed to be longer.

Penny for a song, guv'na?

You pay more than a penny for a song at iTunes these days, but what about if you actually owned a song? Think about Will in About a Boy who gets royalties for "Santa's Super Sleigh" or whoever owns "Happy Birthday." Well, now it might even be possible for you to own just a small lyric in a song. Jonathan Haselden, a UK singer/songwriter, has been earning money (and netting some publicity) by selling off pieces of his songs. Individuals or companies can buy the lyrics, use them in whatever way they so choose, and then if the song is in any way successful, they will net a part of the profits. It might sound a little silly, but he just sold the lyric "And when you're lost, you'll always be found" on eBay for nearly $21,000. Sounds like whatever Haselden has cooked up is music to his ears.

Grow Up

Michael Bywater says we're all big babies. Somehow, he manages to avoid ever mentioning Peter Pan in this selection, but you can still get the point.

Goethe's in Da House

"German rapper Doppel U sees Goethe and Schiller as the Slim Shadys of their time, and thinks it's time they were shown some respect."

Harper's Weekly Review

You subscribe to the Harper's Weekly Review email, right? Of course you do. It's kind of hard to gulp down all the things they summarize so quickly (particularly as there are so many horrible things that happen in the world), but by refraining from commentary, the starkness of the terrible things manages to somehow fit next to the blatantly ridiculous as the world goes to hell in a handbasket. If you didn't catch it this morning, perhaps you'll permit me to point out two of the awful/ridiculous news pieces from the week (aside from Steve Wynn giving Picasso the elbow):
  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan collapsed from fasting during Ramadan. His security staff rushed him unconscious to the hospital and accidentally locked him in his car; they fought for ten minutes to break the car's reinforced windows with a sledgehammer and chisel.
  • A Massachusetts elementary school banned tag.

My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up

If you feel like you haven't read enough S&M literature lately, might I recommend Stephen Elliott's My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up? He read at the Strand last night (with Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) and while it isn't my thing, I think he does write about kinky lifestyles with incredible tenderness and clarity (or perhaps they're not so kinky lifestyles, depending on what you define as the border between kinky and normal - it's fuzzier than you might otherwise think). Several of the stories are quite beautiful and all of them are emotionally moving.
Perhaps the best part of the reading, though, was listening to the woman who owns the Strand uncomfortably stumble over the titles. The authors of F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare and How You Can Wake Up from It, who also attended the reading and then came out for drinks later with Steve and Nick Flynn, noted that when she introduced them at their reading at the Strand, her exact words were, "...the authors of F.U.B.A.R.... which stands for... well, you know."
In any case, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up is a collection of short stories that Steve qualifies as fiction because he's not sure he wants the responsibility of "memoir." He's the founder of LitPAC and the Progressive Reading Series and he convinced Katherine Harris to let him on her press bus, so he's got to be cool enough for you to at least read his novel Happy Baby if you're not quite comfortable with the idea of reading a book on the subway that has a picture of a dominatrix on the cover.


A universally acknowledged truth...

This article starts: "It is a universally acknowledged truth that a movie studio in possession of a good fortune must be in want of Great Books." You want to read it. You know you do.

Who is losing here?

The Guardian on our mania for book awards... are we winning or losing something with the flurry?

Travel Stuff

A flurry of things about travel and some things vaguely related to travel.

The travel writer Eric Newby, author of A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, passed away at the end of last week.

In Britain, you might be able to pick up Jan Morris: Around the World in 80 Years, a tribute work.
In his introduction, Paul Theroux admits that, in one sense, the book could be seen to be 'an assortment of besotted valentines and rave reviews', but in a deeper sense, 'it is a demonstration of the life of energy and passion Jan has led and how strongly she has influenced us through her example'.

The NY Times on DH Lawrence's New Mexico.

And lastly... anyone want to go to Morocco?

Contemporary Authors Invade Syllabus

Contemporary fiction is finding its way into the classrooms... and onto exams. Perhaps it's more prevalent in Britain but it's happening in the US, too.

Mind your language

In the Telegraph, you will find a selection from a new book on language (discussing why silly things like grammar and subtlety matter), written by John Humphrys.

And here's a second selection, too.

The Thirteenth Tale

My mother mentioned to me last week that she had bought The Thirteenth Tale. She read it in two days and then Fed-Exed it to me. I told her that such a speedy mailing was not necessary.

She responded, "Yes, it was."

I started Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale around four o'clock yesterday... and it did not leave my hands until I finished it later last night. I started to read it without any previous knowledge of the plot; the only thing I knew was that it was an Englishwoman's debut novel and it was geared towards people who liked books. If you Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in White among your favorite literature, then I suspect that you have an excellent chance of loving this, too. It might not be admitted to the literary canon any time soon, but it's still a delightful story told in a way that lures you in from the very start.

But if you're one of my close friends and you're the type who would like this book... don't buy it. I've already purchased it for you as a holiday present.

Starbucks Culture

I don't drink coffee, so when I walk into a Starbucks location, my interest is already off-center. I like caramel frappuccinos, pumpkin cookies... and the music. I like cozy coffeehouses, but in the absence of appropriate places with wooden benches and comfy cushions, I'll settle for a Starbucks when I need a place to loiter and bide my time until some other scheduled meeting or event. Part of the Starbucks atmosphere is the music... Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, the Beatles... it's all good by me. But does that mean that I'm swayed by that Starbucks-brand endorsement when it comes to other things that I don't already appreciate? I have yet to consciously check something out just because Starbucks said I should, but I do have Akeelah and the Bee in my Netflix queue...

Young and Republican in DC

Ever wonder what it would be like to be young Republican man in DC? Here's an inside look at the Capital Club's latest party, Swine on the Vine. Reading a NY Times article on the subject is about as close as I can get to the post-college frat kegger without running for the hills.


"And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there...

... I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air."

You may always remember Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, but these days, fewer and fewer television shows are taking that minute (or even 30 seconds) to include a theme song or any instrumental accompaniment that defines its show.

Pub Quizzes

The pub quiz. They're more common in Britain, though I have a few friends here that try and make a local pub quiz each week. Here's an article (wittily titled "A thirst for knowledge") and a quiz (!) from the Telegraph.

Sting & Dowland

If people thought Sting was soft after leaving the Police, then his current interest in the lute won't be any surprise. He speaks about Dowland's music in a way that makes very intrigued to hear the new album, though. That and I like Sting in general, so I'll listen to pretty much anything he does.

It's a helluva town...

MUG sent out a good listing of NY-oriented sites. Apologies to people who don't live in New York but whatever, you're missing out. Here are a few of my favorites:

New York in the Movies. It seems like every corner of New York has been featured in a film... an this confirms it.

Ironic Sans. Extra points for the name. It's a blog where part of the space is devoted to animated Manhattan. (This picture is from Oliver & Company.)

Dark Passage. MUG's description: "urban postmortems for armchair archaeologists covering New York City and elsewhere ... all creepy in a good way."


It's not what you know, it's who you know.

Big-name authors (and not counting all the celebrity books you'll be seeing) seem to be rushing their books to the shelves this fall season (and weirdly, most of them seem to be men): Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Bob Woodward, Mitch Albom, John Grisham, John le Carré, Thomas Harris, Thomas Pynchon, and many more. Because of this "killer" fall line-up, smaller books might be taking a backseat or their publication will be pushed to after the holidays.

Show me the money

Yowza -- last night the DCCC spent $12 million on congressional races. Click here to donate to ActBlue.

UNICEF Short Story

Novelist Andrew O'Hagan (long-listed for the Booker) donated a short story to UNICEF, which will be given out for free (though they encourage a donation to the Unite the Children, Unite Against AIDS campaign). The 16-page story will be mailed out and will also be available at Waterstones. Once again, Americans miss out. Bother.

Little Bo Peep Show?

The NY Times comments on how women's costumes keep getting sluttier and sluttier (and gives you a few links to sites with some skanky costumes in case you're still looking.)

Bitter Grapes

In college, spent a long summer as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble. When high school students came in with their summer reading lists, I would try to direct them towards the most entertaining books if they were given options, but there was that one time. This girl came in with the instruction to read any representative of classic American literature. As she left me to examine her list, she returned with a romance novel and asked me if that would count. The girl's father came up as I responded, "Yes, if you want to FAIL out of high school and impede yourself from getting into a good college." "What should she read?" he asked me, and I suggested Grapes of Wrath, which he purchased for her then and there. She deserved it.
I actually didn't mind selling books, though I imagine that it's the only retail job I would ever be able to handle. Here's a Culture Vulture entry from an independent bookseller, giving advice on how to handle the types of customers he has come across.


What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.

Brilliant. Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn had just finalized the $139 million sale of his Picasso painting "Le Rêve" (which would have made it the most expensive painting ever sold, I believe) when he accidentally poked a silver-dollar sized hole in the middle of it with his elbow. He was showing the painting off to a group of friends and his immediate response was, "Oh shit, look what I've done." Needless to say, he released the buyer from the agreement and will be keeping it after he has the painting repaired.
Mr. Wynn actually does suffer from an eye disease that limits his peripheral vision and results in frequently misjudging the proximity of nearby objects.

Plop, flop. / Plop.

If you've written the worst poem ever (and you were relatively well known in your day), then you deserve to at least have a chance at getting your bio included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Judging books by their covers

A.N. Wilson writes on modern editions of books with decidedly ugly covers. I find myself torn when I consider the idea of having a lovely library that looks as though it could exist in old English estates... naturally, it would be the aesthetic option for harmony, but I've grown accustomed to looking at a colorful bookshelf, the garish colors balanced by more neutral tones. Some are, of course, hideous, but some can be lovely in their simplicity (though simplicity is perhaps not the most popular trait when it comes to marketing books these days).

Man Asian Literary Prize

So whoever is keeping the tally of literary prizes, tack another one up there. Man Investments (the investment house that sponsors the Booker Prize) has announced a new award -- the Man Asian Literary Prize -- that will focus on recognizing Asian authors writing in their own language.

Stop staring at your fingers...

So apparently, ladies, if your index finger is shorter than your ring finger, you may be more athletically inclined. Do with this information what you will.

Comedy News Shows

Be honest with yourself... you get all of your news from the Daily Show and this blog, don't you? The Guardian ran a selection from a speech given by Armando Iannucci at the Tate Britain. He discusses the importance of comedy, its contribution to the creative arts, and even manages to pinpoint why we've turned to comedy news shows at this particular point in time:
This has come about for three reasons: politicians have stopped speaking to us properly, the media has stopped examining their actions in anything like a forensic way, and broadcast culture has become so watered down, so scared of fact, that people are less inclined to turn to anything other than entertainment for information.


Don't look at me with that tone of voice...

Ever notice in movies when they show a long lineage of businessmen that have headed a family business, they always appear severe and the most common trait is an expression of displeasure? New research shows that negative expressions (anger, disgust, sadness) are more commonly inherited than positive ones (surprise, joy, though surprise could go either way, I suppose).
So the next time you chide your sibling and they respond that you're behaving just like your mother, you will have to concede that they're on to something.

Don't mention the President, old chap

A Guardian examination on Republican candidates who are distancing themselves from the image of President Bush as elections draw nearer.

Housekeeping vs. The Dirt

I find it interesting that, evidently, the Polysyllabic Spree (the first collection of Nick Hornby's "What I've Been Reading" articles from Believer magazine) is only just now being published in Britain as we've already gotten Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. I suppose it's only funny because it's a British author and I always assume we Yanks have to wait for everything to come across the Atlantic, but no! This time, the delay we experience (about four months between Hornby's writing the article before it's published in Believer and then the amount of time it takes to collect 16 months' worth of articles and publish that as a book), is actually less than the Brits', who have Hornby within their midst but have now had to wait for years to read these articles... unless they were shipped Believer in the first place.
In any case, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt is the same format we enjoy, but there's something a little less delightful about these ones. Perhaps the novelty has worn off but there are still great recommendations to be had. I always sit with a pad of paper or at least a post-it note before reading any one of the articles as I know I'll come away with at least one book to add to my list and I recommend that you do the same.

Appealing Professors

An article from the New Yorker -- the history of academic charisma.

The Queen of Crime

Frances Fyfield writes an in-praise-of-Agatha piece for the Guardian, focusing on the author's mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926 where she simply checked into a hotel for a while and was a perfectly normal guest. I, for one, had no idea of Agatha Christie's personal life. The circumstances leading to her short retreat seem to be enough to justify anyone's wanting a holiday; and more power to her for picking up the pieces of her life, continuing to write, and then marrying a young archaeologist so she could travel the world with him. Color me impressed... where did I toss that copy of Murder on the Orient Express?

The Prince and the Showgirl

Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. Two fantastic stars but who would have ever pictured them together in a film? If you've seen this movie, though, you'll know that it looks like they're having a fantastic amount of fun. The quirks that riddle Olivier's Prince Regent make him a delight to watch and Monroe's showgirl is a sweet and romantic creature... who then completely and totally seduces Olivier. It's riotous. He directs and she gets a wonderful amount of screen time. The only thing I regret is that the image on the poster is never in the film -- Marilyn is always in a white dress and he doesn't quite show that degree of passion. But still, if you consider yourself a fan of either, particularly Marilyn, I suggest you shoot this to the top of your Netflix queue.

One Day in History

The National Trust has launched a campaign for One Day in History - namely, for people to upload their daily entry for their blog to the site, where they will be compiled to create the biggest blog in history.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph asks why so many people blog, referring to blogging as the 21st century's soliloquy.

Lost Horizon

When the High Lama asked him whether Shangri-La was not unique in his experience, and if the Western world could offer anything in the least like it, he answered with a smile: ``Well, yes - to be quite frank it reminds me very slightly of Oxford.''
~ James Hilton, Lost Horizon
In 1939, the first book to be published in paperback form was Lost Horizon, written by James Hilton (though it was originally published in 1933). The adventure story is framed by a prologue and an epilogue narrated by a neurologist. During a dinner with old school chums (who now have little in common), the name Hugh Conway comes up, a British consul who disappeared under hushed-up circumstances involving an abducted airplane. Later that evening, the neurologist's friend Rutherford tells him a story... Hugh Conway did not entirely disappear because Rutherford had found him in a Chinese hospital suffering from amnesia (several months after his initial disappearance). Rutherford goes to some trouble arranging for Conway to return to the Western world with him when one night, Conway regains his memory, unfolds his story, and gives Rutherford the slip. It is Conway's story that is the meat of the tale, an adventure that presents the reader with a possible paradise.
Conway was in the plane with three other passengers when it was abducted and flown to an unknown location in Tibet. They were evacuating Baskul after a revolution during the British Raj. After a crash landing, the pilot dies but instructs the four to seek shelter at the lamastery named Shangri-La in the shadow of the mountain, Karakal. They are greeted by an entourage, including a postulant named Chang who speaks impeccable English, and they are taken to the lamastery where all the comforts of the modern world exist. There is peace, quiet, and total freedom to pursue all the delicate endeavors that we always seem to put off in our daily lives... learning languages, reading extensively, playing music, practicing meditation. And then there is the possibility of separating to such a degree from the world that it's possible to live long enough to have the time to savour all these delicate pleasures...
As Conway is presented with what could be his perfect idea of paradise, the reader reflects on what would consist of his or her own paradise... or at least I think it's a perfectly natural thing to do. Would your paradise be so intellectual? So free from personal ties save that of cordial friendships? So unaccommodating to ambition? (The book comments that the lamas believe it takes about five years for a real attachment to something in the outside world to fade into the pleasant, melancholic memory of those relationships.)
It is gradually apparent that these four outsiders will not be leaving Shangri-La, yet one of their company is not content with this idea. Conway enters this lamastery after WWI but before WWII -- and the high lama seems very aware that tensions are escalating in the world outside; his solution is to preserve their delicate life and hope that the bombs will not find their secluded valley. In response to that, I can't help but think of the Mother Superior in the Sound of Music who insists to Maria that "these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them." Perhaps Shangri-La is not my personal paradise, then.
On that issue, one might note that FDR took "Shangri-La" as the name for the Presidential retreat (later renamed Camp David). I dug up this article from a few months ago that discusses Lost Horizon & the current war over the name "Shangri-La" being fought between a few Chinese cities, not simply for the honorary right but for the money that comes from being a tourist destination. I would emphasize to these folks that Hilton's novel is a fantasy and while it was inspired by National Geographic stories and photographs, it still means he made up Shangri-La.
But no matter what, I found the book to be a very fast read that provoked a number of casual musings on the topic of utopian societies and personal preferences that might suggest "paradise."

You must remember this...

A kiss may still be a kiss, but it's more than that, too. On one level, it's a symbol of romance, affection, desire, and all that jazz... on another level, it's 146 muscles contracting, potentially rooted in the habits of a 75 to 125 million year old ancestor... that we share with mice. The Telegraph asks what is a kiss, anyway?
Dr Henry Gibbons defined it as: "The anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction", while, in Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand said it was a "rosy dot placed on the 'i' in loving".
This article discusses recent studies that link humans' desire to kiss and nuzzle noses to a potential rat-like mammal of an ancestor. It also notes the studies done that say most of us are inclined to tilt our heads to the right when we kiss; this inclination towards the right is backed up by a similar ratio of right-handed to left-handed people. (Note that in this Doisneau photograph, their heads are tilted to the left... but this was a staged photo anyway so might not reflect the natural impulse to tilt right.) Even if it doesn't do anything for us now, as we'll keep on kissin' just as we please, the history and science of the kiss is certainly interesting.
Now we can answer the question posed in the 19th century by the French poet Victor Hugo: "How did it happen that their lips came together?" We know exactly how.
Exercise all 34 facial muscles… and another 112 postural ones for good measure… engage the ventral intraparietal area… turn the head to the right and move forward in one smooth movement… apply suction.

The Science of Sleep

I'm somewhat surprised with myself waiting so long to see Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep. I have no good reason, I've actually been sincerely meaning to since its opening day; I simply plead "busy schedule" and "lack of willing companions."
A.O. Scott wrote the review for the NY Times and I pretty much agree with his assessment that it's almost impossible to summarize this movie. Our main character is Stephane (Gael García Bernal), who has problems differentiating between his dreams and reality. It is also a love story, for he finds a kindred spirit in his neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), though naturally there are problems with communication which complicate things. What you have to admire is director Michel Gondry's choice to populate their dreams with handmade objects; he uses papier-mâché, stuffed animals, stop-time animation... it's a refreshing change from movies full of computer animation.
I'll only quote the end of A.O. Scott's review, because until I read it, I couldn't quite articulate my own feeling on it and he seems to put it perfectly:
And so you leave this buoyant, impish movie feeling a little blue: sorry that it had to end and also wishing, perhaps, that it amounted to more. But its fugitive, ephemeral quality is part of its point: dreams, after all, are hard to remember, and perhaps don’t hold the meanings they seem to. Without them, though, our minds would be emptier and our lives much smaller. So while The Science of Sleep may not, in the end, be terribly deep, it is undoubtedly — and deeply — refreshing.


Bunch of terriers

How do you select a Booker winner? When Philip Larkin chaired the committee in 1977, he described the committee as "a bunch of terriers looking for a rat: we couldn't describe it, but we should know it when we found it." Here, Hermione Lee writes about choosing Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss.

Why do bad movies happen?

Why do frat boy movies keep coming out at a consistent rate? Are the people who attend those movies the people who are breeding and therefore pushing our population to 300 million? Possibly, but that isn't what this article discussess... it only discusses the stupid movie phenomena from the perspective of the Brits.

300 million

The Census Bureau predicts that on or around the 17th of October, the population of the United States will hit 300 million people. That's a 100 million increase from 1967. And it's possible that we'll hit 400 million by 2043. In the amount of time that we'll be tacking on another 100 million, the populations of Japan and the EU are expected to decline by 15 million. Granted, these are just projections, but why the explosion when you consider that, on average, richer countries have more controlled birth rates. American women are having an average of 2.1 children whereas women in the EU can expect 1.47 kids AND "[by] 2010, deaths there are expected to start outnumbering births, so from that point immigration will account for more than all its growth." I'll stop quoting this Economist article and let you read it.

70 days until Christmas...

...is your shopping done?
Sorry, sorry, you have plenty of time!! I feel ahead of the curve because I attended a Shecky's shopping night and ended up buying jewelry for girlfriends, but otherwise, my usual gifts are books. The Christmas period can provide about 40% of publishers' annual income. This Guardian article discusses the book-buying holiday season and makes a few guesses as to which books will find their way into everyone's stocking this time around. Apparently, Cook with Jamie is in abundant supply across the pond.

The Unfortunate End

I finished reading The Beatrice Letters on Friday and The End on Saturday... and I feel so in the know, it's ridiculous. Never mind the fact that the only people who feel a similar enthusiasm for this information about Lemony Snicket and a Series of Unfortunate Events are ten years old. I did, evidently, make the right choice to not attend the Union Square event, as it appears that some people were there until midnight as they waited for Daniel Handler to sign books on behalf of Lemony Snicket (that and it was probably a bunch of children and I'd have to pretend that I was getting things signed for my godson... soon he's going to be old enough to ask me to stop using him as an excuse). While I might not be searching for any more books about the Baudelaires, I am still searching for someone to discuss the books with me. *sigh*
But before you take pity on me and decide to read them, I must warn you that they will bring you nothing but sorrow and I agree with Lemony Snicket that when faced with the prospect, you should simply scream and run away...


The Telegraph remarks on the curious phenomena of appearing and disappearing books... all the work of that masked hero... Bookcrossing.com.

Ghiberti's Baptistery Doors

If you've visited beautiful Firenze (that would be Florence, kids), then surely you've visited the Piazza del Duomo and that means you've taken a look at the golden doors of the Baptistery. The ten panels depict scenes from the Old Testament and it took Lorenzo Ghiberti 27 years to complete them. The doors weigh about three tons. You snapped pictures and you "oooh"ed and "ahhh"ed at the doors that Michelangeo declared were grand enough to adorn the gates of paradise (hence, why they're now called the "Gates of Paradise"). One small problem -- those aren't them. The panels currently on display are copies that were put up in 1990 because they were in terrible condition as a result of age and pollution. After intense restoration, three of the original panels will be touring North America. New Yorkers, you'll get your chance to see these at the Met from October 30th through January 13th.

Oh, I've been to Prague...

I just watched Kicking and Screaming for the first time and I was completely delighted. The dialogue was funny and highly quotable -- it was perhaps not always brilliantly witty, but always amusing in the familiar tones that hit home for every recent grad. In addition, I was captivated by the performances. Eric Stolz is always great and evidently, his character was a last-minute addition to the film when the producers demanded that a bigger name join the cast. I enjoyed the character interaction that felt entirely believable and I'm sure everything I have to say had already been said by everyone who has seen this 1995 movie long before I was clued in. That being said, I will now make it a point to encourage all my friends to see it, too.


Gerry Studds

Former congressman Gerry Studds died on Saturday morning at the age of 69. Mr. Studds was the first openly gay congressman and from 1973 through 1997 he represented a district of Massachusetts that includes Cape Cod. An advocate for fishermen's rights and a leading voice on the establishment of national parks along the Massachusetts shore, Mr. Studds was also a firm advocate for gay rights. He and his longtime partner were married a week after same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts law and he is cited to have said that "it was the fight for gay and lesbian equality that was the last great civil rights chapter in modern American history."
The Republican party, flailing out in any way to deflect attention from its own problems, has brought up Gerry Studds' name up in relation to the Foley scandal as, in 1983, Studds was censured by the House for a relationship with a 17-year-old page (that occurred in 1973). The scandal publicly outed him, though many of his constituents confessed that it came as no surprise. At the time, 17 was the legal age of consent according to state law and it was a mutually consenting relationship; the young man continued to offer his support to Studds -- thus, the censure was that of engaging in relationships with subordinates. Studds was elected to seven terms after his censure and retired from Congress in 1997 to work as a lobbyist for the fishing industry.

Stormy Weather

Ares Messinis / Getty Images
Greece has had quite a few storms recently... resulting in this picture, which I found in the LA Times "Week in Focus" section.

Coast of Utopia

I studied Tom Stoppard at Oxford for a term and thoroughly enjoyed everything, though as we neared the end of our term, my professor was more reluctant to approach what was (at the time) his most recent work -- The Coast of Utopia. It seems very different from his past plays given the material... that and it's really three plays. It is, however, going to be performed at the Lincoln Center Theater in New York -- and if you catch one of the marathon performance days, you will devote 18 hours of your day (12 hours of performance time) to the theater. To see it all (be it all on one day or three separate performances spread over a several months), it will cost you close to $200, but you were just going to spend it on something silly anyway. If you're still not convinced, then just read this NY Times article and be done with it.

The Married Minority

As a recent college graduate whose friends are starting to wear engagement rings or (goodness gracious) bring children into the world, I take a certain amount of pleasure in the knowledge that married-couple households are now in the minority -- though just barely.


How do I love Netflix? Let me count the ways.

What did we do before Netflix?
You've heard all the advantages of having movies delivered to your door (versus getting up off the couch and going to the video rental place on the corner or the library where the selection isn't quite so up-to-date) but the best part, in my mind, is the catalogue of older movies and television shows. Blockbuster probably isn't stocking every single random British show that will entertain me more than most American ones. And it probably won't have the whole Marilyn Monroe oeuvre, either. This weekend, I have The Prince and the Showgirl (Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier), Kicking and Screaming (directed by Noah Baumbach) and the first disc of a British drama called MI-5.
MI-5 features Matthew MacFadyen, who most young girls will recognize as the new Darcy that starred opposite Keira Knightley in last year's Pride and Prejudice. As you can probably guess from the title, though, this is definitely not a Regency romance; it's a show that follows a team of MI-5 spooks through personal and political tensions. I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I don't think it was anything as intense as this -- it doesn't seem so intense when it starts and then all of a sudden a car explodes and a mother and a daughter are dead. The first episode featured a hunt for a pro-life terrorist group's leader and the second featured wife-beating, intense racial prejudice, and a rather violent death. That being said, I'm still getting the second disc -- someone suggested that it might be like 24, but I might be the only person in the world who has not seen 24.
Reviews of the movies will be available on Monday.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Muhammed Yunus and the bank that he founded "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below." The bank gives loans (even as small as $12) to the poor who might not otherwise qualify for loans at other commercial banks.

London, City of Disappearances

Iain Sinclair's "anthology of absence" muses on all things forgotten within London and about it.
Of all cities, London most powerfully touches the imagination. It is the landscape for these stories because no other place has the same capacity for labyrinthine obliquity. It elicits wonder and horror in equal measure. In Blake’s words, it has become “a human awful wonder of God”.


Little Children

I finished reading Little Children by Tom Perrota last night. It's been a busy week and instead of going to bed on time each night, I chose to pick up the novel and finish it in the hours I would have otherwise spent in deep slumber. I was oddly compelled by subject matter that I might have found somewhat commonplace (a novel about adultery) or unappealing (there's a child molester). I credit that to the writing style entirely, which could be criticized for its detached third-person stance but I thought it was somewhat honest - by detaching the reader from the characters by even that small degree, the reader could fully appreciate the reference to "little children," because most everyone is a child in this novel. This quote is from the article referring to the new movie based on the book:
We're all little children at heart, the film woefully concludes: running scared, crying for mommy. It's an infantile ending for such a studiously grown-up movie.
Well, fine, but I think the ending is purposefully doing that. We're ALL little children, the author included, who can't bring himself to execute a potentially horrifying ending that the reader almost expects. Perhaps I'm simply not quite at the right stage of life or I haven't experienced the demands a child can put on a person, but I barely identified or connected with any of the characters -- despite that, though I rather devoured the book and on the whole, I enjoyed it. Of course, I had Kate Winslet in my mind the whole time, knowing that she plays Sarah in the movie, so the next step is to watch that and compare.

He's just not that in to your I.Q.

Book smarts in a relationship... how important is this issue when you're whittling down your options? Jessica Wakeman discusses the role that intelligence plays in relationships... particularly what happens when the two people are on unequal footing. I would agree with the Alexis quoted in the article: "The issue itself can almost be caught into an elitist trap, but it’s not quite something that I let myself feel bad about," she said. "He doesn’t have to have read everything I have, but has to be capable [of it]."

25 Days until Election Day

I've refrained from posting articles about Mark Foley because surely everyone is aware of that scandal by now. This article from the Nation, however, brings to light something perhaps scarier than even a letcherous congressman IMing teenage boys: "some anti-Republican gay-rights activists composed a memo containing the names of closeted gay Republican Congressional staffers and sent it to leading Christian-right advocacy groups," implying that those staffers may or may not have shielded attention from Foley's actions. I honestly don't know what the worst part of that sentence is (aside from my construction of it), but there's a lot. How many twisted turns are in store for us? New Yorkers, there are 25 days until Election Day... which means you need to send in your registration today if you haven't yet.

More Orhan

More articles on Orhan Pamuk. The NY Times. The NY Times again. BBC News. The LA Times. The Chronicle for Higher Education. The Washington Post. The Nation reprinted a Pamuk article. The Guardian reports on Turkish reactions.

The End

October the 13th. "Is it lucky for you?" the Guardian asks. Well, even if it isn't, here's one thing to brighten the day -- the last book in the Series of Unfortunate Events is now available. In case you need to brush up, here's the Series in 120 seconds, or you can scan this NY Times article for a more general discussion of Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). If you're near Union Square, go see Daniel Handler and enjoy what I believe will be the "kick off concert" for the CD. And if you still need more unfortunate things to see on the web, here's a Snicket-oriented blog named 667 Dark Avenue.


Ever wanted to be a speechwriter? I would watch Sam Seabourne with dreamy eyes and wish that I could (a) marry him or (b) have his job. Well, without a real President Josiah Bartlet in sight, practice your skills here by writing a speech for Dubya.


Frieze Art Fair

In case you happen to be in Britain, you really should be checking out the Frieze Art Fair - the largest art fair in Britain with thousands of artists, all taking place in Regent's Park. This article in the Guardian gives tips on looking at contemporary art, though my favorite is "find your inner squirrel," a.k.a. if you have "the collecting gene," then you could add art to the list.

Lord of the Flies

I read Lord of the Flies my freshman year in high school. Despite the fact that I was in an honors class, I was somewhat bored by the general discussion and as a result, by the time we read Lord of the Flies, I was looking for small, subversive ways to liven up the day. It made it easier that the teacher of this class was Sister Teresa, who was somewhat ornery for a nun and would periodically tell us to "go fly a kite," but deep down, she loved us.
My position was that William Golding hadn't intended any of the symbolism that people pointed to in his novel. He simply wrote a messed up little adventure story and then went along when everyone else started suggesting that the shell could mean order and the pig's head symbolized chaos.
Now, had this game existed when I was reading Lord of the Flies, I would have been much more entertained as I hunted for symbolism and studied the characters.

Alpha Male

In case you couldn't tell if you're an alpha male, the Times has created a quiz to help you figure that out -- and then you can read Alpha Male Syndrome (put out by the Harvard Business School, who has probably seen its fair share of alpha males) to learn how to deal with your aggression and animal magnetism. I couldn't be bothered about the book, but I find the idea amusing that a guy will take the quiz and try to figure out if he's the leader of the pack. If you need a quiz to tell you, you probably aren't.


In a plan that would give every child in Libya a laptop and an internet connection, Coloney Gadafy's son Saif al-Islam has said that he hopes to establish an "e-democracy" where everyone can interact with the government electronically so they can participate in decision making. The deal is being done with OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), an American nonprofit group, and will involved approximately 1.2 million computers.

National Book Award finalists

Does anyone know how many book awards there are out there? I mean, I'm not complaining -- I enjoy being exposed to a variety of new and excellent books, but I would be curious if someone kept a running tally of all the global and national book awards there are. In any case, THE National Book Award nominees were announced yesterday.
Oh, and if you've moved on from the Booker, fine, but here's a sweet interview with Kiran Desai.

Nobel Prize (and National Book Award finalists)

Orhan Pamuk has won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. A Turkish native, he has received criticism from his homeland (earlier this year, he was involved in a court case after he spoke about the killing of Kurds and Armenians), but the Swedish Committee commented, "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city [he] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures." Last year, as I'm sure you remember, the Nobel Prize went to Harold Pinter. If you haven't seen a production of "Betrayal" (or at least read it), then hurry along now.


Can you afford to buy cheap clothing?

So apparently, you simply can't shop anywhere anymore. The Guardian discusses ethical shopping and asks if you're doing more damage to the world if you try and save a buck. Admit it, you've had all kinds of nagging thoughts about what damage you're doing to the world just buy buying a sweater. Chances are it's such a steal because it's the result of sweatshop or child labor. Cotton may be breathable but think of the pesticides! And if that pair of pants had a passport, would there be more stamps on it than on yours (South Carolina cotton, Sudanese textile mill, Pakistani garment factory)?

An opinion on veils

While discussing veils in an interview, Salman Rushdie said simply, "veils suck." He was supporting the commends of Jack Straw, the Commons Leader, who believes that veils are a "visible statement of separation" that was detrimental to the community.
"[Jack Straw] was expressing an important opinion, which is that veils suck - which they do. Speaking as somebody with three sisters and a very largely female Muslim family, there is not a single woman I know in my family, or in their friends, who would have accepted the wearing of a veil."
The former chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain dismissed Mr. Rushdie's comments, citing that he had "no credibility" in the Muslim community.

I wonder if such blatant statements mean his odds have gone down for winning the Nobel?

You can talk to me...

All this discussion of Google buying youtube.com prompted the Guardian to write up a list of 10 great videos. You may not have time to watch them all (I don't) so I recommend simply skipping ahead and watching this Beatles recording of "Hey Bulldog."