2.28.2007

Angelina Jolie on Darfur

From the Washington Post, Angelina Jolie on Darfur:
It has become clear to me that there will be no enduring peace without justice. History shows that there will be another Darfur, another exodus, in a vicious cycle of bloodshed and retribution. But an international court finally exists. It will be as strong as the support we give it. This might be the moment we stop the cycle of violence and end our tolerance for crimes against humanity.
What the worst people in the world fear most is justice. That's what we should deliver.
Read the whole article here. Thanks to Hil for sending it my way!

Slim Lit...

From the Guardian:
Two leading publishers have hit on the idea of boiling down classic novels for modern audiences who are too busy/stupid to read the real thing. Orion was first off the blocks with its Compact Classics, which will appear in May - Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Moby-Dick, The Mill on the Floss, David Copperfield and Wives and Daughters, all reduced to not more than 400 pages for "less confident readers". Soon after come Bleak House, North and South, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Portrait of a Lady, similarly straitjacketed.
Without falling into the trap of condemning all abridgement - it happens on radio without a squeak of protest - at least half these titles should not be on the list. The fact that Moby-Dick is a digressive, unboildownable whale of a book is the whole point; The Portrait of a Lady, Vanity Fair and Middlemarch are straightforward reads - page turners, even for less confident readers, though in the case of Middlemarch there are admittedly a lot of pages to turn. The rambling David Copperfield is ripe for cutting, but Bleak House, in which Dickens was consciously widening his scope as an artist, is not. A great novel is more than its plot; it is an ecosystem, a world. Tamper at your peril.
Meanwhile, HarperCollins is reducing War and Peace from almost 1,500 pages to 900. It says it will give us less war. Perhaps it has hit on the answer. Why not The Only Child Karamazov, Le Misérable, A Tale of Two Medium-Sized Towns, Limited Expectations and A Couple of Days in the Country? That should do the trick.
Professor John Sutherland of UCL has suggested that it is far better to do the abridging yourself. My recollection of reading what we must now call The Odd, Isolated Skirmish and Peace is that Prince Andrei is fascinating and Pierre a bore, so when the latter appeared my reading/skipping speeded up, though I always tell myself I will one day go back and read it properly (ditto Proust, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Chaucer, Milton, Don Quixote, Romola, Ulysses, and everything by Thomas Pynchon).
Find the article here.

Harry Can Act!

The reviews are coming in and it appears that the young man behind the boy wizard can actually act. Daniel Radcliffe has been getting very positive reviews for his performance in Equus -- read about it here in the Guardian.

Does a few million more really matter?

The Telegraph talks about Cussler and his trial.

Quelle Horreur!

It's hard for Americans to scandalize the French (well, unless they're commenting that they're astounded by how prudish and stupid we are), but here's a fine example of an American author writing in French and shocking them all.

Escapism or Egotism?

The Guardian looks at authors writing about authors in their books:
The central character in a TV adaptation of an Ian Rankin short story being shown tomorrow is a policeman called John Buchan who has been bested in love and other areas of life by a rich, sexy, witty, bestselling novelist called Jack Harvey.
Most viewers will spot that the policeman's name is an allusion to a famous Scottish novelist - the author of The 39 Steps - but fewer may pick up that Buchan's nemesis is also a Caledonian literary reference. Jack Harvey is the pseudonym under which Ian Rankin published three early novels.
Read the whole article here.

2.26.2007

Lady Chatterly Best Film at the Cesars

Reported by the BBC: "Lady Chatterley has taken the award for best film at the Cesars, France's glitzy equivalent of the Oscars." Read the article here.

Rowling Sues eBay Over Pirated Books

From the Times:
In fiction his enemies are evil wizards and magical beasts, but Harry Potter’s latest adversary is a real corporation with a turnover of more than £2 billion.
J. K. Rowling, Harry’s creator, is suing the online auction hosting service eBay after unscrupulous sellers used the Indian version of the website to sell unauthorised versions of her books.
Read the whole article here.

War of Ideas

From the Guardian:
The film Casablanca (1942) has become a permanent icon of a certain kind of educated culture, at least among older generations. The cast will still be familiar, I hope: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Marcel Dalio, Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains. Its phrases have become part of our discourse, such as the endlessly misquoted "Play it again, Sam" or "Round up the usual suspects". If we leave aside the basic love affair, this is a film about the relations of the Spanish civil war and the wider politics of that strange but decisive period in 20th-century history, the era of Adolf Hitler. Rick, the hero, has fought for the republicans in the Spanish civil war. He emerges from it defeated and cynical in his Moroccan café, and the film ends with him returning to the struggle in the second world war. In short, Casablanca is about the mobilisation of anti-fascism in the 1930s. And those who mobilised against fascism before most others, and most passionately, were western intellectuals.
Today it is possible to see the civil war, Spain's contribution to the tragic history of that most brutal of centuries, the 20th, in its historical context. It was not, as the neoliberal François Furet argued it should have been, a war against both the ultra-right and the Comintern - a view shared, from a Trotskyist sectarian angle, by Ken Loach's powerful film Land and Freedom (1995). The only choice was between two sides, and liberal-democratic opinion overwhelmingly chose anti-fascism. Hence, asked in early 1939 who they wanted to win in a war between Russia and Germany, 83 per cent of Americans wanted a Russian victory. Spain was a war against Franco - that is to say, against the forces of fascism with which Franco was aligned - and 87 per cent of Americans favoured the republic. Alas, unlike in the second world war, the wrong side won. But it is largely due to the intellectuals, the artists and writers who mobilised so overwhelmingly in favour of the republic, that in this instance history has not been written by the victors.
Read the whole article here.

Hardback Mountain

This Wall Street Journal Opinion Page piece discusses the painful act of cutting back a personal library.

Why We Miss Susan Sontag, Volume 1

From the New York Observer... "Why We Miss Susan Sontag, Volume 1."

Evolution and Gossip

An incredibly science-y article about "evolution, alienation and gossip."

Adventures in Film Narrative

From the New Yorker, a critic at large... "The New Disorder: Adventures on Film Narrative."

Face Value

The Toronto Star (yes, Jadis, I'm catching up on my aldaily.com) on a new study that suggests how we respond to a candidate's face can determine our choice on election day.

Why has mankind always loved to draw animals?

The Telegraph and David Attenborough attempt to answer that question.

Rachel Weisz at the Oscars

You knew I had to do it. A whole post exclusively based on how beautiful Rachel Weisz was at the Oscars. Though yes, I agree, the Cartier necklace wasn't perhaps the best idea, but still, I love her.

2.25.2007

Beware Celebrities Bearing Gifts

The NY Times discusses Obama, Geffen, the Clintons and others.

Is the movie magic gone?

From the LA Times:
By this reckoning, no matter how much films may improve, their prospects are not likely to — which suggests that something has fundamentally changed in our relationship to the movies. The long, long romance may finally be losing its bloom, and that is why Hollywood should be concerned.
What is happening may be a matter of metaphysics. Virtually from their inception, the movies have been America's primary popular art, the "Democratic Art," as they were once called, managing to strike the American nerve continuously for decades. During the 1920s, nearly the entire population of the country attended the movies weekly, but even when attendance sank in the 1950s under the assault of television and the industry was virtually on life support, the movies still managed to occupy the center of American life.
Movie stars have been our brightest icons. A big movie like "The Godfather," "Titanic" or "Lord of the Rings" entered the national conversation and changed the national consciousness. Movies were the barometers of the American psyche. More than any other form, they defined us, and to this day, the rest of the world knows us as much for our films as for any other export.
Today, movies just don't seem to matter in the same way — not to the general public and not to the high culture either, where a Pauline Kael review in the New Yorker could once ignite an intellectual firestorm. There aren't any firestorms now, and there is no director who seems to have his finger on the national pulse the way that Steven Spielberg or George Lucas did in the 1970s and 1980s. People don't talk about movies the way they once did. It would seem absurd to say, as Kael once did, that she knew whether she would like someone by the films he or she liked. Once at the center, movies increasingly sit on the cultural margins.
Read the whole article here.

Notable Quotables

Louis Menand in the New Yorker:
Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in “Casablanca” says “Play it again, Sam”; Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say “Give me liberty, or give me death!”; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.” Marie Antoinette did not say “Let them eat cake”; Hermann Göring did not say “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun”; and Muhammad Ali did not say “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street,” does not say “Greed is good”; James Cagney never says “You dirty rat” in any of his films; and no movie actor, including Charles Boyer, ever said “Come with me to the Casbah.” Many of the phrases for which Winston Churchill is famous he adapted from the phrases of other people, and when Yogi Berra said “I didn’t really say everything I said” he was correct.
So what? Should we care? Quotable quotes are coins rubbed smooth by circulation. What Michael Douglas did say in “Wall Street” was “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” That was not a quotable quote; it needed some editorial attention, the consequence of which is that everyone distinctly remembers Michael Douglas uttering the words “Greed is good” in “Wall Street,” just as everyone distinctly remembers Ingrid Bergman uttering the words “Play it again, Sam” in “Casablanca,” even though what she really utters is “Play it, Sam.” When you watch the movie and get to that line, you don’t think your memory is wrong. You think the movie is wrong.
“For lack of a better word” spoils a nice quotation—the speech is about calling a spade a spade, so there is no better word—and “Play it again, Sam” is somehow more affecting than “Play it, Sam.” But not all emendations are improvements. What Leo Durocher actually said (referring to the New York Giants baseball team) was “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” The sportswriters who heard him telescoped (the technical term is “piped”) the quote because it made a neater headline. They could have done a better job of piping. “Nice guys finish seventh” is a lot cleverer (and also marginally more plausible) than the non-utterance that gave immortality to Leo Durocher. But Leo Durocher doesn’t own that quotation; the quotation owns Leo Durocher, the way a parasite sometimes takes over the host organism. Quotations are in a perpetual struggle for survival. They want people to keep saying them. They don’t want to die any more than the rest of us do. And so, whenever they can, they attach themselves to colorful or famous people. “Nice guys finish last” profits by its association with a man whose nickname was the Lip, even if the Lip never said it, just as “Winning isn’t everything” has a higher market valuation because of the mental image people have of Vince Lombardi. No one has a mental image of Henry (Red) Sanders, the coach who used the phrase first.
The adaptive mechanism benefits both parties. The survival of the quotation helps insure the survival of the person to whom it is misattributed. The Patrick Henry who lives in our heads and hearts is the man who said “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Apparently, the line was cooked up by his biographer William Wirt, a notorious embellisher, who also invented Henry’s other familiar quotation, “If this be treason, make the most of it!” But a Patrick Henry who never said “Give me liberty, or give me death!” or “If this be treason, make the most of it!,” a Patrick Henry without a death wish, is just not someone we know or care about. His having been said to have said what he never said is a condition of his being “Patrick Henry.” Certain sayings, like “It’s déjà vu all over again,” are Berra-isms, whether Yogi Berra ever said them or not. “Je ne suis pas marxiste,” Karl Marx once complained. Too late for that. Like Yogi, he was the author of a discourse, and he lives as long as it does.
Karl Marx has thirteen quotations (plus eight for which he shares credit with Friedrich Engels, who, interestingly, never felt it necessary to say “Je ne suis pas engeliste”) in the compendious, enjoyable, and expensive “Yale Book of Quotations” (Yale; $50), edited by Fred Shapiro. Groucho Marx (no relation) has fifty-one quotations. The big winner is William Shakespeare, with four hundred and fifty-five, topping even the Yahwist and his co-authors, the wordsmiths who churned out the Bible but managed to come up with only four hundred quotable passages. Mark Twain has a hundred and fifty-three quotations, Oscar Wilde a hundred and twenty-three. Ambrose Bierce edges out Samuel Johnson in double overtime by a final score of a hundred and forty-four to a hundred and ten. And Woody Allen has forty, beating out William Words-worth, Rudyard Kipling, and both Roosevelts.
Read the rest of the article here.

The Romantic Lives of Braniacs

From the Boston Globe:
Pity the overschooled old maid and the lonely career woman. Highly educated or high-achieving women are less likely to marry and have children than other women. If they do marry, they are more likely to divorce. Even if they don't divorce, their marriages will be less happy. And, oh, yes, they'll be sexually frustrated, too.
These maxims, widely accepted for at least two centuries, are bad news for a state so focused on brainy pursuits. Thirty-five percent of Massachusetts women 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or more, a level of educational attainment almost 10 points higher than the national average. So perhaps it follows that 28 percent of women in the state have never been married. Massachusetts's proportion of never-married females is the third highest in the nation, topped only by the District of Columbia and the state of New York. But are these women really educating themselves out of the marriage market? If a woman reads Proust or computes calculus, is she unable to attract a mate?
Conventional wisdom says the answer to both questions is yes. But a close look at the historical transformation of marriage in America suggests that educated women now have a surprising advantage when it comes to matrimony.
Read the whole article here.

2.24.2007

The Last King of Scotland

Idi Amin is responsible for the death of approximately 300,000 Ugandans. Considered to be one of the truly terrible dictators of recent years, I echo the sentiments expressed by many that I've heard lately: it's hard to believe he only died three years ago (exiles in Saudi Arabia).
How do you get close to a figure like this, even in a film? The Last King of Scotland is based on a novel by Giles Foden that uses a Westerner to help us gain access to this world. Nicholas Garrigan is a young Scottish doctor in the early 1970s who, terrified at the idea of working in a family practice alongside his father for the rest of his days, spins a globe and decides to go to the first place his finger lands. At first spin, it's Canada... on his second try, he lands on Uganda... and so he goes.
Wide-eyed and enthusiastic, all Garrigan seems to radiate is delight at his adventure in Africa. He starts working at a clinic where he's more interested in seducing Sarah (Gillian Anderson), the wife of the head doctor at the clinic than saving lives - or at least that's what we see. He's clearly involved with the people there, playing soccer and interested in going to a rally where the new "boss" will be speaking - Idi Amin. He convinces Sarah to come with him and Garrigan cheers along with the people as Aidi Amin promises reform, peace, food... On their way home, their jeep is overtaken by soldiers who need a doctor for Idi Amin, who has been in a minor car accident. Garrigan proves his mettle by overstepping his bounds... the noise of a fatally injured animal and the people arguing means he cannot concentrate on fixing Idi Amin's hand, so he takes a gun and shoots the animal.
The next day, Idi Amin invites Garrigan to his capital and asks him to be his personal physician. Lured from the clinic by parties, women, and the respect of such a powerful man, Garrigan quickly falls into a world where he's way over his head.
Now I know that I've put my money on Forest Whitaker winning the Oscar for Best Actor this year (he won the Golden Globe and it really is an impressive performance, though really, of those nominated, I would otherwise go with Leo), but I want to pause for a moment to praise James McAvoy. Yes, he's adorable and the Scottish accent is delicious, but for the entire movie, I was utterly astounded by McAvoy. He delivers a really great performance, which seems to come out of the blue after all the hype about Forest Whitaker. Aside from the fact that I think that he's a great young actor, I think my amazement has more to do with the fact that his great acting was a constant reaction to Whitaker. Whitaker is a powerhouse, he inhabits the role, you aren't even aware that acting is going on... and McAvoy/Garrigan is swept along, desperately trying to stay ahead of Whitaker/Idi Amin. Garrigan makes some stupid choices (I mean come on, there have to be *some* single women in Uganda, kid!) and has no idea what he's dealing with -- a fact that Idi Amin calls him on towards the end of the movie... and it hits hard because really, very few Westerners have any idea of what they're dealing with when they try to "help out" in Africa.
Overall, it was a very powerful movie with a very convincing portrayal of a true monster.

Here's the link to the NY Times review.

A Traveler's Library

The Chronicle of Higher Education brings you Jay Parini (a Middlebury prof and author/poet):
Weeks before any journey, I begin to worry about what books I'll bring. It doesn't matter whether it's a short hop for the night or something more adventurous, I wonder what I'll read en route (if I'm going by plane or train) and what I'll read while I'm there, perhaps sleepless in a hotel room. There's nothing worse than being without the right book in those situations. Yet — given the restrictions and demands of travel — one has to be selective.
What constitutes the "right" book is, of course, a wildly subjective judgment. For me, it depends a great deal on my mood and the context of the journey. An overnight flight from New York to London, for example, has its peculiar demands. It's a trip I've done many times over the past four decades — I've spent nine of my adult years in Britain — so I know the routine. You arrive at JFK around 6 or 7 p.m., hungry but putting off dinner until the flight. You get on the plane a few hours later, having made your way anxiously through security. You sit and read for a while in the departure lounge, annoyed by the screaming children (yours or someone else's). You fret as the plane lifts off, heads into the darkening sky. Soon the stewards come around with drinks and dinner. Then you've got the rest of night, if you're a nervous flier like me, to pass without sleep.
That is when having exactly the right sort of book matters a great deal, and when most travelers turn to the best-seller lists. Bring out the Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King, John Grisham, or whatever latest mystery or thriller vaguely rings your bell at the moment. In truth, almost none ever do. The best sellers usually bore me to death, with their cliché-ridden prose and stereotyped characters. The plots often spin too quickly, in unlikely directions: I can suspend only so much disbelief in a few hours of reading. There is a thriller by Ken Follett that I've read twice, The Key to Rebecca, and I like Eric Ambler a good deal. But it's a rare book of this kind that can overcome the combination of ennui and anxiety.
The object is to find a book that will last about five hours, which means a short book — a novella is perfect, or a collection of stories. I find fiction preferable on planes. That's just an old instinct in operation: I've always read novels or stories on planes, as when I read nonfiction, I'm usually taking notes, and the aura of real work hovers around the project. I don't like to work between midnight and dawn, and that holds when I'm flying in the wee hours. It can be difficult, however, to lose yourself in a good book when you're hurtling along at hundreds of miles an hour, so I've developed a trick. I get myself about three-fourths of the way through a good novel before the journey begins. It's the last quarter of many narratives that most absorbs my attention; I therefore time the reading so that I am at an interesting part as I begin to wait for the plane to board. I hardly know that I'm in an airport. Once buckled in my seat, I can read on the runway as we wait in line for takeoff. As the plane begins to claw its way upward, airborne, I'm in the most engaging stretch of my book. If I've chosen the novel well, and timed my reading to perfection, I'll finish the last pages as we fasten our seat belts to land at Heathrow.
I began traveling in earnest as an undergraduate, heading off to Britain on a decrepit Italian ship in the late summer of 1968. I happen to recall exactly what I was reading: Isaiah Berlin's life of Marx, and the essays of T.S. Eliot. I was beginning the intellectual journey of my life, so to speak, and took it seriously. I still have my copies, with their silly comments in the margins, the covers tatty and stained. I quarreled in my marginalia with Berlin and Eliot, taking a certain jejune pride in my points of view. It took some years before I realized that notebooks worked as well.
That same year, I spent Christmas with a friend's family in an icy, remote village in northern Spain. They were wonderful, but I missed my own family in Pennsylvania. Rather wisely, I had brought with me several books by John Updike, and I spent hour upon hour in my unheated bedroom, gloves on my hands, lost in Updike's early fiction, which evoked the sights and sounds of my home state, with its mild landscape, its gently rolling fields, and the small towns where high-school basketball games mattered desperately. I practically memorized the stories in Pigeon Feathers, still one of my favorite volumes of fiction because of its acute particularity, especially in the title story, which features an adolescent boy in the passion of self-discovery. I read and reread Of the Farm, a splendidly sensuous novella. I even liked The Centaur, which now strikes me as rather forced and dull. Whenever I see those books on my shelf, I can smell the cooking of that Spanish kitchen, where I also often sat at a plain wooden table while my friend's mother fried garlic and fish over a gas stove.
I learned a good lesson there. It often pays when traveling to take along something familiar. I keep a separate shelf in my study for what I think of as "comfort books." These are the texts that I know will keep me happy in strange or awkward settings. At my age now, rereading is often preferable to reading, so I have a small number of deeply loved books that I can rely on. Among the volumes on this shelf are One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, and the poems of Robert Frost. I can always find more than enough comfort and satisfaction, even challenge, in those pages to get me through a difficult day or two. Márquez, a master of whimsicality, always lifts me into a zone somewhere beyond reality, but nevertheless grounded as well. The poems of Frost, which I know so well, always remind me of home — not a literal place, of course, but the home of language so perfectly aligned with my own sense of the world.
In the early 70s, I journeyed by myself across North Africa, usually by bus, sometimes hitching a ride. I carried with me in my backpack Dante's Divine Comedy in three paperbound volumes, and those proved an immense blessing. I was, then, unfamiliar with poverty of a certain depth and enormity, so the Inferno offered an appropriate analogue. It's useful when the book you're reading as you travel has a certain resonance, so that inner and outer realities touch, however obliquely.
On a long journey, it's also useful to have a decently ambitious but discreet project on hand. Dante's epic was perfect in that respect. I could read the cantos, then read them again, and again. I could take notes in the margins. I could puzzle my way through difficult passages. I could find myself lifted by the poetry, transported. The morning I first climbed the heights of the Paradiso, I was sitting in a cafe by the Mediterranean, drinking espresso, eating yogurt and honey. The light on the sea was unimaginably bright and copper in color. I was warm and happy, at ease, and could fully appreciate the excitement of Dante's pilgrim as he approached the light of God. (I seem to have lost that edition of Dante, and it's probably a good thing, as my marginal notes would now seem embarrassing, and I recall I spilled coffee on the Paradiso in a way that stained the tops of most pages and annoyed me for years afterward.)
I look over my bookshelf and remember certain journeys. I know I was traveling by train through Eastern Europe when I read Erich Auerbach's Mimesis, one of those monumental works of literary scholarship by a European critic of the old school. It always thrilled me to think that Auerbach wrote that book under trying wartime circumstances, without the benefit of a library; he had nothing but his own well-stocked mind for recourse. I doubt that I finished Mimesis — it's a fairly long and dense book — on that trip, but I know it kept me company through several weeks of fairly arduous travel in Poland, Lithuania, and Czechoslovakia (this was before the drawing aside of the Iron Curtain).
If I take a long trip soon, I want to have a similar book with me: something as densely packed, informative, and meditative by an old-fashioned literary historian like Auerbach. Such books are not "difficult" in the way of criticism in the age of poststructuralist theory. You don't get lost in the arguments (and bad syntax) and, accidentally on purpose, lose the book along the way.
We all have a long, imaginary shelf of masterpieces we have not read. For years I was embarrassed by my ignorance of War and Peace, and Tolstoy's massive novel had sat on the shelf, glaring at me. Not until the mid-80s, when I passed a lovely spring on the Amalfi Coast of Italy in a tiny rented house, did I find myself ready to tackle it. I would rise at dawn (we had two babies then) and take my coffee to the terrace. There was a grove of lemon trees behind me, and I could look all the way down the coast from Amalfi to Salerno, the sunlight on the sea like scattered coins. I was absorbed for two months in that astonishing novel, making my first acquaintance with Pierre, Natasha, Bolkonsky, and the rest of Petersburg society. Forever I will associate that story with that place, and that time in my life.
One day, on a desert island, real or unreal, I will read Stendhal's The Red and the Black or Zola's Germinal or any one of the countless other well-known or lesser-known masterworks that have tugged at my sleeve, as if wondering why I won't dance with them. Life is short, but art is long, as the aphorism has it. Too bad about the life thing, but as for art, the longer the better. I look forward to the journeys that lie ahead of me, in the pages of books and on the road itself: times when I will settle happily with a book for a discrete period, in circumstances that may well prove ideal for a certain type of reading.
Link to the article you just read here. Personally, I say you should bring Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel along on your next excursion if you haven't read it.

Saint or Celebrity?

Spiked takes a look at a new book, Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity?

(Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Scientific American tells us that the new science of happiness needs some historical perspective.

2.23.2007

Love Me, Love My Books

We've all done it. You make a new acquaintence, you ask them about books... you visit someone's home, you scan their shelves. You don't usually have access to your favorite writer's study, but here, the Times talks about a new book that explores the shelves of top authors:
You’ll find it hard to love someone if you don’t love their books. I speak as a reader, of course: but any real reader would tell you the same. Think that your new acquaintance might become your friend or your lover? Better take a good look at their vital statistics — that is, see how their shelves are stacked.
Favourite writers are friends too; you might not have met Carl Hiaasen or Margaret Drabble, but if you’ve read their books you feel as if you might have. Who can blame you for wanting to know what they read, to see if they like what you like, or even just what you think they might like?
So thanks to J. Peder Zane, who has provided some of the answers in The Top Ten: Writers Pick their Favourite Books. In a sense, it’s an unsurprising collection, but no less pleasing for that. I’m not shocked to learn that Hiassen’s top novel is Joseph Heller’s Catch22; nor that Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Martin Amis’s Money also appear on his list. I adore Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda; of course he chose Gabriel GarcÍa Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and Great Expectations, too . . . the flip side of his own novel, Jack Maggs.
You can learn things, too, from these lists. Stephen King’s No 1 book is The Golden Argosy, edited by Van H. Cartmell and Charles Grayson. If you’re thinking: “What?”, then never fear. King explains that it’s an anthology of short stories that he found in a Maine “bargain barn” called The Jolly White Elephant, that it includes stories by Faulkner, Poe and Fitzgerald and that it “taught me more about good writing than all the classes I've ever taken”.
Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News, provides her list (which begins with Homer’s Odyssey and ends with the haiku of Basho) with this qualification: “I find this list-of-ten-books project to be difficult, pointless and wrongheaded.” Hard to figure why she bothered to contribute, then.
David Mitchell chooses Chekhov’s novella The Duel, saying that he would save it “from a burning house before everything else I’ve read”, while the American novelist A.M. Homes ranks Nabokov’s Lolita below the children’s book Flat Stanley.
Our sister journal The TLS points out that there is a notable omission from almost all these lists: its diarist, J. C., remarks on “how few writers, when asked to name the world's best books, choose the Good Book”. The Bible crops up on only six lists, “well behind Lolita”.
Read the article here.

Censorship: Still a Burning Issue

The Independent discusses its collection of once-banned books, censorship and literary pariahs.

Truth, Lies and Anti-Semitism

From the Guardian:
When Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française was published in English last year, something was left out. Just a few lines omitted from the introduction to the French edition that had appeared two years previously. Nothing to diminish the remarkable achievement of the writer's novel describing life in a French village under Nazi occupation. Nothing to undermine the ecstatic reviews - Le Monde called the book "a masterpiece ... ripped from oblivion" - and the fact that the novel has become a runaway bestseller.
And nothing to taint the story of the book's extraordinary appearance after 50 years tucked away in a French cellar, or the narrative of Némirovsky's tragic last years - stories that helped make Suite Française a literary sensation. Némirovsky, a Kiev-born Jewish woman, had settled in France with her wealthy family after the Russian revolution; become a literary celebrity on a par with Colette in 1930s Paris; was refused French citizenship shortly before the second world war broke out; and, in 1942, was deported to Auschwitz where she died, a stateless Jew, aged 39. For many years, the manuscript of her masterpiece, written on paper as thin as onion peel, had remained in a suitcase that she handed to her daughter Denise when she was arrested.
What was missing from the British Chatto & Windus edition was a passage in which Miriam Anissimov, a biographer of Primo Levi, suggested that Némirovsky was a self-hating Jew.
Read the whole article here.

2.22.2007

The History of the Pink Carnation

I admit it. I like a little bit of fluffy reading every now and then... And I'm a sucker for the Scarlet Pimpernel, so when The History of the Pink Carnation crossed my path, I simply had to read it. It's one of those romantic historical novels that follows two stories... the modern-day academic girl is looking for love (and affirmation in her chosen career field) and stumbles across a truly epic love story in a dusty box that has all the staples: secret identities, the French Revolution, swordplay, corsets and petticoats.
The one thing I wasn't prepared for was just how steamy things get. Perhaps I've read too much Austen, but I felt myself go crimson at a particular scene that featured a young lady's first encounter with a gentleman's hands under her petticoats... while they were being ferried across a river in a boat. I mean really!

In any case, here's the summary from the publisher:
Nothing ever goes right for Eloise. The day she wears her new suede boots, it rains. When the subway stops short, she's the one thrown into some stranger's lap. And she's had her share of misfortune in the way of love. So, after deciding that romantic heroes must be a thing of the past, Eloise is ready for a fresh start.
Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertation on two spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation-the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise has more and more questions. Like, how did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero of her own?
It's an amusing little read, but aside from the lead characters, no one's really quite fleshed out. (And even then, neither heroine is really delightful.) Everyone's silly and it's certainly not the Pimpernel, but if you've got a rainy weekend and you want chick lit with a little more of a literary side, then here's what you've been looking for.

Independent Spirit Awards

And the winners are...

How has HPDF affected your life?

The Guardian book blogs talk about HPDF... Harry Potter Discounting Fever.

The Published Author Campaign

From the NY Times:
The lineup of potential US presidential candidates is a mishmash of senators, governors, former big-city mayors and a retired four-star Army general.
But nearly all of them share one title: published author.
"You're not a real candidate, Pinocchio, if you haven't written your own book," said Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News. "If you know everybody else is doing a book, you've got to do a book."
Read the whole article here.

Judging Panel for Booker Prize Announced

Didn't we just give Inheritance of Loss the Booker? Dear me. The judging panel for the Man Booker Prize for fiction was announced -- and it's also been announced that this year, the longlist will be kept to a dozen titles.
It includes Giles Foden (who wrote the book The Last King of Scotland, the movie adaptation of which is winning Forest Whitaker such acclaim), Wendy Cope, Ruth Scurr, and Imogen Stubbs (the actress who I enjoy in the film version of Twelfth Night, directed by her husband Trevor Nunn). The director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (Howard Davies) will sit as the chair.
No, no, don't rush yourselves in reading Kiran Desai's book -- the next Booker Prize will not be awarded until October, you have time yet.

2.21.2007

Middlebury History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia

... read about it in the NY Times.

A Monthly Voyage to Narnia

The few and the faithful gather to discuss CS Lewis and Narnia.

Tribute to Altman

Friends, family and colleagues gathered to honor Robert Altman.

Prince Harry to Iraq?

From the NY Times:
Britain's official policy on Iraq is that its troops will leave as soon as they can hand over to Iraqis. But there is one particular soldier who, according to a crescendo of British newspaper reports, does not seem quite so replaceable.
Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne and second son of Prince Charles, is an army officer, reportedly with a hankering to be treated as just another soldier in line for rotation in southern Iraq.
Read the whole article here.

No Offense?

The Guardian book blogs talk about banning books and ask if freedom of literary expression has its dangers.

Book Club Blonde

From the Times:
“An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen’s life began . . .” No, let’s start that again. Or – better – let’s not start that at all. Monica Ali’s Brick Lane may have been hailed by the critics as “the sort of book you race through greedily, dreading the last page”, but it was hailed by someone more important than the critics as “the kind of book that makes you want to give up after 40 pages”. Who was that more important person? Amanda Ross, a working-class girl from Essex who wears designer clothes, has blonde hair and works not in publishing but in daytime TV.
Irony is a time-honoured literary device, any writer can tell you that. And it’s ironic that publishers – traditionally fussy Oxbridge types with English degrees – are having to suck up to someone who studied drama at Birmingham University and who cheerily admits that “I don’t really know anything about books at all”. When 44-year-old Ross, a powerful TV producer, founded the Richard & Judy Book Club three years ago, publishers barely deigned to look up from their proofs. Daytime TV, they assumed, was the domain of council-house illiterates and Daz adverts. Another nail in the coffin of Britain’s literary culture, they lamented.
But Ross had a hawk’s eye for storytelling.
Of the 100 bestselling titles last year, 21 were by authors discussed on the Richard & Judy Book Club – all chosen personally by Ross. Publishers couldn’t console themselves with the thought that she had dumbed down Britain’s bookshops because in fact she had done the opposite. “I don’t know what a literary book is. As long as it has a good story, who cares?” she has said.
Read the whole article here.

Happy Birthday, WH Auden!

Happy 100th birthday, Auden!

The Guardian comment section celebrates...

2.20.2007

The Death of Books (Again)

The Orange County Register on electronic publishing.

Reaping the Rewards of the Grapes of Wrath

From the Guardian:
A rare edition of John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath has sold for $47,800 (£24,380), doubling the estimated price and setting what is believed to be a world record for a book by the Nobel Prize-winning author.
Read the whole article here.

Bedtime Reading Week

From the Guardian:
A competition to find a new star of children's fiction has been launched by the value bookseller The Works.
As part of the Bedtime Reading Week - a week of special events to promote reading to children at bedtime - they've teamed up with Walker Books to offer authors the chance to get their work published. 5,000 copies of the winning entry will be printed and sold up and down the UK.
Read the whole story here.

War and Peace... short and sweet?

From The Age:
SINCE its publication in 1869, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace has presented the reader with the duel challenge of an eye-straining 1500 pages and an unerringly gloomy ending.
That, however, is now to change with the emergence of a slimmed down version of the literary classic with a happier conclusion.
HarperCollins, the publishing firm who will release the new book in April, describes the novel's brevity as "something to celebrate" while in Russia, the book is already being marketed as "half as long and twice as interesting" — despite the new book still running to a challenging 1000 pages.
By the time the original tale of love and loss set against the background of the Napoleonic wars reaches its conclusion, most of the 580 characters have died, suffered agonies or at least fallen on hard times.
But in the new book, taken from one of Tolstoy's earlier drafts, two of the main characters, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Petya Rostov, who die in the original, survive.
A spokesman for HarperCollins predicted it would have mass appeal. "The new version is of course aimed at students of Tolstoy," she said. "But we are sure it will also prove fascinating to the general reader."
Despite the publisher's upbeat assessment, literary critics and fans of the original are likely to be dismayed.
Read the whole article here.

Scrotum

Dear goodness, someone alert the police, a book used the word "scrotum!"
Of course, it's not just any book, it's a Newberry winner. On the first page of The Higher Power of Lucky, a girl overhears that a neighbor's dog has bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake.
Get over it, folks. Here's the Guardian to report on the ridiculous American librarians who are banning this book from their libraries for using a totally valid word that names a human body part in a way that isn't lewd or too graphic.

2.19.2007

A Kiss Too Far?

I didn't watch the Super Bowl, but apparently there was a commercial where two guys kissed -- two mechanics were eating the same Snickers bar and kissed... and then they flipped out. The NY Times talks about this and public displays of affection by gay couples.

Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

From the "You asked..." section of the Guardian, the question is, Can creative writing be taught?
"If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all." So wrote John Keats 189 years ago. Martin Amis's appointment as professor of creative writing - announced this week by Manchester University - would seem to embody the opposite view: that students can be taught to write.
The creative writing boom in the UK began in 1970 when Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson set up an MA at the University of East Anglia. One of their first students was Ian McEwan. But even the UEA prospectus sounds a note of caution: "Writing successfully needs strong gifts, considerable resilience and a certain amount of luck."
The prospectus goes on to say that "the courses best suit those whose work is self-aware rather than instinctive" - which would seem to contradict Keats's view. In fact, it is tacitly acknowledging two important things: many an "instinctive" scribbler can't actually hack it, and what can be taught is not so much creativity as analysis and self-criticism - or as Amis, below, might put it, how to wage war on cliche.
AS Byatt says: "My instinct is that it can't be taught - but I think that Sylvia Plath would not have been a great poet if she hadn't studied very technically with Theodore Roethke and Robert Lowell." What such courses offer is time and space to write, the attention of an expert reader (the tutor) and contacts.
Observers of the north American scene, where the tradition of training writers is much stronger, might disagree, and eight years of longlisting for the Guardian first book award has taught me that there are an awful lot of very competent novels about logging pouring out of Canada. But how many competent novels about logging does the world want or need?
The boom is not so much about making great writers as about universities trying to attract students and make more money by appealing to young people with implausible dreams. Just watch them all queuing up for Manchester in a year's time.
Here's the link.

An Update on the Wikinovel...

It seems things are not going well.
A FEW weeks ago, my colleague The Bluffer drew your attention to A Million Penguins, Penguin's wiki-based online collaborative novel that can be written, altered and read by anyone. "Can a community write a novel? Let's find out," said Jeremy Ettinghausen, Penguin's digital publisher.
Well, having reached an astonishing 10 hits per second, the project has now metastasised into three different novels, as the "community" went Lord Of The Flies and split into separate factions. In a way, I'm unsurprised. If you advertise an arena to display the unedited scribblings of every wannabe with a broadband connection, you can't be too taken aback when it descends into an attention-seeking tug of war.
Although Penguin maintains that it's not a talent contest, it must realise that any slightly ajar door will soon be jam-packed with hopeful toes. It reminds me of the wonderful retort that the late Giles Gordon gave to an aspiring author who asked how to get published: "Write a good book."
Despite - as predicted by Penguin itself - descending into alphabetti spaghetti fairly quickly, A Million Penguins might have some afterlife as a curiosity. But at least it shows that publishers are taking the opportunities of the internet seriously, and not wringing their hands over the often heralded Death of the Book.
That's the whole bit of the article, but here's the link to the Scotsman for those interested.

Jacqueline Wilson

The Times talks about Jacqueline Wilson and what makes her empathisize so strongly with childhood agony?

2.17.2007

Across the Universe

Thanks to Jadis for sending me this (yes, about two weeks ago... this is how behind I am on my updating...). A trailer for the new film Across the Universe which uses Beatles songs to craft a love story set against the backdrop of the turbulent 60s. Eddie Izzard makes an appearance; directed by Julie Taymor.

2.16.2007

More on Auden

... in the Independent.

The Da Vinci Clones

From the NY Times:
Take a sacred treasure. Add a secret conspiracy. Attach a name well known to scholars — Dante, Poe, Wordsworth, Archimedes, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, the Romanovs, Vlad the Impaler, "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili," whatever — and work it into a story that can accommodate both the Glock and the Holy Grail. If there's any room left for the Knights Templar or DNA samples from Biblical figures, by all means plug them in.
Thanks, Dan Brown. Look what you started...
The NY Times talks about Dan Brown and the many cloned spin-offs that call themselves books.

Seduced by Austen

From the Independent:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that so long as there is a new generation of lovelorn teenagers to be seduced by a series of happy endings, the inevitable glamorisation, refashioning and repackaging of Jane Austen will roll on.
This year, however, will see an unprecedented scale of adaptations to detail the surging emotions suppressed beneath scores of empire-line dresses.
Sunday evenings may not be able to promise the vision of Colin Firth emerging from a lake but from the middle of next month they will offer new versions of Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey featuring Billie Piper, Anthony Head and Jemma Redgrave.
Andrew Davies, who adapted the oft-recalled 1995 BBC series of Pride And Prejudice, is among the writers working on the season and ITV will also rerun his 1997 adaptation of Emma, which starred Kate Beckinsale and attracted 12 million viewers.
Then, within weeks, Anne Hathaway's portrayal of the early life of Austen, which documents the travails of Jane's own heart, will also be on screens across the world.
While some dedicated Austen fans may feel it has taken liberty with the scant facts available on Jane's romances and spun up a Hollywood fiction, the film is no doubt yet another avenue to satisfy the insatiable appetite for the early 19th-century author.
ITV yesterday unveiled its new Austen season in what many have interpreted as an attempt to boost somewhat disappointing ratings figures of last year. Coupled with that, it is also an apt way to compete with the BBC, which has won widespread acclaim with its adaptations of Dickens' Bleak House, also written by Davies.
With millions of pounds committed to putting the two-hour adaptations together, the ITV director of drama, Nick Elliott, said they were important remakes for the new generation, some of whom will only just be becoming Austen-literate.
"About every 10 years, all the great stories need retelling. These films will be very much 2007 films... we've asked and pushed the production team to make them young. Her stories always make great TV drama and our Jane Austen season will feature the absolute cream of British acting talent."
Northanger Abbey, the novel which was sold to a Bath bookseller for £10 in 1803, will again be adapted by Davies. The plot surrounds the life of 17-year-old Catherine Morland, who arrives at Northanger on the invitation of Henry Tilney who fascinates and intrigues her.
Mansfield Park, which has been more recently adapted for cinema audiences, follows Fanny Price, the poor relation who finds herself living among wealthy relatives and whose virtue is ultimately returned by her true love Edmund. The adaptation is to be worked on by Maggie Wadey.
Persuasion, which is being developed by Clerkenwell Films, is about the ordeals of Anne Elliot, who breaks off her engagement to Captain Wentworth after being persuaded by her family, but manages to find her way back into his heart.
When first unveiling ITV's plans, Mr Elliott said he had shied away from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and deliberately chosen to feature Austen's lesser known works including Northanger Abbey and Persuasion - both of which were published after her death.
But no matter which it were to be, those who choose to switch on to the Sunday evenings (and possibly those in management of ITV), will be assured of one thing: their own series of a proven formula for happy endings.
Yes, I'm aware that was the whole article. And what did I spend my senior year obsessing over? Here's the link to the article.

The Campus Novel: No Longer On Leave

The Guardian book blogs discuss the return of the campus novel.

Turner Watercolors

From the Guardian:
Last summer a record £5.8m was paid for a watercolour when Turner's The Blue Rigi was auctioned. Now a batch of 14 of his watercolours has come up for auction and are expected to make up to £15m, amid an exceptionally strong market for his watercolours.
Read the whole article here.

2.15.2007

Rocking Against Global Warming

Al Gore is sending out an SOS to the world...
Al Gore, the former vice president and now hit documentary maker, on Thursday added rock promoter to his résumé, announcing plans for a 24-hour concert series on all seven continents to highlight, you guessed it, the dangers of global warming.
With a powerhouse lineup of acts from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dogg to Bon Jovi, what's being called "Live Earth" aims to gather more than 100 of the world's top musicians on July 7 — and attract 2 billion viewers, most of them via television, radio and the Web.
The concerts will be streamed live on MSN, Microsoft's information portal.
Read more on MSNBC here, visit the main website for LiveEarth.org here, or just go straight to the information on the concert.

Oh, and by the way, if you haven't signed it -- a petition asking Al Gore to please run for president in 2008.

NYC Brand Condoms

In 2005, New York started an Internet-based initiative to distribute free condoms throughout the city. Yesterday, the first New York City branded condoms made their debut.

Adolescent Girls Heart Ayn Rand

From In Character:
Few authors inspire the kind of life-changing devotion, blind hatred, or contemptuous dismissal so frequently achieved by Ayn Rand, the founder of “Objectivism” and author of the novels Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, the non-fiction book The Virtue of Selfishness, and nine others. Despite nearly unanimous critical disdain, her books became best-sellers; the combined sales of her work continue to top 500,000 copies every year – more than Philip Roth, way more than, say, Zora Neale Hurston. Objectivism, as dramatized in Rand’s novels and meticulously set out in her non-fiction, glorifies the self-reliant individual (as opposed to the collective), prizes rational thought, and dismisses organized religion of any sort. Politically, it bears some resemblance to libertarianism, though Rand herself dismissed members of that party as “hippies of the right” who “substitute anarchism for reason.” Next to her casket was a six-foot-tall floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign.
It’s easy enough to explain Rand’s appeal to those who adore capitalism, abhor government intervention, and prize individual liberty above all. But the particularly fascinating thing about Rand is that many young women, like Gottlieb, revere the book as teenagers and later come to loathe – or at least laugh at – the novels as adults. In the 2003 movie Lost In Translation, Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, says that every girl goes through a “horse phase” and a “photography phase, where, you know, you take dumb pictures of your feet.” For a certain kind of American girl, the “Ayn Rand phase” is another rite of passage.
Read the whole article here.

How to Talk About Books that You've Never Read

Another article on the French author who's telling everyone how to talk about books they've never read.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids - The Inverse Power of Praise

There's been talk about the fact that anyone born after 1982 suffers from pathological narcissism... an interesting idea but how did we achieve that cut-off date? Here's the New Yorker on the power (and peril) of praising your kids.

A Flash of Flesh

Oh the hooplah over Daniel Radcliffe and Equus... Here, the Guardian asks how is it that on-stage nudity still has the power to shock.

Loaning Books

Does the question, "Say, can I borrow that book when you're done?" fill you with cold fear? Then you and this Guardian blogger might get along: his advice matches that of Polonious: "Neither a borrrower nor a lender be [when it comes to books]."

Open Season on Cleopatra

The Guardian talks about "The fact that launched a thousand quips" and a coin that turned up with Cleopatra's image (unsurprisingly, she doesn't look like Liz Taylor).

Here's a link to an earlier Guardian article on this coin, too, that provides this picture.

First Novel Month

The NY Times reviews a bunch of first novels being published this February.

Vision in the Desert

I could stop posting links about the Abu Dhabi museum project... but I won't. Here's the NY Times.

Sugar High

The food we eat is getting sweeter... the Guardian reports.

Amis at Manchester

From the Guardian:
To those who seek a career as a writer, Martin Amis has some well chosen words of advice.
"Well, it is a sort of sedentary, carpet slippers, self-inspecting, nose-picking, arse-scratching kind of job, just you in your study and there is absolutely no way round that. So, anyone who is in it for worldly gains and razzmatazz I don't think will get very far at all."
It's the method that worked for Amis, who is often described as Britain's greatest living author. And it just might inspire another one like him. Today, Manchester University will announce an academic coup: Amis has agreed to take up his first teaching role as its professor of creative writing, a decision that will bring the one-time enfant terrible of British literature, author of 11 novels, including Money and London Fields, firmly into the literary establishment.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian ahead of today's announcement, Amis admitted that he hopes a new novel will germinate during his time as a professor.
He also insisted that, despite his reputation as an caustic and unforgiving critic, he will be a generous tutor.
Yeah... I'll wait for the follow-up interview with his students before I believe that one. Read the whole article here.

The Ecstacy of Influence

An essay by Jonathan Lethem from Harpers...

Green Press Initiative

Read about The Green Press initiative at WorldChanging.com.

2.14.2007

Strange Maps

Thanks to MUG for forwarding this blog along that contains some strange maps... it's fun to browse in your downtime.

The Moneyed Muse

The New Yorker asks, what can two million dollars do for poetry?

Valentine Love Poetry Quiz

Wondering what poem to give your beloved today? Let the Guardian help you with its quiz.

Library Card VS. Plane Ticket

More on the discuss of library cards versus plane tickets in the wake of Stef Penney's win. Here's the Guardian musing on books that have taken place in locations where the author has never been and this is also the Guardian, but it's the comment section.


Subcontinental Shift

The Guardian discusses India's thriving literary culture that's moving away from its reliance on London and New York.

Judge a book by its cover... what about its binding?

The Guardian book blogs ask, "Whatever happened to well-made books?"

Palmuk 'in fear for life'

Turkish novelist Orhan Palmuk is believed to be living in the United States with no set date for his return to his home in Turkey, self-exiled after threats on his life.

Top 10 Happily Ever Afters

Happy Valentine's Day! To celebrate, the Guardian book blogs discuss the top ten "happily ever after"s in literature.

2.13.2007

Harry Potter and the Never-Ending Torrent of Publicity

From the Guardian:
It's not even out for another five months, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the series, is already at the top of Amazon bestseller list, from pre-orders alone. At number two is the adult edition (come July 21, when the book is published, every grown-up caught reading it deserves to be hit over the head with their own copy - and the book is predicted to be hefty).
The start of the trail of Potter-mania crumbs was laid out last year. In June, in a rare TV interview, JK Rowling said two characters would die in the final book (please, please, please let it be the wizard boy). In August, Rowling hinted that Ron and Hermione will end up together. Three months later, Rowling revealed the astonishing news that she had three titles for the book (rumoured to have included Harry Potter and the Polonium 210 trail and Harry Potter and the Racist Housemates). A month later, just when you thought the world would implode with collective excitement, the real title was revealed. Then Rowling revealed that she had had a dream featuring some of the waiters from the cafe in which she wrote large bits of book seven. Incredible!
Read the rest of the article here.

Flashy Libraries

From the Comment section of the Guardian, Germaine Greer on libraries:
Every now and then a writer will be asked to nominate a favourite word, and out will come "magenta" or "elfin" or "thrash" or whatever else floats up through the murk. Writers cannot have favourite words because every word in its proper place is perfect, but, if there were to be a word that remains lovable for me, even when set adrift on meaninglessness, it would be "library". "Tea and buns" may be nice, but "tea and buns in the library" is rhapsodic. For all those unschooled girls over the centuries, who sat atop library ladders devouring their fathers' and brothers' books without permission, the library was Samarkand. Excitement, adventure, happiness bloomed in the sunlight filtered through tight-drawn linen blinds, as they gathered up treasure that no one could steal. The most adventurous, like Lady Mary Wortley, taught themselves Latin, so they could plunder Martial and Juvenal and Ovid, and learn as much about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll as their brothers knew. Libraries are places where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.
Dying of boredom in my parents' bookless house, I was tall enough at 13 to con my way into the Melburne public library. I didn't know how to use the catalogue or even what I wanted to read; I just grabbed a book, any book, off an open shelf, pulled a chair up to one of the red cedar desks that rayed out from the supervisor's high pulpit at the centre of the panopticon, clicked on the reading light in its green glass shade, and read away with might and main. Some of the people around me would fall asleep, their open mouths dribbling on to the green blotters, but I read on and on. There would be time to sleep on the long train journey, 16 stations, back to my beachside home.
Though they are the best way for the keeper of books to watch that his readers don't deface or damage books, panopticons are no longer in fashion. Libraries are no longer intimidating but inviting. Where once libraries went to considerable lengths to keep people out, now they struggle to entice all kinds of people in, the young, the poor, the lame, the blind. When Damilola Taylor was fatally wounded on the eve of his 11th birthday, he was on his way home from Peckham library where he was a member of the computer club. It's not unusual now for even quite little kids to hang out in libraries.
The boldness of Will Alsop's concept made Peckham library famous even before it was built. Now, deliberately unstable, a top-heavy box propped on wonky pins, half armoured in green copper, and half transparent, it has more than half a million visitors a year. There are baby and toddler sessions, teenage and adult reading groups, family reading groups, a homework help club, and a huge collection of music CDs and DVDs, with the bookish bit at the top, above the hubbub. It lends more than 300,000 items a year. As a structure, it collected a clanking list of prizes.
For an elderly bookworm like myself, the Peckham library is a bit challenging. Its top-heaviness seems to court catastrophe. I like my libraries stable, durable, serene. I am looking for adventure in the books, rather than in the building. More to my liking is a much humbler and friendlier building, the Johnston central library and Farnham centre, which opened six months ago in Cavan, in the Republic of Eire. Peckham library defies you to understand how it stays up, whereas the Cavan library is all elementary post and beam construction like the Royal Villa in Knossos.
Harmony in architecture created by lucidity of structure; the full-height atrium enables you to comprehend the full extent and mass of the Cavan library's components and how they fit together. Cement columns and piers support reinforced concrete beams, gently replicating the proportions of the golden mean; the glass doesn't feel like curtain walling but like windows. In the children's library on the ground floor, every glazed section has a window seat. The seats correspond to the age sections of the library, so brothers and sisters stop quarrelling about who goes where and divide naturally into age sets. Teenagers have funkier furniture and slightly more privacy in their windowed niche. A hundred small touches make the space seem like the library in a great house, where every family member could find a space.
Cavan library shares some important motifs with Peckham; the understorey is transparent, there is a sheltered space before it, and the quiet study areas are held aloft as they are in Peckham, but the building doesn't trumpet its cleverness. Like Peckham, it uses new technology in making the most of natural ventilation and light; it is heated by geo-thermal pumps and lit with low-energy bulbs. It may not flaunt a coat of costly copper, but its soft red bricks are handmade, its mortars and plasters lime, every bit as luxurious and rather less intimidating. Peckham library is inextricably connected with the huge creative ego of Will Alsop. Cavan library reminds you at every turn that it has taken shape after years of close collaboration between the community, the staff and the designer, whose name can be seen nowhere. She is Alice Bentley of Shaffrey Associates. If a community library's what you want, she's your man.
This was the whole piece, but here's the link to it at the Guardian.

The Dark Side of Renior?

The Guardian examines a time when Renior was not always a happy-go-lucky painter of inoffensive scenes.

Aryndhati Roy Plans Return to Fiction

From Reuters:
Ten years after winning the Booker Prize for her first novel, and a decade as one of India's leading social and environmental activists, Arundhati Roy is planning a return to fiction.
Read the whole article here.

Tyranny of the Bestsellers

The Times asks if "Dan Brown, Harry Potter, the sequels and the prequels [are] killing ‘good’ writing?"

The Not Published Yet Competition

From the Guardian:
In a development that will see bookshop assistants vaulting the checkouts and onto the shelves, a new writing competition exclusively for booksellers is launched today by National Book Tokens.
Inspired by the example of Sarah Waters and David Mitchell, who both worked as booksellers before becoming bestsellers, the Not Published Yet competition invites submissions from unpublished authors working in the book trade to win a publishing contract with Faber and Faber, and an advance of at least £2,000.
Read the whole article here.

Romance Novels for ____

From the Post-Tribune:
This Valentine's Day, one publisher wants you to be the one doing the bodice-ripping.
Book By You says it sells thousands of personalized romance novels each year with titles such as ''ER Fever'' and ''Pirates of Desire,'' where the reader is the star. It's not Bronte, but customers are going crazy for the novels that make them the main characters.
Read the whole article here.

2.12.2007

Mugglenet.com

Will there be a week that goes by where we don't discuss Harry Potter?

I didn't think so, either.

From the NY Times:
Would you like to establish a major new religion? Then learn how to attract adherents by keeping people on the edge of their seats — or rocks, or sand dunes — their legs dangling over eternity. Tell a suspenseful story that builds to bigger and more mysterious questions. The deeper the questions the sharper the suspense — and the more tenacious the faith in waiting for the answer. Will your soul rise to heaven or fall to hell after death? When will the Messiah come?
Of course, a lot of us settle for a TV series or a sport — or, in exceptional cases, a transcendent episodic saga that poses its own big questions. (Will good vanquish evil?) A good story, no matter how modest, is a form of prayer.
One ultra-exceptional case of a transcendent episodic saga is the ongoing tale of Harry Potter; and a new unauthorized tie-in, “What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7,” both tackles and heightens the suspense that has been building through the six Potter books so far. The book’s audience is the 300 million readers who have been left hanging by J. K. Rowling since 2005, when “Harry and the Half-Blood Prince” came out. They yearn for answers to the countless riddles and perplexities that have proliferated up to now, but they do not pine for closure. Definitely not for closure.
Will Dumbledore, shockingly killed by Severus Snape at the end of Book 6, come back to life? Was the murder hatched with the complicity of Dumbledore, who had something up his embroidered sleeve? And what about Wormtail? He betrayed Harry’s parents as their friend Peter Pettigrew long ago, which led to their murder by Lord Voldemort. (And to Peter’s transformation into a literal rat.) Yet will he end up saving Harry from almost certain death at Voldemort’s hands simply by wanting to save his own sniveling skin? Wait a minute! Who said Harry was fated to be killed by Voldemort, anyway? His mother’s love protected him from the Dark Lord when he was a baby. Surely love will rescue him again. Won’t it?
The authors of “What Will Happen” run MuggleNet.com, a delightfully thorough and fanciful Web site devoted to all aspects of the world of Harry Potter. Though they self-deprecatingly call themselves Muggles — a Muggle is a person without the powers of a wizard — the authors of this rapt little volume appear to have magically transported every bit of information in the Potter epic into their own lively, teeming brains. They are as adept at parsing plot details as they are at anatomizing the characters’ motives and predicting their next steps. The founder of MuggleNet.com — established when he was 12 — even has a name right out of Hogwarts: Emerson Spartz. Spartz and his colleagues apply themselves to every question and conundrum that Rowling (or J.K.R., as they affectionately refer to her) has created and thus far left unresolved.
You realize something as you follow these fans through questions of loyalty (just how binding is the “life debt” that one wizard owes to another who saves his life?); of love (is it a lack of sexual tension that makes Harry and Hermione friends?); of self-esteem (“Neville’s early lack of skill may be nothing more than the result of meager self-confidence”). If Rowling’s genius lies in the replete, self-contained world she has created for young people, then to the extent that her readers have entered into this world, they partake of her imaginative genius.
To put it another way, Spartz and company aren’t jumping up and down on YouTube or sending out minute-by-minute dispatches about their state of mind on MySpace. They are traveling out of their own selves into someone else’s imagined universe, where they seem happy, even grateful, to find pieces of their lives without encountering the slightest reference to themselves.
There is something vulnerable about this self-forgetfulness, just as there is something touching about the book’s earnestness and occasional naïveté. For the authors, his half-Muggle parentage “proves that Snape wouldn’t dislike Lily just for being Muggle-born.” Addressing the eventuality that Rowling will, as she has claimed, make Book 7 the last in the Harry Potter series, the authors write: “As long as we have our imaginations, Harry Potter — and the Harry Potter community — will never die.” People like this often end up getting hurt by windmills.
Perhaps Rowling has multiplied all the betrayals and incidences of torture and murders for a reason. Perhaps she has made Hogwarts less and less a place of refuge, and more and more a site of factional strife, because she means to impart a lesson to her adherents by making her self-contained universe fall apart naturally, before she abandons it peremptorily. This is how the world really is, she could be saying.
Or maybe she is not saying anything precise at all. Either way, this wonderfully enthralled, believing, open book makes me hope that Rowling ends Harry’s story, when she does, with Yeats’s tender lines in mind: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

You might ask yourself now... "did she just post the whole article?" Yes, she did. Here's the link to the actual NY Times website, though.

Lynne Truss and Her Imitators

From the Independent:
Her irritation at bad grammar took Lynne Truss to the top of the literary bestseller lists with Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Now, however, that irritation has turned to anger and disdain over a slew of parodies aimed at capitalising on her success.
In an outspoken attack on the wave of imitators who have spoofed the book's quirky title and cover design, Ms Truss said she did not know how publishers of such imitations "live with themselves".
Read the whole article here.

Have Card, Will Borrow

The Guardian discusses books that fly off the library shelves.

Private Lives of Lady Novelists

From the Independent:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in pursuit of a literary career will never find happiness with a husband, particularly if she writes about love.
Consider the list: Sylvia Plath, left by Ted Hughes for another woman, penning her last desperate poems before putting her head in the oven; Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and mother of Mary Shelley, throwing herself into the Thames after being let down by her lover; Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea, drinking herself to death after three marriages.
Colette, creator of Gigi and Claudine, was locked in a room by her degenerate husband, forced to write stories in his name; Carson McCullers, writer of The Ballad of the Sad Café, was married twice to the same man, who then asked her to join him in a suicide pact. She fled but died at 50.
Mrs Gaskell, contentedly married to a Unitarian parson with whom she had a brood of children, is the exception that proves the rule: that it is compulsory for women who write, and particularly those who write well about love and marriage, to have peculiarly unrewarding, and certainly unconventional, private lives of their own.
How can we account for the high level of emotional casualties among those who have given us our most enduring love stories? It is well documented that the pressure of the job makes writers, male and female, famously hard to live with, but the cost for the woman writer has always been greater than it is for her male equivalent; not only is success harder to come by, but she suffers many more blows to the heart along the way. Do women writers have higher expectations than the rest of us when it comes to their own relationships, or is it that a commitment to writing leaves no room for anyone else?
It is a subject that is increasingly fascinating us, the readers. Now that all Jane Austen's novels, most of those by the Brontë sisters, and almost all of Edith Wharton's have been filmed and televised, our interest has turned to the private lives of the writers themselves. Next month sees the release of the biopic of Jane Austen, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as the 20-year- old writer, falling in love for the one and only time in her life.
Later in the year, the film Brontë explores the emotionally tormented life of the young Charlotte, played by Michelle Williams. And no doubt a bidding war has already begun for the film rights to Hermione Lee's acclaimed new life of Edith Wharton, published last month. Their lives may make less romantic Valentine's Day reading than their novels.
Read the whole article here.

Bookshops That Shook the World

Will cyberspace communities replace the independent bookstores that have such an effect on cultural consciousness?

2.10.2007

Anonymous Collection at the National Gallery of Art

From the NY Times:
When the Metropolitan Museum exhibited Leonardo da Vinci drawings in 2003, visitors had to stand in line to see individual works. While waiting, they could pass the time reading the wall labels, where amid the fine print the works’ lenders were listed. Most were auspicious collections: the Louvre, the Vatican, the Met, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
There are no lines at “Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Master Drawings,” organized by curators at the Morgan Library & Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and no crowds. But neither the wall labels nor the catalog reveal where these works came from. The show is drawn entirely from an anonymous private collection.
Despite the veil of secrecy, a couple of things are obvious: the collector had significant capital for investing in old masters and either an exceptional eye or a good adviser (or both). The catalog discloses that “she” assembled the collection in only 11 years.
Read the whole article here.

The Fantasy of Happily Ever After

From the Washington Post:
"Courtesan," which in a different age is probably what she [Anna Nicole Smith] would have been labeled (even though she was married), is a category we don't have much use for anymore. The woman who makes sexual alliances for money, who was less than a blushing bride but not so fallen as a prostitute, was once a vigorous cultural type, at least through the 19th century. Courtesans were the essential heroines of our greatest operas. They offered up their bodies, in various states of undress, to painters from Caravaggio to Toulouse-Lautrec -- and too many others to mention. It was a courtesan who set in motion many of our greatest novels, not least of them Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" -- which begins with the love of a man named Swann for a "great courtesan."
But the idea of the courtesan has all but disappeared, and with it much of the nuance about our analysis of sex and marriage.
Our continuum of sexual alliances runs from the happy marriage of loving equals, on one end, to prostitution -- the pure exchange of sex for money -- on the other. The trophy bride, the marriage of youth and beauty to age and power, is the closest we have to the category of the courtesan -- but it involves the collective pretense that it isn't only about money. To see the old category of courtesanship in operation today, you have to travel to poor places around the globe, where sex, love and sometimes marriages are negotiated between wealthy westerners and local girls without either party acknowledging the idea that the exchange is commercial.The courtesan was rich but not on her own terms, an object of scorn but not completely disreputable, a living reminder of an economy of sexual exchange that we like to pretend doesn't exist. When Anna Nicole Smith, a voluptuous 26-year-old Playboy Playmate, married an octogenarian oil-rich billionaire, she crossed a line, assuming too high a place in our supposedly mobile society.
Read the whole article about Anna Nicole Smith and how she "stripped marriage of its illusions."

2.09.2007

Commonwealth Writers' Prize List

From the Guardian:
There was a familiar ring to the announcement of the shortlists for the first stage of the £10,000 Commonwealth writers' prize.
Booker contenders MJ Hyland and David Mitchell head the regional shortlist for the Commonwealth writers' best book award, nominated alongside fellow Booker nominees James Robertson and Naeem Murr for the £1,000 Europe and South Asia prize.
The Eurasian best first book award shortlist has a more unfamiliar aspect. Hisham Matar joins Gautam Malkani in contention for the £1,000 regional first book prize.
The two regional winners will be announced on March 6 2007. They will go forward, alongside six winners from the rest of the Commonwealth, for the £10,000 best book and £5,000 best first book award, announced in May.
Read the whole article here.

Bacon Portrait Sold for £14m

From the Guardian:
A Francis Bacon painting, Study for Portrait II, sold for £14m at Christie's auction house yesterday - a record price for the artist.
Read the article here.

Have library card, will travel.

The Guardian (on the heels of agoraphobic Stef Penney's Costa win with her book about Canada entirely researched via the British Library, perhaps?) discusses how a library card can take you further than an airplane ticket.