Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations


Google Gets Into Books

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, May 31, 2005 09:17 am

Google's much-talked-about service is now available for beta testing. This free service allows you to search for keywords inside the texts of, theoretically, every book published in the world (although the reach isn't quite that broad yet). The launch of this service isn't getting big headlines anywhere, but we think it's big news. As we wrote in December when Google first announced these plans, it's controversial news as well. What do you think about this ambitious technology company and its inroads into the book biz?

Two Literary Landmarks in the News

by Caryn Thurman on Tuesday, May 31, 2005 07:35 am

Developers plan to build a retail and residential complex on the seafront that inspired James Joyce's Ulysses. Historians, preservationists and Joyce fans are campaigning against the development -- which proposes shops, apartments, restaurants and even a concert venue to be constructed along Scotsman's Bay, Dun Laoghaire, outside Dublin.

Also, the Godrevy lighthouse -- made famous by Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, is slated to be decommissioned by the lighthouse authority for England and Wales. Protesters argue that the change could endanger fisherman in the area. There are no known plans to dismantle the lighthouse completely.

In Memoriam … A Vietnam Poet

by Caryn Thurman on Monday, May 30, 2005 08:43 pm

Today was Memorial Day in the U.S. and we would be remiss if we didn't mention the passing of Steve Mason. His name may not be familiar to many fans of contemporary poetry, but his dedication to giving a voice to those who survived the Vietnam War -- and preserving the legacy of the those who did not -- remains an inspiring example of the power of the written word. Considered the "poet laureate of Vietnam veterans" Mason often put the unimaginable into words -- forming a bridge of communication for families trying to heal and understand. One of Mason's poems was read at the Vietnam Wall dedication in 1984. Although he may not have been a prize-winning poet in more traditional circles, Mason's writing offered a glimpse into a world many are still desperately trying to understand and reminds us all that the efforts of a "lay poet" can be a powerful force. Steve Mason was 65. You can read more here.

Merchant of Merchant-Ivory

by Levi Asher on Thursday, May 26, 2005 07:22 am

Let's take a moment for Ismail Merchant, co-creator of some of the best literary films of our time, who died yesterday, May 25, in a London Hospital at age 68.

From 'Shakespeare Wallah' in 1965 to 'The Golden Bowl' in 2000, the team of Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala produced films steeped in the greatness of Victorian and modern literary traditions, often adapted from books by authors like E. M. Forster and Henry James.

'A Room With A View' was their first breakthrough success, though in my opinion the team hit its peak in 1992 and 1993 with the wonderful 'Howards End' followed by the soaring, sublime 'Remains of the Day', featuring Anthony Hopkins as a repressed butler in a grand mansion. This film contained a smaller cast and fewer costumes than most Merchant-Ivory productions, but was probably their most thrilling work of all.

Stallone Takes on Poe

by Caryn Thurman on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 08:46 am

Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone has all the pieces in place to go forward with a new film project -- a movie about none other than Edgar Allan Poe. Apparently Stallone wrote the screenplay for this project back in the 70s and it has been his goal to portray Poe "not as a dour dipsomaniac, but as a rogue, a real rake." Now that the details of financing and distribution are settled (it seems that Stallone will be footing much of the bill himself), Sly has his eye on Robert Downey, Jr. to play the role of everyone's favorite goth.

Live, From the LitKicks Laboratory:

by Jamelah Earle on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 09:52 pm

Earlier this evening, I disappeared into the LitKicks Laboratory (we have one, seriously) to test the website known as The purpose of this site, as far as I can tell (I didn't feel like reading the FAQ) is to give readers personalized recommendations based on their ratings of books they've read. Simple enough, yes?

Well, okay. Yes. But also no. Let me explain my reasoning to you by outlining my testing method:

Step 1: Arrival -- When I first got to, I was a little preoccupied, because the American Idol finale was going to be starting in a few minutes (shut up, it's awesome). Even so, I had work to do in the name of science. Or literature. Or literary science. Or something. So, I created an account and looked at the screen which listed some books to review (or, excuse me, code). This leads me to...

Step 2: Coding -- I picked A Clockwork Orange because even though I read it about eight years ago, the title was familiar, and I didn't have time to deliberate because American Idol, people! Seriously.

So I set about coding the story. You'd think coding a story would be something intense that involved charts and graphs and blood tests, or something, but I was pretty disappointed to find that all I had to do was rate the story on a sliding scale according to questions about plot and characters. Whatever.

Step 3: Recommendations -- After I finished coding A Clockwork Orange, I was taken to a page with a lot of books listed on it, such as House of Leaves and American Psycho. Interesting. I decided I would code the one by Bret Easton Ellis, since I hated that book. Then I had to go watch American Idol, after which I came back and clicked around the site some more, trying to figure out why exactly it was in any way necessary to anything ever.

Step 4: Perplexity -- (Is "perplexity" even a word? Of course it is, and I totally knew that.) The thing is, I was beginning to wonder why this site was in any way better than having a friend who reads books and talks about them or, um, going to the library and browsing the shelves (I hear people do that sort of thing). It was at this point that I finally decided to read the FAQ.

Basically, the site stores all this coding information so that users will always have a list of books to read. (Great. My list of books to read is already so long that if all I did was read all the time for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't get through the whole thing before I died.) It's kind of like the way gives you recommendations while you're browsing, except without seeming like it's just blatantly trying to sell you stuff you're not even looking for under the pretense of being nice enough to give you the Super Saver Shipping. I think I may have just digressed a little bit there, but anyway, I came to see that the site could be for some people useful and (dare I say) fun.

Because really, anyplace that recommends a book called A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian to me when I click on a link for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is interesting, to say the least.

Step 5: Verdict -- My personal method for picking reading material has always been haphazard and random, and I very rarely ever read things because someone recommends them to me, choosing instead to read things for reasons that are so illogical and pointless that I couldn't even begin to decipher them. Be that as it may, I think the site has an interesting concept and could very well introduce people to reading material they'd never think of picking up if they were just wandering the aisles of their local bookstores.

I'd say that's a good thing.

But enough about me. How do you pick what you read?

Books, As Far As the Eye Can See!

by Caryn Thurman on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 08:36 pm

Today Bowker, the U.S. ISBN agency, released a report that shows a 14% increase in the number of titles published for 2004. But who's reading all these books? Lately, there has been a lot of talk about how many people are simply reading fewer books and last week the Book Industry Study Group reported that the number of books sold in the U.S. has dropped -- 44 million fewer books sold in 2004 than in 2003. So what's the deal? We obviously love literature and books here at LitKicks, but what do you think about these reports? Is this a reflection of the boom in self-publishing and print on demand? Are these meaningful numbers or are we missing something? Are we really reading less? Are we just lazy? Bored? Should we blame the publishing industry for producing too many books it's just so hard to choose? Or should we blame them for failing to give us anything we'd find interesting? Maybe we are just reading more online, so we should blame the internet ... or maybe we're just saving up our book buying frenzy for the next installment of the Harry Potter franchise, so we could blame Ms. Rowling. We could always blame it on the economy or, as Milli Vanilli offered, we could blame it on the rain. What's a person to do? I guess just brush it off and get started on those summer reading lists.

Depp as Hunter, Again

by Levi Asher on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 01:58 pm

I don't know if any of you liked the film of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", starring Johnny Depp. I didn't, though I don't think the problem was Depp but rather a basic mismatch between filmmaker Terry Gilliam's showy visual stylizations and the raw material, which could have used a more naturalistic treatment. Anyway, I'm not sure if it's good or bad news that Johnny Depp will be playing Hunter S. Thompson again in a new film of "The Rum Diary". I guess I'll make up my mind after I see the new "Willy Wonka".

Watered Down Literature

by Caryn Thurman on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 07:43 am

I'm all for bringing literature in its various forms to everyone, regardless of education, ability and interest ... but do you think watering down some of the "classics" is the way to go? Barnes & Noble's CEO Steve Riggio says yes. B&N's publishing unit, Sterling Publishing, has created a series of ten literary "classics" -- retold in simpler language.

Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Sterling Publishing unit has launched a new line of 10 literary classics that appeal to both those who struggle to read and to avid younger students whose reading skills aren't quite strong enough to let them master "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" in its original. The books, which have been retold using simpler words, have been surprisingly hot sellers.

"There's a large world of people with disabilities who can't appreciate the classics because the books are too difficult," says Barnes & Noble's CEO Steve Riggio, whose daughter has Down syndrome.

Some critics say such books as Little Women should be seen in their original formats, but many educators (especially those assisting children with learning disabilities) say that these formats benefit the reader and allow the message of the stories to be enjoyed by everyone. The Classic Starts Series has been getting some flak for what some see as "dumbing down" great literary works, but this certainly isn't the first time "the classics" have been altered or abridged for young readers (or older readers in a time crunch before a big exam -- ahem). Great Illustrated Classics, anyone? I think that using these versions to introduce young people (with disabilities or not) to great literary characters and stories is a good thing and doesn't threaten in any way the tradition and power of the originals.

What do you think?

Harper Lee Makes Rare Appearance

by Caryn Thurman on Sunday, May 22, 2005 02:53 pm

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, made a rare public appearance on Thursday to accept an award from the Los Angeles Public Library during their annual awards dinner. Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of racism, justice and coming of age in the Depression-era South is required reading for most junior and senior high school students in the U.S. and transcends any stigma that a "required reading" list may bring to a book. The story has affected and inspired many since its 1960 publication and in 1999 was deservedly voted the "best novel of the century" by a survey of librarians. It's nice to see Harper Lee continuing to be recognized for this important book and I wonder how many of us have the shared memory of discovering this story for ourselves.


Subscribe to News