1. Michael Stutz recently shared his theory that a diner in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts might have been the inspiration for the name of Sal Paradise, the On The Road narrator. In a follow-up conversation, Michael told me more about the Paradise Diner: it opened in 1937 (when Jack was 15 years old) and can be found on Google Maps here.
2. The poet Adrienne Rich has died. Jamelah Earle has written about this.
3. My younger daughter compelled me to read Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games last year, and we were both fairly blown away by the movie (as was Benoit Lelievre and many, many others). The Atlantic has published a good list of the story's mythological and pop-culture sources. (I'm only surprised this article doesn't mention Gone With The Wind, since Katniss's richly layered love triangle with Peeta and Gale strikes me as a clear echo of Scarlett O'Hara's tortuous confusion over Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes).
(Thanks to Brain Pickings, 3 Quarks Daily, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and many others for noticing Mike Norris and David Richardson's "Beholding Holden" last month. The writer/artist team is back here today with a look at a famous transgressive French poet from half a millennium ago. -- Levi)
I can’t remember when exactly, in some long ago French class, that I first read a poem entitled “Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis”. In English this translates as “Ballad of the Ladies of Times Gone By”.
This poem contains the haunting refrain: “mais où sont les neiges d'antan”. This was translated brilliantly by the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti as “but where are the snows of yesteryear”. Rossetti coined the word "yesteryear", which is still in use today.
The ballade itself comes from a long poem called “The Testament”, written by a French poet of the 15th century: François Villon. In the middle ages, mock testaments, as in Last Will and Testament, were a common form of literary expression. These were satiric verses, often obscene, in which a dying person or more often, an animal, leaves parts of his body to different individuals. In one Testament, a dying pig leaves his bones to a gambler to be made into dice, and his penis to the priest.
Villon had written an earlier, shorter piece called “The Legacy”, in which he used the legal framework of the Last Will and Testament to leave comic bequests to his friends. These were often things which he didn’t own. He left well-known Paris taverns to his drinking buddies. To another friend he left a pair of pants to be redeemed for payment due.
“The Legacy” was written in 1456, upon the occasion of Villon leaving Paris for Angers. The invocation of death is used in a mocking tone, as he declares he has been martyred by his cruel mistress, and is thus bequeathing his earthly possessions while he becomes “one of the Saints of love”.
1. After (seriously) 17 years of development, the major new Hollywood Walter Salles/Francis Ford Coppola film of On The Road is going to premiere on May 23, four months and twelve days from now, at the Cannes Film Festival in the French Riviera. I can't believe the day is actually going to come.
I'm not sure what to expect from this film, but there's no doubt that Jack Kerouac, a Breton Francophile, would have been pleased about a prestigious Cannes festival premiere. Very little is currently known about the film of On The Road, and only a single still image has been seen: the photo above, showing Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund as Marylou and Dean Moriarty apparently in one of the movie's big dance numbers. The image may give some idea of the director's photographic style (muted colors, naturalistic setting, not bad so far), but there's no word yet on what the entire film is like. I'm looking forward to seeing a preview trailer soon. Thanks to the Beat Museum in San Francisco (always the first place to check for news about this film) for the scoop about the opening at Cannes. (For the record, the news is still unconfirmed, but it's true.)
2. The two main characters in On The Road are Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise, but since Kristen Stewart is the biggest star in the film, the character of Marylou will probably receive special emphasis. Marylou was based on Neal Cassady's real-life wife Luanne Henderson, and those interested in learning more about this little-known figure from Beat Generation history will enjoy One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road, a new book by Gerald Nicosia and Anne Marie Santos that tells the story of On The Road (and all that followed) from a new point of view. As the youngest and least commanding member of the real-life Kerouac/Cassady traveling entourage fictionalized in On The Road, Luanne has often been imagined or depicted by literary biographers as a hapless unfortunate, caught in the Beat Generation whirlwind and then left behind after they became famous. One and Only presents Luanne as more knowing and more in control of her situation than Kerouac's novel depicts, and also shows her to be a remarkable, intuitive, sensitive and courageous woman.
It's an unpretentious and friendly poetry board, but remarkable poems do show up here often. Every December between Christmas and New Years, we put up a randomized display of many of the favorite poems from the past year. Here, for your clicking pleasure, is Action Poetry 2011.
Finally! My book Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters) is now available in three major formats: paperback, iBooks (for iPhone or iPad) and Kindle. I'm happy to report that the book continues to increase in sales every month, and retains very high numbers on several of Amazon's lists (#48 in Philosophy, 8 months after publication -- nice!).
More than anything else, I'm proud to have written a philosophy book (or a pamphlet, really -- it's only 50 pages long) that is being read by hundreds of new readers every month. I'm humbled to realize that I'm living the philosopher's dream: my ideas about the meaning and limitations of Ayn Rand's ethics are beginning to enter the popular discourse about her legacy. I've gotten a moderately positive response to Why Ayn Rand is Wrong from readers who do not have a lot of familiarity with Ayn Rand or Objectivism, and a strongly negative (but engaged) response from within the Objectivist community.
There have been a few bad reviews, and there's a rambunctious dialogue still going on over at my Amazon page. I don't mind seeing negative reviews from serious Objectivists. It means they're reading my book. Give them a few years ... it'll sink in.
If you are interested in philosophy, morality, ethics or the principles of modern liberal/conservative politics, or if you're buying a holiday gift for someone who is: please do buymy book in any of its exciting new formats (I can't tell you how happy I am to finally see the book on my iPhone). Next week there will be more exciting news about new formats and a re-release of another Litkicks book! And, since you loyal blog readers have always been my unofficial "writer's group" (and have helped me a lot with the publication of this book), here are a few links about writing or bookselling I'd like to share with the group ...
1. Isn't this a great book cover? Woolgathering is not a new Patti Smith book, and it shouldn't be mistaken for a sequel to her great Just Kids. In fact, I first bought this when it was a great little Hanuman book that looked like this:
The Hanuman book looked cool, but I think the newly republished New Directions version's cover art may be even better. Shepherd, tend thy flock.
2. Occupy St. Petersburg? Bill Ectric draws some connections between Nikolai Gogol's financial satire Dead Souls and more recent high finance scams.
3. Steve Silberman asks: What kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, really?
I often hear people complain about "dirty hippies". Well, cleanliness is a virtue. But I've never understood why anybody would hate hippies. Is it that their exuberance is embarrassing? I like hippies, and I also like several writers identified with the post-Beat/hippie literary tradition of the 1960s and 1970s, many of whom are still active (or being remembered) today.
1. Johnny Depp is the star of a new film based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel of sin and excitement in Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary. Haven't seen it yet, but early indications are encouraging.
2. The late-career writings of the once-acclaimed novelist Ken Kesey were scant and unimpressive, but I recently wondered if this only indicated that Kesey had lost interest in the book format, and if there might be more substance to Kesey's later collectivist theatrical experiments than is commonly thought. Mike Egan's new book Ken Kesey and Storytelling as Collaborative Ritual asks the same question, examining group works like the play Twister with a Jungian point of a view and a fresh eye.
3. Karen Lillis has written a memoir, Bagging the Beats at Midnight, about her years as a bookseller at the endangered St. Mark's Bookshop (which remains one of the best places in New York City, and I hope it will never go away). Bagging the Beats includes chapters with titles like "Susan Sontag Wants The Manager & Richard Hell Wants the Bathroom Key".
1. Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, includes pieces by J. G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Philip Roth, Rudy Rucker and Robert Crumb. Here's the full table of contents.
2. And the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... some dude I never heard of! Which kind of surprises me, since I thought I sort of knew this space. Anyway, meet Tomas Transtromer of Stockholm, Sweden. Words Without Borders has him, of course.
3. I couldn't find any Tomas Transtromer at Asymptote, another new journal of international/translated literature I've started looking at, but they do have Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), Lin Yoade and a new translation by Mani Rao of an old Upanishad.
The rock star memoir has emerged as a serious format in the past decade. Exceptional efforts by Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Keith Richards have lit the way, and news broke this week that Neil Young signed a contract with Penguin for a book, tentatively titled Waging Heavy Peace, to be released late next year.
I rarely allow myself to get excited about a book that hasn't been written yet, but there are reasons to bet that Neil Young will take this assignment seriously and deliver a book substantial enough to stand next to the examples mentioned above. Two of these authors are among Neil's own early role models: he's cited Keith Richards's Rolling Stones as his greatest musical influence (he and Keith share a you-can-never-be-too-sloppy musical ethic), and has managed his entire career according to the Bob Dylan playbook (give hilarious interviews, and completely reinvent yourself every two years). We can reasonably guess that Neil Young must have been inspired to write his own memoir after reading Bob's and Keith's impressive works, and this portends very well for the upcoming book.
1. I've read a few good tributes to the late Beat/hippie poet Ira Cohen, a good guy I used to see around the East Village a lot. I did a poetry reading with him at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 2002, but I never knew that Ira Cohen invented the 70s-era headshop art trend known as Mylar painting. (Photo of Ira Cohen from a video by Laki Vazakas).
2. You may have heard the news: e-books are hot. This time around, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll be attending the BookExpo gathering next week in New York City, and I'm sure electronic publishing will be the biggest buzz there. I'm a few days behind schedule with my new Kindle book ... the title and cover will be revealed soon. I'm very happy with the ongoing sales figures for my first Kindle book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), and I'm proud that this book has remained in the top 100 Kindle bestsellers in the Politics->Ideology category for the entire month, and was #40 on the list this weekend.