1. What on earth are these little kids doing on this "Kiddie-A-Go-Go" 1967 TV show? Is it the Pony? The Frug, the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator? It's pretty cute and weird, whatever they're doing.
2. Friend of LitKicks (FOL) Tim Barrus at Electric Literature! What a combination.
There's a short story by Max Beerbohm, published in 1919, that sometimes comes up in philosophy classes. "Enoch Soames, a Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties" tells the story of Max Beerbohm, the author-as-character-within-the-novel, and his encounter with Enoch Soames, an unsuccessful writer and hanger-on in the London cafe scene in the 1890s. Enoch is frustrated that no one recognizes his genius, so he makes a deal with the devil to go forward in time and read about himself in the future where, he is sure, history will vindicate him.
In due course he and Max meet the devil himself in one of the cafes, and Enoch disappears, to pop up in 1997, where he searches the British Library to find out what we've thought of him. Some time later, he reappears back in the cafe, despondent. Before the devil spirits him away he explains to Max that he found only one reference to himself, in a work of fiction -- a short story by Max Beerbohm! And then he and the devil disappear. Max-the-character explains that he feels compelled to write this story about Enoch, as it will be the only way his friend will be known at all, despite the fact that it will be classified as fiction. He begs us to take it as biography.
The philosophical problem is, who and what is Enoch Soames? Within the framework of the story, are we to take him as fictional (as we do, and as the author-as-author does), or as "real," as both Enoch and the author-as-character insist that we should? The logical knots in this seemingly simple puzzle have yet to be fully untangled.
1. I've seen a lot of things in my life, but I've never before had the pleasure of watching a bookstore get born. I met blogger/bookseller Jessica Stockton Bagnulo three years ago when we both joined the Litblog Co-op at the same time, and I noted it here in January 2008 when she was awarded seed money to start her own bookstore in Brooklyn. The store is now about to open and looks just great. I hope to make it to the opening day party this Saturday at 7 pm, and you're invited too ...
1. Here are the teenage classics covered in Lizzie Skurnick's delightful new reading memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading that I've also read:
• From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler by E. L. Konigsburg
• Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
• Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
• Blubber by Judy Blume
• The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh
• Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
• The Pigman by Paul Zindel
• Deenie by Judy Blume
• Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
• My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
• Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
• All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Lizzie Skurnick writes best about the books that excite her most, like From the Mixed-up Files, which she illuminates in surprising ways (I never actually thought about it, but the Michelangelo statue does seem to symbolize Claudia herself) and the two great Louise Fitzhugh novels, Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. Skurnick gets extra points for recognizing that The Long Secret is every bit as good as Harriet the Spy, though very different (it also occurs to me, thinking of these books today, that a good friend of mine recently went through an experience very much like the climactic scene in Harriet the Spy).
1. For your Bloomsday enjoyment: comic strip artist Robert Berry is visualizing James Joyce's Ulysses. This project appears to be off to a great start.
2. More Bloomsday action: Dovegreyreader on a new book called Ulysses and Us by Declan Kibberd.
3. Farewell to poet Harold Norse.
4. It must be a good sign that somewhere inside the giant paradox that is the nation of Iran, they are loving the inventive and hilarious early writings of Woody Allen.
5. I did not know that novelist Roxana Robinson was a member of the Beecher family. But what's this about Lord Warburton being the man Isabel Archer should have married? I was rooting for Ralph Touchett.
6. The word technology is derived from the same root as textile.
7. We need a poetry reality show right here in the USA.
8. A digital Gutenberg would be nice to look at.
9. What could it possibly have been like to be married to Harold Pinter? Fortunately claims Antonia Fraser, it was not a Pinteresque experience.
10. "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?" (Or, I'd like to add, one man).
11. Eric Rosenfeld appreciates Thomas Pynchon's use of description.
12. Kafka Tribute in New York
13. Michelle Obama reads Zadie Smith, a better choice (in my opinion) than her husband's Joseph O'Neill. (Barack is also cited as reading What is the What?, a good choice though not exactly fiction).
14. The Who's Quadrophenia GS Scooter has been sold at an auction. (Though it's from the movie, not the record album photo shoot).
15. Via Bookninja, what the book you're reading really says about you.
(Peggy Nelson, a new media artist and blogger, tells us about her Kindle. -- Levi).
I hadn't meant to get one. A Kindle. But when we got one at work, to "evaluate," my curiosity got the better of me. In my day job I'm an user experience designer for educational technology, where we create and evaluate online courses, games, simulations -- as well as new delivery models, like augmented reality assignments, smartphones, mash-ups, e-readers, virtual worlds, and whatever else rolls out. Plus my friends have been (somewhat heatedly) debating the relative merits of the Kindle online, and I wanted to "evaluate" one for myself.
The first thing I noticed about it was its "objectness:" it's light and thin, more like card stock than hardware. The soft grey screen creates a Peaceful Reading Environment, easier on the eyes than the harsh glow of an LCD. And the screen's small size is better in real life than its profile photo; it actually didn't feel small, it felt like a *page. Or I should say, it *read like a page; each screen gives you about 3 good Evelyn Wood-style scans.
Onward from the object to the experience: I read Lauren Weisberger's "The Devil Wears Prada," Lytton Strachey's "Eminent Victorians," and am in the middle of Jonathan Lethem's collection of essays, "The Disappointment Artist." Also tried out LitKicks, as well as some magazines and newspapers, and accessed a monochrome Google.
Pseudo-speed reading in greyscale, I could *almost lose myself in the story, although not completely. Perhaps that was because I am so used to turning pages; pressing the 'next' button does require fewer muscles, but it is a much newer behavior, so there was a heightened self-consciousness about the experience. Although -- it was not so heightened as to be a deal-breaker, and the newness (or the awareness of such) would perhaps fade with use. That's compared to books. Compared to reading onscreen it's *significantly* better. I'm online all day, and a reader, but if I have to read anything onscreen longer than a few paragraphs I like to escape from the screen and print it out. It's not so much that it bothers my eyes as it bothers my attention span. The Kindle didn't trigger the escape button in the same way, despite the fact that it does have the web.
Overall I find the Kindle to be more of an icon linking back to the book, than a full-blown substitute: if I liked something, I wanted the 'real' object to own, afterwards. As if I had to 'bookend' the experience with a real book! Which is probably good news for the publishing industry, if representative. I still imagine there's something "alive" about a book on the shelf, which is paradoxical because the *real life of a book is fully virtual. Language has been flowing in and out of various forms for thousands of years, from speaking to pictures to writing to -- code? And beyond, inevitably.
However, there is something significant about edges. A codex satisfies the analog part of our nature, both the real periphery of our vision (both pages at once) and the virtual periphery of our perception ("flipping through it" to any page, what's next to it on the shelf, etc.). A somewhat similar experience even holds with websites - with the Kindle, the layout is replaced by a list. Most of the 'page elements' are there, eventually, but in *sequence, not in simultaneity. And with sequencing comes a denial of the virtual periphery: you can scroll or click through, but the page you were looking at is cleanly gone, and the pages you might see next do not yet exist. You can't hold on to them, except via trust in (Random Access) Memory. When we lose the edges we lose the analogies, the associations, the as-yet unknown possibility spaces. When we target too closely the known, we lose the jumping-off point for all else.
So I welcome the Kindle, but cautiously: as an *addition* to my library, but not as its replacement.
1. Okay, so I flip-flopped on the Kindle. I still dislike the high price, the DRM policy and the secrecy about sales numbers, but on the other hand Amazon appears to be showing conviction, focus and flexibility in the way they are evolving the product. Also, a few months ago I wrote that I've never seen anyone reading a Kindle on a train, but I have recently seen two people doing so. This says a lot. I remain mixed in my feelings about the product, but it's clear that the Kindle is here to stay, and this is probably a good thing.
Following the lead of several other literary bloggers, I've now made this website available for Kindle subscription. I don't own a Kindle myself, so I can't even check out how it works, but if any Kindle owners out there can check it out, please tell me what you see!
2. More technological developments: here's Slate on the semantically-charged new knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha, supposedly a challenger to Google: "If only it worked ..."
3. There are a lot of intense debates revolving around the triple satellites of e-books, blogs and Twitter, all of it possibly leading to same grand conflagration (or, more likely, not) during next weekend's Book Expo 2009 in New York City. Till we all meet there, Kassia Krozser is tracking various debates involving electronic publishing.
4. Allison Glock flaunts her silly prejudices in a Poetry Foundation article about blogs. Based on her piece, I'm betting she's never actually seen a blog.
Instead of fostering actual connection, blogs inevitably activate our baser human instincts—narcissism, vanity, schadenfreude. They offer the petty, cheap thrill of perceived superiority or released vitriol. How easy it is to tap tap tap your indignation and post, post, post into the universe, where it will velcro to the indignation of others, all fusing into a smug, sticky mess and not much else in the end. You know those dinners at chain restaurants, where they pile the plate with three kinds of pasta and five sauces and endless breadsticks and shrimp and steak and bacon bits all topped in fresh grated cheese? Blogs are like that: loads of crap that fill you up. With crap.
5. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is one of my favorite plays. It's now running in New Haven with an African-American cast, featuring Charles S. Dutton as Willy Loman.
6. Jamelah tells me: "Paste Magazine is a really really good publication and it would be sad if it went under".
7. The New York Public Library is facing deep budget cuts and asking for a show of support. Let's keep those lions well-fed.
8. A Michigan high school bans Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon.
9. Flannery O'Connor in Atlantic Monthly.
10. Arthur Conan Doyle and spiritualism. And here's what Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are doing with Sherlock Holmes.
11. A glance at a surprisingly healthy publishing industry in India.
12. I didn't realize Britian's legendary publishing firm Faber and Faber was only 80 years old.
13. John O'Hara's wonderful novel Appointment in Samarra gets some appreciation from Lydia Kiesling at The Millions.
14. Another form of Action Poetry: Yoko Ono is arranging Twitter haiku.
I'm not sure how long my attack of literary boredom will last, but I hope I'll be all better by the last week in May, when I plan to attend Book Expo 2009 in New York City. I'll even be participating in a blogger book signing during the weekend (more about this soon) so I sure better wake up soon. I tried to cure my boredom with a Wells Tower book, but that didn't help.
Anyway, while I'm here, just a couple of literary links to share:
1. All about Sholom Aleichem.
2. Open Book, a new literary TV show.
3. Tao Lin ponders the meaning of everything at the Poetry Foundation blog. (Sample question: "Do Blogs Help People Accept Death?")
4. Soft Skull lives on!
Have a great weekend, and don't forget to stop by this weekend to check out the guest review.
I began reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace around October 2008. I had ordered the book from Amazon.com after hearing of David Foster Wallace’s death. I was in France at the time, and when I got back to the U.S. there was this big, fat book waiting for me. A thousand-pager. Not too many people write thousand-pagers, much less read them. Undaunted, I picked up the book and was immediately captivated.
It started with this kid (Hal Incandenza, maybe the protagonist) on an interview at the University of Arizona for a tennis scholarship. I began to sense there is something not quite right with him, or with the world he lives in. And then I was hooked.
I read the book almost every day. My favorite place to read is on public transportation. I have the ability to tune out everything around me and just focus on the book I'm reading, so I can read on the bus or train. Plus, it makes commuting quality time for me. Instead of getting in a car and driving, and filling my time listening to some drivel on the radio, I can travel and enjoy great literature at the same time. So I read this thing on public transport, in doctor’s waiting rooms, at home in my chair, on the john -- all of the great reading spots. And I finally finished it on February 18, 2009. If I started it on October 1, (in retrospect I should have noted down the actual date I started), and I finished it February 18, then it took a little over four and a half months to read the whole thing.
What kept me reading a book for all that time? What is the book about?
1. Isn't it somebody's job to say clever things like "Jenny Holzer is the patron saint of twitter"? I guess it falls to me if nobody else wants to. Anyway, noted 90s-era electric sign artist Jenny Holzer has a new show at the Whitney Museum in New York City.
2. Apparently it's a lot of people's job, though, to crack jokes about the annoying news that ex-President George W. Bush will be inflicting upon us a book. Just what we needed, right? I will not be reading this book, though I do retain a fascination with this enigma, this monument of know-nothing American chauvinism, as he fades into his sunset days. Bush's post-Presidential strategy seems to involve nursing a public feud with Dick Cheney and practically apologizing to the American people for his clear failure in leadership. Hand it to the guy -- it's the best strategy he could have come up with, though it still won't earn him a spot on Mount Rushmore. Anyway, I hope nobody buys "The Decider For Dummies" or whatever this bad book is going to be called.
3. Here's a much better farewell: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper is shutting down, and newly unemployed book critic John Marshall has posted favorite memories of his Seattle book-critic days. I hope Marshall will continue generating literary memories, on a blog or somewhere. For more on the morbid gasps of the print newspaper industry, here's a contrarian but heartening take from Ed Champion: The Covenant.
4. An interesting online reading trend in China.
5. Survey Says is a book of poetry inspired by Family Feud, from a new indie publisher called Black Maze Books.
6. A new dedicated litblog: How Books Got Their Titles.
7. Devo traces the lyrics of "Whip It" back to Thomas Pynchon and Horatio Alger. I had no idea.