1. A Gulliver playground in Valencia, Spain.
2. Beat poet Andy Clausen on YouTube.
3. Amazingly, the Velvet Underground will be reuniting at the New York Public Library, though I'm not clear if this will be a talk, a musical performance or both. It's sad that late sweet-toned lead guitarist Sterling Morrison will be missing, but it's a nice surprise to see the reemergence of Doug Yule, who is widely disliked for replacing the great John Cale on bass after Reed kicked Cale out, but who helped them record their best album.
4. Jerome's Niece, a Buddhist poetry blog.
5. Onetime Heeb writer Jason Diamond offers a "Kaddish for Jewish Zines".
6. In the end, after a sluggish start, Electric Literature's much-discussed experiment with Twitter fiction turned up an excellent Rick Moody story about relationship anxiety, thwarted love and people who cling to their phones on dates. An excellent Rick Moody story, that is, but not necessarily an excellent Twitter story. Moody focused on the 140 character limit, but I think Twitter's most distinguishing feature is not its character count but its pacing and easy interpersonal immediacy (note: you can follow me on Twitter here). It became clear why Moody missed this when he revealed in an interview that he'd taken on this project because Electric Literature had asked him to, not because he had any actual interest in Twitter. There are many writers who do get Twitter -- say, Colson Whitehead, who is marvelous at it -- and I hope Electric Lit will turn to one of these writers for their next foray. Overall: great publicity, moving story, well done all around.
7. There will not be a Literary Kicks Best Books of 2009 list. Please excuse my grumpiness, but I mostly find these aggregate lists annoying and unremarkable. I do like to read personal lists of lifelong favorites by smart readers, but I don't care for annual lists or lists put together by groups.
8. Henry Rollins visits Bhopal, site of a chemical plant disaster 25 years ago.
9. For database techies, here's NoSQL. Elsewhere, here's just plain No.
10. I don't agree with this. I'm amazed at how good "The Office" manages to be, season after season. Sure, there are ups and downs, but this is one of those rare shows -- like "Twin Peaks", like "The Honeymooners" -- that represents television's ascent to the realm of literature. I will watch it until Jim and Pam drop dead.
It's almost November and we're starting to see the usual "Best of 2009" lists (best books, best songs, etc.), which seems strange since there's a whole lot of year left in 2009. I won't try to name a best book or movie or song of the year today. However, I have just read an article on Slate that is so bad, so incorrect and so unnecessary that I'm going to go out on a limb: "Message Error" by Chris Wilson is the dumbest article of 2009.
This article's young author is attempting to take down Barack Obama's new whitehouse.gov on account of the software the site uses, and he's in way over his head. The level of journalistic ineptitude here makes a typical anti-Darwin or 9/11 truther pamphlet look downright fact-checked by comparison.
Chris Wilson says that the popular open source Drupal software package used to build whitehouse.gov sends the wrong messages and is "a disaster waiting to happen". In fact, Drupal is widely regarded as the best general purpose web publishing package out there today, and is certainly growing faster than any of its competitors.
1. Jack Kerouac died forty years ago today. I'm not doing much to commemorate the occasion, though I am hoping to see the new film One Fast Move Or I'm Gone soon. If I were in Lowell, Massachusetts I'd go on this walking tour tonight, if I were in Northport, Long Island I'd check out Patrick Fenton's tribute play, and if I were in San Francisco I'd go to The Beat Museum this Saturday at 11 am for a walking tour with John Allen Cassady. But I'm not in any of these places, so I think I'll just recite Kerouac's poem "211th Chorus" and hope for the best:
The wheel of the quivering meat conception
Turns in the void expelling human beings,
Pigs, turtles, frogs, insects, nits,
Mice, lice, lizards, rats, roan
Racinghorses, poxy bucolic pigtics,
Horrible unnameable lice of vultures,
Murderous attacking dog-armies
Of Africa, Rhinos roaming in the jungle,
Vast boars and huge gigantic bull
Elephants, rams, eagles, condors,
Pones and Porcupines and Pills --
All the endless conception of living beings
Gnashing everywhere in Consciousness
Throughout the ten directions of space
Occupying all the quarters in & out,
From supermicroscopic no-bug
To huge Galaxy Lightyear Bowell
Illuminating the sky of one Mind --
Poor! I wish I was free
Of the slaving meat wheel
and safe in heaven dead
2. Ian Pearl, brother of literary/mystery novelist Matthew Pearl, has written a riveting Huffington Post article about his outrageous experience with the health care insurance system our Republican Party wants so badly to preserve. Pearl has muscular dystrophy, and his article is called "I Am Not A Dog".
3. On a completely different note yet again: Barnes and Noble presents some new competition for the Kindle: The Nook.
(This is chapter 36 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I was just hitting my stride in my new role as Director of Community Services at iVillage when the dot-com stock market began to fall. It happened quietly, imperceptibly. Some trace the start of the crash to a March 2000 article in Barron's magazine naming several Internet companies that were spending money too quickly and likely to go out of business soon.
Given the intensity of new media vs. old media competition during the Internet's early years, it's ironic that a magazine article brought the dot-com economy down.
1. In between making videos for LitKicks and arguing with me about Roman Polanski, Jamelah Earle asked me to write a piece commemorating the 1000th front page feature for the wonderful "tribal photography" website Utata. I was honored to do so. I am not much of a photographer myself, but I recommend this vibrant and friendly community to anybody who is.
2. New York spoken word poet Lemon Anderson, who you might have caught if you ever watched Def Poetry Jam, is starring in his own autobiographical play at the Public Theater, County of Kings. This play is a Spike Lee joint.
3. My buddy and former co-author Christian Crumlish has just published his latest book: Designing Social Interfaces. This book is an O'Reilly joint.
4. Blues expert and ethnomusicologist Sam Charters has a new book, A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora, and describes how he helped unearth the recordings of Robert Johnson recently on the New York Times Paper Cuts blog. When Sam Charters talks about music, listen.
5. Fictionaut is a beautifully designed online writing community, just out of beta. Let's see where this one goes.
6. Naked poets in Canada.
7. Vol 1 Brooklyn presents Battle of the New York Nerds.
8. Simon Owens on xkcd and what newspaper cartoonists can learn from web comics.
9. Wrestling poems. I don't really get it, but maybe John Irving would.
10. "And there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
and there's one kind favor I'll ask of you
and there's one kind favor I'll ask of you ...
See that my grave is running Solaris."
(This is chapter 26 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
The day I began working at iVillage was the first day I ever found myself truly excited to meet the president of a company I worked for. But there has never been, and probably never will be again, a CEO like Candice Carpenter.
This wiry and fierce woman was one of the most controversial figures in the Internet industry in the early months of 1999. Her company's IPO was widely expected to succeed, despite the fact that many industry commentators considered her a bewitching fake. It was true that she could thrill a crowd (I had become inspired to join iVillage myself after hearing her speak), and she was obviously thrilling Wall Street as well, even though iVillage was the epitome of a money-losing, big-spending dot-com, with a highly uncertain financial future.
To those who wanted more substance in their dot-coms -- more e-commerce revenue, more advertising dollars, fewer press releases, fewer TV commercials -- iVillage represented the worst of hype-crazed Silicon Alley. I guess that's why I thought Candice Carpenter was so cool.
She would take the criticism and spit it back in their faces. On talk shows and newspaper or magazine interviews, Candice Carpenter would insist that iVillage had a great business model and true staying power (despite the current lack of revenue), and I never heard her back down or hedge this bet. She always spoke with style and verve, often while wearing skin-tight leather dresses, pink jungle-print mini-skirts or other truly strange outfits, and was known to say outrageously philosophical things about the true meaning of work, about why people are afraid to compete, about the business world as a character-building exercise. Most of the things she said made sense to me.
(This is chapter 25 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
Monday morning, February 15, 1999, first day at my new job. I stand outside a slender homey townhouse on the corner of 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue in the tony section of lower midtown Manhattan that likes to call itself Chelsea even though Chelsea is two blocks west.
I'm looking up at the iVillage main office, a converted residential space with a gilded dome and a bright yellow flag hanging over Fifth Avenue: "iVillage.com: the #1 Women's Network". Across the street, the breathtaking Flatiron building looms over Madison Square, harmonizing with the faux-Venetian Metropolitan Life tower on the far side of the park.
IVillage.com awaits me, but I like it better out here, because I know I'm in for a crazy first day once I walk in this door and report for duty. I let the Nas track on my Sony Walkman play to the very end. Squeeze out every last second of freedom before I start meeting people and getting drawn into the drama.
1. I'm glad to hear the New York Times will probably not put its core news content behind a payment wall after all. Instead, they're test-marketing some extraneous "gold" and "silver" plans that I hope New York Times loyalists will pay up for, though the author of the article linked above is skeptical that such loyalists exist.
But the comments to my previous posts on this topic indicate that the Times does have its loyal enthusiasts. Meanwhile, one of these posts is apparently causing John Williams to wear out his neck muscles shaking his head in disagreement. He quotes novelist Katharine Weber's response to me, as follows:
But Levi. Could you have reasonably refused to read the NYT twenty years ago if you had to buy it at a newsstand or pay for home delivery instead of just having free copies handed to you on the street or dropped in your driveway? ... Much has changed, yes. But has the economic rule which used to be as certain as the laws of gravity, the rule of paying for things of value, really begun to vanish? How is this not a zero sum game?
Williams calls Weber's comment "succinct and totally sensible", and says:
I'm still waiting for a substantive response to this line of thinking. There have been plenty of cultural developments that I love in the past 10 years: Netflix, iTunes, The Wire. One way or another, I pay for all of them.
I can't turn down a direct challenge, so I'll try to offer a substantive response to the idea that we must pay for things of value. However, I find the idea almost too childish to entertain. First of all, just as we can name things of value that we pay for, we can also easily name things of value that we don't pay for. The Office. Music on the car radio. Outdoor sculptures and great urban architecture. Oh yeah, and then there's free news and commentary on the Internet which, plain and simple, we are already not paying for.
If we want to examine this classic "rule of paying for things of value", let's consider one of the many masterpieces of nature: the orange. This weekend I bought an entire bag of delicious fresh Florida oranges -- marvelous, ingenious, healthy and beautiful things, really -- for about two bucks. Taken purely for its value, a single orange could easily be worth five dollars. Likewise, taken purely for its value, a bottle of corn-syrup-flavored orange soda shouldn't cost more than ten cents. But these hypothetical prices don't correspond to the real world. We never actually pay for things according to their value. We pay for things according to the law of supply and demand.
When John Williams declares that we pay for things according to their value, he is doing no more than expressing a keening wish. Declaring that we pay for things according to their value is like declaring that we will stay young forever, or that there will be no more crime. It's nice to think such things, but they never were true and they're still not.
I wonder if John Williams will consider that a substantive response. If he does, maybe he should pay me.
2. Here's a really sweet story about the married couple on the 'Woodstock' album cover.
3. Speaking of the New York Times, Gregory Cowles has uploaded a particularly good essay on Nabokov's Lolita to the Paper Cuts blog.
4. Scott Esposito on Intense First Person (a narrative stance I tend to use a lot myself).
5. Way back in 1935, Walter Cronkite interviewed Gertrude Stein.
6. Basil Wolverton was okay, but if you're talking about classic Mad Magazine you're talking about Harvey Kurtzman.
7. Nicholson Baker ponders the Kindle in the New Yorker and, not surprisingly, the essay soars above most of the other commentary on this hot topic. "I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax." It's no surprise to anyone who's read Baker's previous works on library science and antique newspapers that he will ultimately not choose to embrace the Kindle.
8. Speaking of the New York Times (and their home delivery problems) again: hah.
1. Maybe ... if the New York Times needs to do a better job of managing costs, they can start by not giving us three copies of the New York Times Magazine when they deliver our Sunday paper?
Oh well. At least if Caryn or I make a mistake on the crossword puzzle we'll get a chance to start over. A couple of chances.
And while we're here, a few more links:
2. I really like this Millions article by Noah Deutsch about the word 'trope', which has become a popular meme.
3. Here's a real treasure, though I don't know who has the time to enjoy it all. International Times was a highly influential British underground publication of the hippie era, edited by Miles, aka Barry Miles, who has also written books about the 1960s, the Beat Generation and Pink Floyd. Every single issue is now available online. (There was a time in my life when I would have had both the free time and the desire to read every single page, yes, every single page, of this archive.)
4. Aram Saroyan on Beat America.
5. The New York Times has given Ben Mezrich's Facebook history The Accidental Billionaires a terrible review just on the morning I began reading it. I'm forging ahead anyway, and I'll tell you what I think.
6. O Book Publisher of the Future, tell us about the Handy E-Book Helper *.
(* = Props to anyone who can identify the TV show I am referencing here.)
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.