Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

February 24, 2012

This The Hobbit book cover-derived mug is sufficient. From Etsy

The Hobbit book cover by J.R.R. Tolkien 11 ounce mug, Lord of the Rings

Real good moments in journalism

October 14, 2010

The Savannah Morning Herald gives up on headline:

A defferent kind of book tour

Musicians, storytellers launch tour of Georgia to call attention to importance of independent bookstores

It’s about the creator of The Moth, but I don’t think the headline writer knows that.

News and links

September 29, 2010

France’s bookseller protectionism and eBooks (WSJ)

September 25, 2010
From the WSJ:
In France a 1981 law prohibits the sale of books for less than 5% below the cover price, a move to protect independent booksellers from the narrow profit margins that big chains could absorb if they discounted books heavily. But e-books, not covered by the 1981 law because it refers to “printed volumes,” typically sell for 25% less than printed works.
I doubt a law comes out of this.

Yossarian would be proud

September 22, 2010

Some unnecessary government censorship of a book could confound those not familiar with Wikipedia. The NY Times bought one of the few uncensored advance copies of Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart, and compared it to the new, redacted version. The Pentagon apparently saw the book late in the process, after the Army had already approved it. Those uncesored copies are likely to be legendary collector’s items someday, so long as you don’t mind the government banging on your door offering to buy and burn your book every once in a while.

Yossarian blacked out many things, but he would never have thought to redact a testimonial back cover quote calling it “one terrific book.” That is twisted genius. And it is apparently among the 250 or so items the Pentagon decided held classified information. I don’t know, I’m not saying they really could have thought “terrific” is classified… but the NY Times appears to think so.

I know I’m late on this one, but I’ve been spending my time applying for jobs to afford the cat food and pretty things one must have. Totally randomly, I had Catch-22 on in the background today.

Guillermo del Toro on Colbert Report

September 22, 2010

The video’s not up yet, but tonight’s Guillermo del Toro interview on Colbert was one of my favorites in a long time. They talked about del Toro’s new anti-sparkling vampire book, The Fall (“Is there any sex?” “Not in the book.”) and about the uncensored gore of Latin American Catholic art. Del Toro, apparently, was a really weird kid… who knew?

Perhaps Colbert’s congressional testimony tomorrow will be fun too. Whatever happens, he had better stick to the Truthiness. You and I and Roger all know how Congress hates lies.


September 1, 2010

Links, replete with American Psycho belt buckle

August 28, 2010

News links

August 26, 2010

Passage of the Day

August 24, 2010

The Passage of the Day is actually a full short story from the Arabian Nights called The Hunchback. This is a twisted tale of murder and guilt that presages Poe, Hugo and Weekend at Bernie’s. Here’s the quick version: A tailor and his wife like to party. They are coming home… wait, I have to quote the first paragraph as it’s weirder than I could ever paraphrase:

There was, in ancient times, in the city of El-Basrah, a tailor who enjoyed an ample income, and was fond of sport and merriment. He was in the habit of going out occasionally with his wife, and they might amuse themselves with strange and diverting scenes; and one day they went forth in the afternoon, and, returning home in the evening, met a humpbacked man, whose aspect was such that as to excite laughter in the angry, and to dispel anxiety and grief: so they approached him to enjoy the pleasure of gazing at him, and invited him to return with them to their house, and to join with them in a carousal that night.

So, that’s a really odd entry point. But they have dinner, and the wife thinks it’d be hilarious to stuff an entire fish in the hunchback’s mouth and force him to swallow it. He chokes. He dies. That will not do, so they cover him up and carry him through the dark to the Jewish doctor’s house, knock and run. He trips on the body, thinks he killed the guy in the process, and carries him out to an ally. A drunk Christian broker walks by, sees a slumped hunchback appearing  a bit menacing, and punches him senseless. Being a Christian, when he’s caught beating a Muslim, it’s a serious offense.* The trial begins, and the doctor confesses out of guilt, then the tailor confesses when the doctor is about to be sentenced. It goes on from there, but put that in your lit exam and you’ll get a C- and a dirty look. I recommend reading it.

Why Disney chose Alladin (actually Ala-ed-Din) over this one, I’ll never know. Coincidentally, there’s actually another version of the story in some translations called The Little Hunchback. In that one, the tailor’s hard at work and he sees a little hunchback who just wants to entertain him with a tambourine. The hunchback tragically dies, choking on the fish the tailor’s wife had cooked for him with love. Why? Whether it’s Disney or parents two hundred years ago, the story’s the same. No moral of treating the poor  (and any guest) with respect, instead these kids grow up thinking the ugly welfare leech got what was coming to him, and it’s alright to ditch the dead body if you were just trying to help in the first place.

*Given that Americans have recently shown they know zilch about Muslim history, I’ll add this. He could drink because the rules on alcohol generally didn’t apply to non-Muslims (and in some areas of the world Muslims can drink certain alcoholic beverages, anyway). I won’t get into it too much, but the reasoning generally centers around the necessity of prayer multiple times a day, and not being allowed to pray if one is drunk or has imbibed forbidden things–that is one of the bases for the alcohol prohibition, and it doesn’t apply to non-Muslims. Christians and Jews were usually allowed to live relatively peacefully in Muslim countries, but once a Christian does something like assault someone or–gasp–marry a Muslim, the gloves were off.

Passage of the Day

July 13, 2010

This one’s from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hey Rube, a collection of his early-2000s ESPN columns:

That is the wonderful perversity of gossip in the 21st Century. Nothing is impossible.

Some things are more impossible than others, however, and the collapse of the NBA is one of these. The only thing wrong with the NBA—or any other professional sport, for that matter—is a wild epidemic of Dumbness and overweening Greed. There is no Mystery about it, and no need to change any rules. The NBA’s problem is so clear that even children can see it—especially high school basketball stars, half-bright manchild phenomena who don’t need college Professors to teach them the difference between Money and Fun.

Could have been slaughtered on eBay

July 9, 2010

Watch out on eBay (no duh) when someone says a book is 1st ed./1st printing. I looked into a “1st ed./1st printing” Slaughterhouse-Five to find it was a book club edition–aka 1st ed., but not first printing. Difference of probably $800-$1000 there. Luckily it was auctioning at around $40, so it would still be a decent deal. I’m sure the seller didn’t know, but still.

You can almost always figure out if it’s first ed. by looking online to find out what the signs are. is a good site in a pinch.

Missing Chapter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be published

July 1, 2010

I just found out Penguin is releasing The Missing Golden Ticket and other Splendiferous Secrets on Sept. 2.  A small book, it is supposed to be the “top-secret chapter that was taken out of the original book,” in addition to other jibber-jabber about one of Dahl’s best books.

Personally, I’m BFG all the way and I want — nay, needs — a movie made with the grandpa from the newest Chocolate Factory playing the giant.

(image from IMDB/

Christopher Hitchens announces he has cancer

July 1, 2010


Vanity Fair’s intellectual gadabout Christopher Hitchens announced he has esophageal cancer. Hitchens has written about his heavy smoking, though he is said to have recently quit. Yesterday he wrote:

I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

That’s it. A quiet statement for a man whose mouth has gotten him into trouble throughout the world. Very sad… don’t smoke, kids.

An Exiled “pre-approval” of Mark Twain’s upcoming autobiography

June 23, 2010

It’s already been a century since Samuel Clemens moved on. He left us a foul-mouthed present that is just now ready to be released. Mark H. Twain told the U. of California to wait 100 years after his passing before publishing his 5000-page autobiography. Rather than focus on what’s in it (hint, in his later days he was not so charmed by our faulty nature), The Exiled’s Eileen Jones unleashes a diatribe on our generation’s common lack of greatness. It’s pretty entertaining.

It seems like only yesterday when we were an embiggened nation and had some great people among us. They weren’t the majority, of course, but the ones we had were prime. Especially that fierce Civil War era crop. Besides Twain there was, lessee, off the top of my head, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, and Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman, and John Brown, and Harriet Tubman, and Ambrose Bierce and…That’s not so many, you say. Oh yeah? Try naming eight great Americans living right now. G’head. Try it. Okay, try naming three. I remind you that Johnny Cash already kicked the bucket and Hunter S. Thompson shot himself. But Muhammad Ali’s still alive, so that’s one. Oh, and Cesar Milan became an American citizen, didn’t he? So that’s two. In the unlikely event that you can think of a third candidate, please forward your bright idea to

Jones also scornes us for being surprised that Twain’s last words would be vitriol, given the ample evidence left in even his most light-hearted work.

When the publication of the Twain autobiography was announced, the press tended to focus on certain eye-popping details the tome reveals about the author’s old age. The electric sex toy bought for him by his secretary/mistress, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, for starters, and the colorfully insulting language he used to describe her after the affair ended. Apparently it isn’t generally known that Mark Twain was an old rip.

Which means people aren’t reading Twain anymore, or anyway, they aren’t reading him with any real attention to detail. Even the milder stuff assigned in high school English classes is ripe, blasphemous, hilarious, and heartening. Sure, they don’t assign you Twain’s “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism”. But The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is plenty lively, with exhilarating stuff on every page. Here, for instance, is Huck’s first-person description of his father, the malevolent town drunk:

He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no grey; so was his long mixed-up whiskers. There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl—a tree-toad white, a fishbelly white. As for his clothes—just rags, that was all.

This is why kids should study literature. It does a child good to read a frank, straightforward assessment of a parental figure like that. It means you don’t have to lie to yourself, see; you can acknowledge, in your own mind, what you’re experiencing, even if you have to disavow it aloud in order to get along in society.

She also advocates giving the Coen Bros a crack at a Huck Finn adaptation. That sounds like a great idea.

Elsewhere, I’ve read talk about Twain’s “ego” in assuming we’d care about him 100 years later. First, it’s not ego to know you are famous. Second, and more importantly, this autobiography apparently trashes people he knew, and will probably paint a different picture of the older Twain in much the same way later-day Tolstoy was completely different from the gambling, carousing younger Leo. To think Twain was not aware of that is to underestimate one of the sharpest minds our country has seen. He let the dust settle on his legacy before he let loose with one last bilious rant. And how fun would it be to know you were going to communicate directly with your country (it is his country) years into the future, and, hell, maybe even improve it a bit with your words. His generation’s loss is our gain.

Now a Minnesotan

May 30, 2010

I’ve been in our new place in Minneapolis for a few days now, but this is the first time things have settled down to the point that I could do anything online. First, we filled a 24-foot Budget truck with mostly records and books and some small amount of furniture and drove. 200 miles into our trip, still in Eastern Washington, the truck’s engine struck its last stroke, ending in a blast of black smoke that left us, luckily, in a small town called Ritzville. I will never rent through Budget again, as the service was horrible and we had to break our contract to get a U-Haul from 90 miles away because we were not “eligible for another truck” from Budget. In the end they did reverse all charges, but we still had to move all of our stuff from one truck to another, then catch up two days’ lost time. We flew through the scenic areas of Montana (almost all of Montana is scenic) at night, then woke up to catch the breathtaking flatness of North Dakota by day. We stopped in Fargo, where I found the American Dream alive and well KMart and Happy Joe’s Pizza. I felt like an ass for not liking guns as much as  billboards said I should. I felt like an ass for not liking guns as much as billboards said kids should. I felt small next to the people, and I enjoyed how nice they were. In short, I’ve always wanted to go to Fargo and I was not disappointed.

And we made it. I am now Minnesotan, or something. Yesterday we bought two 1965 Raleigh/Robin Hood bikes, which will come in handy now that I live in a more residential area than Capitol Hill, Seattle. We bought our first couch. We also bought our first television and our first Blue Ray player–before, the only tv’s I’d cared to have were hand-me-downs or one I “won” in a work raffle. Toying with the idea of hooking it up to get actual channels… that’d be a change of pace I’m not sure I’m ready for.

All of this is to say that I have not been catching up on blogs, or the news, lately.

This morning I read an article about a post-Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace interview that was never published, but is now coming out in book form. It’s an interesting look at how writers like to have themselves perceived, and how they interact with other writers. Wallace talks about a television addiction to which I think we all succumb:

Talking about his novel, Wallace accepts the criticism that it’s difficult, but he considers difficulty valuable, an integral component of contemporary fiction. “If the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is,” he says. Wallace contrasts literature with the electronic media, especially television, an amusement that is his own personal weakness, an actual addiction. “One of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy.” He takes this idea to the outer limits in “Infinite Jest,” a novel in which terrorists seek to acquire a peculiar weapon of mass destruction: an underground film with the capacity to mesmerize and kill its viewers.

I hope to never sit in my (new) chair and just have it easy, even if I did just buy a massive television. Can’t wait to play Atari and Mega Man 2 on a gigantic scale though.

A first?: Twitter-wide book club

May 4, 2010

Is this a Twitter first? Perhaps it’ll be the first time it goes widespread. Anyway, the first book is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, on Twitter at @1B1T2010. It sounds like Gaiman’s on board, and unlike a normal book club, he’ll be able (and willing) to weigh in from time to time. From the Guardian UK:

“The aim with One Book, One Twitter is – like the one city, one book programme which inspired it – to get a zillion people all reading and talking about a single book. It is not, for instance, an attempt to gather a more selective crew of book lovers to read a series of books and meet at established times to discuss,” explained Howe at “Usually such ‘Big Read’ programs are organised around geography. Seattle started the trend for collective reading in 1998 when zillions of Seattlites all read Russell Banks’s book, Sweet Hereafter. Chicago followed suit with To Kill a Mockingbird a few years later. This Big Read is organised around Twitter, and says to hell with physical limitations.”

Gaiman, whose novel follows the story of ex-convict Shadow, released from prison and embarking on a bizarre journey across America with the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a former god, said he thought One Book, One Twitter was “a great idea – a sort of worldwide book club”.

He was, however, slightly concerned about the choice of American Gods, describing himself as “half-pleased and half-not”, because it’s “such a divisive book”.

Thanks KnitMITTON Seven massive historic typos

May 4, 2010

Interesting stuff. This one was my favorite:

#3. Bullshit Word Added to the English Language

Because English is a bit of an all-sorts language, you’ll find that it includes words from all sorts of crazy places (such as the now-treasured f-word). However, every now and then you will come across a word in the English dictionary whose etymology is not Greek or Latin, but freaking Typo. “Dord”, introduced to the world in 1931, is one of those words.

dord, n. [Typo.] Example: “Dord!”

The Typo:

This delightful word first surfaced in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as a noun in physics and chemistry meaning density. Since then, “dord” enjoyed a happy run throughout the cheerful years known as the 1930s until some editor noticed on February 28, 1939 (yes, we know the exact date) that the word lacked etymology (i.e. a back-story).


After an extensive investigation by whom we can only assume were the Grammar Police, it was revealed that “dord” was originally submitted on July 31, 1931 by Austin M. Patterson, Webster’s chemistry editor (yes, we know all this information as well), to read “D or d,” an abbreviated form of density. But if the letters are squeezed a little too close together…

The Result:

For those of you keeping score, you may be surprised by the vast amount of information we have surrounding this typo right down to the day, month and year. How do we know all this? Simple: Do not screw with the Grammar Police, particularly the English ones.

Grammar Police. Coming soon from the makers of Snatch and Masterpiece Theater.

As for the pronunciation, they clearly pulled that out of their ass.


Passage of the day

April 29, 2010

I haven’t done one of these for a while. Here’s one from Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy) and Mark Carwardine’s (zoologist) Last Chance to See, a book on world travels to see some of the most endangered species in the world:

The view across the immensity of Tiananmen Square from here is extraordinary. It is like looking across a plain from the side of a mountain. In political terms, the view is more astounding yet, encompassing as it does a nation that comprises almost one quarter of the population of this planet. All of the history of China is symbolically focused here, at this very point, and it is hard, as you stand there, not to be transfixed by the power of it. It is hard, also, not to be profoundly moved by the vision of the peasant from Shao-Shan who seized that power in the name of the people and whom the people still revere, in spite of the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, as the father of their nation.

And while we were standing on this spot, the spot where Mao stood when he proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the music we were having played at us by the public address system was first “Viva España” and then the “Theme from Hawaii Five-O.”

It was hard to avoid the feeling that somebody, somewhere, was missing the point. I couldn’t even be sure that it wasn’t me.

Dog lovers getting their own book club

April 27, 2010

I wasn’t surprised to see it’s in Portland. They’re weird there… in a good way. But I was surprised to see that dogs are not allowed. The first reading will be Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin.

Also, do you know how many pictures of dogs ‘reading’ there are out there? I know we love the anthropomorphization, and I’m guilty, but I was struck by the vastness of it all. It made the New Yorker cover once. If someone wanted to, they could make a blog out of pictures of dogs “reading,” and it appears it would go extremely well for them. Here’s a picture of a baby eating dog food for balance.

By the way, the blog Babies Eating Dogfood… don’t touch it, it’s MINE. Wonderful world we live in.

And just because this is my blog, I am never going to let this slide: Please do not use the “no, not that kind” ‘joke’ unless you are making fun of it. It hurts me in the brainular area.