"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Magical Negro

The flip side to the negative stereotypes, from Strange Horizons.

"These days, however, I don't think the Magical Negro's existence is so conscious. I hypothesize that the Magical Negro in film continues to live because a lot of the less savory beliefs about race are still in the American public's psyche. And because so much of art these days is commercial, the great machine needs to "give 'em what they know."

"[Stephen]King's Magical Negroes most often fit the stereotype of a person of color with mystical powers. According to general racial pigeonholes, people of color, especially blacks, are more primitive than whites. And because they are more primitive, they are more in tune with their primitive powers, the magic of the earth and spirits. One may see a lot of these assumptions with Native Americans, also. It is also this stereotype that the myths of the oversexed black woman and the well-endowed black man spring from, for to be primitive is often equated with being more sexual. The stereotypical primitive person of color is familiar to audiences and thus instantly understood. To assume such a role implies a certain primitiveness about all people of color."

Reminds me of Jubilee, Dr. Margaret Walker's historical novel about her great-grandmother, in which a white woman's insistence that "colored grannies" are the best (midwives) paves the way for her family to settle in an all-white town after the Civil War.

Blacks as saints or sinners, but nothing in-between, I guess. Kinda like artists...hm, wonder if it's the outsider category coming into play. Scapegoats and messiahs, but not just plain folks.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lose Weight! Get Laid! Find God!: The All-in-One Life Planner

"The Americans go for self-help books, the French buy unreadable philosophy books and the British buy books filled with trivia, which are often made up and generally aimed at being funny," Nielsen adds. "Those are the stereotypes, and they're not completely misleading."

Elephants' tears and ants' "arseholes" at the Guardian.

What's on your Christmas book list?
"In France, certainly, they buy a different kind of book. In amazon.fr's chart of the top 20 bestselling titles this Christmas is one by Schopenhauer. True, it comes in at 19, and it isn't the German pessimist's symphonic chef d'oeuvre The World as Will and Representation, but L'Art d'avoir toujours raison, a book on how to win arguments. But let's not spoil the story. As you know, Schopenhauer's most trenchant philosophical observation was that humans are eternally tormented by desire and it is only in the stilling of the human will - be it through disinterested aesthetic contemplation or ascetic renunciation - that one can elude the penal servitude of...our human fate."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vegetarian vs. Local vs. Organic and Fair Trade

Is it better to eat locally grown food, or to promote imported crops grown sustainably that support the rain forests? If we don't support sustainable rain forest crops, what can the farmers do except cut the trees down to sell the wood to make a living?

Interesting article at SF Gate.

I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, in which the author insists repeatedly that it is okay to kill and eat animals, when what we really need is to hear that it is okay NOT to -- at least those of us who were raised with the four food groups/food pyramid nonsense.

Cuke photo from Howstuffworks.com Sorry I can't get it to link to the page.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Internet Was Not Our First Revolution

From Doris Lessing's Nobel prize acceptance speech, at the Guardian:

We are a jaded lot, we in our world - our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

More links here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Top Ten Books of 2007

From the NY Times.

I wish I could say I've read more of these, although I usually disagree with anyone's top ten.


In Bangladesh
In Turkey

In the U.S. in the 1990s.

The Top Ten
1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

In Sudan, it's teddy bears they're worried about. You can't name them after the prophet. Here, we named them after a popular Teddy, and nobody made a fuss.

Was That Her Tongue? Bad Sex Shortlist

Is a doozy:
"Anne Hathaway's cow-milking fingers, cradling my balls in her almond palm, now took pity on the poor anguished erection..."

Read more.

And the winnah:

She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writing the McNovel?

Got idealistic dragons? Homoerotic vampires? Uh-oh. This was too good to pass up, from Paperback Writer via Nathan Bransford.
Bonus Mcpoints: you claim the novel is entirely your invention and has nothing to do with that other Brother McVampire series which you of course simply haven't had time to read yet.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Zippicamiknicks - Promiscuous Sex and Mindless Consumerism Vs. Totalitarian Paranoia

Margaret Atwood does Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Victoria's Secret:

"zippicamiknicks", that female undergarment with a single zipper down the front that could be shucked so easily: "Zip! The rounded pinkness fell apart like a neatly divided apple. A wriggle of the arms, a lifting first of the right foot, then the left: the zippicamiknicks were lying lifeless and as though deflated on the floor."

I myself was living in the era of "elasticised panty girdles" that could not be got out of or indeed into without an epic struggle, so this was heady stuff indeed.

The girl shedding the zippicamiknicks is Lenina Crowne, a blue-eyed beauty both strangely innocent and alluringly voluptuous - or "pneumatic", as her many male admirers call her. Lenina doesn't see why she shouldn't have sex with anyone she likes whenever the occasion offers, as to do so is merely polite behaviour and not to do so is selfish.

Everyone is happy at the Guardian.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

National Book Awards

Go Sherman and Denis! Two of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie and Denis Johnson, have won in 2007.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cover Story: Is this the End of the Hardcover Book?

Picador plans to publish most of its titles as "B format" paperbacks - of the kind used for paperback editions of novels by the likes of Ian McEwan and Anne Enright. The firm's publisher Andrew Kidd told The Bookseller: "We want to help well-reviewed authors get straight to their readers." At the same time, Picador's novels will also appear in limited hardback print runs, produced for the people who prefer to acquire books with cloth covers, boards, endpapers and so on, and who don't mind paying for those luxuries.

Such people, though, are few in number. So why have publishers persisted for so long in bringing out hardback novels, pushing for reviews and interviews with the authors, and waiting until everyone has forgotten about the publicity before issuing the affordable editions?
At the Guardian.

Does it matter if it is the end? I buy few books in hardcover, only those for which I can't bear to wait for the paperbacks, which I prefer -- easier to handle, lighter to carry, less space to store. And, yes, cheaper, so my book-buying budget goes a longer way. The same argument can be made for used books, which I do buy, but the rule I try to stick to is, once I have bought a used book by an author and liked it, I buy the next one new (in paperback, usually), to support the author and the publishing industry. (I bet they are happy to hear that. Well, they would be if they knew how many books I buy.)

The Over-Rated and the Dead

When the world speaks with one voice, it almost invariably gets it wrong. Thus, Norman Mailer, who died at the weekend, has been hailed as a great, if flawed, American writer, a pre-eminent chronicler of the 20th century. But it would be closer to the truth to characterise him as an arch-conservative who pulled off a stunning confidence trick.

Mailer hated authority, homosexuality, women and almost certainly himself, producing fiction and essays that would be comically bad if they did not display addictions to violence and abusive sex.
Then as now, few on the left cared that he was a hysterical opponent of contraception and abortion: "I hate contraception ... it's an abomination." It was left to one or two feminist writers, notably Kate Millett in Sexual Politics, to point out the contradictions that disfigured his work. Millett regarded Mailer as "a prisoner of the virility cult", a man whose "powerful intellectual comprehension of what is most dangerous in the masculine sensibility is exceeded only by his attachment to the malaise."

My feelings exactly. Read the rest.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Is the Story Alive or Dead, Would Somebody Make Up Our Minds For Us

After reading the article highlighted in a previous entry, I came across this one, at the Book Critics Circle blog, which is either confident or head-in-the-sand, depending on whose opinion you prefer -- the comments section is worth reading. My opinion? Well, not being primarily a short story writer, I don't really know. I think both sides have some interesting things to say, but I'm inclined toward the more negative view, unfortunately.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I Want One...Is There A Fork and Knife Version?

Japanese women with environmental concerns close to their hearts may one day be able to wear a bra which can carry their own personal chopsticks to cut down on waste.

And the bra has benefits beyond protecting simply the planet -- the chopsticks tucked in both sides of the bra will give lift to the breasts and "gently accentuate cleavage", Triumph Japan said.

At Yahoo.com.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Natural Male Enhancement of Privacy

If you've ever watched late-night TV in the US, odds are good that you've come across Bob, the suburban everyman who goes from zero to hero after taking a product called Enzyte "for natural male enhancement." Steven Warshak, the man behind Enzyte and other dubious concoctions like Avlimil (for women), made a killing hawking the product, but he hasn't been smiling like Bob for some time. That's because the US government thinks his business is illegitimate and has gone after Warshak and his company in court. In the course of the legal battle, the Feds got access to much of Warshak's e-mail without a search warrant, and Warshak complained. Suddenly, the EFF and ACLU found themselves on the side of the Enzyte kingpin, arguing a case that could have major ramifications for every e-mail user in the country.
At Ars Technica.

Free Mandatory Book Marks in the UK

A scheme to put thousands of advertisements into library books will find borrowers taking home a little more than they had bargained for.

Up to 500,000 inserts a month are due to be handed out by libraries in Essex, Somerset, Bromley, Leeds and Southend.

The plan is being run by the direct marketing company Howse Jackson, whose business development director Mark Jackson said the company was "very proud" of what he described as "a brand new channel" for direct marketing.

Sounds like a lot of extra paper to me, but I hope they will leave a little white space on the inserts. I am always making notes on book marks, and really appreciate it when there is enough space. Grocery store receipts, the kind without advertising on the back, are my favorites lately.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Audacious Short Story

Short stories "succeed by wilfully falsifying many of the observable qualities of the lived life they draw upon. They also leave out a lot of life and try to make us not worry about it. They often do funny things with time - things we know can't be done, really - but then make us go along with that. They persuade us that the human-being-like characters they show us can be significantly known on the strength of rather slight exposure; and they make us believe that entire lives can change on account of one little manufactured moment of clear-sightedness. You could say, based on this evidence, that the most fundamental character trait of short stories, other than their shortness, would seem to be audacity."

Richard Ford, from The New Granta Book of the American Short Story, at the Guardian. The article goes on to discuss a number of stories. Might be worth keeping an eye open for this book -- available stateside.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let's Play Sartre

10 points for a black beret, five points for a leather jacket and two points for a lighted Gauloises or a demitasse. Existential stubble, plus a beret, is 20 points. At the Guardian.

Also, what do Parisians read in the subway?

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Big, Dirty Unmade Bed of a Book

Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke:

Central to Johnson's dramatised worldview is the belief that it is the mangled and damaged, the downtrodden, who are best placed to achieve - "withstand" is probably a better verb - enlightenment. It's like an inversion of the idea of the law of the jungle where trees vie with each other to reach for the sky, the light. For Johnson the real revelations are at ground level, amid the degradation of mush and swamp. As such there are moments of extreme ugliness and horror. In 1968 a GI spoons out the eye of a VC prisoner and James Houston yells: "Give it to the motherfucker. Make him holler." Thus encouraged the soldier "grabbed the man's eyeballs hanging by the purple optic nerves and turned the red veiny side so the pupils looked back at the empty sockets and the pulp in the cranium. 'Take a good look at yourself, you piece of shit.'" A little while earlier James had emerged from a firefight in the aftermath of which "every blurred young face he looked at gave him back a message of brotherly love." But then his buddy got wounded and ended up in hospital "like the Frankenstein monster laid out in pieces, wired up for the jolt that would wake him to a monster's confused and tortured finish." The book is a monster in that sense, jolted constantly into life by its own damaged circuitry, a mass of spare parts all held together with a relentlessly deranged sense of purpose and quotations from Artaud and Cioran.

I totally get what the reviewer is saying about Johnson's work, and this review would get me to read the book even if I didn't already have it on my to-read list.

Can't Drink Coffee and Read at the Same Time

In Iran.

Somehow, this makes sense to Iranian politicians. But hey, better to close down the equivalent of Starbucks than the bookstores themselves.

Six Statements on Homosexuality;

Seven thousand on how to treat the poor. Reading between the lines of the world's most misunderstood book.

At its heart, this is a book about all the various ways religious people pick and choose, the most famous being many Christians' fixation on the six biblical statements about homosexual relations in comparison to what Jacobs claims are seven thousand—seven thousand!—biblical comments on how to treat the poor. All religious people do this sifting, he finds; they simply have to.

A.J. Jacobs' Year of Living Biblically, attempts to answer such pressing questions as: "Does it violate the eighth commandment to "borrow" your downstairs neighbor's wireless signal?"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Steal This Book

If you like it.
The Frankfurt Book Fair has an indicator to help publishers gauge public interest in the new offerings presented at the annual exhibition -- the unofficial "most stolen book" index.
"The most-stolen books are usually the most-sold later on," [said] Claudia Hanssen of the Goldmann Verlag publishing house.

The most stolen book this year? An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore.

Friday, October 12, 2007

You'll Need More Luck...

...than Margaret Atwood.

Who was herself short-listed for the Nobel Prize. At least no one is asking her when she is going to commit suicide any more.

"Most Art is Failed Art"

I don't know if you've been following the controversy surrounding Stephen King's editing of Best American Short Stories 2007. The unfairly maligned Mr. King wrote a very pessimistic introduction to the book, which appeared in edited form in the NY Times Book Review. King feels that the short story can be precious and cutesy, written for other MFAs and teachers, because fewer and fewer of the rest of us actually read the things, hard as they are to come by, when the bookstores hide expensive literary magazines somewhere near the floor polisher.

Jane Thompson, author of several books of short stories, has written a thoughtful reply, at Maud Newton's blog.

Most art is failed art...There is in much of the criticism the inference, or the downright accusation, that writers of highbrow fiction lead effete and timorous lives, as opposed to the robust and brawny ones of those who write the solid, homespun stuff that people really want, and whose hearts, as well as wallets, are in the right place. But writing is always a balancing act between involvement with the world and the solitude and retreat needed to render it in words. One does one’s best in both arenas, and then resolves to do still better the following day.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

At long last, and richly deserved. At the NY Times.

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 later this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through her voracious reading. She had been born to British parents in what is now Iran, was raised in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and now lives in London. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, non-fiction and an autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.

The BBC points out that she is likely to see a rise in sales. Never too late for that, although I am sure she would have appreciated receiving the $1.6 million prize thirty years ago. Perhaps the prize committee was thinking, better late than never. At the BBC.

At the Guardian.

Doris Lessing entries at this blog.

Lessing's reaction, with link to photos.

"I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The World Without Us: Read This Book

This amazing book should be on everyone's To-Read list. The author, Alan Weisman, takes us on a tour of our world as it would be were humans to suddenly disappear -- wiped out by some plague, or even if our numbers were half or less of what they are now. There are some surprises. The earth doesn't have unlimited capacity to regenerate what we know, although there will always be something. He discusses what would become of the world's 441 (at time of publication) nuclear reactors, and the huge, city-sized crude oil refineries such as the one that stretches from Houston to the Gulf coast. It seems they alone could create the equivalent of a nuclear winter, if we left them alone without first shutting them down. He also explains the coming effects of global warming, what to expect and what to fear -- this is a book that can keep you awake nights, and it's not alarmism. Global warming is here. If you, like me, can't believe that our idiotic leaders have let it go this far -- weren't we all talking about this as far back as the 'sixties and 'seventies? -- You will appreciate this fine book.

I like a good end-of-the-world sci fi read, but this is not sci fi. In addition to his extensive research on many different areas that are impacted by us, the author makes a convincing case for population diminishment, not just zero growth.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Too Many MFAs

Spoil the short story? That seems to be Stephen King's opinion in this article from the New York Times. There is no doubt that what he's saying is true, that the audience for short fiction is decreasing, and that there are a lot of MFA-trained imitators writing awfully precious stuff.

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.
Mr. King has edited this year's Best American Short Stories, and the article is a slightly pared-down version of the introduction. I ordered this book, but Amazon so far refuses to ship it to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Brain-Eating Amoebas

And, it's not even the plot of a new sci fi movie. Something else to worry about with global warming. AP article at Yahoo.
"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said [Michael Beach, a specialist at the CDC]. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."
Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.

"Usually, from initial exposure it's fatal within two weeks," he said.

Banned Books Week

The ten most challenged books, from the Powell's blog. Read one in celebration of Banned Books Week.

1. And Tango Makes Three
2. Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girls series
3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
6. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
7. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
9. Beloved by Toni Morrison
10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Or, you could read Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Wonder Bread, Not Just For Lunch

I came across this meanspirited article condemning works the author deems "kitschy" -- Dave Eggers, Nicole Krauss, et al. Seems they are not cool enough, i.e., they like feel-good emotions and stories with happy endings. It eventually amounts to a diatribe against popular culture, as we knew it would. I wish the author had condemned the mindlessly negative, pessimistic works that get published and lauded as high art. It appears his disdain is reserved for those that sell well. Some of which are kitschy, sure, but a happy ending is no guarantee of lower quality, just as an unhappy one is no guarantee of art.

And is trauma really never overcome? That's what literature is part of, dealing with it on a social and/or personal scale.

I guess it's just not cool to have hope any more.

Monday, September 17, 2007

OJ In Jail For Armed Robbery

Is he planning the sequel to If I Did It? Will it be a trilogy? Good article at New York Magazine about Judith Regan, his editor at HarperCollins. She was really only trying to get him to confess on tape.

Read A Book Without Opening It

Historic parchment manuscripts that are too fragile to be unfolded, such as parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, could soon be read without being opened using a scanning technique that relies on the world’s brightest light.

British scientists have already used the Diamond Light Source, a £370 million facility near Didcot in Oxfordshire that shines 10 billion times more brilliantly than the Sun, to decipher the contents of several parchment documents without unfolding them.
Go to article.

When I was a kid, I used to put a book under my pillow at night, in the hope of absorbing the information inside, without having to read it. It wasn't that I disliked reading, but that I already felt there were so many books I wanted to read, and so little time to read them.

One of my favorite kid books was The Velveteen Rabbit. When I was a little older, it was The Velvet Room.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why They Did It

To punish OJ, the Goldman family says on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah says she won't buy or read the book, but now that the proceeds are going to the Goldman family instead of the author, readers can have a guilty read guilt-free.

Women Woke Up

The judge of a national [UK] writing prize has ordered men to "wake up" after all of the £3,000 awards went this year to women. With eight of the nine contenders on the New Writing Ventures awards for emerging literary talent being women, the outcome was always unlikely to be otherwise.

"I've never believed in a difference of the sexes when it comes to literary talent, but there does seem to be a broader appeal in what women are writing than men."

I wonder if this is in any way related to Wednesday's post: "When Women Stop Reading the Novel Will Be Dead"? It would make sense for women to prefer books by women, and that a dearth of male readers would make male writers less likely to succeed. That's not exactly what happened in this contest, and it hasn't happened yet in publishing (as far as I've heard). Just something to think about. At the Guardian.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Viggo and Cormac

Actor Viggo Mortensen is close to signing on for the big screen adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road, MTV.com reports.

I'd rather see Viggo Mortensen in the movie version of On the Road, but that's just me. Mortensen's Eastern Promises will be released this month.

You will recall that Tommy Lee Jones is in No Country For Old Men, which also stars Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson. That release date is coming up, this November.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Easy Way to Slow Global Warming...

...is to eat less meat, according to a study cited by the Associated Press.

Eating less meat could help slow global warming by reducing the number of livestock and thereby decreasing the amount of methane flatulence from the animals, scientists said on Thursday.

Disturbing, isn't it, that we warehouse so many animals in feedlots that their flatulence, their farting, has an effect on our climate. And there really is no need to eat as much meat as most of us do, we're just responding to an age-old craving for protein from the days when we were protein-starved. Now, overeating is the problem.

Powles and his co-authors estimate that reducing meat consumption would reduce the numbers of people with heart disease and cancer. One study has estimated that the risk of colorectal cancer drops by about a third for every 100 grams of red meat that is cut out of your diet.

"As a society, we are overconsuming protein," Brewster said. "If we ate less red meat, it would also help stop the obesity epidemic."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"When Women Stop Reading, The Novel Will Be Dead"

A couple of years ago, British author Ian McEwan conducted an admittedly unscientific experiment. He and his son waded into the lunch-time crowds at a London park and began handing out free books. Within a few minutes, they had given away 30 novels.

Nearly all of the takers were women, who were "eager and grateful" for the freebies while the men "frowned in suspicion, or distaste." The inevitable conclusion, wrote McEwan in The Guardian newspaper: "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."


And from NPR's Maureen Corrigan, "...there always comes a moment when I'm in the company of others -- even my nearest and dearest -- when I'd rather be reading a book." From Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading.

I suppose that could get to be a problem if it happens before you're ever in anyone's company. It does happen to me, but not as frequently as it might. Example: Do I want to go to the library and vote on the proposed expansion, meanwhile meeting half the people I know in town, hearing their side of it and killing a couple of hours, or, do I just stay home and read? The expansion was voted down by a huge majority. Anyway, I like our library the way it is.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On a More Encouraging Note

Thank you to agent Noah Lukeman, who offers a free book download, How to Write a Great Query.

You will need Adobe reader, but you can also download that free online. His other books are available at Amazon.com. I read The First Five Pages a couple of years ago. He says that in order to stay out of the rejection pile, you have five pages to wow 'em. I find it a little depressing to think that it's only five pages -- I mean, I can understand if those first five are really bad, straight to the circular file, but if they're well-written, literate, but just not full of action yet? Let's hope he exaggerates.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Your Manuscript is Hopeless

And other charming rejections from Knopf. At the NY Times.
...a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.
"get rid of all that Indian stuff.”

All of which goes to show us writers that we have to stand by our guns. Or is that too western-sounding?

Robber Hits Karate School

Police rescue him and take him to the hospital.

Friday, September 7, 2007

R.I.P. Luciano Pavarotti

I think this clip of Nessun Dorma is the most moving of the videos of him. His expression at the end especially.

You can also see him with James Brown:

And, with Meat Loaf:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

On the Road: 50th Anniversary Links, cont'd

Slate's Memories of Beat acquaintances, friends, lovers.

Read the original New York Times review that got Millstein fired, and "made" Kerouac, in his own words.

More from the New York Times, after changing their tune.

Books from exes: Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters
Edie Kerouac Parker's You'll Be Okay
Carolyn Cassady's Off the Road

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Kerouac's Heir?

Denis Johnson, I mean. He reads from his new novel, Tree of Smoke at Front Porch Journal. Includes a link to more audio by Denis Johnson. His work is also outsider-centered (like that image?). Tree of Smoke is on my to-read list.

Did he really kill the Sixties?

The Boston Globe review has much more confidence in the author.

Perfect Crime Writer Gets 25 Years

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish crime writer has been jailed for 25 years after authorities found he had committed a murder that had been described in one of his thrillers, officials said Wednesday.

We knew it.

More Kerouac links...and, he did wear khakis

Kerouac links at NPR. Hear him read from On the Road, Dr. Sax and Visions of Cody. Hear him discuss William Burroughs with Neal Cassady. Video as well. This page is a great source for links. Also Carolyn Cassady on Allen and Neal.. (Note that this link on NPR site is broken.)

Jack on writing:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

And his Essentials of Spontaneous Prose.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Kerouac's Agent and Jimmy Breslin

At Publisher's Weekly.
Our response to Kerouac’s work was singular almost to a man, in that there was genuine admiration for his vigorous prose, his capacity to create a living sense of America, of life in this country, and the force and originality of his conception. But there were serious objections to the people and situations he writes about, whether they would be of compelling interest to many readers....

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for that link.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Books that Should Not Be Forgotten: The Charterhouse of Parma

Signorina Clelia...while on the verge of marrying the Marchese Crescenzi, the richest man in the State of Parma, was nonetheless making love, insofar as prison walls permitted it, with the generous Monsignore del Dongo.

A funny and astute book of Parmesan goings-on.

Click here for the Observer's list of the not-to-be-forgotten.

Read this Article

And never feed your pet commercial pet food again. In the NY Times.

these diets commonly consist of byproducts cooked into sterile and viscous masses, sheared into the simulacrum of a bone or a patty, and then, according to a report by the National Research Council in Washington, spray-dried with minuscule beadlets of fat, protein and calibrated savor.

I'm relieved there isn't a photo of the six female hound dogs with permanent tubing coming out of their sides, who are only permitted outside twice a week. It might be prudent to ask ourselves what kind of people could work with animals in these conditions, and to what remote and inhospitable emotional lepers' colony we should banish them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lola Granola

The x-treme spiritual seeker created by Berkeley Breathed, is hilarious (especially if you're acquainted with Woodstock). See the cartoon that the Washington Post would not run (except online). Hint: She renames herself "Fatima Struggle." Online at Salon.com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fox in the Henhouse

Did Fox steal the idea for a new series from legendary New York writer Pete Hamill? Will Hamill sue? If he does, will he collect a cent? Will the series spur sales of his book, Forever? Is he related to Dorothy Hamill?

I know the answer to at least one of the above questions. I wish Mr. Hamill the best, whatever course he decides to pursue.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place...to Live

Japan counts over 5,000 "net cafe refugees" -- working poor people, mostly men, who live in the all-night cafes that offer meals, showers and clean underwear as well as web access.

Not exactly Hemingway, is it?

Read about Japan's Lost Generation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road to the Tait Prize

I'm still not sure why The Road has won a Pulitzer, and now here it's won the James Tait prize as well. It's just that I like McCarthy's other books so much more. Well, The Road perhaps seems more timely, what with global warming threatening to incinerate us all.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"A Novel Should Extend Sympathy"

"Many writers are sad, bookish people who are comfortable writing." Joyce Carol Oates at The Independent.

Well, bookish naturally. I don't know too many writers who are particularly sad. About average in happiness, moody, cranky, angry, misanthropic, but sad? Doesn't come to mind right away, unless it's sad to be indoors at the computer on a lovely late summer evening. Anybody?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Paper Clip Guy is a Writer

No surprise there, as most writers, speaking for myself, will do anything rather than work, including attempting to trade a paper clip for a house in western Canada. Well, not like he intended for the house to be in western Canada, although he doesn't seem to mind. Or even thought there would be a house at all.

On the Road, the Covers

The various editions, in English, French, Italian, German, Dutch. I like the Italian cover which is a portrait. Jack cut quite la bella figura. I also like the fifties-ish cover of the young, presumably fast, woman with the come-hither look. As a cultural artifact. I have the 1993 Quality edition, good for readability and paper quality. Also it has The Dharma Bums and The Subterraneans as a bonus.

(Click here for The Dharma Bums, a local Woodstock band with some fine musicians, including my neighbor.)

Jack's own suggestion for the cover, at the NY Times.
And in his own words, some sound clips.
Thanks to Maud Newton.

William Gibson reads at Second Life

And, the reading is so packed, the author cannot get in. Eventually, there is an evacuation, so that the author may begin. At the Penguin blog.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What if Jane Austen Had Married?

Is the question asked by the movie, Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway as Jane. Moreover, what if she had married the wrong man? Or would literature have been any better served if she had married the right man? Maybe her highly regarded novels would have been influenced for the good? Maybe they would not have been written at all...this seems to be the conclusion by the end of the movie, as Jane chooses neither suitor, but decides to "live by her pen," and in the company of her sister, at the risk of digging her own potatoes, as her mother (Julie Walters) puts it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

One in four read no books...

According to an AP poll. Article from Forbes.com.

And the rest didn't read that many, apparently:
The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year - half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.
Do they get extra credit if one of the books was Harry Potter VII?

This year, I decided to keep count of all the books I read (and movies seen, but that's another post). My total so far is 50, but keeping a list makes me competitive about it, makes me try to read as many as possible. Does it slow my writing down? Well, that's another possibility, but I'm sure I won't keep this pace up forever. Think of it as a reading vacation.

"If Moderation is a Fault, Indifference is a Felony"

Kerouac the romantic, at Alternet. He might have been too cool to care about what the establishment thought, but he wasn't too cool to care.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who Writes History?

According to this article, it's mostly the CIA, the Vatican and the British Labour party.

The world according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is in a constant state of update, as tens of thousands of contributors work to ensure the site's content is correct.

But now an innovation on the site has confirmed a long-held suspicion: that Wikipedia is a prime target for spin-doctoring.

A new identification program on the site reveals that some of the most prolific contributors to Wikipedia are the CIA, the British Labour Party and the Vatican - and they are not just updating their own entries.

Profiling Americans? Stephen King

Busted in Australia for signing his books. The staff didn't recognize him -- luckily, there's an author photo on almost every book. At the BBC.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Are the Lessons of On the Road?

The NY Times asks. I think it's amazing that so many people have been so influenced by Kerouac. I think his writing style is under-appreciated. I agree that Allen Ginsberg was the promotion engine that drove the Beat phenomenon. I think that Neal Cassady was over-rated. I think, well...read the comments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Dark and Stormy Summer

In 1816, the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia did away with summer, and caused crop failures and starvation for the following three years. Mary Shelley spent the summer at Lake Geneva, writing the book for which she would become famous: Frankenstein. Article at NPR.

What is the connection, do you think, with the many end-of-the-world books that have been written in the last several decades? A partial list follows:

On the Beach (Nevil Shute), Earth Abides (Stewart), Eternity Road (McDevitt), Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood); Fiskadoro (Denis Johnson); Galapagos (Vonnegut); Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank); Lucifer’s Hammer (Niven and Pournelle); Love in the Ruins (Walker Percy); The Road (Cormac McCarthy); Cell (Stephen King); Year Zero (Long); Toward the End of Time (Updike) -- and of course Wyndham's fabulous Day of the Triffids, which had many of the elements of the genre in one place: Nature gone amok after misguided scientific experiments, possible weird kinds of warfare, social breakdown, reactions from the militaristic, to the nihilistic to the back-to-nature. The book, of course.

Send in your favorite end-of-the-world or -civilization titles.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kerouac's Original Scroll-Draft of On the Road

Will be published by Viking, pub. date August 16. Apparently, it's a lot racier than the final version first published 50 years ago, and less polished but with more raw energy. Seems there's no end to material from the King of the Beats. What took them so long?

A Literary Darwin Award?

Is he a murderer who wrote a crime book, or a writer who described the perfect murder? It sounds like a plot from the Queen of Crime, but it's a real court case. My vote is...he did it. Read the article.

Alien Without Aliens

"The book is what happens when your fingers are hitting the keyboard." William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, Pattern Recognition, and the newly released Spook Country, at the Guardian.

And here is another review, from the London Times.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Good News/Bad News/Good News

Coffee prevents colon cancer. Other articles have suggested coffee helps prevent diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other maladies.

One joint=5 cigarettes Other recent news items suggest pot smoking is related to mental illness.

Writers are traditionally associated with drinking -- both alcohol and coffee, not smoking pot (what pot smoker would bother to write a novel?), so the post ends with good news: Red wine is still good for you.

Coffee is still my substance of choice.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

237 Reasons to Have Sex

Instead of reading a book. Or the NY Times article.

I think this is a silly survey. Underlying most of the answers is the basic one, because it feels good. So, instead of, Because I was attracted to the person, you have, Because it feels good and I was attracted.

Here's an idea -- Could we use some of the funding for these silly surveys for grants to writers and artists?

Monday, July 30, 2007

"The World is Awash in Books"

But that's a good thing, right? Is it (another) sign of the impending doom of civilization that not that many people or institutions are interested in used books? Maybe they prefer new books. Maybe it's hard enough to get kids into reading with a new book, why try with a musty, yellowed classic? Some folks may not realize the books they treasure have acquired that distinctly unpleasant eau de mildew. So, maybe it's not a problem -- I'm glad there are lots of inexpensive, used books for bibliophiles with limited budgets. In fact, I'm glad there are too many, because it spurs acts of generosity like the one described in this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (at Cleveland.com).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

'The human race has been playing at children's games from the beginning

and will probably do so till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.'

Guardian article raises the interesting question of why previous readers were interested in thinking heroes, like Sherlock Holmes, while many of today's readers are agog over Harry Potter's magic. Do we lose faith in reason when the world seems a dangerous place? Although I'm not sure how the article's author justifies saying that "Harry Potter is for the short-of-attention generation." It's a hefty book, as we know.

I was going to post a picture of the cover, but, you all know what it looks like. My local pharmacy, which carries approximately half a dozen fiction titles, had them at the checkout counter, presumably in case you had forgotten to pick one up while you were waiting for your prescription.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Ultimate 747, or, Why We Believe What We Are Told

At The Chronicle:

Social scientists...have long considered religion as sui generis, not as a behavioral predisposition that arose because in some way it contributed to the survival and reproduction of its participants. ...Or it could be a nonadaptive byproduct of something adaptive in its own right. For example, children seem hard-wired to accept parental teaching, since such advice is likely to be fitness-enhancing ("This is good to eat," "Don't pet the saber-tooth"). In turn, this makes children vulnerable to whatever else they are taught ("Respect the Sabbath," "Cover your hair") as well as downright needy when it comes to parentlike beings, leading especially to the patriarchal sky god of the Abrahamic faiths.

So, did you eat your vegetables today? Or were you busy praying? Read further to see why God is "the ultimate 747." I find it troubling that some self-described religious people use religion for self-aggrandizement, while insisting that that is in fact what secular types are trying to do. As much as I like that 747 phrase, I'm going to stick with the Zen point of view, which I think is, that no matter whether there is a God or not, it is most important to be ethical, a good person, aware of and concerned for others and the natural world.

Here is the Zen story: An old man asks a Zen master for the secret of life. The master says, "You have to be good." The man says, "That's it? Even a child of four knows that." "But even a man of eighty doesn't do it," the master replies.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"There are ships sailing to many ports

But not one goes where life is not painful." Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

Interesting to see how many people like this book, on Goodreads.com-- I like it as well. It's closely observed and poetic, if depressive.

Goodreads is either an interesting place to see what people are reading, or, yet another way to waste time at work, or, yet another way to waste time not writing or reading. Depends on your point of view.

I am nothing.
I will always be nothing.
I cannot wish to be anything.
Apart from that, I hold inside myself all the dreams of the world.

Álvaro de Campos*: "The Tobacco Shop" (Tabacaria)

This is a pseudonym of Pessoa, who used quite a few of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Psychological Journeys

That is, books about them. Now we're talking. This is what I read for, although I'd add spiritual journeys as well.

Top Ten Books for Psychological Journeys, from the Guardian.
Among them:

Children of Violence Quintet by Doris Lessing
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

I found the fifth book in Lessing's quintet, The Four-Gated City, to be moving and intense.

And Speaking of the Devil

Nixon, I mean, Putin's government has taken a couple of pages from his book -- using tax audits to harass the opposition, and "managed democracy." See article at The New York Review of Books. If Nixon, however, killed thirteen reporters (Putin's tally so far), it hasn't come to light.

Friday, July 6, 2007

"I Am Not a Crook"

Oh, but he was. Nixon, it turns out, had his claws in the original fat HMO pie, along with Ed Kaiser, whose company, Kaiser Permanente, is one of the largest Health Mangling Organizations today. How do we know this? Well, His Crookedness thought so highly of himself, that he recorded discussions that took place in the Oval Office. We know where that got him, and it's still leading to interesting information, as we see.

For this, and other eye-opening revelations: See Sicko. And check out Michael Moore's website for enough controversy and secret memos to keep Nixon purring.

But enough. Look at the photos. Which of these men would you buy a used car from?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Big Brother Wants to Know What You're Drinking

I often wonder if the many people who talk about Big Brother have read Orwell. Now I'm wondering what's the real point of the new legislation in Tennessee that requires carding everyone, no matter their age, and checking their drivers' license, whenever they buy beer. When news reports (at Yahoo) mention that they've already caught one criminal, it's hard not to think that tracking the public is really what it's all about, not just preventing underage drinking.

Remember that chilling line, "You are the dead."?

Besides 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell wrote Down and Out in Paris and London, an oddly cheerful report on a variety of flophouses, and Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a funny satire on money and Englishness (and other books I've yet to read).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Flannery O'Connor on MFA programs

"In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel's worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class."

This is from her book of essays, Mystery and Manners. The essay is the The Nature and Aim of Fiction. The copyright dates are from 1957 onward, she died in 1964 -- so she is talking about fifty to sixty years ago. Imagine what she'd have to say now.

Another excerpt: "Now in every writing class you find people who care nothing about writing, because they think they are already writers by virtue of some experience they've had. It is a fact that if, either by nature or training, these people can learn to write badly enough, they can make a great deal of money, and in a way it seems a shame to deny them this opportunity; but then, unless the college is a trade school, it still has its responsibility to truth, and I believe myself that these people should be stifled with all deliberate speed."

This has always been a controversial stance -- I wonder if she was being tongue-in-cheek. It thrills me to hear her talk about a responsibility to truth. The good old, pre-ironic, still optimistic days. Who would she be directing this toward today? If she were still with us, would we see her as a persecutor of King and Crichton? Or perhaps there is enough artistry there, along with tradesman like qualities, to spare them her wrath. If wrath it was.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who Reads Women Authors?

According to this article in the London Times, it's not men. I think we have to take into account that many books are written for female readers -- 77% of women vs. only 44% of men buy and read fiction. According to author Joanna Kavenna, men are unwilling to read books by women, while women tend to read books by either sex.

It may be that my preference for female authors -- slight though it turns out to be -- is mostly a matter of compatible points of view, but I must also confess that I do not find many male authors capable of writing interesting and convincing female characters. I yearn for fascinating females in my fiction reading, so I read fewer male authors. There's nothing quite as disappointing for me as starting a promising book, only to find that the main female character is a large-breasted cardboard cutout, or worse, some poorly drawn remnant of the author's childhood, perhaps, that should have been psychoanalyzed away.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On the Short Story - Form and Viability

A friend sent this link from the Independent Online.

I agree that people do like stories, maybe not as much as novels (speaking for myself), but the problem for publishers is how to promote a collection of them. There's no rollicking main story with sexy characters, threatening situations and satisfying conclusions. Rather, the whole situation changes every few pages, and big publicity machines are just gearing up. We need some innovative publicity (see Miranda July's website for her new book).

I do miss seeing stories in some of the magazines that used to carry them, but I seldom like the New Yorker's fiction selections, whereas the nonfiction rocks. I wonder if anyone does like New Yorker stories, in general. There is the occasional selction I love, but not every week. Is there anyone out there turning first to the stories and liking most of them? I'm afraid the NYer editors would sooner leave them out than change their selection criteria -- among which, first refusal contracts, which mean that they buy some stories to keep them out of competitor's hands -- but who are the competitors anyway, and, stories by authors with books about to come out. One gets the sense that the New Yorker sees itself as featuring literary news rather than merely good stories.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mailer to Use Atwood's Long Pen

Now that his own reach is failing. Norman Mailer will sign books at the Edinburgh International Book Festival without leaving home, using the LongPen remote pen invented by Margaret Atwood.

Friday, June 15, 2007

American Novelists: Saving the Language?

Thought-provoking blog at the Guardian.
"American, as opposed to colonial English, prose is generally agreed to have really got going with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ("You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.")...

"What Twain did was to stop policing the boundaries between book language and the kind used by regular folks in day-to-day life. It was a decision that opened the door to the vigorous life and invention of vernacular and oral English. It has given American novels a cocky swagger that survives still: the energy of Philip Roth's prose, the sweet spin that George Saunders gives to his tales of McWorld, the tragic passions of Toni Morrison."

I'm all in favor of the playful evolution of language -- I remember what it was like to try to read de Beauvoir in the original French, e.g., -- but let's, just to play devil's advocate, also celebrate English novelists for their correct grammar. Somehow, it's easier to lose track of things like that on this side of the pond. Everything that somebody says doesn't make sense ;)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Speaking of Moby Dick

How hard is it to believe that a 100-year-old creature could have the intelligence to sustain a grudge against the dislikeable Ahab?
A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt — more than a century ago.

Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.

The whale was killed as part of allowed "harvesting" by native Alaskan villages. The photo shows a bowhead whale and two beluga whales.

Friday, June 8, 2007

"It's That Green Blood of His"

This was too good to pass up: Patient bleeds dark green blood

A team of Canadian surgeons got a shock when the patient they were operating on began shedding dark greenish-black blood, the Lancet reports. The man emulated Star Trek's Mr Spock - the Enterprise's science officer who supposedly had green Vulcan blood.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

At last...

Not only did Cormac McCarthy finally make an appearance on Oprah's show, for which see Oprah.com (you'll have to join the book club to get to the videos),

but -- now, the U.S. Government has finally acknowledged -- ta daa -- that science fiction writers do in fact know the future. At USA today.

From laser weapons to test-tube babies, science-fiction writers have imagined hundreds of futuristic technologies that were or are being developed and used by the government or produced for the public. Among them:

From author Robert Heinlein: cellphones, remote-controlled robot arms, microwave ovens, water beds.

From author H.G. Wells: atomic bombs, airplanes, television, joystick controls.

From author Arlan Andrews: tourist spaceships, downloadable pocket-sized books.

At last, I feel my life is in good hands.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Short Story Month

I know I haven't been posting about it, but I have been reading short stories this month, and my favorite so far has been Scarlet Ibis, from Bluebeard's Egg, by Margaret Atwood.

"Religious people of any serious kind made her nervous: they were like men in raincoats who might or might not be flashers. You would be going along with them in the ordinary way, and then there could be a swift movement and you would look down to find the coat wide open and nothing on under it but some pant legs held up by rubber bands."

It's her wit, to compare the deep embarrassment of unwanted religious proselytizing with flashing the sex organs. There's also a wide-bottomed missionary who puts her fundament to good use.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pet Foods, Organic Produce and a Death Sentence

Are we supposed to feel better now that the former director of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration has been sentenced to death for taking bribes?
Chinese Produce Not What It Claims To Be from Business Week:
China's record with food imports isn't reassuring. Just last month, 107 food imports from China were detained by the Food & Drug Administration at U.S. ports, according to The Washington Post. Among them were dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical and mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

Another scary article about Chinese food imports. China is quickly becoming the world's largest exporter of fresh produce. Much of what is sold in Wal-Mart is imported from China. Further, produce sold as "organic" has not been.

Now that my own dog has taken ill, although not with kidney failure, I'm even more curious about where all this will lead. I think it's disgraceful to try to limit pet owners' damages to the "replacement" cost of an irreplaceable animal. At the very least, the cost of all the defective dog food should be refunded. People were not getting what they paid for. As well as the cost of veterinary care, special foods, etc. That is what the class action is seeking.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Author's Guild Responds to Simon and Schuster

Simon and Schuster accuses the Author's Guild of perpetrating misinformation, but then, doesn't manage to contradict anything they said.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for the link. If you haven't been to his blog yet, it's worth adding to your list.

Monday, May 21, 2007

And About Time It Is

From The New York Times: In “The Assault on Reason” Al Gore excoriates George W. Bush, asserting that the president is “out of touch with reality,” that his administration is so incompetent that it “can’t manage its own way out of a horse show,” that it ignored “clear warnings” about the terrorist threat before 9/11 and that it has made Americans less safe by “stirring up a hornets’ nest in Iraq,” while using “the language and politics of fear” to try to “drive the public agenda without regard to the evidence, the facts or the public interest.”

Finally, a Democrat telling the plain truth about this incompetent, corrupt administration. And who is better qualified than Al Gore?

Mr. Bransford

Covers the Simon and Schuster plan to take over the rights to the WORLD. Or at least the world of words.

I really enjoy Nathan Bransford's blog. A literary agent in SF, he credits the now sadly retired Miss Snark with his blogging success. Why he chose to cover her retirement in a post about ennui...well, we may never know. But I did enjoy his take on the "ennui novel."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Surprise Ending

Miss Snark announces her retirement from blogging. The good news is that her very amusing and helpful blog will remain up for browsing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Articles About Publishing

That really make publishing sound pathetic. The Greatest Mystery: Making a Bestseller in the New York Times, and How Not to Write a Bestseller in the New York Sun.

That Times article does make the publishing industry sound pathetic. It's what you get when you combine bean counters with liberal arts majors who can't speak a business lingo. I mean I think publishing has two heads, pulling in opposite directions, and it's the small presses who, thank God, are picking up the slack. The worst aspect of it is that editors are forced to consider "great literature that will sell," and they have no idea what will sell, just as those in charge of finance have no idea of literature. The result is at best literature from proven authors, and commercial books with proven track records, mysteries, e.g., instead of groundbreaking work from brilliant new authors who perhaps do not sound mainstream enough. At worst, we are given the gossipy celebrity memoir with an advance of millions. (Read Anna Nicole Smith's "Personall" (sic) diary!)

I think Blum's point, in the Sun article, that book buyers are "less interested in discourse" is astute. Only critics and writers really care what critics have to say. A good book review is also an introduction to a book, however, and I think book buyers are interested in that, speaking for myself and friends. I belong to book clubs, I check out the "recommended" or Staff Picks sections in book stores. I read blogs and Amazon reviews to get an idea of new books, to discover new books. As much as the industry has supposedly been "dying" for a generation or more, there are still a lot of new words to wade through on one's own.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fear Ushers In a New Dark Age?

Louis Menand in the New Yorker:
The biggest undergraduate major by far in the United States today is business. Twenty-two per cent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in that field. Eight per cent are awarded in education, five per cent in the health professions. By contrast, fewer than four per cent of college graduates major in English, and only two per cent major in history. There are more bachelor’s degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which classifies institutions of higher education, no longer uses the concept “liberal arts” in making its distinctions. This makes the obsession of some critics of American higher education with things like whether Shakespeare is being required of English majors beside the point. The question isn’t what the English majors aren’t taking; the question is what everyone else isn’t taking.

Are we headed for a new Dark Ages, driven by fear (of terrorists, poverty, high prices, not having a new iPod) and causing people to hunker down and make money to the exclusion of all else? What good is/was a "liberal arts" education? What ever happened to the joy of thinking? Or has that question always just been for people who could afford it. Of course it has, the issue is that we can afford it, but not if we allow ourselves to be driven by fear. What ever happened to electing a president who said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

What else FDR said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Is Serious Reviewing, Anyway?

Reviews on blogs are often just as "serious," not to mention written by the same people. Calendar Alive article.

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, wrote in the Washington Post. "The book review section … remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting."

Lit-blogger Edward Champion fired back, ridiculing the notion that only printed book reviews matter: "It's okay for the lit blogosphere to exist as a version of your Mom's book club — it's okay for us to talk books and authors and compare notes on favorites, as long as we keep our place," snapped the San Francisco writer, who runs the Return of the Reluctant website. "Have you got that? We must not think for a minute that we contribute anything beyond serving as accessories to the real literary discussions…. We should buy books but not dare to offer well thought opinions on them."

The accusations flew back and forth. But now there is a growing sense that enough is enough — and that the friction between old and new book media obscures the fact that the two are in bed together now, for better or worse. Often the same people who churn out literary blogs are reviewing books for mainstream reviews.

Clearly, some mainstream reviewers are threatened by the competition. Well, that's what they get for giving all the reviewing spots to established writers and cronies. I've heard about great books on blogs, that were not reviewed in larger venues, and I'm all for new voices being heard, especially younger voices. The last two books I read that got raves in the mainstream press were total disappointments. I'll take my recommendations from blogs any day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Amazing Tulips

I had to post these -- never saw tulips like these although admittedly I am no gardening expert. Click on them to see a bigger photo. I love seeing what pops up in the yard the first spring in a new place.

That's ground ivy on the left, a member of the mint family, not to be confused with heal-all, right. You can make a throat-soothing tea from heal-all, if you wish. I wouldn't recommend it with ground ivy, mint or not. The best peppermint tea is from peppermint itself, which grows easily in local gardens, although I don't seem to have any.

Forsythia against a backdrop of pachysandra, which is ubiquitous because deer don't eat it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I, Robot

South Korean robotics task force turns to Isaac Asimov for ethics of robots.

Read this amazing article at the Guardian about the influence of his Foundation trilogy on Aum Shinrikyo and Al-Qaeda.
One can't blame Asimov for fuelling the swollen fantasies of the murderous. It is the last thing this committed pacifist ("violence is the last refuge of the incompetent") would have wanted.

In case you missed this link from the rowboat post: I, Rowboat. You had to have read the book, or maybe seen the movie.

I did both. I also wrote to the author with a couple of friends when I was a kid -- I think we sent him some cookies, and got a postcard in return. He was a great favorite.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Time to Boycott All Chinese Products

Not just melamine, but now also cyanuric acid -- Another Chemical Emerges in Pet Food Case -- has been found in pet food, and the combination has been deadly.

Deaths from false glycerin may be in thousands. This was added to cough medicine that may have killed thousands of adults and children. China's response? Denial, mainly. Followed by foot-dragging.

I've noted before that the contaminated wheat gluten used in pet foods was "human grade" meaning it may have found its way into food for people as well. Wheat gluten is commonly used as an ingredient in bread. Glycerin is used in many products.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Rejection is an Empty Boat

There is a Zen story of a man rowing home from a fishing trip in heavy fog. Suddenly he sees the bow of another rowboat heading for him. He starts yelling, to warn the other fisherman, but the boats collide nonetheless. Angry, he stands up to fight, then realizes the other boat is empty, adrift.

Feeling attacked or rejected, we react with anger or depression or some kind of upset. We try to figure out the other person's motivations, when the other has so many issues that have nothing at all to do with us that our interpretation can have nothing to do with them. Rather, we should act as if the other is an empty boat, banging against ours in the middle of a lake. Then our response would come entirely from our intuitive understanding of what to do next, which would not involve cursing the boat, or analyzing why it doesn't like us, and why us.

A writer friend sent out a story almost 100 times before it was accepted. He just kept trying. Another example of the saying, "Seven times fall down. Eight times get up." It's not always so bleak, however. I just received an acceptance for a story from the first place I sent it. I'll try not to get attached to that, as we say in Zen.

"I, Rowboat" at The Onion.

"Gunism" and Other Views

Here's psychiatrist and Harvard prof Robert Jay Lifton on "Gunism": But while there will always be mentally ill people, a few of whom are violent, it is our gun-centered cultural disease that converts mental illness into massacre.

Ariel Dorfman: Spend time with the literature, the books, the learning, which could not save your tormentor, lost as he was in his ferocious loneliness. Use the wonders of your own intelligence and the rivers of your empathy to become, each of you, the sort of humans who ride into the world determined to create conditions where fewer of your fellows have to face the daily possibility of premature death descending upon them.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It's amazing to many of us that gun control is still received with hostility. No less prominent an idiot than Newt Gingrich has suggested that more guns, not fewer, are the solution. I would add, not just tighter controls, but diminished firepower. A .22 "varmint" rifle, such as I once used to shoot varmints (in my case, rats that were living in the crawl space) would do a whole lot less damage than a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Perhaps a .22 is the largest caliber weapon one should be allowed without special permits and extensive background checking.

Friday, May 4, 2007

But "Walden" Didn't Have Gregory Peck

No, that's not the reason for choosing Moby Dick as Massachusetts' state book. The fifth-graders at Pittsfield’s Egremont Elementary School like Moby Dick for its sense of adventure. From the Boston Herald.

However, the director of the Thoreau Society argues, "I suppose the big case you could make for ’Walden’ being the book for the Commonwealth is that it’s also emblematic of the intellectual revolution that helped the United States craft its own literary and philosophical tradition."

Okay, that's a good argument, but can you make a movie out of Walden? Incidentally, Ray Bradbury was one of the writers of the movie Moby Dick.

Oswald Morris, Cinematographer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Ongoing Pet Food Scandal and Recipe

Now that we have discovered that the Chinese feel that melamine is an acceptable additive for animal food -- recall that our own food laws were passed to eliminate such items as brick dust from prepared foods -- what can we do but avoid processed foods for ourselves and our pets?

Sasha's Beef Stew

2-2 1/2 lbs London broil or other cut of beef,
cut into strips and then into squares
1 1/2 crowns broccoli
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup white rice
1/2 cup baby carrots
Add a half sweet potato or parsnip, as available.

Put brown rice in large stew pot with 4 cups water. Chop up carrots and add. Let cook for 10-15 mins. Add white rice, chopped broccoli, and London broil. Cook until rice is done. Serve with vitamins, including glucosamine and chondroitin supplement as recommended by your vet.

Save 3 days' worth in the fridge and freeze the rest in small freezer bags to be thawed as needed.