"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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books to Live Without?

"Is a gentleman’s library of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves anything more than a vanity?" -- Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the U.S.

Well, um. This article at the NY Times blogs has a few philosophies of weeding through books, and one holdout who refuses to get rid of any (Joshua Ferris, whose latest, The Unnamed, is on my to-read shelf), but vanity? Books I've read work as mnemonics for me. Not sure I'd remember them as well if I didn't keep them. The co-owner of The Strand in New York says honestly that it's a matter of how much space you have, and if you haven't got it, to send your books to him.

So do I need to get rid of some books or can I just get a bigger house? I have culled through books in the past before moves. It's never pleasant. I seldom miss what I toss, tho I have replaced a few discards.

And I do have a fantasy of a permanent residence with lots of storage space.

Are the English Human, Lesbian Horse Stories

and my personal favorite, Ductigami. At Abebooks, Literary Oddities.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Collective Conscious, or, Mind-Blowing Massive Math

In January, Timothy Gowers, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and a holder of the Fields Medal, math's highest honor, decided to see if the comment section of his blog could prove a theorem he could not.

In two blog posts he proposed an attack on a stubborn math problem called the Density Hales-Jewett Theorem. He encouraged the thousands of readers of his blog to jump in and start proving. Mathematics is a process of generating vast quantities of ideas and rejecting the majority that don't work; maybe, Gowers reasoned, the participation of so many people would speed the sifting.

Six weeks later, the theorem was proved.

By now we're used to the idea that gigantic aggregates of human brains — especially when allowed to communicate nearly instantaneously via the Internet — can carry out fantastically difficult cognitive tasks, like writing an encyclopedia or mapping a social network. But some problems we still jealously guard as the province of individual beautiful minds: writing a novel, choosing a spouse, creating a new mathematical theorem. The Polymath experiment suggests this prejudice may need to be rethought. In the near future, we might talk not only about the wisdom of crowds but also of their genius.

From the NY Times Year in Ideas.

But bear in mind that this crowd consisted of at least one other Fields medalist in addition to Gowers. I'm not sure I ever had the prejudice that mathematical theorems were as privately arrived at as spousal choices, but this sounds amazing, anyway, the connection of (eventually) all our minds.

Department of Dinosaurishness

Did crotchety old penmanship aficionados claim that the typewriter destroyed writing? So why do crotchety old typewriter users think that ebooks and the computer will?

For that matter, we should all be chiseling words into stone. Then, we'd be sure only to say what we mean. None of this papery, verbose stuff.

At the Guardian.

Pissy Moods Are Good for Your Writing

Research shows that irritable moods spur creativity. But, don't get too depressed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kindle for PC

Does everyone know you can get a free download from Amazon to read Kindle books on your PC. You don't have to have a Kindle.

I just found out...tempting, and interesting that publishers make the same money from e-books as from hardcovers. I still like paperbacks, tho.

*Sits on hands, does not press download key...yet*

Also interesting is this multimedia reader, Blio.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

E-books = the future?

Thanks to Nathan Bransford (see sidebar) for this link to predictions about the future of e-books.

I agree that the prices for e-readers will most likely come way down, but $99 (his breakthrough price point) is still a bit high for me with e-books costing almost as much as paperbacks. Maybe if e-tailers run a program of, buy 10 e-books, get a free reader? Kind of like convenience stores around here do with gallons of milk. Otherwise, I'll be bidding on ebay, hoping to win an e-reader for, oh, $19.99.

Cormac McCarthy's typewriter goes for $254k

And it doesn't even work that well any more, five million words later.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Recycle those old phone booths

I think this is a great idea, altho in my town, we have a lot of options: the library, the library used book sales, where people often buy and then re-donate books, and the laundromat across the street from the library, which is also an informal book and periodicals exchange locale.

Still, I like the idea of book kiosks scattered about. Forget what you were driving to the mall for? Pull over and read a quick story or chapter, then on your way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Original of Laura: A Novel in Fragments

I was browsing this in the local bookstore. It's actually fragments of a novel. It's printed with a facsimile of Nabokov's writing on index cards you can tear out, and type underneath of the same text. Which amounts to, although it looks like a big book, it's mostly white space because of the heavy stock and the format. I wonder if they think we are going to put the cards in order ourselves, play with his story?

The idea of being able to move pieces of writing around is appealing, that's why we have word processors. I can't see using index cards, tho. Wouldn't typed pages do just as well? Unless you were committed to writing the whole thing by hand and making your edits by hand on the cards. It'd work if you had a spouse who did all your typing, like Vera.

Upshot: I think the notes-for-book-in-cards is a weird concept. A marketing idea that has no use. Fluff. Anti-Nabokovian. What's next? A novel on Post-its? That's the way we'll be seeing Twitter novels, no doubt. I don't think the facsimile/type idea is a bad one, but tear-out cards, really.

Did the word processor make the typing wife obsolete? Discuss.
Bonus points if you tore out the pages of Hopscotch and rearranged the text as Cortazar suggested.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Should I Read Next?

I typed that into Google a little while ago, because, well, I was wondering, and found these sites: What Should I Read Next and Which Book. The sliders at Whichbook are fun, and both sites really do work, that is, come up with likely suggestions. Even if the books at Whichbook are often by U.K. writers who are not (yet) as available in the U.S.

And, here is an idea I'd like to see catch on, personal book consultants:
It’s called a Reading Spa and for £55 a person gets an hour of undivided attention from one of their extremely nice and knowledgeable booksellers. You sit and have tea and cake and talk about what you like, what you don’t like; they talk about what’s come out recently, what’s selling well. Based on this, they then go away and come back with a pile of books. £40 of that £55 goes towards these books, plus of course any extra you want to spend.
At the Penguin blog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

John Daido Loori, roshi


"Zen is not Japanese and it's not Chinese.... It didn't come from Asia; it has always been here. It is a way of using your mind and living your life and doing it with other people. Unfortunately nobody can supply a rule book to go by because what it is about can't be spoken of, and that which can be spoken of is not it. So we need to go deep in ourselves to find the foundation of it. Zen is a practice that has to do with liberation, not some kind of easy certainty. The wisdom of that liberation not only affects our lives but all those whom we come in contact with, all that we know, and all that we do."

Photo from Zen Mountain Monastery photo archive. Quote from Shambhala Sun archives.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Do Books Have a (Branded) Future?

Brick and mortar bookstores are much better for (un-directed) browsing than online stores. This is probably mostly a function of bandwidth, i.e. I can see so much more in a bookstore than I can on my 2D screen. This will change as the web and its attendant hardware/software develops over time, but my guess is that a satisfying browsing experience of the order i can get in a great bookstore is many, many years away from practical. On the other hand if you know what you're looking for, online shopping excels at simplifying the process of making the transaction. In fact, in every sense except immediate transfer to the buyer of the object they've purchased, online buying is vastly more efficient. When the bulk of our book purchases are in electronic form, and therefore delivered instantly, the significant advantages left to the bookstore will be the superior browsing experience, the help desk and the cafe.

Ah, the cafe. I have loved browsing in cafe-less bookstores, particularly the formal old-style ones, with books separated by publisher. Tho I've only rarely browsed books because I liked a publisher's other books, it could certainly be engineered to happen more -- see If:book. Penguin, of course, brands their paperbacks using their signature design and people expect a level of quality from them. Gallimard in France also. If branding were design-based, it would give bookstores a reason to shelve books together -- visually arresting displays. Barnes & Noble does this with its classics section and did it for awhile with its miniature classics, and I have spent some time at those displays for the sheer fun of handling the books, and then bought a few because once they are in my hand they are half sold. Making an equivalent, clean, well-lighted space in cyberspace is an interesting challenge.


Margaret Atwood Scares Herself

It's only fair. Oryx and Crake gave me nightmares about blue people. Now, the second book in the series is out (of three projected), Year of the Flood. It's waiting for me at my post office because for some reason they would not leave it at the door. (Who do you complain to when the world is ending? Okay, it's not that bad...yet.)

"What is scary, Ms. Atwood said, is that her futuristic tales — she calls them speculative fiction — showcase scenarios that spring from current realities: the creep of corporations into many aspects of society, environmental decay, high-tech reproduction, the widening cleavage between haves and have-nots."

“We’ve just opened the biggest toy box in the world, which is the genetic code."

At the NY Times. This is the third review I've seen there for Year of the Flood. The page provides links to the earlier ones.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not sure why this is funny

From "Facts, Errors and the Kindle."

Book publishers mostly rely on their authors to ensure accuracy; dedicated fact-checking departments now rarely exist except at some magazines. The New Yorker’s checkers are justly renowned for their tenacious scepticism, but even they err sometimes. One reader was annoyed to find himself described as dead, and requested a correction in the next issue. Unfortunately, by the time the correction appeared, he really had died, thus compounding the error.

Or making the correction a little more complicated. The article somehow goes on to include a mention of Amazon's deletion of certain books from Kindles earlier this year. "...would anyone object if electronic copies were replaced, by remote control, with corrected versions?" As if stealing something that you have paid for is the same as correcting it. I haz grone fonde of dose mizpellings.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What NYC reads

Thirty-five people reading Infinite Jest? 24 reading Anna Karenina? Where is this happening? On the NYC subway. That's unexpected, although My Life in France, not so. And there is the group of campers who follow the rule that whoever finds a seat must read. Good rule, I think. I remember hoping to find a seat so I could read more easily. I also remember spotting other people's books and being inspired to read them, and other people jotting down the titles of mine.

What the "human panini" are reading.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The carbon footprint of...books?

Amazon's Kindle claims that a single Kindle displaces the purchase of 22.5 books each year for an estimated carbon savings of 168 kg of CO2. If the full storage capacity of the Kindle is used, the device prevents the equivalent of almost 11,185 kg of CO2 from being released.

Also, "shipped books are still twice as carbon efficient as books bought in the mall or the local bookstore."

I think books should be given a CO2 pass.

Impact of Low Impact

Colin Beavan chronicles his year of no electricity, no toilet paper and a ninth-floor walkup, in "No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $25). New Yorker review.

Colbert raves: “like ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ only completely implausible.”

Not bad for a man "whose environmental activism began over lunch with his agent."

There might be a category for these experiments -- stunt publishing? Julie Powell's interest in Julia Child began simultaneously with the thought that it might make a commercially viable book if she blogged about trying all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We at least got a good movie out of that. And Julia got a bestseller, finally.

Somehow the movie concept of a year with a lot of stairs and no Kleenex doesn't sound as interesting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Immortal Words

But still subject to change? I have to agree with A.E. Hotchner here, that Hemingway's grandson had no right to rewrite his masterpiece, A Moveable Feast. I'd ask, What is Scribner's thinking, but it's obvious what they're thinking: $$$

One good thing about the controversy. It got me to pick up my old copy of A Moveable Feast, wedged as it was between Salinger's Nine Stories and Morrison's Sula, all in pocket size. (I love good, pocket-sized paperbacks.) I hope it has that effect on other readers, but I also can't help hoping readers will stick with the original, as the author wanted it. Hotchner puts the lie to all justifications made by the grandson.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Missing anything?

Amazon has the ability to delete from your Kindle books that you have purchased.

Consider the legal difference between purchasing a physical book and buying one for your Kindle. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble to pick up a paperback of Animal Farm, the store doesn't force you to sign a contract limiting your rights. If the Barnes & Noble later realizes that it accidentally sold you a bootlegged copy, it can't compel you to give up the book—after all, it's your property. The rules are completely different online. When you buy a Kindle a book, you're implicitly agreeing to Amazon's Kindle terms of service. The contract gives the company "the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right." In Amazon's view, the books you buy aren't your property—they're part of a "service," and Amazon maintains complete control of that service at all times. Amazon has similar terms covering downloadable movies and TV shows, as does Apple for stuff you buy from iTunes.

The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have. Here's one way around this: Don't buy a Kindle until Amazon updates its terms of service to prohibit remote deletions. Even better, the company ought to remove the technical capability to do so, making such a mass evisceration impossible in the event that a government compels it.


Ironically, George Orwell's 1984 was one of the books deleted.

I find this scary. It's not so far-fetched, either, or something that might happen in some dark version of the future. Imagine going to China with your Kindle and the government insists Amazon delete all copies of prohibited books on all Kindles in China. Zap.

What weapon has man invented that even approaches in cruelty some of the commoner diseases?

George Orwell essay, How the Poor Die.

And it is a great thing to die in your own bed, though it is better still to die in your boots.

That could seem contradictory -- Orwell saying in this essay that it is better to die a violent death than a natural one of suffering -- it doesn't ameliorate war's cruelty that it allows people to "die in their boots."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Juvenile Delinquents of the Sea

Pulling at masks, yanking hoses and lights. Carnivorous calamari.

This was too good to pass up, a bunch of So. Cal soft-shell thugs.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Trying to lift a CRT from one desk to another

Here is sci fi writer John Scalzi on the dinosaurish habit of not accepting email submissions. He's talking about the big three sci fi magazines.

In our office, it’s very inconvenient to pass around an electronic submission from one reader to another.
Why? Because you’re trying to lift a CRT from one desk to another? Put the submissions you want others to see into an online collaboration space, like, oh, Google Docs, which is free and dead simple to use. Heck, several people can look at the same submission at the same time that way, which is actually easier than passing around a paper version.

Y'know, there are so many literary magazines accepting e-subs now, maybe what we need is an outreach.

Zen Meditation Alleviates Pain

of creativity...? Apparently it alleviates other kinds of pain, so why not?

"We know that people who consistently meditate have a singular ability to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability and engage in mindful behavior," said Eileen Luders, lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.
Article here.

And, meditation helps you return to what you were doing after you were distracted, according to another article on the Science Daily site.

Now back to whatever I was doing when I was distracted by the first sunny, warm weather of the summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Do They Think Teens Read?

This article from Nashua, NH, about four stories being pulled from the high school curriculum because cocaine use, cannibalism, homosexuality and abortion are not "age-appropriate" subjects for teens. Imagine that. Are these kids allowed to watch the news?

Recently, I was going through some old poetry books, cleaning out my shelf, and I came across an anthology with Anne Sexton's For My Lover Returning to His Wife. I mean, how could poetry not be thrilling for a teenager? All that taboo stuff! I love poetry to this day!

Books -- poetry, novels, stories -- were how I found out about life, and how to think about morals and ethics. Because my parents were tolerant, I was able to read whatever I wanted, including, in college, I think, Hills Like White Elephants, the famous Hemingway story in which abortion, the subject, is never mentioned.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oeufs Vert au Jambon!!

This made me very happy.

Maybe it's just a rainy day impulse purchase, but I want one and it can be had at Amazon.

Dept. of Heart in Right Place

Ray Bradbury is on the side of libraries.

The Koreatown public library in Los Angeles where Mr. Bradbury spent his teens. After clicking the link, click "street view" in the bubble.

What's in a name: Koogle

The kosher search engine: Koogle.

The silliness of the name made me think it was worth a post. I miss Froogle, which is now the boring Google shopping.

photo from wholefoodsmarket.com

Saturday, June 13, 2009

David Carradine and James Baldwin

All the lurid coverage of Carradine's death has me wondering why anyone takes that kind of risk -- not just sexual adventurers, but guys who climb challenging mountains or risk death in other ways. What is going on there, is it self-destruction that falls short of direct suicide attempts, is it arrested development/nothing bad can happen to me because I'm young or rich or famous (pick one)? The thing is, for every man who dies of something risky like this, like Chris McCandless (read Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild), or men who've died on Mt. Everest (Krakauer's Into Thin Air), there are probably thousands who take foolish risks and do not die, who look back and think, Christ, I'm lucky I survived. Is there benefit for the group to having men who are willing to risk their lives without thinking too much about it?

Anyway, at the same time that I've been puzzling this out, I've been reading Another Country, and here is what James Baldwin has to say about his character, Vivaldo, who seeks the thrill of danger by visiting Harlem in the 1950s:

It had been his fancy that danger, there, was more real, more open, than danger was downtown and that he, having chosen to run these dangers, was snatching his manhood from the lukewarm waters of mediocrity and testing it in the fire. He had felt more alive in Harlem, for he had moved in a blaze of rage and self-congratulation and sexual excitement, with danger, like a promise, waiting for him everywhere. And, nevertheless, in spite of all this daring, this running of risks, the misadventures which had actually befallen him had been banal indeed and might have befallen him anywhere. His dangerous, overwhelming lust for life had failed to involve him in anything deeper than perhaps half a dozen extremely casual acquaintanceships in about as many bars. For memories, he had one or two marijuana parties, one or two community debauches, one or two girls whose names he had forgotten, one or two addresses which he had lost....

...He was forced, little by little, against his will, to realize that in running the dangers of Harlem he had not been testing his manhood, or heightening his sense of life. He had merely been taking refuge in the outward adventure in order to avoid the clash and tension of the adventure proceeding inexorably within. Perhaps this was why he sometimes seemed to surprise in the dark faces which watched him a hint of amused and not entirely unkind contempt.... He was just a poor white boy in trouble and it was not in the least original of him to come running to the niggers.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Beautiful Libraries

These photos are gorgeous and make me wonder if all the worry about people losing interest in books can possibly be justified.

Abortion Doctor

CNN, ABC and Yahoo (and no doubt Fox) are all guilty. The NY Times, bless its lonely, print-bound, going-bankrupt soul, is not: Doctor who performed abortions is shot to death.

I think the misuse of language encourages crime, altho it would be hard to argue that CNN is responsible for this murder.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fiction in Orbit

Our experience of stories is, by and large, a lateral one, in which the writer commands every aspect of the world the reader inhabits as well as the process by which it reveals itself. Fine; it’s worked for centuries. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that gaming – which increasingly promises a narrative space for the player to make his own way, never having the same experience twice – is where at least some of the great writers of tomorrow will make their names.

Eh. I've heard this argument for about the past twenty years. So, when is it going to happen? The author of this article at the Telegraph mentions a lot of books that inspired games, including the forthcoming Dante's Inferno, "an uncannily good fit for the levels of a computer game." I don't know if books are what the video games are replacing -- why not TV, or team sports or even opera? And, if video games do replace books, what will the gamers do when the source materials are all used up? Write new ones?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Judging a book by its cover

Are new sci fi book covers designed to appeal only to genre readers? Did the old ones have more general appeal? Hm. On the Penguin blog. Here is a link to the cover art of some old Penguin titles. You can get bigger images and book descriptions by clicking.

Maybe readers were more open minded in the past. Most of these covers look pretty science-fictiony to me, lover of aliens and worlds ending that I am.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Sad Story in Here Somewhere?

Chocolate Chip Cookie for One. I'm surprised it doesn't come with a single-cookie-making machine.

Well, it saves a trip to the convenience store in the middle of the night, although you can make the whole batch in the same amount of time, as one reviewer notes. I just like the idea. It's the cookie version of a paperback that fits in your Levis pocket.

People did used to carry books around more often, right? And cookies? Now it's all phones and Blackberries, personal music devices and GPS things. I'd rather get lost with a book and a cookie, myself.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A la carte

pricing for short story collections? Sort of like mp3 files... Is this really what's in store for e-books? Not to mention rewriting to influence search engines.

“perhaps entire books written with search engines in mind.”


And, what happens when we can't tell what other people are reading on the subway, and what they have on their shelves? How can we prejudge them/influence their first impressions of us, if nobody can tell we have great lit on the Kindle?

Obviously, we need a Kindle that displays a slideshow of the titles contained within, and some way of telling that the person actually has the books, and not just the slideshow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

We don't serve your type.

Somehow, I don't think the torture memos (see previous post) were written in Comic Sans. But, apparently, everything else is and some people have a problem with that.

Literature of the Bush Administration

We love to torture.

The resemblance to Dick Cheney is scary.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

What else is there to say? But somehow, Bill Clinton, vampire hunter, would work better for me. Maybe because it seemed the undead really came out after him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"The day I let the media set my reading list

is the day I want someone to creep up on me with a big blunt instrument." Not to be outdone, here is A Reader's Revenge.

"I just know from my own experience how much harder it is to meet a novel-reader now than it was twenty or even ten years ago. So many intelligent people seem to have given up on novels because they trusted the media to pick out the best ones for them. And of course it's the quality of contemporary fiction that's driving them away. The stuff is just dull. How often are we told to interpret our boredom or irritation with a new novel as a surefire indication that it's challenging, and therefore good? DeLillo "has earned a right to bore us for our own good," as Salon puts it. You've got to hand it to postmodernism; no other literary movement in history ever spread so much boredom in the name of playfulness! But it's precisely the intelligent people who wander off to art forms they can enjoy, like the movies. What you have left are the puritans, the grinds, the cachet-hunters, because it's never occurred to them that the arts can be fun."

Strong opinions, but interesting to consider from the point of view that publishers are letting non-readers down. I know I have given up on anointed best-sellers because "the media" gave me a few bad recommendations. Bad and expensive.

But watching TV, ah, that's living

Publishers, retailers and librarians are missing out on a potential market of 20m consumers because the book world is too intimidating, according to research conducted by HarperCollins, the Trade Publishers Council and the National Year of Reading (NYR).

The research, to be published this week, looked at attitudes to books in the C2DE socio-economic group, characterised as lower income, non-professional families and estimated at 20m in size.

It found that in many such families, books were seen as alien and unattractive, while reading was considered an anti-social activity for people who, as one respondent said, "don’t know how to live."

...They are one step away from book-buying - they do consume lots of leisure products and may have 2-300 DVDs in the house.

I thought this article at The Bookseller was a good follow-up to A Reader's Manifesto, which I just dug up and reread. It explains why modern literature turns people off. It's just not any good, it seems.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pincher Moscowitz

Did Woody Allen read The Two Deaths of Christopher [aka Pincher] Martin? Did Bernie Madoff? At the NY Times. What is the karmic difference between a lobster on a rock and a lobster in a restaurant tank? Read and learn.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Second Lifecraft

I meant to write this right after the Neal Stephenson post, since his novel Snow Crash explores the concept brilliantly, but then I got a puppy, and here I am, weeks later, finally writing about the Second Life phenomenon, or a phenomenon involving the Second Life phenomenon.

Research at Stanford University indicates that Second Life players with socially successful avatars are more confident, those with thin avatars will lose weight, and other astounding observations that make it seem as if Second Life, far from attracting escapists and social losers (as the geek reputation goes), is attracting people who are visualizing a new world... or, partaking in an effective kind of self-hypnosis. Maybe it depends on the person. Hey, if we keep war and pollution out of Second Life, can we keep our world clean and peaceful, too? Maybe we need a World of Peacecraft?

Second Life, at Time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

He was the baby in the barn...

Nicholas Hughes' suicide.

When I read of the death of Sylvia Plath's son, I thought of the poem, Nick and the Candlestick, which reads, in part:

o love, how did you get here?
o embryo...

You are the one solid
the spaces lean on, envious
You are the baby in the barn.

From Ariel. Sad.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why I Love Neal Stephenson

This excerpt, about a house meeting:

Ike got up and announced he was moving out. He was tired of the plumbing problems, he said, and the weird messages on the answering machine, and Roscommon had come in while he was at work and torn down the Mel King campaign poster on our front balcony... Tess and Laurie, the lesbian carpenters, announced that they liked the kitchen better after we'd untrashed it and cleaned it up, so why not try to keep it that way? I pointed out that I had bought three new badminton birdies before I left for Buffalo and now they were all gone. Should we call this place a "co-op" or a "commune"? How about calling it a "house"? Who had scrubbed the Teflon off the big frying pan? Since Tess had weeded the garden, how many tomatoes did she get? Whose hair predominated in the shower drain-- the women's, since they had more, or the men's, since they were losing more? Was it okay to pour bacon grease down the drains if you ran hot water at the same time? Could bottles with metal rings on the necks be put in the recycling box? Should we buy a cord of firewood? Maple or pine? Did we agree that the people next door were abusing their children? Physically or just psychologically? Was boric acid roach powder a bioaccumulative toxin? Where was the bicycle-tire pump, and was it okay to take it on an overnight trip? Whose turn was it to scrub the green crap out from between the tiles in the bathroom?

I almost want to dye my hair pink and get a pair of Dr. Martens. It's page 157-158, chapter 20 of Zodiac.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nonproductive Creativity vs. Productive Mediocrity

Perhaps Leonardo's greatest discovery was not the perfectibility of man but its opposite: He found that even the most profound thought combined with the most ferocious application cannot accomplish something absolutely true and beautiful. We cannot touch the face of God. But we can come close, and his work, imperfect as it may be, is one of the major demonstrations of heroic procrastination in Western history: the acceptance of our imperfection — and the refusal to accept anything less than striving for perfection anyway.

Leonardo is just one example of an individual whose meaning has been constructed, in part, to combat the vice of procrastination; namely, the natural desire to pursue what one finds most interesting and enjoyable rather than what one finds boring and repellent, simply because one's life must be at the service of some compelling interest — some established institutional practice — that is never clearly explained, lest it be challenged and rejected.

Interesting look at nonproductive genius, of which the author says there is much in academia, compared to forced production. At The Chronicle.

I know that we often feel the push to capitalize on our talents, to make money just to pay the bills, and people complain about the quality of the resulting product -- mediocre TV, sensational journalism, poorly written genre books, scandalous, attention-getting art. We mostly agree that money isn't the whole point. The point is to share genius, inspired energy, with others. One hopes to also make a living at it, but completing work is not just about money. Leonardo worked on commission, btw, and still didn't complete that much. It was his recognized genius that kept him afloat financially, to the chagrin of other artists who did complete work, Michelangelo, e.g. Genius alone doesn't pay as well as it may once have, so we don't have the option of postponing completion of work if we want to make a career of it. We have to make judgments -- when is something finished? When can it no longer be made better? When is it time to move on anyway? We show ourselves, our level of talent and genius, in what we choose to share, what we label "finished." Maybe Leonardo was never satisfied with his own genius, or maybe he didn't feel the urge to share. Today, creative people must resist the pressure to put half-realized work out there to try to make a buck. In my opinion. I might feel differently if my writing paid for an expensive lifestyle. It's easy to get attached to that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I love this word. Although I have not read any of Stieg Larsson's crime books, set in Sweden. The closest I came was The Redbreast, a Norwegian crime novel by Jo Nesbo. I wonder if there is a word for that?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It takes an average of 475 hours to write a novel.

That is #8 on 25 Random Things About Reading.

12. Half of all books sold today are to people over the age of 45.

That kind of makes sense. It doesn't seem terribly lopsided.

15. Women buy 68% of all books sold.

We knew this, although it could be that women still do a disproportionate share of small-goods shopping. (Women probably buy 85% of all milk sold, e.g.)

13. Adults who read literature on a regular basis are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to do volunteer or charity work, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to participate in sporting activities.

Is it because doing good deeds, like literature, is good for us?

It's a fun list. Check it out at www.itzabitza.com.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tweet Nothings

When the [Twitter] service was introduced in 2006, it was ridiculed as the latest narcissistic way to waste time online.

Last year, minds began to change. Twitterers tapped out tweets during the earthquake in China while the ground was still shaking and live during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. One of the first pictures of the airliner downed in the Hudson River last month, picked up by major newspapers and magazines, was “tweeted” by a 23-year-old tourist with an iPhone who happened to be aboard a ferry sent to the rescue. Suddenly, Twitter has become a venue for “citizen journalism,” a way to learn what’s happening sometimes even before news organizations themselves could find out.

"Citizen journalism" certainly is appealing. At CSMonitor.com.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Absorb Everything

Zen Risotto

First, you must know the True Nature of rice. Ordinarily, rice aspires only to cook up into separate, individual fluffy grains. Risotto requires a rice that will give up its boundaries, one that is willing to merge with the grains all around it, to create One Creamy Whole.

Second, saute the rice in hot oil. All rice is born surrounded by a defensive shell. In order for our cooking liquid to penetrate, we must sear through that outer protective layer. But be careful not to burn the kernels. Excessive heat only toughens.

Third, add some sweet wine. Practicing this recipe is slow and painstaking. A little sweetness, in the pot (and in the cook), helps us stay the course. Begin a practice of continuous stirring. Never stop.

Fourth, ladle in warm broth a little at a time. Remember, “Human kind can not bear very much reality.” Don’t overwhelm the rice. Add only what it can easily absorb. But keep the heat fairly high; merely simmering will get you nowhere. Stay focused on your stirring.

Fifth, add your own flavor. I like mushrooms and peas. Some add sex and poetry; others arthritis and old age. The best chef isn’t the one who uses the fanciest ingredients, but the one who best serves up whatever is at hand.

Finally, cook to perfection. Ordinary risotto takes 20 to 25 minutes, but Zen Risotto may need 20 to 25 years before it is truly Ready to Serve. Remember, never stop stirring. Absorb Everything.

Zen Risotto, from Barry Magid of Ordinary Mind Zendo, NYC.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Put Down the Hammer

Amateur talent offers acerbic and increasingly hilarious commentary on faulty products.

Here, a letter to Virgin Airways' Richard Branson about the food on the Mumbai to Heathrow flight. I put this one first because the author was offered a job in Virgin's food services.

Here, a discourse on the (non)virtues of the Chrysler Neon.

Here, a bank, maxi-pad philosophy, police response times.

Yet Another Reader Does Jail Time

Is this any way to encourage kids to read more? It's the second report of its kind I remember in the past few years. Okay, maybe books *are* that valuable, but it's not like she had the only extant copy of anything.

Oh, ha ha -- it *has* been two weeks since I posted something and it *is* another snowy day... Sheeze, be careful what you write.

Anyway, readers who do not wish to risk jail time can check out this site, ReadPrint.com, although you are not likely to find everything you want there.

RIP: John Updike

“From earliest childhood I was charmed by the materials of my craft, by pencils and paper and, later, by the typewriter and the entire apparatus of printing. To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another.” From the NY Times.

Updike newbies start here.

Although I do wish more people knew about his post-apocalyptic novel, Toward the End of Time. The end of civilization in the Connecticut suburbs. Priceless.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dead Poets Read

This is pretty cool, with decent animation:

To see more, go to Youtube and search for "poetry animations."

I have a CD with an ancient, scratchy recording of Whitman reading "America." Here, he sounds like Ian McKellen. But, it's not always for the best to hear the poet read his/her own work. I once bought a record with Dylan Thomas reading his work and it was so overblown in that old-fashioned style -- it quite deflated my enthusiasm.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why Being Housebound by Blizzard is Good for You

Because you catch up with incredible online reading, such as: Hamlet, the Facebook edition by Sarah Schmelling. At McSweeney's.

Of course, tomorrow will (I hope) be sunny and the roads will be plowed and I won't blog again for two weeks, but here I am today, blogging about everything.

Jane Austen is also out in Facebook edition.

Facebook is fun, btw. One of my friends calls it "Crackbook."

Is this the future of literature?

Or is it those phone novels written by Japanese teenagers?

The Pull of Retro Cool

And speaking of book pricing, let's not forget cheap, but attractively retro covers and how cool it is to own something that looks old but feels new.

The Abebooks blog on Penguin's marketing genius.

For readers, the pictures are mostly in the mind anyway. Maybe it's harder to get people to buy that way, but for me, I know I keep a lot of old books on my shelves, spines out (you can't see the cover) because just looking at the titles jump starts my memory and imagination. And the memories are of pictures I attached to the words in the first place, and had nothing to do with the cover art. Cover art serves to get a buyer's attention, maybe, but Penguin has subverted this brilliantly with cover artlessness that evokes quality and nostalgia.

"Beverage Entertainment

for a hyperprosperous society in search of emotional soothing" is from the Publishers Weekly description of Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture, by Taylor Clark. It's one of many -- how many? You'd be surprised -- titles about Starbucks, which, it should be noted, is not only keeping us awake long enough to get through all the multiformatted reading we must do in the internet age, but has conveniently located itself everywhere in order to do so, and is now also singlehandedly attempting to revitalize publishing with, er, books about itself. Okay, even if it isn't a direct attempt, it counts.

Somebody has to do it, at least until ebook publishers figure out that they must charge *less* not more for ebooks than for hardcovers. Amazon is already doing this with Kindle, but some old habits just do not want to die. The only books I have read onscreen so far are freebies from online sources, so I am not the target audience for ebooks -- tho I stand accused with the rest of the guilty from the previous blog post on used book buying. To lessen my guilt and otherwise cleanse my book-buying karma, I have bought six full-priced paperbacks and two $25 gift certificates from local bookstores in the last couple of weeks, thus nudging my total of unread books which I already own somewhere into the low hundreds. One of these days I have to start cleansing my book-reading karma.