Friday, March 31, 2006

More pressure on Borders ...

... we hope. Roger Simon is Calling PEN.

How intersting ...

... A Shameless Titbit.

Readers of this blog know ...

... that I think a knowledge of the Bible, especially the Authorized Version, is essential to an understanding of English literature (and who knows? - it may end up doing some good for your soul as well). So this is something to look forward to: Black Celebrities Back Bible.

Something to look forward to ...

Maud Newton reports that a Highsmith exhibit in Switzerland will eventually make it to the U.S. Patricia Highsmith lived for a time in Point Pleasant, in Bucks County, where my wife also lived for a while. In her will, Highsmith left a bequest for the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury, also in Bucks County.

Take that, New York ...

Maxine Clarke sends along a link further proving Philly's literary value: Writers’ mail at the Rosenbach.

I don't know much about video games ...

... but I suspect they are going to turn out to have a transformative effect on teaching. Imagine a video game based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Will Wright, creator of The Sims, points out that video games - like reading, I might add - require of players an active imagination: Dream Machines

A Philadelphia story (of sorts) ...

... confided to the New York Times: Beckett Took the Student to a Nearby Cafe (thanks again to Dave Lull).

A chat ...

... with A.S. Byatt: A.S. Byatt with Michael Silverblatt. (Hat tip goes to another Broad Street Irregular, Dave Lull.)

Yet another ...

... blog worth visiting: Lost in Translation .

John McGahern (1934-2006)

Irish novelist John McGahern has died. Here is the Telegraph obituary and here, courtesy of Rus Bowden is the Irish Examiner's.

More regarding appeasement ...

... at Borders.

Dante in the city ...

Golden Rules Jones consider La Vita Nuova.

East Side, West Side ...

... all around the town. The New York Times has a Literary Map of Manhattan (this comes, once again, from Broad Street Irregular Maxine Clarke).

Philly could do one of these, too. Poe's house is right around the corner from The Inquirer building. The bar that Charles Bukowski used for Barfly is up the street (Bukowski lived around the corner for a while, too, and did some time in the prison formerly located on the site of a supermarket not far from where I live.) Owen Wister, the man who gave us the phrase "When you call me that, smile," grew up here. I could go on - and on - but won't.

No reason to keep this to myself ...

Alastair Chivers of Aberdeen, Scotland, is Investigating journalistic weblogs. It's part of an undergraduate project. So let's give the lad a hand. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

The utility of criticism ...

... and critics. Patrick Kurp on The Useful Critic. (Hat tip again to Dave Lull.)

I should note that it was reading Alfred Kazin when I was a teenager (was I strange or what?) that made me want to do what I have ended up doing - write about books. Kazin simply made one feel that reading and writing were profoundly civilizing and life-enhancing activities.

Good advice ...

... from A.S. Byatt: Novelist shares advice, inspiration. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tired of serial rejection?

Lynne Scanlon has some advice: Manuscript Rejected Repeatedly? Find a Fresh Eye to Review Submission Package.

I just decided ...

... I won't being buying anymore books at Borders for a while. Glenn is right, this is cowardice and should not be given a pass.

The future of publishing (cont'd) ...

OK, poetry lovers, Soft Skull launches a subscription model. Richard Nash says that he's "almost certain that as eBook sales pick up in the coming years, a subscription model is by far the most plausible means of delivery."

The miracle of reading ....

Patrick Kurp remembers Alfred Kazin: `I Saw Eternity the Other Night.' (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Marching down Broadway ...

... and Off. Terry Teachout's list of recommended shows: So you want to see a show?

Grappling Hooke ...

Britain's Royal Society has regained possession of a 17th-century manuscript in the hand of physicist Robert Hooke: Eleventh-hour deal keeps scientific treasure in Britain. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Art and economics ...

Michael Blowhard comments on Tyler Cowen's New Book. (Hat tip, Inquirer economics columnist Andy Cassel.)

I mentioned the other day that, once upon a time, I was a gallery director. It's a wonderful way of curing yourself of any romantic notions regarding the art world. As an art critic and I once concluded, if what goes on in the art world every day of the week went on in the halls of government or on Wall Street, people would go to jail.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Terrific news comes ...

... by way of The Elegant Variation: The Kiriyama Prize has gone to Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter. Urrea is a fine writer and a classy guy. I reviewed his nonfiction book The Devil's Highway, a beautifully written and deeply moving piece of reportage. Everybody should read it before forming an opinion regarding the immigration issue.

Some nice photos ...

... at Carraol-Images.

A Shameless painting ...

... which I rather like (decades ago I was a gallery director): A Book Cover.

Puncturing a gas bag ...

... Jacob Weisberg does just that in his Slate review of Kevin Phillips's new book: The Erring Republican Authority.

One observation: Weisberg says that Phillips "contends that the GOP has become America's first openly religious party, in thrall to Christian 'premillenialists' who think the end is nigh." Weisberg himself adds that "Bush has indeed allied himself with his party's evangelical wing." This conflation of evangelicalism and premillenialism (and fundamentalism) goes on all the time. I am neither an evangelical nor a fundamentalist, but I know that the two are not the same. But don't take my word for it. Here's the Encyclopedia Britannica:

... Evangelicalism, has been best represented by the ministry of Billy Graham and journals like Christianity Today. This group agrees with Fundamentalism on core doctrines such as the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement (that Christ's suffering and death atoned for man's sins), the physical resurrection of Jesus, and biblical inerrancy.
Although Evangelicals and Fundamentalists share a number of beliefs, they differ on an equal number of core teachings. Evangelical scholars, for example, doubt that accepting the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is the best way to assert their belief in biblical authority. Many Evangelicals also reject the premillennialism that is popular with Fundamentalists. Evangelicals differ in style, too, and often find Fundamentalists too negative in their attitudes about culture, too withdrawn into sects, too blustery and judgmental. When the National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1942, the Fundamentalist right mounted the same sort of attack on it that had been used against the mainstream moderates and liberals. Most Evangelicals preferred to see themselves not as Fundamentalists but as perpetuators of the 19th-century Protestant mainstream.
To that end the Evangelicals gradually entered the world around them. They became involved in liberal arts colleges rather than building Bible schools, engaged in social programs, and criticized conservative Protestantism's overidentification with militarism and unfettered capitalism. They also acquired considerable if unpredictable political power in the United States and elsewhere.
Evangelicals were also ecumenical; Graham welcomed Catholic and mainstream Protestant leaders on his platforms, and he prayed with many kinds of Christians whom Fundamentalists would shun. Whereas Fundamentalists and Pentecostalists had counterparts in the Third World, Evangelicals tended to form international movements and hold conferences designed to bring Christians of many nations together. While Fundamentalists usually split off into churches of their own, Evangelicals remained connected to mainstream denominations and increasingly moved fully into the mainstream. Nevertheless they always endeavoured to keep alive their doctrinal distinctiveness and their passion for witnessing for Christ.

Ooh, this is tangy ...

Lee Goldberg on Lori Prokop to the Rescue. Lee's A Writer's Life is a blog defnitely worth visiting.

Lisa Coutant, are you there?

Here's something ...

... I can get into: Music, music, music at Brandywine Books, about Top 10 musical adrenaline rushes. I'll have to think about it for awhile, but here are two: The Agnus Dei of Bach's B-Minor Mass (which I think is the greatest piece of music ever written) and the final movement of Mahler's third symphony.

These medieval guys ...

... sure get around. Amy Nelson-Mile reports that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath Moved His Blog. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

It's never too soon ...

... to get ready for Dr. Johnson. So Save the date. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A night to cherish ...

The author event at the Free Library last night - featuring John Banville, Sebastian Barry amd Colm Toibin - was maybe the best such event I've ever attended. All three writers read spectacularly well. The music was there, of course, as one one would expect, what with their lilting voices, but so was everything else - drama, poetry, humor and heartbreak.
Banville took some heat earlier this year, when he remarked, upon winning the Man Booker Prize for The Sea, that "It is nice to see a work of art win. . . . " Spend five minutes with John Banville, though, and you'll know how drolly this line must have been delivered. All three of these guys are down-to-earth, unpretentious, funny, and engaging.
Banville read a wistful, lyrical section of The Sea, his tone soft, sad, almost dreamy. Toibin read, in a formal, stately voice, the passage from The Master where Henry James consigns the clothes of his friend Constance Fenimore Woolson, who has committed suicide, to the waters of Venice's lagoon. Barry chose one of the most harrowing scenes from A Long Long Way - the Irish soldiers' first encounter with mustard gas (the novel is set during World War I) - and read it accordingly, his voice rising as the tide of terror stalks the fleeing troops. The audience reaction was palpable.
Afterwards, the three sat and fielded questions, and I think I learned more about the art of novel writing in that half hour than I had in all the decades preceding. Asked if a particular character in one of his novels was based on a real woman, Banville explained that all of his characters "come from me." Barry concurred, pointing out that even if the character has a model in real life, the character still must talk through the writer himself, must have become an integral part of himself. He was responding to a question about the title-chacacter of his novel Annie Dunn, an elderly spinster. The real Annie Dunn was Barry's great-aunt. He explained that his parents, while wonderful people, were not especially good at parenting. So he and his siblings spent a good deal of time with their Aunt Annie. And Barry said he soon realized that this woman, so nondescript in her print dress, with a slight hunchback because of polio, and with no children of her own, had a deep and genuine talent for mothering. He told how years later, when he was out rowing, he could suddenly hear her. "It was," he said, "one of the proudest moments of my life when I could hear talking through me."
Toibin pointed out that if, while writing a novel, you try to give voice to a grand idea or theme, you're in deep trouble and should really write a pamphlet.
Barry said living in Ireland was good for writers because tthe weather was so often bad: It gives them plenty of reason to stay inside and write. And Toibin, asked if hi-tech had had any influence on novel-writing, said no. He writes with a pen and ink in long hand on paper. He rarely goes to films and almost never watches TV. He did think the electric light was of lasting benefit.
A wonderful night. And all for free.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blogging has been light today ...

... and will be tonight. I am about to go off to have dinner with John Banville, Colm Toibin and Sebastian Barry (how's that for name-dropping?), whom I am introducing at the Library tonight.

Very good, sir ...

The subject of the Guardian's latest author is guide is a plum choice: P.G. Wodehouse.

On interpretation ...

His Royal Highness voices some sound views on reading scriptures held sacred (apparently agreeing that "the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life"). But his auditors amy not have agreed: Prince Charles, the Islamic dissident.

Fighting words ...

Charles Krauthammer accuses Francis Fukuyama of mauvaise foi: Fukuyama's Fantasy. I suspect we have not heard the last of this.

Apparently, this is not the first time Fukuyama has been accused of intellectual dishonesty.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006)

Stanislaw Lem has died. Here is the Times of London obituary.

It may not be books ...

... but it sure is interesting: The Top 15 Skylines in the World. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

An odd sort ...

John Banville on Beckett: Beckett on the couch. (Hat tip, Jenny D at Light Reading, which is filled with great stuff. Just start scrolling.)

A quiz for bloggers ...

Maxine Clarke sends along: Does Your Weblog Own You? Being an eminently sane and well-balanced individual, I - like Maxine - have no intention of revealing how I scored.

Thought for food ...

The Bibliothecary has some thoughts on the April 1 Books2Eat festival.

The market for books ...

... used books, that is, was the subject of a report by the Book Industry Study Group. Mike Shatzkin offers some analysis. There's a lot to ponder there.

The problems facing newspapers ...

... are clearly not peculiar to the U.S., as this post at Petrona demonstrates: Feminism at work and in the newspapers.

Maxine Clarke is on a roll this morning (it's morning here anyway). Check out:

Randomness as book plot

One-book authors

Fraud in science (Judson's book actually has much to recommend it. The chapters on Cyril Burt and Freud seemed to me especially worthwhile. I agree with Maxine that preventing fraud is well-nigh impossible. Moreover, trying to would probably itself cause problems.)

The author strikes back ...

Bruce Bawer finds himself underwhelmed by the review of his book While Europe Slept in yesterday's Washington Post: "The review is such a perfect expression of political-establishment orthodoxy," he writes, "that I haven't been able to resist the temptation to 'fisk' it -- i.e. provide a running commentary."

This is not the first review of Bawer's book that I have seen that has described the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten as right-of-center or conservative. The question that immediately popped into my mind was, "Compared to what?" It might be right-of-center in terms of Danish politics, but Danish politics is certainly left-of-center as compared to, say, U.S. politics.

Speaking of comparisons, here is my colleague Carlin Romano's review of Bawer's book: Author sees growing Muslim enclaves hoping to rule Europe.

We provide, you decide.

(Thanks to the intrepid Dave Lull for the link to Bawer's website.)

Vive la difference ...

... as exemplified in Terry Teachout's Almanac this morning.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rings in the ring ...

A difference of opinion over the value of The Lord of the Rings: Now we're Tolkien. ( Tolkien's name, I notice, is misspelt in the headline.)

Week 12 ...

... of Louise Doughty's novel-writing course is up: Fear of change.

Of slush piles and slush piles ...

Steve Clackson links to this post by Michael Allen: On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile.

In the meantime Shameless would like the term abolished: Slash The Slush Piles.

Writers on writing...

.. at Bill Thompson's website: The Writer's Craft. (Hat tip, Steve Clackson.)

Echoing our business front today

... Richard Carreno has suggestions for The Inquirer: If I Owned The Inquirer.

I think some of these are pretty sound. Naturally, I like the idea of a real book section, and I like the idea of highlighting local authors (actually, we do that already to the extent that we can - ask Bill Kent, Paul Marantz Cohen, Lisa Scottoline, Daniel Hoffman, and lost of others).

I can't help thinking ...

... Beckett himself would have found this, at CultureVulture, amusing: For whom the bell tolls.

FYI ...

The Emerging Writers Network has a list of new litblogs, litblogs you may have missed, amd more: The Sidewalls.

A kick for reading ...

John Barlow considers a proposal to have footballers (soccer players to us) encourage reading: Footballers' Reads. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

A cross reference ...

Bookninja reports that the Encyclopedia Britannica is mad at Nature: Battle of the Encyclopedias.

Saving Beckett ...

... from exploitation. "Let’s not turn Beckett into just another commodity," declares Patrick Kurp: Tempted. It includes an especially nice quote from Beckett. My own favorite is at the end of The Unnamable: "Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

Joie de vivre ...

... from Terry Teachout: Saturday in Manhattan. Amen, brother!

Remembering Whitman ...

On this date in 1892, Walt Whitman died across the river from here in Camden, N.J. For me, Whitman is one of those writers with whom one forms a personal bond, which can never be broken except at the cost of one's own authenticity - yes, even aging book editors can retain a measure of enthusiasm throughout life.
The best thing written about Whitman that I know of is D.H. Lawrence's wonderful essay, which concludes Studies in Classical American Literature (talk about criticism as art). Here are some excerpts:

Whitman, the great poet, has meant so much to me. Whitman, the one man breaking a way ahead. Whitman, the one pioneer. And only Whitman. No English pioneers, no French. No European pioneer-poets. In Europe the would-be pioneers are mere innovators. The same in America. Ahead of Whitman, nothing. Ahead of all poets, pioneering into the wilderness of unopened life, Whitman. Beyond him, none. His wide, strange camp at the end of the great high-road. And lots of new little poets camping on Whitman's camping ground now. But none going really beyond. Because Whitman's camp is at the end of the road, and on the edge of a great precipice. Over the precipice, blue distances, and the blue hollow of the future. But there is no way down. It is a dead end.

Whitman's essential message was the Open Road. The leaving of the soul free unto herself, the leaving of his fate to her and to the loom of the open road. Which is the bravest doctrine man has ever proposed to himself.

What my soul loves, I love.
What my soul hates, I hate.
When my soul is stirred with compassion, I am compassionate.
What my soul turns away from, I turn away from.
That is the true interpretation of Whitman's creed: the true revelation of his Sympathy.
And my soul takes the open road. She meets the souls that are passing, she goes along with the souls that are going her way. And for one and all, she has sympathy. The sympathy of love, the sympathy of hate, the sympathy of simple proximity; all the subtle sympathizings of the incalculable soul, from the bitterest hate to passionate love.
It is not I who guide my soul to heaven. It is I who am guided by my own soul along the open road, where all men tread. Therefore, I must accept her deep motions of love, or hate, or compassion, or dislike, or indifference. And I must go where she takes me, for my feet and my lips and my body are my soul. It is I who must submit to her.
This is Whitman's message of American democracy.
The true democracy, where soul meets soul, in the open road. Democracy. American democracy where all journey down the open road, and where a soul is known at once in its going. Not by its clothes or appearance. Whitman did away with that. Not by its family name. Not even by its reputation. Whitman and Melville both discounted that. Not by a progression of piety, or by works of Charity. Not by works at all. Not by anything, but just itself. The soul passing unenhanced, passing on foot and being no more than itself. And recognized, and passed by or greeted according to the soul's dictate. If it be a great soul, it will be worshipped in the road.
The love of man and woman: a recognition of souls, and a communion of worship. The love of comrades: a recognition of souls, and a communion of worship. Democracy: a recognition of souls, all down the open road, and a great soul seen in its greatness, as it travels on foot among the rest, down the common way of the living. A glad recognition of souls, and a gladder worship of great and greater souls, because they are the only riches.
Love, and Merging, brought Whitman to the Edge of Death! Death! Death!
But the exultance of his message still remains. Purified of MERGING, purified of MYSELF, the exultant message of American Democracy, of souls in the Open Road, full of glad recognition, full of fierce readiness, full of the joy of worship, when one soul sees a greater soul.
The only riches, the great souls.


And here's the great man himself:


GOOD-BYE MY FANCY!

GOOD-BYE my Fancy!
Farewell dear mate, dear love!
I'm going away, I know not where,
Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again,
So Good-bye my Fancy.

Now for my last - let me look back a moment;
The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me,
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.

Long have we lived, joy'd, caress'd together;
Delightful! - now separation - Good-bye my Fancy.

Yet let me not be too hasty,
Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter'd, become really blended into one;
Then if we die we die together, (yes, we'll remain one,)
If we go anywhere we'll go together to meet what happens,
May-be we'll be better off and blither, and learn something,
May-be it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who knows?)
May-be it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning - so now finally,
Good-bye - and hail! my Fancy.

Today's Inquirer reviews ...

Fiction:

Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg: Crepuscular collection of lives left to wonder

After Elizabeth, by Leanda de Lisle: The man who would be king - and if it had not happened

The Accidental, by Ali Smith: Prizewinning 'Accidental' recycles an annoying style

Platinum Pohl, by Frederik Pohl: Gems from decades on the sci-fi frontier

Nonfiction:

Clearing the Bases, by Mike Schmidt: From Schmidt, a typically thoughtful book

Young adults:

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak: Reaper narrates tale of a girl's survival

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Yankee ingenuity ...

... does it again. David Montogomery has invented another labor-saving device: Introducing the Blurb Machine.

Worth a look ...

The proprietor of Shameless Words has posts some excerpts from the novel he's working on: A Shameless Extract. Sounds pretty interesting to me - though the cab driver is not at all like any of the cab drivers Debbie and I encountered in Dublin couple of years ago, who were funny, engaging and not at all given to profanity.

The question of the day ...

... can be found at Terry Teachout's About Last Night: Peekaboo. No cheating!

Read ye, read ye ...

... this excellent, excellent post by Maxine Clarke at Petrona: Placeism in the global network.

It seems to me that one of the things blogging provides is a means for developing an international community of the like-minded: I have never met Maxine or Dave Lull or Rus Bowden or Vikram Johri - or even Lisa Coutant, though she lives in the Philly area - but I feel a sense of community with them that is certainly as great as that I feel with others for more conventional reasons. And this connectiveness I think may turn out to have great power.

"A foolish consistency ...

... is the hobgoblin of little minds," Emerson wrote. Whitman obviously agreed:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

This, it seems to me, is the key signature of the American theme. Which is why I think there's something to this Erik Baard piece at TCS Daily: Scraps of God and Darwin. I'm certainly on the same page with Francis Collins when he says that ID theory limits God.

In the Chinese translation of the Bible, the beginning of John's Gospel goes like this: "In the beginning was the Tao and the Tao was with God and the Tao was God." Tao and Logos are, in fact, remarkably compatible concepts.
I have always had a warm spot in my heart for Taoism, and iIf I were not a Catholic, I would want to be a Taoist. Now I discover it may be possible to be both: Christ the Eternal Tao.

Top fights ...

Victor Davis Hanson lists the best books on 2oth-century battles: Fighting words.

Friday, March 24, 2006

This is it ...

... for blogging tonight. I've had a long week - over the past couple of days I've opened nearly 30 bins of books and most days I've worked 12 to 14 hours. So I'm going to just loll about and read some Wodehouse.

War of words ...

Things just aren't going well for Jacques Chirac: Chirac flees summit in a fury over use of English.
Quarrels like this are so ... je ne c'est quoi.

Waiting in Redbank ...

... Terry Teachout in the oaucity of U.S. Beckett festivals in this centenary year: The road to nowhere. I fear Sam doesn't have a great deal of popular appeal.

The search continues ...

... for Sandra at Book World: In which I go looking for more plotless novels.

A list I can get into ...

... and may even qualify for. Buzzwords is looking for The 50 Least Influential People in Publishing.

The docile Don ...

Chekhov's Mistress has a couple of good posts about Don Quixote: Soledad Fox on Don Quixote's influence on Flaubert and Brian Phillips Essay on Don Quixote.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Don't miss ...

... the Carnival of Vomit over at Bill Peschel's blog. Yours truly gets some honorable mention.

Authors, authors ...

Lynn Viehl is looking for published authors to answer some questions: Author Survey.

Some links worth following ...

... at The Mumpsimus: Elsewheres.

This is just great ...

... and needs no further introduction: Growl.

No mincing words ...

... in this post at Maverick Philosopher: Brian Leiter, Academic Thug, Has Moved . . .

Postscript ...

... to a brief encounter: Profumo After the Affair.

So you think you got troubles ...

At least you're not working in one of Richard Arkwright's textile factories:

Richard Arkwright's employees worked from six in the morning to seven at night. Although some of the factory owners employed children as young as five, Arkwright's policy was to wait until they reached the age of six. Two-thirds of Arkwright's 1,900 workers were children. Like most factory owners, Arkwright was unwilling to employ people over the age of forty.

There's more here

Quite a pitch ...

... even for an author: Read my book and go to paradise.

I can't help but ...

... take note of this quote from Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene:

"We are survival machines, robot machines, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. "

I can't but note it because I'm a blindly programmed robot machine hopelessly alert to paradoxical (contradictory?) phrases like "blindly programmed" and evident redundancies like "robot machine." All to no purpose, of course, except to survive - though I can't say I quite understand how this contributes to my survival, though obviously it must.

The pleasures and perils ...

... of London public transport. Maxine Clarke sends along The man on the all-night Clapham omnibus. I agee with Maxine that the last two paragraphs are wonderful:

To me, the night bus is a metaphor for so many useful public domains in Britain, from comprehensives and hospitals to swimming pools and parks, that are falling into terminal squalor because the middle classes have shrunk from them in horror, and decided to fund far more expensive private alternatives for their own exclusive use. The result is that Britain is increasingly two nations. I don’t like that. Which is why, as a token gesture you may consider ludicrous, I still use night buses.
Besides, there’s a good chance that, among the dishelleved revellers returning from the grungy dives of Camden Town, I will bump into my own children. And as sociologists are always telling us, no father should spurn the opportunity to spend quality time with his offspring. Even if it involves lurching through the mean streets of North London as dawn breaks over Kentish Town.


See, Maxine: For all their faults, the British newspapers still often have some classy writing on display.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The best books of all ...

Melvyn Bragg has addressed the question as to what are The world's best books. Readers of the Sunday Times have responded.

Of course, his list is really of 12 books that changed the world. Which is also the title of his latest book. Looking at the list it seems to me that a number of them aren't exactly the sort that come to mind when we think of "best books."

Little whiners ...

... big conservatives. Dr. Helen takes aim at a study purporting to explain why people grow up to be conservative: The Politicization of Psychology Continues . I think the study is a crock. I regard myself as a conservative (which I understand to be a 19th-century liberal) and while I certainly have my faults, whining has never been one of them.

To hell and noir ...

The author of A Good Day in Hell chats: The Secret Dead Blog Interview: J.D. Rhoades.

The future of books (cont'd.) ...

Lynne Scanlon takes a dim view of a new publishing strategy: Publishers Package Literature as Original Paperbacks to Lower Prices and Slow Returns.

Something regarding ...

... one of my favorite people: A. S. Byatt. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Ladies and gentlemen ...

... your wagers, please. YouWager.com is offering odds on the verdict in the Da Vinci code trial. Apparently, the odds are 2-1 that Brown will win.

In addition to furnishing a room ...

... books also can cover a wall - or even be a wall: "Wall of Books" updated, and a new Pittsfield library full of new books and DVDs. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Reading and writing ...

Maxine Clarke sends along this link to Books, Words, and Writing: Reading Pen Pals.

LITrature again ...

Maxine Clarke has a long and interesting post about Literary culture. Money quote:

... in a culture dominated by instant, digestible media, I am constantly impressed by the variety of reading and thinking done by the people I encounter in daily life. Most of whom are completely unaware of literary prizes and the "scratch my back" nature (we are told) of book publishing. There is hope for us yet!

And by the way, the work that won this year's Booker Prize, John Banville's The Sea is a very good book and emimently readable.

Putting things in perspective ...

That's what John Barlow did: The Comfort of Failing Strangers .

Virtually visit Turkey ...

... at Wild River Review.

The future of newspapers (cont'd.) ...

... is considered at Petrona: Newspapers in Trouble? Maxine links to a piece by Glenn Reynolds at TCS daily (we can't escape Glenn these days). Money quote:

... I'd stop insulting readers. As Malone notes, many newspapers lean left; they're out of touch, as numerous surveys demonstrate, with the attitudes of most Americans. Often, like George Clooney (spokesman for another declining industry), they celebrate this disconnect. They shouldn't. People don't like being preached to, or manipulated, and they are increasingly unwilling to pay for that now that they have alternatives. So stop; give them the news, with as little bias as possible.

Fill your publication with interesting stories about things people don't know about yet and they will keep coming back

Interesting observations ...

... about Glenn Reynolds's An Army of Davids by Mickey Kaus: Instapundit frightens me! In particular, this:

One of the worries about blogs--one of my worries, anyway--was that their efficient style wouldn't work in longer writing. Not true, it turns out. Instapundit's book reads fast, because as a good blogger he's clear and doesn't waste your time. It's just one big idea after another, like a Hollywood thriller that piles on the plot rather than stopping to tie up the loose ends.

I have said here a number of times that I think blogging will have an effect on the style of discourse.

I also agree that "it's good to get the entire Instapunditweltanschaung in one place."

A line has been drawn in the sand ...

... by Terry Teachout: "I do solemnly swear that I will never again review a new recording of the complete Brandenburg Concertos." Read: Too many interpretations?

Terry wants more performances of "the accessible, attractive music of our time," and I have no problem with that. But I have noticed that one of the problems many people have with contemporrary classical music is that they are not acquainted with the accessible attractive music of the 20th century. If you haven't grown used to William Walton or Ned Rorem you won't get far with James MacMillan. There are plenty of people around who are not used to listening to middle-period Stravinsky.

Justice Peter Smith ...

... will issue the decisive opinion, but in the meantime I've tossed my two cents into The Da Vinci Code dispute: Cracking the 'Code': A reader's verdict.

Update: I mentioned, but did not elaborate upon the debunking of Holy Blood, Holy Grail - which Dan Brown seems to have been unaware of in spite of his "meticulous research" - but here is a piece from Le Temps of Geneva that provides details: Best-seller 'The Da Vinci Code' is based on a deception.

I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail (that, by the way, is its American title) and its follow-up The Messianic Legacy years ago, and when I first read The Da Vinci Code I was immediately reminded of the earlier book, which I think is a better read.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The way I sometimes feel ...

... linked to at The Publishing Contrarian: A Writer’s Typical Day: My Day! Your Day! “May Day!”

I didn't know about this either ...

... until I visited Books, Words, And Writing: A Great Online Source For Word Information.

Also there is this post: What Religion Is Your Favourite Comic Book Hero? What about the villains? Well, Lex Luthor is a Nietzschean atheist. But there are some Catholics gone bad, too. Oh well.

Shows you what I know ...

... or, in this case, didn't know - until I heard about it from Maxine Clarke - the Michael Allen, the Grumpy Old Bookman himself, has a book out: Grumpy Old Bookman. I just ordered it from Amazon.

Do you?

Because Golden Rules Jones doesn't: I don’t know what “coat-trailing” is.

Movin' on ...

Golden Rule Jones has moved. So has Bill Peschel.

Classical aghast ...

Terry Teachout thinks the classical musical concert as we know may be on the way out: Noises off. I rather hope not, though the unimaginative programming is a problem. So is the mediocrity of much contemporary classical music (well-orchestrated but themeless, meant to impress critics not please listeners). I would myself like to see more performances of works by composers I feel are neglected (Malcolm Arnold is one, Edmund Rubbra another, though there are plenty - Paul Creston, Walter Piston ... I'll stop).

Anthony Powell was right ...

... books do furnish a room: Books by the Foot.

The plot's the thing ...

... or is it? Sandra at Book World announces her resolve to give up my belief that plot is my favourite element of a good book. More therre on A Factory of Cunning.

A gut reaction ...

... may be what authors need from acquisitions editors. Booksquare ponders When Editors Get That Funny Feeling.

For those people ...

... who are always telling me how awful it is to live in the U.S. and how we ought to be more like continental Europe, I submit this: France: Pity the Students.

Back in January ...

... I posted this: The sky is still falling ..., in which I said that "the extremes of right and left have found common ground in pessimism, isolationism, opposition to technological progress, authoritarianism, and even anti-semitism." Now along comes Ian Traynor with Where the hard left and extreme right meet.

A Top 10 from Chaucer ...

... Top X searches in myne networke.

Vintage sounds ...

... at an online audio time machine: Archaic Sounds Caress Modern Ears. (A Dave Lull dispatch.)

As I toil away at home ...

... trying to write about the desire to write that so many people seem to have today (perhaps people always had the desire, but it went unnoticed) , I come upon these posts at Petrona: First, Not so grumpy bookman. Next, Insecurity rules. And finally, Book publishing and the GOB . Lots of worthwhile discussion in these.

Awarding crime ...

David Montgomery has the story: Mystery Ink Announces 2006 Gumshoe Award Nominees.

It's the first day of spring ...

... and also World Poetry Day. There is a new poetry workshop at the Guardian: Jane Duran's workshop , which also has a list - another list! - of the Top 10 verse novels. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Here's a blog ...

... I hadn't seen before: The Plasteel Spider Factory.

A second opinion ...

... regarding Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast from John Carey writing in the Sunday Times: Our leaps of faith. This strikes me as a very good review. But I wondered about this: "We exceed all other animals in our capacity to believe things for which there is no rational evidence ..." How do we know that? In fact, so far as I know, we don't know what, if anything, any other animals believe. Also the connection between belief and tool-making, while ingenious, is also purely speculative. It is called pre-history because it is prior to any historical record. Suppositions, however ingenious or imaginative, are not evidence. And evidence, I thought, is what science is about. St. Michel de Montaigne, pray for us.

More on the Templeton Prize

...from Maxine Clarke here. The only winner I have known personally is John Polkinghorne, who certainly seems to have his scientific bona fides in goood order and who also seemed to me a distinctly good person.

Update: I must confess to being singularly unimpressed by the quality and especially the tone of the comments on Pharyngula. Talk about a bunch of people who think they're always right and never lie!

The Shakespeare Code ...

Cory Doctorow has translated Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 18 into ActionScript: Shakespeare's "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" as code . I'm not sure why.

The debate continues ...

Maxine Clarke sends along this link to Robin McKie's review of Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things and Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Is it all piety in the sky?.

I found this interesting:
" ... what really troubles us [doubters], and what is not really tackled by either author, is the fact that a belief in the existence of deities invariably comes with an intense urge to shove that conviction down everyone else's throats and to proselytise."

Invariably? I don't think so. And the urge is not confined to believers in the existence of deities. Apparently Robin has never got the sort of proselytizing emails from atheists that I have. (Think it's hard to deal with a Jehovah's Witness? Try dealing with one who has discovered there is no God.) Nor does Robin seem to notice that Dennett and Wolpert are themselves proselytizing. (That said, it remains true that people of faith would preach it better if they spent more time practicing it.)

Finding time to write ...

J.B. Priestley called the second volume of his autobiography I Had the Time. He explained that over the years he had met many people who, upon hearing that he was a writer, told him that they would have written, too, if they'd had the time. "Well," Priestly added, "I had the time." I was reminded of this by this, at Grumpy Old Bookman: Productivity.

GOB's More short pieces is also worth reading. I regret to report that I may have just added a bit to those Da Vinci column inches.

The lovers of humanity ...

... Schiller said, are often the persecutors of mankind. The case of Rousseau is instructive: A Viper in His Bosom.

Steely Sam ...

Terry Teachout confronts Beckett, Donald Fagen, and the encroachment of time: Seventh-inning stretch.

Speaking of Beckett, he also includes this from Godot.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Two Margaret Atwoods ...

... for the price of one: The other one.

We haven't forgotten ...

... Week 11 of Louise Doughty's novel-writing column: Find a new voice.

One of the greatest poets ...

... of the last - or any century - was Czeslaw Milosz. (There's also Szymborska, too, of course.) And if you've never looked at the diaries of Witold Gombrowicz, you don't know what it is to be educated (by which I mean Gombrowicz is a spectacular example of what it is to be such). All of which is by way of introduction to Plish Writing and these 6 Poems by Marzanna Bogumiła Kielar translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese · They seem wonderful to me.

We haven't a list ...

... for at least a few days (have we?). So here's David Montgomery's 100 Science Fiction Novels You Just Have to Read.

Lots of interesting stuff ...

... over at 2 Blowhards: Elsewhere. I particularly liked this view of global warming, which strikes me also as "hyper-sensible." But, as Johnny Mathis put it, "It's not for me to say."

More on the new world ...

... of information-gathering: A Comment on Alison Finch's "Computer-Assisted Research on Literature: The Imagery of a Myth".

Here's some related material: Book, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words and The Word (and World) Made Flesch.

( Hat tip - the equally indefatigable Dave Lull.)

Quite a discussion about blooging ...

... is going on at Comment is Free. (Hat tip - the indefatigable Maxine Clarke.)

By the way ...

... the site that Maxine sent me to the other day, 3 Quarks Daily, seems to me to be one that should be added to everyone's favorites.

Sunday sermon ...

The other day Maxine Clarke sent me a link to this discussion at 3 Quarks Daily about science and religion: Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Krauss and Sean M. Carroll, which in turn links to this at Science & Theology News: Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Krauss and Sean M. Carroll discuss evolution, atheism and why many intellectuals are empty suits .

I found myself most in agreement with Sean Carroll, because I too think that "the primary role of intellectuals should be to promote the truth, whatever it may turn out to be." I also agree with him "that the warrant for religion's ethical claims are based on its view of the universe, without which we wouldn't recognize it as religion."
On the other hand, though I rarely find myself in agreement with Noam Chomsky, he does make a number of important points here. One is this: "Not to underrate the theory of evolution, that’s a terrific intellectual advance, but it tells you nothing about whether there’s whatever people believe in when they talk about God. It doesn’t even talk about that topic. It talks about how organisms evolve. " Lawrence Krauss makes a similar point: "Evolution, as a scientific theory, says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God. It doesn’t yet address the origin of life either, but instead deals with the mechanics of how the present diversity of species on earth evolved."
Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett seem to think otherwise. And, speaking of Dawkins and Dennett, here is another worthwhile point that Chomsky makes: "When people ask me if I’m an atheist, I have to ask them what they mean. What is it that I’m supposed to not believe in? Until you can answer that question I can’t tell you whether I’m an atheist ..."
One of the few things I am certain of is that I don't believe in the God Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in. I could just as easily say that I also don't believe in the God that those who advocate Intelligent Design theory apparently believe in.
So what God do I believe in? Well, the God I believe in wouldn't have needed to design - "to conceive and plan out in the mind" - anything. That would have taken time and God has no need of time.
Here are some things we think we know about the world: One, that it began with something infintesimal exploding into all that there is. This turns out to have been a rather precisely calibrated explosion, enabling, I thinki it is fair to say, the chemistry of the carbon compounds to develop in the way that it has, guided by a simple but flexible code (or what we call a code).
So I begin by believing that the bang led to the code, that the bang initiated a process. This is exactly what the God I believe in would have done, as far as the mechanics of creation are concerned - set in motion a process that would work itself out and not require tinkering or revision.
I also think that, just as the oak is but the actualization of the potential contained in the acorn, so everything that is was implicit in the original infinitesimal spark. So intelligence didn't happen later. It was there all along, just as, in a sense, the oak's leaves and roots and bark were. I think the same regarding personality.
Neurologist W. Russell Brain wrote in Mind, Perception and Science, that "the receptive function of the brain is to provide us with a symbolical representation of the world outside it, not only distinguishing objects by their qualities, but also conveying to us the spatial relationships which exist between them, and at the same time giving us similar symbolical information about our own bodies and their relation to the external world."
In the same book, he also says:
... if the stuff of the universe that we know directly is mind, and matter is the same thing known only by means of conceptual symbols created by mind, it would seem as reasonable to call at least part of reality mind as to call it matter. And matter, even crude matter, is not what it was. It has turned into energy, and the atom has become a pattern and the molecule a pattern of patterns, till all the different physical substances and their behaviour have come to be regarded as the outcome of the structure of their primitive components. But we have already met with pattern in the nervous system, underlying and rendering possible the most fundamental characteristics of the mind. And pattern in some mysterious way possesses a life of its own, for it can survive a change in the identity of its component parts as longs as its structure remains the same. As a wave can move over the sea and remain the same wave, though the water of which it is composed is continuously changing, a pattern can shift over the retina and therefore over the visual area of the brain and remain recognizably the same pattern. The pattern of our personality though it changes slowly remains substantially the same, though every protein molecule in the body, including the nervous system, is changed three times a year. The ingredients have altered but not the structure.
As I have said here before, if Brain is right, then everything we know is a symbolical representaion of energy configurations. The schoolmen and the ancients thought in terms of matter and form. Perhaps it would be more correct to think in terms of energy and pattern. The brain is a pattern of electrical impulses whose function is to discern other such patterns. What we call matter is, to use Brain's formulation, a symbolical representation of those energy patterns. Indeed, the energy units themselves that we speak of -- atoms, protons, electrons -- would also be symbolical representations. So the key question is this: What is the basis of the symbology? From what does it derive?
In my view, it derives from a single thought, encompassing the whole of the reality we know, in the mind, as it were, of the Prime Thinker. And that is the God I believe in. But I believe in a bit more than that. I also believe that, just as the point of the acorn may be said to be the oak tree, or that - to change the analogy - just as the point of the pen, ink, paper, etc. that an author uses to tell a story is not the the pen, ink, and paper, but the story being narrated, so the point of reality is the drama taking place within it. And since I am a Christian, I further believe that the drama of reality required that the Prime Thinker, to borrow a phrase from Mallarme, introduce himself into the story.
But, as I have also said here before, quoting Eliot, "These are only hints and guesses,/Hints followed by guesses ..."

The Inquirer has expanded ...

... book coverage a bit, and here are links to the day's reviews:

Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painterin the Gilded Age, By Alice A. Carter: A Phila. painter gets her due.
Since no art accompanies the online review, here is Cecilia Beaux's New England Woman.

The Night Watch, By Sarah Waters: British novel traces course of war and of love in reverse.

Crippen, By John Boyne:Novelization does a killer good.

My Brother Is Getting Arrested Again, By Daisy Fried: From banality to virtuosity

The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, By Sean Wilentz: Freedom's foundations: A history of democracy.

Audio books: The right voice, every time, by Anna Fields.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Before signing off ...

... to continue reading the Trollope novel I hope to write about next week, I'd thought I'd share the link to Mythic Delirium Laurie Mason just sent me. There really is a lot of interesting stuff going on, isn't there?

Here's a pleasant change ...

... from fashionable bitching and moaning. Lisa Coutant asks: What do I like? Really????

A sister paper takes to the net ...

... in the interest of survival. The paper is the San Jose Mercury News, purchased by McClatchey but still put on the block: Journos Take to the Web to Save The Merc. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Found this too ...

... a poem by Kate Greenstreet: "Clearing." Another pleasure of blogging: Just browsing and coming upon things that interest you.

When I was in high school ...

... back in the '50s, I used to come home from school and, like just about every other kid back then, flick on Bandstand. One of the singers who used to be on the show a lot was a guy named Marvin Rainwater. His big hit was "Gonna Find Me a Bluebird," but the song of his I love best is "So You Think You Got Troubles," which begins

I've had every disease known to man
From the African mumps to the dishpan hands
Lost every race I ever ran
I never even got a start ...

Marvin, I gather, is still around at 80 (the British apparently love him, God bless them) and I just came upon this poem on his Web site: "Little Jim." I think it's kind of neat.

Adaptation ...

... of literature to the screen is of abiding interest to me. Maxine Clarke has some characteristically perceptive comments: Short stories and movies.

Nice to know ...

... some things never change. Like going to school: What's worse then the first day of school?

A sensible descant ...

... on The Da Vinci Code from Jenny D: Oh dear, this is very funny....

Money quote: "...the NYTBR has taken to reviewing the most undemanding mass-market bestseller-type books that everyone is going to buy anyway, when what they surely really want is to be singling out the interesting but lesser-known stuff that is also commercial (i.e. non-'literary,' genre, less prestigious) but is as rich and rewarding to read as decent 'literary' fiction...."

And speaking of funny, try this: The Dan Brown Code.

A request for information ...

... comes from Rev. Robert Nugent, who is looking for any that anyone may have about the Reverend John J. O'Rourke, a "professor of Biblical studies and a brilliant biblical scholar who taught at St.Charles Seminary from 1958 to 1995." Any information would be helpful. You can in touch with Father Bob at CNEW292@aol.com.

Time for a backward glance ...

... or it just a look around? Patrick Kurp considers That Other Internet . (Hat tip, Dave Lull, working on a Saturday.)

As Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Who'd a-thunk it?

George W. Bush a fiscal conservative? I certainly was surprised at this InstaPundit link. If this be so, why is the opposite the conventional wisdom? (Of course, I think I know the answer to that.)

In case you haven't checked out ...

... Per Contra, a good place to start would be this interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Here is Adichie's "The Time Story."

Coming up short ...

Shameless Words (see Grumpy Old Bookman's Short notes, linked to in the previous post) raises an interesting question in Short Chapters, Lots of Breaks: "Is it just me and my entourage or is there a growing tendency towards shorter chapters and more breaks in the text of novels?"

There's lots more ...

... at Grump Old Bookman. Check out his Short notes.

Fleet Street feuding ...

... read all about it at Grumpy Old Bookman: More on the Dibdin/Bourne affair.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's things like this ...

... that undercut media credibility: Glenn Reynolds links to the Bend of History. Take note of the dates.

More nominations ...

... David Montgomery has the ITW Awards Nominations.

So you want to be a novelist ...

... well, first consider this, from Bill Peschel: Why writing fiction can take awhile.

That old time religion ...

... and poetry. The Reading Experience links to some interesting cooments on hymns and the poetry of Emily Dickinson: Throwback.

A brave man ...

... that would be Walter Wangerin Jr., author of The Book of the Dun Cow. Gina Holmes interviews him at Novel Journey: Walter Wangerin Jr. Interview, Part I. (Hat tip, Branywine Books.)

I can't resist this ...

From Blood & Treasure: Spot the Difference.

You're never too young to blog ...

... and the proof is Jong Ho's Webpage. Imagine this kid's posts a few years from now.

Lots of good stuff ...

... at About Last Night, especially the email questionnaire. Just scroll down.

Speaking of British blogs ...

... here's a new one from novelist John Barlow. Among other things, it has the best comment yet on James Frey. Just scroll down.

Media challenged ...

... by science: Science literacy takes some hits from the media. (Thanks again to Maxine Clarke, who is clearly the Dave Lull of Britain - though much prettier.)

Talk about crushing dissent ...

The University of Illinois sure ought to get some heat over this: College Paper Editor Fired Over Caricatures. This is the sort of thing that makes some of think much less of academe that we otherwise might.
Here's what the staff ought to do: Most of CMAJ's editorial board quits.
(Hat tip for both, Maxine Clarke.)

Uh-oh ...

Glenn Reynolds may have stirred up something: British Bloggers. I visit Petrona and Grumpy Old Bookman just about every day. But they're not poli blogs. Some of those Glenn mentions I visit from time to time.
The comments Glenn's post has generated are interesting. I like this, for instance, from JonnyB:

British bloggers write about their cats. And their favourite bands. And the bloke they shagged last night who they're not really sure about but are secretly desperate to get a call from. And the bad meal that they had in the restaurant down the road. And the horror of supporting Charlton FC. And finding their drunk neighbour crawling around on their roof.
Some of them write about politics and economics and technical IT stuff. I know these get a lot of publicity, being the kind of things that people who write newspapers are interested in, but you really do have to get out to the world at large a bit more.


But I do notice, what I often notice when reading comments about the U.S. from abroad, that people's opinions tend to run far ahead of their knowledge.

Happy St. Patrick's Day ...

... from Dr. Johnson, who complimented the Irish by calling them "a fair people — they never speak well of one another." (I am half Irish, by the way, so I guees the good doctor may have been right.)
(Hat tip, by the way, goes to Today in Literature, which also reminds us that on this date in 1740 novelist Henry Fielding, "writing as Captain Hercules Vinegar... summoned poet laureate Colley Cibber to court, charged with the murder of the English language.")

Here's something a little offbeat ...

... that I think is worth considering: An Interview with Billy Childish. Back in my wild years I was quite an aficionado of punk - the real thing, not the bogus stuff that's passed for it since - groups like the Pork Dukes, the Yobs, the Milkshakes, and Ivor Biggun's groups. It all seemed pretty authentic. What we've got too much of now, as Billy says, is "institutionalised culture" and "marketed rebellion culture."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

SciFi poetry is something ...

... I can't say I'm terribly familiar with, but I'm reading a collection that I believe falls into that category: Mike Allen's Strange Wisdoms of the Dead. In the meantime, Laurie Mason has sent me a link to an interview with Allen posted in October at The Mumpsimus: A conversation with Mike Allen .

You know somethin's happenin' ....

... but you don't know what it is. Michael Malone wonders: As Newspapers Die, Can MySpace Be Far Behind?

Accentuate the positive ...

... eliminate the negative. David Montgomery on Negative reviews. I don't write them much either, only when I have to. Space is too much at a premium. I also think they're too easy.

Manners, morals, and more ...

I'm far from being the first to link manners and morals. Dave Lull sends a link to Chapter 11 of Henry Hazlitt's The Foundations of Morality, titled Manners and Morals.

Dave also alerts me that Cambridge cosmologist John Barrow has won this year's Templeton Prize: British Scientist Wins Religion Prize

Something I missed ...

LBC Interview: NEA Director of Literature David Kipen. I don't know David Kipen very well at all, but the couple of times I've talked to him he has struck as a delightful, bright and funny guy, genuinely passionate about literature.

Start the day right ...

... and read this wonderful review by Bill Peschel: A carnival of Thurber. When you're done, click on the picture of Bill and start scrollling.

Another offer ...

... you may not be able to refuse. Maxine Clarke explains: A woman from Cairo . On second thought, just visit Petrona and scroll down. It's all interesting.

Books and their covers ...

John Updike considers Cover stories.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Comments welcome ...

Lynne Scanlon emailed me to tell me that the Comment section here was not allowing readers to choose an identity, the only choice being Blogger. That has now been fixed (I'm pretty sure). Thank you, Lynne.

Oh my God ...

... this must be what Annie Proulx is warning us about: If Republicans Got Their Wish And Ruled Hollywood...

Controversy anyone? (Cont'd)

Glenn and Helen interview Nicholas Cummings, author of Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm: The Politicization of Psychology .

Reading no book before its time ...

Giles G-B and the tendency among book-lovers to accumulate more books than they can read: like fine wine. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

I, of course, have a steady supply coming at me day after day.

More words in Austin ...

Matthew Cheney has more on the AWP at The Mumpsimus. Also there, word on a new anthology, Mythic. (Hat tip, Laurie Mason.)

Sit up and vote ...

... for America's Favorite Poem - or at least your favorite. (Hat tip again to Dave Lull.)

"Thou impertinent scurvy-valiant coxcomb!"

Nothing personal, just a little something from the Shakespearean Insulter. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Deo gratias ..

Michael Gilleland corrects Biercean Latin. Hard not like a man who describes himself as "an antediluvian, bibliomaniac, and curmudgeon."

Speaking of Miss Snark ...

... she's on the money in Size 14 Query Letters in a Size 8.5 x 11 world .

In particular: "It's very very hard to write succinctly. In fact it's an art form." And one should always write succinctly - it leaves you more space to say more.

There are pages ...

... and then there are pages. Miss Snark explains: First Fifty Pages .

Stop the presses ...

It appears that a rhyme thought impossible has been discovered: Rhyme for orange found in Wales. I won't spoil it for you by quoting. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

This reminds me of a Harry Nilsson song:

Don't try to rhyme silver with anything, yeah,
That goes for orange as well.
But notice how cleverly I just used them both
And all I have to do is rhyme well.

We need a Nilsson revival.

The usually even-tempered ...

... Glenn Reynolds gave vent (justifiably) to some pique yesterday. People are always going on about a decline in morality. I actually think the decline in manners is more worrisome, because a lot of moral behavior is grounded in good manners. There are some things a gentleman or lady simply won't consider doing, such as taking a bribe, or plagiarizing someone else's work - you get the idea. It also annoys me that so much of the snippiness is done electronically by people I doubt would have the nerve to speak that way to someone in person.

You don't say ...

Ann Althouse links to another dubious axiom from Kos(whose boots, we recall were made for combat): "No one ever writes a book to make money."

Now, what is interesting about that is that it is patently false. Maybe not everyone writes to make money. But to say that no one ever does is ridiculous.

Those of you interested ...

... as many of you seem to be, in the Da Vinci Code trial, will want to check out the Dan Brown witness statement , which appears in the Times of London. More to the point, however, may be Alan Coren's Mary Magdalene, now she could spot four bestsellers when she saw them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Congratulations are in order ...

... to Rus Bowden, whose poem "Walking the Dock" was among those featured in the Guardian's poetry workshop this past week: Ghosts, written. Rus is the man behind Poetry and Poets in Rags at the Interboard Poetry Community, which has posted its Winning Poems for February.

Regarding Esther Morgan's comment on Rus's poem:

the piercings in my skin growing,
here resurrected, however not
ascended, and you for this moment

know that latter vital step of grace
did not go as planned

Think Jesus, Esther.

Finding your voice ...

Miss Snark answers the question, Are there standards for voice, like there are for writing?

Lots and lots of ...

"... publishing industry information that you'd like to have but that the various author/editor/agent blogs out there aren't covering" has been posted at Paperback Writer. Just keep scrolling.

So what exactly do you want?

Lisa Coutant would like to know: Bueller? Come in Bueller

An offer you may not be able to refuse ...

... from Lynne Scanlon at The Publishing Contrarian: No Kidding? Free Review of Covering Letter, Marketing Plan, Sample Pages?

This looks like a bold move to me and I will be interested to know what the results are. Steve Clackson, are you there?

On style ...

"Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style." Thus spake Jonathan Swift. The Merry Scribler looks at Classic Writing. (Hat tip, Dave Lull. Oh, "had we but world enough and time" for all the great sites to be found online!)

Booking Google ...

... or do I mean Googling books? Dave Lull sends along Google to offer books online.

Just minutes ago I was telling an email correspondent how I thought that, somewhere down the line, book reviewing had an electronic future that could prove more lucrative than what the print media now offer. A seasoned reviewer could just write away, post his reviews to a website and for a modest fee readers could access the whole kit and kaboodle for a limited time.

We're not with Internet serendipity yet ...

Maxine Clarke has a story of here own in More is less. What's funny about this is that I probably wouldn't have come across the Times piece if I hadn't clicked on Petrona.

Something I missed ...

... over at Golden Rule Jones: If the exhibition were a novel. (Here is a link to the whole Guardian article: Lost in Translation.)
What caught my attention here was the mention of Josef Albers. Back in the '70s, when I worked in DC, I used to visit the National Gallery a lot. (I actually worked for a few years as a gallery director, but it was during my time in Washington that I really got to know art - just by looking at a lot of it.) At any rate, on a couple of occasions I happened to see Lewis Mumford there. I thought of introducing myself (I was even more of a nobody then than I am now, of course), but decided not to bother him - unless I saw him a third time, which never happened. But on one occasion I did overhear him discussing some of the paintings - one of which was by Albers. Mumford found it cold, lifelessly abstract. Which should not be taken to mean that he was put off because it was non-representational. I know that because nearby was a painting by Mark Tobey, an example of Tobey's "white writing," every bit as non-representational as the Albers. But Mumford told his companion - an attractive woman, much younger than he - "Tobey is a real artist" and went on to comment on the spiritual implications of the work they were looking at. I remember this especially because Mumford had in fact articulated what I had felt looking at the same paintings. So there was that bit of self-congratulation that comes from learning that a great man thinks the same way you do yourself. But I also think we were both right. People often think my tastes in art are reactionary because I frequently criticize non-representational art. But I love such art - when it's good. But it is in fact very hard to do really well, and very easy to do poorly. Like free verse.

I conclude with a quiz: Since we have linked to Golden Rule Jones, does anyone out there remember Brand Whitlock?

More on Internet serendipity ...

... at House of Mirth: Thank God for the Internet. Click on the link and enjoy.

I find this odd...

... but not that odd. Steve Clackson has a post about Getting a Terrorist Thriller Published. According to literary agent Jean Naggar, "It’s going to take a blockbuster with a terrorist theme ... to shift the industry, much like The DaVinci Code did for escapist, religious themes. Then they’ll flock like lemmings.” But someone had to publish The Da Vinci Code for that to happen. And that book isn't even any good. So, by Naggar's logic - which I actually think is sound - a lousy terrorist thriller that gets the right kind of publicity should do the trick. Hmm. Let's see. It would have to, however clunkily, turn the whole terrorist thing on its head (as The Da V Code did Christianity with a married Jesus). Well, given the endless stream of nitwit Bush-bashing screeds - to which publishers have certainly flocked like lemmings - this may be it: Our thriller shows how it was Bush & Co. who actually hired the 9/11 hijackers! The horror! The horror!

Dare we argue with success?

Steve Clackson links to TIME.com - The Man Who Can't Miss - Mar. 20, 2006.

A gratifying student protest ...

It's a Learn-in! Martyn Everett links to Sussex Students Occupy Library in Protest Against Falling Standards. Way, way back in my college days - at a Jesuit College no less, and before protests became fashionable in the '60s - I learned that if you want to really raise the ire of a school's administrators, insist they deliver on what their institution purports to provide (i.e., an education).

A sharp observation ...

... and Dr. Johnson to boot. Martyn Everett notes one of the pleasures of the Internet - "the way in which it is possible to stumble across fascinating resources without really trying" - and links to a fine Samuel Johnson resource: Samuel Johnson - one book at a time! (Dave Lull reminds me that the good doctor's tercentenary is only three years away. And one of the interesting things I have discovered since blogging is how many fans Johnson has.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

This may be it ...

... for blogging tonight. I am off to meet my wife so we can go to a Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra concert. Then I want to finish William Nicholson's great new book - I only have about 50 pages to go.

Having trouble finishing something?

Help is one the way from Bill Peschel: 5 obstacles to finishing a project.

There's something to be said for this ...

Terry Teachout's Almanac entry for today. I have learned to love some works of art that upon first encounter did not immediately appeal ( I think of Bartok's fifth quartet, which I now love), but for the most part the artI prefer is the kind that one appreciates the more the longer one is acquainted with it, but that does give one something immediate upon first acquaintance. I definitely detest art that editorializes. But then I'm not too fond of anything that ediotrializes, including editorials.

In case you've been wondering ...

... here is the American Library Association's Top 10 list of most complained about books: “It's Perfectly Normal” tops ALA's 2005 list of most challenged books. (Hat tio, Dave Lull.)

Will wonders never cease ...

This is an ad. I link to it only because I never knew there was such a thing as novel-writing software.

Oh, and before I forget ...

... Knight Ridder, of which The Inquirer is a part, has been sold. But that's only the beginning. Dangerous Dan has more: On The Market.

Speaking of the Orange Prize ...

... this year's top contenders are both named Smith: Big hitting Smiths head formidable list in battle for Orange prize .

Here's more: Women's literature: The next chapter.

Three cheers ...

For the first few years of my tenure as Inquirer book editor, Lionel Shriver was one of my best reviewers. Then she wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin, which eventually won her (most deservedly) the Orange Prize. So now, she writes, 'It pains me that I can no longer feel sorry for myself'.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Using your second novel ...

... to call into question events in your first. That's what Maile Meloy did: A writer's life.

It's week 10 ...

... of Louise Doughty's novel-writing column: Be bold.

On profane language ...

... of which there is too much these days: Michael Gilleland's Oaths, Minced and Unminced.

This is wonderful ...

Patrick Kurp prompts us to remember John Ciardi: A Hell of a Poet.

Get ready ...

... for Sarah Weinman warns: Beware the Ides of Weekend Update.

More on Ella, Billie, and Sarah ...

... much more, in fact, over at Power Line: At last: Billie, Ella and Sarah.

Controversy anyone?

And this does have to do, in part, with a book. Dr. Helen looks at American Psychological Association activism: If You're Gay--You Better Stay that Way . My view? My view has always been the same as Fred Allen's: "I think everybody should leave everybody else the hell alone."

Nothing nebulous here ...

John Scalzi on the Nebula awards: If I Ran the Nebulas.

Out of the mouths of babes ...

I'm as much in favor of encouraging reading as anyone. But this quote from a post on Grumpy Old Bookman is unsettling: "The Observer takes pleasure in informing us that eight-year-old Adora Sitvak is on her way over here to encourage British kids to read and write." Michael Allen has more to say in More about child prodigies.
It already bothers me that, more and more, kids aren't allowed to have any childhood. I am so grateful that, when I was a child, I was largely left alone by my elders (I am also lucky that I was able to spend as much time as I did with my older brother's buddies).

Black Irish ...

We're coming up on Samuel Beckett's centenary on April 13. Edna O'Brien anticipates it with Laughter in the dark (and isn't it wonderfully written?). There are links at the bootom and here is More on Beckett as well.

Finalists and a winner ...

The Elegant Variation links to the Los Angeles Time Book Prizes.

Also the Lambda Awards.

Though I shall have to keep an eye out for this, given what I do for a living: Suite Francaise in English.

An interesting list ...

Maxine Clarke has posted her favorite movies.

Hear ye, hear ye ...

Today's Inquirer author podcasts can now be linked to, at least from here:

Interview with science fiction author John Scalzi

Interview with Lisa Scottoline

A mixed bag ...

... to say the least. Today The Inquirer did something unsual for an American newspaper: It actually expanded coverage of books. There's a full page of coverage in the Currents section, as well as a feature review by Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano off the front of Currents. Plus a couple of review in Arts & Entertainment. There were also podcasts with authors Lisa Scottoline and John Scalzi, but neither seems to have been linked to. Alas, alack! This happens when there is mor to do than people to do it.
At any rate, to make it easier - at least for those who visit this blog - here are links to all the reviews in today's Inquirer:

George De Stefano's An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America: Exploring the myth of the Mafia's grip.

John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades: Futuristic commandos bond in a special way

Lisa Scottoline's Dirty Blonde: Scottoline's latest is entertainment at a clip

George Witte's The Apparitioners: A poet who makes subtle music with his words

Michael Rosenthal's Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler: Eminent anachronism of the 20th century

Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere: Young Adult Reader A story of death and rebirth that's funny and never mawkish

When the audio links are up, I'll link to them too.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

To the lists again ...

Richard Charkin has a couple and a question: Powerplay. Charkin obviously thinks little of the Observer's recent list of the 50 top people in British publishing.

Let's have another list ...

Maxine Clarke, apprantly on a roll after house cleaning, brings this to our attention: Top Five Comic Novels?

I know Scoop and Jim - and Wodehouse, but not Psmith. And I know Cary Grant's portrayal of Mr. Blandings. The other one I don't know. Anthony Burgess's Enderby ought to be on any such list, I think.

Time for another pity party ...

Maxine also points me to Light Reading and Annie Proulx's Sour Grapes Rant

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not merely impersonate Truman Capote and 'Capote' was a much better written and directed film than 'Brokeback Mountain', which is one of those films you think less and less of the farther you get from it. Two guys meet, have sex, separate. Get married, meet again, have sex, separate. Meet again - well, you get the idea. 'Capote' even works as literary criticism. I hadn't realized until I saw the film that not only was the Clutter murder committed in cold blood; so was Capote's book. And Capote knew it. I even think 'Capote' makes a better point about homosexuality. The little guy knew how people looked at him and thought about him - and wasn't intimidated one bit by it. In his way, Capote was as tough any ranch hand.

He'd rather drive a bus ...

British novelist Magnus Mills explains why he's back driving a double-decker: Why my career is back on route. I like this: "I was now a full-time writer and I quickly realised that sitting in the sunshine all day was quite boring. I soon concluded that apart from paying off the mortgage, little had changed and that being a writer was no big deal."
(Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Under the wide and starry sky ...

Except that I just quoted Robert Louis Stevenson, this has nothing to do with books or literature. It has to do with another intriguing post at Petrona: Fantasy coffin. My own wish always been to be cremated and have my ashes used to fertilize a copper beech sapling.

Bring it on ...

... well, not really. Maxine at Petrona links to a discussion of MSM blogs: Blog Watches Dog. I was intrigued by this quote from Justin McKeating: "“I have yet to see a newspaper blog where the writer has got down and dirty with the readers. This defeats the object of blogging to a large extent and is seen as poor etiquette by many non-newspaper bloggers.”
Well, we welcome comments here - though we like them to be civil.

I was in college ...

... when the Profumo scandal made international headlines (it was front-page news, day in and day out). And now the man at the center of it, former British cabinet minister John Profumo, has died at age 91. Much can be learned, I think, from pondering his life and especially the manner in which he dealt with an adversity admittedly of his own doing: John Profumo.

Here's a site ...

... I should have know about, but have only just now stumbled upon: Poetry London.