Monday, February 28, 2005

Some interesting info ...

On Jan. 26 I wondered here concerning the whereabouts of an epistolary novel in the form of e-mail. Blogger Derik Badman assures me there is at least one such: E: A Novel by Matt Beaumont. And right he is. Came out in October 2000, just before I got this job, which gives me an excuse for not knowing about it. Derik also points out that “Novelist Richard Powers has an online story (“They Come in a Steady Stream Now”) at the journal Ninth Letter that is in the form of emails: Commentary on it here: and .”
Finally, Derik informs me that electronic fiction also exists and sends me to to check it out. This is definitely worth a look.
Also check out Derik’s own very interesting blog, MadInkBeard ( Especially check out, on the left, Premises in Snow.

Contemporary literary works at Project Gutenberg ...

Steven Sills has published three books with Project Gutenberg ( . I didn't know until Steven sent me an e-mail awhile back that Project Gutenberg published original work. I thought they only published classics. Tells you what I know.
Michael Hart, the man who founded Project Gutenberg, tells me in an email that of the 15,400 eBooks at, about 3 percent — some 500 books — are there “with the permission of the authors/copyright holders.” He also says that there are original works at as well — he guesses about 500 more.
I haven’t read Sills’s books and I can’t really review them. Since this blog is supposed to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at a book review editor’s world, this is a good opportunity to explain what The Inquirer does and doesn’t review and why. We don’t review eBooks, or print-on-demand (POD) books, or self-published books, including books by AuthorHouse or PublishAmerica or even Xlibris — which is part-owned by Random House.
This is not out of snobbery. If a publisher like Farrar Straus & Giroux decides to publish somebody’s manuscript, they assume the costs of printing and publicity. They are betting on that manuscript and putting their money up accordingly. In all the other cases, it is the author who is putting up the money and betting on himself or herself and his or her work. It is the fact that someone besides the author is willing to assume the risk of publishing that makes all the difference. After all, it’s hard enough to decide which books to review as it is. I believe that something like 175,000 books are being published by trade publishers annually now. The Inquirer reviews about 500 of them. In other words, most don’t make the cut.
There’s an opportunity here, though. With all the bloggers out there, maybe some people could start looking at these other books and reviewing them online. It’s a pretty safe bet that among all those other books are some — maybe a lot — worth reading. After all, there have been some pretty good self-published books. Leaves of Grass, for instance. All of William Blake’s books.
Here are links to Steven Sills’s books:
American Papyrus
Corpus of a Siam Mosquito
Tokyo to Tijuana: Gabriele Departing America

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Just a thought ...

“The unexamined life,” Socrates declared, “is not worth living.” How would he have known? It’s hard to imagine Socrates ever leading an unexamined life. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that anyone does, given that we are, by nature, reflective creatures. But even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that there are people who go through life just experiencing things and not reflecting on them at all, what’s the big deal? A good meal is still a tasty repast whether we reflect upon its flavors or not. A gorgeous sunset is no less beautiful if we simply watch it fade gloriously away. The value of such things derives from the things themselves, not from our examination of them. Reflection upon our experiences may enrich our lives, but an absence of such reflection hardly impoverishes them.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Something for Lent ...

I just received a call about a lecture tonight at the International Institute for Culture. The Rev. John Bartunek will talk about his book Inside The Passion, a behind-the scenes account of the making of Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Information on the lecture can be found at this link :
Seating is limited.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A class act ...

Last night I had the pleasure of introducing William Hague, the former leader of Britain's Conservative Party and the author of William Pitt the Younger, which I reviewed on Sunday, at the Free Library. Hague gave a great talk about the man who was the youngest ever to serve as Prime Minister. Hague said he intends to stand again for Parliament in the forthcoming election but has no intention of seeking any leadership position in his party. Like Pitt, Hague's political career began early, when he was 16 and gave a speech at a Conservative Party conference (what we could call a convention) and came to the attention of Margaret Thatcher, who told those assembled that they might be looking at the next Mr. Pitt. Hague says he had only the vaguest notion at the time who Pitt was. But he said that, thanks to giving up the party leadership after the last election, he had discovered something Pitt never had: that life has much to offer besides politics. Hague has travelled, been able to spend more time with his wife, Ffion, and has even learned to play the piano. He enjoys writing, he says. Interestingly, he said that he dictated his biography of Pitt. In that regard, it surely helped that Hague is a very fluent public speaker. His book is certainly very well written.
The questions afterward were quite good, as were Hague's answers. These author events at the Library are one of the treasures of Philadelphia life. If you like reading and ideas, you should try to go. Many of them, like last night's, are free, so you can't beat the price. You can check what's coming here:

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Something to chew on ....

Ann Althouse recently linked to a question that ought to arouse the interest of all readers of fiction:
"In a search for meaningful relationships in life, which is the better choice: a passionate engagement with a person who has obvious faults, ill-suited to your needs and temperament, or a calm and steady affection for someone who inspires little else?" Read the whole thing :

My own take is that passionate engagement tends to be temporary by its very nature. And it is not of our choosing anyway. It is something that happens to us -- the word comes from the Latin passio, meaning "to suffer, to be acted upon." Love, by contrast, is something that one does. One can grow in love. Passion seems usually to fade away sooner or later. Of course, when we are in its grip, if it is satisfied we come near to experiencing ecstasy; if it is thwarted, though, we feel as if we are in hell. Better it propel a novel than one's life.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Eagles inspire (Part 2) ...

Ian Keenan also waxed poetic regarding our Birds. His live reading of the piece at the Kelly Writer's House was broadcast on WXPN.

Super Sestina

The fix is in in art, Artis Hicks,
The hood conceals our rhetoric, Roderick Hood
The swans are swallowing our Ledas, Lito Sheppard

Brown is the earth we're shelled in, Sheldon Brown,
We've trodden amongst the mines, Jeremiah Trotter
Fate's looser than crooked chads, Chad Lewis

LJ Smith will you fill in in fields of brown
With ageless Mike Bartrum your shepherd
Donovan aiming for your moving hood
wishing to make you an end zone trotter
hoping you jump in the stands to be held up by hicks
who are really trying to figure out where the loo is

for here in the timeless streets of cobblestones grey and soils brown
the muttering retreats that Possum and Archie Shepp heard
where Keith Adams, Jefferson and Franklin walked with hicks
the faces keep changing but the team always lewises
to err is more than human in this neighborhood
angels here have always feared to trod her

so assemble ye, Westbrook, Levins, and Greg Lewis,
Pinkston who turns yellow before uniform turns brown
Freddie Mitchell, Bold Kingfish of the Plebiscite Hicks
T. O.'s leg held together with a cotter
Run post patterns to the moon as legends s-hould
Where the only guy to stop you is Alan Shepherd

Tom Brady: We blitz you with Hood
We blitz you with Brown
We blitz you with Sheppard,
Brian Dawkins, Michael Lewis
Til you dribble the ball like a Harlem Globetrotter
Lie flat on your back and say "Holy Hicks

How is it now that I blew this"
And I'll tell you why the trophy goes to our 'hood
The hunt to the foxtrotter
Hounds succumbed to distemper
Our coach didn't cut his teeth as a Cleveland Brown
So is just now mastering his tr-hicks

So where the pig's skin is brown be Andy Reid thy shepherd
Stunting the Riding Hood telethon with Little Red Lewis.
Patriots they call those hicks; but we be Patriotter

bio: Ian Keenan is an area writer.

Info on sestinas from website linked below: "The sestina is an old fixed form of poetry, dating as far back as the twelfth century. It consists of six six-line stanzas and a three-line concluding stanza. The ending words of the first stanza are repeated throughout each subsequent stanza in a set pattern. The same six words appear in the concluding three-line stanza, two in each line."

Eagles inspire ....

Autumn Konopka ( has sent me a poem -- which she read at Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr over the weekend -- for the Eagles:

Brotherly Love

for James Phillips and the Philadelphia Eagles

A local man [James Phillips] said he shoveled snow at Lincoln Financial Field for 30 hours getting ready for the big NFC championship game, and now he is in the hospital, in danger of losing his fingers, his toes, his ears and possibly his nose.
– reported by NBC 10, Philadelphia, January 27, 2005

We love you more than fingers or toes.
Remember that.
Remember when they call us dangerous,
when they issue warnings throughout the league
and hold him up us as proof of just how crazy we are.

Remember, we love you
more than mere digits,
more than appendages—ears or nose.

We love you more than the scent of sweet fried onions
on a cheese steak on an Amoroso roll.

We love you more than Tony Luke’s, Pat’s, Jim’s, or Geno’s.
We love you more than soft pretzels,
more than water ice, Tastykakes, or $4 Pitchers of Lager.

We love you more than the sticky floor at Dirty Frank’s,
more than Tattooed Mom’s, the Continental, or Buddakan.

We love you more than the girls at Delilah’s,
more than the men of The Cave.

We love you more than William Penn, Ben Franklin, or Betsy Ross,
more than the Constitution,
more than the Liberty Bell and its ridiculous crack.

We love you more than Cape May in August,
more than the Mummer’s on New Year’s Day.

We love you more than Rocky,
more than counting the steps at the art museum,
more than jogging along West River Drive.

We love you from the Schuylkill to the Delaware,
from the Blue Route to the Boulevard.
We love you more than South Street,
more than parking in the middle of Broad on a Sunday afternoon.

We love you so much
we shovel snow for you,
30 hours in a blizzard with no gloves
for you.
This is how we are dangerous:
after all these years, we don’t see ourselves
turning purple in the mirror,
our fingers, black and green,
the colors of your uniform.

Poems on the range ...

Reader Willis Wayde asks if Robert W. Service would be considered a cowboy poet. I think so. He was certainly mentioned enough by people I talked with at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. In 1917, by the way, Service's Rhymes of a Red Cross Man was the No. 1 general nonfiction best-seller. Of course, the cognoscenti look down on him, in large measure, I suspect, because he was popular -- and still is, in some circles.
And reader Meridith Gresher wonders if I have any pictures of the event. A few, and when I figure out how to post them here, I will.

Cowboy add

One of the nice things about having a blog, at least if you have a job like mine, is that you can supplement what you write in the paper with material you had to leave out because of space constraints.
One of the many pleasures I had attending the 21st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., was getting a chance to talk -- through an interpreter -- with members of of Grupo Cimarron, the Colombian ensemble that specializes in musica llanera. One thing that stays in my memory is something Carlos Rojas Hernandez, the founder and leader of the group, told me. Seems he and male vocalist Luis Moreno were born in adjacent districts in the plains area of eastern Colombia (known as los llanos). But the whole region has been torn by violance, which is why many residents have left the area for Bogota. At any rate, Hernandez explained that the adjacent districts he and Moreno grew up in are controlled by different armed groups. So if he tried to visit Moreno in Moreno's home district he would risk being kidnapped or even killed, he said. Small wonder they prefer making music here.
The members I met -- vocalist Ana Veydo, maracas player Oscar Fandino, and Hernandez -- seemed like really nice people.
I hope they win a Grammy.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Trouble for Harry?

The Times of London reports that a 13-year-old's novel about a girl sucked into a high-stakes virtual reality game is turning into a publishing phenomenon.,,2-1471249,00.html