Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for July, 2010

July 30th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Pencil sculptures by Dalton Ghetti

The alphabet, all carved from pencil tips

from The Telegraph, (via Sherwin Tjia)

July 28th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954)

I’m currently doing research on North American literary landmarks [for a project I will talk about shortly] and was struck by how beautiful this woman is/was.

July 27th, 2010 • Posted in Wicked Quotes

“Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.”

"It’s often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances — no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you."

Jeffrey Rosen, NYT magazine.


July 27th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Testosterone and Literary Criticism

Here’s how a lot of male literary criticism works: When you denigrate my work, you question my intelligence, my ability to write, to think, to argue. You assume that you are my superior. In fact, when you criticize me in public, in print, even if your line of reasoning holds together, you insult me. And because you do this, I don’t like you. In fact, I’m going to do everything I can to ridicule your reasoning, to make you look stupid. To prove that I’m smarter than you are. Fuck you for insulting my work.

This is why Hershel Parker attacks James Wood.

Testosterone, despite its concomitant invective and ad hominems, pushes those in its clutches to argue, fight, as well as they possibly can. And this, when luciferous, is often a good thing.

Edmond Caldwell’s site is not enlightening. Puzzling more like it. Filled with half truths. I still haven’t figured out quite why he has such a hate on for Wood. Surely, something more primal  – or personal – than mere philosophical difference or antipathy toward authoritative pronouncement is at play here.

July 26th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Curator Leslie Morris on New Directions publishing house


Leslie Morris is Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, Harvard University in Cambridge MA and an expert on the New Directions publishing house. I met with her recently to talk about publisher James ‘Jay" Laughlin

"New Directions was founded in 1936, when James Laughlin (1914 – 1997), then a twenty-two-year-old Harvard sophomore, issued the first of the New Directions anthologies. "I asked Ezra Pound for ‘career advice,’" James Laughlin recalled. "He had been seeing my poems for months and had ruled them hopeless. He urged me to finish Harvard and then do ‘something’ useful."

and the history of his venerable firm. Subjects covered include Ezra Pound, dust jacket designer Alvin Lustig, experimental poetry, works in translation…all of which are informed by an underlying desire to get at those books within this publisher’s output that might most appeal to book collectors and book lovers generally.

Please listen here:

Subscribe to the Biblio File Podcast here

Copyright © 2010 by Nigel Beale.

This interview is part of our  Book Publisher Series which focuses on the histories of important British, American and Canadian publishing houses, and how to go about collecting their works.

July 26th, 2010 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Volleys about David Foster Wallace

In his recent piece on David Foster Wallace in the New York Review of Books, Wyatt Mason sets up Ford Madox Ford’s:

I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it…. When one discusses an affair—a long, sad affair—one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.

…spikes it with Theodore Dreiser’s "

"…this falls into the category of ‘good explanations of a bad method.’

[Doesn't Ford know...]

…that a story, once begun…should go forward in a more or less direct line, or at least that it should retain one’s uninterrupted interest. This is not the case in this book. The interlacings, the cross references, the re-re-references to all sorts of things which subsequently are told somewhere in full, irritate one to the point of one’s laying down the book."

…then saves and digs this out with David Foster Wallace’s

Serious Novels after Joyce tend to be valued and studied mainly for their formal ingenuity. Such is the modernist legacy that we now presume as a matter of course that “serious” literature will be aesthetically distanced from real lived life.

Pointing to Ippolit’s “Necessary Explanation” in The Idiot, Wallace asks:

Can you imagine, continues Mason, any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this (not, mind you, just as hypocritical bombast so that some ironic hero can stick a pin in it, but as part of a ten-page monologue by somebody trying to decide whether to commit suicide)? The reason you can’t is the reason he wouldn’t: such a novelist would be, by our lights, pretentious and overwrought and silly. The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse—one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile…. People would either laugh or be embarrassed for us. Given this…who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn’t (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that?

And returns it with:

More than any writer in his generation, Wallace dedicated his fiction to the asking of that question and to answering it at the aesthetic distance that modernism had imposed. That dedication may be seen in the boldness of Wallace’s answers, the dozens of daring formal solutions that sought new and—for those with the patience to take them on their terms; those for whom being “aesthetically distanced” by form wasn’t inevitably a “bad method”—revelatory ways of reframing the question with which fiction is always preoccupied: how to be in the world.

In both of Wallace’s late story collections, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Oblivion, one sees their author develop, deploy, and discard one new form after another, each of them, to my mind, as ingenious as it is human, each achieving the kind of seriousness that Wallace was reaching for and that fiction occasionally attains…

All Wallace’s formal ingenuity would have been for naught if he hadn’t been intent on using these forms to probe at the most injured parts of being. If his work does impose an aesthetic distance, it never sought to do less than bring particular persons as close as possible."

Two questions of interest here which require pondering. The fact that Marcus assigns so much importance to authorial intent. and: Does Wallace succeed in producing passionately moral, ingenious human fiction?

Why is it that Ippolit’s speech, if written today, would not be taken seriously?  Is Dostoevsky given a free pass to our connecting and being affected by his work – simply because he wrote prior to the appearance of this age’s ‘aesthetically distanced’ reader? Has an un-returnable genie escaped the bottle? Are we somehow now less capable or willing to suspend disbelief?  The struggle of current writers to ‘connect’ in face of today’s cynical knowingness is a worthy, historied one. The question, remains: how is it that today’s readers, new to The Idiot, can, nonetheless, get so much from it. Is there a double standard at play?

July 26th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Printed Books: $9.5 Billion, e-books: $81 million tells us that over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books sold,  it has sold 143 e books. James Patterson has apparently sold 1.14 million ebooks to date,  867,881 of which were Kindle books from its ebookstore. Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts have each, according to Amazon, sold more than 500,000 Kindle books. Amazon’s Kindle bookstore now offers more than 630,000 books, Amazon says, plus 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright titles.

All I can say is hooray for all the trees saved, and for all the time future book collectors wont have to waste sifting through so much shit on the shelves. But wait. Before we celebrate. This perspective from Wired magazine:

"The overall e-book market is still a 90-pound weakling next to the Asiatic elephant of print publishing. According to a report from Publisher’s Weekly last year, hardback sales were projected to be about $4.4 billion in 2009 (including both adult and children’s titles), while paperbacks were expected to generate $5.1 billion in revenue, audiobooks $218 million, and e-books just $81 million — less than 1 percent of the print equivalents. That’s not even counting textbooks, Bibles and professional books — with those included, Publisher’s Weekly estimated the overall book market at $35 billion in 2009.

July 25th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Queen Anne laces roadways

What’s with all the Daucus carota (common names include wild carrot, (UK) bird’s nest, bishop’s lace, and (US) Queen Anne’s

lace) trimming our roadways this year? Daucus carota, says Wiki, is a variable biennial plant, usually growing up to 1 m tall and flowering from June to August. The umbels are claret-coloured or pale pink before they open, then bright




and rounded


when in full flower, measuring 3–7 cm wide with a festoon of bracts beneath; finally, as they turn to seed, they contract and become concave like a bird’s nest. The dried umbels detach from the plant, becoming tumbleweeds.[1]

Very similar in appearance to the deadly Poison Hemlock, Daucus carota is distinguished by a mix of bi-pinnate and tri-pinnate leaves, fine hairs on its stems and leaves, a root that smells like carrots, and occasionally a single dark red flower in its center

July 25th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Human shitstain needs to be wiped

…is the uneuphemistic moniker that George hangs on Steve Gibson, pictured here, [who] is trying to make a business out of suing bloggers who re-post articles from newspapers.

" I say shitstain because regardless of the legalities, morals, and ethics, anyone who makes their living broadcast-suing people in hopes of scaring them in to settlements is a carrion-eating piece of human garbage.

Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. Since Righthaven’s formation in March, the company has filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his first client."



July 24th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Difference between magic and mediocrity

From here.

A.O. Scott on the matter:


Is there a meaningful distinction to be drawn between exercising the imagination and just making up a bunch of stuff? When it comes to children at play, probably not: the pleasure of inventiveness matters more than the quality of the particular inventions. But children’s entertainment, made by grown-ups at great expense in anticipation of even greater profit, is another matter. The difference between inspired creation and frantic pretending is the difference between magic and mediocrity, between art and junk, or to cite a conveniently available example, between “Toy Story 3” and “Despicable Me"

The implication here is that inspired creation and ‘art’, are not, at least in the case of Toy Story 3, incompatible with making a profit ( see my take on this: Is Advertising Art? here). I suppose the moral of this story is that even if the first motivation is to make money, if artists are employed and directed to just ‘invent, play, and have fun,’ then the result is closer to real ‘art.’ than if they weren’t given free reign.

In fact, this motivation question lingered over me as I toured Pop Life,  currently on display at the National Gallery of Canada. Did Warhol,  his progeny – and their factories – do what they did simply to poke fun at how foolish collectors are? How mercenary, philistine our culture is? How wrapped up in seeking status, and blind to the presence or absence of true genius or talent? If so, the ‘movement’ makes a valid, invitingly ironic statement. If however the real motive, the real intent, was simply to self-aggrandize and make money, then the whole thing is a sham. Of course the truth lies in between. Somewhere, I’d say, a lot closer to the latter than the former.

Not to say Koons, Murakami, Hirst et al aren’t geniuses of a kind. They’re brilliant marketers, self-promoters, entrepreneurs. Unmatched in the art of exploiting the stupidity and greed of the moneyed classes.Or as Andy Warhol once put it "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

Oh, and the original title of ‘Pop Life‘?  ‘Sold Out‘, but one of the featured artists insisted it be changed.