Books in General

A New ‘Wrinkle in Time’

17 April 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Madeleine L’Engle, the author of “A Wrinkle in Time,” resisted labels. Her books weren’t for children, she said. They were for people. Devoted to religious study, she bristled when called a Christian writer. And though some of her books had political themes, she wasn’t known to write overtly about politics. That is, until her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, came across an unknown three-page passage that was cut before publication.

The passage, which Ms. Voiklis shared with The Wall Street Journal so it could be published for the first time, sheds new light on one of the most beloved and best-selling young-adult books in American literature. Published in 1962, “A Wrinkle in Time” has sold 14 million copies and inspired a TV-movie adaptation, a graphic novel, and an opera. Meg Murry, the novel’s strong-willed misfit heroine, has been a role model for generations of children, especially girls.

. . . .

A witches’ brew of science fiction and fantasy, Christian theology and a hint of politics, “A Wrinkle in Time” has long been considered influenced by the Cold War. It explores the dangers of conformity, and presents evil as a world whose inhabitants’ thoughts and actions are controlled by a sinister, disembodied brain.

Many readers, then and now, have understood the book’s dark planet Camazotz—a regimented place in which mothers in unison call their children in for dinner—to represent the Soviet Union. But the passage discovered by L’Engle’s granddaughter presents a more nuanced worldview.

In it, Meg has just made a narrow escape from Camazotz. As Meg’s father massages her limbs, which are frozen from a jarring trip through space and time, she asks: “But Father, how did the Black Thing—how did it capture Camazotz?” Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.

He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. “Security is a most seductive thing,” he tells his daughter. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the greatest evil there is.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Seven Ages of Man

17 April 2015

Envisioning a Colorado Haven for Readers, Nestled Amid Mountains of Books

16 April 2015

From The New York Times:

The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.

It is the sort of endeavor undertaken by a deep-pocketed politician or chief executive, perhaps a Bloomberg or a Buffett. But the project, called theRocky Mountain Land Library, has instead two booksellers as its founders.

For more than 20 years, Jeff Lee, 60, and Ann Martin, 53, have worked at a Denver bookshop, the Tattered Cover, squirreling away their paychecks in the pursuit of a single dream: a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.

“It’s everything, really,” Ms. Martin said of the role the project has played in her life, and that of her husband, Mr. Lee. “It’s not really about us. It’s something for Colorado, for this region.”

They have poured an estimated $250,000 into their collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples. There are tales by Norman Maclean; wildlife sketches by William D. Berry; and books on beekeeping, dragonflies, cowboys and the Navajo. The couple said that groupings of books would be placed around the ranch, organized by theme: mining, railroads, fur trade, Native American tribes, natural history, astronomy.

. . . .

The Buffalo Peaks site is dotted by six sturdy buildings and nestled amid spectacular peaks. The couple envisions a visitors’ center in the main house, a library in the hayloft, watercolorists on the porch, Boy Scouts by the bristlecone pines, culinary students in the kitchen and policy makers in the yard, hashing out deals over water rights.

In the evenings, they said, visitors will share dinners in a mess hall, and tents will light up like lanterns, their inhabitants craned over stacks of borrowed books. Some visitors will sleep in small rooms outfitted with bunk beds in a building that was previously a bunkhouse for ranch hands.

“We’re just anxious for it to happen,” Mr. Lee said. “We have a strong feeling of all the potential that’s bottled up.”

. . . .

[T]he store sent Mr. Lee to the London Book Fair. Ms. Martin went along, and they spent a few days at St. Deiniol’s, a castlelikeresidential library in the Welsh countryside founded in 1889 by a former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He was a lifelong book lover who centered his collection on Victorian history and theology.

St. Deiniol’s, which has since changed its name to Gladstone’s Library and expanded to 250,000 books, would soon become the model for their own project.

During their trip, the pair slept among the tomes, dined with academics and travelers, and took a train along the north Wales coast. After, they marveled not only at the books but at the community the library had inspired and the way it served as a base for exploring nature around it.

The couple returned to Colorado and resolved to create their own earthier, Western-style residential library, with rustic lodging, easy mountain access and a selection focused on the land, conservation and regional history.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Jones warns on ‘internecine’ book wars

16 April 2015

From The Bookseller:

The shift to social reading is “liable to consign the traditional publisher and many a writer to decline and defeat in the Civil War for Books”, Philip Gwyn Jones is to say today (16th April), with the reader becoming the prize.

In a speech at the London Book Fair this afternoon, Gwyn Jones will say that the book itself “will become less commercially valuable than the details around its sales transaction – when it was done, where it was done, amongst what other activities, alongside what other purchases”.

The “Where is the Money Going?: The Civil War for Books” seminar at 1pm will look at where the money is literature is going and whether anyone is “raking it in”.

. . . .

Over the last few years, the book industry has been “stuck in our very own World War One re-enactment, in trench warfare over where the money lines are drawn”, Gwyn Jones will say.

“The skirmishes in the global book industry are internecine and unrelenting: the independent authors bombard the traditional publishers; the traditional authors bombard the literary festival directors; the traditional publishers bombard the retailers; academics denounce those who would defend copyright as traitors to the public good; and the retailers take the publishers to courts martial” says Gwyn Jones. “With the new armaments of disruption and disintermediation whirring nicely, the ‘creative destruction’ of techno-capitalism is at full tilt in the business of writing. But who will taste defeat first? Will it be the publishers? Or the booksellers? Agents? Or, dread thought, might it be the writers? Mounted on my high horse, surveying the scene, I fear it is another regiment on this clamorous battlefield which is most in peril. The Readers.”

Gwyn Jones will say that the traditional copyright payment structure “will come under ever greater pressure” as the “cost of copying approaches absolute zero in the digital space, and the belief hardens that ‘sharing’ writing on the Internet by hyperlinking is not the theft it would be deemed to be were it to take place in print”.

. . . .

“Which is why the income to be had from live events might become crucial to writers,” Gwyn Jones will say. “Readers increasingly want intimacy: access to writers, online and in person. They seek proximity, to share an experience with writers, conversation, observation, questioning, at literary festivals and at the new salons like Damian Barr’s, Pin Drop, Local Transport, Intelligence Squared et al, and beyond that in other initiatives where writers sell their unique wisdom in person.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bibliogony

15 April 2015

From A.Word.A.Day:

bibliogony

. . . .

noun: The art of producing or publishing books. Also known as bibliogenesis.

. . . .

“The author also appreciates the liberal expenditures of the company for the publication of the volume in an excellent style of bibliogony.”
Miland Austin Knapp; Teeth Regulation; 1900

Link to the rest at A.Word.A.Day

Why Your Child Needs a Domain Name

14 April 2015

Nothing to do with books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When a child is born, family and friends often wonder what gift to give the infant. Over the years, my children have been showered with baby blankets, rattles, piggybanks and designer outfits. I’ve even bought these gifts myself. Unfortunately, within six to12 months most of these gifts are unusable, and wind up in a box you’ll rummage through 15 years from now.

What do I think is the single best baby gift that you could ever give a newborn: a domain name.

We don’t know what the future will hold for our children. They may end up being famous and in the movies. They could end up being the next successful billionaire like Mark Cuban. They could wind up being an artist or a web designer or a photographer.

What we do know is that the buying and selling of domain names has become a huge business.  We also know that social media is here to stay. Having the ability to create your own personal page at your domain name could give your child a huge edge down the road.  In fact, if her or she becomes the next Taylor Swift,  their own domain name could be worth millions.

Many parents put a lot of effort into selecting the name of their child. Why not be smart about it and pick up the domain name, the Twitter handle, and even an Instagram handle after you come to a concrete decision on the name?

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG suggests that by the time a child born in 2015 reaches the age when he/she might want an online presence, domain names will be about as useful as Walkmans.

The Great Gatsby Turns 90: Five Things You Might Not Know About the Classic Novel

11 April 2015

From Flavorwire:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a staple of high school English classes and “best books” lists, from 20th Century books to American novels to the greatest novels ever written. Therefore although some Gatsby fans have merely ogled Leonardo DiCaprio or Robert Redford in the titular role (in one of the unspectacular film adaptations of a hard-to-adapt novel) most of us have actually read the book. To us, it may feel like Tom and Daisy Fay Buchanan, Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby have always been around. But did you know Gatsby languished in obscurity for years? The American classic, which celebrates 90 years of publication today, has a backstory as convoluted and fascinating as the enigmatic, self-made Gastby’s himself.

. . . .

2. World War II helped bring Gatsby back, after Fitzgerald died thinking it was a failure, even being unable to find it in bookstores. The Council on Books in Wartime program that printed American Service Editions of novels for World War II was pivotal in cementing Gatsby’s reputation as a classic:

Gatsby entered the war effort after Germany and Japan surrendered, but the timing was fortuitous: While waiting to go home, troops were more bored than ever. (Two years after the war ended, there were still 1.5 million people stationed overseas.) With that kind of audience,Gatsby reached readers beyond Fitzgerald’s dreams. In fact, because soldiers passed the books around, each ASE copy was read about seven times. More than one million soldiers read Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel….

For Fitzgerald, it was a great reawakening. The author’s death in 1940 had rejuvenated academic interest in his work, and many of his literary friends were already trying to revive his name. But the military program sparked interest among a wider, more general readership. By 1961, The Great Gatsby was being printed expressly for high school classrooms. Today, nearly half a million copies sell each year.

3. Why was Gatsby out of vogue to begin with? Because it was a huge flop, and many critics mauled it when it first appeared. Not only did the book fail to print the copies Fitzgerald expected, but it took a general critical drubbing.

The New York Evening World called the book “a valiant effort to be ironical,” but “his style is painfully forced.” The daytime version of the paper ran a headline that called Gatsby “a dud.” 

Isabel Paterson wrote, “What has never been alive cannot very well go on living; so this is a book for the season only.” In the Chicago Tribune, H.L. Mencken pronounced it “no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…. Certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise.”

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

The Tao of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James

11 April 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

I discovered P.D. James and Ruth Rendell while working at Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood in the early 1970s. Their work came to me effortlessly, without recommendations from colleagues or friends; they seemed to seek me out. I was about 20 years old then. Dusting the mystery section at Pickwick, I was simply drawn to the authors’ faces on the dust jackets, their fierce Englishness, and the creepy cleverness of their titles. I became their instant devotee.

Discovering novelists when we are young and then spending the rest of our lives reading their books can influence how we think about ourselves, and others. The character studies in James’s and Rendell’s books are so insightful that, over the decades, they became mirrors for my own developing personality—sans the violence and paranoia festering in the criminal mind. The most abiding fiction ignites self-awareness; I owe a great deal to James and Rendell for my self-awareness.

James’s elegant Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh inspired me, as I grew older, to attempt subtlety and restraint in my human interactions. Dalgliesh never loses his temper, is unfailingly polite, and is comfortable with his erudition. His behavior in the world is impeccable, his intelligence never used to intimidate. Have I achieved these characteristics? Hardly. Yet I still view Dalgliesh as a role model for a civilized life. He is a complicated man as well, one who struggles with relationships and holds the world at bay more often than not. Over the decades, though, as I cultivated my inner life, James transformed Dalgliesh into a softer, more empathetic version of himself. James made me aware that perhaps I, too, was making that shift.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.

9 April 2015

From The New York Times:

It was peak reading season, and Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was gamely juggling a call from a reporter, interruptions from her 7-year-old as well as a 10 percent surge in applications to the University of Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. Ms. Chang was in the thick of decisions about who would fill 50 spots evenly divided between the fall fiction and poetry workshops.

“I’m deluged,” she said, surprised by the number of applications she was sorting through — 1,380 — especially in a year with a stronger economy, a condition that typically causes graduate school applications, never mind those to fine arts programs, to drop. “I have a tub of manuscripts,” she said. “It’s weird!”

. . . .

“Explosive” is the word routinely used to describe the growth of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. Iowa was the first, established in 1936. By 1994, there were 64. By last year, that number had more than tripled, to 229 (and another 152 M.A. programs in creative writing), according to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Between 3,000 and 4,000 students a year graduate with the degree; this year, about 20,000 applications were sent out.

A graduate writing degree, unsurprisingly, turns out a lot of opinionated writing. Sample manifestoes from blogs and chat rooms: “Why you should hate the creative writing establishment (…as if you needed any more reasons)” and “14 Reasons (Not) to Get an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (and Two Reasons It Might Actually Be Worth It).” In scholarly circles, the boom and its implications have been a subject of heated debate since at least 2009, with the publication of Mark McGurl’s “The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing.” In it, Dr. McGurl, a Stanford English professor, describes the M.F.A. as the single biggest influence on American literature since World War II, noting that most serious writers since then have come out of graduate-school incubators.

. . . .

 With so many highly tutored creative writers already out there, is success possible without the instruction and literary connections that are cultivated in M.F.A. programs and that a volatile publishing industry — now evolved around program graduates and sensibilities — has come to look for and expect?

To M.F.A. or not to M.F.A.?

“It is a deadly question,” says the literary critic Anis Shivani, author of the 2011 book “Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies.” “Everyone who wants to be a writer in this country has to confront it, even if you rebel against the M.F.A.,” he says. “If you do the degree, opportunities open up.” Without it, he warns, you may be able to publish in small presses but are more likely to be “condemned to obscurity,” particularly if you write literary fiction and poetry. And your writing will change, he says, and not necessarily for the better.

. . . .

M.F.A. students today, Ms. McGarry says, are less developed writers; faculty “are doing more of the work of writing” for them. She sees that as a reflection of undergraduate education that emphasizes specialization and pre-professionalism, with little room for the arts, reading or writing. Students have come to expect education to be prescriptive, she says. In 2006, Hopkins changed the program to an M.F.A., adding a year because students needed more time to develop.

“Our understanding of what it takes to be an artist is geared to an era’s myths,” Ms. McGarry says. What the rise of the M.F.A. tells us about our era’s myths, she says, is that “the arts are more inculcated than they were before. It’s no longer the genius coming out of the ground fully fledged.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Michael for the tip.

The Rise of the Nameless Narrator

8 April 2015

From The New Yorker:

In popular conceptions of dystopia, names are often among the first things to disappear. The totalitarian futures of Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” envision a citizenry known by numbers, like prisoners. Names vanish along with sight in José Saramago’s “Blindness.” They evidently have no function in the blasted post-apocalypse of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

These are extreme cases, perhaps—barring Armageddons, you might expect people to know what they are called. But, in recent years, a curious number of novelists have declined to avail themselves of that basic prerogative: naming their creations. The first few months of 2015 alone have brought us the following books with nameless protagonists: Tom McCarthy’s “Satin Island,” Ben Metcalf’s “Against the Country,” Greg Baxter’s “Munich Airport,” Daniel Galera’s “Blood-Drenched Beard,” Deepti Kapoor’s “A Bad Character,” Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout,” Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents.” Surely others have escaped my notice. It’s an epidemic of namelessness.

. . . .

When modern writers wish to set their tales outside of time, they often employ this technique. The characters in Franz Kafka’s subversive fables “In the Penal Colony” and “A Hunger Artist” are named for their roles or vocations; Philippe Claudel’s more recent “The Investigation” (2012) centers, naturally, on the Investigator. Realist novels occasionally do this to evoke a sense of folklore, giving us the Whiskey Priest of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” and the Consul of Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano.” Sometimes, the unnamed figure is a pure narrator, so to speak: a character with no part in the book except as an intermediary between tale and reader. We don’t have anything to call the person who tells us Marlow’s story in “Heart of Darkness,” because we have no reason to refer to him. He is simply the Storyteller.

. . . .

Namelessness has become an increasingly familiar trait in the fiction of exile, in which immigrants acquire new titles to suit new lives—the African main character of Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names” (2014) takes an assumed identity when he comes to America, and we never learn his birth name—or simply lose their names in transit, like misplaced luggage. The American lawyer suffering from fear and loathing in Dubai in Joseph O’Neill’s “The Dog” (2014) calls himself X. The detached, disillusioned expat narrators of Greg Baxter’s “The Apartment” (2013) and “Munich Airport” seem to go by nothing at all. The nature of these characters’ universality has changed, Everyman becoming a collective No One.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Robert for the tip.

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