Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Only the best day of work ever.

Bookmans Book Dominoes (via Boing Boing)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

“No one’s ever on your side, Betty.”

Months back, I posted a Mad Men Reading List. It was put down super quick and ended with a passing rebuttal to the hatred for Betty Draper I encountered in the comments of various recaps. In a show peopled with flawed individuals, there was always a ton of venom reserved specifically for her.

I only ever assumed that other people must prefer sympathy to accuracy in their television fiction. Anyway, this is a perfect analysis, one that does that hard work of nailing down why she represents some of the bravest writing on television.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot

Sad news today -- Benoît Mandelbrot passed away on Thursday of pancreatic cancer. Everybody knows Mandelbrot for the stunning images of the fractal set that bears his name (see above). Mandelbrot's pioneering work in fractal geometry helped apply mathematical rules to a real world that is, inconveniently, not constructed of straight lines, circles, and cubes; however, he is best remembered for the warmth and passion he brought to his writing and teaching.

To many, his work -- which demonstrated that even the most complex phenomena in nature could be described by simple mathematical laws -- "brought order from chaos."

So if you don't know anything about the man or his contributions, take some time out of your day and read up. Or just check out the beauty of his work:

"The nature of fractals is meant to be gradually discovered by the reader, not revealed in a flash by the author.

And the art can be enjoyed for itself."

-Benoît Mandelbrot (November 20th, 1924 - October 14th, 2010)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Victor, Naked

"Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing."

What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? A review of The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination (Oxford University Press) in the New Yorker may point you in one or many directions. Really, I can only wonder if Hugo applied a similar process to his drawing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Photoshop of the day

Man I am a sucker for things shopped to look like classic paperback covers. I really am. Today? Classic* comic book series. The design for a lot of these is actually really strong; a particular favorite of mine is the one for Power Pack, above, a series which was a favorite of mine when I was ten, and still makes me kinda love Weezie Simonson.

>Classic comic book series as old paperback covers.

(*I use "classic" advisedly because they also shop the likes of Spawn and Savage Dragon.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What does your country sound like?

Oh, this is amazing. The British Library is creating a nationwide sound map. Everybody and anybody can upload tagged recordings, which are then added to an interactive map. Soundscapes captured so far include an office in New Southgate, a dishwasher in Sunbury-on-thames, a crow's nest in Cornwall.

(Via Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thank you British Library!

Holy koine! The British Library has just digitized and made publicly available almost 300 ancient Greek manuscripts in their collection! For ancient-language and old-book lovers like us, this is seriously ترنجبين from heaven. If you ever wanted to check out the pages of the Theodore Psalter up close and personal, now's your chance.

There is unfortunately no way to browse their new additions, so you kind of have to know what you're looking for among all the rest of their (admittedly amazing) digitized manuscript collection. But whatever. This is amazing any way you slice it.

*The British Library, Manuscripts Collection

[Image of page from the Theodore Psalter from Wikimedia Commons, generously licensed under Creative Commons.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hopefully he'll realize this "television producer" thing isn't working out

The recipients of this year's MacArthur "genius" grants were announced. As usual, it's a panoply of a bunch of awesomecrazy people, a high school physics teacher, a language preservationist, a quantum astrophysicist, a geneticist who looks like he got a really bad sunburn while wearing a pair of sunglasses, &c. Nestled among a phalanx of awesome obscuros, lo and behold, is writer/producer David Simon! Putting aside the fact that giving a half-million dollar "stipend" to the cable television producer responsible for super-hit The Wire (among other things), who's already richer than everyone you know put together, is probably a little beside the point for the guy, I couldn't be happier.

I've long thought Simon was the cat's pyjamas, long before everyone started jumping on his Wire bandwagon. The man, who started out as a journalist, wrote only two books: Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. But trust me, they are both doozies. To call them "probably the best nonfiction written in my lifetime" is really not even a little bit hyperbole. They are incredible, moving, unsentimental, novelistic, Big Important books. He's a little like what if Richard Price novels were nonfiction, or Ryszard Kapuściński didn't make so much stuff up and wasn't such a drama queen. They are the best social novels you will ever read, and they are real.

Seriously. These books. Find them. Read them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

R.I.P. O Awful One

Last week, September 29, was the anniversary of the death of Scottish poet William McGonagall, the worst poet ever. No, really, ever. Such was his terrific awfulness that his is frequently described as being "the worst poetry ever written, in any language, at any time." Already well into middle age when he felt himself seized by a spirit commanding him to "write, write, write", McG spent the next twenty-five years crafting verse so mind-bendingly atrocious that a pelting with rotten fruit at a public reading was about the best reception he could expect. The list of satires of the man on his Wikipedia page is quite lengthy.

I, however, do not go in for this ridicule, even though some of it (particularly that which was perpetrated by the great Spike Milligan) is frequently hilarious. Yes, he wrote terrible, terrible poetry. Really horrendous poetry. Just, ungodly stuff. But this is a writer who kept his pen going, day in day out, who, once the muse was upon him, devoted a solid twenty-five years of his life to literature, even though the only reward he ever received for his trouble was ridicule and contempt. Therein lies a kernel of greatness, akin to that great Orson Welles of awful, Ed Wood. The refusal to surrender to discouragement is perhaps the sina qua non of greatness, and the discouragement arrayed around McGonagall was truly massive. And in that respect I feel a great deal of admiration for him. No bad review or audience booing could make him stop writing.

Even though he was too weak and sickly in the end to peddle them any longer on handbills in the streets, McGonagall wrote up poems until the very end; he died a pauper who was buried in an unmarked grave.

(via Today in Literature)

And the winner is ...

Not Haruki Murakami! Whew.

No, seriously guys, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Congrats Mr. Llosa!

[Image from Wikimedia Commons, generously licensed under Creative Commons.]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two things I really dig

One, is memes in graphic design in book covers. Two, is ridiculously specific blogs. One such blog, about such book covers, is WomenRunningAwayFromHouses. Take a moment out of your day to check it out. It will be time well spent.

[Via the Occasional Superheroine]

Myla Goldberg: Signing & Discussion

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Brooklyn College Library
Room 411 (Multipurpose Room)
6:00pm to 7:30pm

Join us at a reading with the excellent Myla Goldberg this coming Wednesday!

Her bestselling first novel, Bee Season, was a New York Times Notable Book for 2000, winner of the Borders New Voices Prize, and a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award, the NYPL Young Lions award, and the Barnes & Noble Discover award. It has been adapted to film and widely translated. Her second novel Wickett’s Remedy grew out of her fascination with the 1918 influenza epidemic. Her third novel, The False Friend, concerns a woman trying to untangle a 20-year-old memory and explores the complexities of moral judgment, the fallibility of memory, and the adults that children become.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crossing my fingers for Cormac McCarthy. Or at least not Haruki Murakami. Come on not Haruki Murakami.

UK bookmakers Ladbrokes (is that pun intentional?) has the odds listed for the various people believed to be shortlisted for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, which will be awarded this week. Today? Tomorrow? I forget. The odds-on favorite right now is Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o, which doesn't really mean that much I guess, since last year the winner turned out to be longshot Herta Muller, a laureate that had the whole world resoundingly cheering, "Herta who?" So you never know. Barring Cormac McCarthy I'd really like to see crazy longshot John Banville win.

Also, wait, there's a modern poet whose name is just "Adonis"?

Bookmaking aggregator (or gambling addiction enabler) BettingPro also has some analysis. Check it out, place your bets.

*Ladbrokes, 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature
Finished reading: Nat Turner, by Kyle Baker. Harrowing stuff. No word balloons, just excerpts from the Confessions. Comparisons to Will Eisner are no joke.

R.I.P. Antoninus, Sidney Falco, et al

Apropos of yesterday's post about out of print favorites, I read that the late, great Tony Curtis was buried today with a number of prized possessions, among them his copy of the novel Anthony Adverse, by Hervey Allen. What's Anthony Adverse you ask? I have no idea. It turns out it's been out of print for a really, really long time. It's also the novel from which Bronx-born Bernard Schwartz got his stage name of Tony Curtis, and it was made into a 1936 film with Fredric March and Olivia da Havilland. Now I am super curious. I have to get my hands on a copy now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sic transit gloria mundi

I just heard that Berlin Alexanderplatz is out of print! Sheesh. It's always sad when great lit vanishes from bookstore shelves like that. I mean, I know these things are cyclical, and it's only a matter of time before some other publisher realizes no one's putting out an edition, and they lovingly design a handsome new edition of this "lost classic". But still. It's always a bummer.

Of the writers I really adore, there are at least two I can think of off the top of my head that have been almost entirely unavailable for a decade (at least): American pulpster Fredric Brown and Austrian metaphysical mathematician Leo Perutz. I've had a copy of Perutz's The Swedish Cavalier I've been meaning to give away to a friend for years. But I'm petrified that once I give it away I'll never find another copy. It really is a treasure in every sense of the word.

So what are your lost treasures? What is everyone missing out on?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Dungeon Master

American novelist Sam Lipsyte, whose new novel The Ask I've been dying to read but have been paradoxically put off it because of all the people who tell me I'd love it, has a short story in the new New Yorker called "The Dungeon Master":
The Dungeon Master has detention. We wait at his house by the county road. The Dungeon Master’s little brother Marco puts out corn chips and orange soda.
It's a good story, although I must be honest and say the short story form is not my favorite. As far as fiction in the New Yorker goes, however, I was not unpleased by it. Worth checking out. Mostly I was drawn to it because we're all such huge D&D nerds here at the Brooklyn Shakespeare & Co.

Also, wait the LA Times is calling Lipsyte "America's bard of highly educated disgruntlement"? Crap, that's what I wanted to be! Damn you, Lipsyte.

*"The Dungeon Master", by Sam Lipsyte

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Candy Man Can

When I was growing up, the Daily News was the paper of choice in my house, and while I've grown apart from it (it's mostly like the New York Post without the catchy headlines), I still do pick one up from time to time. And I did the other day and I saw: the venerable NYC bookstore The Strand is now a candy store? Yes, THAT Strand.

I, okay what? Well, no, not really. They still sell books, but now they also sell a whole lot of candy too, because it's pretty tough selling books these days. Okay, let me tell you, there are two things upsetting here: 1) The Strand is now selling candy, 2) We didn't start doing it first. After we here in Brooklyn got our shiny new shelves before the start of the semester that were, well, largely empty at the time, I did think to myself "Students, students are coming, we need to fill these shelves with candy." Although given our own proclivities here at Shakespeare & Co., it would probably be more like Clif Bars. A large percentage of our staff subsists on these and nothing else, as far as I can tell.