Friday, July 31, 2009

Give "Art Book" a New Meaning

I think Su Blackwell's paper models are so cool, but I have no idea where you could put one on display... the coffee table, maybe? I'd be worried about some buffoon putting his feet on it or something.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hit the Road, Jack!

Well, folks, I'm hitting the road and going camping/caving for a week with my beloved father figure, so don't expect any truly awe-inspiring posts until well into August. (I've prepped some mildly amusing posts to keep you entertained until I get back, because I know all 10-20 of you (depending on the day) will be heartbroken to hear this.)
Hasta luego!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not-So-Gentle (Re)Viewer: The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)

Directed by Oliver Parker, The Importance of Being Earnest is based on Oscar Wilde's comedy of the same name and is simply delightful, and I'm not just saying that because it stars Colin Firth.

The dialogue light and fun, though that should probably be credited to Wilde more than anyone else involved in the production. (Example: "I don't know whether there is anything particularly exciting about the air in this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number of engagements that go on seem to me to be considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.")

In addition, the casting is excellent, making an incredibly entertaining film. Though there are some modern additions to the plot that include a tattoo parlor, they make sense with what is going on in the rest of the film.

I would highly recommend this film.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Science and Art: The (Lost) Art of Philosophy in Science

According to a commenter on the A.V. Club Book Blog: "philosophers just sit on the sidelines and make stupid comments: poets may be influenced by scientists but the converse is never true."

The fact that I think this is probably true (today) is incredibly depressing. The decisions/discoveries of scientists today depend less on ethics and more on economics, politics, and ego. While this is true of most fields, it is most disturbing when found in a field that has already provided the world with the H-bomb and will dictate whether pharmaceutical companies ever develop cures for major diseases rather than more lucrative treatment plans.

On a brighter note, I know of at least one genetics class at UCLA that has Brave New World as required reading. That's a step in the right direction, right?

Speaking of Science and the Arts...

According to CNNMoney:

"What happened to well-rounded?

"There are far fewer people graduating with math-based majors, compared to their liberal-arts counterparts, which is why they are paid at such a premium. The fields of engineering and computer science each make up about 4% of all college graduates, while social science and history each comprise 16%, Koc noted.

"As a result, salaries for graduates who studied fields like social work command tiny paychecks, somewhere in the vicinity of $29,000. English, foreign language and communications majors make about $35,000, Koc said.

"'It's a supply and demand issue,' he added. 'So few grads offer math skills, and those who can are rewarded.'"

Notice, however, that the list of "top-paying degrees" does not include general mathematics.

(I don't actually have a point here, other than the fact that the skills must be appicable in a real-world setting to be considered valuable. Also, people who go into "social work" make very little money because they're passionate about their causes and are therefore not good examples of the bottom of the range of pay for those with liberal arts degrees.)

Science and Art: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin

"One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form. The extravagances and crudities of art which thus appear, particularly in the so-called decadent epochs, actually arise from the nucleus of its richest historical energies."

While I first read "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in an incredibly intense History of Literary Theory class at UCLA, it has since stuck with me as being both interesting and relevant despite the fact that seventy years have passed since Benjamin (pronounced "ben-ha-meen") wrote it. His theory is this: scientific progress in the form of new technology has had a profound impact on the history of art.

To my mind, this relationship between art and science is most pronounced if one traces the history of photography and compares the art that was produced pre-photography and art that is produced now. For example, painters were once commissioned to produce portraits, the most lucrative field of art for many generations. Once photography became widely available (and affordable), however, the need for artists to capture what is disappeared. (Do you know anyone who has his portrait painted now, other than the President? Me neither.) Art changed to accomodate this growth in technology, with Benjamin citing the Dadaist movement as an example of this--now artists were charged with exploring ideas in their work rather than capturing reality as they saw it. (Even fairly-early photography was not exempt from this experimentation, as seen below.)

Le Violin de Ingres, Man Ray, 1924.

This shift has become even more pronounced in the digital age. The average digital camera takes such good shots that, combined with the invent of Photoshop, it has caused photography-as-art to move away from capturing "reality" that has been only subtly arranged by the photographer(a la Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans) and moved into blatantly-touched up exhibits and carefully staged productions (such as the photo below).

Untitled photo from Gregory Crewdson's Beneath the Roses (2003-2005)

Anyway, my point is this: science (and art) can't be truly separated into two distinct categories--they are carefully interwoven, with science playing a huge role in the development and creation of art in its many forms.

(Oh, and my other point is that Benjamin's got some pretty interesting things to say about the "modern" world.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Never the Twain Shall Meet

I like to think of myself as fairly well-rounded: though I studied literature in school, I also enjoy playing music, I like astronomy, and find geology to be absolutely fascinating. Very few people, however, upon finding out I like literature will give me any kind of credit for being multi-dimensional. Instead, they will make jokes about the difficulty of math and science, apparently assuming that if I can "read good" I can't do anything else "good."

(For example, I once had someone who was taking a College Algebra class ask me in a patronizing voice if I knew how to solve for x in an fx equation. My answer? "Bitch, I got up to Calculus in high school and tested out of all college math courses. Don't get that tone out with me!" Luckily, we were good enough friends to get over that unfortunate incident with a minimum of fuss.)

My point is this: there is a kind of us v. them mindset in regards to science and the arts--the two subjects are viewed as being almost mutually exclusive, though this has not always been the case. Once upon a time, the sciences and the arts were both viewed as gateways to sublimity, creativity and discovery being closely linked in the minds of Romantic writers. In fact, at one time, "natural science" included both what we would term science (physics, astronomy, botany, etc) and philosophy, and literature was used to express the studies of these subjects.

In my studies, I've discovered that it was at the beginning of the Victorian Period (perhaps the 1820s and 1830s) that what we now term scientists moved away from prose and towards charts and graphs to express their findings, due in part to the fact that the rising middle class now had enough expendable income to pursue the natural sciences as hobbies. (Remember, no one got paid to be scientists in the 19th century.) Because these upper-middle class astronomers/botanists/what-have-you were traditionally businessmen and accountants, they appreciated the uses of tables and charts to track data, and the beginning of the Great Divide arose.

My point, which I'm obviously having problems coming around to, is this: this Great Divide does not have to exist, and in fact there are many pieces of literature (nonfiction, for the most part) which do in fact cross between fields. It is my intent to explore some of the themes of these works here on Not-So-Gentle Reader. (We'll see how this goes.)

Google Analytics is a Girl's Best Friend, Part I

For those of you who don't know, Google Analytics is awesome. It tracks how many visitors a particular site (in this case a literary blog) receives, how those visitors reach that site/literary blog, and the search terms used if the visitors reached that site/literary blog through a search engine.

If anyone's curious, here six of the least popular searches that have led people to my site, following in the illustrious footsteps of Bookgasm's "Search Me" feature last month:

(1) "terry goodkind bdsm"

It's almost depressing how many people have found my site through searches that have one thing or another to do with Terry Goodkind (depressing because I hated Goodkind's book, and therefore people who are doing searches on him probably won't see any value in my review of Wizard's First Rule anyway.)

(2) "asexual jenny"

Yeah, I got nothing on this one, and even my own "asexual jenny" search on google came up with nothing (and did not include Not-So-Gentle Reader, so I don't know how they found me).

(3) "flashstorm, eharlequin"

I have no idea what this person was looking for (reviews? free copies? It was an e-book in Harlequin, for God's sake, so I don't know why you'd want to go much further than that), but I do know that they probably didn't appreciate my take on that dramatic masterpiece, Flashstorm. (Oh, and I just realized that the book wasn't called Flashstorm, it was Flashpoint, (my bad) but regardless... it was baaaaad writing.)

(4) "gay titus spotblog"

Yeah, I got nothing on this one, either. I did a search on google but I was afraid to actually open any of the websites I found (none of which were Not-So-Gentle Reader) because they all included either XXX or (888)***-**** and seemed like the kinds of thing corporate IT would frown upon.

(5) "romantic leading men besides mr darcy"

Oh, I know exactly which post this person found his/her way to, but, again, my own search didn't come up with this site. (Interestingly enough, Bing.com doesn't feature blogs in their searches... that's good to know, I suppose.)

And finally, my personal favorite of the least popular search terms,

(6) "t s eliot in a nutshell"

I'm pretty sure I can give the credit for this one to Homero, for summing up "The Wasteland" for us so eloquently, but for those of you who want to know my take on " t s eliot in a nutshell", here it is: "a pain in the ass." For those of you who prefer one-word descriptions: "apainintheass." (By the way, I'm going to copyright that, so don't quote it without giving me credit... it's the only way I'm going to be able to boost visitors.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hetero- and Homo-Social Relationships in Jack Kerouac's On the Road

So I was going to write a whole post about how the homo-social relationships between the men of On the Road affected their heterosexual relationships with the women, but I really can't force myself to do so. Suffice it to say, all the guy-on-guy emotional relating really gets in the way when it comes to their relationships with women, as shown by the following quotations. If anyone wants to write a paper on the homo-and hetero-social relationships in On the Road, feel free to glean what you can from them, but allow me to say this: men can be pigs. That is all.

"Out on the dawn street Dean said, 'Now you see, man, there's a real woman for you. Never a harsh word, never a complaint, or modified; her old man can come in any hour of the night with anybody and have talks in the kitchen and drink the beer and leave any old time. This is a man, and that's his castle'" (204).

"All along the way Galatea Dunkel, Ed's new wife, kept complaining that she was tired and wanted to sleep in a motel. If this kept up they'd spend all her money long before Virginia. [...] By the time they got to Tucson she was broke. Dean and Ed gave her the slip in a hotel lobby and resumed the voyage alone, with the sailor, and without a qualm" (111).

"a love she knew would never bear fruit because when she looked at his hangjawed bony face with its male self-containment and absentmindedness she knew he was too mad" (163).

"He wrote of Dean as a 'child of the rainbow' who bore his torment in his agonized priapus. He referrred to him as 'Oedipus Eddie' who had to 'scrape bubble gum off windowpanes.' He brooded in his basement over a huge journal in which he was keeping track of everything that happened every day--everything Dean did and said" (47).

"he wanted me to work Marylou. I didn't ask him why because I knew he wanted to see what Marylou was like with another man. [...] Dean told her what we had decided. She said she was pleased. I wasn't so sure myself" (131).

"'The schedule is this: I came off work a half-hour ago. In that time Dean is balling Marylou at the hotel and gives me time to change and dress. At one sharp he rushes from Marylou to Camille--of course neither one of them knows what's going on--and bangs her once, giving me time to arrive at one-thirty. Then he comes out with me--first he has to beg with Camille, who's already started hating me--and we come here to talk till six in themorning. We usually spend more time than that, but it's getting awfully complicated and he's pressed for time. Then at six he goes back to Marylou--and he's going to spend all day tomorrow running around to get the necessary papers for their divorce. Marylou's all for it, but she insists on banging in the interim. She says she loves him--so does Camille'" (42).

"I tied to show this haunted woman that I had no mean intentions concerning her home life by saying hello to her and talking as warmly as i could, but she knew it was a con and maybe one I'd learned from Dean, and only gave a brief smile" (187).

"I suddenly realized that all these women were spending months of loneliness and womanliness together, chatting about the madness of the men" (187).

"There were earlier days in Denver when Dean had everybody wit in the dark with the girls and just talked, and talked, and talked, with a voice that was once hypnotic and strange and was said to make the girls come across by sheer force of persuasion and the content of what he said. [...] Now his disciples were married and the wives of his disciples had him on the carpet for the sexuality and the life he had helped bring into being" (194-5).

"This was exactly what he had been doing with Camille in Frisco on the other side of the continent. The same battered trunk stuck out from under the bed, ready to fly. Inez called up Camille on the phone repeatedly and had long talks with her; they even talked about his joint, or so Dean claimed. They exchanged letters about Dean's eccentricities" (250).

"The woman was a great man's woman and took to Dean right away but she was bashful and he was bashful. She said Dean reminded her of the husband gone" (215).

"They sat on the bed cross-legged and looked straight at each other. I crouched in a nearby chair and saw all of it. They began with an abstract thought, discussed it; reminded each other of another abstract point forgotten in the rush of events; Dean apologized but promised he could get back to it and manage it fine, bring up illustrations" (48).

Defining Definitions: Nonfiction

Welcome to another edition of Defining Definitions! Here I shall attempt to define an apparently ambiguous term...

Nonfiction

According to dictionary.com, the poor man's OED, nonfiction is "the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay."

This means, for those of you who don't know what "facts" or "reality" means, things that are real... the truth... something that can actually be pointed to and exists.

This does not include the Scottish Play, aka MacBeth. MacBeth is what we in the literate world call fiction. It is drama (or poetry, I suppose, if you're reading it and not watching it). It is not a documentary. Seriously, check out wikipedia.org, the poor man's Encyclopedia Britannica, if you don't believe me.

(Incidentally, the reason I bring this up is that the Denver Public Library Central Branch featured an audio version of MacBeth in its Nonfiction Audio CDs display this week, along other great dramatic works such as The Healthy Heart Walking CD and Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. For some reason, Shakespeare's plays are always classified as nonfiction, which I have never understood.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just for Homero...

BIG BROTHER'S WATCHING YOU!









P.S. Amazon sucks.

Killing Time Online: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

I recently stumbled across a website called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books which is hilarious and fun (especially for those who read romance novels, but I'm guessing that some of the features would amuse anyone, anywhere).

There is, as I'm sure you all know, quite the stigma about reading romance novels--I generally won't buy them, but I often use them as escapist reading (as I don't have a television)... so sue me. This means, however, I have to endure what always seems to be scornful glances from those people lugging around "real" reading whenever I stray into the romance aisle at the library. There are several things these Snobby McSnobbersons are forgetting, however:

  • From a feminist standpoint, the heroines of romance novels are generally interesting (have careers and/or hobbies) and are plucky, vs. most of the female role models we have in film and television nowadays, who are neither plucky nor interesting, they're just SEXY SEXY SEXY!
  • Most historical romances are researched to the point of excruciating detail, and many romance authors actually have awesome websites set up to make their research materials available to the world wide web.
  • Women (and I suppose men) who read these books don't do so to intellectually improve themselves. They're read with the full knowledge of being frothy and frivolous. My real concern are people who read other frothy and frivolous books and think they're great--cough--Water for Elephants--cough.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books both refers to these highpoints and removes some of the sting of the scornful glances of the "literarily elite" (I made that term up) by acknowledging that (a) romance novels can be ridiculous, and (b) they are therefore fun and funny. Of course, there are the obvious exceptions (such as the "rapey romances" of the 1980s...blech) but this site pokes such good-natured fun at the genre as a whole that it's impossible not to like it. Some of my favorite features include the following:

  • Cover Snark: looks at some really sterotypical romance novel covers with--you guessed it--snark. Hilarious.
  • Reviews: especially the bad ones, which make me sputter with laughter at work so that random passer-bys think I'm potentially crazed. (For example, here's the review of Devil's Embrace, by Catherine Coulter. It starts off calmly enough and turns into one of my favorite things to read online, a Rant-with-a-capital-R, with the hero of the novel eventually being termed Lord Creepy Uncle and ending with, "the heroine is stupid and the hero should be fed to sharks." Seriously funny stuff.)
  • Caption that Cover: commentors post their made-up captions to some really horrendous romance cover novels to try to win a book. Example:
    Tell me that's not funny. Even funnier were some of the captions submitted: "Why did she laugh? I don't see anything wrong" ; "In retrospect, that Barry Manilow tattoo was a bad idea" ; "Hello, old friend. Looks like it's just you and me... again" ; and my personal favorite, "Who the f*** has towels that say 'Dry Clean Only'?"
Anyway, check it out--it's worth the effort.

(There is also a book by the creators that you might like to read called Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Non-Review: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler

So, remember when I read that one book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, last year, didn't really like it, gave it a C+ and then later went back and said it didn't even deserve that? Yeah, me too.

Well, imagine my surprise and... well, mostly surprise, actually, to discover that the sequel to that steaming pile of pastiche has finally been released. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to sit through it, so let me give you the run-down of it that I picked up from flipping through it in my local bookstore. You're welcome (since now neither of us actually have to read the whole thing).
  • Unsurprisingly, Jane Mansfield wakes up in the body of Courtney Stone and must navigate the complications inherent in the 21st-Century lifestyle. The excuse of "amnesia" is undoubtedly used often.
  • She's given the choice of two love interests, Wes (whom we met in the first book) and Frank (who, presumably, is the "other love interest," a la Mr. Elliot in Persuasion or Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. I've made this brilliant deduction based on the semi-mystical event that took place at the end of the first book).
  • She has to learn how to drive a car, use a microwave, etc. (I'm sorry, but I think anyone who's seen Kate and Leopold already has a pretty good idea how this is going to go.)
  • She must choose between the men, etc. etc. etc., let's wring every last drop out of this whole Jane Austen fad while we can, etc. etc. etc.
  • Finally, I can't believe I've never been published if this is the kind of thing they're putting out now.

R.I.P. Frank McCourt

So I haven't actually read Angela's Ashes (except for the first scene, I think, where the kid pukes up the Jesus water and then goes back to confession because his mother makes him). But let me take this opportunity (probably ill-timed) to bring your attention to the below transcript from a 2002 episode of Saturday Night Live in which John McCain played the late-great Mr. McCourt and was actually quite funny. It's the only thing I can think of when I think of Frank McCourt now.

(By the way, what stood out to me about this skit was the fact that McCourt made such an impact on popular culture that he was featured on SNL. How often does a book do that?)

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Alright. Our first guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes. If you believe that Ireland is a whiskey-soaked, stinking cesspool, you're probably a big fan. Please welcome, Mr. Frank McCourt!

[ Frank McCourt enters and sits ]

Frank McCourt: Thank you, boys. Morning!

Patrick Fitzwilliam: So, Frank, how are ya?

Frank McCourt: Well, the cab ride was cold and dark. Like the day me father was run over by a truck!

William Fitzpatrick: Surprise, surprise - Frank McCourt's depressed.

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Hey, your parents must be so proud that their son took their most private moments and put them on a page where anyone with five quid could see.

William Fitzpatrick: I had always dreamed that I could write that me father was a drunk, and me mother was a slut! But you beat me to it! Good on ya, sir!

Frank McCourt: I will not stand for this! I'm Frank McCourt! [ stands ] I... am leaving!

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Ah, have a drink, Frank!

Frank McCourt: I... am staying! [ takes his drink and chugs it ]

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Down you go... down you go...

Frank McCourt: Perhaps I could read you a passage from me new book. It's entitled: Too Cold to Die: An Irish Christmas Fairy Tale. [ reading ] "The pus dripped from the lackey's eye, like a teardrop. We were grateful to see it; it was all we had to eat that Christmas." And that's all I've written so far.

William Fitzpatrick: [ sniffling ]

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Not here. Not here, not now! Not here, not now! Not here, not now! Not here in front of the dartboard, not now at this time of October!

William Fitzpatrick: [ stops sniffling ]

Patrick Fitzwilliam: Brilliant work. A credit to the Irish, you are.

Review: How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely

The other day I started (and finished, which tells you how both how good and how fast of a read it is) How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely. It's highly critical both of the publishing industry's bestsellers (see the novel's version of the New York Times bestsellers list below) as well as the "literary fiction" genre.

The story follows Pete Tarlow in his quest to become a rich-and-famous novelist in order to show up his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. (He's obviously not a stand-up citizen, but he is extremely entertaining.) Tarlow outlines what a book must have to become popular (which includes food, road trips, and WWII) and then proceeds to write a novel while under the influence of a drug designed to treat ADHD. (He observes that "literary fiction" is much less work than a "thriller," although he offers an excellent plot for a thriller if anyone would like to contact him to take it up.)

His observations of the publishing industry are hilarious and right-on, especially for anyone who has ever thought "My God, another Dan Brown/John Grisham/Danielle Steel/etc. novel?" Pete's descent into complete cynicism has a price (as it always does), and while the ending is a bit contrived, that's really only to be expected from a book created in today's publishing atmosphere. (For those who are interested, here's a link to a pdf version of the whole NYT bestsellers list.)


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Short Takes on Books That Don't Exist

Hey, guys, check out Steve Hely's "Short Takes on Books That Don't Exist," which appeared in the June issue of The Believer. It's a mildly amusing critique of modern publishing, although my favorite has to be the following:

The Empty Staircase
by Omar Perus (translated by Richard Milner)

The late Ottoman Empire is the setting for this comedy of manners that follows the ever-failing efforts of a lecherous piano teacher to seduce his students. Perus, long-renowned in his native country, makes a riotous first entry into English through the deft hands of Milner, a scholar in residence at the Canadian Institute for Asia-Minor Studies.

Defining Fanatics

Did any of you hear about the "rabid Harry Potter fan [who] took his life yesterday after inadvertently learning a plot spoiler from the soon-to-be-released J.K. Rowling movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"?

Well, okay, it's a joke (I'm assuming, based on the context of the article), but here's the thing: can someone be a fan of the Harry Potter franchise without actually reading the books? On the radio this morning, I was listening to callers who said things like, "I've been a fan of Harry Potter since the first movie, and I love Daniel Radcliffe!" That's nice, it really is, but the movies have so much less to offer than the books do (which is almost always the case).

I guess I'm wondering if you can be a "true" Harry Potter fan and not have read the books. I've read the entire series (and seen all the movies thus far) and still don't define myself as a "true" fan. I'm just wondering where these people get off saying things like, "You have to see all the movies to really know what's going on." Really, people? Really?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Short Review: Brandon Sanderson's Hero of Ages

Yes, it's another post about Brandon Sanderson, but the man absolutely amazes me. Hero of Ages, released in paperback in April, is the concluding book of the Mistborn trilogy and is fantastic. (While I didn't write about the second book of the trilogy, The Well of Ascension, please rest assured that I enjoyed it almost as much as I did the first in the series, The Final Empire.)

This
is what fantasy is supposed to be. Yes, as some reviewers have pointed out, the book has some pacing problems, but the story explores big ideas, which is what fantasy should do, in my opinion. Dragons and wizards that aren't metaphors for anything can be fun, but emperors and warring gods who are metaphors are so much better.

Anyway, I don't want to say anything else to ruin the series for anyone, but if you like fantasy at all, then I can almost guarantee that you will like this series. Get it, now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yet ANOTHER Reason Not to Tweet (Or Quote Bartlett's)


I would presume that it's fairly obvious that I've looked up quotes in the past to use on my blog--like this and this and this, to name just a few. It's the easy introduction to a topic that we all learned in high school: use a quote from someone (semi-)famous to open a subject, then either agree or disagree and you're off!

I've never felt that there was a particular ethical quandary in resorting to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. To see the former Governor of Alaska (who is also known as Caribou Barbie) quoting Plato, however, makes me begin to question the ethics (or at least the wisdom) of quoting someone of whom you've never heard, or at the very least never read. Nothing on God's great Earth will be able to convince me that Mrs. Palin has actually read The Republic, The Last Days of Socrates, or anything else attributed to Plato. In addition, it seems that the "hour of play" quotation may be apocryphal--try to find out which book of dialogues the quotation came from. Let me know if you find anything, because I've been thus far quite unsuccessful.

(As one commenter on a blog I stumbled across asserted, "You learn more from reading Plato's dialogues than from reading Plato's quotations." Oh, snap!)

Dose of Culture: Walt Whitman

"When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts, the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the learned astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."
--"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer."

A Beat Film: Pull My Daisy (1959)

I must have not been paying attention all these years, because I've only just now discovered that there's actually a Beat film called Pull My Daisy (1959), adapted from the third act of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation. Written and narrated by Kerouac, it stars Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and some other people with whom I'm not familiar.

Anyway, there's not much more to say other than it is a superb example of full-grown poets acting like a bunch of crazy kids.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Newest Harry Potter Whoring--Ahem--I Mean, Film

Here's a link to HBO's first look at Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, if anyone cares.

Also, if anyone cares, Half-Blood Prince was my fifth-favorite of the Harry Potter series:

1) Prisoner of Azkaban (#3)
2) Order of the Phoenix (#5)
3) Chamber of Secrets (#2)
4) Sorcerer's Stone (#1)
5) Half-Blood Prince (#6)
6) Goblet of Fire (#4)
7) Deathly Hallows (#7)

Therefore, I doubt I'll see this until it comes out on DVD and I can rent it for $1 from King Soopers. (Somewhat related, the wizard's fight at the end of the fifth movie was almost good enough to make me want to see this one in theatres purely for the special effects.)

Also somewhat related, can anyone tell that I'm bored at work?

Not So, Gentle Reader!

You are, indeed, at the right place at the right time. I've grown bored with my simplistic, charcoal-colored layout and decided to switch it up. (Although I dig the idea of having a dark background, a la Blackle, a black search engine to save watts of power. If only it had an image search so I could steal images like the one pictured left.)

If y'all are totally opposed to the new layout... tough shit. I've had the old one for over a year and it's time to change things up.

Dose of Culture: Gregory Corso

"But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust--"

--"Marriage"

Because I Have a Sense of Humor...

There are English Majors and there are ENGLISH MAJORS...

I had dinner with a friend last night who was telling me that she believed that she and her new roommate are going to get along great because they can both talk about celebrity gossip for hours.

I didn't tell her that I don't even own a TV and have no idea what's going on in the "celebrity gossip" world, but she must have somehow picked up my lit-nerd vibes because she said, "I mean, my last roommate was ... different. She was an English major, and she once said she read War and Peace and then wanted to talk about it!"

God forbid! I tell you what, folks, if I ever manage to read War and Peace, I'm going to get the date and time of the miracle tattooed on my forehead. I neglected to mention this, but she must have realized she was talking to an English major and hurriedly said, "I mean, I have lots of English major friends, but they're all the 'Jack Kerouac' English majors--they smoke a lot of pot and throw great parties, you know?"

In an effort to keep the conversation moving (which I had obviously thus far not been doing), I said, "Oh, I like the Beats. Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghettti..."

"All I've read is Kerouac," she responded firmly, ending that particular conversation.

She got me thinking, though, about the difference between loving literature and merely studying literature. I think in the minds of some people, literature is a kind of default for those who have nothing better to study, if only because we were all forced to take four years of English in high school. I don't understand, however, why anyone who study such an un-lucrative field if s/he doesn't have a passion for it. Why would anyone pay $20K a year to study something they don't care about?

(The other possibility, of course, is that these "Jack Kerouac" English major friends really do love literature and have, in fact read and discussed amongst themselves War and Peace and then go on to smoke a lot of pot and throw kick-ass parties with their non-English major friends. Personally, I have about 3 or 4 people with whom I'll discuss what I'm reading and writing (and of course, you, my loyal readers). Everyone else just has to struggle along without my inspired insights on the Beat Generation.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dan Brown's Next Gift to the World

There is a God! Finally all of my most fervent and fevered prayers have been answered! Yes, my friends: Dan Brown's next book is soon to be released.

I'm kidding, of course, but I'm sure someone in the wide world web is excited about this. I, on the other hand, can't muster enthusiasm for a writer who describes his main character thusly (in The Da Vinci Code, obviously):

"The past year had taken a heavy toll on him, but he didn't appreciate seeing proof in the mirror. His usually sharp blue eyes looked hazy and drawn tonight. A dark stubble was shrouding his strong jaw and dimpled chin. Around his temples, the gray highlights were advancing, making their way deeper in his thicket of coarse black hair. Although his female colleagues insisted the gray only accentuated his bookish appeal, Langdon knew better.

If Boston Magazine could see me now.

Last month, much to Langon's embarrasment, Boston Magazine had listed him as one of the city's ten most intriguing people--a dubuious honor that made him the brunt of endless ribbing by his Harvard colleagues. [...]

"Although Professor Langdom might not be considered hunk-handsome like some of our younger awardees, this forty-something academic has more than his share of scholarly allure. His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as "chocolate for the ears."' [...]

He knew what came next--some ridiculous line about 'Harrison Ford in Harris tweed.'"

To be honest, this sounds like something John Keats would IM me in a poorly-written DIY romance novel: "The past year has taken a heavy toll on me..."

Dose of Culture: Gary Snyder

"Those are the people who do complicated things.
they'll grab us by the thousands
and put us to work.
World's going to hell, with all these
villages and trails.
Wild duck flocks aren't
what they used to be.
Aurochs grow rare.
Fetch me my feathers and amber

A small cricket
on the typescript page of
'Kyoto born in spring song'
grooms himself
in time with The Well-Tempered Clavier.
I quit typing and watch him through a glass.
How well articulated! How neat!
Nobody understands the ANIMAL KINGDOM.

When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones."
--"Civilization"

Dr. Seuss goes to War

Here's a pretty interesting site, folks: "A Catalogue of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss."

I guess there's not much more to be said, other than, that's a pretty interesting site, folks.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dose of Culture: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

"Christ climbed down from His bare Tree
this year and ran away to where no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey"

--from "Christ Climbed Down"



(So I've decided that I'll say this here and not in the comments section: even though Lawrence Ferlinghetti didn't consider himself a Beat poet (instead thinking of himself as a bohemian of an older generation), he was the first Beat publisher and in fact had obscenity charges filed against him for publishing Howl. According to FoundSF:

"When U.S. Customs released the paperback version of Howl that had been printed in London, Ferlinghetti and his partner, Shigeyosi Murao, were arrested by San Francisco police on obscenity charges. One newspaper headline read: "Cops Don't Allow No Renaissance Here." After a long trial (covered in a Life Magazine picture story) in which poets, critics, and academics testified to the redeeming social value of Howl, it was ruled not obscene and City Lights was exonerated. The decision that was handed down in the Howl obscenity trial led to the American publication of the previously censored Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover. The trials publicity brought the San Francisco Beat Movement into the national spotlight and inspired many would-be poets and seekers to make their way out to the West Coast."

I freaking love that kind of thing--sticking it to the man, etc. When are all of us going to get together and start our own literary revolution? Come on, guys, "I Am Waiting.")

Reading Etiquette

I stumbled across a somewhat entertaining article about the etiquette of reading entitled, "Mind Your P's, Q's, and R's: Miss Manners' Lesson in Reading Etiquette." It is based on the advice of the etiquette guru, Miss Manners.

Rather than use books to avoid looking impatient in lines, however, I prefer to use books to avoid inter-personal communication in places such as bus stops, coffee shops, and when I'm eating lunch by myself in the breakroom and every damn fool needs to stop by to ask me some inane question.

That's not rude, is it?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beats on Film

With all the below said, however, please don't think that I don't recognize Kerouac's talent as a writer and the value of the Beat generation as a whole. They truly represented a sort of post-WWII romanticism that brought a new voice to American poetry and literature.

Anyway, since I'm on this nostalgic Beatnik trip down memory lane, here are a couple of cool clips I found on-line. (Most videos of Kerouac seem to feature him when he's a bit, shall we say, drunk, and I haven't linked to those because I don't think he appears favorably in them.)

"Neal Cassady": a documentary exploring Neal's role in the Beat movement. Includes interviews with Carolyn Cassady (Neal's wife and author of Off the Road).

"The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg" (1 0f 3): a video featuring Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady discussing "extremists" and "politics." Fairly entertaining, if only because you can see a bit of the relationship between the two men, as well as Cassady's far-reaching charisma.
"Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show": a clip from The Steve Allen Show that includes Kerouac's definition of "Beat" as well as his reading of an excerpt from On the Road. (I like the jazz music--it adds so much to the ambience of the piece.)

The Beat Was Beaten Out of Me

When I was in college, I was in love with the Beat generation and everything they stood for--if I could have made one wish, it would have been to have been at Allen Ginsberg's poetry reading in San Francisco in 1955 (pictured left) when he first read "Howl." If I could have met one person, it would have been Jack Kerouac (or Neal Cassady, depending on the day). I read Dharma Bums and fantasized about hopping a train to anywhere. At the time, "Beat" was synonymous with "possibility."

Fast-forward four years (to right around July of 2009) and the Beats have lost some of their shine. Since that time, I've graduated from college (the land of possibilities and dreams) to the corporate machine (the land of college loans and dry-cleaned suits). I've known people who lead the Beat lifestyle and thought they were selfish leeches and second-rate artists.

Now, as I struggle to read On the Road, I can't help but see how desperately unhappy all of the characters of the Beat generation seem to be. They're searching for something and seem to think that driving all around the country on borrowed gas money is the best way to find it. Knowing how their stories ended tarnishes their work even more, though it probably shouldn't: alcohol killed Kerouac while drugs and weather exposure killed Cassady. Both men died in their forties.

Whether or not they ever found that for which they were looking is impossible to tell, but I do know that the Beat lifestyle is one of false promises and potential--it is, you see, short-term and not long-term.

Update: Cogito, Ergo Sum

You'd have to be a philosopher with a life like this. What I'm trying to say, friends, is this: my lovely bottomfeeder Voltaire has kicked the bucket.

At first I thought he was just sleeping, so I tapped on the bowl.

Then I thought he was just a heavy sleeper so I used a spoon to stir the water in the bowl around.

Then I was hoping he just liked to sleep on his back...

Alas, he has gone gently into that good night. You'll be happy to know I gave him a proper burial at sea wrapped up in the Union Jack (by which I mean I folded him into a papertowel and flushed him down the toilet).

I guess it's just me and Descartes from here on out.

Dose of Culture: Allen Ginsberg

"What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the groceryboys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozendelicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry andyou got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?"

--"A Supermarket in California"

Not-So-Gentle Eavesdropper: Cringe-Worthy Conversations

Allow me to indulge my snobby side for a moment and vent about some of the cringe-worthy moments I've stumbled across recently.

Overheard at the Panera Break across the street from my apartment:
A: "I totally just heard someone misuse the word 'wronger.'"
B: "... um, is 'wronger' even a word?"
A: "No, but they totally misused it."
Me: [Cringe.]
A conversation I had with a friend:
C: "I don't think I've bought a book since the last Where's Waldo came out."
Me: [Cringe.]
A co-worker sees a picture of a man on my computer screen:
D: "Who's that?"
Me: "Oh, that's Dante."
D: "Who's that?"
Me: [Cringe.]
(This one's not strictly a "literary" issue, but it did make me cringe much more than any of the others. I might have whimpered, too.) A co-worker and I discussing current events several months ago:
E: "Yeah, I called my friend who lives in Atlanta to make sure she was okay."
Me: "Why?"
E: "Didn't you hear about all the stuff going on down there?"
Me: "Did they have another hurricane or something?"
E: "No, no! Didn't you hear? Russia invaded Georgia!"
Me: [CRINGE.]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Yet Another Reason Not to Tweet

"Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." --Ambrose Bierce

So, did you hear about the Twitter feud between Alice Hoffman and and The Boston Globe literary critic Roberta Silman? Rather than go over the whole sordid tale, it's probably enough just to know the following occurred after a lukewarm review in the Globe:

"[Hoffman] came out swinging, calling reviewer Roberta Silman 'a moron,' quickly moving on to 'idiot,' then expanding her repertoire to dis the newspaper and the city of Boston itself. But the real jaw-dropper in Hoffman's two dozen plus tweets on the subject was her suggestion that 'If you want to tell Roberta Silman off, her phone is [Silman's phone number and email address]. Tell her what u think of snarky critics.'"

Ouch. You know that has to be embarrassing. Knee-jerk responses are rarely good, especially when put out over the world wide web.

A Dose of Culture: Robert Frost

"'Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'"

--"Mending Wall"

Not-So-Gentle Penpal: Marilynne Robinson

In case any of you were wondering, it is very difficult to write to someone who has no website and no contact information online. I will therefore pretend that she wrote me the following email:

Dear Lindsay-With-An-A,

You're awesome and I really wish you could have found my contact information on-line so you could have written to me in real life. I'm sure we would have been fast friends.

Sincerely,
Marilynne Robinson

Sigh.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Dose of Culture: Emily Dickinson

"Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

"Futile the winds
To a heart in port, --
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!

"Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in Thee!"

--"Wild Nights! Wild Nights!"

When It's Good to Be Bad

Did all of you get a chance to see the winner of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? Here's the best of the worst, submitted by David McKenzie, 55, of Federal Way, Washington:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the 'Ellie May,' a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

Lovely, just lovely. To be honest, thought, I think I liked last year's winner better.

A History of Racist Mysogynists

I sat down last weekend to watch a classic musical, Kiss Me Kate, based, of course, on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and I was frankly a bit horrified by the misogyny present in the text of the musical. Beyond the sexism that is, of course, held over from the three-hundred-plus Shakespeare play, the treatment of women in cinema has changed dramatically even since 1949. (I doubt that anyone would resolve a disagreement in a modern film by a woman slapping a man, who responds by spanking her on stage and laughing as she screams, then telling her she brought in on herself.)

I realize, however, that the times they are a-changin', and it's not quite fair to hold a sixty-year-old film to the same standards that we have now. What interests me is, instead, the way that we as a culture gloss over the misogyny and racism (I'm looking at you, Merchant of Venice) of some of our most beloved writers.

For example, I've read essays that argued that Shakespeare was actually a proto-feminist because of his portrayal of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and I thought they were ridiculous. I took a Medieval Literature class once in which a fellow student explored the feminist themes of the Book of the Duchess (which was written around 1370). She was surprised when she got a D on the paper, because there are no feminist themes in The Book of the Duchess. Feminism didn't even exist. Yes, Chaucer portrayed some "edgy" female characters in The Canterbury Tales, but they still proscribe to many stereotypes of women, including the Madonna/whore complex, the nagging wife, etc.

Of course, I'm not arguing that either Shakespeare or Chaucer were sexists--sexism was so engrained in their cultures that there was really no way for them to be otherwise. Instead, I think we should simply accept the fact that they lived in a different time and that their beliefs can therefore be rationalized.

What do we do, however, when this argument doesn't hold water, however? For example, much as I admire Flannery O'Connor's work, it's impossible to deny that she was a raging racist--beyond her use of the "n-word," her treatment of blacks is generally harsh.

Some, of course, find solace in the following argument (put forward by Anne Barbeau Gardiner in the New Oxford Review):

"None of O'Connor's friends ever accused her of being a racist, not even Maryat Lee, to whom she often wrote in an ironic, antagonistic persona on racial matters. Wood cites an important, previously unpublished letter shared by William Sessions, in which O'Connor expressed support in 1963 for the civil rights movement, especially for the gains made in her region: 'I feel very good about those changes in the South that have been long overdue -- the whole racial picture. I think it is improving by the minute, particularly in Georgia, and I don't see how anybody could feel otherwise than good about that.'"
Yes, okay, but even the argument "but I have black/female/gay friends!" has never made anyone less racist/sexist/homophobic/[insert "-ist" term here] than saying, "But none of my friends think I'm racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever!" In addition, Gardiner points out that O'Connor despised William Sessions, so we can hardly use her letters to him as proof of her real feelings on any issue.

Either way, however, I'm not entirely sure that it matters. As John Irving argues in The World According to Garp, we as a society come to rely far too heavily on biographical evidence when reading works of literature. Does it matter if O'Connor was a racist if we can still find something of value in her work, if she still has something to say that others need to hear? I think this is one situation where we need to separate a person's creation from his/her personality, though this is probably an unpopular view, considering the popularity of biographies the role they play in literary criticism.
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