Sunday, February 26, 2012

"existential depreciation"

"We get a lot of new novels at my office. I often pick up a couple and thumb through them just to keep up with what is on offer in the literary bourse. The delicate feeling of nausea that ensues as my eye wanders over these bijoux is as difficult to describe as it is predictable. The amazing thing is that it takes only a sentence or two before the feeling burgeons in the pit of the stomach and the upper lip grows moist with sweat.
     [...] It’s not just contemporary fiction that is suffering from this form of existential depreciation: The same thing, I believe, is happening, perhaps to a lesser extent, with the fiction of the past. The novel plays a different and a diminished role in our cultural life as compared with even the quite recent past.
     Matthew Arnold once described literature as 'a criticism of life.' He looked to literature, to culture generally, to provide the civilizing and spiritually invigorating function that religion had provided for earlier ages. And to a large extent, culture proved itself up to the task. Horace once said that the aim of poetry was to delight and instruct. For much of its history, literature has been content to stress the element of delight: to provide what Henry James, in an essay on the future of the novel, described as 'the great anodyne.' If a tale could beguile an idle hour, that was enough. [...]
     My point here is to suggest that changes in our culture have precipitated changes in the novel or, more to the point, changes in the reception and spiritual significance of the novel. It was before my time, but not I think much before my time, that a cultivated person would await the publication of an important new novel with an anticipation whose motivation was as much existential as diversionary. This, I believe, is mostly not the case now, and the reasons have only partly to do with the character and quality of the novels on offer. At least as important is the character and quality of our culture."
— Roger Kimball, The Weekly Standard

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"fractured into hundreds of pieces"

"[...] Not that [Steve] Erickson has ever written for the faint of heart. Extolled by Pynchon, likened to Nabokov, DeLillo and Ballard, he has been deemed a surrealist, a visionary, a genius. His fictions play out among the shifting landscapes of sci-fi, fantasy, postmodernism and avant-pop. Occasionally, These Dreams of You reads less like a book than a prose contraption engineered to pry us loose from our bearings.
     It opens, however, with something like narrative realism. I say 'something like' because the first three words, 'But years later,' hint that time will not be conforming to linear models. Still, we begin grounded in time and place: the night of Nov. 4, 2008, and the living room of a house on the edge of Los Angeles, where the Nordhoc family is watching the presidential election results on television. The four Nordhocs, who provide the messy, vibrant heart of the novel, make up a representative tableau for the new millennium: the American family as mash-up. [...]
     But perhaps plot and even sentence structure are of secondary importance in a work where 'the arc of the imagination is forever "bending back to history,"' an idea that is thought by multiple characters in this book of multiple frames. Actions echo across time, continents and realities: historical, fictive and dreamed. Zan lectures on 'the narrative as sustained hallucination.' In the end, Erickson’s seemingly fractured novel turns out to be something else — the novel as fractal, a series of endless, astounding tessellations."
— Leah Hager Cohen, The New York Times
Get all of Steve Erickson's books here...

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

"Patricia O’Brien had five novels to her name when her agent, Esther Newberg, set out last year to shop her sixth one, a work of historical fiction called The Dressmaker.
     A cascade of painful rejections began. Ms. O’Brien’s longtime editor at Simon & Schuster passed on it, saying that her previous novel, Harriet and Isabella, hadn’t sold well enough.
     One by one, 12 more publishing houses saw the novel. They all said no.
     Just when Ms. O’Brien began to fear that The Dressmaker would be relegated to a bottom desk drawer like so many rejected novels, Ms. Newberg came up with a different proposal: Try to sell it under a pen name.
      Written by Kate Alcott, the pseudonym Ms. O’Brien dreamed up, it sold in three days."
— Julie Bosman, The New York Times

Buy all the books by Patrica O'Brien/Kate Alcott here...

Thursday, February 23, 2012


" removed more than 4,000 e-books from its site this week after it tried and failed to get them more cheaply, a muscle-flexing move that is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market.
     Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins. At the same time, it is committed to selling e-books as cheaply as possible as a way to preserve the dominance of its Kindle devices.
When the Kindle contract for one of the country’s largest book distributors, the Independent Publishers Group, came up for renewal, Amazon saw a chance to gain some ground at I.P.G.’s expense.
     'They decided they wanted me to change my terms,' said Mark Suchomel, president of the Chicago-based I.P.G. 'It wasn’t reasonable. There’s only so far we can go.' [...]
     I.P.G. told its publishers to immediately begin stressing that their books were available in other electronic formats, including from the Amazon rivals Barnes & Noble and Apple. It also told them to contact their local independent bookstores and point out that they could now sell something that Amazon would not."
— David Streitfeld, The New York Times/Bits
Buy all the books Amazon doesn't have here...

"[...] staircase of wounds"

"We know from Emily Dickinson that true poetry is painful. A real poem made her 'feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,' which by all evidence she took to be a good thing: 'I know that is poetry.' If it is, then so much the better for Harm, Hillary Gravendyk’s first book of poems, whose descriptions will disfigure sensitive readers much more than commonplace poetic lobotomy. Her book is full of pain: a 'skein of plastic braided into the mouth,' 'organs flat as mirrors,' a 'throat closed by what opens inside it,' '[t]he kind of hunger that swallows you,' '[b]reath, threading its tiny needles,' and a 'bright needle, punched through the neck.'
     While at times she can be lightheartedly funny — 'I was promised only good things,' Gravendyk writes in 'Appetite' in the voice of Appetite itself, petulant and credulous like a child — mostly she is out to evoke serious pain. Gravendyk’s work isn’t dramatic, but it evokes drama; she doesn’t despair, but she offers few of the usual hopes."
— Adam Plunkett, Los Angeles Review of Books
Buy this book here...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

At Last, The First...

From: Wikipedia

"Poisoning, hypnotists, kidnappers and a series of crimes 'In their nature and execution too horrible to contemplate': The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix [Charles Warren Adams], believed to be the first detective novel ever published, is back in print for the first time in a century-and-a-half.
     Although Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, published in 1868, and Emile Gaboriau's first Monsieur Lecoq novel L'Affaire Lerouge, released in 1866, have both been proposed as the first fictional outings for detectives, the British Library believes The Notting Hill Mystery 'can truly claim to be the first modern detective novel.'
     Serialised between 1862 and 1863 in the magazine Once a Week, the novel was published in its entirety in 1863 but has been out of print since the turn of the century. It stars the insurance investigator Ralph Henderson, as he works to bring the sinister Baron 'R___' to justice for murdering his wife to obtain a large life insurance payout. [...]
     The British Library's new edition has been produced using photographs of the original 1863 edition, which featured illustrations by George du Maurier, grandfather of Daphne."
— Alison Flood, The Guardian

"Who wrote the first detective novel? That question was answered recently in the New York Times Book Review. He was Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903), according to Paul Collins in his article 'Before Hercule or Sherlock, There Was Ralph' (Sunday, 7 January 2011). Adams’s novel was The Notting Hill Mystery, first published in eight parts in the journal Once a Week: An Illustrated Miscellany of Literature, Art, Science & Popular Information between November 29, 1862 and January 17, 1863."
Rare Book Collections @ Princeton

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Young As You Read

Every Girl's Story Book (The Avenue Press, circa 1938)

"With The Hunger Games movie coming out in March, the frenzy for young adult (YA) fiction has reached an all-time high. With series like Harry Potter and Twilight, young adult fiction has gained so much attention that those outside of the typical 'young adult' age group have taken notice.
     For those of you who still haven't read young adult books, I have a few suggestions below to help ease you into this ever-growing genre."
— Lisa Parkin, Huffington Post

The illustration from Every Girl's Story Book is by G.W. Goss.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Journey

Photo: Michael Hale (Nile by Faluka, 2011)

Getting started is the hardest part.
So you’re all set to turn up the creative heat and get going on that story or poem for the 2012 Elora Writers' Festival Writing Competition. Laptop turned on or pencils sharpened. Theme of “A Journey” firmly fixed in your head. Ready to roll, and then….

Thump. Where to begin?
If you’re one of those writers who has trouble getting started, consider doing some warm-up exercises first. Musicians do scales. Athletes do stretches. Writers need to prepare their writing muscles for action too.

Here are some suggestions.
Short Story: Write about a “Pet Tale” or a “Good Day” or “My Evil Boss” using words of four letters or fewer. Writing is all about word choice, and this exercise tests that ability, but you’ll be amazed at what a great story you can write even with these restrictions.
     Person, Place, Thing: Under these headings, list six entries (eg. Person might include doctor, princess, Prime Minister, Jane Austen, me, teacher). When your lists are complete, roll a die to select a number from each category. You now have a person, in a place, with a thing. Get writing!
     For additional writing prompts, check out these suggestions created for The Writer magazine by one of our contest judges, Heather Wright (her site has a wealth of information too...) go here...

The EWF Writing Competition:
Enter your short story (1500 words maximum) or poem (75 lines maximum) in the 2012 Elora Writers’ Festival Writing Competition by Friday, April 27. You can find entry details on the contest flyer here... and a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)  here...

Friday, February 10, 2012

"[...] they never saw me writing."

"Colm Tóibín’s new book is called New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families (Penguin) but the key is in the subtitle. This collection of essays is by no means restricted to mothers. It is the entire family that needs to be destroyed, it seems, if an artist is to realise his vision. [...]
     Tóibín quotes the Northern Irish novelist Brian Moore saying, 'I began to think of myself as someone who was concealing something.' In a way it becomes a guilty secret: this world you escape into, taking no one with you, not revealing it to anyone, partly out of fear their reaction might wreck it and partly because writing is like a photographer’s work in the darkroom. Expose the negative to light too soon and it will be ruined. Also, it is the world outside the darkroom that is your subject—yes, even your family, friends, home and shared experiences. I realise now what the looks from my family expressed: what is she going to make of it, of us, of what is ours? It was true: their lives provided me with my material, their experiences that nourished my work. Without them, what would I have—myself, alone, and emptiness?
      What was lacking was any acknowledgement that I was a writer, any admission that it was a worthwhile pursuit. At the most I might encounter someone who had heard that I wrote and said to me 'What a nice hobby.' That was all it appeared to be—not a profession. I realised it would not be regarded as such until it was seen to earn something, which gave it its worth. And to begin with, my books had none."
— Anita Desai, Prospect

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Plots of Land

From: The Awl

"The map of the Hundred Acre Wood appears in the first Winnie-the-Pooh book entitled, wait for it, Winnie-the-Pooh. Created by E.H. Shepard (who also illustrated The Wind in The Willows), the map is meant to appear drawn by Christopher Robin, with 'Drawn by me and Mr Shepard helpd' written at the bottom and the cardinal directions on the compass marked as P-O-O-H. The storybook woods are based on the actual Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest, near Milne’s country home in Sussex."
—Victoria Johnson, The Awl

From: fanpop

"Tolkien prepared several maps of Middle-earth and of the regions of Middle-earth where his stories took place. Some were published in his lifetime, though some of the earliest maps were not published until after his death. The main maps were those published in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. Most of the events of the First Age took place in the subcontinent Beleriand, which was later engulfed by the ocean at the end of the First Age; the Blue Mountains at the right edge of the map of Beleriand are the same Blue Mountains that appear on the extreme left of the map of Middle-earth in the Second and Third Ages. Tolkien's map of Middle-earth, however, shows only a small part of the world; most of the lands of Rhûn and Harad are not shown on the map, and there are also other continents.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” — Mary Heaton Vorse

From: Emilialua

If you’re a writer – or you want to be – then the time has come to adopt 20th century American writer Mary Heaton Vorse’s credo as your own because, yes, it’s writing contest season.
     Start thinking about this year’s contest theme: "A Journey." Let your imagination wander. Feel the creative energy start to flow. Then apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and write!
     Enter your short story (1500 words maximum) or poem (75 lines maximum) in the 2012 Elora Writers’ Festival Writing Competition by Friday, April 27.

You can find entry details on the contest flyer here...
and a list of Frequently Asked Questions here...

Go to a related article here...

Questions? Contact Contest Chair, Jean Mills, at

Happy Birthday, Charles John Huffam Dickens...

From: Mr. Rennaissance

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be lead celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.
     Events to be held across the country include a wreath-laying ceremony at Dickens's grave in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey and at the novelist's birthplace in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
     The congregation at Westminster Abbey will include the largest ever gathering of descendants of the Victorian novelist as well as representatives from the worlds of literature, film, theatre and the media. [...]
     Simon Callow, author of Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, will read from David Copperfield at a service being held at St Mary's Church, Portsmouth.
He said: "It's going to be a dangerously moving occasion. I really made the strong decision to come to the place where he was born rather than to Westminster Cathedral where he never wanted to be."
—Martin Chilton, The Telegraph

"A couple of years ago, I played Charles Dickens in an episode of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who. As the doctor takes his leave of Earth, Dickens asks whether his books will still be read in the future. 'Yes,' the doctor replies. 'For how long?' Dickens wants to know. 'Forever,' says the doctor, disappearing into cyberspace. [...]

"Surprisingly, considering that Dickens is that unusual thing, a writer whose life was as riveting as his work, there has been no film biography. If there were one, a large part of it would surely center on his early years, and especially on one year of shame, humiliation and degradation, the memory of which was so painful to him that he hid it from view completely, allowing it to be revealed only after his death.
     Victorian England was profoundly shocked to discover that Dickens’s compassion for the poor and the disadvantaged sprang, not simply from Christian kindness, but from the bitter personal experience of toiling 10 hours a day, for 6 shillings a week, in a rat-infested shoe polish warehouse off the Strand from the ages of 12 to 13.
    It is of course this experience that placed children at the center of so much of his work, and inevitably and rightly it looms very large in the excellent crop of books for young people being released on the crest of the Dickens publishing tsunami which next year’s bicentenary has provoked."
— Simon Callow, The New York Times (December 16, 2011)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Easy On the Adverbs; Hard On the Bad Guys

"In an essay that appeared in The New York Times in 2001, 'Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle,' Elmore Leonard listed his 10 rules of writing. The final one — No. 11, actually — the 'most important rule . . . that sums up the 10,' is 'If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.'
     It’s a terrific rule. In fact, I liked it so much that I passed it on to a creative-writing class I once taught. However, there’s more to it, which I didn’t pass on: 'Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the ­narrative.'
     Jazzy prose that occasionally lets go of 'proper usage' is Leonard’s trademark. He’s a stylist of forward motion, placing narrative acceleration above inconveniences like pronouns and helping verbs. While this creates in most readers a heightened sense of excitement, newcomers may find the transition from complete sentences daunting; it may take a little time to accept Leonard’s prose before you allow it to do its work on you. I’ll admit to having to make such an adjustment when beginning Raylan. At the same time, I’m also a novelist who lives in fear of my copy editor; being such a coward, I can’t help respecting Leonard’s grammatical bravery."
— Olen Steinhauer, The New York Times

Buy all of Elmore Leonard's books here...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Paper Backlash

From Samuel Johnson's  A Dictionary of the English
Language (1755) Internet Archive

"Canada’s Indigo Books and Music has joined forces with U.S. bookstore chain Barnes & Noble in refusing to stock or sell any books published by online rival – including upcoming titles by James Franco, Deepak Chopra and Ian McEwan – with both chains now accusing the online giant of using predatory tactics that weaken an already struggling book industry. [...]
     The three-chain defensive front is the first setback Amazon has experienced since it began its aggressive and highly publicized move into the business of producing as well as selling books last year. Among the other authors whose upcoming work will become inaccessible to the majority of North American book buyers as a result of the ban are actor/director Penny Marshall, self-help writer Timothy Ferris and politician Ron Paul."
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail

"Kindle is an ingeniously sly name, because it’s designed to connote a variety of 'warm' feelings, including 'kin' (for cozy associations; Kindle’s one of the family—that cyborg cousin from your father’s side); 'kindred' (think of Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, kindred spirits!); 'kindling' (ahh—a natural reference: kindling wood to start a fire, and wood also makes paper); and 'kindle' itself (to illuminate [knowledge?]; to light)."
Miss Cavendish

Friday, February 3, 2012

"[...] the erosion of contemplation [...]"

From: The Art of Science Fiction,  Random House 1975)

"If you watch a person using the net, you see a kind of immersion: Often they are very oblivious to what is going on around them. But it is a very different kind of attentiveness than reading a book. In the case of a book, the technology of the printed page focuses our attention and encourages a linear type of thinking. In contrast, the internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking. [...]

Scientists have documented how when we get a new piece of information, our brain releases a small bit of dopamine, conditioning us to repeat the action. [...]

     It is important to realize that it is no longer just hyperlinks: You have to think of all aspects of using the internet. There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focussed thinking – which I don’t think is normal for human beings – whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted."
— Lars Mensel in conversation with Nicholas Carr, The European

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Be Here Now

"'I found the material of the actual 21st century richer, stranger, more multiplex, than any imaginary 21st century could ever have been,' [William Gibson] writes. 'And it could be unpacked with the toolkit of science fiction. I don’t really see how it can be unpacked otherwise, as so much of it is so utterly akin to science fiction, complete with a workaday level of cognitive dissonance we now take utterly for granted.'
     Gibson gets plenty of opportunities to use that same toolkit throughout Distrust That Particular Flavor, a smattering of articles for magazines such as Wired, Rolling Stone and Time, as well as introductions for other people’s books and more texts for talks. With the oldest selections here dating to the late 1980s, the book also charts a part of Gibson’s career that he has been somewhat reluctant to acknowledge, having been 'uncharacteristically strict' with himself about deviating from his mission as a writer of fiction. As Gibson explains in the introduction, these assignments represented a form of transgression, of 'doing something I secretly felt I probably shouldn’t quite be doing.'"
— Jason Anderson, The Globe and Mail

Get this book and all of William Gibson's novels here...