Month: November 2011

“Fahrenheit 451: What’s The Temperature At Which E-Books Burn?”

That’s the question that NPR asked yesterday. The article alerted me to the irony that Ray Bradbury’s great novel, Fahrenheit 451, was coming to an e-reader near you.

Reported by the Associated Press:

First published in paperback by Ballantine in 1953 and as a hardcover by Simon & Schuster in the 1960s, “Fahrenheit 451″ has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 33 languages. It imagined a world in which the appetite for new and faster media leads to a decline in reading, and books are banned and burned. Bradbury himself has been an emphatic defender of traditional paper texts, saying that e-books “smell like burned fuel” and calling the Internet nothing but “a big distraction.”

Ever since this new technology made an appearance, I have always been a staunch supporter of the traditional paper-and-ink type of book. Admittedly, many more trees go into the production of a physical book than one that is downloaded, but I love to see the design of the book’s cover up front and personal, take out my favorite inky black pen and underline and notate to my heart’s content, and flip back and forth through the prose to remind myself of earlier parts.

However, with the December holidays approaching, I have seen so many more articles and blogs talking about what gifts to get book lovers. I bet 99% of them all mention a Kindle, Nook, etc. When I’m riding the crowded subway, I totally see the appeal of having a small device that you press instead of giving the man next to you a dirty look as you try to maneuver your next page turn. Also, we all forsake our scholarly pursuits at times and indulge in the occasional guilty pleasure. Then the question arises: Should I just take my iPod with me instead or hastily construct a paper-bag book cover à la elementary school so no one on the F train will judge me?? The scenario–well, isn’t it easier to take one e-reader with you on vacation than three heavy books?–is always posed (which I swiftly rebut with: Ah, I’m a poor writer. I don’t go on vacation). But I do understand the logic for all of those holiday-takers.

So, has my opinion changed on the e-reader? Perhaps. Although, I still love a good book, when the day comes for me to go through my Harlequin romance phase, I bet an e-reader will be right at the top of my wish list but for now, I’ll still be perusing the shelves of my favorite bookstores.

Oskar Werner & Julie Christie

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Child

When I was in kindergarten, I penned and illustrated my first (and only) book. The protagonist was a butterfly and I vaguely remember crayons being involved in the production of said book. The teacher was so impressed that she laminated it to give to my parents. I’m pretty sure my mother still has it stashed away in her house–in safe keeping, I hope!

What got me thinking about this was a recent story I heard on NPR, “Small Book, Big Story: Bronte Manuscript Discovered.”

 Next month, the auction house Sotheby’s will sell one such manuscript produced by a 14-year-old Charlotte, estimated to fetch $315,000 to $475,000. The magazine is tiny, “half the size of a credit card,” Gabriel Heaton, deputy director of books and manuscripts at Sothebys, tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer, and designed to be the right size for the Bronte children’s toy soldiers. Its 19 pages are crammed with more than 4,000 words — short stories, news, even advertisements — discernible only by magnifying glass.

courtesy of Sotheby's

Granted, Charlotte had about 9 years up on me but her “childhood book” seems so much more crafted than my own (well-played, Bronte, well-played). But I digress. When I read about this and saw the photos, I wasn’t surprised. My opinion is that talented people show talent throughout their lives and in various forms.

I am curious to hear other people’s personal anecdotes about themselves or stories they’ve heard about famous writers, painters, etc.

The Squid & the Whale

original artwork by Matt Kish

Today’s post is going to be on the lighter side because of my night spent awake due to this stupid cough (mother–if you’re reading, yes, I’ll go to the doctor if it persists). When I was able to get a restful moment of sleep, I had a dream about a giant squid and a whale attacking each other. When I awoke, my head was just a whirl with literature. I think Moby Dick is a fantastic book and I am definitely proud that I’ve read the whole thing! I keep it right in the middle of my mantle and above it hangs a beautiful framed reproduction of a 19th C scientific drawing of a whale.

Around the time that I was conquering this giant book, someone sent me to a website featuring the artwork of Matt Kish. He has created artwork for each page of the novel. His art has been collected into a book that I’m sure is a beauty unto itself.

And of course, how could any New Yorker or any nautical lover for that matter forget the famous exhibit at the Museum of Natural History called “Clash of the Titans.” The diorama is located in the best room of the museum. Once one is done staring at the mammoth whale that hangs from floor to ceiling, you should swiftly make your way into the quiet, dark corner where the sperm whale and giant squid are duking it out. Fun fact: sperm whales can live between 50-80 years.

courtesy of Wikipedia

Speaking of the “Clash of the Titans” diorama, there is always the great film The Squid and the Whale. It has been awhile since I’ve seen it but I remember really liking it. The title is in reference to the diorama and the film is centered around the oldest son of two writers who are going through a bitter divorce.

To end this strange little post, I just wonder how many works of prose and visual art have been inspired by these two almost mythical beings of the deep. They are frightening creatures that seem to pop up in the arts and there is something always astonishing about them.

>>I’m also a big fan of the American painter, Winslow Homer, who is most famous now for his nautical paintings. My favorites are the ones that always feature a cloudy day at sea. A personal favorite: Eight Bells.

The Mysterious Bookshop

I went on a fun adventure yesterday in lower Manhattan. I only recently ran upon information regarding The Mysterious Bookshop. For the life of me, I can’t remember how or where but all I knew was that I needed to make a trip.

Because I’m a stone broke writer, I told myself that if anything, I may purchase one paperback. Of course, this did not happen and I walked out of the store with 3 books.

  1. What’s So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake — A few years ago, I read The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Westlake’s). It was fantastic. If you are really interested in voice and stripped down prose, check it out.
  2. Entanglement by Zygmunt Miłoszewski — I saw the author speak at the Center for Fiction recently and the moderator seemed really taken with this young writer and his novel.
  3. Hitler’s Peace by Philip Kerr — I am not familiar with Kerr but I do love a good WWII thriller. The clerk said that Kerr was great but I wasn’t sure if I could invest in his monumental trilogy called Berlin Noir. If I like this little novel, I will venture back to The Mysterious Bookshop and take a look.

from Google

The store only sells mysteries and crime novels. The walls are stocked from floor to ceiling with books, both paperback and hardcover. Some are signed by the authors and vintage books (read: pulp) are displayed in the center of the room. You will find no hipsters here. This is for real fans of the crime genre and newcomers who are interested in a suspenseful tale. If you tell the clerks what you are interested in or you are brave enough to admit ignorance, the knowledgeable staff can lead you in the right direction. When perusing the shelves, I noticed names that stood out instantly (Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle) but of course the walls were littered with novels I knew nothing of.

from Google

Unlike the conglomerate bookstore experience one could get from a Barnes & Noble, The Mysterious Bookshop felt like the owner’s private library. I was comfortable gazing through the massive inventory and I wasn’t approached by anyone asking if I had questions. When I did have a query, I went to the clerk’s desk and he happily helped me there with the aid of a computer (sorry, I’m a curmudgeon who doesn’t like to be bumrushed the moment I enter a store). There was no coffee shop, there was no decorative birthday card section. It was just pure books. Simple and to the point. Unfortunately, the only downer was that like most independent bookstores (at least in NYC) the new books were priced at retail. I’ll let it slide this time because I’m a firm believer in supporting local booksellers but it’s a hard price to pay on a regular basis.

Also, check out their publishing imprint, Mysterious Press, that brings “classic works of crime to digital reading formats.”

58 Warren Street, New York, NY, 10007 

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Manuel Puig

What else is there to do on a Friday evening when you have a dry throat and a stupid cough but watch movies on Netflix? My usual go tos for under-the-weather films are The Princess Bride and Shakespeare in Love, but I thought I should change it up at least this one time.

A film that I have been putting off for so long has been the screen adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman. When I was in college, I had finished my required courses early and had my last semester free to take whatever classes I wanted to. One of them was called something along the lines as “Literature and Sexuality” and Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig was included on the reading list. Although, it has been years since I read the novel, I still  remember it passionately. In college, I would be so hard up for cash that I would sell some of my class books once the course was complete. Yet, I held onto this one. I have even included it in my mental list of books that I would reread if I ever had the time.

Like most people, I’m skeptical when books I love have been made into movies (even though I have never read The Princess Bride, the film has always proven to be entertaining). The old complaint is as followed: “The book was much better” (however, I still maintain the opinion that Shutter Island and The Graduate were better as films).

All snuggled in my bed, I began the film. It was okay–Raúl Juliá and William Hurt played the leads–but it was missing that seamless weaving of story telling that made Puig’s novel so captivating. The novel is told in only dialogue and is only distinguished by dashes (-). The prose can get so wrapped up in itself that the reader occasionally loses track of who is speaking. But it doesn’t matter. This technique amplifies the intimacy these two men build together throughout the entirety of the novel.

Because adapted movies are always abridged versions of their sources, many things I loved about the novel were lost. Even though Molina is the main narrator, the story is really shared and about both of them. Also, interwoven in the novel is Molina’s retelling of various films that helps the two men pass the time in their wretched cell. A majority of this is nixed in the movie.

an example of the prose

A Book of One’s Own

books

my mantle has books & a piggy bank

Because it’s Thanksgiving, I considered it and decided against my original post. Too much thinking about food (carbs + red wine = good) was interfering with my brain! But I was able to think about how December is coming up. It will be the time of hot chocolate, snow, warm socks, and a good book. Because I’ve been reading so many books to review and for novel research, I can’t even remember the last book I read for pleasure.

I was gazing at my mantle to see what books could be possible contenders for “The Book I Will be Totally Engrossed with for the Chilly Month of December.”

CRITERIA

  1. I would sort of like it to be considered somewhat literary but I’m willing to forsake that rule for the pleasurability factor.
  2. Not too short; not too long. I would like to savor it for at least two weeks but not still be working through it by Martin Luther King Day.
  3. I will not be embarrassed to read it in public, i.e., the subway. However, if it’s that good I’d be willing to craft a book cover out of a paper bag elementary school-style.
  4. Non-fiction/memoir is acceptable but nothing terribly weepy.
  5. Preferably not a hardcover (my delicate hands prefer softcovers).
  6. Easy to acquire or cheap. Meaning, I could probably get it at the library or from a used book store.
  7. I haven’t read it before. No repeats allowed.
  8. And finally, it can’t be Gravity’s Rainbow. It just can’t be.

With that said, I had a view ideas for contenders:

  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins : Definitely, a monster in appearance, but I did try reading this once and it was easy to breeze through but I got sidetracked. Pros: Softcover, considered first mystery novel Cons: still a giant
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov : I’ve always wanted to read this book. It has been heralded as one of the greatest of the Twentieth century. Pros: Softcover, a satire about the Devil coming to atheistic Russia Cons: Could it be too Russian?
  • The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle : I’m a huge fan of breakfast cereal and cultish kooks. Pros: and comedy ensues? Cons: hardcover; IT’S HUGE!

Phew! So much to think about to find the right fit.

Any suggestions??

…And Introducing, Woody Allen

Like all neurotic writers living in NYC, I love Woody Allen. I don’t even remember there being a period in my life when I wasn’t an avid fan of his films. The writing is always quick and witty and his filmmaking talent is A-number-one. And like all poor, neurotic NYC writers, I have no television. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to hear that the recently aired Robert Weide directed two-part documentary was available to watch on PBS’s website.

I’ve only had time to watch the first part but it was so intriguing. Of course, the documentary delves into Woody’s early comedic career and his wonderful films in the sixties and seventies, but so much time is devoted to talking about him as a writer. Since he was fifteen-years-old, he has been steadily employed as a writer!

And even if you don’t like Woody Allen’s film(*)–I don’t even know how this is possible, but I’m sure it happens–the documentary is worth a gander if you are interested in writing and the writing process.

Below are some links that both aficionados and newcomers might find interesting:

(*) Never trust a person who doesn’t like at least one Woody Allen film. Approach cautiously.

Distractions : Word Kingdom

It’s a gloomy and rainy day in New York City and I should be writing a book review for Publishers Weekly. I wrote one sentence before I became incredibly distracted both by people watching outside of my window and by playing Word Kingdom. It’s a total nerd alert but  incredibly good at keeping me from my review.

Build your kingdom by arranging letters to form words. Correctly spelled words can be converted into resources to feed your warriors, fortify your fortress and dominate WordLand.

You even pick the name for your kingdom! Come on, how can this be a bad distraction?

Art & Propaganda

I’ve previously mentioned what my current research is. While this post isn’t specifically about books and literature, I hope that even the greatest neophyte of world history can make the connection. Yesterday, I was reading an article about Hitler and the Nazi Archives. This brief article discusses the degenerate art that Hitler’s regime censored and the Aryan art that they celebrated.

Photos of all the art pieces in the exhibitions, as well as information about who bought what, were put together into six massive volumes. But for six decades, those books have collected dust on the shelves of Munich’s Central Institute for Art History. Delving into the aesthetic inclinations of the Nazis was taboo.But that changed recently when the archive was made available online at www.gdk-research.de.

Propaganda and censorship of art and writing was a huge part of the Nazi mission. Because of my intense interest in this part of World War II history, I find myself frequently perusing the internet for articles and information about this part of the past. Nothing good can come out of censoring and condemning the arts and we have history to prove it. Below, I’ve included some interesting links to more information, as well as paintings, posters, and other art and literature from that time period.

Over this past summer, the Museum of Modern Art had a fantastic exhibit about German Expressionism. These artists were despised by Hitler and his regime. One of my favorite artists from that movement is Otto Dix.

Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor (Otto Dix), courtesy of Wikipedia

A Sunny Afternoon in Translation

Last weekend, I had to reschedule a meeting with the German writer  whom I’m translating (I was a bit under the weather and couldn’t keep my eyes open). This put me really behind with the amount of translating I wanted done before I spoke with her. [Just as a brief catch up, besides being a writer and book reviewer, I also work on literary translations from German to English. I’m a novice at this, so translating is sort of a slow process for me at times and like most writers, I obsess over every little sentence.]

It was a lovely day in both New York and Germany, and once we got all of the kinks out of Skype, it was wonderful to see and speak with her again (I met her in Germany at the beginning of October).  I had a few questions for her. For example, in her text she had created her own word. For those who are unfamiliar with the language, German is notorious for its extremely long words; they are 1) able to make up their own words and 2) these made up words are just a bunch of words strung together. So to say the least, for a translator, this can pose a problem. I understand what she is saying with her words, but in English we don’t just make up phrases that equal a single word. So I made notes and we thought of ideas for these strange German nuances.

On the flip-side, she is working on a German translation of a short story of mine (a collection is being published in Spring 2012–more info to come).  Certain “products” are mentioned throughout and are important to the narrative. It was so interesting to have a twenty minute conversation about Ajax, non-dairy creamer, and Oh Henry! chocolate bars.

Besides the actual words and discussing the differences in language, I always get a great pleasure about our translation of different cultural points and our individual approaches to translation.