Tuesday, December 4, 2012

print books aren't dead

Ben Yagoda explores print reference books that just might be better than their online counterparts.  Of course, part of the enjoyment comes from the tactile nature or the joys of serendipitous searching, but those aspects are part of what make print books great.

selling an American treasure

The Old South Church in Boston has voted to sell one of their two copies of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in America.  Though the vote was rather overwhelmingly in favor of selling the book, there are a few folks there who are unhappy.  I can certainly see the argument for the church's not needing the money, but I also like the idea of getting the book out into circulation.  It's too bad that a museum in Boston can't buy it.

white whale ale

Powell's City of Books has teamed up with Rogue Ales and Spirits to create a new brew, inspired by the greatest American Novel.  Their White Whale Ale includes actual pages from the novel, which would make it easier for most people to digest, I'm guessing.

you've wasted a perfectly good hour

If you've ever wondered what that perfectly good hour you've wasted listening to Car Talk consists of, wonder no more.  A listener named Arnav has come up with a chart that breaks down what happens during that hour.  I think he left off the credits at the end, but we'll let that slide.

curriculum flipping

We often talk about the university model that has large lecture classes early in students' careers and smaller classes as they progress as the only model that will work.  Jeff Selingo argues that we should invert that, putting the smaller courses in the freshman year, where more students need such an experience, while shifting the larger courses to the sophomore or junior year.  It's a really good idea.  I doubt it will catch on, unfortunately.

challenging global warming

From time to time, someone will say that the scientific community is divided on global warming.  James Lawrence Powell has put together a chart to show just how divided they are.

food stamp challenge

I really like the Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, is taking the challenge to live on $30 worth of food for a week to show how people who live on food stamps must eat.  However, I don't think one week really shows much of anything.  I could easily live on $30 of food for one week, but doing that for a month or more would really start to wear on a person, as the menu would get rather repetitive.  Let's hope he builds on this project.

new words that survive

Have you ever wondered why some new words survive, but many do not (used "staycation" lately?)?  Allan Metcalf lays out five reasons words have a tendency to hang around.  He also reminds us of a pun within couch potato that I don't think I ever knew.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

being still

Silas House has an interesting take on how writers can be still.  He doesn't mean physically, it seems, which is what I was expecting.  It's definitely worth a read.

getting artists at Harvard

Helen Vendler (noted poetry critic) writes in Harvard Magazine about Harvard can attract and admit writers and artists.  First, I'm not sure writers and artists need to go to Harvard, but, if so, second, shouldn't they be expected to be good at more than just writing or doing art if they're going to Harvard?  What's the point of a liberal arts education if a student is simply going to go there and focus on one thing?  Isn't that just like the professional degrees (such as business) we liberal arts folks are usually complaining about?  I just don't see the logic behind her argument.  If artists or writers are great at that, then let them go do it or go to a more focused professional school (such as an art school), not a liberal arts institution.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

a great story

I love StoryCorps, and I make sure I hear it on NPR every Friday morning.  Yesterday, this story of a minister and how he began his AIDS ministry came on, and it's amazing.

who's Herman Melville?

Cul de Sac has a Melville reference today.  The strip is always worth checking out (in reruns now, as Thompson retired due to Parkinson's), but the literary references just make it better.

best books

The New York Times has their list of the 10 best books of 2012.  I have a few of the fiction titles on my list already (no Mantel, as she's not my cup of tea), but I hate to see The Family Fang left off, which was one of the best books I read this year.


I really can't ever see me reading a self-help book, but this description of Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos makes me want to pick it up today.  That won't happen, but it's definitely on my list now.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

more poetry revisions

Here are three more poems I've been working on this week.  I'm enjoying getting back into the rhythm of working on poems.

Jack Decides Against Becoming Immortal

The cubicle congregation had gathered
on Tuesday morning, Lisa looking
at her screen, she the one who noticed
the news: Some science guy says we would live

to be one thousand years old.
Even middle managers stopped,
only on the outskirts

pretended to mull
over a meeting they would make
us attend. Hasn’t he seen vampire movies,
not that tween Twilight

crap, but real ones,
where the vampire hates his fate?
though Lisa looks like she would trade
all her tomorrows for a paradise

of pudding pops and people
who wouldn’t judge her love of them.

The scientist says we would be pain free,
but he only measures the material,
not the nine hundred more years
of the tedium of traffic

jams and long lines behind
coupon counters, the nine hundred more years
of divorce and disorienting death--
they can’t cure car crashes, can they?--
or nine hundred more years of reading

reports like the ones on my desk,
measure everything
but what matters.  Perhaps vampires
view a long life

differently because their mouths have met
our marrow, tasted our life
blood, seen our emptiness
before biting into the nothingness
of our necks.

Jack Considers Changing His Life

Eighties anthems echo around
the conversation in Burt’s Bar—Joan Jett
loving rock n’roll, another one biting

the dust—a few ballads between for variety,
the same songs we heard at fifteen with fake
IDs, noiseless basketball

on the television behind the bar.
Doug, Mike, and Bill talk of basketball,
the game they play every Wednesday,

the one I once went to every week,
though they know my knees ached since eighteen, know
age takes from us all. Still, they talk of steals

and shots they blocked and didn’t. I want a will,
I interjected, thinking about long-term
life insurance, as well. They paused, looked

at me like I was their parents, in this place,
on a Friday night.  Bill bothered
his beer. I told them this would be my last

late night, need to be in bed
by eleven. Mike stopped smiling, stopped
me when I went to leave,

said, You’re barely past forty, not
dead yet, ordered me a Jack and Coke.
Doug made it a double. I drank it dry,

ordered the next round, said I would see
them later, next week, maybe.

Jack’s Every Day Life

Coffee comes on automatically, 5:48 a.m.
every day, even Saturdays when most sleep in,
a cup and a half to make it through the day.
Gym doors open at 6:30, up the walk

every day, even Saturday, when most sleep in;
workers check clocks if I miss by a minute,
as the gym doors open at 6:30, then walk
to work, past the same secretary for twenty years,

co-workers check clocks if I miss by a minute
while they push papers, one person to another,
pass them to the same secretary for twenty years,
muddle through meetings, pie-shaped prophecies

on papers I push from one person to another
around a leisurely lunch at the desk, side of spreadsheets,
muddle through mundane pie-shaped prophecies.
End one day with a deluxe frozen dinner, or take out,

a leisurely dinner at home, side of spreadsheets,
an early evening, legs across an empty king bed,
End another with take out, or a deluxe frozen dinner,
program the coffee, comes on automatically, 5:48 a.m.

in praise of independent bookstores

Ann Patchett has found herself as the spokesperson for independent bookstores these days.  Given this essay, I'd be hard pressed to suggest someone else for the job.

merged books

Adam Mansbach imagines twelve new titles that could come from the merger of Penguin and Random House books.  My favorite title is Tuesdays with Moby Dick (or course, and I'm not going to nit-pick and say that there should be a hyphen in the last section of that title), but the best description is Cloud Atlas Shrugged.

grammar police

Rhymes With Orange has the grammar police go after international criminals.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

getting over submission phobia

Here's a nice guide to help you get past your fear of submitting.  I especially like this:  "I’m afraid that my work will end up in a journal that’s not good enough. Right. Because keeping the work moldering in your hard drive for a few years is a much better fate for it. No one knows how prestigious a journal is or isn’t—except for those at the very top. So stop obsessing."

hipster reading guide

I'll admit that I've read Infinite Jest, though I read it nearly a decade ago now, so I don't think I fit the category of hipster (in so, so many ways).  Regardless, this flow chart is humorous.  I can also say I have read only one other book on the chart, though I definitely need to read The Satanic Verses.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I haven't posted any of my poetry in a long time (that's largely because I have neither written anything new nor revised anything old).  However, I'm going to be working on revisions for the next few weeks (maybe more), so I'll post a few from time to time.  Here's one from yesterday.  Given the number of revisions it's gone through, I'll just post the most recent incarnation.  Thoughts are always appreciated.

Jack Talks Trade-In
My ball-joints have begun to break.
Engine whines at every stop
sign. My college car finally fading.

The door I once opened for Melissa,
then Julie, jams when I go to load
groceries. Any new car is an upgrade;

they’ve all gone global
positioning, telling me where
I am and where I am not

and where I could be. The interior smells
like a stereotype, like my father’s first
Ford, the only new car he could afford,
bought the year the factory
felt he was foreman

material, could move men
as well as parts to be put together
down the line.

Everything here looks new,
though I know the sheen
will wither, the shellac of wax
will wane or chip before I leave

the lot, a woman’s voice repeating,

bad endings

Joan Acocella discusses bad endings to otherwise good (even great) novels.  What's most interesting is the fact that we often forget those parts of novels (Huckleberry Finn is a notable exception).

sequels I must have missed

Wondermark lays out various sequels to The Grapes of Wrath.  I think I would skip The Lemons of Rhapsody.

my kind of place

Eva Restaurant in Los Angeles offers a 5% discount to anyone who eats without their cell phone.  I would pay 5% more to eat in a restaurant where people do not have cell phones.  I also like the mention of the deli that charges people $3 extra if they're on their phone at the counter.  I'm all for draconian methods to get people to hang up and turn off their phones.

predicting the future (or not)

In 1936, readers of The Colophon predicted which authors would be considered classics in 2000.  They actually got very few right, not surprisingly.  While Sinclair Lewis and Willa Cather are definitely taught and known, they're not taught often nor known by many folks outside of serious readers.  And who is/was James Truslow Adams and James Branch Cabell?  If nothing else, this should remind us that we should be rather humble, both as readers and as writers.

Hamlet offers even more choices now

As children, many English majors loved the choose-your-own-adventure books.  As majors, they often love Hamlet.  Now, they can have both.  Ryan North is creating a comic book version of Hamlet with choices for the reader to make.  It should be fun, but I will probably choose not to be reading it (even I know that was forced, but what's a Hamlet post without a "to be or not to be" joke?).

Monday, November 26, 2012

lots of links

I haven't posted anything in quite some time (lots and lots of grading), but I have a number of things to post today.  Rather than taking the time to write different entries, I'll just put them all here for people to choose from.

Household debt in three nifty charts from NPR (I love their charts).  These led me to see what percentage of our income our house payment is.  I would rather not say.

Philip Roth's retirement causes Keith Meatto to reflect on 10 things we should take away from his career.  My favorite is the first, which is simply Work Hard.  Here's what Meatto says, "If you think you work too hard, think about Roth and think again. If you’re satisfied with your accomplishments, think again.  Roth’s won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice each), the PEN/Faulkner Award (three times), and is the only writer to have his canon published by the Library of America while still alive. The protagonist of Everyman quotes the painter Chuck Close as saying 'amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.' Indeed."

A Charles Schulz timeline, with comics appropriate to events in his life (more or less).

How Walker Percy's The Moviegoer won the 1962 National Book Award (more or less, again).

I often tell my students about those writers who have worked other jobs while writing on the side.  I'm glad to see an article (albeit brief) on them, though I don't think that teaching writing really counts as a different job.  There's a reason more of our contemporary fiction is about writing or set in academia, and I'm not sure that's a good trend (and, yes, I know where I work).

Mary Shelley recounts the origins of Frankenstein.

Greg Hanscom begs people not to buy his children anything for Christmas.  Unless you buy me books, I'm fine if you don't get me anything, either.

Independent bookstores might be doing better than I thought.  I hope more people are willing to "plunk down cash" at their businesses, and it looked like people were doing just that Malaprop's on Saturday (I bought the latest David Foster Wallace collection, by the way; be jealous).