Yes, D.E.A.R.—Drop Everything And Read Day

keep-calm-drop-everything-and-read-2You didn’t actually have plans for the weekend, did you?

Saturday is the birthday of Beverly Cleary, author of Henry Huggins, Ribsy, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and the Ramona the Pest books, among many, many others. And yes, she’s still with us—going strong at 97, and an honest-to-goodness national treasure, if you ask me. Just the names Ramona and Beezus conjure up hours spent in my old grade school library, oblivious to the uncomfortable Danish modern stools and mushroom-colored carpeting and dusty sunlight, lost in the very kind and human world of Ramona and her friends.

In honor of Cleary’s birthday, the day has also been designated Drop Everything And Read Day—immortalized by Cleary herself in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. D.E.A.R.—come on, how can you not like that acronym—actually lasts throughout all of April, “a national month-long celebration of reading designed to remind folks of all ages to make reading a priority activity in their lives.” But the 12th is Drop Everything And Read’s epicenter, and since it’s a Saturday and all… it sounds like the perfect excuse to do just that. (Although if you’re reading a doorstopper, you might not want to drop it. Or at least keep your feet out of the way.)

I’ll admit to having envisioned this period in my life of part-timing and freelancing as a chance to finally catch up on reading, quiet afternoons at home on the couch with a cat or two. But the truth, of course, is that when you don’t have regular hours you’re never really off the clock—there’s always something you should be doing—and honestly, nothing’s better for digging into a book than a long and tedious mass transit commute. So I think I’m about due for an afternoon of Dropping Everything And Reading, in honor of an author (and librarian, lest we forget) who made a lot of young readers—this one included—very happy for a lot of lost afternoons.

(You can get the above image emblazoned on pretty much anything you can think of here.)


Pocket Review: This Is Not an Accident by April Wilder

This-Is-Not-an-Accident-A.-WilderThis Is Not an Accident
April Wilder
Viking, 2014

I’ve been reading short stories for a long, long time. I love them, even—sometimes especially—when they truck in the familiar, the comforting, the well-worn. Those are what I think of as blankie stories, and they have their lovely aspects. But there’s always the little voice in the back of my mind clamoring to be told something new, or—because there is nothing new under the sun, I hear—something old in a new way. And April Wilder’s debut collection, This Is Not an Accident, is made up of those stories, without a doubt. It’s a complex collection, at times challenging, and not a quick read. But it’s rewarding, and one that I highly recommend to lovers of stimulating, non-blankie fiction.

Wilder’s voice is smart and sharp, often epigrammatic in the way it finds a punch line almost as an afterthought—think Lorrie Moore in a biker bar, maybe. But she’s never smart-assy or show-offy. Wilder cares about these characters, no matter how offbeat or strange they seem. Because in fact, they’re no different from any of us when it comes down to the wire, and this is her point—one she makes eloquently, sometimes hilariously, and sometimes in such a bittersweet way you need to close the book for a moment and just think about people and what makes them tick.

And here I’m going to do a bait-and-switch on you. I’ve written at length on the book, and on Wilder, over at Bloom. I kindly direct you there, because I could not possibly say everything I want to say about This Is Not an Accident all over again. Nor would you want me to; I think I did a good job the first time around. Please go take a look, and if it strikes your fancy then by all means get yourself a copy. I do believe we’ll be hearing more from Wilder, and I look forward to meeting whomever she thinks we should get to know.


We Go to the Gallery: Penguin Is Not Amused


Just when you’ve figured out how to talk to your children about divorce, and sex, and terrorism, along comes conceptual art to throw off your average. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t get abstract expressionism on some level, and they all love Richard Serra (other than the not yelling really loud while running around the installation part). But try explaining what Jenny Holzer’s phrases mean, or why Damien Hirst cuts cows in half, or pretty much anything by Jeff Koons—it’s enough to make a parent steer clear of any venue edgier than MoMA.

It would be great to say that Miriam Elia recognized that need, and sought to address it for the good of art-loving caregivers everywhere. But her newest project, We Go to the Gallery, is straight-up satire, and it’s very, very funny—that will have to be enough. Elia, a British comedian and multimedia artist who is herself an accomplished printmaker, collagist, and filmmaker, has put together a fond takeoff on the Peter and Jane books she grew up with. Peter and Jane, published by Ladybird Books in the 1960s, were the British equivalent of Dick and Jane in the U.S.—primers for very early readers, with limited vocabulary and simple noun-and-verb sentence structure. (But what is it with the penis names here—Peter, Dick? Do they think little boys might not identify with the correct half of the pair without a subliminal hint? Is Jane secretly short for Vagina?)

In Elia’s version, Peter and Jane visit a very contemporary gallery with their mum and try to make sense of it all:

There is nothing in the room.
Peter is confused.
Jane is confused.
Mummy is happy.

“There is nothing in the room because God is dead,” says mummy.

“Oh dear,” says Peter.

Or as the press release from the Cob Gallery, which hosted the book launch in February, puts it:

The jolly colourful illustrations will enable the child to smoothly internalise all of the debilitating middle class self hatred contained in the artworks at the gallery. Key words on every page also help the child to identify the key concepts, so that they may repeat them at dinner parties and impress educated guests.

Elia has lovingly recreated Peter and Jane’s visual style in painting and collage—perhaps a bit too lovingly for Penguin Books, owner of the Ladybird imprint. Although she published the book herself, raising £5,000 for an initial run of 1,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, Penguin is not amused. It contacted Elia to inform her that it considers the work a breach of copyright, requesting that she destroy any unsold copies—even offering to do the job themselves.

The last ten copies of We Go to the Gallery are for sale on eBay, to be signed and addressed to the highest bidders. In the meantime, Elia is holding off on a second printing, at least until UK copyright law changes in June to provide a fair dealing exception for satire and parody. (The book will no longer carry the Ladybird image, but rather Elia’s own logo of a dung beetle.)

The line between satire and homage is a fine one, to be sure. Fortunately not everyone takes these things quite so seriously. In March, Elia received a letter from Mark Dolley, son of former Penguin CEO Christopher Dolley. In it, Dolley cited Penguin’s founder Allen Lane, who first published the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

A big part of dad’s job was taking advantage of the 1960 obscenity trial and its publicity to sell copies of Lawrence’s book all over the world. Both Lane and my father must be rolling over in their graves at Penguin today both missing a commercial opportunity and also making a crass attempt to stifle art. Far from trying to ban her work, both would have offered Ms. Elia a commission.

He concludes by commending Elia for “her contribution to the spirit and memory of a great British publishing tradition.” While I’m not in a position to bid on one of those last ten signed copies, I’m hoping for a second printing so that I can help uphold a little tradition on my end—and so I’ll know just what to say the next time someone’s reckless enough to let me take their children gallery-hopping.

(Illustration from We Go to the Gallery © Miriam Elia.)


Sunday Links, April 6, 2014

FowlerKaren Joy Fowler has won the PEN/Faulkner Award for her latest book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A wonderful, spoiler-free review of the book by my brilliant friend Marion Deeds can be found here. I’ve started the book, and I’m enjoying it.

AddisonThere are well over 200 new books coming out in April 2014 in the genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve occasionally read that it was once possible — say, in the middle of the last century — to read everything, or nearly everything, that was published in these genres each year. Obviously, that doesn’t happen anymore, no matter how fast you read. But at least we have some voices that are able to direct us to the most noteworthy books. BuzzFeed points to 33 books coming out this month that are worth reading. I’ve read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and I agree that that’s a fine book worthy of your attention, one of the best things I’ve read so far this year. And The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is absolutely charming, and another of the best books I’ve read in 2014. That gives me pretty high confidence in moving the rest of those books further up in the TBR pile.

Rachel at BookRiot confesses to owning 850 books that she hasn’t read yet. Seems to me she must be very young, because I had at least that many unread books by the time I was 30; I suspect my unread but owned books get into the five figure range these days. She wonders, briefly, if this is a bad thing. But, like every book lover, she concludes that it’s not just okay, it’s actually a positive good. Nice thinking, Rachel, and I’m right there with you!

ListVerse lists ten of the most bizarre books ever written. Many of them are codexes, and I’d heard of none of them — and it’s not clear to me that any of them have ever been widely published. They’d be sort of cool to get a close look at, though.

SuzanneMatthew Kahn, a creative writing student at California State University at Northridge, undertook to read the bestselling book of the year for each year from 1913 to 2013 to see what made those books so great as to command the attention of the most readers in each year. Some books were good and some were awful, he tells Salon in an interview. I’ll bet he gets a book out of the project himself.

King“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that,” says Stephen King. In an afterword to his book about writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King shares a list of 96 books that he thinks are worth reading. Now Aerogramme Writers’ Studio has made the list available on the internet. King doesn’t say that these are THE books to read for an aspiring writer; only that they are good books that he happened to read in the three or four years before his memoir was published. There’s an enormous range of writers, which I think is part of King’s lesson: one must read insatiably, and broadly, in order to be able to write well.

the standIt’s 40 years now since King published his first novel, Carrie. Patton Oswald writes about a lifetime of reading King’s work. I didn’t read Carrie then — in fact, I’ve never read the novel, though I have strong memories of Sissy Spacek’s depiction of the title character — but I remember reading The Stand when I was in college, and how completely Randall Flagg terrified me. It wasn’t fashionable to like King; in fact, many said that he was a schlock writer. I first started to feel like it was okay to like King’s work when Algis Budrys wrote a piece in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction about how excellent King was, no matter what the tastemakers had to say. I think that’s the moment when I stopped thinking that mainstream fiction was necessarily better than genre fiction. Of such moments are one’s reading life made.

And speaking of genres, we seem to be in a new golden age of science fiction. If you ask me, fantasy and horror are experiencing similar gilded years.

ShawlNisi Shawl suggests that trying to review a book written by someone who is “other” to oneself is like “dancing about architecture” in this essay that forms part of a discussion of inclusive reviewing. It’s worth reading by anyone who treasures the notion of diversity, and wishes to see it become more than a notion.

And speaking of diversity, here’s a list of science fiction and fantasy written by women, should you wish to expand your horizons.

Another issue in reviewing is whether reviewers should be allowed to wield their criticisms under pseudonyms. Anne Rice is circulating a petition to bar the practice at Amazon. Janet (apparently also known as “Robin Reader,” seemingly doubling her pseudonyms) at Dear Author discusses the issue.

Want to readIt seems to be an article of faith that anyone engaged in any way with the publishing industry — any editor, publicist, reviewer, anyone who has anything to do with books that doesn’t involve actually writing them — must have a secret desire to write. Lacy LeBlanc says that’s not true; there are plenty of folks who just want to read. And audiences are as important as artists, in a sense, aren’t they? I sometimes struggle with this issue myself, when I realize I’d much rather be reading than arguing with a blank page over a story idea.

Scott Reintgen discusses how to write antagonists in a piece that aspiring authors might find worthwhile.

WoodJonathan Wood writes about how to deal with the destruction of your dreams of writing. Wood was one of Night Shade Books’ authors, just as that publisher was going under. His book, No Hero, made it into the hands of very few readers. Now his book is seeing new life, and I can’t wait to read it.

It is possible — maybe even probable — that the declaration of the death of the independent bookstore has been premature. New technology can work as much in favor of the small, local bookstore as the large, impersonal multinational corporation, after all.

What’s your time worth? How much money would someone have to pay you to get you to give up an hour of your leisure time? This calculator will help you figure out the answers to those questions.

Science has uncovered why we love the smell of old books.

animalsgirlsHere’s the scariest chat history you’ll ever read.

What would an alien think of the human body — and especially about sex? Imagine how an alien would write human erotica!

While these photos of women and girls with animals are not fantasy — they’re real animals and real people and not photoshopped — they are fantastic and do, somehow, have something of the fairy tale about them. Lovely.


Books on Tape… and 45, and Flip Phone

books_on_tapeOne of the things you’ll hear a lot about in any self-respecting MLS or Media Studies program is digital forensics—a good term, a little bit geeky and a little bit CSI. The idea, of course, is preservation. Archival collections are no longer just about flat fibrous printed stuff, but all the material used to carry information: bits, bytes, vinyl, magnetized tape, polycarbonate plastic. The media change pretty reliably—a full generation, when it comes to recording, is maybe five years—and a large part of preserving matter involves being able to read it in the first place. That shoebox of 3-1/2 inch diskettes with all those baby pictures on it? Good luck with that.

As you might imagine, digital forensics in practice is pretty cool, and a whole science unto itself involving hardware, software, and good old-fashioned deduction. But sometimes, at the end of the day, you feel a little less like a digital Sherlock Holmes and a little more like a digital Bartleby—you’d just prefer not to.

Which is what’s great about Woody Leslie’s Books on Tape series. Leslie takes obsolete media—your cassette, your VCR tape, your three-upgrades-ago flip phone—and makes blank books from them. Using the media as cover stock and the cases as… well, as cases, the coptic bound volumes are surprisingly dignified and actually look like something you might want to write in. Leslie’s One Page Productions is a small artisanal press currently based in Brooklyn, whose products cover “a range of genres from poetry to pornography”—Books on Tape is just a side project. But he also teaches bookbinding, and the whole idea of repurposing found objects—particularly with a wink to the whole idea of readability—is something that bears more thought. Not all data can be migrated, or should be; sometimes media might have an entirely different story to tell. I’m not the only fan of writing things down by hand… who knows, maybe that 8″ floppy has more than a lowly megabyte to offer.


Sunday Links, March 30, 2014

Welcome to Sunday Links, fans! As usual when your capricious Linker misses a few weeks, her return column is full to the brim with information and fun. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, an orange juice, a hot chocolate or some other lovely beverage to get you through the next couple of hours, pull up a chair, and settle in for some clicks.

Lucius-ShepardFirst and foremost: we’ve lost Lucius Shepard. I’m finding that I can’t quite take that in completely. He is one of the writers I most admire, if only for his amazing creation of The Dragon Griaule. Go find one of his books and read it, regardless of your genre preference. Lucius was one of the greats, and it is a genuine tragedy that we will have no new writing from him as our years go on.

Awards and Award Nominations

‘Tis the season for book awards and nominations, and they’re coming fast and furious.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced its 2014 Literature Award winners.

Tenth of decemberGeorge Saunders has won The Story Prize for his most recent short story collection, Tenth of December.

The finalists for the Compton Crook / Stephen Tall Award have been announced.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award nominees have been announced. And this year the list contains a couple of books by women — a nice improvement over last year’s all-male list.

Carnegie medalThe Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway shortlists for children’s fiction have been announced.

Ursula K. LeGuin has won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction from Literary Arts, an organization that honors Oregon writers, for her two-volume short story retrospective, The Unreal and the Real.

The 26th Annual Lambda Literary Award finalists have been announced. These awards “celebrate achievement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writing for books published in 2013.”

Heavens RiseThe final nominees for the Bram Stoker Awards have been announced.

The Libris Award longlist has been announced.

The winners of the 2014 Hans Christiansen Anderson Awards have been named.

The Horror Writers Association has awarded its 2014 Specialty Press Award to Gray Friar Press.

Book Lists

Looking for something new to read? Pick a list and see if you don’t wind up with an armload of new books.

Brian EnoBrian Eno offers 20 essential books for sustaining civilization.

Were you an insatiable reader as a kid? Buzzfeed takes your childhood favorites and uses them to offer you some tasty new books to read now that you’re an adult.

The Huffington Post takes a similar approach to suggesting women writers to read in 2014: if you liked X, you’ll surely like Y, with Xs and Ys in a variety of genres.

Graphic NovelsAre graphic novels your thing? If so, io9 has a list of 17 fantastic completed webcomics for you to binge read. See you in May!

Detective novels not your thing? Don’t miss these essential detective novels for people who don’t read detective novels.

Read the book that’s most popular in your state! Or pick a state at random and read the most popular book there. This website identifies the most popular book in each of the 50 states.

Words of RadianceBuzzFeed has a list of 13 reasons 2014 might be the best year for fantasy in the 21st century. It’s hard for me to disagree when I have all of these books either preordered or already in my hot little hands.


Spritz, a new app for reading faster, gave rise to a lot of handwringing about reading generally. Me, I’d rather read at a pace that allows me to enjoy what I’m reading, not just take it in.

Charlie Jane Anders looks at the statistics about reading around the world in a lengthy article on io9. Her conclusion seems to be that reading for a sustained period of time, whether from paper or a screen, is a more rewarding experience than reading in short bursts. Me, I’m still reeling from the thought that most people in the United States only read about five hours each week. I’d go mad from withdrawal if you limited my reading that drastically!

TumblrsMashable has the 25 best Tumblrs for book nerds. Lots of great stuff here, and the article is worth looking at to get the links to Writers No One Reads and Go Book Yourself all by themselves. And I got lost on the Strand Tumblr for a while, just looking at what that marvelous bookstore finds in used books — photographs, annotations, notes — amazing stuff. And the vlog brothers! How did I not know about them before?

MountainWhy are you addicted to books? You don’t need BuzzFeed to tell you why, but they give you 33 reasons anyway. A bunch of nice quotations from a bunch of great authors, with some cool pictures of people reading to go along with them.

To make this a better world, everyone needs to read more science fiction.

We all tend to judge books by their covers. Back in the days when I lived in a big city and therefore rode public transportation instead of driving a car, I used to be embarrassed by the covers of some of the books I read (which wasn’t unusual for a science fiction / fantasy / horror reader in those days — and, to some degree, is still usual (especially for horror) today). And sometimes I’m embarrassed that some covers make me want to read books that are not books I really want to read. (For that convoluted mess of a sentence, read: I liked the covers to the Twilight books.) If you’re going to judge a book by its cover, do it intelligently.

Need a shortcut to all of Shakespeare’s deaths and murders? Here you go — an infographic you can cut out, fold up, put in your pocket, and use for fun at parties.

Are you ready for bookless libraries? The Bexar County Library outside San Antonio, Texas, has created an all-digital library called BiblioTech. Granted, it’s only a branch in a system that has plenty of actual, physical libraries, but it still gave me a chill.

Are Costco stores a model for internet-era public libraries? It’s an interesting thought: more training for staff, more investment in staff, more investment in inventory, more value for the consumer.

Star TrekWe’ve had a great deal of dystopian fiction being published in recent years, but I don’t remember seeing any fiction about utopias during the same time. That makes this io9 article about seven utopias that changed the future all the more interesting. I never thought of “Star Trek” as a utopia before, but it works.

British war diaries from 1914-1922 are now available for electronic browsing through Britain’s National Archives. This is an obvious boon to historians, but for those who just want a picture of the past through the eyes of those who lived it, it’s also a valuable resource.


Damien Walter suggests that writers stop thinking of their work as a profession and begin thinking of it as a practice. He explains, in part, that “The happiest and most creatively fulfilled writers I know are the ones who tend to put their writing practice ahead of any and all professional concerns unless they can be balanced.” It’s a great bit of writing, and quite an inspiration.

DaydreamingI was very taken by this article on 18 things creative people do differently. I practice some of these things — I’m pretty good at observing everything, people-watching, surrounding myself with beauty (that’s what all these bookcases and books are, people: sheer beauty (though the rose on my desk is nice, too)). But some of these items were and are considered huge mistakes, and I’ve had that pounded into me for more than 50 years: no day dreaming, no working all night, no solitude. I’m going to reread this article every week for a few months and make a conscious effort to practice some of these steps. And I’m going to stop beating myself up when I stay up until 3:00 a.m. working to finish a project. And then maybe some of the other, more difficult steps will become easier.

For the speculative fiction writer, io9 gets more specific with ten things every new creator of science fiction should know. “You’re the worst judge of your own work” is especially important for me to remember, as I never think any of my stuff is any good.

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs hosted Ursula K. LeGuin and Molly Gloss, two excellent science fiction writers, at their recent meeting. It was apparently a great meeting, with lots of advice for the blooming speculative fiction writer.

About WritingBrain Pickings explains the difference between good writing and talented writing, with help from Samuel Delany: “Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.” I think I need Delany’s book, About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews.

And as the rejections roll in, I’ll remember: famous people got rejection letters, too. It’s always a comfort to remember that the likes of Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath and Kurt Vonnegut got plenty of rejections — and sometimes some pretty darned snide ones, too.

500 waysAuthor Chuck Wendig explains the varied emotional stages of writing a book. You’ll laugh until you cry. This particularly rang true for me: “Every word is like extracting a rotten tooth with a pair of rusty needle-nose pliers. It is a day of great effort that yields nearly no result. A rich, full fruit tree with one fucking apple dangling.” Yeah. Tell me about it.


SatyalWilliam Kingsland and Rakesh Satyel of Siegel + Gale suggest that publishers need to think more like Amazon. In particular, they suggest that publishers will need to develop more of a direct relationship with their ultimate customers, those who read books, instead of the middlemen, the bookstores. How conscious are you of who publishes what you want to read? I didn’t begin to notice who published what until I started writing book reviews, when I noticed that certain publishers seemed to always publish books I really liked. And really, don’t you pretty much always trust Knopf and Farrar Straus and Giroux for mainstream fiction? Don’t you seek out the small, specialty presses for the best horror fiction? They all have personalities. Pay attention to whose colophon on the spine of the next couple of books you read and see if you agree.

The blog Dear Author wonders if genre fiction is creating a market for lemons — that is, whether the bad self-published genre fiction is driving out the good stuff, or at least making it much harder to find and much more expensive. It’s a great economic study that looks to Gresham’s Law (yes, that college course in economics you took really will help you out here) to explain that we should exercise some caution lest we wind up with nothing but crap to read.

Chuck Wendig points out that the lack of competition for Amazon is dangerous. You can’t buy an e-book from another retailer and read it on your Kindle, can you? And yes, that’s a growing problem.

In the wake of the Google Books decision allowing Google to scan 20 million books from libraries and make them available on the internet, what does “fair use” mean under the copyright laws? Has this exception finally eaten the rule?

At The Millions, book editors discuss the first books they acquired. Sure sounds like a fun job.

Fun Stuff

RapunzelAnd after all that, have some dessert right here.

First, fictional restaurants that came to life. Most of them are in amusement parks, but what the heck? They’re still fun.

Next, classic children’s books rewritten for adults.

And I saved the best for last: children’s classic books as minimalist posters. If I had children, these would decorate their bedroom walls. As it is, they may wind up decorating my own.


Special Collections and Monkeys

enhanced-11580-1392492243-1You’ve got to give it to Buzzfeed—they do the lowest common denominator like nobody else. Even when they’re unpacking the quality stuff, you still have to pay attention to figure out which level of brow they’re aiming at. I know, I’m saying that like it’s a bad thing. It’s not—it’s what they do—but the sheer consistency is impressive.

For instance, this feature from February: 8 Book Historians, Curators, Specialists, and Librarians Who Are Killing It Online. It’s a wonderful sampler of some innovative ways digitized special collections are being featured on social media and blogs, as curiosities, parts of narrative wholes, and social commentary. But first you need to get past the silly headline, and a bunch of copy explaining that “book historians, librarians, and professors are just like us. They embrace social media to broadcast their ardor for archival treasures. It begins with a photo on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest, accompanied by a witty observation and context, perhaps followed by a longer post, podcast, or video”—oh, so that’s how it’s done—not to mention a characterization of the stereotypical librarian as “severe and pedantic.” I thought we had left that one behind a while ago, but maybe not.

Which is too bad, because the collections here are smart and funny, shining a light on a lot of things you can do with archival material besides catalog it. (The University of Cincinnati Libraries blog cut to the chase when they picked up the piece, identifying them as “some fun examples of digital humanities and outreach”—now that’s more like it.) We’re covered Ask the Past here already, but also make sure to subscribe to the Getty Museum’s Monkeys in the Margins Pinterest board, follow Richard Fitch’s Tudor Cook Twitter feed (which also features a lot of monkeys, and snails), and check out Colleen Theisen’s Miniature Mondays from the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections Tumblr (not so many monkeys or snails, but miniature pop-up books—be still my heart), and don’t neglect the others, either.

Buzzfeed wants you to know: these may be special collections, but you’re special too. So shrug off that shroud of severe pedantry! And, you know… laugh at the monkeys.

(Image is from the Getty Museum’s Pinterest board, Monkeys in the Margins.)


Visual Editions: Great Looking Stories Within Reach

VE5_WhereYouAre_HeroDesign within reach is a great concept. But the definition of “reach” isn’t exactly a fixed quality; even on our best days, most of us aren’t LeBron James. So it’s good for everyone when nice things are priced nicely—you don’t expect to be able to buy a new sofa with change gleaned from the cushions of the old one, but a beautiful book is one of the small consumer pleasures in life. Or at least that’s how it ought to be. High-end books are expensive to produce, granted, but often the markup goes beyond production costs to reflect a handpicked audience, one of which you and I are probably—although I suppose it’s not my place to make wild guesses about the tax brackets of my readers—not part.

A case in point would be a sharp new limited-run boxed book, The Brownsville Boys: Jewish Gangsters of Murder, Inc.. Coffee table-sized, thick with color etchings of famous Jewish gangsters and text by a crime scholar from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it’s just the kind of thing to make my heart beat a little faster, a book I might want to treat myself to sometime. Except, that is, for the fact that it costs a cool $4,200. And while I understand that production values here are high, and the publisher, Two Ponds Press, out of Maine, is something of a boutique house. Still, this is not a book, as it turns out, for the likes of me. Or anyone else I know.

Which is why it’s good to hear about publishers like Visual Editions, a London-based collective dedicated to making innovative, beautiful, affordable books. In the four years since designers Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen founded Visual Editions, they’ve produced some truly lovely work. Recent books include Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, a die-cut physical repurposing of Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles; Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1, an unbound book whose pages can be read in any order—which has also become an innovative iPad app—and my favorite, given my delight in countermapping of all kinds, Where You Are. This last explores the realm of personal mapmaking in a set of boxed, individually bound maps and essays by the likes of Alain de Botton, Tao Lin, Leanne Shapton, Geoff Dyer, and Denis Wood, author of countermapping ur-text The Power of Maps.

The books put together by Visual Editions, its writers, and its designers are wildly different from one another, but all are concerned with the ways it’s possible to play with the interface of words and images:

When we think of visual writing, we think about the visuals feeding into and adding to the storytelling as much as the words on the page do. We also like to make sure that the visuals aren’t gimmicky, purely decorative or extraneous, but are key to the story they are telling. And without them, that story would be something altogether different.

The prices are as important as the concepts: most of the work will run you $25 to $40 U.S., with Where You Are just tipping the scales at $50. That’s still within the range of the possible, and even—for those of us so inclined—the probable, no matter what our reach.


Open Letters Monthly, March 2014

We all know to beware the Ides of March. But at this point, I’m thinking it’s appropriate to beware the whole damn month. Two days ago it was frigid, with a blasting wind; today it’s sunny and in the 50s. Next week, supposedly, we get snow. I do not care for such fickleness. One of the few good things about March that I can think of is the new issue of Open Letters Monthly—quality writing on work you might not run across elsewhere:

Justin Hickey decides that The Office comedian B.J. Novak acquits himself well in his first foray into short fiction, One More Thing: “Novak’s finest accomplishment is to make us forget where we first heard of him.”

Walter Kirn had the questionable fortune to have made friends with “Clark Rockefeller”—a man who turned out to be a predatory psychopath with a number of aliases. G. Robert Ogilvy takes a look at Kirn’s account of their relationship, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade: “Ironically, the eventually unmasking of Christian K. Gerhartsreiter provided Kirn with greater material than he had ever hoped for, but at the cost of some unpleasant self-reflection.”

Michael Johnson looks at two books: the late writer Ross Lockridge Jr.’s Raintree County—perhaps “the greatest American novel nobody has ever read”—and his son Larry Lockridge’s account of his father’s life, breakdown, and suicide, Shade of the Raintree.

Orem Ochiel examines Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s tale of a violent and fractured Kenya—“a vast, complex, poetic story, a particulate text of Brownian motions, splashed with blood, aflame with feeling, torn by time.”

Susan Harlan has fun with Acorn Media’s compilation of the first season of the Australian television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which “puts the ‘lady’ back in ‘lady detective’” (hint: Miss Fisher has a butler named Mr. Butler).

Steve Donoghue on Elaine Scarry’s chilling analysis of the world’s nuclear weapon excesses in Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. If he hadn’t convinced me with the fact that “[s]he is in fact a magnificently angry writer, incising her marvelous prose on every page with a cold outrage provoked by offenses to her idealized version of American liberty,” the fact that we are a little less post-Cold War this month than last would have done it.

Lars Palm gives us a new poem, (redux).

Jane Shmidt looks at Elisabeth de Waal’s posthumous novel, The Exiles Return, the story of three Austrians’ return to their homeland in 1954, all looking to regain something of their past, noting that “De Waal is most interested in what happens in between the major events of the plot.”

Irma Heldman’s “It’s a Mystery” column reviews two books featuring two very different kinds of spooks: Gerald Seymour’s The Dealer and the Dead (“incredibly skillful at taking us inside the minds and lives of his impressive cast of characters”) and Scott O’Connor’s Half World (“Reading this novel produces a knot in the pit of your stomach and a disorienting sense of dread because it is all true”).

Luciano Mangiafico writes of Robert Browning’s days in Italy: “In Venice, Browning’s social circle was wide and included English and American artists, writers, art collectors, composers, and the rich who had left their countries for a new life in the ‘Serenissima.’”

And for this month’s Title Menu, Leah Triplett offers up Seven Books on Art Crime, a juicy list: “In their pursuit of the truth, as well as their elucidations of why certain criminals are attracted to art objects, the following books attempt to understand the inherent, but extrinsic, value of art objects within the criminal underworld.”


The Iron Will of Hesh Kestin, at Bloom

shoeshinecatsJust over three years ago, I reviewed what would prove to be one of my favorite books read in 2011. Hesh Kestin’s The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, aside from having one of the best titles of the decade, was a seriously fun hard-boiled noir coming of age tale set in 1963, featuring the Jewish Mafia, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights movement, Camus and W.H. Auden, and a whole lot more. I still have a soft spot for it a mile wide.

It turns out, as these things sometimes do, that the author didn’t start publishing fiction until he was in his 60s, which makes him—that’s right—a full-fledged Bloomer. This month I had the pleasure of talking to him about his long and eventful careers—as a journalist, an orange grower, a novelist, and a few other things to boot—and writing about him for Bloom. I learned many things: that cockroaches aren’t kosher, that you don’t wear a white helmet to a civil insurrection, and that a cigar may only be a cigar (more on that in the Wednesday “In His Own Words” feature), but a horse is never just a horse. See for yourself.