Sunday, January 8, 2012

Soup and Salad: Rick Moody: Ironic Pedagogue?, Time-Warping with Stephen King, How to Build a Hidden-Door Bookcase, I Can Haz Dead White Guys, The (Verbal) History of the Typewriter, Our Daily Poem, Can Small Presses Compete?, Bells and Whistles, The Long and Winding Sentence

On today's menu:

1.  Novelist Andromeda Romano-Lax (The Detour) recently attended a seminar taught by Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death, The Ice Storm) and liked what she heard.  Sort of.  Here's what she had to say about it at the 49 Writers blog:
      Moody had great stage presence. Wearing a stylish hat and slouchy jeans, he spoke slowly and leaned in close to the microphone, delivering his advice on the subject of revision in a gravelly, wry, Tom Waits-kind-of voice.
      The large audience of faculty and students, myself included, enjoyed Moody’s sense of humor and his aura of hard-won success. I appreciated that he came to the seminar prepared (some don’t) and that he came with strong opinions. Exposure to other writers’ “rules,” beliefs and attitudes helps us create our own sense of authority. Whether we agree or disagree, at least we find, in pressing up against others’ sharply defined opinions, the shape of our own.
      However, not only did I not agree with some of Moody’s basic precepts, but much more troubling, I did not think that Rick Moody agreed with Rick Moody’s basic precepts. Which raises an issue: what can we learn from writer-instructors who say one thing but do another?
      I’m tempted to coin a new term for this: pedagogical irony.
Read the rest of Romano-Lax's thought-provoking piece: "Buy Fresh Fish Here: Rick Moody and Why Great Writing is Hard to Teach"

2.  This year for Christmas, Becca at the Bookstack blog received Stephen King's new novel 11/22/63 as a gift.  A few days later, she decided to walk around Dealy Plaza and get a feel for the aura of King's thriller about time-traveling back to the day of JFK's assassination:
The whole scene seemed smaller, more claustrophobic than I would have expected. Having only seen ancient black and white film footage, the road seemed large and expansive, where in reality it’s a small two lane section of city street, flanked closely by buildings. But being there in the actual city where history occurred and where so much of King’s book is set, certainly added an extra dimension of realism to an already fantastic read.

3.  From the Department of Scooby-Doo Investigations: How to Build a Hidden-Door Bookcase.

4.  Are you reading Dead White Guys?  No, not the classic Western Lit canon (though it's a good thing if you are).  I'm talking about the totally irreverent, totally hilarious blog written by Amanda Nelson.  You aren't?  Get thee to DWG posthaste!  Or else, get thee to a nunnery.  Each week, Amanda will smash your literary idols' pedestals to crumbly bits with charm and wit.  Take, for instance, her take-down of Doctor Zhivago (the novel, not the movie):
This book made my soul moan in pain, like the moaning of the Reds as they marched across the frozen tundra to oppress the Whites and Purples and Greens and Polka Dots, like the moaning of this secondary character who randomly becomes super important in 400 pages and you're supposed to remember him, like the moaning of the blabbering, incoherent, vague craps that is Doctor Shutthehellup.
There's plenty more snarky goodness where that came from.  Check it out.  Your stuffy, pipe-smoking, elbow-patch-sporting World Lit 301 prof will hate you for it, but I think you'll have a jolly good time.

5.  And now, for Something Completely Different: The History of the Typewriter, as Recited by Michael Winslow.  For those of you who don't remember Winslow, he played Larvell "Motor Mouth" Jones in the Police Academy movies.  And for those of you who don't remember typewriters, well....sit back, close your eyes and try to imagine the peck of keys, ink-smeared fingers, and the satisfying zzzippp! of a page being pulled out of the black-rubber platen.  Here's Mr. Winslow recreating the noise of typewriters in a 21-minute video:

6.  I've dispensed this advice before: A Poem a Day, That's All I Ask (and I still practice what I preach).  But along comes Alan Heathcock with his prescription for a daily dose of poetry and he says it so much better than I ever could.  Here's part of what he wrote for NPR:
Even with a crazed daily docket, I can manage a minute or two for the words, reading while waiting for the bread to toast, sitting in a school parking lot. I've read poems at jury duty.  At Jiffy Lube.  Once, at a football tailgate, I read a poem in a Portajohn.  That's the practical greatness of a poem.  They don't take much time, travel well, don't require any plug-ins or accessories.  It's the ancient and perfect technology of words on a page that make you imagine beyond your means, make you feel the truths of lives that are not yours, and contemplate the life you have.

7.  I'm very late to the party on this one, but I just stumbled across this interview with Victoria Barrett of Engine Books at the Psychology Today blog and thought I'd share.  Sure it was published last September, but I thought Barrett had some interesting things to say about small presses--including this:
I would at one point have said that small presses can't compete with large presses' resources, but as publishers put less and less cash behind a project, that becomes less true. As a new startup, I don't have the budget to send writers on tour and I don't, as of yet, offer advances. And I think, in a lot of cases, the money big presses do throw around gets misspent.  I would also at one point have said that small presses can't offer authors the same level of connection in the publishing world that big presses do, but that begins to be less evident, as well. Recent winners of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award have come out of very small presses. You can find small press books on Barnes & Noble's Discover New Writers shelf. Doors are opening for small presses and their authors. They've not been flung wide just yet, but they're opening.

8.  Here's another older news article, but still timely.  From the New York Times, a look at how publishers are trying to lure readers away from ebooks with bells and whistles (not literally, but perhaps someday soon we'll have microchip-enhanced books whistling at us in bookstores):
Many new releases have design elements usually reserved for special occasions — deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets that push the creative boundaries of bookmaking. If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading.  “When people do beautiful books, they’re noticed more,” said Robert S. Miller, the publisher of Workman Publishing. “It’s like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.”

9.  At the Los Angeles Times, Pico Iyer goes on--at length--about the pleasures of the long and winding sentence in this day and age of chopped syntax and CNN news flashes:
Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker.  Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can't be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won't be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we're taken further and further from trite conclusions — or that at least is the hope — and away from reductionism, as if the writer were a dentist, saying "Open wider" so that he can probe the tender, neglected spaces in the reader (though in this case it's not the mouth that he's attending to but the mind).
Somewhere, Mr. William Faulkner is shedding a tear of gratitude.

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