5 MobyLives.com




23 May 2005 — It was a Friday and I'd let my secretary go early because the Navy was in town. The door to the office flew open and a moll with a big head of hair and the kind of body that makes a man say "Cowabunga!" walked in and parked her tookus in the chair by my desk.
      She said her name was Cindy DeBray and she had a little problem she wanted me to take care of.
      "I'm listening," I told her, taking a cigarette out from behind my ear. I don't know how those things get there. I just find them there in the morning sometimes.
      "I'm a poet," she said demurely, batting her lashes and tossing a hank of hair back over her shoulder. Like I said, her hair was plenty big and the move knocked her out of the chair. "I'm in trouble," she said from the floor.
      "I'll say," I said. "Poetry's a dangerous game. That hair will kill you, too."
      "No," she said as she got back in the chair. "There's a man — they call him The Librarian — and he's making trouble for me."
      "What kind of trouble?"
      "Internet trouble."
      "Jesus. That's the worst kind. What's he got on you?"
      "Why, nothing, of course. I'm innocent. I'm a poet."
      "Right. So how's he making trouble for you, Mindy?"
      "It's Cindy. Well, he's threatening to post something on the Internet, some papers —"
      "Bad poems?"
      "Of course not. I don't know what it is."
      I was getting nowhere. She started to do the thing with her hair again but I caught her in time.
      "What do you want me to do about The Librarian?" I asked her.
      "Well, I want you to make him go away."
      "You want me to whack a librarian?" I asked her.
      "No," she said, looking confused. "I want you to kill him."
      "I was using poetic license, Wendy," I explained.
      "Oh," she said. "It's Cindy."
      "I can't kill The Librarian," I told her. "There are laws about that sort of thing. And it would only get all the other librarians riled up. How about I find out what these papers are?" I suggested.
      "Okey dokey," she said, rising to leave.
      "That rhymes," I said. "They just come to you like that?"
      "I guess I'm just special," she said, posing coquettishly for a moment at the door, one hand lifting her hair back as she stepped through.
      "Don't do that thing with your hair!" I called out, but it was too late. I heard her tumble down the stairs.

She called me later and told me I should go to a certain café and talk to a man named Bimke. She said he would know how to find The Librarian.
      I found Bimke sitting beneath a ceiling fan in a highbacked whicker chair.
      "Cindy DeBray sent me," I told him.
      "Oy vey," he said. "That woman is nothing but trouble!"
      "You know The Librarian?" I asked him.
      "Oy vey," he said. "That man is nothing but trouble!"
      "What's he got on her?" I asked.
      "Everything," said Bimke. "He's got me on tape cutting the Iowa City deal for her, for starters."
      "The Iowa City deal?"
      "A group of her former students got the contract to pick up the city's garbage. It made her look great. No other poetry professor in America gets so many of her students jobs."
      "What'd she have to give in return?"
      "The mayor always wanted to win the Georgia Press Poetry Prize."
      "I see," I said.
      "You don't see," he said.
      "No, I see," I said.
      "No you don't. You don't see."
      "I thought I did. I thought I saw."
      "No, there's more. She didn't give the prize to the mayor — she gave it to her main squeeze."
      I felt sick to my stomach.
      "It gets worse," said Bimke. "After that, she went through all the other submissions and made fun of them."
      "Jesus," I said. "I didn't know bupkis, Bimke."
      "Neither did I," he said. "Once the Librarian releases the documents, I'll have both the mayor of Iowa City and the Poetry Police on my tail. It's curtains for me. She played me for a sap." He looked at his drink, then poured it over his head.
      "But Bimke," I said, "you are a sap. You just wasted a perfectly good drink."
      He had the look of a man who had learned something of himself by suffering for poetry.

Back in my office I found Cindy DeBray waiting for me. She rushed into my arms.
      "Did you do it?" she asked sweetly. "Did you murder that goddamn fucking Librarian?"
      I pushed her back. "There's no time for your poetry," I said. "I spoke to Bimke. I know about the documents."
      She batted her lashes. "Why, what do you mean?"
      "Don't play dumb with me, sister. I know you gave that award to your boyfriend."
      "He wasn't my boyfriend. He was my husband. That is, I hardly know him."
      "Don't play me for the sap. You might have fooled Bimke but you're not fooling me. Look, you can't stop somebody like The Librarian. Sooner or later he's going to show up at your door, and it's going to be you or me. I'm giving you up, Wendy."
      "It's Cindy," she said. "And you don't mean it. You and I — we're good together."
      "Look, I'm only going to say it once. But you hurt American poetry and there are rules about that sort of thing. If a mug like me tried that — well, it wouldn't be pretty. They'd hang me, sure. I'd never get tenure. But you, well, you've got that hair. If you don't kill yourself with it, maybe you'll get by."
      Her look went cold, then she backed away toward the door. She could see the jig was up. She turned and ran. Her hair followed.
      I never saw her again. Not until about five minutes later, when she came back to get her purse, which she'd forgotten by the door.
      "Oh please," she wailed. "Please please please please just kill The Librarian."
      "No," I said. "I told you, sister. There are rules."
      "You and your sacred cows," she said, "and your purple prose."
      She left again. I heard her tumble down the stairs.
      But she was wrong. In fact, I never saw a purple cow. And I never hope to see one.

Link to this column.

©2005 MobyLives

Previous columns:

WHERE THE NOVEL'S HEADED . . . Jonathan Safran Foer's new book has a lot of people talking about post–modernism and the novel. But David Barringer thinks the novel is going in another direction — inside.

BOOKS IN GROCERY STORES: A TESTIMONIAL . . . After his mainstream publisher didn't want his second novel, Larry Baker got an idea about how to sell his second book himself when a flash of inspiration came to him in the local grocery store.

ANATOMY OF A HOAX . . . When Paul Maliszewski heard Michael Chabon tell a false story about a real writer, he wrote about it. So what led the New York Times to cover Chabon's hoax with an attack on Maliszewski featuring testimony from Dave Eggers?

EXTREMELY MELODRAMATIC AND INCREDIBLY SAD . . . Steve Almond explains in a guest column that he really wanted to like Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, but something about his use of 9/11 eventually got to him. And is it the beginning of a trend?

FOETRY SPEAKS! . . . By revealing that the winners of some prominent literary contests had ties to the judges, Foetry.com has made some bitter enemies. Why do it? The anonymous editor explains in a guest column.

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Friday 27 May 2005

Fallaci charges previously tossed out . . .
An Associated Press wire story offers more information on the suit against Oriana Fallaci. According to A.P. reporter Marta Falconi, a judge in the northern Italy city of Bergamo has ordered her to stand trial "on charges of defaming Islam in her recent book The Strength of Reason." The report says Fallaci is "accused of violating an Italian law that prohibits 'oputrage to religion,'" and "The case arose after Muslim activist Adel Smith charged that 'some of the things she said are offensive to Islam.'" The report also notes that "The case is proceeding even though a prosecutor who handled it previously sought dismissal of the charges on the grounds that Fallaci had a right to state her own political beliefs." But the judge, who is not named in the report, says, "Fallaci is addressing her hostile expressions against every manifestation of the Islamic religion and world and not only against certain extremist sectors." Says Fallaci, "I have expressed my opinion through the written word through my books, that is all."

American Empire Project says we're gonna get what's coming . . .
A recent essay by Jacob Heilbrunn in The Chronicle of Higher Education (not available online) considers the titles in Metropolitan Books' American Empire Project, which, according to Heilbrunn, is "devoted to showing that the United States is about to receive its long overdue comeuppance." The series includes bestsellers by Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, and Michael Klare. Johnson, as Heilbrunn sees it, is arguing that "American foreign policy has been entirely consistent since World War II. From that time on, a new professional caste of militarist has been transforming America into an Empire." While Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival shares this opinion by adding that, in such a predicament, "the very survival of the world [is] at stake." The series also includes Peter Irons' War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, which argues that the framers of the constitution "almost surely did not intend for presidents to send forces into combat anywhere in the world without the approval of congress." Heilbrunn concludes by saying that the series fails to recognize the democratic aims and "spirit of reform" that he finds in the neoconservative movement. A flaw, Heilbrunn thinks, that "may reveal less about the decline of America than about the decline of the left."

McCullough blockbuster format frustrates various sentient beings . . .
The current issue of Newsweek magazine, in addition to a story describing several more reports of copies of the Koran being thrown into toilets and latrines by American soliders, boasts a cover story that consists of an excerpt fileted from David McCullough's new and already–bestselling 1776. But in a recent essay for Slate, David Greenberg notes that, as "the latest in a series of heavily hyped history blockbusters," the book "will also drive many academic historians up the wall." Those academics will "raise legitimate objections to the approach of a book like this — the surfeit of scene — setting and personality, the meager analysis and argument, the lack of a compelling rationale for writing about a topic already amply covered." However, says Greenberg, " Instead of grumbling over the public's middlebrow book buying tastes, the best thing academic historians can do is to try to offer them something better." And, he says, "Thankfully, historians now seem to be recognizing all this as a problem. At one point, many academics seemed to consider popularity a first step into the Hades of commercialization and dumbing down. But today, most of my peers, myself included, seem eager to publish with trade presses, to write op–ed pieces about our research, or to appear on NPR and Charlie Rose — not just because we want the ego boost (though who wouldn't?), but because we enjoy discovering new audiences who respond intelligently to our ideas."

Notes from the underground . . .
This year marks the 15th anniversary of anarchist publisher/distributor AK Press, says Katie Renz in a profile in the current issue of Clamor (article not available online). AK Press, which is described as a "collectively run, worker-owned, bi-continental publisher of radical media" publishes and distributes some 2,600 titles, including "books, magazines and zines, pamphlets, videos, and DVDs." The company was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1990, when a group of booksellers decided to professionalize their punk distribution operation and tie it to an interest in anarchist literature. Charles Weigl, of the AK Press collective, notes in an interview with Clamour: "We tend to see our main job as providing practical and intellectual tools to help people organize." Ramsey Kanaan, who has sold anarchist literature and music since he was 13, notes, "I guess to have existed as a viable anarchist organization for this long is pretty coolŠ. Here's to the next 15 and a revolution or two."

How to build a library system in a war zone . . .
Thanks to the ongoing war between Maoist rebels and the king's army, and to a poorly educated populace with only a 50 percent literacy rate (only 35 percent amongst women), Nepal had relatively few libraries, especially in its more remote regions. But, as Louisa Kasdon reports in a story for The Christian Science Monitor, "In the past 15 years, READ, a nonprofit organization spearheaded by Antonia Neubauer of Incline, Nev., has been building libraries in rural and remote Nepali villages and towns." So far, the group has built 35 libraries in 35 different villages, all with an ambitious plan that requires the individual village to invest. Neubaurer says she could have covered the approcimately $20,000 of each library herself, but, she says, "I knew that if the libraries were to succeed in the long run, each Nepali village had to make an economic investment to build the library in the first place, and to maintain it in the long run," she explains.

Fighting book piracy, sort of, in China . . .
China's newly formed General Administration of Press and Publication has banned the publication and sale of 19 business books that contain "false information," although what the false information was has not been identified. It is the "first batch of publications banned by the press watchdog in its nationwide campaign of disciplining the publication industry, which began in February this year," notes a China Daily report. However, the move is somewhat confusing to observers, because the GAPP was thought to have been formed to counter China's rampant book piracy, and "According to the administration, false and fake publications are different from pirated publications. They are published by legal publishing houses and are sold through legal bookstores. They often make up writers and comments, use titles and information of popular overseas books or counterfeit works of popular Chinese writers." Meanwhile, another China Daily article by Xie Ye takes a look at the piracy scene: "In big cities in China, pirated books are everywhere from shabby tricycles along bustling streets to small, gloomy book stores. Vendors hawk the latest in pulp fiction, biographies, ancient emperors even middle school textbooks. It appears to be easy to commit 'intellectual property theft.' Publishers that pirate books stroll around the big State–owned Xinhua bookstores and buy the best–sellers. Then, they photocopy and print in bulk in dingy underground publishing workshops in nearby villages. Once printed, they distribute the books to local wholesalers."

Doctor, it hurts when I do this . . .
An item at Boingboing highlights one of the potential problems of the e–book world — the story of a man who bought a medical e–book "published by Wiley" for $172. "I have one copy on my laptop and a backup on my external harddrive. Last week, I downloaded and installed Adobe Professional (writer 6.0) . . . . Since then, I have not been able to access my ebook — I have tried to get help from our computer staff but they have not been able to help me."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Thursday 26 May 2005

Fallaci sued for comments about Islam . . .
In the wake of a series of critical writings about Islam, Oriana Fallaci has been sued in Italy "based on allegations that she has insulted Islam," according to a brief report from the Turkish Cihan News Agency. As the report notes, "In her latest book, the Italian writer claimed that Islam is like the seed of hatred in the hearts of followers, instead of love and of oppression, instead of freedom." The report does not say who sued her, but it notes that "While the Italian Minister for Justice reacted against the decision, Muslims living in the country are reportedly pleased with the decision."

Thompson cannon ceremony goes private . . .
"Plans for a public ceremony celebrating the life of Hunter S. Thompson have been canceled in favor of a private memorial service," reports an Associated Press wire story. A ceremony that was to include both a symposium on his work and the scattering of Thompson's ashes on his Colorado ranch was scheduled for the six month anniversary of his death. But Thompson's friend, historian Douglas Brinkley, one of the organizers, says "It got too tricky to morph symposium and ashes, so instead there is just the private service."

Stallone will fight nevermore . . .
"Brawny Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone, best known for action roles like Rocky and Rambo, is striking a literary tone with a new film about author Edgar Allan Poe," reports an Agence France Presse wire story. The report says Stallone, who many forget won acclaim for writing the scripts to his first few movies, including the first Rocky movie, is returning to his screenplay writing interests, and actually wrote the script three years ago but was unable to get a studio interested in backing a film about Poe. So, Stallone himself "will produce, finance and distribute the film that he wants Robert Downey Junior to star in as the 19th century American poet and author."

What about the fact that it will make you more sexually attractive? . . .
Book buyer Robert Gray of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont weighs in on an important question in his essay "Should Americans Read More Literature in Translation?" for Words Without Borders. "'Yes,' is the quick answer," Gray notes, "the answer that salves our collective conscience." But in considering the matter further, Grey writes that he thinks "our basic approach to enticing general readers to visit foreign literary landscapes is flawed." Grey praises online forums about translated literature and promotes the recent "Reading the World" imitative, a promotional display of translated works from five publishers (Archipelago Books, Dalkey Archive Press, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Knopf, and New Directions) that will appear in US bookstores. But it isn't that people are not exposed to foreign literature, Grey theorizes; rather, book buyers should be convinced of the "enticing prospect of literature in translation being an endless series of great reads." The task of reading work from other countries, he writes, "is not a list. It's a pleasure."

Israel's greatest? . . .
Donald Macintyre's profile of A. B. Yehoshua, "widely regarded in Israel as the country's greatest, as well as its most versatile, novelist," appears in a recent edition of The Independent. Yehoshua's newest novel, not yet translated into English, is The Mission of the Human–Resource Man, a book that tells the story of a woman who dies in a suicide bombing. The story, however, is told from the perspective of an HR worker—assigned by the woman's company to represent its sympathies. Yehoshua explains: "What I wanted to do is take the most anonymous death . . . from the very bureaucratic point of view of a manager of human resources in a big factory. He has to bring her body back to her home and during this voyage he is almost falling in love with her in a certain way." Yehoshua, who is the recipient of the Bialik Prize and the Israel Prize for Literature, is also the author of The Liberated Bride and Journey to the End of the Millennium, among other novels. He is among those on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize.

The joke may be on the Patriot Actors, says a bad librarian . . .
While noting that most librarians are raging against Section 215 of the Patriot Act, in his "Bad Librarian" column Erik Wennermark wonders what there is for Federal investigators to secretly learn in the average readers reading habits. "Let's face it, the library records are just not that interesting," he writes. "I spend half my days finding audio books of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and digging through 50 copies of Michael Crichton's new 'environmental thriller' for one decent book. The only reason to look at what the average American is reading (if they are reading at all) is to make fun of them." Wennermark admits "just the thought of some loathsome G–man poking through my files kinda gets me down, regardless of what it is he's poking through." Still, "Opponents of Section 215 . . . mention the possible 'chilling–effect' on intellectual inquiry; I just don't see much to chill. One must first engage one's intellect to have it stifled."

Mad dogs and Englishman daffy about their fave writers . . .
"In the annals of amateur fanaticism there is nothing quite like the English literary society," says Robert McCrum. "Forget the quotidian fervour of the common or garden reading group, here the dedicated bookworm's piety is marvellous to behold." In his weekly column for The Observer, he asks, "Who, for example, reads Angela Thirkell these days? Yet there is a society devoted to her memory which organises group outings, promotes group discussion, and — I've no doubt — in the nicest possible way, gives Thirkell's publishers hell about out–of–print titles." McCrum goes on to survey fan clubs for writers from Auden to Wodehouse, although he says "Not every writer is honoured with a society. George Eliot is remembered by a 'fellowship'. Gissing has a 'centre', Greene a 'trust' and Stevenson a 'club'."

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Wednesday 25 May 2005

Oh sure, says my wife, let's become publishers! . . .
"A study announced Tuesday estimates that a record 195,000 new works came out in 2004, a 14 percent jump over the previous year and 72 percent higher than in 1995," notes an Associated Press wire story. The report was issued by R.R. Bowker, the "New Providence, N.J.–based company that compiles statistics on books published in the United States." As the A.P. report notes, "The Bowker report follows a survey released last week from the Book Industry Study Group, which estimates that the actual number of books sold in 2004 dropped by 40 million from the previous year." As Bowker's Andrew Grabois tells the A.P., "No one wants to cut back, that's pretty obvious."

Geniuses open barn door, let horse out, miss him . . .
At first, Google Print seemed like a good idea to most in the conglomerate side of the book industry, and major publishers such as Random House, John Wiley & Sons, Simon & Schuster," and others immediately signed on for a pilot program that included sending thousands of books to be digitized. But now those publishers, as well as the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers is raising concerns about the program — as well as opposition. As Burt Helm explains in an in–depth Business Week article, the deal was that when the digitized book "came up on Google searches, users would only be allowed to see a few pages of the book, but links would be provided to the Web sites where the books were being sold. The link would go to the publisher's site if it were handling direct sales, according to the original plan. In addition, Google said it would place sponsored links next to the text, splitting the ad revenue with the publisher." But things changed last December when, "With no advance notification, the search provider unveiled its Print for Libraries program, aimed at digitizing public–domain books from the likes of the New York Public Library, Oxford University's Bodleian Library, and the libraries of Harvard and Michigan universities." The plan included making available online complete texts of public–domain books online, and "snippets" of copyrighted text. And significantly, notes Helm, Google said it would provide digital copies of its books to the member libraries. As a result, "Publishers now worry Google might someday distribute digital copies of copyrighted books without their or the author's approval. The publishers argue that libraries have no legal right to digitize copyrighted material by handing it over to Google." What's more, "The mass digitization of library books also raises concerns about piracy," notes Helm. Authors' Guild general counsel Kay Murray says, "Nobody has convinced us that this can't be hacked." Now, the AAUP has written a letter to Google blasting it for "systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale." Google has yet to respond.

Biggest company meets biggest country. . .
The world's biggest publishing conglomerate, Bertelsmann AG, has won a contract to distribute books in China. As an article in Money Magazine by Federica Bianchi reports, Bertelsmann has set the deal up as a joint venture with the Liaoning Publishing Group, a state–owned company. Reports Bianchi, "The joint venture is the first book–distribution company founded in China by a state-owned enterprise and a foreign company."

Most important Sunni library goes online . . .
The library that is considered the "highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world" — Egypt's massive Al–Azhar Library in Cairo — "has launched a long–awaited Web site featuring digital copies of its huge and rare library. The website showcases what may be "the biggest e–projects in the Muslim world," says Sobhy Mujahid in a Islam Online story. The $5 million digitalization project will enable "Internet users worldwide to have access to the 42,000 manuscripts and 128,000 books" in Al–Azhar's collection, which includes works as old as 1400 years. "The Web site will be the gateway for peoples from across the globe to learn more about the Islamic heritage and civilization," says Grand Imam of Al–Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Sayyid Tantawi. "It will also offers the possibility of getting answers to religious questions or fatwas (edicts) through e–mails." The Islam Online report also notes the library has also "revealed plans to launch a satellite channel to counter anti–Islam onslaughts and highlight the true essence of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance."

Publishing, class, and race . . .
"Publishing a book doesn't do much for your soul, but it is certainly an interesting experience," writes Daniel Alarcon in an essay posted on Salon.com about the complex relationship between class, race, and publishing in America. Alarcon, a Peruvian–American writer, focuses on an overlooked fact: minority writers are more frequently asked about their family's history and social status. Alarcon notes, "I polled white writers I know, friends of mine, informally and unscientifically, and most were surprised I'd gotten that question so often." It's an important question, Alarcon thinks, because "all writers — regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, native tongue, national identity, social class . . . attempt to write about people who are not ourselves."

British vote to rename Winesberg, Ohio, "Chopped Liver, USA" . . .
". . . in the past few years a good number of writers have started exploring the previously blank territory that lies between the collection of short stories and the novel proper" to the point where "it might just be an example of a new literary genre," says Philip Hensher. In a commentary for The Daily Telegraph, he notes numerous books that fit the definition: Tim Winton's The Turning, Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room, Ali Smith's Hotel World, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and Rachel Cusk's The Lucky Ones. But, asks Hensher, "where does this new form come from? A cynical commentator would say that it's just a case of the pressures of the market," such as the fact that "publishers are notoriously reluctant to bring out volumes of short stories." However, he notes, "New forms arise when our lives seem to demand them. Old–style Stalinist critics used to argue that the novel itself arose in England in tandem with capitalism. The old forms of epic and verse drama just couldn't contain the intricate details of market, capital, income and exchange . . . . So what has changed to give birth to this new form? In part, it's the global way we now live . . . . If imperialism itself was an 18th-century idea of unity, which might plausibly be put into a realistic novel, the end of it could only be one of severance and lack of connection."

If a tree clapped in the Canadian forest, would anyone hear it? . . .
The Friesens Corporation, the Canadian printer that produced North American editions of the five previous Harry Potter titles, will not print the newest volume, Harry Potter and the Half–Blood Prince, because the "novel's print run has become too big for Canadian companies to deal with," according to a report by David Schmeichel in The Winnipeg Sun. With more than one million copies already ordered, Friesens estimates that the job will require a single plant to dedicate itself to the job for between six and nine weeks. The last Harry Potter book sold five million copies in the first 24 hours. Harry Potter's UK publisher has decided to consolidate printing with a single American company.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Tuesday 24 May 2005

Penguin under fire: Out of 5,000 titles, only two non–white authors highlighted . . .
Penguin's plan to release 70 "Pocket Penguins" to celebrate its 70th anniversary is coming under attack because the list of titles includes "work by only two authors who are not white," according to a Guardian report by Vanessa Thorpe. Of the titles to be reissued as part of the series, Hari Kunzru and Zadie Smith are the only "not white" authors to be included. Among the writers and critics interviewed by The Guardian about the list, there was particular indignation over the exclusion of James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe. But Tony Lacey, one of the Penguin UK staffers responsible for drawing up the list, argues that that Baldwin and Achebe simply do not sell enough to be included: Baldwin and Achebe "sell very little in this country. We were looking at our foremost writers and with 5,000 authors in print it was always going to be difficult." Nonetheless, British critic Bonnie Greer argues that the omission represents "monumental ignorance, almost nauseating," and, she added, "it just won't do."

More people are using the library—for something other than books . . .
"Good news is starting to be increasingly mixed among the bad for Britain's 4,000 free public libraries," says John Ezard. In a report for The Guardian, he notes that "Book borrowing fell by a further 5% last year, maintaining a disturbing 20–year trend . . . But for the first time in their long decline there was hard evidence that libraries are winning back popularity with the public." More people than previously seem to be visiting libraries, he explains: "An extra 4% of people walked through their doors in 2003–04, giving them a total of 337 million visits." The head of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Mark Wood, says, "This is an astonishing turnabout." So what accounts for it? It's largely due to "the internet terminals now in almost every library," says Ezard.

Religious book seized by Nazis returned . . .
"A 17th–century book seized by the Nazis was returned to Rome's Jewish community on Monday," reports an Associated Press wire story. "The pocket–size religious book, published in Amsterdam in 1680, belonged to the library of the Rabbinic College of Rome." The Nazis looted the collection in 1943; many were subsequently returned but numerous still–missing volumes have led investigators archives and libraries in Germany and the U.S., including the Library of Congress. This volume was returned "in Hanover, Germany, earlier this month, by a Dutch scholar who received it from a German family."

Hippies responsible for computer age, says new book . . .
When Ken Kesey was shown an early version of a computer, he reportedly called them "the next thing after acid." A new book takes the idea and runs with it: What the Dormouse Said: How the 60's Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff says that the sixties counterculture was responsible for the place that computers have come to have in society. As Roger Lowenstein explains in a New York Times commentary, Markoff claims "longhairs liberated computers from I.B.M. and the military industrial complex and profoundly shaped the technology that is ubiquitous today. Formerly sequestered behind forbidding glass walls, computers went on to become accessible, usable and friendly. The industry had its consciousness raised — became a vehicle of togetherness." Dissecting the notion, Lowenstein says "Computer technology did turn out to be creative, spirited and even freeing. Most of this was a result of the fabulous advances in the power of the microchip. But perhaps, also, in the tactile clicking of the mouse, you can hear the faint strumming of a guitar.

Sartre not so smartre, says Mailer . . .
Sartre "derailed existentialism," says Norman Mailer in a short essay written for Libération, and reprinted in The Nation, to mark the centenary of Sartre's birth. Mailer writes that Sartre "guillotined existentialism just when we needed most to hear its howl." The problem, Mailer explains, is that Sartre never fully grappled with the many questions posed by religion, the "prior force" that must have preceded and shaped life itself. Sartre's brand of philosophical atheism was, in Mailer's opinion, "a cropless undertaking." But Mailer does provide his own interpretation of Sartre's important brand of existentialism: "We have minds, we can live with the absurd and ask for no reward. That is because we are noble enough to live with emptiness, and strong enough to choose a course which we are even ready to die for. And we will do this in whole defiance of the fact that, indeed, we have no footing. We do not look to a Hereafter."

Hidden meanings in the translator's tale . . .
A new memoir by Gregory Rabassa, famed translator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Latin–American "Boom" literature, "reveals few details of his technique, save for the occasional bombshell," according to a review by Jorge Morales in the Village Voice. As opposed to the critique Rabassa's memoir, If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, received in a favorable New York Times review by William Derexiewicz, Morales says the book presents only a casual account of Rabassa's career. Rabassa, who "knew eight languages by the time he left grad school" is the "Yonkers–born son of a Catalan–Cuban sugar broker" who worked as an "army cryptographer" before settling into an academic career accented by some very serious translation projects. One secret of Rabassa's craft is reveled in that he rarely reads a book before translating it, in order to avoid interpreting too much; Rabassa also admits that he is often "too lazy to read the book twice."

Star Wars meets Da Vinci Code . . .
In an essay discussing the presence of the Christian myth in the new Star Wars film, radical Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek offers his own interpretation of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (a book, Zizek says, that claims that "Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that they had descendants, that the true identity of the Grail is Mary's vagina") and the Catholic church's recent condemnation of the book ("which barely concealed a longing for the good old days when it [the church] could simply burn books . . . Indeed, one almost suspects a conspiracy between the Vatican and the book's publisher to give a fresh boost to its sales"). More seriously, however, Zizek notes that the Vatican's claim against the book is consistent with Christian teaching and a desire to see Christian doctrine survive various forms of "New Age" spirituality. "The Da Vinci Code effectively re–inscribes Christianity into the New Age's paradigm of seeking balance between masculine and feminine principles," that is to say, the book challenges the Vatican's spiritual authority, and allows readers, Zizek thinks, to retreat to "an attitude of inner peace and distance."

What the chicken did after he crossed the road . . .
So a chicken walks into a library, goes up to the main desk and says to the librarian, "Book, book, book, book, BOOK!" What's a librarian to do? According to this report from Scotland's Daily Record, give it a book.

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Monday 23 May 2005

Hail & Farewell: Marc Lappé . . .
Dr. Marc Lappé, perhaps America's leading writer on the issue of the chemically endangered, and endangering, enivironment, and whose "books were often the first to sound alarms about environmental issues that would soon draw wide notice," has died at his home in Gualala, California of a brain tumor at age 62. As a rather critical New York Times obituary by Douglas Martion observes, Lappé became a controversial figure by sticking up for his beliefs against major corporations such as the Down Corning Corporation, which he discovered withheld data about the dangers of the silicone implants it manufactured. He was also "a consultant or expert witness in cases involving the industrial wastes around Love Canal in upstate New York, Agent Orange in Southeast Asia, farm workers' exposure to pesticides," and more. He wrote 14 books, perhaps most famously the 1982 book Germs That Won't Die, about the overuse of antibiotics, and A Civil Action, which was also made into a hit movie. A more sympathetic San Francisco obituary by Sabin Russell, meanwhile, observes, "A thinker admired by environmentalists and opponents of genetic engineering, Professor Lappé was the founder of the Center for Ethics and Toxics, which provided scientific advice on reducing exposure to herbicides, pesticides and other poisonous substances." In a tribute at the Guerilla News Network, editor Anthony Lappé, the son of Marc Lappé, pays tribute to his father: "Everyone who met him was struck by his warm spirit, unforgettable stories, and limitless generosity," he notes. He also offers an in–depth appreciation of his father's larger gift to society as "a leading figure in the movement to integrate ethics and public policy, especially as it related to toxics and genetics."

Huckleberry Finn has to be white, says owner of rights to Twain play . . .
A high school production of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that had a black student play the part of Huck, and a white student play the part of Jim has sparked a controversy in suburban Maryland. As an Associated Press wire story explains, the ruckus erupted when a taped version of the Glenelg Country School performance was edited out of a C–SPAN program because the company that owns the rights to the play, the Rogers & Hammerstein organization, would not give their permission to the broadcast. A spokesman for R&H said the company does not normally object to cross–casting, but "In the books, Jim is a runaway slave. He is clearly in the novel an African–American man. And Huck is a free white man — that is central to the story. To ignore that component or to comment on it by switching is not faithful to the story." But the father of Jay Frisby, the black student who played Huck, says he is "appalled by the decision." Russel Frisby, a Washington attorney, says, "The only rationale for it is that someone in New York believes Huck Finn can't be played by an African–American. I thought we were past the days of 'whites only' clauses."

Orwell knew . . .
At a speech in at a St. Louis conference on media reform, Bill Moyers attacked the Bush administration, the mass media, and the far right in general for having "appropriated the news speak vernacular of George Orwell's 1984." As Michael Sorkin details in a St. Louis Post–Dispatch report, Moyers noted the tactic in such examples as " giving us a program, no child will be left behind, while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged children. They give us legislation calling for clear skies and healthy forests while "turning over public lands to the energy industry." Seeming to equate Orwell's Big Brother with the Republican Party, Moyers said, "The more compelling our journalism, the angrier became the radical right of the Republican Party. That's because the one thing they loath more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

When poets translate . . .
It was a seminal text of its time, deepening the influence of an important figure, and of the organization he headed: Markings, a memoir by United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. The book was found in manuscript in Hammarskjold's bedside table after he was killed in a plane crash in 1961, and when it was published in 1963, in a translation overseen and introduced by W.H. Auden, it was hailed by critics — a front–page New York Times Book Review, for example, praised it as "the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal devotion, published in this century." But now, as Warren Hoge reveals in a New York Times article, the centennial of Hammarskjold's birth coming up in July, attention has returned to the book—and to long–standing complaints about Auden's handling of the translation. Reports Hoge, "Swedes familiar with the original say that Auden took large liberties with the Swedish text, misunderstanding some of Hammarskjold's allusions, misconstruing others to inject his own religious and cultural biases and even altering citations in a way calculated to turn Hammarskjold's musings on friendship into Auden's expressions of anxiety at being neglected by a longtime lover." Auden biographer Richard Davenport–Hines says the charges are true, but adds, "I don't think one can expect poets to make their translations as neutral as diplomats make their translations of official documents." But former Swedish diplomat Kai Falkman says "It is a pity that foreigners will never be able to understand the purity and beauty of Hammarskjold's language." He says what Auden did is not a forgiveable literary liberty. "This behavior," he says, "seems to me to be a kind of crime."

Harper Lee remains a woman of few words . . .
"Harper Lee, who has been dodging publicity for decades since she published her only book, To Kill a Mockingbird, made a rare step into the limelight to be honored by the Los Angeles Public Library," according to an Associated Press wire story. Lee stopped giving interviews and doing appearances decades ago, but she apparently accepted this invitation because it came from Veronique Peck, the widow of actor Gregory Peck, who became a close friend of Lee's after starring in the film version of her book. The event raised over "$700,000 for computers, computer training and literacy programs," says the A.P. Lee's acceptance speech consisted of two sentences: "I'll say it again. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."

Author treated better by wolves than publishers . . .
Over at the Collins Library, Paul Collins posts a commentary on a bizarre story he's been following: The case of author Misha Defonseca against her publisher, Mount Ivy Press. It seems Defonseca has sued Mount Ivy for "keeping royalties that belonged [to Defonseca] and hiding the money in an offshore account." The royalties in question are from Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years, Defonseca's "memoir about surviving the Holocaust with the help of a pack of wolves that gave her food and protection." A judge has ordered the publisher to pay Defonseca $32.4 million dollars. In the words of Collins, "Who, whoa . . . $32.4 million? Cared for by a pack of wolves?"

NOTE: Daily newspapers often change URLs when archiving, so some links won't work beyond the day they're first posted.

Visit the mothership:


This week's poetry:

"The Ball Between Us"
(from GwynethLewis.com)

"Night, Open Field"
(from Fence Magazine)

"||||| ||||| |||||"
(from Aught Magazine)

This week's fiction:

"The Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need"
(from Potion Magazine)

"Beneath the Shingles"
(from 12 Gauge)

Special edition:

First posted in October, 2001, Alicia Ostriker's anthology of poetry that she turned to after the 9/11 attacks — including the work of Stephen Dunn, C.P. Cavafy, Marianne Moore, and others — is far and away the most popular link ever posted on MobyLives. Find out why.


(from Helen Marx Books)

(from Dalkey Archive)

(from Soft Skull)

(from Washington Square Press)



All material not otherwise attributed ©1998–2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.