How do you quantify the effects of things that don't happen to you? "The whole point of living in a culture is that much of the labor of perception and judgment is done for you, spread through media, and absorbed through an imperceptible process that has no single author." (previously; via)
Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature's Most Epic Road Trips
"The...map is the result of a painstaking and admittedly quixotic effort to catalog the country as it has been described in the American road-tripping literature. It includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel...and maps the authors' routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer's descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times."[more inside]
"During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five-foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. Publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to compile and edit the right collection of works. The result: a 51-volume series of classic works from world literature published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, which would later be called The Harvard Classics." (Via) [more inside]
The Corpus of American Historical English is a searchable index of word usage in American printed material from 1810 to 2009. Powerful complex searches allow you to trace the appearance and evolution of words and phrases and even specific grammatical constructions, see trends in frequency, and plenty more. Start with the 5-Minute Tour.
Shockingly, a novel about a Nazi officer who abets murder squads, transports Jews to Auschwitz, has sex with his twin sister, possibly kills his parents and then dies rich, old and reflective has caused a trans-Atlantic controversy among literary critics. Published in the original French three years ago, the English translation of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones hit American bookstores this week. [more inside]
It's almost as good as being at John Ashbery's home (bio) and there's more, including a preliminary inventory of his library* (search for "inventories" or scroll down). Ashbery's poetry is still very much invested in the reader's pleasure—more so than many supposedly "approachable" poets. You can hear him read his poems (more), watch him (here's -transcript- a brief taste and a half-hour video) or read a few of his poems. [more inside]
What is the current state of American poetry? Hank Lazer: Perhaps, contrary to the laments, we are now living through a particularly rich time in American poetry—an era of radically democratized poetry...In its anarchic democratic disorganized decentralization, poetry culture has developed in a manner parallel to the computer: the decentralized PC has beaten the main-frame. No one can pretend to know what is out there, or what is next. Who are some of the most notable American poets active in the beginning of the 21st century?
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary... Ok, but ever wonder what "quaff this kind nepenthe" means, or where "the night's plutonian shore" is? You'll be an expert on "The Raven" in minutes with this interactive annotation of Poe's classic Halloween poem. There are many interesting subjects on this site, which was linked previously in a thread about the mysterious toaster who leaves cognac at Poe's grave every year on the writer's birthday.
So this year's Best American Poetry book is out, which means it's time once again for me to feel (English-major) guilt about not enjoying, or even "getting," more contemporary poetry. It looks like I'm not the only one, though, who wonders, "Does anybody like these poems?" Poet Joan Houlihan likens this collection to a "suburban poetry mall." (via Arts & Letters Daily)