Once upon a time, typographical practice was anarchy. Printers put in all sizes of spaces in haphazard ways, including after periods. Then, a standard emerged: the single space after a period. Unfortunately, the evil typewriter came along, and for some unknown reason, people began to put wider double spaces after periods. Typographers railed against the practice, but they could do nothing. [more inside]
The Writer As Reader: Melville and his Marginalia In the General Rare Books Collection at Princeton University Library sits a stunning two-volume edition of John Milton that once belonged to Herman Melville. Melville's tremendous debt to Milton — and to Homer, Virgil, the Bible, and Shakespeare — might be evident to anyone who has wrestled with the moral and intellectual complexity that lends Moby Dick its immortal heft, but to see Melville's marginalia in his 1836 Poetical Works of John Milton is to understand just how intimately the author of the great American novel engaged with the author of the greatest poem in English. Checkmarks, underscores, annotations, and Xs reveal the passages in Paradise Lost and other poems that would have such a determining effect on Melville's own work.
The Big Father Essay. Some readers may find sections disturbing.
Songs from the Black Chair, published by Bellevue Literary Review in 2004, from a 2005 memoir by the same name, by Charles Barber
Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong. - I hate Strong Female Characters.
This is my window. Or my windows—the view from my living room, where I sit and write. Might not seem very inspiring. I wish I could offer green mossy lava, roaring waves, a glacier mountain top. I do have other spaces—in an abandoned powerstation, a favorite fisherman’s cafe by the harbor, a summer house on the arctic circle—but this is my honest view, what I really see most of the days. This house was built in the 1960s when people were fed up with lava and mountains; they were migrating to the growing suburbs to create a new view for themselves. The young couple who dug the foundation with their own hands dreamed of a proper garden on this barren, rocky strip of land. They dreamed of trees, flowers, shelter from the cold northern breeze. What is special depends on where you are, and here, the trees are actually special. They were planted fifty years ago like summer flowers, not expected to live or grow more than a meter. The rhododendron was considered a miracle, not something that could survive a winter. It looks tropical, with Hawaiian-looking pink flowers; Skúli, the man who built the house and sold it to me half a century later, took special pride in it. I am not a great gardener. We are thinking of buying an apple tree, though they don’t really thrive in this climate. I would plant it like a flower, not really expect it to grow, and hope for a miracle. —Andri Snær Magnason [more inside]
"I haven't told why I wrote the book, but I haven't told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze." A lovely little letter from E. B. White.
It is doubtless tempting to exclaim against the ignorant bourgeois; yet it should not be forgotten, it is he who is to pay us, and that (surely on the face of it) for services that he shall desire to have performed. Here also, if properly considered, there is a question of transcendental honesty. To give the public what they do not want, and yet expect to be supported: we have there a strange pretension, and yet not uncommon, above all with painters. The first duty in this world is for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who carries the purse. Robert Louis Stevenson on art as a career.
Ever Upward isn't just a blog about space but a love letter to the wonder and beauty lurking in the science of space. It is written, and occasionally drawn, by MeFite Narrative Priorities [more inside]
Let’s say you’re a writer, working a novel set in Minneapolis. Your protagonist arrives home after a long day of doing whatever it is your protagonist does all day. To this point, you’ve been very specific with local landmarks and a general feeling of the city — your protagonist rides the 21A, eats breakfast at the Grand Cafe, and meets his or her attorney in an office on the 12th floor of the Rand Tower. All good so far. You’ve set the scene very effectively. People are going to say, “This is a great Minneapolis novel" after they read it. However, the time has now come for you to insert a specific street address into the text. You like specifics, and you need a real-sounding mailing address for, say, a situation where the protagonist receives a mysterious letter. How will you accomplish this? Here you have a problem. You only have two options, neither one very good. [more inside]
By Heart is a series on The Atlantic's website where writers speak about their favorite passages, each illustrated by Doug McLean. Here are a few of the entries so far: Stephen King on two opening lines, Hanan Al-Shaykh on One Thousand and One Nights, Susan Choi on The Great Gatsby, Jessica Francis Kane on Marcus Aurelius, Fay Weldon on The Myth of Sisyphus, Adam Mansbach on Montaigne, Ayana Mathis on Osip Mandelstam, Anthony Marra on Jesus' Son, and Mohsin Hamid on Haruki Murakami.
Download The Stories: Five Years of Original Fiction on Tor.com Nearly 4000 pages of some of your favorite authors for free. [Past offers not valid in all countries. Sorry if yours is one of these.]
Ken Levine's network notes for Under The Dome, perhaps not the best example of Stephen King's TV work.
How being a writer helped me rewrite a sexist trope...for real. Submitted for your approval: a writer (Chris Brecheen) uses his narrative skills to turn the tables on an everyday creeper.
"Imagine a female pov character is going along about her protagonist adventure, seeing things from her perspective of the world as written in third person. She hears, sees, considers, and makes decisions and reacts based on her view of the world and what she is aware of and encounters. Abruptly, a description is dropped into the text of her secondary sexual characteristics usually in the form of soft-focus Playboy-Magazine-style sexualized kitten-bunny-I-would-fuck-her-in-a-heartbeat lustrous-eyes-and-nipples phrases. Her breasts have just become omniscient breasts." -- Kate Elliott on the male (and female) gaze in literature.
In the wake of the rumoured demise of The Dandy, artist Jamie Smart writes about the necessity of All-ages comics and how to make them work. Bonus links: The origins of new British weekly kids comic, The Phoenix. Al Ewing on that most British weekly comicsy of institutions: The readers voice. Tips for aspiring comics creators.
"If Shirley Jackson’s intent was to symbolize into complete mystification, and at the same time be gratuitously disagreeable, she certainly succeeded" - The New Yorker takes a look at the over 300 letters in reaction to The Lottery
Perhaps the most dangerous effect of the Big Crunch mentality has been to make television creators think of themselves as auteurs, to convince them that in spite of the massive interference with their work, they can somehow create a work of aesthetic integrity and sociological insight even if they don’t know where it’s going. Well, sometimes you get lucky, but more often, the result is disaster, and the effort spent toward that failure is redirected from where it would be better put: creating great trash. An essay on the challenges and pitfalls of writing serialized TV plots from The American Reader. [more inside]
Your parent dies. You hurt. You weep. You mourn. You do and say the necessary things even as your daemon’s disciplined askesis has you (against your will) coldly taking notes on what the emotion feels like, how others around you react to the death, what the corpse of your parent looks like, how you feel while looking down at it, what voids there are in that feeling, what pretenses, what posturings. It's all part of finding your daemon that dwells perpetually in the Condition of Fire. Other entries in Dan Simmons' series On Writing Well.
The LA Times Hero Complex looks at diversity in SF and Fantasy fiction.
This sheer quantity is in itself something new. All future histories of modern language will be written from a position of explicit and overwhelming information — a story not of darkness and silence but of data, and of the verbal outpourings of billions of lives. Where once words were written by the literate few on behalf of the many, now every phone and computer user is an author of some kind. And — separated from human voices — the tasks to which typed language, or visual language, is being put are steadily multiplying. [more inside]
"I've been thinking recently about the way readers come to be in sympathy with characters in a story. This is something that isn't talked about much, and when it is it seems to be in terms of how to manipulate the reader. Indeed, I stopped reading Orson Scott Card for a different reason than the reason everyone else stopped reading him -- long ago he said in a book on how to write that you get reader sympathy by taking a sympathetic character, preferably a child, and doing something terrible to them, like for instance torturing them. Once I knew he was doing this on purpose it was like "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain", I couldn't enjoy reading because I felt manipulated. Also, torturing children? Really? That's the only way to make me care? I don't think so." -- Jo Walton's Wiscon speech on how to make readers care about your characters.
I’m 23 And I Still Have A Babysitter! I Really Hope This Is How You File For Divorce! Wait, What is the Stock Market? There’s Nothing Punk Rock About Sriracha Anymore. All this and more from Thought Brochure: Where Thoughts Are Thinked. (some stuff NSFW) [more inside]
Finnegans Wake, Joyce's famously unreadable masterpiece (read it online here), was considerably more readable in one of its earlier drafts. Watch Joyce cross out decipherable words and replace them with less decipherable ones! Watch him end, not with a whimper, but with a slightly less impressive whimper! Sadly, Shem's schoolbook, which in the finished version is a House of Leaves-esque compendium of side columns and footnotes, was not written until much later (according to the footnotes of that section). The introduction to this draft by David Hayman, who assembled it, is worth a read.
First editions, second thoughts. [The Guardian] "Interactive: From Amsterdam to Wolf Hall, Booker winners and bestsellers – authors annotate their own first editions.
Two lengthy appreciations of Jacques Barzun's influence: Barzun's grandson remembers the letters of his well-known grandfather, and Helen Hazen reminisces about Barzun's unexpected effort to help her write her first book.
Claire Messud: “A woman’s rant” [National Post] "Over the last week, discussion surrounding Claire Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs, has shifted from the book to an interview its author recently gave to Publishers Weekly, in which Messud took issue with the following question: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.” [more inside]
My Psychic Garburator by Margaret Atwood [The New York Review of Books]
"Most dreams of writers aren’t about dead people or writing, and—like everyone else’s dreams—they aren’t very memorable. They just seem to be the products of a psychic garburator chewing through the potato peels and coffee grounds of the day and burping them up to you as mush."[more inside]
What Is the Business of Literature?
Publishing is a word that, like the book, is almost but not quite a proxy for the “business of literature.” Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself. We have come to believe that the taste-making, genius-discerning editorial activity attached to the selection, packaging, printing, and distribution of books to retailers is central to the value of literature. We believe it protects us from the shameful indulgence of too many books by insisting on a rigorous, abstemious diet. Critiques of publishing often focus on its corporate or capitalist nature, arguing that the profit motive retards decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. But capitalism per se and the market forces that both animate and pre-suppose it aren’t the problem. They are, in fact, what brought literature and the author into being.[more inside]
Sunday, April 28, would have been Roberto Bolaño's 60th birthday. The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona is holding an event that day, in conjunction with their recent exhibit of Bolaño's archive, to celebrate the life and work of the writer. Or if you're not in Barcelona, the celebration is #DiaBolaño on twitter. [more inside]
Joe Posnanski, 2011's National Sportswriter of the Year, has an incredible portfolio of work. He also wrote 'Paterno', and writes for Sports on Earth. Previously, we addressed our tremendous respect and adoration for renowned film critic, courageous fighter, and man-about-town Roger Ebert. Today, on Posnanski's personal blog, an incredible treat: Roger Ebert's Opening Sentences. [more inside]
Going through my parents' stuff didn't make me suddenly miss them, but I became more intrigued by them every day. I wanted to know more and more about them, to solve their mysteries. At the same time, I felt a corresponding, if conflicting, urge to speak, or write, about what many people seemed to think was unspeakable: my ever-present lack of grief. So I decided to combine these seemingly divergent impulses into an Tumblr blog called My Dead Parents, which I kept anonymous both out of respect for my family and because, after years of writing fiction, I wasn't sure if I could handle revealing so much about myself in writing.Anya Yurchyshyn writes about rediscovering her parents through their letters, after their deaths.
After years of silence, enigmatic programmer/musician/surrealist why the lucky stiff is publishing to the web again (temporarily). Five days ago he released a number of short collages; today, his site is outputting a number of stories and essays, which are being collected in several Scribd repositories. _why writes about a strange old Oprah show starring guests who've removed themselves from society [parts 2 3 4 5 6], discussing M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening with a friend [2 3 4 5 6], and suffering a personal crisis after reading the complete works of Kafka [2 3 4 5 6 7]. (One final story, "Dentist", has been uploaded to a public Dropbox account [2 3 4 5 6 7 8].) There's also this somewhat ominous web site. [more inside]
Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) was a physician and essayist, writing gracefully on topics as varied as language, nuclear war, and our excellent health and deplorable health-care system (PDF). He believed that the existence of Bach vindicates humanity, that "ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment", and that the Earth is perhaps best thought of as a cell. A three-time winner of the National Book Award, Thomas authored Lives of a Cell, which was voted the 11th-best nonfiction work of the 20th century by the Modern Library.
The Italian producer of the restarted Moleskine notebooks has taken the company public. The IPO is being managed by Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, and UBS.
STREET OF THE IRON PO(E)T, A Paris Diary by Henri Cole: "Today I visited the cenotaph to Baudelaire..." Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.
Marcel Proust’s First Poem, ‘Pederasty,’ [Daily Beast] "Here is the first known poem by Proust, written when he was 17, that shows him struggling with his homosexual urges. The poem is dedicated to his friend Daniel Halévy, and he wrote to him in a letter: “Don’t treat me as a pederast, that wounds me. Morally I’m trying, if only out of a sense of elegance, to remain pure.” The poem is titled “Pederasty.”" [more inside]
Stop Making Fun of Leaked Washington Post Blogger Job and Start Applying for It, Says Slate's Dan Kois
Stop Using Small Font Sizes "I'm calling you out. All of you. The hackers, the designers, the code monkeys, the word-smiths, the editors, the CSS gurus, and everyone else who works on content management systems and style sheets for news sites. Stop using small font sizes." [more inside]
Proudly Fraudulent: [The Awl] An Interview With MoMA's First Poet Laureate, Kenneth Goldsmith. [Previously] [Previously]
Every film Pixar has produced has landed in the top fifty highest-grossing animated films of all time. What's their secret? Mathematics. Oh, and 22 Rules of Storytelling. [more inside]
You too can sound like tedious Second Empire bourgeois making small talk if you follow Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas! A satrical collection of cant, cliche, and "expected" opinions of the French middle-classes around 1870 - List Of Entrees alphabetical - List by subject.
The finalists for the 2012 Nebula Awards have been announced (list with free fiction links here), but there's still another two weeks to get in nominations for the 2013 Hugo Awards. However, for those works not fiting the regular award categories Tim Pratt and other science fiction writers, fans and interested parties on Twitter have been suggesting #FakeHugoAwardCategories . io9 collects some of the best.