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jim_carrollJim Carroll, the poet and punk rocker in the outlaw tradition of Rimbaud and Burroughs who chronicled his wild youth in ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 60. . . .

“As a teenage basketball star in the 1960s at Trinity, an elite private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Mr. Carroll led a chaotic life that combined sports, drugs and poetry. This highly unusual combination lent a lurid appeal to ‘The Basketball Diaries’ the journal he kept during high school and published in 1978, by which time his poetry had already won him a cult reputation as the new, Bob Dylan.

“‘I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation,’ the singer Patti Smith said in a telephone interview on Sunday. ‘The work was sophisticated and elegant. He had beauty.'” (more @ NY Times)

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Au Revoir“On Bastille Day, as chefs from the Flatiron District were holding a benefit in Madison Square Park inspired by food from around the world, a couple of blocks away Michael Steinberger was sounding the death knell for the most legendary cuisine of all. The occasion was the launch, at Idlewild Books, of his book ‘Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.’ . . .

“Steinberger, an ardent Francophile, sat on a stool on a low dais in the front window, next to a giant illuminated globe of the world. ‘For the first time in the annals of modern cuisine, the most influential chefs in the world are not French,’ he declared. ‘If you wanted to come up with the top three, you would say Thomas Keller, American; Heston Blumenthal, British; and Ferran Adrià, Spanish.’ He spoke of France’s thirty years of economic stagnation and crippling regulation and high taxes, which have translated every year into the loss of thousands of bistros, cafés, and brasseries, along with thirty thousand farms, all of which, together with a certain gastronomic indifference, he feels has led to the decline of French cuisine. Only ten per cent of cheeses in France are now made from raw milk (there’s just a single artisanal producer of traditional lait cru Camembert left in Normandy), and the consumption of wine—wine!—has dropped fifty per cent, to the point where thousands of small producers are effectively destitute.” (more @ The New Yorker)

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Orwell“[Orwell’s] classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads.” (via The Independent)

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CB021034“Slang is like a breeze; it softly comes and goes, as new times bring new buzzwords. Some stick (‘cool’ defiantly endures); some induce cringes when dusted off (‘groovy’ is now in the dustbin of irony). It’s obvious when slang becomes less funny or less meaningful through overuse: ‘Internets,’ for example, has become too widespread to be implicitly derisive of George W. Bush. Slang, in other words, is inevitably ephemeral–but it’s not always incidental. When hip-hop listeners crack the codes of songs en masse, rappers know it’s time to invent anew. The refusal of normative, dominant culture–beginning with the fundamentals of language–is embedded in the form. Baseball vernacular, for its part, isn’t so expressly political, nor is its obscurity as deliberate. Baseball belongs to the same class of folklore as, say, jazz, hamburgers and even hip-hop–but to employ Ken Burnsian hyperbole about the significance of its wordplay is a tough sell. It is what it is. As [Paul Dickson, author of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary] writes, it’s ‘low-key and light’–slang for its own sake. In other words, the richness of baseball’s old, weird vernacular is pure, pointless creativity. . . .

“Baseball slang is an avalanche of skewed logic. The commonest words take on very precise meanings. ‘Stuff’ refers quite specifically to the totality of a pitcher’s arsenal: his array of pitches and the velocity and movement with which he throws them. A pitcher can easily have good stuff but not succeed if his ‘command’–the ability to locate pitches accurately–is erratic. Terms associated with dirt and filth are highly complimentary. A hitter respectfully calls an excellent pitcher ‘filthy,’ a term that evolved out of common adjectives from a decade ago: ‘nasty’ and ‘dirty.’ ‘Dirtbags’ and ‘dirt dogs’ are consummate hustlers, guys with perpetually soiled uniforms and caps and batting helmets stained with sweat, tobacco juice and pine tar. Naturally, dirtbags and dirt dogs play ‘dirtball.’ A player who is ‘pretty’ is the opposite of a dirtbag, as is a ‘muffin.’ Food references are as prevalent as the television announcers who longingly mention the hallowed postgame buffet in the players’ clubhouse. The ball itself can be an egg, apricot, apple or stitched potato. ‘Jelly beans’ are rookies and inexperienced kids, the type a veteran might relentlessly call bush for a year before acknowledging him properly. Reaching base for your team’s big hitters is ‘setting the table.’ ‘Fat’ pitches are hittable ones, almost exclusively delectable treats, my favorite being ‘ham-and-cheese.'” (more @ The Nation)

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Kerouac Baseball“Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow-Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

“He collected their stats, analyzed their performance and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

“All these ‘publications,’ some typed, some handwritten and often pasted into old-fashioned composition notebooks, are now part of the Kerouac archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The curator, Isaac Gewirtz, has just written a 100-page book about them, ‘Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats,’ to be published next week by the library and available, at least for now, only in the library gift shop.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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“In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.

“In the process, they’re uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versios of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.

“A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.” (cont’d @ Wall Street Journal)

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kindle“The Amazon Kindle, an electronic reader, has been lavished with praise by hopeful newspaper and book executives who say they believe it has the potential to do for newspapers and books what the iPod did for music.

“But if the Kindle, which not only displays the news but also speaks it with a computerized voice, is ever to be the savior of print media, it needs to bone up on its pronunciation.

“In particular, the voice of the Kindle mispronounces two important words that show up often in the pages of newspapers: ‘Barack’ (the device rhymes it with ‘black’) and ‘Obama’ (sounds like ‘Alabama’).” (more @ NY Times)

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cadaver-book“Visual explorations of how the human body works have had us riveted since before Leonardo da Vinci sketched the famous Vitruvian man sometime around 1487. That fascination is the focus of what may be one of the most gruesome coffee table books ever.

Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930 contains hundreds of pictures of medical students posing with the cadavers they were learning to dissect.

“These photos were something of an underground genre, says author John Warner, a professor of medical history at Yale. You wouldn’t see one in a doctor’s waiting room, but they were taken and treasured, and sometimes even passed around as Christmas cards.” (more @ NPR) [Click image to enlarge]

Meanwhile, in Berlin:

A controversial German anatomy artist is facing protests over his latest plastination exhibition after unveiling a work showing two corpses having sexual intercourse.

Gunther von Hagens, whose latest exhibition, Cycle of Life, opens in Berlin tomorrow, has defended the exhibit saying that it combines the two greatest taboos of sex and death and is a lesson in biology, but is ‘not meant to be sexually stimulating’.

“The exhibition has drawn angry protests from a cross-party group of politicians as well as church representatives. They have called for the work to be withdrawn, saying it is pornographic and an insult to the dead. . . .

“Von Hagens developed the plastination method several years ago after discovering a method for preserving bodies by replacing their fat and water deposits with injections of silicon, which then harden.

“His popular exhibitions, which have travelled the world, have included corpses playing chess, high jumping, and horse riding. Others have shown a dead pregnant woman and foetuses at various stages of development.” (more @ Guardian.UK)

Related: Prof In Corpse Sex Plan

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wordsworth-grave“The 23rd of April is a bad, bad day to be a poet. It’s the cruellest day in the cruellest month, as TS Eliot almost said.

“Lots of people know that today is the day William Shakespeare, the greatest poet in the language, was born in 1564 and that it’s the day he died in 1616. I don’t want to sound like a local radio DJ doing a less than cheery ‘on this day’ feature for dark times, but for poets in particular, and for creative literary people in general, this day really is hard to ignore: William Wordsworth wandered his last lonely walk on this day, as did the great Spanish author CervantesHenry Vaughan, the Welsh metaphysical poet, breathed his last lungful of gorgeous Welsh air on this day. Rupert Brooke died today in 1915, and Harold Arlen – whose songs such as Stormy Weather and Let’s Fall in Love (mind you, he didn’t write the lyrics) approach the status of poetry – passed to the far side of the rainbow on 23 April 1986.” (more @ Guardian UK)

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“Good writers show us new places. Great writers give us new ways of looking at the old one. Just as Ruskin enabled a generation of Europeans to see the landscape that was actually in front of them rather than the conventionalized approximations they carried around in their heads, so is Gaitskill one of those rare artists who can endow us with braver, more vigilant senses. You step out of her books and into a whole new world.”

So says William Deresiewicz in his fine review of Mary Gaitskill‘s novels and early short fiction.

But not so, concludes Deresiewicz, with her new short story collection, Don’t Cry:

“A young writer pours her agonies of soul into work of uncompromising honesty. She stares into an abyss of pain so that we may see the truth. But few have the energy to sustain such effort indefinitely. Eventually, the spirit seeks rest–seeks comfort, seeks consolation, seeks peace. It happened to Wordsworth and Conrad, and now it seems to be happening to Mary Gaitskill. The hunger has gone out of her work. Gaitskill was a great poet of youthful suffering. Whether she can reinvent herself as a chronicler of maturity remains to be seen.”

I am among the many fans of Gaitskill’s fiction disappointed by the largely unfavorable reviews for Don’t Cry. Readers new to Gaitskill’s work — and she deserves a wide audience — are best to begin at the beginning, with her first short story collection, Bad Behavior.

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shakespeare-on-bookBaptized on April 26, 1564, William Shakespeare‘s actual birthday is unknown but is traditionally observed on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. But how likely is it that today is the Bard of Avon’s real birthday?

“There is no evidence, alas, to support the popular belief that William Shakespeare was born — as fifty-two years later he was to die — on 23 April, the date celebrated in England since 1222 as the feast day of dragon-slaying St George. As the poet’s posthumous fame grew, securing a unique niche for his country in the cultural history of the world, it was a natural enough temptation for posterity to unite the birthday of England’s national poet with that of its patron saint. But the tradition is based on a false assumption, that Elizabethan baptisms invariably took place three days after the birth.” (more @ English History)

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mein-kampf“While it is regarded in most countries as a ‘Nazi Bible’, in India it is considered a management guide . . .

“Sales of [Mein Kampf] over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone, according to leading stores, who said it appeared to be becoming more popular with every year.

“‘Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we’re happy to sell it to them,’ said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books who reprints Mein Kampf every quarter and shrugs off any moral issues in publishing the book.

“‘They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it.'” (more @ Daily Telegraph)

[Ach mein Gott!]

Related: ‘Turn Left at Gestapo Headquarters’

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1829-dust-jacket“A librarian digging through the archives at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford has found the earliest known example of a publisher’s dust jacket. The dust jacket, which had been separated from the book it was created for, was found bound with other booktrade ephemera. (Click image to enlarge)

“It belonged to: Friendship’s Offering for 1830. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1829.” (more @ Seattle Post-Intelligencer

More information on 19th century dust jackets (including the former earliest known jacket issued in 1832) can be found at 19th Century Dust Jackets.

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“During the late Thirties, some of Britain’s most distinguished architects, artists, musicians, film-makers and others, many of them Jewish, arrived on our shores with their meagre belongings having escaped from the Nazi threat in continental Europe. Many of them made their homes here and went on to leave a lasting mark on our intellectual and cultural life. Britain reaped a rich reward for its tolerance. . . .

“Among them were two refugees from Vienna, Walter Neurath and Eva Feuchtwang. . . .

“They met in London during the war, fell in love, and in 1949, 60 years ago, they pooled their passions, and set up a new art publishing imprint that would straddle the Atlantic.

“They named it Thames & Hudson, after the rivers of London and New York, and their aim was to publish reasonably priced books on art, sculpture and architecture, in which words and pictures were integrated and accessible to all. They wanted their books to educate, inform and entertain as a ‘museum without walls’. . . .

“Setting out to rebuild British culture Thames & Hudson has grown into a hugely successful company, and it remains one of Britain’s last family-held publishing dynasties.” (more @ Times Online)

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Whatever the future holds for printed books, this much is certain: there is no shortage of ink being spilled presently by writers offering their visions of the digital future –

In “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write,” author Steven Johnson points to two key developments, “the breakthrough success of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, and the maturation of the Google Book Search service,” and proposes that “2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible.” (more @ Wall Street Journal)

Related: The Social Dilemma of e-Reading

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The presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also increase their intelligence – so say Gregory Cochran (bottom), a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending (top), authors of the recently published, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of ‘The Bell Curve’ were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

“But Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)

“Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

“Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.” (more @ LA Times)

RelatedAre Jews Smarter?

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rossetFrom NPR, a profile of publisher Barney Rosset, former owner of Grove Press and The Evergreen Review, in advance of the publication of his autobiography, The Subject Is Left Handed, which takes its name from his FBI file. The article includes a clip from Obscene,” a film biography (2007) of Rosset, in which Rosset discusses acquiring Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot.

“Independent publisher Barney Rosset was there for some of the most important — and controversial — developments in 20th century American literary history. The first to publish Samuel Beckett in the United States, Rosset has been honored by the National Book Foundation, the Association of American Publishers and the French Ministry of Culture.

“Born to a wealthy Chicago banker, Rosset served as a photographer in World War II and afterward tried his hand at filmmaking and writing before buying a small, nearly defunct publishing company named Grove Press in 1951. . . .

“Rosset knew nothing about the business of publishing, but one of the first books Grove put out in 1954 became one of its most important: Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett. . . .

“Over the years Grove did have a couple of best-sellers, including A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and Games People Play, by Eric Bern. And Grove championed the avant garde and politically inflammatory. It published the work of noted 20th century playwrights like Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, as well as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which had been dropped by Doubleday.

“In 1957 Grove Press got into magazine publishing; The Evergreen Review became one of the most important magazines of the counterculture . . . Two years after launching The Evergreen Review, Rosset stepped into the national headlines when he decided that Grove would publish Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which other American publishers had shunned because of its frank sexuality. After the postal service impounded more than a hundred copies of the book, Rosset went to court claiming it was protected under the First Amendment. He won, but that was only part of his strategy. His real goal, Rosset says, was to publish another banned book: Henry Miller’s 1934 autobiographical novel, Tropic of Cancer.” (more @ NPR)

Related

[INTERVIEWER: Didn’t you say somewhere, “I am for obscenity and against pornography”?

MILLER: Well, it’s very simple. The obscene would be the forthright, and pornography would be the roundabout. I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.]

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nabokov“Penguin is to publish Vladimir Nabokov‘s unfinished final novel, The Original of Laura. Penguin Classics editor Alexis Kirschbaum bought the book, together with continuing rights to the Nabokov backlist, in a six-figure deal through Andrew Wylie. The Original of Laura will be published as a Penguin Classics hardback at £25 on 3rd November, and simultaneously by Knopf in the US.

“Nabokov left the novel unfinished when he died in 1977, asking for it to be destroyed. His son Dimitri Nabokov finally took the decision to publish, bearing in mind that his father once also intended to burn his best-known work, Lolita. . . .

“The novel is narrated by a man who, when young, fell obsessively in love with a young girl, but who is now unhappily married to a promiscuous wife with whom he is infatuated. Kirschbaum said the book was both dark and comic, and continued the theme of nostalgia for young love begun in Mary and continued in Lolita and Ada.” (more @ The Bookseller)

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Judith F. Krug, who led the campaign by libraries against efforts to ban books, including helping found Banned Books Week, then fought laws and regulations to limit children’s access to the Internet, died Saturday in Evanston, Ill. She was 69. . . .

“As the American Library Association’s official proponent of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech since the 1960s, Ms. Krug (pronounced kroog) fought the banning of books, including ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘Mein Kampf,’ ‘Little Black Sambo,’ ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and sex manuals. In 1982, she helped found Banned Books Week, an annual event that includes authors reading from prohibited books.

“She also fought for the inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive, like ‘The Blue Book’ of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. The book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958.

“‘My personal proclivities have nothing to do with how I react as a librarian,’ Ms. Krug said in an interview with The New York Times in 1972. ‘Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.’ (cont’d @ NY Times)

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evesedgwickEve Kosofsky Sedgwick died in New York yesterday, at the age of fifty-nine, following a long battle with breast cancer. The literary critic, who taught most recently at the CUNY Graduate Center, is best known for her formative work in the field of queer theory (in the books ‘Between Men’ and ‘Epistemology of the Closet’), including a number of provocative — and often scandalous — readings of classic literary texts. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, her visibility as a member of Duke University’s English Department placed her at the forefront of the culture wars, but her largely symbolic role in those conflicts meant that criticism of her work seldom did justice to the subtlety and searing wit of her writing, nor to her sensitivity to the social and sexual bonds that tie us to each other and to the world.” (more @ The New Yorker)

RelatedEve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a Pioneer of Gay Studies and a Literary Theorist, Dies at 58

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