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“Why do novelists write essays? Most publishers would rather have a novel. Bookshops don’t know where to put them. It’s a rare reader who seeks them out with any sense of urgency. Still, in recent months Jonathan Safran Foer, Margaret Drabble, Chinua Achebe and Michael Chabon, among others, have published essays, and so this month will I. And though I think I know why I wrote mine, I wonder why they wrote theirs, and whether we all mean the same thing by the word ‘essay’, and what an essay is, exactly, these days.” (cont’d @ Guardian)

Bill Moyers, a former advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, who in April, 2010, will retire from his weekly televison program, “Bill Moyers Journal,” on the parallels between Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam War and the decision facing Barack Obama in Afghanistan:

“Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

“Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

“And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

“And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

“We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.” (more @ The Nation)

Related: Bill Moyers Journal (November 20, 2009)

“In an online poll conducted by the National Book Foundation, [Flannery O’Connor’s] collection ‘The Complete Stories’ was named the best work to have won the National Book Award for fiction in the contest’s 60-year history. The competition was steep: other finalists in the poll were ‘The Stories of John Cheever,’ William Faulkner’s ‘Collected Stories,’ ‘The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty,’ Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ and Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.'” (more @ NY Times)

Related: Colum McCann Wins National Book Award

Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband, Christo, on dozens of environmental arts projects, notably the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin, and the installation of 7,503 vinyl gates with saffron-colored nylon panels in Central Park, died Thursday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 74.

“The cause was complications of a brain aneurysm, her family told The Associated Press.

Jeanne-Claude met her husband, Christo Javacheff, in Paris in 1958. At the time, Christo, a Bulgarian refugee, was already wrapping small objects. Three years later, they collaborated on their first work, a temporary installation on the Cologne docks that consisted of oil drums and rolls of industrial paper wrapped in tarpaulin.

“To avoid confusing dealers and the public, and to establish an artistic brand, they used only Christo’s name. In 1994 they retroactively applied the joint name ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude’ to all outdoor works and large-scale temporary indoor installations. Indoor work was credited to Christo alone.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

Related: ‘The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005’ Christo and Jeanne-Claude

“The story of the seduction of a lesbian by an ageing stage actor, which includes an eye-watering scene with a green dildo, has won Philip Roth the dubious honour of a place on the shortlist for the Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award.

“Roth can comfort himself with the fact that a roll call of literary fiction’s great and good, from Booker winner John Banville to acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Goncourt winner Jonathan Littell and Whitbread winner Paul Theroux, have made it into the line-up for this year’s bad sex prize, set up by Auberon Waugh to ‘draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.'” (cont’d @ Guardian)

“It was a revolution that began with a lie.

Vaclav Havel, the dissident leader who spearheaded the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia and kicked off twenty years ago on November 17, 1989, once declared that ‘truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.’ Yet the revolution — its name a reference to the clenched fist in the velvet glove — was sparked by a false rumor that to this day remains a mystery.

“On Tuesday, thousands of Czechs are expected to march through the streets here, to the sound of wailing sirens and the growls of police dogs, eerily replicating a non-violent student march, 20 years ago, in which police rounded on demonstrators and rumors spread that a 19 year-old mathematics students named Martin Smid had been brutally killed. Scores had indeed been violently beaten. But no one, in fact, had died.

“Jan Urban, a dissident leader and journalist who helped to disseminate the lie, recalled in an interview that news of the alleged death had spread quickly, helping to wake a nation out of its collective apathy and lighting the spark — eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall — for the peaceful rebellion that culminated in the regime’s demise.” (cont’d @ NY  Times)

old-books-300x205“Old books smell like grass, with a tang of acidity and a hint of vanilla, according to scientists who have discovered a way to tell the condition of an [sic] works by their odour.

“The system can measure the degradation of old books and historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

“Now the scientists say their non-destructive ‘sniff’ test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age.

“Matija Strlic, a chemist at University College London, and lead author of the study, and her team note that the well-known musty smell of an old book, as readers leaf through the pages, is the result of hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper. . . .

“Conventional methods for analysing library and archival materials involve removing samples of the document and then testing them with traditional laboratory equipment. But the new approach involves no damage to the document.

“The new technique analyses the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves.” (more @ The Telegraph UK, via Melville House)