Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Literature of National Tragedy
Forty-two years ago this month, the President of the United States was shot to death in broad daylight, in front of dozens of witnesses while motion picture and still photographers recorded the event. The assasination of John F. Kennedy remains unsolved, and a national disgrace.
The Warren Commission Report, the first and best known book regarding the assassination, was the result of a Congressional investigation into the events of November 1963 and served more to insult Americans than inform them. Very few believed the "lone gunman" and "magic bullet" theories proposed in the report.

Those who say there is no proof of a conspiracy are correct, and those who say the preponderance of evidence indicates that Oswald did not act alone also have a strong case. Those who want a decisive answer to the question of who killed John F. Kennedy 42 years ago will have to await new books -- and live with the disturbing thought that we still don't know. -- Jefferson Morley
Forty years after the fact, with the government still refusing to disclose crucial documents, books regarding the assasination are a never-ending industry. The Washington Post's Jefferson Morley surveys the JFK assasination scholarship to date and reviews the latest authors to enter the fray. Also read the transcript of his webchat with Post readers about the assassination and various theories and those who have written about it.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Great Literature Amid Illiteracy
An extraordinary piece by AP writer Emily Wagster Pettus exposes the south's dirty little secret: illiteracy.
The piece focuses on Mississippi, which has the nation's lowest literacy rate, yet an astonshing literary history. Quoting Mississipi authors past and present, Pettus tries to make sense of an entrenched malaise for which underfunding and racism are only partly responsible.
"This clash of literature and illiteracy is one of the great contradictions in a region filled with them. And it's particularly stark in Mississippi, where studies have found that 30 percent of adults can't read well enough to fill out a job application, the dropout rate is 40 percent and public schools rank near the bottom in nearly every category."
To try and combat the problem Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale has pledged $100 million to the Barksdale Reading Institute, to get children reading as early as preschool. Meanwhile, the housekeeper at the State Capitol, at age 59, still struggles to read fluently.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Library of Congress, Harvard Library Going Digital with Help from Google
The Library of Congress is launching an ambitious project called World Digital Library, "an online collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, posters, stamps and other materials from its holdings and those of other national libraries that would be freely accessible for viewing by anyone, anywhere with Internet access," reports The Washington Post. Material in national libraries on five continents are to be included in the project, said James H. Billington, head of the Library of Congress. Google has pledged $3 million to the project. "To me, this is about preserving history and making it available to everyone," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Meanwhile, in Cambridge, Harvard University's libraries are going digital in partnership with Google's Book Search project, The New York Times reported yesterday. Harvard has more than 90 libraries, the digitizing of even the first 40,000 volumes seems daunting, but Google may have developed a new scanning technology that will enable them to meet their proposed deadline of six years.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Literary Review of Canada Lists Top 100

The editors of the Review listed not the 100 best books, but the 100 books that most impacted Canadian culture or most effectively reflected it, reports the Ottowa Citizen. Thus the list contains classics such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Howie Meeker's Hockey Basics (the sport is like a religion in Canada) alongside several governmental commission reports. The books are listed chronologically and span the 20th and 21st centuries.
Like many lists and rankings, glaring omissions are sometimes difficult to avoid. Michael Ondaatje, one of Canada's most respected authors, was accidentally left off the list, admitted Bronwyn Drainie, editor of the Review. "We ended up arguing quite passionately about whether it should be The English Patient or In The Skin of a Lion," she said. "We argued it back and forth so much that somehow, inadvertently, we argued him off the list!"
Get the list and give feedback here.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Robert Louis Stevenson, Composer?
Nineteenth-century Scottish writer and traveler Robert Louis Stevenson is remembered as the author of such classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island and the The Master of Ballantrae. Instead of living in Edinburgh, London, Paris or New York, Stevenson gave up 19th-century "civilization" to live in Samoa with his wife Fanny until he died. In addition to books, Stevenson wrote numerous short stories and travel and literary articles. Now, a recent discovery uncovered a talent previously unknown to present-day students fans and aficionados of the author, reports the Edinburgh Evening News
Members of the Stevenson Society were presented with a recording of the author's only known musical composition, a piece called Aberlady Links. Members of the society were more impressed with the novelty of the gift than the quality of the music. "if he had tried to be a composer, he would have starved to death," said one member.
Take a look at the Stevenson online exhibition here, which includes, pictures, manuscripts and personal articles. Check out the Stevenson Society of America. Get free online Stevenson e-texts here.
The Stiletto Lit Wars
You've seen them -- you've probably even bought one. Those nice trade paperbacks with a playful pink or or pastel cover, and a stylish girl or pair of stilettos somewhere in the cover art. The story is usually about a woman juggling career drama and and dating/love drama while running around between crises in stilettos shopping for designer clothes she can't really afford. It's Chick-Lit and it's a phenomenon.
Just as quickly as chick-lit has become a phenomeon, it has also become a lightning rod for criticism and derision from the literary establishment, feminists and men.
In The Australian, chick-lit author Melanie La'Brooy writes a detailed defense of the genre that is earning millions world-wide.
La'Brooy's spririted and well-argued defense of the genre doesn't quite address the severest (and most accurate) criticisms: that the genre is basically re-packaged romance novels for the Sex and the City set and that in view of the strides feminism has made in the past 40 years, the success of these novels is kind of disturbing.
Another point La'Brooy missed is that there is a metamorphosis occuring within the genre. Simon and Shuster's Downtown Press, which publishes nothing but Chick-lit, is publishing some startlingly new-fangled Chick-Lit which is combining thriller and crime elements into the genre.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Forbes lists Literary Tastemakers
Who knew that the chronicle of capitalism even knew there was such a thing as culture?
In a fit of um...madness(?) Forbes Magazine, that bastion of business journalism, has elected 10 contemporary writers as "Tastemakers," meaning, according to the introduction, that the writers not only display hefty sales but have taken the contemporary novel to new unexpected heights (or depths). Well, knock me over with a 100-dollar bill.
But wait! Lest you think the pinstriped pundits at Forbes have gone completely bohemian, they explain this literary lark by observing that books are big business in the U.S. "In fact, in 2004, Americans spent an estimated $8.8 billion on adult trade books, $3.1 billion on juvenile trade books, and $2.9 billion on mass-market paperbacks," they rejoice. And, they go one breathlessly, "U.S. consumers will spend nearly 5% more on books in 2005 than they did in 2004."
The list, which includes, Zadie Smith, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Joan Didion, also crassly (and pointlessly) lists their sales figures for 2005 to date. Apparently the editors at Forbes need some kinds of numbers to pick their night-table reading by.