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Last Word Blog

  • Happy Birthday William Faulkner: 1897 -- William Faulkner lives. American novelist, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Faulkner found his writing requirements simple: "Paper, tobacco, food, & a little whiskey."


  • Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin and "Weird Al" Yankovic Read Banned Comics

    It's that time of year, that everyone starts talking about banned books -- and in the comics industry, where we've been saddled with the stereotype that the whole art form is "for kids" for about three quarters of a century now, that means a lot of talk about banned comic books.
    One guy who's occasionally found his "mature readers" titles on lists of banned titles is award-winning, best-selling writer Neil Gaiman, who is of course now widely regarded as one of the greatest living graphic novelists (in addition to being a best-selling novelist and a screenwriter of some repute).
    Earlier today, Gaiman posted an image to Google , bringing various corners of the geek ecosystem together in support of banned comics: as you can see above, musician "Weird Al" Yankovic (whose UHF is getting a 20th anniversary re-release later this year and whose Mandatory Fun back in July marked the first time in his decades-long career that he topped the Billboard charts) and novelist George R.R. Martin (whose best-selling Song of Ice and Fire series is the inspiration for the acclaimed HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones) joined Gaiman for a quick photo.

    That's just...cool.
    The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a First Amendment organization serving the comics community, has a number of banned books events set up for the coming week -- you can see a full list here.
    The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Liberty Annual comes out from Image Comics on October 8. You can bookmark its spot on the Image website to buy a digital copy when it's released, or check back with your retailer next month.

  • The Bookstore at the End of the World

     July 20, 2011


    The walk from my front door to Inside Higher Ed's grand new offices takes about 10 minutes - or 15, if I am following the route that runs past a couple of unmarked graves. So I've come to think of the plots of commercial real estate where good bookstores used to be. One was a locally owned shop. It went out of business after years of competition from a behemoth national chain that opened its doors a few blocks away. The other, of course, was the behemoth national chain bookstore itself, which left a vast, empty cavern when its holdings were sold off not long ago.
    On the way home, I sometimes visit an international newspaper and magazine shop that regularly becomes frozen in time. Few, if any, new magazines will be put out for weeks at a stretch. Instead, the owner rearranges the stock, mixing in unsold copies of old issues, which makes browsing the shelves a somewhat melancholy experience. (Obama has always just been inaugurated.) A flood of fresh material sweeps through the place every once in a while -- including scholarly journals and titles so recondite that they can't have much of a market - only to disappear again after a month or two.
    The bookshops were weakened, over the years, by online vendors, and finished off with the economic downturn. And in a different way, so was the newsstand, which I have been visiting for 20 years: the non-periodical turnover of periodicals started in 2009. Nor is the end of these tendencies in sight. What little remains of the Borders chain (which has closed hundreds of stores over just the past few months) may begin liquidating as early as Friday.
    The company's owners "have no room to complain that Amazon ate their business," writes one blogger, "when they destroyed the bookshops that belonged to serious book lovers and staffed their stores with bored college students who made out with their boyfriends in the storeroom (or maybe that was just me)."
    But schadenfreude at corporate misfortune is, in this case, a bit shortsighted. The impact of "restructuring" the retail book and magazine trade (to use the blandest possible term for this wave of creative destruction) goes beyond the obvious immediate effects on consumer behavior. A revival of independent bookselling is the least likely outcome, at least in the short run. Rather, the shrinking number of outlets for hardbacks and paperbacks will create a greater incentive for publishers to emphasize e-books. (As if wiping out the expense of putting unsold copies in a warehouse were not enough.) The tendency is likely to be self-reinforcing: the easiest way to get an e-book is from an online vendor. Last summer, a prominent cyberpundit predicted that the printed book would be "dead" as a major cultural form within the next five years. This seems a little less preposterous all the time.
    Meanwhile, the 6th Annual World eBook Fair is making 6.5 million digital volumes available to readers for free for one month. The fair ends on August 4.
    Actually, most of the material can be downloaded for no charge the other 11 months of the year, as well. Almost two-thirds of it comes either from repositories for public-domain works (e.g. the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg) or Wattpad, a.k.a. "the YouTube for e-books," which describes itself as "a viral community where readers connect with authors, share stories they like with other readers and create viral fan bases for both established and brand new authors." According to the figures available on the fair's website, another 2.1 million titles come from the World Public Library, which normally has an annual subscription fee of $8.95 for individuals. (Educational institutions with up to 1,000 users can subscribe for just $2 a year.)
    After spending a while looking into it, I'd say that none of these numbers mean all that much -- especially not the claim to be offering 6.5 million e-books. There is much duplication of content between the sources. Wattpad offers 17,000 texts from Project Gutenberg, for example. I got 17 results back from World Public Library following a search for work by the early 20th century American author and publisher E. Haldeman-Julius -- but seven of them were copies of the same book, which is also available from the Internet Archive (which offers four copies). The readability of the texts is also quite uneven. For example, World Public Library carries Joseph McCabe's volume on George Bernard Shaw -- a title long out of print. One of the PDFs had blank pages where the original had not been scanned. The other was complete, but the text was faint.
    Well, you can't beat the price, at least during the fair. A yearlong subscription to the World Public Library comes to just under 75 cents a month. It's less like an investment than a wager: if there turns out to be some valuable but otherwise unavailable e-book in the collection, then the gamble will pay off. In any case, the fair continues for another couple of weeks. Take a look around and see if it seems worth the six bits.
    "All of us who are digital immigrants have vivid memories of reading printed books in our childhood, youth, or early adulthood," writes Tony Horava, an associate librarian at the University of Ottawa, in the June issue of Against the Grain. "We can recall the color, the cover design, and the typographical look of the pages, and any creases, folds, or imperfections in the pages; we can sometimes recall the smell and texture as well. Each book brought with it a unique experience that was intellectual, social, and emotional; the physicality of the artifact combined seamlessly with the richness of the world contained within the covers." (Against the Grain is a magazine for publishers, librarians, and booksellers, with a particular focus on scholarly and reference books.)
    Horava's essay "eBooks and Memory: Down the Rabbit Hole?" is nothing if not ambivalent. While acknowledging that e-publishing is "being developed in a richer environment of functionality, portability, and integration than ever before," he also worries it has "in some ways ... led to a flattening of reading, an anonymizing of interaction with texts."
    The e-book "is far more than a digital version of a print book," he writes; "it enables new associations of thought, new forms of learning and thinking, new forms of knowledge, and flexible ways to transmit scholarship." Which sounds just grand, except for the novelty wearing thin: "In separating the intellectual content from the container of information, we have paved the way for standardization of experience and a narrowing relationship with the intellectual object."
    If Horava sounds self-contradictory, it is for good reason: his paradoxes reflect conflicting aspects of e-publishing and its effects on how we read. But his emphasis on how consuming print involves "both the physicality of the object and the world of people and ideas contained therein" seems to miss another dimension of the encounter. And that's the place where reader and text first rendezvous - a bookshop or newsstand, often enough.
    Simply having so many publications together within the same enclosed space generates a kind of surplus of information -- an excess that creates its own indirect effects on the reader. A volume glanced over one day may come to mind, years later, as worth giving another look. Accidents of shelving can teach you the meaning of synchronicity. The algorithms at Amazon are no match for an intelligent person behind the cash register.
    A short video that just came out a few days ago evokes the mood of a remarkable bookshop where (to borrow Horava's expression again) "both the physicality of the object and the world of people and ideas contained therein" seem especially dense.
    The venue in question, Brazenhead Books, might best be described as a literary "speakeasy" in New York City. It is not listed in the phonebook, nor are directions to it available online. You have to make an appointment to visit -- and that means you have to know somebody. A few months ago, I attended the meeting of a circle of writers, graduate students, literary agents, and uncategorizable bohemian cognoscenti that gathers at Brazenhead on Thursday nights. (My jacket still smells like an ashtray, though reportedly there is now a ban on smoking.)
    The owner, Michael Seidenberg, keeps hours more typical of a Jack Kerouac character than a small businessman. It's easy to imagine buying something there at two in the morning. The books, which are all secondhand, are in excellent condition, well-organized, and reasonably priced. And the selection is crap-free. If you tried to sell him a Dan Brown novel or one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul things, Seidenberg would probably throw you out of the store and ban you.
    Actually the curmudgeonliness doesn't run very deep. "One thing I didn't expect from selling books this way was how much I would enjoy all the people that come visit me," he told me. "Very life-affirming." If he thinks you are the right person for a given book and can't afford it, something can probably be arranged. (On the other hand, he might decide he can't part with it.)
    The short film about Brazenhead by Andrew David Watson, who has taught as an adjunct in journalism at Temple University, captures something important: it's less a store than a space. And what that space feels like is a bunker or a catacomb - a retreat from the blooming, buzzing, twittering confusion of the post-print world outside.Seidenberg makes clear that Brazenhead is not designed as a refuge for the impending collapse of civilization: "That wouldn't make sense," he jokes, "because it's already happened. I mean, what did you think the end of the world was going to look like?" At least I think he was joking.

  • Word of the day: Planchette

    planchette ( /pl?:n'??t/ or /plæn'??t/), from the French for "little plank", is a small, usually heart-shaped flat piece of wood equipped with two wheeled castors and a pencil-holding aperture, used to facilitate automatic writing. The use of planchettes to produce mysterious written messages gave rise to the belief that the devices foster communication with spirits as a form of mediumship. The devices were popular in séances during the Victorian era, before their eventual evolution into the simpler, non-writing pointing devices for talking boards that eclipsed the popularity of their original form in later eras. Paranormal advocates believe that the planchette is moved by the presence of spirits or some form of subtle energy,[1] while skeptics allege the motion is due to the ideomotor effect.[2]

    Planchettes took on a variety of forms during the height of their popularity. American planchettes were traditionally heart or shield-shaped, but manufacturers produced a wide range of shapes and sizes hoping to distinguish themselves in the highly competitive and profitable market of the devices' late-1860s heyday. Manufacturers espoused the wonders and benefits of different materials (including various hardwoods, India rubber, and even glass), insulated castors, and various attachments meant to "charge" the devices or insulate the user from malevolent spirits.[3] In Great Britain, planchette shapes took on the classical shapes popularized in early illustrations and newspaper depictions, with round, blunt noses and flat backs. Regardless of their shape or country of origin, almost all planchettes were equipped with brass castors and small wheels of bone or plastic, and their sometimes lavishly illustrated boxes were often packed with blank parchment, pencils, ouija-like folding letter sheets, and esoteric instructions espousing the mysterious communicative powers of the items.[4]

    Though planchettes experienced incredible surges of popularity in Victorian times, in modern usage the term is most commonly associated with the heart-shaped pointers for Ouija or "talking boards." Rather than writing, these pointers dictates messages spelled out by the board's indicated letters and numbers. As writing planchettes were popularized during the beginning of the Spiritualism movement of the mid-nineteenth century, planchettes predate the popularization of talking boards by nearly four decades.

  • Word of the day: Apostasy

    a total desertion of or departure from one's religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

  • This day in history:


    1904 -- Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce dies in his lodge
    at Nespelem, Washington;  agency physician lists cause
    of death as "a broken heart."


  • Kickstarting A is for Zebra, subversive alphabets by Crap Hound's Sean Tejaratchi

    Rest assured Crap Hound fanatics, we'll be carrying this as soon as it comes out.

    In the meantime, let's crowd-fund this fabulous project!


  • The Novel as Core Sample: Installation Art and the Novel

    from Pubisher's Weekly

    By Martha Baillie | 

    Aug 08, 2014

    Martha Baillie's The Search for Heinrich Schlögel tells the story of an archivist piecing together the life of a man who mysteriously went missing for two weeks in the Arctic, only to find that 30 years had passed when he returned. Baillie, a poet, librarian, and actress, writes about engaging with her work in a new way.
    In 2007, when my third novel came out, I decided to take the edited manuscript and drill out a core sample. I wanted to do so, in part, to tip my hat to writing as slow, layered growth, as accretion. I knew that the finished novel contained, trapped within it and silenced, an earlier version of itself, a vision that I'd abandoned, not without misgivings.
    I also longed to reconnect physically with my novel as a way of reclaiming it, not from readers but from the marketplace. My motivation was in part political. I'd just made the shift from a small, independent publishing house to a publisher owned by a large corporation, and the experience had been eye-opening and deeply jarring.
    Rather than stand on a street corner yelling: "Literature is not commodity!" I decided to inflict a series of physical experiments on my published work, to take several copies of the new book, go at them with my hands, and see what might result. I stripped the book of its cover, bought a pouch of tobacco, tore the pages, rolled the words...
    Do words go up in smoke? Is writing an addiction? Into whose mouth are you putting your sentences? And, as you can see, this was also an opportunity to improve narrative flow... applying needles to such words as suffering, psychotic, obsession, and outrage.
    As I continued making objects from my text, I came to two realizations. First, I wasn't doing this just for myself, but in order to engage in a dialogue with readers about: (1) novels as physical entities (2) writing as a process unfolding in time, and (3) the way time and events unfold in novels. It also occurred to me that thinking spatially can perhaps allow us to play with time more freely in our writing.
    I sat on my front porch with a bowl of paste and strips of my novel and turned my text into papier-mâché, sculpting a head (because my novel contained references to the 19th-century practice of phrenology, which equates shape of skull with moral traits). As I tentatively crossed over into visual art in a very hands-on fashion, my conviction grew that novels are, in their core, sculptural acts of tension, motion, and balance.
    I have always had a love-hate relationship with linear narrative. I'm tempted to say that my dislike of the linear relates to its authoritative character. I think of Walter Benjamin's distrust of the linear, which evoked for him the freight train, the unquestioned destination... a lulling of crucial faculties. The linear often feels to me like a reassuring lie, and a failure to reflect how we actually experience time.
    John Berger writes: "Time appears to pass at different rates because our experience of its passing involves... two dynamic processes which are apposed to each other: as accumulation and dissipation....The lived durée is not a question of length but of depth or density." What better way to explore temporal depth and density than by looking at sculpture and applying this spatial way of looking to our writing?

  • New Poster from Last Word Press

  • Hilarious and Highly Questionable Books


    One of the reasons I started this blog was to create a place for all the quirky things I find interesting. My beloved Pinterest has mostly taken over in that regard so I thought it was time to share one of those odd collections over here in bloggieland. 
    Intriguing subject. How do we discipline children who are already seeing
    spiders crawling out of your nose? There are hundreds of funny wifey-in-her-correct-place type books
    so I was quite excited to see a vintage book actually acknowledging intelligence in a female.
    Even if they want to use it to planet-ending ends.These days trainers to the stars don't give a two hoots about your personality, but getting in shape to ride naked on a wrecking ball and lick a sledgehammer, now that they can help you with.It is indeed a very dubious occasion if someone is announcing her
    recent deflowerment during general chit chat.Fifty thousand people bought this book. Be afraid.That lack of effort in getting the word RAISING onto one line makes me question
    Mr Pratt's work ethic, otherwise I would for sure consider this as a viable business idea.



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