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What to Read: A Brief History of Clocks

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Normally, the most popular links I share on Twitter are the ones that direct people to “Top 10” lists. Going along with the nature of the rapidly moving news feed, these posts lend themselves to quick skims that are easily mined for fun facts. Knowing this trend, I was surprised to see that the other day one of the most clicked on articles I’d posted was about the history of clocks, a 4,300 word essay describing the way we’ve come to measure time.

That morning the headline, “A Brief History of Clocks,” had caught my eye because, apparently along with many others, I have a deep fascination with time. I often look for articles on how to make better use of my time. Lifehacker is a site I go to daily to look for the latest organizational software along with time-saving tips. I check out Behance’s 99% for productivity tips. One of my favorite articles, which I believe I found on DesignTAXI, was how best to use those few minutes in between tasks to get (even) more things done.

While I wait for friends to show up to restaurants, or for a coworker in the lobby of our office building for a coffee run, I’m usually early, I check my cell phone continually to see what time it is. Inevitably, as I hardly know anyone who uses a wristwatch, I think about how we all live on the same time now — no more need to “synchronize Swatches” as Parker Lewis and his friends once did in 1990: our cell phones, thanks to towers, are now uniform — or at least that’s my understanding of it.

If those who follow me on Twitter are anything like me, I shouldn’t be surprised by the interest in the article. However, I do wonder how many of those who clicked over actually read it. If I’m to be honest, I finally had the chance four days after finding it. “A Brief History of Clocks: Our Conception of time depends on the way we measure it,” is what one now calls a “longread”. As mentioned, it clocks in at a little over 4,000 words and these days you might as well ask someone to read Moby-Dick. However, I’m here to argue that it well worth the time. It may not help you squeeze in those few extra chores or errands but you will walk away with a few hard-earned fun facts to impress your friends.

Here are a few highlights but I suggest you read it in full.

  • Humankind’s efforts to tell time have helped drive the evolution of our technology and science throughout history.
  • [B]y the 13th century, demand for a dependable timekeeping instrument led medieval artisans to invent the mechanical clock. Although this new device satisfied the requirements of monastic and urban communities, it was too inaccurate and unreliable for scientific application until the pendulum was employed to govern its operation.
  • According to archaeological evidence, the Babylonians, Egyptians and other early civilizations began to measure time at least 5,000 years ago . . . They based their calendars on three natural cycles: the solar day, marked by the successive periods of light and darkness as the earth rotates on its axis; the lunar month, following the phases of the moon as it orbits the earth; and the solar year, defined by the changing seasons that accompany our planet’s revolution around the sun.
  • [T]he growth of urban mercantile populations in Europe during the second half of the 13th century created demand for improved timekeeping devices.
  • Because the initial examples indicated the time by striking a bell (thereby alerting the surrounding community to its daily duties), the name for this new machine was adopted from the Latin word for “bell,” clocca.
  • With uniform hours, however, arose the question of when to begin counting them, and so, in the early 14th century, a number of systems evolved. The schemes that divided the day into 24 equal parts varied according to the start of the count: Italian hours began at sunset, Babylonian hours at sunrise, astronomical hours at midday and “great clock” hours (used for some large public clocks in Germany) at midnight. Eventually these and competing systems were superseded by “small clock,” or French, hours, which split the day, as we currently do, into two 12-hour periods commencing at midnight.
  • The sectioning of the day into 24 hours and of hours and minutes into 60 parts became so well established in Western culture that all efforts to change this arrangement failed. The most notable attempt took place in revolutionary France in the 1790s, when the government adopted the decimal system.
  • [B]y the 15th century a growing number of clocks were being made for domestic use.
  • Astronomers in particular needed a better tool for timing the transit of stars and thereby creating more accurate maps of the heavens.
  • The advent of the pendulum not only heightened demand for clocks but also resulted in their development as furniture.
  • Before the expansion of railroads in the 19th century, towns in the U.S. and Europe used the sun to determine local time. For example, because noon occurs in Boston about three minutes before it does in Worcester, Mass., Boston’s clocks were set about three minutes ahead of those in Worcester. The expanding railroad network, however, needed a uniform time standard for all the stations along the line.
  • The U.S. established four time zones in 1883. . . . At the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., the globe was divided into 24 time zones. Delegates chose the Royal Observatory as the prime meridian (zero degrees lon­gitude, the line from which all other longitudes are measured) in part because two thirds of the world’s shipping already used Greenwich time for navigation.
  • The American Waltham Watch Company, as it eventually became known, benefited greatly from a huge demand for watches during the Civil War, when Union Army forces used them to synchronize operations.
  • With the help of a substantial marketing campaign, the masculine fashion for wrist­watches caught on after the war. Self-wind­ing mechanical wristwatches made their appearance during the 1920s.
  • The precise measurement of time is of such fundamental importance to science and technology that the search for ever greater accuracy continues.

::[Futher Reading]::
Here are some books about time. They range from the scientific, to the philosophic, to the fantastic. Enjoy.

The History of Time: A Very Short Introduction by Leofranc Holford-Strevens
Why do we measure time in the way that we do? Why is a week seven days long? At what point did minutes and seconds come into being? Why are some calendars lunar and some solar?

The organization of time into hours, days, months, and years seems immutable and universal, but is actually far more artificial than most people realize. For example, the French Revolution resulted in a restructuring of the French calendar, and the Soviet Union experimented with five and then six-day weeks.

Leofranc Holford-Strevens brings us this fascinating study of time using a range of examples from Ancient Rome and Julius Caesar’s imposition of the Leap Year to the 1920’s project for a fixed Easter. Those interested in time, history, and the development of the calendar will enjoy this absorbing exploration of an aspect of our lives that we all take for granted. [via IndieBound]

Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide by Craig Callender; Ralph Edney (Illustrator)
Granted, philosophy professor Craig Callender’s Time: A Graphic Guide isn’t exactly a graphic novel, but it does borrow from the genre’s signature visual storytelling to explore the history of time with a fascinating philosopher’s lens, from Augustine’s contention that there is no time to Newton’s fluid time to the static time of Einstein to the contemporary theory that there is no time in quantum gravity, coming full circle. Callender covers a wide range of facets — clocks, psychological time, entropy, spacetime curvature, the Big Bang, Gödel, endocrinology, and just about everything in between — to deliver a sum total of illumination that will leave you with newfound awe for the intersection of philosophy and science. [via Brain Pickings]

In Search of Time: The Science of a Curious Dimension by Dan Falk
In his latest book, award-winning science writer Dan Falk chronicles the story of how humans have come to understand time over the millennia, and by drawing from the latest research in physics, psychology, and other fields, Falk shows how that understanding continues to evolve. In Search of Time begins with our earliest ancestors’ perception of time and the discoveries that led—with much effort—to the Gregorian calendar, atomic clocks, and “leap seconds.” Falk examines the workings of memory, the brain’s remarkable “bridge across time,” and asks whether humans are unique in their ability to recall the past and imagine the future. He explores the possibility of time travel, and the paradoxes it seems to entail. Falk looks at the quest to comprehend the beginning of time and how time—and the universe—may end. Finally, he examines the puzzle of time’s “flow,” and the remarkable possibility that the passage of time may be an illusion. [via IndieBound]

A Geography of Time: On Tempo, Culture, and the Pace of Life by Robert V. Levine
In this engaging and spirited book, eminent social psychologist Robert Levine asks us to explore a dimension of our experience that we take for granted—our perception of time. When we travel to a different country, or even a different city in the United States, we assume that a certain amount of cultural adjustment will be required, whether it’s getting used to new food or negotiating a foreign language, adapting to a different standard of living or another currency. In fact, what contributes most to our sense of disorientation is having to adapt to another culture’s sense of time. We travel back in time to ancient Greece to examine early clocks and sundials, then move forward through the centuries to the beginnings of ”clock time” during the Industrial Revolution. Levine raises some fascinating questions. How do we use our time? Are we being ruled by the clock? What is this doing to our cities? To our relationships? To our own bodies and psyches? [via IndieBound]

The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination by Chrisoula Andreou
When we fail to achieve our goals, procrastination is often the culprit. But how exactly is procrastination to be understood? It has been described as imprudent, irrational, inconsistent, and even immoral, but there has been no sustained philosophical debate concerning the topic.
This edited volume starts in on the task of integrating the problem of procrastination into philosophical inquiry. The focus is on exploring procrastination in relation to agency, rationality, and ethics-topics that philosophy is well-suited to address. Theoretically and empirically informed analyses are developed and applied with the aim of shedding light on a vexing practical problem that generates a great deal of frustration, regret, and harm. [via IndieBound] You can listen to Chrisoula on PRI’s To the Best of Our Knowledge

Time by Eva Hoffman
Novelist, cultural commentator, memoirist, and historian Eva Hoffman examines our ever-changing perception of time.

Time has always been the great given, the element that establishes the governing facts of human fate that cannot be circumvented, deconstructed, or wished away. But these days we are tampering with time in ways that affect how we live, the textures of our experience, and our very sense of what it is to be human. What is the nature of time in our time? Why is it that even as we live longer than ever before, we feel that we have ever less of this basic good? What effects do the hyperfast technologies–computers, video games, instant communications–have on our inner lives and even our bodies? And as we examine biology and mind on evermore microscopic levels, what are we learning about the process and parameters of human time? Hoffman regards our relationship to time–from jet lag to aging, sleep to cryogenic freezing–in this broad, eye-opening meditation on life’s essential medium and its contemporary challenges. [via IndieBound] Listen to Eva Hoffman discuss her book at the Los Angeles Public Library

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant. [via IndieBound] Slate has a physicist take a look at the novel

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin. [via IndieBound]

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Written by Gabrielle

January 26, 2012 at 6:10 am

Posted in books, on the shelf

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On the Shelf: My New York Diary by Julie Doucet

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Grabbing the copy of the 1991 graphic novel My New York Diary as it sat on the St. Marks Bookshop discount shelf was a no-brainer. This slim comic by Canadian-born artist Julie Doucet, reissued in 2010 after being out of print, appealed to my younger, angstier self, the one who coveted zines and a punk rock ethos.

My New York Diary is made up of three autobiographical stories. The first is the awkward loss of her virginity—a cringe-worthy event involving a near-homeless, possibly inappropriately older man. The second is of her time at junior college studying fine art where she lives with a conspiracy theorist and attracts unstable men, one of whom attempts suicide in her room the night before her final project is due. The third, and meatiest, is the story of when she left her native Montreal for New York City. In the spring of 1991 she moved into the Washington Heights apartment of her pen pal, a guy who had become her boyfriend after one visit the month prior.

Following the book’s leitmotif, the guy turns out to be a bit unhinged, controlling her friendships, feeding her drugs, and distracting her from cartooning with games of Candy Land and bottles of alcohol.

Doucet first published her mini-comic Dirty Plotte by way of a Xerox machine but her year in New York coincides with the time she spent working on a book for Drawn and Quarterly, an independent comic book publisher in Canada. Her style is dark and detailed with thin lines, cross-hatching, shadowing, and other textural techniques. Her characters look ragged, half-starved, and drug-addled, which might have more to do with the company she kept rather than the manner in which she chooses to draw. Throughout the book she’s surrounded by depressed, struggling artist types who work odd jobs, if at all, and drink and take drugs to excess. No one appears to have enough money for a vacuum cleaner— including Doucet herself.

From a quick glance, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that she was published in Robert Crumb’s magazine Weirdo. This inclusion in a 1981 issue earned her critical attention and future offers from The Village Voice and New York Press.

Having grown up in Montreal, English is not Julie’s first language and it shows in the writing for My New York Diary. There are minor grammatical errors and sometimes strange language usage, however it’s never confusing and only adds to the quirkiness of the book and the artist.

In bitch magazine, once co-editor and publisher of Punk Planet and current-day media activist, Anne Elizabeth Moore, said of Doucet’s work, “if I really think about something I read that made me gack with identification—that spoke to me in a pretty deep way about being a girl in the kind of world I was living in—it would have to be Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte comic books.” If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for your DIY-loving days or are craving some unabashed, punk rock memoir writing, My New York Diary is for you.

::[Links]::
My New York Diary at IndieBound
Special edition with DVD
Julie Doucet’s website (in French)

On the Shelf: Here are a few things that will go well with My New York Diary:

13 Songs by Fugazi (1989)
One of the greatest punk (or “post-hardcore”) albums ever. Here’s an interview with lead singer, Ian MacKaye, in Pitchfork about the recent release of the band’s archives.

LP by Minor Threat
This was MacKaye’s first band before forming Fugazi. They’re mostly known for coining the term “straight edge”. This album is fast, loud, and angry. In short: awesome.

Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus by Aaron “Cometbus”
In 1981, Aaron Cometbus, as he’s known, began this hand-written, photocopied zine in Berkeley, California. Most of his material is about living in punk houses, touring with bands, and living on the bare minimum with emotionally unstable friends. He’s still writing and co-owns an independent bookstore in Brooklyn.

BUST magazine founded by Debbie Stoller, Laurie Henzel, and Marcell Karp
BUST began in 1993 as a photocopied zine. I know because as an intern in the 90s I had to scan the early copies so they could be archived online. It’s a women’s magazine for indie-minded women: women who give the finger to convention but wear makeup and dresses, women who know how to change the oil in their car but who can also knit a mean scarf. Still going strong, and in a bi-monthly glossy format, BUST is core reading material for women who think Vogue cover stories could just as easily be written for The Onion.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
“In this engaging and provocative volume, bell hooks introduces a popular theory of feminism rooted in common sense and the wisdom of experience. Hers is a vision of a beloved community that appeals to all those committed to equality, mutual respect, and justice.

hooks applies her critical analysis to the most contentious and challenging issues facing feminists today, including reproductive rights, violence, race, class, and work. With her customary insight and unsparing honesty, hooks calls for a feminism free from divisive barriers but rich with rigorous debate. In language both eye-opening and optimistic, hooks encourages us to demand alternatives to patriarchal, racist, and homophobic culture, and to imagine a different future.” [ via IndieBound]

Gardenburger Veggie Medley burger
“A farmers’ market blend of delicious vegetables and grains with broccoli, rolled oats, savory onions, red and yellow bell peppers, crisp carrots, brown rice, and water chesnuts.” Gardenburger is my favorite veggie burger maker. They use the least number of processed ingredients and their patties are never dry—even when you toss them in the oven. You really can’t go wrong with any of the different varieties but I usually grab the straight-forward Veggie Medley.

Written by Gabrielle

December 30, 2011 at 6:08 am

Season’s Greetings from Literary New York

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2011 has been a great year for New York area booknerds. There are a number of thriving independent bookstores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each with their own personality, staffed by fun, passionate readers who truly enjoy engaging with customers.

Anyone who takes a quick glance at my events page knows that during any given week there are a number of incredible author readings and launch parties vying for one’s attention. It’s a constant struggle to decide to how spend the night. There are series highlighting independent presses, literary journal parties, and authors in conversation with journalists, editors, and agents.

What follows here are the voices of just a few of the many, many hardworking people in the local community who have made this year unimaginably enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Looking forward to the upcoming holidays, they’ve each thought of someone they’d gift a book to, said what that book would be and why; and then, because book people are impossible to buy books for, they’ve mentioned something book related they would like to get.

I hope you check out their bios and see what each of them are up to. Even if you don’t live in the area, I know that in this age of social media, you’ll benefit from their tireless creativity. Thanks to all of them and so many others.

And now, in no particular order (except for in which they were received):

Mark Asch is an editor at The L Magazine, in Brooklyn. You can follow them on Twitter at @TheLMagazine.

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why?
I would like to buy my 17-year-old self Jane Eyre, which I finally read this year; whenever I get around to belatedly loving a received classic I start to resent myself and my education for not getting it into my life sooner, which seems unhealthy but there you go.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Accessorize it! with: wooden wine crates, which are great to fill with the books that start piling up on your floor once you run out of shelf space.

*****

Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet by launching Beatrice.com in 1995. He is the author of Getting Right with Tao and The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane, and has contributed to several anthologies, including the New York Times bestseller Not Quite What I Was Planning, Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens, and Secrets of the Lost Symbol. You can find him on Twitter at @RonHogan

Who would you buy a book for?
I think books are a perfect gift for just about anybody, once you know them well enough to have some idea of what they already have.

What book would it be? Why?
This year, I’ve been eyeballing Ruhlman’s Twenty, the new cookbook from Michael Ruhlman, as a potential gift for at least two or three foodies on my holiday list. Heck, I’ve been considering letting people know I might want it.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I could really go for an Eames Lounge and Ottoman set, which would instantly become my default reading environment, but at nearly $4,000 BEFORE sales tax, I’m not holding my breath.

*****

Erica Barmash is the senior marketing manager at Harper Perennial. You can find her on twitter @ericabrooke and @HarperPerennial. She loves presents.

Who would you buy a book for?
My fiance, Tom

What would it be?
The Meatball Shop Cookbook

Why?
Last year for Valentine’s Day I gave Tom the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook, and he proceeded to make me chili, huevos rancheros, and grits that are just as good as the ones at the restaurant. I love The Meatball Shop and so does he, and I’m hoping we can repeat that pattern. His meatballs are already amazing, but with this book he’ll be able to experiment.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Finally, Out of Print Tees has made a v-neck tee for a book I love! I want this A Tree Grows in Brooklyn shirt

******

Max Fenton is online editor of the Believer magazine and runs community support for Readability.com. You can find him on Twitter at @maxfenton

Who would you buy a book for?
My smarter, more damaged friends.

What book would it be?
The Instructions” by Adam Levin

Why?
A fifth-grader may or may not be the messiah and definitely falls in love. At 1050 pages the comparisons to Infinite Jest are apt, but Levin succeeds on his own merits with this intense and remarkable novel.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
A better desk lamp. I learned in October that peripheral vision affects the degree of eyestrain when screen reading, so the tone of light around your screen should be about the same as the screen itself.

******

Jenn Northington is the the events manager for WORD, a bookstore in Brooklyn, co-founder of the Bookrageous podcast, and haunts the interwebs as jennIRL. You can find her on Twitter at @jennIRL

Who would you buy a book for?
I have a lot of nerdy friends (SURPRISE). They’re often hard to buy for, because they each inhabit a very particular nerd niche — some are more into sci-fi, some fantasy, some pop-culture, and you never know what they have and what they don’t. Tricky!

What book would it be?
If there’s one book that I want to give all of them this year it’s How to Speak Wookiee: A Manual for Intergalactic Communication.

Why?
Sound-bytes from Chewie, side by side with hilarious (and possibly inaccurate) translations (I mean, I don’t think they actually visit an art gallery to talk about postmodernism in the original trilogy at least, but I could be wrong) — you really cannot go wrong.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I’m so glad you asked — I’ve been salivating over Moleskine’s USB Rechargeable Booklight. The design is gorgeous, as you might expect, and the use of an LED light is just ingenious.

******

Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction has appeared in Joyland, THE2NDHAND, Metazen, Word Riot, and more. He can be found online at www.thescowl.org, and contributes regularly to Vol. 1 Brooklyn. You can find him on Twitter at @TobiasCarroll

Who would you buy a book for?
That friend or family member who appreciates both well-written fiction and a good political debate.

What book would it be?
The double feature of Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen and Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy. Because, hey: why buy one book when you could buy two?

Why?
Veselka and Taylor each grapple with complex interpersonal relationships, examine esoteric left-of-center movements, and ultimately leave their readers — whether sympathetic or hostile to said movements — challenged. But the novels also contrast in distinctive ways. The Gospel of Anarchy is set in a very specific place, with roots in the Gainesville punk scene of a few years ago. Zazen‘s setting is an unnammed city in the very near future (or, alternately, in a slightly more nerve-wracking present). Taylor’s tone moves from the grittily realistic to the mystical; Veselka’s, from the satirical to the paranoid. And both are terrific novels that stay in your head long after you’ve turned the last page.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Some sort of logic-defying bookshelves that can fit twice as many books as the ones currently in my apartment. We’re only a few years from the bold defiance of spatial laws in the name of bibliophilia, right?

******

Michele Filgate is Events Coordinator at McNally Jackson Books, and a freelance writer and critic. You can find her on Twitter: @readandbreathe

Who would you buy a book for?
My grandmother Mimo. One of my favorite stories to tell is how she was fired from her first job when she was a teenager because she was caught behind the clothing racks reading a book. Mimo was the person who turned me into a voracious reader. We used to go to the library sales and buy bags of books.

What book would it be?
I’m buying her a signed copy of A CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD by Garrison Keillor.

Why?
She’s a big fan and was excited to hear that he was signing at McNally Jackson.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I REALLY want someone to buy me an Ideal Bookshelf painting by Jane Mount. I just found out about this artist via Emma Straub, and I think it’s the perfect gift!

******

David Gutowski is the writer behind the music and literature blog Largehearted Boy. He also hosts a monthly music and author reading series at WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter at @largeheartedboy.

Who would you buy a book for?
The young or old fan of supernatural commercial fiction.

What book would it be?
Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl and Curse of the Wolf Girl.

Why?
Martin Millar transcends the supernatural genre with his smart writing; multiple, credible plotlines; well-drawn characters; and healthy doses of pop culture references.

These supernatural novels will appeal to both adult and young adult readers, and just might be the perfect opportunity to sneak something literary into the reading of Twilight fans.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
A gift certificate to my local indie bookstore.

*****

Penina Roth is the curator of the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Forward and other publications. You can find her on Twitter at @PeninaRoth

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why?
I’d like to give my pulp romance-reading friend – let’s call her Susie – a copy of Simon Van Booy’s latest novel, Everything Beautiful Began After (in fact, it’s sitting on a shelf in my living room but I keep forgetting to drop it off). I’d like to steer her away from Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts and into more literary reading material, and I think Van Booy’s lush and tender novel, with its gorgeous language and imagery, would appeal to her. The romantic triangle subject doesn’t interest me (I avoid love stories), but I appreciate how Van Booy uses Athens, a complex city of bustling streets and crumbling ruins, as a lens for his rootless protagonists’ shifting moods. The characters cycle through loneliness, love and heartbreak amidst stray dogs, menacing shadows, pink sunsets, gleaming white buildings and broken statues. And the striking language makes mundane life sound exotic: a flight attendant is described as “a mechanical swan, wrapped in blue cotton” and a small French village is seen as “an open mouth of crooked houses.”

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
As far as book accessories, I’d be happy with a compact reading lamp that won’t fall off my tiny nightstand.

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why? And what book-related accessory would you like to get? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

December 15, 2011 at 6:01 am

What to Watch: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

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The unconventional documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, best known for his film Super Size Me, an account of what happens when you eat only McDonald’s for 30 days, explores the advertising industry in his latest production. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, now available on DVD, is an inside look at the ubiquity of advertising today. Spurlock pulls back the curtain to expose how product placement makes its way onto our television screens, into our Hollywood films, and even onto the fields of our high school football games.

In a humorous, meta-twist Spurlock seeks to finance the project with ads, auctioning off screen time in exchange for start-up money. A camera crew follows him as he meets with potential investors, pitches the idea, and hashes out the contracts.

As companies step forward, some of them major corporations with images to protect, and make their demands, Morgan worries about his integrity; however, his concern has the feel of a clever charade, a playful way to include critical voices. Morgan meets with cultural commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader as well as successful film directors J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. In their interviews, the former discuss corporate power and its influence on the general public while the latter share their firsthand experience with advertising in the film industry.

Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice company, winds up paying the largest sum, 1 million dollars, and their name, as part of the deal, is placed on the marquee. In fact, the full movie title is “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”. Their financial support also means that whenever Morgan is in a meeting, Pom’s pomegranate juice is on the table. Similarly, wherever other drinks are present, those other company’s logos are out of focus. There are even a few commercial breaks featuring Spurlock as the star. Jet Blue, another major backer, gets the special treatment with an interview taking place in one of their terminals.

As the advertising industry’s marketing departments mingle with science, their tactics are honed to perfection. Using manipulation, these companies are able to steer customers away from the competition and toward their product. Morgan visits a neuroscientist who scans his brain in an MRI machine while he watches advertisements featuring images meant to inspire fear, induce cravings, and rev up the hormones.

In his trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where public advertising has been banned, the audience is given a glimpse of urban life without a barrage of images, a stark contrast to the scenes shot in New York City and Los Angeles.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold benefits from Spurlock’s wit and charm. As the New York Times says in their review, “Mr. Spurlock has Mr. [Michael] Moore’s prankster’s instincts, though not his sense of outrage.” It’s this lack of outrage that makes an otherwise damning movie downright amusing. No one comes out looking like a villain but viewing audiences will walk away better educated.

This film is perfect for those who appreciate sarcasm and those concerned with endless advertising in our lives—and everyone in between. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold shows that a lighthearted approach to a serious topic can be just as thought-provoking as a dogmatic one. After watching Spurlock’s on-screen antics, you’ll never miss those faced-out soda cans on your favorite prime time show again.

::[Links]::
The Greatest Story Ever Sold official website
Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk for The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock on KCRW’s The Business
Morgan Spurlock on NPR’s Talk of the Nation
Morgan Spurlock on Funny or Die (opens with sound)
Interview with Morgan Spurlock at AdWeek
Rogert Ebert’s review
New York Times review
AdWeek dives deeper into the MRI

What’s On the Shelf?
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
“The Hidden Persuaders is Vance Packard’s pioneering and prescient work revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to “persuade” us to buy the products they are selling.

A classic examination of how our thoughts and feelings are manipulated by business, media and politicians, The Hidden Persuaders was the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Through analysis of products, political campaigns and television programs of the 1950s, Packard shows how the insidious manipulation practices that have come to dominate today’s corporate-driven world began.” [via IndieBound]

Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising by Susan Linn
“[P]rovides instead a measured, but ultimately devastating, critique of consumerism and American childhood.

Children influence some $600 billion in annual spending, and marketers, as Linn amply documents, will stop at nothing to harness this kiddie-consumer juggernaut. Of the head-shaking stats and anecdotes Linn supplies, perhaps the most repulsive is the “nag factor study,” which identified the parents most susceptible to ‘pester power,’ whose kids thus make the most profitable advertising targets.” [via Mother Jones]

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
In Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, author and marketing guru Martin Lindstromtakes us on a behind the scenes look at what sells and why we are lambs to the slaughter when it comes to buying ‘stuff.’ . . .  Using one of the largest neuromarketing studies, Lindstrom attempts to look past what we say and figure out why we do what we do and how our brain responds to all of the incoming stimuli.” [via Interview with TreeHugger]

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
“Jonah Lehrer’s engaging new book, “How We Decide,” puts our decision-making skills under the microscope. . . . [Malcolm] Gladwell’s book [Blink] took an external vantage point on its subject, drawing largely on observations from psychology and sociology, [to study the boundary between reason and intuition] while Lehrer’s is an inside job, zooming in on the inner workings of the brain. We learn about the nucleus accumbens, spindle cells and the prefrontal cortex.” [via The New York Times] Watch Jonah discuss his book on Fora.tv (opens with sound).

No Logo by Naomi Klein
“Klein’s writing caught the wave of anti-globalization protests that swept across the planet a decade ago, beginning with the massive and violent demonstrations against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999. Almost immediately, wherever world leaders gathered—international economic conferences, G8 summits, trade negotiations—they would be met with street protests and a parallel meeting of the planet’s angry marginalia, including counterculturalists, environmentalists, socialists, labor organizations, and human rights activists. No Logo was quickly adopted as the movement’s bible and, along with Nalgene water bottles and khaki cargo pants, became an essential part of the general-issue battle kit for campus lefties.

What are we to make of No Logo a decade on? It remains a passionate and ambitious snapshot of the newly globalized youth and consumer culture at the end of the 20th century. It is also an often infuriating work of agitprop that marries old Marxist prejudices about the market economy to a paranoid and conspiratorial account of the business of advertising.” [via Reason]

Written by Gabrielle

December 9, 2011 at 5:54 am

What to Watch: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

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Since A Tribe Called Quest’s second album, Low End Theory, came out in 1991 I’ve been a fan. I can still remember the first time I saw the video for “Scenario”. The lines were clever—like Phife Dog’s of-the-moment opener, “Bo knows this and Bo knows that But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap”—and Busta Rhymes’ mesmerizing cameo. That year “Scenario” was on everyone’s mixtape. If you were in a car or at a party for more than 10 minutes, chances are you’d hear it.

Delving deeper, as fanatical teens are known to do, I liked them more and more. I loved their jazz samples and smart lyrics and stuck with them throughout the years, faithfully buying each album.

Earlier this year when I’d heard Michael Rapaport made a documentary about the group, I thought I’d heard wrong. Michael Rapaport? A Tribe Called Quest? Truly it was too awesome a pairing to be real.

For anyone who doesn’t know who Michael Rapaport is, he was usually the only white actor in 90s “black” movies, or “Hood films” as Wikipedia calls them, who wasn’t casted as a cop or corrupt politician. It was the era of Spike Lee and films like New Jack City, Boyz N the Hood, Above the Rim, and Menace II Society were huge; Rapaport was consistently authentic—he was the down white guy.

Beats, Rhymes & Life was Rapaport’s first time directing a film, a project that came about unintentionally. In passing, he’d mentioned to Q-Tip that someone needed to make a film about them. Q-Tip said, “do it”.

The first scene Michael shot became the film’s opening; the group was on their 2008 reunion tour. The footage shows the height of the group’s tension. Tribe had broken up in 1998, after their album The Love Movement was released. They’d known each other for nearly 30 years and spent 20 of those making music.

Q-Tip, Phife Dog, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were feeling the strain of living life as one entity. The film, however, is not about the group’s decline. Beats, Rhymes & Life doesn’t sensationalize the hard times, instead it’s a celebration of who this group was and what they meant to people.

When Rapaport looks back on Tribe’s early and glory days, he’s documenting the beginning—and rise—of hip hop, the revolution of the 80s, sparked by the radio. There were boomboxes on every stoop blasting DJ Red Alert, Run DMC, and LL Cool J—all influencers on Tribe’s style.

As Tribe’s sound became known on the street, in the venues, and on the radio, they, too, became the influential. Angie Martinez, Monie Love, the Beastie Boys, Common, Black Thought, and others all get on camera to tell stories and talk about what Tribe was to them. It made me remember how much fun East Coast hip hop was in the 90s.

In his interview with the New York Times, when asked if he thought it would be difficult to make a documentary about Tribe, Rapaport said, “Honestly, no. I was a little bit innocent about that,” which is exactly why he was the best man to shoot this film. Like Rapaport, A Tribe Called Quest always had an air of honesty and innocence. The group’s issues—largely isolated to Phife feelings towards Q-Tip, as the film shows—plays it out as a brotherly tiff, a misunderstanding between stubborn family members. Beats, Rhymes & Life is a trip down memory lane paved with love and affection.

::[Links]::
Official website
Q&A with the New York Times
Q&A with PBS’s Art Beat
Q&A with WNYC’s Culture Editor
Interview on Sound of Young America
Interview on KCRW’s The Treatment
Interview on NPR’s All Things Considered
Interview on WNYC’s Soundcheck
New York Times review
A.V. Club review

What’s on the Shelf?

The Plot Against Hip Hop by Nelson George
“THE PLOT AGAINST HIP HOP is a noir novel set in the world of hip hop culture. The stabbing murder of esteemed music critic Dwayne Robinson in a Soho office building is dismissed by the NYPD as a gang initiation. But his old friend, bodyguard/security expert D Hunter, suspects there’s much more to his death. An old cassette tape, the theft of a manuscript Robinson was working on, and some veiled threats suggest there are larger forces at work.” [via Akashic] Review in Time Out New York. Interview at okayplayer.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
“On the surface, Can’t Stop charts a smart history of the hip-hop movement as it’s come to be understood; Chang devotes a lot of attention to breakdancing and graffiti, as well as the music. Can’t Stop‘s real strength, however, derives from its big-picture vantage. Chang is a formidable reporter who follows individual actions to their collective vanishing point, such that principal figures like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Rakim, Public Enemy, and Ice Cube all wade in the lapping tides of black consciousness and political unrest. Chang’s approach to history seems to stem from a question he poses in regard to dub, the remixed reggae sound whose focus on shadows helped set the stage for hip-hop: ‘What kind of mirror is it that reflects everything but the person looking into it?'” [via The AV Club]

The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop by Dan Charnas
“Pulitzer-level reporting — Charnas interviewed more than 300 subjects — brings to life the story of the dollars behind the ballers in this absorbing account of hip-hop’s transformation from South Bronx cottage industry to multibillion-dollar global business.” [via Spin]
Interview on Fresh Air. Interview on Sound of Young America. Interview at Fader.

Decoded by Jay-Z
“. . . ‘Decoded’ is much better than it needs to be; in fact, it’s one of a handful of books that just about any hip-hop fan should own. Jay-Z explains not only what his lyrics mean but how they sound, even how they feel . . .” [via New Yorker]
Interview on Fresh Air. Video of Jay-Z in conversation with Cornell West at the New York Public Library (opens with sound).

Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label by Bill Adler, Dan Charnas, and Rick Rubin; Introduction by Russell Simmons

Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label is a colossal read, with its oversize width reminiscent of a vinyl sleeve. But the inside isn’t daunting; in fact, it’s alluring, with photography steeped in the record company’s storied first years, alongside words from some of hip-hop’s historic moguls, such as Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin and Kevin Liles. With a relentless attention to aesthetic, Def Jam pays homage to both its past as a corporation and the past of the genre that it helped build.” [via The Root] Listen to Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

What’s on your shelf this week? Comments are open. 

Written by Gabrielle

November 29, 2011 at 6:05 am

On the Shelf: NaNoWriMo!

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Beginning on the 1st and ending a second before midnight on the 30th, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.

Now in its 13th year, NaNoWriMo has grown from a small group of idealistic, aspiring writers in the San Francisco area to an organization with an office, 501(c)(3) status, international participation, and celebrity author recognition in just a few years.

In its first year, 1999, founder Chris Baty rounded up 21 participants. By 2010 involvement had grown to 200,000 with 30,000 writers making it to the end with the 50,000 word count goal.

“It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly,” the website says. By focusing on producing pages, the writer does away with the endless, sometimes obsessive, retweaking and editing that can stymie creative efforts.

While writing can often be a solitary experience, NaNoWriMo, for one month, makes it feel like a communal happening. Not only is the internet flooded with encouraging stories and helpful tips, there is also plenty of evidence of collective suffering: sleep deprivation, skipped dinners, unwatched television shows, and showers not taken—all in the name of word count.

The rules were developed, reluctantly, the second year as more writers signed up and demanded clarification, but they are simple: 50,000 words, from scratch, written within the month of November.

If you’re in the San Francisco area the organization puts on some great events throughout the month. If not, many bookstores and libraries around the country and across the oceans host write-ins. When you sign up for NaNoWriMo you receive pep talks from some great authors, including Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

Unfortunately, if you write nonfiction your work won’t count for NaNoWriMo but you can benefit from the month’s spotlight on writing—both on the process and philosophy of it: setting aside time to bang out a word count, not worrying about a perfect first draft, paying attention to bad habits like procrastination and working to fix them, and reading some great articles on the craft from fellow writers at all stages of expertise and development.

There’s much more information and interactive material on the National Novel Writing Month site including a detailed history of NaNoWriMo and a link to an article about NaNoWriMo’s participation jump in its 3rd year. I encourage you to check it out, even if you aren’t participating.

Around the Web:
GalleyCat is posting all month, you can keep up to date and scroll their archives here.
io9, has a great post on how to write a sincere first draft of a sci-fi novel or fantasy epic.
The Christian Science Monitor has five reasons why you should participate.
Mental Floss is there to taunt you with 6 famous novels that were written in under a month.
Watch a short interview with Erin Morgenstern about how her book came out of a NaNoWriMo session.
Lifehacker has tips on how to harness the mental, creative, and emotional benefits of regular writing.
Flavorwire has a slideshow of advice from history’s fastest and most prolific writers.
The Electric Literature crew came up with a mixtape to listen to for the month while writing.
And if anyone tells you you’re crazy or wasting your time, The Los Angeles Times has 12 reasons to ignore the naysayers.

Helpful Writing Sites:
Poets & Writers, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips, Merriam-Webster online, Daily Writing Tips, Beyond the Margins, Writer’s Digest, Grammarphobia, Center for Fiction, Terrible Minds

Writing Advice Podcasts:
I Should be Writing and Writing Excuses have regular episodes and Tin House magazine has a great lecture of Dorothy Allison’s where she talks about crafting dialogue

What’s on the Shelf:
Now that you’re all geared up to write, here are some books to help you along the way:

The Associated Press Stylebook
More people write for The Associated Press than for any newspaper in the world, and writers-nearly two million of them-have bought more copies of The AP Stylebook than of any other journalism reference. It provides facts and references for reporters, and defines usage, spelling, and grammar for editors. There are separate sections for journalists specializing in sports and business, and complete guidelines for how to write photo captions, file copy over the wire, proofread text, handle copyrights, and avoid libel. [via IndieBound]

The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation
In the no-nonsense, authoritative tradition of the best-selling AP Stylebook, the top editors at the AP have now written the definitive guide to punctuation. [via IndieBound]

The Chicago Manual of Style
Clear, concise, and replete with commonsense advice, The Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition, offers the wisdom of a hundred years of editorial practice while including a wealth of new topics and updated perspectives. For anyone who works with words, whether on a page or computer screen, this continues to be the one reference book you simply must have. [via IndieBound]

Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
I can’t recommend Roy Peter Clark’s books enough. I loved Writing Tools and refer to it on a regular basis. It’s also my most recommended book of all time—fiction or nonfiction. You can read my essay about it here.

Glamour of Grammar is his most recent book and in their review, The New York Times picked up on why I like him so much: “Clark wholeheartedly endorses breaking the commandments that make no sense, as long as in the breaking, the writing still holds up.” I’m a rule-breaker and Clark is an encourager of such practices—as long as it’s an informed breaking. They called it “a welcome addition to the bookshelf of anyone who cares about language — and is willing to argue about it.” You can read his Q&A with the Times, follow him on Twitter @RoyPeterClark, and you can find outstanding articles and archived live chats from him on the Poynter Institute’s website.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
“The secret of creativity, Natalie Goldberg makes clear, is to subtract rules for writing, not add them….Proof that she knows what she’s talking about is abundant in her own sentences. They flow with speed and grace and accuracy and simplicity….It’s the simple style of a Zen archer who looks like he’s not even aiming, yet sends arrow after arrow to the bull’s eye, time after time.”—Robert Pirsig, author of “Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” [via Natalie’s website]

Here’s an interview with Natalie on Beliefnet about what failure can teach us.

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty
Written with the wit, warmth, and accessibility that the podcasts are known for, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing covers the grammar rules and word-choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers. From “between vs. among” and “although vs. while” to comma splices and misplaced modifiers, Mignon offers memory tricks and clear explanations that will help readers recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules. [via publisher]

No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty
As mentioned above, Chris is the founder of National Novel Writing Month and it only makes sense to have his book included here.
Chris Baty, motivator extraordinaire and instigator of a wildly successful writing revolution, spells out the secrets of writingand finishing a novel. Baty puts pen to paper himself to share the secrets of success. With week-specific overviews, pep “talks,” and essential survival tips for today’s word warriors, this results-oriented, quick-fix strategy is perfect for people who want to nurture their inner artist and then hit print! Anecdotes and success stories from NaNoWriMo winners will inspire writers from the heralding you-can-do-it trumpet blasts of day one to the champagne toasts of day thirty. Whether it’s a resource for those taking part in the official NaNoWriMo event, or a stand-alone handbook for writing to come, No Plot? No Problem! is the ultimate guide for would-be writers (or those with writer’s block) to cultivate their creative selves. [via IndieBound]

Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury shares the wisdom, experience, and  excitement of a lifetime of writing. Here are  practical tips on the art of writing from a master of  the craft-everything from finding original ideas to  developing your own voice and style-as well as the  inside story of Bradbury’s own remarkable career  as a prolific author of novels, stories, poems,  films, and plays. [via IndieBound]

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
If you’re searching for a motivational manifesto and how-to manual in one, this is it. Zinsser, a veteran writer and writing teacher with numerous books and magazine articles to his credit, lays it out straight in a refreshingly no-nonsense tone. [via Dailywritingtips]

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
In the years since its original publication, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life has become a staple must-read for aspiring writers of all walks. Perhaps this is because her approach to the creative process manages a kind of golden ratio, a balance of magic and pragmatism that continues to reveal its depths to writers of the 21st century. Plainly, this is not a field guide. Dillard does not draw a tidy map. She does the opposite, acknowledging the unknown and unknowable wilderness that every writer must face. [via Center for Fiction]

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
You’ve always dreamed of writing science fiction and fantasy—tales that pull readers into extraordinary new worlds and fantastic conflicts. Best-selling author Orson Scott Card shows you how it’s done, distilling years of writing experience and publishing success into concise, no-nonsense advice. You’ll learn how to utilize story elements that define the science fiction and fantasy genres; build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world your readers will want to explore; develop the “rules” of time, space and magic that affect your world and its inhabitants; construct a compelling story by developing ideas, characters, and events that keep readers turning pages; find the markets for speculative fiction, reach them, and get published; and submit queries, write cover letters, find an agent, and live the life of a writer [via Writer’s Digest]

The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House combines the best craft seminars in the history of the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop with a variety of essays written by some of Tin House’s favorite authors, offering aspiring writers insight into the craft of writing.

Dorothy Allison, Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, D. A. Powell, and others break down elements of craft and share insights into the joys and pains of their own writing. This cast of deeply respected poets and prose writers explore topics that vary from writing dialogue to the dos and don’ts of writing about sex. With how-tos, close readings, and personal anecdotes,The Writer’s Notebook offers future scribes advice and inspiration. [via Tin House]

What are your favorite writing books? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Do you have a favorite NaNoWriMo article? Comments are open. 

Written by Gabrielle

November 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

On the Shelf: What is Dark Fantasy?

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The parsing of genres into subgenres and then into sub-subgenres has its champions and its critics. Many who oppose it feel it’s a disingenuous marketing gimmick created by the publishing industry to sell more books. Those who encourage breaking down science fiction, fantasy, and horror into further subsections feel it’s easier to discuss the books they like and to find other authors like the ones they’ve just read.

This won’t be the last I mention categorizing books, and I won’t go as in-depth here as I will in the future, however, a brief acknowledgment was is in order before mentioning a recent SF Signal round table discussion that took place on their podcast.

The topic, one I’d been eagerly awaiting, was “Dark Fantasy”. It’s a term I use often to describe a story that is mainly fantastical in nature but has a creepy element to it.

The panel of well-read experts was largely in agreement with the definition: Karen Burnham, editor of Locus magazine’s Roundtable Blog, said that horror is not the main thrust; Paul Weimer, blogger and SF Signal contributor, said that fantasy is the key and the horror is merely lurking; and similarly, John Stevens, writer and bookseller, said that with dark fantasy, the horror elements are there to intensify the fantastical. All agreed that the term was ambiguous and subjective, which is apparent from their selection of books they accredit with the moniker. If you want to know what they suggested, you’ll just have to listen.

Have you read any dark fantasy lately? How would you define it? Who are some of your favorite dark fantasy authors? Favorite books?

On the Shelf for Halloween
Here’s a mixture of dark fantasy and horror titles to get you in the mood for Halloween.

The Complete Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm (1812)
This was interesting: The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. They removed sexual references—such as Rapunzel’s innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naïvely revealing her pregnancy and the prince’s visits to her stepmother—but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased. [Wikipedia]

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1823)
To those who have not read the book, the name Frankenstein is often associated with the monster rather than its creator. The mistake is perhaps not altogether erroneous, for as many critics point out the creature and his maker are doubles of one another, or doppelgängers. Their relationship is similar to that between the head and the heart, or the intellect and the emotion. The conception of the divided self–the idea that the civilized man or woman contains within a monstrous, destructive force–emerges as the creature echoes both Frankenstein’s and narrator Robert Walton’s loneliness: all three wish for a friend or companion. Frankenstein and his monster alternately pursue and flee from one another. Like fragments of a mind in conflict with itself, they represent polar opposites which are not reconciled, and which destroy each other at the end. For example, the creature enacts the repressed desires of its maker, alleviating Victor Frankenstein’s fear of sexuality by murdering his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza, on their wedding night. Identities merge, as Frankenstein frequently takes responsibility for the creature’s action: for instance, after the deaths of the children William and Justine, both of which were caused by the creature, Frankenstein admits they were “the first hapless victims to [his] unhallowed arts.” [Brandeis]

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
By this time I had finished my supper, and by my host’s desire had drawn up a chair by the fire and begun to smoke a cigar which he offered me, at the same time excusing himself that he did not smoke. I had now an opportunity of observing him, and found him of a very marked physiognomy.

His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. [BBC]

Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe from 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
The vengeful Montresor repays the supposed insults of his enemy, Fortunato. Luring Fortunato into the crypts of his home with the promise of Amontillado sherry, Montresor entombs Fortunato in a wall while the carnival rages above them. [Sparknotes]

The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake (1946 – 59)
Classic epic fantasy:
Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping earth, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. [Titus Groan. Book 1]

Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
The ghost story is a small genre to begin with, but its subgenre, the psychological ghost story, the category to which The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ tales belong, is tinier still. The literary effect we call horror turns on the dissolution of boundaries, between the living and the dead, of course, but also, at the crudest level, between the outside of the body and everything that ought to stay inside. In the psychological ghost story, the dissolving boundary is the one between the mind and the exterior world. [Laura Miller, Introduction to the Haunting of Hill House]

Hellboy by Mike Mignola and John Byrne (Character’s first appearance: 1993)
Hellboy is one of the most celebrated comics series in recent years. The ultimate artists’ artist and a great storyteller whose work is in turns haunting, hilarious, and spellbinding, Mike Mignola has won numerous awards in the comics industry and beyond. When strangeness threatens to engulf the world, a strange man will come to save it. Sent to investigate a mystery with supernatural overtones, Hellboy discovers the secrets of his own origins, and his link to the Nazi occultists who promised Hitler a final solution in the form of a demonic avatar. [Indiebound] Check out some Hellboy Art

The Blade Itself by Joe Ambercrombie (2007)
Dark fantasy meets sharp-edged war story in the standalone tale of a single great battle for control of the North, set in the world of The First Law.  Taking place over three days, it follows the misadventures of six varied people on both sides of the conflict and at all levels of command, their stories played out against an epic backdrop of intrigue, ambition, betrayal and, of course, a lot of edged weapons used in anger. [Joe Ambercrombie]

The Years Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011 edited by Paula Guran (2011)
With short stories from Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolf, George R.R. Martin, Tim Powers, and more.

Welcome to the dark. It comes in more colors than you may have imagined. Quiet blue shadows, a glimpse of ghostly white, a once-dim corner deepening to stygian black, the sudden scarlet stain in the basement, the flash of flesh turning to fur, crumbling ash-gray memories, deep jungle greens, mottled-glaucous full moons, the brown of fresh-turned earth, a cutting slash of silver, the tempting glint of gold, bruising purple, alien orange, urban neons, the iridescent shimmer of colors the human eye cannot always see…Find them all in the words of these masterful storytellers. The best dark fantasy and horror from 2010: more than 550 pages of dark tales from some of today’s best-known writers of the fantastique as well new talents. Chosen from a variety of sources, these stories may help you see the many colors of the dark. [Prime Books]

What are you reading this Halloween?

Written by Gabrielle

October 27, 2011 at 5:49 am

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