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On the Shelf: Podcast Inspired Reading

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UNDER THE INFLUENCE: How Colors Make Us Buy
Host Terry O’Reilly, an award-winning copywriter who has worked with leading advertising agencies and the co-founder of a creative audio production company, explores the shift marketing has taken “from a century of overt one-way messaging to a new world order of two-way dialogue”. Think marketing plus science plus history plus storytelling and you’ll have an idea of what Under the Influence is like.

The show’s most recent topics have included movie marketing, ads that have worked “too well,” and something called “hyper-marketing,” which I hadn’t heard of until the episode aired. This past week, Terry looked into color theory. Follow the usual format, the episode uses anecdotes from companies to explain why they use the colors they use, how they came to use those colors, and the successes and failures that followed.

As usual, the entire show eye-opening but what really caught my attention was this: “White has a feeling of lightness, and is the reason why most planes are painted this colour. It soothes the concern we all secretly harbour that a machine that size can’t possibly become airborne.” Blew my mind … and got me thinking about a book I’ve been meaning to read for years.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
“Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors. For example: Cleopatra used saffron—a source of the color yellow—for seduction. Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue “ultramarine” paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldn’t afford to buy it himself. Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from the blood of insects.”

Terry discusses Pantone colors and the role they play in a company’s brand recognition–not entirely surprising. Tiffany’s was one of the examples. Pantone is not a new subject to the program, Terry had mentioned them a few episodes ago, right around the time they picked their color of the year (Tangerine), which, apparently influences the year’s fashion. Obviously, Pantone has more authority than many of us know and it might just do us well to pay attention.

Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color by By Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker
Pantone, the worldwide color authority, invites you on a rich visual tour of 100 transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime Pantone collaborators and color gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products, decor, and fashion, and carefully match them with 80 different official PANTONE color palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues.

TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE: Henry David Thoreau
For the 150th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s death, To the Best of Our Knowledge looks at the man, the myth, and the lasting influence of the Thoreau persona.

“Henry David Thoreau died 150 years ago, and he’s still a great American icon.  But have you ever wondered exactly why?  Thoreau wasn’t exactly the model environmentalist he’s often made out to be.  And his account of living at Walden Pond is partly fictionalized; he spent nine years writing and revising it.  We examine Thoreau’s legacy and why he still inspires us.”

The Journal of Henry David Thoreau 1837-1861
I must admit, I’ve never read Walden in full. If anything, I’ve read 20 pages and that’s not even certain. I’m sure I’ll try it again one day but right now his journals sound more appealing.

“Henry David Thoreau’s Journal was his life’s work: the daily practice of writing that accompanied his daily walks, the workshop where he developed his books and essays, and a project in its own right—one of the most intensive explorations ever made of the everyday environment, the revolving seasons, and the changing self. It is a treasure trove of some of the finest prose in English and, for those acquainted with it, its prismatic pages exercise a hypnotic fascination.”

One guest on the Thoreau episode was author Terry Tempest Williams. A nature writer and environmental acitvist, Williams talks about reading Thoreau’s work.

When Women were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice
In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother’s journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question “What does it mean to have a voice?”

“Terry Tempest Williams has been called “a citizen writer,” a writer who speaks and speaks out eloquently on behalf of an ethical stance toward life. A naturalist and fierce advocate for freedom of speech, she has consistently shown us how environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice.” [via author’s website]

BULLSEYE WITH JESSE THORN: An Interview with Tom Bissell
Tom Bissell is a journalist, video game critic and author whose latest book, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, is a series of pieces attempting to capture all angles of the creative process. This one has been in my sights since it came out last month.

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
In Magic Hours, award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of The Big Bang Theory to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox’s work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as The Believer, The New Yorker, and Harper’s, these essays represent ten years of Bissell’s best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter.

What are sitcoms for exactly? Can art be both bad and genius? Why do some books survive and others vanish? Bissell’s exploration of these questions make for gripping, unforgettable reading.

You can read an interview with Tom at The Rumpus.

THE GUARDIAN BOOKS PODCAST: Literature which disrupts reality
This episode of the Guardian Books Podcast features author Jeet Thayil and Etgar Keret. A growing household name among young, literary Americans (not at the exclusion of others), Keret is known for his surrealistic short stories. However, Thayil, lesser-known outside of his home in India and better known there as a poet, has just written his debut novel. Narcopolis takes from reality but doesn’t stay there.

“Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. . . . Narcopolis tracks the descent of Mumbai’s drug users from the sybaritic excesses of opium in the 1970s, to the harsh reality of contemporary addiction to heroin and crack.”

Read Etgar Keret’s short story Unzipping, excerpted from his latest, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door.

RADIOLAB: Crossroads
As someone who was turned onto blues at an early age, this Radiolab short about Robert Johnson was fascinating.

For years and years, Jad’s [Abumrad] been fascinated by the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The story goes like this: back in the 1920s, Robert Johnson wanted to play the blues. But he really sucked. He sucked so much, that everyone who heard him told him to get lost. So he did. He disappeared for a little while, and when he came back, he was different. His music was startling–and musicians who’d laughed at him before now wanted to know how he did it. And according to the now-famous legend, Johnson had a simple answer: he went out to the crossroads just before midnight, and when the devil offered to tune his guitar in exchange for his soul, he took the deal.

Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson by Tom Graves
The result of careful research, this stylish biography of infamous blues musician Robert Johnson reveals the real story behind the mythical talent that made him a musical legend. According to some, Robert Johnson learned guitar by trading his soul away to the Devil at a crossroads in rural Mississippi. When he died at age 27 of a mysterious poisoning, many superstitious fans came to believe that the Devil had returned to take his due. This diligent study of Johnson’s life debunks these myths, while emphasizing the effect that Johnson, said to be the greatest blues musician who ever lived, has had on modern musicians and fans of the blues.

Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald
The life of blues legend Robert Johnson becomes the centerpiece for this innovative look at what many consider to be America’s deepest and most influential music genre. Pivotal are the questions surrounding why Johnson was ignored by the core black audience of his time yet now celebrated as the greatest figure in blues history.

Trying to separate myth from reality, biographer Elijah Wald studies the blues from the inside — not only examining recordings but also the recollections of the musicians themselves, the African-American press, as well as examining original research. What emerges is a new appreciation for the blues and the movement of its artists from the shadows of the 1930s Mississippi Delta to the mainstream venues frequented by today’s loyal blues fans.

NERDIST WITH CHRIS HARDWICK: John Lithgow
Without any hyperbole, John Lithgow is a brilliant actor. Drama, comedy, television, theater, he nails it. The Nerdist podcast has really hit its stride. The past dozen or so episodes have been truly incredible and this interview with John Lithgow has surpassed all that have come before it. As Lithgow says at the end of the interview, Chris Hardwick is a fantastic host. Both shine in this one.

Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow
In this riveting and surprising personal history, John Lithgow shares a backstage view of his own struggle, crisis, and discovery, revealing the early life and career that took place out of the public eye and before he became a nationally known star.

Above all, Lithgow’s memoir is a tribute to his most important influence: his father, Arthur Lithgow, who, as an actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, brought theater to John’s boyhood. From bedtime stories to Arthur’s illustrious productions, performance and storytelling were constant and cherished parts of family life. Drama tells of the Lithgows’ countless moves between Arthur’s gigs—John attended eight secondary schools before flourishing onstage at Harvard—and details with poignancy and sharp recollection the moments that introduced a budding young actor to the undeniable power of theater.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
John and Chris both raved about Steve Martin’s memoir. Anyone interested in the craft of comedy should read this one.

In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

Emmy and Grammy Award winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been awriter. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.

What have you listened to lately that added to your reading pile? Be sure to include the book, too.

Written by Gabrielle

May 10, 2012 at 7:04 am

Who to Read: Daniel Mendelsohn on Classical Literature

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Last year culture critic and essayist Daniel Mendelsohn, a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, participated in a talk on practice. As a trained classicist you wouldn’t expect him to critique Mad Men or praise Battlestar Galactica. But he does, and he does so from a wholly unique point of view.

Whether he’s reviewing a Greek play or a popular television show, Mendelsohn says that what makes writing an essay interesting is when he’s conflicted. While some writers keep themselves out of their criticism, Mendelsohn unabashedly injects himself into the response. “It’s not always about the thing, it’s also about you”. The friction that drives him begins with a battle inside his head; mixed feelings prove fruitful.

Most people will agree with Mendelsohn when he says it’s a great time to be a television critic, that “We are currently living in a new golden age of television, a medium that has been liberated by cable broadcasting to explore both fantasy and reality with greater frankness and originality than ever before.”

To him, The Wire, OZ, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos are evidence. He continues, “as witness shows as different as the now-iconic crime dramas The Sopranos and The Wire, with their darkly glinting, almost Aeschylean moral textures; the philosophically provocative, unexpectedly moving sci-fi hit Battlestar Galactica, a kind of futuristic retelling of the Aeneid; and the perennially underappreciated small-town drama Friday Night Lights, which offers, among other things, the finest representation of middle-class marriage in popular culture of which I’m aware.”

It’s in this realm that Mendelsohn is the thinking pop culture junkie’s dream, applying his classical training to the seemingly brainless media we tune out to at the end of a long day. Reading his criticism reassures us that there’s an education in that hour before bed.

Mendelsohn says his classical training gives him certain tools: “classicists look at everything . . . they connect the dots. . . . After all,” he continues, “Greek tragedy was popular culture in its time.”

In a recent interview with The Browser, Mendelsohn argues that classics are the ultimate source: “Our kinds of plots, concerns, genres – all of them begin with the Greeks and the Romans. So anyone who has an interest in the history of literature in general would do well to study the classics.” I’d add that anyone aspiring to write smart criticism would be wise to study them as well.

Regarding what they hold for us now, Mendelsohn says, “Good literature always illuminates human nature and human action.” Then, echoing his father, he continues, “as long as people are the same, the classics are always relevant.”

There have been a few reissues and adaptations of the classics lately. Mendelsohn offers an insightful and informed take: “the Greeks were already playing with them, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m all for adaptation – it’s part of the classical heritage.”

After you read How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, Daniel Mendelsohn’s collection of essays on modern novels, film, and what the classics can tell us about war, here are some classics he suggests:

The Iliad by Homer
“As I get older, I increasingly think The Iliad is one of the first works to wrestle with the existential problem: If you’re going to die, what do you want the space between now and when you’re going to die look like? Does it matter? Does anyone care? On what value system do you base your actions? That’s what The Iliad is really about – a guy confronted by the possibility that the entire structure of his values is not being honoured. So why fight? And that is a question about war that never goes away, either as an individual or a nation.” Of Homer he says, “if you look carefully at Homer, everything that happens is also a function of the personality of the characters.”

Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It’s the one that naturally we all think of, and it’s the ultimate recasting of the classic – in a very self-conscious way.” UPDATE: As Daniel kindly mentions below, his thoughts on James Joyce’s Ulysses is can be read at Slate.

The Infinites by John Banville
“It’s an adaptation of a play called Amphitryon . . . Banville takes the plot of this ancient play – about how Zeus seduces in disguise the wife of Amphitryon, a woman called Alcmene, and begets Heracles from her, his divine child – and updates this to the present. The hero is a famous mathematician called Adam Godley (a significant name, obviously) who has come up with an equation to connect all the parallel worlds that could exist in the Einsteinian universe.”

Three plays by Euripides
“I’m a great advocate for three plays by Euripides that to my mind are never sufficiently adapted. They are what we call Euripides’s romances – the Ion, the Iphigenia in Tauris and the Helen. These plays remind you almost of the Shakespearean romances. People are left on a desert island or a strange shore, their mates are far away trying to find them and are also eventually shipwrecked, there are misrecognitions and mistaken identities, and eventually it all comes together in a happy ending.”

::[Links]::
Pre-order Daniel’s forthcoming essay collection, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays on the Classics and Pop Culture (Aug. 2012)
Daniel Mendelsohn’s archive at The New Yorker
Daniel Mendelsohn on Mad Men at The New York Review of Books 
On Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of Homer’s Iliad (New Yorker podcast)

On the Shelf: Recent Sights and Sounds

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Here are a few things that caught my eyes and ears these past few days.

Rub Out the Words: the Letters of William S Burroughs 1959-1974 ed by Bill Morgan

I’ve always found William Burroughs intriguing — after all, he did kill his common-law wife while playing a game of William Tell, or so the story goes. I read his novel Junky multiple times but could never get into Naked Lunch, the book he is best known for. Now, Ecco has published the second volume of his letters: correspondence that spans the years after the publication of Naked Lunch to the year he left London to return to New York.

Of the collection, The Telegraph writes:
“This second volume of correspondence may not quite dispel this image of Burroughs as American fiction’s resident alien, the lexical bomb-thrower in the body of a government man – but it does offer intriguing glimpses into the personality behind the mask. …

For fans of [his] way-out approach [the cut-up technique], the letters will provide a valuable glimpse into the genesis of his most impenetrable work, the trilogy that comprised The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express. …

One surprising theme in these letters is Burroughs’s cosmic indifference to the swelling counterculture. Our correspondent remains unmoved as the Sixties progress, beatniks become hippies, and even the parties he attends in Hampstead start to be filled with people ‘turning on’.”

What’s the big idea?
Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels?
by Jennie Erdal

This past weekend’s Financial Times had an incredible essay on philosophy, literature, and the blending of the two into the philosophical novel.

Jennie Erdal, the author of the essay, begins with philosophy and philosophers: “while [they] were good at asking questions and setting out arguments, their engagement with truth was often woefully abstract, and a world away from the stuff of novels”. She continues, “The analytical style [of philosophy] rigidly separated reason from imagination, precision from imprecision.”

Of novels, she writes, “The more I read at university, the more I felt that fiction was where truth was to be discovered” and that some things “can never be adequately expressed in conventional philosophical prose.” Erdal then makes a case for the hybrid form, “moral philosophy needs the novel for the fullest possible expression of its aims . . . Plato was wrong to think that literature had nothing to offer philosophy . . . It is one thing to study John Stuart Mill’s defence of utilitarianism in ethics; quite another to read the passage in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), where Raskolnikov tests utilitarianism to its limits by taking an axe and cleaving an old lady’s head in two.”

It’s a brilliant read all the way through. For anyone interested in literary theory and the grander workings of fiction, this is not to be missed.

Orbital / Wonky
It can be scary picking up a new album by a band who has been around for 25 years — especially if that band, up until recently, has been on hiatus — but that’s exactly what’s going on with electronic duo Orbital who just released Wonky, their first album since 2004.

About their music, one half of the group, Paul Hartnoll, told Wired magazine, “Ultimately, it has to move us emotionally…. We can get a great big thunderous beat … but melody is the real icing on the cake for me. If I get a really good melody, I get really excited about thinking about what’s going to come. That’s when I burst into tears, thinking, ‘That’s it!’ The hook’s got you, and you know you’re going to finish that piece.”

Explaining why they’re back together and making music, he says “When you’ve got a background and a history, and a rich idea of what you wanted to do, it was a real shame to give up … It was the live aspect that I missed.”

The article features the video for ‘New France’. Here’s the video for ‘Wonky’. Not sure how I feel about the cats.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Simon Pegg’s new comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, looks amazing. Unfortunately, at the time of this post, no US release date has been confirmed. Science fiction and fantasy site io9 quotes the synopsis:

“Jack is a children’s author turned crime novelist whose detailed research into the lives of Victorian serial killers has turned him into a paranoid wreck, persecuted by the irrational fear of being murdered. When Jack is thrown a life-line by his long-suffering agent and a mysterious Hollywood executive takes a sudden and inexplicable interest in his script, what should be his big break rapidly turns into his big breakdown, as Jack is forced to confront his worst demons; among them his love life, his laundry and the origin of all fear.”

They also have the trailer.

Podcasts
The first week in April, on the WTF podcast, Marc Maron spoke with musician and comedian Carrie Brownstein. Carrie was in the Olympia, Washington-based indie band Sleater-Kinney and is currently in Wild Flag; however, these days, she’s best known as co-creator of Portlandia, the sketch show on IFC. On the podcast, Marc and Carrie nerd out about music — and other things. One of my favorite WTFs so far.

On the Nerdist, voiceover actors Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche taught me that voiceover actors are awesome. Rob and Maurice, which I only learned from this podcast, are the creators, and voices, of Pinky and the Brain. Their vocal skills do not end there. These two guys had Chris Hardwick awestruck. A must-listen.

What caught your eyes and ears these past few days? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

April 10, 2012 at 7:03 am

On the Shelf: Unicorns Come to Life

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Recently, amidst a slew of publicity for Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, a book by Christopher Bram, The Rumpus ran an essay about bisexuality called ‘Notes from a Unicorn’ by Seth Fischer. While the two events were purely coincidental, they formed a mini-moment in my mind. We live in a society that now celebrates the contributions of gay and lesbian writers but what about the people who live between the two?

Fischer, who once had political aspirations but has since moved on to teach and pursue a literary career, attempts to express the gray-scale in which his sexual identity sits. Although the motives for his silence in his previous profession raises questions about ongoing discrimination and cultural perceptions, what interested me was his inner conflict.

The title of the essay comes from a woman’s comment to him on an online dating site: “Finding a truly bi man is like finding a unicorn.” Her meaning? They don’t exist. This is a common belief when it comes to bisexuality, the person is either highly sexual and therefore undiscerning (or slutty, if you prefer) or they are going through “a phase” and will one day make a choice. Though many people on the inside of the issue talk about “fluidity,” few people  on the outside rarely believe them.

The first time Seth became aware of his own shifting preference he was in his early teens. A classmate’s gay uncle had just died of AIDS and in the school courtyard, as so often happens, the conversation was flip. “He was totally a fag,” Seth remembers the nephew saying. He went home that afternoon, ignored his hidden pile of girlie magazines, and came to the conclusion, “Fags like boys, so I’m a fag.”

The unsettling nature of this ambiguity haunted him for years, and only recently does it seem as if he’s come to terms with it. A year after the playground incident, while in the locker room, a teammate of his whom he had a crush on called him out for staring. At that moment he decided he would “grow the part of [himself] that liked women and kill the part that liked men.”

But it didn’t hold. Years later, after leaving politics, after acknowledging his continuing crushes on men, he thought, “Why don’t I just call myself gay?” As many can imagine, that wasn’t the answer either.

Seth’s years of torment made me wonder, what if there was celebration of bisexuals in the arts just as there is for their gay cousins? Maybe unicorns wouldn’t seem so mythical after all.

Here are just a few books by known bisexual writers. The comments are open. If you know of any other writers or of any books that engage the subject, please list them below.

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
It only seems appropriate to kick this off with a book by The Rumpus founder.

In this groundbreaking memoir, Stephen Elliott pursues parallel investigations: a gripping account of a notorious San Francisco murder trial, and an electric exploration of the self. Destined to be a classic, The Adderall Diaries was described by The Washington Post as “a serious literary work designed to make you see the world as you’ve never quite seen it before.” [via IndieBound]

She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir
Set in Paris on the eve of World War II and sizzling with love, anger, and revenge, She Came to Stay explores the changes wrought in the soul of a woman and a city soon to fall. Although Francoise considers her relationship with Pierre an open one, she falls prey to jealousy when the gamine Xaviere catches his attention. The moody young woman from the countryside pries her way between Francoise and Pierre, playing up to each one and deviously pulling them apart, until the only way out of the triangle is destruction. [via IndieBound]

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
In a cruel twist of irony, Texas-born Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is being recognized only after her death for her inestimable genius in her native land. With the savage humor of Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Poe, she brought a distinctly contemporary acuteness to her prolific body of noir fiction. Including over 60 short stories written throughout her career, collected together for the first time, The Selected Stories reveals the stunning versatility and terrifying power of Highsmith’s work.These stories highlight the remarkable range of Highsmith’s powers her unique ability to quickly, almost imperceptibly, draw out the mystery and strangeness of her subject, which appears achingly ordinary to our naked eye. [via IndieBound]

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence. [via IndieBound]

Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain attracted a huge amount of critical praise and a wide audience with the literary debut of Are You Somebody? Her midlife exploration of life’s love, pain, loneliness, and self- discovery won her fans worldwide who write and tell her how her story has changed their lives. There are thousands who have yet to discover this extraordinary memoir of an Irish woman who has stepped away from the traditional roles to define herself and find contentment. [via IndieBound]

Women Photographs by Annie Leibowitz, with an essay by Susan Sontag
The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen. “Each of these pictures must stand on its own,” Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. “But the ensemble says, So this what women are now — as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

March 8, 2012 at 7:24 am

Dispatches: From the Mouths of Magazine Editors

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Last night at McNally Jackson three magazine editors came out to give the crowd a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process. Deputy Editors Ellah Allfrey and James Marcus, of Granta and Harper’s Magazine, respectively, were joined by Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker Fiction Editor, for a round table discussion moderated by John Freeman.

John, the Editor of Granta, started the night with a question about the latest Vida results, an organization that tracks female representation in magazines — stories and reviews written by women and books written by women, reviewed. Deborah revealed the generational divide she sees in the submissions to her magazine. Stories from writers age 40 and up come from more men than women while with those from writers under 40 the ratio is close to an even split. James admitted that the results from Harper’s are “rotten” (articles written: 13 female:65 male; book reviews: 10 female:23 male; author’s reviewed: 19 female:53 male). Their fiction split is close to even but because they publish foreign reportage, most of the nonfiction articles come from men. Ellah was happy to report that Granta did very well, with more female contributors than male. Ellah attributes this to their magazine’s tradition of publishing each issue based on a theme.

The group went on to discuss the steady stream of material flowing into the slush pile and how they wade through it — a mixture of interns and editorial staff. John brought up the lack of short story writers in Britain, which Deborah boiled down to the lack of encouragement from the publishing market. If there are less than a handful of places to sell your short story, why write one? Ellah, visiting from England, mentioned that with the rise of innovation of how the stories are consumed, as audio on BBC Radio for example, the situation overseas is improving.

Talk of different ways of experiencing the written word inevitably led to discussion of digital. The New Yorker has a fiction podcast where contemporary authors, featured in the magazine, choose a story from the archive to read aloud. The magazine also have a book blog where twice a month Deborah speaks with the author whose fiction is featured in the current issue. Granta features new writing on their site nearly every day. And while Harper’s is slower getting into the digital game, a conscious choice by the top decision maker, there is talk about a change in policy.

The liveliest part of the evening might easily have been when all four took turns discussing the writers they were enthusiastic about. And, so, this week’s “On the Shelf” segment comes from the experts. Here were their answers.

Deborah named Callan Wink who wrote the short story “Dog Run Moon” for the magazine. You can check out his Q&A with Deborah here. His story is subscription only but from what it sounds like, it’s worth paying for. Looking ahead, she is currently reading Salman Rushdie’s memoir, due out from Random House in 2012.

James chose Clancy Martin who published the book How to Sell with FSG in hardcover and then Picador in paperback. He also mentioned Bonnie Nadzam who came out with the highly acclaimed, award-winning novel Lamb last year.

John’s picks were Louise Erdrich for her short story writing skills and Julie Otsuka, a past contributor to Granta, who wrote Buddha in the Attic. He called the author Ross Raisin a “ferocious stylist” and suggested everyone read him. And finally, he mentioned Richard Ford’s introduction to The Best American Short Stories from 1990 for his comments on short story structure.

Ella highlighted a new Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta who writes stories about lesbian lovers in Africa and environmental issues that threaten the country.  I believe she’ll be published in the magazine soon.

Patrick Ryan, Granta’s associate editor, when he joined in the discussion to share an adorable slush pile story, mentioned Chris Dennis, a recent contributor to the magazine.

I know my reading list just got longer. What short story collections are you reading? What new short story writers have your attention? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

March 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

Where Musicians and Writers Collide: Publicity

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As someone who went to school for Music Business and who now works in book publishing, I often see the parallels between musicians and authors. It always surprised me when I first started my job search and the interviewer would ask, “Music Business? Why do you want to get into book publishing?” For me it was an easy leap, whether you’re working with a musician or a writer, it’s artist representation.

So, when I heard from John Anealio, co-host of the Functional Nerds podcast, that he wanted to have me on the show alongside a music marketing strategist, I was excited he made the connection as well.

The other guest on the show, Brian Thompson, is a “Vancouver based music industry entrepreneur, record label owner, artist manager, marketing consultant, digital strategist, brand architect, web designer, blogger, podcaster and industry speaker.” He’s one of the co-founders of Thorny Bleeder Records, “an artist development collective” that helps bands “establish and grow their profile and fan base, both domestically and internationally.”

Since being on the show with him, I’ve signed up for his email newsletter, The DIY Daily, a “daily newsletter delivering marketing advice, music industry news, social media tips & tools, tech, apps & gadgets, inspirational & motivational thoughts and much more.” Everyday, waiting for me in my inbox, are 20 great links about how artists of all kinds can use social media effectively. More than most apply to the publishing industry and are links I can forward along to my authors.

On The DIY Daily website, you’ll find a daily podcast offering a variety of marketing tips in under 20 minutes, an in-depth weekly podcast about the music business, daily quotes, and the aforementioned link roundup if you prefer to not to receive them by email.

On the show, Brian, John, Patrick and I discussed the benefits of email lists, social media, and how artists should treat themselves as a business.

You can listen to the episode here.

If you have any questions, check back on the Functional Nerds site next week. Book Publicist Jaym Gates and I will be collecting questions for a future online round table.


On the Shelf

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
Best known as the author of many science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as the editor of many genre anthologies, in Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer offers “timely advice in an era when the burden of production and publicity frequently falls on authors.” Booklife is an “essential reference [that] reflects on methods for being focused, productive, and savvy in the craft of writing.
Discussing a wide range of essential topics for self-promoting authors, this important guide explores questions such as How can authors use social media and the internet? How does the new online paradigm affect authors, readers, and the book industry? How can authors find the time to both create and promote their work? and What should never be done? Through good-humored encouragement, practical tips of the trade culled from 25 years of experience as a writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, agent, and blogger are shared. Including topics such as personal space versus public space, deadlines, and networking, the benefits of interacting with readers through new technologies is revealed.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

February 16, 2012 at 7:07 am

What to Listen To: Bookrageous

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Bookrageous is one of my favorite book-themed podcasts. Hosted by bookseller and Brews and Books blogger Josh Christie; event coordinator Jenn Northington; and Rebecca Schinsky, the blogger behind The Book Lady’s Blog, the show is a relaxed conversation between friends.Every other week the three run through what they’ve just read and what they’re reading now. Each time, they put my own list to shame — both in quality and quantity. While they have similar tastes — all gravitate towards highbrow, conceptual titles (without becoming pretentious) — I’ve come to look to Josh for graphic novels, Jenn for genre, and Rebecca for literary fiction.

For a while now I’ve had some form of contact with the three, to a varying degree, and talks of me being a guest on the podcast had been casually batted around; but this week it actually happened. David Gutowski of Largehearted Boy and I sat in to discuss “Book Touring”. Together we run Book Boroughing, a literary site for New York City and surrounding area.

As frequent event-goers and hardcore evangelists for the cause, we were called upon to discuss literary events at home and book-inspired travel. On the show the five of us discuss author readings, bookstores in other cities, book festivals, and literary adventurism.

I won’t say anymore; you can listen to  it here.

On this shelf this week:

Here are just a few books mentioned at the top of the podcast:

Josh
Raylan by Elmore Leonard
“As a novel, Raylan is a casual endeavor, Leonard having fun with a character who’s gained a measure of popularity. It’s also a pisser. Leonard has come up with some doozies for the plot: the dimwit sons of a backwoods pot grower joining in a scheme to swipe kidneys and then ransom them back for replacement in the victims’ bodies; a female coal company exec who, annoyed with a local’s complaints about the pollution caused by strip mining, picks up a rifle and shoots the old man. The violence here has the swift kick of a good, mean joke. It makes you wince and grin at the same time.” [via Barnes & Noble Review]

You can hear Elmore on NPR’s Fresh Air discuss his crime writing secrets

Rebecca
Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
“Contents May Have Shifted is Pam Houston’s new novel. Except I’m not really sure you can call it a novel, even though that’s what the cover says, and even though I don’t have any helpful suggestions for what you should call it instead. About a globetrotting writer named Pam who has a part-time residence in Creede, Colorado (all things that are true of Houston as well), it is comprised of short vignettes that present Pam’s story in non-linear narrative and a borderline stream-of-consciousness style that makes it read like a memoir. No, like a diary–a very beautifully written diary.” [via Rebecca’s review]

Jenn
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (words) and Maira Kalman (illustrations)
“Ed Slaterton is part of the “grunty jock crowd,” a high school basketball hero who, in his über-popularity, is like “some movie everyone sees growing up.” Min Green is a wry, thoughtful, film-obsessed junior who manages for one miraculous stretch of time to get Ed to stop using the word “gay” as a catch-all pejorative.

It is this miraculous stretch of time – the one month and seven days after the pair shock their classmates by falling in love – that is chronicled in the delightful “Why We Broke Up,” a novel by Daniel Handler, with illustrations by Maira Kalman. Told in the form of a confessional letter by the heartbroken Min, the book is so good at capturing what it feels like to be a jilted 16-year-old girl that it seems almost wasted on its young-adult audience.” [via San Francisco Chronicle]

You can share your break up story with Maira and Daniel on their Tumblr page

Gabrielle (I plan to review the books I mention in the opening so here’s one I talk about later on)
The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
“The Basketball Diaries is a 1978 memoir written by author and musician Jim Carroll. It is an edited collection of the diaries he kept between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Set in New York City, they detail his daily life, sexual experiences, high school basketball career, Cold War paranoia, the counter-culture movement, and, especially, his addiction to heroin, which began when he was 13. The book is considered a classic piece of adolescent literature.” [via Wikipedia]

David
Stay Awake: Stories by Dan Chaon
“While Stay Awake does not abandon Chaon’s signature themes of identity and isolation, disappearance and memory, it flirts even more openly with the line between the supernatural and the rationalistic – and indeed two of the stories, “The Bees” and “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands,” have overtly supernatural elements. The situations have grown even more extreme: a couple has a two-headed baby, a woman drowns several of her children, a father comes into his young daughters’ bedroom intending to kill them in their sleep. Two men in two completely different stories fall off of ladders, severing a finger – a coincidence that I must admit I found distracting. Characters desperately want to or do escape their homes, their towns, the marriages they’ve made; they think they’re free of the past until memory or something even more sinister catches up with them. One character watches Soylent Green on late-night TV, and an actor in that horror movie is described as “running through the future, screaming.” The phrase could easily be an alternate title for this book.” [via The Millions]

You can read Dan’s Book Notes piece at Largehearted Boy

Written by Gabrielle

February 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

Dispatches: Sharing Moments with SMITH Magazine

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SMITH Magazine is best known for its Six-Word Memoir project. In 2006, with the belief that everyone has a story to tell, Editor-in-Chief Larry Smith, Tim Barko, and Contributing Editor Rachel Fershleiser, came up with an online challenge: “Can you tell your life story in six words?”. This idea has since spawned six books and a robust online writing community.Interested in giving writers more space to flesh out their ideas, SMITH Magazine asked storytellers to write about a moment that changed their lives; and so, The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure came to fruition.

Contributors, ranging in experience — some with multiple, award-winning and best-selling books to those who have never had a letter-to-the-editor published — sent in their personal stories. The Moment, going beyond the normal essay collection, features written narratives, photographs, comics, illustrations, and handwritten letters. Contributors include household names such as Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gregory Maguire as well as up-and-coming writers such as Tao Lin and Said Sayrafiezadeh.

This week at McNally Jackson, contributors gathered to read their work to a standing-room only crowd. Kicking off the evening was experimental journalist A.J. Jacobs with his short story, “Chalk Face,” about the time he realized grown-ups are “not flawless authority figures”. Mira Ptacin, founder and executive director of the New York City-based monthly reading series and storytelling collective Freerange Nonfiction, read her story about the moment she, literally, hit the ground running and shook off the grief from the loss of an unexpected pregnancy.

There were visuals as well: a slideshow about the moment a father fell in love with his infant son, a video montage from photojournalist Gillian Laub about her grandparents’ inspiring relationship, Matt Dojny’s handwritten and illustrated story about his experience with a homeless man on the subway, and Jerry Ma’s comic panels about the time he quit his job in finance to pursue a life in art.

Now in its sixth year, SMITH Magazine continues to celebrate “the explosion of personal media and the personal stories that celebrate the brilliance in the ordinary”. Go on over and contribute your six-word memoir or, if you’re feeling particularly verbose, share your life-changing moment.

If you’re in New York and you missed this week’s reading, you have another chance to catch The Moment contributors at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn on Thursday, January 26th.

What’s on the shelf:
The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure
“ The Moment is a collection of and moving personal pieces about key instances – a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos – that have had profound consequences on our lives.” [via website]

Six-Word Memoir collections
“When Hemingway famously wrote, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” he proved that an entire story can be told using a half dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving.” [via IndieBound]

And from the readers:

My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No by A.J. Jacobs
“Bestselling author and human guinea pig A. J. Jacobs puts his life to the test and reports on the surprising and entertaining results. He goes undercover as a woman, lives by George Washington’s moral code, and impersonates a movie star. He practices “radical honesty,” brushes his teeth with the world’s most rational toothpaste, and outsources every part of his life to India—including reading bedtime stories to his kids.

And in a new adventure, Jacobs undergoes scientific testing to determine how he can put his wife through these and other life-altering experiments—one of which involves public nudity.
Filled with humor and wisdom, My Life as an Experiment will immerse you in eye-opening situations and change the way you think about the big issues of our time—from love and work to national politics and breakfast cereal.” [via IndieBound]

Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jerry Ma
This pioneering collection brings together 66 top Asian American writers, artists and comics professionals to create 26 original stories centered around Asian American superheroes – stories set in a shadow history of our country, from the opening of the West to the election of the first minority president, and exploring ordinary Asian American life from a decidedly extraordinary perspective.

Black Elephants: A Memoir by Karol Nielsen
“An aspiring writer and reporter, Karol Nielsen went trekking through the Peruvian Andes at the height of the Shining Path terror, looking for adventure and a good story. She found Aviv, an Israeli traveler fresh out of his mandatory military service—a war-weary veteran of the first intifada—dreaming about peace. Black Elephants follows this idealistic pair as they explore the Americas, until Aviv, inexorably drawn to his homeland, asks Karol to come with him to Israel. There, the couple’s lovingly laid plans—for Aviv to attend university, and for Karol to work on a kibbutz, study Hebrew, and get to know his family—are suddenly tested by the eruption of the first Gulf War. Nielsen’s memoir paints a poignant and harrowing picture of love during wartime. Against a backdrop of bursting bombs and air-raid sirens, gas masks and sealed rooms, relationships are frayed, and romance becomes a distant memory. This story, so candidly and clearly told, powerfully illustrates the terror, loneliness, and absurdity of war and its invisible casualties.” [via IndieBound]

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon. She’s written for The New York Times, Time Out, The New York Observer, and more, and is the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.”

The Festival of Earthly Delights (forthcoming May 2012) by Matt Dojny
“The Festival of Earthly Delights is a humorous bildungsroman set in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Puchai. The protagonist, Boyd Darrow, has recently moved there with his unfaithful girlfriend to give their relationship a second chance. His adventures, and misadventures, are relayed in a series of letters to a mysterious recipient.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

January 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

What to Watch: The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975

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In the early 2000s, Swedish film director Göran Hugo Olsson was working on the documentary “Am I Black Enough for You” about 70s soul musician Billy Paul. While researching he found an archive of 16 mm tapes in the building of Swedish Television, the country’s broadcasting company. The footage had been shot by a group of Swedish television journalists sympathetic to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the US. In 1967 they’d traveled to America to document the lives of both ordinary black Americans as well as those politically involved in the struggle for equal rights.

This footage, nearly 85 hours of it, sat in a basement for 30 years. In the 70s, Olsson was a student in Sweden. It was a time when his generation developed an interest in the Vietnam War and America’s role in it. This was the time of author Stieg Larsson’s political activism, when he was a photo journalist working with revolutionary groups in the Horn of Africa. There was something in the air and the group of filmmakers had caught it. Years later, Olsson was, once again, inspired by it, which led him to create The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975.

Deciding “to riff on the popular ‘70s ‘mixtape’ format,” Olsson was careful not to cut the footage into pieces. Instead he kept the interviews at length and assembled them in chronological order.

The first public figure we see is Stokely Carmichael, someone I’d never heard of before this film. Carmichael could be considered a bridge between Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers. He started out as a leader of a nonviolent student organization, taking part in the 1961 Freedom Rides, a group that originally relied on civil disobedience. Soon, he’d lost patience with MLK’s message and found a new role model in Frantz Fanon. After reading Fanon’s seminal text, Wretched of the Earth, Carmichael took the organization in a radical direction, adopting instead, Black Power ideology.

Co-producer Danny Glover, whose production company helped secure funding for the film, when he saw the footage, was taken with how clearly it showed the link between the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Highlighting this connections, and following the flow of history, the film moves naturally from Stokely’s words to those of the Black Panthers’.

There are echoes of Stokely in the footage that follows. Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panthers’ Minister of Information, gives a speech about the presidential nominees in San Francisco in 1968, Bobby Seale, the Chairman, explains the all-encompassing nature of the organization, and Huey P. Newton, the Minister of Defense, in 1971, released on bail after his arrest on allegations of manslaughter, discusses the “abusive” and “oppressive” treatment he experienced while in jail.

For anyone familiar with Europe’s views of the American criminal justice system, it will come as no surprise that the Attica prison riot, fueled in part by the prisoners’ desire for better living conditions, and the murder trial involving Angela Davis, whose ancillary role as owner of guns used in a hostage situation, put her in the precarious position of defending her life.

Adding a contemporary component to the film is commentary from black thinkers today. Those featured in voice-overs are musicians Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Questlove of The Roots. Throughout the film they, along with poets Sonia Sanchez and Abiodun Oyewole and academic Robin Kelley discuss their memories of and experiences with the figures and moments in the archival footage.

The Black Power Mixtape takes an often-unquestioning and sympathetic view of its subject. However, this fact is stated in the opening of the film with text on the screen: “It [The Black Power Mixtape] does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.” While it shouldn’t be taken as a sole account of this time period, the film is both a fascinating and educational contribution to the documentation of American history. For anyone looking for a place to start — but not a place to end — The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975 is a fantastic primer.

::[Links]::
Official Website
Watch Instant on Netflix (available for streaming at the time of this posting)
Stokely Carmichael’s essay “What We Want” (PDF)
Okay Player Interview with Film Director Goran Olsson

::[Dig Deeper]::
Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements by Malcolm X
“These are the major speeches made by Malcolm X during the last tumultuous eight months of his life. In this short period of time, his vision for abolishing racial inequality in the United States underwent a vast transformation. Breaking from the Black Muslims, he moved away from the black militarism prevalent in his earlier years only to be shot down by an assassin’s bullet.” [via IndieBound]

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
“By turns shocking and lyrical, unblinking and raw, the searingly honest memoirs of Eldridge Cleaver are a testament to his unique place in American history. Cleaver writes in Soul on Ice, “I’m perfectly aware that I’m in prison, that I’m a Negro, that I’ve been a rapist, and that I have a Higher Uneducation.” What Cleaver shows us, on the pages of this now classic autobiography, is how much he was a man.” [via IndieBound]

Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
“Eloquently tracing the birth of a revolutionary, Huey P. Newton’s famous and oft-quoted autobiography is as much a manifesto as a portrait of the inner circle of America’s Black Panther Party. From Newton’s impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system, from his role in the Black Panthers to his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail, Revolutionary Suicide is smart, unrepentant, and thought-provoking in its portrayal of inspired radicalism.” [via IndieBound]

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
“With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.” [via IndieBound”

The Black Panthers Speak edited by Philip S. Foner
“For over three decades, The Black Panthers Speak has represented the most important single source of original material on the Black Panther Party. With cartoons, flyers, and articles by Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver, this collection endures as an essential part of civil-rights history.” [via IndieBound]

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
“The Wretched of the Earth (published 1961) is Frantz Fanon’s most famous work, written during and regarding the Algerian struggle for independence from colonial rule. As a psychiatrist, Fanon explored the psychological effect of colonization on the psyche of a nation as well as its broader implications for building a movement for decolonization.” [via Wikipedia] Jean Paul-Sartre’s preface.

Quality by Talib Kweli (2002)
“Talib’s elation here strikes as sophisticated, distinguishing itself from the materialistic acquisitions, drug binges and sexual conquests that pass for contentment on many hip-hop albums, with a spiritual center attained through an on-record intellectual honesty and emotional transparency that’s still rare in a culture that feeds off inflated stereotypes of machismo posturing and stands on the political platform of fatalism and resignation. In fact, Kweli’s unabashed positivity and emotional vulnerability feel almost transgressive to these ears. Even when he confronts the ills of society, as he does on the wrenching “Where Do We Go” and “Stand to the Side”, there’s a certain optimism and belief that by illuminating the darkness through hip-hop, we can hope to transcend the pain.” [via Pitchfork]

Written by Gabrielle

January 10, 2012 at 5:54 am

Dispatches: Talking DIY Culture at McNally Jackson

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Last night, McNally Jackson in SoHo hosted the panel (Re)making media: DIY, zines, punk rock, gen X and millenials in the digital age. The moderator Jacob Lewis, co-founder of a writing collective website for teens, Figment.com, was joined by Blake Nelson, whose book Dream School had been serialized and recently published by Figment, Christopher Bollen, whose book Lightning People was published by the indie press Soft Skull, Mikki Halpin, the creator of the now defunct zine Ben is Dead and the now defunct satirical website Shut Up Foodies, musician and writer Izzy Schappell-Spillman, Japanther’s Ian Vanek, and New York Times technology reporter, and recently the publisher and editor of Girl Crush Zine, Jenna Wortham.

Together, the group of panelists discussed DIY culture as it’s happening today and how technology is affecting the movement.

Most had a positive view regarding the rise of the Internet and its facilitation of independent productions. Izzy, who began her music career with the band Care Bears on Fire when she was just 8-years-old, and who is now 16, felt the online community has brought an end to isolation and has ushered in a time of quick creation. Jenna, who began as a culture blogger at the Times when she was 25, discussed that while it’s easy to get caught up in trying to be ahead of the news curve, especially when one is working for a media outlet, technology can have a profound effect on expressive culture. She mentioned Kickstarter, the online fundraising site where artists of all kinds can raise money for their projects, in particular. Blake Nelson serialized his first book, Girl, in Sassy and when he couldn’t find a publisher for the already-written sequel, Figment did the same by running it in pieces on their site.

The lone voice expressing opposition, mainly because he feels social media creates a culture of self-promotion and self-branding, was Ian Vanek. Although the most skeptical, his argument is solid: people today are too concerned with their public persona and not concerned enough with their actual art. For Vanek, he feels it’s “important to be invisible”.

A reminder of where DIY started, both Ian and Mikki spoke about the continued value of the printed zine. Online publishing platforms, with their endless opportunities for self-expression, are often corporately owned — and those companies ultimately have control over your content. The old-fashioned Xeroxed zine remains a way to share thoughts and ideas privately, or “sneakily,” as the panelists like to describe it.

Far from devolving into a trite debate about the pros and cons of the Internet, the discussion was a reminder that DIY, as an art form and ideology, is still very much a serious venture, regardless of the ease in which it can now be executed.

What’s on the shelf?

Here are just some of the projects and books created by the panelists:

Figment.com
Inspired by Japan’s cellphone novels, “Figment is a community where you can share your writing, connect with other readers, and discover new stories and authors. Whatever you’re into, from sonnets to mysteries, from sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, you can find it all here.” You can read a profile about Figment and its co-founder Jacob Lewis at The New York Times.

Girl by Blake Nelson
“Meet Andrea Marr, straight-A high school student, thrift-store addict, and princess of the downtown music scene. Andrea is about to experience her first love, first time, and first step outside the comfort zone of high school, with the help of indie rock band The Color Green.” [via IndieBound]

Dream School by Blake Nelson
“Imagining a typical ‘J. Crew/college catalogue’ experience, Andrea Marr leaves Portland to attend prestigious Wellington College in Connecticut. Surrounded by the best and the brightest, she works hard to adjust and keep up.” [via IndieBound]

Lightning People
“The fanciful premise behind the title of Bollen’s novel is that, after New York loses the lightning conductors of the Twin Towers, more and more residents die in lightning strikes. But the title also evokes the random nature of post-millennial city life, in which disaster or good fortune can strike at any time. An actor, supported by money from reruns of old commercials, pursues a sinister hobby—frequenting conspiracy-theory chat rooms and meetings. His wife doesn’t know about her husband’s fixation, distracted by her depressing job at the Bronx Zoo and her dysfunctional friends. Bollen excels at creating an atmosphere of Manhattan-specific dread, and certain scenes, particularly the account of a struggling actor’s going-away party, are tragicomic masterpieces.” [via The New Yorker]

Girl Crush Zine Edited by Jenna Wortham and Thessaly La Force
“For those unfamiliar, a girl crush is when a girl has such a deep admiration for another girl that it becomes an infatuation of sorts, though platonic in nature. Editors Jenna Wortham, a reporter for The New York Times, and Thessaly La Force, former blogger at The Paris Review, have taken this concept to the next level by celebrating girl crushes in an online and paper zine aptly called Girl Crush.” [via Laughing Squid]

Japanther
“Japanther have since made a name for themselves in unique performance situations. i.e. along side synchronized swimmers, a top the Williamsburg Bridge, with giant puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets. Out of the back of a moving truck in SOHO, with giant dinosaurs and BMXers flying off the walls.” [website] You can read an interview with Ian at The Nervous Breakdown.

Teenage Izzy Schappell-Spillman’s archive
Teenage is a film and a blog about youth culture. About the film: “Based on a groundbreaking book by the punk author Jon Savage, Teenage is an unconventional historical film about the invention of teenagers. Bringing to life fascinating youth from the early 20th century—from party-crazed Flappers and hipster Swing Kids to brainwashed Nazi Youth and frenzied Sub-Debs—the film reveals the pre-history of modern teenagers and the struggle between adults and adolescents to define youth.” [website] You can hear her perform the theme song for the teen site Rookie.

It’s Your World–If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers by Mikki Halpin
“Free Speech. Racism. The Environment. Gay Rights. Bullying and School Safety. Animal Welfare. War. Information about Safe Sex and Birth Control. Free Speech. HIV and AIDS. Women’s Rights. These are the issues you care about — and now you can do something about them. It’s Your World will show you how to act on your beliefs, no matter what they are, and make a difference.” [via IndieBound]

What are some of your favorite DIY projects? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

January 5, 2012 at 5:52 am

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

What to Watch: Page One: Inside the New York Times

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If you’re looking for a take down of the New York Times, Page One: Inside the New York Times, is not for you. This documentary, which premiered at Sundance in January and is now available on DVD, is a look at the future of the newspaper industry through the lens of the New York Times’ media editors and reporters.

Director Andrew Rossi, previously the Associate Producer of Control Room, the 2004 documentary about Al Jazeera, had 14 months of considerable access at the Times. His footage even includes scenes from the twice-daily meetings where executives and desk editors meet to decide what stories would make it onto the front page, the coveted spot after which the movie is named.

When asked by The Huffington Post why he allowed Rossi such access, Bill Keller, who was the paper’s Executive Editor at the time of filming, said, “Andrew had what sounded like a smart angle — follow the media desk as it covers the implosion of our own industry”. More importantly, perhaps, “Andrew passed [David Carr’s] smell test.”

For those of you who don’t already who know David Carr is, you will by the end of the film. Former editor of the Twin Cities Reader and the Washington City Paper, now media columnist for the paper, David is the star of the film. He’s brash, incisive, scrappy—and incredibly likable. Despite his rough demeanor, he’s a fair journalist. In an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Carr explains that he doesn’t trick sources into giving him good quotes. He doesn’t feed them false pleasantries hoping to lower their guard. If the story’s going to be a rough one, he tells them so they have a chance to defend themselves.

Carr’s media desk cohorts include Brian Stelter, a former anonymous blogger now Times reporter known for his fantastic Twitter skills, reporter Richard Perez-Pena, and department editor Bruce Headlam. Together, with a few other contributors, they form the site’s Media Decoder blog, which according the Times is “an insider’s guide to the media industry . . .  a showcase for the extensive media coverage throughout The New York Times and a window on how the business of connecting with consumers is changing in the digital age.”

The film sets out to chart the wave of uncertainty that swept the newspaper industry starting in 2008—and continues to this day. As part of the investigation into new media’s role in people’s consumption of news and the status of traditional news outlets, Wikileaks acts as a case study. As the paper who released the Pentagon Papers 30 years earlier, Times reporters and news analysts are able to make direct comparisons.

The film allows the editors at the paper to discuss the gaffes that had taken place in quick succession—the Judith Miller Iraq War reporting and the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal—in their own words and how they affected traditional media’s integrity.

In a short segment on the encroaching online outlets both Gawker founder, Nick Denton, and Arianna Huffington, owner of The Huffington Post, said the future of the media is giving people what they want to read. Notable push back on this philosophy, one of hit-driven content, came from former Baltimore City reporter and Wire creator David Simon and Katrina vanden Heuval, Editor and Publisher of the liberal weekly magazine The Nation. ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative news outlet was praised for its model and efforts: serious reporting on issues that matter to the health of civil society and their willingness to partner with traditional media outlets for occasional content and distribution.

Also worth mentioning are the interviews with Clay Shirky, a prominent thinker on Internet technologies, and Jeff Jarvis, similarly, a media theorist, both of whom play something of a foil to the more positive predictions for traditional media outlets.

For media junkies, the talk about the future of print journalism, the behind-the-scenes footage, and David Carr’s show-stealing personality makes this documentary well-worth watching. Highly recommended for a lazy Sunday.

::[Links]::
Page One’s official website
Page One on Netflix
Q&A with Andrew Rossi
David Carr and Andrew Rossi on NPR’s Morning Edition
David Carr on Fresh Air
David Carr on Twitter
Brian Stelter on Twitter
Michael Kinsley’s review of the film for the New York Times
Slate’s review
Review on NPR’s All Things Considered

On the Shelf: books by people featured in the film

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own. by David Carr
David Carr is outspoken about his history with drug addiction. He speaks a bit about it in the film. In this book.

“In his ambition for connection Mr. Carr decides to report on his own life as if That Guy were a stranger. If This Guy can’t clearly see That Guy through the chemical and temporal blur, perhaps others can. Across many months, equipped with tape recorder and video camera, he tracks down figures from his past: friends, antagonists (including old editors), drug dealers, former girlfriends, members of his immediate family. He even interviews his own daughters. He hopes all of them will fill in some of the blanks. For the most part they do. The emerging self-portrait is not pretty.” [Pete Hamill via New York Times]

You can listen to his 2008 interview on Fresh Air about the book and there’s a 3-minute video at the New York Times where he recounts an incident in the book.

Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators by Clay Shirky
“Shirky’s hypothesis is that a lot of the 20th century stuff we used to take for granted — most people didn’t want to create media, people didn’t value homemade and amateur productions, no one would pitch in to create something for others to enjoy unless they were being paid — weren’t immutable laws of nature, but accidents of history. The Internet has undone those accidents, by making it possible for more people to make and do cool stuff, especially together. . . . Cognitive Surplus fizzes with great insights about how people use networks and interact with each other [and] continues to prove that Clay Shirky is one of the best thinkers and advocates the net has. It’s a delight to read and will change how you think about the future.” [via BoingBoing]

You can check out his profile and videos at TED

Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live by Jeff Jarvis
“Privacy has its advocates. Jeff Jarvis has made himself an advocate for publicness. In Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live, the original Internet optimist argues that if we become too obsessed with guarding all personal information on the ‘Net, we’ll miss important opportunities that come with making information available.” [via Fortune at CNN Money]

You can listen to an interview with Jeff about his book on the Six Pixels of Separation podcast

The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World by Gay Talese
Gay Talese, a former reporter for the Times, appeared in the film. He also wrote a book about the paper.

“The classic inside story of The New York Times, the most prestigious, and perhaps the most powerful, of all American newspapers. Bestselling author Talese lays bare the secret internal intrigues behind the tradition of front page exposes in a story as gripping as a work of fiction and as immediate as today’s headlines.” [IndieBound]

You can listen to an interview with Gay on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about his other book A Writer’s Life.

What’s on your shelf? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

November 17, 2011 at 6:39 am

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