New Year -- New Resources

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I enjoy comparing novels and their film adaptations -- even when I don't think the film an improvement. So after being one of the last people to get to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE before it left theaters, I ordered the novel by Vikas Swarup, originally entitled Q&A. The novel is very different, both more sentimental and more realistic.

Paradoxically, you appreciate how the film improves the story's cinematic and thematic cohesiveness, even though the Bollywood and Hollywood elements are clich├ęs. The novels White Tiger and Sacred Games seem to me to be much more original and complicated novelistic portraits of India's class and gender wars. Sacred Games is particularly well written.

FYI, I think one of the best film adaptations is THE PLAYER (directed by Robert Altman, starring Tim Robbins), which Michael Tolkin adapted from his own novel of the same name. The novel is a better novel and the film a better film precisely because of the differences between them. One of the things that amused me is the fact that the cell phone conversations which are so important to the movie didn't take place in the novel because it was written before they became ubiquitous.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Something most of us probably knew: reading -- even for six minutes -- is a better way to relax your heart than listening to music or playing a video game, drinking tea or taking a walk.

Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: "Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Synchronicity and speculation in fiction

William Gibson is one of the founders of "cyberpunk" science fiction. His new $10 paperback (and a bargain at that price), Spook Country, is probably one of his most optimistic novels in the genre. He prides himself on writing about the "near future," one in which the technology he describes already exists in proto-type (like the bicycle made out of paper in Virtual Light).

In Spook Country, the background technology is virtual reality, "locative art," but the dangerous uses to which such art is put -- by the media, the government, terrorists and organized crime -- requires non-violent intervention from self-appointed guardians of our civil rights.

On a minor note of synchronicity, I had just heard a piece on NPR about the popularity of a new cuisine Vietnamese Pho noodles, when I proceeded to read a chapter in which characters comment on the quality of the "pho" they are eating. As usual, Gibson's book (first published in 2007) is well ahead of the curve. Bouncing from lower Manhattan (with a fantastically realistic chase amid the Union Square farmer's market) to Sunset Boulevard and the Vancouver waterfront, Gibson opens a window on a new kind of outlaw gypsy family, one with Chinese-Russian-Cuban roots and the protection of vodoo gods, martial arts, and iPods.

Monday, March 9, 2009

For more about how professional news writing (if not conventional newspapers) can survive into the next decade, see this excellent article in The American:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A day without writers, a web without "content"

As I have mentioned before I am perturbed by the illogic of those who say they don’t read “newspapers” because they get only their news on the “Internet.” The issue is not where we read news but what news we read. To prove it, I urge all network TV and print media to go dark for one day and show us what we would be missing.

Click through on a Google News item, and chances are you are reading news from a news media with salaried reporters, whether NPR, Associated Press, NY Times, Washington Post, or ABC and MSNBC. Even the Wall Street Journal lets you get some content for “free.” We may not pay directly by subscription and we may ignore the advertising, but we certainly “borrow” news someone else has paid for.

Why don’t we pay a cent to news sources, but we are willing to shell out hundreds of dollars a month in phone, cable, and cell fees? Those subscriptions come with absolutely no guarantee of Internet content. Why should Google get all its content for free? Wouldn’t you benefit from insisting that some of that money go to the people who make it worthwhile to use the technology you pay for?

Stop arguing over whether most of us read on paper or on a computer screen. Start asking what news we are willing to pay for. Google pays no one who its users want to “search.” It shares no advertising income with the most popular web sites which attract its customers. We pay millions of dollars a year to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Cablevision, Dish Network, ATT, Verizon, Apple, iTunes, Samsung, Blackberry. Wouldn’t we all benefit from insisting that some of that money go to the people who make it worthwhile to use the technology we pay so much for?

The logic of paying for content was proved by Google’s recent settlement with the Author’s Guild, in which Google has agreed to pay royalties to the copyright holders of books that can be searched in their Reader.

We need to have a day when all news websites supported by non-internet business models go off-line. For one day, we would not be able to read free on the Internet news that is paid for by print and broadcast media. Make us go out and buy a newspaper (if we can find one). Make us wait until the “News Hour” on broadcast TV to find out what happened in Congress or on the stock market today.

If all those non-Internet news sources were to disappear, we would notice. People in Denver are already noticing the blank pages on their local internet, headlines The Rocky Mountain News used to provide Imagine how much international news we wouldn’t be able to read if the NY Times and ABC, NBC, and NPR News web sites went down?

Nothing is truer in American than “you get what you pay for.” If we don’t pay for our news on the web, what kind of news will we get? What do we lose by demanding our subscription or advertising fees being shared with the people who write the words we read on the Internet?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Showalter's new literary history of American women writers

Elaine Showalter has a new book out, A JURY OF HER PEERS: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. It is a comprehensive, chronological overview of American novelists and poets, more documentary than literary criticism, but some of the sections on well-known writers like Alcott, Stowe, and Wharton are particularly excellent.

Unlike Showalter's first -- and revolutionary -- book on British women novelists, A Literature of Their Own, this volume does not fundamentally alter the way you will read every book discussed, but it is a delight for the "lost" writers who are rediscovered and its portraits of women's friendships.

In start contrast to their Victorian and Edwardian sisters across the Atlantic, many American women did manage to earn a living (at least for a while) as writers and to also become mothers. But it was at quite a cost, including the deaths of children or of the mother in childbirth, or a precarious widowhood. Too many ended their lives in poverty and silence. Without Jane Austen's well-connected brothers or Virginia Woolf's 500 pounds a year income, these women lived through the difficult political and economic times and bitter racial unrest of a young nation -- and they did it all without birth control.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anthropologist Blaffer-Hrdy and the mothers of us all

I have always read an equal amount of non-fiction and fiction, academic and popular, frontlist and backlist. I find it hard to read a new book without wanting to explore what the author has written before or what others have written on the same subject. To me the ability to range across an entire library is what appeals about e-books, much more than portability alone.

If you read this way, you will want to read anthropologist Sarah Blaffer-Hrdy's forthcoming book from Harvard University Press, as well as her first two. I can't make a better argument than Natalie Angier in today's NY Times article, In a Helpless Baby, the Roots of Our Social Glue (