QOTD: The Consummate Palaverer and Jabberer

I am a walking monument of concepts, a scrimshaw of thought, electric deliriums of philosophy and wonder. You love concepts. I am their receptacle. You love dreams in motion. I move. You love palaver and jabber. I am the consummate palaverer and jabberer. You and I, together, masticate Alpha Centauri and spit forth universal myths. We chew upon the tail of Halley’s Comet and worry the Horsehead Nebula until it cries a monstrous Uncle and gives over to our creation. You love libraries. I am a library. Tickle my ribs and I vomit forth Melville’s Whale, Spirit Spout and all. Tic my ear and I’ll build Plato’s Republic with my tongue for you to run and live in.

G.B.S.–Mark V
Ray Bradbury

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Unusual Words — Illustrated!

The Project Twins, a couple of graphic designers from Cork, Ireland, have illustrated twenty-six unusual words, and they look great. You can buy prints here. In the meantime, here are some I really like (click for full size):

Scripturient — Possessing a violent desire to write.

Biblioclasm — The practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media.

Hamartia — The character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall.


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“Re-imagining” Continues to Replace Imagining

From Deadline:

20th Century Fox TV and studio-based Imagine TV are developing The League Of Pan, a fairytale-themed drama series that takes on the story of Peter Pan. Based on an idea by up-and-coming writer Brian McCauley Johnson, League Of Pan is described as a re-imagining of the Peter Pan mythology. Set in modern day, it centers around the Lost Boys and takes place 10 years after they’ve left Neverland.

Well, OK, neat. There’s not enough information to really gripe about, but plenty to speculate on. I’m guessing the Peter Pan connection will be a flimsy excuse, or pathetic claim to credibility, for a cookie-cutter magic-tinged drama more interested in the sex lives of its characters than a compelling story. But then, what percentage of television programs are intended to be art rather than a portal to the ever-lengthening commercial break? It’s far easier to go with the culturally-established story and re-wrap it, even though no one is asking for Peter Pan to be re-imagined.

I tend to crave antidotes to things like this, which is actually the upside. J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy made it pretty far up my TBR, although this story isn’t enough to push it to the top. Maybe when the show comes out.

Similarly, I finally got so sick of seeing the word “epic” misused around the internet (try a keyword search on Buzzfeed), I read Beowulf. It did amazing things for me! Trust me, if you read an actual epic instead of looking at an “epic meme mashup“, you’ll feel a whole lot better at the end of the day!

Final prediction: The League of Pan will have a character called ‘Tink,’ who will have questionable morals but will be too hard-edged and aloof to get involved with any of the fellas.

Final final prediction: Budget cuts on the promo posters:

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Happy Alan Turing Day!

It’s Alan Turing’s 100th birthday today, which he sadly didn’t survive to see, having killed himself shortly before his 42nd. His name quickly brings to mind his famous Turing machine, but perhaps his greatest contribution was his efforts cracking the Germans’ code during the Second World War.

Radiolab has a great episode about Turing’s work over here, and Brain Pickings has his lending library records here. Enjoy!

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The LeBron Question

The Heat won the championship last night, moving LeBron James from the front of the sports page to the front page proper, with slightly larger font. I don’t watch the NBA but the championship is always exciting; more interesting to me, however, is this conversation it all reminds me of: Grantland ran a piece a couple weeks ago, an exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. The two wax long on what Simmons dubs “jockosophers,” persons who could easily thrive in careers outside of sports for their effortless way with words, and on the effects of fame. He (Simmons) begins the conversation with an off-the-cuff quotation from Shane Battier on LeBron James:

He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.

(Battier is a fine player, but I’m a University of Kentucky fan; I only remember him for tremendous flops and general annoyance.) Even where Gladwell and Simmons drift into regions outside my interest, it’s a great read. I watched an episode of Jimmy Fallon once in which he played charades with, I think, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers. Charades isn’t exactly a spectator-friendly game, but it was hugely enjoyable because of the people playing. Likewise Gladwell and Simmons are enjoyable to read just because they’re so good at what they do.

They dabble in the silly and the somewhat more serious. Gladwell writes,

I can’t believe we’re discussing jockosophers without mention of Darryl Dawkins, he of the “Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam.” This is a man who said he was from planet Lovetron, where he engaged in “interplanetary funkmanship” with his girlfriend. There isn’t any interplanetary funkmanship in today’s NBA. I think the owners banned it during last year’s lockout negotiations. The best we can do is Metta World Peace. If you are going to go to all of the trouble of changing your name to World Peace, can’t you come up with a better first name than Metta?

and, elsewhere,

My turn for a quick tangent: I was in the Orlando airport not long ago, waiting in one of those endless security queues, when I looked up and saw that the ticket agent was escorting someone to the head of the line. She takes him past at least a hundred people and inserts him right in front of the conveyer belt. He wasn’t in a hurry. In fact, the guy turned out to be on the same flight I was, which didn’t leave for another hour. Who was it? Ray Lewis. Two things. One — there is no way she does that for anyone but a sports star. She would have stopped Albert Einstein if his driver’s license looked a little fishy. Second — no one said anything. We all just kind of nodded and looked at each other and said, “Cool! Ray Lewis.” Here’s a man who makes millions of dollars for hitting people really hard and it somehow makes complete sense to the rest of us that he should be able to cut in ahead of teachers, salesmen, nurses, working moms, and hack writers. If you are someone like Ray Lewis and that kind of thing happens to you every single day of the year, how do you stay normal? Standing in line in airports and other everyday rituals of modern life are the kinds of things that civilize us: As annoying as they are, they remind us that we are all equal and they teach us patience, and they grant us a kind of ultimately useful anonymity. Ray Lewis and celebrities of his ilk never have the privilege of those moments. By the way, Lewis was wearing a daring ochre, Caribbean-style pantsuit that, at some future point, deserves its own Grantland exposé. So yes. It’s not easy being LeBron.

Toward the end of the conversation the two discuss the ethics of football, especially regarding whether children ought to be allowed to play. Coincidentally, Gladwell recently participated in a debate on the question of whether we ought to ban college football. He argued the positive, along with Buzz Bissinger. You could find worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

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Essays sneak up on us. Th…

Essays sneak up on us. They are — or often feel — accidental: the record of a writer wrestling with an idea, an observation, a slice of experience, of a writer figuring it out.

David Ulin considers contemporary essays.

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A Book By Any Other Cover

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TED Talk: Chip Kidd & Book Design

I saw this a week or two ago but forgot to share it:

Chip Kidd is a book designer for the Knopf, and here tells a bit of the creative process, the taken for granted wit of book jacket design.

“All of these solutions derive their origins from the text of the book. But once the book designer has read the text, he needs to be an interpreter and a translator.”

Kidd offers a wonderful (and only occasionally direct) argument against eBooks. I sometimes jokingly refer to my own technological regressions as Luddite, but in actuality my impulses are positive. I don’t want to reject technology like eBooks because they are higher-tech than paper books; I prefer paper books because there is a fuller experience with a paper book. It’s not just the particular words on a page. Books are not simply data to be transmitted to our brains.

Kidd convincingly communicates, from just one aspect of the book business, the Gestalt of a book.

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Happy Death Day, Shakespeare! You’re 396 Years Young (Dead), I’m Sure You Look Terrible!

So it’s Shakespeare’s deathday (his Christening day is Thursday; we don’t know his birthday, but it was probably a week or so ago). In honor of this auspicious holiday I drew this horrible likeness of the Bard in paint:

Per my usual literary holiday-makings, I think I’ll read some Shakespeare tonight in honor of the man; I’ve been meaning to revisit Lear for a while. You should do the same! (Not Lear, necessarily. But something.)

The first thing remembered when I thought of Shakespeare’s death was last Fall’s movie, Anonymous, that cashed in on the popular (and oft-refuted) Oxfordian theory of Shakesperean authorship: that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I was tickled by Renee Montagne’s interview with the filmmaker of the project, especially since the last part she seemed to be laughing at his work. Even moreso, I loved this deliciously acerbic New York Times article by Stephen Marche (who said of the film, “it is fiction that wants to confuse itself with fact.”) I reviewed Marche’s book on Shakespeare last fall, and was not impressed. But this article is good.

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Interview With a Ghostwriter

This week on The Splendid Table Lynne Rossetto Kasper interviews JJ Goode, a ghostwriter for cookbooks. It’s a great little interview, and a great peek into the craft of that particular art.

Gwyneth Paltrow last month was up in a huff because it was “revealed” she’d had a ghostwriter for her own cookbook, My Father’s Daughter. It’s an odd, petty huff; not only does it belittle the ghostwriter, but it bespeaks a petty sort of pride. No one really expects a celebrity (or for that matter a full-time chef) to write his or her own book. A lot of people don’t write their own books, and that’s fine. Ghostwriting is one of those open secrets everyone is OK with, because if people with ghostwritten books had actually written their own books, they would be awful and unreadable.

I worked for several months at a non-profit and frequently ghostwrote for the organization’s director. As a job it’s largely thankless, but the biggest complaint I ever got was that a letter to a bishop was “too formal” and didn’t sound like the director. That was the trick: Find the director’s voice, and just go with it. I’d spend five to ten minutes each month chatting with the boss, write down a few specific phrases, and go with it.

As an art I found ghostwriting (in my limited experience) surprisingly rewarding; I definitely envy Goode’s work, if for no other reason than I’d love to hang out with Masaharu Morimoto.

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