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June 28, 2012

Passing Strange: 15 Of The Most Bizarre Author Deaths On Record

By Joshua Chaplinsky

Why go gently into that good night like a sucker when you can go out in a Bon Jovian blaze of glory and be remembered forever? If you’re a 16th century poet or an obscure opera critic, it might be your only chance at leaving a lasting legacy. And if you’re already a canonical author, it doesn’t hurt your street cred if you die in a fiery car wreck and people blame the KGB.

The authors on this list share a common bond; death was their final indignity. Many of these accounts already exist online, but I humbly submit that none are as colorful as my own. I made a conscious choice not to include any of the famous suicides- Virginia Woolf putting rocks in her pockets, Sylvia Plath putting her head in the oven, Hemingway putting buckshot in his brain- so no need to point out their absence. I was more interested in the accidental, the grotesque, the downright kooky. And I think these 15 deaths more than fit those criteria.

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James on War and Empire

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 7:35 am

Henry James (1843 – 1916)

On this day in 1915 Henry James wrote to the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, to inform him of a “desire to offer myself for naturalisation in this country.” James was 72 years old, and 40 years a resident in England; this grand gesture in the early days of WWI was his way of “throwing into the scale of [England’s] fortune my all but imponderable moral weight — ‘a poor thing but mine own.””

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June 26, 2012

US independents urge DoJ to protect agency model

A group of independent publishers in America have written to the Department of Justice in support of the agency agreement, warning that abolishing it would reduce competition in the market.

The nine indie presses – including Grove/Atlantic, W. W. Norton and Perseus Books Group – joined forces to warn that the DOJ abolishing the agency agreement would lead to Amazon taking a monopoly in the e-bookselling market because it sold e-books at below cost.

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Erotica: better reads than Fifty Shades of Grey

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:14 pm

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James.

E L James’s novel has got fans’ knickers in a twist – but it’s not as though it’s the first racy read.

By Lucy Mangan

The success of E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – an erotic tale of two lovers that originated online as Twilight-based fan fiction before being repurposed as a series of full-length books first on e-readers and now, after a seven-figure deal with mainstream publisher Arrow, as actual paper-and-ink tomes – continues to build. Doubtless panting with excitement, it has thrust, thrust and thrust itself again into the bestseller lists (in the US, it has knocked The Hunger Games off its 16-week-long perch on USA Today) and has – yes, yes, yes! – sold more than 3m copies in various formats.

It is thought that its e-beginnings, which allowed people to read without fear of discovery or embarrassment (Kindles have no covers), has vitally contributed to its success. How the internet has spoiled today’s stimulation seekers. A click of a button and off you go, clicking your own button on the way.

You would think, from all the furore – the book has been dubbed “mommy porn” because of its popularity among older women, and been banned from libraries in Georgia and Wisconsin (Florida has just lifted its ban) – that this was the first time we had ever got our hot little hands on a mucky book, in whatever format. This is nonsense, of course. Remember these?

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June 23, 2012

Will ‘showrooming’ kill businesses?

Filed under: Retail — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 9:42 am

Merchants suffer when customers use their stores to check out products, sometimes taking pictures of them, and then buying them online, says Bob Greene

By Bob Greene

In a bookstore, I saw a woman taking photograph after photograph of newly released titles that were arranged on a shelf. She was using her phone to take the pictures.

I didn’t understand. Why would anyone want to take pictures of books?

Then, at a restaurant, waiting for a table, I heard two men, also waiting, talking. One said he had just ended a frustrating day at the store he owned.

“Do they think I’m a showroom?” he said.

He mentioned people who had come into his shop that day, had looked at the merchandise, had taken notes — and then had left.

“Do they think I don’t know what they’re doing?” he said.

It is a relatively new phenomenon. Among retail merchants — owners of stores both small and large — it has a name:

“Showrooming.”

No one showrooms by choice.

And it represents a potential sea change in American life. Its implications are vast.

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LURID: Bad Trips – Ten Novels With Serious Drug Psychosis

LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you’re reading.

By Karina Wilson

Thanks to a spate of lurid headlines (Cannibals! Zombies! Demonic Possession!) over the last few weeks, drug-induced psychosis is clawing its way back into public consciousness as Social Evil No.1 – if it ever really went away.  We may never know what caused Rudy Eugene to chew off 75% of Ronald Poppo’s face in Miami on the 26th of May, but the collective media finger of blame has been jabbed at “bath salts”, the street name for concoctions of amphetamine-related compounds sold as personal hygiene or cleaning products under innocuous-sounding names like Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow or Vanilla Sky.

Bath salts have provided a convenient bête noir for outraged tabloid reporting for the last couple of years, a way of making connections between those anomalous “Man Bites Dog” (or Man Dressed In Bra and Panties Kills Goat) stories that would otherwise get lost in the ‘Random WTF’ files.  Whether users are car surfing naked, eating their roommate or ripping out their own intestines and throwing them at police, the presence of bath salts in their system makes them part of a collective trend, shared time and time again on social media, and fuel for a growing moral panic.

As a society, we find it difficult to accept that people do crazy things.  That has unfortunate implications for our (lack of a) mental health care system.  It’s much easier to believe that people only do crazy things on drugs, tipped over the edge by psychosis-inducing substances they have willingly ingested, despite all warnings to the contrary.  Before bath salts led the pack in the blame game, crystal meth, crack, PCP, LSD, reefer madness, cocaine, opium and gin have all had a spin on the scapegoat carousel.  Historically, of course, none of these drug menaces has actually destroyed society, or even a generation, but they generate great copy and headlines, and over the centuries, have provided the narrative spine for some extremely lurid books.

In fiction, writers have always reached for the “drugs made me do it” device when it’s time for an otherwise rational character to do a crazy thing.  It’s quick and easy.  From the magical flower juice in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that causes a queen to fall in love with a donkey to the amyl-based hallucinogenic cocktail in Hannibal that compels Mason Verger to slice off his face with a shard of mirror and then feed it to his dogs (“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”), drugs are a convenient way of making a character behave out of character, with maximum dramatic effect.

For the aficionado, however, there is also a whole sub-genre of popular fiction that acknowledges that there is nothing quick or easy about a drug fix, and that addiction is an integral part of a character’s essence, rather than a temporary aberration.  Part confession, part cautionary tale, part panegyric, these books feed into readers’ desire to learn about the boundaries of human experience from the safety of the middle.  We may not be prepared to risk our own health and sanity in the pursuit of the ultimate high, but we sure like to read about those who did, and who, ideally, lived to tell the tale.

On one end of the spectrum is the refined, scientific prose of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1953), his account of a fine May afternoon spent in West Hollywood under the influence of mescaline.  He admires flowers in a vase, browses art books in a drug store, listens to classical music, and has a nice sit down in the garden.  Huxley’s experience is all about accessing a higher consciousness, using the influence of the drug on his normal sensory perception to open himself up to greater truths.  It’s all very intellectual, all very noble, and about as far from naked cannibalism on the MacArthur Causeway off-ramp as it’s possible to get.

At the other end of the spectrum are the self-proclaimed Bad Books, the ones that go deep into the dirty nasty.  Mostly autobiographical, they’re front-line dispatches from the war on drugs declared long before Nixon signed it into law in 1971.  Salacious, sensationalist and sometimes very sad, these books tap into the damaged psyches of users and abusers, offering up a plethora of perverse pleasures to the armchair tripper.  They take us through garbage-strewn alleyways, piss-smelling staircases and into the fetid apartments only an addict would willingly frequent.  They put us in dangerous, stupid and criminal situations only an addict would voluntarily risk.  And they hint at the paroxysms of ecstasy only an addict can aspire to (“Take yir best orgasm, multiply the feeling by twenty, and you’re still fuckin miles off the pace” – Trainspotting).  Here’s a Top Ten of those mucky puppies, definitely to be handled with latex-gloved care.  You know only too well the kind of filth and degradation these stories have been through.

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Steinbeck’s Discontent

John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

On this day in 1961 John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent was published. The book was written during Steinbeck’s despair that fame or friends had led him away from “true things” to “shiny easy things,” and with a hope that he could “slough off nearly fifteen years and go back and start again at the split path where I went wrong.” The first reviews were mixed, though Steinbeck would get the Nobel the following year.

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June 22, 2012

Double win with A Monster Calls

Filed under: Literary Prizes — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 9:19 am

Patrick Ness

| By Ed Wood

A Monster Calls (Walker Books) written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, has become the first book ever to win both the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals.

Ness is also only the second author to win the award in consecutive years (the first being Peter Dickinson in 1979 and 1980), having won in 2011 for Monsters of Men.

Ness, whose book explores the feelings of grief and anger of a boy with a terminally ill mother, used his acceptance speech to condemn the prevailing view of today’s teenagers: “The worst thing our current government and, in fact, we as a culture do about teenagers is that we only seem to discuss them in negative terms. What they can’t do, what they aren’t achieving.  Why have we allowed that to happen?”

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The joy of Moleskine notebooks

Moleskine notebooks … the best of their kind? Photograph: Alamy

No, despite what you may have heard, Bruce Chatwin never used them but they are still the best notebooks money can buy.

By Emine Saner

It’s the  promise held in that unbroken spine, the smooth oilskin cover, the comforting rounded corners. But most of all in the pristine ivory blankness, ready to be filled with the beginnings of your first bestseller and sketches so groundbreaking they will require new ways of thinking about art. This notebook, the Moleskine pocketone you just paid £8.99 for, will deliver it all.

Apparently Van Gogh used one, and Picasso, and Hemingway – this history now rests in your hands. So long as you can find a spot in Caffe Nero and get to work. “It’s a masterful bit of excavation of the human psyche,” says Stephen Bayley, the design critic and writer – and user of Moleskines. “The stuff you’re writing in it could be the most brainless trivia, but it makes you feel connected to Hemingway.”

Except there is no real connection to Hemingway. Moleskine was created in 1997, based on a description of the beautiful, bound notebooks the travel writer Bruce Chatwin bought from a French bookbinder before it closed down. An Italian company Modo & Modo recreated it, sold it at a premium price and describes it as a “legendary notebook”. “It’s an exaggeration,” Francesco Franceschi, co-owner of Modo & Modo told the New York Times in 2004. “It’s marketing, not science. It’s not the absolute truth.”

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Mexican marvels: DBC Pierre and the axolotls

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:30 am

The future looks like this … the axolotl. Photograph: Alamy

Axolotls are salamander-like creatures that can regrow their limbs, jaws and even spines. DBC Pierre on why he is collaborating on a symphony inspired by the creatures he once kept as pets.

By DBC Pierre

Kismet – don’t knock it. I mean the little flurries of coincidences and symbols that seem to herald approaching change. I’ve been informally watching the dynamics of change for as long as I can remember. It seems to me change comes in clusters, and its triggers seem to fire independently and simultaneously, mostly in areas of life already pregnant with something: anything from a death to an unexpected success or an unforeseen setback.

Take the infuriating fairground game Penny Falls, where you feed coins into a slot and they drop onto a moving ledge of other pennies, forever on the verge of falling. It’s like that: energies, purposeful or not, gather and gather and eventually reach a critical mass, at which point a trigger sets them all falling.

I’ve also found that change-clusters send a signature up-front: a notice of impending change. A couple of pennies fall in advance, and you can see the area of pressure they fell from. This is how change seems to work. My first novel, Vernon God Little, came from watching the signature of a high-school massacre. The matter of affluent teens exploding was about to arrive, the culture was overheated, and these were the first pops – and it did arrive, and arrived to stay. Likewise, I sketched the setting of my most recent book, Lights Out in Wonderland, an allegory of late capitalism, when times were booming; but it was clear, once banks started giving loans to people without incomes, that the pennies were ready to fall.

Hence, strangely, axolotls. Bear with me: I don’t feel it’s wishful or magical thinking to say we appear to be approaching a change in the very foundation of thought about life and the universe. The pennies are stacking up. The signatures have appeared in the last year. I feel the kismet like the drawing-back of the tide before a tsunami. Towards a sudden time when the internet seems as baroque as wax-sealed parchment. Cancer treatment as dumb as being bled. Our notion of space as arcane as the flat earth.

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