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July 30, 2013

Emily Bronte: “Peculiar Music”

emily-bronte-154x210 By Steve King

On this day in 1818, Emily Bronte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire. Most accounts portray Emily as the brightest, most intense, and most difficult of the three sisters — “not a person of demonstrative character,” wrote Charlotte, “nor one, on the recesses of whose mind and feelings, even those nearest and dearest to her could, without impunity, intrude unlicensed.”

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June 14, 2013

Beware of book blurbs

shutterstock_74882698-620x412The Washington Post did not review Martin Amis’ latest novel favorably, but the book blurb suggests otherwise

By Prachi Gupta

As book blurb whore/not whore Gary Shteyngart will tell you, writing book blurbs is an artform — but it’s also a bit of a farce.

As Washington Post fiction editor Ron Charles points out, the book blurb from the Washington Post on the front of Martin Amis’ “Lionel Asbo” (which Charles did not review favorably) is so disingenuous, it borders on lying:

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May 17, 2013

65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s

enhanced-buzz-15891-1368492354-12By Doree Shafrir


The books that will move you, inspire you, make you cry, make you think, make you laugh. Even if you read them in high school or college, you’ll have a different perspective on them now that you’re Out In The World. (Trust me.)


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May 14, 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Needed to Be More Gay

Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway as guileless heterosexual—but in the novel, his sexuality's ambiguous, and he's linked to Gatsby & co. by their shared need for deception.

Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carraway as guileless heterosexual—but in the novel, his sexuality’s ambiguous, and he’s linked to Gatsby & co. by their shared need for deception.

By Noah Berlatsky

“Come to lunch someday,” [Mr. McKee] suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
“Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. McKee with dignity, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”
“All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”

. . . I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is usually thought of as the story of… well, the great Jay Gatsby, poor boy made nouveau riche, and his efforts to win the aristocratic Daisy Buchanan away from her boorish aristocratic husband Tom. But the quote above is about Daisy’s cousin, the narrator Nick Carraway. In the passage, as you can see, Fitzgerald makes a flamboyant phallic pun (“Keep your hands off the lever” indeed), and then shows us McKee and Nick virtually in bed together. Many people skim over that scene—as I did more than once. But once it’s been pointed out, it’s difficult to see it as anything but post-coital.

Baz Luhrman’s recently film version of Gatsby makes a nod to this incident: Mr. McKee, a photographer, is very interested to learn that writer Nick is also an artist. But while McKee may still be gay, film-Nick (Toby Maguire) is adamantly not. In the book, Nick meets Mr. McKee at a party and goes home with him. In the film, he still goes to the party, but ends up canoodling and maybe probably having sex not with a man, but with a woman. Film Nick is first attracted to Gatsby’s parties by a glimpse of a lovely flapper flitting through the bushes. He seems visibly affected by the sensuality of Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress. In the book, he recognizes her appeal, but seems unmoved or even disgusted by it. In one telling passage while at the party, he notes that he “was simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” In the next sentence, he says Myrtle pulls her chair over and “her warm breath poured over me.” A couple paragraphs later he’s sneering at her “artificial laughter.”

It’s not a shock that the film decided to erase the hints of gayness. Even in 2013, gay content is controversial, and gay characters can be hard for a lot of people to accept, in various senses. You could argue that it’s a cowardly choice, and I’d probably agree with you. But Hollywood is cowardly almost by definition. No surprises there.

What is surprising, perhaps, is how much eliminating Nick’s queerness matters. There are many, many things wrong with Luhrmann’s clumsy, ADD Gatsby. But the thing that is most wrong is Nick.

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May 10, 2013

“Have You Heard About The Toad?”

kenneth-grahame-154x210On this day in 1907 Kenneth Grahame wrote the first of a series of letters to his son, Alastair, describing the adventures of Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger which eventually became The Wind in the Willows. Grahame had been inventing such bedtime stories for several years; putting them on paper at this point was occasioned by his being separated from his son on his seventh birthday.

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May 8, 2013

E-Books and Democracy


WRESTLING with my newspaper on the subway recently, I noticed the woman next to me reading a book on her smartphone. “That has to hurt your eyes,” I commented.  Not missing a beat, she replied, in true New York style, “My font is bigger than yours.” She was right.

The information revolution raises profound questions about the future of books, reading and libraries. While publishers have been nimble about marketing e-books to consumers, until very recently they’ve been mostly unwilling to sell e-books to libraries to lend, fearful that doing so would hurt their business, which is under considerable pressure.

Negotiations between the nation’s libraries and the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster, which publish roughly two-thirds of the books in America — have gone in fits and starts. Today Hachette, which had been a holdout, is joining the others in announcing that it will make e-books available to public libraries. This is a big step, as it represents, for the first time, a consensus among the Big Six, at least in principle, that their e-books should be made available to library users.

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May 7, 2013

Faulkner in Hollywood

William Faulkner   (1897 - 1962)

William Faulkner (1897 – 1962)

On this day in 1932 William Faulkner reluctantly arrived in Hollywood to begin work as a screenwriter, a labor that would last, on and off, for twenty years. Faulkner had already published The Sound and the Fury, and although far from a popular success he was regarded as one of America’s most talented young writers; on the other hand, a local store had just refused his $3 check.

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May 4, 2013

Mailer, The Naked and the Dead

Norman Mailer    (1923 - 2007)

Norman Mailer
(1923 – 2007)

On this day in 1948 Norman Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead was published. A front-page editorial in the London Sunday Times lobbied to have the book withdrawn for its “incredibly foul and beastly,” language, but most reviewers ranked it among the best war novels, and conferred upon Mailer a celebrity status that he claimed to regret.

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May 3, 2013

Joyce grandson describes Central Bank coin ‘one of the greatest insults to Joyce family’

A view of a limited edition James Joyce collector coin issued by the Central Bank.

A view of a limited edition James Joyce collector coin issued by the Central Bank.

Image of Joyce ‘the most unlikely likeness ever’

Stephen James Joyce, grandson of James Joyce, has condemned the commemorative coin for the author issued this week by the Central Bank.

The coin, which sold out yesterday, two days after 10,000 were issued, contains an error in the quotation used from the third episode of Ulysses .

Mr Joyce described the circumstances of the coin’s issuing as “one of the greatest insults to the Joyce family that has ever been perpetrated in Ireland”.

Lack of consultation
Mr Joyce complained about a lack of consultation with him and the James Joyce estate by the Central Bank over the coin.

He said the first he heard of it was in a communication last September, but when he attempted to contact the person concerned it turned out he was no longer at the bank. Another brief communication arrived in March, which contained no further information. Had he seen the coin, or an image of it, the error would have been spotted.

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May 2, 2013

Shakespeare & Shrews

William Shakespeare   (1564 - 1616)

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

On this day in 1594, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was entered in the Stationers’ Register. Much of the main plot seems to come from a 1550 popular ballad called “Here Begynneth a Merry Jest of a Shrewde and Curste Wyfe, Lapped in Morrelles Skin, for her Good Behaviour.” By the endeth, this contribution to the shrew-taming canon was merry from only one perspective. . . .

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