On the Shelf
February 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America—arguably the closest thing our nation has to a band of superheroes—has announced the nominees for this year’s Nebula Awards. Nicola Griffith, interviewed on the Daily last month, is up for best novel; and Samuel Delany, interviewed in the Art of Fiction No. 210, has won what’s surely the most finely named lifetime-achievement award in the land, the Damon Knight Grand Master Award. Congratulations to both!
- Today in common ground for humankind: every language contains the utterance “huh.” Let’s say it together.
- “I don’t think I have the right kind of books for homeless people.”
- Cosmopolitan’s sex tips have probably never been anything to write home about, but this one is especially bad. It involves a glazed doughnut, and its origins are in a 1995 “sexual recipe book” called The Foreplay Gourmet.
- Introducing “normcore,” fashion’s latest, most unremarkable trend: “The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld.”
- An update to Tuesday’s note on the Voynich manuscript: a medievalist named Stephen Bax claims to have discovered a way of decoding it.
February 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “The Cotton Club was also shooting in New York. The night we were shooting the Marshmallow Man, some guy said to me, ‘This is insane, what’s this movie?’ I said, ‘The Cotton Club, man. That guy Francis, you can’t stop him.’” In honor of Harold Ramis, an oral history of Ghostbusters.
- What do you do when your students’ literary touchstone is Law and Order: SVU?
- Online, Steven Soderbergh has released Psychos, “a feature-length mashup of Hitchcock’s original 1960 movie and Gus Van Sant’s controversial shot-for-shot 1998 remake.”
- At last, screenwriters can stop anachronisms in their tracks with the Anachronism Machine. “It maps the script’s words and phrases against a Google database consisting of the full texts of six million books and spits out a graphical rendering of the likely anachronisms the script is guilty of.”
- The first entry in an A to Z of forgotten books: “When it appeared in 1923, André Maurois’s Ariel was one of a new breed of what reviewers of the time took to calling ‘romance biographies.’”
February 25, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “‘They shouldn’t be allowed to read it at all,’ Julian suddenly said. ‘They’re the editors,’ I said. ‘They’ve commissioned this thing. And they have to read it.’ ‘No. They will only prejudice it.’” The beguiling story of ghostwriting for Julian Assange.
- “To cunt a text is to adore it.” How to cunt your favorite poets, including samples of Cunt Chaucer, Cunt Wordsworth, and Cunt Olson. A fun arts-and-crafts activity for you and your kids.
- Why was the Coen brothers’ excellent latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, snubbed by the Academy?
- What we know about the Voynich manuscript: it’s 246 pages, it was discovered in an Italian monastery in 1912, it consists of words and illustrations, it’s … well, it’s a manuscript. What it says, or whether it says anything at all, remains a mystery, even to linguists, chemists, historians, and physicists.
- Perhaps forensic linguistics holds the key: “an investigative technique that helps experts determine authorship by identifying quirks in a writer’s style. Advances in computer technology can now parse text with ever-finer accuracy.” Aspirant criminals: write blandly.
February 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The portraits of Carl Van Vechten: Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and more.
- “Even when he’s dead, as he is for much of the book, we feel that he’s still hovering right next to us, closer to us than our own clothes.” On grief, parallel universes, and Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies.
- “When you want a science fiction movie adapted into a novel that might be better than the original source material, you don’t fuck around. You speed dial Alan Dean Foster and send the check pronto.” The lost art of movie novelization. (Among the stranger films to become novels: Taxi Driver, Young Frankenstein, Deep Throat.)
- Attention, surrealist novelists in search of a conceit: a town in Holland has designed a village made exclusively for people with dementia.
- Or you can start your day with leather and handcuffs: Robert Mapplethorpe’s early Polaroids are here for you.
February 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “Is the goal so far away? / Far, how far no tongue can say, / Let us dream our dream today.” The worst poems by canonical writers. (Those lines are Tennyson’s—not his finest hour.)
- On the commercialization of nostalgia: “The memorial-industrial complex ensures that our past—our collective past—permeates our present.”
- How did Jeopardy! get its strange the-question-is-the-answer format? It was Merv Griffin’s doing.
- Aspiring writers: better to toil in obscurity. Studies show that literary prizes make books less popular. “Winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality.”
- New behind-the-scenes footage from Full Metal Jacket shows Kubrick’s perfectionism in full force; “He labors to get just the right spacing between lime-covered actors playing corpses in an open grave.”
- Blunders—they’re a good thing!
February 20, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Why can some people remember their dreams while others can’t?
- And a note to perennial dreamers: positive thinking makes you less successful. In a two-year study of undergraduates, “those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries.” And those were German students—not a people given to excessive sunniness. You can imagine what this means for Americans.
- The authors of old weather proverbs, on the other hand, were deeply pessimistic, especially about the omens of cats: “When cats sneeze it is a sign of rain. When cats lie on their head with mouth turned up expect a storm. When cats are snoring, foul weather follows.”
- One reason to attend your son’s football games: you may meet John Grisham there, and he may offer to be your mentor.
- “Italy’s relationship to modernity is very complicated … [The Futurists] try to do something new and not repeat what’s already been done, but in the end you can’t shake off 2,000+ years of art and culture.” On the Guggenheim’s new Italian Futurism exhibit.