On the Shelf
April 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
- John Jeremiah Sullivan’s latest piece is a masterful look at two musicians who have fallen into obscurity: “In the world of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it … there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and ’31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley.”
- A statistical analysis of the paintings of Bob Ross. (Ninety-one percent contain at least one tree; 39 percent contain at least one mountain; 21 percent contain cumulus clouds.)
- Taking stock of today’s art world: “The artist has undergone an enormous increase in value, to the point of idolization. But success has come at a high price, with the power of the art system, the adjustment to taste guidelines, and the dependence on galleries and curators. To create something new all one’s own, while remaining in the game, is a balancing act that only few succeed at mastering.”
- An interview with Black Dog Bone, the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Murder Dog, hip-hop’s most “potent” underground magazine.
- “The original designs for the cubicle came out of a very 1960s-moment; the intention was to free office workers from uninspired, even domineering workplace settings.”
April 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- This fall, Boston plans to erect an impressive new statue of Edgar Allan Poe: a raven at his side, a veiny heart tumbling from his “trunk full of ideas,” his coat billowing in the wind.
- Against the word relatable: “It presumes that the speaker’s experiences and tastes are common and normative … It’s shorthand that masquerades as description. Without knowing why you find something ‘relatable,’ I know nothing about either you or it.”
- “Futurologists are almost always wrong … The future has become a land-grab for Wall Street and for the more dubious hot gospellers who have plagued America since its inception and who are now preaching to the world.”
- Why are so many young-adult novels set in dystopias? “The complete collapse of the narrative of what a secure future looks like for today’s young people … [has] fostered a generational anxiety about how to cope with overmighty state power.”
- In case you missed it—last week, “a German fisherman pulled a 101-year-old message in a bottle out of the Baltic Sea.” (It was not, thankfully, an SOS to the world.)
- “In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to Tom Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture—and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure.”
April 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today is Rizzoli Bookstore’s last day in business on Fifty-Seventh Street. Visit their beautiful shop before it’s gone.
- An unnerving correlation between philosophy and murder: “Countries with high homicide rates also have citizens who believe strongly in free will.”
- Britain got rich on sheep. “Wool was the white gold of our economy in the Middle Ages: when Richard the Lionheart was ransomed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, the Cistercian monasteries of Britain were asked for a year’s haul of fleece to pay for him.”
- “Amazon has purchased Comixology, the largest retailer of digital comics.” Is your local brick-and-mortar comic-book store completely fucked?
- Nobody wants to go to Colonial Williamsburg anymore. “Here’s an idea: market Colonial Williamsburg as so stodgy and weirdly Americana it’s cool, like taxidermy or trucker hats.”
- In an old shoebox, an artist has discovered a series of strangely affecting photos from the Kansas City drag scene of the sixties.
April 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Gabriel García Márquez was in the hospital last week, but now he’s out and on the mend, albeit in “delicate” condition. We wish him a speedy recovery.
- Poor Comic Sans, the common man’s font, the bane of designers and typographers everywhere, has gotten a facelift: say hello to Comic Neue.
- A news station in Texas has, with its “reporting,” stoked the flames of the legend of the chupacabra. “Jackie and Bubba believed they’d stumbled upon a Latin American vampire beast that guzzles the blood of livestock. They decided to take it as a pet.”
- Are English departments in jeopardy? Some professors think so. “Literary studies is being ‘devalued and dismissed’ as a result of English departments’ being ‘reconceived as being primarily in the business of teaching expository writing.’ Furthermore, he wrote, there’s an insidious rush ‘to make literary studies an outpost of “digital scholarship.”’”
- A new photo exhibit by John Goodman (no, not that John Goodman): “Together at last. Boxers and ballerinas. Those two great seemingly Yin-Yang forces of the physical—the soft, fluid Terpsichore and the aggressive Herakles …”
April 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The CIA used many strange tools to fight the commies. One of them? Doctor Zhivago. According to a CIA memo, “This book has great propaganda value … not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”
- Remembering the poet Ian Hamilton and the New Review, which was, “depending on your point of view, either the best literary periodical of the past fifty years or an elitist folly lavishly bankrolled by the taxpayer.”
- In 1893, W. Cade Gall published the “Future Dictates of Fashion,” in which he speculated as to the garb of years to come, all the way up to 1993. His conjectures were … wildly inaccurate.
- Difficult-to-parse news item of the day: “A 49-year-old Santa Cruz man died late Thursday night while crossing Mission Street after being struck by a car.” “Pretty plucky of him to cross the street after he had been hit, I thought.”
- Damien Hirst is writing an autobiography. “It will include a barely known first act—a black and hilarious account of Hirst’s youth, growing up in a semi-criminal, often violent milieu, while sharing with his friends an unlikely, but binding passion for art.”
April 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’re having trouble getting serious reading done, you can go ahead and blame the Internet, which fosters deleterious skimming habits. “It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”
- Yesterday was Don B.’s birthday, making today the perfect occasion to reread his 1987 essay, “Not-Knowing.” “Let us discuss the condition of my desk. It is messy, mildly messy. The messiness is both physical (coffee cups, cigarette ash) and spiritual (unpaid bills, unwritten novels). The emotional life of the man who sits at the desk is also messy—I am in love with a set of twins, Hilda and Heidi, and in a fit of enthusiasm I have joined the Bolivian army.”
- “Every April, ‘O, Miami’ attempts to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.” (There are at least 2.591 million of them—I just checked.)
- Crime and Punishment and Batman: all in one scintillating, thrill-packed issue of Dostoyevsky Comics. One wonders which superhero moonlighted in the Brothers Karamazov issue.
- From the annals of game-show history comes Bumper Stumpers, a late-eighties Canadian television curio in which contestants parsed the wordplay in vanity license plates. (E.g., VTHKOLM, which means “fifth column,” obviously.)
- Meet Todd Manly-Krauss, the “writer” with the world’s most irritating Facebook presence.