On the Shelf
April 2, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “Delicious, unkosher, dark, vague, the Cloud / Of Mexico Pork threatens our borders.” In a new forum, John Ashbery, Cathy Park Hong, Charles Bernstein, Robert Pinsky, Rae Armantrout, and others contribute poems about the surveillance state in the twenty-first century. (Those lines are Pinsky’s.)
- Good news for grad students reluctant to enter academia: “Humanities Ph.D.s are all around us—and they are not serving coffee.”
- The Mets blew what now? An unfortunate headline teaches us the everlasting value of commas.
- Anyone who worships at the altar of user experience will wince at these designs by Katerina Kamprani, who has made it her task to suck the utility out of everyday objects.
- One man’s strangely inspiring search for a vocation: “He started the Restroom Association of Singapore to clean up the public toilets. People loved it. He then realized there were fifteen toilet associations around the world, in cities in Britain and Germany and Japan and some other places, too, but no world headquarters. So he started the World Toilet Organization … and that is how Jack Sim became the Toilet Man.”
- A brief history of naked babies in fashion magazines.
April 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- D. H. Lawrence’s hometown has opened a new pub called the Lady Chatterley.
- An enterprising fourteen-year-old has an urgent message for the government: change your official typeface to Garamond and you’ll save millions.
- Shakespeare plays illustrated in three easy panels. (“Three witches tell Macbeth he will be king. Macbeth kills lots of people in order to be king. Macbeth is killed.”)
- Taking stock of Monocle, which is now seven years old: “a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism … Monocle doesn’t have bureaus, it has bureaux … what Monocle and its advertisers clearly understand, even if the point is seldom made explicit, is that living in a first-tier city is a luxury good, like a Prada bag or a pair of Hermès boots.”
- Don’t merely go to the circus. Go to the circus in Communist-era Poland. “The visual style of the Polish School of Posters, funded and sponsored by state commissions, was characterized by vibrant colors, playful humor, hand-lettering, and a bold surrealism that rivaled anything similar artists in the West were doing at the time.”
March 31, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Discovered in Harvard’s library: three books bound in human flesh. (“One book deals with medieval law, another Roman poetry and the other French philosophy.”)
- One of the perennial dangers of interviewing writers is that they may turn the experience into a short story, with you in it. “Updike had transcribed—verbatim—their exchanges, beginning with the helpful suggestion that the interviewee drive while the interviewer take notes, and extending to trivial back-and-forth unrelated to the matter at hand.”
- The estate of Ted Hughes has ceased to cooperate with his latest biographer, barring access to Hughes’s archives. “The estate was insistent I should write a ‘literary life,’ not a ‘biography.’”
- Writing advice from James Merrill: “You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene. A room, a landscape.”
- Go on. Give your fingernails that sexy, on-trend Fahrenheit 451 look. You deserve it.
March 28, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Presented without further comment: John Updike’s shorts.
- What if The Road, The Corrections, and Wonder Boys were children’s books? (The illustration of Alfred Lambert falling from the cruise ship is especially well done.)
- Speaking of satirical children’s books: in the UK, Penguin has proven its humorlessness by suing the author of We Go to the Gallery, a brilliant parody of the Peter and Jane series. One panel is seen above. The lawsuit avows that We Go to the Gallery “pollutes the idyllic brand of Ladybird books … their argument is now fundamentally moral, not legal, and as such is an act of senseless and repressive censorship.”
- And speaking of questionable litigation: here’s the history of late-night TV ads for unscrupulous lawyers. “There was an era before ads like these were allowed—and a big bang after which they couldn’t be contained. And now, the legal world is in a subtle, possibly endless civil war over how attorneys should advertise their services (and whether they should advertise at all).”
- Today in interspecies communication: scientists can now translate dolphin whistles in real time.
March 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Before there was MFA vs. NYC, there was Flannery O’Connor, discussing the merits of an MFA program: “It can put [a writer] in the way of experienced writers and literary critics, people who are usually able to tell him after not too long a time whether he should go on writing or enroll immediately in the school of Dentistry.”
- The love letters of a young Ian Fleming reveal him to be a jealous, sadistic romantic: “I would have to whip you and you would cry and I don’t want that. I only want for you to be happy. But I would also like to hurt you because you have earned it and in order to tame you like a little wild animal. So be careful, you.”
- Beware intemperance! Exhumed from the Library of Congress: a 1908 map depicting “the negative consequences of drinking and ungodliness, using an imaginary set of railroad lines, states, towns, and landmarks.” Highlights: Selfishburg, Hypocrisy Heights, Lewd Castle, Whiskeyton, Gossip Center, Presumptionville, Treasondale, and Embezzle City.
- John Coltrane’s tenor saxophone will join the collection of the American History Museum. (This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal album A Love Supreme.)
- On CNN’s coverage of Flight 370: “This willingness to fixate on one big story and sensationalize it reflects CNN’s growing embrace of the phenomenology of news. It’s an approach that emphasizes the viewer’s experience of singular news events as much, if not more than, the news itself.”
March 26, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize last year, which is neat and all, but what’s even cooler is that her face is going to appear on a five-dollar Canadian coin—an honor second only to having a New Jersey Turnpike rest area named after you.
- The world’s most expensive musical instrument: “a Stradivari viola, whose asking price will start at $45 million when it is offered for sale this spring.”
- If one loses the ability to speak, a prosthetic voice offers the chance to restore one’s vocal identity.
- What was on French television in the sixties? Michel Foucault and Alain Badiou discussing philosophy. Obviously.
- If you’ve got two left feet, scientists have done you a solid: they now know exactly which dance moves catch a lady’s eye. The Electric Slide is not among them, experts say.