The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Your Best-selling Foot, and Other News

February 25, 2016 | by

This is Brent Underwood’s foot, a more accomplished author than you or I.

  • Writers should always have a backup plan. A good one is to consider a career in the Central Intelligence Agency, which is what Jennifer duBois did around the time she was applying to M.F.A. programs. You ask: But couldn’t she do both? “When it comes to writing for publication, the CIA’s terms are stark: once you have been under their employ, everything you write for the rest of your life will be subject to their review and redaction … The CIA emphasizes that these redactions apply only to matters of national security—that a potential novelist would not, for example, be forfeiting her artistic autonomy for a lifetime, which is a question I think I actually asked—and, for what it’s worth, I believe this. But then, how could we ever know? Who would ever tell us?”
  • Do you have three bucks? Do you have five minutes? Friend, congratulations: you’re about to become a best-selling author. Brent Underwood tells you how: “I didn’t feel like writing a book so I instead just took a photo of my foot. I called the book Putting My Foot Down and included one page with, you guessed it, a photo of my foot … I decided my foot was worthy of the ‘Transpersonal’ category under psychology books and ‘Freemasonry & Secret Societies’ category under social sciences books … Burst onto the scene with three copies sold in the first few hours. Look at that hockey stick growth!”
  • When fingerprinting came on the scene in the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as a forensics godsend—and tellingly, it coincided with the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. But Francis Galton, who wrote the first influential book on fingerprints, was interested in them for a different kind of fiction: “He definitively declared that ‘no peculiar pattern …characterizes persons of any of the above races.’ And yet, despite his admission that ‘hard fact had made hope no longer justifiable,’ a closer look at Galton’s writings reveals that racial typologies were never far from his thoughts. The conflicted speculation, conjecture, and hesitation in Galton’s racial rhetoric in Finger Prints can be understood as a deliberate strategy, one which allowed him to perpetuate a strong racial and imperial research program even when his scientific data undermined it.”
  • Just a friendly reminder that good times are ahead: the Oscars are happening. A whole bunch of movies will be celebrated, and most of them are highly forgettable, but in interesting ways. Luckily A. S. Hamrah knows these ways, and has written them down. On The Martian: “Ridley Scott’s backlot Mars offers a parable for New Yorkers considering the move to LA … You’ll conduct your social life via text and Skype, make trips to the desert in your electric car. You’ll continue to shave every day on the off chance you get a meeting.” On The Revenant: “Iñárritu has finally solved the problem of how to film a realistic bear fight. The next cinematic problem he should tackle is screenwriting.” On Steve Jobs: “They should have given Steve Jobs away for free without anyone asking for it, like that U2 album. That way people (users) might have watched it by accident.”
  • In 1955, the saxophonist Wardell Gray died in bizarre circumstances, found miles outside of Vegas with a broken neck, his body having clearly been moved. For Aaron Gilbreath, his story reminds of “the small pantheon of jazz fiction. Writers looking to turn real life into dramatic narrative need look no further than the real history of American music. Racism, resistance, creativity, invention, the power to shape global culture while enduring systematic repression, violence, drug use, and the countless personalities with memorable names set against the sprawling canvas of post-WWII New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles–it’s all there.”

Paper—It’s Not Just for Writing! And Other News

February 2, 2016 | by

Twentieth-century lithography by the Danish designer Axel Salto. Image: British Library, via Hyperallergic

  • In which Elif Batuman, visiting Turkey, puts on a head scarf and begins to rethink some things: “What if I really did it? What if I wore a scarf not as a disguise but somehow for real? I was thirty-four, and I’d been having a lot of doubts about the direction my life was taking … Now a glimmer appeared before me of a totally different way of being than any I had imagined, a life with clear rules and duties that you followed, in exchange for which you were respected and honored and safe. You had children—not maybe but definitely. You didn’t have to worry that your social value was irrevocably tied to your sexual value. You had less freedom, true. But what was so great about freedom? … Travelling alone, especially as a woman, especially in a patriarchal culture, can be really stressful. It can make you question the most basic priorities around which your life is arranged. Like: Why do I have a job that makes me travel alone? For literature? What’s literature?”
  • Infinite Jest turned twenty yesterday, and Tom Bissell has given it an astute new appraisal: “In interviews, Wallace was explicit that art must have a higher purpose than mere entertainment: ‘Fiction’s about what it is to be a … human being.’ And here, really, is the enigma of David Foster Wallace’s work generally and Infinite Jest specifically: an endlessly, compulsively entertaining book that stingily withholds from readers the core pleasures of mainstream novelistic entertainment, among them a graspable central narrative line, identifiable movement through time and any resolution of its quadrumvirate plotlines … Made-up words, hot-wired words, words found only in the footnotes of medical dictionaries, words usable only within the context of classical rhetoric, home-chemistry words, mathematician words, philosopher words—Wallace spelunked the O.E.D. and fearlessly neologized, nouning verbs, verbing nouns, creating less a novel of language than a brand-new lexicographic reality.”
  • In the interest of evenhandedness, please note that the novel has earned, on Amazon, a large share of one-star reviews, and these disappointed readers deserve their say, too. “If you’re trying to make sense of a bunch of mumbo-jumbo then by all means place this one in your shopping basket,” one happy customer wrote. “He is a literary bully,” another reader said. And: “Didn’t know it was 1000 pages. Too hard to hold. Bought one for my son and he felt the same way.”
  • Paper: it’s good for writing, yes, but—did you ever think of this?—it’s also good for decorating. The new Anthology of Decorated Papers compiles some fine examples of all the things people have done with paper besides writing on it, which is, when push comes to shove, boring. “Much of the collection of over 3,500 papers focuses on book endpapers and other publishing ephemera. There are also wrappers, backs of playing cards, currency paper, wallpaper, musical instrument covers, and other examples of the medium, mostly dating from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries.”
  • I like to say that magazines are dying because it makes me look smart and chicly pessimistic. And I have to imagine my forebears felt the same way. People have been saying that magazines are dead more or less since they were born. Evan Ratliff writes, “We are not the first generation to witness the death of great magazine writing. That bell began tolling, some would say, as far back as 1911, when a run of unprofitability forced Samuel S. McClure to sell off McClure’s—founded in 1893 … When Vanity Fair came (in 1913) and went (in 1936), it was only a hint of the carnage that the era of radio would bring. We lost the titanic trio of Scribner’sForum, and Liberty—you remember them, of course—not to mention Living Age. When the Delineator went from over two million subscribers in 1929 to suddenly ceasing publication in 1937, the writing was on the wall.”

Bring Home a Little Piece of Obscenity, and Other News

October 2, 2015 | by

Detail from Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait, 1983.

  • If you’ve got an extra $250k–$350k lying around, you could own a part of obscenity history—a print of Robert Mapplethorpe’s electrifying photograph Man in Polyester Suit is up for auction. That’s the one, you’ll recall, that features “a tightly cropped picture of the torso of a black man wearing a three-piece suit, with his large penis hanging out, like a Montgomery Ward catalog hacked by Tom of Finland, with an assist from Duchamp and Groucho Marx.” Twenty-five years ago, Mapplethorpe’s photography unleashed a righteous fury; Jesse Helms and other congressional fuddy-duddies called it obscene and wrote a bunch of angry letters to people. To own Man in Polyester Suit is to give the middle finger to such types, always and forever. I’m sorry I can’t afford it myself. But if someone were to wish to buy it for me as a gift …
  • Elizabeth Bishop met Clarice Lispector in 1962, and immediately set about trying to help the Brazilian writer to break out in America. But there was some kind of a hiccup, and things between them cooled: “It is notably odd that Lispector was not more interested in Bishop’s offer to foster relationships with American publishers; she had struggled to get the elite presses of Brazil to take on her books and would struggle to make money after separating from her husband … Bishop personally negotiated the relationships and letters of interests with these editors, but it seems that she never realized or acknowledged that the power she wielded, often with an air of superiority, was precisely what was offensive … The last time Bishop writes about Lispector to Lowell, she says, ‘She’s hopeless, really.’ ”
  • Whither e-reading? A few years ago, e-books were poised to take over the world—but reading on a screen has failed to live up to its promise, and e-books are just … kind of boring, especially on the much-vaunted Kindle. “Amazon has built seamless, efficient plumbing for digital books. But after a book has made its way through the plumbing and onto the devices, the once-fresh experience now feels neglected … I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library—for inspiration or reference—than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.”
  • If Nietzsche gave a commencement speech—I know, thank God he’s dead, and won’t—he might draw from a part of his Untimely Meditations, devoted to Schopenhauer as an educator, but littered with weird nuggets of quasi-self-help: “There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever … No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!”
  • In John Keene’s collection Counternarratives, “every available form of literary irony—every possible way of forcing stubborn words to mean more than they pretend—­seems to be working at once.” Keene (“black, gay, raised in St. Louis, enamored with language, tormented by it”) is intent on using silence and absence in his fiction; his stories are full of missing texts. “This time, they are the reader’s assumptions and expectations, the dominant narratives—historical and political as well as strictly literary—with which we conjure the world and reproduce it, exclusions and erasures intact.”

Plug Up the Spiritual Emptiness, and Other News

August 19, 2015 | by

Aghast at modernity: R.S. Thomas.

  • In which James Wood discusses “smarty-pants tone,” his revised opinion on David Foster Wallace, and erasing the distinction between pleasure and analysis: “At exactly the moment that I wanted really to write, and started writing poems and then trying to write bad fiction, I was reading with a view to learning stuff. I was reading poetry. How did Auden do his stanza forms? And I was trying to copy those. What’s a successful poem, what’s an unsuccessful poem? … What’s a good sentence? I don’t think I’ve changed. I am as sincerely interested in novels that fail as I am in novels that succeed. I just want to work them out. It’s a pleasure for me actually.”
  • Who doesn’t love a good moral panic? In today’s advanced society, hardly a decade can pass without the populace whipping itself into a righteous lather over something or other—the eighties’ day-care abuse scandals stand as an especially potent reminder of our ability to delude ourselves, and the consequences of this delusion. Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children remembers the madness: “Jennifer went to regular one-on-one meetings with a therapist named Miriam, who also saw other children who had been allegedly abused at the day care. Miriam used dolls to demonstrate sex acts and then asked Jennifer to affirm that these things had happened to her. ‘I remember getting massive headaches,’ Jennifer said. ‘And I remember Miriam saying, “Say this happened to you, it did, it did”—repeatedly—“it did, didn’t it?”’ Over and over again.”
  • The Japanese poet Sagawa Chika died, in 1936, before she’d even turned twenty-five—and before a long period of cultural upheaval in which her work quickly fell out of favor. “But over the past decade, her work has enjoyed a revival among contemporary Japanese poets, and it has begun to appear in English … Sagawa used free verse to explore her interiority through imagery: rather than relying on traditional forms, she expressed an individual relationship with the world and with nature … the body frequently becomes alien, distant, and threatening.”
  • The Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, on the other hand, fled modernity in all its guises, embracing instead a thorough, religious misanthropy: “He despised modern consumer culture—talking of ‘the machine’ with its ‘cold brain,’ the yearning for the latest white goods to plug up the spiritual emptiness … He did not want to see an unspoilt spot carpeted in caravan parks and hated that the road to the saints on Bardsey had become ‘a thoroughfare for ice-cream vendors.’ He was enraged to bump into a ‘creature in a bikini’ on a birding trip.”
  • Why did Jeff Bezos choose the name Amazon, anyway, all those years ago? “Bezos’s Amazon was not, it turns out, named for a woman warrior, but for the mighty river … Apparently Bezos didn’t take his research that far, or even so far as to consider some relationship between the greatest river in the world and a mythical tribe of female fighters. He began, rather, with the name Cadabra … When his lawyer misheard the word as Cadaver, Bezos was prompted to change the name. He went for the river because of the implication of large scale and because website listings at the time were mostly alphabetical. The A and Z in Amazon didn’t hurt, since it allowed the logo designer to join them with a little yellow arrow, suggesting a place that sells everything from A to Z and also leaves its customers smiling.”

Fraud, Fraud, More Fraud, and Other News

March 19, 2015 | by

Typee_Shute_2

An illustration by A. Burnham Shute for Melville’s Typee, 1892.

  • Melville’s first book, Typee, is, like most literary memoirs, a fraud: though he certainly ventured to Polynesia, many of the events in the book are clearly created out of whole cloth—and they suggest how little we really know about the events of Melville’s life. “There is no reason to believe that Melville didn’t witness clothmaking and woodcarving. However, the scene in which his friend Kory-Kory rubs a six-foot pole between his hands, as his back arches and muscles tense, until it bursts into flame, is most likely a metaphoric rendering of a different act (no record exists attesting to whether Thoreau tried this method at Walden).”
  • While we’re talking fraud, Arthur Conan Doyle was set up—by the Staffordshire fuzz, no less. “Newly discovered documents show that the Staffordshire police fabricated evidence to try to discredit Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the curious case of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor accused of maiming horses and sending poison-pen letters at the turn of the twentieth century.”
  • Amazon’s Kindle Scout program— a “reader-powered” publishing platform in which authors submit their work and readers vote on it—is perpetrating a kind of fraud, too. It’s become “a murderously deft purveyor of books seemingly designed only to be inhaled like so many bibliographic nachos.” Is it the new center of reading as a camp experience? Or is it just shit? “The bigger problem with so-bad-they’re-good novels is that sometimes they’re just so bad they’re … bad. For every camp triumph on Kindle Scout, every daft splendor of weaponized pit bulls, you’ll find three corresponding duds.”
  • Everyone loves a good art heist. The trick isn’t so much stealing a painting, though, as managing to sell it again when it’s known to have been stolen. “The misappropriation of masterpieces continues to have a distinctive hold on the public imagination, even as it becomes a type of criminal activity that’s both misunderstood and increasingly hard to pull off.”
  • Among the fake self-help books hidden on shelves in an LA Bookstore: The Beginner’s Guide to Human Sacrifice, Learn to … Dress Yourself!, and So Your Son Is a Centaur: Coping with Your Child’s Confusing Life Choices.

It’s Already Right Behind You, and Other News

November 10, 2014 | by

LargePHANTOMOmniImage

The Phantom Omni can make you feel as if someone (or something) is right behind you. User discretion advised.

  • “An editor whose taste is unique to himself is a bad editor. The only person who discovers a writer is the writer himself.” An interview with our editor, Lorin Stein.
  • Aldous Huxley doing calisthenics; Borges beneath a ponderous storm cloud; James Ellroy behind a lamp with no shade on it … and other portraits that give the lie to this idea that writers don’t photograph well.
  • Partying on the dime of New York’s most controversial literary publisher: Amazon. “Outside, a war was raging; inside there were friends, food, and funding—for now. Passed hors d’oeuvres were loudly heralded … ‘I saw the sliders coming around and it just suddenly crossed my mind. I guess all this is being paid for by Amazon!’ ”
  • A pair of new films offer two very different theories about creative life: In Whiplash, an aspiring drummer faces “an abusive professor who is convinced that relentless torture is the only way to coax his students to the peak of their abilities … the crazy guy is right: The only way to be any good at something is to not bother trying to be good at anything else.” Meanwhile, Adult Beginners suggests “that if you forego grandiose notions of achievement and settle for surrounding yourself with people who love you and provide you with emotional support, your definition of fulfillment will become more manageable.”
  • Today in our science-fictional reality: What if there were a robot that could produce the skin-crawling feeling that someone is right behind you? There is. We’re fucked. (Actually, the robot may help us understand schizophrenia—but still.)

NO COMMENTS