Television Land (not to be confused with the ever-sadder TV Land) is a foreign country: they do things differently there. The residents get very excited about fast food. Dads are childish buffoons and moms are smug scolds. All kids are bratty smart alecks. Police witnesses are strangely insolent and really busy. And everyone who uses online dating services is beautiful, chic, and well adjusted. But perhaps the strangest thing about this parallel universe is that in lieu of “Happy Birthday,” they sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Read More
- Today in “Let’s Pretend There’s a Trend”: Are long novels enjoying a day in the sun? There are, after all, many of them being published this year. “People seem to be seeking wholly immersive experiences,” says one publicist. “They’re binge-watching, they’re cooking from scratch, going on ecotours. And there’s no more immersive experience than reading a good long book.” (Publicists for cocaine, LSD, and MDMA could not be reached for comment.)
- Fantasy authors, on the other hand, are advised to stop writing so many long novels. “A deluge of multi-volume epics has been published over recent years, each one in turn hailed as the next Game of Thrones, only to disappear within a few months as disappointed readers found reality didn’t match the hype … Most were by debut novelists, often interesting writers with some good short stories under their belt, pushed far beyond their technical abilities by an industry hungry for instant commercial success.”
- But if there are too many big books, there are also too many big literary festivals—in fact, the festivals are getting too big for their books, even for the big books. “What is the point of book festivals? To see your favorite authors on stage, hear them read from their books and in conversation? Or meet them, queue up to get their signatures in your first editions, and ask them questions?”
- While we’re at it, our data sets are growing too fast, too; this is your periodic reminder that the digital humanities are divisive and arguably counterproductive. The scholars who built Google Ngram “gave a presentation about how the specific year in which a book is set started getting mentioned much more frequently after the French Revolution, and hypothesized that this had something to do with a new sense of time in the modern nation-state. In fact, as a senior professor attending the presentation immediately pointed out, these were just the years when copyrights, including dates of publication, started appearing in the fronts of books.”
- There is, amid this outsize circus of excess, one man who isn’t big enough: the man who shot the artist Chris Burden with a .22-caliber rifle back in 1971. In the name of the humanities, this fellow was “willing to accept the risk that if he missed his target by inches, art could morph into homicide.” He’s an accountant now.
- Say Jesus Christ dictates a book to you in a dream—who holds the copyright? Is it you or is it Jesus of Nazareth?
- “Donne, in one of his regrettably few statements about how ‘Metricall compositions’ are made, referred to the putting together of a poem as ‘the shutting up.’ An unfortunate term, and we could use a better one; because there can’t be much doubt that the shaping of a poem is also a pressure, in which the binding energy of the poem brings everything inside its perimeter to incandescence.”
- Let’s give franchise novels their due: “It’s a plain fact of publishing life that more people will read the latest Star Wars franchise novel than all the books shortlisted for last year’s Booker prize put together.”
- Unsurprisingly, nineteenth-century medical texts are full of disturbingly wondrous illustrations.
- While we’re on medicine in the nineteenth century: doctors in the Victorian era recommended that men grow beards to stay healthy. “The Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body. Others saw it as a means of relaxing the throat, especially for those whose work involved public speaking.”
David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and the trouble with public image.
In 2010, just under two years after David Foster Wallace’s death, the journalist David Lipsky published Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir of transcripts from an interview he’d conducted with Wallace in 1996 for Rolling Stone. The book was well reviewed—it made the Times best-seller list—and late last year it was announced that it would become a film starring Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. The End of the Tour is already in postproduction and slated for release in late 2014, but last week, the Wallace Literary Trust issued a public statement making it “clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support” the film: “There is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”
I was struck by similarities between this situation and the case of James Joyce and Samuel Roth, which began in 1926. In his recent book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, the scholar Robert Spoo devotes two chapters to Joyce’s desperate attempts to defend his intellectual property against Roth, an infamous American “booklegger” who reprinted the entire text of Ulysses, as well as large portions of Finnegans Wake, without permission. Roth’s actions, like those of the filmmakers of The End of the Tour, were not illegal: Joyce didn’t possess the U.S. copyright on his works, which were originally published in Europe and—after a brief window during which he could have established copyright by securing American publication—fell immediately into the U.S. public domain. Read More
This is the second installment of Tim Wu’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
11:00 A.M., Amtrak, Washington, D.C. → New York City
Taking a break, I read P. G. Wodehouse, whose work I would call a guilty pleasure if I actually felt any guilt about it. Today, I read what must be one of his most brilliant stories, “The Story of Webster.” It is about a young Bohemian named Lancelot whose uncle, a disapproving Vicar, makes him take care of his cat while he is on missionary duty in Bongo Bongo.
The cat, it turns out is something of a proxy for the Vicar’s disapproval. “His eyes were clear and steady, and seemed to pierce to the very roots of the young man’s soul, filling him with a sense of guilt.” Lancelot cannot seem to ignore the pressure. Soon he has begun to shave daily, clean his apartment, and under the cat’s influence even ditches his fun-loving poetess girlfriend for a Miss Carberry-Pirbright, “a young woman of prim and glacial aspect.” All seems lost, until at the end the hero solves the problem in a way I won’t spoil.
2:50 P.M., Room 104, Jerome Green Hall, Columbia University
My copyright class today is about cultural appropriation, or more precisely, what a secondary author can and cannot do without the first author’s permission. We talk about the case of the Harry Potter Lexicon—a detailed encyclopedia of all things Potter, which J. K. Rowling declared an infringement of her authorial rights.
This year’s copyright class is a good crowd. I banned laptops, and class speaking is done standing so it has a performative aspect that adds intensity. It also doesn’t hurt that the underlying topic—authorship—is just interesting.
How authors react to works based on their work is unpredictable. Some authors take the existence of any secondary works as a sign of success. Others are hurt, even if the work is flattering. I tell the class about the day I watched Ms. Rowling on the witness stand, crying and saying that her life had lost meaning thanks to that nasty Lexicon.
What we’re reading this week.
After seeing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I’ve been looking through Lewis Carroll’s original text. The British Library has a copy of the 1864 illuminated manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, conveniently online. The illustrations are delicate and charming. They’re much like Carroll’s handwriting, neat and subtle, with no trace of the macabre imagery in Burton’s movie. Alice is worth returning to again and again. —Daisy Atterbury
Four middle-aged strangers, stranded late at night in a railroad station, begin speaking of love. Soon each is telling the story of his one great romance. It sounds like a lost work of Turgenev—and sometimes it reads that way too—but it’s My Kind of Girl, by the mid-century Bengali poet Buddhadeva Bose. First published in 1951, out next month in a new translation by Arunava Sinha. —Lorin Stein.
At the risk of stating the obvious, wasn’t that some piece about Gil Scott Heron? —L. S.
In the week that Newsweek was bought for a dollar, and Wikileaks dominated the news, I read up on the changing media landscape. I read John Koblin’s article in the New York Observer about Scott Dadich, executive editor of digital development at Condé Nast, with great interest. Dadich’s job is to help magazine editors develop their iPad applications. I’m fascinated by this new frontier, professionally and personally. Dadich is incredibly talented. In Koblin’s piece, he’s compared to Jesus, Pelé, Miles Davis, and Frank Lloyd Wright. —Caitlin Roper
Scavenged for all things Heidi Julavits after reading her story, “Multiples of Cohen,” in the latest Harper’s. —Anna Hartford
As a cyclist, I’ve been alarmed to learn from Republican electoral candidates that I am part of a vast biking conspiracy, started by the UN, to use bike lanes to take away people’s freedom. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I’ve started Ursula K LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a story about a planet where gender roles are obscured, just in time for the California District Court’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. I picked up my copy, a classic early seventies hardcover edition with wonderfully strange modernist artwork, for fifty cents on somebody’s stoop near the office. —Patrick Loughran
What is an editor to do with a galley of the annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? I have yet to find a fun way to feature the book on the Daily (suggestions are welcome). It’s more information than I’ll ever need. When is it the hunting season for partridges? Did you know that Epsom salts derive their name from the fact that they were originally made by boiling down mineral water from Epsom? Or that Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina (1778), was perhaps the first work to explore the notion of embarrassment? Is possible to overdose on Jane Austen? —Thessaly La Force
Also loved John Bowe’s piece in The New York Times Magazine about music copyright enforcers. Bowe delves into a facet of music copyright that I haven’t considered, and it’s a rough one—he follows a BMI licensing executive as she goes door-to-door to collect licensing fees for music that restaurants are already playing. The article gets at the question of how we feel about paying for music, a subject I never tire of. In June, I donated to Creative Commons after reading this letter from their creative director in response to ASCAP’s fundraising letter decrying what they characterized as efforts to “undermine” their copyrights. —C. R.