Posts Tagged ‘genre’
September 13, 2016 | by Jack Womack
How the book designers of the fifties and sixties tackled alien invasions.
It’s impossible to know what sort of cover design will make a book fly off the shelves. Through timidity, this often leads to a certain monotony in covers, especially when they’re genre specific—“If it worked before, it’ll have to work again, eventually.” At times the uniformity is comical: it’s hard for book people of a certain age not to remember, say, the gothic romance subgenre without bringing to mind the same cover that was on every one by the end of the sixties—a woman, at night, dashing (often in a white nightgown) from a darkened mansion in sinister woods. Familiarity bred contentment; every reader knew what to expect when they saw the lady running.
Flying saucers as a phrase entered the modern English vocabulary at the end of June 1947, immediately after the initial sightings by Kenneth Arnold in Washington State—which, as it happened, turned out to be the first of thousands of such sightings. The subject was becoming more popular by the week, and publishing houses such as Henry Holt, Fawcett, and Citadel were quick to recognize the need for books on it. But what kind of a cover should go on a book about flying saucers? At the outset, there was no consensus as to what the saucers even actually looked like: they were described as blinking lights, purple blobs, flying wings, boomerangs, shiny metal balls, floating kerosene lamps, pie plates, hubcaps from an old Terraplane; in photos, during the first ten years, the most popular model resembled either the top of a chicken incubator, or part of the casing of a 1937 Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Read More »
June 8, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Let us mourn the tech culture of the late twentieth century, which bore only a superficial resemblance to the libertarian, Objectivist, misogynist creep fest that is Silicon Valley today. Flipping through old issues of Wired, Anna Wiener admires an earlier (if ultimately no more forgivable) strain of techno-utopianism: “Wired’s recurring gadget spread, ‘Fetish,’ is where I always flip first: a catalogue of mid-nineties stuff-lust, resplendent with fine-art mouse pads, data gloves, chunky digital cameras, personal stereos, and vibrating office chairs for the gaming élite. Some of these products are unimaginable now, like SelectPhone, a digital phone book for all fifty states contained on four compact disks … In early Wired, technology wasn’t just entertaining; it was a tool, meant to liberate and enlighten. Products were positioned as socially transformative (‘We’re Teen, We’re Queer, and We’ve Got Email’). I was strangely moved by an article about Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, an online town hall used by the city’s homeless and wealthy alike.”
- There are around 117,000 speakers of Cree, an indigenous language in Canada that, to go by the sample phrases in this piece, we would do well to save—and to learn ourselves: “With entries ranging from pwâkamo-pahkwêsikan, the Cree word for pizza—‘the throw-up bread’ in literal English—to môniyâw-matotisân, a sauna or a ‘white-man sweat,’ a crowdsourcing project documenting the vitality and evolution of the most widely spoken indigenous language in Canada is about to be published. Neal McLeod, a poet and indigenous studies professor at Trent University, set out to connect with other Cree speakers on Facebook, aiming to gather together classical Cree vocabulary and to ‘coin and develop’ words relating to contemporary life … ‘One of the things on my bucket list … is to translate Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope into Cree,’ writes McLeod, before laying out Cree for Attack of the Clones: kâ-môskîstâkêcik aniki kâ-nipahi-nâh-naspitâtocik, ‘literally, “when the Ones who resemble each other in an uncanny fashion attack”,’ and tâpwê mamâhtâwisiw awa, ‘the Force is strong with this one.’ ”
- As the Soviet Union fades into the rearview mirror, it’s becoming harder to find reliable, intimate accounts of life in the USSR. A new graphic novel is trying to change that: “The Italian graphic novelist Igort went to Ukraine in 2008 and stayed for nearly two years. He met people at marketplaces and on country roads, and drew their lives. ‘Word by word I listen to the account of an existence that has become an undigested mass,’ he writes, at the beginning of one section. ‘It pushes its way out from the gut. The following is a faithful transcription of that story’ … These phrases sum up everything that is good and everything that is not so good about The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule … The translation, sadly, is often tone-deaf and downright sloppy—the peculiarly unappetizing language in this passage is just one example. But the stories he has collected are indeed an undigested mass, often a mess, and this is a good thing.”
- Today in old encyclopedias: the Britannica’s eleventh edition, from 1910–11, has earned a reputation over the past century as a grade-A reference text. What makes it so? “I think the eleventh more than any other edition is a feat of editorial engineering. The editor, Hugh Chisholm, actually had a vision for what an encyclopedia could be and then molded together all the contents that he had to work with to create a single statement about the optimism of the age and the triumph of technology and what progress is … Part of it is the way Chisholm templated the articles. He was a newspaper guy, Chisholm kind of looked at each one of these articles as a story. According to Janet Hogarth, who worked with him, the templates were exhaustive. Even when he didn’t know what the subject was, he knew how a story should be look and feel—how it should be structured. The result of that is a compulsive readability. There are people that sit around for hours reading the eleventh because its just such a pleasure.”
- A new film festival looks at genre flicks helmed by women: “The word genre comes from the French term for ‘gender,’ an etymology that's especially salient in a kicky, wide-ranging two-week series at Film Forum that spans more than a century. Curated by Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, ‘Genre Is a Woman’ highlights what should be a well-known fact but is too commonly overlooked: that female directors, ever since the birth of the medium, have not limited themselves to the pink ghetto of romantic comedies and aspirational weepies. Distaff auteurs—beginning with cinema pioneer Alice Guy Blaché, whose The Pit and the Pendulum (1913) is likely the first-ever screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe—have made their marks in, among others, noirs, westerns, road movies, science fiction, and grindhouse, all types of films often thought of as the sole province of their male counterparts. ‘Genre movies’ have actually been, to some degree, equal-opportunity employers.”
March 25, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- John Jeremiah Sullivan on Shuffle Along, one of the first all-black musicals on Broadway: “The blacks-in-blackface tradition, which lasted more than a century in this country, strikes most people, on first hearing of its existence, as deeply bizarre, and it was. But it emerged from a single crude reality: African American people were not allowed to perform onstage for much of the nineteenth century. They could not, that is, appear as themselves … In Shuffle Along, two black people fell in love onstage, and [the journalist Les] Walton wanted to see how a white audience would handle this … What he expected to see was not rage or revolt but something more ambiguous, an occasional discomfort passing through the room, and perhaps at certain moments a holding-back too, on the part of the cast. ‘White audiences, for some reason,’ Walton wrote, ‘do not want colored people to indulge in too much lovemaking.’ ”
- Speaking of musicals: American Psycho is one now. When Bret Easton Ellis’s novel came out, in 1991, some bookstores refused to stock it. Times have changed. As Dwight Garner writes, “This novel was ahead of its time. The culture has shifted to make room for Bateman. We’ve developed a taste for barbaric libertines with twinkling eyes and some zing in their tortured souls … Reading Mr. Ellis’s novel today, the hysteria of 1991 is almost inexplicable to me. It’s apparent from the start that Patrick Bateman is a sendup of a blank Wall Street generation. He’s a male mannequin, the ultimate soulless product of a soulless time … Something has happened since 1991 to our response to violence, especially when it is seasoned with a shake of wet or, especially, dry humor. Increasingly inured to the mess, we’ve learned to savor the wit.”
- What about Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary? Was it, too, ahead of its time? Though its observations about youth and work have long been dismissed as pedestrian, the economy has made them radically prescient, as Daniel Wenger writes: “Two years before Sex and the City, Fielding offered a third-wave route around the battleground between love and power … Today, Bridget Jones needn’t be limited to the confines of its chick-lit designation. The notion that the equations of life do not add up is still a particular problem for women of all ages, but many young people, no matter their gender, will find some of Bridget’s story familiar. Within a couple of years of graduating college, Bridget would have found her job prospects threatened by the global recession of the late eighties and early nineties; even when we first meet her, she’s flitting from position to position. Millennials began joining the workforce in the wake of the Great Recession, and according to a 2014 Council of Economic Advisers report, the consequence is an almost epigenetic stain on professional lives.”
- Sometimes people talk about fiction and nonfiction, and I’m like, What’s really the difference, you know? And they sort of phumpher and mumble a bit before they throw their hands up. But a lot of us feel this way: “According to Geoff Dyer, who says his next book is ‘a mixture of both fiction and non- but will be published as non-,’ the strength of the distinction in anglophone culture has waxed and waned … The nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer blurred the lines again in the 1960s, he continues, and the boundary is ‘perhaps going through another porous phase right now’ … ‘You’d have to go back to the early nineteenth century or earlier to a time when “literature” referred to fiction and nonfiction rather than to a particular, highly regarded form of imaginative writing,’ he adds. Dyer cites Raymond Williams, who suggested that ‘the special regard in which fiction comes to be held … is probably connected to romanticism and the emphasis put on the imagination—which is itself a response to the rise of industrialization: a very fact-based process as Dickens emphasizes later in Hard Times.’ ”
- But why stop there? Why knock down the walls between genres when you can mount an assault on the separation between language and culture? On Charles Taylor’s The Language Animal: “He argues that language, like everything else that matters to human beings, cannot be understood as a kind of semantic Lego, where we acquire individual words with firm, clear shapes and string them together to form sentences, paragraphs, essays, and books. Language is shaped by the culture that has produced it, which means that it, in turn, shapes those who go on to use it. Hence: ‘The basic thesis of this book is that language can only be understood if we understand its constitutive role in human life’ … He agrees that ‘speech is the expression of thought,’ but insists ‘it isn’t simply an outer clothing for what could exist independently.’ The broadly Wittgensteinian alternative he offers to this reductionism is a kind of holism, in which the meanings of words hang together in complex webs in which culture and semantics cannot be disentangled.”
October 21, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
“I don’t think ‘science fiction’ is a very good name for it, but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is, if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, the Art of Fiction No. 221
November 6, 2012 | by Jillian Steinhauer
Much has been said and written about New York Comic Con. It’s weird, it’s magical, it’s overwhelming, it’s hell on earth, it’s the best event in the world. If you’ve ever attended, it’s easy to see how all of these things could subjectively be true. Only one thing seems objectively true, however: Comic Con is utterly unique (unless you count San Diego Comic-Con, which seems to be the only comparable event in the United States, and which I’ve never attended).
Here is a list of things you can buy at Comic Con: the video game Just Dance 4, anime DVDs from Japan, K-pop posters, books titled How to Be Death and Victorian Sexual Positions, your zombie portrait drawn for $19.99, your superhero portrait photographed for $10, a steampunk corset, potions, comics-related earrings, sriracha-themed boxer briefs, “premium” (the seller’s word, not mine) hugs for $2, a photorealist painting of superheroes for $2,495, Nancy Drew manga, the Bible as manga, an autograph (free), and a picture of a girl dressed as hipster Hitler (also free).
One thing they don’t sell yet: strollers. But it’s only a matter of time. As a man I overheard on Sunday afternoon astutely observed, “Yo, they should sell strollers here! They’d make a killing.”
At Comic Con—and for many blocks north, south, and east of the Javits Center, which hugs the West Side Highway—you can see adults and children alike dressed up as Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Superman, Captain Marvel, Mario, Luigi, Transformers, and at least a hundred other characters I couldn’t identify. People attend discussion panels while painted blue or stroll the aisles in their underwear.Read More »