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Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

Fell That Fairy, and Other News

March 10, 2015 | by

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Richard Dadd, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (detail), 1855–64.

  • The Warburg Institute, which dates to 1900, is one of Britain’s most peculiar libraries; in its radically open stacks, astrological guides sidle up to astronomy textbooks and science lives with magic. “In the past several years, the Warburg’s future has been fiercely contested. It is in some senses a small and parochial struggle, right out of Trollope’s Barchester novels, and in others about something very big—about the future of private visions within public institutions, about what memory is and what we owe it, about how to tell when an original vision has become merely an eccentric one.”
  • Richard Dadd was a promising British painter who went insane in the 1840s. He made his painting The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke in an asylum. “It is an exhaustingly complex image, with a substantial cast of characters, none of whom are doing much … If the Fairy Feller were a work intended for critical interpretation, which it probably was not, then we might talk of the suspended action with which the seed was to be split; the deferred moment of sex; the mutual isolation of the groups of figures suggesting the impossibility of generating a family or a community; and we might connect these themes to Dadd’s awareness of his own position as a long-stay patient in London’s high-security lunatic asylum.”
  • The art of the continuation novel: Why do dead authors’ estates hire contemporary writers to imitate them? “The value of characters … often exceeds the value of an author’s original texts … In recent years Sebastian Faulks has written as P.G. Wodehouse, William Boyd as Ian Fleming, Sophie Hannah as Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz as Arthur Conan Doyle, and more … The literary brand, today, is a managed and controlled phenomenon. A dead author’s reach on social media (managed by their estate or publisher) can be vast. The person or people who control Socrates’ Facebook page have access to nearly 1.5 million people.”
  • “Good metaphors force you to think about the things they reference in fresh ways. There aren’t very many good ones, though. They’re mostly concocted for the purpose of coercing you into changing your opinion. They annoy and distract rather than illuminate.”
  • On the Underground Man, everyone’s favorite antihero: “Certainly, the author identified strongly with his protagonist, calling him the ‘real man of the Russian majority.’ Dostoevsky rejected the idea that people act in accordance to reason or their best interests and asserted the need for them to be able to behave as they choose, without fitting into Enlightenment ideas of ‘progress.’ ”

Trollope Triumphant, and Other News

March 5, 2015 | by

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The face of a winner.

  • When Anthony Trollope’s The Duke’s Children was published in 1880, he had cut, presumably on a publisher’s order, some sixty-five thousand words—almost a quarter of the original manuscript. “Although Trollope did not delete any of his eighty chapters, he removed consecutive paragraphs in some places; in others, he cut sentences, phrases and words, even replacing a word with one which was slightly shorter on some occasions.” Now an unabridged version of the novel will finally see print.
  • Fornicators! Addicts! Indigents! Orange-juice drinkers! They’re all part of a day in the life of Marko Petrovich, a library security guard in Portland, Maine. “Once in a while a librarian will have security cover a desk while they run to the bathroom or do something quick. Then they return to find that Petrovich has reset the computer desktop background to a portrait of himself.”
  • In 1906, Van Tassel Sutphen’s novel The Doomsman made peculiar predictions about life in the New York City of 2015. “Sutphen’s book imagines that the world of 2015 has devolved into three tribes: the Painted People, the House People, and the marauding Doomsmen. Keeps, drawbridges, archery, and Sirs and Ladies have grown back as thickly as vines over the ruins of American civilization. At the center of it all is the city of Doom.”
  • Donatello’s sculpture of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk may be the most significant marble statue of the fifteenth century. “ ‘Speak, damn you, speak!’ Donatello, we are told, repeatedly shouted at the statue while carving it … the story may be apocryphal. Still, it points to the fundamental appeal of Donatello’s sculptures: by some strange magic they seem to capture the phantom of life.”
  • Is your teenage daughter sinking into an abyss of nihilism and despair? Leaving poems in her footwear may help. “People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe.”
  • Peter Gizzi, who has three poems in our new Spring issue, is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his collection In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987–2011.

The Future of Libraries Is Coffee Shops, and Other News

December 18, 2014 | by

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Photo: Berit, via Flickr

  • A new report suggests that to stay relevant, libraries must become more like coffee shops, “vibrant and attractive community hubs.” You know, with Wi-Fi.
  • And the future of roads is fewer roads, because we have too damn many of them. The Trip Generation Manual, a commonly consulted urban-planning guide, “may overestimate the number of trips generated from a new development by as much as 55 percent—‘phantom trips’ … The result is that cities may build way more roads than necessary, perpetuating sprawl and leaving less street space for non-drivers in the process.”
  • Our editor Lorin Stein is judging Nowhere Magazine’s travel-writing contest—they’re “looking for young, old, novice and veteran voices to send us stories that possess a powerful sense of place.” First prize is a thousand dollars and submissions are due January 1.
  • Secret Behavior is a new magazine about “what intimacy looks like”: “The first issue, which explored anonymity, is full of emotional money shots: self-portraits of men’s feet when they climax from masturbation (paired with their responses to the artist’s wanted ad), breakup fiction by Catherine Lacey, Jesper Fabricius’s anatomical encyclopedia made from close-cropped pornography.”
  • A few months ago, John Paul Rollert wrote a piece for the Daily about an Ayn Rand conference in Vegas. Now he’s reported more on it in The Atlantic: “Escapism is the allure of Las Vegas. The city—with its shows, its clubs, even its casinos—is ultimately incidental. You come to leave your self behind. Escapism of a different sort is also the allure of a radical philosophy. It seduces not by promising a temporary solution to the contest between the grosser passions and personal integrity … but by providing an alternative vision of what the ‘real world’ constitutes.”
  • With his album Pom Pom, Ariel Pink has delivered some of the best pop music of 2014: “It all seems to speak to people in that world, all these aged tweens,” he said in an interview: “Everybody still thinks they’re a tween, but they’re not. They’re former tweens. Generation tweens … the new twelve-year-olds pop up and usurp the former twelve-year-olds’ hegemony. That’s what I love about the music industry. It’s run by these kids. The children dictate what’s cool, and then everybody else just thinks that they’re a kid the rest of their lives.”

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Make Your Dream City a Reality, and Other News

October 6, 2014 | by

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A seventeenth-century map of Palmanova, Italy, a medieval star fort.

  • Wyatt Mason profiles Marilynne Robinson: “Somebody who had read Lila asked me, ‘Why do you write about the problem of loneliness?’ I said: ‘It’s not a problem. It’s a condition. It’s a passion of a kind. It’s not a problem. I think that people make it a problem by interpreting it that way.’ ”
  • How do outlandish ideas in architecture become reality? “The cities we live in need not have been as they are. In fact, they aren’t as they are. There’s a strange desperate hope in realizing how much of life is fiction.”
  • Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s novels—her latest, The Big Green Tent, appears in the U.S. next year—challenge the Russian state, taking on subjects that make many readers uncomfortable. “A book can be an inspiration or a murder weapon. Ulitskaya is fascinated by these transformations, but even more so by the peculiar trajectories that create fate—the travels of a person, a picture, a book. If there is a strange journey to be traced, she cannot resist the retelling.”
  • The e-book is an unstable medium: in a given edition, publishers are always swapping out advertisements, modifying content, rescinding access, or upgrading technology. So how do libraries preserve e-books? “Everyone knows that if we don’t do something now, we’ll be in big trouble later.”
  • Manufacturing stardom, then and now: “Trying to create a coherent image is always going to be the same, no matter if the star is from the 1930s or 2010s … Beyonce is producing an image using Tumblr and Instagram, which obviously stars in the thirties didn’t have, but she’s still trying to create a very specific understanding of the type of woman that she is. She’s trying to also make it seem like there isn’t a publicity campaign and that she’s not doing that, which was also done in the 1930s.”

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Oh, Shit, There Are Robots in the Library, and Other News

October 2, 2014 | by

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Nancy and Vincent: Friends or foes? Only time will tell. Photo: Picasa/Aldebaran

  • Soon to appear at the library in Westport, Connecticut: robots, two of them. “Vincent” and “Nancy” “have blinking eyes and an unnerving way of looking quizzically in the direction of whoever is speaking. They walk, dance, and can talk in nineteen different languages … [they] can recognize faces and detect where sound is coming from.” Ostensibly, the pair will help patrons find books and will serve as the centerpiece of a new robotics workshop. But whether these unfeeling golems are here to help or to serve as ruthless, lethal agents of the state remains to be seen. Anyone with late fees is advised to proceed with extreme caution.
  • Speaking of things you’re powerless to stop, however much you may wish to: Crime and Punishment, the Musical. (“I wouldn’t call it a rock-opera as such,” its director said.)
  • Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs “is not an easy read. It was written late in Victor Hugo’s career when he was living in exile on Guernsey, and his contemporaries dismissed it as an inferior work.” And yet it seems to have plenty going for it in the plot department: it’s “the story of a young man who is kidnapped, mutilated and sold to travelling entertainers, yet who retains his integrity and his dignity through the love of his adoptive ‘family,’ the eccentric philosopher Ursus, his pet wolf Homo, and the beautiful blind girl, Dea.” Sold.
  • Merritt Tierce, who was interviewed here last month, used to work at an upscale Dallas steak house, as does the protagonist in her debut novel. On two occasions, Tierce served Rush Limbaugh, who “left her $2,000 tips on modest-size checks, once with twenty $100 bills. ‘That was like blood money to me,’ says Tierce, who does not share Limbaugh’s social views.” So she gave it all to an abortion-rights group.
  • The trend of the “passport professor”: Why are so many Ph.D.s leaving America? (Why aren’t they? you might say.)

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Charm

September 22, 2014 | by

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Detail from the cover of The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm (1962)

When I was in tenth grade, I went through a phase when I cut class all the time. Not in a fun way—I never told any of my friends what I was doing—or to be rebellious. In retrospect, I think I must have been depressed; I simply could not face other people, or think beyond hiding myself in the library in a small nook on the second floor. For some reason, I always read The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm, from 1962.

Polly Bergen died this week at the age of eighty-four. She was a polymath: an actress, singer, professional sophisticate, and (evidently) advice-giver. I knew none of this when I first picked up the book—why it was in my high school's library is another open question—but quickly I learned about her country-music career, her success in films like Cape Fear, and, of course, the development of her signature look, which involved big glasses and a pouf of a dark coif. It’s not hard to see what attracted me; the cover features Bergen, in evening dress, peering out seductively from behind a cellophane curtain.

Bergen would go on to be a successful entrepreneur—she sold makeup, jewelry, and shoe lines—and an outspoken feminist. She was what was known as a “big personality” in the day, and was open about her ambition and strong will. Her recent obituaries have been laudatory, and quite moving.

In tenth grade, I didn’t know anything about Bergen’s life past 1962, but during those few months of intense intimacy, her brassy sixties-era confidence was deeply comforting. I liked how definite she was about beauty tips, the elements of charm, and the importance of establishing a “type.” I remember her writing that she was really only herself in her glasses; I liked that this was an essential part of her glamor.

One day, I got caught by my favorite teacher. He had checked with the nurse’s office and found that I had lied about being sick. (I had been in the library, reading The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm.) This man was a wonderful teacher; I loved his history class, and I knew he liked me, too, and thought I was smart. I know exactly why I had skipped his class that day. I was ashamed; I had not wanted him to see me depressed and unprepared and as I really was. I wanted to keep his good opinion. “Why did you lie to me?” he said, seeming really hurt. And I didn’t know what to say. Of course, he didn’t like me after that.