This Explosion Brought to You By Hand Coloring, and Other News


On the Shelf


A still from Inventor Crazybrains and His Wonderful Airship, 1906.

  • In its early days, America decided to differentiate itself from its oppressors across the pond by giving the language a bit of a face-lift: we borrowed words from other tongues, reclaimed British words that had fallen into disuse, and—this is the really American part—just made a bunch of stuff up. In 1919, H. L. Mencken published The American Language, a lexicon of uniquely U. S. neologisms: “rubber-neck, rough-house, has-been, lame-duck, bust, bum, scary, classy, tasty, lengthy, alarmist, capitalize, propaganda, whitewash, panhandle, shyster, sleuth, sundae, alright, go-getter, he-man, goof. Only in America can you go upstate for the weekend. Here, we engineer, stump, hog, and squat on a piece of land. We’ve stolen loads from Spanish: corral, ranch, alfafa, mustang, canyon, poncho, plaza, tornados, patio, bonanza, vigilante, mosey, and buckaroo. Americans are very talented coiners of words—including of talented, another new one that sent British writers into spasms of horror.”
  • In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, well before Technicolor, films were colorized, stenciled, tinted, and toned by hand, frame by laborious frame. The results were unlike anything on screens today: “Such coloring provided a sensual quality, making moving images seem enticingly tactile … Because each hand-colored print had to be dyed separately, no two copies were colored in exactly the same way. In rare cases, colorists embellished entire scenes. More often, they painted only particular elements—a scarlet dress, golden coins, red-orange lava erupting from volcanoes, or fountains glittering in pinks, yellows, and golds. Mistakes were common. In one frame, dye might drip from a woman’s costume across an arm or a leg. In another frame, a yellow face might revert to black and white, or a brush stroke might slip outside its edges.”
  • Paradoxically, our definition of “difficult” fiction has remained more or less unchanged since the bloom of modernism nearly a century ago: we look for arcane syntax, twisting sentence structures, vast political symbolism. Shouldn’t difficulty have evolved by this point? “We need difficult books like The Wallcreeper: books that refuse to cater to established appetites, that take the risks necessary to reorient our aesthetic and ideological assumptions. Traditional difficulty is an oxymoronic and empty concept, but truly difficult novels should be praised to the skies, especially considering the political obstacles keeping so many of them from the audiences they deserve.”
  • A new edition of Green Hills of Africa—Hemingway’s chronicle of hunting big game in Africa, first published in 1935—reminds of his talents as a stylist and his bizarre, almost religious fascination with the rituals of killing: “if I killed it cleanly,” he writes, “they all had to die and my interference in the nightly and the seasonal killing that went on all the time was very minute and I had no guilty feeling at all.” And he was such a nice guy, too.
  • Today in thought experiments come to life: What if you took a K-pop band and removed the K from the equation? A new project called I’m Making a Boy Band—think This Is Spinal Tap, but with more social commentary and better teeth—has created EXP, the first K-pop band with zero Asian members. The group poses questions “about nationhood, cultural appropriation, and gender roles.” “We get lots of comments saying, Your boys haven’t worked, or, Your boys haven’t endured the training process … We get comments from fans saying, Your boys are gay. In more Western-centric countries, K-pop is seen as flamboyant. The understanding is that if you’re a K-pop fan, you’re used to this soft look. But suddenly, when non-Asians do it, it’s seen as very strange.”