- Today in clowns: you may have heard about the rash of nefarious clown sightings we’ve faced here in the contiguous United States. It’s hard to keep one’s cool with clowns on the national prowl. But Stephen King, who knows from psychotic clowns, has offered a public-service announcement: do not fear the clowns, America. “King’s clown creation, Pennywise, has terrified readers since he appeared in his novel It in 1986. ‘There was a clown in the stormdrain. The light in there was far from good, but it was good enough so that George Denbrough was sure of what he was seeing,’ writes King … But despite his own contribution to coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—King has urged his millions of followers on Twitter not to worry about the rash of sightings across the U.S. ‘Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,’ he wrote.”
- Publishers: it’s time to stop pretending that your short-story collections are novels just so you get better sales. The Goon Squad–ization of the story collection is a complete and utter sham, Michael Deagler writes: “When reviewing a linked collection, a reviewer will sometimes (bafflingly) simulate confusion as to whether the book is a collection or a novel or something in between … It is far easier to publish a novel these days than a collection of short stories, so much so that many pragmatic writers have essentially abandoned the form. Fantastic short-story writers end up spending their careers producing middling novels, and our literature is poorer for it. So in those rare cases when a short-story collection does manage to be published (and reviewed and sold and read by a large number of people), to deny that collection its genre—to call it a novel, as though the world really needs another novel—is to rob the medium of short fiction of a hard-earned victory.”
- As the Quran has it, Prophet Muhammad took a night trip to heaven aboard a trusty winged pony-horse-mule-ish creature called Buraq. It’s an episode that’s inspired Islamic art ever since, because few artists can resist a theologically sound reason to draw a winged horse. Yasmine Seale writes, “The friction between the historical Prophet and his fantastical mount, between the sacred and the physical, reflects a similar divide within Buraq herself: she has been perceived both as a dream-horse—mythical, sexless, emblematic—and as a creature of flesh. And Buraq as animal, especially in her more sexualized incarnations, in turn raises thorny questions about the body of the Prophet himself. Artists generally elided this problem, or creatively eluded it; early images of the Prophet tend to show him with a veil, and more recently his body has been symbolized by a white cloud, a rose, or a flame.”
- Hua Hsu writes in praise of the critic Greg Tate, known for his “slangy erudition”: “For a generation of critics, Tate’s career has served as a reminder that diversity isn’t just about a splash of color in the group photo; it’s about the different ways that people see, feel, and move within the world. These differences can be imperceptible, depending on where your eye lingers as you scan the newsroom. What made Tate’s criticism special was his ability to theorize outward from his encounters with genius and his brushes with banality—to telescope between moments of artistic inspiration and the giant structures within which those moments were produced … What he’s been exploring through his criticism has been something ‘less quantifiable,’ as he puts it, than culture, identity, or consciousness. What Tate wants to understand is ‘the way Black people “think,” mentally, emotionally, physically,’ and ‘how those ways of thinking and being inform our artistic choices.’ ”
Picturing the literary history of word processing.
When did individual writers begin to use word processors? As I began work on a literary history of word processing, I found it difficult to establish a time line. Sometimes writers kept a sales record—a word processor or computer would have represented a significant investment, especially back in the day. Other times, as with Stanley Elkin or Isaac Asimov, the arrival of the computer was of such seismic importance as to justify its own literary retellings. But most of the time there were no real records documenting exactly when a writer had gotten his or her first computer, and so I had to rely on anecdote, detective work, and circumstantial evidence.
Ray Bradbury’s The October Country turns sixty.
“The Dubliners of American Gothic”—that’s how Stephen King referred to Ray Bradbury’s first book, the little-known 1947 short-story collection, Dark Carnival. There’s good reason few readers, even those well versed in Bradbury’s work, are unfamiliar with Dark Carnival: Arkham House, a small press out of Sauk City, Wisconsin, published the book in a modest run of 3,112 copies; the book went out of print just a few years later. Besides a pricey limited-edition reprint in 2001, Dark Carnival exists as a literary apparition.
And yet many people have read some of Dark Carnival without knowing it. Read More
- There are any number of prestigious opportunities available to freelance writers—footwear catalogs, restroom signage, pamphlets about flossing—but it takes a truly outstanding writer to land the best gig of them all: fortune-cookie writer, at seventy-five cents a pop. It’s exacting work. The fortunes “have to be general enough to make sense for any kind of customer, but at the same time, they can’t offend anyone … Companies keep databases of thousands of fortunes accumulated over years that they rotate on a regular basis to keep people from getting the same ones over and over. Coming up with original ideas when there are already ten thousand in the database—as there are, for example, at cookie manufacturer Wonton Foods—is a real challenge.”
- Stephen King on William Sloane, whose 1930s horror novels were the opposite of Lovecraftian: “Because they ignore genre conventions, Sloane’s novels are actual works of literature … In To Walk the Night, we discover that a disembodied brain—perhaps an alien from space, perhaps a human intelligence from another time-stream or dimension—has inhabited the body of an ‘idiot’ girl named Luella Jamison, transforming her vacuity into coldly classical beauty.”
- While we’re on horror: try reading The Hound of the Baskervilles when you have a profound fear of dogs. “My elementary school’s library had an edition of the book with a cover like this: a black dog with red eyes standing in a green hoary mist, spittle oozing from its jaws, while the vague silhouette of someone in a cloak (Sherlock Holmes?) lurks in the background. I was totally captivated and scared shitless by the horrific power of this book.”
- The lexicographer Francis Grose was the first to record phrases like fly by night and birds of a feather, in addition to other, non-flight-related idioms. His Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue deserves the same recognition as Johnson’s Dictionary, and its entries live up to its name: “Inebriation is well documented, with terms ranging from ‘Hicksius Doxius: Drunk’ and ‘Emperor: Drunk as an emperor, ie ten times as drunk as a lord’ to ‘Admiral of the narrow seas: One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite him’. Other entries focus on bodily functions. There’s ‘Fizzle: A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged on their lap-dogs’, as well as ‘Fart catcher: A valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress.’ ”
- We all know that cops are putzes—but does this, in and of itself, explain their love for doughnuts? Is that love a symptom or a cause of their idiocy? The link between law enforcement and dough runs deep: “We’ve officially stuffed the protecting-and-serving citizens of our country with sugary pastries since at least World War I, when the Salvation Army sent female volunteers to France to cook doughnuts and bring them to the front … ”