Saturday, May 5, 2007

This Week on NPR's The Point: Extreme Waves

The Inkwell is hosting author and engineer Craig B. Smith at an event Friday, May 11th at 6:00 p.m. Craig is the author of several books, including Extreme Waves and How the Great Pyramid Was Built. On Thursday morning, May 10th, he will be interviewed on the Cape & Islands NPR station. Tune in to Mindy Todd's show, The Point, at 9:30 a.m., and join us Friday evening for a talk, Q&A session, and complimentary refreshments.

Extreme Waves is a fascinating history of waves, covering both the headline stories as well as incidents that are less well-known, but equally startling. Where do waves come from? Why are some big and some small? From winter to summer, the nature of the beach changes, sculpted by the tireless energy of waves. Most waves are simply rhythmic expressions of the Earth’s movement through space and the changes they bring to our shorelines are gradual. But given the right weather conditions and combination of natural forces, waves can wreak havoc. There are extreme waves, waves that stretch 100 feet high – posing an imminent threat to large sea vessels and coastal structures. There are even waves that have stripped trees from mountains as they surged to an estimated 1700 feet high. But even less massive waves are dangerous to ships and coastlines. Indeed, the lessons of the 2004 Bay of Bengal tsunami and the damage wrought by recent tidal surges in New Orleans underscore the need for better tracking and prediction of extreme waves.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Boston Globe Takes A Look At The MFA's Hopper Exhibit

On May 16th, the Inkwell will be hosting a tour of the Edward Hopper exhibit at the MFA. Read The Boston Globe's take on the artist and exhibition below.

The outsider

As if from afar, Edward Hopper looks into the American soul

Edward Hopper was not a great painter. He wielded his brushes with a heavy hand, his colors range from muddy to sour, his human figures are laughably clumsy. Trained as an illustrator, he knew how to exaggerate contrasts of light and shadow to good effect, and he had solid compositional instincts, but he was not an innovative formalist. He was what you may call a good enough painter.

But Hopper was a great artist. Some of his paintings remain indelibly fixed in the American collective consciousness. "Early Sunday Morning," the long, horizontal image of humble storefronts in a two-story brick building raked by the light of a rising sun; "Nighthawks," the nocturnal view into a diner where three customers and a busboy pass the time in the acidic glare of electric lights like characters in a Raymond Chandler novel: These and certain other Hopper paintings exude an uncanny fusion of the mundane and the transcendental, of cold-eyed realism and bottled-up feelings of loneliness, grief, love, and hope. Few artists have ever tapped so deeply into the 20th-century American soul.

"Edward Hopper," an exhibition opening on Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, affords an excellent opportunity to ponder just what it is that makes his paintings so spellbinding. Co-curated by Carol Troyen of the MFA; Franklin Kelly of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where the show will travel in September; and Judith A. Barter of the Art Institute of Chicago, where it will appear next February, the show encompasses Hopper's whole, seven-decade career. It ranges from a self-portrait made in 1903-06 under the influence of his teacher Robert Henri to "Sun in an Empty Room," a dreamlike image made in 1963, four years before he died, that seems like a farewell to this earthly world.

The exhibition does not try to represent everything Hopper did. As a wall label points out, Hopper was a late bloomer. He made hundreds of less-than-wonderful paintings before he found his voice in the 1920s, by which time he was in his 40s. So the present show errs on the side of selectivity. It presents just 100 works, including oil paintings, watercolors, and prints, and it concentrates on the middle 25 years of his career -- from the mid-'20s to about 1950 -- when he made his most memorable pictures.

Scholars might wish for drawings, studies, and other less important works that would reveal more about Hopper's methods and his evolution, and there are certain iconic paintings such as "Gas," the nighttime scene of a man tending the red fuel pumps of a rural gas station, that will be included at the show's other two venues but not in Boston. But many of his most recognizable pictures are here (including "Early Sunday Morning" and "Nighthawks"). As a presentation of the essential Hopper, it's hard to imagine a better show.

So what exactly is it that makes a Hopper so Hopperesque? He was, in one sense, a plain-spoken poet of the ordinary. Whether painting in New York City, where he lived all his adult life, or around summer homes in Gloucester, Maine, and Cape Cod, he was consistently drawn to the most commonplace, least picturesque scenes. Unlike such modernists as Georgia O'Keeffe and Joseph Stella who celebrated the great skyscrapers, bridges, and other engineering wonders of New York, Hopper focused on the neglected 19th-century buildings and streets that made up most of the city's fabric.

In his summertime works, he avoided the postcard-pretty maritime views and sought out then-unfashionable old Victorian houses and weathered cottages and farmhouses set on nondescript roads or in the midst of scrubby fields. He painted lighthouses before they became scenic tourist attractions.

When he painted people, they were ordinary people -- shopgirls, maids, clerks, solitary pedestrians, the movie theater usherette lost in thought. He was not a socialist idealizer of the common man, but he had an achingly tender sympathy for people who appear passed by, outcast, or abandoned by life.

There is a down-to-earth matter-of-factness about his paintings of nude or partly unclothed women in bare, anonymous rooms. They are quickened by sexual interest, but they are not prurient. Typically his women are looking out the windows of their rooms as though dreaming of other lives they might have led.

Hopper could produce a remarkably vivid realism. His watercolors are especially attentive to the facts of the visible world -- of light, space, and topography. Looking at them, one gets that rare, oddly thrilling feeling that this is what the world is really like. Yet for all his concentration on surface impressions, there is also in his most compelling works a sense of some mysterious interiority. Often in Hopper it feels as though we are seeing through the eyes of a detective or a spy. Viewed from across a paved gray road, the neat white farmhouse and barn in "Route 6, Eastham" seems eerily still and silent, as if it has been the scene of some terrible crime. It would make a good cover illustration for a new paperback edition of "In Cold Blood."

His city pictures are frequently driven by voyeuristic curiosity. In "Room in New York," we peer in through the wide window of a brownstone apartment building where a man reads a newspaper while his wife, in a sexy red dress, idly plinks the keys of an upright piano. In "Office at Night," one of Hopper's best-known and most erotically provocative paintings, we look down as if through the lens of a surveillance camera on the scene of a man working at his desk and a voluptuously curvy secretary standing at a filing cabinet.

But however far past the public facade Hopper's eye penetrates, something enigmatic always remains. The woman standing at the window holding a white bath towel in "Morning in the City" is totally naked, and yet psychologically she remains unfathomably distant. Often one feels a longing to be let in, to be admitted to a warmer life inside, as in "Rooms for Tourists," the nighttime view of a Cape Cod inn that is invitingly lighted from within.

That sense of being on the outside looking in is part of what accounts for the sad and lonely mood that so distinctively marks Hopper's paintings. A famously reticent man, he relied almost exclusively on his gregarious wife, Jo, for company. No doubt, the recurrent sense of being shut out in his paintings has something to do with his particular psychological constitution -- an inability, perhaps, to fully connect with other people or with some locked- up complex of feeling deep within himself.

But there is, too, a more universal aspect to the mysteriousness in Hopper. It is one of the oldest of philosophical questions to ask: What if anything lies beyond the world that we register through our five senses? Hopper doesn't offer an answer, but over and over he painted an experience in which some unknown and perhaps unknowable dimension -- elusive yet tantalizingly present -- animates what is there to be seen with naked eyes. He was a tough-minded realist and a searching, tender-hearted mystic.

For more information about the Inkwell Bookstore's tour and how you can join us, click here.

What Will The 'State Book' Of Massachusetts Be? (And Should We Really Let A Bunch Of Fifth Graders Decide?)

Students from a fifth-grade social studies class in Pittsfield are teaming up with state Representative Christopher N. Speranzo to make Moby-Dick the official state book.
What do you think the state book should be? Join the discussion at the Boston Globe's book blog.

In related news, New York City schoolboys voted in favor of making Spider-Man the state arachnid.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Where the Wild Things Aren't...

Recently I took a look at the revised edition of a book entitled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Its premise seems to be that children are currently suffering from a lack of interaction with the natural world. They have become either completely desensitized or totally oblivious of the fact that nature even exists! The author and "child advocate" Richard Louv, claims that children have been so thoroughly deprived of significant experiences in the natural world that they have come dangerously close to regarding it as a distant abstraction, an old wives' tale (not that kids would care to know what that is) or some kind of foreign legend.
If Louv's observations are correct, I think we're pretty freakin' screwed. What ever happened to Captain Planet? He's our hero! Gonna take pollution down to ZERO...Gonna help us put asunder all the bad guys who loot and plunder! I can just picture Captain Planet, sitting on a curb with a copy of this book...brown-bagging some bottle and sobbing after each swig...
It's about time we began educate children to feel a degree of reverence for the natural world. The last bits of magic that are left-- the few things that will inspire us weary victims of commercialized, 2 dimensional brain rot-- exist almost exclusively in nature. Luckily, my parents and grandparents instilled a sense of deep respect and love for all things natural. When I was five, I remember adopting a tree and naming it 7Up. Yeah. In fact, most of the books I was read were saturated with animals, references to nature, metaphors involving nature, allegory, analogies, fables...etc. So I guess what I'm trying to say (without being too preachy) is...go for a little walk with your kids! Feed some ducks. Go stargazing! Make a game out of naming the flora and fauna in your backyard! Read "Make Way for Ducklings"...visit Green Briar or the Thornton Burgess museum...Make Beatrix Potter a household name. Just sit outside for a while and enjoy the intricate mystery that we are so fortunate to be surrounded by! It will restore and delight you, I promise.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Today Is Elmore Leonard Day
(I Hope You Remembered To Wear Your Gun)

The press often refers to Elmore Leonard as the 'Dickens of Detroit,' but me, I've always referred to him as my favorite writer. An according-to-Hoyle genius when it comes to dialogue, he possesses the unique ability to leave out rambling character descriptions and superfluous setting details while still painting a complete picture in his readers' heads. His secret seems to be the way in which he writes small talk. By allowing his characters the time and space needed to postulate on all manner of pop culture minutia, Leonard tricks his readers into imagining all of the missing adjectives. How does a two page conversation about actor Warren Oates create a vivid mental image of a knuckled-headed millionaire wearing a wrinkled Polo shirt and a smarter-than-he-looks crook sipping rum through a stirring straw? I don't know, but Leonard does it.
Quentin Tarantino credits Leonard with having 'taught him how to write.' I blame him for stealing countless hours -- nay, days -- of my life. In anticipation of the release of Elmore Leonard's new novel Up In Honey's Room (William Morrow, 292 pages), we're devoting every link today to praising his good name. Hallelujah, Dutch.

Up In Honey's Room: The AP Review & A Taste For You
Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
Charlie Rose Interviews Leonard and Martin Amis

Up In Honey's Room: The AP Review & A Free Taste For You

The Associated Press goes ga-ga for Leonard's new book. Read their review here.

Or screw those faceless fuddie-duddies and judge for yourself. You can read the first chapter of Up In Honey's Room here.

The Ten Commandments

Leonard has what he calls his 'Ten Rules Of Writing,' which any aspiring writer (or frustrated reader for that matter) could do worse than to take a quick look over.

Charlie Rose Interviews Leonard and Martin Amis

To finish things off today, why not sit back and enjoy a video interview with the man himself, accompanied by two other chatty Kathies?

Still fiending for more 'Dutch'? Then why not hop on over to his officially sanctioned website, (where do these kids come up with these names?). It's chock full of interviews, podcasts, synopses, and just about anything else you could think of to ask for. I stumbled across it this morning and have been steadily looking through it all day long.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

For Best Results, Read With An Inconsistent Southern Accent

"Carl Bernstein, the other half of the Woodward-Bernstein reporting duo that took down a presidency during Watergate, is back in a big way. The new book, called A Woman In Charge: The Life Of Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be published in June, according to Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor in Chief of the Knopf Publishing Group. The book, a biography of Senator Clinton that covers her life up through her decision to run for president, will go on sale nationwide on June 19."
For's complete preview, click here.

The Joy Luck Fight Club

A brief follow-up of sorts to yesterday's firm but thoughtful piece by Charles Johnson, here's a fun essay on literary fiction vs genre fiction. You may not agree with everything said, but it makes for a good conversation/fight starter.
via: the comics reporter

Hobotaku, Part Two

Remember a couple of days ago when we posted that bit about the 'Hobotaku' -- the manga reading kids that camp themselves out in the aisles of bookstores, reading the new volumes of Fruits Basket and The Drifting Classroom without any intention of buying them or awareness that they might possibly be getting in the way of others? Well, here's a semi-related story without any of the easy humor attached: In Japan, approximately 75% of the patrons at overnight manga and internet cafes are using it as an alternative to a home or hotel! While many are homeless (though employed), others simply cannot make it home every night due to long hours, and so spend Mondays through Thursdays camped out there, only getting to sleep in their own beds Friday-Sunday.
Read all about
via: the comics reporter

Monday, April 30, 2007

Tony Millionaire: Rising Star Splayed Out In The Gutter

Adventures Underground interviews cartoonist Tony Millionaire, one of the crassest, funniest, most talented gentlemen working in comics today. You may already know Millionaire from his Sock Monkey comic book or his world famous Maakies newspaper strip, but those aren't what we're here to promote right now, so stop patting yourself on the back, brainiac. Millionaire has a new 'graphic novel' out, Billy Hazelnuts. Click the aforementioned interview link for more info and an encapsulated description from the artist himself, or skip the sleazy sales pitch and click this link to read the first seven pages for yourself.
Oh, and The Inkwell has plenty of copies of Billy Hazelnuts in stock, so just go ahead and ignore those 'order direct' links found at the bottom of the Adventures Underground page. They're an internet business, and probably multi-gazillionaires ever since the dot-com boom of the 90's. We're an independent bookstore, the woe-is-me business of the 00's.

Charles Johnson Doesn't Read Chick Lit (And He Doesn't Want You To Waste Your Time Doing So, Either)

Guest writing for the Seattle P-I, Charles Johnson discusses what he describes as a 'post-literate' culture, and offers what he considers to be a simple solution to the problem: complex, visionary writing. To read the entire essay, click here.

A few choice excerpts have been reprinted below -- rearranged, taken out of context and with no prior permission from the author or publication:

"There is overwhelming evidence that we have fewer and fewer truly literate, to say nothing of truly learned, people today...Only thirty-one percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. They're told to go to college in order to get a better job, and that's OK. But the real task is to produce educated people...For the first time in our history, less than half the adult population reads fiction, poetry or plays. Former New York Times Book Review editor Charles McGrath said of that study, 'The really scary news in 'Reading at Risk' is tucked away on Page 22: While the number of people reading literature has gone down, the number of people trying to write it has actually gone up. We seem to be slowly turning into a nation of 'creative writers,' more interested in what we have to say ourselves than in reading or thinking about what anyone else has to say.'"

Ouch. He's not referring to blogs, is he?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Respect: Science Fiction

"Describe it as 'post-apocalyptic'...or as a masterpiece of dystopian literature. Just don't call (it) 'science fiction.'"

Wired Magazine discusses the fear publishers, movie studios and television stations have of using the 'SF' word.

No Respect: Book Reviews

Newspapers around the country are dropping their once prominent Book Reviews sections from their Sunday Paper place of pride to their lesser read Saturday Editions. Mystery writer (and former newspaper reporter) Michael Connelly writes a thoughtful piece in the Los Angeles Times arguing against this trend -- ironic, as the LATimes recently killed its own Book Section, relegating what's left of it to their Opinion Section.