Saturday, May 12, 2007

Weekend Links

Listed below are a couple of book-centric blogs we recommend to anyone lazily browsing the web this weekend. Enjoy!

via: Cartoon Brew:
"Imagine if there was a New York Times Book Review that exclusively covered inspiring art and illustration books. Well, there is such a site and it’s called Book By Its Cover. The site has a broad focus, everything from children’s books to comics (to animation books) and hand-made books, and the selections are pure quality."

Authors On Tour Live offers podcast interviews with an impressive array of writers in both traditional download format and mp3. Their most recent interview is with Nick Bantock, author of Griffin & Sabine and Windflower. Also available are podcasts with Jim Lehrer, Les Claypool and Erik Larson.

And while we're recommending podcasts, Science Fiction fans will want to head over to Escape Pod, an impressive SF site that is currently running podcast readings of all of this year's Hugo Award nominees. (If this last tip is a bit too geeky for you to comprehend, ask Inkwell Michelle. She speaks a variety of nerd languages, including Klingon.)
The preceding tip was stolen from: Boing Boing

Use our comments section to let us know what literary sites/blogs you frequent. If you have any ideas for our weekly 'theme' days (authors, genres, etc.), feel free to write those in, too.
We'll see you bright and early Monday morning. Until then, read whatever -- just read.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sex Sells, But Modern Readers Prefer Violence

The Guardian UK has a nice piece titled, How We Ditched Sex And Fell For Thrillers, about the decline of sex-centered fiction and the rise of crime novels. An excerpt:

"During the 1960s, a series of court decisions made it possible to publish just about anything. A burst of sex-centered novels followed. But about twenty years ago, many readers became sated with sexy novels. After all, sex is no longer the mystery it once was. And that's when the thriller entered the literary mainstream."

Then again, Freud would insist they're both the same thing, wouldn't he?

Lucille Clifton Wins 2007 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

Via: U.S. Newswire

"Poet Lucille Clifton is the winner of the 2007 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation's largest literary honors. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at The Arts Club of Chicago on Wednesday, May 23.

In announcing the award, Wiman said: 'Lucille Clifton is a powerful presence and voice in American poetry. Her poems are at once outraged and tender, small and explosive, sassy and devout. She sounds like no one else, and her achievement looks larger with each passing year.'

Widely admired since Langston Hughes championed her work in an early anthology of African-American poetry, Clifton has become one of the most significant and beloved American poets of the past quarter century. She writes with great clarity and feeling about family, death, birth, civil rights, and religion, her moral intelligence struggling always to make sense of the lives and relationships to which she is connected, whether those of her immediate family, her African ancestry, or victims of war and prejudice."

For the entire press release, click here.
To read some of Lucille Clifton's poems online, click here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

This Ain't A Library, Punk!

Are you one of those people who likes to read the first chapter or so of a book before buying it? Twenty-five dollars is a heck of a lot to pay for 400 pages of unknown quality, especially in today's economy. But maybe you feel a little awkward poking around your local bookstore, sampling books like they're cucumber sandwiches at your great-grandmother's cotillion. Perhaps you imagine that the staff is watching you (they are), judging you (depending on what book you're browsing, they might be), making a mental police sketch of you...just in case. Or it could be that you're just worried that you are unintentionally bending bindings, smudging pages or blocking the aisles. (My, you really are hard on yourself, aren't you?) That's what makes a website like such a wondrous creation. At they have a whole section devoted to book excerpts and first chapters -- over two hundred titles in all! You can read all you want in the comfort of your own home, then sneak out to your local mom & pop bookshop to purchase that which you have just privately perused. And if you happen to leave fingerprints and/or nostril steam-flares on your monitor while browsing, no one will know but you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Save the Book Reviews!

There has been tons of press about the recent cuts newspapers across the nation have made to their book review sections. (More press about the disappearance than actual reviews?) Last week, we posted Michael Connelly's piece from the LA Times. The New York Times addressed the topic this past Wednesday, as did Publishers Weekly way back in Oct. 2006. Today on Salon.Com, David Kipen wrote, "Newspaper Web sites are only too happy to divulge the top 10 most read or e-mailed stories of the day; the bottom 10, not so much. Still, to judge by the torrential hemorrhaging of book coverage in just the past couple of months, you might think that book coverage owned a lock on last place. Instead, strong anecdotal evidence suggests that book reviews fall somewhere near the middle. So why don't editors feel as sentimental about them as they do about plenty of other stories that won't ever knock terrorist attacks or wardrobe malfunctions out of the top 10? For one thing, freelancers contribute most of the copy to newspaper book review sections, and freelancers cost a few extra bucks. For another, trying to publish a review of every halfway interesting new book each week is like trying to review every new video on YouTube. It's beyond hopeless. So why should we blame some harried arts editor for thinking, that beat's uncoverable. Let's just give up and run sudoku-plus instead."
We at the Inkwell have wondered about the lack of book coverage in our two local papers. When a book is mentioned, it tends to be by a local Cape author. Maybe the newspapers don't know the end result, but those reviews do drive sales. We immediately get requests for the featured books. Out of all the arts, books get the least coverage here on the Cape. Theatre, live music, and movies dominate the Arts & Entertainment section. Would it smack of rank marketing if we sent in some freelance reviews free of charge?

There's hope. Kipen says, "To its credit, the National Book Critics Circle is not taking any of this lying down. It has posted a list of tips on how to help save book reviews here. It's circulating a petition here to reinstate Teresa Weaver, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's gifted, recently cashiered book editor. Most enjoyably, the NBCC's already compulsively readable blog, Critical Mass, has posted jeremiads about the crisis not just from critics but from a steadily massing murderers' row of authors: Nadine Gordimer, George Saunders, Richard Ford, Roxana Robinson, Andre Codrescu, Rick Moody, Stewart O'Nan."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

As A Writer, You Really Ought To Be Writing, But As Long As You're Reading, You Might As Well Be Reading Something That Relates To Writing, Right?

Today's links are dedicated to the struggling writers. May the published among us die so that the unpublished might find agents.

Can Writing Be Taught?

You bought the books, you took the classes, you even side-stepped your trepidation and joined the local published author's creative writing group. Does any of this really help you span the chasm between a blank page and a completed novel? Or are some folks just born to write, while others are damned to only dream of doing so? The has a nice bit about this titled, So You Want To Be A Writer. In it, they reference everything from Balzac to Emily Dickinson to Fortune Magazine, all in an effort to try and explain the necessary combination of natural talent and hard work vital to every accomplished piece of writing.

Cuz Buying One Of Those 'For Dummies' Books Saps The Self-Esteem Right Out Of You

New writers (or long-time writers still struggling to get someone to read/publish/become groupies of their work) would do well to check out Jordan Lapp's ongoing blog, How To Succeed As A Writer (without really trying). He's been posting quite a few interesting internet conspiracy theories that relate specifically to the fledgling author's path to glory. Among them: the flaws in's Reader Reviews, the pros and cons of, what role audience perception plays in a writer's success, and how to properly promote one's own work online.

$300 Says Maybe You Should Try Drawing Instead

Lynne W. Scanlon -- publisher, editor, author and blogger about all things book related -- writes a blunt, sensible piece for unpublished writers who "wail about not being able to find a literary agent or get published or get readers to buy direct." Her advice? Pay a professional reader to assess your work. After all, you may simply suck. Better to find out now than after you've spent another three years writing a second novel, right?

Click this link to visit her blog and read the whole article. (Have no fear. She's actually much kinder and gentler than I'm making her out to be.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Peer Pressure Via the NY Times

The New York Times, long known to the righteous as a bastion of devilish, liberal propaganda, this week took their assault on the values of God-fearing Americans one step further by devoting multiple articles to books featuring sin-drenched topics. Listed below are links to two of our favorites.

Against Moderation, a review of Barbara Holland's The Joy of Drinking
by Robert Harris

It’s odd the books people get asked to review. Take this one, a carefree history of our long love affair with drinking. I have no training as a historian, just some slight experience on both sides of bars. And perhaps an exaggerated reputation for disparaging today’s ubiquitous alcohol-free business lunches. Barbara Holland, though, might empathize. She reminds us that in 1787, two days before their work was done, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention “adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whiskey, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large that, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic.” Note the 55 delegates and 54 bottles of Madeira. Which founder was slacking?

But “The Joy of Drinking” begins way before “our Revolution was born and raised in taverns.” It goes back some 10,000 years to when society, or what there was of it, went agricultural. Crops got planted and harvested, and some rotted and fermented, forming a liquid you could drink. The party began. Holland cites Faulkner as observing that civilization began with fermentation, and he’d have known.

Holland has a light, winsome touch and is always funny. Here she is on Winston Churchill making a martini: he “poured the gin into a pitcher and then nodded ritually at the bottle of vermouth across the room.” She tells us that even the National Institutes of Health admits that what it calls “alcohol readministration” alleviates the symptoms of both alcohol withdrawal and hangovers, and notes that “‘readministraton’ seems to mean hair of the dog.” She quotes the Puritan minister Increase Mather — “Drink is in itself a good Creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil” — and declares his words “an early version of our incessant ‘moderation’ sermons, with only a pint or two dividing heaven from hell.”
Click here to read the full article.

Tobacco Road, a review of Allan M. Brandt's THE CIGARETTE CENTURY: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America
By Jonathan Miles

It is a familiar exchange: I step up to the counter at a convenience store and order my daily ration of Camel cigarettes, which I have been smoking since the Reagan administration and, as it happens, am smoking as I type this. Sliding the pack across the counter, the clerk — female clerks, typically; male clerks are more laissez-faire — sighs and says to me, “You know you need to quit.” My response, well honed over the years, goes like this: “I know I should quit,” I say, “but there’s one problem. I enjoy it.” On rare occasions, the clerk startles and smiles — that’s how it played out this morning — as if tickled by this forbidden admission. Far more frequently, however, I find myself at the receiving end of a uniformly bemused, pitying and faintly disgusted stare. I cannot possibly mean what I have just uttered, the stare says to me. The victim cannot confess to the crime. The cash register rings its tinny ring as the clerk slides the drawer shut and sadly wags her head.
Allan M. Brandt’s “Cigarette Century,” a fat chronicle of the rise and fall of the cigarette in the 20th century, delivers that same truthful stare. Brandt, a professor of the history of medicine at Harvard Medical School, canvasses giant chunks of terrain here — the culture, science, politics, law and global spread of the cigarette, to cite just his section headings — without ever pausing to examine the central, vexing paradox of smoking: that in return for death, cigarettes give pleasure. Justifiable pleasure? Of course not. What Kant deemed “negative pleasure”? Perhaps. But pleasure nonetheless. Smokers, in Brandt’s view, are midwifed by an array of potent forces: ferocious tobacco advertising; peer pressure; cultural aesthetics (i.e., the imitable artfulness of Humphrey Bogart cupping a smoke); the addictive properties of nicotine; the tobacco industry’s pernicious campaign to obfuscate the perils of smoking; youthful longing for easy rebellion; and even, as evidenced by the boom in smoking after World War I, the scalding stress of trench warfare. But the cigarette itself, outside of its chemical components, gets scant credit. “One must not forget,” Jean Cocteau once wrote, “that the pack of cigarettes, the ceremony that extracts them, lights the lighter, and that strange cloud which penetrates us and which our nostrils puff, have with powerful charms seduced and conquered the world.” To be immune to those charms is naturally Brandt’s prerogative. To refuse or fail to acknowledge them in a history of the cigarette, however, is more problematic, and suggests the question: Is a cigarette sometimes just a cigarette? Or does the totality of its meanings — up to and including its flavors, fragrance and neurological kick — stem from a cultural moment, a peculiar and corporate-engineered hinge in time and place?
Click here to read the full article.

Your Monday Manga Minute

From Publisher's Weekly:

"With the success of the wildly popular Naruto and Death Note, Viz Media is at the head of the game in manga publishing. Viz titles regularly dominate graphic novel bestseller lists. One of the early manga and anime distributors in the U.S., Viz was present in the early 1980s when the market was a small cult of hobbyists and hardcore fans, and has seen it grow—manga sales in 2006 were about $175 million-$200 million—into the beginnings of a real mass market category available in chain stores and national retailers. Alvin Lu, v-p, publishing at Viz Media, spoke with PWCW during the recent New York Comic-con and afterward, sharing his views on manga and the broad category of graphic novels and the changing U.S. marketplace for them."

Click here to read.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Books - Good and Bad

Joe Queenan delights in being provocative, and his essay in today's New York Times Book Review will surely brew up a storm of comments. He writes, "Bad books fall into three broad categories: the stupid, the meta-stupid and the immoral. Each has its own inimitable charms." We posted two essays last week offering up differing opinions about literary taste...Charles Johnson says we shouldn't waste our precious time on junk, and on they poke at the pretentiousness of literary fiction. In the May issue of the Quill (Inkwell's Newsletter) Cristin writes about the guilty pleasures of reading books you know are bad, but bad is subjective, isn't it? Click here to read Queenan's ode to trash, but only the very best trash of course.