Recent Posts:

Mark Zero's books on Goodreads
Blood & Chocolate Blood & Chocolate
reviews: 2
ratings: 19 (avg rating 3.74)

Give the Drummer Some Give the Drummer Some
reviews: 5
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.11)

The French Art of Stealing The French Art of Stealing
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.50)

The Scarlet Dove The Scarlet Dove
reviews: 1
ratings: 2 (avg rating 5.00)

Need the Feed? (RSS)

1098345 visits.

Archive for January, 2010

Today in the Holocene: Apple’s Tablet and the Future of Literature

Sunday, January 31, 2010 @ 06:01 PM  posted by Mark

By Daniel Akst, Los Angeles Times

Literature has always relied on technology. We wouldn’t have the Dead Sea Scrolls had the ancients failed to invent papyrus, just as we wouldn’t have “The Da Vinci Code” if Gutenberg hadn’t come out with movable type.

It is important to bear in mind that technology is not the sworn enemy of literature as Apple prepares to unveil its much-anticipated new tablet computer. Still, the collision of technology and literature in this case may well prove explosive.

A well-designed Apple tablet, embedded in the right business model, has the potential to blow up the book business as we know it, ultimately upending the whole rickety edifice of publishers, booksellers and agents, much as the digital revolution (and Apple) have done to the music business. These new tablets will give ink on paper a powerful nudge into history’s wastebasket, helping to remake not just books but newspapers, magazines and other material we’ve traditionally consumed in print.

The result will be a seismic change in the literary culture. Ubiquitous tablets will make books cheaper and more readily available, even as physical bookstores follow Tower Records into oblivion. The time is not far off when the typical 10-year-old will have the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in her backpack.

It’s not clear how anyone will get paid for writing, or what will take the place of the existing commercial system. It may get our egalitarian juices flowing to think that the digital revolution will open up this world, but a literary culture in which everyone is a writer and no one is an editor is likely to leave all of us poorer.

Sparks always fly when technology and literature get together. We can expect that this time, as usual, they will burn down the old and light up the new.

Read the full article here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Belles-Lettres: The Principles of Uncertainty

Friday, January 29, 2010 @ 11:01 AM  posted by Mark

The Principles of Uncertainty, Maira Kalman’s illustrated memoir, began life as a blog for the New York Times and is now available in a deliciously hefty paperback. Kalman’s artwork regularly appears on New Yorker covers, and her oddball illustrations liven up the most recent edition of Strunk and White’s otherwise staid Elements of Style. She has written and illustrated 12 children’s books, but The Principles of Uncertainty, despite being whimsical and colorful enough for any child to enjoy, is a sweetly melancholy book for adults, an artist’s day book whose musings take the long view of life. Kalman enjoys and draws life’s little pleasures, directing our attention to the charmingly dilapidated furniture in a friend’s apartment or to the towering pastry displays in a Paris restaurant; but while celebrating the sheer delight of everyday curiosities, Kalman never loses sight of their transitory nature. The wit and gentleness of The Principles of Uncertainty return you to your everyday life with your eyebrows raised and arms akimbo, and you notice once again the small wonders unfolding all around you.

Kalman’s current blog And the Pursuit of Happiness offers illustrated musings on Americana and the American character and is chock full of quirky humor.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Library of Babel: Waterland

Thursday, January 28, 2010 @ 12:01 PM  posted by Mark

Graham Swift’s Waterland brilliantly chronicles the mid-life crisis of high school history teacher Tom Crick, who makes sense of his life by placing his difficulties in the context of the lessons he teaches about the French Revolution. What are his difficulties? His wife has gone mad and kidnapped a stranger’s baby from a supermarket, which lands her in a psychiatric hospital; his school is cutting its History Department, forcing Tom into early retirement; and his students, led by the rebellious teenager Price, are becoming increasingly difficult to control, since they know that History will no longer be required as a separate course and Mr. Crick no longer has the power to discipline them. In response, Crick throws out the textbook and, in place of standard European history lessons, tells the children intimate stories of his own life, in part to show them how personal and national histories can influence each other, and in part as a way to make sense of his life to himself. Crick’s history lessons begin to swerve into personal therapy encounters, as he reveals details of the rise and fall of his family’s brewery, his childhood exploits in the fenland of East Anglia, and the development of his wife’s madness.

The resulting narrative blends European history with racy personal confessions, jumps back and forth in time to tell a family saga spanning 250 years, and draws connections between global politics and individual motivations, placing Tom Crick and his students at the center of a vast sweep of uncontrollable events.

The wit and energy of the writing, line by line, carry the reader from the most lovingly detailed scenes to the most abstract philosophical ruminations. The complexity of Waterland‘s narrative arc, the subtlety of its emotions and the mystery at its heart make it great. It is not a flawless book—its ending is unsatisfying—but it is a novel of great beauty, intellect and heart.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Spoiler: Moby-Dick

Thursday, January 28, 2010 @ 02:01 AM  posted by Mark

The whale did it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Shelf Life: The Quixote Cult

Thursday, January 28, 2010 @ 12:01 AM  posted by Mark

Genaro Gonzalez’s The Quixote Cult, a droll coming-of-age novel set in an anonymous Texas town near the Rio Grande, is steeped in drugs, socialist politics and good humor. As a record of Chicano political activism and the struggles of barrio youth against poverty, The Quixote Cult offers an unsimplified glimpse at the intricacies of raza life.

The Quixote Cult describes the exploits of the budding teenage revolutionary De la O, a Chicano hippie, whose mother is illiterate and whose barrio shack has no hot water. The year is 1970, and though many of De la O’s friends are drop-outs, recidivists, or Army draftees, De la O himself has found an intellectual respite from his harsh surroundings by reading Kerouac, Nietzsche, and crime-and-punishment-style pulp comics. He excels in school and wins an honors scholarship to his local college, where he joins MANO (the Mexican-American National Organization), a group of grass-roots socialist activists.

With no clearly defined narrative arc, The Quixote Cult is less a novel than a prose elegy about the plight of Chicanos in general and the difficulty of coming of age in a minority culture in particular. Because Gonzalez’s narrator is just a teenager, the importance of individual events and people in his life are charmingly out of balance: an armed confrontation with some racist, good-old-boy hunters holds less weight in the narrator’s mind than an embarrassing attempt at flirtation with a girl in English class. In fact, even when De la O first decides to join MANO, he does so half for political reasons and half for the opportunity of meeting women.

The primary strength of “The Quixote Cult” is De la O’s recognition of the incredible diversity of opinion in the Chicano community about the best approach to economic advancement. Half of MANO’s members are steeped in the romance of Che Guevara’s militant stance and martyr’s death, and half are nuts-and-bolts organizers concerned with registering voters and raising enough money to print leaflets. No matter their particular behavior, though, everyone in De la O’s community shares one thing in common: nearly everything they do is a reaction to the majority white culture, since their own culture simply doesn’t have the economic legs to stand on its own.

The Quixote Cult shines when De la O describes MANO’s volatile confrontations with the law or with white conservatives: in these scenes, Gonzalez’s understated prose and skewering one-liners provide wry counterpoint to otherwise deadly-earnest encounters. However, the same understated prose becomes a liability when Gonzalez grapples with De la O’s more stereotypical concerns about losing his virginity: in scenes of less pointed action and more emotional subtlety, the reserve of Gonzalez’s observations leaves his narrative stagnant, and De la O’s clumsy attempts at getting women into bed often fall flat.

As a paean to the lives of the poor, The Quixote Cult doesn’t suffer much in comparison to The Grapes of Wrath. Though Gonzalez’s narrative is flawed by a lack of clear purpose and his prose isn’t always lucid, his writing has a wry glint of humor that Steinbeck’s lacks.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]