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Posts Tagged ‘literature

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all”*…

 

Facebook has analyzed its well-known meme, “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.”

It gathered an anonymized sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). 63.7% of the posters were in the US, followed by 9.3%in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37.

Here are the top 20 books, along with a percentage of all lists (having at least one of the top 500 books) that contained them.

  1. 21.08 Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
  2. 14.48 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  3. 13.86 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  4. 7.48  The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  5. 7.28  Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  6. 7.21  The Holy Bible
  7. 5.97  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  8. 5.82  The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
  9. 5.70  The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  10. 5.63  The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
  11. 5.61  The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  12. 5.37  1984 – George Orwell
  13. 5.26  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
  14. 5.23  Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  15. 5.11  The Stand – Stephen King
  16. 4.95  Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  17. 4.38  A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
  18. 4.27  The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  19. 4.05  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
  20. 4.01  The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Read more here.  And see how the same list varied in non-English-speaking areas here (spoiler alert: Harry Potter still rules…).

* Oscar Wilde

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As we turn the page, we might send leather-bound birthday wishes to poet, iconic bad boy (and, as readers will recall,  father of the redoubtable Ada Lovelace) George Gordon, Lord Byron; he was was born on this date in 1788.  Byron once famously suggested that “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”  Still, history suggests, even then…

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Written by LW

January 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The past is always tense, the future perfect”*…

 

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Predicting the future of the English language is rather easy, in the short term.  The odds are, over the next few decades its New World dialects are going to gain increasing global dominance, accelerating the demise of thousands of less fortunate languages but at long last allowing a single advertisement to reach everybody in the world.  Then after a century or two of US dominance some other geopolitical grouping will gain the ascendancy, everyone will learn Chechen or Patagonian or whatever it is, and history will continue as usual.  Ho hum.  But apart from that… what might the language actually look like in a thousand years time?  For comparison, the English spoken at the turn of the last millennium looked like this:

1000 AD: Wé cildra biddaþ þé, éalá láréow, þæt þú tǽce ús sprecan rihte, forþám ungelǽrede wé sindon, and gewæmmodlíce we sprecaþ…
2000 AD: We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly…

(1000 AD, from”The Colloquy of Aelfric.”)

So how far will another thousand years take it?…

Peek over the linguistic horizon at “FUTURESE- The American Language in 3000 AD.”

* Zadie Smith

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As we envision emergent etymologies, we might spare a thought for a wicked bender of English words, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce; he died on this date in 1941.  A poet and novelist best known for Ulysses, he was the preeminent figure in the Modernist avant-garde, and a formative influence on writers as various as (Joyce’s protege) Samuel Becket, Jorge Luis Borges, Salmon Rushdie, and Joesph Campbell.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Ulysses No. 1, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man No. 3, and Finnegans Wake No. 77, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.  The next year, Time Magazine named Joyce one of its 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, observing that “Joyce … revolutionized 20th century fiction.”  And illustrating that Joyce’s influence was not confined to the arts:  physicist Murray Gell-Mann used the sentence “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” (in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) as source for the elementary particle he was naming– the quark.

Photo of Joyce included in a printed subscription order form for Ulysses, published Paris, 1921

 

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Written by LW

January 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*…

 

In Words in Time and Place, David Crystal explores fifteen fascinating sets of synonyms, using the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary.

We’ve turned selections from six sections of Words in Time and Place into word clouds, arranged in a shape related to the topic in question…

The first is above; see the other five– terms of endearment, dying, fools, money, and the lavatory– at Oxford Dictionaries‘ “Spiflicated, mopsy, and spondulicks: historical synonyms for everyday things.”

Special bonus: Benjamin Franklin’s personal– and voluminous– list of synonyms for “Drunk.”

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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As we choose our words with care, we might send dangerous birthday greetings to Herbert Huncke he was born on this date in 1915.  A drifter and small-time thief, Huncke became an object of respect– even affection– for William S. Burroughs, in whose autobiography (Junkie) Huncke is described:

Waves of hostility and suspicion flowed out from his large brown eyes like some sort of television broadcast. The effect was almost like a physical impact. The man was small and very thin, his neck loose in the collar of his shirt. His complexion faded from brown to a mottled yellow, and pancake make-up had been heavily applied in an attempt to conceal a skin eruption. His mouth was drawn down at the corners in a grimace of petulant annoyance…

Huncke embodied a certain honest-criminal ethic so purely that Burroughs and his friends came to love him for it.  Huncke was said to have introduced Jack Kerouac to the term “beat”; in any case, Kerouac wrote adoringly of him (as Elmer Hassel) in On The Road.  And Allen Ginsberg shared his New York City apartment with him, even though he realized Huncke and his junkie friends were storing stolen goods there.  This phase ended in a dramatic police bust on Utopia Parkway in Bayside, Queens, during which Ginsberg frantically phoned Huncke and told him to “clean out the place” before the cops got there.  Ginsberg arrived at his apartment moments ahead of the cops to find that Huncke had taken him literally. He’d tidied up and swept the floor, but left the stolen goods in an orderly stack.  A forgiving Ginsberg later engaged Huncke as an instructor in the literary program he ran at Naropa Institute.

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Written by LW

January 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”*…

 

Since we last visited Tom Gauld, he’s turned his attention increasing to the blessed realm of every year’s perfect Holiday present: the world of books.  From New Yorker covers to cartoons for The Guardian‘s Review section, he celebrates the world of letters (and the arts) with insightful whimsy…

Turn the pages at “You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack” and at Gauld’s site.

* Joesph Brodsky

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As we prepare to bury our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1679 that ruffians in the employ of the Earl of Rochester set upon and pummeled England’s poet Laureate, John Dryden, on the mistaken impression that he had written “An Essay on Satire.”  The essay– which was circulating in manuscript form in London, and contained damning accounts of the King and many notables, including Rochester– was in fact written by John Sheffield (1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, a poet and Tory politician of the late Stuart period, who served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council).

The wrongly-accused Dryden

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Sheffield

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Written by LW

December 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”*…

 

Benedikt Groß (designer of a cool typeface made up of satellite imagery, among many other nifty things) has created Population.io, a new site (still in Beta) that visualizes a user’s place in the world’s population in a series of elegant tables and charts… including one that estimates the time of the users death (at least loosely– that is, based on average life expectancy where he/she lives).

Locate yourself.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle into the global village, we might send speculative birthday greetings to Philip Kindred Dick; he was born on this date in 1928.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, eleven popular films have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau, and Impostor).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired”*…

 

More weird wisdom at Werner Herzog Inspirationals

* Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

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As we study Stuart Smalley, we might recall that it was on this date in 1616 that Cervantes’ Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (The Works of Persiles and Sigismunda) was accepted for publication.  A departure from the celebration of the commonplace in his Don Quixote, the Persiles is a romance– a Byzantine novel– full of fantasy.  Cervantes, who had died three days after finishing the manuscript, believed it to be his crowning achievement.

The cover of the first edition, which appeared the following year (1617)

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Written by LW

December 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“In memory everything seems to happen to music”*…

 

 

What do you hear when you mix the easy sounds of ambient music with the insistence of a police scanner?  Listen to San Francisco, or to any number of other cities

… at YouAreListeningTo.

* Tennessee Williams

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As we tune in, we might send forcefully-metered birthday greetings to Kenneth Patchen; he was born on this date in 1911.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

– from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

December 13, 2014 at 1:01 am

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