(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘literature

“I spend too much money on books, many of which I will never read. I know that already. I certainly intend to read all of them, more or less. My intentions are good. Anyway, it’s my money. And I’ll bet you do it too.”*…

‘Twas ever thus. As Denise Gigante eaplains, nineteenth-century New York City was filled with books, bibliophilia, and marginalia…

By the nineteenth century, readers were feeling lost in a sea of print, and though this feeling was not entirely new, it was exacerbated by new print technologies and cheap reprints flooding the literary marketplace….

In New York in the 1840s, books and printed matter were everywhere. Up and down Broadway, boxes of used books cluttered the sidewalks. Newsstands stocked papers, literary journals, and magazines, while street vendors hawked the latest serialized novels by Dickens: “He-e-ere’s the New World—Dick’s new work. Here’s the New World—buy Master Humphrey, sir?”

From storefront windows, new books appealed to pedestrians with siren songs of entertainment and instruction at bargain prices, while literary annuals, gift books, and illustrated editions catered to an expanding American readership. New steam-powered rotary printing technology invented in New York in the mid-1840s revolutionized the print industry, rolling out thousands of pages per hour, while other innovations, such as stereotype printing, enabled a boom in cheap reading matter…

When technologically-enhanced supply met increased demand: “Choice Reading,” from @laphamsquart.

See also: “The value of owning more books than you can read.”

* Nick Hornby

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As we read on, we might note that it was on this date in 1865 that a notable volume joined the parade of new books described in the article linked above: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and here) was written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson– better known as Lewis Carroll– went on sale in America for the first time (a revised edition of the first British version). Copies of the first U.S. edition, with illustrations created by John Tenniel, sold out quickly; the volume has never gone out of print since.

First edition cover (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom”*…

Lynn Hunt on Alexis de Tocqueville, who left France to study the American prison system and returned with the material that would become Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville was a study in contradictions: a French aristocrat of proud heritage who trumpeted the inevitable, salutary rise of democracy, using the United States as his exemplar; a cosmopolitan with an English wife and many friends in the Anglo-American world who brandished a fervent French nationalism; an antislavery advocate who felt no discomfort in supporting the French colonization of Algeria and hired as his main assistant Arthur de Gobineau, who later published one of the founding texts of white supremacy; and finally a man of delicate constitution who undertook an arduous trip on horseback into the wilderness of northern Michigan in order to see Native Americans and new settler communities for himself. Such inconsistencies make for a fascinating story, and in The Man Who Understood Democracy, Olivier Zunz, a French-educated historian who has taught US history for decades at the University of Virginia, shows that he is ideally suited to tell it.

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, became an instant classic and has remained one to this day. On its hundredth anniversary in 1935, the French government presented a bust of the author to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an article at the time referred to the book as “perhaps the greatest, most lucid, and most impartial commentary that free institutions in general, and American self-government in particular, had ever received.” Democracy in America served as a kind of textbook for US students for many generations, but it is now more often cited than read. That dutiful disregard may be the fate of all such masterworks, especially one that runs about eight hundred pages, but Zunz has succeeded in restoring its appeal, first by vividly retracing its origins and then by skillfully evoking the enduring excitement and relevance of its analysis…

Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who unpacked the tension between freedom and equality in the United States: “‘A Great Democratic Revolution’.”

* Alexis de Tocqueville– who went on to observe that “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

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As we dedicate ourselves to democracy, we might note that today is Fibonacci Day, as today’s date is often rendered 11/23, and the Fibonacci sequence (also here and here) begins 1, 1, 2, 3…

Five Ways to Celebrate Fibonacci Day.

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“Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment”*…

From Johannes Enevoldsen (@JohsEnevoldsen), a clock based on excerpts from books: “Literature Clock” (inspired by Jaap MeijersE-reader clock).

* Dave Eggers

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As we tell time that’s been told, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Jay Ward‘s animated series Rocky and Friends premiered on ABC; it ran on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, following American Bandstand at 5:30 p.m. ET, where it was the highest-rated daytime network program.

Featuring the adventure of the titular flying squirrel and his companion, Bullwinkle the Moose (in an on-going struggle against Russian-like spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, both working for the Nazi-like dictator Fearless Leader), the show also contained supporting segments include “Dudley Do-Right” (a parody of old-time melodrama), “Peabody’s Improbable History” (a dog named Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman traveling through time), and “Fractured Fairy Tales” (a modern retelling of fables and folk lore).

The show featured quality writing and wry humor, mixing puns, cultural and topical satire, and self-referential humor in a way that appealed to adults as well as children. Indeed, in 1961, the series, re-titled The Bullwinkle Show, moved to NBC as the lead-in to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Though it suffered from competition from Lassie, it ran through 1964… after which it moved into syndication, where it remains to this day.

The series was hugely influential on other animated series, from The Simpsons to Rocko’s Modern Life. In 2013, Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show was ranked the sixth-greatest television cartoon of all time by TV Guide… in your correspondent’s view, an under-appreciation.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 19, 2022 at 1:00 am

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”*…

On its publication in 1922, T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” was not so well received: “so much waste paper,” opined The Guardian. But of course since then it has ascended into the canon. Four writers and scholars– Beci Carver, Jahan Ramazani, Robert Crawford, and David Barnes— explain why now “the poem is such a key landmark that all modern poets know it, whether they swerve around it, crash into it, or attempt to assimilate it.”

Though I do understand why people often see—and hear—“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as inventing modern poetry in English, I think The Waste Land does so more comprehensively. It’s as if this poem can give anything—a cry, a list of place-names, a snatch of conversation, a Sanskrit word, a nursery rhyme, an echo—an almost infinite and carrying resonance that brings with it unforgettable intensity. Ezra Pound who, prior to editing The Waste Land,  had just been editing an English translation of an avant-garde collage-style French poem by Jean Cocteau, helped give the poem its intensity; but the words were Eliot’s.

… Pound’s editing was highly ethical in that he did not add or substitute words of his own; he just honed what Eliot had written. Eliot had learned from Pound’s bricolage style, but where Pound went on to go on and on and on, Eliot (with Pound’s editorial help) learned as a young poet just when to stop. That’s a great gift. So the poem exemplifies at once the way in which poetry can incorporate all kinds of diverse materials; yet it also constitutes a supreme example of poetic intensity. It’s quite a combination—and one from which innumerable poets (from Auden to Xu Zhimo and from MacDiarmid to Okigbo and beyond) have learned…

Robert Crawford

The appreciation in full at “The Most Important Poem of the 20th Century: On T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ at 100,” in @lithub.

* T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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As we muse on modernism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” premiered on CBS. The special, based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip and produced/animated by Bill Melendez, pre-empted My Three Sons and tied Bonanza as the top-rated program of the week. It has aired every year since, on network television until 2020, when Apple TV won the exclusive rights to the show.

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“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”*…

Audiobooks are on the rise. Karl Berglund explores what that might mean to literature, literacy, and the business of publishing…

For an increasing number of people, reading means listening to streamed audio files through a smartphone. The audiobook has a long history, of course, but what is new is its commercial impact: For the first time, audiobooks can no longer be seen as a niche market. Now, the audio medium competes with print books and ebooks for the attention of book readers in a large and diverse range of national book markets. Most people in the book trade believe that the audiobook share will continue to grow in the coming years. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), 8.1 percent of the revenues of the total US book trade in 2021 came from audiobooks. This figure can be compared to ebooks (11.6 percent), but also to change over time: in fact, it is audiobooks—in contrast to all other book formats—that have shown a rapid and steady increase over the past ten years.

The audiobook boom is altering the book business and reading culture. It provides opportunities for people to read more and in new ways, but it also affects how “reading” can be understood. In highlighting the complexities of popular fiction reading, Janice Radway once famously objected to the metaphor of consumption when equated with reading. Reading is not a passive thing, she claimed. I agree, and a multitude of readership scholars have convincingly proved this to be true: reading is active, participatory, social.

But thanks to audiobooks, we might need to update this reasoning. In fact, some of the audiobook practices surfacing indeed seem to be exactly this: passive. One can easily pose the argument that the rise of audiobooks is a sign of an ongoing crisis of our book culture, where people no longer actively engage in books but lend them half an ear as a mere distraction while doing something else. People are reading while doing the dishes, driving, working out, sleeping, etc. Can such practices really be regarded as reading? In any case, passivity must be a problem for literature, right?

In one sense, it is true. But it is also not true, since print-book sales are not dropping when audiobook streams are skyrocketing. Perhaps audiobooks are not primarily competing with print books and ebooks, but with podcasts and other audio media? If this is so, audiobooks could be regarded not as a threat to our book culture but, rather, as a defender. Well, I don’t believe that to be the case either. But I do believe that audiobooks are about to fundamentally change our reading habits.

In fact, what appears to be happening is rather that people are expanding how they make use of books. Or, if you will, expanding what reading is, and what it can be…

Read on for Berglund’s explication: “Audiobooks: Every Minute Counts,” in @PublicBooks.

Tangentially apposite (albeit not your correspondent’s sentiment): “Good riddance to long books.”

* Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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As we muse on metamorphosis, we might spare a thought for Edwin Abbott Abbott; he died on this date in 1926. A schoolmaster, theologian, and Anglican priest, he is best known as the author of the classic 1884 novella Flatland (c.f. also here and here)… a book that it’s hard to imagine consuming aurally…

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 12, 2022 at 1:00 am

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