Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Stan Berenstain: Dead At 82

Stan Berenstain, co-creator of the Berenstain Bears with his wife, Jan, has passed away at the age of 82. Who hadn't read these books as a kid? Learned about starting kindergarten, how to deal with strangers, and moving to a new home. Too bad; it seems they didn't write one about dealing with the death of a loved one. That would help their young fans a little.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Single Book As A Work Of Art

It requires Adobe Illustrator, which eliminates many of you readers, and a large-format printer, which eliminates even more, but with a few quick steps it's possible to convert a large chunk of text into a piece of art suitable for hanging. I'll bet that your friendly Kinko's could help with your home-office's shortcomings, though.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lifetime Of Books Burns

While I hate to see books burned for censorship purposes, it pains me even more to hear of this 60-something man living in a nursing home, who watched his lifetime collection of books burn in his rented storage unit behind the home. I, too, would be caught speechless to find my book collection burned to cinders -- and I've only been compiling mine for a decade or two. Even more horribly, the officials fear foul play in the destruction. Who would do such a horrible thing?

Books are like pets or children: having them around is the most meaningful thing in many peoples' lives. Think about it: the gentleman, at some point, had to choose what he was bringing to the nursing home, and what was going to be thrown away. His book collection made the cut, only to be destroyed now. It brings a tear to my eye.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Valuing and Destroying Old Books

South Dakotans: Antiques Roadshow appraiser Richard Austin will be appearing at the Brookings Public Library today. Don't you hate that newspapers wait until the day of the event to report on it? It's just a little beyond my driving range, but if you're closer you might like to see what he's got to say. He'll even evaluate books for you (max 3 books), so you might get your chance to find out if your Nancy Drews will finance your retirement.

Austin will also let you know if the book is worth keeping, or recycling into something new. Now, this (at first glance) makes me want to cry: converting an old book into a journal. Cutting up a book is heresy, an obscenity! However, if the book really isn't worth anything to you, but you'd like something cool to carry around and write your most intimate thoughts inside, this could be a classy alternative. It could even be cheaper, given that a newly-made journal with a hundred pages could run you $10, but a 50¢ hardcover at the thrift shop and $2 worth of notebook paper could get you a 300 page journal. You could also get creative: pick the title of the book you dissect based on its contents -- like bloggers do. Your personal thoughts compiled, chronologically, in a single volume with a witty title and wrapped in images created by other people? By gosh, it's much more deserving of the term dinosaur blog!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Glypho: Collaborative Novel Writing

It appears to be in early genesis, but Glypho looks like a fun collaborative writing method: one user picks a story idea, other users offer suggestions for characters and plot, and others choose to actually write the content based on thesuggestions. The entire process is managed online, in an almost Wikilike way.

Novels by committee could be quite interesting, especially for novels that require broad knowledge-sets for accuracy and believability, like technological thrillers or historical drama. It also smells like improvisational theatre, which has produced a lot of quality media in the past decades. Will I participate? We'll see -- I plan on watching how the site works for a while.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Edmund Fitzgerald

No, we're not Lightfooting around here -- we are going to talk about the book The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Song Of The Bell, by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gisjbert Van Frankenhuyzen.

First, a little backstory: I've always liked the Gordon Lightfoot song, and when I saw this book at Zandbroz, I had to point it out to my wife. She scoffed at it's insignificance...but then an Amazon box arrived at our door, addressed to me, with a gift inside: this book. Thanks, wifey, for thinking of me!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the sinking, as you may have heard all over the radio: it seems everyone remembers the wreck, despite it's relatively minor influence on history. New laws didn't happen because of it, nobody famous died, no treasure was lost, there was no spectactular explosion. The ship, formerly the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, suddenly sank, killing the crew.

Wargin's books is a children's book, but can easily be appreciated by an adult...for one, it's the story of the tragic deaths of brave sailors caught in a storm. The Perfect Storm wasn't rated G, so how could you come up with a picture book?

Wargin and Van Frankenhuyzen did a wonderful job: poetic in it's tragic story, the book tells far more than you can get just from Lightfoot's lyrics. In simple form, the book outlines the Fitzgerald's origins, and all the known information about the ship's fatal voyage.

Van Frankenhuyzen's paintings accompany the text artfully. The words are a small part of each visual, explaining the event in the fewest possible words, while the rest is expressed in the illustration. The images grow darker and more sinister as the boat makes its way across the lake, ending with a simple drawing of the ship's bell, now interned in a maritime museum honoring the lost crew.

While the book may not be the best for all children, especially those who really don't understand the scope of the story, those around 10 or 11 might have heard of the ship and appreciate being able to read & see the story in a non-encyclopedical format. I enjoyed reading it myself, so parents will find it pleasant to read to their children, while inviting discussion or further explanation after the story is done.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NaNoWriMo + Blogger + LuLu + Blooker = Profitology!

No, the title is not free-association, nor random syllables. It's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which isn't new news...however, it's the first year that the Blooker Awards are accepting contestants. So, following the Blooker awards rules, you can participate in both, and maybe end up with a prize:

  1. Write your 1,000-2,000 words a day (to get to novel-length by the end of the month);

  2. Post your writings to your blog -- or set up a new blog specifically for it. Bloggger is quick and cheap for one-off blogging, plus it'll bring readers to your writings automatically;

  3. On December 1st, go to LuLu and create a book -- your book -- and publish it. Order a few copies for yourself, and 3 to submit to the Blooker awards;

  4. Fill out the Blooker entry form, and follow the instructions to be included in the contest.

Pretty simple -- but you've gotta write! Even if you don't win anything, you'll be able to say you've written a novel, published it, and been considered for a literary award. Get to it -- you've lost a week's worth of writing already, but you should be able to catch up. Stop reading my blog, and go type something Blooker-worthy!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lady Chatterley's Lover: 45 Years Later

I missed a milestone date yesterday, and surprisingly I was reminded by the usually vapid morning radio show. In their list of "things on this date in history" for November 2nd, they mentioned that in 1960 Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in the UK for publishing the scandalous book Lady Chatterley's Lover, thanks to a new law that allowed books to be excused from the obscenity tag by demonstrating they had artistic or literary merit. Chatterley ran into trouble in the US, too: Grove Press published it, but copies were siezed as obscene by the postal service, under laws designed to prevent obscenity from passing through the mail. (Incidentally, this law is still on the books). With the help of an anti-censorship lawyer, the obscenity label was overturned here, too, paving the way for sexual content through the so-called 'sexual revolution.'

Now, before you frown and attribute this to the existence of Hustler and Barely Legal magazines -- this paved the way for sexual content, period. If you've read a novel that describes sexual activity in any way, you can thank Lady Chatterley and her ass-boinking servant. The freedom from obscenity-labelling allowed Judy Blume's Forever and The Color Purple by Alice Walker to be published. Mentioning a condom in a book (a contraceptive device, also frowned upon in the same US postal law), like in The Cheerleader, was inviting jail-time, but Chatterley gave these topics a way into the public discourse.

The Cheerleader, Forever, Portnoy's Complaint, Brave New World, and numerous other books of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, all planted the seeds of sexual understanding in today's adults -- including those people who wish to impose greater censorship on books. Let's hope they don't get their way, and sexual knowledge can continue to be available to those looking for it. There's not much sexually from the pre-Chatterley days (save the flapper days of the 20s) that the world needs to return to: oppresion of women, naiive recklessness, emotional repression...none of that's necessary, and being able to read about it helped bring us to today, where Dr. Ruth can talk about penises freely and a husband on Deperate Housewives can be into BDSM.