Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm trying not to see this as an allegory for my life

In This Corner We Have Alison Bechdel...

Bit and image via NPR

...and in the bigoted corner we have South Carolina.

Alison Bechdel, author of the graphic memoir Fun Home, has responded to this week's vote by South Carolina's House of Representatives to cut a combined total of $70,000 in funding to the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate because two books with gay and lesbian themes appeared on freshman student reading lists. Bechdel, whose book was assigned at the College of Charleston, said in a statement released to PW, "It's sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book — a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people's lives." State Rep. Garry Smith condemned Fun Home, saying it "graphically shows lesbian acts" and "promot[es] the gay and lesbian lifestyle." Bechdel is well known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, where she first floated the idea that became known as "the Bechdel Test" — a standard for sexism in movies based on whether a film has two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men. The second book, titled Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, was assigned at the University of South Carolina.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay on the anti-gay law in Nigeria

Read "Why Can't He Just Be Like Everyone Else?" via The Scoop

The new law that criminalizes homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority – otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic. The law is also unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be unjust. We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but our response cannot be to criminalize it.

Hello, Gay Character on The Vampire Diaries...

...is it my neck you might be wanting?

Via Buzzfeed

James Patterson confirms he IS Mr. Evil

Prolific author and the Babyface of the written word James Patterson is giving $1 million dollars to indie bookstores. Which given his net worth of $250 million means he basically shook out his couch cushions.

Via NPR

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's Not Offensive, If It's True

Author Isabel Allende has apologized after remarks she made in an NPR interview about her latest book Ripper.

Via NPR

"The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I'm not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. ... And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth."

Seems pretty spot-on to me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Beautiful Darkness

This is absolutely gorgeous! (Be sure and click the images to enlarge.)

Images via io9 but here's more via Buzzfeed.

Item description:

"A fairytale where the darkness is only natural: the real world of Beautiful Darkness not only includes but embraces decay, calm indifference, and animals who act like animals, just like life - and death. And neither its prince or princess are quite what we expect. Read it outdoors for maximum effect."--Kathe Koja, author of The Cipher and Under the Poppy

"A brilliant premise executed with panache -- Vehlmann and Kerascoët's fairy world has the offhand cruelty of the Alice books and the offhand sweetness of Moominland -- Donahey's Teeny Weenies and The Borrowers can be felt here too -- and yet it really it seems without precedent, every page a surprise in style and form and content."--John Crowley, author of Little, Big and Aegypt

Kerascoët’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization's heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience. The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoët’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann's story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over. Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society.

Yall Just Jealous

Via io9

io9 quotes from a longer Salon article about reading, elitism, and intellectual insecurity.

Intellectual insecurity is, alas, a pervasive problem in the literary world. You can find it among fans of easy-to-read commercial fiction who insist (on very little evidence) that the higher-brow stuff is uniformly fraudulent and dull, and you can find it among those mandarin bibliophiles who dismiss whole genres (on equally thin evidence) out of hand. One of the favorite gambits of people secretly uncertain about their own taste is identifying some popular book of incontestably lower quality than their own favorites and then running all over the Internet posting extravagant takedowns of it and taunting its fans. Yeah, I'm not crazy about "Fifty Shades of Grey," either, but I'm not going to invest that much energy in proclaiming this sentiment to the world. To do so suggests you're less interested in championing good writing than you are in grabbing any chance to feel superior to somebody else.

[This happens because] a teacher, a parent, a romantic partner, a friend, a roommate, even a co-worker has made them feel ashamed over a book or genre of books they enjoy or admire. They were told to put away the comics or teased for de-stressing with a romance novel on coffee break. Or, conversely, they might dream of being included in some tony, brainy (and possibly entirely imaginary) community of letters while at the same time worrying that they won't make the grade. There are those whose fantasies of leading a "literary" life largely involve having their own superior discrimination and erudition admired by other superior minds. The result of all this baggage is a preposterous, resentful pecking order in which readers get way too much pleasure out of pissing on other readers' preferences and/or jumping, on the slightest pretext, to the conclusion that their own are being ridiculed.

Basically I call it the "Comfortable with your own Manhood" argument of reading. Now, excuse me while I go turn on Lip Gloss my Lil Mama and eat some milk chocolate.

io9 claims this chart should make publishing industry nervous

Should it?

Via io9

This Week's Books

A riveting, revelatory, and moving account of the author’s struggles with anxiety, and of the history of efforts by scientists, philosophers, and writers to understand the condition

As recently as thirty-five years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnostic category. Today, it is the most common form of officially classified mental illness. Scott Stossel gracefully guides us across the terrain of an affliction that is pervasive yet too often misunderstood.

Drawing on his own long-standing battle with anxiety, Stossel presents an astonishing history, at once intimate and authoritative, of the efforts to understand the condition from medical, cultural, philosophical, and experiential perspectives. He ranges from the earliest medical reports of Galen and Hippocrates, through later observations by Robert Burton and Søren Kierkegaard, to the investigations by great nineteenth-century scientists, such as Charles Darwin, William James, and Sigmund Freud, as they began to explore its sources and causes, to the latest research by neuroscientists and geneticists. Stossel reports on famous individuals who struggled with anxiety, as well as on the afflicted generations of his own family. His portrait of anxiety reveals not only the emotion’s myriad manifestations and the anguish anxiety produces but also the countless psychotherapies, medications, and other (often outlandish) treatments that have been developed to counteract it. Stossel vividly depicts anxiety’s human toll—its crippling impact, its devastating power to paralyze—while at the same time exploring how those who suffer from it find ways to manage and control it.

My Age of Anxiety is learned and empathetic, humorous and inspirational, offering the reader great insight into the biological, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to the affliction.

Umm...this one's pretty self-explanatory. All comments about squealing like a pig will be graded for originality.

Chizmar celebrates the 25th anniversary of his Cemetery Dance magazine with new stories by the small group of writers whom he considers an integral part of the magazine's history. New stories by Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker would be enough to make this one of the notable horror collections of the year, and all of those are indeed solid (particularly King's "Summer Thunder," a heartbreaking tale of two men and a dog awaiting certain death after nuclear war). Pieces by less mainstream, more cultish writers also hold their own. Ed Gorman's "Flying Solo," a tale of two widowed cancer patients who decide to become vigilantes, is typically clever, while Norman Partridge's "Incarnadine" is a tight, brutal take on supernatural revenge movies. Bentley Little's "In the Room" is a chilling and disturbing story of people mysteriously disappearing from a man's life. Even the few weak tales—like Ronald Kelly's "The Outhouse," a straightforward boys-unleash-monsters story—are entertaining enough, if nothing new. Chizmar has essentially produced an all-star, book-length issue of his magazine, and horror fans should be sure to pick it up. (Publishers Weekly)

Pat and Sarah had long been friends, not just brother and sister. They supported each other, shared music and movies, and confided in each other as they went through the many challenging stages of adolescence. But something began to change in Pat. He was convinced people were watching him, spying on him. Once outgoing and sociable, he began to withdraw into a world of his own, on the inside, where social engagement was not necessary nor desired. He stopped taking care of his personal hygiene. Conversation became increasingly difficult. After a series of visits with psychologists, he was diagnosed at first with bi-polar disorder, and then, more accurately with schizophrenia with paranoid delusions. His world, and that of his sister’s, changed forever.

This is the story of one sister’s fight to convince her family that her brother needed help, that initial efforts to curtail his symptoms were inadequate, that he needed additional intervention. At the same time, it is the story of her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and coping with the changes in her life as her brother suffered at home. And finally, it is the story of one family’s acceptance of a difficult diagnosis and their embracing of the child and brother they have always known and loved. Schizophrenia, indeed mental illness in general, is often misunderstood and therefore feared by society at large. Here, the author helps to dislodge some long-held assumptions about mental illness and encourages readers to ask questions, to offer help and support, and to advocate for assistance for anyone suffering mental illness before it’s too late. She offers a voice to all the sisters and brothers of the mentally ill, so that they may find comfort in her words and hope for their siblings.

Equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is "a vicious, page-turning story that reads more like Raymond Chandler than Madame Curie" (The New York Observer)

A fascinating Jazz Age tale of chemistry and detection, poison and murder, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten era. In early twentieth-century New York, poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Science had no place in the Tammany Hall-controlled coroner's office, and corruption ran rampant. However, with the appointment of chief medical examiner Charles Norris in 1918, the poison game changed forever. Together with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, the duo set the justice system on fire with their trailblazing scientific detective work, triumphing over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice.

What can we learn from the genomes of our closest evolutionary relatives?

Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pääbo’s mission to answer this question, and recounts his ultimately successful efforts to genetically define what makes us different from our Neanderthal cousins. Beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, Neanderthal Man describes the events, intrigues, failures, and triumphs of these scientifically rich years through the lens of the pioneer and inventor of the field of ancient DNA.

We learn that Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pääbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species’ interactions. His findings have not only redrawn our family tree, but recast the fundamentals of human history—the biological beginnings of fully modern Homo sapiens, the direct ancestors of all people alive today.

A riveting story about a visionary researcher and the nature of scientific inquiry, Neanderthal Man offers rich insight into the fundamental question of who we are.

The National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker delivers his most emotionally charged novel to date, inspired by the myth of Orpheus.

"If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century…he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby-Dick. His picture is that big," wrote Margaret Atwood (New York Review of Books). Indeed, since his debut in 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, Richard Powers has been astonishing readers with novels that are sweeping in range, dazzling in technique, and rich in their explorations of music, art, literature, and technology.

In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the "Bioterrorist Bach"—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them. The result is a novel that soars in spirit and language by a writer who “may be America’s most ambitious novelist” (Kevin Berger, San Francisco Chronicle).

A haunting story of love and survival that introduces an unforgettable literary heroine

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.

While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions.

An illuminating and affecting portrait of women in rural Mexico, and a stunning exploration of the hidden consequences of an unjust war, PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN is an unforgettable story of friendship, family, and determination.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Of the approximately 38,500 deaths by suicide in the U.S. annually, about two percent--between 750 and 800--are murder-suicides. The horror of murder-suicides looms large in the public consciousness--they are reported in the media with more frequency and far more sensationalism than most suicides, and yet we have little understanding of this grave form of violence.

In The Perversion of Virtue, leading suicide researcher Thomas Joiner explores the nature of murder-suicide and offers a unique new theory to explain this nearly unexplainable act: that murder-suicides always involve the wrongheaded invocation of one of four interpersonal virtues: mercy, justice, duty, and glory. The parent who murders his child and then himself seeks to save his child from a fatherless life of hardship; the wife who murders her husband and then herself seeks to right the wrongs he committed against her, and so on. Murder-suicides involve the gross misperception of when and how these four virtues should be applied.

Drawing from extensive research as well as real examples from the media, Joiner meticulously examines, deconstructs, and finally rebuilds our understanding of murder-suicide in such a way that brings tragic reason to what may seem an unfathomable act of violence. Along the way, he dispels some of the most enduring myths of suicide--for instance, that suicide is usually an impulsive act (it is almost always pre-meditated), or that alcohol or drugs are involved in most suicides (usually they are not).

Sure to be controversial, this book seeks to make sense of one of the most difficult-to-comprehend types of violence in modern society, shedding new light that will ultimately lead to better understanding and even prevention.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Breaking: Federal Judge Rules KY Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Today Federal Judge John G. Heyburn ruled Kentucky's ban on same-gender marriage unconstitutional!

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that to the extent K.R.S 402.005, .020, .040, and .045 and Section 233A of the Kentucky Constitution deny validly married same-sex couples equal recognition and benefits under Kentucky and federal law, they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Congratulations to the brave plaintiffs in the suit, Gregory Bourke and Michael Deleon of Louisville, Jimmy Meade and Luther Barlowe of Bardstown, Randell Johnson and Paul Campion of Louisville, and Kimberly Franklin and Tamera Boyd of Cooper! And congratulations to the Fauver Law Office and Clay Daniel Walton & Adams, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, who helped bring the case to court.

This is likely the first step of many for this case--we'll let you know how to support the judgement moving forward!

Via the Courier Journal

Friday, February 7, 2014

Help a Buddy Out

No, this isn't necessarily a request for a reach-around.

Can anyone name this pornstar? I and a buddy would like to know.

Image via Naked Came I

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday is for Wilde

The Williams-Nichols Collection, the LGBT library and archives at the University of Louisville, has completed a 55-page compendium of references to Oscar Wilde as published in the pages of the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1879-1922.

For a copy, please email KyArchives@aol.com and include your email address.

The compendium comes as a Word doc.

Image via wikipedia

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

This Week in Books

Why does a college course on death have a three-year waiting list?

When nurse Norma Bowe decided to teach a course on death at a college in New Jersey, she never expected it to be popular. But year after year students crowd into her classroom, and the reason is clear: Norma’s “death class” is really about how to make the most of what poet Mary Oliver famously called our “one wild and precious life.”

Under the guise of discussions about last wills and last breaths and visits to cemeteries and crematoriums, Norma teaches her students to find grace in one another. By following her over four years, award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki shows how Norma steers four extraordinary students from their tormented families and neighborhoods toward happiness: she rescues one young woman from her suicidal mother, helps a young man manage his schizophrenic brother, and inspires another to leave his gang life behind. Through this unorthodox class on death, Norma helps kids who are barely hanging on to understand not only the value of their own lives, but also the secret of fulfillment: to throw yourself into helping others. Hayasaki’s expert reporting and literary prose bring Norma’s wisdom out of the classroom, transforming it into an inspiring lesson for all. In the end, Norma’s very own life—and how she lives it—is the lecture that sticks.

In 2005 a Chinook helicopter carrying sixteen Special Ops soldiers crashed during a rescue mission in a remote part of Afghanistan, killing everyone on board.

In that instant, machine gunner Caleb Daniels lost his best friend, Kip Jacoby, and seven members of his unit. Back in the US, Caleb begins to see them everywhere—dead Kip, with his Alice in Wonderland tattoos, and the rest of them, their burned bodies watching him. But there is something else haunting Caleb, too—a presence he calls the Black Thing, or the Destroyer, a paralyzing horror that Caleb comes to believe is a demon.

Alone with these apparitions, Caleb considers killing himself. There is an epidemic of suicide among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder who cannot cope with ordinary life in the aftermath of explosions and carnage. Jennifer Percy finds herself drawn to their stories, wanting to comprehend their experiences and pain.

Her subject, Caleb, has been bringing damaged veterans to a Christian exorcism camp in Georgia that promises them deliverance from the war. As Percy spends time with these soldiers and exorcists and their followers—finding their beliefs both repel­lant and magnetic—she enters a world of fanaticism that is alternately terrifying and welcoming.

With a jagged lyricism reminiscent of Michael Herr and Denis Johnson, Demon Camp is the riveting true story of a veteran with PTSD and an explora­tion of the battles soldiers face after the war is over. Percy’s riveting account forces us to gaze upon the true human consequences of the War on Terror.

A provocative and lively exploration of the increasingly important world of macroeconomics, by the author of the bestselling The Undercover Economist.

Thanks to the worldwide financial upheaval, economics is no longer a topic we can ignore. From politicians to hedge-fund managers to middle-class IRA holders, everyone must pay attention to how and why the global economy works the way it does.

Enter Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford. In this new book that demystifies macroeconomics, Harford strips away the spin, the hype, and the jargon to reveal the truth about how the world’s economy actually works. With the wit of a raconteur and the clear grasp of an expert, Harford explains what’s really happening beyond today’s headlines, why all of us should care, and what we can do about it to understand it better.

In provocative detail with more than one hundred illustrations, critically acclaimed author Virginia Postrel separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous.

What is it that creates that pleasurable pang of desire—the feeling of “if only”? If only I could wear those clothes, belong to that group, drive that car, live in that house, be (or be with) that person? Postrel identifies the three essential elements in all forms of glamour and explains how they work to create a distinctive sensation of projection and yearning.

The Power of Glamour is the very first book to explain what glamour really is—not just style or a personal quality but a phenomenon that reveals our inner lives and shapes our decisions, large and small. By embodying the promise of a different and better self in different and better circumstances, glamour stokes ambition and nurtures hope, even as it fosters sometimes-dangerous illusions.

From vacation brochures to military recruiting ads, from the Chrysler Building to the iPad, from political utopias to action heroines, Postrel argues that glamour is a seductive cultural force. Its magic stretches beyond the stereotypical spheres of fashion or film, influencing our decisions about what to buy, where to live, which careers to pursue, where to invest, and how to vote.

The result is myth shattering: a revelatory theory that explains how glamour became a powerful form of nonverbal persuasion, one that taps into our most secret dreams and deepest yearnings to influence our everyday choices.

2013 Nieman Reports Top 10 Investigative Journalism Book

Seymour Hersh has been the most important, famous, and controversial journalist in the United States for the last forty years. From his exposé of the My Lai massacre in 1969 to his revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, Hersh has consistently captured the public imagination, spurred policymakers to reform, and drawn the ire of presidents.

From the streets of Chicago to the newsrooms of the most powerful newspapers and magazines in the United States, Seymour Hersh tells the story of this Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author. Robert Miraldi scrutinizes the scandals and national figures that have drawn Hersh’s attention, from My Lai to Watergate, from John F. Kennedy to Henry Kissinger.

This first-ever biography captures a stunningly successful career of important exposés and outstanding accomplishments from a man whose unpredictable and quirky personality has turned him into an icon of American life and the unrivaled “scoop artist” of American journalism.

The First World War produced an extraordinary flowering of poetic talent, poets whose words commemorate the conflict more personally and as enduringly as monuments in stone. Lines such as 'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?' and 'They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old' have come to express the feelings of a nation about the horrors and aftermath of war. This new anthology provides a definitive record of the achievements of the Great War poets.

As well as offering generous selections from the celebrated soldier-poets, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, and Ivor Gurney, it also incorporates less well-known writing by civilian and women poets. Music hall and trench songs provide a further lyrical perspective on the War. A general introduction charts the history of the war poets' reception and challenges prevailing myths about the war poets' progress from idealism to bitterness. The work of each poet is prefaced with a biographical account that sets the poems in their historical context.

Although the War has now passed out of living memory, its haunting of our language and culture has not been exorcised. Its poetry survives because it continues to speak to and about us.

Motivated by potentially turning Flushing Meadows, literally a land of refuse, into his greatest public park, Robert Moses--New York's "Master Builder"--brought the World’s Fair to the Big Apple for 1964 and ’65. Though considered a financial failure, the 1964-65 World’s Fair was a Sixties flashpoint in areas from politics to pop culture, technology to urban planning, and civil rights to violent crime.

In an epic narrative, Tomorrow-Land shows the astonishing pivots taken by New York City, America, and the world during the Fair. It fetched Disney’s empire from California and Michelangelo’s La Pieta from Europe; and displayed flickers of innovation from Ford, GM, and NASA--from undersea and outerspace colonies to personal computers. It housed the controversial work of Warhol (until Governor Rockefeller had it removed); and lured Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Meanwhile, the Fair--and its house band, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians--sat in the musical shadows of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who changed rock-and-roll right there in Queens. And as Southern civil rights efforts turned deadly, and violent protests also occurred in and around the Fair, Harlem-based Malcolm X predicted a frightening future of inner-city racial conflict.

World’s Fairs have always been collisions of eras, cultures, nations, technologies, ideas, and art. But the trippy, turbulent, Technicolor, Disney, corporate, and often misguided 1964-65 Fair was truly exceptional.

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing…

Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

Richard Meryman began an enduring friendship with Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) while on the job as a Life magazine editor in 1964. For Meryman, this unique friendship yielded more than four decades of recorded conversations with Wyeth, his family, friends and neighbors in Wyeth's homes in Pennsylvania and Maine. Meryman notes that, whether during formal interviews, shared meals, car rides or long walks, "Wyeth applied to himself the same sensitive understandings that fueled his art. A lifelong realist who swam against the art world tide of modernism, he showed himself to be fundamentally a painter of emotion--of people and objects that somehow embodied his memories and imagination, triggering feelings inexpressible in words, but recognized by viewers." In five skillfully crafted monologues composed by Meryman around key themes in Wyeth's work, we hear the voices of not only the artist but also his subjects, neighbors, relatives and critics. The book includes reproductions of the works of art discussed by Wyeth in his own words, as well as previously unpublished photographs of Wyeth's studio taken in 2009.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Pete Seeger: All-American Communist

As some of you know, folksinger-political-activist Pete Seeger died last Monday at the age of 94. This article from The Atlantic was very interesting in talking about how Seeger's ideology informed his music and his love of his country. While I don't see his "romance" with communism as "disturbing," I do see it as something that Seeger thought could help the United States, a country he saw as floundering even as he loved it.

Seeger’s political record—as a whole, not taken selectively—is exactly the point. As Andrew Cohen wrote in his appreciation, Seeger was often described as “anti-American”:

I think the opposite was true. I think he loved America so much that he was particularly offended and disappointed when it strayed, as it so often has, from the noble ideals upon which it was founded. I don't think that feeling, or the protests it engendered, were anti-American. I think they were wholly, unabashedly American.

Seeger’s beliefs sometimes led him to grievously wrong conclusions, but it’s not un-American to be wrong, and that same politics is what also led him to stand up to McCarthyism, fight for the environment, and march with labor unions, too. (To which one might waggishly add, can anyone to whom Bruce Springsteen had dedicated a tribute be anything other than All-American?) Nor can one separate his music from his politics, something former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer tried to do.

To understand why the full range of Seeger’s political activities are indivisible from his music, you have to begin with his childhood and entry in the folk scene through his parents' involvement. There’s an instructive comparison here with Nelson Mandela, whose relationship with the Communist Party was a newly contentious topic in the days after his death. Unlike Mandela, whose alliance with Communism seems to have been a brief and opportunistic response to the brutal apartheid regime, Seeger’s was deeply rooted. Unlike the rural folk musicians he emulated, Seeger was no naif. His father was a Harvard-educated musicologist and his stepmother a composer, both early folk aficionados; he himself enrolled at Harvard. Later, Seeger also worked as an intern for the great folk-song collector Alan Lomax. The recordings that early 20th century collectors made are the basis of what we now know as American music, from blues to old-time country.

Image and quote from The Atlantic

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead!

The Wall Street is reporting that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead today in New York.

Via Variety

UPDATE: Hoffman apparently died of a drug overdose

So This is What Americans Are Known For...

...according to Gertrude Stein.

So, I'm currently reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, and throughout, my mind has been blown by the concept of a time when Picassos and Matisses, Braques and Grises (Grises?) could be bought for fairly cheap because these men were not what they are today...as Stein writes "geniuses" or "almost geniuses."

I just came to a description of Matisse's home in Clamart:

This home in Clamart was very comfortable, to be sure the bath-room, which the family much appreciated from long contact with americans, although it must be said that the Matisses had always been and always were scrupulously neat and clean, was on the ground floor adjoining he dining room. But that was alright, and is and was a french custom, in french houses. It gave more privacy to a bath-room to have it on the ground floor. Not so long ago in going over the new house Braque was building the bath-room was again below, this time underneath the dining room. When we said, but why, they said because being nearer the furnace it would be warmer.

There you have, ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning of the 20th century, americans were known for having bath-rooms. I don't know: it tickled me.

Image of Gertrude Stein (seated) and her partner Alice B. Toklas by Cecil Beaton from boston.com