Reader’s Corner: Bookpub

 

This idea seems like it was a longtime coming. Take the micro- (or nano-) brewery concept that’s been gathering speed across the country, particularly throughout the Midwest, and combine it with reading. Books and beer.

Per the Indianapolis Star, University of Michigan English major Jason Wuerfel is starting up a certain kind of awesome with his new “Books & Brews” storefront:

A personal touch isn’t the only thing setting Books & Brews a part from the competition. All of the beer served in the bar section of the store is brewed on site by Wuerfel. The bookpub owner (yes, I just coined the term bookpub) also is channeling Willy Wonka by allowing folks who pledged $500 or more to the project’s Kickstarter fund to help design a brew, name it, make it, and put it on tap…

Yes, he made all the furniture himself.

(h/t: The Roundup)

Readers’ Corner: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: "Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they're always wrong."

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: “Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they’re always wrong.”

One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.

yates__paradeHoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:

If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.

But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:

When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.

Reader’s Corner: 100 Most Requested Out-of-Print Books

harvardclassics1Every year, BookFinder.com compiles a list of the 100 most sought-after out-of-print books. Their 11th annual list was just released and it’s quite the read.

For our sins, the #1 title is Madonna’s oh-so-scandalous “book” Sex. Stephen King makes a few high-up appearances, most surprisingly for the little-known My Little Pony, which was released as a limited edition in 1989 with illustrations by Barbara Kruger. Some other highlights:

  • Nora Roberts (?!) – Promise Me Tomorrow
  • Cameron Crowe – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Salvador Dali, J.R.R. Tolkien, others – The Jerusalem Bible
  • Ricky Jay – Cards as Weapons

 

 

 

Reader’s Corner: Best Books of 2013

bookstore2

Best-of lists are particularly absurd when it comes to books, with thousands of titles being released in 2013 alone and easily hundreds of them most likely being worth forking over $25 for. But nevertheless it’s helpful to pull notable ones out of the stacks of new releases; otherwise where would you even get started?

To that end, I published a piece over at PopMatters with short writeups on my 15 favorite books of 2013. It’s a good collection with something for everybody, fantasy to military history, graphic novels to current affairs, Thomas Pynchon to Scientology. You can read it here.

Reader’s Corner: Van Gogh and ‘The Jewish Bride’

'The Jewish Bride' by Rembrandt (1667)

‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt (1667)

Legend has it that after Vincent Van Gogh saw Rembrandt’s painting The Jewish Bride in Amsterdam—where it still hangs today in the renovated Rijksmuseum—he said this:

I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.

The math there might be a little on the extreme side (Van Gogh wasn’t one for half-measures, after all), but still, who wouldn’t say something like that about some work of art? The novel that you read at twelve years old which opened your eyes to the world, the painting that made you think “So that’s why people come to museums,” the song that you cry upon hearing whether it’s the first or the hundredth time? How much would you sacrifice to be allowed more time with your favorite book?

Readers’ Corner: Every Book, Ever

goodbooks1You always hear people complaining about there being just not enough time to read all the books out there. Just too much on the shelves to get to in this lifetime. Not the worst thing to have to complain about, of course, but still, frustrating—even if you’re not Burgess Meredith after the apocalypse.

So here’s the question: Has that always been the case? Was there a time at which one could have actually read every single book that had been written? (For the sake of this exercise, we’re limiting it to English-language titles.) Fortunately, there’s always a numbers guy out there working just about any conceivable problem, so now we may have an answer:

According to the site what if?:

If we estimate that during their active periods, writers are producing somewhere between 0.1 and 1 word per minute, then one dedicated reader might be able to keep up with a population of about 500 or 1,000 active writers … the date at which there were too many English books to read in a lifetime—happened sometime before the population of active English writers reached a few hundred. At that point, catching up became impossible.

The magazine Seed estimates that the total number of authors reached this point around the year 1500 and has continued rising rapidly ever since. The number of active English writers crossed this threshold shortly thereafter, around the time of Shakespeare, and the total number of books in English probably passed the lifetime reading limit sometime in the late 1500s.

So there you have it. It’s been a few centuries since reading everything out there was even possible. So if you can’t finish the complete works of Joyce Carol Oates in this lifetime (and, honestly, who could—as she publishes at the rate most people read), well, just hope for reincarnation.

Readers’ Corner: The English Major

reading1Many will disagree with Mark Edmundson’s popular essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Ideal English Major.” Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, argues that college students should choose the English major over the pecuniary rewards of degrees in econ or business.

In a weak job market, where the crushing burden of student debt makes attending college an increasingly fraught choice, it’s welcome to see somebody beating the drum for the English degree as path towards becoming an educated person.

There may, however, only be so much one can take of Edmundson’s soaring, hard-to-choke-down conclusion:

To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study—or at least made some significant progress on your way—then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.

One imagines there are a few M.B.A.’s out there who vaguely resemble people (frequent evidence to the contrary).

But Edmundson’s essay remains a worthy defense of reading, study, and all-around curiosity (“Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form”) in an ever-more mercantile and results-oriented age. He understands the transformative nature of reading in its most ecstatic form:

There are people who read to anesthetize themselves—they read to induce a vivid, continuous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnay—to put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people.

Readers’ Corner: Summer Books

Summer reading: Did you forget your Michael Crichton?

Summer reading: Did you forget your Michael Crichton?

What is it about summer that turns everyone’s expectations of art to slush? Think of it: “summer movie” implies something gargantuan in scope and pea-sized in intellect. Adam Sandler saves Earth from aliens by making stupid faces, say. The end of the school year comes with breathless anticipation of the first summer movie ruining the sub-woofers at your multiplex.

puck-bookwormIt’s the same thing with books. The lists of great summer or “beach” reads is an annual tradition for most of those publications that still bother covering books at all. It’s the usual fluff. A mystery about a woman who goes missing. A woman finds love in Tuscany. Another serial killer from James Patterson.

Speaking of summer reading, the Times asked a number of known novelists to opine on their planned books for the beach. Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin) wins hands-down for honesty:

Whenever summer rolls around I begin to realize that I’m a complete and utter book snob. In relation to reading, I have absolutely no guilty pleasures at all. No graphic novels. No murder mysteries. No “milky-white thigh” stories. No fifty shades of anything.

ulyssesWhile you might take issue with him throwing all graphic novels in with “guilty pleasures,” how many of us would admit to the same thing? The society as a whole  is so anti-literate these days that those readers who just don’t see the point in reading junk are seen as being somehow out of touch. McCann again:

So, my guilty pleasures are my original pleasures. I read “Ulysses,” or at least a part of it, every summer for Bloomsday. It’s hardly a beach read, and I understand that Molly Bloom might not be very content with me, as a reader, carting sand into her bed, but that’s life. The great thing is that she has no say about it. Sorry, Molly, but you are in with the suntan lotion.

This summer I’m reading “Lolita” again. The book seems constantly split open with sunlight. I find it one of the funniest and most poignant books I have ever read. I suppose there’s a certain amount of guilty pleasure in the novel, especially if, like me, you’re even older than Humbert Humbert. Unveiling the book at your neighbor’s barbecue might raise a few eyebrows, but again that’s life, or rather literature.

lolita1(As an aside, not enough people realize that Lolita is a comedy. Tragic, to be sure, but a comedy nonetheless.)

There’s no reason to avoid trash entirely; every now and again you need a book that you can zip right through in two or three hours and toss aside; like a movie. But the implication that you must read something inane just because you’re at the beach or the weather is hot, feels like a strange and onerous cultural imposition.

None of that.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Finnegans Wake’ in China

finneganswake1There’s something about James Joyce’s last and arguably unreadable novel Finnegans Wake that has always attracted the obsessive. Fans range from Marshall McLuhan—who, one critic quipped after reading his manic interpretations, was possibly the only living person to have read every single line of the book—to those various reading clubs that have popped up where people read a couple pages each meeting over the course of many years.

Now, after one woman spent eight years doggedly translating what Joyce’s wife termed “that chop suey” into Mandarin, the book has proven to be surprisingly successful in China. Per the Wall Street Journal:

A newly affluent nation that prizes black Audi sedans and Louis Vuitton handbags has made a literary status symbol of what may well be English literature’s most difficult work. Thanks in part to a canny marketing campaign involving eye-catching billboards and packaging, “Finnegans Wake” sold out the first, 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December. The book briefly rose to No. 2 on a bestseller list run by a Shanghai book industry group, just behind a biography of the late Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s modern-day boom.

Perhaps it’s a sign of increasing affluence that people have the inclination to acquire status novels that they have little intention of actually reading.

Reader’s Corner: The David Foster Wallace Syllabus

Wallace

What gift did the Internets just deliver? A 1994 syllabus from the late, great David Foster Wallace that will make you wish the man had taught at your college. From my post over at Re:Print:

Wallace_Syllabus_001_large[Wallace's] syllabus for the Fall 1994 intro class “English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction” eschews the books we’re all used to from college English lit classes (Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez) in favor of an eclectic mix of mass-market fiction, ranging from Stephen King’s Carrie to Jackie Collins’ Rock Star