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I Love You, Books

Lovers come and go, but literature is forever… right? Here are some lists, recommendations and articles to snuggle up with this February.

Did you know Martin Amis wrote a book about classic arcade games? The Millions is ready to tell you all about it:

Invasion of the Space Invaders is the madwoman in the attic of Amis’ house of nonfiction; many have heard rumors of its shameful presence, but few have seen it with their own eyes. I recently discovered a copy in the library of the university where I work, and I don’t think the librarian knew quite what to make of my obvious excitement at this coup. (“Wow,” I said, giving a low, respectful whistle as she handed it across the counter. “Would you look at that?”)

Also this SUPER RAD photo.

I think the headline of this article at BoingBoing says it all: FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent. We’re on to you.

Russian scientists have finally reached Lake Vostok, a subterranean Antarctic lake that has been underground for 20  million years. Discover Magazine has a cool graphic showing how they did it.

Kept warm and liquid by heat from the center of the Earth, Lake Vostok, the largest in a chain of about 200 underground (or under-ice) lakes, is similar to the oceans supposed to exist below the surface on moons Enceladus and Europa, which makes this an exciting time to be an astrobiologist.

When I got this e-mail from Bill I could only see the first little bit and I thought it said “What Humbert Humbert Loves” and I was all, “Really, that’s what you want me to post for Valentine’s Day?” Turns out that is not what it is at all. The actual link is to  What Humbert Humbert Looks Like (as a Police Composite Sketch) over at The Atlantic, but just in case you still have other Lolita comments to make, here’s a quote from Groucho Marx on the subject:

“I’ll put off reading Lolita for six more years until she turns 18.”

Smart move, Groucho.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still write your beloved an old-fashioned love letter. The Telegraph has 5 Rules for writing the perfect romantic epistle from literary heavyweights Hilary Mantel, Alain de Botton and Jeanette Winterson.

Remember to be playful, teasing and funny. There is no particularly necessary link between earnestness and passion. One can amuse someone into bed and into one’s life. (From Alain de Botton)

Don’t draw hearts at the bottom. Henry VIII used to do that, and look how his affairs ended up. (From Hilary Mantel)

Maybe your Valentine this year was less “romantic” than “a creepy stranger following you around”? Well then here is a list for you, of Geoff Dyer’s top 5 books about obsession.

One time I spent an entire year writing a thesis about obsession, so I am going to give you my own, less-eclectic list of five books about obsessions so you can read all ten of these books and then feel really gross for about a month afterwards.

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Possession, contrary to the opinion of the Man Booker Prize Committee, is not a great book, but it is a book about obsession, and it does have some pretty interesting ideas about what happens when you let a long-dead author or a very-much-alive lover take over your brain.

Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes

Flaubert’s Parrot is kind of the same as Possession, except instead of having to read crappy poems by made-up Victorian authors, you get to read Flaubert’s hilarious letters, plus it is like a fifth of the size.

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

If you were wondering why books about obsession make you feel gross, it is because by the end of them you will have spent way too much time in the head of someone who has a certain element of sickness in their psyche. Death In Venice brilliantly creates a suffocating, sickly atmosphere in early 20th-century Venice as the protagonist slowly decays in his obsession with a perfect young boy.

In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time is the essential book about obsession. Full disclosure, I have only read the first volume, but if you have a scholarly interest in the the tradition of books about obsession, this is the one you have to read. It is long, and it is difficult, and should probably get up and take a walk every fifty pages or so just to get out of Proust’s head (or your own), but it is worth it.

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk

All of Pamuk’s books are kind of about obsession, but this one is the most obvious. People sometimes don’t like it because it’s repetitive and claustrophobic, like Proust, but if you have ever been obsessed with anything enough to collect thousands of old cigarette butts like Pamuk’s protagonist, you know that it is indeed a repetitive and claustrophobic experience. Pamuk’s characters, like the rest of the characters on this list, are obsessed with another person, but they’re also obsessed with the dark and twisting secrets of their city, lending a fascinating other dimension to the classic theme.

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Winter is a great time to curl up with a great hulking mass of a book and let yourself get really into it– in preparation for cracking open Bleak House or A Suitable Boy, check out this great article on what author Mark O’Connell calls The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels.

 The thousand-pager is something you measure yourself against, something you psyche yourself up for and tell yourself you’re going to endure and/or conquer. And this does, I think, amount to a kind of captivity: once you’ve got to Everest base camp, you really don’t want to pack up your stuff and turn back.

From Bill: “When I lived in Japan new years was the major holiday. I like this article because it shows the everyday consequences of the tsunami/meltdown. This is a lot like someone saying “no one’s allowed to throw out their Christmas trees this year.” but with “god resides in the Christmas tree and can only be released by burning” thrown in….”

“I wonder why the nuclear disaster couldn’t have been minimized,” said a teary Yoshida in front of the ornaments that he calls “objects in which gods reside.”

Do you like Philip K. Dick?? Of course you do. Here’s an amazing repository of wonderful Philip K. Dick stuff for free! Including an hour long film we didn’t even know existed!

From BoingBoing, some photos of the “first” science fiction convention, in Leeds (shown here, Walter Gillings, Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Carnell, in front of Theosophical Hall).

How rad are stickers? How rad is sticking thousands of stickers all over a completely white room? Check out this this installation from artist Yayoi Kusama, called The Obliteration Room.

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Merry Books!

The Neighbourhood Café wishes you happy holidays, and present this list of interesting articles as our gift to you:

Last week, Slate blogger Farhad Manjoo posted a piece entitled “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller,” to the subsequent polarization of the Internets. Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Lisa Meier offers a response asking what it is, exactly that creates a literary culture– widespread distribution of titles, or the unique local flavour of ye olde brick-and-mortar?

You are no more likely to discover a book buried in the stacks of a bookstore (independent or otherwise) than you are to find it perusing Amazon’s webpages.  But you are more likely to discover something different, because there is a unique group of people reading, selecting, and promoting titles at each store.

Do you feel like your vocabulary could use some jazzing up? Check out Mental Floss’ list of 19 Outstanding Words You Should Be Working Into Conversation. I’ve found that there are, in fact, many situations in which kummerspeck (excessive weight gained from emotional overeating, literally “grief bacon”) is just the word for the occasion.

The consistently excellent BrainPickings has been running pieces on the history and future of the book for a while now. Today they’re re-featuring an article from October on Martin Lyons’ Books: A Living History with some gorgeous photos.

Defining the book itself is a risky operation. I prefer to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and so I offer a very loose definition. […] The term ‘book’, then, is a kind of shorthand that stands for many forms of written textual communication adopted in past societies, using a wide variety of materials.

Early printers work at creating the book in its traditional bound-paper form, the codex.

Having trouble finding the gift for that thirteen-year-old niece or nephew of yours that will doubtlessly be spending your family Christmas dinner in a corner with their nose in a book? (Yes, I was that thirteen-year-old.) NPR’s got a list of this year’s top 5 YA novels, just in time for the holidays.

This past week has seen the death of some very important cultural icons– Christopher Hitchens, Kim Jong-Il and Vaclev Havel (read Good’s list of 5 Things you Should Know About Vaclev Havel), which you’ve know doubt read all about. In the preceding couple weeks, the literary world lost some somewhat less widely known, but still very important people, namely Russell Hoban and George Whitman. The following comments are from Bill:

[Russell Hoban was] one of my all time favourite writers, his books for children are as enjoyable as his books for adults are. He was brilliant at getting into the minds of his characters and opening their very different worlds to anyone who read his books…

When I was 18 and backpacking through Europe I went in to Shakespeare and Company and shared a glass of red with George at about 9 o’clock at night. He lived in the store. He also had a small band of writers squatting in the upstairs’ rooms and staffing the store. I still remember the two books I bought there: Desolation Angels by Kerouac and White Fang Goes Dingo by Disch. The bookstore, despite its elegant location, shared more atmosphere with Red River Books than with our store; it made me sad to hear of George’s passing and pleasantly nostalgic.

As you probably know we are always trying new things around the café. Often it’s a new snack or a special soda, but we thought it was about high time to try something new with the coffee. We love our regular coffee and it’s not going anywhere but we thought we’d try some new things to offer a special cup of coffee for those looking.

Over the past few weeks we have been offering our coffee of the month as a pour over. This is a simple method to create a hand crafted cup of coffee that is always fresh. Through this process people can try  new coffees and get a feel for the variety of flavours from different regions and farms as well as try a cup before taking home a bag of the coffee of the month.

Last week we added another new gadget, that I promise is neither a still nor a chemistry experiment, though based on it’s appearance a number of people have been wondering. In reality this is a cold brew coffee dripper, also known as a Kyoto coffee maker. Using a 6 hour process we drip ice water over a bed of grounds about 40 times a minute. While it takes a while it creates a smooth cup that highlights the delicate flavours, leaves behind acidity and ups the caffeine a bit. Don’t worry about the wait though as we’ll always have a carafe ready and waiting. At the moment we are serving it in it’s traditional state as cold coffee, though we are experimenting with various methods of warming, while trying to avoid losing any of it’s wonderful qualities.

I hope you give both a try, and never hesitate to ask questions of our friendly baristas.

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a blog update. Here’s what we’ve got for you today:

This article from New York magazine, ostensibly speculating on the real-life background of Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel The Marriage Plot, offers a fascinating glimpse at a group of contemporary literary giants (Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, Mary Karr, Jonathan Franzen) and some of their reflections on Wallace’s mental illness and suicide.

That breakthrough novel [The Corrections] provoked a six-page letter in ten-point type from Wallace. He wrote of his mix of happiness for his friend and his feelings of envy and depression. Franzen says, “I think it hurt for each of us to get the latest [book] from the other.” Franzen became more secure in himself in the wake of The Corrections, Costello says. But Wallace? “Dave never had a secure hour in his life.”

Incidentally, I just finished The Marriage Plot and recommend it highly– if you have ever felt like maybe you read too much to function properly in social situations, this book is for you.

For adults, series like Twilight or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon books can be cringe-inducing in their awkward phrasing and derivative storylines, but the love kids and teenagers have for these novels has made them publishing sensations. Adam Gopnik examines these phenomenons at the New Yorker.

The enchantment the Eragon series projects is not that of a story well told but that of an alternative world fully entered. You sense that when you hear a twelve-year-old describe the books. The gratification comes from the kid’s ability to master the symbols and myths of the saga, as with those eighty-level video games, rather than from the simple absorption of narrative.

I have also, I admit, been reading the Twilight books, and while I won’t bother to recommend them or not, I will point out that the success of the books has spawned a somewhat embarrassing attempt by HarperCollins to boost sales of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights by repackaging it Twilight-style. I came across a copy at the store last week, check it out:


If you follow literary news, you’ve doubtless been awash in awards coverage for the past couple months. The big names have been making the rounds, but there’s still time in 2011 for one last award, my very favourite, The Guardian’s annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award! This year’s nominees include (click for hilariously NSFW excerpts):

… and more!

But maybe you read books to be classy and better yourself as a person, so if that is the case, here are 5 Political Novels Worth Reading, from The Huffington Post, a response to this article that suggests that in these troubled times, reading fiction might be somewhat self-indulgent. I have not read any of these novels, but in my defense, I haven’t read any of the ones on the bad sex list either.

Here are some excerpts from the latter article:

And that, in a way, is why I feel as if I should be reading it. It’s reasonable, as an adult, to decide you don’t want to read a book about the German economy, because you probably wouldn’t understand it, whereas it seems unreasonable to watch a crisis unfold before your eyes, and know so little about it. […]

“There is this false idea that fiction has no particular stance because it is made up, as a result of which it doesn’t have to be informed, and it doesn’t have to inform. I think we desperately need to be informed about our times, and our history, and our human condition, and at the moment, the novel is really only good for the latter. Of course, I only mean the ones worth reading.”

Trick or treat!

Happy Hallowe’eeeeen!

From History of the Ancient World, the ancient Greek and Roman ancestors of scary stories best told with a flashlight under your chin:

A man is going from Rome to a villa in the country to visit his mistress, and a soldier offers to accompany him. They stop to rest at the cemetery outside the city, and the soldier does something that terrifies his companion: he takes off his clothes and turns into a wolf. The man runs as fast as he can to the villa and finds that a wolf has ravaged the flocks there, but that one of the servants managed to wound the wolf. Hearing this, the man heads back to Rome, where he finds the soldier being treated by a doctor for wound. The man realizes the soldier is a shapeshifter. As with Pliny’s ghost story, this early werewolf story has many of the prototypical elements found in later such stories, including the presence of a full moon.

And from sixteenth-century Germany, the terrifying spector of Stubbe Peeter:

 If any person displeased him, he would incontinent thirst for revenge, and no sooner should they or any of theirs walke abroad in the fields or about the Cittie, but in the shape of a Woolfe he would presentlye encounter them, and never rest till he had pluckt out their throates and teare their joyntes a sunder: And after he had gotten a taste hereof, he tooke such pleasure and delight in shedding of blood, that he would night and day walke the Fields, and work extreme cruelties.

A sunder!

So probably you, educated reader, are aware of the recent North American release of Haruki Murakimi’s newest novel, IQ84. If you are not, the picture below from TIME Magazine of the book being read by a cat should be helpful (what do book reviewers do in their spare time? Pretty much exactly what you imagine, I guess– posing grumpy cats with hot new titles). Also helpful would be this video-game reviewer imagining what would happen if IQ84 were marketed like a video game. 

The word “schizophrenic” has become one that we use pretty casually to describe a person or idea that hasn’t quite made up its mind: find out a bit more about what it actually means in this article about a recently published paper by a disciple of Freud’s: The Influencing Machine.

As the boundaries between the schizophrenic’s mind and the world break down, they often feel themselves persecuted by “machines of a mystical nature,” which supposedly work by means of radio-waves, telepathy, x-rays, invisible wires, or other mysterious forces.

Did you know? Holden Caulfield made his first appearance in print in a short story called “I’m Crazy” in Collier’s magazine, December 1945. BookTryst has an excerpt and the full story on this predecessor to Salinger’s generation-defining novel:

“It was about eight o’clock at night, and dark, and raining, and freezing, and the wind was noisy the way it is in spooky movies on the night the old slob with the will gets murdered. I stood by the cannon on the top of Thomsen Hill, freezing to death, watching the big south windows of the gym – shining big and bright and dumb, like the windows of a gymnasium, and nothing else (but maybe you never went to a boarding school).

A couple of Finnish artists have started a new global phenomenon– the “complaints choir”, in which the everyday grievances of the masses are set to music for your enjoyment. Hilarious.

From Birmingham to Budapest, Helsinki to Hamburg, Jerusalem to Chicago, the choirs cover everything from the petty and mudane (job resentment, traffic, bureaucracy, the weather) to the amusingly specific and offbeat (neighbor holding Hungarian folk dance classes above bedroom, being ignored by friend’s cat, racist grandmother)

Your neighbours do that too??

We’ve seen you smelling books, so don’t pretend you’ve never cracked open an old volume and just inhaled a big whiff of comfort and nostalgia. Here’s why they smell so great:

Don’t you just want a nice vanilla latté and a good book right now?

Global warming has marked a new epoch in geological history, according to the New Scientist. And since it’s humankind that’s raised the temperature, the new epoch is named after us: we’re now living in the Anthropocene.

“We’re now a few tenths of a degree above the prior maximum of the Holocene,” says James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. The Anthropocene is also characterised by sediments bearing human traces, such as plastics and other refuse.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has had a polarizing effect on critics since its inception; here’s one participant’s reasons for supporting the movement.

Not everybody had my upbringing, my supportive family, my circle of friends, my teachers, my financial support during childhood, my opportunities, my physical and mental advantages, or my encouragement. I used to think they did, but then I became an adult and experienced the real world, an apathetic place where you do not control as much of your life as you would like to think that you do.

The movement’s Tumblrs, We Are the 99 Percent and the companion, We Are The 1 Percent, provide similar faces and stories from those on both sides of the wealth-distribution gap– thought-provoking stuff.

Four words: throwable panoramic ball camera. Awesome!

Bookbinding is one of the coolest things ever. Avi Solomon interviews Michael Greer, a bookbinder in the time of e-readers and creator of the binary Genesis:

The bookbinding process can be disturbing. It’s violent at first. You literally tear the book apart. Most older books were sewn, so you cut the thread and then pull each signature or booklet off the book.

From Bill: “This would be bad for business but I still love the idea. There used to be a garage off Walnut St. that was open 24 hours a day and it had the most interesting books on display, same idea, take a book, leave a book.” Apparently this is catching on Germany:

In these free-for-all libraries, people can grab whatever they want to read, and leave behind anything they want for others. There’s no need to register, no due date, and you can take or give as many as you want.

 

 

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