Sunday, May 27, 2007


THRILL to the Romance!

FEEL the glamour!
LIVE the awkward radio interviews over unread ARCs!
EAT the Cinnabons on early morning United Shuttle flights!

Here's a story from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who apparently are not kidding:
Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly will move to the US later this year after selling a TV pilot called Literary Superstars to Sony.

The 32-year-old Sydney-based writer, better known for novels such as Ice Station and The Six Sacred Stones, has told ABC News Online the Sex in the City-style show will detail the exploits of a publishing industry publicist.

"The way to sustain the show, I figured, was to tell it from the point of view of a publicist who travels and works with a new eccentric author each week," he said.

"To me, watching an author write would be boring but watching them grapple with the media obligations of selling a book would be much more interesting."

A Sex in the City-style show about... book touring?

I'm developing a competing TV pilot, tentatively titled: No Sex in Whatever The Hell This City Is And Oh Shit I Forgot to Get a Receipt for That $4 Snickers from the Minibar.


When Hunters Turn on Each Other

A fascinating article in yesterday's Guardian on the 19th century of its wildlife -- the scale of which is revealed through a close examination of parish records:

Reliable breach-loaders transformed the sport, allowing the mass destruction of driven birds and long-range shots at deer.... In 1800, for example, buzzards were found across the whole of Britain. A century later they had gone from almost all of England and the eastern Highlands of Scotland, and were seriously depleted in Wales....On one Perthshire estate alone, 9,849 weasels and stoats, 4,042 feral cats, 2,517 "hawks", 2,517 crows, 1,239 foxes, 576 ravens, 56 pine martens, 37 eagles, 26 otters and eight polecats were culled in the decade leading up to 1900.
The story also has an unexpected twist:

Ironically it was another bloodbath, the first world war, that came to their rescue just in time. The carnage in Flanders wiped out a generation of sportsmen and keepers, and persecution never returned on the same scale.


Hay Hay Hay!

This weekend the Guardian is covering the 20th festival for the Town of Books....

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Rube Goldberg Goes Underground

So what did tellers use back before counterfeit-detecting markers and UV lights? Well, they kept an Infallible Counterfeit Detector at hand:

It costs quite a few very real dollars now: the bids on this copy reached $695.

Counterfeiting was serious stuff back then -- for centuries in Britain, it was probably the surest way to get yourself hanged. In which case I guess you'd want another item that came auction this week: Premature Burial and How It May be Prevented: With Special Reference to Trance, Catalepsy, and Other Forms of Suspended Animation.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


My Continuing J-Rock Soapbox

A really lovely video for "Good Bye" by the Japanese indie Toe, from their 2006 album New Sentimentality. As far as I can tell, they're totally unknown in the US, though they are reminiscent of Pinback.


Paperback Rider

Today's Scotsman reports a rather curious writer's residency:

ASPIRING Scottish authors are being encouraged to apply for a unique writer in residency - on a bus.

Last summer Aberdeen City Council's pioneering "Reading Bus" took to the road for the first time in an innovative drive to encourage youngsters to read and to promote family learning in a non-school environment. It was revealed yesterday that, thanks to funding from oil giant Shell UK and Lottery Awards for All, the Reading Bus initiative is to appoint its own writer in residence - a published author prepared to work on the bus for a year....

The closing date for the post, for which a fee of £25,000 will be paid, is next Friday and interviews will take place on 13 June.

Say -- why don't we have this over here?....

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Yaaagggh! Spiders!

.... Electric spiders!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


The Other Poe

One of the great rewards of my line of work is hearing from the descendants of a previously-forgotten figure that I've written about. After publishing my Don Miff piece in The Believer a couple years ago, I heard from one of Virginius Dabney's descendants... incredibly, none other than Rodes Fishburne at the Grotto, a writer with whom I have mutual friends.

Well, it's happened again. After publishing a New Scientist piece and appearing on NPR to discuss artificial respirator inventor George Poe -- you know of his more famous cousin -- I've heard from Greg Ostrander, a US Navy physiologist and the descendant of Poe's assistant, Arthur Ostrander. Turns out -- here is the really amazing news -- the Ostrander family saved Poe's respirator machine. They still have it!

He now has a journal article in the works, complete with photos. Stayed tuned.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


At Least There's Lots of Room for Marginalia

Somehow this escaped my attention a couple weeks ago: Powell's is running a cheeky "Write the Epigraph" contest for Jim Crace's nonexistent book Useless America:

The "book" originated as a listing error at Amazon, but... well, apparently these things will take on a life of their with him, Crace explained last year in the Guardian:

I have in the past acquired a reputation for concocting non-existent writers and unwritten volumes. My first seven novels were flattered by sham epigraphs from invented works by counterfeit authors, including Pycletius, Emile Dell'Ova, and the "excavationst" Sir Harry Penn Butler. It always cheered me up when my books were badly received to learn that the scholarly critic was nevertheless more than familiar with the works of my bogus epigrapher.

The Toronto Star informed me that Pycletius was "the Greek historian and geographer", while the TLS, as you'd expect, considered his works to be "arcane and irksomely septimal". The Washington Post judged Dell'Ova to be "a sadly neglected aphorist" and the New York Review of Books swallowed "the real archaeologist, Sir Harry Penn Butler" hook, line and sinker. Even Frank Kermode (in this paper) fell for "Harry" (evidently believing that as a fellow knight he could abandon formality and drop the "Sir"). It was only after I succeeded in smuggling a solus entry about Pycletius into the Oxford Companion to English Literature that I decided critics were too easy game and that I should direct my mischief elsewhere.
Doubleday, for a laugh, is publishing some blank-page publicity copies of the... ahem, "book."

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Cover Art

Jarvis Cocker of Pulp writes in today's Guardian about Harland Miller's variations on Penguin covers:

I remember the first time I came across the Hemingway painting I'm So Fucking Hard - it was propped against the wall in a studio, an appropriately imposing object, about 6ft by 4ft - I laughed out loud. Ditto its companion painting, Dirty Northern Bastard, attributed to DH Lawrence. Also Not Bi-curious by Norman Mailer. I could go on.... "There's always been this compunction to write on pictures," Miller (also a published novelist) has said. It wasn't until he started painting book covers that he realised he had stumbled across a style of painting that didn't look right without words. "International lonely guy" are apparently the first words Elton John sees when he opens his eyes in the morning. He owns the painting of that title, inspired by the swaying hangers in the empty wardrobe of a cheap chain hotel.
An amusing conversation between Cocker and Miller follows; the latter notes "What people really like about these books is the more visceral nostalgia - the smell, or the fact that some schoolkid has written abuse on the author's head in biro."

Rizzoli is putting out a volume of the paintings this June. In the meantime, there's an online gallery of Miller's Penguins.


Top Gear, 1903 Edition

I came across the following passage this morning in the August 3, 1903 issue of the Times:
An automobile scorcher who was arrested last week for speeding his machine at the rate of thirty miles an hour in Central Park explained in court that his vehicle was one of his own construction, built to go at the moderate rate of twelve miles an hour, and his delight at being assured that he was going at almost three times that rate overshadowed his discomfort at being held for trial...
"Automobile scorcher"...!

Another part of the same article notes a Long Branch NJ ordinance "restricting the speed of automobiles to six miles per hour."

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