This ironic image found at No Caption Needed, which in this case lives up to its name
* For the sci-fi inclined, get in on Tor’s free ebook orgy while it still exists
* Does the Internet makes the new generation worse writers? A recent study finds changes in the kind of mistakes students make, but doesn’t attribute the changes to the digital environment:
One thing that Lunsford and Lunsford conclude is that when student writing from the mid-80s is compared to student writing today, “new error patterns” emerge. Of course, the big change in the composition classroom and in the writing lives of kids since then is the introduction of digital tools, and one might be disposed to attribute the changes to it. Not here, though. L & L mention the “hard-core worriers who see a precipitous decline in student writing ability and who often relate that decline to the creeping of IM and other digital lingo. . . . Our findings do not support such fears.”
* The Economist has an interesting write-up about The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library, a new book about the search for a monarch’s incredible personal library:
Matthias assembled one of Europe’s finest libraries, second in size
only to the Vatican’s. Given that almost all of the books were copied
by hand and richly illuminated, and that most of them came from
Florence and had then to be transported to Hungary, this was an
amazing, and amazingly expensive, achievement. After all, when Matthias
settled on Beatrice, a Neapolitan, to be his bride, it took her three
months to get to him along roads infested with highwaymen and Turkish
* The Guardian has more on those crazy Germen attempts to print the Wikipedia
* Creative Nonfiction is having a sale of books and other sundry, and if you don’t snag the $15.00 CNF mug for $10.00 you’re just crazy not to.
* I can’t imagine why you’d want to be in on something that combines Tom Friedman’s voice with Tom Friedman’s prose, but if this sounds to your satisfaction, then you may sign up for a free audiobook in installments of The World Is Flat
One of the most appealing aspects of Hemon’s fiction is that he is at once grounded in pungent realities and drawn toward playful fictionalizing. On the one hand, he finishes “The Accordion” with information about his family’s diaspora and the news that he wrote it on the subway after a hard day’s lowly work, and, on the other, he offers an anecdote about an accordion-playing ancestor that might be entirely fictitious and is grandly unverifiable. He likes to use his family name in his fiction, and to refer recurrently to certain relatives and family histories, but the autobiographical veracity of that fiction seems architectural rather than foundational. More than any other American novelist I can think of, he has made a kind of running autobiographical fiction of his actual circumstances—the childhood in Sarajevo, the exile in America, the early hardships in Chicago. He is a fabulist but not really a postmodernist; or, rather, he is a postmodernist who has been mugged by history. When he “lays bare the device” (an old Russian Formalist phrase for the technique of playful fictive self-consciousness), he opens a wound. During “the Hemoniad,” the narrator’s mother remarks, “The trouble with the Hemons . . . is that they always get much too excited about things they imagine to be real.” The formulation is canny: a good proportion of reality consists of what we freely imagine; and then, less happily perhaps, we discover that that reality has imagined us—that we are the vassals of our imaginings, not their emperors or archdukes.
* And speaking of Wood, TNR reviews its old critic’s new book, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, likes it:
Wood’s conversational style is a modern equivalent of Forster’s, but for all its wit and ease of manner, this is a much more substantial study. To be fair, one must add that Wood has access to serious studies of fiction and its workings that have become available since Forster’s day — mostly in the last half-century, which witnessed the birth of "narratology." Some "narratological" studies are pretentious and dull, but some are not. Wood announces that his favorite twentieth-century critics of the novel are Viktor Shklovsky and Roland Barthes, but he cites them largely in order to differ from them, gently deploring the difficulties they present to the "common reader." In a longer book (which this one ought to have been) we would hope to learn why these critics won his favor in the first place. In this one he does usefully borrow some of Barthes’s ideas, while contesting his opinion that "realism" has nothing to do with reality, being nothing but a system of conventional codes. He comments, but not as extensively as he usefully could, on S/Z, Barthes’s remarkable study of how a novella by Balzac works, but he says only a few words on Shklovsky’s essays — for instance, the study called "How Don Quixote Is Made, " a title perhaps echoed in Wood’s own.
To some extent, we have been deprived of the opportunity to witness
Apple’s further development of this hybrid mode of fiction. Since Zip, he has published only two other works of fiction, the 1984 collection Free Agents and a second novel, The Propheteers. Free Agents was actually an even stronger set of stories than The Oranging of America (with its famous title story about motel magnate Howard Johnson), more adventurous, less tied to conventional narrative. (Oranging
was innovative in terms of subject matter, but not so much in the
narrative forms employed.) It includes several stories that
provocatively blur the lines between fiction and autobiography,
employing "Max Apple" as their protagonists, while some of the other
stories, such as "An Offering" and "Post-Modernism," are humorously
unconventional in form (the former is an initial stock offering for
"Max Apple, Inc.," which markets Max Apple’s "private fantasies"
through "stories, novels, and essays fit for mass consumption"), what
might be considered kinder, gentler versions of postmodernism–which
the latter story describes as the effort to compensate for the fact
that writers "are stuck with beginnings, middles, and ends, and
constantly praying that the muse will send us a well-rounded, lifelike
character." The Propheteers, on the other hand, is in my view a weak novel expanding on the story "Walt and Will" from Free Agents and to me inferior to the story and its more typically Applesque concision and concentrated humor.
* Wyatt Mason challenges the "conventional wisdom" that the translation is always worse (much, much worse) than the original. I’m not sure I’d agree that this viewpoint is as pervasive as Mason implies, but his discussion is nonetheless worth reading.
* Chad points me to an essay by Margaret Jull Costa on the challenges to translating emotion and an online exercise you can use to see some of the challenges of translation
* Evidence seems to indicate that free ebooks help sales
* I’m scared these are going to cause epileptic convulsions, but they are interesting
* Salman Rushdie is proud to be a minute-man