Herein are described succinctly, and with affiliate links, some things I’ve gotten recently to read. Said links are there, you know, in case you want them (because they’re good). Or in case you want anything else of the sort one gets from this large online retailer.
A personal history of OuLiPo, from a recent member. The resulting first-person asynchronous faceted work is an honest biography and explanation of the constraint-players’ club, ranging from its prehistory to future. Too many folks confusedly consider OuLiPo to be a rather mathematically-tinted but otherwise mundane facet of Surrealism, or a more reasonable-seeming and obsessively consistent ‘Pataphysics, but as Becker makes clear: it ain’t. And rightly not. A pleasant read, and to be frank a game-changer for the manner of reading among the susceptible: Even now I think back and search for the oulipian constraint Becker must have used in framing the book….
Sure, Byron was weird. But the thing I’ve been learning belatedly about history and the lives of all those old-timey writin’ literary folks is how much of their lives is spelled out and yet remains opaque. I mean, I scan old magazines and as a result end up reading a goodly number of them, and yet that sense of, “WTF?!” as an oblique satire or anonymous homage rolls by remains a constant part of my experience. This book, a focused slice of polished thesis no doubt, clears at least a few cobwebs I’d stumbled into through the years: sure Byron got around. But Catherine Lamb, the crazy minx, comes off in this detailed analysis an awful lot like Sherlock’s Irene Adler: the one from the TV show, I mean, with the nakedness and the extreme smarts and the gift of pubic hairs in blood and all. And then there’s occultists channeling posthumous Byronic verse, and the pastiches that were ragged satire, and… it gets a bit thick, a bit too scholarly now and then. But there’s a costume drama or two tucked in here, with naughty bits and verse and all that good stuff.
I’m a sucker for Delany’s prose. I grabbed this as a “similar work” from something else I haven’t yet read, and am liking it quite a bit (not least because it helps me understand a bit more of Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which even a college junior (as I was when it first came out) couldn’t hope to really ever fathom. (And yes, I’ve nested parentheses three deep. (We’re talking about Delany!) Four.)).
Amusingly enough, I’m reading Mina Loy because the editor bought a magazine from me on eBay. What? You didn’t think I Googled the buyers of my personal collection of zines? Feh; fat lot you know. Having spent way too much time lately among the original works of the Progressive Era, I now want to stage an anarchistic shuffle-up: Woolf, Loy, and Voltairine.
Somewhere between Zinn and Holton on a scale of History-isn’t-quite-what-you-were-taught (and Wouldn’t It Be Funny if the Conservatives Actually Knew What They Were Defending), Levinson is about the prospect of reform. Which is to say: Constitutional Convention, to clear up some of those long-standing “difficulties” that remain to date among our hallowed forefathers’ arguments, misunderstandings, and crappy opaque compromises. Yeah, that’ll happen.
I am in love, frankly. Science books that are self-consciously about narrative: not rehashes of the goddamned Great Men in Labcoats trope, but narratives that explain the science itself. How is it we came to be allowed to think of an Ice Age? How is it we came to consider that there could be other “men”, missing links, protohumans, and ultimately the actual hobbits and giants we now accept? And (perhaps most interestingly so far) how is it we’re allowed to call the Pleistocene anything at all, to shift its mode of definition away from the habits and norms of earlier conventions to the point where it’s defined completely differently from other epochs: by ice, and Man. Science books should be more about science, like this one is. Not a popularization so much as well-written literary criticism Of Science!
It’s that time of year. O what might she have wrought, had she survived? Read everything she ever wrote, I’m telling you. I’m re-reading this, and then her short stories, which I have here by my hand, complete.
I’m making books. You’ll see. Hendel’s book comes highly recommended, and I second that height: It’s not advice, nor craftsmanship, but rather a collection of thoughts from many hands on how the text block works (and is worked). Interviews with designers from many places, classicists and outrageous tweakers, with an emphasis on how and why any book looks like it does. And what that look means.
I remember the cudgeling I got years ago when Cliff Pickover asked on a fan list whether he should use Palatino or Times New Roman for his “new book”, and I said he should actually use a real font, and design the pages, and make it nice. I don’t know what Second Culture those folks came from, but they really abhorred the notion that font choice and design was as important as the damned words on the page. I’d post a link, but I can’t recall the names of the books he finally printed in Palatino, alas.
And there you have it.
Everybody Says I Should Read This. And I’m reading it. Slowly, actually, not least because I see, then think. Back up and see, then think. Too easy to have all one’s assumptions and observations brought together and miss the points of failure. So far, I haven’t found those points of failure, so I’m reading slowly, thinking, and reading more. But I knew immediately he was right.
Imagine a manic twelve-year-old English [sic] boy was allowed to outline a novel published in installments in the Boy’s Own Adventure Magazine. Lovely fluff, with metatextual stuff sprinkled lightly throughout. Is it sustainable? I’m told it may well be.