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By Matthew Flinders
Why does art and culture matter in the twenty-first century? What does it actually deliver in terms of social benefits? An innovative new participatory arts project in South Yorkshire is examining the ‘politics of art’ and the ‘art of politics’ from a number of new angles.
“The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed,” a recent report from the Arts Council acknowledges, “while the specifics have just as long been debated.” It is this focus on ‘the specifics’ that is most interesting because in times of relative prosperity there was little pressure from neither public nor private funders to demonstrate the broader social impact or relevance of the arts. In times of austerity, however, the situation is very different. A focus on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) risks eviscerating the funding for the arts and humanities unless these more creative and less tangible intellectual pursuits can demonstrate their clear social value. The vocabulary of ‘social return’, ‘intellectual productive capacity’, ‘economic generation’ may well grate against the traditional values and assumptions of the arts and culture community but it is a shadow that cannot be ignored.
The publication of The Impact of the Social Sciences (Sage, 2014) provides more than a sophisticated analysis of the value of the social sciences across a range of economic, cultural, and civic dimensions. It provides a political treatise and a strategic piece of evidence-based leverage that may play an important role in future debates over the distribution of diminishing public funds. I have no doubt that the impact of the arts and humanities is equally significant. But the problem is that the systematic creation of an evidence base remains embryonic. My personal belief that the arts and humanities are educationally critical is, in many quarters, meaningless without demonstrable evidence to support these beliefs. The methodological and epistemological challenges of delivering that research are clearly significant but as the Arts Council emphasizes ‘it is something that arts and culture organizations will have to do in order to secure funding from both public and private sources’.
As a political scientist I have always been fascinated with the relationship between art and politics. Though heretical to suggest to the arts community, I have often thought that the role of the professional politician and the professional artist (indeed, with the amateur politician and the amateur artist) were more similar than was often acknowledged. Both seek to express values and visions, to inspire hope and disgust, and both wish to present a message. It is only the medium through which that message is presented that differs (and relationships of co-option, patronage, and dependency are common between these professions). But having (crudely) established a relationship between art and politics, could it be that the true value of the arts lies not in how it responds to the needs of the economy but in how it responds to the rise of ‘disaffected democrats’ and the constellation of concerns that come together in the ‘why we hate politics’ narrative?
In a time of increasing social anomie and political disengagement, especially amongst the young and the poor, can participatory arts projects provide a way of reconnecting communities?
François Matarasso’s Use or Ornament (1997) provides one of the most systematic explorations of this question and concluded that “one of the most important outcomes of [the public’s] involvement in the arts was finding their own voice, or perhaps, the courage to use it.” More recently, the New Economics Foundation’s report Diversity and Integration (2013) suggested that young people who participated in arts programmes were more likely to see themselves as “holding the potential to do anything I want to do” and being “able to influence a group of people to get things done.” Other studies tentatively offer similarly positive conclusions but with little analytical depth in terms of identifying between political reconnection, civic reconnection or personal reconnection (in terms of personal understanding, confidence and aspiration). To return to the Arts Council’s recent report – The Wider Benefits of Art and Culture to Society – the existing research base is light on ‘the specifics’.
It is for exactly this reason that the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics has joined forces with ‘Art in the Park’ as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Civic Value’ programme. Young people from all across South Yorkshire will be brought together to participate in an eight week arts project that uses music, film making, dance, writing, painting or whatever medium the young people select to explore social and political issues. Artists are embedded in the research and current and former politicians can be brought into the project to facilitate sessions if that is something the young people request. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews will capture how participating in the project affects political attitudes and understandings – positive, negative, political, civic, or personal – with the aim being able to answer if the arts can breathe life back into politics and reconnect communities. Now that really would be a wider benefit for society.
Matthew Flinders is Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield and also Visiting Distinguished Professor in Governance and Public Policy at Murdoch University, Western Australia. He is the author of Defending Politics (2012). He was recently a winner in the ‘This is Democracy’ International Photography Competition – but his wife now claims she took the picture. Malaika Cunningham is the Research Officer for the project discussed in this article.
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Image credit: Parliament at sunset, public domain via WikiCommons.
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Stephen James Moore was born at 2:00pm on June 11th, 1949, in a house on Shooters Hill in South London, where he lived all of his life, and died on or around the 16th of March, 2014, still in that house on the hill. In between, he produced a huge body of work, of a very high standard, most of it written in that same house. He was a hugely private man, but his life and mine intersected over the past few years, and I got to learn a lot about him in that brief time.
But, actually, I was aware of Steve Moore’s work long before that. I had only ever been a desultory reader, at best, of 2000 AD, where he wrote a multitude of short sharp tales, but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Warrior, where he was a vital component both in front of and behind the curtain, changed my life. However, I had probably been reading his uncredited work in British comics for years before that, all unknown.
After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve spent a year and a half working in a laboratory in a flour mill, before started at Odhams Press as a Junior Office Boy, in their offices at 64 Long Acre, on 1st May 1967, and within three months was promoted to junior sub-editor on Pow! and Fantastic. The first story he sold professionally was a three-page ‘Pow Short Story’ called The House in the Haunted Swamp, that appeared in Pow! #45, late in 1967, when I would have been turning eight years old, and was undoubtedly reading Pow!, or comics like it. He went on to work on editorially and write stories for several different UK comics, including Whizzer & Chips, Valiant, and Cor!!, with its two exclamation marks. Eventually, in 1972, he left the security of fulltime employment to become a freelance writer, a career he pursued for nearly forty years thereafter.
Before all this, though, he had been very active in British SF and comics’ fandom, attending meetings of SF fans in London in his teens, where he met writers like Michael Moorcock, John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and E.C Tubb, and made his first steps in publishing fanzines, on some very primitive copying technology. After attending Worldcon in London in 1965, he became involved in comics fandom, and in July 1967 he published Ka-Pow, the first British comics fanzine (although the actual first comics ‘zine on this side of the Atlantic was Merry Marvel Fanzine, published by Irishman Tony Roche, who lived in Dun Laoghaire, a once-posh-but-now-dilapidated suburb of Dublin where I was also living, but was still only seven years old, so completely unaware that history was being made, just down the road from me). Further ‘zines followed, and contacts were made with all sorts of people who would later go on to become important names in UK comics, as well as further afield.
In August 1968 Steve Moore organised, along with Phil Clarke and Kay Hawkins, Clarke’s then-girlfriend, Comicon ’68, Britain’s first comics’ convention, held in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. The registered attendance was less than fifty people, but these included comics artists Paul Neary, Mike Higgs and Jim Baikie, and Nick Landau and Mike Lake, who would go on to found Titan Distribution, open the London-based Forbidden Planet comic shops, and publish black and white comics reprint volumes as Titan Books. Also in attendance, although not listed on the membership list, was Derek Stokes, universally known as Bram, who went on to open legendary London bookshop and counter-culture hangout, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed. One other name on that membership list, although only in a non-attending and supporting capacity, was a fifteen-year-old Alan Moore, of whom we shall hear more later. A second comic convention followed, in 1969, called, obviously enough, Comicon ’69, which Steve was also on the committee of, after which he decided that the convention life was not for him, and not only retired from con-running, but from con attending as well, and became a self-professed recluse, certainly as far as attending public events relating to either SF of comics were concerned. But attendees at that second con included Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Barry (Windsor) Smith and Bob Rickard, who we will also hear more of later.
Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes opened Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in Bedfordbury, just beside Covent Garden, in 1970 and, soon afterwards, fantasy writer Stan Nicholls opened Bookends in Notting Hill in 1971. When Steve Moore went freelance in 1972, he was invited to buy into Bookends, and after parting with £500, he found himself as part owner of a SF bookshop, which also came with a room in the basement full of comics, where he could write in between serving customers. Some of what he wrote was for an editor called John Barraclough, who had just launched a comic called Target for New English Library, and took comics stories from Steve than included a four-part horror-thriller called The Curse of the Faceless Man, and a sword-and-sorcery strip called Orek the Outlander, as well as text serial stories in all sorts of genres, including The Horror in the Churchyard and The Scourge of Planet X. At the same time, Barraclough was supplying a Swedish comics company with Tarzan stories, which Steve turned his hand to. There were also a few serials for IPC girls’ comic, Mirabelle, which he didn’t even get to see in their finished form, as IPC didn’t send out copies, and he was too embarrassed to go and buy copies himself. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, but it turned out that it really was all too good to be true. The Obscene Publication Squad raided Bookends in late 1973, and, between one thing and another, the shop went to the wall, with £5000 worth of debt, which Steve Moore ended up having to mostly repay himself, while Stan Nicholls ended up in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, so at least their friendship endured, for a while, until Nicholls decamped to Landau and Lake’s Forbidden Planet shop.
Meanwhile, in another part of his life, Bob Rickard, who he’d met through various fannish activities in 1968, was about to change Steve Moore’s life, forever. Rickard had discovered that the Odeon cinema in Birmingham was showing Chinese movies at one o’clock in the morning, so that Chinese restaurant staff could see them after work. He brought Steve to see a film called The Sword, starring Wang Yu, and he was hooked, immediately. This would lead to Steve seeing as many of those Hong Kong and Taiwan produced movies as he could, and eventually writing about them, and Chinese culture in general. He spent a large amount of his leisure time in the early and mid-1970s hanging around in Chinese cinema-clubs in the Chinatown area around Gerrard Street in London, and still had some of the lobby cards and posters he managed to persuade the staff to give him. Eventually this led him to the I Ching (more correctly Yijing, as the preferred spelling is these days), or Book of Changes, which became a major area of scholarship for him, leading to his writing the non-fiction The Trigrams of Han, published by HarperCollins in 1989, which was well-liked by fellow scholars, but made him no actual money, to speak of. He also joined the I Ching Society in London, more for the publications than the meetings, and soon took over production of their journal, The Oracle. He ended up as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was one of the main contributors to I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography, an exhaustive 350-page analysis of the subject, published by Routledge in 2002, and continued contributing to both scholarship and debate in the field, right up to the present day.
Another consequence of his friendship with Bob Rickard was that he became involved with the fledgling Fortean Times – originally just called The News, back in November 1973, when it started, but changed to its current name in June 1976 – for whom he clipped odd news stories (as would I, and many others, years later), wrote on Oriental phenomena, and soon became a contributing editor, reviewer, and general occasionally-paid helper-out. Because of Steve’s long friendship with Bram Stokes, the Fortean Times people began meeting in a room above Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, until the shop closed down in 1981. None the less, forty and more years after it started, he would still meet up with the rest of the FT helpers every few weeks, to sort out all those clipping people sent in, and keep in touch. During those forty years, he worked as editor, indexer, and contributor on a large number of books relating to the magazine, including – but not limited to – six volumes of Fortean Studies, thirteen collected volumes of the magazine, and a number of compilations of clippings, with titles like Fortean Times Book of Inept Crime and Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths (published in America as The Comedian Who Choked to Death on a Pie—and the Man Who Quit Smoking at 116: A Collection of Incredible Lives and Unbelievable Deaths). One other piece he produced for them was to have a profound influence on my own life, but I’ll be getting to that just a little bit later.
Meanwhile, he was still writing comics, back where we left him in the mid-seventies, but now from the comfort of his own home, which is where he worked from from then on. He had worked with comics’ editor Dez Skinn in his time at Odhams/IPC/Fleetway (where there had been many mergers, and name changes, both of the comics and the companies producing them), and went on to work with him in a number of titles for other companies, including House of Hammer (1976), Starburst (1977), Hulk Comic (1979), and Dr Who Weekly (1979). He also ended up writing some, most, or all of the contents of TV and movie tie-in annuals for John Barraclough at Brown, Watson/Grandreams Ltd, starting with the Kung Fu Annual in 1974, and going on to write a total of 69 over the course of the next thirteen years. An average year – 1979, in this instance – saw him write content for the Dick Turpin, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Sherlock Homes & Dr Watson, Spider-Man, Star Trek – The Motion Picture, and Young Maverick annuals. One year he wrote a Supergran annual. If you’re from this side of the Atlantic, and in a certain age range, there’s a very good chance you got annuals he wrote for Christmas. As well as all of this, he worked a few days a week at Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, wrote for the Fortean Times, and even wrote for ‘men’s’ magazines, including a story for Titbits that was allegedly a true telling of My Sexual Adventures in Bangkok, but was obviously entirely fictional, as he had never been farther east than Dover. This story was to have been published under the newly-devised pseudonym of Pedro Henry, although some sort of editorial gremlin saw it actually go out under his own name, embarrassingly. But Pedro would survive to fight another day.
While all this was going on, there were changes afoot in British comics. In February 1977 IPC Magazines launched 2000 AD, one of the tiny handful of UK comics that is still in print. Steve Moore’s first story for 2000 AD appeared in Prog 12 (that is, issue #12), with the first part of a 12-part Dan Dare story, on the14th of May, 1977. He would continue to write for the comic, on and off, for nearly thirty years, finishing with Prog 1458 on the 28th of September, 2005. In Prog 25, he wrote the very first story to be called a Tharg’s Future Shocks, which would become an umbrella title for very short stories – which is still used as try-outs for new talent – which would go on to be written by all sorts of people, like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Alan Moore.
Alan Moore, who is famously no relation to Steve Moore, had first met his namesake through the pages of Phil Clarke’s sales-list fanzine The Comic Fan, around the middle of 1967, where Steve had advertised looking for a book called Dead or Alive, an Avengers novelisation – the British TV series Avengers, rather than the American comic Avengers, that is. In the end, it turned out that the book had never actually been published, of which Steve Moore said,
So the whole friendship is basically rooted in a quest for a non-existent, chimaerical book … which is a motif that’s turned up occasionally in the work of one or other of us, in mine as recently as Somnium. It’s not a bad symbol for writers, too, as their job is to bring non-existent books into existence, by writing them. But perhaps more interestingly, in view of our more recent notions about Idea Space, we were brought together by the idea of a text, rather than a real one. Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.
A regular correspondence soon developed between the fourteen-year-old Alan and the eighteen-year-old Steve, and Alan would become one of Steve’s two closest friends, along with Bob Rickard. And Steve is the man Alan blames for leading him astray, in all sorts of ways, although Steve begged to differ, when I asked him about it…
PÓM: I have this romantic scenario in my head where Alan is the wild one, always leading you astray, whilst you are the quiet one, being dragged into all sorts of wild scrapes by your friend. But this is really entirely wrong, isn’t it, as regards comics, drugs, and magic? You are quite literally the man who led Alan Moore astray.
SM: Well, I’d like to portray myself as an evil Svengali who took one look at Alan and realised that here was a striking-looking but malleable individual who I could get years of pleasure destroying an inch at a time, but it wasn’t really like that … even if he has said publicly that I was the man who ruined his life! I just wander into these things like writing comics, smoking dope, practicing magic and resigning on points of principle, and the next thing I know Alan’s decided that as I haven’t actually died as a result, he’ll do the same … only he does it much larger. It’s not my fault, honest! Mind you, he doesn’t always follow my lead. I’ve never got him hooked on China or classical music, in the same way that I’ve never really shared his interest in science or stand-up comedy. We just have areas of interest that overlap … and enormous mutual respect in areas where they don’t. And even where they don’t, there’s still a bit of influence going back and forth.
Both Moores were interested in working in comics, and would later quite often try to put work each other’s way. Alan was perfectly capable of getting his own work into music paper Sounds in 1979 – where Steve would later take over writing scripts for Alan to draw on the younger Moore’s The Stars My Degradation comic strip – and into 2000 AD, where he would write Future Shocks. Steve, meanwhile, had a hand in the early planning of a new comics magazine in the early eighties called Warrior, where actual rights for creators were promised by the publisher, Dez Skinn, and suggested that his friend Alan might be able to help relaunch 1960s UK superhero Marvelman for the title. Between the two Moores, they did the vast majority of the writing for Warrior, with the senior contributing strips including The Legend of Prester John, Father Shandor, Demon Stalker, and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. Later on there would be Twilight World, and the wonderful Zirk stories, and lots of other bits and pieces, some under his revived pseudonym of Pedro Henry. This eventually led to both Moores writing comics for the American market, with Steve’s Laser Eraser and Pressbutton appearing in Eclipse Comics’ Axel Pressbutton series.
He also contributed occasionally to another ambitious British comics anthology series, Atomeka Press’s A1, including an article about Fortean Times in A1 #2, in January 1990, which I read, and which caused me to go looking for the magazine, and which, along with Jan Harold Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker, was responsible for fundamentally changed my worldview. In is no exaggeration to say that a good deal of what I am today has been shaped by my reading that article in A1 #2, and by Steve Moore.
But he soon moved away from comics, mostly, and this was when he was heavily involved with Fortean Times, as mentioned above. He did come back to comics, to write for Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint, where he contributed to titles like Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, and America’s Best Comics: A to Z. His last work for comics was to write two five-issue mini-series for Radical Comics, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush, on which the forthcoming film, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is based.
By the middle of the new millennium, though, he was done with comics, and had retired, largely to look after his brother Chris, who was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease. Chris Moore died in 2009, after a remarkable life of his own, in his own chosen field – as documented in this eulogy by Alan Moore – and his brother Steve found himself with time to write his first novel, Somnium: A Fantastic Romance. This was published by Strange Attractor Press, in association with his own Somnium Press, in November 2011, and this is the point at which my own occasional interactions with Steve Moore were to stop being virtual, and become real.
I got offered a review copy of the book – probably prompted by my writing this piece about the book – and, out of the blue, also got an email from Steve Moore, thanking me for the piece, and asking if I would like to ask him any questions about it. After I got over my genuine shock at getting a mail from a man I had always presumed was going to be forever beyond even my reach, I told him that I would indeed. And I did, ending up with this interview, which went online on the 11th of November, 2011, as pleasing and magical a date as you could wish for.
There was one other aspect of Steve’s life that he cared about deeply, and shared with his friend Alan: Magic. This was, once again, a field where the older Moore had taken the lead, although the younger one is the more famous of the two of them for doing it. Both of them had their own chosen deity: The moon goddess Selene in Steve’s case, and the snake god Glycon in Alan’s. Together, they formed The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, originally a two-man coven – but soon to include many of their friends also – for which they laid out the ground rules in Kaos #14 in July 2002, as republished by myself on my own Glycon blog. Despite their flippant words there, it was something they both took seriously. One of its outgrowths would be Alan Moore’s Unearthing, a 45-page essay for the Iain Sinclair edited London: City of Disappearances, which I asked him about when I interviewed him in 2011:
PÓM: You are legendarily reclusive. How did you feel about Alan’s Unearthing, which is essentially a tell-all biography of you? Or is the reputation for reclusiveness exaggerated?
SM: Reclusiveness is relative! I prefer to think of myself more as ‘private’. I love seeing my friends, and I like going out (though with the state of 21st century culture, it has to be said that there isn’t really a great deal to go out for, except perhaps dinner) … but I just don’t like making public appearances, and I’m not at all interested in fame or reputation. All I want to do is write. I don’t have the slightest interest in the game of being ‘a famous writer’ and I’ve no liking for Conventions, so nobody sees very much of me. Which suits me …
Anyway, as for Unearthing … Alan was invited to contribute a piece to Iain Sinclair’s anthology London: City of Disappearances, and really the only part of London he knew anything about was Shooters Hill, as he kept visiting me here. He then decided, for reasons best known to himself, that he wanted to make it a biography of me as well, so I just said okay. I told him I’d correct any factual details, which I did, but apart from that he could write anything he liked about me, which is what he did! Apart from the comic exaggeration in places, it’s all true, so I said fine and thought the piece would disappear as one of Alan’s ‘minor works’. Obviously it didn’t happen like that! Now it’s become an audio-recording, been performed, will soon appear as a coffee-table book photo-illustrated by the brilliant photographer Mitch Jenkins and, apparently, will even be coming out as an app. How do I feel about all this? Well, I imagine that like most people I tend to judge what’s ‘normal behaviour’ pretty much against what I do myself, so I’m just sort of bewildered by all the attention it’s getting. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with Mitch and his photographic team, meeting the musicians and attending the performances. And the whole thing has rather surprised my friends and relatives!
PÓM: I suppose there’s an enormous irony in a piece about a private man becoming the subject of such an amount of attention, particularly in a book apparently about disappearing. There’s a section in Unearthing where Alan dictates what happens next, and then has you do what he’s said you would. Did this actually happen, or is that just Alan entertaining himself?
SM: Of course it happened! I read through the manuscript when it first arrived and knew I just had to go for my usual walk, as described. And, yes, I hung about for a while by the burial mound, as described, and there were actually rain showers that morning. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite disappear, as the manuscript prescribed! But you have to remember that Unearthing was both about magic and, to a certain extent, was a magical piece in itself, with the writing and world described merging together. So I naturally acted out what was described, just to ‘make that real’. And Alan knew I would when he wrote it, even though he hadn’t told me in advance what he was intending to do.
Although Steve Moore had essentially retired from work, having passed 60 in 2009, he did still have a few projects that he kept up with. He had a wide correspondence, and kept up his Fortean-related activities. He had been, for quite a number of years, slowly working with Alan Moore on a book called The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, a project that was finally actually approaching an end. Under his own Somnium Press imprint, he produced occasional 16- or 20-page booklets, mostly composed of his own Tales of Telguuth, which he had at one stage also written for publication in illustrated comics for in 2000 AD.
And, in August 2013, out of the blue, once again, I got an email from him saying,
I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days I remembered that when we were last in touch you expressed an interest in doing a more general interview with me, and now that I’ve got a bit of distance from the comics industry, I thought it might be time for a retrospective. It’s something I’ve put off, although I’ve never really had a problem with interviews on more specific subjects, like Abslom Daak or Somnium … but I’ve always tended to be a bit nervous about more general retrospectives, because I want to avoid situations where I’m asked questions like ‘You know Alan Moore better than anyone, so tell us all about him and … etc.’ That’s still not an area I particularly want to get into, but if you want to discuss my life and career, I’d probably be up for that. Assuming you’re still interested, of course …
So if you’re up for it, I’d probably prefer to do this by email, as I then get time to think about my answers, and possibly look things up (though a lot of records have long disappeared … along with large chunks of my memory!), but we can always do further sets of questions if you want to ask me more about something that’s come up. And as it’s a pretty long career, we might want to do it in sections, too. But if we both look on it as ‘something we do when we have time, around other things’, I imagine we could do it. Let me know what you think. No obligation, of course. If you’ve got better things to do, no problem!
So, did I want to interview the most reclusive man in British comics, and a man who had, unknown to himself, taken a hand in my own life, here and there? Yes, I most certainly did. We started a slow to-and-fro correspondence, working through his life from its beginnings in 1949, slowly towards the present day. I’d send a handful of questions, he’d send answers back, and I would then respond with additional questions about his answers, as well as some fresh questions to move it all forward a little, and so on. It slowly inched onward, not only at the cutting edge of it, but in the middle as well, as either he or I thought of something that might be useful to add in to a particular section. Sometimes he would suggest specific questions, and sometimes I would suggest how I wanted him to answer a particular question, to allow us to reach a particular thing we wished to discuss. It was probably the most satisfying interview process I had taken part in, of all the interviews I have done.
Amongst other things, behind the veil of private emails, we discussed our own lives, a little. We both were unwell, in our own ways. I had prostate cancer, but it was going to take years to get me. He had problems with his stomach and lungs, and was having regular CT scans, but as recently as the beginning of February he had been told it was all under control, and that he needn’t bother coming back for another scan until October. There was certainly no sense of imminent death, and I had imagined that another few months would get us to the end of the chronological part of the interview, and onto more etheric matters, like his ideas about writing, and about magic, and other things. Then a bit of editing, and we would actually have a usable document, although exactly what would happen to it, and how or where it would actually be published, was still anyone’s guess.
I had broached the idea of death with him, early on, and had intended to come back to it towards the end of the interview.
PÓM: I can’t help noticing that both of your parents and your brother died in their sixties. Does this give you pause for thought at all, seeing as you’re in your sixties yourself now?
SM: Yes, of course it does, especially now that I’m developing a few common medical problems associated with ageing. On the other hand, though, my maternal grandfather lived to be 90, so there may be hope for me yet! But I’m pretty much of a fatalist, and a recent scientific notion about the nature of time (called ‘Eternalism’) suggests the future already exists and the universe may actually be deterministic. A lot of people don’t like that idea, but I actually find it rather comforting, because it means that everything happens in the only way it possibly can, whether we like it or not. Even if that’s not the case, when it comes to time to go, I’ll just have to go, so there’s not really any point in fretting about it. But I’m aware that my time isn’t limitless, and some projects can’t be left forever. And that awareness may also have had something to do with my deciding to do this interview.
In the meantime we both took holidays, had problems with our computers, and got distracted by other things, as one does. By the beginning of March, six months after we started, and after a little over 48,000 words, we had got as far as Warrior – already the size of a small book, with the prospect of possibly the same amount again to come. I had sent off a last handful of questions, just to tidy up the very end of what I needed to know about his time at Warrior. When I didn’t hear back from him after a week or so, I sent another, and then sent a mail to a few other people, to see if they had heard from him. They hadn’t. One of them arranged to have a member of the police call to the house on the evening of Tuesday the 18th of March, and he was found dead there. There hasn’t been an official announcement of the cause of death, but it’s likely that it’ll turn out to be related to his heart, or his lung problems, I imagine.
One of the last things we know Steve Moore did was to post out copies of The Marmoreal Frown of Ahuralura Marrz, his last Somnium Press booklet, and a copy arrived to me on Wednesday morning, which I got just a few short hours after hearing of his death. It’s hard not to think of it as a last magical act, a last story from a great man, and a great storyteller, set to arrive after his death. As he said himself, in another context, ’Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.’
I only got to meet Steve Moore once, in London last November, when he surprised not least himself by going along to An Evening with Alan Moore, to mark the launch of Lance Parkin’s biography of the younger Moore. There were many things about the evening I treasure, and meeting Steve is very high on that list. I had fully imagined that we would meet again, on one of my occasional visits to London, but that is no longer to be. And I still can’t really believe that.
He had already made plans for his funeral – in Sketches of Shooters Hill, another of his Somnium Press booklets, whilst talking about a four-thousand year old Bronze Age burial mound on Shooters Hill, he says,
Born high up on Shooters Hill myself, when I die I want my ashes scattered on the burial mound, by the light of a lovely full Moon. So, just for a moment, I too can become an offering to the local Gods and Goddesses, and merge my essence with the native soil … before all that physically remains of me is blown away and scattered, like oak-leaves on the whirling wind.
I hope I can be there, at least for that, to pay my final respects to a wonderful, extraordinary, and gentle man.
[The first and last photos are by Kevin Storm, and are used with his permission. The rest are a mixture of images Steve Moore sent me, to go along with the interview we were doing, scans of my own books, and things I've, essentially, robbed off the internet. ]
– Pádraig Ó Méalóid –
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This is a charming book in so many ways, and definitely fun for a family to enjoy together. It will appeal to readers ages 5 to 8, who like stories about Spanish culture, stories about sisters, and surprising revelations about parents.
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Quan’s watercolor paintings bring each anecdote to life in brilliant jewel tones and with quirky humor. This is a beautiful book for families to share and for individual readers to revisit.
I remember back in the mid 90s going to buy a car with my then husband. While we were initially impressed with the presence of black sales reps who approached us, it didn’t take more than a couple of visits to realize that the black sales reps were assigned to black customers.
I was reminded of this experience when I read Walter Dean Myers’ recent editorial.
Years ago, I worked in the personnel office for a transformer firm. We needed to hire a chemist, and two candidates stood out, in my mind, for the position. One was a young white man with a degree from St. John’s University and the other an equally qualified black man from Grambling College (now Grambling State University) in Louisiana. I proposed to the department head that we send them both to the lab and let the chief chemist make the final decision. He looked at me as if I had said something so remarkable that he was having a hard time understanding me. “You’re kidding me,” he said. “That black guy’s no chemist.”
I pointed out the degrees on the résumé that suggested otherwise, and the tension between us soared. When I confronted my superior and demanded to know what about the candidate from Grambling made him not a chemist, he grumbled something under his breath, and reluctantly sent both candidates for an interview with the chief chemist.
Simple racism, I thought. On reflection, though, I understood that I was wrong. It was racism, but not simple racism. My white co-worker had simply never encountered a black chemist before. Or a black engineer. Or a black doctor. I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?
Publishing more books out by authors of color seems like such an obvious solution to so many problems, however the problem of not enough books with characters of color does not exist in a vacuum.
Numerous people have suggested ways to change what is published and many of these people work outside publishing as do I. I’ve never attempted to write a book, never visited a publishing house and have never tried to obtain an agent. My criticisms of this industry are a bit like Sandra Bullock cursing the universe when she realizes her spaceship had no fuel.
But, I see things and it makes me wonder.
I’ve read too many books by authors of color where the author is truly skilled, the story is fresh, entertaining and well developed. Yet there were shortcomings that ranged from flaws in world building, lacking character development, or the lack or a good sense of setting. Who edits these books?
I know that when artwork and teaching materials is needed for a book, the preference is to assign the project to a person of the same ethnic group. I can’t identify the thought process behind this. Is a book so “Black” or so “Latino” that only people from that ethnic group will relate well enough to the story to develop it correctly? Or, do we just not work together if we don’t have to?
Isn’t it the oddest thing that we see so many creating ways to help Whites write books about people of color rather than identifying and publishing more authors of color and Native Americans? And don’t tell me authors of color don’t exist! Where are the new books by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich? Neesha Meminger? Sheba Karim? Padma Venkatraman? Derrick Barnes? Alex Sanchez? Kelly Parra? Torrey Maldenado?
Creating a culture inside any industry where people understand the advantages to themselves as individuals, their company and even society as a whole is something that no one outside that industry can force.
I don’t believe there will be more books by authors of color until those in publishing understand that they can mentor and edit someone of a different complexion, that they can be as demanding of these authors and have high expectations of them. Or unless more companies like Quill Shift Agency, 7th Generation Press, Cinco Puntos or Just Us Books exist to innovate alternative avenues of success.
When CBC Diversity first formed, I wondered why they didn’t reach out to those outside their industry to build an alliance. There are so many people who address diversity from so many perspectives that it would have to be empowering to bring them all together. But, as I’ve come to believe I understand problems within the industry, I can’t help but applaud these individuals for trying to do something that certainly will not increase their popularity in their own offices. They best know the limitations inside their industry and what changes need to be made.
How can I end this on a positive note? Well, I cannot ignore all the voices (predominantly female, I must add) that continue to fight the good fight. In many different ways and in many different corners, there are people who are passionately trying to make a difference for young readers. Because right there, those pages in the hands of a young child will color their entire worldview. We have to keep hoping because there is no change without hope. We have to keep our ear to the ground and listen for those who are beating a new path. We can move beyond talk and take action. And, we have to continue questioning this industry.
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In her latest addition to the fun and educational series “If You Were Me and Lived In …,” award-winning author and former social studies teacher Carole P. Roman introduces young readers to the country of India.
Enter to win a full set of the “If You Were Me and Lived in …” series; including the newest title If You Were Me and Lived in … India: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World.
Giveaway begins March 9, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends April 8, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
In one of his last interviews, longtime Batman artist Jerry Robinson spoke with “BatmobileHistory.com” about the origin of the Batmobile:
BatmobileHistory: Starting with Detective Comics #27, when Batman started, the design of his car varied wildly…but then in Batman #5, the design with the bat mask and roof fin appeared . . . Was there a specific origin or inspiration for that design? It’s really the first superhero car…
JR: Well, it had to look like a Batmobile owned by Batman. So we designed a car, streamlined it a bit and added the mask and the fins.
BH: It seems to draw inspiration from a few American cars of the time, which I thought was a nice touch.
JR: Yeah, at that time we wanted a big American car.
The early Batmobiles aren’t too consistent. Even when the car is first named in Detective Comics #48 (Feb, 1941) in a Bill Finger script, it is just a red sedan. Fans and historians have identified some of the possible base models for these early versions, but none of them have any real “Bat” to them. The bad, black version evolves over time, finally culminating in the Bat-grill version of Batman #5:
Part of Batman’s appeal has always been the character’s tie to the real world. So where did this super-stylized Batmobile come from? Was there a real-life inspiration?
In the late 1930s, Rust Heinz epitomized the role of wealthy playboy. Heir to the Heinz empire and its famous “57 Varieties” of products (which back then was mostly pickles), “Rusty” was educated, rich, and sporty. He decided to team with designer Maurice Schwartz to develop a high-end automobile for others like him. The result was the Phantom Corsair, an ultra-modern roadster which they planned to sell for $12,500. Adjusted for inflation, the car would sticker today for $207,000.
The Corsair was made of sleek steel and aluminum and had doors that were opened by single buttons instead of handles. It had a 4-speed V-8 and was supercharged to reach speeds of 115 miles per hour. Even with all that muscle, the Corsair was designed and built for safety: it was loaded with shock absorbers and a high-end suspension. That’s what it read like; this is what it looked like:
In the summer of 1939, Heinz died in a tragic car crash and his dreams for the Corsair ended. But there was one working prototype. In addition to appearing at the World’s Fair in New York, the Corsair was also featured in Popular Mechanics as the “Motor Car of Tomorrow.” Note the front hood element at the bottom of the second inset.
Could any of the various Bat writers and artists have seen the Phantom Corsair and incorporated its design into the Batmobile? Maybe; if they saw it.
The Phantom Corsair’s most famous public appearance was in the 1938 film “The Young in Heart,” starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Janet Gaynor, and Paulette Goddard. In the film, the Corsair is driven on-screen and is fetishized by camera and characters alike. The car looks spectacular (watch it here).
The film was released the year before Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27. But in the film, the car is not called the Phantom Corsair. This sleek, black, “thinking” car is called something else:
The last Phantom Corsair is currently housed at the National Automobile Museum in Reno. The Corsair would later become a major design inspiration for the official Batmobile in the beloved Batman: The Animated Series.
The Batmobile is pure Batman: its ability to exist in the real world — to drive, to run — makes our belief in a guy dressed up like Dracula slightly less ridiculous, even if only in our imaginations. The car makes it all more logical. The car lets him drive to work.
Brad Ricca is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman and American Mastodon. Visit www.super-boys.com and follow @BradJRicca.
So, in my last post I showed you some food from our trip to Oaxaca, and here I wanted to show you a little of the town and surroundings. Excuse me if I’m a little picture happy. It was hard to choose.
Above is a street in Oaxaca, to give you an idea of the town. This street happens to be a pedestrian only zone, though I guess bench-sitters get a pass, too. Hey, if I could sit on a comfy pink bench on this street right now, I would.
Below is the Santo Domingo church. Georgeous. Love the landscaping out front, too.
And I’ve fallen hard for the church’s stone walls. The subtle color variations (and size variations, which you can see less well) are making me so, so happy. I think I’m going to have to use that colorway and grid pattern somewhere.
Up next, a convent-turned-hotel. The walls are literally three feet thick. It’s a total dream. I have a thing for thick walls and courtyard gardens.
Here and there, on the former convent walls, you’ll see little bits of painting:
And lastly, just outside Oaxaca are the pyramids of Monte Alban. From the top, the view of the area is breathtaking.
I’d love to show you some of the handicrafts Oaxaca is famous for, but I think I’ll have to show you after Christmas, since several that I bought are gifts for others.
Up next, hopefully I’ll have time to post a few Christmas-themed items. I’ve been trying to be really nose-to-the-grindstone on my writing projects. Back to work for me! Be well.
So, the secret destination I mentioned earlier was Oaxaca (say “wah-HOCK-ah”), Mexico. I love this city! I had visited once 15 years ago and always dreamed of going back.
The capital city of the state of Oaxaca, it’s like a jewel-box deep in heart of the southern mountains of Mexico, full of stunning architecture, intricate handicrafts, and oh yes, fantastic food.
The top photo was my first meal there, an ancho chile relleno next to plaintain mash with Oaxacan cheese. Surprisingly, it was actually a lot prettier than it was flavorful, but I enjoyed trying it anyway.
Below are the appetizers from that night, including, from the back of the slate platter, cheese, guacamole, and chapulinas. Chapulinas are a Oaxacan specialty—roasted grasshoppers!
Our Mexican friends told us that if you eat one, it means you get to come back to Oaxaca. It would be a lie to say they’re my favorite dish, but I was super glad I DID eat one 15 years ago. So glad, in fact, that I ate several more, hoping I will for sure get to visit again.
Below you see chiles drying at a restaurant where we ate lunch. The set up was unusual—you walk through the kitchen area up to the roof to eat. Sadly I didn’t take pics of the wonderful chicken red mole enchiladas I had.
Mole is a type of sauce involving many ingredients, including cocoa, which was first cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. There are many different kinds of mole, and they’re not at all sweet, so don’t worry, it’s not at all like eating candy on your meat.
From the rooftop of the lunch restaurant, there’s a view of the historic Santo Domingo church, and we had great seats to see a traditional wedding celebration going out of the church, complete with dancers, costumes, and these enormous puppets that lead the way to the reception.
Lastly, here’s a photo (from the same location) of Caldo de Piedra, or “Stone Soup.” I couldn’t actually eat it, since I can’t do shellfish, but it was fascinating to watch our chef cook it, tableside.
The rocks were heated to such a high degree that when they were placed in the bowls of raw food (shellfish and broth, veggies), the liquid immediately boiled like mad. After a few moments, the liquid cooled a bit, and the chef removed the first stones and added a second hot stone to each bowl.
If you look closely, you can see the beautiful handcarving on the bowls, which are made of what I gather is a kind of gourd.
Delicious foods not pictured: duck tacos, Oaxacan tamales (wrapped in banana leaves), hot chocolate, and eggs smothered in fantastic sauces. Breakfast was not to be missed.
More on Oaxaca to come. Hope you have a great weekend. It’s like 75 degrees here today. I can’t believe it’s December!
As I was writing a comment over at Adam Roberts's blog (about which more in a moment), I realized I had various items of the last few days swirling through my head, and it all needed a bit of an outlet that wasn't a muddled comment on Adam's blog, but rather a potentially-even-more-muddled post here.
I don't have a whole lot to say about these things, and I certainly have no coherent argument to make, but they've congealed together in my mind, so here they are, with a few lines of annotation from me. Most of these things have gotten a lot of notice, but they haven't gotten a lot of notice together
First, Jonathan Franzen is once again reprising his role as Grumpy Old Man With Fist Raised In The Air Complaining About The Kids These Days
. I read half of it and couldn't keep going because, ugh, Jonathan Franzen
. Really, I wish he'd just donate his millions to charity, take a vow of poverty, and go wander through the world and revel in his saintliness. And preferably never write anything ever again. But that's just me. As the deluded sheeple on the Twitter say, YMMV.
It's not that I don't think we're doomed and our culture insipid. I do. But it's been that way for a long time, especially in the United States. We're very good at being insipid and creating doom. Those are perhaps our greatest national talents. As Ta-Nehisi Coates recently said
in a completely different context: "I expect the worst of everyone to win--and take humanity down with them. I get sad about that sometimes, but I am mostly resolved." That could be my credo. The way we live now is a J.G. Ballard
Then there was Christopher Beha's blog post
, reprinted by Slate
, about how the New York Times Book Review
should only cover "Holy Crap" books (hehehehe he wants them to write about crap hehehehe
). Pretty much all of his assumptions are wrong, as Nick Mamatas gleefully pointed out
, and his blazingly ignorant idea that fascinating writing about genrefied books is impossible can be disproved by such things as, for instance, some of the reviews at Strange Horizons
, some of the reviews
at LA Review of Books,
academic articles at such places as Science Fiction Studies,
etc. etc. — but I basically agree with him in a more general sense, which is: it's nice to read long, thoughtful, insightful writing about challenging books, books that are hard to get a handle on at first glance. Which is one reason why I don't regularly go running to the New York Times Book Review
for my litchat. It's a book review, the last one standing at a newspaper. If even a specialty publication like Bookforum
has had to add shorter reviews, more media and political coverage, etc. to help maintain even a small audience, the NYTBR
sure isn't going to follow Beha's advice — because his advice to the NYTBR
is to commit suicide. They'd be better off putting a Jennifer Weiner novel on the cover.
Which brings us to Adam Roberts, who has a really provocative (well, to me) post up at his blog titled "On YA"
, but only partly about YA. My comment on the post
gets to my disagreement with most everything I read him as saying. I am convinced I must be misinterpreting his ideas terribly, and I honestly look forward to him correcting me, because it looks to me like the Adam Roberts who caused a row about the mediocrity of the Hugo Awards in 2009
has now seen the light and found the Jesus of Popularity! Is! All! This cannot be true. I must be misreading him.
One of Adam Roberts's points is the counter opposite of Christopher Beha's — that the "genius of the age" in literature right now exists in the realm of genrefied fiction and, especially, YA. (Things get murky in the post because "genius of the age" seems to then get conflated with "popular". But, again, I must be misreading.
) This is not a claim I can really discuss in an informed way, because I only occasionally read YA novels, and though some, like M.T. Anderson's first Octavian Nothing
novel, seem to me among the great literature of our time, the field itself is really not my thing. Kameron Hurley explained well
why she doesn't write or often read YA, and my feelings are similar: the sorts of things that typically fit a book into the YA market, and that are desired
by YA readers, are not the sorts of things that make me want to read a novel. Inevitably, then, I will miss reading some extraordinary fiction, but we will all miss reading lots of extraordinary fiction because there is more extraordinary fiction out there than any of us have time to read. That is the curse of the reader. If Roberts is right and YA is the genius of our age, then the curse of our culture may be that it aspires to be a 16-year-old.
Roberts's whole argument seems to me to confuse cultural history, cultural analysis, and aesthetics. I'm not an art-for-art's-sake aesthetic puritan; I am completely convinced that how we interpret and value art is determined by other social and cultural values, but I do think there is a distinction — a valuable distinction — between the ways that we value a cultural product and the ways that a cultural product has power within a culture. Here's an example: I've spent the last year and a half or so watching, reading about, thinking about, and trying to write about American action movies from the 1980s. I think they're immensely culturally and politically important and can tell us a lot about the era. I don't think any of them are particularly good movies, though some have certain virtues, quite a few are fascinating to think about and analyze, and some are entertaining even after multiple viewings. They did, in fact, embody a certain genius of their age, the same sort of genius possessed by Ronald Reagan, although overall I think that genius was a pernicious one. But it was effective and we're still feeling the ripples in our culture and politics. That's no argument for the Oscar to have gone to Rambo II
, though. Certainly, Rambo II
is a far better exemplar of its time than any of the actual winners, but that's just because, as usual, the awards went to
a bunch of ostentatiously mediocre movies. This was the year of Ran, Shoah, Brazil,
and Come and See —
masterpieces that mostly escaped Oscar's notice. But the point of the Academy Awards is not to hail masterpieces or find the movies that most embody the era: it's to congratulate Hollywood for being Hollywood. We look to the Oscars to see how Hollywood perceives itself. To ask for more is to misperceive how those awards work. Similarly, popularity (Rambo II
, etc.) primarily shows us what masses of people consider potentially entertaining enough to spend money on. Movies like Ran, Shoah, Brazil, Come and See
exist outside both lenses, as do the great books and music of whatever year. And by "great" I mean the socially-constructed-but-nonetheless-perceivable-across-multiple-eras-and-geographies complexity and individuality that distinguish, say, Kafka
from the bestselling novels in the U.S. in 1924
I thought of these three writings by these three writers (Franzen, Beha, and Roberts) together because there seems to be some sort of conversation to be had among them and their respondents about how we value culture and what we get from it, particularly either cult or elite art — which may be the same things, a cult being a kind of elite and an elite being a kind of cult. Being me, I would also want to add in more about cultural capital
, and seek out areas of agreement while also asserting that, of course, we are doomed ... but really I'm just indulging in a fantasy: what if our three boys were stuck on a stage together in front of an audience? What might they talk about? Or, even better, what if we put them in a room with some YA novelists, crime and romance and SF writers, people published by FC2
and Dalkey Archive
, former jury members of various awards, VIDA
members, members of the Carl Brandon Society
, some high school English teachers, at least a few librarians, passionate David Eddings readers, a couple of anarcho-communists, some radical queers, and a few random people off the street ... what directions might the conversation take then...?
My brain begins to melt just thinking about it.
Last Wednesday, I suggested that there was no golden era
where everyone was reading complex literary fiction.
Is that actually true? Did past readers have more refined taste in fiction than we do now?
Here's a list of the bestselling novel by year from 1900 to the present (source
), along with the books published that same year that were part of Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels
What do you make of this list?1900
: To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston Also published: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad1901
: The Crisis
by Winston Churchill (note: the American novelist
Also published: Kim
by Rudyard Kipling1902
: The Virginian
by Owen Wister
Also published: Wings of the Dove
by Henry James1903
: Lady Rose's Daughter
by Mary Augusta Ward
Also published: Way of All Flesh
by Samuel Butler, The Ambassadors
by Henry James, The Call of the Wild
by Jack London1904
: The Crossing
by Winston Churchill
Also published: The Golden Bowl
by Henry James, Nostromo
by Joseph Conrad1905
: The Marriage of William Ashe
by Mary Augusta Ward
Also published: The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton1906
by Winston Churchill1907
: The Lady of the Decoration
by Frances Little
Also published: The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad1908
: Mr. Crewe's Career
by Winston Churchill
Also published: A Room With a View
by E.M. Forster, The Old Wives' Tale
by Arnold Bennett1909
: The Inner Shrine
by Basil King1910
: The Rosary
by Florence Barclay
Also published: Howard's End
by E.M. Forster1911
: The Broad Highway
by Jeffrey Farnol
Also published: Zuleika Dobson
by Max Beerbohm1912
: The Harvester
by Gene Stratton Porter1913
: The Inside of the Cup
by Winston Churchill
Also published: Sons and Lovers
by D.H. Lawrence1914
: The Eyes of the World
by Harold Bell Wright1915
: The Turmoil
by Booth Tarkington
Also published: The Good Soldier
by Ford Maddox Ford, The Rainbow
by D.H. Lawrence, Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham1916
by Booth Tarkington1917
: Mr. Britling Sees It Through
by H.G. Wells
Also published: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce1918
: The U.P. Trail
by Zane Grey
Also published: The Magnificent Ambersons
by Booth Tarkington1919
: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
by V. Blasco Ibanez
Also published: Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson1920
: The Man of the Forest
by Zane Grey
Also published: The Rainbow
by D.H. Lawrence, The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton1921
: Main Street
by Sinclair Lewis*1922
: If Winter Comes
by A.S.M. Hutchison
Also published: Ulysses
by James Joyce1923
: Black Oxen
by Gertrude Atherton1924
: So Big
by Edna Ferber
Also published: A Passage to India
by E.M. Forster, Parade's End
by Ford Maddox Ford1925
by A. Hamilton Gibbs
Also published: The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, An American Tragedy
by Theodore Dreiser1926
: The Private Life of Helen of Troy
by John Erskine
Also published: The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway1927
: Elmer Gantry
by Sinclair Lewis
Also published: To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf, Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather1928
: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder*
Also published: Point Counter Point
by Aldous Huxley1929
: All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Also published: The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner, A High Wind in Jamaica
by Richard Hughes, A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway1930
by Edna Ferber
Also published: As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner, The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett1931
: The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
Also published: Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley1932
: The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck
Also published: Light in August
by William Faulkner, Tobacco Road
by Erskine Caldwell1933
: Anthony Adverse
by Hervey Allen1934
: Anthony Adverse
by Hervey Allen
Also published: I, Claudius
by Robert Graves, Appointment in Samarra
by John O'Hara, Tender is the Nighta
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Handful of Dust
by Evelyn Waugh, Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller, The Postman Always Rings Twice
by James M. Cain1935
: Green Light
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: Studs Lonigan
by James T. Farrell1936
: Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell1937
: Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell1938
: The Yearling
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Also published: U.S.A.
by John Dos Passos, Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh, The Death of the Heart
by Elizabeth Bowen1939
: The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck*
Also published: The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West, Finnegans Wake
by James Joyce1940
: How Green Was My Valley
by Richard Llewellyn
Also published: Darkness at Noon
by Arthur Koestler, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers, Native Son
by Richard Wright1941
: The Keys of the Kingdom
by A.J. Cronin1942
: The Song of Bernadette
by Franz Werfel1943
: The Robe
by Lloyd C. Douglas1944
: Strange Fruit
by Lillian Smith1945
: Forever Amber
by Kathleen Winsor
Also published: The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger, Brideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh, Loving
by Henry Green1946
: The King's General
by Daphne du Maurier
Also published: Animal Farm
by George Orwell, All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren1947
: The Miracle of the Bells
by Russell Janney
Also published: Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry1948
: The Big Fisherman
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: The Heart of the Matter
by Graham Greene, The Naked and the Dead
by Norman Mailer1949
: The Egyptian
by Mika Waltari
Also published: 1984
by George Orwell, The Sheltering Sky
by Paul Bowles1950
: The Cardinal
by Henry Morton Robinson1951
: From Here to Eternity
by James Jones*
Also published: A Dance to the Music of Time
by Anthony Powell1952
: The Silver Chalice
by Thomas B. Costain
Also published: Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison1953
: The Robe
by Lloyd C. Douglas
Also published: Go Tell it on the Mountain
by James Baldwin, The Adventures of Augie March
by Saul Bellow1954
: Not as a Stranger
by Morton Thompson
Also published: Lord of the Flies
by William Golding, Under the Net
by Iris Murdoch1955
: Marjorie Morningstar
by Herman Wouk
Also published: Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov, The Ginger Man
by J.P. Donleavy1956
: Don't Go Near the Water
by William Brinkley1957
: By Love Possessed
by James Gould Cozzens
Also published: On the Road
by Jack Kerouac, The Alexandria Quartet
by Lawrence Durrell1958
: Doctor Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak1959
by Leon Uris
Also published: Henderson the Rain King
by Saul Bellow1960
: Advise and Consent
by Allen Drury1961
: The Agony and the Ecstasy
by Irving Stone
Also published: Catch-22
by Joseph Heller, The Moviegoer
by Walker Percy, A House for Mr. Biswas
by V.S. Naipul, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
by Muriel Spark1962
: Ship of Fools
by Katherine Anne Porter
Also published: Pale Fire
by Vladimir Nabokov, A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess1963
: The Shoes of Fisherman
by Morris L. West1964
: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
by John Le Carre1965
: The Source
by James A. Michener1966
: Valley of the Dolls
by Jacqueline Susann
Also published: The Magus
by John Fowles, Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys1967
: The Arrangement
by Elia Kazan
Also published: The Wapshot Chronicle
by John Cheever1968
by Arthur Hailey1969
: Portnoy's Complaint
by Philip Roth*
Also published: Slaughterhouse-Five
by Kurt Vonnegut1970
: Love Story
by Erich Segal
Also published: Deliverance
by James Dickey1971
by Arthur Hailey
Also published: Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner1972
: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach1973
: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
by Richard Bach1974
by James A. Michener1975
by E.L. Doctorow*1976
by Leon Uris1977
: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien1978: Chesapeake by James A. Michener1979: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum Also published: A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, Sophie's Choice by William Styron1980: The Covenant by James A. Michener1981: Noble House by James Clavell Also published: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie1982: E.T. the Extraterrestrial Storybook by William Kotzwinkle1983: Return of the Jedi Storybook by Joan D. Vinge Also published: Ironweed by William Kennedy1984: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel1986: It by Stephen King1987: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King1988: The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy1989: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy 1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel1991: Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" by Alexandra Ripley1992
: Dolores Claiburne
by Stephen King1993
: The Bridges of Madison County
by James Robert Waller1994
: The Chamber
by John Grisham1995
: The Rainmaker
by John Grisham1996
: The Runaway Jury
by John Grisham1997
: The Partner
by John Grisham1998
: The Street Lawyer
by John Grisham1999
: The Testament
by John Grisham2000
: The Brethern
by John Grisham2001
by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye2002
: The Summons
by John Grisham2003
: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by J.K. Rowling2004
: The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown2005
: The Broker
by John Grisham2006
: For One More Day
by Mitch Albom2007
: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling2008
: The Appeal
by John Grisham2009
: The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown2010
: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
by Stieg Larsson2011
: The Litigators
by John Grisham2012
: Fifty Shades of Grey
by E.L. James*Bestseller also on list of Top 100 novels
Art: The Bibliophilist's Haunt or Creech's Bookshop by William Fettes Douglas
The month of May has been full of celebrations of Asian American Pacific Heritage Island month. I can’t say I often find much that highlights Pacific Island Heritage. It’s estimated that the Pacific Islands consist of 20,000-30,000 islands and is divided into three specific regions: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Three blogs I would suggest following to keep up with children’s and YA lit in this region are the following.
Hawaiian Book Book
Asian in the Heart World on My Mind
Into the Wardrobe
And, you’ll never go wrong following Asian Pacific American Librarians Association’s website. In addition to highlighting members, they feature articles which answer “What’s Your Normal?”, sponsor literature awards, mentor new members, offer grants and scholarships and sponsor Talk Story , a literacy program that reaches out to Asian Pacific American (APA) and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) children and their families.
The following are a few of the recent books set in this region.
Island boyz Graham Salisbury In this rich collection, Salisbury’s love for Hawaii and its encircling sea shines through every story. Readers will share the rush a boy feels when he leaps off a cliff into a ravine or feasts his eyes on a beautiful woman. They’ll find stories that show what it takes to survive prep school, or a hurricane, or the night shift at Taco Bell, or first love. Graham Salisbury knows better than anyone what makes an island boy take chances. Or how it feels to test the waters, to test the limits, and what it’s like when a beloved older brother comes home from war, never to be the same.
The Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer Minke is a young Javanese student of great intelligence and ambition. Living equally among the colonists and colonized of 19th-century Java, he battles against the confines of colonial strictures. It is his love for Annelies that enables him to find the strength to embrace his world.
Aloha, Kanani and Good Job, Kanani by Lisa Yee Kanani loves helping out in her family’s store and sharing the wonders of Hawaii with visitors. When her chic cousin Rachel from Manhattan comes to stay for a month, Kanani can’t wait to get to know her cousin and help Rachel feel at home. But a clash of cultures ensures, and Kanani feels ignored. She tries to extend hospitality but everything she does seems to make Rachel unhappy. How can she find a way to connect with her cousin and make things better? Sometimes people who want help the least need it the most– her mother tells her. After a mixup with a diary leads to a fight, Kanani reaches out to Rachel in an openhearted spirit of caring and good will, and discovers that she has misjudged her cousin. In the process, Kanani learns the true meaning of Hawaii’s aloha spirit.
Tall story by Candy Gourlay Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long-lost half-brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London where he belongs.
Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as crazy as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. Eight feet tall, in fact—plagued by condition called Gigantism and troubled by secrets that he believes led to his phenomenal growth.
In a novel packed with quirkiness and humor, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Johnson (links to review on this blog)
Book descriptions from Amazon.com.
What other books or blogs have you found that highlight Pacific Island literature for children or teens?
Filed under: culture
, Asian American Pacific Island Heritage Month
, Pacific Islands
By: Emily Smith Pearce,
Blog: Emily Smith Pearce
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One of my favorite things is Terry Gross’s show, Fresh Air, on NPR. I especially love the interviews with actors and writers. Lately I’ve been listening to the podcasts while I’m doing something boring, like folding laundry.
Sometimes there just aren’t enough of Fresh Air interviews, though, so I’ve been looking for more conversations with authors and artists. Here are a few good ones I’ve found:
This Creative Life, created by YA author Sara Zarr (who btw also blogs here). There are interviews with a lot of writers and other creatives about how they work and live. I especially enjoyed the one with author Andrew Auseon (who is also a video game designer).
Mini studio-tours with artists at Little Scraps of Paper make me smile so much. The one above is of three collaborators who make these wacky wonderful costumey-snuggie-kind-of-things. Trust me, you just have to watch it. The videos are so beautifully filmed and just the right size for a quick pick-me-up. Thank you to Blair Stocker of Wisecraft for this hot tip.
Here’s a video of young fashion blogger/ Rookie magazine editor Tavi speaking at TEDxTeen about the strong female characters she’s looking for, and not always finding. YA writers, if you don’t know Tavi, you SHOULD!
What about you? Do you have any favorite creativity-related podcasts?
And by the way, are you on Twitter? I’ve been on it for years but am really just now learning the language and getting into it. I’m discovering all kinds of things there, including some of the above links. Meet me on Twitter @emilysmithpearc
A few other random things:
-Speaking of talks about art and writing, if you’re in the Charlotte area, check out the April meeting for the Women’s National Book Association (yes, men, you can join us, too): Monday, April 22, 6:30 – 8:30 PM at Consolidated Planning. The talk is titled “Latin American and Latino Women Writers and Literature in Translation.” More details here.
-Did you hear about the break in the Isabella Stewart Gardner art heist case? Soooo exciting. I used to work down the street from this lovely, one-of-a-kind museum.
-Saw Natalie Merchant the other night with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Great show. Her new material is as complex and thought-provoking as ever, though I have to admit my favorite part was the 90′s set she did for an encore. The nostalgia factor is hard to beat. Seriously, what pipes she’s got—and what a talented songwriter.
-Lastly, I love this DIY magic potion kit over at Elsie Marley.
What’s got you inspired these days?
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and I won't be watching.
After I posted in May about the ethics of watching football
and how uncomfortable I am with the growing evidence about endemic and lasting brain injuries I stayed true to my post and I didn't watch football this year.
Of all the years.
Stanford made the Rose Bowl for the first time since I was in college back in 2000 (and this time they won). The 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl and Colin Kaepernick is one of the most exciting young players in football. But I've never seen him play.
To be honest, I haven't gone completely cold turkey. If I'm at someone's house or at a bar and football is on I don't leave the room or insist that people change the channel. I still read football articles and in fact could give you a pretty thorough breakdown of the Alex Smith vs. Colin Kaepernick decision. I still keep up with scores and records.
But I'm not watching, week in, week out. I can't tell you what a change this is. I was once the chairman of Stanford's Axe Committee
, which has its roots in the Stanford/Cal football rivalry. I'm not sure if I'll go to another Big Game. I grew up watching Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. I won't be watching the Super Bowl.
Junior Seau's death was the ultimate catalyst for my decision not to watch, and I made it without even knowing for sure whether he had the degenerative brain disease that has afflicted so many former players. It turns out he did
There is mounting evidence that the NFL has not taken this issue seriously enough
, but ultimately I think end of the sport will not come with a bunch of fans walking out of a stadium, but rather youth and high school teams unable to find insurance policies and forced to close up, a generation of parents pushing their kids into different sports, and a decline of the sport into the realm of horse racing and boxing.
For my part, in place of football on the weekends I've been watching, well, football. Soccer has become my weekend tradition. I wake up, fire up the coffee, and settle in for some writing and the English Premier League.
Anyone else find their habits changing as more news of former players emerge?
TweetAll this business about DC’s “WTF month” got me thinking — while you’ve got the whole gimmick cover thing as an attempt to get attention (they’re getting the attention and it falls under “no such thing as bad publicity), this really screams of something where the consumer is supposed to pick up the book off [...]
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Literary Comics
, Christine Woodward
, Marta Acosta
, Young Adult
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TweetA curious but interesting move today, as Marvel and Hyperion have just announced that they will be releasing a series of YA novels this year based on some of Marvel’s most prominent female heroes. So far Rogue and She-Hulk books have been announced, to the delight of Dan Slott. This is one of the first [...]
TweetA sign that the UK creative scene are eager both for conventions and the opportunity to queue, exhibitor tables for Leeds Thought Bubble Convention went on sale yesterday at 1pm, and had sold out by 3pm. This follows a very recent trend in the UK for conventions to sell out exhibitor tables at an increasingly [...]
We all want Wonder Woman to be in a movie. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say we want her to be in EVERY film. And every TV show. Maybe a few music videos. But for one reason or another, we’re repeatedly disappointed by a world which does not seem to share our desire for Diana to take over the entirety of culture. She can’t get a TV show off the ground, her film scripts never get put anywhere near production, and Nicki Minaj hasn’t dressed up as her ONCE.
So step-forward first-time director Jesse V. Johnson, a stunt co-ordinator who has worked on films like Lincoln, Thor, and Spider-Man, to show how it’s done. Johnson today uploaded a film trailer for Wonder Woman, to show off his ability as a director for potentially-interested parties… and it’s pretty darned good, you guys. It’s even got this poster, created by Robert Sebree.
Casting actress Nina Bergman as Wonder Woman and Peter-flipping-Stormare as her Nazi captor, this fan film captures basically everything William Marston could have possibly wanted to see in a Wonder Woman movie. There’s fighting, and empowerment, some light bondage, and even a touch of psychological theory. Johnson describes the project’s origins:
It was my manager / producing partner Kailey Marsh’s idea to shoot the trailer. She really believes I should be a studio director, and thought shooting Wonder Woman would be a great way to show off my skills in a fun way that people could get excited about.
So without further ado, here’s the trailer for the movie. What do you think?
Female Super Hero Fan Film from Jesse V. Johnson on Vimeo.
Wow did we miss the boat on this. Two days in and we finally link to it. Shameful. On the other hand, it’s a sign of comics ongoing academic respectability that a three day comics symposium featuring Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufeld, Erin Polgreen and more could be taking place and there would be so much other comics stuff going on that it would only be the most serious of six or seven other top notch events. Anyway read all about it here, and there’s still time to get in on the fun with tonight’s keynote and tomorrows panels:
Friday, Mar 1st, 2013:
Keynote Address with Nick Bertozzi – 7:00-8:30pm
Location: Residential College in the Arts & Humanities Theatre, Snyder/Phillips Hall Basement, Michigan State University
Nick Bertozzi, award-winning comics creator and professor will deliver this year’s keynote address. Bertozzi received a Xeric Grant and multiple Harvey Awards and Ignatz Awards for his cartooning. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novel Lewis & Clark (First/Second). He collaborated with Jason Lutes on the graphic novel Houdini: The Handcuff King (Hyperion/CCS) and drew Glenn (The Colbert Report/Daria) Eichler’s STUFFED! (First/Second). Bertozzi is author of The Salon (St. Martin’s Griffin) a graphic novel about Picasso, the discovery of Cubism, and magical absinthe. He is hard at work on a cartoon biography of Lenny Bruce for Houghton-Mifflin, written by Harvey Pekar and you can read his ongoing sci-fi/fantasy cartoon, Persimmon Cup, for free every week at ACT-I-VATE (http://activatecomix.com). For the past several years Bertozzi has been teaching cartooning at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, as well as teaching stints at Rhode Island School of Design and at The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For more information visit his website at: http://www.nickbertozzi.com/
Saturday, Mar 2nd, 2013:
Artist Alley and Panel Discussions – 11:00am-5:00pm
Location: Residential College in the Arts & Humanities LookOut! Gallery, Snyder/Phillips Hall 2nd floor, Michigan State University
The Forum will feature an Artists Alley with dozens of creators exhibiting their work in comics. For more information on individual artists featured, please reference the Artists Alley page on this website.
Panel: Comics Redefined
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 11:00am – Noon
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: This panel explores new approaches and ideas in comics through elements of culture, creator, and character.
Presenters and Presentation Titles:
Zack Kruse – Steve Ditko, Spider-Man, and the Romantic Hero
Justin Wigard – It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Edward Cullen!
Andre F. Peltier – (De)Constructing Masculinity in Fan Boy (and Fan
Panel: Golden Age: Comics and Graphic Novel Resources in Libraries
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 12:15pm – 1:15pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Have you ever wondered how your local library feels about comics? Librarians deliver a lively and informative presentation on what is available to comics readers at different kinds of libraries across the country, followed by a question and answer session.
Lisa Rabey (Librarian)
Kristin LaLonde (Librarian)
Andrew McBride (Librarian)
Panel: Artist Spotlight
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Do you want to break into the comics industry? Are you curious about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing? Do you have process, craft, or other technical questions about comics creation? We have you covered. Our artists will share their wisdom and answer any question you might have.
Nick Bertozzi – (2013 MSU Comics Forum Keynote Speaker, Lewis and Clark, Houdini the Handcuff King)
Josh Neufeld (University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow in journalism, A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge)
Jerzy Drozd (Cartoonist and Teaching Artist, The Front)
Panel: Comics and Journalism: Practice, Publish, Innovate
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 2:45pm – 3:45pm
Description: A star-studded roundtable of industry professionals will discuss the developing field of comics journalism with a focus on key learnings for up-and-coming creators.
Darryl Hollida (Writer and Founder of the Illustrated Press)
Josh Neufield (University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow in journalism, A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge)
Erin Polgreen (Co-founder, editor, and publisher of Symbolia)
Panel: Documentary Screening of Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon, USA
Time: March 2nd, 2013 from 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Snyder/Phillips 2nd floor classrooms
Description: Comic Book City is a documentary film from Shaun Huston which explores the community of comics creators who live and work in Portland, Oregon. It is grounded by conversations with artists and writers about their creative processes and their choices to locate in Portland.
Shaun Huston (Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon, USA)Wow did we miss the boat on this. Two days in and we finally link to it. Shameful. On the other hand, it’s a sign of comics ongoing academic respectability that a three day comics symposium featuring Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufeld, Erin Polgreen and more could be taking place and there would be so much other comics stuff going on that it would only be the most serious of six or seven other top notch events. Anyway read all about it here, and there’s still time to get in on the fun with tonight’s keynote and tomorrows panels:
It’s not particularly grim oop North if you head to the right parts, and you can’t go wrong with Kendal. It’s a lovely part of the world, and the perfect place for a comic book festival. And conveniently that leads me to mention The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, which will see Sean Phillips and Bryan and Mary Talbot as founder patrons. Located in Kendal, the Festival will be setting up tables for it’s first year of existence this October. So it’ll be a beautiful – flippin’ freezin’ – festival.
The festival has just announced the first ten guests, all of whom were lured in with the promise of mint cake galore.
The initial line-up are:
Alongside Phillips and the Talbots.
Heavy coats and scarves all round, everyone! Although Andy Diggle already lives in the North, so he’ll probably be able to wear shorts. Tickets go on sale in May. I imagine The Beat will make their presence known too! S’only a stone throw away from here.
As I'm sure you heard, during the Oscars the humor site The Onion tweeted an extremely unfortunate joke attempt
about nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.
The outcry on Twitter started off merely aghast. Then, as can happen when people collectively find something to be outraged about, the anger cascaded and multiplied. People called The Onion out, called for resignations and firings, called for heads, and often in language as offensive as the language people ostensibly found objectionable.
On a night where my Twitter feed had started with people being complete jerks to Anne Hathaway for no apparent reason, all the negative energy swirling around Twitter suddenly found an even easier target.
I'm not defending The Onion's tweet by any means. It wasn't a good joke and they rightly apologized for it
But it's kind of amazing to me how the Twitterverse can be correct about something but manage to take its self-righteous outrage so far it somehow starts feeling wrong.
It starts feeling like a witch hunt
. In a medium that by its nature is effectively devoid of nuance to start with, whatever balance is possible is completely lost. And good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason.
It reminded me of a similar feeling after Hurricane Sandy, when Mayor Bloomberg had decided the marathon should proceed. The Twitteverse reacted with complete and hysterical outrage.
Before the marathon was eventually canceled, the runners themselves were called out for their decision to run, nevermind that many had spent the entire year raising money for charity
, some had been volunteering to the relief effort leading up to the race, and whether the marathon would go forward or not was outside of their control.
A lot of people on Twitter had tons of ideas about what the runners should be doing with their time, apparently missing the irony that they were doing so while staring at their screens and not really doing anything to help. And if you lived here and tried to volunteer, you may have been turned away as I was because there were already more volunteers than were needed.
A lot of the vitriol was channeled when the New York Post
spotted some generators used to power the marathon press tent while some of the city was still blacked out. In classic Twitter fashion people were outraged about it, while missing the nuance that those generators could not have been used to power anyone's home or apartment because of technical limitations, and in the end weren't used at all
Meanwhile, that same Sunday the New York Giants football game was allowed to proceed in hard-hit New Jersey with nary a complaint on Twitter, despite all of the emergency personnel and food needed for such a huge event. And after the Oscars, I couldn't help but wish that people felt 1/1000th the amount of outrage about 8,000 people in Haiti dying due to alleged U.N. negligence
that they did about one stupid tweet.
I initially scoffed when Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article asserting that the revolution will not be tweeted, but I now wonder if he's more correct than I gave him credit for. He argued that the weak ties between people in the social media sphere don't readily lend themselves to actual concrete activism
I still think Gladwell underestimates social media (it's basic human communication after all). But it does seem to me like it gives people the illusion of action without being actual action. It doesn't readily lend itself to compassion for the people the Twitterverse decides has erred.
Woe betide someone who crosses Twitter, but woe betide us if we don't take a step back from an instantaneous medium devoid of nuance and stop and think. Chances are there's something out there more important to be outraged about and something far more productive we can do to channel our anger.Art: The Deluge by Francis Danby
There is a lot to love about the time we live in.
We're more connected to each other than ever. We can be more productive. We can do more with less time. We very often take it for granted.
I remember when my parents had to sit down once a month to "do the bills," which meant spending an entire night writing checks, balancing accounts, licking envelopes, and driving to the post office the next day.
Now, I write precisely one check a month and it's to my landlord, and in fact, it's one of the few times a month I write anything
by hand. There are few bills I don't pay automatically, and it's easy to manage things online.
I remember phone chains where people scheduled events and spread the word about changes in meeting times by going down a list and calling people one by one. I remember how precarious it could be to meet someone when they could have an unexpected delay and had no way of letting you know. I remember how I sometimes didn't know baseball scores for two days because the games ended too late to be printed in the next morning's newspaper.
And I'm only 32!
At the same time, as the Arcade Fire memorably put it, We Used to Wait
. We used to have to be patient. We didn't have to unplug because the default state was unplugged.
The consequences of this constant bombardment is well-documented, whether it's car accidents caused by texting or an inability to sleep because of blue light from the laptops we tote to bed or chronic short attention spans.
For me personally, I find the consequences most acute when it comes to brainstorming new creative ideas and especially when I try to making decisions.
Creative thinking requires a calmness and a blocking out of distractions in order to let ideas come to you. Decision making requires you to truly be in touch with how you feel and to stop and listen to yourself. They require concentration, which can be in short supply.
It's not at all easy for me to find calm moments when inspiration can strike, so I try to block off one day on the weekend for a trip to the park or a walk through a museum or both. Even then it's hard not to peek at my phone, but the fresh air of the park, the sunshine, the quiet... it's vital. I don't always make it, but I do my best to carve out small spaces for myself when I let myself be still.
As we do more and more sometimes it can be productive do less.
How do you carve out calm moments in a distracted world?Art: Pastoral Landscape by Alvan Fisher
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may remember my first encounter with real Easter grass, in my son’s German kindergarten. I was almost amazed at the simple thought of growing something that we’d always bought manufactured from plastic, in plastic bags.
But really, it’s the simplest, easiest thing you could ever grow, and the payoff is huge. This year, we’re growing our own at home. I’m just as excited as the kids to watch the green pop up.
I got a package of wheat grass seeds from the garden center, we filled some pots, lay the seeds on top, and watered. My son, now 5, told us not to cover the seeds with any dirt.
It’s got me singing Now the green blade riseth…
P.S. The lovely bird pot was a gift from our friend Sally Brotman, she of chicken kebab fame I love, love this pot!
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Tonight in SoHo, a panel of comics all-stars will discuss the Carol Tilley’s Seducing the Innocent, which purports to expose industry bete noire Frederick Wertham as a fraud. What’s more important for us today, however, is understanding why he was right.
Tilley’s article has received a fair bit of play in recent months, and understandably so. Besides bringing to light new details from the recently opened Wertham archives, the article also affirms the fundamental righteousness of the comics community and other free-speech progressives continuing to oppose calls to censor pop culture. As Jeet Heer and others have noted, Wertham is the community’s own super villain, a totem of the arrogant self-deception threatening all that is good.
Yet the misbegotten pursuit of virtue can go both ways. While we tug at a few stray details in our effort to prove the man whose research helped end segregation was nothing but a lying racist prig, we tend to overlook how Wertham’s intuitive grasp of comics, society and law was actually more insightful than our own. To recognize this is not to concede that his programmatic agenda in regard to comics was correct–in fact, it can help us understand how our community can respond more effectively to similar challenges today.
Was Wertham a fraud?
Given the meme now circulating as to Wertham’s campaign of deliberate deceit, it’s worth pausing for a moment to note a couple caveats about the charges themselves. First, as Tilley notes, her charges against Wertham aren’t actually new, at least in their broad strokes–there were critics of Wertham’s evidence and techniques back when his influence was at its peak.
Which in itself should not be a surprise. There’s a fine tradition in academia and the sciences of criticizing the methodology of the previous generation, and Wertham, a German immigrant pushing 60 at height of the anti-comics furor, exhibited an approach to information gathering and interpretation that was cutting-edge in the 1920s but seen as woefully inadequate by then modern standards.
Plus ca change and all that, of course–today’s empirical scholarship is itself a reaction against the alleged inadequacies of analytical patterns from a couple-three decades ago, which in turn criticized the approach then current among many of those who were attacking Wertham. While such critiques can have their merits, they can also descend into pettiness and character assassination in ways that reflect agendas outside of the pursuit of more accurate research, as exemplified by critics’ glib dismissal of Wertham as “imperious,” priggish and guilty of such horrendous sins as citing examples from comics that were five years old.
In fact, one could even turn the same critique against Tilley’s article. Instead of aggregating all of Wertham’s factual claims and calculating how many of them had a credible basis, the article slags the man’s entire reputation for veracity on the basis of a few anecdotes. Moreover, these anecdotes themselves arguably don’t fairly represent what Wertham claimed. For example, Wertham acknowledged that he was drawing the work of other colleagues and junior researchers, so the fact that a couple of his stories came from cases he didn’t handle personally is no more the sign of a clueless fraud than popular books by psychiatrists today that include anecdotes from a clinic or colleagues.
Yet there’s a danger in this sort of devil-in-the-details bloodsport, as illustrated by the rejection of one of Wertham’s contemporaries whose work was similarly rejected due to its alleged lack of research rigor and fudging of details. Today we celebrate Marshall McLuhan as the prophet of the electronic age, but at the time academics savaged McLuhan’s work as that of a fraudulent hack. Whatever the flaws in his approach to gathering and presenting data–and yes, they were many–McLuhan’s capacity for pattern recognition was nonpareil.
The example of McLuhan is particularly relevant to the Wertham case, inasmuch as Wertham, like McLuhan, was engaged in making an inventory of the effects of comics as a medium.
Consider the accusation that Wertham skewed his research by focusing on comics-to-crime correlations while hiding other factors. In fact, in Seduction and elsewhere Wertham was forthright in asserting that he wasn’t making a comics-to-crime direct correlation. His argument was actually more subtle. As Wertham repeatedly explained, he was making a broader point about how even small influences within a social environment can have disproportionate effects.
Although we don’t tend to use the same language, Wertham’s argument’s are more familiar and accepted than we admit. Wertham’s understanding of comics as a medium that shapes our perception, identity and actions is McLuhan before he became McLuhan, albeit with one important exception that we’ll discuss later. Nowhere is this more evident in Wertham’s assertion that comics were making the younger generation illiterate, an assessment that McLuhan and his disciple Walter Ong would soon systematize in their landmark discussions of the shift away from a linear textual culture.
Wertham’s disavowal of direct correlation in favor of indirect systemic effects reflects the emergence of dynamics systems theory, which at the time was continuing the development that had begun in the early 19th century and the birth of modern social science. In this regard, Wertham’s metaphor of social health anticipated our current analytical vocabulary in interesting ways. Take, for instance, his description of comics as a “bacillus” that had spread throughout our social environment. Today we would call this going viral.
Where Wertham differed from a media or systems theorist was his preoccupation with social order and legal responsibility. Bart Beaty has already done a stellar job of describing Wertham’s place in the shift from reform-minded progressive research to the more (ironically) Germanic scholarship of the contemporary academy, but rather than focusing on how Wertham was superseded it’s worth focusing on how he was trying to advance our understanding beyond the dominant frameworks of the early twentieth century.
Wertham’s emphasis on health metaphors had a different resonance in the 1940s and 1950s than they have today. They marked a subtle shift away from the genetically based eugenics that had dominated Western progressive thought in the decades leading up to World War II and even a few years afterward. Wertham’s argument, expressed not just in his comics work but his research in support of desegregation, was that non-whites and the poor were not inherently defective. Segregation, prejudice, mass incarceration–the mainstream’s response to poverty, crime and difference was not only counterproductive, it failed to respect others’ core humanity as well as the corruption wrought by the mainstream environment itself.
While certain particulars can be seen as outmoded, the core insight continues to be relevant today, from urban strategy based on the broken windows theory to the use of architecture, zoning and social design to enhance community life. Wertham’s approach is also consistent with the current struggle within legal theory with such issues as America’s incarceration culture to the culpability of human agency in light of the subconscious shaping influences of our social environment and cognitive processes.
Comics as change
This brings us to Wertham’s specific allegations about comics. Once again, if Wertham’s a fraud, he’s a damn clever one. While we might disagree with his critique of some of these effects (most notably his views of human sexuality, which at the time were the clinical norm), his assessment of values and themes evident in comics was for the most part correct.
Comics fostering a sense of unbounded imaginative transformation? Sure, for Wertham it’s sinister, but if the core description is bunk we might have to rethink our affection for Calvin and Hobbes.
The gay subtext in comics? Today you can get tenure writing about how Warhol aptly distilled it his 1962 painting Superman – Puff; art galleries and charities regularly explore the theme; and Michael Chabon won a Pulitzer with a novel that in part turned this subtext into text. A similar point can be made in regard to Wertham’s finding sado-masochism in Wonder Woman (a direct hit, confirmed by what we later learned about Moulton) as well as the sexually exploitive depiction of women more generally.
Superman as a fascist corporate power icon? Yes, it’s easy to call out Wertham for missing Siegel’s and Shuster’s judaism, but his central point regarding icons of corporate control is textbook proto-Foucault (and proto-Frank Miller, proto-Watchmen, proto-Kingdom Come …). We should also acknowledge–following the lead, if I recall correctly, of Craig Yoe–that Wertham called attention to DC’s systemic mistreatment of creators years before the comics community itself.
On a deeper level, what connects all of these assessments–including the assertion that comics can be a factor in antisocial behavior–is Wertham’s conviction that comics as a medium have the power to change who we are. Just as McLuhan saw artists as prophets of a culture where people have fluid identities with multiple roles, Wertham sees comics as a medium that both depicts and transforms.
For an example of the same point made in more positive terms within comics itself, we need look no further than a comic that came out today–Grant Morrison’s Action #18, which expresses his decades-long theme of comics as a medium that creates a new reality, making the impossible possible. Sometimes the effects are destructive, even nihilistic, but properly understood the same transcendent impulse can enable us to become something more.
Dismissing Wertham as a hack and fraud may make us feel good about ourselves and our community’s past, but outside of that it has little probative or strategic value as a means of countering censorship today. The same goes for the adamant insistence that comics have no relevance to antisocial behavior. In contrast to Morrison’s more honest and accurate metaphors, our model of comics in academics and advocacy tends to be anodyne. Comics have power, yes, but only the power to be comfortable, familiar and safe.
However, comics, like all media, are dangerous. By insisting otherwise, we come across as naive and self-serving, much like ideological researchers whose empirical research always just happens to align with their agenda. We also do a disservice to comics themselves, which are valuable precisely because of their capacity to foster systemic change.
Instead of engaging in a futile campaign to persuade people that the fusion of words and image is not what is, we would do better to concede the point. For instance, Wertham presented an intriguing opening with his uneasy blend of cutting-edge media theory with his most glaring retro mistake: the more traditional, linear depiction of comics as an instruction manual that served as a textbook for crimes. Trying to refute this on its own terms was a self-defeating distraction. There was far more potential in explaining how comics are indeed powerful and disruptive, so much so that they only way to deal with them effectively is not to impose restrictive laws, but to teach kids how the medium works.