Thursday, October 29, 2009

Emily Dickinson's Ceiling

There's a news story going around to the effect that Emily Dickinson's ceiling collapsed. It's all true--last weekend, a portion of the ceiling in the parlor of Dickinson's residence, the Homestead (now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum), collapsed, damaging some furniture and breaking bric-a-brac and no doubt throwing off the meter of some of her poems as well. What caught my eye was the fact that the plaster "was not original to the house." Could it be that Ms. Dickinson herself effected some repairs some time during the 19th century?

The answer is revealed in a newly discovered Dickinson poem that I just wrote this morning called "On My Ceiling Falling On Me." It's available on the Huffington Post, so I hope you'll take a look.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Test Your Knowledge of Literature's Greatest Swine Flu Scares

Identify the work of literature in which each swine flu scare occurs:

A. A group of farm animals rebels against their human masters and takes over the farm. At first all the animals are considered equals, but soon the pigs emerge as the leaders of the collective. Over time the pigs adopt more and more human characteristics until finally they become indistinguishable from people. They enjoy wearing pants and drinking alcohol, but are surprised to discover that in the course of this transformation, they have somehow infected themselves with swine flu.

B. A young pig living on a farm befriends a barn spider. The spider repeatedly saves the pig from slaughter by using her web to display flattering words about him, such as “some pig,” “terrific,” and “radiant.” As the pig’s behavior grows erratic and he starts to show signs of disease, the spider’s messages change, with words like “infectious,” “quarantine,” and “H1N1” appearing in the web. These warnings go unheeded, and the pig is brought to a busy county fair, where he wins a prize. The spider also goes to the fair to weave additional warnings about the pig’s condition. She dies before she is able to do so, leaving hundreds of fairgoers at risk of infection.

C. A baby pig and a silly old bear go hunting heffalumps and woozles, but the expedition is cut short when the bear comes down with a sore throat. The bear characterizes this as a “bother,” suspecting that the piglet is to blame for his infection. They proceed to the nearby home of their friend, a rabbit, who ladles honey into the bear to soothe his throat. The bear does not object. When it is time to leave, the bear is so swollen from infection and the multiple pots of honey he’s consumed that he becomes stuck in the rabbit’s doorway, his top half outside, his bottom half inside. This becomes an issue for the rabbit when the bear develops diarrhea.

D. Several British schoolboys are stranded on a deserted island and quickly descend into savagery. Some of the boys hunt and kill a wild pig, and create a totem by placing the pig’s severed head on a stake driven into the ground. The pig’s head seems to exert a sinister influence over some of the boys, particularly when they start complaining of fever and body aches. Ironically, a boy named Piggy is the only one who doesn’t exhibit swine flu symptoms, because he has fallen off a cliff.

E. A heroic Greek warrior tries to sail home after a war, but is cursed by the gods with a deplorable sense of direction. Eventually he and his men find themselves on the island of a sorceress who infects half the crew with the rarest strain of swine flu there is—the kind that actually turns them into swine. On the advice of the gods, the warrior treats his men with sacred herbs, plenty of rest, and fluids. The crew recovers with no apparent ill effects, but their joy is short-lived as they all drown soon afterwards.

F. The Son of God determines that a demonic strain of swine flu is responsible for the severe symptoms exhibited by a man who lives in proximity to a herd of swine. Using His miraculous powers, He transfers the contagion back into the herd, whereupon the swine run into the sea and drown themselves. This causes great wonderment among the multitudes; for this was in the days before the CDC or vaccines or even the widespread practice of personal hygiene. The Son of God’s reputation as a healer and miracle worker grows, though He is unable to mollify the irate swineherd, who’s left with a lot of drowned swine on his hands.

Answers: A: Animal Farm B: Charlotte’s Web C: Winnie-the-Pooh D: Lord of the Flies E: The Odyssey F: The New Testament, Mark 5:1-14

Try our other quiz, Test Your Knowledge of Literature’s Greatest Bird Flu Scares.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Google Books and Mythical Beasts
In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece defending the Google Books settlement, Google co-founder Sergey Brin stated: "The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns." Here Brin expands upon this statement, clarifying Google's plans for unicorns. "We've rounded up all the extant unicorns and are keeping them at the Googleplex in Mountainview, California," Brin says. "Our goal is to preserve them so that everyone who wants to have access to unicorns can do so. Of course, right now you'll have to come to Google if you want to see a unicorn, but the fact that we possess all the unicorns in the world in no way prohibits other companies from starting their own unicorn preserves. In fact, we'd love to see that happen!" Brin says Google's unicorns enjoy the best possible conditions: "They're free to gambol and frolic, to primp in their magic dens, or to sport with young maidens. These are free-range unicorns." Brin says he discovered that unicorns had survived Noah's flood by reading the apocryphal Book of Noah--a volume he found through a Google Books search. Repeating a claim he makes in his op-ed piece, Brin says that without Google Books you would have to "fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks. Unless," he adds, "you don't have access to the corporate jet. In that case you might want to try the interlibrary loan system."

2:00 pm Wild Things: You Make My Heart Sing
Dave Eggers discusses his recent adaptations of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Eggers co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of Sendak's classic children's book, which opens today. He explains that the trick to adapting a children's book for film is "adding pictures. Seriously, you have to add a lot of pictures. Moving pictures." Eggers also expanded Sendak's story, which consists of just ten sentences, into a 300-page novelization called The Wild Things. "That required adding words," he says. "Lots and lots of words. More words than I bet you can even imagine. And the end result is, it's longer." For his next project, Eggers plans to combine his screenplay with his novelization, revise them by slashing words and pictures, and turn it all back into Sendak's original.

11:00 am The Løst Lost Symbol
Police in Iceland are looking for the thief who stole the first proof copy of the Icelandic translation of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. In this segment, the detective in charge of the investigation reports that "the prospects for solving this crime look gloomy. But then everything looks gloomy here in Iceland." Police are considering several theories, including the possibility that the proof was eaten by reindeer or that the thief burned it in an attempt to keep warm. Meanwhile, the publisher has hired its own investigator, "the Private Dick from Reykjavik," who believes that the thief plans to translate Brown's novel back into English in the hope that this time it will be plausible.

3:00 pm Obscure Dickens
A series profiling lesser-known Dickens characters. This week: Manwich, a convict in Great Expectations who is sent to prison in Australia but returns a wealthy man, having made a fortune in sloppy joes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Second Vook

Matthew Cavnar, part of the team behind the new ebook-video hybrid called a "vook," left a comment about my rhyming vook post last week. I thought I'd put it front and center today, because if you're going to call someone out about a blog post, this is a pretty classy way to do it:
Dear Larry,

Though your lines were rather critical
We at Vook were impressed they were lyrical

Perhaps our next vooks you'll be more fond of
And - don't fear - we won't be writing sonnets.
We'll leave the criticism and the verse to you
Though we wish you'd understand: It's tricky
to build something fresh, original, and entirely new.

We don't want you to trade your book for a vook.
But maybe, (soon!), give us another look?


Matthew (at) vook (dot) com
[But as I said in my epic vook poem, please don't let me be mistook--my issue is less with the product or the concept behind it, and more with the nails-on-a-chalkboard word "vook."]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vooking Daggers

A response to the launch of a new ebook-video hybrid called a "vook"--or more specifically, a response to its name--done in rhyme in honor of National Poetry Day (technically yesterday--sue me).

I took a look. I saw a vook.
It seems some genius undertook
To artfully combine a book
With video somebody took.
My problem with this new ebook—
The thing that really has me shook--
Is that they’re calling it a vook!
I mean, c’mon, what kind of schnook
Would coin a stupid word like vook?
It’s something I can’t overlook!
The ‘v’ from video they took
And rudely mashed it up with ‘ook’
Which, if you take a careful look,
Is just the last three-fourths of ‘book.’
Video plus book is vook??
I can’t believe that notion took!
I think that vook should get the hook!
Please don’t let me be mistook—
In good conscience, I can’t brook
A word as ludicrous as vook.
Let it be said we all forsook--
Be we Zulu or Chinook,
From Vladivostok to Kirkuk--
To utter this gobbledygook.
And when I choose to read a book,
Nestled in my inglenook,
You can bet, by hook or crook,
It certainly will not be a vook!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Things I'd Like to See This Weekend on C-SPAN's "Book TV"

10:00 am Vook TV
This week Atria Books announced the launch of the "vook," a video-book hybrid that combines text with original video content in an ebook format. As with any new technology, people have lots of questions about the vook: Do I really have to call it a vook? Isn't vook kind of a stupid name? Will I have the opportunity to scratch the eyes out of the person who made up the word vook? Here a representative of Atria addresses these and other issues, including vook verb confusion. (Do you read a vook or watch it? And if you're in a hurry, do you skim a vook or surf it?) He also describes the development of the vook and some missteps along the way, notably a children's vook about White House pets that featured the Zapruder film. Also discussed: A line of vook accessories, including TiVook, which allows you to digitally record your vook now to enjoy whenever you're ready--hailed by J.D. Power and Associates as "the most redundant technological development of the last 40,000 years." The first four vooks are priced at $6.99, but are expected to be cheaper when they come out in vaperback.

2:00 pm Going Rogue Going Fast
Sarah Palin's memoir, originally scheduled to be come out in the spring of 2010, has been fast-tracked by her publisher. In this segment, a representative of HarperCollins explains how the entire publishing schedule for Going Rogue has been dramatically accelerated. It is available now for pre-order online, and goes on sale November 17th. The media campaign is already under way, with the book being praised on Fox News and excoriated on MSNBC before it has even been printed. Ratings of either five or zero stars have been posted on Amazon by people who couldn't possibly have read it yet. At this rate, no one will have to actually read the book. If the pace of this schedule continues, booksellers should start returning the book by Thanksgiving, and the remaining stock will have been remaindered by mid-December. The paperback will be published for New Year's, with any remaining copies pulped by Valentine's Day. "It's all about efficiencies," the publisher says.

11:00 am Who's a Rogue?
Former Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko, author of Rogue Warrior, The Rogue Warrior's Strategy for Success, Leadership Secrets of a Rogue Warrior, and a whole bunch of others books with the word rogue on the cover, discusses his beef with Sarah Palin's memoir. "Going Rogue? You gotta be &#%*$!@ kidding me. Listen babe, you ain't rogue til you've done a %#$*!@& nighttime HALO jump into enemy territory carrying 230 !&%$*@# pounds of special ops equipment and pasted a few !%#&*@$ bad guys. Offing a @#*!&%$ moose from a helicopter in designer hunting gear don't cut it in my *&#!%@$ book--in fact, in any of my #%$!&*@ books." Marcinko speculates that Palin meant to call her book Going Rouge, "after her &#*!@%$ hockey mom lipstick or something." He was somewhat mollified to learn that until recently Palin had been pronouncing rogue "rogooey," but says "I may still have to fry her #@&!%*$ ass."

3:00 pm Speech Impediment
Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, discusses his book Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor. Is it true Mr. Bush had a speech impediment? "His mouth," Mr. Latimer says. He reveals that one particular word always gave Mr. Bush trouble: "We had to make sure it was carefully spelled out on the teleprompter--NUKE-YOU-LER--so he'd be sure to pronounce it correctly." The hardest part about writing for Mr. Bush was his constant pressure to work the phrase "the intercourse between nations" into his speeches. "He'd giggle just thinking about it," Latimer says.