Thursday, 17 May 2012
Friday, 11 May 2012
Wednesday, 9 May 2012
As recommended by Stephen Metcalfe on Slate's Culture Gabfest
Richard Wilbur's "Cottage Street, 1953"
Framed in her phoenix fire-screen, Edna Ward Bends to the tray of Canton, pouring tea For frightened Mrs. Plath; then, turning toward The pale, slumped daughter, and my wife, and me. Asks if we would prefer it weak or strong. Will we have milk or lemon, she enquires? The visit seems already strained and long. Each in his turn, we tell her our desires. It is my office to exemplify The published poet in his happiness, Thus cheering Sylvia, who has wished to die; But half-ashamed, and impotent to bless. I am a stupid life-guard who has found, Swept to his shallows by the tide, a girl Who, far from shore, has been immensely drowned, And stares through water now with eyes of pearl. How large is her refusal; and how slight The genteel chat whereby we recommend Life, of a summer afternoon, despite The brewing dusk which hints that it may end. And Edna Ward shall die in fifteen years, After her eight-and-eighty summers of Such grace and courage as permit no tears, The thin hand reaching out, the last word love. Outliving Sylvia who, condemned to live, Shall study for a decade, as she must, To state at last her brilliant negative In poems free and helpless and unjust.[The following note has been provided by Richard Wilbur:] "Edna Ward was Mrs. Herbert D. Ward, my wife's mother. The poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was the daughter of one of Mrs. Ward's Wellesley friends. The recollection is probably composite, but it is true in essentials.
Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Do you remember your twenty-first birthday? The party, the cake, and cutting a slice of it to put under your pillow that night, to make you dream of your future beloved; the giant key; the singing:
I’m twenty-one today!
I’ve got the key of the door!
Never been twenty-one before!
Trivial, obvious words. Yet when the party was over and you lay in bed remembering the glinting key and the shamrock taste of the small glass of wine, and perhaps the taste of a sneaked last kiss in the dark, then the song seemed not trivial or obvious but a poetic statement of a temporal wonder. You had, as they say, attained your majority. You could vote in the elections; you could leave home against your parents’ wishes; you could marry in defiance of all opposition. You had crossed a legal border into a free country, and you now walked equipped with a giant tinsel key, a cardboard key covered with threepenny spangles...
How their design will evolve in the age of the Kindle.
By Michael Agresta|Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at 6:30 AM ET
Book designed by Sara De Bondt Studio/Visual Editions.
The change has come more slowly to books than it came to music or to business correspondence, but by now it feels inevitable. The digital era is upon us. The Twilights and Freedoms of 2025 will be consumed primarily as e-books. In many ways, this is good news. Books will become cheaper and more easily accessible. Hypertext, embedded video, and other undreamt-of technologies will give rise to new poetic, rhetorical, and narrative possibilities. But a literary culture that has defined itself through paper books for centuries will surely feel the loss as they pass away.
In the past several years, we’ve all heard readers mourn the passing of the printed word. The elegy is familiar: I crave the smell of a well-worn book, the weight of it in my hands; all of my favorite books I discovered through loans from a friend, that minor but still-significant ritual of trust; I need to see it on my shelf after I’ve read it (and I don’t mind if others see it too); and what is a classic if not a book where I’m forced to rediscover my own embarrassing college-age marginalia?
Luddites can take comfort in the persistence of vinyl records, postcards, and photographic film. The paper book will likewise survive, but its place in the culture will change significantly. As it loses its traditional value as an efficient vessel for text, the paper book’s other qualities—from its role in literary history to its inimitable design possibilities to its potential for physical beauty—will take on more importance. The future is yet to be written, but a few possibilities for the fate of the paper book are already on display on bookshelves near you.
We’re warned from an early age not to be taken in by the sensuous aspects of a paper book’s design, such as its cover. Yet the visual effect of a well-made book, even an inexpensive paperback, unquestionably shapes our interpretation and appreciation of the text.
Book designed and photographed by David Pearson.
Consider this Penguin UK collection of essays by the German critic Walter Benjamin. The front cover comments on the book’s status as a manufactured object. This is in harmony with Benjamin’s text: “[T]hat which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”
Monday, 7 May 2012
Whatever interactive fiction is (and we’re still figuring that out) it suffers from all the problems of traditional fiction and then some. The vast majority of novels and short stories aren’t much good, but when a branching fiction — along the lines of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books — fails to engage, the first impulse is to blame the form rather than the content. Let “Frankenstein,” just released by Inkle Studios and Profile Books, serve as a reproach to that reflex. The app is a creative, subtle and sensitive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novella, and it has singlehandedly renewed this critic’s hopes for interactive fiction.