Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Serious gaming

MSU has created a Masters program, I kid you not, in "serious game design." (via The Chronicle of Higher Education, which appears to have become my new Arts & Letters Daily.)

From the Serious Game Design—best URL ever—program web site:
Serious Games are games with a purpose beyond entertainment, including but not limited to games for learning, games for health, and games for policy and social change.

Now me, I thought Shadow of the Colossus was a serious game. But what do I know?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dinner, and some reading materials

Archivists at Bowdoin College in Maine use lobster netting as a storage material to preserve delicate drawings and maps. (via The Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription required)

I have to admit, on a very loosely related note, one of the things I loved about the DaVinci Code movie, a film that got so many things wrong based on a book that got so many things wrong, was the glimpse of the shelves of the "Magdalene archives" in Rosslyn Chapel at the end. The earliest mansucripts, in scroll form, are stored on diagonal shelves. So at least they got something right.

Found while reading, pt. 1

Two years ago, George published Ann's poems. It was a birthday present. The book was reviewed in Sumac, a literary magazine which had assumed the subscription list of a former publication, Diesel, a jounal of lesbian apologetics.

—Thomas McGuane. The Bushwhacked Piano. New York, Simon and Schuster: 1971. p. 144.

The joke, of course, is that Sumac was a real literary magazine edited by McGuane's friend and fellow MSU alum Jim Harrison (and Dan Gerber) between 1968 and 1971. (It seems to me that I've written about Harrison lately.) I don't know if the part about picking up Diesel's subscription list is true or not, but it's a hoot either way.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Don't be put off by his looks

The NYT has a short profile piece and video on Jim Harrison, one of the big four comtemporary writers who are MSU alumni. (A shiny nickel to first person who can name the other three, and a quarter if you can add the up-and-coming, travel writer fifth.)

As I've mentioned before, I have four of Harrison's books on my shelf, and I haven't read any of them, although I have read some of his food writing, of which I am a fan. (If you're not familiar with Harrison, you would probably best recognize him as the author of the novella Legends of the Fall, which spawned the Brad Pitt/Anthony Hopkins film. Again, I must admit that I have neither read the book nor seen the movie. Some expert on MSU authors I am.)

It's worth checking out. (The NYT piece.) Harrison also has an essay on Karl Shapiro’s book Bourgeois Poet in this week's NYT Book Review. As is often the case, Harrison talks about Shapiro, but he's really discussing the life of a working poet.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More political fiction

I wrote a while ago about politicians and racy novels, including Scooter Libby's The Apprentice. Now, to mark the beginning of Libby's trial for obstruction of justice, Salon has a background/personality piece on Libby by his old boarding school roommate, Nick Bromell.

I bring this to your attention mostly for Bromell's alternative take on Libby's novel.
At bottom, there's a kind of innocence about Scooter. He has submitted to masters like Wolfowitz and Cheney because he respects them, just as a Zen novitiate submits to a meditation master or a young violinist reveres the prodigious talent of her teacher. This attitude was zealously nurtured by the prep schools we attended, where conformity to power was called "leadership" and submission to the system understood as "success." And it is Scooter's celebration of this attitude—not the sex scenes unfairly ridiculed by the New Yorker—that makes his novel The Apprentice so interesting today. The book tells the story of a young man just like Scooter, a man with the humility to bow before a master warrior and undertake a life of apprenticeship to figures mightier than himself.

A loss, but not a loss

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to hear a case from a nonprofit digital library and a film preservation group who sought to make archives of out-of-print books and old films available online. (via The Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription required)

In all truth, while I favor copyright law reform in favor of streamlining the entrance of older and out-of-print materials into the public domain, I'm not sure that this suit would have accomplished that, and so I'm not upset that the case isn't being heard. My non-expert, non-legal reading of the Chronicle's summary of the Ninth Circuit's decision is that these two groups were not seeking to change copyright law or ask that these materials be placed in the public domain. They were merely asking the court to deem their activities "fair use" exceptions to the law.

The money quote:

"The idea that out-of-print materials are risky to have in libraries of the future is a corruption of the idea of copyright and the traditions of libraries."
—Brewster Kahle, director and co-founder of the Internet Archive

I agree with Mr. Kahle in principle. However, making a book or film available for individual public viewing in a library is different than making it available for download on the internet. No amorphous appeal to an undefined "library of the future" changes that.

I believe in the potential of the internet as a universal library, and I object to the virtual annihilation of commercially non-viable out-of-print books and films under current copyright law. That, however, is exactly why we need to update our copyright laws instead of carving out a few, solitary, problematic exceptions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When did Slate become the mainstream outlet for information on good comics?

Slate has another slideshow about contemporary comics—this one about nonstandard takes on superhero stories. (Who is this Dan Kois guy? He seems to do good work. Also, can get he me work as a literary agent? That would be just about my dream job. Other than making a living off of all of those short stories I'm not writing.)

Actually, Kois's slide show leads me to a troubling admission: I don't really like Heroes. I don't watch it regularly, but I haven't been pulled in by what I've seen. Sure, Hiro is awesome, and Peter the power-mimic guy seems to be pretty cool, but I hate everyone else, especially Ali Larter's character. Am I missing something? Should I rent season 1 when it's released on DVD and give the whole thing another chance?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Now here's something you don't see every day

O. J. Simpson's book contract, with commentary. (via Slate)

(In order to qualify this post for my "fact and fiction" label, I'll include a link to Timothy Noah's argument, also on Slate, that If I Did It is really a confession, which includes the assertion by Simpson's ghostwriter that Simpson's own suggestion for the book's title was not If I Did It, but I Did It.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

How have I not written about this yet?

As most of my half-dozen or so regular readers already know, I've been working for the past several months on an "e-publishing" side project—Revelator. I've hinted at it on this site, and even plugged the books on occasion, but I've never really talked about why I'm doing it, or what I hope to be able to accomplish through Revelator.

Before I get too much further, I should make clear that there are two other people actively working as editors at Revelator and the goals and rationales in this essay are both my own, and since we work as a collective, no more important than either of theirs. That's why I'm posting here and not on the Revelator site: I'm not speaking on behalf of Revelator, but only for myself.

I've mentioned before that I started a lit mag when I was in college, and it was probably the defining experience of my college years. I've always wanted to be a writer, but almost as much I've wanted to be part of a movement—a group of writers with overlapping goals who talk about each other's work. Like many a solitary person, I've sought a group to be a part of, and like many an aspiring writer, I've found that if I wanted to share my own work, I was going to have to create my own opportunities to do so.

My magazine, The Offbeat, took on something of a life of its own, and I found myself working on the magazine as much if not more than on my own writing—I've written about my feelings on that phenomenon in the past and I won't revisit them here. More importantly, I found my group of like-minded writers, and was able to champion them through The Offbeat.

It has been several years since we all left MSU, and we are nearly all in different places. Some of us are writing, most of us struggle to do so, and none of us have attained anything even resembling commercial success.

I have missed publishing. I have missed reading new work from writers I am enthusiastic about. I know people who may just be able to break into the publishing world if encouraged to continue and given the opportunity for their work to find its way into the right hands.

Originally, the idea for Revelator was to produce chapbooks that would be available through subscriptions. (See One Story magazine for a good example of something similar.) It quickly became apparent that my fellow editors and I had neither the money nor time necessary to invest realistically in even a basic small business model. The obvious solution was to eliminate the money entirely—produce electronic chapbooks in PDF format for free distribution online. This turns out to have been the right decision for a host of reasons, not the least of which was that it freed us from all physical constraints involved in production and design. A good printed chapbook can neither be too short nor too long, but Revelator has been able to produce both short collections of poetry and relatively lengthy prose pieces without concern for either maintaining a minimum length or the cost of producing a larger chapbook. Additionally, we have been able to use images and color as beneficial to the overall design instead of having to worry about the production budget.

My expectation is that the work we print will be both polished and rough—polished enough to hold interest and show potential, rough because they are the early works of emerging writers. My thought has always been that if we saw a piece that was obviously ready for commercial publication that we would attempt to direct the author to the proper channels. Don't expect to read any "New Yorker" stories on Revelator, although I sincerely hope that some of our writers will find their way onto those pages. Expect good stories and good poems, fresh, new ideas, wit and sincerity, a concern for craft and art, and a surprise every now and then. We are going to spend most of our time working with the circle of writers we know and respect, but the three of us running Revelator have some fairly different circles and our own ideas about what sort of art most needs to be championed.

I hope that you'll read our chapbooks, and print them out if you'd like. Talk about them with your friends. Send an e-mail to an author or leave a comment on the Revelator page. We chose three word balloons as our logo because we hoped that we would start conversations. So get talking.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Finally, someone is doing some thinking

Meghan O'Rourke in Slate considers plagiarism, and finally draws at least some contrast between Ian McEwan and Kaavya Viswanathan.

O'Rourke's argument, in a nutshell:
Behind the talk of originality lurks another preoccupation, less plainly voiced: a concern about the just distribution of labor. In plenty of instances of so-called plagiarism, what bothers us isn't so much a lack of originality as the fact that the plagiarizer has stolen someone else's work—the time it took to write the words or do the necessary research. The cribbed student essay—which Posner views as a particularly insidious form of plagiarism, committed by approximately one-third of high-school and college students—isn't an academic crime because a C student has tried to pass himself as a Matthew Arnold in the making. It's an academic crime because the student who buys his thesis from a paper mill has shirked the labor that his fellow students actually perform.

What really bothers us about plagiarism isn't the notion of influence itself, but the notion that a piece of writing has been effortless for the thief in question. Instead of worrying whether writers who borrow from other artists are fakers, perhaps we should be asking if they're slackers. It might make it easier to decide which kinds of influence to condone and which to condemn.

I think that O'Rourke raises a good point, but I still can't totally agree that someone who buys a term paper online has only committed a sin of laziness. McEwan's borrowing demonstrates that originality and attribution in fiction are troublesome things to quantify—How much borrowing is too much? How many words in phrase? How much of the structure of a plot?—but the world of nonfiction is somewhat different. Ideas and arguments can and should be traced and attributed. It is no sin to adopt and expand upon someone else's idea unless you pass it off as your own.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Have-read list: 2006

Last year I posted a list of the books I read in 2005. Here, for interested parties, is this year's list.

  • Zadie Smith, On Beauty
  • Ian McEwan, Atonement
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study In Scarlet
  • Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  • Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
  • Tom Bissell, God Lives In St. Petersburg
  • John Osborne, Dejavu
  • Nell Freudenberger, Lucky Girls
  • Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle
  • Michael Duncan, Line Jester and Other Stories
  • Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms
  • William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
  • Andrew Hungerford, Between the Water and the Air
  • Thomas McGuane, The Sporting Club
  • Meg Sparling, The Nijinsky Poems
  • Carolyn Forche, Gathering the Tribes
  • Jennifer Egan, The Keep
  • James Goldman, The Lion In Winter

Eighteen is certainly better than last year's seven, but still not the twenty that I like to set as the goal for a year's reading. I do have some plans for 2007 reading, though. I've already finished The Guide by R. K. Narayan, and I've just started The Bushwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane. I need to do some Michigan reading (Richard Ford and more McGuane, particularly his new stories, and maybe this will be the year I finally read some of the Jim Harrison on my shelf), and I want to read some more classics and work in translation. (I've had Tristram Shandy on my shelf for a while, and I've gone a year without any Jane Austen, so I may be ready for Emma.)

So, Wordwrighters, what did you read this year?

Now all we need are the shiny metallic jumpsuits and we'll be in the future

A University of Arizona group has put together a proposal for a gardening unit for the planned lunar base, based on a working model they've constructed and operated in Antarctica. (via the Chronicle of Higher Education)