American books are getting swearier

Psych scholars from San Diego State and U Georgia used Google Books to systematically explore the growth of swear-words in published American literature: they conclude that books are getting swearier and that this is a bellwether for a growth in the value of individualism: "Due to the greater valuation of the rights of the individual self, individualistic cultures favor more self-expression in general (Kim & Sherman, 2007) and allow more expression of personal anger in particular (Safdar et al., 2009). Thus, a more individualistic culture should be one with a higher frequency of swear word use." Read the rest

A new edition of Daniel Pinkwater's happy mutant kids' classic, "Lizard Music"

Back in 2011, The New York Review of Books inducted Daniel Pinkwater's classic Lizard Music into its canon with a handsome little hardcover edition; today they follow that up with a stylish, jazzy paperback, priced to move at $10. Read the rest

You are Henry David Thoreau in the Walden simulator video game

After years of buzz, the USC Game Innovation Lab finally released Walden: The Game earlier this month, allowing players to immerse themselves in a six-hour experience in which they play Henry David Thoreau on his gripping quest for solitude and mental clarity. Read the rest

Acting Madly: the secret history of the lost MAD-alike magazines of the satire boom

It's been a bumper year for documentary evidence of the lost, weird history of MAD Magazine: first there was the gorgeous hardcover that uncovered the two-issue, unlimited-budget Trump Magazine (created by MAD's founding editor Harvey Kurtzman after a falling out with publisher William Gaines, Jr, operating with a bankroll provided by Hugh "Playboy" Hefner); now there's Behaving Madly, which assembles a timeline of the short-lived, incredibly proliferated MAD rip-offs that popped up as Kurtzman and his successor proved that there was big bucks to be found in satire.

Mesmerizing animations of 1960s science book op art covers

In the 1960s, book designers gave many science and psychology paperbacks glorious avant-garde and op art covers. Henning M. Lederer just released his second collection of animations of these fine book jackets! Below is the first, from 2015.

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All about the Black Death flea that killed 100 million people

Oriental Rat Flea

(Xenopsylla cheopis)

SIZE: Up to 1/6 in (4 mm)

FAMILY: Pulicidae

HABITAT: Near rats, their primary food source

DISTRIBUTION: Worldwide, particularly tropical and subtropical climates, but some temperate zones as well

MEET THE RELATIVES: The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, is a relative, as is the dog flea C. can is—but in the United States, it is primarily the cat flea that preys on both cats and dogs. They are known to transmit tapeworms.

Excerpted from Wicked Bugs (Young Readers Edition): The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth by Amy Stewart, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. © 2017 by Amy Stewart. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Young Readers. All rights reserved. Available from Amazon.

On an autumn day in 1907, two brothers in San Francisco found a dead rat in the cellar. Inspired by their father, an undertaker, they decided to find a coffin for the rat to give it a proper funeral.

When they ran home for dinner that night, the boys brought along a souvenir of their adventures—bloodthirsty fleas, starved for a meal after their rat host had died. Along with the fleas came a deadly disease—the plague.

The rat flea would prefer to leave humans, cats, dogs, and chickens alone, but when rat populations experience a massive die off—as they do during epidemics of the plague—the fleas turn to other warm-blooded creatures for their food. This is exactly what happened to those two unfortunate boys. Within a month, the plague had killed their parents but spared the boys, leaving them orphans. Read the rest

Chuck Palahniuk hid a timecapsule in his former home and the current owners found it

In 2007, Fight Club and Snuff author Chuck Palahniuk sold his home in Portland, Oregon. Recently, the current owner Jolynn Winter was having some work done in a bathroom and when the contractors opened up the ceiling, they found a time capsule that Palahniuk left behind. Inside was a letter he wrote about the house, a signed copy of Fight Club, family photos, and his original renovation drawings for the bathroom. From Winter's post on Facebook:

SO,THIS WAS A FUN REMODEL FIND!!! We bought our house from Fight Club author, Chuck Palahniuk, 10 years ago. While my contractors were tearing out the ceiling, they found this old Backgammon box full of stuff. It contained the design of Chuck's bathroom remodel, a letter to whoever found the box, an autographed copy of Fight Club, photos and newspaper articles from the date they put the box in the ceiling. Very cool. Thanks Chuck Palahniuk!!! We'll pay it forward!

(via Atlas Obscura)

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Walkaway is a finalist for the Dragon Awards and is #1 on Locus's hardcover bestseller list

Dragon Con's Dragon Award ballot was just published and I'm delighted to learn that my novel Walkaway is a finalist in the "Best Apocalyptic Novel" category, along with Daniel Humphreys' A Place Outside the Wild, Omar El Akkad's American War, Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz's Codename: Unsub, N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate, Rick Heinz's The Seventh Age: Dawn, and J.F. Holmes's ZK: Falling. Read the rest

William Gibson: what we talk about, when we talk about dystopia

With pre-orders open for the graphic novel collecting William Gibson's amazing comic book Archangel, and a linked novel on the way that ties the 2016 election to the world of The Peripheral, William Gibson has conducted a fascinating interview with Vulture on the surge in popularity in dystopian literature. Read the rest

Lost Heroes and Miniature Histories of L.A.

This week on HOME: Stories From L.A., a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network:

"The best historians in L.A. are storytellers. They're gangsters in east L.A., they're ex-cons, they're guys who worked in their garage their whole life, they're guys who've worked at one business for forty years, people who've lived on one street for forty years... "

“All Night Menu” started with a question: What is a well-known photograph of William Faulkner not telling us about his time in Hollywood? Since then writer Sam Sweet has spent four years prowling LA for its most closely-held stories. The result is a lovingly-produced, meticulously-researched and gorgeously-written three volumes of the city’s secret history.

This is the third episode of Season 5. You can catch up on the whole series at the iTunes Store. While you're there, please take a second to leave the show a rating and review. And you can subscribe right here:  

iTunes | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS Read the rest

Story of the man who became Playgirl's Playmate of the Year 1979

There have been many scenarios post the fall of the second temple for a young Jewish boy to try and get out of studying for his Bar Mitzvah, but in his debut book, my friend Lou Cove tells a story that seems almost as big of a fiction as the bible itself. The book is called Man of the Year, and it's a memoir about 12-year-old Louis’ swapping Hebrew study to spend time on a campaign to help his father’s friend become Playgirl’s playmate of the year in 1979, all while living in provincial Salem, Mass. And what is more, the candidate, Howie Gordon, not only wins but goes on to become one of the great male adult film stars during the golden age of pornography.

Lou went on to raise millions of dollars for non-profit organizations, using this experience as a formative guidepost.

For those of you unfamiliar with Playgirl, think about Playboy magazine, but for women and filled with photos of guys showing their junk. When Howie Gordon posed for the magazine, he was the first to break the erection-barrier…posing fully-masted in his Mr. November 1978 pictorial. By the time he and his wife came to Salem, he already had bigger (harder?) ambitions of winning the competition for Playgirl Man of the Year. All he needed was a campaign manager.

And while Howie’s story is so very compelling, Man Of The Year is definitely Lou’s story. He shares his experience of moving with his family from exciting New York to a seemingly more-boring Salem, how his father’s friend Howie and new bride Carly moved in with them and shared with the family (at the Thanksgiving table) Howie’s Playmate ambitions, Lou’s excitement of having Howie take on the role as XXX Mary Poppins (with his more modern take on spoonfuls of sugar), hand watching his parent’s marriage collapse as he hit the campaign trail to help Howie. Read the rest

Bitch Doctrine: sympathy, empathy and rage from the Laurie Penny's red pen of justice

Before Laurie Penny was a brilliant young feminist novelist, she was a brilliant young essayist, blazing through the British (and then the world's) media with column after column that skewered social ills on what Warren Ellis aptly dubbed her "red pen of justice."

Daniel Handler: "Want Teenage Boys to Read? Give Them Books About Sex."

Teenage girls read far more than teenage boys. Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series and other fantastic tales, has a suggestion on how to increase teen boys' interest in books: more sex in the pages. From Daniel's essay in the New York Times:

It is a gross generalization, of course, to say that what young men want to read about is sex — or to imply that the rest of us aren’t as interested — but it’s also offensive to pretend, when we’re ostensibly wondering how to get more young men to read, that they’re not interested in the thing we all know they’re interested in. There’s hardly any real sex in young adult books, and when it happens, it’s largely couched in the utopian dreams or the finger-wagging object lessons of the world we hope for, rather than the messy, risky, delicious and heartbreaking one we live in.

My new novel portrays a young boy’s emotional, heteroflexible sex life — and I’d like young people to read it. But it’s being published for adults, partly because the guardians of young people’s literature get so easily riled up about sex, preferring to recommend, say, books about teenagers slaughtering one another in a post-apocalyptic landscape, rather than books about kids masturbating at home.

To which many would say, so what? Don’t we have more important things to worry about than giving sexually explicit literature to young people? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about, say, the rampant misogyny of everyday life, in a nation led by a self-admitted sexual predator?

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Headbadges: the lost, gorgeous bicycle hood ornaments of yesteryear

Collectors Weekly's feature on "headbages" tells the story of the 1000+ badge collection of bike-mechanic-turned-evolutionary-biologist Jeffrey Conner, who published a book on the subject, featuring an alphabetic index of photos from his collection.

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The first traveling library

Said to be the first example of a portable, miniaturized selection of books, this 17th-century traveling library toured England and was reportedly commissioned by William Hakewill, MP., who liked it so much he made several more.

The miniature library was contained in a wooden case, bound in brown turkey leather, disguising it as a large folio volume, containing three shelves of gold-tooled vellum-bound books.

Now it may not be backlit or be able to use Wi-Fi, but back in 17th century England only four families were lucky enough to have one.

Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, said: 'The Jacobean travelling library - one of only four made - dates from 1617 and is one of the most curious items in the Brotherton Collection. The miniature books are contained in a wooden case disguised to look like a large book. It's essentially a 17th century e-book reader such as a Kindle.'

Is there a good "briefcase 'o books" you can buy nowadays? You can get plenty of sets, for sure, including miniature encyclopedias and classic fiction, but none are designed to travel. Read the rest

Insights from statistical analysis of great (and not-great) literature

Ben Blatt's Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing takes advantage of the fact that so much literature has been digitized, allowing him to run statistical analyses on writers, old and new, and make both fun and meaningful inferences about the empirical nature of writing. Read the rest

Chemist of Mysteries: Man Ray’s Dream Photos

Minimalist and modern-sounding, Man Ray is the sort of name that seems as if it should be outlined in buzzing neon. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia on August 27, 1890, the photographer and visual artist shortened his nickname, “Manny,” to Man, and after 1912 went by a less Jewish-sounding version of his surname in response to the anti-Semitism of the times.

It was an inspired choice. Man Ray sounds like a shaft of light in human form—a radiant man. “I have freed myself from the sticky medium of paint and am working directly with light itself,” the frustrated painter exulted, after discovering the technique that enabled him to produce Rayographs, as he called them—spooky, one-of-a-kind images created by placing objects on light-sensitive paper and exposing them to light, producing white silhouettes that glow eerily against a black background, like ectoplasmic manifestations in a Spiritualist photograph. “Everything can be transformed, deformed, and obliterated by light,” he said. “Its flexibility is precisely the same as the suppleness of the brush.”

Ray’s work is collected in a new book, Man Ray (part of Taschen’s Photo Masters series). A fellow traveler of the Dadaists and Surrealists, Ray (1890-1976) pioneered unconventional techniques that, married to his visual wit, evoke hidden realities. “By assembling a vocabulary of seldom-used darkroom techniques, he freed photography from its reputation for recording the observable world and used it to create images drawn from the imagination,” writes Katherine Ware in her essay “Chemist of Mysteries,” included in the book. In his alien still lives, Calla lilies give off a radioactive glow (a special effect produced by solarization, in which a print or a negative is exposed during its development, causing some darks to appear light, some lights to appear dark). Read the rest

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