William Gibson profiled in The New Yorker

In the December 9, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman profiles one of the most influential authors in recent decades, William Gibson.

Gibson doesn’t have a name for his method; he knows only that it isn’t about prediction. It proceeds, instead, from a deep engagement with the present. When Gibson was starting to write, in the late nineteen-seventies, he watched kids playing games in video arcades and noticed how they ducked and twisted, as though they were on the other side of the screen. The Sony Walkman had just been introduced, so he bought one; he lived in Vancouver, and when he explored the city at night, listening to Joy Division, he felt as though the music were being transmitted directly into his brain, where it could merge with his perceptions of skyscrapers and slums. His wife, Deborah, was a graduate student in linguistics who taught E.S.L. He listened to her young Japanese students talk about Vancouver as though it were a backwater; Tokyo must really be something, he thought. He remembered a weeping ambulance driver in a bar, saying, “She flatlined.” On a legal pad, Gibson tried inventing words to describe the space behind the screen; he crossed out “infospace” and “dataspace” before coming up with “cyberspace.” He didn’t know what it might be, but it sounded cool, like something a person might explore even though it was dangerous.

(Image: William Gibson by Frédéric Poirot , CC-BY) Read the rest

List of popular books people started reading and then abandoned

When I was younger, I would feel so badly about abandoning a book that didn't grab me, I'd force myself to slog through it until the bitter end. Then I realized that there are only so many books I'll have time to read in my lifetime so it's better to make each one count. If I'm not consistently pulled into the pages, I drop the book and crack another one. Of course there are exceptions, but it mostly means that I've enjoyed nearly all the books I've finished reading in recent years. Related, here is Goodreads' list of the most popular books users of the service have abandoned.

(via Kottke) Read the rest

Inside Alan Moore's Head

With The Watchmen now on teevee, I hope that many more people will dive into the magickal brilliance of Alan Moore who co-created the original comic in 1987 along with other seminal works like V for Vendetta and Batman: The Killing Joke. Over at the Daily Grail, Greg points us to a fantastic web video series of 5-minute mind grenades with Moore. Below are two of my favorite segments in the 8-part series, titled "Inside Alan Moore's Head." You can also view them on YouTube.

image: Fimb (CC BY 2.0) Read the rest

When William S. Burroughs met Bob Dylan

Music critic Casey Rae's new book William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock 'n' Roll explores the vast influence that Burroughs had on musicians both underground and mainstream, from David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith to The Beatles, Kurt Cobain, and Radiohead. In a Longreads excerpt from the book, Rae tells the tale of Burroughs's 1965 meeting with Bob Dylan:

Burroughs and Dylan took their meeting at a small café in Man­hattan’s East Village, the precise location of which has been lost to time and memory. “He struck me as someone who was obviously competent,” Burroughs later told Victor Bockris. “If his subject had been something that I knew absolutely nothing about, such as math­ematics, I would have still received the same impression of compe­tence. Dylan said he had a knack for writing lyrics and expected to make a lot of money.” Personally, Burroughs had little use for money beyond its utility in purchasing narcotics and avoiding hard labor. But he could easily spot élan, which Dylan had in spades. “He had a likable direct approach in conversation, at the same time cool, re­served,” Burroughs later recalled to Bockris. “He was very young, quite handsome in a sharp-featured way. He had on a black turtle­neck sweater.” Although they only met once in person, Burroughs left a mark on the younger artist. According to critic R. B. Morris, “There’s no doubt that he was greatly influenced by Burroughs’ wild juxtaposing of images and scenes, as well as subject matter.” After encountering Burroughs, Dylan’s work became even more abstract, caustic, and surreal.

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The strange "No Frills" series of totally generic genre fiction books from the 1980s

The "No Frills" series was a collection of genre fiction paperbacks published by Jove Publishing in 1981 with plain covers, no author names, and maximally pulp plots. From Weird Universe:

Terry Bisson, who was one of the instigators of this project, reports:

Mystery was written by Clark Dimond, a men's mag editor/writer who also wrote for comics. The Romance was written by Judy Coyne (former Glamour mag editor) nee Wederholt The SF was written by John Silbersack, SF editor and now an agent. The Western was by Vic Milan (SF author) We were working on a No-Frills Besteller (by me) and A No-Frills movie (by film critic David Ansen) when the series was dropped. My partner selling the series was Lou Rosetto who went on to found WIRED magazine.

"No Frills Books" (Weird Universe)

More at this old post on Bill Crider's blog: "Forgotten Books -- Mystery" Read the rest

Patti Smith has a new memoir on the way

The inimitable Patti Smith will release a new memoir, Year of the Monkey, on September 24. A blend of reality and dreams, illustrated with Smith's Polaroids, the book captures her experience of a single year, 2016. From the publisher:

Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs–including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, “Anything is possible: after all, it’s the Year of the Monkey.” For Smith – inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing – the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America.

Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places, this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment set in. But as Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world.

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Unseen sequel to Anthony Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" found in his archives

Attention, Droogs! A sequel to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange has turned up in the author's archives. According to Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the 200-page manuscript, titled "The Clockwork Condition," "provides a context for Burgess's most famous work, and amplifies his views on crime, punishment and the possible corrupting effects of visual culture." From the BBC News:

Burgess himself described the work as a "major philosophical statement on the contemporary human condition", outlining his concerns about the effect on humanity of technology, in particular media, film and television.

It also explains the origins of his novel's unusual title.

"In 1945, back from the army," an extract reads, "I heard an 80-year-old Cockney in a London pub say that somebody was 'as queer as a clockwork orange'.

"The 'queer' did not mean homosexual: it meant mad... For nearly twenty years I wanted to use it as the title of something... It was a traditional trope, and it asked to entitle a work which combined a concern with tradition and a bizarre technique..."

Prof Biswell, who is also professor of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the author abandoned the manuscript when he came to realise "he was a novelist and not a philosopher".

"Unseen Clockwork Orange 'follow-up' by Anthony Burgess unearthed" (BBC Bews)

image: cover art for "A Clockwork Orange" (Penguin Books, 1972) by David Pellham

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For sale: home that inspired Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Ponden Hall, a nine bedroom house in Stanbury, West Yorkshire, England, is considered to be the inspiration for Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and sister Anne's Wildfell Hall. The Brontës spent a great deal of time on the property in the early 1800s. Now it could be yours. Current owner and Brontë superfan Julie Akhurst and her husband have put it on the market for £1.25m. In their twenty years of ownership, they've completed a major, yet careful, renovation and opened it as a B&B for other Brontë geeks. From the Yorkshire Post:

The most popular B&B room at Ponden Hall is the Earnshaw room. It features a tiny east gable window that exactly fits Emily Brontë’s description in Wuthering Heights of Cathy’s ghost scratching furiously at the glass trying to get in...

“We think that Emily based that scene on this room because old documents relating to the house describe a box bed in a room across from the library and you can see where it was bolted to the wall by the window. It is just how it is described in Wuthering Heights.

“Plus the date plaque above the main entrance identifies the hall as being rebuilt in 1801 and Emily’s story starts with that exact date,” says Julie who has had a replica box bed made for the room.

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Watch the new trailer for the JRR Tolkien biopic

Directed by Dome Karukoski, Tolkien is the new biopic about the author's childhood where, of course, it all began. The film, written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford and starring Nicholas Hoult as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Lily Collins as his wife and inspiration, will be released May 10. From the trailer description:

TOLKIEN explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels.

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Inside Roald Dahl's backyard writing "hut"

"It may not be pretty or tidy, and it certainly hasn't been cleaned and the floor hasn't been swept for five years at least..."

In this 1982 interview, Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, takes us inside his backyard writing hut in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England. The hut is now part of the Roald Dahl Museum.

Dahl modeled his hut on Dylan Thomas's own writing shed in Carmarthenshire, Wales. From BBC News:

Although Dahl based the design of his hut on Thomas's shed, there was one major difference - the lack of natural light. He often kept his curtains drawn (10) to block out the outside world and was dependant on an angle-poise lamp for light....

Dahl's widow Felicity said: "He realised he had to have a space of his own in the garden away from the children and the noise and the general domesticity and he remembered that Dylan had felt the same.

"And so he went down to Wales to look at Dylan's writing hut and, like everybody, fell in love with it."

Built to the same proportions, with the same angled roof - the similarities could be a coincidence. But according to his widow it was built in a similar design by Dahl's builder friend Wally Saunders, who the BFG was based on.

"He built it exactly to the same proportions as Dylan's hut, the same roof, one skin of brick," said Mrs Dahl. "Of course Dylan's hut was a garage originally, whereas Roald had nothing, it was an empty space that he built on."

"How Dylan Thomas's writing shed inspired Roald Dahl" (BBC News)

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Douglas Rushkoff: Join "Team Human!"

Boing Boing pal Douglas Rushkoff's new book, Team Human, is a fiery, inspiring, and ultimately optimistic call for us to fight against the divisive, commodifying agenda built into our technology, reassert what it really means to be human, and then, as Timothy Leary urged, "find the others." Above, watch Doug lay it all out in a TED Salon talk.

From TED:

Humans are no longer valued for our creativity, says media theorist Douglas Rushkoff -- in a world dominated by digital technology, we're now just valued for our data. In a passionate talk, Rushkoff urges us to stop using technology to optimize people for the market and start using it to build a future centered on our pre-digital values of connection, creativity and respect.

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Haruki Murakami donating his huge record collection to university

Author Haruki Murakami is donating a large collection of his personal materials -- original manuscripts, letters, foreign language editions of his books, and 10,000 vinyl records -- to his alma mater Waseda University. From the Japan Times:

The donation “is a very important thing for me, so I thought I should explain clearly” by holding a news conference, said Murakami, 69. “I don’t have any children, and it would cause trouble for me if those materials became scattered or lost..."

Using the donated materials, the university in Tokyo is considering setting up an international study center featuring the author’s works. It also plans to create a space that will resemble a study room with bookshelves and music records...

In the envisioned facility to house his documents, Murakami said if possible he wants to organize a concert using his collection of vinyl records, which total more than 10,000 copies.

Murakami, who opened a cafe for jazz enthusiasts in Tokyo while still a student at Waseda University, has said music is an essential component of his career in literature.

Previously: "A Murakami playlist" Read the rest

Fear and Soldering, an excerpt from Peter Bebergal's Strange Frequencies

I posted some pre-release interviews with Peter Bebergal about his latest book, Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. The book examines the frequent use of science and technology in pursuit of the otherworldly.

In Strange Frequencies, Peter gets up close and hands on with such tinfoil fun stuff as ghost boxes, spirit radios, EVP recordings, spirit photography, brain toys, and more. In the following excerpt, reprinted from Strange Frequencies and used with permission from TarcherPerigree/Penguin, Random House, Peter delves into the history of the "ghost box" and sets out to try and build one of his own.

Fear and Soldering

In 1995, the October issue of Popular Electronics offered the article “Ghost Voices: Exploring the Mysteries of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP),” and laid out a few methods for modifying radios to be able to answer whether “the dead are trying to break through the veil between the worlds.” Various techniques are presented: a simple tape recorder with a microphone in a quiet room might record answers to questions that can be heard on playback (tried it, no luck); a circuit to build a small radio much like the Tesla radio I built; tuning a radio between stations and recording the static; and a white noise generator schematic to use instead of a radio to be sure stray transmissions are not being picked up. The tone of the piece is playful but not skeptical. The author takes no position, but Popular Electronics was written for the amateur hobbyist, and if any audience would be interested in such an article, it would certainly be this magazine’s readers.

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Author Peter Bebergal discusses his latest book, Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural

Boing Boing pal, Peter Bebergal, has a new book coming out later this month called Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. In 2015's Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock n' Roll, Peter explored what he identified as the "occult imagination" and how it had provided critical inspiration to many ground-breaking rock artists of the 60s and 70s (and beyond). In Strange Frequencies, Peter takes a hands-on look at how technology has always gone hand-in-hand with explorations of the otherworldy. He experiments with building a spirit radio, EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recordings, a brain machine, and an automaton, and examines the legend of the Golem (arguably the "programmable robot" of Jewish mysticism), spirit photography, and the relationship between stage magic and magic of the supernatural.

To give you a taste of some of what's in Strange Frequencies, Peter recently appeared on Ryan Peverly's Occulture podcast. Peverly says that Strange Frequencies is the coolest book you will read all year.

And Haute Macabre has just published an interview with Peter conducted by the poet, Janaka Stucky.

JS: I’m glad you brought up divination because that relates to something else that was revelatory to me throughout the book, namely: that the ‘technology’ in the “technological quest for the supernatural” of the title isn’t just cameras, or televisions, or other mechanical devices, but also that crystals or sigils and other more fundamental tools external to our bodies are a kind of technology we use.

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Hunter S. Thompson letter archive up for auction

Nearly 200 personal letters by Hunter S. Thompson to a lifelong friend are up for auction today. Bidding ends today (9/27) at 5pm PDT. The minimum bid is $110,000 and there are no bids as of this writing. From Nate D. Sanders Auctions:

Archive includes Thompson's famous letter written the day of JFK's assassination (the complete letter, which was only partially published in "Proud Highway"), and other extremely controversial letters, such as brutal and unpublished details of his time at the Slates Hot Springs in Big Sur, where he patrolled the grounds, including the baths, when he served as its caretaker. Many letters deal with writing "The Rum Diary", his time with (and beating by) the Hell's Angels and the book about them that made him famous, and trying to get published in the early 1960s when he was a struggling author...

On 22 June 1965, Thompson gets a check to write "on Cycle gangs", in part, "you are thinking in terms of 40 years from now, while I hesitate to think beyond 40 days. Or -- at the moment -- six months, due to the contract I just signed: $6000 guarantee against royalties for a paperback on Cycle gangs…Things are hopping and I shouldn't be writing letters. I have to whip up an outline for the Cycle book and right now I don't have the vaguest idea what I'll write…Incredible. I've been drunk for two weeks." He continues on 6 July, "I warn you that you are going to find me a much tougher and shittier person than the one you left in Louisville 2 years go…It has finally come home to me that I am not going to be either the Fitzgerald or the Hemingway of this generation…I am going to be the Thompson of this generation, and that makes me more nervous than anything else I can think of…

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Why Edgar Allan Poe's work is still so damn good and creepy

Edgar Allan Poe scholar Scott Peeples explains the black magic of Poe's work nearly 170 years after he died. From TED-Ed:

The prisoner strapped under a descending pendulum blade. A raven who refuses to leave the narrator’s chamber. A beating heart buried under the floorboards. Poe’s macabre and innovative stories of gothic horror have left a timeless mark on literature. But just what is it that makes Edgar Allan Poe one of the greatest American authors? Scott Peeples investigates.

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The New York Public Library's curious collection of authors' personal items

From Gareth Smit's article in The New Yorker:

The Berg Collection’s roughly two thousand linear feet of manuscripts and archival materials were donated to the library, in 1940, by two brothers, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg. The brothers, both doctors who lived on the Upper East Side, were avid collectors of English and American literature—and of literary paraphernalia.

The library categorizes these items as “Realia”—objects from everyday life. The Berg Collection includes Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk, with a lock of her hair inside; trinkets belonging to Jack Kerouac, including his harmonicas, and a card upon which he wrote “blood” in his own blood; typewriters belonging to S. J. Perelman and Paul Metcalf; Mark Twain’s pen and wire-rimmed glasses; Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly drawings; and the death masks of the poets James Merrill and E. E. Cummings.

Although the Berg Collection is intended to cater to researchers, curators are always keeping an eye out for items that complement the existing archive. Virginia Woolf’s cane may be of little interest to scholars, but it’s an important artifact that was likely the last thing she used before her death.

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