Monthly Archives: March 2009

Naive elk

March 17, 2009
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Naive elk

Author Joel Berger did an interview last Saturday for the Bob Edwards Weekend show about his new book, The Better to Eat You With: Fear in the Animal World. Berger begins by citing his experience watching several wolves—recently reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park after a sixty-year absence—as they stalked and killed an elk that, to Berger’s surprise, remained oblivious to the danger until it was too late. This lead Berger to the hypothesis that after only six decades, the elk had forgotten to fear a species that had survived by eating them for millennia. In the interview Berger expands on this idea citing a distinctly non-genetic aspect of the animal’s fear response that he attributes instead to a cultural element within the animal kingdom, comparing the elk’s behavior to a hypothetical naive tourist wandering through a tough neighborhood. Listen to the archived podcast of the show at podcast.com. . . .

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The Wearing of the Green

March 17, 2009
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The Wearing of the Green

Today is St. Patrick’s Day; what color are you wearing? This weekend, the Chicago River, in an annual tradition, was dyed a brilliant green hue (ironically, the dye itself is orange, another color long associated with Ireland) and, in a nod to the new occupants’ home town, today the White House fountains were tinted in honor of St. Pat. The Chicago Tribune offers a fascinating top ten list of things you might not know about the color green (Including the fact that women’s faces are more green than men’s. Who knew?), but if you really want to see the world through, pardon the pun, green-tinted glasses, we recommend Bruce R. Smith’s The Key of Green. It turns out we’ve been crazy about the color for hundreds of years (and not just on St. Patrick’s Day). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the color green was curiously prominent and resonant in English culture: it was the most common color of household goods, the recommended wall color against which to view paintings, the hue that was supposed to appear in alchemical processes at the moment base metal turned to gold, and the color most frequently associated with human passions of all sorts. . . .

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Maclean’s strange artistry

March 16, 2009
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Maclean’s strange artistry

Writer Philip Connors reviews The Norman Maclean Reader in the March 30 issue of The Nation. Connors, who acknowledges that his life has certain similarities with Maclean’s, recounts Maclean’s life and literary works: the one book published in his lifetime (A River Runs Through It and Other Stories) and another published posthumously (Young Men and Fire). “His career,” writes Connors, “is one of the strangest in American letters.” He relates some of the memorable moments of Maclean’s publishing history, including the letter he wrote to a publisher who was trying to court the writer after the publication of A River Runs Through It. Connors continues: It’s not as if Maclean didn’t know his stories were strange. He often said he wrote them in part so the world would know of what artistry men and women were capable in the woods of his youth, before helicopters and chain saws rendered obsolete the ancient skills of packing with mules and felling trees with crosscut saws. Artistry, specifically artistry with one’s hands, was for him among life’s most refined achievements. Read the whole review; there are some interesting reflections on the religious resonances of Maclean’s works. We have a website for Norman Maclean. . . .

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Friday Remainders

March 13, 2009
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Friday Remainders

First in today’s roundup: tips for the road. Time Out Chicago recently featured some “essential trunk items every Chicagoan should carry.” Alongside your $50 in quarters for downtown parking meters, a siphon in case of painful increases in gas prices, and a tire inflator for unfortunate encounters with gaping potholes, The Encyclopedia of Chicago is the savvy commuter’s book of choice for whiling away hours stuck in Chicago’s third-in-the-nation-worst traffic. See a special website for The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Two of our books were reviewed in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Stephen Shapin’s The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation is given the once-over by H. Allen Orr who ultimately produces a favorable assessment of what Orr describes as Shapin’s natural history of the American scientist. A revealing look at the disjunction between dominant sociological views of science and its realities, as Orr writes, Shapin’s treatment is “a major contribution to a fascinating topic.” Read an interview with Shapin and listen to an audio interview he did for the Chicago Audio Works podcast. Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History was referenced along with several other books about the pre-eminent 20th . . .

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Seth Lerer wins the NBCC

March 12, 2009
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Seth Lerer wins the NBCC

We have a winner. The National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of their 2008 awards today and we are happy to congratulate Seth Lerer on his win in the criticism category for Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. A few days ago NBCC board member Carlin Romano described, in a posting to Critical Mass, the achievements of the book and the fairy-tale-like spell it cast on the committee: Lerer brought to his subject both the critical acuity and unlimited openness it deserved. He insisted on placing a complex literature within the history of childhood, a story both contested and blessedly clear. He took into account the cavalcade of publishing history, without permitting it to trample the imaginative “transformations” wrought by the books. He understood that his terrain included not just books written for children, but books read by them, driving home the critical spine signaled by his subtitle. Lerer accomplished much else in his fairy-tale feat of levitating a University of Chicago Press study, despite its small type, to a possible national prize from critics beleaguered by eye strain.… Members of the NBCC Board swallowed whole this splendid meditation on the literature that changes us . . .

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Less stressful copy editing

March 12, 2009
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Less stressful copy editing

Perhaps you can remember those halcyon days when the rules of style and grammar ingrained in us by our school teachers offered a reliable framework for writing, and a concrete set of rules to follow when approaching the work of others. But if you can remember that far back, you can also remember how that sense of order and justice was inevitably crushed as one ventured into the grammatical complexities and gray areas of reality. Navigating the diverse and dynamic world of the English language has presented many a writer with a difficult challenge. The copy editor is the writer’s guide through the pitfalls and minefields of language. Among the best of these is Carol Fisher Saller, who’s tough yet tolerant approach—both in her career as senior manuscript editor at the press and as the wit behind the Chicago Style Q&A—has improved writers and editors alike. Now, with The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself), Saller offers her guidance and knowledge in book form, tailored to all those frazzled wordsmiths in need of more than just a guide to grammar, but a guide to a life working . . .

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Before Breakfast with Thom Gunn

March 12, 2009
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Before Breakfast with Thom Gunn

The blog First Book Interviews is running an interview with Randall Mann, just in time for the publication of his second collection of poems, Breakfast with Thom Gunn. In addition to giving readers an unvarnished look at the early stages of a poet’s career, Mann discusses how his work has evolved between the publication of his first book, Complaint in the Garden, and his new volume, which comes out next month. “As I have grown more ragged and unsure, so have my poems,” he told First Book editor Keith Montesano. “The poems are mostly set in San Francisco. There is a queer, I hope unforgiving, anxiety, and a harsher take on love and loss and landscape. I worked on the book for nine years.” We have a preview of the results. . . .

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Ready for his close-up

March 11, 2009
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Ready for his close-up

As various media outlets reported yesterday, a new portrait of Shakespeare, discovered in the collection of the aristocratic Cobbe family who owned it for nearly 300 years, is the only known likeness of the Bard produced during his lifetime. According to the Associated Press, Paul Edmondson, director of learning at the Shakespeare Learning Trust, offered good odds that the unidentified sitter in the painting is indeed the great playwright. “We’re 90 percent sure that it’s Shakespeare. You’ll never be entirely certain. There will always be voices of dissent.” But there is no argument on this matter—this Shakespeare (with youthful skin, rugged stubble, and beckoning eyes) is a fox. As the Guardian notes, Will was likely 46-years-old when the portrait was made. So why does he look like a strapping young lad in his mid-twenties? As Mark Broch, curator of the Cobbe family’s collection, suggested, “polish out the wrinkles and increas the size of the pearls” may indeed be the Elizabethan equivalent of modern airbrushing techniques. All of this excitement reminds us that whether in portraiture or scholarship, the question of identity is central to modern Shakespeare studies. The Press has published several books in recent years that grapple with this . . .

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Lawrence Glickman on the New Frugality

March 10, 2009
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Lawrence Glickman on the New Frugality

In response to the fall of consumer confidence “to its lowest level in more than three decades,” the New York Times‘s Room for Debate blog asked a few experts on the subject: How fast do spending habits change and are they affected by cultural pressures? Are new habits of thrift likely to last past an economic recovery? Lawrence Glickman, author of the forthcoming Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America, responds that an ethos of “recognizing consumer power even as people buy less” is resurfacing. “Americans are once again aware of the importance of consumer demand now that we’re in recessionary times,” Glickman writes. Indeed, in recent months, shopping has been cast as something akin to political action. This is nothing new. The attempt to turn economic clout into political power has been an important element of our political culture ever since the American Revolution. Even as Americans have been enthusiastic shoppers, they have also been avid in coordinating purchasing power for political purposes. No decade in American history saw more consumer activism than the Depression decade of the 1930s. Although one might think that the intensity of consumer protest would correlate with prosperity, Americans during the Depression . . .

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NBCC awards to be handed out this week

March 9, 2009
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NBCC awards to be handed out this week

The National Book Critics Circle will announce its awards this Thursday. Among the many distinguished books and authors nominated—Roberto Bolaño, Marilynne Robinson, Dexter Filkins included—our own Seth Lerer and his book Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter is up for best book in literary criticism. Charting the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter, Lerer explores the iconic books, ancient and contemporary alike, that have forged a lifelong love of literature in young readers during their formative years. Since its publication in June 2008, Lerer’s book has received heaps of glowing critical praise. A starred review in Library Journal noted “Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre.&hellilp; Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.” The San Francisco Chronicle raves “Lerer’s history reminds us of the wealth of literature written during the . . .

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