Blog Archives

Those powerful images of the national parks

October 4, 2009
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Those powerful images of the national parks

If you saw just one episode of the PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, or if you saw them all, you saw certain images repeatedly: brown bears catching salmon at Brooks Falls, a wolf loping across a meadow in Denali, bison lumbering through the snow of Hayden Valley, and Mt. McKinley rising to improbable heights above a cloud bank. These signature images are like a visual glue that Ken Burns used to hold together the multitude of places and people covered in the National Parks series. These indelible character of these signature images, and all the magnificent images in the series, attest to the remarkable power that photographic images of natural scenery have to create a compelling story and and establish cognitive and emotional connections with the parks as well as with the people who have preserved them. The National Parks series becomes the latest in a long chain of photographic imagery, including the work of Ansel Adams and New Deal filmmakers, to picture nature as a place of grace for the individual and the nation. This is the subject of a book we published a few years ago, Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental . . .

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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

September 25, 2009
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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

Bright Star, the new film written and directed by Jane Campion, opened in the Chicago area yesterday. Bright Star weaves a story of the romantic love and poetic longing of John Keats and Fanny Brawne during the last three years of Keats’ too-short life. Campion’s script was, according to today’s review in the Chicago Tribune, “inspired by the exceptional Andrew Motion biography Keats,” which we published in paperback in 1999. Motion’s biography is an interesting choice for a filmmaker. Andrew Motion is a poet above all; he served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. He has numerous books of poetry to his credit, as well as criticism and several other biographies. Keats is a poet’s biography of a poet; it is steeped in the words of the poet, shaped primarily by Keats’ letters and punctuated by Keats’ poems. It is as textual as you can get. Keats has come down to us, Motion writes, as a poets’ poet: the champion of truth and beauty, a sensualist, the archetype of the Romantic poet, who poured out words in a frenetic rush, writing all the poems we know him for in the space of a month or . . .

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Leszek Kolakowski, 1927–2009

July 22, 2009
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Leszek Kolakowski, 1927–2009

Philosopher Leszek Kolakowski died in Oxford on July 17 at the age of 81. Kolakowski earned his doctorate at Warsaw University and taught there until 1968. Early on Kolakowski embraced Marxism and joined the Polish communist party, but a trip to Moscow in 1950—sponsored by the party for promising young intellectuals—instead convinced him of “the enormity of material and spiritual desolation caused by the Stalinist system.” After Stalin’s death Poland (as elswehere) bubbled with conflict. By that time Kolakowski was a leading revisionist and an inspiration to those calling for more democracy. He was expelled from the party in 1966 and dismissed from his professorship two years later. He went into exile, but his writings, circulating underground in Poland, continued to shape the Polish intellectual opposition. His greatest work, Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution, appeared in the late 1970s, a three-volume history, analysis, and critique of the system he famously called “the greatest fantasy of our century.” Kolakowski was, above all, a critic of dogmatism and prevailing opinion, who delivered his critiques with incisive intelligence, erudition, and humor. Kolakowski taught at a number of universities in the West and was most-closely associated with Oxford University. From . . .

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Oak Park Public Library Warrior Librarians take the gold

July 14, 2009
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Oak Park Public Library Warrior Librarians take the gold

We first saw the Oak Park Public Library’s book cart drill team at a local Fourth of July parade a few years back. It was a revelation—a display of precision choreography never seen in the stacks. The team has come a long way since then and last Sunday, as reported by NPR, the Oak Park Public Library Warrior Librarians, as they are now known, reached the pinnacle of book cart drill team competition and grabbed the Gold Book Cart Award at the Chicago convention of the American Library Association. Cognotes A brief clip of their winning moves is available with the NPR story. Also see a video on Youtube of an earlier version of the team’s routine at the Illinois Library Association conference last fall. The OPPL Valkries are, apparently, headed for Disneyland. . . .

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Animals can tell right from wrong

May 29, 2009
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Animals can tell right from wrong

The research reported in Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’s provocative book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals is getting coverage around the world. Bekoff and Pierce argue that animals can act with compassion, altruism, and empathy. Rats, for instance, will not take food if their actions will cause visible pain to another rat. In a chimpanzee group in a Florida zoo, a chimp handicapped by cerebral palsy is rarely subjected to displays of aggression by other males. Elephants help injured or ill members of their herd, and have even show such compassion for members of other species. Feature articles about the claims made in the book have appeared recently in Australia in The Age (“Puppies may share our moral conscience“), in the UK (from whence we took our title) in the Daily Telegraph and in the Daily Mail, and closer to home in the less-whimsical Denver Post (“Canine emotions raise theological questions.”) Read an excerpt from the book and treat the animals you meet with new respect. . . .

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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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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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Happy Birthday Kate Turabian!

February 26, 2009
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Happy Birthday Kate Turabian!

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Shortlisted for the Diagram Prize

February 20, 2009
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Shortlisted for the Diagram Prize

We are bemused to note that our book Baboon Metaphysics is shortlisted for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, an annual competition conducted by The Bookseller in the UK. The Diagram Prize, perhaps the least-coveted award in the publishing industry, began at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978 when it was won by the memorable Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. Close to thirty books have since been honored. The Press is usually named as the publisher of the 1988 winner, Versailles: The View From Sweden, though we only distributed that book for its publisher, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. (And, no, the book was not about high-powered telescopes.) Previous winners of the Diagram Prize have tended toward the obscure (The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling), the suggestive (The Joy of Sex, the Pocket Edition), and the obscurely suggestive (Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality). The current competition is no exception, including shortlisted titles such as The Large Sieve and its Applications, Strip and Knit with Style, and Curbside Consultation of the Colon. The winner of the Diagram Prize will be decided by a public vote on The Bookseller website. Please vote early and vote often. . . .

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Writing on deadline

January 23, 2009
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Writing on deadline

Each day is another deadline. Then there is that ultimate deadline at the end of our lives. Our sense of the passage of time, and how our experience is shaped by the complexities of multiple deadlines, is the subject of Harald Weinrich’s book, On Borrowed Time: The Art and Economy of Living with Deadlines. John Gilbey reviewed the book for the Times Higher Education: Any tome that starts with a discussion of Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato and ends with an analysis of the 1998 film Run Lola Run has to be worthy of closer study. This one does not disappoint. Weinrich gives himself a very broad canvas—the impact that shortness of time has had on humanity across history—and he fills it well. He uses an unhurried, easy, and assured narrative style to tease out the complex nature of how we perceive time in natural and contrived situations. Gilbey goes so far as to venture: I believe that the structure and style of this book would lend itself well to being adapted for the screen, either as a single banquet or as a selection of very tasty snacks. If there is anyone out there looking to produce a high-quality, slightly quirky . . .

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