In the trenches

Self-published author rolls up his sleeves, puts on some dusty goggles*, and drives cross country in a car named “Thunder” to hawk his book at 50 bookstores over 50 days. Give this man a grade bump for effort.

Engel spent between $1,000 and $1,200 total on his 50-day journey. That money mostly accounted for Thunder’s fuel and groceries. Living off tuna sandwiches, carrots, celery and peanut butter, Engel budgeted $5 for food each day. Ahead of the trip, Engel reached out to friends who lived in each of the cities he stopped in and asked if he could crash on their couches for one night. He only had to spend one night in his car and two nights in the tent he packed. “I would go into a McDonald’s or Starbucks for Wi-Fi, whip out my paper towel, make my tuna sandwich and eat my carrots,” Engel said. “It sounds depressing and looks depressing in the pictures, but in the moment there was a weird element of freedom to that.” Engel’s last stop on the trip was Columbus’ very own Viewpoint Books, 548 Washington St. There, Engel hosted a brainstorming session with members of the community to not only talk about his trip, but discuss why bookstores are important and how individuals can support them. In collaboration with Viewpoint Books and several of his friends, Engel created a song and music video to convince people of the social and economic good that bookstores provide.

*I may have made up the bit about goggles.

New David Mitchell coming

Oooooh. Exciting. I’ve read all the others. I love being baffled and perplexed by this man.

Announcing the book, which will be released next June, Mitchell quoted the maxim that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, saying that Utopia Avenue stemmed from it.

“Songs (mostly) use language, but music plugs directly into something below or above language. Can a novel made of words (and not fitted with built-in speakers or Bluetooth) explore the wordless mysteries of music, and music’s impact on people and the world? How?” Mitchell asked. “Is it possible to dance about architecture after all? Utopia Avenue is my rather hefty stab at an answer.”

Interview: Intelligent designer Ingrid Paulson

Ingrid designed the covers for my second and third books. Love her work. Great to see her branching out into publishing.

ALU: There are so many well-known and well-loved classic novels out there. How do you decide which books to bring back to life with a fresh design?
IP: I didn’t go to university to study literature (I went to art college instead), so sometimes I feel at a disadvantage. I read a lot, and since I was young I’ve been reading as many classic novels as I could find. So I started with books I know and love, and then expand my own horizons by listening to colleagues, friends, and bookstores when they suggest certain titles. In Canada we are in the midst of a huge conversation about inclusion, colonialism, race, gender, ability… and the classic canon is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male. As a white woman, I can spot the sexism, but I know that I may not easily see how a book’s story arc works to uphold damaging notions of supremacy and exclusion. I’m learning all the time, perhaps even second-guessing some choices (Kate Chopin’s The Awakening comes to mind – it’s such a beautiful, amazing feminist novel, but the depiction of African-Americans makes me pause, and at this point in time I don’t feel I’m the one who can make that call publishing it). I know I have blind spots and I’m trying to keep that in mind. In the end, I’m trying to find those novels that still appeal to a contemporary audience without having to apologize for antiquated, damaging, ignorant ideas. 

The case for Blais in America

Marie-Claire Blais profiled in the New Yorker. Why is she not a bigger thing in America?

The career of the French-Canadian writer Marie-Claire Blais had precocious and auspicious beginnings. She published her first novel, “La Belle Bête,” in 1959, when she was just twenty years old. Translated into English by Merloyd Lawrence as “Mad Shadows,” the book is a faintly gothic portrait of a forsaken girl, and her mother’s obsession with her idiot brother—the “beautiful beast” of the title. The novel offers an incisive rendering of family dynamics; it is also disarmingly brutal, with a tragic ending that suggests that all beauty is false and that life’s only truth is suffering. Margaret Atwood, Blais’s exact contemporary, later wrote, “The book made me very uneasy, for more than the obvious reasons: the violence, the murders, suggestions of incest and the hallucinatory intensity of the writing were rare in Canadian literature in those days, but even scarier was the thought that this bloodcurdling fantasy, as well as its precocious verbal skill, were the products of a girl of 19. I was 19 myself, and with such an example before me I already felt like a late bloomer.”

The internet, circa 1700

Whither yon trolls should sit, their backs to the paper’s pillared bridge; / Waiting thus with patience kept, to call Wordsworth “ye bitch.”

About the year 1700, in London and other spots in the West, there was a lot of excitement about a new mode of communication, where information came so rapidly that people imagined they were interacting with each other in a virtual space. Fueled by new technologies of cheap paper-making and mass printing, and enabled by laws that permitted the spread of information, hundreds of newspapers, broadsheets, magazines, and little bound books were suddenly on offer. In this world of print, people could interact freely on topics ranging from politics to winemaking to books they liked. There were many names for that imagined space, and one really good one that eventually emerged was the beautiful-sounding phrase, the republic of letters
For the people of this time, the word “republic” was understood in its original Latin meaning—literally “thing” belonging to the “people”—but in an age of ever-stronger monarchies, the word had a sense of rebellion and subversion to it, too. As some modern social historians, such as Jurgen Habermas, have said, the imagined democracy of talkers eventually produced actual ones. But these virtual spaces also invited all sorts of ways to waste time, share rumors about celebrities, and make nasty comments about other members of this republic. In other words, this was the beginning of the internet

Why are we so worried about Instapoetry?

Have you ever seen a large, Viking-like dude reduced to a blubbering mass of regret and self-doubt? Drop by the house this morning. 10 bucks per gander.

Now, you’re more likely to know Macias as r.m. drake, the New York Times-bestselling poet with 1.9 million followers on Instagram. He has published 14 collections of poetry, has a number of celebrity followers, and his poems have been repeatedly shared by the Kardashians. While working at Univision, Macias wrote in his spare time. In 2012, he started sharing his work on Instagram – taking short excerpts, typing them on to handmade paper with his 1940s Royal typewriter in lower case, and signing off with “r.m. drake”. He would photograph the page and post the result, such as: “the best kind/of humans are/the ones who/stay”. By the end of 2014, he had over half a million followers and quit his job to write full time.