Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

What I Read Today

Took a day off from research at the British Library to wind down after start to the year being hectic with essays, presentations and Bookcamp. So, what did I read today that I found interesting? (decided to live-blog this, for kicks…)

George Orwell, ‘Bookshop Memories’; in Books vs Cigarettes. A nice wander through his experiences of working in a second-hand bookshop somewhere between Hampstead and Camden Town (which evokes Walden Books in Camden for me, where I found this Fantastic Mr. Fox). What was interesting was how many of the issues seems to still apply today, from my own experiences being a deputy manager of an Oxfam bookshop last year. The tendency for most customers to be casual browsers; the scarcity of true literature lovers (though he doesn’t give these people as much credit as I would, and I think our era has more people seeking out the classics); the interest in romance, crime etc; the uncertain status of the short story. One significant difference was the second-hand bookshop as lending library, something I’ve never encountered today. Bookshops offering more than just a place to buy books. What function do second-hand bookshops play? What about independent booksellers? Didn’t talk about bookshops much on Saturday, but Bookcamp 2.0 could explore these, if it happens…


Denise Hill, ‘Literature Bailout?‘; at the always-useful New Pages Blog. Made me think this would have been an interesting session at Bookcamp – should publishing companies get any form of subsidy? The arts are already pitifully funded, but the value of culture to a society is unquestionable. Seaborn/Sorkin’s “Education is the silver bullet“. And thinking about that (and Googling the phrase) leads me to this interview with Ed Burns of The Wire, via this page. The Wire is a topic for another time, though it’s nice to see the synchronicities (or am I engineering these?) pop up. Another possible topic for Bookcamp 2.0.

Ben Terrett, ‘All the Ephemera That’s Fit to Print’. Wonderful post about The Really Interesting Group’s newspaper adaptation of their favourite internet content of 2008. I got a copy of this last week, and it circulated at Paper/Bookcamp; Ben’s discussion of his design choices is fascinating. This is already one of my favourite things of 2009.

(Epic box-making session interlude).


Jeremy Ettinghausen, ‘Bookcamped; at the Penguin Blog. Reminded me to send a bunch of images and twitter links for helping compile the The Big Bookish Book of Bookcamp, and also just another great account of the day (see also: Chris Meade’s ‘Bookcamping‘).


Anna Jay, ‘Creating New Readers. I met Anna on Saturday and she had infectious enthusiasm for the 826 idea, and has a keen interest in uniting the written word with the image, which I’m about to go comment on her post discussing. (Pingbacks and email and delicious feeds are sabotaging my reading a bit! But this is a productive way to waste time, obviously.)


Anna Jay, ‘Taking a Line for a Walk‘. Anna’s blog sucked me in, as she’s done several in-depth and well-illustrated write-ups of her experiences at Paper/Bookcamp. This one in particular has got me crazy thinking about folding and zines and the possibilities of paper.

Dawn Ryan, ‘The Strauss House‘, and Nathaniel Minton, ‘The Land of Our Enemies‘; in McSweeney’s 29. Received this a week ago, as well as my latest Believer and Wholphin, but haven’t had time to get into any of them yet. Ryan’s story is about budding teenage sexuality, is pretty hot, and also has some nice lessons about relationships in general; Minton writes about two pilots surviving after a crash in a jungle. Minton’s was by far the more interesting (though nothing against Ryan’s) – the turn of phrase and the things he does with his characters, remarkable. There’s lots of weird dynamics between two different forms of practicality, two different forms of spirituality, two different forms of community. Very binary, but this rigid structure dissolves in the face of a fantastic element that comes in towards the end. The body politic, literally.

(Post office trip for box above)


(Playing with folding A4 into the format above, and wondering about zine ideas – possibly reappropriating the creative annotation I’ve been doing with my friends in celebrity biographies written by Sean Smith.)

Caspar Salmon, ‘My Parents Car‘; at Pajiba. Nice article by my friend about the music we’re subjected to as children. Me: The Wolftones, Captain Beefheart, The Jam, Van Morrison. My dad had OK taste!

7pm. Done. Haven’t documented as much of my ideal reading on the internet, which is a lesson I should do less of that. Back to the British Library tomorrow for better discipline and less occasional grilled-cheese sandwiches.


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