Tag Books

Salvaje de Corazon

Yet another reminder that we have little control over how our cultural creations will be used once we push them out into the world. The Onion-esque headline on this article would be hilarious if it weren’t so chilling.

La Familia is a notorious drug cartel founded in 2006 in Michoacan, Mexico, and is known for its brutal slayings of detractors.

Mexican authorities have issued a report on the group, which includes the finding that Eldredge’s 2001 book, ”Wild at Heart,” is required reading for gang members. Spanish translations of the book have been discoverd in La Familia residences by police authorities conducting raids, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Eldredge leads Ransomed Heart, a Springs ministry dedicated to helping men regain their masculinity and become adventurers in life. In “Wild at Heart,” he writes approvingly of men’s innate love of weapons, combat and hunting.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Subtractive creations

Howard Hawks’ 1940 Cary Grant/Rosalind Russel screwball comedy His Girl Friday is probably the greatest cinematic example of nonstop, everyone-talking-at-once comic banter. Well, not-quite nonstop: here an intrepid editor has strung together all eight minutes of clips from the film where nobody is saying anything. It reminds me of another work of subtractive genius I’ve heard about, in which Damion Searls compiled all of the text abridged out of a book called Moby Dick in Half the Time. The result, containing all the odd, astonishing, and confusing bits of Melville’s work and none of the boring old plot, was published under the pruned-off subtltle ; or The Whale.

from “His Girl Friday – Between The Lines Edit,” by Valentin Spirik, 2005. His Girl Friday is available in its entirety here :: via Waxy.org

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Counsel woven into the fabric of real life

You can read most of Benjamin’s essay at Google Books. The first few pages are all quite good and require no knowledge whatsoever of that Nikolai Leskov fellow.

All this points to the nature of every real story. It contains, openly or covertly, something useful. The usefulness may, in one case, consist in a moral; in another, in some practical advice; in a third, in a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers. But if today “having counsel” is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing. In consequence we have no counsel either for ourselves or for others. After all, counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding. To seek this counsel one would first have to be able to tell the story. (Quite apart from the fact that a man is receptive to counsel only to the extent that he allows his situation to speak.) Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Love and language

I just finished Elif Batuman’s delightful, erudite, and hopelessly funny memoir of her love of Russian literature as lived out through seven at-times-harrowing years of comp lit grad school. Elif is a college acquaintance and sometime correspondent of mine, so it’s always a double treat to see her writing out in the wider world.

If I didn’t actually believe in my responsibility to tell Americans the truth about Turkey, nevertheless I did feel it was somehow wasteful to study Russian literature instead of Turkish literature. I had repeatedly been told in linguistics classes that all languages were universally complex, to a biologically determined degree. Didn’t that mean that all languages were, objectively speaking, equally interesting? And I already knew Turkish; it had happened without any work, like a gift, and here I was tossing it away to break my head on a bunch of declensions that came effortlessly to anyone who happened to grow up in Russia.

Today, this strikes me as terrible reasoning. I now understand that love is a rare and valuable thing, and you don’t get to choose its object. You just go around getting hung up on the all the least convenient things—and if the only obstacle in your way is a little extra work, then that’s the wonderful gift right there.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Fasting for the mind

Every now and then I wonder whether my time is better spent reading the great books I haven’t yet read, or rereading the pretty-good ones that I already have.

A student pursuing a degree in the humanities can expect to run through 1,000 books before graduation day. A wealthy family in England in 1250 might have owned three books: a Bible, a collection of prayers, and a life of the saints—this modestly sized library nevertheless costing as much as a cottage. The painstaking craftsmanship of a pre-Gutenberg Bible was evidence of a society that could not afford to make room for an unlimited range of works but also welcomed restriction as the basis for proper engagement with a set of ideas.

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

from “On Distraction,” by Alain de Botton, City Journal, Spring 2010 :: via The Browser

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Play more

Furniture maker IKEA commissioned a research organization to interview 11,000 parents and children in 25 countries in Europe, North America, Australia, and East Asia to find out their thoughts on children, families, and play (Facebook, PDF). I’d have loved to compare results for the rest of the world too, but I guess there aren’t as many IKEAs there.

Children overwhelmingly prefer playing with their friends and parents over watching TV.
When children across the world were asked to choose between watching TV or playing with friends or parents, they overwhelmingly choose to play with friends (89%) and parents (73%) with TV a very poor substitute for social interaction at only 11%.

Nearly half of the parents think play should be educational. Children disagree.
Nearly half (45%) of all parents think that play is best when it’s educational. This rises to two thirds of parents in China, Slovakia, Czech Rep, Spain, Hungary, Russia, Poland and Portugal. A further minority at 17% (China, Italy, Russia and US) actually prefer their children to learn things rather than to simply play. 27% think play should always have a purpose. As for the children, 51% actually prefer to play rather than learn.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

To take a work of art & to lavish time on it

Roger Ebert blogged last week about a four-night annotated viewing of Werner Herzog’s 1972 film Aguierre, the Wrath of God. Herzog and the young American directer Ramin Bahrani hosted a viewing of the film, pausing the DVD after every scene to discuss what happened and take questions from the audience. The opening night, they spent two hours getting through the first 17 minutes of the movie. I love Dan Visel’s thoughts on the lavishness of such a viewing: by giving a work of art more than the expected amount of attention, I think we can, in some Velveteen-Rabbit sense, make them more real, more likely to endure.

This is a fantastic idea, which makes me wish I were in Boulder to be part of it. I like the idea of this kind of slow and detailed “reading”: to take a work of art & to lavish time on it. It seems, in our age of media overload, almost luxurious: this idea of devoting so much time to one text. In eight hours, we can see four movies. To give that much time to one seems decadent. But maybe this is what works of art deserve; maybe this is how we should be reading. The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem. In the past, when there was an economy based on scarcity, this might not have been as much of an issue: whatever was available was watched or read. Now we need to think about how we want to watch: we need to become better readers.

from “slow reading,” by Dan Visel, if:book, 8 April 2010

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Open Air Library, Magdeburg, Germany

This self-styled “architectural bookmark” is the latest winner of the biennial European Prize for Urban Public Space. The designers KARO converted an unused industrial median into an open-access book repository and lending facility, at once compressing a typical library and turning it inside out to make a welcoming public space for reading, eating, school plays, and the like. I love how, in that orientation, the library—and the community space it creates—extends beyond the plaza and into the city itself. It reminds me of the closing passage of the Douglas Adams novel So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

As sherp as muckle needles

The absurdly prolific author Alexander McCall Smith has a new book for younger readers featuring the characters from the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. As part of a promotion with the Scottish Arts Council, it is currently only available in a Scots translation in its first year of publication. It’s a fun and fascinating way to affirm and promote the Scots language—and even gain it new worldwide readers, as it’s close enough to English for a patient reader to puzzle it out with pleasure.

Whit wid ye dae if ye fund yersel face tae face wi a muckle lion? Staund as still as a stookie? Mak yer feet yer freens and rin? Creep awa quiet-like? Mibbe ye wid jist steek yer een and hope that ye were haein a dream – which is whit Obed did at first when he saw the frichtsome lion starin strecht at him. But when he opened his een again, the lion wis aye there, and whit wis waur, wis stertin tae open its muckle mooth. Precious sooked in her braith. ‘Did ye see his teeth?’ she spiered. Obed noddit his heid. ‘The moonlicht wis gey bricht,’ he said. ‘His teeth were white and as sherp as muckle needles.’

from Precious and the Puggies, Chapter Twa, by Alexander McCall Smith, translatit intae Scots by James Robertson and wi bonnie illustrations by Iain McIntosh, 2010 :: via MetaFilter

Originally published at culture-making.com.

The right book at the right time

Ah, the life-changing power of the right book at the right time. The reissue of An African in Greenland moves right to the top of my travel writing to-read list.

a Futility Closet post by Greg Ross, 15 March 2010

Ordered to join a jungle snake cult in his native Togo, Tété-Michel Kpomassie chanced to find a book about Greenland in a local Jesuit library. At the first opportunity he ran away.

Kpomassie’s 1981 autobiography, An African in Greenland, tells of his odyssey through West Africa and Europe seeking a route to the frozen island. He finally arrived in the mid-1960s, a black giant among the Inuit:

As soon as they saw me, all stopped talking. So intense was the silence, you could have heard a gnat in flight. Then they started to smile again, the women with slightly lowered eyes. When I was standing before them on the wharf, they all raised their heads to look me full in the face. Some children clung to their mothers’ coats, and others began to scream with fright or to weep.

Kpomassie happily spent the next two years driving a dogsled and hunting seal in a kayak. After eight years, he had reached the land of his dreams — a country with no trees and no snakes.

Originally published at culture-making.com.