April 2009

John Sinclair: Freek Army

The '60s radicalized a significant portion of the American populace. Most of those folks have since that time given up the ghost, though. It's pretty clear at this late date that the revolution failed pretty miserably. Of course there are out croppings of social programs and the women's movement that were effected, but apart from that, there hasn't been a great shift towards liberating the down trodden in this country or elsewhere across the globe. But even with this apparent failure of these genuinely well intentioned times, a great deal of art, music and literature resulted.

John Sinclair might not be a name that all too many folks know off the top of their heads - some might think it sounds familiar. And really the reason most might sight for ever having heard the name is the resultant effect of John Lennon writing a little ditty about the guy. But even before Sinclair got shipped off to a Michigan state prison, he was inextricably linked to the radical culture in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Three Books Better Than Twilight

Everyone and their sparkly niece seem to be in love with the Twilight series. It's a series of books about teen love and yes, it has vampires in it, somewhere. I say somewhere since these fanged folk do not actually adhere to the commonly held beliefs about these blood-suckers. Some die-hard vampire fans are understandably disturbed by such deviations as is evident from this amusing critique. Don't get me wrong, I myself am not going to embark on a lenghty criticism of the much-loved series. As is the case of any book, the plot, character development and narrative style speak for themselves and need no external defense. My point is that there were numerous, well-written novels about vampires prior to the outbreak of the sparkling ones. From this list, I will mention three of my favorites: 1.

J.G. Ballard, 1930-2009

Earlier today, the world lost one of the greatest science fiction authors to ever write in the English language. J.G. Ballard concluded his battle with prostate cancer at the age of 79. Ballard's prose is marked by a tight, focused humanity often surrounded by inhumane technology. He was a master of the dystopian vision and a bold pioneer into the potential depths of subtlety and emotion in speculative fiction. Whereas many of his contemporaries attempted to grasp the wonder inspired by the exponential growth of technology in the 20th century, Ballard's perspective is often more internal. His stories are character-driven and rarely linger on technical jargon. His work belongs in equal parts to the paranoid visions of William Gibson and the alternative mindset of William Burroughs. Born in Shanghai, China, James Graham Ballard was the son of a textile chemist.

Ten Light Summer Reads for Hot, Lazy Days

Summer is coming, and in our house, that means compiling summer reading lists and making too-tall stacks of books on bedside tables. My wife and I are compulsive readers and library-book-sale haunters. We plan dates to bookstores. We both majored in English, in undergraduate and graduate school, and even met and fell in love over our mutual love of books. So when I say that we make summer reading lists, what I really mean is that we put our kids in bed, pour ourselves a nice cold beer, and stand in our living room talking over each other, pulling books off of our shelves. We frantically search for favorite passages and vow to read and reread nearly every book in our collection. This year is no different. I have already decided to reread Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and my wife says she wants to reread Moby Dick. Of course, not all of our summer reading will be so heavy, nor should it be. Light reading fare is best for those hot, lazy days that make the brain tick at a slightly slower pace.

Amazon Fail Update

Seattle PI blogger Andrea James has posted an update, in which she quotes Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles--in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

You can find the original here

Amazon Fail

For some odd reason, on April 10, 2009 Amazon started removing the sales rankings of hundreds of books. Most of the books are books Amazon considers to be gay and lesbian.These are not pornographic titles. Most of these are not even fiction. These are all books that Amazon subject metadata identifies as having gay and/or lesbian interest. Mark Probst, author and publisher, is the first person I saw writing about this. here. Probst, who is both an author and a publisher, received this answer from Amazon when he wrote asking why sales rankings were being removed:
In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature. Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Reading for Six Minutes is the Most Effective Stress Reducer

Researchers at the University of Sussex, in England, have discovered the reading is one of the best, and perhaps the best way, for the average person to relax. As little as six minutes spent reading something enjoyable (the definition of "enjoyable" in this context is entirely dependent on individual taste) can be enough to reduce the reader's stress level by as much as two thirds—even more, for some readers.

In fact, the Sussex research shows that a few minutes spent reading provides more effective and rapid relaxation that listening to music, a cup of tea, or even going for a walk. Volunteers were tested by first having them partcipate in a variety of tests and activities designed to raise stress levels.

A fine and private place

Do people unwittingly choose to live in a lonely little cocoon? And do they also hold themselves back from taking those vital baby steps to happiness or, at the very least, to new possibilities? Those are the two questions I was left pondering when I finished reading Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, a touching story about human frailty and regret. So what is the gist of the story? The story starts with the death of Michael who is one of the main characters. It begins with his discovery he has not quite moved on to the next realm. Rather, he finds himself as a shadowy ghost that lurks in his graveyard alongside with numerous other not-so-alive figures. In case you are wondering, yes, ghosts were bound to their burial site. Well, lucky for Michael, he is able to befriend another ghost (Laura). This social circle was not so small; it also included a lonely recluse who incidentally had sneaked into the graveyard and made it his home.