When you go to journalism school (or start out at most traditional journalism jobs), you are issued a style guide as a soldier might be issued a weapon. Quite a few places have their own in-house style guides, reflecting the vernacular peculiarities of the publication or its region. For all others, the default tends to be the AP Stylebook, a utilitarian volume compiled by the AP and meant to keep all of its reporters' language consistent. Its influence, of course, has spread far wider.As an avid AP Stylebook owner, I read with interest last month, Editor & Publisher's account of the changes in the latest edition of the Stylebook. In a way, the AP's regular shuffling in and out of new words and disused ones is not unlike the exercise played to great PR effect by dictionaries every year. The sometimes silly neologisms added to dictionaries make for easy news bites. Seeing "e-mail" or "LOL" printed on those thin pages seems to inspire amusement, dread, and maybe a little bit of pride. But ultimately it feels inconsequential as we watch our vocabulary race ahead of dictionaries, and dictionaries seem to have minimal influence on how we actually communicate.An adjustment to the AP Stylebook, on the other hand, is a writ-in-stone change to what millions of people will read in publications around the world, and it will further influence the style guides at publications that use their own style guides. Certainly the AP is forced to, as the dictionaries do, catch up to trends in the spoken and written word - according to E&P, "'WMD,' 'iPhone' and 'anti-virus' are in, while 'barmaid,' 'blue blood' and 'malarkey' are out." - but the authority of the Stylebook would seem to bury the words that are being removed and give birth to those that are added.
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Because its administrators believe “self-publishing is now a highly successful and respected business model for both new and established authors,” The University of Central Lancashire has created a Self-Publishing Masters program. (Clearly they didn’t read Edan Lepucki’s Millions article from 2011.) According to the program’s official website, “this dynamic course … reveals how to make self-publishing work for you.”
I had a dream I was locked in a cage earlier this year, a dream that went on for several years inside the sleep itself. In the dream, I was given no food or water, nor did I interact with any person or other sort of entity; the walls of the cage were flat and had no bars and no door for entry or exit. It was clear in the dream that I was sleeping, but that the time inside the cage was real, that the world was going on without me despite the illusion I would be presented with upon my return that no more than a night had passed. The only thing besides my body in the cage was a book, which had been left there almost incidentally, as if by someone previously installed in the cage before I appeared there. The book was bound with leather that in this world would be called white, but in the dream was actually transparent to the point that seeing through it meant you were seeing through the actual cells of the world of the cell; like the texture of gasoline spread on the ground, but looking through it onto another planet. Though it was a very thin book in my hands, when it was opened it was as thick as a set of encyclopedias. It was written in a language I understood in my sleep but knew even while reading that when I woke not only would I not be able to remember what I’d read, but that I’d read it at all; that is, the text I remembered would be remembered as plates of color instead of words. So each page of the book was a color, full and flat, and I read it. It expressed emotions I remember not feeling aware of ever before in waking, but that had always been through and through me, and underneath me, in my blood, in the dirt of the earth, in the wires of the computer, in the faces of the people. These emotions held us together as fibers and we didn’t know it and couldn’t read them in anyone else either except in passing moments that felt like pain or terror, and sometimes love, but actually in this book appeared as passages you could read and reread, could even memorize. I was only able to read a few pages of the book over the several years the dream went on. I was aware of what was happening in my other life the whole time, the people I loved aging without me, changing without me. The book changed with them, too, reacting to me as the colors I had never before witnessed reflected the future of every person every inch, which included every book already created or to be created, as well as every film and painting, and every person. Each page was like death and like dying, where the meaning of that allowed transmission of the fractions of me remaining were transported not into blackness, but into a world between the two kinds of remaining worlds, between sleep and waking, and between aging and a sense of eternal time. The dream ended like a movie cut off by someone remotely pressing a button on a film you were watching and did not know someone else had control over the experience of. There was a brief period of transition in which I could feel the smoke coming off of me from the transference from the state of the cage, where the book had touched me, and the body I had returned to, as well as the gap between the times of point of entry and return, and what has been changed in my absence, feeling like no change at all. This is the state I have been reading in since the dream, which subsequently has caused all books I’ve read in that time to feel bound in the same edition, in the way that one pupil might be the same as any other pupil, for its blackness, more than what the blackness has absorbed. Recently, I have begun reading with my eyes closed. Image Credit: pixabay. More from A Year in Reading 2014 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
You’re only supposed to consume oysters in months with the letter “r” in their English (and French) names. This is because oysters in the Northern hemisphere are more likely to spoil during the warmer months of May, June, July, and August. So if you can’t eat ‘em, you might as well hear about ‘em instead, right? Presenting this video of Seamus Heaney reading his poem, “Oysters” (Text here).
There is a quality of placelessness to Yoko Ogawa's Revenge, and the sparseness of the neighborhoods she imagines is made even more eerie by the simplicity of her prose. As with the earliest episodes of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, these stories put one in an immediate state of ineffable unease and frequently creep to their ends without providing their audience the closure of a cathartic shock or scream. And like The Twilight Zone, each of Ogawa's stories transmits from another dimension — not quite that of late night black and white television, but one with an echoing memory undergirding something parallel to our own experiences. Revenge is a mirror with an especially uncanny crack. The book's cover does it a disservice; that slasher typography and dirty canvas-colored background cast an impression of a much more contemporary genre of horror. In truth, one of the gifts of Revenge is its subtle psychology. While there are multiple bloody amputations — including a gruesome beheading — a couple of phantoms, a whole museum full of tools designed specifically for torture, Ogawa's “dark tales” unfold, surprisingly, without overindulging on gore. Such restraint initially scans as a tidy elegance of form, but by the middle of the book becomes a skillful and sinister instrument of disquiet in its own right. Ogawa is not fucking around. Though critics are right to call her work cinematic, Stephen Snyder's translation of these stories is not precisely visual — the effect is more like a dream than a film. In “The Little Dustman” a novelist takes her step-son to the zoo, but because it's winter most of the animals are taking indoor sojourns. Once grown, the step-son recalls the snow-filled day: “we found we could imagine the animals even without seeing them.” Minding the unseen might be a useful strategy for reading Ogawa; her stories circle around the buried and the bagged, full pockets and the border between what's hidden and what's in view. “Sewing for the Heart” describes a bag maker charged with the task of crafting a leather case for a woman's heart. But it's her actual heart, the blood-beating organ, and it's on the outside of her body, a life giving polyp annexed crudely to her chest. The boundaries between inside and outside blur, and the woman charges the man with crafting an artificial interior, a place to put her heart. While it would be loathsome of me to ruin the delight of discovering for yourself the connective tissue between each story, I can't help but touch down on at least one of those threads. The book opens with “Afternoon at the Bakery,” a story about a woman and her ritual of ordering the same cake to mark her dead son's birthday year after year, and closes with “Poison Plants,” which ends with a woman discovering the body of the first woman's son. Somewhere in between these bookends, the work morphs into a metafictional ghost story, a work haunted by the dark impulses of its myriad interlocked characters, or those of some authorial hand. That the stories link up is one thing, but Ogawa moves this world forward and backward and through itself with such economy and grace that you lose track of how much it's been shaken. Certain characters are willfully alienated from larger systems, hermetically sealing themselves into apartments or professions, but nonetheless the presence of other people ripples on the self-stilled pools of their lives. These characters exist in separate stories but are in tight proximity; they make the world they inhabit and yet the world is still a thing that happens to them. While the turn to metafiction is not by any means a sharp one, it's the slow cognitive dawn of the work as something not quite what it initially seemed that hints at the ancient horror of gradual change; the beginning of the book overlaps with its end, but you've become a different reader of some other unknown text in the meantime. You end up more or less where you started, but it's impossible to trace your steps. So at last, Ogawa gets her revenge, and you've come through her forest only to find yourself still lost.
Is there anything Umberto Eco cannot do? It has been said before and certainly will be said again—Umberto Eco is a true Renaissance man. His contributions to the literary world are as varied as the knotty and layered Theory of Semiotics, and as delightful and nostalgic as The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. His novels are no easy reading, with long raptures on, say, Dulcinian heresy as considered among the Bendictines of the fourteenth century, but his erudition is never for the sake of mere difficulty. Now, with the publication of Confessions of a Young Novelist, he offers readers an effective primer on both his oeuvre and the contemporary field of semiotics. Confessions of a Young Novelist is a compact but meandering little book—in fact, it was first conceived in 2008 as a lecture series at Emory University, which explains its chatty, unpretentious tone. Akin to a Paris Review interview turned essay, Confessions is both polemic and intensely personal, infused with Eco’s trademark fastidiousness and also bursting with bombasticity. No matter the subject, Eco appears both grandiose and also dedicated to the minutiae. For a public figure and academic, he is delightfully unguarded and frank. But a man of such wit and linguistic ability does not trap himself so easily as to offer a full confession of literary sins. The term confession, religiously charged as it is, seems particularly apt for a writer so entranced by the constraints of spirituality and religiosity. However, readers hoping to discover the dark underbelly of Italian academia have come to the wrong person and place. Eco's confessions remain of the amusing variety, far more venial than mortal. Their triviality, however, does not detract from their edification. The fruits of Eco's semiotic detective work (though perhaps a bit shopworn) are presented so clearly as to become Confessions's most fascinating revelations. Confessions is divided into four parts, each of the first three dedicated to a question of literary theory: "Writing from Left to Right," "Author, Text, and Interpreters," and "Some Remarks on Fictional Characters". Although at times erudite, the essays are gloriously uncomplicated—rather uncustomarily, they seek to solve puzzles, not create them. More importantly, Eco appears less like he is presenting a particular theory of reading than presenting a set of common truths. His style is so common-sensical and well-tuned that one cannot help but be swayed by his logic. "Writing from Left to Right" is a brisk read presented mostly as a rejoinder to the commonly asked question, "How do you write your novels?" In this first essay Eco delves into his personal routines and writing preferences, liberally sprinkling the text with his modus operandi ("In order to enable the story to proceed, the writer must impose some constraints.") It is entertaining, but light reading. It is in "Author, Text, and Interpreters" that Eco first gives his readers something more meaty to gnaw on. Through a series of anecdotes, all relating to interpretation and misinterpretation of his novels, Eco relays some fundamental truths about how, and why, one interprets a text. The basis of his theory, (which he has outlined many times before and which I also feel verboten to give away) is thought-provoking, but it is his style of relay that most transfixes his reader. Through "Author, Text, and Interpreters" into "Some Remarks on Fictional Characters" Eco's observations are astute ("A text is a lazy machine that wants it readers to do part of its job.") judicious ("It seems that fictional worlds are parasitic on the real world.") and at times downright funny ("It is always possible to tell when a given interpretation is blatantly wrong, crazy, farfetched.") It is also in this third essay that Eco's theories most resonate with a core group of his readers—true bibliophiles. He remarks, "It can happen that, when we enter a very absorbing and captivating narrative world, a textual strategy can provoke something similar to a mystical raptus or a hallucination, and we simply forget we have entered a world that is merely possible." For a bibliophile the idea of a fictional world being real, and in many senses truer than any community in the physical world, is a cornerstone of their dedication to the craft, but also a source of tension between those "true bibliophiles" and more middlebrow, book club-subscribing common readers. The battle over what we should (and if we should) feel while reading is not one that is likely to be quelled by such a dainty book of essays. But Eco answers the question: why do readers look to fiction for solace? And he does so without resorting to the cheap tricks of self-improvement or positive psychology literature. The last essay of Confessions, a seeming list of lists called, uninspiringly "My Lists", seems out of place and unnecessary, as Eco recently published a magnificently rendered text with Rizzoli entitled The Infinity of Lists. In fact, whole sections of his list chapter were lifted straight from The Infinity of Lists (or vice versa). He seems to have included it purely for the delightful, complex language it displays—noble in theory, but unwieldy in practicality. Although "My Lists" encompasses about a third of Confessions, it can be skipped or left for a separate reading. Infusing all of Confessions of a Young Novelist is an unwarranted but appreciated sense of modesty about his own career. To read Eco's thoughts is a refreshing break from the often ego-motivated world of the literati. He admits to reading critical analyses of his own works, and unabashedly describes instances in which those analyses prove him errant. He also divulges lapses of his literary memory—Eco just plain forgot about Middlemarch’s Casaubon when creating his own same-named character. And Eco never pretends to rise above the grasping tentacles of jealousy—"Since I became a novelist I have discovered that I am biased. Either I think a new novel is worse than mine and I don’t like it, or I suspect it is better than my novels and I don’t like it." Also abundant is Eco's obvious desire for hope and growth in his own writing and the minds of those who critically read it. To that end, he posits in his very first paragraph that he is indeed a young novelist. We know this to be untrue, Eco is currently nearing eighty. But this, his first confession, that despite all his fame and honorifics he feels like an amateur, is what imbues all the pages beyond with such vibrancy and hunger—Eco is just another reader, trying to understand.
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