This essay by Mensah Demary for Electric Literature on Nas and the literary legitimacy of hip-hop is the best thing you'll read this morning. "Nas is a world-class storyteller and practitioner of the narrative form," Demary writes, "I don’t understand why there isn’t more discussion around hip-hop’s literary value among today’s millennial-and-boomer intelligentsia."
Recommended Reading: This piece on a digital afterlife -- duplicating oneself via computer program -- which is by turns troubling and oddly reassuring: "The human brain has about a hundred billion neurons. The connectional complexity is staggering. By some estimates, the human brain compares to the entire content of the internet. It’s only a matter of time, however, and not very much at that, before computer scientists can simulate a hundred billion neurons."
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Here's a list of my favorite covers of 2009. The best way for me to pick some favorites was to break them up into categories. I feel that when a designer has the task of designing, say, a nonfiction book, the parameters are very different than when designing a book for one of the most popular fiction authors in the world, and so it felt most natural to split things up this way. Best Nonfiction Cover Fordlandia by Greg Grandin, Cover design: Rodrigo Corral Design: Rodrigo Corral is my favorite designer, period. I love everything he does. Fordlandia is a great example of a cover that really feels like what's inside. The painting is perfect, and the type is beautifully rendered. I love the palm frond hanging over the F. It draws your eye to the title instantly. Best Big Book Cover Under the Dome by Stephen King, Cover design: Rex Bonomelli, illustration by Ray Brown: This cover is amazing for so many reasons. First of all, even though it's a no-brainer in terms of concept, they really did a brilliant job illustrating the town. Secondly, the jacket has no flap copy. Nothing! Just barcode and title. This is something only Stephen King can pull off, but it really adds to the clarity of the cover to not have anything else on it. Thirdly, Amazon wrote a piece about the cover, describing its origins on the product page. This is something you never see. It shows that this is truly a unique jacket. Best Fiction Cover The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball, Cover design: Helen Yentus: It's hard to pull off (or get approved) a cover where the title is obscured. In this case, however, Yemtus has done such clear work that the title reads right away, despite the fact that it never actually fully appears. Best UK Cover Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem, Cover design: Miriam Rosenbloom: My wife and I recently designed and screenprinted a poster for Jonathan and his marathon New York readings around the city last month. When we were brainstorming for the poster, I saw this cover and thought, "Damn! I wish I had thought of that." This is a cover that would never fly with an author as popular as Lethem in an American market because the type is small and the image is big. The result is powerful, toothy, and original. More from A Year in Reading
Edan and her beau have decided that they want read one of America's greatest writers, but they don't know where to start:Neither my boyfriend nor I have ever read any William Faulkner. We thought it might be fun to read one of his novels at the same time, so we could talk about it together, while sipping some bourbon on the porch. Do you, or any of your readers, have any suggestions? Most people recommend Light in August as the best novel to begin with...what do you think?I'm no expert on Faulkner. In college, inspired by my discovery that Faulkner had once taught at my alma mater, I wandered into the local used bookstore and chose The Sound and the Fury at random from the shelf. I muddled my way through it, deciding then that I would need to approach Faulkner with a bit more rigor should I attempt to read his work again. As such, I am hardly qualified to answer this question. Luckily, when I turned to one of the world's foremost Faulkner experts, he was happy to answer the question for us. Dr. John B. Padgett is a graduate instructor at the University of Mississippi who has been studying Faulkner for years. In conjunction with his studies, he is the "sole owner and proprietor" of Faulkner on the Web. Here's what he had to say:A good place to start reading Faulkner is The Unvanquished, I think, in part because it's fairly easy compared to some of Faulkner's more difficult work. The novel consists of six previously published Civil War stories which he reworked into a novel (he also added a final chapter that was not previously published). Faulkner himself recommended it as a good starting point.Another good place to start, I think, is As I Lay Dying or Sanctuary.I don't usually recommend beginning Faulkner with The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom! because of their difficulty; however, for those who are prepared for the challenges posed by these novels, they are well worth the effort.Thanks Edan and John!
And now it is time to go. After more than three and a half years in LA, a city I knew nothing about, hated, grew to love, and still kind of hate, Ms. Millions and I are hitting the road. First there will be a wedding and then a new start in Chicago where I will attempt to be a student again. I fear that the culture shock I experienced upon arriving in Los Angeles will pale in comparison to the culture shock of leaving LA now that I have grown so accustomed to its inherent weirdness. Still, I managed to carve a niche for myself here and perhaps I can do that again somewhere new. Funny that I didn't figure it out at the very start, but this "niche," this sudden feeling of comfort in a bewildering place would have a lot to do with books.First, some history. I have always read a lot. Early on it was to combat my chronic insomnia, and I guess it just took. But there was a time here in Los Angeles during my first year that I would find myself without a book. This had never really happened to me before. Whereas I used to have a stack of books next to my bed ready for devouring, I had now resorted to fishing out old Entertainment Weeklies from under the coffee table. I was distracted, profoundly so. I was in a new place trying to be good at jobs I didn't care about, lacking ambition, and devoted to those twin goddesses of self-diversion, television and video games. But then things happened, too numerous and predictable to mention here, and I found myself unemployed again and ready to try something new. So I said the hell with it and walked into a little bookstore on the Sunset Strip. Moments after I got the job I remembered (how had I forgotten?) how much I love books. And soon my hunger for words became insatiable, like that of a beggar who suddenly has daily access to feast worthy of a king. Soon I felt guilty. I had to share.My friend Derek, always a step ahead, had begun blogging. I pronounced it to be silly and a huge waste of time and then promptly started my own blog. I realized after a month or so that it had to be about books and nothing else, since that's the only thing that really moved me at the time.And plus, I had so much material: a constant torrent of new releases and a cadre of coworkers and customers with whom I discussed books eight hours a day. (This was when I discovered, by the way, that LA is an obsessively literary place, and it doesn't care if anyone knows it, so it doesn't bother to tell anyone.) And then there were the authors, constant visitors it seemed, nearly all of them willing to chat with the folks who hock their wares. I felt I had to share: Julie Orringer, Jocelyn Bain Hogg (a photographer), Felicia Luna Lemus, George Plimpton, Nick Hornby, Rick Atkinson, Pete Dexter, DBC Pierre and Dan Rhodes, Michele Huneven, A. Scott Berg and Jeff Bridges, Ron Chernow, and of course, one of my heroes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Unbelievable.My last day at the bookstore was yesterday and my last day in LA is tomorrow. I never thought I would live here. I never, ever thought I would love it. It has raised the bar, in my mind, that other cities will have to live up to. But I figure: if I keep seeking out the little bit of LA that no doubt resides in other places, I'll get along just fine. Goodbye, Los Angeles.I'll be back in a week. Read a book while I'm gone!