Monday, August 31, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Latest word on Wordstock

Latest word on Wordstock
by Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
Wednesday August 19, 2009, 5:15 PM

Wordstock 2009 is about booked up. Most of the big names are signed, the program is about ready to be printed, and everything is moving forward for the literary festival Oct. 8-11 at the Oregon Convention Center. Here are a few highlights:

• Headliners include Sherman Alexie, Ethan Canin, Dan Chaon, Richard Dawkins, Pete Dexter, James Ellroy, Julia Glass, Jacquelyn Mitchard and Jeannette Walls.
• Alexie and Dawkins will be separate-admission events away from the main floor. Those purchasing tickets will receive a copy of their new book, similar to the way Powell's does its events at Bagdad Theater.

• Wordstock patrons have been asking for Alexie for five years. His story "War Dances" is in the Aug. 10-17 issue of The New Yorker.

• Ellroy may do "Live Wire!" as part of his Wordstock experience. His new book, "Blood's a Rover," is generating some heat.

• Five writers from the International Writing Program, based at the University of Iowa, will read at Wordstock.

• 2nd Story, a storytelling theater group from Chicago that uses music in its performances, will appear on Oct. 8. Portland is awash in storytelling events right now, and these guys are supposed to be the real thing.

• The 150 or so writers participating in this year's Wordstock are "down by design" from the 210 to 230 of the past two years, according to executive director Greg Netzer. There were logistical problems with so many writers, and the smaller number is easier to handle.

• Local arts organizations will get in on the act with partnership events beginning Oct. 3. Write Around Portland, the Oregon Council for the Humanities, the Independent Publishing Resource Center, the Flash Choir and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center are among the groups planning something special for Wordstock.

• Some of the Oregon Book Awards finalists will read on Oct. 11.

• There's going to be an emphasis on food writing, memoir and young adult fiction this year, with more than a dozen writers from each genre.

• Floor space at the convention center will be smaller, but (yet another) new configuration is supposed to help the sound problems that have bedeviled the festival throughout its history.

• All major sponsors from last year are back, Netzer said, and only one decreased its commitment. Given the economy, finances are going OK.

Jeff Baker: 503-221-8165;

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Book throwdown: Julia vs. Julie

Meryl Streep in the movie
“Julie & Julia” doesn’t come out until Friday, but thanks to a huge publicity push, beloved actors, lots of movie previews and three popular books, there is already an incredible amount of buzz surrounding the movie.

Even this book reviewer got to attend a preview. I’ll leave the film review to colleague Joe Williams, of course. But I will say this: The movie is guaranteed to sell a lot of books.

This week I looked at to see how “Julie & Julia,” “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and “My Life in France” are doing saleswise.

Not surprisingly, the three books that provide most of the inspiration for the movie are in the top 100.

“Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which blogger Julie Powell cooked from for a year, was ranked highest at 34. The 40th anniversary edition, published in 2001, now sports a removable wraparound band with a photo - not of chef Julia Child but actress Meryl Streep!

Meanwhile, “My Life in France,” Child’s memoir, has not only a photo of Streep, but also one of actress Amy Adams. It was ranked 357 (the edition with the real Child’s photo was ranked better, at 99). The movie tie-in edition of the book by Julie Powell was ranked at 43, which was better than the original paperback.

I checked the catalog at the St. Louis County Library, and from what I could tell, there were more requests for “Julie & Julia” than for the books by Julia Child.

Even though the movie was charming (I could watch Streep play Child all day), I’d rather see the real people on the book covers. Especially the iconic Child. Her real kitchen is in the Smithsonian, for pete’s sake. But I’m sure that the publishers don’t hesitate a minute about putting actors’ pictures on other people’s memoirs if it will sell books. And the movie really does make one curious about the books - I’m reading “My Life in France” now.

In the movie, both Streep and Powell are appealing. (Maybe a bit too cutesy, but that’s typical of movies by Nora Ephron.) I’ve already heard from filmgoers who differ on which cook they found more interesting.

In the meantime, which cook would you rather read?

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Yorker Discovers the Little House Books' Libertarian Roots

Judith Thurman in the current New Yorker, in an article largely (and curiously) hooked off a now-16-year-old book, The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane, by William Holtz, uncovers what seemed (to anyone unfamiliar with modern libertarianism's history) like a fascinating and somewhat dark secret: that the hugely popular and influential Little House books were highly influenced, edited, maybe even "ghostwritten" to a significant extent, by Laura Ingalls Wilder's radical libertarian daughter and fellow novelist, Rose Wilder Lane.

Of their collaborative style, Thurman writes:

The cumulative evidence suggests that sometimes Laura stood her ground and sometimes she was cowed into submission, but most often she solicited and welcomed Rose’s improvements. When Rose left the farm, in 1935, the editing of the five books yet to come was done by correspondence. “I have written you the whys of the story as I wrote it,” Laura told her in a letter that accompanied a draft of volume four, “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” “but you know your judgment is better than mine, so what you decide is the one that stands.” Rose, for her part, could be an insufferable didact. She played down her authority, even as she hammered it home: “I’m trying to train you as a writer for the big market,” she had told her mother in 1925. (Laura had written an article about her Ozark kitchen, which, heavily revised, had appeared in the magazine Country Gentleman.) “You must understand that what sold was your article, edited. You must study how it was edited, and why. . . . Above all, you must listen to me.”

Of Rose's political work beyond working with her mother, Thurman writes:

In 1936, the Saturday Evening Post published Lane’s own “Credo,” an impassioned essay that was widely admired by conservatives. Her vision was of a quasi-anarchic democracy, with minimal taxes, limited government, and no entitlements, regulated only by the principle of personal responsibility. Its citizens would be equal in their absolute freedom to flourish or to fail.

Everything that Lane wrote after “Credo”—fiction or polemics—was an expression of that vision. She may have been the first to invoke the term “libertarian” (it dates to the eighteenth century) to describe the agenda of a nascent anti-statist movement of which she has been called, with Isabel Paterson and Ayn Rand, “a founding mother.” To the degree that she is still remembered for her own achievements, it is mainly by a few libertarian ultras for whom her tract of 1943, “The Discovery of Freedom: Man’s Struggle Against Authority,” is a foundational work of political theory. (It was written “in a white heat,” she said.)

As far as that "may have been the first," such attempts to pin down "firsts" is a mug's game; she was certainly early in using that term in what has become its main modern use, and also helped define what the term would come to mean.

Of the dual philosophies detectable in the Little House books, Thurman writes:

Last June, Anita Clair Fellman, a professor emerita of history at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, published “Little House, Long Shadow,” a survey of the Wilders’ “core” beliefs, and of their influence on American political culture. Two streams of conservatism, she argues—not in themselves inherently compatible—converge in the series. One is Lane’s libertarianism, and the other is Wilder’s image of a poster family for Republican “value voters”: a devoted couple of Christian patriots and their unspoiled children; the father a heroic provider and benign disciplinarian, the mother a pious homemaker and an example of feminine self-sacrifice.....

Fellman concludes, “The popularity of the Little House books . . . helped create a constituency for politicians like Reagan who sought to unsettle the so-called liberal consensus established by New Deal politics.” Considering the outcome of the November election, and the present debacle of laissez-faire capitalism, that popularity may have peaked. On the other hand, it may not have. Hard times whet the appetite for survival stories.

Rose Wilder Lane could certainly have set Ms. Thurman straight on her absurd assertion that the current crisis is one of laissez-faire capitalism. Kate Harding at Salon chimes in with comments on Thurman's article, with some requisite modern liberal distaste, yet a hat tip to the undeniable power of Rose Wilder Lane as both character and phenomenon:

Even if she is partially to blame for a political landscape that's made me despair for most of my adult life, there's no denying that Rose Wilder's life story is compelling stuff -- arguably far more compelling than her mother's nostalgic stories (and especially the Michael Landonized version of them). Given the mainstream American tastes that keep the Little House books perennially in print, perhaps it's not surprising that someone who simultaneously lived feminist ideals and righter-than-right politics has gone largely unnoticed, but it's a shame nonetheless.

Rose's story is also told at great length in my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement. She is also discussed in my review of a biography of Rose's good friend and ideological sister Isabel Paterson, from the February 2005 issue of Reason magazine.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Art for All; Special Collections Art Film

Oh NO......

Win a prize -- deface a book!
Feeling bookish and artistic? Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library this week announced its first Altered Books Competition. Eligible is "any book, old or new that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, rubber stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned. [It] may be as simple as adding a drawing or text to a page, or as complex as creating an intricate book sculpture."

I've seen some mind-boggling creations made from books -- the art shown above is just a sampling from the FunForever blog.

If you need artistic guidance, the Pratt will have a workshop at the Baltimore Book Festival on Friday, Sept. 25, 6 to 8 p.m.; old books and supplies will be provided for free. Entries in the competition must be received by the Pratt no later than 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26. Prizes will be awarded to the top three altered books; the top 15 altered books will be displayed at the Central Library during October.

I admit there's something sad about defacing any book. But I have lots of old textbooks and other books lying around the garage, just waiting to be turned into works of art. Watch out Principles of Accounting, here I come!