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Friday, Feb 8, 2008

Hobbit first edition up for auction
A signed first edition of Tolkien’s book, complete with black and white sketches by the author, will go under the hammer at London’s Bonhams auction house in March. It’s estimated the book could draw bids of up to $US70,000. This article, published in The Age, notes that over 100 million copies of the Hobbit have been sold, with “the US Library Association declaring the novel to be the most significant children’s book of the century”.


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West Virginia Record calls John Grisham a hypocrite
On tour with his latest book, The Appeal, Grisham has apparently spent much airtime slagging of West VA for alleged high court corruption. The Record fights back in this article that claims Grisham isn’t one to throw stones:


Grisham continues to defend convicted judge-briber and ex-Scruggs associate Paul Minor, sentenced last October to eleven years in prison. Once president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, Minor was found guilty of a range of charges, including racketeering and bribery of two judges presiding over his cases.


Grisham’s Flat Earth Society analysis: “I never saw what the crime was.”


When it comes to trial lawyers, especially ones he likes, he can’t see well at all.



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James Patterson is the UK’s most borrowed author
No shock there, really. This article tells us that Patterson’s works were borrowed from UK libraries in the vicinity of 1.5 million times in one year. He is the UK’s most popular author, while At Risk by Patricia Cornwell is the most popular book. Ugh. Re:Print readers are well-aware I’m a reformed Patterson fan. So, I find it hard to stomach the rate at which folks lap up his mini-chapter pomposities. I was once like you, Great Britain! If I grew out of it, so can you!


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Man attempts to mail gun parts inside books
Seattle Police, so says this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, are hunting a man who attempted to mail gun parts to France hidden inside books:


Searching the books, officers found a disassembled Beretta handgun, three loaded magazines and two boxes of 9mm ammunition hidden in hollowed copies of Richard Tarnas’ “Cosmos and Psyche,” Isaac Asimov’s “Chronology of the World” and a communications text.


Read further and the whole things sounds like a Bond film in the making. Apparently the sender was an elderly man with liver spots on his face and a slight French accent.


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Art exhibit showcases unloved books
I love this story. The Birmingham Free Press reports on an art exhibition featuring sculptures and other works created using the remains of branch-room library books, those old, unloved tomes no-one has borrowed in too long a time. Cut, pasted, bent, and burned, the books have been refashioned to give them new, the article says, “a second life”. The exhibition, titled “Un-shelved: An Altered Book Project” features 60 pieces and is on show at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and the Cranbrook Art Academy’s student gallery.


When some pictures are available, Re:Print will take a closer look at this one.


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Friday, Feb 8, 2008

Reading and literacy today.

Final broadsheet edition of the Guardian 2005 photo by Phil Gyford

Final broadsheet edition of the Guardian 2005 photo by Phil Gyford


This week I bought a copy of the Guardian Weekly, the digest of features and opinion pieces that’s sold as a magazine, which is probably almost the size of the newish tabloid size of the paper. It’s $4.95 in Australia. Usually I photocopy some of the articles from the newspaper collection at the Customs House public library in Sydney, or print out pages from the internet edition of the magazine. I have no great attachment to paper, but I want to be able to carry around stories and read them slowly, over the course of a week, not gulp them down in one sitting on the screen. I just don’t savor reading on the internet, but I want to. For the past few weeks I’ve had a couple of feature stories percolating. One is an update on the failure of digital reading devices to deliver a simple, ephemeral experience of reading. I had an e-mail from a friend who is an inventor of algorithms and technological devices, who said he still prints out and reads feature articles rather than reading them online. And I had a misty, sentimental yearning for great editing, to read long feature articles that have been shepherded and tightened by an expert editor. (I’m working on a celebration of the quality of writing in the Guardian blogs and features—watch this space.)


“A number of people wrote in late last year to ask what I thought of the NEA report on declining literacy, To Read Or Not To Read, in the light of my arguments in Everything Bad Is Good For You. I actually jotted down some pretty extensive notes about it, either for a blog post or an op-ed, but it was right before Christmas, and so they ended up sitting on my hard drive. But the other day, the Guardian asked me if I had anything to say about the issue, so I went back and wrote up this little essay that’s running today in the Guardian,” Steven Johnson wrote on his blog. The report showed that young readers have increasing literacy rates that drop off as they move into their teenage years. The report shows that reading of books drops off, but Steven Johnson points out that the type and style of reading being done on the internet, and the way that people are informed and engaged by what they read online isn’t measured.


The only reason the intellectual benefits are not measurable is that they haven’t been measured yet. There have been almost no studies that have looked at the potential positive impact of electronic media. Certainly there is every reason to believe that technological literacy correlates strongly with professional success in the information age.


I challenge the NEA to track the economic status of obsessive novel readers and obsessive computer programmers over the next 10 years. Which group will have more professional success in this climate? Which group is more likely to found the next Google or Facebook? Which group is more likely to go from college into a job paying $80,000 (£40,600)?


But the unmeasured skills of the “digital natives” are not just about technological proficiency. One of the few groups that has looked at these issues is the Pew Research Centre, which found in a 2004 study of politics and media use: “Relying on the internet as a source of campaign information is strongly correlated with knowledge about the candidates and the campaign. This is more the case than for other types of media, even accounting for the fact that internet users generally are better educated and more interested politically. And among young people under 30, use of the internet to learn about the campaign has a greater impact on knowledge than does level of education.”



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Friday, Feb 8, 2008

It might not send out as many ripples in the industry as Radiohead’s model did but maybe that’s because super-producer Timbaland has an idea that’s ahead of its time.  He plans to put out a song every month through Verizon’s V-Cast service, thus creating a ‘mobile album.’  Pretty smart on the side of Verizon, who already gave away a free (and great) Prince single.  Even smarter for T who knows what time it is.  Other artists are sure to follow this model and it makes you wonder why they haven’t already.  That’s probably because, like R-head, it takes a big name that has big ideas and some chutzpah to put an idea like this across.  Outside of the U.S., downloading music for your mobile is common but it has yet to catch on in the States.  It will as long as other artists like T take the plunge (and the telecomm companies come up with better rates for sales).  It’s just a matter of time…


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Friday, Feb 8, 2008

The emerging credit-card-debt crisis is as predictable as the nascent housing crisis was to anyone paying attention in 2006, when rising interest rates promised a cascade of defaulting ARM mortgages made to subprime, overextended debtors. Today’s WSJ has a front-page piece about how mounting credit-card debt will likely lead to a cutback in consumer spending.


Credit-card delinquencies are rising across the nation, a sign that some Americans are at the end of their rope financially. And these mounting delinquencies, in turn, have prompted banks to tighten lending standards, keeping people who have maxed out their cards from finding new sources of credit.


The result could be a sharp pullback in consumer spending that would further weaken the slowing U.S. economy.


Such a pullback may already be taking shape. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve reported an abrupt slowdown in consumers’ credit-card borrowings. In December, Americans had $944 billion in total revolving debt, most of it on credit cards, a seasonally adjusted annualized increase of 2.7%. That was off sharply from seasonally adjusted growth rates of 13.7% in November and 11.1% in October. And it reflects the volatility in consumers’ spending habits as economic growth sputters.


What is interesting about this is that it takes the banks’ shutting off the spigots to slow consumer spending. If the current credit crunch has shown us anything, it’s that consumers themselves will continue to spend themselves into bankruptcy if no institutional impediments are put in their way.


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Thursday, Feb 7, 2008

It’s clear that some filmmakers inherently understand the value of music in setting up the tone of their film. It’s a two way street, of course. The right selection of songs, or perfectly executed score, can turn the everyday into something epic, or the mildly amusing into a comic cavalcade. Yet there are times when, because of excessive ambition or smug self congratulation, the tunes take on a tainted life all their own - and the screen’s not ‘big’ enough for both the sonic and the storyline. Finding flawless examples of the former is far harder than locating mediocre members of the latter, basically because the meshing of music and movies is typically left to those (Scorsese, Tarantino) who know what they’re doing. In this latest installment of SE&L’s Surround Sound, we’ll focus on a trio of soundtracks that truly understand the importance of sonics within the cinematic. They also reflect three of 2007’s best efforts.


Juno - Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 9]


How does one match a movie built almost exclusively on quirk? Do you go for an equally eccentric collection of songs, or try and reflect the borderline precocious personalities of the cast? For director, and soundtrack producer Jason Reitman (with help from Peter Afterman and Margaret Yen), you do a little of both. Wisely, son of Ivan relied on Kimya Dawson and the idio-indie vibe left over from her work with the Moldy Peaches to propel the Juno soundtrack toward perfected mix tape nirvana. The selections here celebrate all that’s good about the pregnancy parable, exploring the tentative twee universe of adolescent sexual discovery with the down to earth worldview of its simple syrup heroine. Though it’s lacking the aesthetic cornerstone that drives our ‘with child’ champion - namely, old school ‘70s punk - it does pick through the last 40 years of music to find symbolic soulmates for the character.

Dawson’s work is delicious, a combination of lo-fi lollipops and angst fueled confessionals. “My Rollercoaster”, “Tire Swing”, “Loose Lips” and “So Nice So Smart” are all winners, all walking the fine line between imagined bedroom singalongs and full blown coffee house concertos. Similarly, the ‘main’ musical number, the Peaches pubescent love lament “Anyone Else But You” does double duty - functioning as both theme and last act truce between Juno and her boy joy Paulie. And while it would seem that tracks from established bands like The Kinks (“A Well Respected Man”), The Velvet Underground (“I’m Sticking With You”), and Sonic Youth (the Carpenters cover “Superstar”) would announce their obviousness and overstay their welcome, the way Reitman handles them in the film makes their presence more than mandatory here. Besides, anyone wise enough to give Mo Tucker’s lunatic lullaby a place on their playlist deserves unfettered kudos. The Juno soundtrack is exactly like the film itself - clever, original, and just a tad out of step with normalcy.


Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 9]


For a composer, it must be an impossible dilemma to overcome. How does one write songs for a specific actor to sing while also creating music that’s supposed to be the result of said performer’s specific character? Luckily, the minds behind the wacky wintertime comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story took a hands on approach. Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan, along with collaborator/comedy savior Judd Apatow, made sure that star John C. Reilly had some sonic substance to work with, hashing out lyrics and stylistic ideals before calling in actual musicians to bring them forth. Members of the Candy Butchers (Dan Bern and Mike Viola) as well as established artists like Van Dyke Parks and Marshall Crenshaw used the sketches and outlines as the basis for their clever contributions. The results become one of the best parody albums ever, matching considered classics from Spinal Tap and Tenacious D, note for nutty note.

As the movie is meant to mimic the recent biopic of Johnny Cash (among others, including Ray and The Buddy Holly Story), we get several man in black moments. The title track is terrific, a perfect amalgamation of message and mock bravado that comes across as iconic and idiotic. Similarly, early narrative numbers like “Take My Hand” and “(Mama) You Gots to Love Your Negro Man” take stylistic satire and brave bad taste to new levels. During the middle of the movie, when Reilly’s character is experimenting with sound and inspiration, the Parks’ penned psychedelic epic “Black Sheep” reminds us that rock and roll is almost inherently a self-parody to begin with. Between the faux folk protest of songs like “Dear Mr. President” to the late in life resurgence stated in “Beautiful Ride”, this is a score that celebrates the best - and excesses - of a life as a musician. It’s just too bad that the film and the album failed to connect with audiences. Like other examples of the genre, however, it’s destined to become a signpost of cult cool in the years to come - just like another similarly styled heavy metal spoof. 


Into The Wild - Music from the Motion Picture [rating: 9]


For close to two decades now, Eddie Vedder and his post-modern Bob Seeger Everyman routine have kept Pearl Jam a relevant, exciting rock and roll entity, long outliving the band’s neo-nostalgic grunge groundwork. Chosen specifically by writer/director Sean Penn to take on the onerous task of complementing the story of Christopher McCandless and the young man’s self-imposed exile from the world, the famed frontman delivered a collection of amazing tracks. They provided the perfect sonic backdrop to deal with the film’s complex emotional layers. They functioned as celebration and sermon, the All-American instinct toward wanderlust balanced against the needs of Penn’s reinvented road movie. The combination struck a chord with listeners as well as critics, many who saw the acoustic based material as instrumental in the film’s success. Of course, the old coots at the Academy didn’t get it. Vedder missed out on a sure thing Oscar nod (and probable win) when his work was deemed too “song oriented” to be considered a proper score. Huh?

Revisiting the tracks recorded, there is clearly a nomadic troubadour feel to what Vedder has created. Early tracks like “Setting Out” and “Far Behind” are statements of separation and distance, while later numbers like “Rise” and “The Wolf” provide insight into the sense of self-discovery (or delusion) and freedom that McCandless was striving for. Vedder is in fine voice, his balladry belying years as the aural accessory in Pearl Jam’s punk-poseur guitar sound. Yet he also shows with a pair of collaborations - dueting with Sleater-Kitty’s Corin Tucker on the Gordon Peterson/Indio track “Hard Sun”, polishing the Jerry Hannan penned “Society” - that there is a real sense of artistic community in the man. Along with Michael Brooks, who provided the more ambient cues for the film, Vedder’s work on Into the Wild feels like one massively important part of the much bigger motion picture. It verifies the faith Penn had in the musician, and the man’s own belief in his amazing muse. The results speak for themselves - over and over again.


 


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