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by Jason B. Jones

16 Jul 2007


This is the first of what I hope will be a series of short looks at books from academic presses which I think might interest a wider readership. In each, there will be first a mini-review, and then a brief interview with the author.—JBJ

Impotence: A Cultural History
by Angus McLaren
(University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Laughing at erections is the province of middle- and high-school humor; laughing at impotence is a more adult entertainment. In the Friends episode, “The One with Monica’s Thunder,” Chandler has a momentary loss of power.  Shaken, he asks Joey if it’s ever happened to him.  Joey says, sure—happens to everybody.  Not a problem.  But when Chandler asks what he does in those situations, Joey’s answer leaves him even more disturbed: “Do it anyway.” 

This brief scene illustrates a central difficulty with conversations about erections and impotence: Questions of definition abound.  What looks like a simple question—am I hard or not?—turns out to have a long and interesting backstory.  Angus McLaren’s new book, Impotence: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2007), surveys Western approaches to erection, impotence, and infertility since the Greeks.  And these approaches are shockingly different.  An early Christian culture emphasizing celibacy, for instance, is necessarily going to take a very different view of impotence than is, say, a late-Victorian one worrying about the decadence of the West.

Impotence is a fascinating book, one that easily sustains its most basic claim, which is that “every age has turned impotence to its own purposes, each advancing a model of masculinity that informed men if they were sexual successes, and if not, why not.”  Despite the presence of a blurb from Dr. Ruth on the back cover, McLaren is a refreshingly low-key guide to the vicissitudes of impotence.  The book is almost unmissable for its extensive cataloging of tests (“fifteenth-century English courts sometimes employed ‘honest women’ to examine the man”) and treatments (ranging from the implantation of monkey and goat glands, to the construction of mechanical scaffolding, to various forms of pastes, salves, and unguents, applied topically, orally, or anally).

by John McCormick

16 Jul 2007


PORTSMOUTH, N.H.—Stealing a page from Oprah Winfrey—his close friend and fellow Chicago celebrity—Sen. Barack Obama launched book clubs in a dozen New Hampshire towns and online last week.

His life story is the first topic of discussion.

With their assigned reading being Dreams from My Father, Obama’s best-selling memoir that has become his unofficial campaign handbook, a small group of his followers settled in at the SecondRun used bookstore in this coastal city for a two-hour discussion.

The Portsmouth gathering was amid an initial round of meetings that evening that was part of a new campaign initiative meant to better inform people about Obama and build interest in his presidential bid.

by Chris Barsanti

16 Jul 2007


Just to keep the Harry Potter-related news onslaught trucking along, here’s an interesting item from The Hollywood Reporter noting that with two films yet to go in the boy wizard’s series, Warner Bros. has already figured out who his replacement is going to be. U.K. author Angie Sage’s projected seven-book children’s fantasy series, Septimus Heap—of which three titles have already been published—is apparently going to get the J.K. Rowling treatment at an unannounced date in the future.

by Chauncey Mabe

15 Jul 2007


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Nearly a decade ago, Eileen McNally caught an NPR interview with an obscure writer named J.K. Rowling. The book being discussed, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, sounded like fun, so McNally picked it up for her 9-year-old niece.

“I bought it for her to read on the plane home to Buffalo,” said McNally, now director of the Florida Center for the Book at the Broward County Library. “But Shannon read the entire thing standing in line at Disney World. I was flabbergasted. That’s when I knew this was something special.”

Special, indeed. The six Harry Potter books published since 1997 have so far sold more than 325 million copies in 65 languages. They’ve spawned a blockbuster movie franchise and a merchandising empire, and made Rowling, by some reports, richer than the Queen of England.

Scholastic, Rowling’s American publisher, reports the most recent volume, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold a stratospheric 6.9 million copies in its first 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling book in history.

by Nikki Tranter

14 Jul 2007


Well… have I ever anticipated a book quite this much?

Christmas has come early for the Achievers. I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski (Bloomsbury, August) is a brand new must-have book from the creators of Lebowski Fest. According to the press release, it’s filled with Big Lebowski trivia, cast interviews, interviews with character inspirations (Jeff Dowd, Dude; John Milius, Walter), and a guide to speaking Achiever. The writers talk to the real Dude, and Jeff Bridges writes the into, and contributes artwork! I’m buying one for everyone.

The UK Sunday Herald has a small piece on the book, and information about the first UK Lebowski Fest.

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Country Fried Rock: Drivin' N' Cryin' to Be Inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame

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