(I’m sorry; these links are on random topics, not just literary ones!).
What if there were a wiki for time travelers? (Read this ingenious short story).
Here’s the greatest sci fi story ever written (honestly!) It’s also short and fun.
Lovethelibrary website contains random questions which patrons ask reference librarians. One of the funniest things I’ve read. One thing I like about this website is that its humor is “found.” One or two librarians just kept a log of all the funny questions they were asked on the job. Years later, they have an impressive amount of material. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a book.
Recently I’ve grown interested in choose-your-own adventure (CYOA) books, a series of children’s books which let readers choose what path the protagonist should head towards (“Should you try to continue hiking up the mountain or interview the old man?”)
Here’s a fan’s history of the series. Two fun facts:
The series was devised by Edward Packard in the 1960s. His exploration of the genre was more Phillip K Dick than Indiana Jones. He did a few titles with unusual protagonists: You are a shark! You are a Monster! You are a Millionaire! and You are a Ninja! I have not read any of Packard’s titles, but can’t wait to get my hands on a few. Later many people contributed to the series, including the globetrekker adventure writer R.A. Montgomery. These were more conventional narratives with clever packaging and great illustrations. All were a lot of fun.
Sean Michael Robinson reports:
Packard, frustrated with the lack of marketing muscle behind the releases, shopped around his concept and some new manuscripts and was eventually able to secure himself a deal with the J.B. Lippincott company. But unbeknownst to Packard, Montgomery and his newly acquired agent were working on a deal of their own with a much bigger company- Bantam Books. “Bantam decided that half of the books would be written or subcontracted through me and half of the books through Ray Montgomery,” Packard told me in a phone interview, almost thirty years after the deal finally went down. “Ray and his agent were really the ones who set it up. I was brought in because I’d started the whole thing.”
The second fun fact is something mentioned by Christian Swinehart in his amazing website about CYOA. Inside UFO 54-40, the author plants a curious Easter egg.
In the story, your concord flight is interrupted when you are beamed aboard a nearby spacecraft trolling the universe for intelligent life. Once aboard you discover your new captors, the U-TY, are interested in keeping you around only to the extent that you can help them find Ultima, the ‘planet of paradise’. The planet’s location is cloaked in mystery and you are only told that it’s a place that cannot be reached ‘by making a choice or following directions’. However this is all foreshadowing for when the reader finally becomes frustrated in the apparently impossible quest and begins flipping through the book hunting for that ending. In fact not choosing is the only way to reach Ultima.
The branch diagram for UFO 54-40 is unique in that it has one ending – the Ultima ending – which is completely disconnected from the rest of the story. It exists as an island, unreachable through choices but discoverable thanks to the random access nature of the book.
This ending was not just an easter egg for the obsessive reader who didn’t mind skimming every page looking for telltale words. Instead it’s hard to miss in even a casual riffling. A two-page illustration showing what could only be paradise (or perhaps a theme park) leaps out as the only spread in the book without any text. Flipping to the page before brings you to 101, where you discover that your curiosity has been rewarded. You have found the planet, not by following the constraints of the system, but by going outside of them – a fitting moral to the story and an encouraging reminder that any game should be a starting point for the imagination, not the end.
Here’s the relevant pages from that book:
My first thought after reading about CYOA was: this would work great in ebooks!
Jefferson Cowie has written some remarkable cultural history about the U.S. in the 1970s. (Here’s the book’s blog). Fun fact: Saturday Night Fever was inspired by a newspaper article fabricated by a rock journalist. Here’s a generously long essay about how disco emerged from abandoned NY warehouses:
Just as the song offered permission to cover up, to deny, and to forget — and then rolled it all up in polyester and cast it under swirling lights — so the discotheques themselves inhabited the former physical settings of the old industrial working class by inhabiting the buildings of a once mighty occupational past. "Despite its veneer of elegance and sophistication, disco was born, maggot-like, from the rotten remains of the Big Apple," explains the genre’s otherwise sympathetic historian Peter Shapiro.
Yet buried in the city’s growing rubble was a completely different history: that of Akron’s role as the birthplace of the working-class hero. There, in the midst of the Great Depression, dramatic sit down strikes, mass pickets, and guerrilla warfare against the rubber tire magnates of the 1930s made the tirebuilders “the first to fight their way to freedom,” in the words of one chronicler at the time. The Akron workers’ struggles blazed the path for the rest of industrial America to join the leap forward in labor organizing and then the blue-collar prosperity of the postwar golden age.
By the 1970s, Devo could find no traces of such working-class nobility—just militancy regressing to corporate stasis, blue collar fading to grey, “Solidarity Forever” disappearing into the “Devo Corporate Anthem.” Working-class activism spawned consumerism, and consumption generated apathy. Industrial and consumer cultures turned out to be as vacuous as the empty tire factories and boarded-up buildings of their hometown. “Look we are spuds,” explained one of the band members. “We’re very average looking, normal gene pool. In Akron, it’s the Goodyear Museum and the Soapbox Derby and McDonald’s and women in hair rollers beating their kids in supermarkets. We were products of it and used it.” The band neither criticized nor shied away from the socio-economic failures of the seventies; instead, they took it as fact, and embraced the decline.
Texas has a tremendous columnist named Lisa Falkenberg who has been riling up people with tales of social injustice. I love how she champions the little guy and is unafraid to take a stand on local issues people are sensitive about. I like to compare her writing to that of iconic figure Mike Royko whom I would call more of a storyteller than a pundit. Her last piece is about an immigrant who because of various unlikely circumstances has no identity documents…not even a passport.
Speaking of local writers, Houston historian J.R. Gonzales has made a list of 5 people every Houstonian should know. To that list I would add short story writer Donald Barthelme.
David Rothman on why the public should invest in infrastructure to support a digital library. The problem here is that everything in the ebook world is a proprietary format.
Howard Zinn about how the Supreme Court is not a reliable protector of the individual’s rights and freedoms; more often than that, it adjudicates cases where moneyed interests are at stake. If you want decisive outcomes, Zinn argues, get a law passed. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that climate change people are hoping the courts can be relied upon to weigh evidence and validation application of environmental laws.