Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Plight of Nelson Algren: Is Someone Secretly Stopping Your Book Sales?



Jonathan Dee related in his New Yorker piece, "Nelson Algren’s Street Cred: [...] Algren became one of the most celebrated novelists of his era. Why did he disappear into obscurity?", that Ernest Hemingway referred to Algren as the “beat Dostoyevsky”.

Algren, a "proletarian naturalist poet" and novelist, had "fanboys" who included Terry Southern, Russell Banks, Cormac McCarthy, and Thomas Pynchon who, of Algren, said, “is behind a great deal of what I do”.


Dee shared that Colin Asher wrote in Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren that Algren's:

[...] first novel, “Somebody in Boots” (originally titled “Native Son”: his good friend Richard Wright’s book of that name hadn’t been written yet), sold a meagre seven hundred and sixty copies, failing to earn back its two-hundred-dollar advance. Many first novels tank in this way, and many first novelists are despondent as a result, but twenty-six-year-old Algren—in what would be a harbinger of how he handled perceived failures later in life—took the blow particularly hard, and tried at least once to commit suicide. 

His friends feared for his sanity. Invited to New York to address the first-ever American Writers’ Congress, Algren stood shaking at the lectern, mumbling the same sentences over and over, which gradually became audible: “My book was a failure. Please buy my book.” [...]

[...] Algren’s late-career slide into irrelevance, Asher says, was no impartial operation of fashion or taste but the result of an orchestrated plot by Hoover’s F.B.I. to silence him, at the peak of the McCarthy era. What’s more, the plot itself, in Asher’s telling, was the direct result of a gratuitous insult Algren inserted into “The Man with the Golden Arm”—mockingly employing the surnames of two known turncoats who had identified, sometimes for money, many former friends and colleagues as members of the Communist Party. 

Incensed, the two men sought revenge by naming Algren to the F.B.I. and to the House Un-American Activities Committee, prompting an investigation that turned Algren into a pariah and sabotaged his career. 

But “they operated in secret,” Asher writes, “so Algren blamed himself when his life began falling apart. He presumed the paranoia and depression that began to cripple him in the nineteen-fifties were the result of personal weakness, and decided his books were not being published because no one wanted to read them.”

Saturday, March 30, 2019

ELODEA CANADENSIS (American or Canadian Pondweed) Under a Microscope!

I remember viewing a leaf of Elodea canadensis (i.e., American or Canadian waterweed or pondweed) umpteen years ago under a microscope in an undergraduate science class, and it still blows me away.
Elodea canadensis
Cytoplasmic streaming, via active transport, in cells of Elodea. 
Source: Aleš Kladnik | YouTube

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Julio Le Parc 1959 at The Met Breuer


I saw the Julio Le Parc 1959 exhibit at The Met Breuer two days before it closed, and it was (arguably) the best (abstract minimalist) exhibit that I've viewed. 

What initially appeared to be patternless pieces, upon closer inspection, were discovered to be creatively and painstakingly patterned in clean colors or in black or white.

Quantitative Sequences [Séquences Quantitatives]

For example, in Quantitative Sequences [Séquences Quantitatives], Le Parc started with an empty square and filled it and emptied it, one block at a time, until the end of the piece. 


And in Mutation of Forms [Mutación de Formas], Le Parc opened and closed a red and blue "umbrella" from the beginning to the end of the gouache on cardboard piece. 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Un-Importance of Book Cover Designs

John Williams' New York Times cover story How a Book Gets to the Perfect Cover: Here’s how designers get a concept from good to must-pick-up explains how the cover for Glen David Gold’s I Will Be Complete evolved. The memoir: 

"[...] is nearly 500 pages, and recounts his 20s, his college years and his event-filled youth after his mother moved to New York and left him, at 12, temporarily alone in her San Francisco apartment. The length of the book, and the amount of ground it covers, made the prospect of designing a cover for it “a little intimidating,” said Tyler Comrie, a senior designer at Knopf who was given the task.

“There’s a part in the book where Glen stumbles on a puberty chart, when he was 14 or so,” Comrie said. “This presented a perfect opportunity: Three different stages of his life, all tied together with this thing he finds in the book and causes a lot of self-reflection [...]


Figure 1: Three of Tyler Comrie's Drafts for I Will Be Complete

Tyler Comrie developed over three drafts (Figure: 1) for I Will Be Complete, but in the end, a work of abstract by Andrew Nilsen, a friend of the author, was chosen for the cover (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Andrew Nilsen Abstract and the Final Cover

Ultimately, the book's title and summary are going to help the reader make the ultimate decision to buy (and possibly read) the book. An author, like Tim Ferris, can have a book cover design contest, but no matter how attractive the cover, (most) readers aren't going to read a book solely based on the book cover design.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gladwell's UNWATCHED POT: The Link Between Marijuana & Mental Illness in Middle-Class Professionals


Malcolm Gladwell related in a New Yorker (January 12, 2019) piece, Unwatched Pot: Do We Know Enough About Marijuana?: 

"Because of recent developments in plant breeding and growing techniques, the typical concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has gone from the low single digits to more than twenty per cent --- from a swig of near beer to a tequila shot."

And as THC levels have increased, there has been increase in the rate of mental illness -specifically among "stable middle-class professionals" that "[...] hardly responded to antipsychotics."





Tuesday, December 25, 2018

COLOR BLIND: Ironic Racism in Roman Art


The subtitle of Margeret Talbot's The New Yorker article "Color Blind" is: "Scholars have known for centuries that Greek and Roman marble figures were routinely covered in bright [white] paint. Why does the myth of their whiteness persist?"

In the text of the article, Talbot shared: "For centuries, archeologists and museum curators had been scrubbing away these traces of color before presenting statues and architectural reliefs to the public."

This was and is done because there's: "[...] a tendency to equate whiteness with beauty, taste, and classical ideals, and to see color as alien, sensual, and garish."

This behavior is ironic since, in general, the Romans practiced classism as opposed to racism. Talbot referenced Sarah Bond, a University of Iowa classics professor, who wrote in a Forbes essay: "[...] the Romans generally differentiated people of color on their cultural and ethnic background rather than the color of their skin [...]"


And Talbot wrote: "[...] though ancient Greeks and Romans certainly noticed skin color, they did not practice systemic racism. They owned slaves, but this population was drawn from a wide range of conquered peoples, including Gauls and Germans."

"Pale skin on a woman was considered a sign of beauty and refinement, because it showed that she was privileged enough not to have to work outdoors. But a man with pale skin was considered unmasculine: bronzed skin was associated with the heroes who fought on battlefields and competed as athletes, naked, in amphitheaters."

Monday, November 26, 2018

Jerry Saltz's "How to be an Artist [i.e., Writer]"

Of the 33 rules that Jerry Saltz listed in his New York article How to be an Artist, lessons 5, 20, and 21 were most resonating. In summary, work relentlessly, accept the premise that you may always be poor, and that "The best definition of success is time - the time to do your work."







Saturday, October 27, 2018

The White Woman: A Root of Segregation


If not the root, a root of segregation is the vehement objection to interracial relationships.

In Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, a New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award winner, Ibrahim X. Xendi related: 

Klan violence was needed to “keep the niggers in their place,” explained Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan’s first honorary “Grand Wizard.” To the Klan, the only thing worse than a Negro was “a white Radical.” But the worst offender was a suspected Black rapist of a White woman. Klansmen glorified White womanhood as the epitome of honor and purity [...] 

And Robert Beck wrote in his memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life:

Greenie, the white man [...] locks all Niggers inside tight stockades [i.e., in prisons and segregated neighborhoods]. He’d love it if the Nigger broads wasn’t locked in there. The white man is scared shitless. He don’t want them humping bucks [i.e., oversexed Black men] coming out there in the white world rubbing their bellies against those soft white bellies [...] That’s the real reason for keeping all the Niggers locked up. 

Arguably, the most famous example of the fear of interracial relationships is the Emmett Till case. August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Till, an African-American, was kidnapped, pistol whipped, beaten, shot in the head, and tossed in a Mississippi river by two white men - Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. What did Till do to Bryant and Milam?  He didn’t anything to them, but they believed that Till did something to Carolyn Bryant, Roy Bryant’s 21-year-old white wife.

According to Alan Blinder’s New York Times piece, “U.S. Reopens Emmett Till Investigation, Almost 63 Years After His Murder”:

[...] the events leading to the attack has repeatedly shifted. One account had the boy only insulting her verbally. In court, but without jurors present, she claimed that Emmett had made physical contact with her and spoken in crude, sexual language. She later told the F.B.I. that Emmett had touched her hand.

But when she spoke to the researcher Timothy B. Tyson in 2008, she acknowledged that it was “not true” that Emmett had grabbed her or made vulgar remarks. She told Dr. Tyson, who published a book about the case last year [The Blood of Emmett Till, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Longlist], that “nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”

However, Christopher Benson’s Chicago magazine piece, "Eyewitness Account: Emmett Till's cousin Simeon Wright seeks to set the record straight", Simeon Wright, Till’s cousin, said that Till whistled at Bryant, “[...] to get a laugh out of us or something.”

Thus, Bryant and Milam were so threatened by a 14-year-old African-American male that they brutally tortured and killed him for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And to send a message to other African-Americans, even though Bryant and Milam confessed to murdering Till, they were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Even housing African-Americans in nearby low-income projects was unacceptable to some whites. In The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein wrote:

[...] the Reverend Constantine Dzink, pastor of the King Catholic Church, wrote in opposition to the United States Housing Authority building the Sojourner Truth public housing project for African American families in Detroit [in 1941]: The “construction of a low-cost housing project [...] would jeopardize the safety of many of our white girls.”

And most recently, what did John Kovach Jr., a white Lorain, Ohio police officer, do after he discovered this past summer that his 18-year-old daughter had brought to life one of his greatest nightmares, per Katie Nix’s article in the The Chronicle-Telegram and a video, he “[...] he abused his authority by conducting a traffic stop on his daughter’s [African-American] boyfriend without cause and temporarily detained his daughter and her boyfriend in the back of his squad car.” And Kovach threatened to frame the African-American teen. “Have a seat in my car. We’ll make (expletive) up as we go.” Obviously, the segregated neighborhoods in Lorain weren’t working; thus, Kovach tried the second method of keeping white women away from African-African men - prison. 


In addition,  Xendi wrote: 

Klansmen religiously believed that Blacks possessed supernatural sexual powers, and this belief fueled their sexual attraction to Black women and their fear of White women being attracted to Black men. It became almost standard operating procedure to justify Klan terrorism by maintaining that southern White supremacy was necessary to defend the purity of White women. 

Interestingly, (some) white men feared that white women would be attracted to Black men due to their "supernatural sexual powers"; thus, Klansmen condoned segregation as a way to prevent white women from seducing Black men.

The Greatest Fear of (Some) White Men

In
The Guardian, David Olusoga wrote in his review of Stamped from the Beginning:

The causal thread of American racism, Kendi suggests, runs in the opposite direction to the way we normally presume. Racist ideas [e.g., oversexed African-American males] are manufactured to justify racial policy [e.g., segregation of white women].



Frank Rich reported in his New York magazine piece "Oklahoma Was Never Really O.K." that: 

[...] the most lethal race riot in American history [took place in Oklahoma]. The match that sparked the flames was the usual — a black man was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The official death toll was 36, but a 2001 study corrected it to between 100 and 300. All but one of the neighborhood’s blocks were destroyed, including nearly 1,300 homes and almost 200 businesses; some 8,000 residents were rendered homeless. Much as whites had looted the possessions of Indians evicted under the Indian Removal Act some 70 years earlier, so white Oklahomans helped themselves to the bounty of Greenwood’s affluent households. The culprits were let off as Curly was, no doubt under some spurious rationalization of “self-defense.”

That conflagration was still within recent memory at the time Oklahoma! arrived on Broadway in 1943. Or would have been had it not been purged from the record. And I mean literally purged. The dead were tossed into the Arkansas River and unmarked mass graves. News accounts were cut out of the Tulsa Tribune before they were assembled into bound reference volumes. The incident was not a part of the Oklahoma public schools’ curriculum until 2000, and only recently entered American-history textbooks. Any physical remnants of that 1921 inferno had long since been bulldozed by the time I passed through.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

View Your Books as Works of Art to Overcome Disappointing Sales

 Jan Hendrik Eversen A still life with books, a clay pipe and a pewter jar, 1965

If you're a writer who is disappointed in your book sales, opine that your books are works of art. Because what (sane) artist would be disappointed to have sold over 500, 100 or even 50 paintings, sculptures or screen prints?