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."