The book is mightier than the wall?

Mightier than the wall

We mustn’t lose sight of how impactful ideas can be, in a seemingly thoughtless world.

A single book disrupts the foundation of a brick wall by Jorge Méndez Blake
Although a larger metaphor could be applied to the installation no matter what piece of literature was chosen, Méndez Blake specifically selected The Castle to pay tribute to Kafka’s lifestyle and work. The novelist was a deeply introverted figure who wrote privately throughout his life, and was only published posthumously by his friend Max Brod. This minimal, yet poignant presence is reflected in the brick work—Kafka’s novel showcasing how a small idea can have a monumental presence.

Here, a book becomes part of a larger sculpture, but there are many examples of artworks that use books as sculptural objects in themselves.

Carving culture: sculptural masterpieces made from old books
Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from “literary jewelry” to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.

Artist takes old books and gives them new life as intricate sculptures
Dettmer puts on display his pretty fantastic creations, all while explaining how he sees the book — as a body, a technology, a tool, a machine, a landscape, a case study in archaeology.

Old books transformed into imaginative 3D illustrations of fairy tale scenes
Seattle-based artist Isobelle Ouzman creates 3D illustrations from discarded books found in dumpsters, recycling bins, and local thrift stores. She adopts these forgotten books as a way to give them a second life, cutting and pasting the books into layered fairy tale scenes instead of letting the novels collect dust or fall prey to the elements.

Or how about books as building material? They form the foundations of our societies, as well as being products of them.

Defiant Democracy: Parthenon replica made of 100,000 banned books
The titles include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and George Orwell’s 1984. The books are wrapped around a metal frame like a shingled facade with their covers visible, proving that despite efforts to keep their contents from the public, they have endured.

5,000 books pour out of a building in Spain
Artist Alicia Martin’s tornado of books shoot out a window like a burst of water from a giant hose. The Spain-based artist’s sculptural installation at Casa de America, Madrid depicts a cavalcade of books streaming out of the side of a building. The whirlwind of literature defies gravity and draws attention with its grandeur size. There have been three site-specific installations, thus far, of the massive sculptural works in this series known as Biografias, translated as Biographies, that each feature approximately 5,000 books sprawled out around and atop one another.

Not sure what category to put these books in, though.

Terry Border’s whimsical ‘Wiry limbs, paper backs’ series
Books come to life as characters of themselves.

I think we’ve stopped worrying about the death of the book now, but even if there are fewer books in our libraries, there may well be more in our galleries.

Truth with a small t but a capital Trump

This book about Trump seems to be less biography and more gossip column. But I guess that’s appropriate?

Fire and Fury is a perfectly postmodern White House book
If Michael Wolff is writing fiction in Fire and Fury, this is the kind of fiction he is writing. Indeed, at the very beginning of the book, in an author’s note, Wolff declares himself an unreliable narrator: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book,” he writes. The traditional promise of the journalist is to find the single, fundamental truth obscured by all the partial, biased accounts he elicits. But Wolff explicitly declines to make that promise; he offers not the story but a whole chorus of stories.

Dry January, by the book

Don’t know why we make such a fuss over Dry January, it’s not as if there’s a problem, right?

From mother’s ruin to modern tipple: how the UK rediscovered gin
There are 315 distilleries in Britain – more than double the number operating five years ago. According to figures collected by HM Revenue & Customs, which hands out licences to produce spirits, nearly 50 opened last year, while just a handful shut up shop. Demand for interesting gins, made by small scale craft and artisan producers has driven a near-20% rise in the total amount of the juniper-flavoured spirit sold.

Not content to just drink it, there is now “the UK’s first gin spa, where visitors can indulge in a juniper foot soak and a gin tasting menu.”

But anything that’s good enough for Orwell is good enough for me.

The place of gin in Orwell’s 1984
One of the few permitted vices in Nineteen Eighty-Four is Victory Gin, which oils the outer party and offers suggestions of Englishness and party power: it’s always served with clove bitters, implying that Oceania’s boots are on the ground in Asia. Chemistry professor Shirley Lin wrote an interesting post about gin’s place in Orwell’s dystopia.

Oily gin: a chemist’s perspective on 1984
Can one shed tears of gin? Orwell describes one of Winston’s childhood memories involving an old man who “reeked of gin” to such a degree that one could imagine “[tears] welling from his eyes were pure gin” (page 33). In the last paragraph of the book, Winston’s tears at the end of the book are also “gin-scented” (page 297). While I was unable to find any studies examining the presence of alcohol in human tears, ethanol in the sweat of continuous drinkers has been detected and quantified.

Roll on February. I think.

George Orwell’s Whitehouse fans

Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 surge after Kellyanne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’
Comparisons were made with the term “newspeak” used in the 1949 novel, which was used to signal a fictional language that aims at eliminating personal thought and also “doublethink”. In the book Orwell writes that it “means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”.

With friends like these

Poet Wallace Stevens, much admired – kind of.

The detached poet
Of course, none of this prevented him from publishing some of the most linguistically inventive poetry in American history, and it’s a testament to his talents that he’ll be remembered as one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, despite not being a particularly intellectual or even reflective one.

Damning with faint praise, especially the part where the article lists all the events and changes that have happened during his lifetime, that have all passed him by.

Reviewing my reading habits

Reviewing reading habits

It’s occurred to me that I’m becoming an increasingly lazy reader, preferring to read reviews of books than the books themselves. Below are some snippets from the latest to have caught my eye.

Reviews of books about dark Jewish comedians and insightful Australian art critics. Books on how the internet has changed our understanding of knowledge, how word processors have changed literature, and about how art can save us from our bone-deep solitude.

The wondrous critic
The most manifest virtue of these essays is their language, marked by an uncommon command of vocabulary and (in our day) a far rarer mastery of syntax, allied to a thoroughly antiquated respect for the rules of grammar. Open this anthology anywhere and you will be hard put to find a sentence that is not as memorable for its very phrasing as it is for its thought.

The lonely city
She tells us that she often moved through New York feeling so invisibly alone that she felt like a ghost, and so started to think of other ghosts as suitable company. The dead, for Laing, are not so much historical figures as they are very vibrant modern companions, and she invokes them with an ease and familiarity of old friends. She allows Warhol to pop up in the chapter on the web, Hopper to pop up in a chapter on Warhol, and so on. In Laing’s head, all of these artists are still alive somewhere – perhaps even in communion with one another. This thought makes her feel less alone, and she passes it along to us.

Rethinking knowledge in the Internet Age
In fact, knowledge is now networked: made up of loose-edged groups of people who discuss and spread ideas, creating a web of links among different viewpoints. That’s how scholars in virtually every discipline do their work — from their initial research, to the conversations that forge research into ideas, to carrying ideas into public discourse. Scholar or not, whatever topic initially piques our interest, the net encourages us to learn more. Perhaps we follow links, or are involved in multiyear conversations on stable mailing lists, or throw ideas out onto Twitter, or post first drafts at, or set up Facebook pages, or pose and answer questions at Quora or Stack Overflow, or do “post-publication peer review” at There has never been a better time to be curious, and that’s not only because there are so many facts available — it’s because there are so many people with whom we can interact.

How literature became word perfect
The literary history of the early years of word processing—the late 1960s through the mid-’80s—forms the subject of Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s new book, Track Changes. The year 1984 was a key oment for writers deciding whether to upgrade their writing tools. That year, the novelist Amy Tan founded a support group for Kaypro users called Bad Sector, named after her first computer—itself named for the error message it spat up so often; and Gore Vidal grumped that word processing was “erasing” literature. He grumped in vain. By 1984, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Chabon, Ralph Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Anne Rice all used WordStar, a first-generation commercial piece of software that ran on a pre-DOS operating system called CP/M.

Jews on the Loose
In his movie roles Groucho, for Lee Siegel, represents not an amusing attack on pretension but “the spirit of nihilism.” Siegel disputes the view that Woody Allen is Groucho’s descendant, for he feels that “Allen is simply too funny to be Groucho’s direct descendant.” Groucho is—and he is right about this—much darker. “No other comedians of the time,” Siegel writes, “come close to the wraithlike sociopath Groucho portrays in the Marx Brothers’ best films.”

Rather than solely answering our “Should I buy the book or not?” question, these reviews act as companion pieces to the books, whether the reviewer is agreeing with the author or not. The dialogue only adds.

I need to resist the temptation of considering the review as a substitute to the book, though. Maybe I need to find a review of a book about tackling laziness or something…

Reading without words

​A novel, visual way of reading books.

Punctuation in novels
Here is a comparison of some other books — notice how large a break A Farewell To Arms was from the past. There almost no commas, just sentences, dialogue. How refreshing and wild that must have been! Look at how spartan Blood Meridian is compared to everything. Pay attention to the semicolons which seem to have disappeared from writing.​