Book-themed Bloglovin' Buttons

(Wow, that's a lot of B's in that title.)

As you probably all know, by tomorrow Google Reader will be gone. This has prompted me to claim our blog on Bloglovin' a few days ago. If you know me at all, you probably know what came next: endless fussing over what icon to use for the Bloglovin' widget in our sidebar. I don't really like the Bloglovin' icon and I also wanted something with a bookish theme. So I came up with a bunch of options for custom Bloglovin' buttons before settling on the icon you now see in our sidebar. And since we didn't get to use all those other options, I figured that some of our bookish friends might find them useful, so why not share? You can see all the icons I made below, some of them after the jump (ignore the white margins, those are added by Blogger).

How to use them: If you want to use one of these images as your icon, just grab it, resize it to your liking and upload it to Photobucket or any other image hosting service. (I recommend Photobucket because it's very easy to use AND it has editing options, so you can resize the picture, add rounded corners, add various effects etc. without having to re-upload.) Copy the direct link to your image and paste it instead of the link you now have after src=" in your Bloglovin' widget code. (See also instructions here.)

If you want different colors, different fonts, different text or whatever, just leave a comment and I'll edit the image for you or send you the original file to modify to your liking.

Oh, and do follow us on Booklovin'!

Book-themed Bloglovin Button
This is our current icon, but I suppose you can use it too :)

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3 Things About On the Road I Wish I Had Noticed on My Own

When I dislike a book, I tend to read a lot about it. As a result, I read more than a few papers about On the Road last week. Some of them were absolutely terrible, but some of them were awesome. Here are three of my favorites and the things I wouldn't have noticed without them.

1. Duke Ellington at the Metropolitan Opera

The last time Sal sees Dean is when he and his new girlfriend are on their way to a Duke Ellington concert and thus cannot offer Dean a ride. To put this in context: towards the end of the book, Sal found his dream girl, Laura, and they plan to move across the country, with Dean's help (notice the contrast between this planned, purposeful "migration" and Sal's past road trips). Dean, however, arrives too soon, before they had time to raise money to buy a car, and so he is forced to return without them. The night he leaves New York, Sal and Laura have to go to a Duke Ellington concert at the Metropolitan Opera. Sal's old friend Remi, now turned "sad and fat" (read: bourgeois), bought tickets and is taking them to the concert in a Cadillac. Since Remi doesn't like Sal's friends, he refuses to give Dean a ride downtown.

But what does Duke Ellington's concert have to do with anything? Well, it has to do with a sort of "gentrification" of jazz that mirrors Sal's own evolution. Sal's old life was associated with jazz clubs, where there were no rules and no separation between the band and the crowd; the band's energy was freely transmitted and magnified by the public. Sal's new life is associated with Duke Ellington's performance at the Met, as a symbol of the institutionalization of jazz, of how jazz was adopted by the "elites" and became highbrow, governed by rules, separated from the public. That is to say, both Sal and jazz have been tamed.

I didn't notice it, but who did? Douglas Malcolm in “Jazz America”: Jazz and African American Culture in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (link leads to full text). If you want to read more about a) how these two attitudes towards jazz are both facets of appropriation or b) Kerouac's (mis)understanding of jazz in general, this article is highly recommended.

Antonin Artaud and the Beat Generation

I. The Persona

Beyond all the mundane details, I place all my faith in Antonin Artaud, that man of prodigies. I salute Antonin Artaud for his passionate, heroic negation of everything that causes us to be dead while alive.
André  Breton, A Tribute to Antonin Artaud

It's easy to see why the Beats liked Antonin Artaud. Born at the end of the 19th century, moving in the French avant-garde and surrealist circles of the 20s and 30s, and dead by 1948, Artaud embodied a familiar figure in the history of literature: the poète maudit. Mentally ill, destitute, living in and out of asylums, addicted to opiates and experimenting with harder drugs, Artaud had probed the depths of human experience. He was the artist outside the system, the artist against the system, rejecting "everything that causes us to be dead while alive." He even rebelled against surrealism and left Breton's circle in 1927 (he rebelled against the rebellion, as Carl Solomon, who identified quite strongly with Artaud, admiringly put it).

Artaud's works and lifestyle made him unlikely to appeal to the bourgeois and be recuperated into mass culture, the way Dali or Breton had. This was a point in his favor with the American literary circles, which despised the commercial appropriation of surrealism. But there was another aspect that might have made him attractive to Beat writers in particular: his emphasis on (rather woo-ish) spirituality, which, like in their case, came with a hefty dose of cultural appropriation. Before Kerouac and his friends made it to Mexico to wax poetic about the "Fellahins," Artaud was there, living with the Tarahumara people, eating peyote and denouncing Western civilization. (His experimenting with peyote, documented in his memoir, fueled Ginsberg's own.) His most famous book, The Theatre and Its Double, praised the virtues of Oriental theater, still based (according to him) on magic, spirituality and ritual. His reformed theater, the theater of cruelty, was designed to bring Western theater, tainted by the domination of words and psychology, closer to this model.

Review: Three Blind Mice by Agatha Christie

For our second installment of Novellas for Monday, I give you Three Blind Mice, a murder mystery by Agatha Christie. The story started as a radio play, in 1947, and was later adapted into a stage play, in 1952 (the stage version is called The Mousetrap, and is famous for having run continuously since the opening).

Three Blind Mice is a rather typical murder mystery: several characters - Mrs. and Mr. Davis, Mrs. Boyle, Mr. Wren, Major Metcalf, Mr. Paravicini - find themselves isolated at a guest house during a snow storm; there is reason to believe one of them is a killer that plans to strike again; a detective shows up and starts investigating, suspecting everyone (and getting the reader to suspect everyone); new relationships form between the characters, old relationships are revealed; and, of course, there is a great unmasking at the end.

I am a big fan of Christie and I am always amazed at how she manages to make this formula compelling. I am also a bit of a deductive geek, and I spend a lot of time while reading mysteries trying to figure out as much as possible before everything's revealed. The reveal in Three Blind Mice took me completely by surprise (I am not a very successful deductive geek, turns out), but even if I had figured out the killer, I wouldn't have been bored. The way suspicion creeps between Molly and Giles, revealing the tensions and doubts in their marriage, for example, is a really interesting character moment that stands on its own even after the mystery is solved. So does Molly's choice to share her backstory with Christopher, or Mrs. Boyle's dissatisfaction with life's dullness during peace, after the excitement and authority she had gotten used to during the war.

There are two other aspects I like a lot: the use of weather as a narrative device, and the use of auditory imagery. The snow blizzard has a two-fold contribution to the story: it isolates the characters by having them snowed in at the guest house, and it creates suspicion, since everyone looks the same in heavy clothes.

Kerouac on Spontaneous Prose (feat. Condescending T.S. Eliot)

From the bunch of things I read about Kerouac and On the Road last week, here's a snippet from a 1968 Paris Review interview with him (and as always, thank god for Paris Review interviews and the eloquence they always seem to prompt). For the most part, this is actually a pretty nice description of the principle behind the spontaneous prose style:
By not revising what you've already written you simply give the reader the actual workings of your mind during the writing itself: you confess your thoughts about events in your own unchangeable way . . . Well, look, did you ever hear a guy telling a long wild tale to a bunch of men in a bar and all are listening and smiling, did you ever hear that guy stop to revise himself, go back to a previous sentence to improve it, to defray its rhythmic thought impact. . . . If he pauses to blow his nose, isn't he planning his next sentence? And when he lets that next sentence loose, isn't it once and for all the way he wanted to say it? Doesn't he depart from the thought of that sentence and, as Shakespeare says, “forever holds his tongue” on the subject, since he's passed over it like a part of a river that flows over a rock once and for all and never returns and can never flow any other way in time?
And then we got to this:
I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.
And, well, I couldn't help myself:

Condescending T.S. Eliot
Oh really? Tell me more.

I am sorry, it's not that I am laughing at Kerouac and his shouty FEELINGS! vs CRAFTINESS! deal (although okay, I am laughing). It's just that Condescending T.S. Eliot really needs to be a thing on the internet.

Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s vagrants are literate, self-pitying, afraid of women, and condescending towards Mexicans and African-Americans. No one will confuse them with Steinbeck’s displaced Okies, and no grapes of wrath are trampled out by them. Nor are they doom-eager dreamers like Gatsby, or monomaniac questers like Ahab, or benign wanderers like Huckleberry Finn. Comparing On the Road to the masterpieces of Classic American fiction is most unkind to Kerouac.
Harold Bloom
Whatever your opinion of old Harold Bloom (and my own cannot be described as favorable), that first sentence sounds about right. Kerouac's heroes belong to one of the nastiest species in the Western world's literary zoo: the dramatic young man (where "young" stands for a state of mind more than it does for a biological age - see also "man-child"). 

What's the dramatic young man's story in a nutshell? It is the story of easily-frustrated entitlement. The dramatic young man knows the world was supposed to be his oyster. But, alas, his life is marred by an atrocity, usually war or school, autocratic fathers, prolonged stretches of peace, dead fathers, the bourgeois, saintly mothers, literary rivals, modern art, promiscuous mothers, dead brothers, live brothers, old art, emancipated women, that sort of thing. One of these horrors, or a combination of them, has put a dent in the lovely oyster, such that our hero is loath to even touch what should have been his for the taking. He channels his self-pity into some form of rebellion against the world, which usually turns out somewhat less glamorous than he'd hoped for and ends with him either self-destructing or conforming to the rotten old world he tried to fight in the first place.

The beauty of this narrative is that it is essentially timeless, because everything in it apart from the young man at its center is a prop. To paraphrase one of the most famous passages from On the Road: "What did they call such young people in Goethe's Germany?" It almost doesn't matter when or where the story is set, the dramatic young man's drama is easy to recognize. (And for the record, I think young German hipsters at the turn of the 19th century were usually called "Oh, for Pete's sake, put that gun down, Werther was fictional!")