Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz on the Metro

Although Mexico City has a literacy rate of ninety percent — one of the highest in Latin America — many people who live there cannot afford to buy books. So, sponsored by Mexico City’s culture department, volunteers are handing out books of short stories to people riding the subway. Despite the city’s high crime rate, around seventy percent of the books are returned when the passengers disembark.

Semicolon a big deal

The Christian Science Monitor’s Ruth Walker discusses the Semicolon That Made Headlines last week:

Last week San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren, reviewing a petition by the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund to have the court block the issuance of “gender neutral” marriage licenses, complained that the petition was badly drawn up; it used a semicolon where the word “or” was needed instead. He refused to issue the requested order. “I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal… That semicolon is a big deal.”

My own computer dream

In solidarity with Maud — a few nights ago I dreamed I got one of those Nigerian emails asking for money. There was an attachment and I stupidly clicked on it. It was a photograph of a tiny man that inexplicably swelled up and turned into a real man who stood beside my chair and demanded money. So David and I decided to take him to the police station. He grabbed his shoulders and I grabbed his feet and we carried him through the streets of our small town. It was a long and unpleasant journey because he was heavy and also impertinent. And we had to wind our way through crowds of tourists. Unfortunately, once we got to the station, the police officer had never heard of spam and I couldn’t seem to explain it properly to her. The man just sat there, smiling smugly.

Hetay onlyay atinlay Iay owknay siay igpay

From the Economist, a review of National Lampoon founder Henry Beard’s X-treme Latin: Unleash Your Inner Gladiator:

There are insults here for every occasion, from air rage (Heia, amice, utrum illae sunt sarcinae tuae, an modo Carthaginem despoliasti?, “Hey, pal, is that carry-on luggage or did you just sack Carthage?”) to computer trouble (Assume plicam damnatam, o tu moles muscaria muscerdarum, “Download the goddam file, you bug-ridden piece of shit”). But there are handy phrases too for bumper stickers (Malim praedari, “I’d rather be pillaging”) and invaded barbarians (Vos non victores, sed liberatores salutamus!, “We welcome you as liberators, not conquerors!”). All through the book, the morphing of empire-building Romans with Americans, chariots with Cadillacs, swords with guns and Julius Caesar with Jesus Christ (“What would Caesar do?”) is an endlessly diverting read.

First prize for devilish translating goes to “wet T-shirt contest” (certamen inter mammosas tunicis madefactis vestitas), closely followed by “sushi bar” (taberna Iaponica pulpamentorum incoctorum marinorum). The finest-resonance award goes to crapulentus sum (“I’m wasted!”). But since Latin is for lovers, special mention should go to a highly topical chat-up line containing the much-maligned future perfect: Nisi mecum concubueris, phobistae vicerint, “If you won’t sleep with me, the terrorists will have won.”

No aliens, no spaceships

Paul Di Filippo (aka Paoli du Flippi) imagines a new speculative fiction magazine, edited by Jonathan Lethem and Margaret Atwood:

From the wings strode a rather unlikely pair of writers — at least as far as surface appearances went. The elderly Atwood, a regal, conservatively dressed doyenne, and the youthful Lethem, a dead ringer for the comedian Ben Stiller, and trigged out in bohemian chic.

The two took seats at a table and adjusted their microphones. Then Atwood began to speak in plummy tones.

“There has long been a vital, important mode of writing known as speculative fiction, fiction that takes a probing and intensive look at modern socioscientific trends and projects them into a near-future venue. But which most emphatically does not include spaceships or aliens. Unfortunately, this ancient and honorable manner of writing came to be hijacked somewhere along the way by incompetents and illiterates, and thence devolved into the farrago of excitement and awe and wonder known as science fiction. None of which I have personally ever read.”

Nodding graciously, Lethem commenced his speech.

“Well, Margy, I have, and I can report that aside from an author or two such as Phil Dick and Gene Wolfe, there’s not a whole lot worth stealing in that genre. Now, I know that some might say to me, ‘Jonathan, haven’t lots of your own stories appeared in various science fiction magazines?’ And I’d have to answer, “Yes, but that was when I was a rank beginner, desperate for a foothold.’ I never really meant any of it. And now that I have attained my current eminence, I can categorically state that I have never written a word of science fiction in my whole meteoric career. Which unlike a meteor will never cease to shine.”

Atwood smiled. “And your statement, Jonny, brings us precisely to the whole point of Inside/Outside magazine. Its mission is to provide a home to two kinds of writers and their exciting, vital work. Mainstream writers such as myself, who stand outside the so-called science fiction field and yet who wish to commit speculative fiction. And writers such as yourself, who were unfortunately tarred early on with the brush of science fiction, due to whatever temporary lapse of judgment or good taste or economic necessity, and who now wish to graduate to speculative fiction. Provided they can pass our stern editorial vetting, of course.”

(Thanks to Bondgirl.)

Literary Dick

In the aftermath of the, um, probing examination of the state of Henry James’ testicles (scorched), Michael Wood and Jonathan Ames have launched the Literary Dick. There Mr. Wood will answer readers’ questions about their favorite literary figures.

Featured today: Did James Joyce have a scatological perversion?

Answers to many other important questions are forthcoming. Future topics include:

Were Jack Kerouac and Gore Vidal lovers?

What was Hemingway talking about when he told Fitzgerald, “It is also a question of angle”?

Why did Vladimir Nabokov think that Henry James was for “non-smokers”?

Why was Jerzy Kosinski fascinated with transsexuals?

How can we account for Tennessee Williams’ obsession with sex by the docks?

Update your bookmarks. (Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)

I swear, this is the first time I can remember dreaming about blogging

Last night I was skipping back and forth between work (for the day job) and this hypertext version of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I’ve mentioned before that it’s my favorite Faulkner novel, but I don’t know whether I said that the Quentin section, with all of its skewed yet enlightening musings about time, resonates most for me.

Anyhow, I went to bed at 4 o’clock and then dreamed that I’d pre-posted a link to the hypertext book so that the post would appear at 8 a.m.

In the dream, I dragged myself out of bed in the morning only to find that Ed had posted the same link in the intervening period, with some of the same thoughts, and was infuriated that I’d failed to credit him.*

In real life, Ed and I could easily work this out, but in the dream he was outraged and so was everyone else, and my hosting service sent a notice saying it was going to shut down my blog.

At the last minute, Ed decided that my post was a statement on Faulkner’s theories of time and wrote an absolutely stellar argument to that effect. I wish I could remember what he said. I woke up feeling that I understood time better than I ever had before, but soon the details of the argument drained away and I was just left with the realization that I should probably cut back on blogging.

To that end, I will spend the rest of the day earning my paycheck. The awe-inspiring Stephany Aulenback takes over tomorrow. Until then, please read Terry Teachout’s comparison of Ghost World and The Moviegoer.

Have a great weekend.

* Please note that this anecdote is not some sort of veiled reference to the blog etiquette debate going on elsewhere earlier this week.

Fan fiction and parodies of it

The latest print issue of World Press Review excerpts an interesting article on fan fiction (focusing on slash), which appeared in The Age in early January:

Slash fiction now arguably forms the bulk of all published fanfic. Slash, it should be noted, is not tatty porn. Much of its coy tone owes more to mid-century bodice-ripper novels than, for example, the Letters page in Penthouse. Further, its more eminent exponents write with precision and confidence. Slash has a canon and a system of mentorship, or “beta reading”, that ought to inspire envy in any emerging novelist.

I’d rather spend an afternoon dehydrating fruit with Mom in preparation for the apocalypse than read slash, but I do get a kick out of parodies of it. See, e.g., Jeff Ousborne’s “Excerpts from NPR Fan Fiction.” Here’s an excerpt:

From “Terry and Me” by J.R.
(“Fresh Air,” m/f, water sports, NC-17).

From my perch as engineer, I could tell that the David Mamet interview hadn’t gone well, and that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg’s closing essay was flat. Terry removed her glasses, and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. It was late, the studio was empty. I had polished off that bottle of pinot noir about 20 minutes ago. Right on time, I thought. I rose from the console, and put my muscular arm around her shoulders. Terry flinched at the contact, then melted into my embrace. I ran my hands–so powerful from years of jazz and classical piano–through her short hair, gently at first, but then with more urgency. “You’re highly attractive, John,” she said. My bladder ached.

Web-only comics creators aspire to make transition to print

Lore Sjöberg reports in Wired about San Francisco’s Alternative Press Expo, which hosts three generations of comics creators, including many artists who are currently running web-only comics but aspire to make the jump to print:

New comics artists are attracted to the Web, not only because it allows them to build a fan base, but also due to the Web’s low cost of entry and its worldwide distribution. It’s also a place where creators can find their own audience without having to fit into a predetermined market, but the promise of print still beckons.

When Paige Braddock began Jane’s World — a strip about the daily life of a lesbian and her friends — she found that publishers and syndicates were uneasy with the content. “I wasn’t really gay enough for gay papers,” she says of the reaction to the strip. “And I was too gay for straight papers.”