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December 6, 2011 1:30pm
Time to make an ass of myself.
After eleven years at the company I co-founded and five at Continuum; having worked on over 150 titles; and ghostwritten approximately ten books (including three in the last five years), I have decided that I need to concentrate on my own writing. If I don't do it now, I fear I may never get to undertake those projects that require concentration and dedicated time, and which I am not currently able to do while editing and acquiring books for Lantern. It is now, or it may be never.
Pending Lantern's finding of a suitable replacement
, I'm therefore going to take a twelve-month sabbatical from February 1, 2012. Some of you has asked just what I'm going to be working on. So, here is a list of some of the projects that I'll be trying to develop.
The Polar Bear in the Zoo
I've been interested in the work of the wonderful Canadian photographer Jo-Anne McArthur for several years, particularly her We Animals
series. I'm especially drawn to the photograph of a polar bear in the zoo, which Lantern used for the cover of a book called Teaching the Animal
. I want to write about this photo, and how it captures the soteriological function of animals, the topsy-turvy world in which we interact with them, and a whole host of other prejudices, predilections, and permutations thereof. I will start with John Berger's chapter "Why We Look at Animals" from his book Ways of Seeing
and move into continental philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and aesthetics, all through the lens and frame of this photograph. This will be my "animal book," and will in due course be published by Lantern—if it's any good.
I've been reflecting on the story of Balaam
and the donkey from the Book of Numbers for almost 20 years. I was taken with Balaam's mysterious biography: how did he become a prophet and what happens in the Israelite camp that turns Balaam from a heroic prophet of Israelite triumph to a villain who is the nonpareil of mendacity and double-dealing? I then wondered to myself what would happen if the donkey continued to keep talking after their experience before the angel of the Lord? What stories would she tell? I have drafted an outline of that story, and now I need to tell it—or perhaps let it tell me.
I've been mulling over this story for a decade and a half. It's based on a number of true stories, but is fiction. The story is about what happens when a man who taught sign-language to a chimpanzee visits the ape in a primate lab facility. I have a draft that needs to be wholly rewritten. Open
form a diptych, each commenting on the other.
Whatever happened to King Lear's queen? Why is no mention of her made in Shakespeare's play? I've constructed a story that explains why Lear's daughters so readily plot his downfall, why the Fool remains so loyal, and why Cordelia seems so different from her sisters. Now I need to write it.
Vegans know what we don't
want, but what is our vision for what we do? Imagining an America that's vegan in 2100, I want to construct a number of arguments and storylines that follow dystopian, utopian, and a mixture of both "histories" to examine resource use, social change, economic development, and a range of other subjects, using veganism as a heuristic. Claude Levi-Strauss noted that "animals are good to think with." Veganism should be the same.
These are a few of the projects I want to develop. Others I can't talk about as yet. I'm not so naive as to believe that I'll finish these in twelve months, but I hope to push them forward. Thank you for your supportive thoughts.
February 23, 2011 4:44pm
Don't Even Think of Reading It
As some of you may know, early in 2010 I found myself seized with the craze of zombie literature mashups
involving the undead and classic English literary characters. How amusing, I thought, it would be to apply the zombie trope to the world of P. G. Wodehouse
, particularly Jeeves and Bertie Wooster
I knew as I wrote my pastiche that the Wodehouse literary estate wouldn't allow me to be published (a hunch that was duly confirmed), mainly because Wodehouse only died in 1975, but I thought there was nothing stopping me from privately printing the work or turning it into an e-book and giving it away for free or for charity.
I was wrong. The literary estate has told me that I cannot in any way distribute any of the work in any form to anyone in any manner: not a "what ho" or an "I say" or a "Very good, sir." Nada. Zippo. They've asked me to tell you what a fool, what a mad ignorant fool, I was. Here was I believing that people might respond to the work as fan fiction, and enjoy the book so much that they'd go and buy the Master's work. This, indeed, had happened. Plus, some of the copies that I'd printed had gone to a charity to help women in Rwanda earn a living and another to people planting trees to save the planet. So, they'll be missing a few pennies because of it.
Nonetheless, as someone used to the vagaries and unwelcome unpleasantnesses of the publishing profession, one carries on—as someone bearing no relation at all to Bertie Wooster might say. It's a strange sensation being banned: not least over such a deeply uncontroversial book—one whose only utility would be to help the disadvantaged or encourage people to read the work of the author whose very estate has banned it. Hey ho.
December 31, 2010 2:51pm
A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .
marks the completion of a goal I set myself back in my 20's: to read all of Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse's novels. Within a few years, I'd read them all--with the exception of this one. I tried, but surprisingly couldn't get into it. I say surprisingly, because I had no problem slogging through the dense and lengthy Magister Ludi
. Later I learned that Hesse himself had commented that, as he had written Steppenwolf
when he was 50, and the main character, Harry Haller, is about that age, the book would be best understood by readers of that age, too. So I made a mental note to pick it up again at age 50, and did so, but after two more attempts then I still had no interest. Finally just recently I tried again, and the fourth time was the charm.
November 2, 2010 3:35pm
Haile (left) and me: Is it time to start running yet?
This'll be my fourth NYC marathon (others here
, and here
), and I'm just as crazily excited as ever. I found myself tearing up at this video
, hokey and bombastic though it is.
As you'll notice from the photos on the right, the greatest long-distance runner of all time, Haile Gebrselassie
will be running his first
New York City marathon. This will be the only way I'll be ahead of him; as indicated by the other photo—Haile's just much fleeter of foot. He's likely to cross the finish line in under 2 hrs 10 minutes.
One hour and twenty minutes later (!) I will cross the finish line (with any luck). I only made 3:36:47 last year, but somehow I feel I've got six minutes of speed in my legs this year. So, I'll be starting with the Orange group at 9:40 a.m. and shadowing the 3:30 pacer, who'll be carrying an orange balloon and a stick on which is printed 3:30! Subtle, eh? If you want to catch me stumbling by, go to the course map here
(PDF) and just multiply the mile number by 8 minutes and you'll get the time I'll be passing.
Here's the charity bit: First off, should you wish to help farm animals, please make a contribution to my man Jim Porcaro
, who's running the NYC marathon for Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
. Secondly, should you wish to help the environment, please make a contribution
to the Green Belt Movement
, which is a grassroots organization that has planted 40 million trees throughout Kenya, and was begun by Lantern's inspirational guiding light, Wangari Maathai
. Thirdly, should you wish to support the struggle for human dignity, then please contribute
to a very worthy organization called Ubushobozi
, which helps women and girls in Rwanda learn skills and trades.
Thanks so much. I'll see you at the finishing or final line.
August 23, 2010 9:22pm
A nice place to relax, read and reflect
I can hear the sounds of the Hudson River behind me as I jot down my thoughts in my bright red spiral notebook. I purposely picked red because the color symbolizes passion and power – two emotions I hope to feel as I start putting my thoughts onto paper (and screen). The warm summer air lingers, and there are moments where the wind feels like a faint whisper, gently encouraging me to continue to write.
I look around and breathe in the greenery. The bench is uncomfortable beneath me, but I don’t mind. Joggers pass by with ease; dogs bark and play while their “parents” chat about their most recent adventures.
August 13, 2010 1:48pm
When I was young, and so much younger than today, I used to make notes about all the books I read. Mainly that was because I was an English major, and it was kind of required. Now, however, I'm almost sixty-four (that's enough Beatles references, ed.), and I can't remember anything. Which is why I've decided to put my thoughts about each published book I read from now on on-line, so I won't forget. You're welcome to check in if you want, and subscribe and all that malarkey. It's Martin's Random Reviews
, and I begin with The Bridge
June 29, 2010 11:58am
Lantern Books ad in VegNews
Check out our ad in the latest issue of VegNews
. Pick up your copy today and be sure to check out the latest titles from Lantern Books
or visit our catalog
. It's a great time to get started on your summer reading!
June 29, 2010 10:34am
Happy Birthday Laura!
Our web guru is growing up! Everyone at Lantern Books would like to wish Laura Leslie a very Happy Birthday! Kara baked beautiful blueberry muffins and Martin supplied the fresh fruit smoothies! Happy Birthday Laura!
May 12, 2010 8:08am
David Cameron (left) and Nick Clegg: Conjoined
Back in Britain in the late-1980s, I was a supporter of an organization called Charter 88
, which advocated for institutional and constitutional changes in the U.K., such as an independent judiciary, proportional representation, and a written Bill of Rights. The organization took its inspiration from Vaclav Havel's Charter 77
, which had called for a free and democratic Czechoslovakia.
Like Charter 77, Charter 88 felt that overhauling the institutions of state would at once guarantee basic rights and freedoms, and in turn encourage more liberty. It felt that the oppressions of the state and the dead hand of tradition and custom had to be done away with, and institutional power restrained. Perhaps not surprisingly, given my inclination toward restraining government and enshrining individual freedom in written form, I ended up in the United States.
April 19, 2010 6:12pm
Nick Clegg: Man of the Moment
The people of the United Kingdom will go to the polls on May 6th to elect a new parliament, and until a week ago, the opinion among the bien pensants
was that the Conservative Party
would win, albeit with a very small majority
. However, in the wake of Liberal Democrat> leader Nick Clegg
's performance in the first ever debate
between the leaders of the three main political parties, the Liberal Democrats have shot up in the polls, whereby they now either lead or come second to the Tories. In one, they even push the ruling Labour Party
into third place.
Nick Clegg casts something of an exotic figure in British politics. His mother is Dutch, his father is half-Russian, his wife is Spanish and his children all have Spanish names. He speaks numerous foreign languages. Not surprisingly, the right-wing press is now painting him as some kind of fifth column interloper for the European social order. The left, however, see him as a Barack Obama, upending the old order of the two statist parties by promising a different kind of politics from the one practiced by the two parties that have swapped power over the last seventy years.
Because of the vagaries of the British "first past the post
voting system, it is very hard for any third party—which is what the Liberal Democrats (and their predecessors the Liberals) have been for a century
—to win the election outright. What the Lib Dems can do, however, is cause a hung
parliament, with no party gaining an absolute majority. Depending on which party has the largest number of seats, the Queen will invite either Labour or the Conservatives to form a government. Should the largest party be the Conservatives, they will probably try to rule as a minority government, an inherently unstable position that was last tried in the U.K. in 1974
March 5, 2010 9:32am
The Batcave (Photo: Nathan Kensinger)
As you walk on third street toward or from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, across the Gowanus Canal (see previous blog
), you pass a huge, abandoned red-brick building, a memento of the Canal's now faded industrial past. I've always thought it a beautiful, if delapidated, structure, with wonderful arched windows. I had fantasies of buying the property and turning it into a green building, with small businesses and creative ventures, and providing a park for the community's kids. The artists who were squatting in the building would provide their labor for rent.
Of course, as this blog
points out, the building's provenance is complicated and the land on which it stands and the surrounds are deeply polluted. But there's still a romance to the shell that's hard to shake. One day, perhaps, someone with very deep pockets will rise to the occasion and redeem this magnificent structure.
February 2, 2010 9:20am
Ginette Bedard: Lap of honor
You may have read about my efforts at running the New York City marathon (here
, and here
), and how humbling it was to be overtaken by people considerably older than yours truly. Well, I just found out that Ginette Bedard
, aged 76, completed the 2009 New York City marathon in 4:09:57, which is just over 9:33 minutes a mile. Not surprisingly, she placed first in her age group for her sex.
All this would be remarkable enough, but there's more. Running nerds have developed a program
that analyzes your age, sex, and performance against all other runners' age, sex, and performance, so you can gauge just how "good" you are against other runners in other age groups. If you are in the 50 to 60 percent range, you're pretty average. In the 60 to 70 percent range, you're locally competitive (this is where I am at the moment). If you're in the 70 to 80 percent range, you're regionally competitive; the 80 to 90 percent range makes you nationally competitive; and above 90 means that you're internationally competitive.
Ginette Bedard's age-graded performance placed her at 101 percent, which means that—given her time and age—she effectively broke a world record, and did so with time to spare. That's just a remarkable testament to senior fitness.
December 30, 2009 11:41pm
Threads: In the aftermath
Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I had the good fortune (I think) to watch again the British TV docudrama Threads
the other day, a show I hadn't seen for 25 years. The program uses the conventions of family drama to describe what might happen if a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over the former's incursion into Iran leads to an all-out nuclear war and the dropping of a huge nuclear bomb on Sheffield in the north of England. Threads
not only dramatizes the lead up to the fatal decisions, and then traumas that occur to the various families depicted, but it shows the supposed actions that local government are meant to take in the event of a nuclear war, and then speculates how society might cope for thirteen years following.
December 8, 2009 1:30am
A Japanese-English garden: The best of both worlds
We went to war with each other, and are separated by continents and oceans. And yet, somehow, it seems we're more similar than we care to admit. And so, in a lighthearted vein, here are ten similarities between the English and the Japanese.
- We are island nations in close proximity to large, continental civilizations to which we unaccountably feel superior. As a result . . .
- Throughout our histories, we've believed that we're so much more refined than other civilizations that we invaded them, and called it liberation.
- Unfortunately, since we've become democracies and no longer military powers, we've quite lost our way.
- We're ruled by an ancient royal lineage that we've no idea what to do with.
- We resent the Americans and yet have deeply absorbed their culture and depend on them for our safety.
- Thankfully, we can turn to our love of elaborate ritual and formality, both of which serve to keep everyone in their place.
- We have turned making tea and arranging flowers into fine arts.
- We enjoy cultivating our gardens as part of our commitment to manage nature and remove all traces of wildness from it.
- We are wonderfully polite, especially when we're deliberately not saying what we really mean.
- And finally, the men seem to be incapable of loosening up without becoming drunk.
October 23, 2009 5:14pm
Hats off to the marathoners!
in today's New York Times
asks the question whether marathons are worthy of the name and the mystique surrounding the effort required to complete them when a substantial number of people don't run them fast, quite a few barely run them at all, and one or two people have (reportedly) stopped for lunch on the way round the course! "That's not racing," lament the elite runners who've trained all year, "that's just going out for a stroll."
As someone who's run four marathons, all between 3:30 and 4:00 hours, I'm hardly elite. I'm squarely in the middle of local class
. However, I'm regularly in the top 10 to 15 percent of runners—if only because there are lots of runners slower than I am. So I rely on the slower runners to make me feel
"elite"! I only get miffed when I find myself in the early stages of a race having to weave around runners who've overestimated their speed, and the corral system based on time has generally weeded out this problem.
In the end, I can't really see what the fuss is about. I may enjoy setting goals to be better than people in my age group, but in reality I'm only in competition with myself. I've had enough 75- and 80-year-olds beating my time to know that I've got plenty of room for improvement, irrespective of what I might think about those who come in at five- or six-hour pace. You run your race, not anybody else's. As long as you don't get in anyone's way, who cares what time you do it in?