Friday Buzz - War & P has Tolstoy rolling in grave

Oh, for God’s sake: Just when you thought publishing couldn’t get any sillier with the scrotum controversy and crasser with O.J. Simpson and Judith Regan, HarperCollins decides to trim down War & Peace and add a happy ending.

All in the name of reaching the “masses:”

A spokesman for HarperCollins predicted it would have mass appeal. "The new version is of course aimed at students of Tolstoy," she said. "But we are sure it will also prove fascinating to the general reader."

Bullsh*t. They don’t give a damn about reaching students or otherwise enriching the minds of “the general reader,” as the spokesperson so condescendingly puts it.

And how about this for advertising-cum-propaganda?

HarperCollins…describes the novel's brevity as "something to celebrate" while in Russia, the book is already being marketed as "half as long and twice as interesting" — despite the new book still running to a challenging 1,000 pages.

Any schools, any readers who allow HarperCollins to make one dime off this stunt are worse than fools. They are contributing further to our cultural demise. Maybe they'll PhotoShop Tolsty's photo, too, to make his looks more appealing to the masses. Give him a nose job and haircut and get rid of some of those wrinkles.

Hey, folks, it’s just another new frontier in the Land of Commodification. Why not ruin a piece of literature to make more money? Religion, wildlife -- hell, people sell their own psyches for a buck. Go out and make it a great day!!!

Other (happier) news

Call for papers for “Celebrating the Golden Age of Science Fiction.”

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Thoughts for Thursday - A request for help and a poem

Hi, everyone! I am here to ask for help: I have decided to make a transition from the corporate world to teaching. I know a lot of you out there are teachers, and I thought you might have some advice, sources or other sagacious insights to impart.

Here's my situation: I've got an MFA in Creative Writing. I've taught a copyediting class at a prestigious adult education facility. I've gotten a number of stories published, won some awards -- but nothing earthshaking.

I'd like to teach at the college level, but I am concerned that a PhD is almost a requisite (unless one has a published book).

Any and all information about how to make the transition would be much appreciated.

As promised, here's a poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The Candle Indoors

SOME candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black,
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.
By that window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There God to aggrándise, God to glorify.—

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire;
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?


2 books to change your life

Okay, now that it's all over, I can confess: The last few weeks have been pretty horrendous. I will spare you the details.

I will say, however, that if you are -- or even if you don't think you are -- in the market for some life-changing books, here are my latest picks:

1) Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire by Morris Berman

Depressing? Yes. Disturbing? Indeed. Why read it? We all must face reality in order to change it, that's why. This book lays out how and why America is going wrong (and includes some very interesting titles as source references, which I plan to cite in a future post). I am sure the jingoistic Horatio-Alger types among Americans will snort derisively at such tales of woe -- as then turn off their TV, plug in their cell phones and jump in their SUVs for a two-hour straight-highway commute. This book is not for the feint of heart; everyone, even the most aware souls among us, will find themselves faced with the fact that we've been sucked, in spite of our best efforts, into the consumer culture. If we can take the medicine, we might be ready to begin the cure.

2) What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson

This one has been around a while, I grant you. And it's not a self-help book, true enough. It kind of defies any easy literary category, which I find strangely endearing. What I like about this book is that Bronson doesn't present any easy solutions or sure-fire steps to solve your career or add meaning to work. Call me idiosyncratic, but I find his un-pander-y approach rather refreshing. I find the stories interesting and thought-provoking, and I find comfort in the fact that others are grasping with the same soul-searching as I am. It makes me feel less alone.


Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood

Romance to the nth degree is what you get with this novel.
What initially intrigued me is that this book was as popular in its time as another tome you may have heard of: Robinson Crusoe. And its author was a woman -- possibly the author of the first novel in the English language.
Why, then, I wondered, had I not heard of Eliza Haywood or this novel?
The explanation may lie in the book's major theme: society's disapproval of women who declare their love for men. From this book through Pride & Prejudice and on through The Thorn Birds, women protagonists have been punished for actively pursuing men. The prose, while not altogether overtly sexual, is sexually charged enough (termed "amatory," e.g., a bit more elevated than a bodice-ripper or romance but not quite literary fiction) which must have been quite scandalous at the time. (I can't help but wonder who its main readers were: women or men? Were women made to feel shamed for reading it?) Could a book centered around women with sexual desires have fallen out of favor with the arrival of the Victorian Age?
Another reason why this book may not be as well known as Robinson Crusoe is that the characters are archetypal. This is a plot-heavy book, with a case to make about desire. Character development takes a back seat.
The hero of the book actually is a mimbo (male bimbo), Count d'Elmont. This guy would put Brad Pitt to shame; apparently, no woman could resist his charms. The book's plot centers around all of the women who fall for him (lust or love or a combination thereof). And there are quite a few of 'em.
The book is truly well-crafted. I won't spoil the fun for potential readers, but trust me: You'll need a GPS to navigate the numerous plot lines! Despite the lack of rounded characters, I enjoyed this novel immensely.
Another novel of Haywood's, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, is considered to have heralded an important change in the 18 century English novel, focusing on marriage versus courtship. (Chalk one up for another TBR!)
Ultimately, however, Eliza Haywood may be much more tantalizing than her own characters.
Apparently, she was quite prolific, supporting herself and her two children (there is no record of a husband, interestingly) through writing and acting, translating and publishing. (How busy must she have been!) Her writing drew fire from some of the heavies of her day: Pope and Swift, among others. Beyond that, not many details are known about Haywood's life ... we can only hope some enterprising biographer will choose to go excavating and dig up some dirt. She seems to have been quite the enterprising, energetic woman.