Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Around the Word

Crisis of Creativity or Just History Repeating? With the Jonah Lehrer scandal in full swing, a summer during which the box office has been almost nothing but remakes and sequels, knock-off ebooks, and a unparalleled literary phenom that could be flirting with copyright infringement, it's hard not to ask whether there are any original ideas left to be had. Animator and filmmaker Drew Christie explores this conundrum in a recent NY Times op-doc, "Allergy to Originality." Through a very creative use of various Wikipedia entries (solidly in the Creative Commons), the animated video explores the age-old question of whether a idea can ever be truly unique, or if everything is just an appropriation or amalgamation of previous cultural memes and icons. Is it really Hollywood's fault that we seem to find comfort in reworkings and extensions of the familiar (reflected in booming box office sales)? What do you think? Are there any original thoughts left to be thought?

Before They Were Stars. Ever wondered what your favorite celebrity New York Times columnists were up to before they were granted tenure and guaranteed precious column inches to fritter away? Most of them were actually out chasing down leads and risking their jobs in pursuit of the story. In this great article from The Awl, we learn that before Nicholas Kristoff got a little "White Man's Burden," he gave us stories about the people in crisis instead of preaching to them. Tom Friedman was on the ground in Beirut, and Maureen Dowd, now best known for her politics-lite repartee, authored one of the first long-form pieces to shed light on those in the shadows of the AIDS epidemic. While not heralded far and wide, Dowd's profile of Gay Men's Health Crisis challenged some of the more traditional views held by Times editorial staff, and almost cost her the job. 

The Book Critic's Burden. It happens to all heavy readers at one time or another: you start a book and then realize you're just not feeling it. Most of us ditch it in favor of something more enticing, but what if your job depends on powering through? Getting paid to read and review books may seem like a charmed life, but a reviewer has to read them all—the good, mediocre, and the painfully bad. What's a critic to do? In a recent column, "I Hate This Book So Much: A Mediation," Times book critic Lev Grossman discusses the anxiety and inner conflict he faces when he has to review a book he dislikes. Should he dig in and write that negative review? What if he's missing a point that's obvious to everyone else? How does he face someone whose novel he's dissed? It's a a heavy cross to bear. How do you, dear editors and writers, deal with a despised project?

Of Books and Booze. Writers are notorious drinkers, perhaps none more so than Earnest Hemingway. Did you know that one of Hemingway's favorite drinks was the daiquiri? That may seem a little incongruous with his "man's man" image, but apparently he developed a taste for them during the twenty years he spent in Cuba. So to commemorate his 113th birthday, Havana watering hole El Floridita decided to mix up the world's largest daiquiri in honor of the author's love for the drink and his ties to the island. If you want to pay homage to your favorite author through drink, or make your next cocktail hour a little more literate, here are a few sites that offer authors' favorite cocktails, drinks inspired by books and authors, and drinks from classic literature. If going out is more your style, check out the The Dead Poet on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which is owned by a former English teacher and features an actual lending library.


Unknown said...

"Are there any original thoughts left to be thought?"

Truly new ideas are very rare and difficult to identify at the time. I'd say there's about two or three per century. The 19th Century had evolution; the 20th, civil rights. (I'll let others fill in the others as they see fit.)

But what can be almost as powerful as a completely new idea is putting new light onto an old one, or putting two or more old ideas together into new ways.

Speaking for myself, I'm content with seeking new ideas in old books. Just finishing "The Divine Comedy" and have taken away lots of good notes.

Michael Louis Weissman

Unknown said...
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