Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pigs – I mean Tweets – in Space!

Once, our ancestors drew on cave walls. They carved their thoughts into clay, onto turtle shells, into rock. The Egyptians gave us the first paper and ink. Guttenberg gave us the printing press. With the ease of our daily communication, we often forget those forced to labor before us.

When we write, our own imprint is made on history. 2010, they will say, was the time of word processors and blogs, of text messaging and Facebook. They will read in their history ebooks, that January 22, 2010 was the date that the first Tweet was sent from space.

It’s true. Flight Engineer T.J. Creamer wrote to earthlings back home:

“Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s”

Aside from my first instinctive gut reactions to the fact that history is being written in emoticons and three letter words abbreviated to one, how amazing is that? We live in a world that isn’t easily impressed, I know. It takes Tiger Woods (and his car) being attacked by golf clubs to turn our heads. It takes not just the Gosselin’s eight kids or Kate’s bad hairdo, but also their messy divorce to captivate the public’s attention.

But just ponder for a moment the ability to communicate with one another, across a room, outside the globe, passed on through time. Maybe I should just turn back on American Idol to find a new fascination, but for this moment, I’m amazed and have an itch to send a text message to Mars.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Odyssey

Odysseus faced the Scylla and Charybdis. Gulliver handled the Lilliputians. Benjamin Herson and Jeff Deck confronted the erroneous employ of the English language. The great blind poet couldn’t have written it better… or could he?

I just learned of their book, “The Great Typo Hunt,” which is set to be released in August. Herson and Deck road-tripped, finding 437 typos on billboards, landmarks, and various signs across the country. In fact, they corrected 236 cases of improper punctuation, spelling and syntax, earning federal vandalism charges. All of the evidence proving their crimes was easily gathered in photos from their own blog.

Personally, I wondered about their choices. When a Las Vegas show dubs itself the “Greartest Show on Earth,” was it in need of correction or just avoiding trademark infringement with Ringling Brothers, figuring the people seeing that sign on The Strip would already be three sheets to the wind and not notice?

Did they dash into grocery stores, changing every “Ten Items or Less” check-out sign to “Ten Items or Fewer”? (Richmond will miss you, Ukrop’s, and your proper word usage.)

Did they scribble away at unnecessary quotation marks that made signs somehow suspicious? (My favorite is an oddly creepy billboard for a church in North Carolina that’s been up for years: We “love” all people.)

Intrigued by this story, I wanted to know more. After a quick Google search, I discovered that Herson and Deck aren’t alone on their quest. In Boston, there’s the Grammar Vandal (; there’s an active presence by ‘GrammarCops’ on Twitter, linking to a blog with over 18,000 visitors (; these perfectionists are patrolling all over the place. And for some perhaps crazy reason, that makes me happy

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm too sexy for your paperback?

We’ve all seen it happening. The sleek, beautiful technology makes everything older than six months hideously dated and as similar to an old maid as the eight-track tape – once so desirable, but not quite special enough to hold onto for life. The iPods are flirtatious. The netbooks are alluring, and if you listen closely to the new flat panel, touch-screen monitors, you’ll hear the sirens’ song. But is this the future of books too?

I couldn’t help but laugh at the headline: Tablet OS ‘has a good bit of sexy to it’ ( I understand the appeal. Yes, sex sells, but does it sell books? When I think of the appeal of reading books, I think of curling up in a cozy chair with a blanket pulled over me, with steaming cup of tea on the coffee table, and a cat purring lazily on my lap. I don’t have a cat and rarely drink tea, but that’s the image that pops into my mind all the same. Right Said Fred isn’t there.

This exact discord is what is holding back the Tablets, Kindles, Sony Readers, and all the others. Book-lovers don’t think sex appeal when they choose their next novel. I’m sorry Fabio, but it’s true. Only when the advertisers figure out that sexy really doesn’t sell in this case, when they can show that these e-readers can equal what has been known and loved for centuries, then, they will find their market.

Admittedly, there are some who are intrigued by the allure of the e-book, but so many others are disgusted by the idea of electronic texts. However, Sony seems to be starting to figure it out. Their reader store ( looks like a polished library’s site rather than something to make a techie drool. They’ve even come out with leather covers to encase their Readers. I’m intrigued. I’ll admit it. Those leather covers hit a nerve, but I’m not willing to give up my hardbacks or paperbacks just yet.

Does the sexy e-book call to you? Or are you calmly content with your old-fashioned novel?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Decade in Books

I stumbled across this recap of books 2000-2009 (, and it got me thinking about my own list. I’m not qualified to discuss all literature and the movements that followed in the past decade, but there have been a lot of books that made me love the capabilities of language and stories in one way or another. My list of favorites isn’t academic or researched. I haven’t spent months debating the following results, but a rather thoughtful hour was spent examining the possibilities:

2000 – Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Language that drips with wit and beauty, popularly and critically acclaimed, who knew non-fiction could be so captivating? To be honest, I didn’t until stumbling upon this one.

2001 – Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The New York Times Book Review proclaimed, “Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life,” and I whole-heartedly agreed.

2002 – Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated. The voices of the characters are so startling different, yet so telling of truths and history. My own family’s Ukrainian background and stories of World War II perhaps brought this book closer to me, but it touches chords of reality and language that any novelist can admire.

2003 – Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Timely and astonishingly powerful, Hosseini takes his readers to an unknown world and fills that world with tumultuous emotions and transforming lives.

2004 – James Lee Burke’s In the Moon of Red Ponies. When a mass market fiction writer also attains the critical success of being considered a ‘literary writer,’ some people raise eyebrows in suspicion. This fourth book in the Billy Bob Holland series was not only a compelling story; it was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Writers also can take heart in the fact that Burke was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years before The Lost Get-Back Boogie (1986) – also nominated for a Pulitzer – was published.

2005 – Steve Berry’s The Third Secret. In the words of the New York Times, “The links to religion in The Da Vinci Code and [Dan Brown's] previous, Angels and Demons, pale beside those in The Third Secret.” In a world hungry for intelligent, international thrillers, Berry succeeds masterfully.

2006 – Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. This novel is a demonstration of the power of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). While surely editing ensued outside of the bounds of November, the majority of this book was written in a month’s time. Impressive, motivating, and awesome.

2007 – J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 2007 marked the completion of the seven-book series that entranced children into reading hundreds of pages and that peaked the imaginations of adults who remembered the power of children’s literature. Rowling can’t be ignored.

2008 – Paulo Coelho’s The Winner Stands Alone. Coelho has been one of my favorite authors since my first reading of The Alchemist. Yet while this novel is the Brazilian writer’s first thriller, it still retains the beautiful writing, the examination of the human essence, and the social commentary which seeps into his work.

2009 – Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. 2009’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is woven from short stories. The New Yorker wrote, “Strout animates the ordinary with astonishing force. . . .” Isn’t that what we all attempt to achieve as writers? Kudos to Strout for giving us further inspiration.

The more I debated and researched the above, the more I realized how many books really are on my reading list. Perhaps I’ll add on that as another resolution in 2010: find more time to read! What a torture that would be (note the sarcasm here).

Now, this is only what I’ve been reading. I know I’ve left off so many great works. What do you think? What would you rate as the top books or authors of the past decade?