Sylvia Plath Reads ‘Daddy’

This astonishing short film in which Sylvia Plath reads her poem ‘Daddy’ comes as quite a surprise. Not only does she sound quite unlike I imagined–she could have stepped right out of The Philadelphia Story–but her delivery of the poem is remarkably accomplished. Poets are not always the best readers of their work, but Plath’s own reading is tremendously complex and fragile, for all its force and coldness:

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2007

The Reader is going to this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival to bring you news from the festival direct to this blog. The focus of this year’s festival is ‘What does change mean to us?’ and there will be reports on the dynamic debates, critical conversations and inspiring ideas that the festival guests have to offer. The festival is up on our calendar and I’ll add specific events as tickets are confirmed. Hopefully I’ll be able to interview some of the speakers formally (although I look forward with great anticipation to ‘bumping’ into them more informally), to get a unique insight into their experiences of the festival and ask how important books and reading are to their lives. I’ll be jumping at every opportunity to ask the literary folk in Cheltenham for their book recommendations, top tips on who to keep an eye on and will report it all back via The Reader Online. The best way to get updates is to subscribe our RSS feed.

By Jen Tomkins

Online Writing Course: Season of Inspiration

Helen Whitehead writes to tell us about an online writing course that she is running with fellow tutor Sharon Rundle. Helen and Sharon were involved with the now defunct trAce online writers’ community which was one of the first of its kind and was organised from Nottingham Trent University. Helen says: “The “Season of Inspiration” entirely online course is back again with our trademark supportive, friendly, online writing community and all-new inspiration!”

Join us in making the most of seasonal colours and scents, metaphors of the season, place and time to provide inspiration for writing that’ll see you through the rest of the year. We offer support, exercises and creative bolstering. You’ll experiment with and collaborate in inspirational walks, visual writing, meaningful journalling and capturing the sights and sounds of the season. Dip in and rediscover your creativity. Previous students will find all-new materials for this course and new students are very welcome (from anywhere in the world).

8th October – 10th December 2007
9 weeks of inspirational exercises and prompts plus a chance to concentrate on a piece of your own work and get feedback.
Cost: £150/AUS$370

To register please email

More information here.

Sefton Festival of Literature 2007

Running from Wednesday, 19th September until Sunday, 30th September, Sefton Festival for Literature 2007 has a programme appealing to anyone interested in various aspects of writing. Performances, poetry readings, exhibitions, workshops, writing surgeries and competitons are amongst the highlights of a packed schedule, which includes an appearance from Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, screenwriter and novelist John Mortimer, and poet and novelist Jackie Kay.

Here’s what Cllr Lord Ronnie Fearn, Sefton’s Council Member for Leisure and Tourism, has to say about the festival:

The Sefton Festival of Literature will be a fantastic celebration of all things literary and show that creative writing, poetry and performance offer something for everyone to enjoy. Experts on fiction writing, publishing and poetry will be on hand to offer free advice to budding writers, while artists will be leading bookmaking workshops.

The Sefton Festival of Literature is a two-year project and this year’s inaugural event will set the scene for the 2008 celebration. I’m sure this will be a wonderful event and I hope that everyone takes the opportunity to get involved.

The events will be held at Southport Arts Centre, Atkinson Art Gallery and, Crosby Civic Hall and Plaza Community Cinema in Waterloo. To find out more information and book tickets, visit the Sefton Arts website.

The Literary Feedback Loop

There’s a lot of discussion in American book circles these days about the declining coverage of books in major newspapers, in particular the New York Times. This piece in the Columbia Journalism Review argues that a ‘tipping point’ has been passed and that coverage is now falling precipitously:

Yet a close look at the history of how America’s newspapers have treated books as news suggests that while the drop in such coverage is precipitous, it is not altogether recent. In the fall of 2000, Charles McGrath, then editor of The New York Times Book Review, the nation’s preeminent newspaper book section by virtue of longevity, geography, ambition, circulation, and staff, was already lamenting the steady shrinkage of book coverage. “A lot of papers have either dropped book coverage or dumbed it way down to commercial stuff. The newsweeklies, which used to cover books regularly, don’t any longer,” McGrath told a Times insert profiling the Book Review.

I’d like to see figures for the increase in book reviewing elsewhere though, particularly online. I suspect this is more to do with the newspapers’ business model than with a lack of desire for book reviews.

Despite the decline in book reviewing the big American book review pages still come up with great things. This piece in the Washington Post about the science fiction writer William Gibson is a sign that all is not lost, in terms of quality at least:

Back when it was a more meaningful phrase, Gibson achieved renown for writing “science fiction.” He famously invented the word “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel “Neuromancer,” which has sold more than 6 1/2 million copies. This was before virtually anyone — including him — knew that something called the Internet was being born. He is also credited with inventing the idea of the “matrix,” as well as foreseeing some of the twistiest aspects of globalization.

Reading Neuromancer now is a little like reading the manual for a computer from 1990–surely it could’t work like that, you think. The curious thing is that once Neuromancer was out there software designers who had read it were no doubt inspired by the ideas in it. The networks and the virtual worlds they built and are still building–Second Life, and even Facebook–are fulfilling a prophesy that may not have come true had someone not made it in the first place. Literature and technology in a great big feedback loop. Who says books are not relevant any more?

Posted by Chris Routledge

On The Road: Kerouac Roundup

September marks the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, notorious for being written on a single roll of paper (sort of true) without revising (not true). Among the avalanche of commentary on Kerouac to have appeared in the last week or so a few pieces stood out for me. David W. Hall, Director of the Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Program wrote a fascinating piece about how he attempted to introduce typewriters and scrolls to a workshop on The Beats. Sadly they had to resort to writing longhand in notebooks.

Hall claims Kerouac as one of his heroes. I’m afraid I don’t. So I was gratified to find (via Ready Steady Book) a review by Anthony Daniels, aka Theodore Dalrymple, of John Leland’s book Why Kerouac Matters, published to coincide with the anniversary. Daniels is very unkind about Kerouac, though he admits a writer can be important without being any good and this point is spot on:

I mentioned the banality of the book to a young man who told me that he had thought it wonderful when he had read it a few years previously. I devised a test. He would open it and point to a passage at random, and I would read the passage out loud. He would then tell me whether he thought it was banal. Here is the passage:

The drizzle increased and Eddie got cold; he had very little clothing. I fished a wool plaid shirt from my canvas bag and he put it on. I had a cold. I bought cough drops in a rickety Indian store of some kind. I went to the little two-by-four Post office and wrote my aunt a penny postcard. We went back to the gray road. There she was in front of us, Shelton, written on the watertank. The Rock Island balled by. We saw the faces of Pullman passengers go by in a blur. The train howled off across the plains in the direction of our desires. It started to rain harder.

A passage such as this, appearing in an alleged literary classic, must encourage and delude many an adolescent keeper of a diary that his entries will one day find the appreciative audience that their immanent genius deserves. The popularity of On the Road is a manifestation of the propensity in a demotic age of mediocrity to worship itself.

Finally David Pescovitz on the blog Boing Boing highlighted a tribute in Smithsonian magazine by Joyce Johnson, a friend of Kerouac’s. Johnson writes:

Who could have predicted that an essentially plotless novel about the relationship between two rootless young men who seemed constitutionally unable to settle down was about to kick off a culture war that is still being fought to this day?

Who indeed?

Managing The Library of Babel

Jorge Luis Borges’ story ‘The Library of Babel’ proposes a library so vast it contains all possible books, but is completely disorganised. In a perceptive article lawyer James Grimmelmann reflects on Borges’ story and tries to come up with an information policy for it. In the process he connects the idea of the library with the Internet and the difficulties we face in not only organising but finding, reading, and categorising the information we find there. Who or what is our Book Man?

But the Library’s vastness and disorganization also make it almost completely useless: “[T]he chance of a man’s finding his own Vindication … can be calculated to be zero.” The image of the Library is haunting and suggestive. What would we do if we took it at face value? In this bagatelle of an essay, I propose to do just that: set out a few principles of sensible information policy for the Library of Babel.

Here are the links to ‘Information Policy for the Library of Babel’. pdf version. html version. (via Boing Boing)

Philip Davis Interviewed on Bernard Malamud

Our very own Philip Davis was interviewed on Dublin radio station Dublin City Anna Livia tonight and the programme is replayed tomorrow (Tuesday September 11) at 11am. There is a live stream for the radio station though sadly no “listen again” feature. You can find the link to the stream here.

The instructions are for Windows users only (shame on you DCAL) but if you’re using another operating system copy and paste the following url into your media player of choice:

Linux users will need to have the Windows Media codecs installed. Mac users should install the Flip4Mac plugin for Quicktime then use Quicktime to play the stream (File–>Open URL).

Featured Article: The Shakespeared Brain

I have just added an article by Philip Davis on the neurological effects of reading Shakespeare to the Features page. This piece appeared in The Reader 23 and is a fascinating summary of research into the way Shakespeare’s linguistic innovations affect us at a physical level. Philip Davis has recently taken over as editor of The Reader magazine. His biography of Bernard Malamud, Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life, is published on September 13th. Here’s a link to the article.