Tag Archives: penguin


Securing memories on the page would seem to be an immensely superior way of retaining knowledge compared to trying to hold it in the brain. The brain is always making mistakes, forgetting, misremembering. Writing is how we overcome those essential biological constraints. It allows our memories to be pulled out of the fallible wetware of the brain and secured on the less fallible page, where they can be made permanent and (one sometimes hopes) disseminated far, wide, and across time. Writing allows ideas to be passed across generations, without fear of the kind of natural mutation that is necessarily a part of oral traditions.

Moonwalking With Einstein

Remember this

Wasn’t that elegant. I wish I had written it.

That is a passage (and one I am warned not to quote for purposes of review) from Joshua Foer’s upcoming book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering. It’s from The Penguin Press and releases on March 7.

Yes, Foer’s surname is familiar. He is the younger brother of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated. Josh, who used to call his older brother “Jonny,” was a recent college graduate living with his parents when he began this book, though it is clear from my advance reading that he is already an accomplished writer – at least of nonfiction.

Let me leave you with 2 other snippets from the book.

When St. Augustine, in the fourth century A.D., observed his teacher St. Ambrose reading to himself without moving his tongue or murmuring, he thought the unusual behavior so noteworthy as to record it in his Confessions.

Writing, you see, was once seen as no more than the best way to memorize things, and the state of inscription at the time actually required any reader to have pretty much memorized the text already. Accordingly, since most readers “performed” a piece aloud, it was practically unprecedented to imagine that anyone could understand what they were reading without at least subliminally “speaking” the words.

Need an example? GODISNOWHERE. Agree or disagree?

Want more of Foer? Check out his Website.

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Passages: Bad Liars

Just a brief note today while I prepare my “Best of 2010” list. It might surprise you, but I’m not paid to read. I’m paid to run a business. If I were paid to read, perhaps I’d be more disciplined. You know, feet flat on the floor, book on the table, dictionary and thesaurus at hand, and a notepad to transcribe the really good stuff.

I’m not, so I tend to absorb instead of memorize. But I’m a fan of great writing, and a brilliant passage adds immeasurably to my enjoyment of a book – and to my ultimate recommendation when handselling it to you.

Heads You Lose

Coming in April, by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Many of you know that I have the wonderful opportunity to read books several months before they reach the stores. In fact, I receive far more than I can possibly review. Some of you have helped me in the past by reading and commenting on these advance reader copies. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: I welcome guest submissions for inclusion in this blog, so if you’ve read something interesting, please consider submitting it for publication. At least use the comments section to alert us to it. OK?

In any case, here’s a passage from a forthcoming book by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward – a novel called Heads You Lose. It will be a success, I’m sure, though that doesn’t always transfer to the north shore of the Ohio. We’ll see. I’m only a few pages into it, but I think I’ll be recommending it come April.

So here’s the line:

Sook was a bad liar, but Paul let it go. He’d always thought bad liars were kind of like honest people — you always knew where you stood.

Know anyone like that?

Look for more long after the snow melts.


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A Movie the Way a Book Should Be Made: True Grit

You probably saw True Grit in theatres back in 1969, or at least on cable during the intervening 40 years. At the time, the aging John Wayne was seeking out roles that he could comfortably occupy, and the film industry awarded him with his only Oscar® during the 1970 awards ceremony. But in 1968, Charles Portis provided the skeleton for that film with his aptly titled novel … yes, you guessed it: True Grit.

True Grit
Charles Portis Rides Again

Wayne’s film is not the equal of the new Coen Brothers iteration of the novel, which hews tightly to the dialogue offered up by Portis. Jeff Bridges (with eyepatch covering the right eye where Wayne covered the left), inhabits the role of U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn. Hailee Steinfeld reprises Kim Darby’s 1969 role of Mattie Ross, and Matt Damon fills in as LeBouef, the Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell in the first film.

The movie itself has a relaxed intensity. That is, Portis’s intention was to deliver a story about Mattie more than a story about Rooster, and the Coens allow that to come through in the new film without sacrificing Portis’s incisive comic touches. For Rooster Cogburn, very little ruffles him, and this rubs off on the 14-year-old Mattie, too, so that violence and death are not unexpected things for either of them, though Mattie is forced to face a few shocking moments. It is a small story well told.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes for and awards the Golden Globes, do not seem to care for the work of Joel and Ethan Coen, and the 2010 movie received no Golden Globe nominations. That will not be true for the Academy Awards® next month, and maybe Portis will earn some reflected glory in the adapted screenplay category. A nomination seems likely for the movie, the actors, the technical crew, and the writers, and who knows?

May I suggest that you pick up a copy of True Grit whether you’ve seen the movies or not? I recommend it.

True Grit
by Charles Portis
Penguin PB, 1968, reprinted 2010


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