Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger RIP

There is probably nothing written about J.D. Salinger the does not mention The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger has died at 91 of natural causes. His one book even gets top billing in this Washington Post obituary, entitled, 'Catcher' author J.D. Salinger dies.

Salinger has been in the news lately with his lawsuits to prevent the publication of a sequel to Catcher, and a biography. He also shunned some big-gun producers for movie rights to Catcher.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 27, 2009

Van Gogh's Complete Letters

This is not particularly a fiction post, but rather something for anyone interested in literature and the arts. The Guardian online (UK) has a review of an exhaustive translation of Van Gogh's letters and letters received by him. He wrote often, particularly to his brother, Theo. His letters apparently are quite revealing about his creative process:

"In its capaciousness, the book also reminds us of a fundamental truth about Van Gogh: his ambition as a painter depended on words to give it focus and direction. We see this most obviously in the correspondence with Theo...."

The books contain the original letters (902) up to day he shot himself, a translation into English (or other languages) and exhaustive annotations about the letters. The set of books is expensive, about $600 USD, but they may be viewed online: Van van Gogh--The Letters, including a guide and an index of the letters.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Top-10 Book List Controversy for Publishers Weekly

On Nov. 4, this blog posted an article comprising a list of lists of best books of 2009, among them, Publishers Weekly's top 1o list. Soon after PW's posting of their list, a controversy ensued: a women's literary group pointed out that all the books were written by men. The list was based on literary merit rather than book sales. The New York Times carried a story about this top-10 literary book list controversy, which included more than 170 comments by readers at the time of posting of this FFO blog article. To PW's credit, they provided a link to the NYT article.

The comments were interesting and seemed to have been made preponderantly by women. The philosophical question that immediately arose was: should lists like these always include women? Or should the judges wear Justice-like blinders?

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plagiarism Software Attributes Play to Shakespeare

A software program used to detect plagiarism by students was refocused in an interesting way on literary research. The program was used to verify that Shakespeare plagiarized himself, so to speak, thereby attributing the play, Edward III, to Shakespeare. It also attributes a co-writer, Thomas Kyd. Here is a Yahoo! News story on the use of plagiarism software to attribute Edward III to Shakespeare.

Note that at the time of posting, the Wikipedia article on Edward III did not have a reference to this development. According to that article (and the Yahoo! article), this play was often attributed to Shakespeare. This free plagiarism tool, Pl@giarism, adds some weight to that attribution. The software is from Erasmas Universiteit Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse in Same Sentence?

T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse in the same sentence? Yes, if you order the new, 1100 page New Literary History of America, from Harvard University Press. The reviewer at Boston.com (associated with The Boston Globe) had difficulty finding a one-sentence description for the work. It's not his fault; it apparently defies such a description. It has over 200 essays, and includes many mash-ups. Says the reviewer, Alex Beam:

So what’s here? It’s all about counterintuitive pairings: T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse; Harry Truman and Vladimir Nabokov; “Henry James finds himself in bed with Edgar Rice Burroughs,’’ Marcus and Sollors promise, to which one can only say: Wow, I’d like to see that.

Despite its girth, the book is about $50, so you should be able to tolerate some eclecticism and still have good bang for your buck. Here is Harvard University's web page on New Literary History of America.


Bonus! At the time of publication of this post, there was a sidebar link in the article to some amazing Hubble Telescope photos (requires Adobe Flash).

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hemingway a Spy?

The Guardian (UK) reports on a book that claims Ernest Hemingway was a spy...maybe, sort of. The Yale University Press book was based on notes that one of the co-authors made when "given access in the 90s to Stalin-era intelligence archives in Moscow." Two theories were provided: Hemingway was a willing but ineffectual spy (coughed up no useful information from his travels) or was using the KGB to research a novel. To make the matter more confusing, the article notes that Hemingway was a patriot in his patrolling of the gulf waters north of Cuba for U-boats, cough, spotting only one.

I'll offer other options, since the book was inconclusive:
1. the KGB officer who "recruited" Hemingway never made contact; he was trying to get a raise.
2. Hemingway was recruiting the KGB officer; the KGB officer had to report the opposite, of course.
3. Hemingway just nodded in agreement with the agent because he was embarrassed that he didn't speak Russian.
4. The book authors and the Guardian are in a conspiracy against moi, to make me out of fool (too late, dudes).

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mark Twain Assassinates James Fenimore Cooper

You can say a lot about Mark Twain, but you can't say he doesn't have an opinion. Here is a literary assassination in Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. As you would expect of Twain, it is full of wit and fun to read in its own right, but it has little mercy for Cooper. A few quotes:

Twain lists the offenses, but here is the lead-in:

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them.

Bless you[r] heart, Cooper hadn't any more invention than a horse; and don't mean a high-class horse, either; I mean a clothes-horse.

If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases -- no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stained-Glass Ceiling Broken

The 301-year tradition of men holding the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University has been broken. There is no one holding that position now...no, that was a subversive joke. The position is now held by Ruth Padel, great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin. According to her web site bio:

Ruth Padel is a prize-winning British poet who also writes acclaimed non-fiction. Uniquely, she is a Fellow both of the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London, a Member both of the Royal Geographical Society and Bombay Natural History Society. She has won the UK National Poetry Competition; individual poems from her seven collections have been widely anthologized, broadcast, and shortlisted for all major British prizes.

Bonus! Ruth Padel's great-great grandfather may want to weigh in on this recent discovery.


Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seuss vs Darwin

Here is a review of a book by Brian Boyd, "the world's leading authority on Vladimir Nabokov and an English professor at the University of Auckland," who is also a great admirer of Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss. Boyd wrote On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Harvard University Press), sixty pages of which was about Dr. Seuss's Horton character, about the same space allotted to Homer's Odyssey. The book applies the notion of evolution to literature on a large scale:

...storytelling carries with it crucial advantages for human survival. It sharpens our skills in human interaction ("social cognition" is the term Boyd uses). It encourages cooperation. It fosters creativity.

This is a bit of a review of a review, which is dodgy at best, but the reviewer discusses the book author's application of that long-term process to Dr. Seuss's life, the development of his art of writing and entertaining. It isn't clear what the context of this comparison is, but it doesn't persuade me (which is of little consequence of course). The review mentions Dr. Seuss's unceasing hard work to improve his craft using audience feedback. That is an intelligent process with nearly instant feedback by comparison. I don't really get the connection to the "dumb" process of evolution with mostly dead ends to such an immediate, creative process. However, if you love Dr. Seuss, you'll enjoy the article because of the high regard that Boyd holds for him.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jane Austin + Zombies

It is an unlikely mashup, but "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is working for Quirk Books, which is more known for non-fiction titles. If having five daughters that need marrying off were not enough travail, the Bennet family must also fend off a zombie hoard. Not surprisingly, Quirk Books has had an influx of similar mashup proposals.

In this BBC online interview, author of the novel Seth Grahame-Smith told what reaction he received from the literary establishment:

I was expecting to be burned in effigy to be honest. So far the reaction has been mostly positive.

Most people have a great sense of humour about it, particularly the 'Jane-ites', who must prefer this to the 60th or 70th Mr Darcy's private thoughts collection that seems to come out every year.



Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Publishers' Fears of Book Piracy

The book publishing industry is worried that the chaos of the music industry is upon them. Scribd is a web site that--like all tools--can be used for good and evil. It is quite handy for distributing documents widely that you want distributed. The article mentions that the Obama campaign used it for campaign purposes. However, some are using it to upload current copyrighted literary works:

A search of Scribd by The Times yesterday found copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Ken Follett’s most recent novel World without End among many bestselling titles, raising fears that the piracy affecting the music industry may have spread to books.

Those are probably gone by now. One problem is that the site owners leave it to the publishers to scour the web site to identify their abused works. If informed, the Scribd staff will remove the material. That is quite a burden, it seems, considering that ten more such sites could pop up at any time.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 30, 2009

Animal Farm: Unconvincing Trotskyite Politics

Who said that? "Unconvincing Trotskyite Politics." Who rejected George Orwell's Animal Farm for publication by Faber and Faber? He was then director of that venerable British publisher and perhaps the best poet of the 20th century (says the article writer, Richard Brooks, Arts Editor of UK Times Online)...::drum roll::...and more anticipatory delay: T S Elliot. At issue was the timing of the novel with respect to the tenuous WWII alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Eliot wrote: “After all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.”

The article is actually about T S Eliot on the occasion of the release of his private letters by his widow, Valerie, the subject of a BBC documentary.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top Ten Literary One-Hit Wonders, 2nd Boons and 2nd Flops

Here is a trio of articles from Times Online (UK) listing the top ten one-hit literary wonders, the top ten second-novel hits, and top ten second-novel flops.

The one-hit wonders list includes Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind). There are a couple of surprises in the list, for me anyway. The second-novel wonders list includes Britain's beloved Jane Austin (Pride and Prejudice) following Sense and Sensibility. The cursed second novels includes Joseph Heller (Something Happened) following Catch-22.

One fun part of this trio of articles is that original Times reviews or ads are provided for some novels including, for example, the first Times ad for Wuthering Heights in 1847 and a review for Gone with the Wind in 1936.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Doctorow among Man Booker International Prize

Cory Doctorow is among the nominees for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction. Speculative fiction writers might take heart at this inclusion, regardless of the final outcome, which occurs around May. According to the prize's web site:

The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. In seeking out literary excellence the judges consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel.

The selections for this prize are made by a small, international group of panelists. Publishers do not make recommendations. The nominees are:


The judges are quite interesting, too: Jane Smiley (chair), Amit Chaudhuri and Andrey Kurkov. Their bios are here.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Holy Zombie, Batman: Jane Austen for Boys

Two (apparently) independent projects to bring boys raised on video games to Jane Austen's literary lair:

  • Quirk Books' Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, containing "bone-crunching zombie mayhem,” and
  • Elton John's Rocket Pictures project, Pride and Predator, "in which the giant alien from the 1987 cult classic pays a call on the Bennet family."
I guess I'd better read Pride and Prejudice so that I can follow these movies.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Flawed but Great Literature

A BBC Radio program, Today, asked AL Kennedy and William Boyd to nominate some great but flawed works of literature. What prompted this public discussion was the recent, left-hand awarding of the Costa Book of the Year for The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, with the comment that it was flawed.

The article provides an audio link to the radio program and a printed summary of the works considered flawed, including: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway--'Wholly misguided attempt to render Spanish into English. The dialogue is full of "thee" and "thou" and therefore unreadable and unbelievable, not to say laughable.' Other cited authors of works from the body of great literature include: Fitzgerald, Dickens, Joyce, Nobokov, Melville, Heller, Tolstoy and Høeg. See the article for the explanation of the selections. Radio callers made their own nominations as well.

Labels: , ,

Copyright (c) 2007 Flash Fiction Online
and the authors of the individual stories and articles.
All Rights Reserved.
Email the Webmaster with questions or comments about this site.
For other contact information visit our contact page.