History of Literature #77 – Top 10 Greatest Literary Cities

pariscafeWhat makes a city a great literary city? Having a tradition of famous authors? A culture of bookstores and cafes and publishing houses and universities? Inspiring great books? Host Jacke Wilson is joined by Mike Palindrome, President of the Literature Supporters Club, for a discussion of the cities where literature finds itself most at home – including their choices for the world’s ten greatest literary cities.

Play

Show Notes: 

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

On Twitter, you can follow Jacke Wilson at his handle @WriterJacke. You can also follow Mike and the Literature Supporters Club (and receive daily book recommendations) by looking for @literature SC.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“The Secret of Tiki Island” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

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Female Action Movie Stars… in the 1910s!?!?

Wow. It has been a long time since an article has made me think (and rethink and rethink) as much as this piece in The Atlantic, The Forgotten Female Action Stars of the 1910s. I can’t get over it.

Just take a look at this publicity shot from 1918::

heroine-roland-1918

Here’s the description:

A city editor orders an armed female reporter to chase down a con man and “get the story.” A railroad telegrapher seeks vigilante-style justice against two robbers who attacked her. An adventure-seeking heiress outruns a giant boulder Indiana Jones-style … decades before Harrison Ford was ever born.

What? Did you know that this existed? Me neither!

More please!

In the current movie landscape, female action heroes tend to be so few and far between that their mere existence seems like an accomplishment (think: Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Rey in Star Wars, or the four stars of the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot). But more than a century ago, before women had even won the right to vote in many countries, actresses headed up some of the U.S’s most popular and successful action movies—even if they performed stunts in skirts that ended only a few inches above their ankles.

Incredible. So what happened? How did this come about?

And more importantly: why did it end?

The author of the piece, Radha Vatsal, has some ideas.

I invited Radha Vatsal onto the History of Literature podcast to discuss the article. She has her own book coming out, too: a murder mystery with a plucky female journalist at the center. In New York City. In 1915. What a fantastic idea – I can’t wait for my copy of the book to arrive (it’s available now for pre-order at Amazon.com).

Radha and I talk about her research process, the rise of female journalists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the changes in the film industry, and developing the character of Kitty Weeks. Oh, and she picks four book recommendations. We discuss those too.

I’ll be posting the episode the first week of May. In the meantime, check out the Atlantic article. And imagine a time when Hollywood didn’t quite have such a stranglehold on the industry…and we could see different kinds of movies…maybe in the past…maybe in the future…

Small Press Shout-Out: Kaya Press!

Hard to top the logo of the great Kaya Press:

A little puzzling? Not after they explain:

“When tigers used to smoke…” is a traditional Korean phrase used at the beginning of folk tales, similar to “Once upon a time.” Korean folk paintings often feature images of tigers smoking long, bamboo pipes, often accompanied by helpful rabbits. The Kaya logo replaces the Asian-style pipe with a stogie or cigar to show the meeting of traditional and contemporary sensibilities.

Kaya is a small press that recently moved from New York to Los Angeles.  They strive to publish “the most challenging, thoughtful, and provocative literature being produced throughout the Asian and Pacific Island diasporas.” Their books are great, and their website is absolutely fantastic.  We’ll definitely have a display table for them at our dream bookstore.

Check out Kaya’s smoking new website and their catalog of books today!

Image Credit: Kaya Press

Mr. Franzen’s Folly

How does someone so seemingly intelligent get things so wrong all the time? Here’s Franzen’s latest:

“In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world?”

This is so inane I don’t know where to begin. There’s a very easy solution to the idea of Amazon being the new slush pile: don’t read those books. Read only books by authors you already know. Or wait for a recommendation from a source you trust. (They exist!) Read a sample paragraph and move on. Figure out how to find what you need.

Here’s what worries Franzen: not that he won’t be able to find what he needs, but that others won’t be forced to read his books.  It’s easier to be the Book of the Season – and to have your publisher pay to have a big table full of your books in the front of the bookstore – than it is to slug it out among the masses. He’s the equivalent of the bloviating newspaper columnist who can’t believe there are bloggers who can beat him at what he does.  That’s not to say that all bloggers are better than the columnist, any more than to say that the slush pile is full of manuscripts better than Franzen’s new novel. What it does say is that readers have more choices, and might choose to read things they like better than what’s been chosen for them by New York publishers.

That’s what bothers Franzen. The system has changed, and readers don’t have to be led by the nose any more. They’re free to find what they want. And if that means that Franzen’s eighth novel, or Philip Roth’s gazillionth, has to compete with new voices and emerging writers, so be it. The system has changed. This or that author, or this or that book, may or may not win. The process – and the readers – will.