My latest for Open Culture is about the Smithsonian’s collection of Charles Darwin’s writings, many of which survived because he gave it to his kids to draw on.
More than 300 member of the Class of 2015 received their diplomas Saturday at Westmont College’s commencement at Russ Carr field.
A small cadre of students and instructors were furthered honored for excellence in their field before the main ceremony, which featured hymns and a commencement speech from New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose new book, “The Road to Character,” is a summation of the course he taught on humility at Yale University (and makes for good advice to grads.)
When Ray Strong died in 2006 at age 101, he left behind an admirable legacy. The artist was well-known in Santa Barbara and a thorn in the side of those in power. He was well-loved but had no filter in speaking his mind.
To kick off a whole summer of shows celebrating Ray Strong’s work, a series that involves 11 art galleries and museums throughout Santa Barbara County, Frank Goss, Jeremy Tessmer and Nathan Vonk of Sullivan Goss have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first-ever monograph of this important painter.
My latest for Open Culture is on this Finnegans Wake recording project.
Book club: Passages
Location: Santa Barbara
Reading: “Spouse Trap” (A Madeline Dawkins Novel) by Cynthia Hamilton (Woodstock Press, 2013)
The story: After being framed for an affair, pampered socialite Madeline Dawkins Ridley must clear her name and in doing so, she becomes a self-reliant woman.
Diana Raab took some 15 years to put her fourth collection of poems together, not because she takes time writing, but because of the subject.
“Lust” (CW Books, $19) features a naked woman lying on a bed in a fetal position, her hair obscuring her face. These are private moments, it seems to say … come read what they are.
In the introduction to Mary Roach’s new book, she observes how ideally suited and evolved the human is to life on Earth, a match between man and environment that has lasted millennia. In space, however, nothing works for us: no water, no air, no gravity, not to mention the very, very long distances. But that’s why preparing humans for space — as revealed in humorous, wondrous and oftentimes gross detail in Ms. Roach’s “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” — has become a rich and growing industry but less talked about when compared to the science of booster rockets.
This is not the first time the writer has sought out weird science. In her books “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” (2003) and “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife” (2005), she took on death and the people who study it. With “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” (2008), she found sex researchers in Cairo and wrote more about sow insemination than most would want to know except farmers. And she has written all this popular science with a cocked eye, a sense for the absurd, and a smart sense of humor.
Karen Jones is quite cheerful for someone who has just spent a year or two of her life writing a book about death and funerals. An author of a romance novel and a marketing manual, she has a high, chirpy, sunny voice full of giggles, a lilting Virginia accent, and it’s not too surprising to find that she has a background in television and music, a job she was offered when somebody told her she had a great face. It was when the younger sister of a co-worker died that she saw what happens when grieving families must make costly decisions during one of the most stressful times in life. So Ms. Jones set out to write a short, easy-to-read guide to preparing for death and funerals, “Death for Beginners” (Quill Driver Books, $12.95). Ms. Jones, who will discuss the new book and sign copies of it at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St., recently talked to the News-Press about everything from building your own coffin (!) to “green” deaths.
Q: Is this a book someone in their 20s or 30s should pick up? Is that too young to be thinking about a funeral?
After Remains of the Day, who would have thought that Kazuo Ishiguro would have in him a dour, sci-fi novel set in a sort of boarding school. To talk about the plot would be to ruin what is essentially a 280 page slow reveal, where little of slivers of awfulness and horror find their way into the story, making us recoil in disgust as we glimpse only a fraction of the world that exists outside Ishiguro’s narrative. Told in first person from a naive standpoint, the book “wants us to inhabit their ignorance, not ours” according to a Powells.com essay. The novel never holds steady or lets us gather our bearings, we spend the novel perpetually leaning forward, trying to grasp meaning among the mundane storytelling. Ishiguro lets us figure out the more horrific passages ourselves, and that’s what make it so stomach-churning. Mark Romanek is directing the inevitable film version, for which, no doubt, all secrets will be revealed in the trailer. Could be read as the metaphoric story of a cow on its way to the slaughterhouse.
(The book infected my dreams more than once, a good/bad sign.)
Readable but overlong fantasy-horror-literary history hybrid featuring lamia/vampires and the cream of Romantic poets–Keats, Shelley, and Byron–interacting a with a fictional character, Michael Crawford, who must also rid himself of the curse and save the twin sister of his murdered wife, Julia/Josephine. Powers’ skill is in seamlessly incorporating real details–Shelley’s drowning, his funeral pyre, the rescuing of his heart, for one example–into a fictional narrative, and deepening the understanding of both novel and history. In the end this was a narrative I wanted to wrap up 100 pages sooner, coming down to a battle to save Josephine and their baby, who might also be a product of the lamia/vampire. The best moments are the ones that little bearing on the plot–a glimpse of a monstrous thing sharing a cargo hold–the least ones the action machinations of the climax. It did make me purchase a book of Shelley poems to counterbalance my adolescent knowledge of Keats.
(BTW, this cover is terrible and looks like a romance novel!)