1748 plan of New Haven, via the Beinecke Library @ Yale

The Beinecke Library has an interesting web exhibition about the American history of the Utopian dream, from the establishment of New Haven in 1638 to modern sustainable communes like Twin Oaks.

The exhibit has a comprehensive list of the most important “utopian” communities in the US1, with manuscripts and documents from the library’s collections.

Also included are short lists of Utopian and Dystopian literature from the collection2.  It’s a neat set of images and facts, if you’re interested in the subject and haven’t seen an overview of it presented in such a way.

Two nitpicks that I have, though: 1) The sentence “the goal of removal from the heart of civilization to the wilderness” in the intro text is misleading as a blanket statement – More’s original Utopia was one of social and political perfection, rather than one based on any pastoral or nature-based ideals; and 2) it would be nice if all the manuscript/ephemera page images enlarged into higher-res versions.

  1. The most well-known being, arguably, the PA Germans and the New Harmony colony.
  2. I think two titles that should have been on the Dystopian list are Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” (1935) and Heinlein’s “If This Goes On-” (1940). I have to believe their exclusion is only because Beinecke does not have 1st edition copies of these books in their collection.
posted 2/10/10 at 1:58pm to Books, History · 0 replies · permalink

On reading for pleasure

This morning someone asked what novel I’d read most recently. I told them.

“Wow, I never imagined you’d read something like that,” they said almost in horror, as though I’d just admitted to a world-class sommelier that I drink Lambrusco straight from the bottle.

I love really good literature, obviously. But I don’t have a lot of time for leisure reading, and when I do, I don’t necessarily reach for a Cormac McCarthy or Kazuo Ishiguro.

I don’t choose books that I think will impress friends or colleagues or strangers in a café.

I don’t care if you gasp when I admit I didn’t like a certain “classic” novel by default simply because it is a classic.

I don’t care if you turn your nose up at me because I’m not reading whatever sneering deconstructionist tome you’re slogging through—dripping with semiotic snobbery and hoary lit crit nonsense—and pretending you’re enjoying it.

Basically I want to read a fucking story.

I want to read about places I haven’t seen, full of people I’ve never met, involved in something fascinating and perhaps just a tad over the threshold of plausibility.

I want to read about people doing things. If most of the verbs in the book are variations of thought or said or felt, forget it.

Give me some characters with faults. Give them important, wonderful things. And then yank them away. Let me see the wind knocked out of them so I can watch them react and see what they’re made of. What do they do?

If I find a work of fiction that gives me that, I’ll likely read it, no matter what lasting literary “value” it may have or the cachet it displays when I pull it out of my bag.

posted 11/5/09 at 3:53pm to Books, Writing · 1 reply · permalink

Things Wot Are On My Shelves: rainy Saturday reading edition

Neil Gaiman: Coraline, illustrated by Dave McKean. HarperCollins, 2002, 1st edition, 1st printing

posted 7/11/09 at 11:34am to Books, Things Wot Are On My Shelves · 0 replies · permalink

Things Wot Are On My Shelves: Contact edition

(for Faruk)

James Gunn: The Listeners, Scribners, 1972, 1st edition, 1st printing

Gunn’s novel is a fictional account of first contact, co-dedicated to Carl Sagan and based on his early use of radio telescopes in the search for extraterrestrial life.

A direct antecedent to—and inspiration for—Sagan’s novel, Gunn’s The Listeners is still an amazing work of speculative fiction and is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Contact and for sci-fi fans in general.

posted 7/10/09 at 4:27pm to Books, Things Wot Are On My Shelves · 0 replies · permalink

Things Wot Are On My Shelves: “Fry Friday” edition

Stephen Fry – The Hippopotamus – Random House, 1994, 1st edition, signed by the author

posted 7/10/09 at 7:02am to Books, Things Wot Are On My Shelves · 0 replies · permalink