Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

Artist/ economist Hans Abbing has written a most intriguing book on the economics of the arts. It is his thesis, counter-intuitive but brilliantly argued, that government subsidies in fact increase the poverty of artists. (That won't keep me from applying, yet again, for an NEA grant, however!) As a literary writer/ economist myself, I've often found that I think about the literary world in terms of industrial organization, which, I suppose, my writer friends find somewhat bizarre. Much of what Abbing has to say here is not new to me, but so well articulated that it is a true pleasure to read. One especially important point he makes is that "people contemplating a career in the arts are usually ill-informed; they think the arts are more open than they really are and they are unaware of the extent to which informal monopolization characterizes the arts." Ah, indeed. His personal view is that artists resemble magicians. Magicians of course, are loath to reveal their tricks. Read more here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mexico Guru & The Telenovelas

Travel writer Jane Onstott has just launched --- a very useful resource for anyone interested in visiting Mexico. (She's the author of several guidebooks, by the way, including the National Geographic Traveler Mexico.) Jane's article on the Mexican telenovelas is Mexico Guru's current featured article. Buen viaje!

From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion

My essay about a journey to Maximilian's Miramar Castle in Trieste has been published in the Massachusetts Review. More anon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Madam Mayo's Top Ten Books Read in 2006

1. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
I finally read it. I was finally ready to read it. Elliptical fabulosity.

2. Alfredo Castaneda (transl. Margaret Sayers Peden) Book of Hours / Libro de horas
One of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. (Read post.)

3. Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
More useful than 1,000 writing workshops. (I do not exaggerate.)

4. Patricia MacLachlan, Once I Ate a Pie
Starring Mr Beefy, the pug!

5. Colonel Charles Blanchot, Memoires: L'Intervention Francaise au Mexique
Criminally out-of-print. Scads of spicy gossip.

6. Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
Gorgeously written; thoroughly original. Visit his website here.

7. Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe
(Read post.)

8. Carolly Erickson, Josephine: A Life of the Empress
Masterfully researched; vivid as a novel.

9. Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914
A romantic tragedy, to be read whilst sipping coffee. (Read post.)

10. Joshua Leeds, Sonic Alchemy: Conversations with Leading Sound Practitioners
(Read post.)

For more lists, check out Wendi Kaufman's The Happy Booker blog-- Tod Goldberg's "Five Books I Told People I Read But I Really Didn't" and Alan Cheuse's "Book Selections to Nourish the Mind at the Holidays," among others.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Yes And

Where else can you drive a Hummer over your Isle of Skye competitor in the International Lawn mowing competition, and host a panel discussion of academic grass fertilizer experts, all in the same two hours? There was also a Madonna impersonator, hula dancing, and a lot of screaming and yelling about dead bunnies. In short, I just finished Shawn Westfall's fantastic 6 week Improv Comedy Class at the Washington DC Improv Comedy Club. New mantras: "Yes, and." "Listen and build." "Are you having fun?" "Character is plot." "It's all about relationship." "Add emotion." The improv process, I found, is something like a writing workshop + old-fashioned charades + ping pong + choir practice. But it's also like dance: you're not creating narrative in your head but with your whole body. (Read about Zip Zap Zop here.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion Nominated for's Mexico Travel Book of the Year

Mexico A Traveler's Literary Companion --- not a guidebook but a portrait of Mexico in a collection of Mexican fiction and literary prose--- has been nominated for's Best Mexico Travel Book of the Year Award. Voting is open from December 5 to January 12th. Click here to see the nominees and to vote. (Whether you vote or not, or vote for another book, please know that this anthology includes work by 24 Mexican writers, and numerous literary translators, all of whom deserve more recognition. It is my hope that this anthology will encourage more literary translations of Mexican writing--- as I note in the preface, "Mexican literature— a vast banquet— is one of the greatest achievements of the Americas. And yet we who read in English go hungry, for so astonishingly little of it has been translated. This is more astonishing still when one considers that the United States shares with a two thousand-mile-long border with Mexico.")

Internet Surfari: The King Goa Chair

While researching a few things for my novel I surfed into "Deafness in Disguise: Concealed Hearing Devices of the 19th Century." Pictured left is the King Goa Chair: "Perhaps the most ingenious design of an accoustic throne was created by F.C. Rein for King John of Portugal (also called King Goa VI). King John used the throne from about 1819 until his death in 1826, while ruling from Brazil... Visitors were required to kneel before the chair and speak directly into the animal heads..." read more...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thunder at Twilight

Just finished Frederic Morton's splendidly researched and beautifully written Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914. (It was of special interest me as I'm finishing my novel, which includes a character who was the Kaiser Franz Joseph's younger brother: Maximilian, the Emperor of Mexico.) Thunder at Twilight is a braiding of several narratives, among them, Freud's struggles with Jung; Trotsky and Stalin's stays in the city, and above all, the prelude to World War I. Especially well-done is the story of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -- whom Morton aptly calls "the volcanic apostle of pacificism"-- in Sarajevo. If I could give this book ten stars, I'd give it eleven.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Picadou is PugSpeak's Pug of the Month

Picadou, the pug who owns Madam Mayo, is Pug of the Month over at Mary Crissman's chock-ablock full of pug stuff Picadou's portrait with the monarch butterflies, by the way, is by Julie Feingold. (Picadou also barks in the audio CD, "The Essential Francisco Sosa or, Picadou's Mexico City", an essay read by the author, which first appeared in Creative Nonfiction and won a Lowell Thomas Award. A part of all proceeds go to benefit Presencia Animal, a Mexico City dog and cat rescue organization.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Campaign for the American Reader Blog, In the Sierra Madre, and the Page 69 Test

The Campaign for the American Reader features Jeff Biggers's splendid new book In the Sierra Madre. Check it out-- and this wacky but wise page 69 test.

Banff International Literary Translation Centre

Here's an announcement for literary translators:
The Banff International Literary Translation Center is seeking applications for its residency program, due on January 12, 2007. The program is open to literary translators from Canada, Mexico and the United States translating from any language, and to international translators working on literature from the Americas (both the North and South American continents). Over the past three years, BILTC has welcomed translators from ten countries working on projects involving thirteen languages. Writers from Canada, the United States and Mexico have been invited to spend a week in residence to consult with their translators from abroad. Literary translators are also invited to apply year round for independent residencies in The Banff Centre’s Leighton Studios. Click here for application information.