« November 13, 2008 | Main | November 15, 2008 »

November 14, 2008

"Reading heated dialogue without quotes is like watching a chase scene in 'The Bourne Supremacy' with the sound off" — Lionel Shriver


Couldn't agree more.

Here's her impassioned paean to the rapidly vanishing quotation mark, published on October 25, 2008 in the Wall Street Journal.

    Missing the Mark

    Quotation marks have fallen out of favor, and that's bad for books

    Literature is not very popular these days, to put it mildly. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly half of Americans do not read books at all, and those who do average a mere six a year. You'd think literary writers would be bending over backwards to ingratiate themselves to readers — to make their work maximally accessible, straightforward and inviting. But no.

    Perhaps no single emblem better epitomizes the perversity of my colleagues than the lowly quotation mark. Some rogue must have issued a memo, "Psst! Cool writers don't use quotes in dialogue anymore" to authors as disparate as Junot Díaz, James Frey, Evan S. Connell, J.M. Coetzee, Ward Just, Kent Haruf, Nadine Gordimer, José Saramago, Dale Peck, James Salter, Louis Begley and William Vollmann. To the degree that this device contributes to the broader popular perception that "literature" is pretentious, faddish, vague, eventless, effortful, and suffocatingly interior, quotation marks may not be quite as tiny as they appear on the page.

    By putting the onus on the reader to determine which lines are spoken and which not, the quoteless fad feeds the widespread conviction that popular fiction is fun while literature is arduous. Surely what should distinguish literature isn't that it's hard but that it's good. The text should be as easy to process as possible, saving the readers' effort for exercising imagination and keeping track of the plot.

    What effect is this quote-free format meant to achieve? Ideally, a minimalism that lends text a subtlety and sophistication. Since Cormac McCarthy may be most responsible for popularizing the custom, let's examine a passage from his 2005 novel "No Country for Old Men":

    You could head south to the river.

    Yeah. You could.

    Less open ground.

    Less aint none.

    He turned, still holding the handkerchief to his forehead. No cloud cover in sight.

    The absence of quotation marks may intensify the gruffness of the exchange. Punctuation errors may also imply the lack of formal education typical of his characters. Perhaps the dialogue is all the more swallowed by a vast Western expanse, in which human utterances amount to mere tufts of sage-brush.

    Yet take the same passage with quotes added:

    "You could head south to the river."

    "Yeah. You could."

    "Less open ground."

    "Less aint none."

    He turned, still holding the handkerchief to his forehead. "No cloud cover in sight."

    Is that landscape any less vast? Honestly, what do we lose when we insert those quotes? To Mr. McCarthy's credit, he has at least carved out his own style, which other writers have aped. Yet it is hard to imagine that his often riveting, atmospheric novels would be of any lower literary quality with proper punctuation.

    Proponents of quotelessness argue that the practice pays aesthetic dividends. Eschewing quotes herself, British novelist Julie Myerson fancies "the cleanness of these letters and words without any little black marks flying around above them." Book critic John Freeman believes no-quote dialogue "lends everyday speech a formal elegance."

    But, is the style always elegant? From Susan Minot's 1998 novel "Evening":

    ... But you see I've just been at dinner — he glanced over his shoulder, then lurched forward — in Boston with my great old friends — the Beegins — and I've only just heard of your mother's — he pressed his chin into his chest — misfortune and wanted to pay my respects.

    All those dashes simply replace one form of clutter with another. Kate Grenville and Jonathan Safran Foer have sometimes opted for italics. (In "Child 44," Tom Rob Smith distinguishes dialogue with both dashes and italics, in a disconcerting overkill of alternative-ness.) The italics convention lends dialogue a curiously forceful, emphatic sensation while still keeping speech pent-up, inside, barely audible.

    For that is the overwhelming effect of the no-quote style: quietness. Novelist Laura Lippman, who still uses quotes, complains, "I can't help feeling everyone is muttering." Fair enough, when lines are murmured, the emotions expressed soft. But lines like these from Susanna Moore's "The Big Girls" (2007) look peculiar:

    Just what is it that you're not getting? he shouted. Your son has been molested.


    Is this what you're like with LizAnn? I heard myself scream.

    We don't hear any shouting; no one screams. Reading heated dialogue without quotes is like watching chase scenes in "The Bourne Supremacy" with the sound off.

    The refusal to make a firm distinction between speech and interior reflection can also evoke a hermetic worldview. Explaining why she writes without quotes, British novelist Julie Myerson asserts, "In my experience of the world, there are no marks separating out what I think and what I say, or what other people do." Yet when the exterior is put on a par with the interior, everything becomes interior. What is conveyed is an insidious solipsism. When thinking, speaking and describing all blend together, the textual tone levels to a drone. The drama seems to be melting.

    Surely most readers would happily forgo "elegance" for demarcation that makes it easier to figure out who's saying what when their eyelids are drooping during the last few pages before lights-out. The appearance of authorial self-involvement in much modern literary fiction puts off what might otherwise comprise a larger audience. By stifling the action of speech, by burying characters' verbal conflicts within a blurred, all-encompassing über-voice, the author does not seem to believe in action — and many readers are already frustrated with literary fiction's paucity of plot. When dialogue makes no sound, the only character who really gets to talk is the writer.

November 14, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Darth Vader USB Hub — 'Eyes flash and he breathes heavy!'

What more could anyone want?

From websites:

Darth Vader USB Hub


Fans can visit the dark side every day with this animated Darth Vader USB hub.

His eyes light up red as he moves his head from side to side and he performs his trademark heavy breathing when you plug him in, push-button activate, or set at random intervals throughout the day.

Plug a peripheral in and Vader activates to the sound of a light saber.

6.5"H x 4"W x 3.5"D.

Hub has 4 ports.



November 14, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joeeze: How to prevent flat bike/motorcycle tires


Bill Babcock's tip appears in the latest edition of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, edited by Steven Leckart; it follows.

    Prevent Flat Bike/Motorcycle Tires

    Here's an easy way to flat-proof your bicycle: make a flap of stiff plastic that extends in front of the back wheel until it nearly touches the pavement. Then glue or rivet a rubber flap to the lower edge that brushes against the pavement. A bleach bottle is a particularly good source of plastic since you can gain some stiffness from curve to the neck, and depending on your bicycle design, you might even profit from the neck itself. I learned this many years ago when I was a motorcycle mechanic and discovered that perhaps 90% of all flats are on the back wheel.

    The reason: the front wheel stands the object up, the back wheel runs into it. All the flap does is knock the object back down, and that's all that's necessary. I put one of these on my motorcycles and have never again had a flat in more than 30 years and hundreds of thousands of miles of riding. I put them on my bicycles too, and never have flats.

November 14, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Arm Carpal Massager


Could've fooled me.

From the website:

    Arm Carpal Massager

    Arm massager relieves symptoms of repetitive stress and carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Simply slide forearm back and forth between two specially designed therapeutic rollers.

    Increase or decrease pressure with adjustable compression dial.

    Compact and easy to use at home or work.

    7-1/2 x 4-3/4 x 9-3/4".

    Plastic and metal.


Think outside the upper extremity space — I'm thinking feet.


[via Milena — possibly the only person on the planet who reads the Taylor Gifts catalog more closely than I do. How the heck did I miss this puppy?]

November 14, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

All blue-eyed people have a single common ancestor


No, not her.

Here's a press release from the University of Copenhagen, where a team led by Professor Hans Eiberg of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine tracked down the genetic mutation which took place 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

    Blue-eyed humans have a single, common ancestor

    New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6,000-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

    “Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes”. The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific therefore. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour — a condition known as albinism.

    Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.

    Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996, when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye colour.

    The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”


For those who want more there's the original article, published in Human Genetics in January, 2008.

[via Milena]

November 14, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

LEGO KnifeForkSpoon


Because it's fun to play with your food.


Silicone and





November 14, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you


"Better watch your back if your cat


is showing any of these nine signs."


Drawn by Matthew Inman.


[via Brian Nelson and Neatorama]

November 14, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bobby Pin Necklace


Created by Brazilian designer Mana Bernandes.

Apply within.

[via greenupgrader and Milena]

November 14, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

« November 13, 2008 | Main | November 15, 2008 »