William Landay's Blog

September 12, 2014

Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.


Mark Twain

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Published on September 12, 2014 13:09 • 5 views

September 10, 2014

Mario Puzo thought he was slumming when he wrote The Godfather. He was broke, an aspiring literary novelist with some respectful reviews but not many sales, and he hoped that a thriller about the mob might make a quick buck. … In fact, the writing of The Godfather released something fresh in Puzo’s imagination—a streak that was both potboilerish and also a little baroque—and if the result wasn’t “literary,” exactly, it was great pop fiction. … The director of those movies, Francis Ford Coppola, originally felt about them the way Puzo felt about his book; he considered them commercial hackwork compared with his more “artistic” films like “Rumble Fish” and “One From the Heart.”  And as in Puzo’s case, that attitude actually proved liberating, enabling Mr. Coppola to adopt a style that was grander and more operatic—more “epic,” to use the Hollywood term—but also less arty and self-conscious than the one he used for his more personal projects. Mr. Coppola’s “Godfather” enterprise went off the rails in “Part III,” which came out in 1990, when self-importance again seemed to overtake him (along with his star, Al Pacino) and he was no longer in touch with the story’s roots in pop culture and gangster-movie mythology.


Charles McGrath


I suppose there is a more compelling case to be made for artistic ambition, but it is worth remembering that great, lasting work often comes when artists aim low.

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Published on September 10, 2014 08:23 • 23 views

August 30, 2014

The first successful powered flight by the Wright brothers, 1903.


The Atlantic has posted a series of remarkable photos of the Wright brothers’ early experiments in flight. Above: “First flight: 120 feet in 12 seconds, on December 17, 1903. This photograph shows man’s first powered, controlled, sustained flight. Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.”

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Published on August 30, 2014 04:10 • 36 views

August 2, 2014

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Published on August 02, 2014 13:22 • 36 views

July 24, 2014

Beginners sometime ask me how a novel is written, the answer to which is: Any way at all. One knows only when it is finished, and then if one is at all serious, he will never do it the same way again.


Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man

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Published on July 24, 2014 20:44 • 25 views

July 4, 2014

Mission Flats in Greece


Mission Flats at the beach in Greece. Thank you, Sia Kouma.

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Published on July 04, 2014 07:00 • 33 views

July 2, 2014

I don’t believe that poems are written to be heard, or as Mill said, to be overheard; nor are poems addressed to their reader. I believe that poems are a score for performance by the reader, and that you become the speaking voice. You don’t read or overhear the voice in the poem, you are the voice in the poem. You stand behind the words and speak them as your own — so that it is a very different form of reading from what you might do in a novel where a character is telling the story, where the speaking voice is usurped by a fictional person to whom you listen as the novel unfolds.


Helen Vendler

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Published on July 02, 2014 12:00 • 21 views

June 29, 2014

Billy Budd manuscript, 1888-89


Melville’s original handwritten manuscript of Billy Budd (via). (Click image to view full size.)

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Published on June 29, 2014 07:11 • 10 views

June 25, 2014

George Orwell colorized


Date and photographer both unknown. Colorized by Reddit user Edvos. (Via Colorized History.) More here.

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Published on June 25, 2014 10:28 • 7 views

June 5, 2014

Back Bay 1870's


The Back Bay in progress. Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, looking west toward the intersection of Dartmouth Street, ca. 1872. From the wonderful Flickr stream of the Boston Public Library.

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Published on June 05, 2014 17:48 • 40 views