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November 16th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Who Knew? Paved Roads Were the Result of Lobbying by Bicyclists

This tweet by prolific travel essayist Taras Grescoe caught my eye.

I followed the link to a website for what turns out to be a forthcoming book titled Roads Were Not Built for Cars, by Carlton Reid. At the site I found an interior spread with a cover and author info.

I had not really thought about it much before, but what I’ve read here reveals the author’s revisionist thesis that while Henry Ford and his ilk were eager to claim credit for the advent of paved roads in the 1920s, there had actually been a “Good Roads” movement harking as far back as the 1880s, when bicyclists began advocating for better riding surfaces. The writing and publication of the book has evidently been sponsored by bicycle makers in the UK and North America; with this underwriting it’s going to be a free, no-charge ebook download. I find what I’ve read in the spreads at the website reveals a fascinating, heretofore hidden aspect of modern transportation history–the development of decent roads not only made travel more enjoyable for individuals in all kinds of wheeled vehicles, it also enabled farmers and tradespeople to bring their goods to more readily bring their goods to market, spurring economic growth. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic I urge you to go to the book’s website and leave your email address so you can be notified when the book is ready.

Now that I think more about this, I’m reminded of a historical point raised in Alex Shoumatoff’s superb book, The Mountain of Names–a history of kinship that I had a chance to republish in paperback in 1995–which reported that the appearance of the bicycle in rural villages of Europe in the 19th century overnight extended the “courtship range” of male suitors  to a great many more miles than had ever previously been the case. I’ve previously blogged about Shoumatoff’s book in relation to the Mormons’ practice of posthumous baptism, which the late Christopher Hitchens tartly dubbed “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

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October 25th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet

Feting Writers at the #PENLiterary Awards2012

Had a great time Monday night at the annual PEN Literary Awards fete, held at the CUNY Graduate Center. After the couple dozen awards were all passed out, I stayed for the reception where I enjoyed visiting with many old book friends and made a few new ones. Publishing pals I spoke with included Kelly Burdick (Melville House), Jane von Mehren (Random House) Tina Pohlman (Open Road), Steve Wasserman (Yale), Richard Nash (Small Demons), Robert Weil (Liveright), Binky Urban (ICM) and Heller McAlpin (NPR, BN Review book critic); the newly met included Liz Van Hoose (Viking), Cary Goldstein (Twelve), and Brigid Hughes (A Public Space). Also enjoyed speaking with authors Dava Sobel, Ron Chernow, and Elinor Lipman. Elinor and I were glad to discover that we have a friend in common: the indomitable, Jenny Allen, actress and inspiration. Elinor has recently published the wickedly clever Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus. Here’s an example of Lipman’s rhyming drollery from a few days ago, before the last debate:  

Elinor Lipman ‏@ElinorLipman Dear Higher Power, pull some weight/I need Barack to win debate/I know Mitt prays & gives you money/But ain’t his church a little funny?

Speaking of tweets, I tweeted during much of the PEN ceremony, under the hashtag, #PENLiteraryAwards2012, all 16 of which I’m happy to copy & paste in below, starting with the end of the night, back to the beginning, along with photos I took. [Tweets have been edited for clarity.]

 Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ E.L. Doctorow receives Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, judges George Saunders, Don Delillo, Jennifer Egan

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Carol Blue, Hitchens’s widow, also in the house for the award. Steve Wasserman recalls Hitch’s devotion to free expr.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Winner for Art of the Essay is Christopher Hitchens’ “Arguably.” Given by Ruth Reichl, accepted by Steve Wasserman

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Winner of Robert Bingham fiction prize is Vanessa Veselka for “Zazen,” from Red Lemonade, pub’d by pal Richard Nash.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Winner of Open Book award by a writer of color is Siddartha Deb’s “The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India”

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Biography prize to Robert Massie for “Catherine the Great.” Runner up is Janny Scott’s bio of PBO’s mother

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ for literary sports writing to Dan Barry’s ‘Bottom of the 33rd,’ on a minor league tilt stretched into ‘a freakish epic game.’

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Dava Sobel gives Science book award to James Gleick for ‘The Information.’

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Wow, rock star translator Gregory Rabassa is in the house–he gave Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Amado to the anglophone world

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ PEN is in its 90th year as a literary org advocating for free expression worldwide. Many awards for translation.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Translation prize for most distinguished prose book: ‘Stone Upon Stone,’ Bill Johnston from Polish, Archipelago Books

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ translation grants: 9 recipients from French, Urdu, German, Czech, Spanish, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Picture book winner is “Never Forgotten’ by Patricia McKissak accepted in her absence by her publisher, Schwartz&Wade

 Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Winner for children’s lit is Sarah Dooley for ‘Free Verse.’ Shout-out to Laura Langlie, agent.

 Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ PEN Bellwether Prize honors ‘socially engaged fiction,’ an as-yet unpublished novel. Winner gets a contract w/Algonquin Books + $25K.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ Barbara Kingsolver presents Bellwether Prize to Susan Nussbaum, for ‘Good Kings, Bad Kings,’ to come from Algonquin.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ B. Kingsolver giving PEN Bellwether Prize, an unpub’d 1st novel award. Props to E.L. Doctorow’s ‘Book of Daniel’-BK’s teen fave.

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
Attending ‪#PENLiteraryAwards2012‬ at CUNY Grad Ctr. 1st up, PEN Pres Peter Godwin hailing Michael Henry Heim, esteemed translator/benefactor. RIP.

Note: Time prevented me from tweeting and sharing all the poetry and drama awards, so please note that there were also many worthy recipients in those categories.

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February 15th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

“A Crass Attempt at Mass Identity Theft from the Deceased”

Elie Wiesel has plaintively requested that Mitt Romney intervene with the Mormon church to insist that the organization finally end the barbaric and creepy practice of posthumous so-called “conversions” of non-Mormon decedents, including many Holocaust victims. Wiesel was interviewed tonight on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” where he explained that notwithstanding a mid-1990s agreement that was supposed to have ended the practice, a former Mormon researcher–Helen Radkey, who was also interviewed by O’Donnell–had informed Wiesel that the practice has never stopped. Wiesel learned that among those whose have been posthumously ‘claimed’ were the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and weirdly, breaking with their own practice of claiming the deceased, Wiesel himself, and his wife.

Last October I wrote a blog post, “Hitchens’ Book of Mormon-ism,” after Christopher Hitchens published “Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem” in Slate. Hitch’s piece, one of his last before he died in December, included a reference to a terrific book that I’d republished in 1995. By Facebook friend Alex Shoumatoff, The Mountain of Names is a superb study of human kinship and genealogy.  As I wrote then, the Shoumatoff book’s “title is a direct reference to the bank of names that Mormons, at least until the mid-90s, kept in the rocky innards of a private peak in Utah. . . . In his inimitable way, Hitch tartly dubs this ‘a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.’” Now we learn that the harvesting of names didn’t end then, and evidently has still not ceased. It’s a pity Hitch isn’t around to inveigh against this all the more.

A theology that envisions its modern day believers accruing some kind of divine credit for baptizing the dead is to me a bizarre and arrogant faith.

Feb. 16 update from a 2007 Newsweek interview with Mitt Romney:

“When asked by NEWSWEEK if he has done baptisms for the dead—in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS spokesperson says, to ‘open the door’ to the highest heaven—he looked slightly startled and answered, ‘I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.’”

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October 30th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Hitchens’ Book of Mormon-ism

Excellent Slate article by Christopher Hitchens on Mormonism, its core beliefs, and how it should be discussed in the context of the presidential campaign. Hitch’s piece includes a reference to a terrific book I republished in 1995, by Facebook friend Alex Shoumatoff. It’s his superb study of human kinship and genealogy, The Mountain of Names. It arises here b/c of the Mormon practice, indulged in for many years, of posthumously claiming souls to harvest for supposed salvation, even non-Mormon decedents, such as murdered Holocaust victims. The book’s title is a direct reference to the name bank that Mormons, at least until the mid-90s, kept in the rocky innards of a private peak in Utah. In his inimitable way, Hitch tartly dubs this “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”