The Chimerist

Posts tagged Maud Newton

If the Euro falls, what should the coins of Greece, Spain, Italy and the rest of the member states look like? The Money Museum’s Coins app, with its high-definition photos of ancient and modern currencies, offers a lot of ideas. 

I’m particularly fond of this impractical dolphin coin, which dates to 480 B.C. in the Greek City of Olbia (and shows that the Ichthys — the Christian fish symbol — wasn’t as unique as it seems now). You would definitely always be able to find it by touch in your pocket.

Contemporary Greece might want a more powerful and rousing symbol, though, and no one fits the bill better than the Goddess Athena.

Some of the writing is a little stilted and clumsy, but the history is solid. 

Even if you (like me) aren’t into coin collecting, this app is surprisingly pleasurable to spend time with. Also, it’s free. The Celtic collection is especially beautiful.

Maud Newton

Words That Burn, a poetry app, includes audio and video from the late writer Josephine Hart’s Poetry Hour at the British Library. Beginning in 2004, Hart devoted an evening each month to a poet or two, “introducing and setting their poems in the context of their life,” and staging readings of the work from actors like Dominic West, Harold Pinter, and Elizabeth McGovern.

The idea, Hart said, was that understanding “‘the life and philosophy of the poet illuminates the poetry,” which “readings by some of our finest actors then ignite.” In a video introduction, Hart contends that poetry is “the highest form of language, without a doubt.”

Words That Burn features fifteen poets, and many more pairings: Dominic West reads Percy Shelley and Robert Lowell; Juliet Stevenson reads Emily Dickinson; Ralph Fiennes reads W.H. Auden. Harriet Walter reads Sylvia Plath; Charles Dance reads Elizabeth Bishop; Elizabeth McGovern reads Lowell and Marianne Moore; and so on. And the app is free, created by the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation in her memory.

Alongside each recording, the text of the poem appears. Occasionally, while reciting, an actor will add or modify a word, changing the meaning of the text slightly, causing the listener to reflect on the difference between the original and what has been spoken. Some read quickly and brusquely, others languorously.

Dominic West inserts an extra “I” in Lowell’s “Man and Wife.” Harold Pinter is all force delivering Philip Larkin’s “Vers de Sociéte.”

Outside the simple poetry layouts, the graphics are both wonderful and ridiculous. The main navigation screen, presented as a library, features a crackling fire, mounted animal head, and ornate gold portrait frames filled with an overlarge italicized font. 

The aesthetic of this room powerfully calls to mind a strange sugar plantation whodunit game that I played in the early ’90s. Other aspects of the design are more evocative of New Yorker caricatures or Monty Python. 

Getting around can be tricky. Move a balloon to the center of the screen and click just once on it to select a poem. Make sure not to confuse the app into thinking you want to read the poet’s or actor’s bio yet again. I would provide more guidance here, but I don’t want to mislead you. I still get lost, myself.

Juliet Stevenson’s rendition of “I Heard A Fly Buzz— When I Died—” is particularly lovely — slow and melodious, with pauses where I didn’t expect them, underscoring the gravity of Dickinson’s verse in a whole new way.

Hart herself, as the critic Emma Garman has said, “believed in three major destructive powers: erotic obsession, grief and envy. In her six novels, she anatomized each with an unflinching boldness that was, and remains, unparalleled.” The poetry showcased here tends to reflect those and other dark preoccupations.

Maud Newton

Konfetti, designer Stephan Maximilian Huber’s new app, converts your camera’s mirror image into a collection of dots that follow your movements. Transform and manipulate them, creating ever more striking and abstract renderings, by touching the screen. (Via.)
— Maud Newton

Konfetti, designer Stephan Maximilian Huber’s new app, converts your camera’s mirror image into a collection of dots that follow your movements. Transform and manipulate them, creating ever more striking and abstract renderings, by touching the screen. (Via.)

Maud Newton

The iPad has made me more conscious of my utter lack of talent at visual art than anything that’s happened since the weekend painting class I took when I was nine. I think that’s because tablet-made art, no matter how sophisticated, still seems so novel and so accessible beneath the shiny, shiny glass, like some kind of delightful accident that could happen to anyone: I have this app, too, so why can’t I draw a cherry blossom tree like that?  Obviously the same principle applies here as to actual pencil and paper. It’s not the tools, it’s the ability. And the patience.

As tools go, though, I do like Paper, a simple app which allows you to create, and to sketch and diagram in, unlimited notebooks. Everyone who’s denounced the payment set-up has a point; while the app itself is free, you have to buy the pens and brushes individually, for a total of about $8. And the Rewind feature is cumbersome and limited. I’d prefer an Undo button with endless recall. You’d understand why if you saw the “sky” I tried to draw.

I’ll always be devoted to my actual composition notebooks, but they get cluttered and filled with ephemera, and I can only keep track of one at a time. So I’ve decided to try using Paper for some of my quick notes, outlines, timelines, to-do lists, and ideas related to my various projects and interests. I like being able to sort them so cleanly. 

I’ve also started a travel journal. I haven’t kept any kind of diary, unless my blog counts as one, since I was in my early twenties. Figuring out what to say, even to myself, was too stressful. Excising the stupid things I wrote in them was too complicated. Many pages got ripped out; huge paragraphs were markered over. In the end, I threw all those notebooks away.

With this app, you can erase sentences, pages, and entire notebooks with a quick touch of the screen, so I won’t have any excuse. I’ve made after-the-fact notes on my recent, fun travels and am hoping to keep it up when I’m away in May.

Maud Newton

While we’re thinking about the heavens: I would guess just about every iPad user has at least one astronomy app. I have seven.  Probably because I see actual stars so rarely here in the city, I can’t get enough. 

The first I downloaded when I got my iPad, two years ago now, was Astro, which enables you to zoom in on the earth, moon, and Mars, but is maddening to navigate, as choppy as the Google Maps system that powers it. I did at least learn one thing from using this app: that I don’t have much interest in examining random lunar craters.

Star Walk, on the other hand. Ahhh, Star Walk. There are prettier sky apps for the casual astronomer now — Luminos and Go Sky Watch, and probably others I haven’t discovered — but Star Walk (below) was my entry-point.

Luminos (below) is my current favorite, although I go back and forth.

Using these apps, I can lie in bed and know exactly which constellations are above me, and which are to the north, south, east, and west. I can even view the solar system “from space” (below, in Luminos).

It’s a strange thing to do, I guess — stay indoors with traffic rushing by outside and pretend to gaze at the heavens — but no more strange than growing “forests” in glass jars, which is another thing I do to counteract the asphalt. It comforts me to know what’s happening in the natural world, even though I often feel very distanced from it. 

Sometimes, standing out on my terrace with a glass of wine, I’ll see a faint row of stars and the apps can tell me whether it really is Orion’s belt.

And on the rare occasions I actually have the chance to stargaze, up at my sister’s in Western Massachusetts, for instance, or while I was in Oxford, Mississippi, last week, I can switch to night mode (below, in Sky Walk), and roam outdoors, pointing the iPad in the direction of anything I’m not able to identify by sight. 

I wish I’d had these tools as a kid, on those muggy Miami nights when I’d sit out on the deck behind my house, sweating, slapping mosquitoes, and trying to make the clusters of glowing pinpricks in the sky map onto the constellations I’d seen in my encyclopedia. 

In Star Walk or Luminos, if you’re searching for Aries or Andromeda or Perseus, selecting the constellation from a pop-up list shows you exactly where to to find it. If you want to know what time Saturn or Venus rises, you’re also in luck. And in Star Walk there are magnificent daily photos, like the one at the top of this post, accompanied by detailed descriptions, like the one below. 

Of all the apps on my iPad, I always recommend one of these first to new users. You can supplement them with free stuff like NASA and Exoplanet. The universe for less than five bucks.

Maud Newton

Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze , a graphic novel interpretation of the Trojan War, is no substitute for The Iliad, but then, it wasn’t intended to be.

For an event as thoroughly chronicled as it is, the Trojan War is still relatively mysterious: There’s no extant ancient document that presents its entire narrative. The war may or may not have actually taken place, in fact; from the judgment of Paris to the Trojan Horse, it’s only known to us through legends stacked atop legends, beginning with Homer’s “Iliad” and continuing through the movie  “Troy” and beyond. So the classification on the spine of  “Age of Bronze: Betrayal Part 1,”  the third and most recent collection of Shanower’s roughly thrice-annual black-and-white comic book, is “Historical Fiction/Mythology.” That’s a clever contradiction: Is it a recounting of something that didn’t happen, or an invention to dramatize something that did?

It’s sort of both. Shanower’s first smart idea was to treat every extant work related to the Trojan War as a potential part of his story — the “Iliad” and other classical Greek literature, of course, but also Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” and its medieval sources, Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” C.P. Cafavy’s poems about Achilles,even ABBA’s “Cassandra” and the movie “Troy. The proliferating versions of the war’s history are often incompatible, of course, and sometimes Shanower’s interpretations of key incidents synthesize multiple sources. (Was Philoktetes’ foot injured by an arrow or a snake? As far as “Age of Bronze” is concerned, both.) Piecing together the historical and mythological fragments into a coherent plot could be a dry exercise, but the passions and rages of Shanower’s Greeks and Trojans roar like a charging army of spearmen.

If you missed the series when it was collected, it’s being reissued for iPad as it originally appeared, in twenty-page installments, and with maps and a reader’s guide.

I’m revisiting them while my mind is still in thrall to "Stephen Mitchell’s propulsive, muscular rendering of ‘The Iliad’" and Madeline Miller’s gorgeous, modernity-stripped The Song of Achilles.

Maud Newton

I’m more drawn to games than you are, Laura, especially when I’ve spent the day writing, but I’ve never been good at shoot-em-up stuff.  I like cards and other kinds of strategy, and things involving connections or geometric shapes. Pipe Dream, derailer of many undergraduate papers, was an old Windows favorite. Tetris, too, but I never had nightmares about it, which is more than I can say about the pipes’ green goo.

I’ve found some great games for the iPhone — Eliss and, before the “upgrades,” Twistlink and Surfacer — but most either haven’t been reconfigured for the iPad or don’t translate well to the larger screen. One exception is Stay, another balance game, this one involving falling squares, rectangles, and skulls. Though Stay is sized for the iPhone, not the iPad, the washed-out, low-res images don’t suffer the way so many others do in the 2x-blowing-up. I prefer the larger version.

In the easiest mode, the idea is to keep your little red triangle on the seesaw as long as you can. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so hard. Until the skulls start dropping.  They explode into eight or ten deadly little black asteroids.  

I’ve never gotten good enough to discover what horrors lurk in the more difficult settings.

—Maud Newton

Once Magazine brings photojournalism to the iPad in monthly issues of three stories each. The format is simple — several pages of intelligent reporting interspersed with gorgeous photography — but native to the device, so that the essays are pleasing and straightforward to navigate, with surprising touches: a short, unobtrusive opening sound clip; a brief, dreamy video, easily skipped if you’re not in the mood on first read.

You can tell right away that this is not a periodical imported from print.  

The writers and photographers the editors work with have a way of making the people and places whose stories they’re telling feel present rather than bemusedly scrutinized.

For the March issue, photographer Thomas Lekfeldt and writer Lene Winther traveled to Zambia to document Chinese development and influence there. The resulting essay, Africhina, examines the tension between the region’s desperate need for jobs, education, and investment, which China is providing, and concerns about sustainability and — in a place where protesting miners have been shot at by their Chinese managers — human rights. 

And Satan Also Came Among Them,” by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, is about the rape, over three years, of 130 women (and girls) in an eastern Bolivian Mennonite colony by eight men who sprayed “a homemade anesthetizing substance” through bedroom windows at night to drug entire families. Even now, some members of the community deny that any of this actually happened. The victims, including the girl disappearing behind the door in the shot above, worry that the experience left them “stained.”

The March issue also featured Once’s first work of fiction, from Peter Orner, also photo-illustrated. With so few general-interest magazines publishing short stories these days, I’m interested to see what April brings.  

A subscription costs $1.99 per month; single issues are $2.99. The images below, taken from an essay on seal hunts in Greenland, appeared at the magazine’s debut last September. 

The photographer is Andrea Gjestvang. Once promises to split App Store revenues with contributors.

Maud Newton

Scott Snibbe first created Tripolar, a drawing app that “animates the tangled, abstract, ever-changing forms a pendulum makes as it swings” over magnets, for the Whitney’s CODeDOC internet exhibition in 2002. The idea was to explore “the relationship between a software artist’s code and the resulting work of art” but also to ”suggest the connection between mental states and chatic phenomena: if even a simple physicial system is so unpredictable and sensitive to initial conditions, what about our minds?” 

The drawings are stark and often gorgeous at first, a series of abstract black English roses, but if you let the pendulum swing too long you’ll end up with a knotted mass of virtual string. This continuum between beauty and disaster also suggests — and to some degree mirrors — the tension between spontaneity and control in other, more traditional forms of art.

Should the novelist endlessly tinker with adjectives, or will the book be stronger, as Borges suggests Twain’s was, if he leaves the mistakes but maintains a strong voice? Does she find the story as she goes, or does she need to know the plot in advance? 

When is an work of art finished? The artist must know. Or decide.

(For more straightforward pendulum fun, try Newton’s Cradle. And Rhizome has a brief history of the Whitney Artport.)

Maud Newton

In which we talk with Findings about our reasons for starting the site.


Welcome to the second installment of “How We Will Read,” a series exploring the future of reading from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. This week, we talked to Laura Miller and Maud Newton, founders of The Chimerist, a new blog dedicated to exploring the imaginative potential of the iPad.

Laura Miller is a writer and critic. She was a co-founder of Salon and is currently a staff-writer there. Maud Newton is a writer, editor and critic whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, Narrativethe Los Angeles Timesthe Paris Review Daily, Granta, The Awl,and many other publications.

In addition to ruminating on the experience of using the iPad, Maud and Laura discussed the future of narrative forms, interactive storytelling, and their hopes for the evolution of publishing. What resulted was two poetic and nuanced views of what digital reading means to people who love books. Their work at The Chimerist had already distinguished Laura and Maud as thoughtful writers at the intersection of media and technology. It was incredible to hear what else they were thinking about as they navigate this new and rapidly changing space. Check out their interview below, and be sure to check out The Chimerist, too.

Tell me how you guys got together and founded the Chimerist.

Maud Newton: Well, this is the first time Laura and I have spoken over the phone.

Laura Miller: We did actually have lunch in person to talk about it.

MN: And we got drinks once. But those were the only in-person meetings we had about it. I was writing a little diary for the Paris Review about using my iPad, and I was having a back-and-forth with Laura about how annoying the app store is to navigate. I was going to quote her in the interview, so I asked her if that was okay, and we started talking about how great it would be to do a site about the iPad. That was May or June of 2010.

What about the iPad appeals to you as readers and consumers?

LM: I actually had this argument with a friend last night — he was advancing the Cory Doctorow thesis that it’s this horrible, oppressive device because it forces you to be a consumer rather than a creator. And I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that it is more a device for consumption of culture than production of culture. But I already have a laptop, so it’s not like it’s supplanting my laptop when I want to create something. Most the stuff I create for The Chimerist I create on my laptop, not my iPad.

There’s some sort of disgrace to being a reader, or a viewer, or just absorbing some work of culture — it’s this lesser activity, by that rationale. I really disagree with that. I feel like reading and looking at art and all of these things are creative acts in their own way. The experience of a piece of culture being appreciated takes two people. A poor reader cannot have a great reading experience with a great author.

With the iPad I can be more relaxed and receptive. In the industry lingo, it’s called the “lean back” rather than the “sit forward” mode. That is a buzzword, but I kind of agree — I lean back with my iPad, in a calm mood. I’m not responding to email, I’m not checking Twitter, I’m not feeling like I should be writing something, I’m just there for whatever somebody has created. I’m there to witness it, and appreciate it, and absorb it.

MN: Unlike Laura, I’m not really interested in engaging with people who don’t like the iPad, which is one of the things that appeals to me about The Chimerist. I have a lot of friends who are really skeptical of its use and its value, and that’s fine, I’m not trying to convert anyone. I don’t care. In my opinion they’re missing out, but that’s their choice (laughs).

I like the idea of having a site that is a place to think about what the potential of the iPad is — the narrative potential of the tablet and the potential of the tablet to create venues for new art and new kinds of fun that blur the boundaries of these things. It’s a really exciting time to me. When I first heard about the iPhone, even though I had the most bottom-of-the-barrel phone — that I was always losing — I said, “Ooh, I want that!” And the iPad is just vastly superior to the iPhone, as far as the user’s ability to experience art and to try new things that aren’t just games.

I think I use my iPad for a greater variety of things than Laura does. I do use it a little bit for work. And I do a lot of reading for my non-day job on it, and that basically includes everything I’m known for. When an e-galley is available, I tend to read that, because then I can read it at home, on my iPad, and then take my iPad with me on the subway, or just sync it to my iPhone and read that way.

But it is a special kind of canvas. It is a device that enables you to focus on one thing at a time, and I know some people have a real issue with that, that you can’t open another window inside what you’re doing, but I actually find that really refreshing. Even as someone who loves the internet. When I turn to my iPad, I’m looking for a different kind of distraction-free experience, for whatever I’m working on at the time.

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Alison Bechdel disclosed in a little preview booklet for Are You My Mother? that she used a font based on her own handwriting for the new book, as she did in Fun Home. Computer lettering looks so good when she does it, I got curious about the logistics and downloaded iFontMaker to give it a try. No one could mistake the results for the work of any kind of visual artist.

My first attempt resulted in an erratic collection of letters (first sentence above). Individually they may suggest my actual, scrawled-in-haste handwriting, but when put together to form words they’re much too widely spaced. My sentences look sloppier but less addled in person, more cramped print-cursive-hybrid than cheerful serial killer’s note.

On the next and last go-round, I produced a more traditional version of the alphabet (second sentence above). It doesn’t look quite like my writing, either, and not just because it’s so much tidier than what I usually dash off nowadays. To ensure some conformity of size and spacing, I used the app’s middle-line guide option; the rounded parts of the ds and gs and so forth wound up being far too large, and the tops and bottoms weirdly stunted.

The tension of my fat stylus against the iPad’s hard screen may account for the slight shakiness. But for the record, the semicolon-emdash pileup and the spelling of “visiter” come straight from my book of collected Poe.

Now that I’ve loaded the font into Pages, I could conceivably type entire documents in it, though I can’t imagine why I would want to do that. You can play around with it, too, if you’re so inclined.

Maud Newton

Meanwhile was published three years ago as a mammoth choose-your-own-adventure comic, but it began life in 2005 on Jason Shiga’s wall. The cartoonist (and mathematician) plotted all 3856 possible stories in an elaborate flow-chart so he could keep track of them while producing the book. And then, last November, in collaboration with text-adventure writer Andrew Plotkin, he released Meanwhile as an app. An app I downloaded as soon as my friend Chris Baker informed me of its existence last week. 

True, I haven’t played with the print comic, but the iPad seems like the perfect venue for this story, which serves up everyday choices — chocolate ice cream, or vanilla? — alongside more extraordinary ones. After using the (possibly mad) scientist’s bathroom in a rush, would you rather try out his time machine, his memory-reading device, or his… Killotron?  

"The inventions that you get to play with are all very standard science fiction tropes," Shiga has said, ”but I try to add a little twist to each one.”

One of the possible time machine subplots is “’a reworking of Hilbert’s Grand Hotel.’ (The Paradox of the Grand Hotel is a paradox proposed by German mathematician David Hilbert involving a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all occupied, which can still accommodate more guests by shifting all occupants to the next room or to a mathematically-determined other room according to different situations.)”

There are, I can attest, many different loops to get stuck in. 

Obviously, if you’re looking for deep emotional layers, you won’t find them here, but Meanwhile offers intense puzzle-solving pleasure — and, just as important, tantalizing frustration. I’ve gotten far enough in to understand the complicated relationship between the characters, to read people’s minds, to (repeatedly) kill everyone, to confront “myself” and try to explain things and then resort to violence instead, and to end up in strange utopian worlds, but I don’t think I’ve solved it yet.

Maybe I’ll never think I’ve solved it yet, but everything I’ve read online suggests that you know when you do.  

If you finish Meanwhile and are in search of more Jason Shiga pleasure, Bookhunter and other books are available free at his site.

Maud Newton

I use my iPad for many things, but mainly for reading books, magazines, stories, and essays that happen to be digitized. Most of them are also published on paper; others, like The Atavist’s ”Mother Stranger" or Storyville’s du Maurier reprints, are only available digitally, and are consequently much less expensive to distribute, but could just as easily be read in print. 

For these kinds of publications, the iPad enhances availability but doesn’t particularly change the reading experience itself — except insofar as the lit screen makes it easier to read at night and harder to read in bright sunlight. And that’s fine. When I read, I don’t need bells and whistles; I’m looking for information or to be lost in a story. As Laura wrote recently:

By now, the theory that the novel of the future will be a game has become almost venerable. That’s despite indications that — as the critic and author Tom Bissell pointed out in his book “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter” — narrative and interactivity are in fundamental respects incompatible. Where games offer the pleasure of mastery, narrative offers the pleasure of surrender. You can beat “Halo,” but you can’t win “To Kill a Mockingbird”; the notion doesn’t even make sense. A “Hamlet” in which Hamlet can blithely decide to kill his uncle as soon as his father’s ghost tells him to is not “Hamlet,” and, furthermore, not that interesting. Part of the power of that story is its feeling of inevitability, the understanding that each event follows from those preceding it and ultimately derives from the nature of each character.

This potent sense of causality, along with a subtle balance of expectation and surprise, is the great storyteller’s secret weapon.

This fact — that so much of the pleasure of reading fiction lies in surrender, while the pleasure of interactivity is by definition the opposite — is a tension that strikes at the core of this site. Laura and I are readers, first and foremost, and will invariably touch on our reading here. On the other hand, we aren’t going to duplicate the sort of writing about books we do elsewhere simply because we happen to have read an e-galley rather than a bound one.

Maud Newton

More than a decade ago a friend of mine found a strange site where unexpected objects — a bowling ball, a birdhouse, a snowman — fell from the sky into the waves below. The goal was to hang everything on the waiting hooks, balancing it all so carefully that nothing dangled into the water.

The aesthetic of the artwork has become fairly commonplace in the intervening years but it felt incredibly fresh then, like an interactive Looney Tunes backdrop for a new millennium. And the game was (and is) my favorite kind to play: cleanly designed, having a consistent objective that’s progressively harder to achieve, with a focus on fitting things together.

But my laptop died, and I lost my bookmarks, and although I searched from time to time, I couldn’t remember its name and didn’t find Levers again until I came upon a version in the App Store. It’s even better on the iPad than it is on the Internet. The touchscreen makes the experience of wrangling all these disparate objects into some sort of order feel a lot more personal. Why won’t these damn birds would stop weighing down my bowling ball? In what world is a snowman bigger than a submarine? 

It’s a fun mix of physics and whimsy, and a good way to spend fifteen minutes when you’ve finished the book you’re reading but aren’t ready to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. 

For nighttime distraction, I prescribe another Vectorpark game: the bizarre and unsettlingly dreamlike Feed the Head.

Maud Newton

My friend Stephanie Keith, an extraordinary photographer with an insatiable curiosity about the world and a passion for documenting it, has done some of the best work on Occupy Wall Street. That’s her now-iconic photograph (above) of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests, taken shortly before she herself was arrested.
Her new book of images, Occupy Wall Street NYC, is available in preview now, and I’m thrilled for her but also hoping some developer — ideally, Once Magazine’s — will offer to create a really good iPad app for it. A historical collection like hers deserves meticulous presentation and wide distribution.
—Maud Newton 

My friend Stephanie Keith, an extraordinary photographer with an insatiable curiosity about the world and a passion for documenting it, has done some of the best work on Occupy Wall Street. That’s her now-iconic photograph (above) of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests, taken shortly before she herself was arrested.

Her new book of images, Occupy Wall Street NYC, is available in preview now, and I’m thrilled for her but also hoping some developer — ideally, Once Magazine’s — will offer to create a really good iPad app for it. A historical collection like hers deserves meticulous presentation and wide distribution.

Maud Newton