"It was John Polidori's misfortune to be comic without having a sense of humor, to wish to be a great writer but to be a terrible one, to be unusually bright but surrounded for one summer by people who were titanically brighter, and to have just enough of an awareness of all of this to make him perpetually uneasy. Also, he couldn't jump."
Edith Maude Eaton (1865-1914), better known by her nom de plume Sui Sin Far ("lotus blossom" in Cantonese), was a North American journalist, author, essayist and travel writer who has been dubbed the "'mother' of Asian North American literature." Born of an English businessman father and a Chinese mother adopted by British missionaries, Eaton lived and worked in New York, Montreal, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. Her short stories, known principally through her only published collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), offer sympathetic depictions of Chinese and Eurasian immigrants while prejudice against Asian peoples in North America was rampant. [more inside]
Famous writer Anne Carson on ice bats: "I made up ice bats, there is no such thing." (SLNYT) [more inside]
Today, VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) published their annual VIDA count, breaking down the treatment of women in literature in 2012 and the past three years of trends.
At this point I usually feel it would be a good idea to say something about this , Exercices de Style, But as it's rather difficult to know where to begin, if I'm not careful I find that my would-be explanation goes rather like this: "Oh yes, you know, it's the story of a chap who gets into a bus and starts a row with another chap who he thinks keeps treading on his toes on purpose, and Queneau repeats the story 99 times in different ways - it's terribly good . . . [more inside]
Pablo Neruda (bio, pics, recordings) was a Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner. His work comprises 48 books* (excluding posthumous publications), the most famous of which remain Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (scribd, alt) (Spanish, alt) and Canto General (Spanish). Documentary. [more inside]
The Turn Against Nabokov [newyorker.com]
"The author, whose novels thrum with ironic recurrences, might have been perversely pleased with this: thirty-six years after his death and twenty-two years after the fall of the Soviet Union with all its khudsovets, Vladimir Nabokov is, once again, controversial."
Kevin Pang's profile of Chicago chef Curtis Duffy recounts how Duffy emerged from a turbulent family life to become a Michelin-starred chef. [more inside]
Post & Prejudice: [guardian.co.uk] "The Royal Mail is joining in the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice with the release of a series of stamps featuring all six of Jane Austen's novels. Royal Mail commissioned the artwork by Angela Barrett." [Slideshow]
"A talented writer such as John Jeremiah Sullivan might, fifty years ago, have tried to explore his complicated feelings about the South, and about race and class in America, by writing fiction, following in the footsteps of Walker Percy and Eudora Welty. Instead he produced a book of essays, called Pulphead, on the same themes; and the book was received with the kind of serious attention and critical acclaim that were once reserved for novels. But all is not as it seems. You do not have to read very far in the work of the new essayists to realize that the resurrection of the essay is in large measure a mirage." (via) [more inside]
In theory: the unread and the unreadable - "We measure our lives with unread books – and 'difficult' works can induce the most guilt. How should we view this challenge?"
Royal Bodies by Hilary Mantel
"I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting?"
Only two works of Nonnus of Panopolis (fl. AD 400), arguably the last great poet of the Homeric tradition, survive complete. The first is his Dionysiaca, ostensibly an account of the adventures of Dionysus but embracing everything that touches chaos and fire and sound, "the longest surviving poem from classical antiquity and one of the most entertaining, outrageous and vivid epics ever conceived west of the Ganges." The second is the Metabole kata Ioannou [PDF]. It's a paraphrase of the Gospel of John into the idiom of Homer.
I realized that if something had happened to Henry James' testicles, that my friends didn't know about it, because if they did, it'd just be weird that they didn't mention it - given what we were talking about. And I thought this was sort of neat because one of my friends had done his Ph.D. on James, and even he didn't know about the guy's self-castration! I instantly resolved to solve the mystery.
"Look," I said, exited now, "I'm pretty sure something happened down there, so I'm going to check it out. And when I do find out - "
"You'll let us know.
"We'll look forward to it."
"Look," I said, exited now, "I'm pretty sure something happened down there, so I'm going to check it out. And when I do find out - "
"You'll let us know.
"We'll look forward to it."
Late last month, the writer Jonathan Rendall was found dead at his home in Ipswich. He was 48. He was the greatest gonzo writer you've never heard of. [more inside]
"Cheever wasn't the only one who found inspiration at the Writers' Project [NYT]. Others included Conrad Aiken, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Arna Bontemps, Malcolm Cowley, Edward Dahlberg, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Kenneth Patchen, Philip Rahv, Kenneth Rexroth, Harold Rosenberg, Studs Terkel, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright and Frank Yerby. These federal employees produced what would become the renowned American Guide Series, comprising volumes for each of the 48 states that then existed, as well as Alaska."
In 1731, a fire broke out in Ashburnham House, where the greatest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, the Cottonian Library, was then being stored. Frantically, the trustees raced into the burning library and hurled priceless and unique manuscripts out the windows in order to save them. One of these was the sole manuscript of Beowulf. Today, bearing the charred edges of its brush with extinction, it's been digitized by the British Library, along with a group of other treasures including Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Arundel and the Harley Golden Gospels.
New documents shed critical light on the treatment of the 1959 Clutter murder case, both by Kansas investigators and by Truman Capote in his classic book. Perhaps most strikingly, it turns out that Capote changed the sequence of events whereby investigators learned of the possible involvement of Richard Hickock and dealt with that information. As Capote describes it, Alvin Dewey heard of Hickock and went to visit his parents that same night, artfully extracting crucial information. KBI documents show that instead, a group of agents went to the house five days later and recovered the murder weapon.
Last December Amazon blocked sales of the Ebook Spots the Space Marine by author M.C.A. Hogarth after a notice from gaming industry powerhouse Games Workshop that they had trademarked the phrase "Space Marine" and that Hogarth, and anyone else who uses it, is infringing. GW brought this complaint based on "Class 16" of their European tradmark. [more inside]
John And Hank Green (previously), amusing youtube teachers of world history and biology have finished the first cycle of their educational series Crash Course (previously) and have wrapped up mini lessons on Literature and Ecology. Now they've just started two brand new series on U.S History and Chemistry (to come). Outtakes.
In 1995, an Atlantic story on the first Chinese translation of Ulysses closed with the offhand remark that "no one in China is offering to translate Finnegans Wake." Today on the (day after the) 131st anniversary of his birth, James Joyce's famously difficult work is a bestseller in China.
A meditation on falsehood and truth in memory by Oliver Sacks.
"As far as I’m aware, nobody that term recorded Max’s words systematically. However, in the wake of his death, David and I found ourselves returning to our notes, where we’d written down many of Max’s remarks. These we gleaned and shared with our classmates. Still, I wish we’d been more diligent, more complete. The comments recorded here represent only a small portion of Max’s contribution to the class."
"From symbols and notions to literary and religious allusions, this chart contains [W.H.] Auden's view of the world (and of worlds beyond), at least as he envisioned it in the 1940s." [more inside]
Jacket2 has digitzed all 10 editions of Roof magazine, an important publication in the development of language poetry. Featured poets include (pulled from a quick glance): Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, John Ashbery, Michael Castro, Robert Creeley, Alan Ginsberg, Diane Wakoski, Peter Inman, Octavio Paz.
"De Villiers has spent most of his life cultivating spies and diplomats, who seem to enjoy seeing themselves and their secrets transfigured into pop fiction (with their own names carefully disguised), and his books regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere. Other pop novelists, like John le Carré and Tom Clancy, may flavor their work with a few real-world scenarios and some spy lingo, but de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves." (SLNYT)
The Designated Mourner (2002); a radio adaptation of Andre Gregory's 2000 revival of the Wallace Shawn play, starring Shawn, Deborah Eisenberg, and Larry Pine.
Modern World Lit is a carefully curated library of recommended literary fiction from around the world
"The new constitution 'recognizes the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood,' and art that is deemed blasphemous or 'anti-national' is now the target of a full-blown campaign of suppression."
Brattleboro Days, Yuggoth Nights: an interview with H. P. Lovecraft on a single postcard.
We introduced UNZ.org before but it's probably worth revisiting for a vein of gold, the Nobel Prize Library (1971), which contains full modern translations of significant works of 20th century literature. For example [more inside]
The poet Jayne Cortez passed away this past December 28th in New York City (New York Times obituary). She started publishing her poems in the late 1960s and in the 70s began performing her poetry backed by music, first in collaboration with bassist Richard Davis, and then backed by her own band The Firespitters. Some of their tracks have found their way to YouTube: I See Chano Pozo, If the Drum Is a Woman, There It Is, Maintain Control & Economic Love Song I, Everybody Wants to Be Somebody, Takin' the Blues Back Home, Talk to Me (for Don Cherry), I've Been Searching, You Can Be and Endangered Species List Blues. Just two years ago she performed solo with her son by Ornette Coleman, drummer Denardo Coleman: Find Your Own Voice, I'm Gonna Shake and She Got He Got. In 1997 she was featured on University of California television network in the series Artists on the Cutting Edge where she read poems and discussed her work. Finally, here's a brief clip from the 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, where she was interviewed.
Happy Thomas Pynchon rumor day! [LAtimes.com] "What's that, you say? America's most reclusive author, Thomas Pynchon, appeared in the news Friday -- not once but twice? Why, yes, yes, he has, surfacing in two unconnected rumours. Conspiracy? Pynchonian? Maybe we should henceforth designate Jan. 4 as Thomas Pynchon Rumor Day." [more inside]
"'Personally, I think it’s slightly sad how easy it was to get,' Jessica says, referring to the building. She brightens. 'But everyone at Chipotle was really excited to get this spot because of the history, the chance to be a part of Boston’s history. This is the oldest retail location in Boston.'" (via)
"and even when there's nowhere left, no refuge for their pain, they turn to the illusion of travelling" - Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati
The Poetry Translation Centre pairs living poets from Asia, Africa and Latin America with English-language translators and then puts the resulting translations online. You can browse the poetry by country, language, translator or poet. Besides the hundreds of individual poems, all presented in the original and both literal and poetic translations, many have been recorded in dual readings by translator and poet, and put online as videos or mp3s (look for the microphone or camera icon). There are also podcasts to download, articles to read, and chapbooks to purchase. It is absurd to single out a few poems as favorites, but nonetheless, here are a few that struck me hard, Birds by Kajal Ahmad, translated by Mimi Khalvati, Cataclysm and Songs by Conceição Lima, translated in a workshop, and Survivors by Choe Young-mi, translated by Kyoo Lee and Sarah Maguire (who is the founder and director of the Poetry Translation Centre). If these poems do not hit you, no need to worry as there are literally hundreds more to read. [via The Guardian]
Perched high up above the Thames in downtown London every month this past year a different writer has spent four days living in a replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat Marlow travels up the Congo in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Each author would write a short text during their stay "which explores London, rivers, the work of Joseph Conrad, or even all three." They would be visited on the last day by a journalist from The Guardian who recorded them reading their essay, poem or short story. Among the poets, historians and novelists were Adonis, Jeanette Winterson, Teju Cole, Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie. These recordings, each prefaced by a short interview, are all available on the Guardian website, to stream or download. Below the cut there is a link to each recording, with a short description. [more inside]
What's the right age to introduce children to literature with challenging themes? Authors, teachers, librarians and critics weigh in. (SLNYT)
With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. December 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Invisible Cities -- the sublime metaphysical travelogue by author-journalist Italo Calvino. In a series of pensive dialogues with jaded emperor Kublai Khan, the explorer Marco Polo describes a meandering litany of visionary and impossible places, dozens of surreal, fantastical cities, each poetically reifying ideas vital to language, philosophy, and the human spirit. This gracefully written love letter to urban life has inspired countless tributes, but it's just the most accessible of Calvino's fascinating literary catalogue. Look inside for a closer look at his most remarkable works, links to English translations of his magical prose, and collections of artistic interpretations from around the web -- including this treasure trove of essays, excerpts, articles, and recommended reading. [more inside]
"I watched the entire street turn hot and black with smoke and then, after a few minutes, stared up at the hole in the roof and saw thousands of small gray ashes—pieces of paper, books, newspapers—floating down from the sky."
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a project initiated by San Francisco bookseller and poet Beau Beausoleil that began as a response to the 2007 bombing [previously on MeFi] of the Baghdad bookselling center Al-Mutanabbi Street. After the attack the authorities made an effort to revive the area but recently the government has begun to make life difficult for the booksellers and intends to turn the street into an animal market. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project consists of book art created by 260 artists and authors from all over the world, but also includes essays, exhibitions and readings, some of which have been put online as videos. You can see a lot of artists' books online at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and the Centre for Fine Print Research (1, 2, 3). The history of the project was told in a recent essay in World Literature Today by Persis M. Karim.
The Secret Lives of Readers Books reveal themselves. Whether they exist as print or pixels, they can be read and examined and made to spill their secrets. Readers are far more elusive. They leave traces—a note in the margin, a stain on the binding—but those hints of human handling tell us only so much. The experience of reading vanishes with the reader. How do we recover the reading experiences of the past? Lately scholars have stepped up the hunt for evidence of how people over time have interacted with books, newspapers, and other printed material.
"One can tell if one is happy by listening to the wind. This latter reminds the unhappy of the fragility of their house and pursues them in fitful sleep and violent dreams. To the happy, it sings the song of their safety and security: its raging whistle registers the fact that it no longer has any power over them."
Minima Moralia: Reflections from the Damaged Life is a book written by German sociologist and philosopher Theodor W. Adorno during his exile in California in the 1940s. Translator Dennis Redmond has released his translation under creative commons (here is the same translation set up in a more book-like way). In his essay Promiscuous Reading, Mark O'Connell talks about his habit of never finishing books, but an exception being "this captivatingly strange and mordant text" Minima Moralia, "a thematically wayward aggregation of a hundred and fifty-three short essays and aphorisms that darts restlessly from one subject matter to the next, its fleeting yet intense engagements rarely spanning more than a page and a half." Among the subject matters Adorno addresses is the ethics of writing, which has reverberated down through the years, and is often set up in opposition to George Orwell's thought, as recounted by James Miller in the essay Lingua Franca. [more inside]
I have known him profess himself a man-hater, while his cheek was glowing with compassion; and, while his looks were softened into pity, I have heard him use the language of the most unbounded ill-nature. Some affect humanity and tenderness, others boast of having such dispositions from nature; but he is the only man I ever knew who seemed ashamed of his natural benevolence.From "The Man in Black," by Oliver Goldsmith, author of She Stoops to Conquer and The Vicar of Wakefield.
Authors choose their favourite short stories. For the next two weeks over the festive period we will be running a short story podcast each day. Our contributing authors introduce the stories they have chosen to read. Ford reads Carver. Gordimer reads Saramago. Selfs reads Borges. Postcasts are being posted here. [previously]
Is Science Fiction promoting pseuodoscience? Is it not really better than fantasy? Is it exhausted and dying, per Paul Kincaid (part 1, part 2), a sort of genre-writing version of completing a list of The Nine Billion Names of God? Does physics-bothering unrepentant space case Alistair Reynolds have a compass pointing the way forwards?
“What I’m about to show you,” he says, “you can’t tell a soul about it. If you did, it would be major trouble. Trouble with a capital ‘T.’ ” He sips his drink and tugs the quilt away.Shirley Temple Three by Thomas Pierce
Mawmaw takes a step back. She’s looking at some kind of elephant. With hair.
“Don’t worry. She’s not dangerous,” Tommy says. “Bread Island Dwarf Mammoth. The last wild one lived about ten thousand years ago. They’re the smallest mammoths that ever existed. Cute, isn’t she?”
The mammoth is waist high, with a pelt of dirty-blond fur that hangs in tangled draggles to the dirt. Its tusks, white and pristine, curve out and up. The forehead is high and knobby and covered in a darker fur. The trunk probes the ground for God-knows-what and then curls back into itself like a jelly roll.
“What’s a goshdern Bread Island Dwarf Whatever doing in my yard?” Mawmaw asks.
Julia Callon makes dioramas inspired by 19th Century women novelists. More dioramas (and other projects) can be seen on her website.
The band Mano Negra are here introduced by MTV Europe in 1990. They are today best known for having been the original band of singer Manu Chao, but they were a pretty damn good band in their day. The band went from strength to strength but broke apart in 1993 after building a train and bringing ice to Macondo (or its inspiration, the city of Aracataca, Colombia). Manu Chao talks briefly about the trip here. His father, respected novelist and journalist Ramón Chao, accompanied his son's band and wrote a book describing the journey, which has been translated into English as The Train of Ice and Fire. The publisher of the translation, Route Online, made a YouTube playlist of related videos. The most interesting and substantial one has Ramón sharing a number of stories from the voyage (subtitled in English).