Archive for the 'book news' Category


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What to read? It’s only a difficult decision because there is so much to read.

Sometimes you walk into a room and you just find yourself walking towards a particular shelf with your arm outstretched, fingers in the book-gripping position. Sometimes you pace back and forth, completely unable to choose, (while carefully, utterly ignoring the ceiling-high “official” to-read stack). Sometimes you happily go about your reading business, following a microscopic-breadcrumb trail, perhaps visible only to you.

Then there are the times when a reference comes up over and over from the such disparate sources that it begins to feel like a conspiracy. This is how I came again to Shakespeare, bane of my high school existence. All I wanted was to smack Hamlet upside the head and tell Juliet that no guy was worth offing yourself for.

But then again, there were a few wonderful moments. I remember the second time I did Romeo and Juliet, (I’d changed schools). We each had to learn a soliloquy and one girl got up in front of the class and actually broke down in the middle of hers. That’s when I got it. Suddenly Shakespeare wasn’t just something schools invented to torture young people, these were real characters, struggling through their lives just like us.

But mostly bored or indifferent teachers managed to squeeze the life out of things. The saddest part was, that every time I’d read one of his plays I’d never been able to relax and enjoy it. Not once. They were dissected, analyzed, “decoded”, paraphrased and summarized to death. Then we’d have to rake through the carnage one last time in two, hour-long essay questions on themes and symbols in the final exam. Before that girl started crying, I probably would have put Shakespeare in with the sciences.

So there were a lot of little calls to return in the past few months and then I saw a lovely every-last-doodle-included edition “commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company”. Who am I to say no? So, here I am again, after a long time away.

I’ve started with The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus which I’ve never read before. So far it’s quite good. And no one has asked me why a character said the word “the” in line 84 and what the symbolism means vis-a-vis his previous use of the word “is”. The footnotes are frequently entertaining (does anyone really need that explained?!?), disturbing (oh dear, maybe they do…) and enlightening.

Two interesting examples of the latter:

prodigies: ill-omens/unnatural events

I looked this one up in my giant Oxford and sure enough the earliest definitions had seriously negative connotations: “Of a person: (in bad sense) A monster” I’m hard-pressed to imagine how you could call someone a monster in a good sense…? And: “An amazing or marvellous thing; esp. something out of the ordinary course of nature; something abnormal or monstrous.” Isn’t it fabulous that we walk around now blithely chatting about “child prodigies”. I love how words have such complicated histories.

Solon’s happiness: the ancient Greek philosopher and lawgiver Solon observed that man is only securely happy when dead

Fun at parties, that one! I wonder if he ever actually gives his definition of happiness anywhere? I suppose if all you require to be happy is the absence of utility bills and consciousness, then that might work for you.

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Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translate Tolstoy’s War and Peace!

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I suppose you’ve guessed what this post is about.

I’m so excited!!! I’m not sure when I’ll get it here, maybe late October, early November. Time to call in sick at work! Too bad I’m self-employed.

When Brigg’s translation came out I was devastated. I’d been hoping and waiting for eons for my favorite Russian-to-English translators to get to War and Peace. I thought surely no publisher would release another translation of it for at least for a few years. How happy I am to be wrong.

While we’re all waiting, I found a wonderful article (reproduced in full) about Russian-to-English translators, translations and translating issues. It includes interesting details about V and P’s technique and the rather astounding fact that D.H. Lawrence and Constance Garnett were friends. (Somehow I can’t possibly imagine them in the same room together, let alone speaking.) There’s a lot of wonderful information in it, but I must say that I did find the writing of the article itself a bit uneven. Not that that stopped me — I devoured it in minutes!

I copied the text from the comments of this post on Prufrock’s Page (thank you!) and pasted them into a word processing program, then printed it out. I think if I’d read all 17 pages of it in that teeny text on my dreadful screen I would have gone blind (”…or insane!” Remember that from Love and Death? Ah, how I miss the early Woody Allen films…)

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

“If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”

- Diana Verm, high school student

Sigh. Where do you begin?

It’s all over the web: Alton Verm, his daughter, the irony. The short version is that during Banned Books Week in the States, a guy who didn’t read Fahrenheit 451 demanded that it be banned from his daughter’s school for a long list of reasons including: “bad language, violence and that the book spends time ‘downgrading Christians’ [they have to use Windows 3.1?] and ‘talking about our firemen.’[?!?]”

“It’s just all kinds of filth,” said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read ‘Fahrenheit 451.’

This begs the question in a screaming kind of way: “Is he psychic?” How does he know there’s filth in there if he hasn’t even peeked? And forgive me, but this is Ray Bradbury we’re talking about here. Perhaps I missed his racy period? My god, what would Alton make of Céline? And if he listened to thirty seconds of pretty much any rap song, he’d probably spontaneously combust.

Ridiculous, yet frightening people and trends aside, it did make me think about the book. Like a lot of people, I read it in high school. Two points in Alton’s complaint made me wonder: I didn’t remember Bradbury laying into Christians and it’s hard to imagine Bradbury cursing like an inner-city sailor — if you can forgive the mixed simile.

I pulled my copy off the shelf, blew the dust off the top edge and sat down to count the “swears” and skim a little.

Two hours later, I was deep into it. I’d forgotten how beautiful and sad a book it is. Save a couple of slightly dated passages, it reads like it was written last week.

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh?”

“The bigger your market…the less you handle controversy…”

Amazing, we’re still fighting exactly the same demons, Alton being a fine example of same. But I’d like to thank him for leading me to reread a good book, and for reminding me how precious the written word is. I don’t want to be patronizing, but I feel bad for Alton. I don’t even want to think about how much poorer my life would be without books.

I’d like to finish with two quotations. The first from Leonard Cohen. When told in a 1960’s recording session for one of his poetry books that when he came to a “dirty word” he should skip over it, Cohen responded with the simple statement: “There are no dirty words.”

And the second quotation is from a blog post that ends with a comment on the school’s proposed solution:

Diana, got to read an alternate book, “Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable”. Which is brilliant, because Alton Verm will stare at a title like that the way a chipmunk stares at an electron microscope.

I laughed until I hurt. What else can you do?


Eric Newby - Obituary

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Another irreplaceable, old-school travel writer gone.

Here’s a bit of audio with couple of short snippets of interviews with Eric Newby and his wife Wanda short article with a great photo and the official Guardian obit.

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