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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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On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

Monday, March 19th, 2007

seneca penguin shortness of lifeSpam Madness… No, this is not the title of a book, this is what happens every time I come to my book blog to post. I login and instead of writing about literature, I spend precious, irreplaceable moments of my life wading through hundreds of spam comments.

Why don’t I just erase them all? you ask. Because I’m haunted by the idea that someone who actually likes books might stop by and say hello… and I’ll miss it.

Unfortunately, the most interesting comment I’ve gotten so far was an offer for a laser comb that cures baldness. I should write them and see if they have laser sunglasses that perform corrective surgery for nearsightedness. I imagine you would have to put them on very, very carefully. And NEVER flip them up to rest on top of your head unless you want an impromptu lobotomy.

But I digress.

Ever since I read Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life” (Penguin, Great Ideas Series) I’ve been much more aware of how I’m spending my life. I’m getting better at using it wisely, making conscious decisions, not blowing it rashly and so forth, but it’s kind of like herding fluffs — there’s always a breeze blowing…

Sloth, guilt, tiredness, perfectionism all tempt us to fritter our time away like dandelion fluffs in a hurricane. I keep having to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of it. (Time, that is, not the dandelion fluffs.) Why is this so hard to remember? Of course, it’s probably tied to the fact that not having infinite time means that I am going to die one day. This, frankly, is unacceptable. There are far too many fine books to read.

Here are a few quotations to whet your appetite:

On choosing people to hang out with: “But in the current dearth of good men, you must be less particular in your choice. Still, you must especially avoid those who are gloomy and always lamenting, and grasp at every pretext for complaint. Though a man’s loyalty and kindness may not be in doubt, a companion who is agitated and groaning about everything is an enemy to peace of mind.”

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

“We all sorely complain of the shortness of time, and yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives are either spent in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.”

~ Seneca, Roman philosopher (4 BC-65 AD)

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Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Oh, this was brilliant!

I’m tempted to just stop there. It’s like trying to tell you about being alive. Where do you start? What can you say that won’t just sound limp? This book is funny and terrifying, beautiful and nauseating. The whole world is stuffed inside it. I was shocked at how moved I was by it.

I suppose the most important thing is to encourage you to forget the hype, the reputation, the capital letters that everyone uses when talking about MOBY-DICK. All that stuff. Open the window and shove it out. (And just pray no one is standing underneath!) Really, it drives me crazy when people turn things into Classics (whether this title is deserved or not. Often not.) Immediately a good portion of the population suddenly assumes the book is inpenetrable, painfully dull, and about as thrilling and personally relevant as a moth in a coma. The worst is when people are intimidated. No, no, no. Out the window with that one too.

Okay, now that you’ve got a blank slate, let me give you a few excerpts to get you excited:

“For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air.”

“The three mast-heads are kept manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner — for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”

“…lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him…”

“He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

“Now then, I thought, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves…here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction…”

from the chapter The Whiteness of the Whale : [about the color white and its associations: purity and beauty, and at the same time ] “…yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

“for whatever is truly wonderous and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books.”

That may be, but this book comes closer than most.

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