Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Elizabeth David - How to Keep It Simple at Christmas

Johnny Grey Studios has posted an excerpt from Godine's Elizabeth David's Christmas (Foreword by Alice Waters). Here’s Elizabeth’s take on how to keep it simple at Christmas:

"If I had my way – and I shan’t – my Christmas Day eating and cooking would consist of an omelet and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening. This lovely, selfish, anti-gorging, un-Christmas dream of hospitality, either given or taken, must be shared by thousands of women who know it’s all Lombard Street to a China orange that they’ll spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning peeling, chopping, mixing, boiling, roasting, steaming. That they will eat and drink too much, that someone will say the turkey isn’t as good as last year, or discover that the rum for the pudding has been forgotten, that by the time lunch has been washed up and put away it’ll be teatime, not to say drink or dinner time, and tomorrow it’s the weekend, at it’s going to start all over again.

Well, I know that any woman who has to provide for a lot of children or a big family has no alternative. This grisly orgy of spending and cooking and anxiety has to be faced. We are so many fathoms deep in custom and tradition and sentiment over Christmas; we have gotten so far, with our obsessive present-buying and frenzied cooking, from the spirit of a simple Christian festival, that only the most determined of Scrooges can actually turn their faces to the wall and ignore the whole thing when the time comes. At the same time, there must be quite a few small families, couples without children, and people living along, who like to celebrate Christmas in a reasonably modest and civilized way: inviting over a friend or two who might otherwise be alone (well, maybe, like you and me, they’d rather be alone, but this is an eccentricity not accepted at Christmas time) – and for much small-scale Christmas meals, at least, the shopping and cooking marathons can be avoided, the host and hostess can be allowed to enjoy themselves, and the guests needn’t have guilt about the washing up.

For such a meal, I’d make the main dish something fairly straightforward and conventional, the color and festive look being supplied by something bright and beautiful as a garnish. Not inedible decorations, but something simple and unexpected such as a big bowl of crimson sweet-sour cherry sauce with a roast duck; a handsome dish of tomatoes stuffed with savory rice with a capon; a Madeira and truffle-scented sauce with a piece of plain roast beef; slice oranges with a pork roast or a ham.

The first course I’d make as painless as possible for the cook: if money were no object, lots of smoked salmon or Parma ham to precede the duck; before the beef, a French duck pate with truffles and pistachio nuts, avocado pears, or simply a lovely dish of egg or prawn mayonnaise. Or, if you’d cooked a ham or piece of gammon or pickled pork to last over the Christmas holiday, then a few finely carved slices of that, with a bowl of cubed honeydew melon or some pickled peaches – there’s no reason why English cooked ham should not make just as good a first course as the raw Parma or Bayonne ham.

As for pudding, unless you feel you absolutely have to have at least the traditional mince pies (those who only each the Christmas pudding because of the brandy or rum butter will find it equally delicious with mince pies), most people will be grateful if you skip straight to the Christmas dessert fruits. Usually one is too full to appreciate the charms of Malaga raisins, Smyrna figs, almonds, glacé apricots and sugar-plums, or you could perhaps finish up with a big bowl of mixed fresh pineapple and sliced oranges."

"If we were to bushwack our way back to the true source of modern American food culture, we would find that it is not Julia Child, but Elizabeth David. [Her] recipes are all charm."
The New Yorker

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Omniphagous a. Eating everything. One of the great experimental omniphages was William Buckland, the first Professor of Geology at Oxford University. He ate hedgehog, crocodile and mole meat, and even a bluebottle fly, the taste of which he considered the most repulsive he had ever experienced. Once when lost on a dark night during a ride to London with a friend, he dismounted, scooped up a handful of earth, smelt it, and immediately declared "Uxbridge!" The Archbishop of York once proudly showed Buckland a snuff box containing the heart of Louis XIV, which the Archbishop had brought from a tomb-robber when in Paris during the revolution. Remarking "I've eaten many things, but never the heart of the king," Buckland seized the heart and swallowed it on the spot.

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Omniphagous appears in the Third.

Monday, December 20, 2010

One Hundred Portraits - Barry Moser

One Hundred Portraits receives a nod from the Wall Street Journal:

It is the face of a put-upon man. While Herman Melville had enjoyed early success, it gave way to hard toil in obscurity and Manhattan's Custom House. Barry Moser has portrayed a man whose greatest works lie unheralded and (seemingly) forever forgotten. The woodcut, originally created for a limited edition of Melville's underrated poetry, is a chiaroscuro masterpiece, a symphony of textures—wispy filaments forming the beard, dense crosshatching for the waistcoat, a freer hand creating the untidy coat.

Perhaps the finest printmaker at work today, Mr. Moser has over the past 40 years captured countless famous countenances. 'One Hundred Portraits' (David R. Godine, 125 pages, $35) collects the best, mainly literary: from a delicately rendered Lewis Carroll lost in reverie to an appropriately dismal Theodore Dreiser and an owlish Flannery O'Connor. In his more recent works, the bravura use of visual effects has given way to a sparer style, with a strong use of shadow that adds a sense of mortality. The most fascinating textures tend to be the folds of flesh itself, as in the magnificently rumpled face of W.H. Auden. But then there are the eyes sparking the portraits to life: How magnificent is the stare of his chin-raised Fanny Burney.

—The Editors

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Red Sox star Carl Crawford will not open an antiquarian bookstore (probably)

From Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy (Los Angeles Times):

On Tuesday, baseball bloggers and book lovers around Twitter enthusiastically circulated the news that newly minted Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford was planning to open an antiquarian bookshop in the Boston area. The former Tampa Bay Ray was said to be both a rare book collector and a fan of early American writings, including William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" and "The Puritan Origins of the American Self."

Alas, this was not the case.

Crawford is very good at baseball — he just signed a $142-million contract — and was also such a good high school football player that he'd been recruited by college programs. But he's not the type to be seen "wearing a heavy fisherman's sweater and clutching a newly purchased diary of 1655 Connecticut Governor Thomas Welles," as blogger Will McDonald wrote on Royals Review, a fan-centric site dedicated to the Kansas City baseball team that is under the AP's SB Nation umbrella.

McDonald confirmed by e-mail that his post was satire.

That's not how the Harvard Bookstore saw it. Located in Cambridge, Mass. (though unaffiliated with the university, the bookstore responded to the idea that the Red Sox had just brought on a very literary player. "File this under 'amazing,' " the store tweeted, with a link to McDonald's story. "Holy cow!" added Massachusetts-based book blogger Megan Sullivan when she retweeted it.

Then the story went viral on Twitter. I was among those contaminated (I'm a Dodger fan, but I'm fond of the Red Sox too). Boston360, book journalist Sarah Weinman, author Julie Klam and publisher Norton Critical Editions were among the hundreds eager to spread the word. Sadly, the story wasn't true. Crawford is not a rare book collector, and it has not been his dream to open an antiquarian book shop.

"It was intended to be a joke," McDonald said in an e-mail, "though I wish it was true."

Strangley, at 6 p.m. Tueday, Crawford promised — or joked? — that McDonald's wish might become a reality. Responding to the flood of positive tweets to the (satiric) antiquarian bookseller announcement, the baseball star tweeted, "Yes for those asking, I am going to open a bookstore" from his verified Twitter account. "Details to come."

The Syntax of Style

The Wall Street Journal has a lovely review of Godine's Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric today, which Henry Hitchings describes as "a guide to the literary tropes and rhetorical forms that once made English prose so stylish and compelling."

From the review:

"'I worry incessantly that I might be too clear,' Alan Greenspan once claimed. He intended the remark to be crowd-pleasing, but it served as an acknowledgment of the necessary ambiguity of professional economics. To be clear is to leave oneself open to attack; there is safety in obscurity. In many quarters clarity is interpreted as oversimplification, and the cryptic utterance is regarded as a mark of expertise. Yet the murkiness of public discourse often results not from willful indistinctness but simply from a blithe, untutored lack of rhetorical know-how.

In Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, Ward Farnsworth sets out to remedy this. A professor at the Boston University School of Law, Mr. Farnsworth has previously published The Legal Analyst, which he described as 'a collection of tools for thinking about legal questions,' and a guide to chess tactics. This book manifests his familiar pragmatism and distaste for rarefied theory; billed as 'a lively set of lessons,' it is in fact more akin to a well- curated exhibition of rhetorical accessories."

. . .

"The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one's appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. Mr. Farnsworth includes numerous examples from Shakespeare and Dickens, Thoreau and Emerson, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. He also seems keen to rehabilitate writers and speakers whose rhetorical artistry is undervalued; besides his liking for Chesterton, he shows deep admiration for the Irish statesman Henry Grattan (1746-1820), whose studied repetition of a word ('No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer') is an instance, we are told, of conduplicatio. But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference."

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Bad Writing," the movie

From Jacket Copy:

"What do George Saunders, Margaret Atwood, Miles Corwin, Nick Flynn, Aimee Bender, D.A. Powell, Lee Gutkind, Steve Almond and David Sedaris have in common? They all agree that Vernon Lott's poetry is pretty bad.

Don't worry, Lott asked for it. In his documentary "Bad Writing," Lott presents these well-known authors with a sample of his poetry in an attempt to suss out what, exactly, makes writing bad. He'd found his early —and yes, mostly lousy — poems in a basement, and the older-and-wiser Lott struck out across the country, visiting writers and writing professors asking them what bad writing is, exactly.

Lee Gutkind, an icon in creative nonfiction, tells him gently, "there is a sense of embarrassing sincerity about this piece." Novelist Margaret Atwood is sweetly merciless. "There's no rule that says you get steadily better," she says.

The very independently produced documentary opens at the Sunset 5 in Hollywood on Friday night, where it will show in limited engagement through Thursday. It's a must-see for any writer who's ever wondered, "Am I any good?" or even "Is my writing bad?"

Some of the places Lott goes in the film will be particularly satisfying for writers and writing students. George Saunders' writing is superb and dark, but only those who've met him realize how gentle and kind he can be to students. Watching the faces of some of the writers as they hear Lott's bad poetry is pretty funny, but Nick Flynn's the best: he keeps a neutral expression for a while, then finally breaks into laughter when the poem go from bad to worse."

The Woman in Black - Review

Thank you to Jessica at the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia for this wonderful review of Godine's The Woman in Black, a forthcoming major motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe:

"The English accord the holidays with a sensible emotional treatment: fear and dread. There is a place for joy, cheer, goodwill, etc., but the English storytelling tradition acknowledges that horror is an appropriate state of mind for this time of year. To that end we’ll feature a week of creepy stories to celebrate the Ho-Ho-Horror of the season.

The opening pages of Susan Hill’s novel are cozy and comfortable. A happy family is gathered about the fire on Christmas Eve, the snow falling gently outside. But right at the best part of the evening, when the family members start to tell ghost stories, an aging Arthur Kipps abruptly makes his leave; the others might enjoy festive ghost stories, but Kipps finds himself reflecting on a dark secret from his past. . . . Though published in 1983, this shivery ghost story has the classic feel of a Gothic thriller. Susan Hill slowly builds suspense as she reveals clues about the desolate English manor, the twin tragedies of a child’s death and his mother’s suffering, and the vengeful rage of a spirit who cannot rest. Just when the reader thinks it is safe to breathe, Hill throws in a terrifying plot twist to ratchet up the horror. With such a deliciously malevolent storyline, it’s no surprise that we’ll be seeing the novel adapted into a 2011 film, to be directed by James Watkins and starring Daniel Radcliffe as Kipps."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Georges Perec

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is now featuring an exhibit with photographers that work without a camera. Instead, they create images on photographic paper by casting shadows and manipulating light, or by chemically treating the surface of the paper.

One of the featured works by photographer Pierre Cordier is inspired by Georges Perec. Godine published the first English translation of Perec's masterpiece, Life: A User's Manual, over twenty years ago.

Pierre Cordier, Chemigram 31/7/01 Hommage à Georges Perec, 2001

Life: A User’s Manual tells the story of a Paris apartment building and its inhabitants. In this piece, the apartments form a 10 x 10 grid, which serves as the structure of the book’s narrative. Each is dealt with according to the moves made in the ‘knight’s tour’, a chess-based mathematical problem in which the knight must visit each square exactly once.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Autophobia n. Not, as might be imagined, the fear of automobiles, but the morbid dread of oneself, or of being alone. Do vampires, perhaps, have autophobia? They ought to. Politicians, perhaps?

Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Autophobia appears in the Third.

Rilke in New York City

The Inner Sky is a new bilingual selection of Rainer Maria Rilke's poems and prose pieces, many of them little known and never before translated in English. These translations, by the NEA- and PEN-award-winning author and translator Damion Searls, present a significant new voice for Rilke, one more intimate than oracular. Here is Rilke, not in his usual role of channeling the gods, but looking up from a book, musing about the girls of his Czech homeland, sharing his hallucinatory dreams, and the olfactory pleasures of keeping lemons on his writing desk in winter.

. . .

We are right at the start, do you see.
As though before everything. With
a thousand and one dreams behind us and
no act.

I can imagine no knowledge holier
than this:
that you must become a beginner.
Someone who writes the first word after
a centuries-long

. . .

Searls will discuss various issues of translation and read excerpts from The Inner Sky at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) (11 East 52nd St, New York, NY) on Tuesday, December 14th at 6:30pm.

"Searls wipes clean the often-foggy lens through which non-German readers of Rilke have hitherto experienced him, and the result feels like a dream in which you can understand perfectly a language you didn't think you knew. Rilke's thrilling precision and disorientations and purposefulness are all suddenly there in English."
— Jonathan Franzen

Monday, December 6, 2010

Swimmer in the Secret Sea

Thank you to the literary review site The Mookse and the Gripes for this thoughtful, beautiful review of William Kotzwinkle's Swimmer in the Secret Sea.

"I’ve had my eye on Swimmer in the Secret Sea (1975) since I read about it earlier this year and saw that it was published by Godine, one of my favorite publishers . . . This short book (just under 100 pages of generously large type and margins) was originally published in Redbook, but in the same year it was published as a paperback. I believe it is a rare thing for a magazine short story to find its way into its own cover. To remain in print through the years is also quite a feat. Off the top of my head, I can think of only one other that has similar success: Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl (and even it is actually two stories).

. . .

The book’s strength is the simple story, the seemingly simple way it is told, and the cold landscape that all at once emphasizes the book’s tragedy and its hope. The anxiety and the calm, a landscape that is both lonely and comforting, a child that never arrived but is deeply missed, tragedy and hope — or is there really any hope at all here? Such contradictions give the simplicity a full range of emotion. Another strength: the book’s ability to make the reader question any warmth he or she may be feeling."

Philanthropy: A Holiday Pie Worth Sharing

By Kit Bakke, author of Godine's Miss Alcott's Email

The older I become, the more I realize that luck and chance run our lives far more than any sort of “deserving.” Of course I’ve made tough choices and of course I’ve worked hard, but many people make tough choices and work hard and still don’t end up happy and healthy with their butts in a tub of butter, which is pretty much how I’d describe my situation.

If you start by being a white middle-class educated American with a house, a car, a fridge, an oven, and a computer with an Internet connection, you’ve exceeded the resources of 95% of your 6.8 billion fellow human beings. Put another way, if the world’s population were shrunk to a village of one hundred people, half the world’s wealth would be in the hands of six of them, mostly Americans. That’s us.

Being aware of our luck, my husband and I have become increasingly involved in the philosophy and practice of philanthropy. The language of giving is interesting — it used to be called “charity” and now it’s often called “social investment.” Like so much else in our society, philanthropy has become increasingly organized, results-driven, studied, monitored and, one hopes, more creative, collaborative, and effective.

Charitable giving in the US runs a little over $300 billion annually. This includes corporate, foundation, and individual gifts to all sorts of national and international nonprofits including churches, schools, social service organizations, and environmental and arts institutions. Corporate giving is about 5% of all gifts, foundation giving about 20%, and individual giving makes up 75% of all charitable donations. So next time you think you are small potatoes compared to the Gates Foundation, think again. You are part of, by far, the biggest slice.

Food banks, shelters, and community clinics have been inundated with service needs over the last two years, and in many areas that need continues unabated. Donations dropped in 2009 (the second least-charitable year since 1956), and although they appear to be picking up for 2010, it hasn’t been enough to meet the increased need. More bad news is on the way as states are slashing their human services and Medicaid budgets for 2011. Preventive and bridge services are often the first to be jettisoned, which only adds to the long-run economic, social, and human costs. For some reason, we’d rather house the mentally ill in jails (most colleges are cheaper) and care for them in expensive emergency rooms than provide them with less expensive supportive housing, counseling, and appropriate treatment.

Donors nowadays aren’t shy about questioning the effectiveness of the organizations they give to. Being part of a successful result is a bigger draw than being guilt-tripped. Gone are the days when a donor would trust United Way or the American Cancer Society to spend their charitable dollars with no follow-up reporting. There is now a flurry of research going on to help nonprofit organizations figure out how to measure and communicate the results of their work. For instance, a health care clinic for low-income people can’t just report the number of patients they saw; they need to provide information on what they did for those patients and whether or not those patients got better.

The Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University is an excellent resource for trends in research on philanthropy. There are even data showing that people who volunteer and donate to nonprofits are happier and healthier than those who don’t. Talk about win-win!

Another excellent resource is Charity Navigator. They have recently upgraded their rating system to include three areas: financial health (Is the organization financially stable and how much of its budget goes to overhead vs. direct service?); accountability (Does the organization engage in ethical practices, have good governance structures, and is it accountable to its constituents and target populations?); and outcomes (Can the organization demonstrate positive change in the lives of the people they serve?).

I am a member of the Washington Women’s Foundation, which gives away about $500,000 annually to nonprofits in five areas: the arts, the environment, education, human services, and health. We have three criteria for our grant review process in addition to Charity Navigator’s important list. We want to fund projects and organizations that are responding to urgent and critical needs, that incorporate new approaches to ongoing problems, and that are working on bold new ventures.

Which slice of the (guaranteed calorie-free) philanthropy pie do you like?

Happy holidays to ALL 6.8 billion of us!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eddie Chuculate on Iowa Public Radio

Iowa City writer Eddie Chuculate discussed his new Black Sparrow collection of short stories, Cheyenne Madonna, on Iowa Public Radio's recent Native American literature program. Check out the interview here.

"Chuculate presents a profound disconnect between the mythology of Indian art and the present-day reality of Indian artists, who rarely get to be artists without the cultural qualifier. He also lays bare the effects of wide-spread multi-generational addiction without making excuses for the way his characters treat each other. There are no saints in here, and no demons, either. Cheyenne Madonna is a fantastic debut."
— Jennifer Levin at The Santa Fe New Mexican

Chuculate writes forthright prose in a somber key, examining without judgment the lives of Native American characters like Old Bull, a Cheyenne who, in 'Galveston Bay, 1826,' the collection's one stand-alone story, ventures out to see the ocean for the first time, only to get savaged by a hurricane. Memory and will converge here to powerful effect."
Publishers Weekly