Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Superior Person's Tuesday

Jape n. a prank or joke. The word has overtones of English private (i.e. public) school humor and the writings of Frank Richards. Should be used in relation to the more tiresome antics of your office comedian. “This is hardly the time for one of your junior-high japes, Plunkett.”

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. Jape appears in the first.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Unassuming Little Volume

Nina MacLaughlin at Bookslut writes: “On Being Blue is a peculiar, lovely, and beguiling treatise, not on the condition, not on lowness or gloom, but on the color — what it is and means and does. The essay, at just ninety-one pages, wanders and dips and loops, language-driven on a molecular level. His sentences are such that we’re seduced along, maybe, at times, at the expense of making all his meanings. His lust for language infects.

“It’s about sex and about language and about the language of sex, and how we’re failed by language in writing about sex, and how we fail sex with language. ‘What we need, of course, is a language which will allow us to distinguish the normal or routine fuck from the glorious, the rare, or the lousy one... but we have more names for parts of horses than we have for kinds of kisses.’ And it’s daunting to describe that blanket, blue across the bed — (he was right) — the way it took us when we lost our selves in sleep or other sorts of surrender, a thing and a state, a color and a feeling.”

Gass' unassuming little volume is also the only book ever featured in a Playboy centerfold spread, posed in the hands of some undoubtedly lovely young woman. We have no idea who the model was, but if you can find the issue in which the book appears there may be a little reward in it for you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eddie Chuculate Featured @ WLT

Eddie Chuculate, author of the forthcoming collection of short fiction Cheyenne Madonna, is featured in the brand new issue of World Literature Today. An excerpt from his story “A Famous Indian Artist” is available as well, and there is a brief introduction from poet, musician, and playwright Joy Harjo. She writes, “Chuculate relates a world that is exactly what it is, with no romantic savage junk, and no temporary spiritual life preservers. In the midst of despair there's a shine of meaning that surfaces, like the miracle of sunrise after an all-night party.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Romantic Gardens in The Boston Globe

Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art and Landscape Design, by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Elizabeth S. Eustis, & John Bidwell (David R. Godine, $50) is available from the Morgan Library and the publisher (www.godine.com), who have joined forces with the Foundation for Landscape Studies to assemble this array of seminal texts and outstanding works of art. The result is a scholarly and accessible book that reveals and illuminates the origins and impact of the movement that dominated both Europe and America between 1700 and 1900 in the realm of the garden.

“In this book, containing a lengthy introductory essay on the nature of Romanticism, the authors demonstrate, through drawings and designs, watercolors, and engravings, a narrative of the course of Romanticism in Europe and America, where the landscape ideals of the creators of private gardens were translated into the designs for public parks. Here, illustrated in full color and described in detail, are the books, the essays, the prints, and the manuscripts that served as core documents of the Romantic Movement.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Superior Person's Tuesday

Isomorphic a. Being of the same shape and general appearance, but not of the same ancestry, as something else. As, for example, any pet dog and its owner — more especially, any show dog and its owner.

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. Isomorphic appears in the first.

At the Fortieth Anniversary Cookout

We had a great time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arctic Circle Review

“Reid’s book is not exactly a chronicle; it’s a poem, an ode to wild Alaska. It’s not only about nature, but also about human interaction with it, and specifically about the reactions of one human, himself, to it. Initially I was impatient with Reid’s prologue, his meandering and his failure to get on with it. But this book is not about plot or narrative tension; it’s about being there. And Reid has a talent for taking us there.”

from Marty Carloc's review of Arctic Circle
The Internet Review of Books

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

[funny] The 39 Steps [/funny]

from the production of The 39 Steps, a comic re-imagining, currently on Broadway!
get more information and buy tickets at their

Superior Person's Tuesday

Horrisonant a. Sounding terrible. Your neighbor’s cornet practice; your son’s rap records; almost any modern so-called “serious” music; and the piano music of Scott Joplin.

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. Horrisonant appears in the second.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Swimmer in the Secret Sea review in ForeWord

“This lovely little book — little only in the physical sense — began as an O. Henry Prize-winning serialization in Redbook in 1975 (when magazines did such things with exceptional fiction). The story too is not new, but one of the oldest humans tell, about longing, hope, love, birth, death, and carrying on. But Kotzwinkle, who's successfully published an eclectic mix of fantasy and experimental novels, children's books, science fiction, and film novelizations (E.T., for one), brings to Johnny Laski, a would-be father and self-sufficient rural artist, a deeply-nuanced humanity. On the surface, the story might be considered scant — only one thing really happens: a baby struggles to be born, a couple hopes, then mourns. But within that story, the author presents most human emotions worth writing about.”

from the ForeWord Magazine review of Swimmer in the Secret Sea,
by William Kotzwinkle

Friday, June 11, 2010

Burning Down the House: Oil in the Arctic Circle

from Arctic Circle, a memoir by Robert Leonard Reid

“The coastal plain is where the polar bear dens and the caribou vacations, and where millions of migratory birds nest during a blink-of-an-eye summer. It’s also where the oil is. No one knows exactly how much is there, but it’s a lot. Oil industry sources put the number as high as sixteen billion barrels. If they’re right, refuge reserves exceed those of Prudhoe Bay, the largest-known oil field in North America. Drilling opponents have adopted a much smaller figure. By their estimate the refuge holds about an eight-month supply of oil for the United States (assuming that only refuge oil were used). An equivalent amount could be saved — and drilling foregone — by increasing the fuel efficiency of every vehicle in the United States by just two miles per gallon.

The United States Geological Survey conducted exhaustive analyses of the relevant seismic data and in 2000 published what may be the closest we’ll get to an impartial estimate of the coastal plain’s oil potential. The survey estimated a 95 percent chance that 1.9 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil will be found; a 50 percent chance that 5.3 billion barrels will be found; and a 5 percent chance that 9.4 billion barrels will be found. The only way to assess the accuracy of such predictions, of course, is to drill. This idea strikes some people as sensible, and others as akin to burning down a house to see if it is fireproof.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chris Lydon & Damion Searls

Listen to this great interview between Christopher Lydon and Damion Searls (translator of Inner Sky), at Radio Open Source, regarding Searls' new edition of the journals of Thoreau (our from the New York Review of Books). Searls says, “Rilke is such an aesthete, but it’s kind of remarkable how many of these Thoreau journals end up sounding like Rilke poems in prose, or vice versa. So I think that in terms of the generational stuff it took a while. Thoreau was seen as this kind of crusty Yankee, and then he was seen as this civil disobedience hero and this environmental prophet, all of which are true.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yann Martel & The Tartar Steppe

In September of 2009, best-selling author Yann Martel submitted a book to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as part of the prime minister's book project, "What is Stephen Harper Reading?". With permission from Mr. Martel, we offer our readers his letter of support for Buzzati's novel in full:

It’s not my habit to quote myself, but to introduce this week’s book, the novel The Tartar Steppe, by the Italian writer Dino Buzzati (1906-72), I will:

“A beautiful, masterly novel that shimmers like a mirage, bringing into sharp focus the rise and fall of our ambitions and the pitiless erosion of time. It is the story of one Giovanni Drogo — yet how many of us will be stricken to recognize something of ourselves in him?”

You’ll find these words on the back cover of the edition I’m sending you. The blurb is one way in which a writer can be a citizen of the arts. When giving a blurb, a writer lends his or her éclat to a book, so that the reader is guided not only by what the writer says, but by the esteem in which that writer is held by the reader. I’ve been the beneficiary of a good blurb: Margaret Atwood kindly read and liked my novel Life of Pi and her supportive words likely attracted the attention of a good number of readers. Sometimes the blurb will be by a journalist and its weight will depend on the prestige of the newspaper in which the journalist’s review appeared. This system of commendation can be very effective in helping a book meet its readers and publishers use it all the time. When you finish your book on hockey, your publisher will dream of getting Wayne Gretzky to read it and commend it. “If The Great One liked this book, I’m sure I will too,” every hockey fan will say, grabbing the book off the shelf.

For this British edition of The Tartar Steppe, the blurb system is in full operation. On the front cover, the Sunday Times (“A masterpiece”) and J. M. Coetzee (“A strange and haunting novel, an eccentric classic”) exhort the reader to pay attention, while on the back cover Alberto Manguel, Jorge Luis Borges and I, in a few more words, explain to a prospective reader why this book must be read.

And really, it must be read. The Tartar Steppe, published in 1940, is indeed a masterpiece, insufficiently known by the reading public. It tells the story of a young officer who is posted to a remote fort on the edges of an unnamed country. And there he waits for an invasion of barbarians that never comes, he waits for thirty years, he waits his entire life away, arriving at the fort as a young man full of prospects and leaving it old and broken. Waiting — and with it the dread of expectation — is a very 20th century concern. If Samuel Beckett had been writing in the 19th century, he would have written Acting for Godot. But as it is the 20th century paid the price of all those actions for God and for country — the mess of colonialism and greedy empire-building — and he wrote Waiting for Godot. Invoking the play (which I sent you a while ago, remember?) is not inappropriate. The Tartar Steppe and Waiting for Godot were written within ten years of each other, the novel in the late 1930s, the play in the late 1940s, and they speak of the same concern. But in the ten years between their respective compositions, the century shifted from the modern to the post-modern, from the acting to the waiting, from the hoping to the dreading, and this shift is reflected in the two works. The Tartar Steppe lies at the end of a traditional aesthetic sensibility that had run its course. Godot is the irreverent next step, steeped in caustic humour and bleakness and far more self-conscious.

The Tartar Steppe is a sober and luminous work. The luminosity is literal: the fort is set amidst high mountains and is bathed in pure light and thin air. But the story also achieves a philosophical brightness as it follows one man’s endless waiting in a setting that is stripped of all excessive adornments — it’s a military fort, after all. If you want a sense of the feel of the work, imagine a room in a modern art museum that is large and flooded with natural light and that features a single, large painting, a Rothko. You see what I mean? The novel is bleak, but beautifully bleak. I’ve often thought of Dino Buzzati as a cheerier, warmer Franz Kafka.

See what you think. Explore Fort Bastiani with Giovanni Drogo. Fall into the routine of a military life. Try to make the grade. Most importantly: keep your eyes open for the enemy!

Yours truly,

Yann Martel

P.S.: I forgot to mention: The Tartar Steppe was one of the favourite novels of François Mitterrand. What a splendid blurb that would be, from the President of France.


Log in to Goodreads to sign up for our free Tartar Steppe give-away, or the buy the book directly from the Godine website!

Brown by Beckett? Bowler!

What on earth could this alarming book cover, its red lettering dripping with blood, have to do with the erudite calm of Superior Person’s Tuesday?

Peter Bowler’s lexicographical readers will be shocked to hear that the maestro of anfractuous lexiphanicism has now written a novel in which murders are committed and a legendary lost object is pursued. Shades of The Da Vinci Code, you ask? We asked Peter to explain.

“I set out to write a Da Vinci Code as if written by Samuel Beckett”, he says, “but The De Reszke Record rapidly degenerated into a kind of Peter De Vries romp. Its hero is an escaped asylum inmate with a history of extreme pedantry. His interior monologues, of which there are many, are larded with literary allusions, Latin quotations and other recondite nonsense. I chose for my subject matter something that is dear to my heart — the wonder and romance of old 78rpm records, of the great singers who were the darlings of Victorian era opera houses but who survived long enough for their voices to be heard today, rising miraculously from the grooves of battered old shellac discs.

My email address is pbowler@nnsw.quik.com.au. I love to hear from readers and if asked to expand on the above will gladly do so, probably at stupefying length. You have been warned.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Door to the River Review

David Godine, a Boston publisher known, especially, for the production quality of his books, is brave to send this volume [Door to the River] out into the marketplace. It is a valuable record of a now vanished time when it was exciting and even rewarding to be a writer, to be, at least, a minor public figure, who could read his (and it was almost exclusively men who populated this rarified world) poems to an appreciative audience at Cafe le Metro off St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan.

The public cultural mix is lonelier, emptier, thinner and far less interesting now as we hunch up behind our glowing computer screens.

— from Daphne Abeel's review of Door to the River in The Armenian Mirror-Spectator

Richard Hannay & Everybody: The 39 Steps

‘Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps has a structure that seems odder in execution than it sounds in description: Essentially, protagonist Robert Donat [playing Richard Hannay] winds up on the run from people who want to kill him, but he keeps running into beautiful women who fall for him. Sounds like a pretty standard actioner, but it’s so episodic in execution, and so focused on characterizing minor characters until they seem more significant than they are, that it feels more like he’s working his way through a series of abortive love stories than fleeing for his life. The action starts when he meets spy Lucie Mannheim at a stage show when someone seemingly tries to kill her; the two of them chat, hit it off, and seem destined for romance. Then she fails to live up to the “death-defying” part of the death-defying meet-cute: The assassins get to her, and she only barely manages to pass some key intel to Donat before dying. Now on the run, he has a similarly colorful encounter with Madeleine Carroll; fleeing assassins who catch up with him on a train, he bursts into her car and kisses her, pretending to be her lover in order to throw his pursuers off-track. Unlike most women faced with this hoary old cinematic excuse for instant passion, she rebels and rats him out, forcing him to jump off the train. Later still, he encounters weatherbeaten farmer and his younger, prettier wife Peggy Ashcroft, who prevails upon her husband to help Donat; so much electricity sparks between Ashcroft and Donat that it briefly seems like Mannheim was just an inciting incident and Carroll was a one-shot gag, and the romance will actually be between this rakish would-be spy and the woman he sweeps away from her life of drudgery. But no, it’s all another Hitchcockian fake-out, and before long, Donat is back with Carroll, handcuffed to her by people who want to kill them both. Three women, and four cute, gimmicky meet-ups, all in one movie: What could top that?’

from the A.V. Club,  “Love saves the day: 18 death-defying meet-cutes” 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lark Rise: THE BAND

Who knew about this and why didn't you tell us?

There is a band in the U.K. headed up by folk artist Ashley Hutchings called The Lark Rise Band. They play classic British folk songs as well as music inspired by, as well as featured in, the BBC miniseries (which is now airing in the United States on PBS). Enjoy!

“I Have a Bonnet”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An E-Reader Opinion

Over at his excellent blog, Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito writes about his first experience with Amazon's Kindle: "I recently read my first complete electronic book on an e-reader. (The reader was Amazon’s Kindle, which I did not purchase and nor do I own, though I do have regular access to.) The book was Cesar Aira’s The Literary Conference, and to make the experience a little more complex, it was a book that I was reading for a review. I found the e-reading experience to be genuinely immersive, at least as immersive as I’ve experienced with similarly compelling printed books. (And I would imagine that The Literary Conference is hugely compelling in any format). I didn’t feel any temptation to leave the text and play around with the digital ephemera I added to the Kindle (more on that in a bit). And, in fact, after a very short period of being entirely cognizant of the fact I was reading electronically, I reached the point at which I felt that I’d completely forgotten that I was e-reading: in other words, the mental sensation was entirely akin to what I experience when reading a real book."

There are a huge number of conflicting opinions out there in regards to the experience of an e-reader. Some readers — particularly scholars, critics, and reviewers — swear by the printed book, as most of the panelists from the NBCC did at BEA last week. Books are certainly more durable than any digital format: new versions of programs nullify older file-types, but once a book is printed it should (if it was worth printing at all) last forever. Scott qualified his opinion in "the matter of skimming and reading and flipping back through the book for review," where he found, "printed books unambiguously superior. The PDF format offers a search feature, which is nice if you’re looking for the first appearance of a name or something along those lines, but attempting to skim back through a PDF on a Kindle is quite clearly inferior to flipping through an actual book." Perhaps it's a bit like the wheel? Improvements and advancements sure; but never re-invention.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

A Peculiar Composition

In a fine review of J.M.G. Le Clézio's novel The Prospector at Words Without Borders, Geoff Wisner offers what is perhaps the strangest description of the book to date: it is “as if The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were rewritten by Proust.” I love it: riverboats and ladyfingers. We may have to put this on the next softcover reprint.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Fragrant Garden: Part II

by Kim Smith
Click here for Part One

Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I wouldn't recommend chimney bricks, since they are fired differently from paving bricks and are less sturdy as a result. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. Their warm red tones complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.

Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginianna, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and flowers are fragrant flowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterfly bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals — narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums — are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the flower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.

The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of flowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.

When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to find the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may find that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to find the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.

A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming flowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented flowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reflect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.

There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented flowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white flowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.

“True vespertine flowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night.” (Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored flowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender flowers reflecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth. Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis floribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonflowers are but a few of the white flowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
— John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Father's Day Recommendations

You can feel it in the air, sure as longer days and the smell of barbecue: Father's Day is fast approaching. Avail yourself of questionable ties, a forth set of cuff links (does he even own a French-cuff shirt?), and misguided golfing accessories (it's an A.M. radio and a beer cozy golf bag clip-on!) — or, give dad something he might enjoy this year. Like an excuse to sit down, with a book. We recommend:

Arctic Circle
A memoir of travel and the natural world, author Robert Reid finally fulfills his life-long desire to visit the Arctic circle in his sixth decade. Donna Seaman at Booklist writes, “Because of heart-rending losses and tribulations, it took Reid many years to reach Alaska, and he now chronicles his bittersweet journeys in a meditative, affecting, and funny tale of adventure and revelation. . . Spectacular descriptions, charming wit, and forthright reflections on what makes a place sacred become striking testimony to the importance of the Arctic wild and the need to preserve it.”

The Likes of Us
This book collects work from Walker Evans in Louisiana and Alabama, Ben Shahn in West Virginia, Dorothea Lange in California, and others, and unites their photography with shooting scripts, letters, and other archival documents from that great New Deal program, the Farm Security Administration. What emerges, beyond the images themselves, is a complex and vital overview of the FSA at work; not just the work, but how the work evolved and matured. These photographs also present a reminder of the hardships our nation has faced before, and will overcome again. Fittingly, the book concludes with photographs of New Orleans, the only city photographed in depth by these FSA artists.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Save the World: Use Garamond

As publishers of a new nature memoir, Arctic Circle, we would be amiss not to point out this tidbit of typographic conservation: the folks at Go to Public School have discovered that Garamond uses the least amount of ink out of several popular faces. I wonder if this holds true for the rest of the Garamond revival types, such as Sabon and Granjon? Perhaps not — they all seem relatively meaty compared to Slimbach's slim sorts.

Superior Person's Tuesday

Gynecocracy, n. Government by a woman or by women; the supremacy of the female. Well, if there’s a word for it, it must exist, mustn’t it? The ontological argument for the supremacy of women. I’m a believer.

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. Gynecocracy appears in the third.