Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best poetry books of 2011

Just in time for a last minute gift purchase, the Boston Globe published the "Best poetry books of 2011" on Sunday. Michael Brodeur, Valerie Duff, and Black Sparrow's own Don Share contributed their individual lists.

From Don Share:

“Threshold Songs’’ by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan)

“Poems’’ by Elizabeth Bishop (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Spring and All’’ by William Carlos Williams (New Directions Pearls)

“Kindertotenwald: Prose Poems’’ by Franz Wright (Knopf)

“Red Clay Weather’’ by Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh)

“Head Off & Split’’ by Nikky Finney (Triquarterly)

“Well Then There Now’’ by Juliana Spahr (Black Sparrow)

“Black Blossoms’’ by Rigoberto González (Four Way)

“Found Poems’’ by Bern Porter (Nightboat)

Don Share is Senior Editor of Poetry magazine. Black Sparrow is proud to publish his latest book, Wishbone, in spring 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Russell Hoban, 1925–2011

Beloved Godine author, Russell Hoban, passed away on December 13th, 2011 at age 86. We are proud to publish Hoban's Linger Awhile: A Novel (2007), a tale of murder and mayhem in contemporary London where sexy vampire cowgirls (yes, that's right) run amok, chased by men old enough to know better. In a different vain, we also publish two of Hoban's popular children's books, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen and A Near Thing for Captain Najork, both illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Will Self shared the following on Hoban in The Guardian (UK) yesterday:

A few years ago, charged with writing a new introduction to a 25th-anniversary edition of Riddley Walker, I called the author, Russell Hoban, at his behest. A frail-sounding voice answered the phone, and when I explained who I was, Hoban fluted: "Would you mind calling back in half an hour or so? My wife and I are about to watch Sex and the City." I put the receiver down chastened: here was a man in his 80s who had more joie de vivre than I could muster in hale middle age.

Born in 1925 in Pennsylvania to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants, Hoban was the rarest kind of writer: his works displayed complete diversity of subject matter, allied to a compelling unity of voice. Best known for Riddley Walker, perhaps the post-nuclear-apocalypse novel sans pareil, he wrote 15 other adult novels and many more for children. In the 1970s when I was first beginning to buy books for myself, Hoban was a member of a distinguished list at Picador, whose larger format paperbacks with full-bleed graphic covers were the hip thing to have on your bricks-and-boards bookcase.

Last year I did an event at the British Library to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his masterwork, and met Hoban for the first time. He was wry, gentle and wise – one of William James's "once-born", notwithstanding a life that had had its fair share of emotional turmoil. He told the audience that while he was serving in the signals corps during the second world war, his sense of direction had been so poor that he was continually getting lost. "The Germans saw me going by so many times," he said, "they probably thought I was an entire company on the move."

A few weeks later we had lunch, and I felt awed by Hoban's equanimity in the face of growing infirmity. He spoke about his writing methods, saying that he never planned anything, just sat down at the typewriter and worked it out on the page. Then he confided: "I'm working on something now, and I worry I may drop dead before it's finished … but come to think of it that's true of any book you write."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday

Alphitomancy n. A method of determining the guilt or innocence of a person by feeding him a barley loaf. If indigestion ensues, the person is guilty. Some may say that if indigestion ensues after eating anything at all prepared by their best beloved, they are held by the latter to be guilty.

Contemporary alphitomancy:

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. Alphitomancy appears in the Third.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Holiday Gifts That Writers Will Actually Use"

Over at The Millions, Hannah Gersen has posted a list of "12 Holiday Girls That Writers Will Actually Use". She shares her insight as a frequent receiver of writerly gifts and has brilliant ideas for the budding novelist in your life:

In “Aren’t You Dead Yet?”, one of the stories in Elissa Schappell’s new collection, Blueprints for Building Better Girls, the narrator, an aspiring writer, receives a black, leather-bound journal as a gift from her best friend. Although she loves the look of the journal, she never writes in it. When her friend discovers this, he’s angry, and even accuses her of slacking off:

I tried to explain that I hadn’t written in it because I loved it so much and I didn’t want to ruin it. The pages were so nice, and sewn in, you couldn’t just rip them out. Whatever stupid thing I wrote down would be in there permanently.

This passage reminded me of the many beautiful blank journals I’ve received over the years, journals I’ve never used. Whenever I fill up one of my trusty spiral notebooks, I go through the stack and tell myself I’m finally going to start using them. But then I think of sullying those pristine, unlined pages with my half-formed thoughts, and I feel as guilty as the narrator in Schappell’s story.

Unfortunately, the same guilt intrudes on many of the other lovely writerly gifts I’ve received. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I confess that I have a lot of nice pens I never use, because I’m afraid of chewing on them; a lot of classic novels I haven’t read because I feel guilty about not having read them; and a lot of inspirational writer’s guides I never read, because what if I’m not inspired?

None of these gifts are offensive, and no one will begrudge you for giving them. But they are boilerplate gifts. Writers get blank journals for the same reasons that teachers get mugs, assistants get flowers, and grandmothers get tea. If you want to give the writer in your life something he or she will truly adore, here are twelve ideas . . .

(Do check out the list. "Freedom," the computer program that blocks the Internet on your computer for up to eight hours is #6.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

William Zinsser on Daniel Fuchs

William Zinsser is best known for his book On Writing Well (1976). He was also a movie critic for the New York Herald Tribune in the 1960s and recently blogged for The American Scholar on Daniel Fuchs, a Black Sparrow author. In 1937, Fuchs at twenty-seven years old and already the author of three remarkable novels came to Hollywood from Brooklyn. Thus began a lifelong love affair with the movie business and he worked with the best: Warner and MGM and RKO, Wilder and Huston and Joe Pasternak, Raft and Cagney and Doris Day. In 2005, Black Sparrow published The Golden West: Hollywood Stories which collects, for the first time, the best of Fuch's writing about studio life, from from a novice screenwriter's anxious first impressions (1937-39) to a fifty-year veteran's mellow memoirs.

Here's Zinsser on Fuchs:

Daniel Fuchs was a writer who had published three critically acclaimed novels while he was still in his 20s and had also sold stories to The New Yorker. But the novels didn’t sell, and in 1937 Fuchs accepted a screenwriting job at RKO Pictures and stayed for 34 years. He found himself unexpectedly caught up in a community of dedicated craftsmen not unlike himself. Embracing that world, his novelist’s eye and ear fine-tuned to the outsized dreams and vanities of its inhabitants, he would write one of the best of all books about the movie industry: The Golden West: Hollywood Stories.

“You get absorbed in the picture-making itself,” Fuchs wrote. “It’s a large-scale, generous art or occupation, and you’re grateful to be part of it. What impressed me about the people on the set … was the intensity with which they worked. … They were artists [and] photographers, set designers, editors and others whose names you see on the credits. They worked with the assiduity and worry of artists, putting in the effort to secure the effect needed by the story, to go further than that and enhance the story, not mar it.”

The Golden West was not conceived as a book. It was posthumously compiled from fictional stories—all recognizably true—that Fuchs wrote about his movie-writing years and was published in 2005 with an admiring introduction by John Updike. In his preface Updike can hardly contain himself from quoting passages by Fuchs that have an Updikean elegance of their own. I felt that I was watching two thoroughbred horses on the final leg of a racetrack, each straining to outrun the other, every muscle fully stretched.

Fuchs [Updike writes] sees no shame in shaping a product for a mass audience; rather, he sees wizardry and a special kind of truth. “It had to have an opulence; or an urbanity; or a gaiety; a strength and assurance; a sense of life with its illimitable reach and promise.” … [Fuchs] finds good words to say about tyrants of the industry like Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn, men who, however misguided, lived for the movies, who demanded the work. “It was always surprising how underneath the outcries and confusion the work steadily went on. They never slackened; fighting the malach ha-moves [the Hebrew Angel of Death] and the dingy seepage of time, they beat away to the limits of their strength and endowments, striving to get it right, to run down the answers, to realize and secure the picture.”

During my stint as a movie critic, Hollywood was an assembly line. All the studios kept under contract a platoon of stars and producers and directors who had to be employed 12 months a year to amortize their salaries. Inevitably, many of the 500-odd movies I reviewed were not very good, and some were terrible. But even the worst of them had been painstakingly manufactured. When I once toured the major studios I marveled as a small army of artisans and technicians fussed with infinite patience to assemble a jigsaw puzzle that would be correct in every last period detail. The most fatuous Virginia Mayo pirate movie got the same finicky attention that would have been given to Gone With the Wind. Today, when I think of Daniel Fuchs’s book, I think of those men and women fondly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Algophobia n The morbid dread of pain. As a warning to those who have been lulled into a false sense of security at the dentist's by the latter's more or less routine use of local anesthetics, the author, a true algophobe, relates this cautionary tale of his encounter with a London dentist. "It's just a little one," said the dentist, in the most casual and reassuring tone, "do you want to bother with an anesthetic this time?" "No," I manfully replied. In an instant the drill was in my mouth, and through a curtain of unendurable pain I heard the dentist say "Suit yourself; it won't hurt me!" Like all algophobes, I have never been able to transcend dental medication. Hmmm . . . perhaps if you said it aloud. . . .

Why the holidays may give rise to algophobia:

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. Algophobia appears in the Third.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

To celebrate Thanksgiving a good number of us return to our childhood hometowns . . . which brings us to today's Superior Person's word:

Nostopathy n A morbid dread of returning to one's home.

OK. One more for the holiday:

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. Nostopathy appears in the Third.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Free books!

For a limited time—with any order of $25.00 or more, receive a free copy of
Not Forgotten: American Writers Remember the Lives of Literary Mentors, Friends & Rivals, compiled by Steven Gilbar and Dean Stewart. For orders over $50.00, you'll also receive for free a copy of the fully illustrated children's book Electra to the Rescue: Saving a Steamboat and the Story of Shelburne Museum by Valerie Biebuyck.

We are also offering a Black Friday Special!

Any size order (absolutely no minimum) placed between 12:00am midnight on Thursday, November 24th to 12:00am midnight on Friday, November 25th will receive a free softcover copy of J.M.G. Le Clézio's novel The Prospector, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature. This free book is in addition to the free book offers mentioned above.

Visit or to browse our titles and place your order.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dorchester Speakers Forum on Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs’s work is alive and well in Dorchester, MA. On Veteran’s Day evening in the middle of a holiday weekend, a standing-room only crowd filled All Saints parish hall in Dorchester’s Ashmont neighborhood for a Dorchester Speakers Forum on urban heroine Jane Jacobs. Panelists included 1988 Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; M. David Lee, past president of the Boston Society of Architects and a partner in the architecture and planning firm, Stull and Lee; and Godine author Glenna Lang (Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of “The Death & Life of Great American Cities”) Frank Keefe, Secretary for Administration and Finance under Dukakis and a Boston developer, served as the lively moderator.

The panelists facing an engaged crowd of 200+ (standing room only):
Glenna Lang, Gov. Dukakis, and architect David Lee. (Photo credit: Mike Ritter)

Glenna Lang set the stage with a portrait of Jane Jacobs and her many connections to Boston – even to Dorchester itself. She reported that Jane had called Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak in the early 1990s to learn about this Dorchester neighborhood’s remarkable turnaround, and she told the story of how Jane’s papers came to reside at Boston College.

With pithy quotes from The Death & Life of Great American Cities, David Lee marveled at the relevance of Jane Jacobs to the design profession today. He selected passages of enduring wisdom in her book, some of which displayed her sympathy, understanding, and appreciation for African Americans and other minorities who lived in public housing projects or were confined to ghettos.

Along with wonderful stories and quips, the Governor vividly described Boston’s political atmosphere that led to the demolition of the West End and the massive highway scheme that would have laid waste to much of the city. He pointed out that the power of a Robert Moses in New York or William F. Callahan in Boston lay in influence gained through patronage and corruption. An engaged citizenry, he exhorted, must continue to fight for better cities to counter the Moses of the world.

The largely Dorchester crowd – lifelong residents, newer enthusiasts, political figures, and neighborhood activists – responded with a shower of questions, opinions, and tweets. Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of the renowned South Boston memoir All Souls, tweeted from the audience with delight, “At All Saints in #Dorchester for Jane Jacobs Speaker Forum. Gov Michael Dukakis gives MAJOR props to @occupywallst & @Occupy_Boston.”

After the forum – organized by political mover and shaker Joyce Linehan – panelists and many audience members repaired to the Tavolo restaurant for further conversations, lively stories, and political gossip. Tavolo is located on Dorchester Ave. in a recent six-story building right next to the MBTA’s Ashmont Red Line Station. Jim Keefe and Trinity Financial developed the site of a former bus parking lot with ground-floor retail and mixed-income housing above. Jane Jacobs would have approved wholeheartedly.

The after dinner at Tavolo restaurant, hosted by Jim Keefe:
Michael and Kitty Dukakis with Alex von Hoffman and Glenna Lang.
(Photo credit: Joyce Linehan)

The author of this post is Glenna Lang, co-author of Godine's Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death & Life of Great American Cities along with Marjory Wunsch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Glabrous a Having a surface free from hair or other projections. Smooth-skinned, smooth-leafed. When introducing a guest speaker who suffers from alopecia [ital] (q.v.), you could insert into your remarks a passing reference to his "glabrous pinnacle" without giving offense.

One possible usage of a glabrous surface:

On the day Homer quits the power plant,
he insults Mr. Burns and plays his bald head like a bongo drum

Mr. Burns: I should be resisting this, but I'm paralyzed with rage . . .
and island rhythms.

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. Glabrous appears in the First.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jane Jacobs Event in Dorchester

For those in the Boston area, the Dorchester Speakers Forum is presenting a panel discussion this Friday, November 11th at 7:30pm entitled "50 Years Later: Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Jacobs is considered one of the country's most influential urban planning activists and was a critical part of the development of Boston.

David R. Godine, Publisher published Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death and Life of Great American Cities in 2009 and one of the book's co-authors, Glenna Lang, will be participating in the panel along with former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and architect David Lee.

The Dorchester Reporter offers more information on the event:

The program is free and open to the public and takes place in Peabody Hall at All Saints Church, 209 Ashmont St., Dorchester (near the corner of Dorchester Ave., next to Ashmont Station) on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7. There is ample free parking in the church parking lot.

Jacobs, who died in 2006, influenced a generation of urban planners in Boston. As the Boston Globe wrote in her obituary, “activists drew inspiration from her insights as they fought to spare Boston and Cambridge from the Inner Belt and the Southwest Expressway.” She is also credited for the concept behind the creation of Quincy Market here in Boston and wrote with high praise of Boston’s North End and its density, calling it “the healthiest neighborhood in the city.” The publication of her book probably saved the North End from the fate of Boston’s West End. Many of the city’s planners and developers are greatly influenced by Jacobs’ thinking, and this influence can be seen throughout Dorchester and the rest of the city.

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Nuncheon n A noon drink. "I'll just leave the accounts till this afternoon if you don't mind, Miles; I find that I'm running late for a nuncheon appointment."

A nuncheon with luncheon

Good reason for a nuncheon

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. Nuncheon appears in the Second.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Alternative Literature"

Here's a comic courtesy of xkcd ("A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math and Language") for you this beautiful Friday afternoon:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

You know it's the beginning of the holiday season when Starbucks's red cups are everywhere and eggnog seems to be in everything . . .

Polyphagia n Excessive eating. "Ah, yuletide blessed season of joy! The Christmas tree, the decorations, the gifts, the carols, the sleigh bells, the polyphagia . . . "

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. Polyphagia appears in the Second.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Drawing Inspiration from Perec

Georges Perec's novella "The Exeter Text: Jewels, Secrets, Sex" (included in Three by Perec, Godine 2004) uses only the vowel "e" and no others (honest). It is known as a complement or reciprocal to A Void (Godine, 2005) which avoids all and any words containing the commonest letter in the alphabet—(you guessed it) "e." Why would Perec constrain his writing in this way? Well, Perec was never one to turn down a challenge but also he was a member of OuLiPo, a group of writers and mathematicians concerned with the literary potential of formal constraints or "writing with rules." With A Void and "The Exeter Text," Perec had become the acknowledged champion of writing under the hardest of rules.

Illustrator Katja Spitzer has taken inspiration from "The Exeter Text" with her new book, Quodlibet (Nobrow Press), which features her illustrations of a host of different words, phrases, and names all beginning with the letter "q" and is written by Sebastian Gievert. According to Design Week (UK) "she chose to focus on Q because in her native German—as in English—Q is a peculiar and rarely used letter." Featured in the book are "cult Hollywood directors, 18th-century dances, ancient Chinese mythical beasts and French poets of the last century."If you're in London, the Quodlibet exhibition at The Book Club (London EC2) will take place from Oct 27th–Jan 2012.

Here are a couple examples of Spitzer's work from Quodlibet:

Quarterhorse: A horse of a small, stocky breed noted for agility and
speed over short distances, especially a quarter of a mile.

Queen Alexandra and a Bird's Wing

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Recubation n Reclining in a near-horizontal position, as did ancient Romans at the banquet table. "There'll be no recubation at this dinner table, young man! Sit up straight – and take off the baseball cap!"

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. Recubation appears in the Third.

Wanda Coleman on Life in SoCal

Black Sparrow poet Wanda Coleman is known as "the LA Blueswoman" and "the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles." She has just published her latest book, The World Falls Away, with the University of Pittsburgh Press and the collection focuses on her life in Southern California. KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) recently featured a piece on Coleman:

For the last 40 years, Los Angeles-based poet Wanda Coleman has written about the L.A. she loves — and hates. The University of Pittsburgh Press has just published her 19th book, looking at her life in Southern California.

The poet’s latest collection is titled “The World Falls Away.” "It’s a continuation of my odyssey as an African-American woman, writer, mother, now grandmother, and the city as I live it, the city as it’s defined me," Coleman says.

The 84 poems transport the reader across Southern California and through Coleman’s life. The poem “On Cleaning Up All These Ashes in the Sand” is a series of 16 couplets.

During Indian summer 1955, I decided to live life
sidewise – head pointing to Manhattan, heart in the West.

My father takes me to Disneyland. He tells me America
Rises from a sea of blood. Learn to cry while you laugh.

When I was a teenager, I was my mother’s keeper
I disappeared from the kitchen to make history.

Coleman was born in Watts; she grew up in South Central. In the 1960s and '70s she soaked up the literary scenes in L.A.'s Venice neighborhood, Watts and downtown L.A. at the Woman’s Building. She’s always defended her right not to be pigeonholed as an issue-driven, rhyming black poet.

"Just like we should live in any community or listen to any music, including country and western," Coleman says, "or have any option in terms of our hair; we can wear it straight, we can wear it kinky, we can braid it."

She worries about young African-Americans, she says, because popular media shackles them with negative definitions of blackness while the schools and adults closest to them fail to push back against those images. "I have a grandson who’s gone through the local public school; his image, he comes out of there, he wants to be anything but black."

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Boston Book Festival Was Awesome!

The 2011 Boston Book Festival was an astounding success for the Godine team. We arrived promptly at 8:30am and proceeded to deliberate with surprising passion as to the best arrangement for our 200 books. Following several ingenious innovations in design, we acquired some tissue paper and scotch tape and transformed our cardboard boxes to make a makeshift (but very professional) side display.

Even before we’d finished setting up visitors were trickling into our tent. We participated in the festival’s scavenger hunt for children by featuring our very local book Catie Copley's Great Escape by Deborah Kovacs about the retired guide dog and current employee (she has her own business card!) of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, whose red awning was visible just across the street from our tent. Even better, Miss Catie and her caretaker Joe paid us a celebrity visit, and Catie very good-naturedly helped tell the story of her great adventure to Quebec. She was quite content to receive so many scratches behind the ears.

Soon the Godine team was in need of replenishment, and with characteristic spirit we braved the line for Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese. It was well worth the wait – butternut squash, baked apples, rum-soaked raisins and caramelized onions! Grilled cheese has entered its renaissance.

Overall, the day was a great success. As an intern, I was touched by the number of supporters who came to express their appreciation for our books. We make books and write blogs with an audience in mind, but you always wonder if anyone’s paying attention until you shake their hand. Thanks to all our supporters!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Dactylogram n Fingerprint. A casual reference to your having been invited by the authorities to let them have your dactylograms may give the listener the impression that you are a distinguished applied mathematician who is called in by the government from time to time in a consultative capacity.

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. Dactylogram appears in the First.

How to Dig

My mother is a gardener. The pursuit began several
years ago pursuant to a certain Michael Pollan book, when she marched into the backyard with a spade and turned over a rectangle of black Iowa soil. The first year’s crop – cabbage – left the local rabbit population in excellent health. For my mother, what began as an experiment became all-out war, and in its second year the garden was outfitted with a wire fence and a godlike plastic owl, and my mother successfully harvested more than a single serving of coleslaw.

The garden is now in its third year, my mother is a skilled horticulturalist, and I often receive news about the garden. This June, she wrote, “It's going to be a thousand degrees here today so I'm out in the garden early. Picking sweet peas and digging potatoes. Vegetarian supper tonight . . . from fifty paces off the back door stoop,” and then in August: “It's high summer in Iowa . . . Although you may not see your neighbor's backyard, you know which of us have gardens by the rows of bright red tomatoes in the kitchen window . . . My freezer is half full of vegetables . . . and very little meat. A better balance.”

I am not a gardener. But, in exploring Godine’s various gardening books and in perusing my mother’s e-mails, I’ve noticed that gardeners, contrary to what you might think, are reckless. What made Thoreau think he could tame a patch of rugged wildflowers into robust rows of beans? After battling weather, worms, and woodchucks, he muses in Walden, “What was the meaning of this Herculean effort, I knew not,” (Writing the Garden, just published in October 2011 by Godine). Some years later, Michael Pollan battled the woodchuck in his own garden, going so far as to set his enemy’s burrow ablaze.

I don’t mean to say gardeners are pyromaniacs, but rather that they are similarly afflicted with imagination, by the ambitious vision of Forsythias, Violets, Rosemary and Lupines where there is only brown and tangled nature. The English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), who pioneered gardening for women with her thirteen gardening books, writes “There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare, or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight,” (The Gardener’s Essential, published by Excellent Press).

If gardening begins with intoxication, its labor is both sobering and invaluable. Jekyll continues: “It is no use asking me or anyone else how to dig – I mean sitting indoors and asking it. Better go and watch a man digging, and then take a spade and try to do it, and go on trying ‘til it comes, and you gain the knack that is to be learnt with all tools, of doubling the power and halving the effort; and meanwhile you will be learning other things, about your own arms and legs and back . . . and you will find out that there are all sorts of ways of learning, not only from people and books, but from sheer trying,” (The Gardener’s Essential).

William Robinson, a contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll, writes: "We have no attractions in or near our gardens compared with what is within our power to create" (Writing the Garden). He means, I think, that the real value of gardening is not the harvest, but the process of building it. The true gardener is the one who butchers her backyard, plants seeds too close, fantasizes about killing rodents, and after months of backbreaking labor reaps a few lopsided, ant-speckled tomatoes, and then turns around the following year and does it all over again, this time with a better grip on her spade. In doing so, she cultivates more than a crop of healthy tomatoes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Embonpoint n Plumpness. From the French en bon point (in good shape). Often used of women, and with just a trace of raillery implied. Commonly pronounced in the French fashion; but may be anglicized, in which event you would choose a moment when your neighbor, the zaftig (q.v.) Mrs. Frobisher, is displaying her new sewing machine to your wife, to tell her how much you admire her embonpoint.

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. Embonpoint appears in the First.

Independent Publisher - Beginnings and the Future

Independent Publisher is currently featuring an article on David R. Godine and the publishing house. Here's an excerpt on how David was first introduced to publishing:

“I really got started at Dartmouth because Ray Nash (a legendary teacher there) was giving his courses on ‘Books and Bookmaking’ and ‘Prints and Printmaking.’ These were unusual (at least for Dartmouth) in that they combined serious study of the subject, looking firsthand at the objects involved and finally (and probably most importantly) actually setting type, printing it, and doing the same for prints.

"So you not only had the theoretical background and the history, but also some practical knowledge based on actual experience My senior year I was awarded a Senior Fellowship which absolved me of formal course work and allowed me to travel in Europe to visit the great libraries and also print my first book entirely handset ad printed on a Vandercook proof press. 112 pages, printed in fours in an edition of (gulp) 500 copies. Very few sold, but that’s another story.

"So when we began, we really had our roots in printing and design, not publishing (about which we knew nothing). But most of the early books were still issued in relatively large quantities and at very low prices. We did not think of ourselves as a ‘private press’ in any sense, and we did a lot of work for others to survive in those first years.”

The rest of the article can be found here.

Translator David Bellos on Learning from Georges Perec

This past Saturday, translator David Bellos had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal on what translating Godine's Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec taught him:

Among the people I thank for their help at the end of my new book about translation is Georges Perec—a French writer famous for having written a whole novel without the letter "e" in it.

Perec never met me and never knew he had helped. But he most certainly had—he taught me how to attend to the craft of writing, and for me that means: how to write.

In Chapter 51 of Perec's masterpiece, "Life A User's Manual" (1978), the character Valène imagines a painting of the apartment house in which he lives with its façade removed, showing all its street-side rooms with their contents and the characters who lived there. The project is laid out as an inventory of items numbered from 1 through 179, and each "item" is a summary of a story told elsewhere in Perec's 99-chapter novel.

I was translating the novel, so I had to locate the stories to which the lines referred. But in doing so I noticed (thanks to some prompting) that each line of the inventory was exactly the same length. Exactly 60 keystrokes.

On top of that, the inventory is separated into three blocks, two of them consisting of 60 lines and the last one of just 59. The "great compendium," as Perec called it, thus consists of three squares, the last one slightly defective.

A traditional use of such letter-squares is to smuggle a message by making the letters of one edge spell out a key. Sure enough, the "left diagonal" of square one (reading the last letter of line 1, the second-to-the-last of line 2, etc.) was constant—"A." The second letter square had "M" in the same sliding position, and the third had "E." Together, they spelled out AME, the French word for "soul"—a term that the avowed rationalist Perec doesn't use anywhere else in his novel.

For a couple of months, every day in the late afternoon, I tackled this fiendish challenge. It had to be done: It was obviously the heart, or soul, of the book. I invented training exercises, using squared paper to write any old thing in expressions exactly 60 characters long.

Eventually, I became almost adept at this skill. Then I looked at the stories to which Perec's lines referred and began to compose summaries in English to fit the rule. I was making progress.

I called on Perec's German translator, who had been one of the writer's close chums. He showed me what he had done. He'd chosen ICH (German for "I") to replace AME, because no German word for "soul" has three letters.

There was my solution! Latin EGO translates German "Ich" directly, and in English can also be considered close to "soul." Es, Gs and Os are common letters in English and can often be moved around in a phrase (verbs give you "–ed" and "-ing" to play with, and "of" can be massaged into any position). I sweated and struggled, but I pushed on. It came out all right in the end.

That's how Georges Perec taught me to write.

He set a puzzle that forced me to acquire a fuller grasp of the units of the writer's craft—words, and the letters from which they are made. By the time I finished translating Chapter 51, I could have written 60-character lines to summarize just about anything.

Twenty-five years later, I was asked to translate the French and Hebrew text explaining the meaning of "righteous among the nations" for a plaque at the Shoah Memorial (Holocaust Museum) in Paris. I was able to do it in such a way that the English was precisely the same length as the French, so that it fit neatly alongside, allowing viewers to feel that the two texts were "the same."

Such applications are rare, but to my mind, the mastery of this peculiar skill has served me well. The muscles that I grew to translate Perec's "great compendium" have gone on helping me to meet challenges I face in translating other texts—and in writing my own.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Godine at the Boston Book Festival – Sat, Oct 15!

This year's Boston Book Festival is quickly approaching and, of course, David R. Godine, Publisher will be there, bells on. Come on down to Copley Square on Saturday, October 15th (it's free!) and visit our booth on the square, facing Dartmouth St and the beautiful Boston Public Library. New titles and our backlist will be on sale for 20% off or more; we'd love to chat with you and throw free bookmarks your way.

And if that wasn't enough, Miss Catie Copley (star of Godine's Catie Copley titles), who lives at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, will be joining us at the booth from 10:30–11:30am and then again from 2:30pm–3:30pm as a special guest for the festival wide children's scavenger hunt we will be participating in.

There are some seriously cool events planned: "Fiction: Time is . . . " with Jennifer Egan, Peter Mountford, and Lawrence Douglas; "Memoir: Writing a Life" with Ben Ryder Howe, Carlos Eire, Maisie Houghton, and Sandra Beasley; "Far Out Fiction" with Gregory Maguire, Karen Russell, Chuck Klosterman, and Kate Beaton.

We hope to see you next Saturday! We'll be there from 10am–5pm.

Herb and Dorothy

This post is from one of our beloved past Godine interns, Melanie Sooter. She is now working in publishing in Taipei, Taiwan and recently featured the following entry on her personal blog, Amateur Bohemian:

Last May, I attended BookExpo America in New York, NY, a glorious four-day convention for everyone in the book biz. I was working the event for Godine, the house I interned with this spring, and one of our debut titles was Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel, an illustrated book about Etta and Claribel Cone, who purchased Matisse’s and Picasso’s work before they were discovered by mainstream collectors. One author who dropped by our booth recognized the cover’s illustration of the Cone sisters, which surprised me, seeing as no one I pitched the book to had heard of them. We got to chatting, and I commented that I wished I had the resources to collect art. She enthusiastically replied, “But you can!” She proceeded to tell me about Herb and Dorothy, a documentary about a Manhattan couple who, without any professional training, amassed a selection of art worth millions. “Watch it,” she said. “It’ll change your life.”

Well, I just watched it. Twice. Consider my life changed.

At first glance, Herb and Dorothy Vogel seem like your average elderly couple. In many of the film’s shots, they sit at the kitchen table, Herb watching TV and Dorothy fussing over her cat, Archie. But the backdrop for these scenes is anything but commonplace. The otherwise stark white wall is canvassed in paintings, sketches, and colorful paper constructions. As the camera pans through their one-bedroom apartment, you realize their place doesn’t function as a living space – it’s a sanctuary for thousands of artistic creations. They don’t own living room furniture because their stockpile takes up too much space, hence the filming in the kitchen. The real mind boggler is that this isn’t even their full collection. They donated 4,782 pieces to the National Gallery of Art in 1992. The pieces you glimpse in the film are just what they’ve acquired since then.

Throughout the documentary, Herb and Dorothy narrate their life story. Dorothy was a librarian and Herb a postal worker who didn’t graduate high school. So how does a middle-class couple come to own one of the most renowned late 20th century art collections? By buying art no one else wanted.

Herb and Dorothy explain that when they started collecting in the 1960s, pop and abstract art were the popular styles, and experts weren’t interested in the fledgling minimalist and conceptual movements, making these productions affordable. They spent Dorothy’s salary on living expenses and Herb’s on art. Dorothy said they only had two rules for purchases: “It had to be affordable, and it had to fit in our apartment.”

The artists interviewed in the film speak not only highly of Herb and Dorothy, but also warmly, as if talking about life-long friends. And for some of them, that’s the case. A few artists said they get a call from Herb once a week just checking in on them, and one referred to them as “friend collectors, not collectors collectors.” Christo and Jean-Claude, an artist team-couple, said they even traded the Vogels art for cat-sitting. It’s inspiring too that they genuinely collect art for art’s sake. Dorothy said, “I never thought the artists we collected in those days would become so famous. It wasn’t a goal for us. We liked the work, and when they got recognition, we shared their joy. We sort of became part of it.”

But the documentary’s point isn’t that everyone can collect art or even that everyone should learn about art. The message is more universal than that. Dorothy says it best herself: “You don’t have to be rich. You can enrich your life.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Aeaeae a. Magic. As in "aeaeae artes," the magic arts. The only all-vowel six-letter word known to the author. The derivation is from Aeaeae, which was a surname of the legendary pig-fancier Circe and the name of a small island off the coast of Italy, said to have been her place of abode. Useful for unscrupulous players of parlor word-games. If taken to task for using it in such circumstances, you say: "Well, yes, strictly speaking it is foreign, I suppose – at least in origin – but, surely, it's a words everyone knows, isn't it?"

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. Aeaeae appears in the First.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thoughts on Banned Book Week

The Jersey Shore gets to run on TV, their stars are featured on daytime talk shows in all their GTL and fist-pumping glory, but you, Huckleberry Finn, are far too derogatory for me to tolerate. Banned! “16 and Pregnant” and its spin-offs are splashed across magazine covers in the grocery store line, but, my goodness, The Hunger Games is too sexually explicit to be available at the local library. Lolita, I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to be in the vicinity of my children . . . but, really, who has time to read when “Toddlers and Tiaras” is on?

In an era when the freedom of self-expression is taken to the absolute max, and the freedom to say and write what you think and feel is celebrated to the point of questioning what is and is not toeing the line, we still have to contend with books being banned, contested, and challenging. Because, let’s be honest, Grimm’s Fairy Tales in all its grisly glory really is worse than watching the Casey Anthony trial. Sarcasm aside, why does a week dedicated to drawing attention to banned books around the world still exist? A better question: why does it need to?

Since the inception of Banned Books Week in 1982, an estimated 11,000 books have been challenged in libraries, schools, and bookstores. The week was created with the purpose of celebrating intellectual freedom, and to call attention to authors, writers, and subjects of banned books who face persecution. Reasons why these books were challenged vary from concerned parents worried about mature subject matter, to religious beliefs, to plan dislike. Some people see it as a vote in favor of censorship, and others roll their eyes and proclaim it to be ridiculous. Still others see it as a necessary step to maintain an environment as politically correct as possible. . . . A totally realistic goal, don’t you think?

The idea of banning books is, to me, ridiculous. In today’s world, what children have access to with the a click of a mouse or a remote control is far more frightening than anything Stephen King or George Orwell can create. The witches and werewolves of Twilight and Harry Potter don’t make children think they are going to get a letter to Hogwarts or fall in love with a glittery vampire or even start devil worshipping (if we are going down that path, then just wipe out the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism in high school curriculums). But they do inspire creativity, and a little daydreaming about a mythical and exciting world never hurt anyone. To ban a book is to prevent the spread of ideas. It is bringing a screeching halt to intellectual freedom, and it encourages the persecution of those who write controversial texts. If we are so committed to protecting our liberties, then why are some people so dedicated to stifling the freedom of speech in others? And let’s be honest . . . banning a book isn’t going to stop anyone from reading it. It is forbidden fruit syndrome, and curiosity will win out. It is human nature, after all. I think that open and honest discourse is a far better way of making views and concerns known, and open channels of communication foster the very environment that people are struggling to create by making a fuss over published works.

So, in honor of Banned Book Week, read a book that has been banned in the past, or find one that is currently finding itself under fire. Pick up a copy of The Tales of Tom Sawyer, The Great Gatsby, or The Call of the Wild. Discover the joys and pains of growing up that are found within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, laugh along with Jo in Little Women, and cry with Scarlet in Gone with the Wind. Discover new worlds in Ulysses, and ponder the future in 1984. See what all the fuss is about over the ever popular children’s book Captain Underpants. Read a poem by Shel Silverstein. Take a stand on personal freedoms and expression, and read a book.

The author of this post is Jackie Herder, an intern at David R. Godine, Publisher and a recent graduate of Boston College.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Books that deserve to be banned"

Banned Books Week is going on right now (September 24th–October 1st). Over at Salon, Laura Miller is asking: "What book did you have to read in elementary or middle school that you wouldn't mind seeing vanish from the reading lists of children everywhere?"

One of my favorite replies:

" . . . surely the most egregious tale of recklessly required reading comes from Life section editor Sarah Hepola, who at the age of 14 was assigned Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, a novelist regarded as unreadable by most adults. 'It was my freshman honors English class,' Sarah recalled, 'and it was the first book we read that year. English had always been my favorite class, a refuge for a kid who felt out of place and loved words, and that pretty much put an end to all that.'"

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Morology n - In speech or writing, being deliberately foolish or nonsensical as a means of achieving a desired effect. A technique not often employed by the present author, who ordinarily makes his effects by being accidentally foolish or nonsensical.

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. Morology appears in the Third.

Monday, September 26, 2011

PW - All My Dogs

A big thank you goes to Publishers Weekly today for the great review of All My Dogs: A Life by Bill Henderson. Henderson is the beloved founder of Pushcart Press and editor and publisher of the annual Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, now in its thirty-fifth year. Godine is thrilled to publish his latest memoir.

"With dry humor and enviable honesty, this gem by Pushcart Press founder Henderson (His Son) tells his life story through 13 dogs—of different sizes, shapes, breeds, and mixes—that he and his family have owned. His first dog, Trixie (a German Spitz mix) shaped his formative years in suburban Philadelphia. After his friend's father kicked out the mutt Duke, a 10-year-old Henderson took him in. Labrador retriever Sophie saved Henderson's relationship with his future wife and witnessed the couple's daughter, Holly, grow up. Today, Franny and Sedgwick keep Henderson company. Henderson candidly discusses the deaths of his dogs, including the unexpectedly intimate depiction of the time he discovered Ellen and Rocky (a beloved Chesapeake Bay retriever and mutt) floating in a residential swimming pool in his upstate New York neighborhood. While making a solid, yet subtle, argument for why dogs remain man's best friend, Henderson also writes of his Christian upbringing and his 'spiritual sojourn.' The book is greatly enhanced by famed artist Leslie Moore's line drawings, and the typeface is Minion, which just happens to mean 'faithful companion.'"
Publishers Weekly

Leslie Moore's line drawings are pretty amazing. Here is a sneak peak of a couple from the book's interior:

Friday, September 23, 2011

As Death and Life Turns Fifty, Jason Epstein Tips His Hat to Genius

Commemorating a half-century since the publication of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House’s fiftieth-anniversary edition of the influential book bestows special recognition on Genius of Common Sense, which was published by David R. Godine in 2009. Jason Epstein, renowned man of letters in the publishing world and Jane’s longtime editor, has written a new introduction for this celebratory volume. He chronicles his working relationship with Jacobs and her activism in New York, and ponders her distinctive nature. In searching for words to describe the impossible-to-categorize freethinker, Epstein selected “genius of common sense” and singled out Godine’s young adult biography of Jane Jacobs, whose title popularized the phrase.

In his introduction Jane’s esteemed editor alludes to anecdotes in Genius that seek to inspire the younger generation to emulate the youthful Jane. “I was not surprised to learn later from a biographer,” Epstein muses, “that she had been a defiant high school student with a sense of humor, a sharp eye for cant, and a problem for uninspiring teachers: a contrarian even then.” We take great pride in Epstein’s choosing to draw from Genius of Common Sense, given the many recent books and articles elucidating and assessing Jane’s oeuvre.

In Jane Jacobs’s last hometown of Toronto, the Centre for City Ecology – itself an outgrowth of her ideas – honored Death and Life’s golden anniversary and the new edition’s release this week by presenting a panel of four of the city’s former mayors. Mayors John Sewell, Art Eggleton, David Crombie, and Barbara Hall, all of whom had interacted with Jane during her four decades in Canada’s largest city, discussed Jane’s contributions to urban life there. Five hundred people scooped up the free tickets and filled the hall to capacity. Judging from the tweets, a lively exchange ensued. Would that the “Genius of Common Sense” herself were there to witness the ongoing dialog in response to her ideas and in keeping with her spirit. Her groundbreaking book published fifty years ago this fall is as important as ever.

The author of this post is Glenna Lang, co-author of Godine's Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of the Death & Life of Great American Cities along with Marjory Wunsch.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yes, we have eBooks!

We are excited to have several of our titles for sale as an eBook through Google's eBookstore.

A nice variety of titles are available which include Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, Ward Farnsworth's Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, Daniel Fuchs's The Brooklyn Novels, Charles Reznikoff's By the Waters of Manhattan, and the entire Swallows & Amazons twelve book series by Arthur Ransome.

In addition, Desert by 2008 Nobel Laureate J.M.G. Le Clezio is also available on the Kindle and nook as well as the Google eBookstore. Please keep checking back; more titles are to come!

The complete list of eBooks can be found on the Godine site.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Cirriped n. A member of an order of crustaceans which in their adult stage attach themselves in a parasitic way to other creatures or objects. As, for example, barnacles. "Dearest, do you think Kimberley might leave home this year and get her own little flat – or is she to be our permanent cirriped?"

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. Cirriped appears in the Third.

Friday, September 16, 2011

All My Dogs - Giveaway Winner!

Congrats go to Wayne Donnell for his excellent entry for the All My Dogs book giveaway! Here is his story and photo:

My wife, Deborah, and I had for many years a wonderful Keeshond named Bella. She passed on, and Deborah grieved long and well – unable to consider replacing her until one weekend our daughter, Rachel, and our granddaughter, Claire, came from their home in Asheville, NC for a visit. They took a walk to a nearby shopping center for lunch and some window shopping.

In the middle of the afternoon I get a call from Claire. She says: "Grandpa. We are at the pet store, and Grandma wants a puppy. Can she have one?" I say: "Claire, of course Grandma can have a puppy, but only if you name it." And so Sugar, a miniature Schnauzer, came into our lives. Sugar is a phenomenal dog. She steals the hearts of all who know her.

A few years later Rachel's husband took a job in San Diego, California, and they moved. To soften the sadness, Rachel promised her children they could get a puppy when they got to California. Claire and our grandson Noah wanted a dog like Sugar but all were wary of disappointment. How could any dog match the loving creature that was Sugar?

They began their search and soon found, yes, a miniature Schnauzer to adopt. She seemed wonderful so they crossed their fingers and brought this dog into their lives. Her name is Carolina, and here they are, in a photo taken the moment they headed home from the pound:

All are doing well, except, perhaps, the grandparents who wish they would all move back to North Carolina.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poet laureates take on NH

The first ever New Hampshire Book Festival will be bringing state laureates from all around the country for a series of readings and discussions during a two day event (Oct 14th and 15th) called Poetry and Politics. Sixteen poets from around the US will arrive on Oct 13th and spread across the state for free public readings the following day.

New Hampshire poet laureate Walter Butts is hosting the event and participating poets include Wesley McNair, a beloved Godine author, and Betsy Sholl of Maine, Karla Morton and David Parsons of Texas, Dick Allen of Connecticut, JoAnn Balingit of Delaware, Sue Brannan Walker of Alabama, Bruce Dethlefsen of Wisconsin, Julie Kane of Louisiana, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda of Virginia, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg of Kansas, Lisa Starr of Rhode Island, and Marjory Wentworth of South Carolina.

If you're lucky enough to be in NH at this time, we highly recommend that you check out this event! For details click here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Deipnosophist: n A wise conversationalist at the dinner table. Unfortunately, the two elements of the definition rarely go together.

An example of one who is not a deipnosophist.

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. Deipnosophist appears in the Third.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Henchperson - n. Close and trusty follower. This new word has been created by the author to replace its sexist (q.v.) and thus outdated equivalent, henchman, which had gradually acquired, over the years, a pejorative (q.v.) flavor. Villains have henchmen; heroes have right-hand men - or, more properly, right-hand people.




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. Henchperson appears in the First.