Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The 39 Steps

Thirty-one years ago, on April 29, 1980, Alfred Hitchcock passed away, leaving behind him a legacy of cinematography that has yet to fade. Take, for instance, the longevity of his film Psycho, or The Birds, which only this week was screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Personally, I find his style rather addictive, and I jump at any opportunity to view one of his works. Imagine my delight, then, when I saw that Godine publishes one of the many titles adapted for the screen by Hitchcock, The 39 Steps (the short story is contained in Four Adventures of Richard Hannay by John Buchan). If you are interested in making a comparison between the story on the page and on the screen (as I am), then you will be pleased to know that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film is conveniently available on

My relationship with the story is a bit backwards: I was first introduced to it through the stage production spoofing Hitchcock’s film adaptation when it was performed at the Huntington Theatre in 2007 (On a side note: The 39 Steps is still playing at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End). I laughed my way through a very amusing show, and, curious to know what it was based off of, followed my trip to the theatre with a viewing of the black and white movie. This too proved to be very enjoyable and marked the start of my fascination with Mr. Hitchcock. Based on this interest, I recently began to read the original work that sparked both the movie and the play as well as a darker 2008 BBC television adaptation. Already, I am wrapped up in the story, holding my breath and wondering if Mr. Hannay, the main character, will survive his next dash from one windy Scottish hilltop to the next, or whether his disguise will fool the nefarious crew that is hot on his trail.

I guess the moral of this story is that it is the story that counts. I am sure that Hitchcock’s treatment of the tale brought a great deal of publicity to John Buchan’s writing (that is how I first heard of him), but the endurance of the story must be attributed to the author himself. You can be sure that once The 39 Steps is completed, I will devour the remainder of the collection. On my list of future reads: John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier – I’m bound to learn something interesting about the man who was able to weave such an engaging narrative. So, thank you, Mr. Hitchcock, for turning my eyes in the direction of Mr. Buchan: I have been quite entertained by the roads that this connection has led me down.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

As the weather improves and we look to the blossoming of flowers in May, we offer a Superior Person's Word worthy of rejuvenation.

- a. Restored to life, or to full liveliness. Use after the noun, and preferably after an incongruously nonclassical noun. If, for example, your name is Boggins, you might emerge from your shower, taken after a hard day's gardening, and cry to your wife: "Behold! Boggins redivivus!"

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. Redivivus appears in the First.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

When I’m not on duty as a Godine intern, the majority of my time is spent doing one of two things: attending my Graphic Design classes, or doing homework for them. In my print-based course a few weeks ago, my professor displayed some images of particularly beautiful book covers to demonstrate effective book design styles and strategies. One of the covers he chose to show was in fact a Godine publication: Men of Letters and People of Substance by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich.

As you can see, the cover is indeed compelling, but the content is remarkable. Who could have imagined that a typeface could so elegantly portray the face of Virginia Woolf?

Or that Stephen King could emerge from the letters that spell his name?

I so thoroughly enjoyed the artwork contained in the book, as well as the concept behind it, that soon after I finished reading, I looked further into de Cumptich as an artist. Once you get the hang of it, his website offers a creative and unique display of his work, including links to two other websites with which he was involved. One of these ( even gives you an animated sneak peek at his book! (Hint: click the moving vertical lines on the homepage.)

Note: You may need Flash Player in order to view these webpages.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Day with David

What could be better than road tripping to Connecticut with the windows down on a sunny March day while listening to audio books? Having David R. Godine, the man of New England independent trade publishing himself, as your personal driver.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany David on meetings with bookstore buyers to discuss our spring titles. We paid three visits: Maureen at Breakwater Books, Nancy at R.J. Julia Booksellers, and Suzie at the UConn Co-op. (But first, we jazzed up from the sluggishness induced by a 3-hour car ride with coffee at Cilantro Coffee Roasters, three doors down from Breakwater Books in Guilford, CT. Grabbing a cup of coffee there and then browsing the bookstore could potentially be the best way you’ve ever spent a Sunday morning.) To begin, David and I would lug two tote bags bursting with new books and popular backlist titles from his Prius to the store door, then maneuver the door open without spilling coffee onto the bags below. (This was quite the feat, I can assure you.) Once inside, I expected we would have to check in with one of the staff members and receive approval to make our way to the back, but no. People seemed to know David and just smiled as he walked straight to the offices. The meetings then began with friendly bantering between David and the buyer. Each of these buyers has been meeting with David for years, so they knew him and his titles well. At some point during these exchanges, David would kindly introduce me. Breakwater Books was the only place I got introduced as “Melanie, an intern.” Maureen said I looked just like Tina Fey, so David referred to me as “Tina” for the rest of the day.

Then it was down to business. David would flip open a catalog, and start whipping out copies of the books we brought. David was, to put it modestly, an expert salesman. It was clear that he had familiarized himself with every store and knew exactly what each buyer would be most interested in purchasing. He knew Maureen needed art books, Nancy would mainly be interested in fiction, and Suzie had a soft spot for gardening books. He didn’t waste time trying to sell books that weren’t applicable and moved on to a title he knew they’d make a profit on. (If only all sales staff were as thoughtful . . . ) The buyers also graciously went out of their way to talk to me about the bookstore end of the business – how they choose titles to sell, which publicity techniques work best for them, etc. A big thank you to David and these buyers for teaching me so much!

I do have one complaint. The first audio book we listened to was the lousiest mystery novel I’ve ever encountered. It had all the earmarks of a cheap dime novel – brothels, a less-than-virtuous detective, murder and suicide, with a plot you could detect (pun intended) by page 9. For example, towards the end, the prostitute character pulls a handgun out of her desk. Out of HER DESK. Can you say cliché? Seriously, I think a few of my brain cells died at that moment.

But the bookselling know-how and vitamin D I absorbed that day was probably enough to resuscitate them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Plenilunary a. - Pertaining to the full moon. Useful for excuses.

"I'm awfully sorry, Cynthia – we'd love to come around tonight, but it's that time of the month again, I'm afraid, and we have to consider poor Quentin's plenilunary condition."

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. Plenilunary appears in the First.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Special Limited Time Poetry Offer!

For over forty years, Black Sparrow Books and David R. Godine, Publisher have been committed to poets and poetry. On every list, from the very beginning, both firms supported works of original talent.

In celebration of National Poetry Month and as a show of our enduring appreciation to our customers, we are offering a one-time sale of 50–80% off the list price of all of our poetry titles on our websites ( and

Please click here to read descriptions of our poetry titles, to see our sale prices, and to place your order.

This offer will expire on May 30, 2011.
Please note: Shipping and handling is an additional fee.

If you would prefer to order by phone, please call 1-800-344-4771.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

In honor of the upcoming Boston Marathon . . .

Fartlek n. Okay here's one for my juvenile readers. Nothing amuses a thirteen-year-old so much as the word "fart." But "fartlek" has nothing to do with the evacuation of bodily gases . . . Fartlek, for those who are still paying attention, is a method of training long distance runners, whereby the trainee runs across country, alternating speed work with slow jogging. From the Swedish, meaning, literally, "speed play." Why not call out from the back of the class, during a quieter moment: "Miss Adamson, do you know what Smith does every Thursday afternoon after school? He does fartlek! For two hours!"

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. Fartlek appears in the Second.

Tip for Writers: A Secret to Achieving Literary Immortality

People write for different reasons. One reason that lingers in the back-forty of the psyche of most writers is a yearning that they'll be remembered. It's a human enough weakness. John Gardner, one of my influences and a great writer, said that the best reason to write was "glory." He obviously wanted his work to be read by generations to come.

There are certain requirements to literary immortality that are not secrets. You have to find a publisher. It's not necessary to have a large readership while you are alive but it doesn't hurt. Dying young is sometimes a big plus. Quality content helps, but it's no guarantee. Most writers of quality die in obscurity and their work remains forever unread and unremarked upon over the millennia.

Some writers are anointed but most are not. Talent and luck are the main reasons behind literary immortality, and I won't mentioned other obvious reasons, none of which writers have any control over. There is one reason – a secret, if you will – that I can tell the world today and that writers do have control over.

I learned the secret in casual conversation with a scholar who had written a book about the beat writer Jack Kerouac.

"Seems like every year there's a book about Kerouac," I said. "He was certainly a good writer, but there were a lot of good writers during the period he lived. Why him?"

The scholar smiled, paused, and said, "He kept good notes."

So there it is, a tip that any writer can use if he/she wants to commit to a lifetime labor that might FUBAR his/her head. Kerouac kept the letters he received, and he made copies of the letters he sent. He recorded the minutia of his life, set it down in typed note cards that he filed neatly. He kept successive drafts of his work. He taught himself to type very fast. He chronicled his personal as well as literary life for the ages.

Say it's the year 2100. You want to write a biography of a writer who came of age in the first century of the millennia. You believe that Yu was a great writer, but Yu's papers are a mess. She never archived her emails. She zapped all the MS Word drafts of her books, and she did not keep a journal. She scribbled her notes on scraps of paper, but never dated nor organized any of them, threw most away. By comparison Uy, also a great writer, archived all his emails, filed his correspondence with other writers and his editors. He dated and filed the love notes he wrote to his three wives and six children. He kept a detailed journal of his work in progress, his feelings, and his opinions about the issues of his day.

Go figure.

—Ernest Hebert

Hebert lives in New Hampshire and teaches writing at Dartmouth College. His novels in­clude The Old American and the acclaimed six-volume Darby series. Godine will publish his forthcoming novel, Never Back Down, in June 2011.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wanda Coleman - What Does a Black Poem Look Like?

Wanda Coleman, a Black Sparrow poet, has just posted a powerful piece on the Poetry Foundation's blog:

What Does a Black Poem Look Like?

The speculations of contemporary thinkers on the future of humankind tend to fail and often seem silly in retrospect. Only those with the power, position and money to design that future (on hugely political, scientific and economic scales) can predict it, because they control and influence the change in and the passage of the four governmental levels of laws and regulations that dictate the future for those living and for those yet to be born. They are in control of the criminal justice system. They are affecting who and who does not become a criminal of the most beastly kind. They are affecting who and who does not become a leader in one’s society. In the interval of Now, the poet and writer affects what will come in terms of the emotional, social and aesthetic values/landscapes of the culture, and does this best when being as representative, as much as possible, of one’s time, having mastered one’s craft as well as one is able. Poets and writers determine what is important in the present, with the hope that what is encapsulated will have increasing value over the passage of time. Some poets write to inspire social change. Some write to document a way of life. Some write for the sheer love of writing, and more. Whatever drives the poet and writer, we represent our Now to those future beings. In Y3K, I hope that the readers of my poetry will look back and find it dreadfully passé and that the emotional, social and oft political issues I confront are things of the savage past and God bless ’em. That a significant portion of the work of Langston Hughes, or Mark Twain, remains relevant; or, that Ai’s complaint, repeated by Kwame Dawes, still evokes argument and dismay, speaks volumes about what little progress has been made on those emotional, social and aesthetic fronts when it comes to discussions on race relations. Electing a Black president has not uprooted or effectively mitigated the racism that continues to dominate American discourse even when couched or unspoken. Celebrating MLK Day or Black History month ain’t bloody gettin’ it. Neither did the Bush Administration apology for slavery without attaching one effing cent in reparations to the parchment. To Hell and Damnation with timelessness. I want my poems to go out of date as fast as possible.

Black Sparrow Books has published several titles by Coleman including Jazz and Twelve O'Clock Tales, Mercurochrome, The Riot Inside Me, Bathwater Wine, and African Sleeping Sickness.

The Woman in Black - Trailer

The teaser trailer for this feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe was just released! The film is due out in late 2011.

Godine is proud to publish the US edition of The Woman in Black.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Florence and Photography

Recently I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Florence, Italy where I spent a week visiting museums, drinking cappuccinos, and wandering about the city streets. Before departing, I happened to be glancing through the office library (something I try to do every time I pass by the shelves – you never know what title will jump out at you) when out of the corner of my eye I caught the word “Arno.”

Italy was on my mind, so I picked up the title, wondering vaguely if it had anything to do with the river that runs through Florence. Did it ever. Angels on the Arno is a lovely, contemplative book of photographs taken by Eric Lindbloom in Florence between 1979 and 1987, beautifully documenting intimate glimpses of the city. The book’s introduction speaks far more eloquently, saying, “. . . Lindbloom’s Florence seems at once so familiar and yet so strange. So empty for a center of commerce and tourism! Outside of time, as Linda Pastan suggests, but not in the eternal present of the guidebooks; rather, an historical present.”

I made a few notes to take with me on my trip, with the hopes of experiencing and enjoying in person some of the evocative artwork and locations featured in the photographs, and also with the thought of recreating some of Lindbloom’s shots (if possible). During the course of my stay in Florence, however, I was struck by how much the city had both changed and remained the same. Although I visited many of the locations from the book, I met with little luck in discovering the same scenes or even the same statues.

Additionally, photography was prohibited at many of the sites where Lindbloom had photographed. The photography ban was most distressing in the breathtaking cemetery at San Miniato al Monte. I spent several hours one misty, overcast day in the cemetery, meandering between mausoleums, admiring the sculptures and absorbing the peace and calm that is unique to such places. Revisiting the book now, I am impressed with how far Lindbloom’s photography goes to capture the mood and atmosphere of San Miniato.
Included below are four photographs, two from Angels at the Arno, two from my own unskilled lens, that attempt to illustrate how, despite many inevitable changes, the city of Florence has remained unaltered. Some things stay the same . . .

. . . but more accurately, some things never change.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Garrison Keillor

We're doing a little Spring cleaning in the Godine office and we came across this print featuring a brilliant piece of writing by Garrison Keillor. It's lovely (click the image for a larger, readable version):

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Now that many Boston/Cambridge area college students have returned from their Spring Breaks . . .

n. - Total refreshment; revival or revitalization. You stagger into the bar, collapse onto the stool immediately facing the bathycolpian (q.v.) barmaid, and gasp: "Refocillate me!" Whether she understands or misunderstands you, there is at least some chance that you will achieve refocillation.

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. Refocillation appears in the Second.

Monday, April 4, 2011

J.M.G. Le Clezio - Essay in Newsweek

Newsweek is currently featuring an essay from Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Godine author and 2008 Nobel laureate in literature, where he recalls his birthplace, Nice, with decidedly mixed feelings:

"This corner of the Mediterranean is very old indeed. In the 1960s, workmen on a hill, prophetically called Terra Amata (Beloved Earth), discovered the remains of a prehistoric camp. Archeologist Henry de Lumley identified it as a meeting—and feasting—place dating back roughly half a million years, perhaps, ironically, to the ancestors of the Berbers who would later populate the whole rim of the Mediterranean, from Algeria to Lebanon. The name of the town came from the Greeks—Niké, victory. And the Romans settled here and founded a city high in the hills for fear of the pirates and mosquitoes that infested the coast; they built an arena to practice their favorite pastimes, circus games and the immolation of Christians. They say the ghost of a martyred virgin still haunts that district.

What does it mean for me, being born and growing up in such a town? Does its antiquity give me (and everyone born here) a curious feeling of superiority, a kind of skepticism, an inclination to fatalism? As if everything had come here, carried by the sea waves and the invasions, as if everything had landed here, driven by storms or coming with the tide, onto the worn and weather-beaten pebbled beach."

. . .

"The leading tendency here is not toward openness: people waver between frank fascism and latent xenophobia. My latest find is a T shirt with the motto sieu nissart et m’embatti, which could be translated as “I don’t care, I am Nissart.” No doubt this is one momentary attitude in the history of this town—it’s the advantage of being heir to such an ancient past. I was born in Nissa la Bella, I grew up here, and there is probably no place in the world I understand better. My feelings for Nice are a bit like what is sometimes written on Mexican cakes for Valentine’s Day: te amo y te odio. I love you and I hate you."

Read the entire essay here. Le Clezio is the author of both Desert and The Prospector, available from Godine.