Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Xenoglossia n. The supposed ability to communicate with others in a language which you do not know. (A term from the world of so-called "psychic research.") The impracticability of this concept is soon exposed if you attempt to talk with your teenager using some of the terms that you have heard him use in conversation with his friends. This will, however, at least afford him considerable entertainment, and you will be pressed, with much sniggering, to "say that again" — something that he will never otherwise say to you.

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. Xenoglossia appears in the Third.

Dorade in the Wall Street Journal

A big thank you goes to Angus Phillips for his terrific review in the Wall Street Journal of Godine's Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht by Douglas D. Adkins (foreword by Llewellyn Howland III) this past weekend:

Boats, like people, have yarns to spin, some better than others. Dorade, the low-slung wooden yawl that revolutionized ocean racing nearly a century ago and launched the career of America's greatest modern yacht designer, has a rich tale to tell. Indeed, it's still unfolding.

At 82, the graceful dowager still slices through whitecaps on the West Coast, where she is in the hands of her 15th owner—or caretaker, as he might more aptly be described. "She was, and is, unique," writes Douglas D. Adkins in Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht. "On one hand, lovely and dainty, and on the other purposeful and determined. She is still an icon of a certain beauty in yacht design.''

The story of Dorade, named for the colorful ocean fish that the Spanish call dorado and that we call mahi-mahi, is as much a celebration of her designer as it is of her. That would be Olin Stephens, whose name stands below only the "Wizard of Bristol," Nathanael G. Herreshoff, atop the Who's Who of American yacht designers.

. . .

[Douglas D. Adkins's] book is a good one, thoroughly researched, well written, with excellent historical photos and artwork. . . . Olin Stephens went on to design better boats, he would have been the first to concede. But dainty, determined Dorade is the one for which he is remembered best. Eighty-odd years on, she's still rolling, free wide and handsome, and still turning heads.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Translation - David Bellos at Princeton

David Bellos, the author of Georges Perec: A Life in Words, a biography, and translator of several of Perec’s works (available from Godine: "53 Days"; Life A User's Manual; Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep; Thoughts of Sorts; Three by Perec; and W, or the Memory of Childhood) has become the go-to man for thoughts, opinions and strategies when translating a work. A professor at Princeton University, Bellos teaches in the French, Italian, and comparative literature departments. After joining the staff in 1997, he created an undergraduate certificate Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication in 2007. His wide range of skills and contribution to the university are why on February 10th, he was the feature story on Princeton’s website in an article by Paul Karr.

From "News at Princeton":

"David has sparked a good deal of student and faculty interest in the field," said Sandra Bermann, the Cotsen Professor of the Humanities and a professor of comparative literature at Princeton. "Translation is not only for literature majors; it's gaining importance in the social sciences, the sciences and engineering, as well as in the humanities. Even students at Princeton who have no particular literary interests take courses in the certificate program, and David has done a superb job getting that program off the ground."

Bellos is known to integrate various different examples of translation in the classroom, most recently showing the British film “Slumdog Millionaire” in his senior seminar. In order to demonstrate the importance of translation and language in a film’s overall feel, Bellos instructed six students to watch different versions of “Slumdog”, including the U.S. release in English, the French version, and the Spanish version. The students all reported different impressions of the film, based upon the different languages it was presented in. These findings only reinforce the research Bellos has done over the years, and why he asserts, “a translation is different from the original. It can never be the same thing. But it's not worse.”
. . .

I have had similar experiences when taking a Hindi/Urdu class at Boston University. Growing up watching Bollywood films and speaking Hindi to my family, I took the class to learn the beautiful script. However, there was a speaking component for the non-native speakers in the class, and in order to aid their conversation skills, my professor often screened Bollywood films. Occasionally, a non-native speaker would ask my professor the direct translation of a colloquial phrase, and we would look at each other and shrug. Try as you might, some things just can’t be translated and retain the intended meaning. And yet, as Bellos says, “A text and its translation are two different objects, and they always will be. So we must grant the translator authority in a language we do not know.” With his new book Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, Bellos will keep inspiring his students to try to understand the world in more than one tongue.

David Bellos, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for translation (2005) and the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie (1994), grew up in Southend-on-Sea, England. He is a professor of French, Italian and comparative literature at Princeton University.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books"

Gabe Habash over at Publishers Weekly's PWxyz blog has a great personal piece on ""The Wonderful and Terrible Habit of Buying Too Many Books" which references Walter Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library":

“…ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.”

Gabe's problem: a library of far too many books that he hasn't even read. Of course this is one of the best "problems" to have and I'm sure many of us can relate. Gabe ends the piece on a cheerful note:

"A library of mostly unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read. There’s nothing more exciting than finishing a book, and walking over to your shelves to figure out what you’re going to read next.

So, the solution here is to just slow down on the buying, not cut it out entirely, which means things like limiting myself to one book per bookstore visit. As I start to chip away at the huge list of Books I Want To Read, I’m sure that list will deepen and broaden in ways I can’t predict, so eventually the library may be more balanced and not so skewed toward books I haven’t read, but it will never be fixed row of read books. Libraries aren’t meant to be intractable, they’re meant to change, and they change by buying books. As long as I don’t trip over those piles of books on my floor and break my leg, it seems to me that having too many books on your hands is a pretty wonderful problem to have."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Reconsidering Perec’s Library"

Late last week Vice writer Blake Butler paid homage to Godine author Georges Perec’s intriguing look at library organization in the essay, “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books.” While according to Butler, some “less active readers” feel that an arrangement with no specific order suffices for their libraries, a more passionate breed indulges in assorted, distinctive, and often spontaneous setups. Perec’s suggestions for creating libraries that delight their owners are neither narrow nor rigid. Rather, he leaves the decision up to the readers, instead asking them to reevaluate how they perceive their favorite books.

From Vice:

"In 1978, Georges Perec published a now-famous essay titled, 'Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books,' in which he outlines various analytical methods one might use to organize a home library. He suggests the following possibilities for classification: alphabetically, by continent or country, by color, by date of acquisition, by date of publication, by format, by genre, by major periods of literary history, by language, by priority for future reading, by binding, by series. 'None of these classifications is satisfactory by itself,' Perec notes, 'every library is ordered starting from a combination of these modes of classification, whose relative weighting, resistance to change, obsolescence, and persistence give every library a unique personality.'"

An avid reader since elementary school, I have often altered my bedroom “library”, (the cramped area between my headboard and the wall), and now reconfigure my dorm room “library”, (the cramped area between my futon and the dresser). No matter how minimal the space, I’ve enjoyed arranging my books to my liking, from a kindergarten obsession with flashy covers (Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish often taking center stage), to a middle school self consciousness with stealthily obscured romantic titles. However, I’ve been fairly vanilla with my bookshelves. Butler’s take on Perec’s essay is an interesting one in that once we begin to examine unique library arrangements, we realize that the possibilities are endless. One of his most far-fetched musings is of organizing books based on, “the number of times a copy of the book has been carried into a McDonald’s.” Although most of us would not attempt this, the choices are fascinating even when they aren’t pragmatic. By imploring his readers to rearrange their bookshelves, Perec summoned not only the organization in his readers, but also the creativity.

Georges Perec is the author of Life: A User’s Manual, hailed as “one of the great novels of the century” by (among others) the Times Literary Supplement and the Boston Globe. His other books include W, or The Memory of Childhood; Things: A Store of the Sixties and A Man Asleep; Thoughts of Sorts; A Void; and Three by Perec, all available in paperback from Godine. Georges Perec died of cancer in 1989.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poet Donald Hall on Fresh Air

Godine is proud to publish titles by 83-year-old former poet laureate Donald Hall, including String Too Short to Be Saved and the children's books Lucy's Summer, Lucy's Christmas, and The Man Who Lived Alone. NPR's Fresh Air just interviewed Hall ("A Poet's View 'Out the Window'"). Here are highlights:

On the most unanticipated part of growing older

"I don't mean to sound superior, but when I was a young man, like 60, I looked at 83-year-olds as if they came from another galaxy. And now I find myself being seen that way. . . . In general, sometimes I don't exist. People don't see me. I know I would have been like that [when I was younger], but it is weird to be in that position."

On fulfillment

"As long as I can do my work and continue to enjoy myself working on words, as in this essay ["Out the Window"], I feel fulfilled. My body causes me trouble when I cross the room, but when I am sitting down writing, I am in my heaven — my old heaven. I began writing when I was 12, I don't think very well. But I've been doing it my whole life. It's been the center of my life, with loves and children, but writing is something I have that not everyone has that I adore."

On living in his grandparents' house

"It's an enormous comfort, which is only interrupted by sad thoughts. I don't mean I'm cheerful every minute about what happens to the house after I die. I live with more bookcases and with crazy pictures on the walls in the same rooms where I spent this delectable childhood, and it is wonderful. I really always wanted to live here. I didn't think I could ever afford to live here. I came to visit my grandmother as she got to be very old, but it seemed out of reach with what I do for a living. Then I married [the late poet] Jane Kenyon and we came here to visit; and she was born and grew up in Michigan, and fell in love with the house, the landscape, what she could see of the social mores of the country. She wanted to live here."

On getting comfort from the idea of his books outliving him

"I can't say it does. I have hope, but I do not have anything like conviction or knowledge that they will. I have been alive too long among too many writers . . . who have died, and they are not thinking of afterwards. Having some success in your life doesn't mean that your work will endure. In an almanac, look at the list of winners of the Pulitzer Prize over the last 60-70 years and see how many names you remember. It's chilling. I can hope, I can daydream, but certainly think that the chances of me being read 50 years from now or 100 years from now are probably not good. That cannot be your only end. You can not write to be immortal because you will never know. It's impossible. Just write as well as you can and don't speculate about whether you will be Chaucer or Shakespeare."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

John Banville in Rain Taxi

Rain Taxi Review of Books, based in Minneapolis, features a great article on Irish writer John Banville in their current online edition. Featured is an overview of the best of Banville's work, including The Newton Letter (Godine, 1987). An excerpt from the article:

Style is not merely a superficial concern in Banville, it is how he conjures the secrets he is after. He approvingly quotes Henry James: “In literature, we move through a blessed world, in which we know nothing except through style, and in which everything is redeemed by style.” As a novelist slightly irritated with the form and limitations of the novel, Banville has defiantly expressed disregard for most aspects associated with it, professing “little or no interest in characters, plot, motivation, manners, politics, morality or social issue . . .” In their stead, it seems that his abiding interest is nicely suggested in the opening lines of Czeslaw Milosz’s magisterial “Ars Poetica”: “I have always aspired to a more spacious form / that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose.” This “spacious form” is one that Banville inhabits quite well in his oeuvre, which is rich, allusive, playful, and existential at the same time.
. . .
Throughout it all, there is no escaping the sheer pleasure of Banville’s singing prose—his wondrous-strange manner, which boasts a profusion of gifts and an uncommon sensitivity to the ineffable. We’re confronted with the work of a muralist and also a miniaturist, someone equally at ease tackling the large themes—time, memory ("The past beats inside me like a second heart,” he writes in The Sea), authenticity, alternative existences—as he is capable of devoting loving attention to the details that make up our world. We emerge from his novels, senses tingling brightly, somehow more aware of our possibilities. And Banville honors “the ordinary, that strangest and most elusive of enigmas” through his allegiance to indeterminacy, often content to leave mysteries unresolved, thrumming.

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His many novels include Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, The Newton Letter (Godine, 1987), Mefisto (Godine, 1986), Athena, The Book of Evidence (which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize), and The Untouchable. His novel The Sea was awarded the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Formerly the literary editor of the Irish Times, John Banville lives with his family in Dublin.

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Oniomania n An irresistible urge to buy things. The condition is generally in association with penury; where it is not, it soon will be, especially as omniomaniacs, like thermanesthesiacs (q.v.), often marry each other.

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. Oniomania appears in the Second.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bill Henderson's memoir

With All My Dogs, his memoir about childhood, marriage and most prominently, the dogs throughout his life, Bill Henderson teaches his readers about living with a heart open to love. In the book he reflects on a life that was sometimes glorious and sometimes trying, but almost always soothed by the presence of a dog.

Henderson has said that this memoir is his near seventy-year life story, and that in previous memoirs, leaving out his dogs had been an “oversight.” It has become clear that the inclusion of his thirteen dogs was a great decision, because All My Dogs has received incredible reviews, most recently from the Washington Post, which said, “memoirs like this don’t happen along very often.” The author says that the public reaction is “becoming overwhelming” but that he is thrilled with the feedback he has received. Having just done an interview with the BBC, All My Dogs has gone international. In his BBC segment, Henderson speaks of two of the dogs that have significantly impacted his life, Sophie and Lulu. The former saved his marriage, while the latter became his companion when both were diagnosed with cancer. Lulu is considered particularly special to Henderson. In the prelude of All My Dogs, he writes, “Of the many dogs I have known, she was my life dog, the one closest to my heart.”

At Henderson’s recent book signing at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, NY the bookstore was packed with enthusiastic readers. By the end of the event, they had sold out of books. When asked about his success, Henderson says that he is “especially thankful to Godine” for being so in love with the books they publish. He feels that this small publishing house has been a huge pleasure to work with because of the individual attention a memoir such as All My Dogs has received. Up next: He is planning to write about a little stone chapel he is building on his property in Maine.

Bill Henderson is founder of Pushcart Press and editor and publisher of the annual Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, now in its thirty-fifth year. He is the author of the memoirs His Son (Norton, 1981), Her Father (Faber and Faber, 1995), Tower (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), and Simple Gifts (Free Press, 2006). He received the 2006 Poets & Writers/Barnes & Noble "Writers for Writers" citation and the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nicholas Nixon's New Project

In 1991, David R. Godine published People with AIDS, photographs by Nicholas Nixon, the distinguished large-format photographer from Brookline, and text by Bebe Nixon. Fifteen extraordinary people with AIDS volunteered to work with the Nixons; Nicholas Nixon's straightforward and uncontrived photographs combine with Bebe Nixon's faithful rendering of a myriad of conversations and letters. The book is a description of a single event, the onslaught of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and how it affected fifteen individuals, their families, and their friends. Andy Grunberg (New York Times) offered praise: "These images . . . are the most searing, sobering, and unforgettable photographs of Nixon's career. They may also be the most powerful images yet taken of the tragedy that is AIDS."

Yesterday the Boston Globe featured Nicholas Nixon's new project: nude portraits of adults at home. From the Globe:

He’s not interested in what’s sexy, he said. “I’m interested in who’s home.’’

Unfortunately, for Nixon, not enough people are opening the door.

Never has he had so much trouble finding subjects. When he was looking to shoot couples, he advertised in local newspapers and “people called up by the flocks.’’ For his project on people over 100, he asked for referrals from doctors at Boston Medical Center and was swamped with volunteers. To find mothers of babies, he joined a Jamaica Plain mothers’ chat group and got 200 subjects in a month.

Not this time, although it’s not for want of trying. He asks everyone he meets if they will pose for him. He’s put word out to fellow faculty members at MassArt. He posted a request with his neighborhood association chat group, phrasing it carefully so it won’t sound like a Craigslist come-on, promising to “make the pictures as beautiful and faithful as I can’’ and offering complete control over what might be published. He’s gone back to the mothers’ chat group, but instead of 200 replies, this time he only got three or four.
. . .

“I’ve learned everybody’s body is a bigger part of life than I thought,’’ Nixon said. “It’s a secret just to them or whoever their sweetheart is. The mortician sees it at the end. Doctors and nurses see it along the way. But you guard it for yourself, and there is something very artificial about taking [your clothes] off for a viewer. . . . I guess I’ve learned there is something a little sacred about one’s body, and I’ve learned how to be more humble, more appreciative of the gift of their suspending that for me.’’