Friday, June 29, 2012

Don Share - Interview with Chapter 16

Black Sparrow Books is thrilled to publish Wishbone, the latest collection from Don Share, senior editor of Poetry magazine in Chicago. Share recently spoke with Chapter 16 ("a community of Tennessee writers, readers & passersby") about his new book, the centennial year of Poetry magazine, and his Memphis roots.

From the interview:

Chapter 16: The title poem, “Wishbone,” begins with a clear, assertive voice: “I have a bone to pick / with whoever runs this joint.” The “joint” is our world, and the god here comes across as an inept manager who has some communication problems with his staff. Many poets find it quite difficult to approach religion in poems. What are some of your strategies for doing so? 
Share: Yes, the joint is the whole big world: there are times when we ask, “Hey, who’s running all this?” “Looking Over My Shoulder” talks similarly about the “man upstairs.” It’s not that God is inept, but it’s more about that feeling we have sometimes: “Who do we complain to?” I’m playing around with that desperation—and whininess. As it happens, “Wishbone” is in the voice of a dying cat, and from his perspective, human beings are in charge, making godlike decisions in the face of which he feels powerless, though this is a tough cat and he suffers no loss of nobility or character even at the very end of it all. Needless to say, a cat can’t talk; I wanted to give one language for a short spell so he could speak his piece. A bit of tragicomic relief, you might say.

Chapter 16: In your blog, you quote Jeanette Winterson, who recently rebuked the notion that poetry is a luxury, something to do when one has leisure time: “A tough life needs tough language—and that is what poetry is,” she wrote. “That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place.” Can you talk a bit about how your own poems in Wishbone serve as a finding place? 
Share: That quote is in Winterson’s latest book, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and it means a lot to me. A writer’s job is to say how it is. Well, I suddenly find myself at the age when real loss sets in. I was used to being so young! So I’m finding out what we all find out, if we stick around long enough. But it’s not easy, and we certainly don’t have much choice. The poems in Wishbone describe what it’s like to have obstacles thrown in your way, but there really is something both funny and sad about it. That’s what we find out, if we stick around long enough: what can be said.

. . . 

Chapter 16: Are there any ways in which you see yourself as a specifically Southern writer? Any ways growing up in Memphis particularly has affected your poems or the way you think about the nature of your writing?
Don Share: I do see myself as a Southern writer. My first book, Union, was very explicitly about Memphis and about the South in general. I don’t live there now, but its whole way of life has warmly permeated everything I think and do; it never leaves me. The music, the food, the weather, the way people talk—these things are not clichés; they nourished me every step of the way. You are where you come from.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Procerity, n Tallness, height. "I think you showed great procerity out there, darling," you say proudly to your gangling teenager after she has just done her bit in the ballet class's end-of-term performance.
Robert Wadlow shows more procerity than any other person in recorded history.

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. Procerity appears in the First.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ulysses, illustrated by Matisse

In a recent post, Brain Pickings showed us a stunning version of James Joyce’s Ulysses with illustrations by Henri Matisse. Unable to own the book ourselves, we default to the words of the author: “a glorious leather-bound tome with 22-karat gold accents, gilt edges, moire fabric endsheets, and a satin page marker.” Despite its outward beauty, the etchings are the real collectors’ items:

Last year we were thrilled to immerse ourselves in the richly colored paintings included in our title Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America, written and illustrated by Susan Fillion. The book tells the true story of two unmarried sisters from a German-Jewish family in Baltimore amassing one of the major collections of modern art in America. Before long, they had one of the foremost collections of Matisse’s work in the world.

Fillion, an artist and museum educator in Baltimore, carefully mixes works by Matisse, Picasso, and others alongside originals of her own in the book. The result is a detailed, intimate commentary on the two women and the art they shared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Photophobia n The morbid dread of light. You know – that thing of Dracula's. And of the computer generation.

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. Photophobia appears in the Third.

David's Publisher's Note

Each Godine trade catalog features a Publisher's Note from David. The one from our Fall 2012 catalog is certainly worth sharing with you today:

Godine and the Brave New World

Hardly a week goes by when I am not asked what Godine is doing about e-books and Amazon and what effect these new media will have on our business. Good questions with some cloudy answers. If you look through this catalogue, you can see for yourself how few of our titles will or – given the present technology – can make an easy or satisfactory transition to a handheld electronic device. There is a reason why books such as The Hand of the Small-Town Builder and Waterfront New York offer two-page spreads that are carefully designed, and not easily disassembled, visual units. The design and the production of such titles are as much a part of their value as “intellectual property” as the words and images. Broken apart and parsed, outside their considered context, they lose meaning and impact.

The printed book has survived for five hundred years because it is, like a violin, a machine perfectly suited to its use. We take books for granted and can instinctively find the title page, the index, or the table of contents. They “open” without turning on a switch. We’ve never issued a user’s manual (apart from Georges Perec’s Life a User’s Manual). There is a comfort level with a book that needs little explanation – or justification.

If there is a revolution it involves a) how text, relatively pure text, is now stored and transmitted and b) the physical distribution of information. Consider our lead book, Le Clézio’s memoir of growing up in Africa. Here it doesn’t matter in what type size or style you read the text. The files needed to read this text can be manufactured and sold cheaply, on a “per read” basis, far more cheaply than a physical book. The real issue is the price the reader is willing to pay, and the publisher is willing to ask, for the content. Companies like Amazon don’t develop (or even recognize) a talent like Le Clézio, but they have the technology to distribute – both the physical book and the electronic counterpart. They are delivering the milk, but they are hardly attending to the cow. If books (the milk) are sold for $9.99 through Amazon, who is going to step forward to take care of the cow at $26.95? And if it makes so little difference to the reader through which “device” the text is accessed – a book or a Kindle – I would argue it’s clear who in time will win this battle.

But, of course, content does have a price: the price of selecting and developing it, of editing and organizing it. These are the costs that are not reflected in a “distribution model” where one pays only for the end results. This is a battle between content creators and content distributors that will be played out over the next decade, complicated by an electronic revolution that has made content creation open to virtually anyone. If you own and can operate a computer, you can write, design, and distribute a book. The numbers are astonishing; in 2009 “non-traditional” (meaning self-published or on-demand titles) accounted for 267,000 new titles. In 2010, that number had spiked tenfold, to more than 2,775,000. It’s a new world, more confused than brave, and we’re doing our best to cope with it. But speaking personally, I was just as happy in the old one, and the books you’ll encounter in this catalogue probably reflect a bias toward quality book making better than any justification you’ll read in a Publisher’s Note.  


Monday, June 18, 2012

Karsh: Beyond the Camera

Godine’s latest photography book, Karsh: Beyond the Camera, is particularly special to us, not to mention gorgeous. The book attempts to offer new perspective on the great photographer, Yousuf Karsh. In 1988, Jerry Fielder, then Karsh's long-time studio assistant and currently Director of the Karsh Estate, sat down with the master photographer and taped over nine hours of recollections of the many portrait sessions Karsh had experienced in his great career. This recording has never before been made available.

Author David Travis, former Curator of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, arranged the photographs in the book, presents Karsh’s commentary from the 1988 recordings and other sources, and then expands and situates these thoughts. The result is the chilling feeling you’ve just spoken with some of the most iconic figures of the century. You come away with little bits of their personality, fueled by anecdotes and impressions. 

This might be because portraiture is a fascinating and unique medium, wrought with a fluidity I think Richard Brilliant explains best in his book, Portraiture: “ . . . the oscillation between art object and human subject, represented so personally, is what give portraits their extraordinary grasp on our imagination.” What’s particularly interesting is that Karsh’s subjects are people that we’re all superficially familiar with. And, like with modern celebrities, we create a certain relationship based on our own perception. To view these photographs then brings us closer to the subjects in a new way, and creates a certain dialogue and intimacy. My favorite part of sitting down with the book was reading the accompanying text from Karsh and Travis, and learning, for example, that the Hemingway photo wasn’t just a “blank face,” but rather a man concealing his physical pain. The text helps us move the images from art to person, as Brilliant put it.

Ernest Hemingway, March 15, 1957, Novelist
[Hemingway is] an adventurous man, a man of great ability in writing. He’s loved for the safari in Africa, his courage in the bull ring, yet he was very shy. In retrospect, I feel that this was after [a] second major airplane crash in Africa. When I photographed him, his back was in agony. He could not walk comfortably. And consequently, the shyness he exhibited – I had to work with him alone, asking Mary, his wife, to leave the room [and] my assistant – was merely that the giant of Hemingway’s caliber did not wish to exhibit any experience of agony and physical pain. And this was where my experience was reinforced that he was the shyest man I have ever photographed.
—Karsh (interview with Don Michel, December 1974, audio cassette)

This portrait of Hemingway, dressed in a sweater suitable for chilly days, was taken in the writer’s villa in tropical Cuba. There are other contradictions in the picture. One critic wrote that there is nothing in this photograph that teaches us about Hemingway as a writer or as a man. Is it just a big blank face? If so, perhaps it is because we have left the work of the photographer unfinished. Once we learn that Hemingway did not want to reveal his pain, the portrait becomes magnificently stoic. In this moment of equilibrium, free of dramatic flair, viewers can fit facts about the author into the accommodating receptacle of his countenance. One imagines his injuries from driving ambulances in the First World War or the recent lacerations and burns of the airplane crash left their mark both physically and psychologically.

But the most unique part of this book is what we learn about Karsh. He rarely revealed his personal thoughts about any of his portrait sessions. To quote the preface: “His voice invites us to try to fathom the photographer’s psyche and conjecture how he thinks and how he feels.”

One of my favorite images is that of Helen Keller. Considering she’s posing for a medium she can never consume, it feels a bit special to see her featured. Notice how her hands are held at the same level as her face. For Keller, these hands gave her everything, and like the way we view a face, she relied on her hands to distinguish people.

Helen Keller, March 8, 1948, Writer
Don Michals: So many of your people have been applauded for their achievements, but of all of them, who would you say had the greatest spirit? Karsh: Helen Keller. And I was fortunate enough as part of my homework to have met and known and photographed Catherine Cornell and Martha Graham. [At a lunch together] they assured me that they would arrange for me to photograph her. But they also prepared me emotionally that as you meet this wonderful woman she will place her fingers on your lips and on the chord of your speech. In essence she photographs you in her mind.
—Karsh (interview with Don Michel, December 1974, audio cassette)

Another great one is the photo of H. G. Wells. His stance and upheld head makes me smile. And I like the anecdote of how we pushed chairs in front of objets d’art to protect them from bomb blasts. The man had taste.

H.G.Wells, Fall 1943, Novelist 
This was the way Wells greeted me: “I hear that you have been photographing Shaw. It’s a great mistake. When future generations go through the ruins of London, they will find Shaw, more Shaw, and still more Shaw photographs, and the unfortunate thing is that they will take him to be the typical Englishman.” I smiled. “There’s nothing funny about it,” said H.G. “It’s horrible and true.” I hastened to explain ... his remark reminded me of two American radio comedians, Fred Allen and Jack Benny. “I know them,” retorted Mr. Wells, “and don’t imagine they originated public feuding. Shaw and I have been at it almost fifty years.”
—Karsh (Faces of Destiny, p.154)

Karsh was busy during his two-month stay in London, running from suburb to city center photographing sixty military, political, and cultural leaders. In H.G.Wells’s apartment in Woking, he found the chairs in the drawing room had been pushed in front of objets d’art to protect them from aerial bomb blasts.

But perhaps the most interesting photo (though not without the text from Karsh) was of Vladimir Nabokov:

Of his satire on American values, Lolita, he drolly commented, “I know the American woman very well. When I was a butterfly scientist I taught many of them during their crucial years in college.” 
Vladimir Nabokov, November 3, 1972, Novelist, Lepidopterist, Chess analyst
Nabokov is a brilliant writer, and [a] prolific writer. As a human being, he left much to be desired. He is among the least attractive men I have ever photographed. His manners, his thinking, his arrogance, his false behavior [were objectionable to me].
—Karsh (A Sixty-Year Retrospective, p.34; interviews with Jerry Fielder, August and September 1988, audio cassette, Yousuf Karsh Estate)

No trace of Karsh’s negative opinion of Nabokov shows in this portrait. One reason may be that such traits remained masked during the session. But knowing that highly skilled portrait photographers can find subtle “tells” in the face – like poker players do – and coax them onto film, one is left to assume that Karsh was not in the business of making such exposés in his photographs. He endeavored to discover a positive aspect in each of his subjects. It was a kindness of sorts and part of Karsh’s
life-long habit of not acting on dislike or hatred. One can find Karsh portraits that are unsuccessful, but none that are mean-spirited or cynical.


Friday, June 15, 2012

One Times Square - Featured in BEA roundup!

Author and illustrator Joe McKendry's latest book (for ages 10 and up), One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World, combines the riveting history of this fascinating intersection with lush and revealing illustrations. We were thrilled to be able to bring finished copies to BEA with us and Publishers Weekly has featured the book in a recent roundup:

"In the spirit of his 2005 picture book, Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway, author-illustrator Joe McKendry turns to New York City for One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World (David R. Godine, Sept.). Godine’s marketing director Sue Berger Ramin gave word of plans for a major launch at the Times Square Experience, and is working on programming at the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Public Library."

Here's a sneak peak at a few of the incredible illustrations:

The Victoria Theatre, built by Oscar Hammerstein. It opened in 1899 in what would become Times Square.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ernest Hebert - First pitch!

Ernest Hebert, author of the new Godine novel Never Back Down and Director of Creative Writing at Dartmouth College, proudly threw the first pitch to launch the season of the Keene (New Hampshire) Swamp Bats, a summer league of college baseball players. With some 3,000 people watching, he threw a strike!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Arthur Ransome - Giveaways!

It’s time for free giveaways! Up for grabs are three audiobooks in Arthur Ransome’s beloved Swallows and Amazons children's series (Swallows & Amazons, Swallowdale, and Peter Duck), plus a copy of The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome hardcover, the new biography by Roland Chambers.

At a glance, Ransome appears to be the quintessential Englishman: gentle and well-spoken, given to leisurely pursuits like fishing and sailing in the English countryside, very much like the protagonists of his novels. And that is all true; Ransome did enjoy the quiet country life as much as anyone.

But there was another side to the famous writer. Between his fishing excursions in the Lake District, he worked as the Russian correspondent for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian. In The Last Englishman, Chambers explores Ransome’s questionable sympathies for the Bolshevik regime, his affair with Leon Trotsky’s private secretary, his unscrupulous collusion with the British Secret Intelligence Service, and other little known details of his life.

The book is a fascinating read, especially alongside the Swallows and Amazon series. If you’re interested, please enter our free book giveaway by answering the following question:

What was Arthur Ransome’s code name in the British Secret Service?

Send your answer by email to Please specify which giveaway you're most interested in receiving and the first four to submit will win. Thank you!

Superior Person's Tuesday!

Lucripetous n. Money-hungry. Goes rather nicely with nummamorous (q.v.). Both words are suitable for muttered aspersions upon the motives of used-car salesmen, estate agents, funeral directors, and their ilk, when in their presence.

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. Lucripetous appears in the First.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"The Best Holocaust Novel Ever"

Tablet Magazine ("A New Read on Jewish Life") has just named Godine's new translation of Franz Werfel's classic The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, about the Armenian Genocide, "The Best Holocaust Novel Ever".

From the piece by Liel Leibovitz:

More, perhaps, than any other writer in recent memory, God and the Devil seemed to have jointly guided Franz Werfel’s life. The former gave him a keen eye and a tremendous sense of style, driving his dear friend Kafka, Prague’s other famous native Franz, to state that when he read Werfel’s first collection of poems, “I was going off my head with enthusiasm.” The latter cursed him with a sulfurous personality that led him to betray friends, abandon ideologies, denounce his Judaism, reject his family, marry the blatantly anti-Semitic Alma Mahler, seek to sidle up to the Nazis, and, only when the jackboots came too close, flee to Hollywood and write silly screenplays until his early death. But all of Werfel’s sad apostasy is dwarfed by his singular achievement, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel about the Armenian holocaust that Werfel wrote in 1933 and that is available now in a new English-language translation from the publishing house of David R. Godine. In nearly 1,000 pages, it tells an adventure story of Armenian partisans fending off the Turks, but it also delivers a stunning breadth of Armenian folklore, history, language, customs, and politics. The Nazis, freshly in power in Berlin, were quick to grasp that the book wasn’t only a work of historical fiction about one genocide but also a clear allegory about the impending murder of the Jews, which would soon cause Werfel to flee Europe for America.

. . .

Franz Werfel
Musa Dagh is, to the contemporary reader, a curious book. At times it reads like one of those Karl May adventure tales for boys Werfel adored as a child, with fast-paced scenes of battles and bravery under fire. At others, it slows down and devotes long passages to detailed ethnographic descriptions of Armenian mourning customs or the traditions of village life. Its protagonist is Gabriel Bagradian, an Armenian who had left his community, moved to Paris, and married an elegant French woman who was not altogether pleased with her husband’s ethnicity; he, in other words, is Werfel himself. The author also cast many of his family members and old friends from Prague as villagers with whom Bagradian, visiting his native country on vacation with his wife and son, reconnects. Surrounding these fictional manifestations are historical figures: Djemal Pasha, Enver Pasha, and Talaat Pasha, the leaders of the Young Turks Revolution, make an appearance, as does Johannes Lepsius, a real-life German missionary on whose historical accounts of the Armenian massacre Werfel strongly relied.

. . .

Werfel died as he had lived, on the cusp between cultures, religions, and ideologies, a human seismograph registering the turbulence that devastated his continent and his people. We should remember him for exploring, in his life as well as in his art, the full register of human emotions, from the merciless to the sublime. Most of all, we should remember him for Musa Dagh, his sadly forgotten work of genius. And we should see book and author alike as an omen, warning us that as history’s travesties are being written as novels, they are frequently also reborn as news.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fall 2012 catalog!

Woohoo! Just in time for Book Expo America in NYC next week here is a link to our brand new fall 2012 catalog!

Enjoy and do stop by our booth, #4167, if you're at BEA to say hello.