There’s was a lot of excitement at the office yesterday when we discovered that Robert Sheckley has two big fans. And we are fans of his fans. We also liked the “five minutes of us burbling,” though wished it was “five minutes of blurbling” for Store of the Worlds: The Short Stories of Robert Sheckley, edited and introduced by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich and due out May 1st.
Mr Gaiman and Mr Hodgman continue their conversation about Audio Books. Here they talk about the upcoming audiobook release of Robert Sheckley’s DIMENSION OF MIRACLES and why it sometimes feels like a strange cross between Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy AND Mad Men at the same time.
American Negro history is basically a history of the conflict between integrationist and nationalist forces in politics, economics, and culture, no matter what leaders are involved and what slogans are used. After Malcolm X’s death, the Black Power slogan was actually a swing back to the conservative nationalism from which Malcolm X had just departed. The pendulum swings back and forth, but the men who swing with it always fail to synthesize composite trends. W.E.B. DuBois came the closest of all the big three [DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Malcolm X] to understanding the problem, when he wrote in Dusk of Dawn: ‘There faces the American Negro therefore an intricate and subtle problem of combining into one object two difficult sets of facts.’
- from The Crisis of the Negro Intellectualby Harold Cruse, originally published in 1967. You’ll forgive us for posting this on the last day of Black History Month, thank God for a leap year.
Certain writers are too weird to fully belong to their own time. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky—a Soviet writer obsessed with Kant and Shakespeare, whose own life barely rippled beyond a small coterie of Muscovite writers before his death in 1950—is among them. Krzhizhanovsky wrote philosophical works of fiction that veer between chattiness and, in the fine translations of Joanne Turnbull and Nikolai Formozov, unexpected elegance. They are tales of bodies suspended between life and death, of an animated Eiffel Tower that rampages across Europe, and of towns where dreams are made literal. To read these stories is to be buttonholed by a slightly mad but unfailingly interesting stranger desperate for a sympathetic ear. In Krzhizhanovsky, we find the aphorisms of a dime store philosopher and the polyphony of a schizophrenic.
How artless or artful he is is a judgment that each reader can make for him- or herself, and I suspect that much depends on the serenity of one’s own disposition. Sontag called him an ‘anti-gravity’ writer, both in that he is against seriousness as well as being unbound to the ground. And in this unbelievably delightful and timeless collection of short pieces, we can recover the delight of ordinary, uncondescending appreciation, places where the vacant-minded stroller can take ‘peculiar pleasure’. The tram, the theatre, the train station, the park … (‘Beautiful park, I think, beautiful park,’ is how he ends “The Park”.) One thing and then another. Isn’t that nice?
- so says Nicholas Lezard in his review of Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories for The Guardian. And we completely agree with his last sentence; if you read on the train, or any form of public transport, this is a book for you.
According to Zez, any idea committed to paper is committed to death. To preserve ideas in their purest form, they are spoken. And so, every Saturday Zez and six companions, called ‘conceivers’ and referred to only by nonsense syllables, gather in a room filled with empty bookshelves as one member holds the floor to tell his ‘conception.’ The reader is invited into this world as leader Zez brings the nameless narrator — a literal stand-in for the reader — to the Club as an observer. Thrown into this environment, the narrator is as amazed as he is puzzled, and it is hardly surprising when he learns that the dynamics of the room are not all well and that there is another reason for drawing this eighth armchair around the fire.
“A poet friend of mine explained my predicament rather vaguely by saying that ‘I was trying to find myself’. He may have been right. But if so, who is this self? Where shall I discover him amongst the many who cross my path, and by what sign shall he be known to me?”—Frigyes Karinthy in A Journey Round My Skull, subject of this months NYRB Salon at Dog Eared Books. (via harmlessbalderdash)
“The meaning of books lies before them and not behind: it is in us. A book is not a ready-made, terminal meaning, a revelation which we must undergo and assume; it is a reservoir of forms which receive their meaning; it is what Borges has called the imminence of a revelation which does not occur; it is an asymptote.”—Richard Howard, “A Consideration of the Writings of Emily Dickinson” (via invisiblestories)
You may have noticed that we’ve been talking a lot recently about Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol. It’s because it’s a bit of a staff favorite, and it has been getting a lot of reviews and attention, and next week Wallace Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg will be reading from it next week.
Rezzori’s novel is enjoyable for the sly elegance of his language and for the lively rogue’s gallery he peoples his Czernopol with. It’s valuable for the baroque, nostalgic, ironic yet clear-eyed recreation of a world now long gone, stamped to death beneath the Nazi jackboot. But literature of the first rank must speak to us of our own time as well, must in some way convict or console us in our humanness, and this Rezzori’s novel does; for our world, like the profane and achingly beautiful one he depicts, is a world of uncertain values, a world of upheaval, ‘a world that has too many claims to validity, too many equivalences, too many relativities.’ To revive this novel for a wide readership, there’s no time like the present.
More than one critic has suggested that this name, shared with the century’s most famous movie star, accounts in part for the obscurity suffered by such a consistently delightful writer. If true, it’s the kind of sad irony that would have been appreciated by Taylor, who over the course of 12 novels and dozens of short stories written between 1943 and her death in 1975 returned repeatedly to the subject of women forced to be wives and mothers first and only then, if at all, writers, artists or simply human beings.
Expelled from Party in 1927, readmitted in 1930. Tried for treason (second Moscow Trial of the 17 in 1937), confesses and implicates close friend BUKHARIN and others; spared death. Murdered by NKVD agents in labor camp. Famous for his jokes.
"A Few Words About My Wife," from "Me" by Vladimir Myakovsky
2. A Few Words About My Wife
I have married the moon and she combs the water, the beaches of uncharted seas. She’s my lunar lady, she has long red hair and she drives a herd of horses through a screaming streak of stars! She gets married every evening in a greasy garage and she kisses all the pictures on the newspaper stands. Her pretty boy winks, he wraps the Milky Way around her, he gets glitter on his fingers and stars all over his hands. And what about me? The yoke of your eyebrows brings buckets of water from the cool cool wells of your eyes, it douses my desire and the lake-silk shimmers on the singing amber cello of your thighs. I sink into boulevards! I drown in desire for deserts of sand. Don’t you recognize your baby? It’s my poor little poem, she wears fishnet stockings and she drinks in a bar as empty as this barren land.
When she looked at him, he could see the mark of the carved wood dented quite deeply across her brow: at first it was white, then slowly reddened. he gathered her up close to him and kissed her. He felt her warm hands in his hair and saw himself very tiny in her eyes. This time, she returned his kiss. Their hearts knocked and raced. Rigidly together, flesh against bone, they stood without moving, undergoing a sense of being not in their right element
- Elizabeth Taylor (the English author), from her novel A Game of Hide and Seek, which goes on sale today. In the above scene the teenage Harriet and Vesey kiss for the first time. Things get worse for them unfortunately.
We still had almost two hours before the boat would leave. Esmond suddenly became preoccupied and silent. He suggested walking down by the quai. We passed rows of waterfront cafés with their bright, painted fronts and inviting handwritten menus tacked on the doors. We leaned over the railing and watched craft of all sizes and shapes manoeuvering about in the rough, windy Channel. “There’s something I’ve got to talk over with you,” he said, very seriously. (Had he decided after all that the search for Senor Lopez was too difficult and time-consuming, and that he must continue to Spain alone?) Another long silence. “I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with you.” We selected a suitable café in which to celebrate our engagement over fines à l’eau. Some sailors joined the festivities, offering toast after toast to les fiancés, and we almost missed the sailing of the channel steamer.
What the monks were doing on three barren slabs of limestone in the freezing sea, why they couldn’t pray somewhere near Galway, is unclear. The islands seem to have been an ancient pilgrimage site. Perhaps the huts were shelters for pilgrims. Or maybe people just used them for smoking fish. Or are they tombs? They are as mysterious as they are humble.
The circuit that blesses is clockwise, or, since the belief is thousands of years older than the clock, sunwise. It is the way the fireworshipper’s swastikas turns, and its Christianized descendant St. Bridget’s Cross. Visitors to holy wells make their ‘rounds’ so, seven times, with prayers. This book makes just one round of Árainn, though seven could not do justice to the place, and with eyes raised to this world rather than lowered in prayer. On Easter Fridays in past centuries the Aran folk used to walk around the island keeping as close to the coast as possible, and although nothing has been recorded on the question it is inconceivable that they should have made the circuit other than in the right-handed sense. This writing will lead in their footsteps, not their penitential trudge but at an inquiring, digressive and wondering pace.
Gerard’s heroic deeds embrace the entire history and geography of the Napoleonic Wars, taking place in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, England, and, finally, on St. Helena. No matter where he finds himself, however, the Brigadier always thinks like a hussar: ‘Of all the cities which we visited Venice is the most ill-built and ridiculous. I cannot imagine how the people who laid it out thought that the cavalry could maneuver.’ As for Waterloo, that plain of sorrows, he writes: ‘On the one side, poetry, gallantry, self-sacrifice—all that is beautiful and heroic. On the other side, beef. Our hopes, our ideals, our dreams—all were shattered on that terrible beef of Old England.’
“At a wall desk under a large-scale Ordnance Survey map sat a small, stout man of about Mangan’s age, dressed in a tweed jacket, an Aran turtleneck sweater, corduroy trousers, and battered suede boots. He was totally bald, and when he turned toward them, his thick rubbery lips curving in a smile, his bulbous eyes set back in the sides of his head like the eyes of an animal, he reminded Mangan at once of that intelligent, amiable mammal, the dolphin.”—The Mangan Inheritance, Brian Moore (via millionsmillions)
So you think you can translate? Prove It This summer in London
Robert Chandler, the crack translator who may be familiar to you from his work with Andrey Platonov and Vasily Grossman, writes to tell us about a translation summer school program that he’s involved with, happening this summer in London. There are a few different elements to the program, including some free online courses. Robert will be teaching the Russian-language classes, and he will be joined by such esteemed translators as Ros Schwartz and Margaret Jull Costa. And what’s more, the tuition is surprisingly low.
What: Translation Summer School Hone your translating skills from languages including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
When: 9-13 July 2012
Where: Birkbeck College, London
Online registration is available through the end of February.
I’m coming to believe that Gregor von Rezzori (1914-1998) was one of the greatest postwar German-language writers. His work has a sensitivity and more significantly an intelligence stronger than so many of his contemporaries. His socio-intellectual analysis, in particular, stands respectively close to that of his avowed hero Robert Musil, even though Rezzori implicitly acknowledges that he can’t match him. (Rezzori even wrote a long unfinished two-part novel, The Death of My Brother Abel/Cain, just as Musil did. I have yet to read it)
Susan Bernofsky, who translated and wrote the introduction for the recently published Berlin Stories by Robert Walser, has won the biannual translation award The Calwer Hermann-Hesse-Preis (that’s German for Prize) for 2012. She is also curating the Festival Neue Literatur 2012, being held this weekend in New York City. Go check out some events if you can, they should be fun.
There is much to know about Penelope Mortimer. She was married to one man, but gave birth to two children from extramarital affairs with two other, separate men. While pregnant, she would leave her first husband for her second, John Mortimer. Their relationship was anything but sunny, and the…
So now the mongers at McNally Jackson are trying to take credit for the great winter 2012 surge of Summer Book reading. You know what? Fine. We don’t mind, the more Jansson that goes around the better.
"This was my first experience reading Walser and I found many aspects of Berlin Stories to be striking. Berlin Stories is a book infused with the impressions of a struggling artist. A provincial wandering cosmopolitan Berlin and recording his spontaneous thoughts. A writer who has confronted the dull monotony of wage lifestyle and rendered it into something beautiful. And an artist facing the reality that pursuing success in the great metropolis often means dealing with a relentlessly insular and conventional bourgeoisie class.
Walser’s reflections of walking around Berlin are some of the finest and most accurate descriptions of city life that I have ever encountered. The narrators of these stories speak in unique and natural voice that have the feel of fleeting reflections though in reality they are often poignant and incisive observations. Walser is able to make even the most prosaic situations, for instance a morning commute, utterly beautiful.”
Riding the ‘electric’ is an inexpensive pleasure. When the car arrives, you climb aboard, possibly after first politely ceding the right of way to an imposing gentlewoman, and then the car continues on. At once you notice that you have a rather musical disposition. The most delicate melodies are parading through your head. In no time you’ve elevated yourself to the position of a leading conductor or even composer. Yes, it’s really true: the human brain involuntarily starts composing songs in the electric tram, songs that in their involuntary nature and their rhythmic regularity are so very striking that it’s hard to resist thinking oneself a second Mozart.
“A city like Berlin is an ill-mannered, impertinent, intelligent scoundrel, constantly affirming the things that suit him and tossing aside everything he tires of. Here in the big city you can definitely feel the waves of intellect washing over the life of Berlin society like a sort of bath. An artist here has no choice but to pay attention. Elsewhere he is permitted to stop up his ears and sink into willful ignorance. Here this is not allowed. Rather, he must constantly pull himself together as a human being, and this compulsion encircling him redounds to his advantage. But there are yet other things as well.”—"Berlin and the Artist" by Robert Walser at the NYRblog, an excerpt from the recently released Berlin Stories.
All thinking people wish now to obtain at least some basic understanding of the deeper dynamics that underlie this sudden and stupendous metamorphosis [of China’s growth]: What are its true nature and significance? To what extent is it viable and real? Where is it heading? Bookshops are now submerged by a tidal wave of new publications attempting to provide information about China, and yet there is (it seems to me) one new book whose reading should be of urgent and essential importance, both for the specialist and for the general reader alike—the new collection of essays by Liu Xiaobo, judiciously selected, translated, and presented by very competent scholars, whose work greatly benefited from their personal acquaintance with the author.