Vladimir Sorokin, author of the recently published Ice Trilogy* (as well as of The Queue, also published by NYRB Classics) lives in Moscow, but this weekend, you can catch him in New York. He's participating in two events being held as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of Literature. More about Sorokin and the festival can be found here.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
In Conversation: Vladimir Sorokin and Keith Gessen
4:30 pm – 6 pm
The Cooper Union, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium
41 Cooper Square
New York City
Tickets: $15/$10 PEN Members, students with valid ID. Call (866) 811–4111 or visit ovationtix.com
Sunday May 1, 2011; 1 p.m
Russia in Two Acts
With New York Review contributors Garry Kasparov, Jamey Gambrell, and Christian Caryl
Plus Vladimir Sorokin and Fedor Svarovskiy
The Morgan Library & Museum, Lehrman Hall
225 Madison Avenue
New York City
Tickets: $25/$20 for New York Review readers and PEN/Morgan Members or students with valid ID. "Call (866) 811-4111 or visit ovationtix.com
*"I am reading this book and it is melting my MIND"—Colin Meloy
Paul Di Filippo reviews the trilogy in the BN Review
Boyd Tonkin writes about it for The Independent
"I crave rereading this trilogy, just as the Brotherhood of the Light long to be reunited with their Ice. It is a desire to experience something elemental, basic, and heart altering. —Mike of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA, where we fear the employees might be forming their own gnostic cult.
The PEN American Center has posted audio of Paul Auster reading two poems by Kabir, translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's. The poems were originally published in PEN America 11: Make Believe. We've recently collected these poems (in slightly different versions), and many others, in Songs of Kabir.
Speaking of translation and the Pen American Center—don't forget that their annual world literature festival, PEN World Voices, kicks off today.
And what was yesterday a little mucus,
tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV. 48
Birth is scented with death.
—Bhartrihari (c. 5th century), v. 197,
trans. Barbara Stoler Miller
You had one life,
And you blew it.
From sticky spunk
To human shape,
You spent ten months
In your mother’s womb,
Blocked off from the world
Into which you fell
The minute you were born.
A child once,
You’re an old man now.
What has happened has happened.
Crying won’t help
When death already
Has you by the balls.
It’s counting your breaths,
This world, says Kabir,
Is a gambling den.
You can’t be too careful.
It’s a mess,
But you’re there
To sort it out.
Cock of the walk,
In great shape,
Keeping the best
Listen, says Kabir,
I have a prayer to make.
I’m handcuffed to death.
Throw me the key.
Since we last posted about the death of L.J. Davis, a couple of more pieces about the writer have surfaced.
The first appeared in The Awl under the fabulous title, "The Most Flagrantly Tactless First-Rate Brooklyn Novelist." It's by Brooklynite Evan Hughes, whose own book, Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, comes out this summer.
And n+1 has reposted Elizabeth Gumport's look at the literature of gentrification, which takes Davis's Meaningful Life as a starting point.
Previously: L.J. Davis, 1940–2011, a roundup
Has this happened to you?
You walk into your library. You glance around the shelves filled with row after row of the same best sellers, but you're not interested. Maybe you even know the titles of a book or two you've been wanting to read. Alas, the library doesn't have them in its collection. You walk out empty-handed, or with something you're just not that into.
You're in a bookstore. This book looks good. That book looks great! You reach for your wallet, but then you remember you're broke. No use checking out your library, you think, those aren't the kind of book they'd have.
Well, you've got the answer to your predicament, and it's already in your own hands. Just pick up that blunt golf pencil and fill out a library request form. For more on this, see Don Antenen's post about the power of the request form here. Don works in a library and he wants to spread his empowering message around. He and Kate Hensley have begun a new site called Hey, Small Press! to highlight some of the best books in the small press world and to encourage us all to start talking about them. That's right, they suggest talking to your librarian:
Tell them how much you like small press literature and why you’re excited about these particular titles. Encourage them to check out this site. There is nothing that brightens up the day of a librarian like a conversation with an enthusiastic reader.
If we can't convince you to go to a library, maybe Linda Holmes at NPR can. She had an epiphany about libraries and their greatness just the other week, chronicling them hilariously on her twitter feed.
It's been a while since we offered a run-down of our ebook offerings (which can be bought from most major ebook retailers). We've published many more in the last six months. Here are seven of them, each with a representative passage:
"In his old age Orm used to say that this period in his life was lengthy to endure, but brief to tell of, for one day resembled another so that, in a sense, it was as though time was standing still for them. But there were signs to remind him that time was, in fact, passing; and one of these was his beard. When he first became a slave, he was the only one among them so young as to be beardless; but before long his beard began to grow, becoming redder even than his hair, and in time it grew so long that it swept the handle of his oar as he bowed himself over his stroke. Longer than that it could not grow, for the sweep of his oar curtailed its length; and of all the methods of trimming one’s beard, he would say, that was the last that he would choose."
"She put her suitcase on a chair and went to the window. The sun. It came steadily through the window, making no shadows of bars. The key. It was to keep others out, not to keep her in. Whenever she wanted to, she could leave. She looked at the room, the green walls, the floor; she touched the white rough covers of her bed. Here, in this room, to stand, to move, to sleep. Here, perhaps, to live?"
"One of the things—one of the many, many, many things that fascinate me about myself—is how it is possible for me to know something without really knowing it at all. I mean I seemed to have known about queers all my life, I can’t remember when I didn’t, and I generally can guess who is. I mean, it’s no traumatic shock for me or anything like that to discover that so-and-so actually is one—and yet, I swear, I was flabbergasted when I saw that club. There was a style of flirting along the bar where some sailors stood waiting to be picked up, that no starlet could hope to emulate. And the droves and droves. I had no idea there were so many. I just had no idea."
"Anyway here I was back again in Soho in this terrible dive the Crypt because what had happened was that the night before one of the Americans, down from Oxford, had said, 'Hey, someone gave me a list of literary pubs, did you ever? Isn’t it straight out of Shakespearian times? They’re in Soho, see, that’s where all the you know, sort of odd-ball Greenwich Villagey Left Banky off-beat In-group types'—(that was the way he talked)—'oh, artists and painters and all that jazz are supposed to hang out. So why don’t we give it a whirl, hey? Might be a fun thing.'
"So I went. I had nothing better to do, had I, except recount my money and repaint my finger-nails and die of frustration?"
"The city of Singapore was not built up gradually, the way most cities are, by a natural deposit of commerce on the banks of some river or at a traditional confluence of trade routes. It was simply invented one morning early in the nineteenth century by a man looking at a map. ‘Here,’ he said to himself, ‘is where we must have a city, half-way between India and China. This will be the great halting-place on the trade route to the Far East. Mind you, the Dutch will dislike it and Penang won’t be pleased, not to mention Malacca.’ This man’s name was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: before the war his bronze statue used to stand in Empress Place in a stone alcove like a scallop shell (he has been moved along now and, turned to stone, occupies a shady spot by the river). He was by no means the lantern-jawed individual you might have expected: indeed, a rather vague-looking man in a frock coat."
"Only a pathological martyr would cook in such weather. The heat sizzled over the filthy streets like an invisible mustard plaster. If you fancy cooked banana peel with pizza and eggshells, there was a feast in the gutter. There were a lot of drunken bums hanging around, competing for nickels with hippies in hair-shirts, rehearsing the plague. I dragged myself to Bleecker Street, holding my unmasked breath until I was in the sheltering arms of the A&P. It was freezing in there. I asked a mustachioed clerk where the cold cuts were hidden, but naturally he didn’t speak a word of English. 'Cold cuts,' I shouted into his insane face. He laughed gleefully, as if I had proposed that we both crawl under the check-out counter and knock off a quickie."
"This shooting trip of mine started, I believe, innocently enough. Like most Englishmen, I am not accustomed to enquire very deeply into motives. I dislike and disbelieve in cold-blooded planning, whether it be suggested of me or of anyone else. I remember asking myself when I packed the telescopic sight what the devil I wanted it for; but I just felt that it might come in handy."
*"Seven are the days of the week." From a song traditionally sung on Passover (which begins next Monday).
It is with sadness that we report the death of novelist and journalist L.J. Davis, whose A Meaningful Life we were privileged to have published in 2009.
"L. J. Davis was a remarkable writer with a caustic sensibility that was very own his own. He was also a true character, scabrously funny and perfectly free of false piety. NYRB was lucky to publish his novel A Meaningful Life, one of the best books about not just New York but America in the strange decade of the 1970s, when the country lost its post-World War II optimism once and for all. I hope L.J. wrote down his wonderful and oft-told story about flooring (literally) a drunken George W. Bush. As far as I know it doesn’t make an appearance in Decision Points."
—Edwin Frank, Editor, NYRB Classics
"Mr. Davis was known among friends and editors as affable and voluble, a man who arrived at every personal encounter equipped with a capacious store of unusual facts and anecdotes he was prepared to dispense at the slightest provocation."
—L.J. Davis's obituary in The New York Times
"A little over a year ago, I interviewed Davis for a Forbes piece I was working on about NYRB Classics. When I first contacted him over email, he responded, “My dear fellow, this will be splendid; I will have much to say.” We made plans to meet at a little cafe near his apartment on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. 'Why not ring my bell at six?,' he wrote me the day we were to meet. 'That’ll give you time to hop over here. If you’re early, ring the bell anyway; I’m not a great fan of punctuality, having been raised (as I was) by compulsive right-wing fanatics.'"
Dante A. Ciampaglia, "A Meaningful Writer," Forbes.com
"We'll miss the funny, smarter-than-you way he wrote about money and urban life."
"I remember L.J. as an energetic, voluble man whose interests (and writing) were not at all confined to the literary. He knew a lot about all sorts of things, one of which was finance. His impersonal way of greeting you was to announce without preliminary some remarkable, usually grotesque piece of local news or information....
L.J. is a serious comic writer. His novels mingle Groucho Marx, a bit of Noël Coward, and some Theodore Dreiser.... I add to the mix Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (Voyage to the End of the Night), a masterpiece of loathing. Davis is not only serious, he is stern. Life is a hard business that we need to think about. But all our thought doesn’t keep it from being outrageously grotesque, unsuccessful, ridiculous. If I may bring in another illustration, he is like a novel-writing Buster Keaton."
Paula Fox, writing in
The New York Review of Books in 2009
Scent to match thy rich perfume
Chemic art did ne'er presume;
Through her quaint alembic strain,
None so sovereign to the brain:
Nature, that did in thee excel,
Framed again no second smell.
Roses, violets, but toys
For the smaller sort of boys
Or for greener damsels meant;
Thou art the only manly scent.
Translating the novels of Tove Jansson:
A talk by Thomas Teal at Harvard Bookstore
April 8, 2011 — 3:00 p.m.
As part of Harvard Bookstore’s Friday Forum series, Thomas Teal, translator of Tove Jansson’s novels The Summer Book, The True Deceiver, and Fair Play, will speak about translating these works from the original Swedish.
Although Tove Jansson is perhaps best known for her children's books featuring the Moomins, she also wrote a number of works for adults. Recently published by NYRB Classics, Fair Play is the first US publication of Thomas Teal's prize-winning translation. In Fair Play the art of loving, creating, and living is examined in this group of quietly moving, "discreetly radical" episodes from the lives of two artists.
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
In one of the most bizarre casting decisions in recent memory, actress Jennifer Garner is, according to the Hollywood insider website deadline.com, to play Miss Marple in the forthcoming Disney reworking of the much-loved TV series based on Agatha Christie’s novels.
Meditating on her future, philosopher Gillian Rose considered the model of Miss Marple. We hope Ms. Garner is listening:
I aspire to Miss Marple's persona: to be exactly as I am, decrepit nature, yet supernature in one, equally alert on the damp ground and in the turbulent air. Perhaps I don't have to wait for old age for that invisible trespass and pedestrian tread, insensible of mortality and desperately mortal.
—from Love's Work
A lunch date with NYRB Classics (and Robert Walser)
Walser cover collage snagged from The Bridge, co-sponsor of the event
Wednesday, April 6th at 1PM
495 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York City
Join NYRB Classics editor Edwin Frank as he moderates a conversation between Robert Walser translators Christopher Middleton and Susan Bernofsky. $10 includes a lunch of bratwrust and kartoffel salad.
WALSER AROUND THE WEB
Susan Bernofsky's writes about Christopher Middleton in a recent blog post, "Reading with My Hero"
Find out more about Robert Walser at Wandering with Walser, a site devoted to his work
Walser's An Answer to an Inquiry, published by Ugly Duckling Press
"Robert Walser / did huge / things in / tiny spaces."—Eileen Myles
"3 Stories" by Robert Walser, translated by Damion Searls
Sophia Jansson (Tove Jansson's niece and the chairman of Oy Moomin Characters, Ltd) and Thomas Teal (translator of several of Jansson's adult novels) talked with Leonard Lopate last week about Jansson's life and work, and the recent publication of Fair Play.
And One-Straw Revolution translator, editor, and friend of Masonobu Fukuoka, Larry Korn, talks on Paul Wheaton's permaculture podcast about the sensei's visits to the US, his view of Los Angeles, the "green cement" of the American Lawn, why natural farming can feed the world, the inadequacy of traditional organic farming, and other things. Fukuoka is known for popularizing the seed ball (and essential element of guerilla gardening), but here we hear about his idea of eco-terrorism: fill you pockets with dandelion and mustard seeds, cuts holes in them, and wander around the golf courses of the world.
Listen to the podcast
(this production values of the podcast are suitably DIY, but be patient, there's lots of good information here)
Hotel Cat Tom isn't happy about Jenny Linsky, Edward, and Checkers ending up in his hotel.
The blood of the hotel cat boiled....
"What a guest!" thought Tom. He's probably a spoiled pet accompanying his master on a pleasant little journey. Pet cat! Bah!"
Tom hated all that he had ever seen of pet cats. Back in the days when he was a hungry kitten living ln the streets, he had climbed fire escapes and looked through windows. And often he had watched those darlings turn up their noses at platters of fine food and go off and scratch some furniture. Pet cats, he believed, did nothing but behave badly.
The Hotel Cat
Story and pictures by Esther Averill
The most recent issue of The New York Review of Books offers a preview of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's translations of selected Kabir poems.
Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Seven additional poems from this volume appear in the March 2011 edition of Poetry magazine. You can read them at the Poetry Foundation's website.
cover image by Dayanita Singh, from Dream Villa
NYRB Classics and Scandinavia House invite you to an evening in celebration of the novels of Tove Jansson, Monday, March, 21st, 2011 at 6:30 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended: call 212.847.9740 or email email@example.com.
Today we are very lucky to have Kenny Brechner, of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine (an independent shop that is surely among the treasures of the state), offering up a guest post. Kenny somehow managed to score an interview with that fierce and prickly book, The True Deceiver. What dark magic he used to entice this work to speak with him, we'll never know. All we can say that the answers it gives show the book to be as gnomic as that great interview dissimulator, Bob Dylan. [microphone photo: Keith Bloomfield via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons usage.]
This interview originally ran on Three Percent, "a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester," as part of the run-up for the Best Translated Book Award, for which The True Deceiver has been long listed. To read the complete post, along with Kenny Brechner's endorsement of the book, visit Three Percent.
KB: Do you feel that this BTBA [Best Translated Book Award] will be conducted fairly?
True Deceiver: “You know nothing about Fair Play!”
KB: Perhaps not, but how can the awards committee reach truth?
True Deceiver: “The truth needs to be hammered in with iron spikes, but no one can drive nails into a mattress.”
KB: I see. Perhaps you’re right and the committee will need to take a firm line. Now do you feel that Tomas Teal handled his translation of you properly, considering how taut the prose is?
True Deceiver: “Cluttering the ground with Flowery Rabbits would have been unthinkable”.
KB: I see. Now if you had a word for a judge what would it be?
True Deceiver: “He must understand how hard I try, all the time, to put everything I do to a strict test—every act, every word I choose instead of a different word.”
KB: Is there any other objective data that would make the selection of any book other than yourself as the BTBA winner a danger to the future well being of the human enterprise?
True Deceiver: “I’ve given security where there was no security, no direction, Nothing. I provide safety!”
KB: I really appreciate your willingness to go on record and clarify these points. The stakes are terrifying.
True Deceiver: “I can assure you that you needn’t be nervous, there’s no cause for alarm.”
KB: I guess there’s nothing else to be said on the matter!
True Deceiver: “We’ve done what matters most.”
KB: Well I certainly hope so, for all human interconnection involves translation, and without an exploration of its dark possibilities we should all be much the poorer. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, you really add something vital to the whole of Tove Jansson’s sublime body of work. After all the Moomins may demonstrate the delightful exercise of freedom, but your pages reveal both the cost and the means of losing it.
True Deceiver: “Thank you for calling.”
The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson
Translated by Thomas Teal
Introduction by Ali Smith
All day, the blogger at Bella's Bookshelves has been tweeting about her pleasure in reading After Claude by Iris Owens. Which got us thinking that the book's heroine, Harriet Daimler, with her take-no-prisoners strategy and her viper-tongue, might make a good role model this winter. Let's not take this miserable season lying down, let's rally our wits and bitch at it until it relents. We're all Harriet Daimlers now.
Here Maxine, an old friend, tries to offer Harriet some advice:
“Well,” she demanded, “what’s happening between you and Claude? Isn’t he planning to marry you and take you back to Paris with him?”
If there’s one thing on this earth that irritates me, it’s when a dumpy, frigid, former nymphomaniac assumes that my tongue is hanging out, thirsting for marital bliss. It goes without saying that though ideally suited and ecstatically happy, Jerry and Maxine had flown directly from their wedding ceremony to group therapy, paying top prices for the privilege of insulting each other in front of an audience.
“I’ll make you a promise, Maxine, and then let’s adjourn this summit conference. I promise you that the day I decide to marry anyone I hate as much as you hate Jerry, one: you’ll be the first to know, and two: I’ll seek professional help.”
Did Maxine get the message and leave me in peace? Not a chance. She sat there radiant with superior knowledge. “My dear, that is precisely your sickness. You think everybody hates their life. You’re wrong. I don’t hate Jerry. I love him. My heart may not palpitate when he walks into the room, but I’m happy with him. I appreciate his devotion and goodness. I love our child, our home.”
“Excuse me very much, but if it’s love, sweet love, that makes you parade the streets like a crazed drag queen, if it’s happiness that drives you to come sniffing around here like a starved alley cat, give me hate and misery.”
Of course, Harriet Daimler was also the name under which Iris Owens wrote pornographic novels for the legendary Olympia Press. So maybe we should be looking to this young lady, who graced the cover of a reprint of Owens's notorious rape-fantasy novel, Darling (if not to the contents of the book). She radiates joy of the kind hard to find in bleak midwinter.
It replicates in style and rhythm the very experience that it seeks to describe. The writing is spare, exactingly precise, and then occasionally quite beautiful, just as the life of the monks we hear about are pared down, highly concentrated, and every now and then sublime. In short, it's a book about the contemplative life that delivers the reader into a contemplation of his or her own. [listen to the segment]
And here's a treat. Roger Ebert reviewed the film adaptation of My Dog Tulip on his new program, Ebert Presents: At the Movies. Because he cannot speak now, however, he enlists notable voices to read his reviews every week. So we're lucky enough to be able to hear Werner Herzog intone Ebert's very warm review. Just listen to that voice: "All humans desire one thing, and that is to be loved..." [watch the segment]
© Tove Jansson (original cover art for The True Deceiver)
It had been snowing along the coast for a month. As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow, this steady snow piling up against doors and windows and weighing down roofs and never stopping even for an hour. Paths filled with snow as quickly as they were shovelled out. The cold made work in the boat sheds impossible. People woke up late because there was no longer any morning. The village lay soundless under untouched snow until the children were let out and dug tunnels and caves and shrieked and were left to themselves. They were forbidden to throw snowballs at Katri Kling’s window but did it anyway. She lived in the attic over the storekeeper’s shop with her brother Mats and her big dog that had no name. Before dawn she would go out with the dog and walk down the village street towards the lighthouse on the point. She did this every morning, and people starting to get up would say, It’s still snowing and there she goes again with her dog and she’s wearing her wolfskin collar. It’s unnatural not giving your dog a name; all dogs should have names.
A passage from the opening of Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver, posted in honor of the record snowfall we've had in New York this winter, as well as the inclusion of the novel in this year's longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, (one of two NYRB Classics that made the cut—the other is Albert Cossery's The Jokers).
"The Pinocchio that traipses around Collodi’s story is a real brat. Not only does he lie and skip school and take things that aren’t his, but he’s finicky and whiny and a picky eater to boot. He’s basically already a real boy, before some kind of scary fairy makes it so." [read more]
If you like the photo above, you might enjoy Corpus Libris
And here's more on Tim Rollins and K.O.S—the collective behind the artwork on the cover of our edition of Pinocchio.
Finally, Caustic Cover Critic covered our cover, as well as earlier visual depictions of Collodi's puppet, on his site.