Tuesday, April 22, 2014

May 3rd: California Bookstore Day

California Bookstore Day, May 3, 2014

Hopefully there's a store near you…
California Bookstore Day is a statewide party on May 3, 2014 as big and varied as the state itself. It’s more than 90 stores in more than 80 zip codes putting their bells on and throwing out the welcome mat. Think Record Store Day, but for book nerds.

Each store will have its own party. The headline attraction are the just-for-us books you cannot get on any other day at any other place (click here to find the celebration closest to you). But there will also be readings, and prizes, and things to eat and drink. In some cases there will be famous authors and artists, and people writing live poetry.

Your neighbors will be there, your friends will be there, your kids will be there.

You should definitely be there too.

Yep, we'll all be there!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Listen to Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" this week

I have not had a chance to listen to this yet but wanted to pass on this information because of the time limit…

On Sunday BBC Radio 3 aired a production of Antony and Cleopatra and has it available this week for listening. Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston are in the title roles, directed by Alison Hindell.

The less mature "version" of this play, Romeo and Juliet, will be airing next week. Leave a comment if you listen to it and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Upcoming books

I rarely have many new books in my 'to be read' stack so I had to commemorate this occasion. You'll be seeing these titles over the next several weeks, here and elsewhere.

The Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström, translated by J. M. Coetzee (Archipelago Books)

Harlequin's Millions by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Stacey Knecht (Archipelago Books)

Rambling on: An Apprentice's Guide to the Gift of the Gab by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by David Short (Karolinum Press, Charles University)

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm (Alfred A. Knopf)

Leg over Leg (Volume One) by Fāris al-Shidyāq, edited and translated by Humphrey Davies (New York University Press—Library of Arabic Literature)

And the one older book: Jean Barois by Roger Martin du Gard, translated by Stuart Gilbert (The Viking Press, 1949)

I'm not including the online Shakespeare course's last three plays. Guess I better get started...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth

In a unique series of six films, Shakespeare Uncovered combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts — Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant — to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Produced by Blakeway Productions, 116 Films and THIRTEEN in association with Shakespeare’s Globe, each episode explores and reveals the extraordinary world and works of William Shakespeare and the still-potent impact they have today. The films combine interviews with actors, directors and scholars, along with visits to key locations, clips from some of the most celebrated film and television adaptations, and illustrative excerpts from the plays staged specially for the series at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
(From the PBS "About" page)

The series is currently available at PBS.org and for instant viewing on Netflix.

I watched the first episode of Shakespeare Uncovered and quite enjoyed it. Ethan Hawke explores the play with an eye toward understanding the title role in order to play the part. He begins by watching various versions to see how others have played the role. Hawke watches a 1958 interview with Orson Welles talk about his experience with the play: “It isn’t often one gets a chance to do these plays. I’ve done this one. Through my long career, I’ve played it on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve done a textbook on it. I don’t know what I haven’t done about this play except do it as well as I’d like to. It’s a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know that you can never live up to.” Hawke lightheartedly comments, “It’s weird to see such ego and such humility at the same time.”

A lot of this episode is spent evaluating the weird sisters’ trigger of Macbeth’s ambition and how much of the eventual darkness was present at their initial greeting to him. There are many other topics, including the political implications of writing about witchcraft at the time, differences with the historical figure, and Lady Macbeth’s role as a partner in crime.

Hawke walks through the dagger scene (before the murder of King Duncan) with actor Richard Easton. I find it interesting to hear actors who have played Macbeth walk through scenes and relate what they did to prepare or what they thought during the scene. There were two extremely moving sections of the episode for me. The first was an excerpt from Sleep No More, an adaptation of parts of Macbeth using dance, movement, and mime to tell the story. Staging and body language powerfully conveyed the short piece they showed. The second moving section was when Hawke gets to handle and read from a First Folio at New York’s Morgan Library. His excitement about and reverence for the book is palpable.

All of my quibbles with some points raised in this episode are minor, such as my understanding that Macbeth’s “heat-oppressed brain” (and other mentions of fever) go beyond the literal fever or feverish imagination and were meant to provide then-current medical clues to demonstrate Macbeth’s state of mind as frenzy instead of madness.

People weighing in on aspects of Macbeth include
Prof. Justin Champion,
Prof. Gail Kern Paster,
Prof. Marjorie Garber,
Prof. Stephen Greenblatt,
Prof. Justin Champion,
Tanya Pollard (a performance historian; she looks at the different portrayals of Lady Macbeth),
Dr. Gwen Adshead (a forensic psychiatrist who has worked with murderers), and
From the RSC 2001 production: director Greg Doran and actors Antony Sher and Harriet Walter.

Many of Hawke’s points can seem painfully obvious but it doesn’t hurt to say them. As he points out to close this episode, the power of the play comes from not holding Macbeth at arm’s length—what is inside him might be inside us. Reviews of Hawke as Macbeth called his performance underwhelming but as I mentioned above I found his exploration of the play very enjoyable. I’m looking forward to watching other episodes of this series and may post on a few of them.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Movie: St. Ives (1998)

I stumbled across this film on Netflix's instant viewing and decided to watch it since I was familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson's book, although it's been quite a while since I've read it. I not sure why I wasn't expecting much, especially since I thought it would be a solid cast, but I think I enjoyed the movie more than the book on which it's based. The original UK broadcast title was All for Love. The movie's plot: Jacques de Keroual de Saint-Yves (Jean-Marc Barr) fights as a captain in Napoleon's army and, given his reputation in love, duels against many fellow soldiers. After being demoted to an infantry private he is captured by the British and sent to a POW camp in Scotland. The camp's commanding officer, Major Farquhar Chevening (Richard E. Grant), asks Jacques to help him learn the art of wooing Flora (Anna Friel), who lives with her worldly aunt (Miranda Richardson). Jacques and Flora become smitten with each other while the aunt lusts after the major. It turns out Jacques' grandfather fled France at the start of the Revolution and has an estate not too far from the castle used as the POW camp. Jacques escapes from the camp, making his way to his grandfather's estate and finds his brother Alain. Jacques thought his brother had been murdered during the Revolution. Alain, angry and violent, harbors a corrosive secret and tries to murder Jacques. The remainder of the movie follows improbable twists and turns on its way to a happy ending for the love rectangle.

Robert Louis Stevenson did not finish St. Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England before he died. Stevenson's stepdaughter knew the outline of the story and engaged Arthur Quiller-Couch to write the last chapters (if you're interested in the novel, find a copy that has all 41 chapters). It's a fun story, well told, that any reader that likes Stevenson will enjoy. The differences between the movie and the book are too numerous to list—let's just say the movie and the novel share a loose framework. The movie emphasizes swashbuckling aspects of the novel and adds a few of its own. It's as if writer Allan Cubitt and director Harry Hook used Richard Lester's version of The Three Musketeers as an inspiration and made changes to the story to fit that mold. It's a fun romp, even if some of the variations defy logic or possibility. The political overtones in Stevenson's story are mostly dropped, which makes the changes to Jacques' family and their situation feel forced and incomplete. The movie is only 90 minutes, which dictates how much is in and how much out of the story.

What the story and consistency lacks at times the four actors I've listed above more than make up for it. Richard E. Grant threatens to steal the show. Where the novel's major was perceptive, Grant perfectly portrays a soldier competent in the ways of warfare but clueless when it comes to other people (especially women). Overall I thought it a fun, well done romp. Enjoy!

Monday, April 07, 2014

My Side of the Mountain

Pardon the interruption…my wife's book proposal was close to the deadline so that has been about our only focus for the past week. I have had to continually deal with my arch-nemisis 'that/which' too many times for me to care right now. Anyway, back to reading books.

My oldest son went to a LitWits Workshop on Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain last week and had a blast. Both boys enjoyed the story of Sam Gribley running away to live off the land. I had mixed thoughts on it, but since it has a good message I was happy the boys enjoyed it. There was part of one paragraph we talked about, wondering if it was as true today as it was over 50 years ago. The English professor (Bando) who stumbled across Sam's home in a tree explains to Sam (who he calls Thoreau) why people are so interested in the boy's story:

"Let's face it, Thoreau; you can't live in America today and be quietly different. If you are going to be different, you are going to stand out, and people are going to hear about you; and in your case, if they hear about you, they will remove you to the city or move to you and you won't be different anymore."

With so many people striving to be different, how far out there do you have to be in order to truly be different? Or maybe not standing out is the new different? In any case, we had fun reading it together.

Scout Field Book (1944)
One of the books the fictional Sam Gribley would have used to live off the land

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hyperion Volume VIII, No. 1: an excerpt from Miklós Szentkuthy's Prae

The cover of the first edition of Prae (1934)
Picture source

Continuing on with articles from the current Hyperion issue (mentioned here, there is a lengthy excerpt of the third chapter of Contra Mundum Press' upcoming release of Miklós Szentkuthy's Prae, translated by Tim Willkinson. In a post last fall I highlighted another Hyperion article by Filip Sikorski titled “Introductory Remarks on Miklós Szentkuthy’s Prae. Sikorski provides a synopsis of the novel, looks at its main themes, investigates how it can be read non-linearly, and explores Szentkuthy’s narrative technique. Here is Sikorski's summary of Volume 1's third chapter:

In chapter 3, Touqué continues the monologue but abandons the analysis of desire and looks back into his childhood. In a series of flashbacks, he reminisces about his parents, his mother’s boutique in Cannes, his mental illness and a stay in a clinic, a morning in Cannes when he was sent to fetch a dress from the boutique to the seamstress, and another morning when he observed the Riviera landscape from the window of his bathroom. Touqué’s memories are interrupted by one more italicized passage, the Third Non-Prae-diagonal, in which a woman named Yvonne calls her lover to cancel their rendezvous because she is going to confession.

Leville-Touqué is "a French philosopher, writer, and editor-in-chief of a periodical called Antipsyché." Not all of the summary makes it into the excerpt but most does and it provides fun, challenging reading. The Non-Prae-diagonals mentioned are italicized passages expressing inner experiences. Even though this is the third chapter, Sikorski argues "that the novel is composed out of loosely connected segments and therefore it can be read in a non-linear way." WIth the little bit of introduction in this post the reader should be able to follow along through most of the excerpt.

Additional reading of Sikorski's summary of the novel will help fill in a few gaps but I don't believe it's necessary for the full enjoyment of Szentkuthy's style, his inventive comparisons, and his encyclopedic references. If you have never read anything by Szentkuthy this would be a good introduction. Here's just one sentence, an aside, in case you need prodding to read it (or proof that you don't want to touch his work):

(Because clumsiness is just as important a factor as the Protean bogeyman of instinct or the contrary extreme of stylization: that ought to insert between a Parca-visaged automatism of sincerity and a goddess grown into a permanent mask a bit of ersatz mythology from the Guardian Spirit of Stupidity, who plays a role as a positive inspirer and stylistic creator in life, reaching such concrete boundaries that it is all but impossible to treat it merely as an internal mental property.)

If you are interested in Prae, be sure to read an excerpt from the 1983 interview Szentkuthy gave to literary historian Lóránt Kabdebó at Hungarian Literature Online. (These series of interviews were later published in book form.) The excerpt from the interview addresses some of Szentkuthy's sources and inspirations for the novel. Several snippets I wanted to share:

  • During my university years, I read the German existentialist philosophers whom I… caricatured! let’s say. Heidegger, Husserl, Jaspers, and what have you. So I had a good chuckle at those who supposed (still suppose) that I am rooted in German philosophy of that kind. Quite the reverse: I was parodying real-life existentialist philosophers (and some I made up). For instance, I invented the title of one of those philosophical works: Einleitung in die reine Undheit (‘An Introduction to Pure And-ness’).
  • He [Proust] had demonstrable influence here and there. I am a hypersuperultraimpressionist, and instead of writing short stories, essays, small-scale and grand drama, aphorisms, fragments of memoirs, short novels, etc., out of my fantasies: I had always wanted to weave the fantastic thoughts and thousand impressions of my ‘Proust trauma’ of 1926 into the composition of a single giant work.
  • I read Joyce in 1931; I’ve already related the circumstances in which I did, so here let me just note that the essence of the Joyce connection was his most minute observation of the most mundane reality and, at the same time, the most pyrotechnical mythological games — that duality is flesh and blood to my own psyche and nature: hypernaturalism and simultaneously a luxuriance of fantasy.
  • With regard to the style and stock of similes in Prae, the strongest influence was not Proust or even Joyce, but — my mathematical studies.
  • Back then the Einsteinian view of the world and quantum mechanics were novelties for me and for others. Atomic physics was not so much in fashion as it became. I therefore did read through and study the works of authors who concerned themselves with it, and they had an extraordinary influence on Prae. Its stock of metaphors and logical progression would have been inconceivable without reading and experiencing the writings of those distinguished physicists and mathematicians.
  • Continuing with the spurs for Prae. At the time I read a lot of the works of Paracelsus, particularly because the medicine of antiquity — to the great disdain of many practitioners nowadays — had a strong influence on my own thinking about natural science. The whole universe and living human organisms form a material entity: to me that is extraordinarily exciting. De facto, of course, it does not hold water: the kidneys correspond to some chemical element, and that corresponds to some star — or what do I know? What it expresses globally, though, is the idea that somewhere there is a link between each of my organs, a chemical element, and the remotest nebulae — somewhere they are related. It can be established spectroscopically that the same materials are present as in this or that organ. What I like about Paracelsus, let me repeat, is that somehow he knew how to put over that the cosmic unity of the world. The idea of the material unity of the world also went into Prae!
  • One of the leitmotifs in Prae, partly on the basis of my travels, party gleaned from my readings, is Anglo-French rivalry. The difference between the two countries greatly exercised me. One of the protagonists is French: Leville-Touqué, the other an Englishman: Halbert. After the existentialist, sometimes nihilist, Latin-impish world of Leville-Touqué and Leatrice, etc., comes a humane, profoundly human meditation of Halbert’s father, an elderly English vicar. Prae’s lyricism is made perceptible through these two extremes.

"Witches Sabbath" (1510) by Hans Baldung Grien
Woodcut with tone block
Picture source at Web Gallery of Art
Used on the back cover of the second addition of Arc és álarc (Face and Mask), 1982

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hyperion Volume VIII, No. 1: small prose by Robert Musil

Cover of Hyperion Volume VIII, No. 1 (spring 2014)

Contra Mundum Press' online magazine, Hyperion, has a new issue available! I'll post on a few of the articles over the next week.

The first article I want to mention is three short pieces by Robert Musil, all translated by Genese Grill. The first piece is "The Inn on the Outskirts," which comes with the following footnote:
This story appears in Musil's Nachlass in a shorter altered version under the title "The Redeemer" (an early title for the novel; c. 1924-5) and prefaced with the subtitle "A Dreadful Chapter: The Dream" (translated by Burton Pike in the Nachlass section of The Man Without Qualities, (Knopf, 1995) 1703-1706. It is followed by the notation: "It is probably necessary to say that this is not a true experience but a dream, for no decent person would think such a thing in a waking state" (1706). There are traces in this "dream" of Musil's sex murderer, Moosbrugger, and of Bonadea, the married nymphomaniac. — Trans.

It is a troubling piece, taking place late at night at the mentioned inn where a couple (not married to each other) have checked in for a tryst. They waver back and forth between desire and regret. The woman feels that the man wants "to extinguish her with his words" in the beginning while a later "storm of great deed" may literally accomplish that.

The second story, "Small Trip Around the World," is a simple tale of two boys taking a joy ride with a pony and small wagon. Their jaunt and inevitable capture provides the narrator with a chance to provide morals as well as listing the conflicting possible messages the parents and juvenile welfare officers might provide. "They probably will just give the stupidest answer that one can give, they will smile benevolently and say: you did something stupid." Been there. Done that. On both sides.

The third story takes place on the German island of Sylt in 1923 when Musil vacationed there. The strong storm he describes, along with the resulting tidal surge, provides a sobering look at nature's forces.

These are very short pieces but they gave the reader an opportunity to enjoy Musil's finesse and reflections.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Upcoming Galdós translation: Tristana


Thanks to Mookse for the heads up on the upcoming Margaret Jull Costa translation of Galdós' Tristana (see his picture for more details). I have several posts on the novel and one on the movie…see the summary post for a starting point. It's a troubling novel, full of the usual ambiguity and irony of Galdós. I'm really looking forward to the new translation!

Monday, March 24, 2014

André Prah, Walter Murch, and the frozen horses of Lake Ladoga

André Prah and some of his artwork from "The Ice Horses of Ladoga"
Picture source

A couple of things related to Curzio Malaparte's chapter in Kaputt related to the ice horses of Ladoga…

André Prah "started to make his own visual representation of the tragedy. In wood from the shores of the Baltic Sea." The quote is from a Facebook page showing examples of his artwork (also see the photo album on the Facebook page. My favorite post from the page:

After photographing the horses on Lake Ladoga's ice, it was time for the three of us, Heimerson the reporter, Lundgren the photographer, and myself to leave Russia. At the border a stern-looking customs officer pointed at the horses in the trunk and required an explanation. The photographer then pointed at me and said: "The artist is mentally disturbed. Cuckoo." With an embarrassed smile, the customs officer politely replied: "Please proceed."

Radiolab recently had a podcast that includes discussion on Malaparte's story: the link can be found here. The guys at Radiolab focus on the story of the frozen horses of Lake Ladoga and the science behind it—could it have possibly happened? The results are interesting, even if they have no bearing on whether it actually happened. Walter Murch, last seen on this blog for his translation of selected works of Malaparte (The Bird that Swallowed its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte), discusses how he came to discover Malaparte's writing. To his credit, Murch emphasizes that Malaparte mixed fact and fiction, implying that just because he wrote a chapter on this incident it doesn't mean it happened. There's a reason Kaputt is in the fiction section, after all. But the science behind the possibility of it happening is still interesting.

Update: Thanks to Øystein for the following YouTube link to a scene from My Winnipeg (The Cold Winter of 1926) and more ice horses. It definitely looks like Malaparte inspired this scene.