Summer of ClassicsI still haven't made up my mind about this year's Summer of Classics, but right now I'm thinking about going totally old-school: The Poetic Edda, Homer's Odyssey and Dante's The Divine Comedy (or if not the whole thing, then at least Inferno). If that's the route I take, wish me even more luck than usual.
Postage stamp story
This is so cool: an official Ireland postage stamp, with a 224-word story written by 17-year-old Eoin Moore. (Click on the above for a full-size image.) Although, strangely enough, his name doesn't appear on the stamp.
"...every last one of them some kind of villain..."I love this brief passage from Knut Hamsun's short story "Zachaeus" (collected in Tales of Love & Loss, translated by Robert Ferguson), which describes the workers on a wheat farm in the Great Plains during the late 1800s.
There are all nations, all races, young and old, immigrants from Europe and native-born American wanderers, every last one of them some kind of villain living out his derailed existence.That strikes me as kind of a twist on "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", but instead of Emma Lazarus' poor, innocent victims, Hamsun's immigrants are scoundrels escaping their dark pasts. The story is one of the several in the collection inspired by Hamsun's brief time in America, as a young adult and before he established himself as a writer. I wish he had written more fiction like this that showed the struggles of Norwegian emigrants, along the lines of O.E. Rolvaag. But he abandoned short fiction early on, and focused entirely on novels for the rest of his career, setting most if not all of them in Europe. The collection is particularly interesting in how much the stories echo his classic early novels Hunger, Pan and Mysteries.
(Photo by Erik Kwakkel)
I had no idea such places still existed: chained libraries, virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages, in which all the volumes were chained to lecterns or shelves, which provided access to the public while protecting the volumes from theft. The image above is from the chained library in Zutphen, Netherlands, one of only three left (in their original state) in Europe. More on the libraries here. So beautiful.
I just started reading ________, because:
Knut Hamsun, Tales of Love & Loss: Hamsun is one of my favorite novelists, but I've never read any of his short stories, which he only wrote very early in his career. (5/10/13)
Patrick Michael Finn, From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet: Despite its rich history, Joliet is almost totally unrepresented in fiction. This Joliet-based story collection might change that. (5/3/13)
Various Writers, Hair Lit Vol. One: With so many writer friends contributing here, it would have been impossible not to read this. (4/26/13)
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping: Everybody calls this a modern classic, so I'm finally finding out for myself whether that's true. (4/15/13)
Anton Chekhov, The Duel: I'm a sucker for Melville House's gorgeous novella series, and I've decided it isn't fair to judge the Russian Masters solely on my tepid response to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment last summer. (4/5/13)
Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key: I've heard really great things about this novella, and seeing that it's a short European dark comedy, I figured it was right up my alley - even though I might be unfairly conflating it with Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, one of my favorite reads of the past few years.(4/1/13)
William Butler Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds: With Irish March winding down, I grabbed this collection off of Project Gutenberg, from a writer who is pretty much Ireland's all-time poet laureate. (3/29/13)
Samuel Beckett, Endgame: I read this for Irish March, although the play isn't particularly Irish in character, and Beckett originally wrote it in French. (3/28/13)
J.P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man: Another Irish novel for my annual Irish March. I hope the book is much better as a story than as a physical object, because my copy is a cheap-feeling 1988 reprint from Atlantic Monthly Press. (3/18/13)
William Trevor, Cheating at Canasta : Every March I read nothing but Irish fiction, and the Irishman Trevor is one of my favorite writers, and certainly one of the finest short story writers ever. So this was a no-brainer. The only question is why I hadn't read it already. (3/7/13)
Kurt Vonnegut, Armageddon in Retrospect: Vonnegut is Julie's favorite writer, and I greatly admire him as well. I picked this up a few years ago as a $5 remainder at B&N, and figured I should finally read it. And then dive into more of his novels. (2/27/13)
Elizabeth Crane, You Must Be This Happy to Enter: Akashic sent me this as a review copy years ago, but though it's been near the top of my list it keeps getting nudged aside for other books. This year I've resolved to read more female authors (my track record there is pretty shameful), and Crane gets raves from many readers I greatly respect, so I'm finally diving in to this one.(2/17/13)
Edward J. Rathke, Ash Cinema: Kuboa Press is publishing my first book, and since quality book design is very important to me, I bought this one (which sounds very interesting in itself) to see what the design looks like. And it looks great. (2/3/13)
Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad: I've never read any Atwood, and thought it would be better to ease into her work with this short book (a retelling of the Odysseus and Penelope myth) before taking on Oryx and Crake. (1/28/13)
Jeff Sypeck, Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles: Jeff is one of my favorite recent blogger discoveries, a medievalist who writes easily about the modern day. And this poetry project is particuarly inspired.(1/22/13)
Ben Tanzer, This American Life: Ben is a great friend and great writer, so I'll read anything he puts out. Including his grocery list. (1/20/13)
My author copies of Wheatyard arrived yesterday. The finished book looks fantastic, and I couldn't be happier. My bulk shipment should arrive later this week.
At home with the Petries
I just love these two 1963 photographs by Earl Theisen, taken on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show. I grew up on reruns of the show, and it's fascinating to see the oh-so-familiar Petrie living room and bedroom from these unfamiliar angles. It's also wonderful to see the genuine warmth between Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the second photo - I think I heard somewhere that during the show's heyday, a significant portion of viewers thought the two were married in real life. That's how convincing the actors were.
Rantoul Fisher, meet Onarga RobertsDriving down Interstate 57 from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana, the countryside is sparsely populated, and each exit sign shows the names of two towns. The towns are usually connected by whatever highway is at the exit, but are often so far away that they can't be seen from the interstate. This invisibility gives the towns an air of mystery that always appeals to me. Years ago, it also occurred to me that the paired town names could be interpreted as being the name of a single person. After realizing this, I pondered what each of these people did for a living. Here's what I came up with:
Bradley Bourbonnais: male stripper
Monee Manhattan: female stripper
Gilman Chatsworth: trust fund baby/playboy
Rantoul Fisher: environmentalist
Onarga Roberts: NFL nose tackle
Next time you're driving through farm country on an interstate, give this a try.
"...in floods of rancid bile o'erflows..."Another clunker from The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, this time from John Armstrong (1709-79):
Advice to the StoutIn their introduction, Lewis and Lee wryly opine that Armstrong (a practicing physician) "enriched our heritage of English Poetry with a relentless analysis of the workings of the human stomach." I'm grateful that he never versified his noted prose work, Synopsis of the History and Cure on Venereal Diseases.
The languid stomach curses even the pure
Delicious fat, and all the race of oil:
For more the oily aliments relax
Its feeble tone; and with the eager lymph
(Fond to incorporate with all it meets)
Coyly they mix, and shun with slippery wiles
The woo'd embrace. The irresoluble oil,
So gentle late and blandishing, in floods
Of rancid bile o'erflows: what tumults hence,
What horrors rise, were nauseous to relate.
Choose leaner viands, ye whose jovial make
Too fast the gummy nutrient imbibes.
Joliet has a modest maritime connection, thanks to its location on the Des Plaines River between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Illinois River. Any barges traveling from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi have to pass through Joliet. Above is an Egan Marine towboat docked on a river wharf, just south of the McDonough Street bridge.