Month: February 2012

Limitless

This weekend, I watched Limitless. This film is based on the novel, The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn. I haven’t read the book but what attracted me to the film was the premise:

Unshaven and unfocused, living in a grungy Chinatown walkup [sic] and frequenting the last bar in Manhattan…Eddie is stuck on Page 1 of a long-overdue novel.

The whole time I was watching this, I kept thinking that this must be Flowers for Algernon had it been written by Philip K. Dick. A poor and lowly NYC writer with no motivation or inspiration to write is given the opportunity to take an illicit pill to open up his mind and clear his way of thinking. In four days, he has his novel.

When the film came out, a writerly friend of my mine was appearing in one of those short TV spots that they air in the back of cabs. He was being interviewed about this film (which he hadn’t seen) and was asked if he would ever take an imagination-boosting pill if it existed. His response was no–probably because he is one of those people that actually likes being a suffering artist.

Granted, the movie didn’t live up to the expectations I had (there are many plot holes and plot points that are completely abandoned and forgotten) but still enjoyable. It was fantastic to see Bradley Cooper’s change throughout from struggling writer to high-powered financial phenom.

Sitting in a Windowless Room, Talking About Books

That’s how I will sum up the past two days. A few friends and acquaintances organized an annual conference this year. The topic was broad and it took me some time to figure out what the thesis of it all was but for the most part, the papers presented and the panels held were interesting. The participants consisted of PhD students from the US and Europe.

DAY 1

Of course, when you’re in a room of academics, you’re mostly thinking about how obvious your seat-squirming is and when will they be done talking so you can head over to the coffee and cookie spread. This did happen the first day, however, there was some fascinating papers presented. The one that stood out to me was about Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker was clear and concise, and was clearly passionate about his topic and engaged with the audience. He discussed how a writer becomes popular and/or canonical. He stated that Manley Hopkins was not popular in his own lifetime for various reasons, 1) he only sent his poems to Catholic publications, 2) his publisher barely publicized the book, 3) the book was printed by a private printer which made the book look archaic and was not able to be marketed to a larger audience because of the price tag. Thus, resulting in a lack of awareness by critics and readers. It wasn’t until the first half of the Twentieth century when the poet entered into the public conscious. A second printing in 1930 resulted in 2000+ sales of his book over the following few months.

DAY 2

I didn’t attend much of day 2, only making it to the final presentation/panel (my mind was definitely tired and needed to rejuvenate by watching hulu and eating tacos). The non-native English speakers were a bit hard to follow but a graduate student from Vanderbilt presented a paper on the notebooks of Nietzsche and Brecht. She touched upon the actual entries of the notebooks but focused more on the work as a physical entity. A back-and-forth broke out in the audience during the panel Q&A about whether books should be preserved only in archives or facsimiles should be available to the public even though they are pale omparisons to the original text. That was finally squashed and then it was onto the chitting and chatting.

an evening with Wallace Shawn & Deborah Eisenberg

Last night, the Center for Fiction hosted a reading of Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in CzernopolThe evening was in honor of the recent release of the new English translation. Rezzori’s widow, Beatrice Monte della Corte, gave the opening remarks. She was such a riot with a quick wit. She commented that she thought the new translation was fantastic. Debbie and Wally (as they so casually referred to each other) read excerpts from this hilarious novel.

Some people from the New York Review of Books were also there. They have been doing a wonderful job publishing quality translations of international books. The physical aesthetics of the books are quite lovely, too.

I snapped a few photos of the two reading, but most of them were obstructed by the back of Edmund White’s head. I resisted the temptation to whisper I loved Forgetting Elena into his ear.

After the reading, my friend and I moved to the back where we chatted and sipped free literary wine (meaning, out of plastic cups). Wallace Shawn was charming and silly. Deborah Eisenberg came over to us and chatted till the end of the evening. We asked her how she got to know Rezzori. Apparently, he was a fan of My Dinner with Andre and wanted to meet her boyfriend, Wallace Shawn. All is in the past but Deborah couldn’t stop singing the praise of the late Rezzori.

a poem [anonymous]

 

Here is another translation I did of a small medieval German poem from my old verse book. I’m becoming a little more comfortable reading and understanding this type of German. The words are either identical or nearly identical to high German and when read aloud, sound a lot like English. There was no information about the writer of this poem.

[Anonymen]

Dû bist mîn, ich dîn:
des solt dû gewis sîn.
Dû bist besloʐʐen
in mînem herzen;
verlorn ist daʐ slüʐʐelîn:
dû muost immer drinne sîn.
Wær diu werlt alliu mîn
von dem mere unz an den Rîn,
des wolt ih mih darben,
daʐ diu künegîn von Engellant
læge an mînem arme.

[Anonymous]

You are mine, I am yours:
you must be sure.
You are locked away
in my heart;
the key mislaid:
and you are inside of it always.
If I owned the world
from the ocean to the Rhine,
if I could have
the Queen of England
resting in my arms.

The Traveler’s Paperback

There was a fantastic article by Dominique Browning in the New York Times this week titled, Learning to Love Airport Lit. With personal anecdotes, Browning tells of her love for the airport paperbacks when travelling. She long gave up on literary giants like Ulysses or War and Peace. Instead, trading them in for novels by P.D. James or George R.R. Martin.

All I want now, from a good airplane book, is transport. A sense of propulsion. I want to feel the rush of plot against my cheek. I want to know where I am going, and why. I’m willing to trade transport for transportation.

This immediately peaked my interest.

1) I live in Manhattan, meaning, I do not own a car, thus, resulting in my utilization of public transportation (re: subway, bus). New Yorkers are hardcore public transit book readers. I mean, how else can we avoid eye contact with the crazy homeless person yelling at us about sandwiches.

2) But more on point with Ms. Browning’s article, I have some upcoming travelling to do. I HATE flying. I don’t even think hate is strong enough a word. If I’m not able to totally pass out into dreamland, I must be in a constant state of distraction and engrossment. I’m sorry Gravity’s Rainbow, you won’t be making the cut.

The article dissuades the reader from memoirs, self-help books, etc. and offers the advice: Don’t make the mistake of straying off the plot path. You need books with hefty runways and fast takeoffs. So, it looks like I will be stocking up on suspenseful crime dramas for my long-haul flight.

The article is accompanied by these useful suggestions.

[click on the image to enlarge]

Reimagining the New York Public Library

The New York Times reported today about the NYPL system’s projected ideas for our beautiful Main branch. If you’ve never been to this library (the building on 42nd St & 5 Ave with the two sculpted lions guarding the main entrance) you’re missing out. It has reading rooms, microfiche, and interesting rotating exhibits. And it’s all free!

This sounds great because, currently, if you want to check out a book from the main library, you have to cross the street to their decrepit-hobo infested-book depository that they refer to as a “library.” In the new plan, this grim soul-mangling building will be closed and sold off. Patrons will get to bask in the glory of the lion library.

Among the proposed highlights:

  • Twice as much public space, including new areas for research, meetings, classes, working groups, and other forms of creative collaboration
  • Twice as much dedicated space for writers and scholars
  • Vastly increased public programming
  • Hundreds more public computers, plus other technology upgrades
  • Enhanced exhibition spaces

Even with the dramatically expanded public spaces, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building would still contain:

  • More than 2 million books, including both research and circulating volumes
  • Millions more rare collections materials, including 450,000 maps, 250,000 prints, almost 1 million photographs, and 40,000 linear feet of manuscripts
  • In addition, more than 6 million books and other materials will be made available on-site within 24 hours from a state-of-the-art preservation facility

a poem by Heinrich von Veldeke

I really know nothing about Heinrich von Veldeke. Apparently, he popularized courtly love poetry in the troubadour style.

I haven’t translated anything since January and have decided to try my hand at something new. Granted, I’m not an expert on any kind of poetry but I figured I would attempt something short from a book of German verse that I have. Bare with me. I’ve never translated poetry nor have I translated from medieval German (which I have no concept of!).


Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc

Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc
stâde sîn der koninginnen,
want poisûn heme dâ tû dwanc
mêre dan dî cracht der minnen.
Des sal mich dî gûde danc
weten dat ich nîne gedranc
sulic piment ende ich sî minne
bat dan hê, ende mach dat sîn.
Wale gedâne,
valsches âne,
lât mich wesen dîn
ende wis dû min.
Tristan was unwaveringly
loyal to the queen,
by reason of poison
rather than the virtue of love.
My Lady! Be grateful
that I did not drink such a blend
and my love exceeds his.
Fair and honest one,
let me be yours and you be mine.

On Moderating a Literary Panel

Phew! Am I exhausted. After a weekend of wine from plastic cups, meals that consisted of tiny finger food served on platters and close to no sleep, I am quite relieved that the past few days have come and gone. I was far busier than I had anticipated–hence, the lack of posts this past week–and finally got a good night’s sleep (12 hours!).

A few months ago, I was asked to interview an European author as part of an annual literary festival. I agreed even though I was not familiar with her work or had even heard of her. I did some googling to find info about her and her books and I even contacted the author’s English translator. This was the first time I had ever done anything remotely close to this. I was quite relieved after our interview in front of a very large audience (~60) was over. The author was fantastic and the rest of the festival was superb. I don’t know if I’ll even be part of a festival again in this capacity but I hope I’m not as nervous. And now I know how much work, time and energy goes into a 30 minute discussion. Time to lie down…

Book Alert!

Instead of writing, I am procrastinating of course. I like to peruse the daily deals that Amazon has for the Kindle. If you got a few coins to spare, they are selling Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater for $2.99 and Peter Bryant’s Red Alert for $1.99–the latter being the book that was adapted into Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Toward the end of my procrastination, I also discovered a ton of ebooks that are incredibly cheap (under $6). They are called RosettaBooks and as I was looking through the list, I noticed that they offer some books that have been out-of-print for sometime.

John Barth at Books & Books

For the frequent readers of this blog, you know that I’m located in the Big Apple. Because I live in NYC, I’m lucky to be exposed to many great cultural shenanigans–especially, writerly events. However, this post will be different.

I’ve noticed that many comments are from readers who wish they had something comparable in their home city.¹ Well, for those from South Florida, you’re in luck! I’ve been tipped off that John Barth will be reading and discussing a new essay from the most recent Granta. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know that Barth was still alive (many of his contemporaries have long been buried). The works of his I’m most familiar with are Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera.

I’ve been to Granta readings in the past and I’m sure the one in Miami will be enjoyable also. Here are the details:

Feb 7 2012 8:00 pm

John Barth reads and discusses his essay “The End?,” muse-inviting rituals and writing ‘nothing’ with writer and art critic Chauncey Mabe.

Granta 118: Exit Strategies (Grove, $16.99) is the latest issue of Granta, the magazine of the best new writing from around the world. This issue explores personal and political exit strategies with new work from Aleksandar Hemon, Claire Messud, John Barth, Susan Minot and more.

265 Aragon Ave | Coral Gables, Florida | 33134
¹I would still like to compile a list of book festivals, etc. that are outside of NYC and the United States. Please drop me a line if you have any info pertaining to this: acidfreepulp [at] gmail.com