In the light of today’s excellent news from Sweden I have just added to the Features pages an interview with Doris Lessing by Tom Sperlinger. This interview first appeared in The Reader Number 17, Spring 2005.
While we were deciding what to do about National Poetry Day on The Reader Online I was pointed at a new-ish site called Pass On A Poem which aims to promote poetry readings and encourage people to read poetry aloud. From the blurb:
a not-for-profit initiative to provide entertainment and to create enthusiasm for poetry by bringing people together to read out loud poems which have a special personal significance and to explain, briefly, why.
Professor of English, writer, and now blogger Philip Davis has been busy over at More Intelligent Life and his latest post on New York, email, blogging, and blondes called Philippa may well be his best yet.
Davis’s biography of Bernard Malamud appears at a time when Philip Roth is promoting (and how) his latest novel, Exit Ghost. Malamud of course was once part of a Jewish literary triumvirate that included Saul Bellow and Roth; the title of Roth’s latest seems even more appropriate in the context of that strained metaphor. As it usually does the New Yorker get’s to the nub of the matter. James Wood begins his review:
Before his death, Jonathan Swift pointed to a blighted tree and said to a friend, “I shall be like that tree; I shall die first at the top.” Philip Roth’s dying animals, at loose in the twilit carnival of his late work, reverse Swift’s prophecy: they fear they will die from the bottom up. Their minds are ripe with sexual energy, with transgressive vitality, but their bodies are sour with decline.
October is of course Black History Month and it seemed appropriate to post this video promoting reading. Things like this often smell a little inauthentic, but this seems properly felt. Still, as an almost-40 white English bloke, what do I know? The images accompanying the rap lyrics are more affecting anyway than the animated film that sometimes go with it. But here’s a warning: this contains ‘bad language’ from the start. If you are easily offended or you’re sitting behind a PC on the front counter of a bank, you probably won’t want to click ‘Play’, but then you know your boss better than I do:
Posted by Chris Routledge
Today is National Poetry Day and this year its focus is dreams, a subject that poets (and readers alike) are continually beguiled by. When we enter sleep, we enter an entirely new world, one that is filled with dreams carrying their own pleasure and pain. In Part One of ‘The Dream’, Byron separates our lives into waking and dreaming worlds, explicating how dreams render their own reality, through power of vision and intensity of thought. Yet equally pertinent is the amalgamation of the two: how dreams borrow from our conscious thought and how we, in turn, bring essences of our dreams into our waking world.
From The Dream
Our life is twofold: Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of Joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of Eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past,—they speak
Like Sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substance, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dreamed
Perchance in sleep—for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.
Posted by Jen Tomkins
Here are some of our favourite articles and links from across the web in the last week or two:
A quick mention for The Library Project and the book swap taking place at mello mello on Slater Street Liverpool today from 7pm to 9pm.
Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself spending more time reading and researching online, using ‘gated’ services such as JStor but also the excellent Google Books and Google Scholar as well as online newspapers, library catalogues and other sources. One of the problems with that is keeping track of the material. This week I came across Zotero, an addon for the Firefox web browser which not only allows you to store material for reading later but will generate bibliographies, link between research materials and even link with documents elsewhere on your computer. I’m going to be reviewing Zotero over the next few weeks, but in the mean time here’s the link to the website. I recommend taking a look at the tour. You will need to be using Firefox, but but Zotero runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows computers.
I’ve been a fan of Clive James ever since I stumbled across his essay on Raymond Chandler, ‘The Country Behind the Hill’ in the school library circa. 1981. The Times Literary Supplement has a review of his most recent collection of essays Cultural Amnesia that sums up James for me. Despite his broad brush strokes, which can be so frustrating, James, in the words of reviewer Adam Bresnick is an ‘excellent, passionate reader’.
On the subject of detective fiction this week saw a flurry of reviews of Andrew Lycett’s biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This review by Philip Hoare in the Telegraph highlights the paradoxes of Conan Doyle: his creation of an archetypal rational detective versus his spiritualism; his sympathies for groups opposed to Jewish immigration from Germany before World War 1 and for humanitarian causes. It is also a little sniffy:
Holmes was also a Bohemian drug addict and melancholic who sometimes resembles an invention of Oscar Wilde. Indeed, in another of his telling anecdotes, Lycett describes how it was shortly after meeting Wilde that Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of Four – his second Holmes adventure, with its own specifically Wildean character – whilst Wilde went off and wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray.
And finally The Guardian is today running an article on writers’ rooms that is well worth a look, if only to see how diverse writers’ workplaces need to be.
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September marks the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, notorious for being written on a single roll of paper (sort of true) without revising (not true). Among the avalanche of commentary on Kerouac to have appeared in the last week or so a few pieces stood out for me. David W. Hall, Director of the Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Program wrote a fascinating piece about how he attempted to introduce typewriters and scrolls to a workshop on The Beats. Sadly they had to resort to writing longhand in notebooks.
Hall claims Kerouac as one of his heroes. I’m afraid I don’t. So I was gratified to find (via Ready Steady Book) a review by Anthony Daniels, aka Theodore Dalrymple, of John Leland’s book Why Kerouac Matters, published to coincide with the anniversary. Daniels is very unkind about Kerouac, though he admits a writer can be important without being any good and this point is spot on:
I mentioned the banality of the book to a young man who told me that he had thought it wonderful when he had read it a few years previously. I devised a test. He would open it and point to a passage at random, and I would read the passage out loud. He would then tell me whether he thought it was banal. Here is the passage:
The drizzle increased and Eddie got cold; he had very little clothing. I fished a wool plaid shirt from my canvas bag and he put it on. I had a cold. I bought cough drops in a rickety Indian store of some kind. I went to the little two-by-four Post office and wrote my aunt a penny postcard. We went back to the gray road. There she was in front of us, Shelton, written on the watertank. The Rock Island balled by. We saw the faces of Pullman passengers go by in a blur. The train howled off across the plains in the direction of our desires. It started to rain harder.
A passage such as this, appearing in an alleged literary classic, must encourage and delude many an adolescent keeper of a diary that his entries will one day find the appreciative audience that their immanent genius deserves. The popularity of On the Road is a manifestation of the propensity in a demotic age of mediocrity to worship itself.
Who could have predicted that an essentially plotless novel about the relationship between two rootless young men who seemed constitutionally unable to settle down was about to kick off a culture war that is still being fought to this day?
I have just added an article by Philip Davis on the neurological effects of reading Shakespeare to the Features page. This piece appeared in The Reader 23 and is a fascinating summary of research into the way Shakespeare’s linguistic innovations affect us at a physical level. Philip Davis has recently taken over as editor of The Reader magazine. His biography of Bernard Malamud, Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life, is published on September 13th. Here’s a link to the article.
I’ve been away on a Scottish island odyssey for the last couple of weeks, but The Reader’s flock of Internet starlings has been hard at work. Here are some of the juiciest worms they found:
Recommendation. Vintage’s much-publicised series of literary pairings received a stylish boost with A.S. Byatt’s recommendation of Middlemarch in The Guardian newspaper. Eliot’s novel is paired with Byatt’s Possession in the Vintage Classic Twins series. Both novels are of course “books for grown-up people”.
Books for children seem to have been in the news a lot this summer. But however successful the Children’s Book That Cannot Be Named may be, helping children to read is an ongoing challenge for many parents. One innovative service that might help is Tumblebooks, described as “an online collection of read-along titles for elementary, middle school, and high school students which features adjustable online text and complete audio narration. Sentences are highlited as they are being read and the pages turn automatically … ” The Reader Online has no connection with Tumblebooks, but it sounds like an interesting idea for a digital native generation.
On Literary Festivals. The Times carried an interesting piece about the growth of book festivals and quotes Armando Iannucci pitching for an intern job at The Reader: “People are hungry for substance and unafraid of ideas and big themes.” We concur.
How To Write a Book. And for those budding (and otherwise) writers among you, here’s a bombastic blog article by technology writer and consultant Scott Berkun in which he argues that anyone can write a book. It may suck, but …
Walk of Shame Award. And talking of Scottish islands, Scotland on Sunday reported on the first day of the Edinburgh Festival on a conversation between Will Self and Philip Gourevitch, who recently held a month-long residency on the island of Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984. His shocking admission when faced with the prospect of walking: “I haven’t been to Barnhill. I drove up to the end of the road in a downpour and the guy who controls the gate wasn’t around. I couldn’t find anybody to open it so I could drive up there.”
Posted by Chris
Saturday 4th August – Things I have seen in Romania
A cow grazing by a brand new glass-plate office suite
A drunk old man falling into the gate to his house while trying to open it
A 1970s Romanian-built Renault with BMW badges
A funeral parlour blaring out rap music
A taxi firm called Trans Prod
A 17th century church glazed with UPVC windows
A crazily leaning shack proclaiming itself the Hotel Lido
A pig on a balcony on the block of flats opposite
A gyspy woman walking along a smart shopping street while breast-feeding
In time-forgotten villages, gleaming cars with Italian plates outside the houses
A hearse with “FUN” on its number plate
A tree in a beauty spot with beer cans stuck up its branches – Christmas come early?
A company called Semi-Daniel – a case of split personality?
A herd of sheep on a train
A horse and cart in a supermarket car park
A beggar with an Armani T-shirt
A seller of Dolce & Banana watches
In the market Crowds of old women weeping at the death of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch
All of these would be ample opportunity for any photographer or journalist. They would send back a report peppered with “local colour”, confident that they have got to the heart of the place. Some, more enlightened, might skirt away from the really obvious ones – the cow, for example, reflected in the plate-glass window – dismissing them as clichés. And certainly the list is full of such clichés, almost all of them boiling down to contrast: between old and new, communist and capitalist, Orient and Occident.
Romania as a country is not afraid of clichés. We get on with it, the typical shrug of the shoulders and benevolent nod of the head accompanying us. Perhaps in this crazed sunshine, there are some Western niceties which just don’t apply.
The budding teachers at the English school are learning…
Tuesday 15th August The Brits have left and another year will run its course of change before the next summer school. Each year we take the volunteers to the Black sea coast for a few days, and then to Bucharest, before the tearful journey to the airport. We ask ourselves, and so do they, whether what they have seen is the true face of Romania. Among this year’s highlights there have been desperate phonecalls for a comfort stop on the way to Constantza, trunks lost whilst skinny dipping and midnight rowing on Herastrau lake in Bucharest. Occasionally we get returning volunteers: I remember this, is so and so still there, is that still going, the kid I taught then has gone to university. I, too, am like that now – in my native country a visitor, with a bagful of memories and apprehensive of new experiences every year, relieved to go back home and eager to return the next summer. Invariably.
I am yet to find how much of the attraction in all this lies in the security of the past and how much in the challenge of the new. All in a summer’s teaching job.