100 Years On The Road

This year is the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s famous rambling American epic, On The Road, but few people will have noticed that it is also the centenary of another book about the road, by another famous American Jack. Jack London’s The Road, published by Macmillan in 1907. The Nation is carrying an article by Jonah Raskin about London’s book, which picks up on the way American life changed in the 50 years between them:

In the years between 1907 and 1957 America changed radically–it became a world power and developed a full-blown mass culture–and those social and cultural changes are reflected in these two books. The Road depicts an industrial America in which hobos and tramps are an integral part of the system–“a reserve army of the unemployed,” as Marxists have called it–who help keep wages down. On the Road describes a postindustrial America in which cars are everywhere, almost everyone can afford a car, a radio and a television, and the mass media shape the lives of American citizens.

You can read a free ebook of The Road by Jack London here and another with pictures here. The link to the article in The Nation is here.

Thanks Angie.

Charles Simic–US Poet Laureate

The Guardian reports that Charles Simic has been named poet laureate of the United States by the Library of Congress. Simic, who left Yugoslavia aged 16 in 1953, is also editor of the Paris Review, and a contributor to the New York Review of Books. From the article:

Simic’s appointment was announced by James H Billington, the librarian of Congress. Asked why Simic was chosen from the shortlist of 15 candidates, Billington replied that it was down to "the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry … His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears. He’s very hard to describe, and that’s a great tribute to him."

Speaking by telephone from his home, Simic described himself as a "city poet", joking that he has "lived in cities all of my life, except for the last 35 years." He originally wanted to be a painter, he said, until "I realised that I had no talent."

Here’s the link to The Guardian and another to the New York Times.

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Romanian Summer Diary 5

Saturday 28th July–Busy days. The first British contingent taught their lessons, forged friendships, played their quick cricket in bewildered partnership with the Romanians, staged the customary talent show to the self-acclaim of beaming participants, said their goodbyes with swimming eyes and departed – some to the mountains, some to the seacoast for a deserved short holiday before returning to our rainy kingdom. The unusual this year was manifest in the confirmation of theft of handbag by bear for insurance purposes; the chosen (by the bear!) protagonist was Wirral Grammar Emma.

New forces arrived on Thursday – seventeen students and sixth formers for the school in town and eleven for the children’s home. The twenty-eight-strong group of volunteers going out in the evening is anything but inconspicuous. Welcome shouts of ‘hey, English!’, although a little irritating to our Welsh and Irish nationals, are received as such: warm welcome.

The volunteer ‘profesori’ have far more ideas than there is time to put into practice. They will learn much about the ideal and the practical by the end of the summer school. Some will find out that keeping it simple is the best policy. A few will realize that teaching others is the best way of learning. The only uncertain thing so far is the declamations favourite; ‘Brutus was an honourable man’ goes head to head with the girlie taking of tea chez Ernest’s Gwendolin.

Wednesday 1st August–I know from past experience that nothing draws the Brits and Romanians closer than twenty-four hours of supervisorial absence. Not reckoning that such extreme teambuilding efforts should be required, I decide to abscond for just a couple of hours and drive to the countryside.

Romanian Dream II

Locals only were allowed
To leave the tarmac road,
Cross the rickety bridge
And sink into the dust track
Around the lake.

Strategic route, we used to be told,
Secret in case of Western invasion.
Throughout my teenage years I had wished
To sit on the grassy banks and watch
The sun in the water.

Path at the bottom of orchards, gardens, cornfields,
Thinning under the feet of my teenage son:
Same hair, some of my dreams,
His gain, my lost lake, his to return to,
Mine now, only once.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

Women Writers Before 1700

I came across this excellent site via Language Hat and thought it should be shared. It’s a compilation of women’s writing from around the world translated into English. This is a truly wonderful resourse, with proper referencing and scholarly support. Great for browsing. From the site:

The entries are on women who produced a substantial amount of work before 1700, some or all of which has been translated into modern English. Each entry will tell you about the print sources from which the translated passages are taken; it will also tell you of useful secondary sources and Internet sites, when those are available.

 Here’s the link.

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Public Domain Audio Books: Librivox

Audio books account for a small but significant part of the market for books and with the rise of the mp3 player the opportunities for listening to literature are ever expanding. If you want recent books then the decent thing to do is pay for a copy and keep the writer in business. But for out of copyright work Librivox could be the way to go. Librivox offers free public domain audio books. One of the great things about the project is that it is all done by volunteers and the work is shared.

Hugh McGuire, founder of Librivox, had this to say in an interview on the Creative Commons website:

The immediate reason was practical — I was going on a long drive and I was looking for free public domain audiobooks on the Net; there weren’t very many, and I thought there should be.

But other than that practical need I wanted to address, LibriVox came out of a few conceptual strands. The first was the idealism of the free software movement, and it’s pragmatic success. Here was a parallel system (to the proprietary software system) built almost entirely out of volunteer effort, and hugely successful to boot. I was very interested in how free software ideals and methodologies could be applied to non-software projects: could the same sorts of ideas be used in the real world?

Here’s the link to Librivox.

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Links we liked for July 28, 2007

Here are a few links you might have missed in the last couple of weeks:

Sue Bursztynski’s review of HP7 for January Magazine was one of the most balanced I came across in a week when J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter novel broke sales records around the world and for a while even competed with the weather for the attention of British news journalists. That’s how big it was. John Crace provides a digested read: “Harry knew he was up against it this time. A favourite character from an earlier book had been killed off within the first 80 pages. That Rowling woman meant business.”

On a not unrelated subject, as anyone who waded through HP5 will testify, Salon had an excellent article on the unsung heroines and heroes of the literary world: ‘Let us now praise editors’.

The BBC covered the problem of literacy with a rather sad piece about parents who struggle with reading to their children. Here’s the shocking statistic:

More than 10% of the 1,000 parents asked had struggled to understand some words in the stories they had read to their five to 10-year-old children.

Looking at it more positively, at least they are reading. Here’s the link to the BBC article.

Would Jane Austen get published by Penguin as a new author in 2007? Here’s the answer.

And finally, from Language Log, intellectual cereal packets. I insist cereal packets taught me to read. I’m not sure how that might have worked if Martin Amis and Immanuel Kant had featured. Here’s the link.

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Romanian Summer Diary 4

Sunday 22nd July–The summer school runs for two stretches of nine days and this weekend is a working one. Some children’s attitude to conversational English on a Sunday verges on the cavalier, but those who turn up do want to talk; airing opinions in British company is an opportunity not to be missed.

One of the older boys had witnessed an accident: woman munching burger hit by boy-racer on zebra crossing, he described it, in near-perfect British journalese. Doctors had her down as sixty; she turned out to be seventy-six; the driver was twenty-one. More than anything it was the shock of seeing the little everyday items – a shoe, her shopping, the chips – scattered along the street. Bringing this all up was not about displaying proficiency in English, but sheer shock.

We know of thousands of deaths: why should this one so affect us, our Sunday student wanted to know. Was it the banality of the woman’s shopping bag? The randomness of the choice of victim? Whose choice? Would anything change had it been a tramp? Or a model run over by an old dear on the way to church? Would watching violent films have prepared us for it? Or Titus Andronicus? Or Aeschylus, for that matter?

Monday is another day.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

Romanian Summer Diary 3

Wednesday 18th July, The Anglo-Romanian Dream I.

The summer school is in full swing and truth is in the mouths of children, I’m told. The ten-year olds are pouring their hearts out to their British ‘Miss’. Crisps have been banned in school from September next and the cosmopolitan crisp connoisseurs are ready to take on the world and the offending school vending machines.

One of the older boys witnessed an accident. It’s almost a British journalist’s account: woman munching burger and speeding boy-racer collide on zebra crossing. ‘You call it roadkill?’ Someone had covered her face with a napkin. I remembered teaching Mid-Term Break, and the open box, and thinking this is how we too say our goodbyes, not sealing off our departed, simply treading carefully.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

The Book of Hopes and Dreams

Dee Rimbaud made contact recently about The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, a charity poetry anthology, published to raise money for the Medical Aid (Afghanistan) appeal of the Glasgow-based charity Spirit Aid, (an entirely volunteer run organisation, headed by Scottish actor and director, David Hayman).

As a volunteer organisation, Spirit Aid are able to ensure that 90% of all the funds they raise go straight to the projects they are involved in (unlike most of the bigger charities whose admin and advertising budgets swallow huge percentages of all donations).

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, which is a celebration of the human spirit (even in times of great adversity) has captured the imagination and hearts of some of the greatest living poets of our times; all of whom have freely contributed work to this anthology. There are contributions from Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Heath-Stubbs, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Tony Harrison, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan, Penelope Shuttle, Anne Stevenson, Jon Stallworthy, Alan Brownjohn, Ruth Fainlight, David Constantine, Moniza Alvi, Cyril Dabydeen, Elaine Feinstein, Vicki Feaver, Michael Horovitz, Tom Leonard, Robert Mezey, Lawrence Sail, Jay Ramsay, Charles Ades Fishman, Geoffrey Godbert and Ian Duhig, amongst others.

The book costs £9.99 and can be ordered in all high street bookstores in the UK. It can also be bought outside the UK via the publisher, Bluechrome or from UK Amazon. Not only is it brimming over with the work of award winning poets, its message is resoundingly positive and optimistic in outlook, which many will find refreshing, given the zeitgeist for poet-modern irony, ennui and despair.

More importantly, royalties from every copy sold will go towards providing mobile clinics, doctors, nurses and medicines for the people of the far flung, mountainous region of Baglan in North East Afghanistan, where the population hadn’t received any medical care whatsoever for 25 years, until Spirit Aid raised funds for their first mobile clinic.

Dee writes: ‘I hope you will consider buying this book, because it really will help to save lives. It will also help to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. And who knows, with its uplifting tone, it may even improve the quality of your life or inspire your own writing endeavours. Mike Matthews, one of the contributors wrote me recently and said: "The anthology is fantastic, and it has served as a major inspiration for me to continue to write every single day, for the poetry in it is genuinely high quality and uplifting. I have not been able to stop writing since it came out, and I carry it around with me everywhere, opening it before every writing session."’

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Romanian Summer Diary 2

17 July 2007–‘Fresh knickers!’ was the unilateral shout heard last night in Grill 66 as exultant girls flung aside their half-eaten pizzas to celebrate the arrival of their delayed luggage from Amsterdam, and with the prized sous-vetements came coloured card, felt tips, glitter paint, and lesson plans bristling with the latest in brainstorming. This morning, a hundred-odd (some very odd) children in the playground disappeared swiftly into classrooms and re-grouped around tables that had only been privy to the pains of history and maths tests. Some wanted to improve their English skills; others, I suspect, were wanted out of the house; some elder ones were evidently more interested in British flesh than British small-talk, while yet to discover that the latter can be a very useful route to the former. It was a suitably merry, enthusiastic, and slightly shambolic start.

*

Over the past four days I have seen three sets of identical twins dressed in identical clothes. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it makes me glad that that kind of thing still happens. Perhaps Romania just hasn’t learnt to be wary of clichés…

*

One of the pitfalls of conversational Romanian – blessed are the Brits in their singleness of purpose – is the difference between the second person singular and plural forms. The French have tu and vous; the Romanians have four. Beware the wrath of the self-respecting young lady addressed as ­tu; beware also if she is a woman of the world and appalled by the stuffiness of dumneavoastra. Which ‘you’ does one use for one’s former teachers, or for an elderly newspaper seller? How does one address the waiter? What if it is a waitress? Worst, how can you explain treating your mother-in-law as a multiple entity? Over a good and substantial pint, some of the British contingent wanted to find out just that. Some upper-class French couples, we learnt, address each other as vous all their married life; the semantics that can cope with mothers-in-law has yet to be invented.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.