If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall those biannual library sales that I usually go to. I missed this year’s spring sale, alas, but I made it to the fall sale and came away with a whole ton of books. Here’s the list. Comment below if you’ve read any of them or want to read them!
I’ve always been fascinated by religious art. I’m hoping this book will delve not just into the histories of individual pieces or churches, but also into some of the theological debates surrounding the making and use of images.
While Macbeth may have dethroned it as my favorite Shakespeare play, I do still adore Hamlet and read everything I can find on it. Some other Hamlet-loving friends have highly recommended this book, so I picked it up.
I have my sister, who loves fashion and the history of fashion, to thank for this selection. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a strange Spanish designer whose dresses that seemed to defy the laws of physics. I got interested and fell in love with some of his more avant garde designs, so when I found this book, I had to get it.
This apparently out-of-print book is part of a series of books published by Newsweek documenting the history of famous landmarks around the world. This should be good both for my interest in Christian art and my Francophilia.
And speaking of France, this enormous cookbook collects about 1,200 recipes from the restaurant of the world-famous French chef Paul Bocuse. These recipes range from basic peasant food to more exotic dishes, like fried frog legs, several different snail dishes, and a black truffle soup whose ingredients cost roughly $200 per person(!).
A collection of short biographies of some of the greatest performers in musical history. The subtitle led me to believe that the scope of this book encompassed the nineteenth and twentieth centuries only. It actually begins around the turn of the eighteenth century, with a chapter on the notorious castrato singers of Italy, and ends in the late twentieth century with opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo. I love classical music, and am even beginning to get into opera, so books like this are fascinating to me.
Translation can be a controversial topic, and poetry translation is even more so. In any act of translation, the obstacles posed by the two languages’ differing histories, cultural contexts, and nuances of meaning can be almost insurmountable. Add to that the fact that the very existence of a poem depends on its being intimately involved with the features of its own language. Sound, rhythm, denotation, connotation, and even the histories of individual words or phrases can all carry meaning. To move a poem from one language to another and keep the poetic aspects of it is nearly impossible. Some believe that it is impossible. I personally prefer to take a more optimistic view: will Baudelaire in English ever be the same as Baudelaire in French? Of course not. Can we hope that some intrepid Anglophone might create for us, if not the same thing, at least something similar to the experience of Baudelaire in French? I think so.
An ideal poetry translator should, as far as he is able, respect the form, sound, and wording of the original poem. At the same time, he should make it pleasant to read as English verse. One translator who succeeded marvelously at that was Richard Wilbur. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States, Wilbur is justly heralded for his original poetry, but he has also translated dozens of poets from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. He never, to my knowledge, published a book dedicated solely to translations, but scattered throughout his collections are gems like “L’invitation au voyage,” works that, without completely sacrificing lexical and formal fidelity, still capture some of the original’s beauty in English.
Joy Clarkson, of the podcast Speaking withJoy, is running an online book club for C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce! We’re five chapters in already, but the chapters are short so there’s time to catch up. More info here.
“In his oeuvre, ecstatic tones mixed with sober reflection; there was no easy way to classify this poetry—it burst taxonomies. It was not ‘nature poetry,’ it was not a ‘poetic meditation on History,’ neither was it ‘autobiographical lyric’—it was all of those. The ambition of this poet knew no limits; he tried to drink in the cosmos”: Adam Zagajewski on discovering Czesław Miłosz’s banned poetry as a young man in Poland, and why he “can’t write a memoir of Czesław Miłosz.”
“In Brodsky’s view, politics was one level of human existence, but it was a low rung. The business of poetry, he thought, is to ‘indicate something more … the size of the whole ladder.’ He held that ‘art is not a better, but an alternative existence … not an attempt to escape reality but the opposite, an attempt to animate it.'”: from The Point, an essay on the great Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, and his “moral responsibility to be useless.”
These lists just keep getting longer! Per usual for this time of year, here’s a list of classic literary paraphernalia that was released or rediscovered for the first time in 2017. I’ve tried to make this list as complete as possible, but if you know of any other previously “lost” works that were found or published last year, let me know in the comments.
This collection of eighteen short stories was compiled by the Fitzgerald estate and published last April by Simon and Schuster. Gathered from the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University and from papers belonging to the Fitzgerald family, none of these stories have been published previously, according to the book’s editor, Anne Margaret Daniel.
When his daughters were young, Twain, like any good novelist daddy, used to make up fairy tales to tell them at bedtime. Today, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine is the only one of them that survives in written form. Twain himself never wrote the fairy tale’s ending, so when Doubleday acquired the story early last year, they enlisted the husband-and-wife team of Philip and Erin Stead to finish and illustrate the tale, about a poor boy who goes on an adventure to save a kidnapped prince.
4: The only known video footage of Marcel Proust
This past February, in an edition of the academic journal Revue d’Études Proustiennes, Canadian professor Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan announced that he had recovered the only surviving video footage of the famous French author from the archives at Canada’s National Cinema Center. The film was captured at the 1904 wedding of Élaine Greffulhe, the daughter of Proust’s close friend (and the inspiration behind one of his characters) the Countess Greffulhe. In the film, we see guests descending the steps of the cathedral where the wedding took place. Proust is believed to be the young man walking by himself in a gray suit and a black bowler, or as this French article calls it, a melon hat.
5: Letters and drawings by J. R. R. Tolkien
While these letters and drawings, all of which are housed in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, were not “lost” to scholars, they have never been published before. They will appear this summer in a book titled Tolkien: The Maker of Middle Earth and will include Tolkien’s correspondence with some of his more famous admirers, among them W. H. Auden, Iris Murdoch, and Joni Mitchell.
6: A letter from W. B. Yeats
In 1904, the American photographer Alvin Coburn visited London, where he met Yeats at a dinner party. Enraptured by the impromptu poetry recital that Yeats gave at the party, Coburn asked Yeats if he could recite again while Coburn photographed him. The result was the photo on the right, which Yeats liked so much he used it as his author photo in his next collection of poems. In March of last year, the letter Yeats wrote to Coburn thanking him for the photo was discovered by PhD student Jack Quin in the library of the George Eastman Museum in New York.
7: Notes from “Shakespeare’s first critic”
I’ve always said that the British version of Antiques Roadshow is better, and this just proves it for me: a man from Berkshire, England appeared at the Roadshow with a small notebook that he said had been in his family for several generations. The experts on the show were able to date the book to the early 1600s and found that it contained the author’s notes on and reactions to some of William Shakespeare’s plays. No word yet on what exactly this 17th century critic wrote about the Bard, but, since little or no contemporary criticism of Shakespeare was thought to exist previously, the book is promised to be invaluable in the realm of Shakespeare studies.
8: Unpublished letters from Sylvia Plath
In March 2017, an antiquarian bookseller named Ken Lopez made waves in the literary world when he put a huge cache of materials belonging or relating to Sylvia Plath up for sale. Lopez had acquired these materials from Harriet Rosenstein, a literary scholar who, at one time, had been writing a biography of Plath. In addition to the taped interviews and interview notes that Rosenstein had accumulated, there were dozens of letters from Plath to her friends, including several letters to her former psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Barnhouse. These letters set the literary internet on fire for a few weeks in April, as Plath claims in them that her husband Ted Hughes beat her, causing her to miscarry their second child. A few of these letters appear in Letters of Sylvia Plath, the first volume of which was published last October, while others were completely new finds for researchers and scholars.
9 & 10: “To a Refractory Santa Claus” and “Megrims” by Sylvia Plath
While working on These Ghostly Archives, a book about Plath’s unpublished work, Plath scholars Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg discovered two previously-unknown poems by Plath on a sheet of carbon paper in the archives at Indiana University. These are two early works, written in November of 1956, five months after Plath married Ted Hughes. “To a Refractory Santa Claus” recounts the beautiful Spanish landscapes where she and Hughes spent their honeymoon, while “Megrims” deals explicitly with the experience of illness, both physical and mental.
11: A draft of a Ted Hughes poem, deleted from Birthday Letters
As the Guardian article linked above notes, at the same time Crowther and Steinberg were trying to extract those two Sylvia Plath poems from a mess of typescript, they also found a third poem written by Ted Hughes. This untitled piece was originally intended for his book Birthday Letters, his last full-length collection and the first to openly address his relationship with Plath. Like many of the poems that finally did make it into Birthday Letters, this piece deals with the grief and remorse that Hughes experienced following his wife’s suicide.
12: “Thoughts on Poverty, Misery, and the Great Revolutions of History” by Hannah Arendt
It seems little is known about this essay, originally titled “A Lecture” and found among some papers belonging to Arendt. If it was a lecture that she actually gave somewhere, no one knows where or when. All I’ve been able to find out is that it was written between 1966 and 1967 and was printed for the first time this year at The New England Review and Literary Hub, where you can read it now. This essay will also appear this month in a book titled Thinking without a Bannister: Essays in Understanding.
13: “The Christian in the Modern World” by T. S. Eliot
This one was hard to research too, since The Times Literary Supplement seemed to be the only publication talking about it and I don’t have a subscription to them. If you have one, you can read the lecture here.
Last summer, the Maurice Sendak Foundation announced that a complete picture book by Sendak and his frequent collaborator Arthur Yorinks had been found among Sendak’s papers. According to Lynn Caponera, the president of the Foundation, the illustrations had originally been comissioned in 1990 by the London Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Rikadla, a piece based on a series of Czech children’s poems. About ten years later, after another composer asked to use the illustrations in her show, Sendak revisited the pictures and decided to put them into a book, which he co-wrote with Yorinks. Though a complete draft was written, the authors’ involvement with other projects prevented them from getting it to print. The book is set for release through HarperCollins this September.
15: Bob Dylan concert videos recorded by Allen Ginsberg
During his famous 1965 tour, Bob Dylan was accompanied at least at a few stops by Mr. Ginsberg and his new video camera. The films that Ginsberg shot, which include parts of Dylan’s concerts and some of their backstage chit-chat before and after the shows, were acquired by Standford University in 2015, but until last year, few knew of their existence. They finally got some attention last summer, when an anonymous Youtuber posted the recordings to his channel, only to take them down again a few weeks later. The music magazine Spinnoted a few of the high points of those conversations between Ginsberg and Dylan if you care to take a look.
At one time, George Oppen was thought to be a rising star in American poetry. Having received enthusiastic praise from such poets as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, his first book, Discrete Series, seemed like the start of a brilliant career. But with the coming of World War II, Oppen began to devote more of his life to political activism and did not write any more poetry until the 1960s.
Or did he? Researcher David Hobbs went to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University hoping to find letters that would give him some insight into the writing process behind Discrete Series. Instead, he found a whole manuscript that Oppen had sent to Pound, who then shared it with the poet Louis Zukofsky. The manuscript was published last August. You can read a few of its poems here.
17: An entry from the diary Flannery O’Connor kept in college
Last November, the arts journal Image ran a special issue containing previously-unpublished entries from Flannery O’Connor’s journals. The entries were written in about 1944, before O’Connor became a recognized author, so they reflect her hopes for and fears about her future career. You have to buy the issue to read all of the entries, but a portion of one was republished by Cynthia Haven on her blogThe Book Haven.
18: Five short stories by Kurt Vonnegut
In its October 2017 issue, The Atlantic ran “The Drone King,” a previously-unpublished Kurt Vonnegut story. This and four other unseen stories were recovered from the archives at Indiana University by Dan Wakefield, a friend of Vonnegut’s, and Justin Klinkowitz, a literary scholar studying Vonnegut’s work. All five of these stories were published last November in the new Complete Stories of Kurt Vonnegut.
19: John Donne’s secret satirical paper
Late in 2016, Matthew Payne, the Keeper of Muniments at Westminster Abbey, was going through a large box containing unsorted Latin manuscripts from the abbey’s library. He recognized one paper as a spoof of a library’s catalog, but couldn’t identify its author. A few minutes searching Google (seriously) told him that this was the “Catalogus Librorum Satiricus” (in English, “The Courtier’s Library”), written by John Donne. The document consists of a list of fictional book titles and their synopses, all of which are either crude jokes or wisecracks directed at powerful officials in the church or government. The document is believed to date back to 1603 or ’04. At that time, Donne was working as a lawyer, having lost his previous post with the government after he married his boss’s niece Anne Moore without her family’s permission. A paper like this, which Donne circulated secretly to a small cabal of fans and patrons, probably would have landed Donne in jail, if not on the gallows. The document was publicly displayed at Westminster Abbey in November of 2017, which is why the press didn’t report it until last year.
20: “It’s All Right—He Only Died” by Raymond Chandler
And lastly, magazine editor Andrew Gulli takes what’s now his usual spot on this list, having discovered in 2017 a lost short story by Raymond Chandler. “It’s All Right—He Only Died” was found in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and published last October in Gulli’s magazine The Strand. Written late in Chandler’s career, the story takes a slightly different tack from most of Chandler’s other work: instead of a detective story, “He Only Died” is a social realism piece about the challenges that the poor face in getting healthcare.
At night, when the carriers passed under her windows in their carts singing the “Marjolaine,” she awoke, and listened to the noise of the iron-bound wheels, which, as they gained the country road, was soon deadened by the soil. “They will be here tomorrow!” she said to herself.
And she followed them in thought up and down the hills, traversing villages, gliding along the highroads by the light of the stars. At the end of some indefinite distance there was always a confused spot, into which her dream died.
— Madame Bovary, Part I, Chapter 9
I follow a lot of literature-related blogs and accounts on social media, and one of my favorites is Karen Swallow Prior’s Twitter account. In case you don’t know of her, she’s a professor of English at Liberty University, as well as an author, having written two books and several essays for publications like Christianity Today and The Atlantic. The first of those two books, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, is a sort of literary memoir, a love letter to the books and authors that made her who she is. Madame Bovary is featured prominently in that book, and is often mentioned in some of Dr. Prior’s other essays as well. Eventually, my curiosity got to the point where I had to read it. Currently, I’m at Chapter 8 of Part II. Here are just a few preliminary thoughts I wanted to write down:
Because Dr. Prior’s writing tended to focus most on the moral arguments in this book, I half-expected it to take a very straightforward, even bordering on didactic, tone. So I was a little surprised by the dreamy, Romantic sound of some of the narration. Take for example this passage, describing Emma Bovary’s depression when a man she had fallen in love with moves to another city:
Everything seemed to her enveloped in a black atmosphere floating confusedly over the exterior of things, and sorrow was engulfed within her soul with soft shrieks such as the winter wind makes in ruined castles. It was that reverie which we give to things that will not return, the lassitude that seizes you after everything is done; that pain, in fine, that the interruption of every wonted movement, the sudden cessation of any prolonged vibration, brings on. [Part I, Chapter 8]
This choice of language, and the tone of the story overall so far, give me the impression that, though the writer knows full well that Emma is wrong, he can still, in a way, understand her longings. He’s not indulgent, but he’s not completely cold either. This makes the story better, I think, because it helps to humanize Emma. Going in, I was afraid the main character would make this book unbearable with her unremitting selfishness. The selfishness comes through loud and clear, but at the same time, so does the hope for an extraordinary life (not a bad desire in itself necessarily) and her love of beautiful things (also not bad if taken the right way). She has the same basic desires as everyone, although she goes about fulfilling them in the wrong way, ultimately leading her to lose everything. Flaubert, of course, is not defending his heroine—rather, he treats her as a real, complicated human being instead of just a component to a moral argument. I like authors like that, in whose books their respect and compassion for their own characters is plain to see.