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Showing posts from November, 2009

More Moomins

A friend once said that the thing she loved about Japan was that the Japanese loved every season, and made a great effort to celebrate holidays and seasons with specific rituals. As a person who enjoys holidays, and who finds meaning participating in the ritual of the Christian year, I feel a kinship with the Japanese. As humans, we respond to the larger, uncontrollable mysteries of life with stories, with food, with a renewed sense of connection to each other and to the world around us.

It is easy, with the early darkness and the frost on our windshields and the necessity of coats and thicker socks, to complain about the dying of the year and the coming of winter.

Here is a must-read this time of year: Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley in November. Where her other Moomin books have been characterized by happy bohemianism and quirky, midsummer adventures, this book is not afraid to deal with the stark and empty season that comes once a year.

It is raining steadily upon the tall dark trees. D…

Tribute to the Past

As I may have mentioned before, we read very little in high school: one novel a year, one play, four poems and a few short stories. I’ve blamed my slow literary education on this very weak introduction, but as I’ve begun to remember the quality of the short stories we read, I’ve realized they aren’t bad - one by Italo Calvino, another by Roald Dahl. I am beginning to think my head was submerged in something all through high school.

We read Lord of the Flies in Matric, senior year. I remember that. Ralph standing on his head. Jack. Piggy. The Conch. The dead parachutist stuck in the tree tops, his parachute eerily billowing around him. Junior year we read a book by South African writer Richard Rive called ‘Buckingham Palace’, District Six. By the end of the term, after our essays and multiple choice tests, we were all heartily sick of Buckingham Palace, but recently I’ve been feeling nostalgic and hoping to get a hold of a copy. It’s out of print (of course) and I can’t imagine what Sea…

La Vie Francaise

I have been bitten by a Frog.

I suppose it's been dormant ever since three days in Paris nearly six years ago, revived briefly by watching Amelie, and by those Berlitz language tapes I still have in my car.

Kristin and I finally watched Kristin Scott Thomas in Philippe Claudel's Il y a longtemps que j'aime, or I've Loved you for So Long, after being tantalized by previews of women with tear-stained faces yelling "pourQUOI" very loudly at each other. We do this sometimes when feeling particularly emotive.

Juliette (Scott Thomas) emerges from fifteen years in prison. Her sister Lea, years younger than Juliette, is thrilled to have her long-absent sister back, but Juliette's bleakness is ghostly in comparison to Lea's shy delight and full life.



It was worth the wait. We sat on the edge of our seats, completely absorbed in the unimportant daily conversations that occur against the backdrop of this significant sometimes unmentioned past, while characters gra…

That Old Homesick Feeling

I may be biased, but I think South African history is one of the most fascinating I have had the opportunity of learning. Learning the Groot Trek year after year got old, but that was much preferable to the annual onslaught of Holocaust videos.

There, at the point of the world, the stormy nexus of Indian and Atlantic oceans, the Portuguese adventurers Bartolomeu Diaz, Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan rounded the tip. The Dutch sent South Africa's own Columbus, Jan van Riebeeck, in 1652 to establish a trading station for the Dutch East India Company. The French Huguenots settled in the seventeenth century, leaving a lush valley of vineyards and chocolatiers. The British arrive in 1812 to annex the Cape to the Empire, sowing the seeds of the Boer War, which was to introduce the first concentration camps. Bloodshed and diamonds, covered wagons and massacres, and endless exploitation.

History may be a treasure trove on her own - but sometimes the story is only ever as good as the t…

The Elephant in the Room

In one week, two things that become ironic side-by-side. Today, I received a copy by the director of Harvard’s library Robert Darnton’s apologia, the Case for Books. The other is that our bookstore has become one of the six bookstores in the nation [sic] to have received an espresso book machine. This enables us to print, for a low cost, any book in the public domain and bind it within minutes (300 pages in 4 minutes). The panels are clear so that you can see the cogs working. (I assume; I haven’t actually seen it run yet.)

There’s an espresso book machine at the Harvard Book Store named Paige M. Gutenborg (the opening was attended by Robert Darnton), one in Vermont, at several at libraries around the country. And there’s one at Third Place Books, north of Seattle.

Of course, this development chilled me to the bone. What will happen to the industries? What will happen to the book? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Could it make bookstores obsolete? (Probably not) But Time will Tel…

Discovery

Virginia Woolf and James Joyce are writers who are widely credited for having introduced and developed the “stream of consciousness” literary technique, which sacrifices traditional grammar, punctuation and syntax in the attempt to chronicle the natural flow and organic development of ideas and sensations, the scattered impressions the mind collects from moment to moment.

But before Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and the Waves, before Ulysses and just after the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) began to publish volumes of her magnum opus, what would amount to life-long project, a thirteen novel sequence called Pilgrimage.

Richardson, who experimented with the “interior monologue,” is the largely un-credited creator of “stream of consciousness”, though she disliked that phrase and parodied it as “shroud of consciousness. Virginia Woolf attributes Richardson with the invention of “what we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine …

Before Bed

I find that the best, most luxurious time of the day to read is just before I go to sleep. The house is quiet, the dishwasher might be running, the candles are lit, and everything is solemn and flickering and drowsy. There's a brown chair that is tucked into the corner between my mammoth desk and my bed, and when you sit down there's no getting up. A pillow for your back, a blanket for the legs you can prop up on the foot of the bed.

Some nights I read Rebecca Fraser's Story of Britain, a chronological history. (So far I've just passed the Battle of Hastings, which I've always enjoyed because of the family legend that we're descended on my mother's side from a Norman knight, St. Clair, who came over with William in 1066, and from a Viking. I have a few more opinions about Vikings, those destroyers of architecture, churches, monasteries, schools, villages, literacy, farms, crops, flocks, herds, and households - but that can wait.)

And other nights I read fro…