Tag: Literature

James Joyce Anecdote

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/10/07/112126187.html?pageNumber=102
(page 105 in the microfiche)
Letter to Book Review, NYTIMES, October 7 1979

To the editor:
The review of “Portraits of the Artist in Exile” (Aug. 26) stirred memories of James Joyce in Trieste. My father was the American Consul charged with protecting British interests. He came to like and respect Joyce without the slightest inkling of what he was up to besides teaching at the Berlitz school and tutoring.

My father went so far as to suggest to my mother that they invite Joyce and Nora Barnacle to dinner. This led to words, and my mother’s Victorian upbringing prevailed.

The remote possiblity of social amenities between the two families vanished in 1915 when British subjects began to face internment, a prospect Joyce did not relish. He turned to his friends for help to get him to Switzerland. My father did the paperwork and with others made it plain to the Austrian authorities that Joyce would be a troublemaker to British officialdom. This indeed proved to be the case. Tom Stoppard makes it clear in “Travesties.” Joyce had nothing to give his friends but unsold copies of “The Dubliners.” The copy he gave my father is inscribed
To
Ralph Busser
James Joyce
18 Feby 1915

Joyce left for Zurich in June and within two years we were in the war. As our train from Vienna rolled into the station at Zurich one lone figure stood on the platform. It was Joyce come to meet us. As he took hold of the handle of an aged suitcase it broke, but he nimbly tucked it under his arm and led us out. With another simple gesture he had expressed his gratitude.

I never saw him again.
Ralph Busser Jr.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Ikea Effect and Difficult Reading – Shakespeare and Game of Thrones

WILSON: Right. Exactly. There’s just a certain type of reader who loves these sprawling, sociological narratives that have massive casts of characters. That have these interweaving stories, and they’re just epic in scope. They go on and on and they expand outward. George R. R. Martin is clearly one of those people.

I often have to remind my students. I say, “You know, Shakespeare’s supposed to be hard.” Right? It’s supposed to be difficult to understand what’s going on in these texts, but I think we can forget how extremely difficult these texts are—Shakespeare’s first tetralogy, “A Song of Ice and Fire”—for first time readers to come to these texts and just try to understand what is going on here. But then I also think that there’s a connection between the labor that we have to do to understand what’s going on in these texts and the love that we have for these texts. In the book, I theorize this as an example of the Ikea effect.

Some researchers did this amazing experiment where they had people put together some Ikea furniture, and then they had a professional carpenter put together the same furniture, and then they asked people, which of these pieces of furniture do you want? The one that you built or the one that the carpenter built? And most people chose the one that they built. And so the Ikea effect means, for example, we don’t work so hard to raise our children because we love them so much. Instead, we love our children so much because we’ve had to work so hard to raise them.

And when we return to the literature, I think just the immense amount of labor that is required to understand what is going on here and to enjoy these texts spills over into just the intense passion that fans of Shakespeare, fans of Martin, show for these texts. You have these amazing fan cultures that grow up around Shakespeare’s history plays, so there’s @HollowCrownFans on Twitter…

Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”
Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 159

Based on his knowledge of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, Harvard’s Dr. Jeffrey R. Wilson knew just how HBO’s Game of Thrones would play out. Jon Snow, the illegitimate son, was a Richard III type, who would win the crown (and our hearts, in a love-to-hate-him kind of way). But Daenerys Targaryen, as a kind of Henry VII, would defeat him in battle and win it back, restoring peace and order. Turns out he was wrong about all of that.

But as Wilson kept watching, he began to appreciate the other ways Game of Thrones is similar to Shakespeare—like the way that both Shakespeare and George R.R. Martin’s stories translate the history of the Wars of the Roses into other popular genres.

Wilson’s new book, Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, explores some of the ways that Shakespeare influenced Game of Thrones… as well as some of the ways that Game of Thrones has begun to influence Shakespeare. Wilson is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Black History Month – 10 Books by African Americans

Just some books I liked and think you will too. Selections mine, blurbs via Amazon. 

Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul
James McBride
Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown embodied the contradictions of American life: He was an unsettling symbol of the tensions between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. After receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth, James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history, illuminating not only our understanding of the immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated Godfather of Soul, but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s enduring legacy.

How I Learned What I Learned
August Wilson
From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson comes a one-man show that chronicles his life as a Black artist in the Hill District in Pittsburgh. From stories about his first jobs to his first loves and his experiences with racism, Wilson recounts his life from his roots to the completion of The American Century Cycle. How I Learned What I Learned gives an inside look into one of the most celebrated playwriting voices of the twentieth century.

The Big Sea: An Autobiography
Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes, born in 1902, came of age early in the 1920s. In The Big Sea he recounts those memorable years in the two great playgrounds of the decade–Harlem and Paris. In Paris he was a cook and waiter in nightclubs. He knew the musicians and dancers, the drunks and dope fiends. In Harlem he was a rising young poet–at the center of the “Harlem Renaissance.”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Rock This!
Chris Rock
From today’s hottest stand-up comic–heir to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and known for his Emmy Award-winning HBO Specials and The Chris Rock Show–comes this edgy, no-holds-barred humor book about race, relationships, and politics.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Z.Z. Packer
Her impressive range and talent are abundantly evident: Packer dazzles with her command of language, surprising and delighting us with unexpected turns and indelible images, as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong. We meet a Brownie troop of black girls who are confronted with a troop of white girls; a young man who goes with his father to the Million Man March and must decide where his allegiance lies; an international group of drifters in Japan, who are starving, unable to find work; a girl in a Baltimore ghetto who has dreams of the larger world she has seen only on the screens in the television store nearby, where the Lithuanian shopkeeper holds out hope for attaining his own American Dream.

Waiting to Exhale
Terry McMillan
When the men in their lives prove less than reliable, Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin find new strength through a rare and enlightening friendship as they struggle to regain stability and an identity they don’t have to share with anyone. Because for the first time in a long time, their dreams are finally OFF hold….

I, Tina: My Life Story
Tina Turner
A reissue of the one of the most fascinating and dramatic true stories in show business history—the massive bestseller I, Tina, in which the legendary Tina Turner tells all about her life and career: from her humble beginnings in Nut Bush, TN; to her turbulent and volatile marriage to Ike Turner; and, finally, to her triumphant return and massive success.

Colored People: A Memoir
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In a coming-of-age story as enchantingly vivid and ribald as anything Mark Twain or Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., recounts his childhood in the mill town of Piedmont, West Virginia, in the 1950s and 1960s and ushers readers into a gossip, of lye-and-mashed-potato “processes,” and of slyly stubborn resistance to the indignities of segregation.

Pym: A Novel
Mat Johnson
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes an all-black crew of six to follow Pym’s trail to the South Pole, armed with little but the firsthand account from which Poe derived his seafaring tale, a bag of bones, and a stash of Little Debbie snack cakes. Thus begins an epic journey by an unlikely band of adventurers under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.

 

Quotes from Stuff Read in 2020

The Buddhists had a helpful analogy here. Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. Again, elegant theory—but, easier said than done.

The final step—“non-identification”—meant seeing that just because I was feeling angry or jealous or fearful, that did not render me a permanently angry or jealous person. These were just passing states of mind.
Harris, Dan. 10% Happier  

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Apology for Idlers, Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson  

You can’t turn your back on your nature. I admitted to Ravelstein that reading those Keynes documents and writing the piece had been something like a holiday. Rejoining humankind, taking a humanity bath. There are times when I need to ride in the subway at rush hour or sit in a crowded movie house – that’s what I mean by a humanity bath. As cattle must have salt to lick, I sometimes crave physical contact.
Bellow, Saul. Ravelstein

Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  

9 Books I Read in 2020 That Weren’t Published in 2020

The following are recommended, in no particular order. Selections mine, blurbs via Amazon.

Hamlet
William Shakespeare (audio book)
Shakespeare’s most famous play is one of the greatest stories in the literature of the world.

Distressed by his father’s death and his mother’s over-hasty remarriage, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is faced by a specter from beyond the grave bearing a grim message of murder and revenge. The young prince is driven to the edge of madness by his struggle to understand the situation he finds himself in and to do his duty. Many others, including Hamlet’s beloved, the innocent Ophelia, are swept up in his tragedy.

Hamlet is played by Simon Russell Beale. Imogen Stubbs plays Ophelia, Jane Lapotaire is Gertrude, and Bob Peck is Claudius. Polonius is played by Norman Rodway.

It’s the cast that makes this an exceptional Hamlet.

A Cab at the Door
V.S. Pritchett
A Cab at the Door, originally published in 1968, recalls his childhood in turn-of-the-century and World War I London with the urbane subtlety and wry humor that have marked his other works. For the wild and eccentric Pritchett family, life is a series of cabs waiting at the door to transport them to a succession of ten-bob-a-week lodgings, in their flight from creditors and the financial disasters of their father. A Cab at the Door also captures the texture and color of the working-class side of Edwardian England.

10% Happier – How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
Dan Harris
Nightline anchor Dan Harris embarks on an unexpected, hilarious, and deeply skeptical odyssey through the strange worlds of spirituality and self-help, and discovers a way to get happier that is truly achievable. Now revised with new material.

After having a nationally televised panic attack, Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes. A lifelong nonbeliever, he found himself on a bizarre adventure involving a disgraced pastor, a mysterious self-help guru, and a gaggle of brain scientists. Eventually, Harris realized that the source of his problems was the very thing he always thought was his greatest asset: the incessant, insatiable voice in his head, which had propelled him through the ranks of a hypercompetitive business, but had also led him to make the profoundly stupid decisions that provoked his on-air freak-out.

Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction
Elizabeth Vargas
From the moment she uttered the brave and honest words, “I am an alcoholic,” to interviewer George Stephanopoulos, Elizabeth Vargas began writing her story, as her experiences were still raw. Now, in Between Breaths, Vargas discusses her accounts of growing up with anxiety–which began suddenly at the age of six when her father served in Vietnam–and how she dealt with this anxiety as she came of age, eventually turning to alcohol for a release from her painful reality. The now-A&E Network reporter reveals how she found herself living in denial about the extent of her addiction, and how she kept her dependency a secret for so long. She addresses her time in rehab, her first year of sobriety, and the guilt she felt as a working mother who could never find the right balance between a career and parenting. Honest and hopeful, Between Breaths is an inspiring read. Winner of the Books for a Better Life Award in the First Book category Instant New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin’s forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn’s stature as “a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy” — Harrison Salisbury

Ravelstein
Saul Bellow
Abe Ravelstein is a brilliant professor at a prominent midwestern university and a man who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. He has lived grandly and ferociously-and much beyond his means. His close friend Chick has suggested that he put forth a book of his convictions about the ideas which sustain humankind, or kill it, and much to Ravelstein’s own surprise, he does and becomes a millionaire. Ravelstein suggests in turn that Chick write a memoir or a life of him, and during the course of a celebratory trip to Paris the two share thoughts on mortality, philosophy and history, loves and friends, old and new, and vaudeville routines from the remote past. The mood turns more somber once they have returned to the Midwest and Ravelstein succumbs to AIDS and Chick himself nearly dies

Water by the Spoonful
Quiara Alegría Hudes
“How many plays make us long for grace? Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Hudes is such a rare play; it is a yearning, funny, deeply sad and deeply lyrical piece, a worthy companion to Hudes’s Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue. The play infects us with the urge to find connection within our families and communities and remains with us long after we’ve left the theater.” – Paula Vogel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of How I Learned to Drive

Writing to Learn: How to Write – and Think – Clearly About Any Subject at All
William Zinsser
Using numerous examples of clear, stylish writing from a broad range of disciplines, and adding the warmth of his personal experiences, Zinsser makes a strong case for his claim that writing about a field of knowledge is the best way to immerse oneself in it and to make it one’s own. Three guiding principles emerge accuracy, brevity, and clarity and, Zinsser argues, writers who keep them in mind will avoid much of the misunderstanding that results from bad writing. Zinnser has particularly harsh words for what he calls “corporation-speak,” the incomprehensible nonsense that invades many professional publications. His reference, whose title so accurately sums up its philosophy, should become a standard for those who care about good writing.

Our Country’s Good
Timberlake Wertenbaker
Australia 1789. A young married lieutenant is directing rehearsals of the first play ever to be staged in that country. With only two copies of the text, a cast of convicts, and one leading lady who may be about to be hanged, conditions are hardly ideal…Winner of the Laurence Olivier Play of the Year Award in 1988, and many other major awards, Our Country’s Good premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1988 and opened on Broadway in 1991. ‘Rarely has the redemptive, transcendental power of theatre been argued with such eloquence and passion.’

Fiction vs Real Life

Recently, I won’t say exactly when but embarrassingly late in life, I realized that books had been lying to me. Movies were slightly better, but still untruthful. To put it another way, I realized that nothing is connected. Nothing is central. Not all things happen at the same time, or a millisecond before or after that time, or at midnight, or on anniversaries.

Nobody jogs down a street and sees a sign that says SIMPSON and then later that afternoon drives to their dentist and finds a new receptionist, surname Simpson, caressing the desk with nails of plastic coral.

Her eyes are never the precise whimpery blue of an April morning in the Southwest. They may bear a passing resemblance to that shade, they may be very, very close, but they are never the same, no matter how hard one overworks one’s eyes.

disclaimer
Jackson Arn
https://www.3ammagazine.com/

Best Books of 2020

Selections mine, blurbs via Amazon.

Interior Chinatown
Charles Yu, January 28, 2020

Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as the protagonist in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. Or is it?

The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison
Jason Hardy, February 18, 2020

Prompted by a dead-end retail job and a vague desire to increase the amount of justice in his hometown, Jason Hardy became a parole officer in New Orleans at the worst possible moment. Louisiana’s incarceration rates were the highest in the US and his department’s caseload had just been increased to 220 “offenders” per parole officer, whereas the national average is around 100. Almost immediately, he discovered that the biggest problem with our prison system is what we do—and don’t do—when people get out of prison.

Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir
Mark Lanegan, April 28, 2020

In Sing Backwards and Weep, Lanegan takes readers back to the sinister, needle-ridden streets of Seattle, to an alternative music scene that was simultaneously bursting with creativity and dripping with drugs. He tracks the tumultuous rise and fall of the Screaming Trees, from a brawling, acid-rock bar band to world-famous festival favorites that scored a hit number five single on Billboard’s alternative charts and landed a notorious performance on Late Night with David Letterman, where Lanegan appeared sporting a fresh black eye from a brawl the night before. This book also dives into Lanegan’s personal struggles with addiction, culminating in homelessness, petty crime, and the tragic deaths of his closest friends. From the back of the van to the front of the bar, from the hotel room to the emergency room, onstage, backstage, and everywhere in between, Sing Backwards and Weep reveals the abrasive underlining beneath one of the most romanticized decades in rock history-from a survivor who lived to tell the tale.

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays
Jerald Walker, October 30, 2020

For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.” It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love

Garner’s Quotations: A Modern Miscellany
Dwight Garner, November 10, 2020

A selection of favorite quotes that the celebrated literary critic has collected over the decades. From Dwight Garner, the New York Times book critic, comes a rollicking, irreverent, scabrous, amazingly alive selection of unforgettable moments from forty years of wide and deep reading. Garner’s Quotations is like no commonplace book you’ll ever read. If you’ve ever wondered what’s really going on in the world of letters today, this book will make you sit up and take notice. Unputdownable!

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The Big Space Fuck – Kurt Vonnegut, Quote From, Intro

In 1987 it became possible in the United States of America for a young person to sue his parents for the way he had been raised. He could take them to court and make them pay money and even serve jail terms for serious mistakes they made when he was just a helpless little kid. This was not only an effort to achieve justice but to discourage reproduction, since there wasn’t anything much to eat any more. Abortions were free. In fact, any woman who volunteered for one got her choice of a bathroom scale or a table lamp.

In 1989, America staged the Big Space Fuck, which was a serious effort to make sure that human life would continue to exist somewhere in the Universe, since it certainly couldn’t continue much longer on Earth. Everything had turned to shit and beer cans and old automobiles and Clorox bottles. An interesting thing happened in the Hawaiian Islands, where they had been throwing trash down extinct volcanoes for years: a couple of the volcanoes all of a sudden spit it all back up. And so on.

Kurt Vonnegut, Big Space Fuck