This is only the second time I have re-posted anything to Book Chase, especially unusual this time because I made the original post only four days ago. This YouTube video of Paul Auster reading a selection from Winter Journal is so exceptional and moving, however, that it needs (and deserves) to be added to my review of the book.
So, here is the author reading his own words – followed by my thoughts on the reading experience.
Serendipity strikes again…
I’m starting the audio book version of Michael Chabon’s freshly minted Telegraph Avenue tomorrow morning on my commute to the office – and today, I received an email that includes a link to brief portions of it being read aloud by Clarke Peters. Peters has a wonderful voice and a great delivery, plus he seems to really have enjoyed putting the book to “tape.”
Clarke Peters, you are a very lucky man to have enough talent to get paid for doing something that seems to be so much fun for you. Now, I can’t wait to get started.
Here’s the YouTube video:
When it comes to the Oxford Companion to English Literature, I’ve been a firm believer (and consistent user) of the book since I purchased it in hardcover back in 1989. That volume, the fifth edition, is the one edited by Margaret Drabble, and it is over 1100 pages long. Obviously, there is a lot packed into such a thick book – but, thankfully, it is surprisingly light in weight and easy to handle. According to its dust jacket, this edition is the one that first included references to “detective stories, science fiction, children’s literature, comic strips,” and the like. It also included foreign-language authors whose works had been largely translated into English.
I don’t recall what I spent for that book 23 years ago, but if I could price it per time referenced, I’m sure it would be one of the better book bargains I’ve ever managed to snag.
That is why I was so pleased to receive a copy of The Oxford Concise Companion to English Literature in the mail today. “Concise” is one of those words, however, that must be considered in the proper context. Admittedly, this paperback is a good bit physically smaller than my “full” 1989 volume, but it manages to come in at a bit over 800 pages, itself. This one, with a nod to previous editors Drabble and Jenny Stringer, was edited by Dinah Birch and Katy Hooper. This fourth edition of the “concise” Companion makes some changes of its own by expanding coverage of “science fiction, biography, travel literature, women’s writing, gay and lesbian writing, and American literature.”
I am addicted to “literary lists” and always find them fascinating, so I am particularly happy about the appendices listing winers of the Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker prizes. I try to keep updated lists of winners of the best known literary prizes on my own, but never manage to keep up for long. This gives me a fresh start as of the 2011 winners.
Other indices are: Chronology (listing key books alongside significant historical events of the same year), Poet Laureate (British), Children’s Laureates, Library Association Carnegie Medalists, King’s and Queen’s Gold Medals for Poetry, and T.S. Eliot Prizes for Poetry,.
Those browsing an Oxford Companion or a Concise Companion for the first time will be pleased, I think, to find hundreds of author biographies, plot summaries, sketches of individual characters, references focusing on key books, genre fiction, literary theory, historical context, etc. (5500 entries in the concise version, alone).
As noted on its cover, this new (as of October 11) Concise edition is also “web linked.” Scattered throughout, are suggestions to turn to the web for additional information about subjects covered in the book. For instance, beneath the section on William Blake, is the “See Web Links” icon and the words “The William Blake Archive.” A quick search of Google for the archive led me here, to a helpful website I had never seen.
Past experience tells me that, for avid readers, this will be the best $20 spent this year.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
Chapter 5 (Breakfast) finds Ishmael at a group breakfast, sharing a table with his fellow-boarders, Queequeg among them, at the Spout Inn. Ishmael seems to be the only one of the whalers willing to be himself and not worry about what others think. As a group, these whalers appear to be a shy bunch, content to eat their breakfast rather quietly before hitting the streets of New Bedford one last time before going to sea. Queequeg, in the meantime, uses his harpoon to spear food from nearby platters or to drag distant platters closer to him.
“Breakfast” is read in great style by Musa Okwonga whose twitter account describes him this way: “Poet, sportswriter; author, musician; journalist, broadcaster, communications adviser. BBC, ESPN, MSN, FT, The Blizzard, The Independent and more.” Okwonga does a bit of everything, it seems. He can be followed on Twitter here.
In Chapter 6 (The Street), Ishmael is amazed by the variety of humanity he finds on the streets of New Bedford, the current whaling capitol of the world. The way he sees it, Queequeg does not stand out in this crowd and, in fact, is just one among many strange characters wandering the city.
|Big Read Illustration, Chapter 6|
Chapter 6 is read by Mary Norris, but I am, embarrassingly, unable to determine exactly “which” Mary Norris that might be. I suspect it is the Irish Mary Norris who has been describing her horrible experiences in St. Joseph’s Orphanage, a facility run by the Catholic Church in Killarney, Ireland. But, I’m only guessing.
It is in Chapter 7 (The Chapel) that Ismael’s spirits become a little subdued by all the reminders inside the church of lives lost to the very pursuit he is about to embark upon. There are numerous commemorative plaques scattered throughout the little church but, alas, few bodies to match them since all of those being memorialized were lost at sea, never to be seen again.
This chapter is read by Keith Collins, another of those rather generic names from which I can not comfortably identify the actual narrator. This is turning into my one complaint about the way the Big Read is being presented. Capsule biographies of the readers would be a huge help to listeners located outside the U.K.
Chapter 8 (The Pulpit) really puts The Whaleman’s Chapel into perspective as it describes the unique pulpit from which the famous Father Mapple preaches his Sunday sermons. Rising high above the church’s whaling congregation, and modeled to look like the prow of a whaling ship, this pulpit gives Father Mapple the perfect spot from which to reach his audience. And, as described in the next chapter, a Father Mapple sermon is quite an experience.
“The Pulpit” is read by Nick Atkinson and, again, I’m having to guess just which “Nick Atkinson” this really is. I see two possibilities: Nick Atkinson, the Australian actor, or Nick Atkinson, the British rock band singer. Your guess is probably better than mine.
Chapter 9 (The Sermon) is really something to hear. Melville has written a barnburner of a sermon for Father Mapple and Simon Callow delivers it to perfection. I found this chapter to be one where it is best just to put the book down and listen to Callow deliver the sermon “live.” He did a beautiful job. Of course, Simon Callow is one of the most respected British stage and movie actors around, and very easily identified.
Dive Deeper covers a good bit of ground related to Chapters 5-9, including a real-life model, Methodist minister Edward Thompson Taylor, upon which Father Mapple is likely to have been based.
Included is this interesting observation about Melville’s view of theology, as expressed in Moby-Dick:
“The cosmic joke that hits hard in Moby-Dick is not about whether there is a God. It is about why such a God should be so distant or mean-spirited. Does this deity take perverse pleasure in joking with the lives of so many poor souls? This may be the ‘ultimate secret’ that Melville’s humor seeks to reveal. Or, maybe the point is that the joke is on us?”
I am particularly looking forward to hearing/reading Chapter 10 because it is read by one of my favorite multi-threat talents, the great Stephen Fry. What a shame Chapter 10 is only four pages long!
Remember my post on Michael Perry’s new one, Visiting Tom, from a while back?
Well, I’m happy to report that that one is finally nearing the top of my TBR stack – but the real reason I’m posting about Michael Perry again is to share this YouTube video of Michael and the Long Beds performing “Somewhere Out in Mudbrook.”
This is good stuff. Slap on a pair of headphones and enjoy…
It’s been a while since I’ve found an interesting library story to highlight, but I really like this one, so maybe it was worth the wait.
Seems that a man in the Philippines takes the “pass it on” principle very seriously. Because Hernando Guanlao wanted to share his passion for books, he set up an official lending library in front of his Manila home twelve years ago. Interestingly, the library has no rules. Take as many books as you want; bring them back when you want; keep them permanently if that works better for you. The big surprise is that the library has grown from less than 100 books to approximately 3,000 books despite its its free-for-all policy.
The BBC has a nice article, including pictures, that can be accessed here:
He was looking for something to honour their (his parents) memory, and that was when he hit upon the idea of promoting the the reading habit he’d inherited.
“I saw my old textbooks upstairs and decided to come up with the concept of having the public use them,” he says.
But it’s people like Celine who sustain the library. She lives down the road from Guanlao, and she arrived with two bulging bags of books – some of which she was returning, others of which she was planning to donate.
She says she loves the concept of the library, because Filipinos – certainly those who are not particularly wealthy – have limited access to books.
“I haven’t been to any public libraries except the national library in Manila,” she says, explaining that it is quite far away – and it is not possible to borrow any books.
I’ve said it at least a dozen times…book people are special people. Hernando Guanlao proves my theory.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand what the commentators are saying in this news video, but it offers a good look at the library (and includes a few words of English here and there).
I’m four chapters into the Moby-Dick Big Read and still very impressed with the quality of the production and the talent of the readers. Listeners will, of course, enjoy certain readers more than others for a variety of reasons. Myself, to this point, I prefer the first reader (the only female of the four) to the others. I’m noticing, surprisingly, that readers do tend to skip words or transpose them fairly often. Perhaps, that stems from an intentional attempt to make the first-person narration sound more conversational, or maybe, these are simply mistakes not considered worth the effort of re-recording for 100% accuracy. I suspect the latter.
At fifteen pages, Chapter 3, “The Spouter Inn,” is one of the longest in Moby-Dick, and I’m willing to bet that it will be the funniest. This is the chapter in which Ishmael finally sees Queequeg face-to-face after much anticipating and worrying about his appearance at the inn until after midnight. It does not help that he is already in bed and only gets a good look at the “cannibal,” when Queequeg finally lights a candle while preparing for bed. Panic and terror are the order of the day on the parts of both men.
Chapter 4, “The Counterpane,” is Ishmael’s rather strange account of waking up next to the cannibal whose arm is “thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.” Diving Deeper devotes two full pages to the “homoerotic intonation of the relationship” between Queequeg and Ishmael – most of it recounting the life story of the first scholar officially to call attention to something readers had been wondering about for years. This scholar, Newton Arvin, one of Truman Capote’s sexual partners in the 1940s, lived a rather tragic life during which he fought a losing battle to hide his sexual preferences – and to hold off the depression caused by so much stress and worry about being exposed. Arvin died in 1963 of pancreatic cancer, long after he split with the much younger Capote.
The next few chapters are short ones of two-to-four pages each, so I will soon experience a variety of new readers. I’m hoping for another woman-reader to be added to the mix.
In another wonderful case of serendipity, Susan – over at You Can Never Have too Many Books – posted yesterday about the online reading of Moby-Dick being sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. Over the course of the next few months, 135 different celebrity readers from the U.K. will read the entire book, one chapter per night, until it is all done. I’ve already made it through the first two chapters and can report that I am very impressed with the experience.
I call this a serendipitous event because just a few days ago I received in the mail the Library of America Melville volume that includes Moby-Dick – plus, I was already planning to read the novel before the end of the year because of a Moby-Dick-related book I received a while back from Oxford Press called Dive Deeper. That book, by George Cotkin, centers around a chapter-by-chapter look at Melville’s most famous novel, offering insights into the author’s thinking, the historical period, and the book’s key plot points. In other words, it is an excellent companion piece to the novel, but as part of a three-way reading of the novel, it is already proving to be a step beyond “excellent.”
I find reading along with the online-narrators and immediately reading the corresponding sections of Dive Deeper to be an effective way to enjoy the novel and, rather painlessly, ensure a deeper understanding of the work than I would have otherwise ever attained. Serendipity, indeed.
I encourage you to follow the link back to Susan’s place and, from there, to the Guardian article to get all the detail about the project, how it came about, and who some of the readers will be. Those of you wanting to get a quick sample of what it all sounds like can jump from here to the Moby Dick Big Read site directly.
The book’s first two chapters (a total of 10 pages) are largely scene-setters in which Ishmael introduces himself and explains why he wants to return to the sea. By the close of the second chapter, he has found cheap – very cheap- lodging for the night in New Bedford’s Spouter-Inn where he will share the bed with an unusual roommate called Queequeg.
Two insights I gained from Dive Deeper: 1) Going to sea is Ishmael’s antidote to the kind of depression that makes people suicidal, and 2) The preacher in the black church Ishmael accidentally enters in the heavy fog of the evening is perhaps patterned on Frederick Douglas who was in New Bedford at the same time Melville was there.
|Dr. Vincent Lam|
I have high hopes for Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg movie that is set to open in November. The official trailer has just been released and it certainly has “the look.” A few people are already complaining about “the voice” in which Lincoln speaks in the film, but contemporaries of Lincoln are known to have spoken of his rather high pitched voice and soft delivery, so I don’t believe this is any kind of misstep on the part of Spielberg or actor Daniel Day-Lewis. They know what they are doing.
I see that Tommy Lee Jones has a role in the movie, definitely a good thing, but I have to admit that I’m a little uneasy seeing Sally Field walking around as what appears to be Mary Todd Lincoln. I hope I’m wrong about that and that she pulls it off but…
|A Portion of the Shelves Devoted to Old Favorites|
I’ve confessed my weakness before for trying to read titles off of the spines of books appearing on bookshelves that just happen to be behind people whose pictures are posted in online newspapers and magazines. I do the same thing when I spot shelves in Facebook photos or on personal blogs, regardless of why the pictures were posted in the first place.
Many of you have admitted to the same addiction. Well, good news…now there’s a website for people like us. Peter Knox and Graham Coursey have created Share Your Shelf, a site where people can post pictures of, and describe, the bookshelves in their lives. Admittedly, while there are definitely some interesting photos there, it is not quite the same as peeking over someone’s shoulders who has forgotten exactly what is behind him when his picture is being snapped. Good stuff, nonetheless, so do take a look. You might even want to share your own shelves there.
|Mostly Joyce Carol Oates and Ruth Rendell, Two Favorites|
This is some of what Peter Knox had to say about the website in this September 7 article on The Guardian website:
|And a Wide Shot Catching Most of One Wall|
The article concludes with Knox’s personal tips on organizing bookshelves. Over the years, I learned his tip on having “a growth strategy” the hard way…several different times, in fact. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, that should be fortunately), I have again reached the point where adding a new book to the shelves almost certainly means removing another one first. I suppose that’s the best way of ensuring that my shelves reflect my reading taste most accurately – but it does make for some painful decisions.
(Feel free to snoop and comment. Just click on the pictures to see them full-sized.)
Our homeless detective soon realizes that his only chance to get the job done is the $25,000 reward being offered for information that will identify a murderer local police desperately want to find. So, mostly sober by day, but wildly drunk by night, Murphy and his pals begin pulling on a few loose threads to see where they might lead. Let the fireworks begin.
|Pre-game Unveiling of Last Season’s Championship Banner|
This is one of my favorite days of the year – first day that the NFL gets back to a full schedule of games. I headed out to the Houston Texans game this morning with high hopes and expectations, along with a little fear about what key injuries could do to this team. Injuries killed the Texans last year and fans know that over the course of a 16-game season they are going to happen. You just hold your breath until they do.
Well, I never expected to be the one injured today – in my first game of the season.
The Texans use some waist-high concrete barriers to guide the crowd from the parking lot into the stadium area. They are there mainly to keep people from clogging up the lanes of vehicle traffic that are filtering into the parking area. The problem is that the barriers are so randomly placed that you can find yourself walking into one if you are not paying attention to the people directly in front of you. Today as we approached one set of the barriers the man next to me suddenly veered in my direction when he discovered that he was about to walk directly into a solid hunk of unmovable concrete.
In the process of avoiding the barrier, he managed to step directly on the side of my right foot, trapping it between the concrete and his own foot. As I tumbled to the sidewalk, my foot remained trapped against the concrete and I wrenched it on the way down – and scraped a 4-inch by 8-inch patch of hide off the inside of my right arm as I slammed into the edge of the barrier.
I managed to make it all the way through the game and the long walk back to the car (even tolerated a half-time performance by Billy Ray Cyrus) – but one emergency room visit later I am now in a walking cast, have had a tetanus shot, and I’m sitting here with my injured foot elevated while wondering how I’m possibly going to make it to my desk in the morning.
But, hey, we beat Miami 30-10 and don’t play at home next week…plenty of time for me to recover.