The Aleph at the Library

Notes from Under Grounds: On View Now: “Jorge Luis Borges: Author, Editor, Promulgator.” Exhibit at the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia of the works of Borges, including books that he published, translated, or wrote prefaces to. Unsurprisingly the collection includes “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Orlando.” Looking forward to Nora Benedict’s forthcoming in-depth post about the exhibit.

Bookhunting

I have real trouble passing a good bookstore. Days like yesterday are why.

I didn’t start out the day intending to visit the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, and certainly didn’t want to get champagne there. But Esta and I were parked nearby and it seemed a shame not to go in.

I only made one full circuit of the store, but during that circuit I found first editions of the following:

  • Ray Bradbury’s Toynbee Convector (1988), which he published when I was in high school but which I’ve never read
  • Porte Crayon‘s The Old South Illustrated (1959), the first major collection of his published works, including Virginia Illustrated and first appearance of the “typical 1850s UVA student” drawing that the Virginia Glee Club has used for years
  • And Countee Cullen‘s Copper Sun (1927), pictured above, his third published book.

The Cullen is a beautiful work, illustrated in an art deco inspired style by the unrelated Charles Cullen, and featuring some of Countee Cullen’s most shattering poems, including “Threnody for a Brown Girl.” A Google search shows that first editions can go for north of $300; I got very lucky to find it for less than a tenth of that.

Pound: Cathay

pound_cathay

There are some poems that I feel I’ve known forever and yet never fully appreciated. Such was “The River Merchant’s Wife,” one of fourteen poems that Ezra Pound “transcreated” from the Chinese in his 1915 collection Cathay. Knowing a debatable but at best small amount of Chinese, Pound relied on notes and translations prepared by Harvard scholar Ernest Fenollosa to create the poems within.

I found this centennial edition of the work, which restores “The Seafarer”(which unlike all the other poems was translated from the Old English) to the collection, in the Bookstore in Lenox this summer. It’s a fantastic edition, not only because of the poetry (which remains among my favorite of Pound’s works) but because the edition also provides Fenollosa’s notes, with fresh translations of the Chinese characters.

The edition is valuable for a couple of reasons. First, it provides clarity on some of the controversial “mistranslations” of the works. In some cases, Pound was led astray by Fenollosa’s translation, but in others he set Fenollosa’s mistranslations aside and got to the heart of the emotion or image in the original Chinese poem.

Second, it gives a powerful argument for the importance of diction, in the sense of “choice and use of words and phrases in writing.” Fenollosa’s literal (mis)translations feel clumsy and heavy on the page. Pound cut them down to the bone and recreated them into art.

Digital Yoknapatawpha

UVA Today: UVA spearheads efforts to digitally map Faulkner’s world. Stephen Railton and the fine folks at IATH are continuing their project to create an interactive way to access Faulkner’s writing. Some of the visualizations, like the Location-Character Graph, look like they have the potential to revolutionize study of his writings.

Too many books

I stopped writing regularly on this blog a while ago, about the time that I stopped reading books regularly. (The usual culprits – career and children – lay behind both.)

Actually, it’s not quite right to say I stopped reading: I just slowed way down. Given that I used to rip through stacks of books as a kid and right up through college (the semester I spent reading a Nabokov novel a week, on top of other literature, probably stands as the high point), this has been a painful transition. I still keep a stack of books next to my bed to work on. Right now that stack is a foot tall, not including the latest Neal Stephenson novel.

Why has my backlog grown so deep? A few reasons:

  1. Reduced time to read. This one is self explanatory.
  2. Broadened interests. This one is more interesting to me. I used to be all fiction all the time, but lately am just as likely to be buried in history, or in Keith Houston’s Shady Characters (recommended).
  3. Latent desire to find more books. My acquisition rate has slowed down, but not as much as my reading rate.
  4. Slackened desire to read. Sadly, a lot of nights I just veg out—albeit with Facebook rather than TV.

I’m not making any resolutions about it, but I will be measuring my reading this year to see if I can pick up the pace. You can follow my progress at Goodreads.

Things that make you feel old

I have a few more years before I cross the rubicon of 40, and I don’t spend much time dwelling on that approaching milestone. And yet, there are days…

Today, it wasn’t observing the greying roots in the mirror, or wishing another friend well as they turned 40. No, it was paging through the second volume (1982-1984) of the collected Bloom County, snickering at strips that I first read when I was ten…

Then reading the margin notes and finding Breathed apologizing for the obscurity of all the pop culture references. All of which I remember just fine, since I was there.

Ah well. As Binkley says to Milo when asked if Adam and Eve had navels: “Well, YOU can just rock me to sleep tonight!”

Google and publishers agree to sit down and make some money

New York Times: Google Settles Suit Over Book-Scanning. It’s good to see the book publishing industry come to its senses.

Now that the parties have agreed to revenue sharing from book sales and library use, it becomes even more clear that Google Books is yet another Internet mediated disintermediation. Google Books is probably the best targeted marketing vehicle for the book industry since the original Amazon, because of its reach and ease of use and its ability to make transparent the previously opaque covers of books to help us find useful content. I’ve personally found it more useful than the usual suspects (book reviews, bestseller lists) when it comes to finding useful research works; sometimes you need to read the original book to decide if it’s useful to you rather than relying on third-hand opinion.

Here’s to a win for all involved–Google, book publishers, and above all, for you and me.

Free as in beer, Wind as in air

A few comics related links this morning. First, it will be of interests to comics historians, fantasy fans, and my sister that the full archive of Elfquest is going on line for free to mark the comic’s thirtieth anniversary; the archive will fill up over the coming year. That’s a whole lotta Pini, folks. If you thought catching up with the Sluggy Freelance archives took a long time, just wait.

The other freebie is an archive of the original art for the first issue of Elektra: Assassin, written by Frank Miller and lovingly painted by Bill Sienkiewicz. If you think Miller’s later work was weird, intense, and violent, just wait until you feast your mind on this one. (Greg Burgas wrote an excellent review of the series that might lend some context to the art.)

Print on demand from the Internet Archive

Browsing a Wired.com photo feature on the Internet Archive’s book scanning operation, I was struck by this image, showing a self-contained book press. PDF goes in, paperback bound book comes out.

I would pay for a copy of Cabell’s Early History of the University of Virginia, for sure, and maybe even the five-volume centennial History of the University of Virginia by Bruce, which has provided so much material for my Wikipedia articles. I hope they get this capability on line soon.

Ass-kicking Bible verses

Cracked.com is kind enough to provide a listing of the Nine Most Badass Bible Verses, an idea that sounds really silly unless you know your Old Testament. Yep: Samson and Elisha, Original Gangstas. And I have to admit that the verse about David is pretty darned good, too.

I can’t help but think that some of my seminarian friends would be able to flesh this list out considerably. Ideas?

Prologue to Beowulf

And no, not that Beowulf, though I confess the release of the movie got me off my duff to start this project. And not even the Seamus Heaney translation. No, I’m talking about the real thing—the original Old English poem, as it was meant to be experienced—read aloud, in this case, by the great Old English scholar Kemp Malone.

I found a four-record set of Malone reading the whole bloody poem about seven years ago, in a now-vanished record shop in Central Square in Cambridge. The recording, on the once great Caedmon label (now an audiobook label for Harper Collins, with no sign of its back catalog reappearing anytime soon), was made in 1967 and, if the first side is anything to go by, probably drove every undergrad who listened to it completely nuts. Malone’s delivery is even-keeled, and he doesn’t attempt to sell the text, so little moments like the description of Scyld Scefing as a “good king” for his giving of gifts don’t get the reinforcement that the rhythm of the text would seem to indicate. But it’s still a great window onto the roots of the language.

I have a little bonus for this post: a clip from the recording, constituting the Prologue of Beowulf as read by Malone. I digitized the clip from my copy of the record; to date, I’ve only digitized one side of one LP, owing to the time required to do it properly (unlike CDs, vinyl has to be ripped in real time!) Hopefully it’s interesting to at least one person out there.

Prologue to Beowulf, read by Kemp Malone (Caedmon) – Download 2.6MB MP3

Comics roundup: Sikoryak, xkcd, ARBBH

Item: BoingBoing pointed to an R Sikoryak adaptation of Crime and Punishment a la a Dick Sprang Batman comic book. In turn, the Again with the Comics blog post that reprinted the adaption linked to the Masterpiece Comics on R Sikoryak’s site, including a tiny reproduction of my favorite comics adaptation of a literary masterpiece: “Good Ol’ Gregor Brown.” One morning Charlie Brown awoke to find himself transformed into an enormous insect… I actually own that issue of Raw and shared the strip with my English professor in a class on modernity where we were reading the original “Metamorphosis.” Good stuff.

Item: Wired’s profile of xkcd creator Randall Munroe contains exactly one item about Munroe that hasn’t already been linked on BoingBoing: that he used to be a roboticist for NASA.

Item: So Penny and Aggie has been hawking free downloadable reprints in PDF form for a while now. I checked them out, and I was pretty impressed—Wowio’s a nice service and the quality is good, even if it limits you to three downloads per day. But it got me thinking: how much money is in the business model? And who else is on the service? So I started poking around, and all these indie comic books that I remember from when I was in middle school are in there. Like, stuff that was trying to cash in on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, before TMNT was a movie or even a TV show. Like Dragon (terrible, and terribly I owned the first few issues of it!). And, of course, like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. And there’s better stuff too: Steve Canyon, Flash Gordon, the Star Trek Key Comics from the late 1960s; and more. Of course they also do ebooks; I just added Civil Disobedience to my queue.

Rag & Bone class of 1992-1993

Thinking about John reminded me to look up some of my other authors from the first three issues.

Harry Potter: all over but the movies

I started, and finished, Deathly Hallows last night. Don’t worry: no spoilers from me. Just a note to mark the end of that particular journey.

But one thought: how the hell are they going to make that a movie? Jo hardly managed to fit it all into just one book.