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Posts Tagged ‘library of america’

My Motherland

September 15, 2016 | by

Finding—and writing—the worlds where only I had been.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

Robert Walter Weir, watercolor, 8 15/16" x 6 11/16", 1825.

In high school I was, like many American intellectual kids, a stranger in a strange land. I made the Berkeley Public Library my refuge, and lived half my life in books. Not only American books—English and French novels and poetry, Russian novels in translation. Transported unexpectedly to college in another strange land, the East Coast, I majored in French lit and went on reading European lit on my own. I felt more at home in some ways in Paris in 1640 or Moscow in 1812 than in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1948.

Much as I loved my studies, their purpose was to make me able to earn a living as a teacher, so I could go on writing. And I worked hard at writing short stories. But here my European orientation was a problem. I wasn’t drawn to the topics and aims of contemporary American realism. I didn’t admire Ernest Hemingway, James Jones, Norman Mailer, or Edna Ferber. I did admire John Steinbeck, but knew I couldn’t write that way. In The New Yorker, I loved Thurber, but skipped over John O’Hara to read the Englishwoman Sylvia Townsend Warner. Most of the people I really wished I could write like were foreign, or dead, or both. Most of what I read drew me to write about Europe; but I knew it was foolhardy to write fiction set in Europe if I’d never been there. Read More »

Godspeed, Sweet Intent

August 30, 2016 | by

Hunting the sound stack in the rondels of D’Orléans.

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, oil on canvas, 1852–55.

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair (detail), oil on canvas, 1852–55.

In the March 1915 issue of Poetry magazine (page 254), the following poem appeared for the first time in print: 

IMAGE FROM D’ORLEANS

Young men riding in the street
In the bright new season
Spur without reason,
Causing their steeds to leap.

And at the pace they keep
Their horses’ armored feet
Strike sparks from the cobbled street
In the bright new season.

I first encountered it, seventy or seventy-five years later, in Personæ: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound. I did not know at that time whether d’Orléans was a person or a place, nor did I look into it. I was charmed by the poem—more than I knew—but there were many pieces in Personæ that interested me more. By the time I turned thirty, I could recite at least two dozen of Pound’s shorter poems from memory. “Image from D’Orleans” was not one of them. Read More »

Women in Crime: An Interview with Sarah Weinman

October 19, 2015 | by

From the first-edition cover of Mischief.

Sarah Weinman’s two-volume Women Crime Writers challenges and redefines our notions of American crime fiction. Broken into two decades, the 1940s and the 1950s, her collection comprises eight novels—with Vera Caspary’s Laura, Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man, Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall in the first volume, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, and Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold in the second. Together, these books reveal an unjustly forgotten feminist tradition by writers who were, in their day, respected as the best in their field.

Diverging from the pulp action tradition embodied by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler—and from the cozier school of British whodunits by Agatha Christie—these authors pioneered a new trend in mystery fiction: psychological suspense. The stereotypical mysteries of the day featured hard-boiled masculine heroes battling femme fatales. These works, by contrast, presented a variety of innovative plots and perceptive commentary on the gender and class issues of their time. The women in these novels—the titular, savvy careerist in Laura; the psychotic babysitter in Mischief; the struggling mother who covers up the murder of a blackmailer in The Blank Wall—consistently defy what were then conventional notions of womanhood. As the mother in The Blank Wall acknowledges, “[Her husband and children] would give her love, protection, even a sort of homage, but in return for that she must be what they wanted and needed her to be”; ultimately, hers is a quest not only to protect the family name but also to exercise personal agency.

Sometimes the hero (In a Lonely Place), the villain (The Blunderer and Beast in View), or a more ambiguous but still integral role (The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold), they’re all refreshingly realistic, relatable, and archetype-breaking female charactersRead More »

Searching for Haruki Murakami’s Old Jazz Club, and Other News

February 11, 2014 | by

peter cat jazz

Photo: oldworldwisdom, via tumblr

  • The Iowa Writers’ Workshop: brought to you by the CIA. (Also herewith: Frank Conroy’s derisive pronouncements on everyone from Melville to Pynchon. “Of David Foster Wallace he growled, with a wave of his hand, ‘He has his thing that he does.’”)
  • Haruki Murakami had a jazz club. It closed in 1981. What you’ll find there today: “A drab three-story cement building. Outside … a restaurant had set up a sampuru display of plastic foods. Above it, an orange banner advertised DINING CAFE.” Jazz!
  • Tracking the fluctuating sales of Library of America classics: “Who would have thought that Ben Stiller’s movie remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would triple sales of the LOA’s James Thurber edition. Or that the film version of On the Road would increase sales of the Kerouac volume that contains the novel by more than thirty percent?”
  • While we’re on Kerouac: a German college student took all the locations from On the Road and plugged them into Google Maps. The resulting driving directions—On the Road for 17,527 Miles—are available for free. My personal favorite part is “Take exit 362 to merge onto I-180 N/Interstate 25 Business/US-85 N/US 87 Business toward Central Ave.”
  • A must for your reference shelf: every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013, in one easy-to-read (and purple, of course) chart.

 

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