concept to publication

Category: literature Page 1 of 2

Detail for a p[hoto of Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the New Millennium

Cover of SF Chronicle Boos Review

A friend and I were talking.

One of my favorites is Italo Calvino, she said.
Oh, yes!… I used to review some of his books for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Which ones?
My favorite was Six Memos for the New Millennium.
I love that one! Can you send it to me?… The review, I mean.
Maybe? That must have been around thirty years ago. But I think I do still have some old reviews in a box. I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.

And I did. And here it is.

Extraordinary finds

I maintain my own daybook, where I have recorded events by date that are significant to me (there is a link near the top of the left sidebar). But my effort pales beside the project called Ordinary Finds, which, if I’m not mistaken, is produced by Bent Sorensen of Aalborg, Denmark (this is hard to determine from the site itself). Ordinary Finds collects remarkable photos and adds cogent remarks regarding cultural figures associated with the various dates of the calendar (mostly through their birthdays). For example, for December 9, this year the site includes the interesting photo of Lucian Freud above along with extended reflections on Wilfredo Lam and Diego Rivera, as well as Freud, and shorter entries (with intriguing photos) on Jean Sibelius, Jim Morrison, and Camille Claudel. Nice work!

Topicality in literary writing, and its implications for web search optimization

Many years ago, as a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a focus in part on the linguistic model in literary criticism, I turned my attention to beyond-the-sentence topicality. Scholars have parsed the sentence since ancient time, but they have paid less attention to the way sentences connect to each other.

One of the applications of this line of research is for machine translation. How does the translation engine determine, for example, whether the word lead in a text refers to the heavy metal or to the concept of leadership?

100 best novels quiz

How many of Modern Library’s hundred best novels of the 20th century can you name if you’re given the names of the authors? Fine out here.

I was doing okay until I got to Samuel Butler.


Copper Canyon to publish Chinese anthology

Copper Canyon has been selected by the NEA be the U.S. publisher for its International Literary Exchange with China. According to Publishers Weekly, “Copper Canyon will receive $117,000 to support the translation, publication and promotion of a bilingual anthology of work by about 35 Chinese poets born after 1945.”

This is an excellent choice. Copper Canyon has been a reliable publisher of international poetry for decades, and all of their books are prepared with care and attention to detail. Bravo!


Cronopios and Famas

Julio cortazar, drawing by thomas christensenThe post title is a Cortazar allusion (hard to explain, you just have to read Julio). It seems President-elect Obama phoned President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, and in the course of their conversation he expressed his admiration for super-cronopio Julio Cortazar.

Cortazar’s Around the Day in 80 Worlds was my first book-length literary translation. We corresponded a bit but he died before the project was completed.

Wow! A literary president!


image by tc


The books we need

franz kafka on the books we need

“The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation — a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” — From a letter of Kafka to Oskar Pollak.


via Book of Joe


Corpse reborn

The following is a message sent by Exquisite Corpse to its subscribers.

Dear readers:

Did you miss us? We missed you. It’s only been a brief eon but the idiots have taken over the world, and the internet is seducing us all into trading in our brains for beads. Welcome back to the Post-Katrina Resurrection Corpse, back from a dank hiatus of one year in a formaledehyde-poisoned FEMA trailer. We festered, we raged, we contemplated suicide, and in the end, voted for life because we are a Corpse already and we hate to keep on dying, just like the ideals of the Republic. Our guest-editor for this issue is the formidable poet, publisher, New Orleanian, and homme-du-monde -et-de-lettres, Bill Lavender. Bill has ploughed through the accumulated debris in our trailer, turning over towers of submissions and lovingly removing mold and giving new lustre to tarnished but potent weapons of poesy, crit, and story-time. We will continue to exalt, irritate, surprise, be loving, merciless, and obscene, just like you. Our Bulgarian genius, Plamen Arnaudov, has updated our technology so that the Corpse may flow continually, with updates posted as quickly as the zeitgeist requires. We also welcome Vincent Cellucci, poet and chef to Our Gang, so that we might eat well while we tryst and plunder. Reader, please come back, visit, and, most importantly, re- register to join our raiding parties, and ride with the Resurrected Corpse. You don’t need to bring your own horse to the raiding parties because we are planning (secretly) to offer ship cruises to our subscribers. (It costs nothing to subscribe). And let your list know that the Corpse is back:

86 recommended travel books

the emperor, by Ryszard Kapu?ci?skiConde Nast commissioned a distinguished group of writers to nominate their favorite travel books. Participating authors included André Aciman, Monica Ali, Julia Alvarez, Tom Bissell, Geraldine Brooks, Vikram Chandra, Jim Crace, Jared Diamond, Linh Dinh, Anthony Doerr, Jennifer Egan, Stephen Elliott, Nuruddin Farah, Nell Freudenberger, Peter Godwin, Peter Hessler, Uzodinma Iweala, Sebastian Junger, Robert D. Kaplan, Mary Karr, Erik Larson, Rosemary Mahoney, Peter Mayle, Tom McCarthy, John McPhee, Adrienne Miller, Jan Morris, Stewart O’Nan, Francine Prose, Jonathan Raban, Graham Robb, Akhil Sharma, Matthew Sharpe, Jim Shepard, Darin Strauss, Robert Sullivan, Manil Suri, Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Lynne Tillman, Luis Alberto Urrea, Gore Vidal, Sean Wilsey, John Wray, and Lawrence Wright.

The result is a list of 86 books. Looking at this list, the first thing that strikes me is how few of them I have read. West with the Night was our first bestseller at North Point Press, and we also published Ted Hoagland and M.F.K. Fischer. At Mercury House we reissued some Robert Lewis Stevenson as part of our neglected classics series. A few others I read here and there, but I haven’t read the majority of these books. Is it an especially peculiar list or have I just neglected my travel reading? Maybe a bit of both, but I think the list is a little odd because of the methodology of just collecting nominations — I mean, how can Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan not make a list of great travel books? Anyway, here’s the list. For more information about the nominated books, go to the CNT page.

Along the Ganges, Ilija Trojanow
Arabian Sands, Wilfred Thesiger
An Area of Darkness, V.S. Naipaul
As They Were, M.F.K. Fisher
A Barbarian in Asia, Henri Michaux
The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, Eric Hansen
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, Lawrence Durrell
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon
Captain John Smith: Writings
Chasing the Monsoon, Alexander Frater
Chasing the Sea, Tom Bissell
Cross Country, Robert Sullivan
Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, Rosemary Mahoney
The Emperor, Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
Endurance, Alfred Lansing
Eothen, Alexander William Kinglake
“Exterminate All the Brutes,” Sven Lindqvist
Farthest North: The Voyage and Exploration of the Fram, 1893–1896, Fridtjof Nansen
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
The Fearful Void, Geoffrey Moorhouse
From a Chinese City, Gontran De Poncins
Great Plains, Ian Frazier
The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux
Hindoo Holiday, J. R. Ackerley
The Histories, Herodotus
The Impossible Country, Brian Hall
In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
India: A Million Mutinies Now, V. S. Naipaul
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
In the Country of Country, Nicholas Dawidoff
In Trouble Again, Redmond O’Hanlon
Iron and Silk, Mark Salzman
I See by My Outfit, Peter S. Beagle
The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Journey to Portugal,
José Saramago
Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians, George Catlin
Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849–1850, Florence Nightingale
Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain
London Perceived, V. S. Pritchett
The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz
The Lycian Shore, Freya Stark
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta,
The Muses Are Heard, Truman Capote
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, Matsuo Basho
News from Tartary, Peter Fleming
The Nomad: Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo, Redmond O’Hanlon
Notes from the Century Before, Edward Hoagland
Old Glory, Jonathan Raban
The Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux
The Pine Barrens, John McPhee
Riding the Iron Rooster, Paul Theroux
The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Sebald
The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, Winston Churchill
The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron
Rome and a Villa, Eleanor Clark
Roughing It, Mark Twain
Arabia, Peter Theroux
Sea and Sardinia, D. H. Lawrence
Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby
Siren Land, Norman Douglas
Skating to Antarctica, Jenny Diski
Slowly Down the Ganges, Eric Newby
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin

Portuguese libraries, photographed by Candida Höfer

library in coimbra, purtugal

Candida Höfer‘s photographs of Portuguese libraries, now on display at the Sonnabend Gallery, 536 West 22nd Street in NYC, presents libraries as places of opulence. In these settings the books, clearly precious objects, convey an almost religious authority.

Shown is Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra VI 2006.

Via If:Book.

Fernando del Paso to receive FIL Literature Prize

Fernando del Paso will receive the $100,000 FIL Literature Prize for lifetime literary achievement iat the 2007 Guadalajara International Book Fair on November 24.

An excerpt from del Paso’s Palinuro of Mexico, translated by Elizabeth Plaister, is included in New World / New Words: Recent Writing from the Americas, A Bilingual Anthology, now at the printer.

Palinuro of Mexico on sale at


50 neglected classics

samuel johnson by joshua reynolds

The Guardian asked 50 writers to nominate neglected books that deserve a second chance with the public. “The majority of books fall stillborn from the press, never living up to their authors’ hopes for recognition or dreams of a large, admiring audience,” Robert McCrum, who introduces the list, writes. “So those bestseller lists and crowded festival appearances create a misleading impression of the true circumstances of literary life. For every book that tickles public taste, captures the zeitgeist and hits the jackpot, there are thousands that do not appeal to contemporary readers, fail to find a sufficient audience and almost disappear.”

The list, strong on the classics, is very different from one that U.S. authors would produce. How badly does Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas need a second chance, and what are the odds that Howard Jacobson’s nomination will be the deciding factor that will put that title over the top nearly 250 years after its initial publication? Do writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Jose Donoso, Julien Green, or Edith Wharton really cry out for renomination over more truly neglected authors?

Still, if you like lists of books as fodder for rumaging through the shelves — and what book person doesn’t — the Guardian list might inspire some new choices.

Image: Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (detail)

Archer Returns

ross macdonald, by thomas christensenThe entire series of Ross Macdonald Lew Archer novels is returning to print from Vintage Books. The early Archer novels are derivative of Chandler — some would say the entire series is — but as Macdonald’s career progressed he became more interested in the buried roots of violence than its turbulent theatricality. Archer would often trace the sources of crime back through generations as he explored the psychological development of relationships and situations that turned abusive. Chandler was a great innovator, but his alcohol-infused narratives are ultimately misogynistic; Archer, though in the “hard-boiled” mode of Chandler’s Marlowe, moved away from such attitudes. Macdonald created complicated plots, but his quest was ultimately ontological, as he sought to lay bare the hidden nature of reality behind its public facade.

Come in

ford madox ford, james joyce, and ezra poundA story often repeated is that Joyce’s sometime amanuensis, Samuel Beckett, inserted the words “come in” into Finnegans Wake, unaware that Joyce was answering a knock at the door. This story originates, I think, with Richard Ellman’s biography, James Joyce; at any rate it appears there. I think that Beckett himself may have promoted the anecdote, which may be more pertinent to him than to Joyce.

But where in the text does this phrase appear?

Daily Lit

If you like your literature bite-sized, Daily Lit could be the answer. It will send you a five-minute passage of a selection of public domain books by e-mail or rss every day (or on request). War and Peace, for example, comes in 675 parts, so you could finished it up in a couple of years, reading five minutes a day. So if you are long-lived and read your e-mails regularly you could make your way through as many as two or three dozen books of that length in your lifetime. Then again, you could knock off the Daode jing in just a couple of weeks.

The Daode jing (Tao Te Ching) is an interesting case. Daily Lit’s web page for that book shows an image of the cover of the Stephen Mitchell edition. If you click on the book it takes you to the book’s Amazon page. But the Mitchell rendering is not public domain. The sample text Daily Lit shows begins like this:

Ch. 1. 1. The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
2. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all …

That doesn’t sound much like Stephen Mitchell to me. The Mitchell version starts this way:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name

The unnameable is the eternally real
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

For comparison, here the version I published, by Red Pine:

The way that becomes a way
is not the Immortal Way
the name that becomes a name
in not the Immortal Name
the maiden of Heaven and Earth has no name
the mother of all things has a name

Why does Daily Lit link to a copyrighted version of the book from which they are offering public domain snippets? I suppose they monetize their site through the Amazon Associates program, figuring after a few months of e-mailed bits of a book you might be hooked enough to actually buy the book. Why you would do so by clicking through from Daily Lit isn’t clear to me, but I imagine the link is included in the feeds and e-mails. Is that a viable business model?

I’ll take that score

I was lucky to get it, I think.

Plus, I am awesome.

How about you?

You know the Bible 85%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses – you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Boz’s London

Here‘s a cool web feature for lit types. Clicking the map (the image above is a detail) takes you to a section of an 1859 map of London. Once at the map detail you can get further information about that part of town. For example, you can click a “dictionary” button, which takes you to a description of that location taken from the 1879 Dickens’s Dictionary of London by Charles Dickens Jr. Or you can see an aerial photo of the area today, from Google maps.

The site is the brainchild of David Perdue. It’s a good illustration of how disparate data can be related to create, in effect, new content. Nice job!

(via Splodinvark)


BibliOdysseyAnother entry for “blogs we love.” I just discovered BlbliOdyssey (“Books, Illustrations, Science, History, Visual Materia Obscura, and Eclectic Bookart”) recently, but it only takes a few minutes to get hooked at this site, which collects pages from illustrated manuscripts and books. (It’s marred only by the unfortunate placement of Google adsense ads directly under the main header.)

The site is curiously terse. I wonder who the host, “PK,” is. Can anyone enlighten me?

This is also the first site other than my own FriscoVista that I’ve seen that uses tags for site navigation.

The Ballets of Celine

The great (?) thing about press checks — as mentioned in previous posts I am currently stationed in Bruges on press for a book about Indian art from the kingdom of Mewar — is that it has intervals of idleness between forms. So I have used these to finally post my introduction to Celine’s Ballets Without Music, Without Dancers, Without Anything. Following my usual practice, I will put a link on the page back to this post so that readers can leave comments if they care to do so.

Note to Self

Will Self’s writing room. A 360 degree view in 71 photos by Phil Grey

will self's writing studio

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