Edith Hamilton on Education

Spotted in the TLS:

It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought – that is to be educated.

And also on the literary life, there’s a charming cartoon by Brooke Barker about how her grandmother, a voracious reader, finally took on Will and Ariel Durant.

Amazon World Book Day: World Lit Giveaway

Although it’s almost over, thought I would give a shout out to the Kindle promotion at Amazon for World Book Day. Nine free downloads.

If you are e-reader user (or have the app of your laptop as I do), it’s worth a look (ends midnight eastern daylight saving time USA tonight). .

And more about the celebration here:



Daily Prompt

Determined to keep this daily blogging up, I have run into the inevitable [at least for me] writer’s block, and have turned to the WordPress.com people who have a, “365 Days of Writing Prompts” ebook.  Ever the helpful pusher, those people.

These are mostly too personal, potentially pointless, or Pooter-esque for me, but I did like this prompt, so here goes:

Bedtime stories
What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the
person you are now?

Like many, E.B. White’s children’s books–Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Trumpet of the Swan--were the guiding stars of my childhood reading. My parents read Stuart Little to me at bedtime in first grade, but I was able to read Charlotte’s Web by myself in second grade, crying the night I finished it, and going down stairs to see my parents. There my father, in a moment that has stayed with me, explained that the wonderful thing about books was that I could return to the start, read again, and Charlotte and the farmyard gang would all be there, and alive as ever.  That both my parents comforted me on crying over a book offered a validation (sometimes missing in other aspects of my childhood) made me realize that reading would be front and center in my life, as indeed it was in theirs.

Whether Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton and Fern influenced me is harder to discern, but certainly White’s lean, polished, gently humorous prose did calibrate something in me.  It may be hard to imagine the extent to which he was the gold standard for writing in the mid-century.  His essays were given as models for my school writing exercises, and his way of being a writer, complete with his reluctant status as a sage; even leaving New York for a small town in Maine seemed the vision of cranky Yankee ‘lit’ry’ idealism for me.  (That said, I was not exactly hankering to be the next Hunter Thompson or Norman Mailer though. )

He has held up for me, most of all the rhythm of his prose and a style, notable in descriptive passages, where you seldom catch him “writing.” That said, it is odd that he was such a paragon for writing students. What is beautiful about his writing is as distinct to him as a fingerprint: that prose rhythm, and a sense, really a New Yorker sensibility of humor. (Almost completely gone from the magazine today.) The things I loved about him were the things that were most elusive to a beginning writer. The visible bits, structure and rhetoric, which in theory you could take apart and assess, were often  mystifying to me. Even The Elements of Style, which is still a charmer, is a little thin literally and figuratively when it comes to practical writing advice. And what is there, I have practically made a career of avoiding.

Still, the feelings, aspirations, and fantasies of childhood and adolescent reading must stay with any writer, and I’m sure that I’m shaped even by those essays I couldn’t parse.  One thing I suspect: he wouldn’t have abided rambling, self-indulgent blog entries, so best to finish it up, with the the hope that I have inspired you to read the man himself.

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”

Commonplace Book: Rabih Alameddine’s “An Unnecessary Woman”

Tipped by a NYPL blog entry on world literature, I’m engrossed in An an-unncessary-womanUnnecessary Woman, a novel in the first-person about a reclusive reader and translator, Aaliya, holed away in an old apartment building in Beirut who starts out every Jan 1 on her new translation project. Something, when complete, she just shoves in a box and stores.

The novel is a love letter to reading and listening: full of references to books, writers, composers and musicians whose works make up Aaliya’s real world.  In this passage, she has just put on an LP of Bruckner’s Third Symphony:

Here’s a charming tale about Bruckner that I love, though I believe it

Anton Bruckner
Anton Bruckner

must be apocryphal. When he conducted the premier of this same third symphony, the audience abhorred it. Personally, I can’t imagine why. Not only is it beautiful, but if it has a flaw, it may be that it’s a little melodramatic and kitschy, two attributes that audiences tend to love. But who can account for tastes? The audience booed violently and stormed out of the hall. I imagine the composer looking back in abject sorrow at the honeycomb of heads in the theater before exiting and locking himself in the conductor’s room, alone as he would always be. Forlorn and forsaken. Bruckner remained by himself until everyone had left the building, at which point he returned to the pit for a last farewell. He saw a young man still sitting in his seat, a young composer so overcome that he’d been unable to move a muscle since the symphony began, not a twitch. The young Mahler had been cemented in his seat for more than two hours, weeping.

I am not a young Mahler. Today the music doesn’t move me, and I do not find it soothing.

Wave after wave of anxiety batters the sandy beaches of my nerves. Oh, that’s a bad metaphor if there ever was one. Just horrible.

Nothing is working. Nothing in my life is working.

Giants of literature, philosophy, and the arts have influenced my life, but what have I done with this life? I remain a speck in a tumultuous universe that has little concern for me. I am no more than dust, a mote—dust to dust. I am a blade of grass upon which the stormtrooper’s boot stomps.

I had dreams, and they were not about ending up a speck. I didn’t dream of becoming a star, but I though I might have a small nonspeaking role in a grand epic, an epic with a touch of artistic credentials. I didn’t dream of becoming a giant—I wasn’t that delusional or arrogant—but I wanted to be more than a speck, maybe a midget.

I could have been a midget.

All our dreams of glory are but manure in the end.

I used to imagine that one day a writer would show up at my door, someone whose book I had translated, maybe the wonderful Danilo Kiš (The Encyclopedia of the Dead), before he died, of course. He the giant, me the speck with midget dreams, but he would come to thank me for caring about his work, or maybe Marguerite Yourcenar would knock on my door. I haven’t translated her, of course, because she writes in French. And what French. In 1981 she was the first woman inducted into L’Académie française because of her impeccable language. She would appear to encourage me, to show solidarity, us against the world. I, like you, isolated myself. You in this apartment in this lovely but bitter city of Beirut, I on an island off the coast of Maine. You’re a forsaken, penniless translator who’s able to remain in your home by the grace of your landlord, Fadia, while I am an incredible writer whose girlfriend, heir to the Frick fortune, owns the entire island. I am respected by the world while you are mocked by it. Yet we have much in common.

 I had dreams. …




Indie Readers Unite!

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 7.59.54 AM

An independent bookseller gives Amazon’s new brick and mortar effort a taste of their own medicine.  Paul Constant of The Elliott Bay Book Company (a wonderful Seattle bookstore, up there with Tattered Cover in my list of dream stores), offered a reward to anybody who “showroomed” Amazon’s new store and he had a taker.

Details from the Seattle Review of Books...

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