Thursday, February 04, 2021

A Common Reader is moving

I have wanted to have my own site for quite a while, so I'm taking the plunge (even though I have no idea what I'm doing) and moving the site. The new location is

A Common Reader at

I know, original, right? I will be leaving this site as is and no longer post here. I've decided not to redirect to the new site since I don't have everything set up how I want it. Yet. I sincerely want to thank everyone who has read and participated here over the past 14+ years. It's meant a lot.

An additional "thank you" for your patience in my lack of posting over the past couple of years. I plan on posting on books again as soon as I finish getting everything in place.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Summer Classics at St. John's College: The Examined Life

St. John's College brochure for their Summer Classics program came today and there are several tempting seminars I'd love to take. They should update their information page to reflect this year's program (The Examined Life) in the next few days so you can see in detail what they will cover. It looks like there will be four weeks of online classes and two weeks in-person at their Santa Fe campus.

I would really like to do an in-person class. I'm tired of online meetings, but who knows what restrictions will be in place by then. Plus the online option does have a discount from the in-person option. I know it will be out of the range of many, but I can still dream, right? If you're interested be sure and get on their mailing list. For the record, everyone I have dealt with at St. John's has been extremely friendly and helpful. One day I'll actually make it there.

Check their website next week for more details. From their site:
"Seminar topics and schedule posted here no later than February 5, 2021
Registration opens online February 8, 2021"

Monday, January 18, 2021

Undula by Bruno Schulz

Undula by Bruno Schulz
Translation and Afterword by Frank Garrett
Seattle: Sublunary Editions, 2020
Paperback, 42 pages

Time trickles with the kerosene lamp's faint hissing. Old equipemnt rattles and creaks in the silence. Besides me in the depths of the room there are the shadows, pointy, crooked in shard, who skulk and cheme. They stretch out their long necks and peer over my shoulder. I don't turn around. Why should I? As soon as I look they'll all quiet down again in their own place, just a floorboard somewhere will groan, the old wardrobe will creak. Everything will go back to the way it was before. Unchanged. And silence once more, and the old lamp will sweeten the boredom with its lulling hiss.

How the lamp fumes. Gray limbs of the candelabrum sprout like a polyp from the ceiling. The shadows collude and conspire. Cockroaches dart noiselessly across the yellow floor. My bed is so long that I cannot see the opposite end. I'm undeniably sick, gravely so. How bitter and full of agony is the way to the thresing floor.
(pages 4, 10)

The available works written by Bruno Schulz would not take up much room on a bookshelf. Two collections of stories, a few essays and reviews, a number of paintings and drawings. In spite of its size, this small collection provides a glimpse at an extraordinary world. A world that is a little demented...definitely askew, but at the same time intriguing. For me there's a similarity at the core between Kafka and Schulz, but they shaped their expressions in different ways.

Schulz's descriptions may detail something we haven't experienced ourselves, but we can recognize things we feel or see in them. Even his death as related by one of Schulz’s Hebrew translators, Yoram Bronowski, provides a pitch-perfect Schulzian description:

In the Drohobycz ghetto Schulz had a protector, an S.S. officer who had exploited Schulz to paint murals on the walls of his house. The rival of this S.S. officer shot Schulz in the street in order to provoke the officer. According to rumor, when they met thereafter, one told the other, ‘I have killed your Jew,’ and received the reply: ‘All right, now I will go and kill your Jew.’

David Grossman goes on to explain that this story may have been used to explain another murder and not Schulz's, but the fact that such a story exists falls into the "metaphsical core" of things that Schulz describes. Especially when his writing is compared to other accounts of his and many others' deaths during that time period in Drohobycz.

Getting back to Undula. This short story was found last year by a Ukrainian researcher named Lesya Khomych in a 1922 edition of a Polish oil journal. The fact that such a journal existed sounds like something out of Schulz's writing. The story's author was listed as Marceli Weron, but the story itself is similar to Schulz's other stories. The title name of Undula is the same as the titles of some of the sexual pictures he drew around this time. There's a maid named Adela, whose name and demeanor are similar to a common character in Schulz's other stories. There are many similar images and words (cockroaches, confinement, polyp) in his other stories, too. The writing style uses (overuses) the repetitive nature of his stories. Fortunately he would refine the use of repetition in his later stories and make the technique more effective.

But there are differences fron those stories, too, that makes "Undula" more than a mere curiosity. The other stories often have a child narrator, which means that anything sexual is described unknowingly (and more effectively, at least for me). Here, sexual tension dominates the story, even if it is still elusive in description. The story relays the thoughts of a man "locked up in isolation," intertwining his description and feelings in his room with the bacchanalia, months earlier, that led to his confinement. Undula is the woman spurning the narrator's advances, causing him to revel in his humiliation.

This short story was published about a decade before his first published stories under his name, and I'm sure plenty of people are scouring anything literary in that gap to see if Schulz may have published anything else under a pseudonym. "Undula" will probably appeal mostly to prior readers of Schulz, but if you've never read his stories this isn't a bad place to start (keeping in mind his other stories are more polished and not as consistently dark or consistently sexual).

Bruno Schulz - Undula the Eternal Ideal (1920)
Picture source

Page from Świt and the start of "Undula"
Picture source

Online release party:
On October 7th, I "attended" the online release party hosted by Sublunary Editions with translator Frank Garrett. Garrett provided quite a bit of background on the dicovery of the story, some of which is in his Afterword, as well as some of the difficulties he faced and choices required with translation. He read some passages, including what was termed as the demonic blowjob scene. While that scene is only part of one sentence, Garrett went into more detail about the difficulty in translating Schulz and, in this case, something with so many grammatical mistakes. Not to mention just flat-out weird. I'm sure that description will get people scrambling for a copy.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dædalus now online

In January 2021, Dædalus became an Open Access journal. The editors of Dædalus thank you for your patience while they work to digitize the back catalog.

The current edition of the quarterly journal Dædalus is available online, and as you can see from the above quote from their "About" page they are working to make their back catalog available online, too. Many thanks to M. A. Orthofer at the Literary Saloon for noting this. As he mentions, the archive "will be something to return to again and again."

The entire Winter 2021 issue, "On the Novel" edited by Michael Wood, is available for free online. The articles feature

fourteen essays, written by scholars with a variety of approaches and interests, that offer remarkable insights into the behavior of this versatile literary form—how old the novel actually is, shifts in dominant patterns, the art of word-play, connections between the novel and TV and videogames, and the novel in the classroom—glimpses of where and what it has been and where it may go in the future.

The articles and their authors in the Winter 2021 issue
Introduction: In This World
(Michael Wood)

The essays in this volume of Dædalus do not survey or summarize the fate of the novel, but they do offer remarkable insights into the behavior of a versatile literary form, glimpses of where and what it has been and where it may go.

What Is It Like to Write a Novel?
(Lorrie Moore)

Two Theories
(Franco Moretti)

Finding the Time for Ancient Novels
(Simon D. Goldhill)

Some Endangered Feeling
(Nancy Armstrong)

Henry James in—and out of—the Classroom
(Ruth Bernard Yeazell)

The Hole in the Carpet: Henry James’s The Bostonians
(Sharon Cameron)

“A Woman Is a Sometime Thing”: (Re)Covering Black Womanhood in Porgy and Bess
(Daphne A. Brooks)

We “Other Victorians”? Novelistic Remains, Therapeutic Devices, Contemporary Televisual Dramas
(Rey Chow and Austin Sarfan)

The Survival of the Unfit
(Wai Chee Dimock)

Poets in Prose: Genre & History in the Arabic Novel
(Robyn Creswell)

Organic Reformations in Richard Powers’s The Overstory
(Garrett Stewart)

Video Games & the Novel
(Eric Hayot)

Losing Track of Time
(Jonathan Greenberg)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Quartet for the End of Time by the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective (Live from Wigmore Hall)

I recently discovered the Wigmore Hall channel on YouTube and have been impressed by the recordings they have. This past Monday night (well, afternoon for me) I was able to catch their live performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), one of the most remarkable 20th-century compositions. Messiaen (1908–92), a Frenchman, composed the quartet in the winter of 1940–41 while a prisoner in the Nazi Stalag camp 8A at Görlitz. The prisoners had to make do with battered instruments, and the piece premiered in front of almost 400 prisoners-of-war. As has been noted in several places, Messiaen recalled: "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension."

While the inspiration for the piece comes from the Book of Revelation, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. There are eight movements, and it helps to read Messiaen's notes, which can be found here. Lawrence University has a site covering musical elements, analysis, and Biblical notes.

You can watch a recording of the performance at the Wigmore Hall channel (also embedded below). The performers from the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective are Matthew Hunt (clarinet), Elena Urioste (violin), Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), and Tom Poster (piano). The live portion starts around the 4:30 mark and the performance lasts just over 50 minutes. All players are excellent and shine, but due to the nature of this piece Kanneh-Mason and Hunt really stand out. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wishing you a happy new year!

It has been a busy year, so I'll take this opportunity to apologize for staying mostly silent. We have been incredibly fortunate and blessed this year in spite of everything that 2020 managed to throw at the world. What could be called my 'workload' multiplied this year with caretaking a friend's property, but it has been fun and educational. My reading suffered because of the extra work, but I hope to post soon on several books I think others would enjoy.

In addition, part of the silence came from things I saw on social media earlier this year that disgusted me, leading me to disconnect from the online world. It's disheartening to see repellent thoughts from people you've followed and held in high regard. We're all human, and my tendency in such circumstances is to simply withdraw and avoid the unpleasantries. Unfortunately, it also means I miss the pleasantries. So if I'm not commenting on your blog, please don't take it personally. It's just me.

It can be a magical world, though, and that's what I'm going to focus on in this coming year.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Too Loud a Solitude: One of RPI's Czech Books You Must Read

Radio Prague International named Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude one of its Czech Books You Must Read. It's an insightful and informative post that I highly recommend. Here's a comment about the book from Esther Peters, Associate Director of the Center for East European and Russian Studies at the University of Chicago:
“The world would be a better place if more people read this book. It is an incredibly engaging read. It is so much fun and yet it is incredibly intellectual. It makes you think. Every time I read it there are new things to think about and it is one of the few books that I think combines these aspects so perfectly that you can delve into it, love reading it and just enjoy the process of reading.

“It is about knowledge, language, process and ritual, but it is also just a good story. That combination of things is quite rare I think. It challenges you to think, but keeps you entertained at the same time.

“Every time I read it something new pops out. I think that is another thing. It changes with the reader. I think that it probably changed with Hrabal as he wrote it. It is something you can take with you. It is a companion.”

Peters delves into why Hrabal is so difficult to translate, and the article talks about the three versions of this book, how it was semi-autobiographical, and more. Check it out, along with the other "must read" books they have highlighted.

My post on Too Loud a Solitude can be found here.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Upcoming (re-)releases: William Gaddis' first two novels by NYRB

I'm sure most people have seen the news that New York Review Books will release William Gaddis' first two novels, The Recognitions and J R, this fall. From the Publishers Weekly article:
NYRB editor Edwin Frank, asked why the press planned to republish what he called Gaddis's "two showstopper doorstoppers," said that the answer was simple: "really good books, great books, don't represent things so much as they represent themselves: they change things, change the way we see language, change the way we see the novel, change the way we see the world around us, and The Recognitions and JR do all of that to this day."

If you're planning on tackling either or both of these novels, I'd like to recommend getting a copy of the audiobooks with Nick Sullivan reading them to go along with reading them yourself. I know, I know. That sounds strange, but trust me it will help you make sense of what is going on, especially in J R. The Neglected Book Page posted on these audiobooks when they were released and he was right: they are phenomenal accomplishments by Sullivan. (Wow, that was ten years ago.)

Also of help for first-time readers (and maybe repeat readers, too) will be The Gaddis Annotations (although I saved that for after I was through with sections of the book), and Gaddis' 1986 interview with The Paris Review.

These are two of my favorite books, so I'm looking forward to the responses of those who decide to tackle these difficult-but-rewarding books.

Update: Chris Via reviews Gaddis' J R at Splice. Reinforcing why listening to the book might be a good idea:

Indeed, with the early scene depicting the rehearsal of the Ring cycle, and repeated invocations of Mozart and Wagner, Gaddis effectively signals that he is conducting an operatic epic so that we, as readers, will not only need to scan his words but also listen to him (as Bast implores J R to do). And, as we listen, attuning our ears to his dialogue, we become acquainted with his characters solely through their voices, which in turn become the book’s leitmotifs.

Another recent post/review of J R is in The Paris Review blog, written by Joy Williams: William Gaddis’s Disorderly Inferno.

Dustin Illingworth has an article at The Point that addresses the two books: Unrecognizable, William Gaddis’s American pessimism.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yekaterina Vasilievna Korotkova-Grossman

Vasily Grossman, with mother and daughter Katya
Picture source

From Robert Chandler's Facebook page earlier today:

A few minutes ago I received the sad news of the death of Yekaterina Vasilievna Korotkova-Grossman, the daughter of Vasily Grossman. She was someone unusually sensitive, perceptive and witty. We got on well from our very first meeting and I always greatly enjoyed our conversations. At one time in her life she worked as a translator from English. She read through our translation of The Armenian Sketchbook and made many helpful suggestions, not only correcting my misunderstandings of the Russian but also, here and there, coming up with stylistic improvements.
Yekaterina Vasilievna was ninety years old when she died.

In a separate post, Robert links to "a beautiful short memoir the late Ekaterina Korotkova-Grossman wrote about the years she lived in the city Russians call Lvov and which is now becoming known as Lviv." The story is Ukraine: On the Edge of an Empire.

In a 2010 interview, Yekaterina was asked what was the favorite work of her father:

Good Wishes - his account of the two months he spent in Armenia in late 1961. This is his kindest, most good-natured work. I also especially admire "In the Big Ring", one of his very last stories. This, I believe, will last for ever.

Robert Chandler adds: "In the Big Ring" is about a child from an elite family who is rushed to an ordinary village hospital. Acute illness throws the little girl into the company of women from other social classes, broadening and deepening her sense of life. We have not included it in The Road (the selection of Grossman's stories to be published this September by MacLehose Press) because we did not feel we could reproduce the wordplay that is so crucial in this story. But I, too, love Good Wishes - and my wife and I hope to translate it next year.

An excerpt from Good Wishes can be found here.

One last link: a 2010 conversation between Yekaterina and Robert Chandler can be found at the London Review Bookshop Podcast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

All right then... I'm a psychopath

Happy anniversary to this tweet! It couldn't have been me judging from where Mr. Gay lives and writes. Not to mention I don't like coffee and never drink it. I'm sure, though, I have engendered the same respone from others in coffeeshops that I have patronized for other caffeine delivery methods. Well, all that plus usually there's a book open on the table in front of me.