Wednesday 25 August 2010

Get me the f*** out of here

I am sitting in my store, even though it's closed, because I'm waiting for the cops to arrive. I am waiting for the cops to arrive because this afternoon while one greasy bastard distracted me, his greasy bastard friend went upstairs and broke into my apartment. Our perfunctory search didn't show anything as missing, but then my husband did come home and surprise the guy in the apartment, who fled. Our search for missing things was perfunctory because we couldn't find our cat Aoki right away. The other cats nervously showed themselves but Aoki hid (smart, but heart attack-inducing when she wouldn't come when we called her, for 20 minutes - and our apartment is very small). We found her looking terrified behind some framed photos sitting on the floor. Now we can't go look to see if he got anything because the cops told us not to touch anything until they arrive. I. Hate. This.

Monday 16 August 2010

The Sarazens head without New-gate: a brief note on why I won't be posting for awhile, or, abandoning my dignity for a moment

Well, friends, we have succumbed, not to the poor economy because we've been doing mostly fine financially, but to irreconcilable differences with our landlord. My bookstore will be closing at the end of September. Now, I am faced with the daunting task of getting rid of at least 14,000 books.

I promise never to do this again, but I just today realized what it means to move 14,000+ books in approximately 5 weeks and am freaking out a little, and so I'm going to shamelessly whore my bookstore to you while it still exists. If you buy books online from me at my shop's website. (Be sure to click the button that says "search only our books" or you'll get everything in the world in Biblio) I will not only love you forever, but I will also give you a discount!

This would come in the form of a partial refund after the fact. 30% off for 1-2 books, 40% off for 3-5 books, and 50% off for 6+ books (before shipping). Or, you can email me (and use paypal) or order stuff over the phone with a credit card. I have a service that mails books to the US from the US side of the border so we can take advantage of the US's incredibly civilized "media mail" and "first class" mail costs. :)

Or, if you happen to live in Toronto, come by and you'll see what kind of crazy sale is going on here.

I imagine my next regular blog post will be no earlier than the end of September. I'll miss you till then. :(


Friday 6 August 2010

Bits and bobs

Just some updates, in no great detail, of my current reading - and non-reading. I'm tired.

I just finished Ellis Peters's ninth Brother Cadfael mystery, Dead Man's Ransom. It was as perfect and lovely as both predicted and expected. This one, though, has gone further towards integrating historical setting into plot than the previous novels, and I think it really works.

Dead Man's Ransom is set in the winter of 1141; the war for the throne between Empress Maud and King Stephen and their respective followers continues but in this installment, the consequences for Shrewsbury have become personal. The town's sheriff, Gilbert Prestcote, has returned gravely injured from fighting for the king (and the king has been captured and imprisoned by the empress's devotees!). Prestcote is settled into the infirmary of Shrewsbury Abbey and his healing begun only to be murdered in his bed there...

Brother Cadfael, of course, eventually solves the crime but not before participating in some sensitive political maneuvering to help form an alliance between his adopted English town and some of his Welsh countrymen to the northwest. The outside world persists in intruding into Cadfael and his brethren's sheltered world and the lesson of this novel would be, if there were anything so pedestrian and pedantic as a lesson here, that the official removal from society which constitutes entering the cloister is no removal at all. Indeed, Cadfael and his peers are allowed respites from the outside world almost as short as their secular peers enjoy.

For me these novels constitute a sort of sincere utopia, not in which nothing bad ever happens, but in which the majority of people behave in ways motivated primarily by lovingkindness. I'm sure I say the same thing every time I blog about Peters but I can't help it; I'm continually astonished by her portrayal of the majority of people as both essentially good and generally likable - convincingly. In my cynical world, nothing is more fantastic - and sweet - than the world according to Ellis Peters.

I've abandoned two books in the last month or so. The first to go was Pope Brock's Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam. I began this book during my latest round with the reading block and it seemed like the remedy. It was non-fiction, easy to read, and incredibly interesting. Charlatan tells the story of early twentieth-century fake doctor John Brinkley, who became famous for his apparent cure for male impotence through the implantation of goat testicles into his patients. Yes, that's what I said. *Shudder*

The horror of it all was interesting but what was more compelling was Brock's consideration of the power of marketing to convince otherwise sane and sufficiently intelligent people of the craziest bullshit imaginable. Brinkley's success was all about marketing and what is scary is that all his effective and almost exclusively unethical techniques are the norm now, particularly with regards to pharmaceuticals advertising! Brinkley was the first to really successfully use - on a mass scale - people's anxieties about their health and wellness against them. He set the stage for the world we live in now - the world in which shyness (at any age) and not being able to f*** 5 hours a day when you're 95 are illnesses properly treated with drugs.

I was there for 2/3 of the book but then I completely lost interest. When Brinkley decided to spend the majority of his time politicking - which he also approached with panache and a complete lack of moral consideration - I put the book down for good. But I was already beginning to lose interest. I like Brock's topic but sometimes his choices on what to focus on annoyed me. For example, he spent perhaps one paragraph on the fact that doctors didn't have to be licensed or educated in medicine in many states in the '10s and '20s because it seemed too snooty to exclude people that way. Wha-what? This is part of what allowed Brinkley to get away with so much...but I wanted to know more about that. At least a chapter! But no, one paragraph. Grrr. This sort of thing and the politics lost me, and so back to the library it went.

Another and more recent reading fail was Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, my second Murakami fail in the past 6 or so months. I'm wondering if my time with Murakami is done; I hope not. I got about 80 pages into this one and it was so gimmicky and empty that I wanted to tear my hair and gnash my teeth. That I was completely unable to enjoy gimmicky and shallow just for fun also made me want to tear my hair and gnash my teeth AND rend my cheeks AND beat my breast.

I would like to tell you about what I'm reading and enjoying now, because it's not free of the gimmick or the fun, but I'm afraid I'll jinx myself. It'll have to be a secret until I actually finish it, which I hope I'll do. Perhaps I've already said too much.

Always look on the bright side of life
Even though I hate to give up on books, especially if I've made it past page 50, I think the fact that I'm able to do so now is a positive thing. I used to feel compelled to finish any- and everything I began, regardless of how atrocious or offensive or boring it might be. I'm glad I'm able to move on to something more enjoyable when the going is too irritating. Life's too short to waste reading time. I'm 35 - I might have only another 35 years left of reading to me!!

Sunday 1 August 2010

Nostalgia reading, part three: the silver heaven between dream and day

M.D. Herter Norton's Translations from the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke marks the conclusion of Nostalgia Week here at Bookphilia - and quite fittingly, although unplanned, on my 35th birthday. I'm not feeling nostalgic about my life, actually; with a few relatively minor wrinkles (metaphorical, at this point) and troubles I don't look back at the halcyon days of any other point in my life. Really, life has never been better, even though it's certainly not perfect.

Choosing the final book for my week-long focus on the reads of days gone by, in fact, reminded me of this because it turned out to be so surprisingly difficult. I picked up book after book and quickly put them aside again because the memories they invoked were neither pleasant nor even, sometimes, neutral. This negative nostalgia was something I was really not expecting, especially when it attached to books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet!

My nostalgia about this collection of Rilke's poetry isn't purely neutral or positive but it isn't painful. In fact, I sighed a little sigh of relief when I recalled what a bullet I dodged (or, more accurately, which dodged me) - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Norton's Translations from the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke was introduced to me when I was about 20, by a boy with whom I became pretty intensely obsessed. He was brilliant, quiet, thoughtful, awkward - that is, pretty much the exact opposite of all the lummoxes I tended to find myself attracted to at that age. He was also intensely religious in a way I found to be narrow and stifling, and also had some weird ideas about women. He would not have been good for me; being with him would have killed what I now consider to be all the best and most interesting parts of myself. Luckily, after stringing me along a little, he made it clear I was too messy for him and that was that.

BUT! not before introducing me to Rainer Maria Rilke (among others), who really enriched my reading life (especially with his Letters to a Young Poet, which I really need to re-read) by convincing me to read much more widely than I ever had before. In this way, he did me a huge favour even if, no matter how many times I read this poem to myself while thinking of him, he didn't follow:
Do you know, I would quietly
slip from the loud circle,
when first I know the pale
stars above the oaks
are blooming.

Ways will I elect
that seldom any tread
in pale evening meadows -
and no dream but this:
You come too. (p. 29)
Circa 1995/96, when I first read this collection, this was far and away my favourite poem. I still think it lovely in its simplicity and gentle desire - but it also seems very, very young to me now. Most of the pieces included in the section First Poems seem very young to me, and that's alright and sensible; I am no longer very young myself, and a great deal has changed in 15 years.

One section though - The Voices: Nice Pages With a Titlepage - has remained my favourite in Norton's translation. What it's about is best described by the titlepage itself:
The rich and the fortunate may well keep silent,
nobody wants to know what they are.
But the needy have to reveal themselves,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I am about to become so,
or: things are not well with me on earth,
or: I have an ailing child,
or: I am patched together here...

And perhaps that is nowhere near enough.

And since otherwise everyone passes them by,
as they pass things, they have to sing.

And one hears some good singing then too.

Indeed people are strange; they would rather
hear castrati in boy-choirs.

But God himself comes and stays long
when these truncated ones disturb him. (p. 111)
Rilke and/or his translator are so gentle in their adjectives here; already, whomever is to follow this introduction seems beautiful - but to no one but God, and that's the tragedy - in their need and loss. "The Song of the Orphan," I think, is the most powerful of the nine voices (although I'm sure I would have chosen a different one 15 years ago). Here it is:
I am nobody and neither shall I be anybody.
Now of course I am still too small for being;
but later too.

Mothers and fathers,
have pity on me.

Indeed it's not worth the trouble of rearing me:
I shall be mowed down all the same.
No one can use me: it's too early now,
and tomorrow it will be too late.

I have only this one dress,
it's wearing thin, and it's fading,
but it will last an eternity
even before God perhaps.

I have only this little bit of hair
(the same always remained),
that once was somebody's dearest.

Now he loves nothing anymore. (p. 125)
I don't know if Norton was a great translator. This time around, I noticed how many of his choices in syntax and diction were awkward and ambiguous. Sometimes it seems as though he's simply reproduced the original German in its most literal possible English version. In some cases, this works really well, as in "Ich lag / im Silberhimmel zwischen Traum und Tag" (p. 30) which becomes "I lay / in the silver heaven between dream and day" (p. 31) - which is just a perfect, and perfectly beautiful, line.

But of the poems I've included here, I'm sure you found yourself getting snagged a little on the syntax. And my husband, who can read German, questioned some of his choices, e.g., "Ich habe nur dieses eine Kleid" (p. 124) which seems more like a reference to dress as a general object (i.e., a set of clothes) than to a dress, singular; and, indeed, the link to another translation below has this as a set of clothes and not a dress - and specifying the gender of the poem's narrator if it's not there to begin with is a rather significant change.

Apart from any inaccuracies Norton might have introduced, one would like a smoother read, and yet I still really like Norton's version; perhaps this is nostalgia's greatest power - it forces you to prefer that which may well be fatally imperfect because it's comfortable and it is part of your emotional and intellectual history. I found some other translations of The Voices here which are much smoother, and read more like poems written in English. And yet, Crego's choices seem so bland in comparison. They're clearly the same poems, and yet they don't snag me, in a positive way, the way Norton's do.

Now, back to reading forward instead of backwards, and to developing non-metaphorical wrinkles as I forge bravely ahead into my mid-thirties.