Showing posts from November, 2009

Reading Journal: "The True Deceiver"

Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver. New York Review Books 2009. Translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal, with an Introduction by Ali Smith. Available December 1, 2009. I received an ARC from the publisher as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Finnish writer Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known for her series of children's books about little hippopotamus-shaped trolls called Moomins. Jansson created the Moomins as a form of escapism while she was working as a cartoonist for an anti-fascist magazine during World War II. Several books featuring the adventures of the Moomintrolls followed between 1945 and 1970. After her mother died in 1970, Jansson set aside the Moomins and turned to writing novels for adults in which the loss of her mother continued to resonate.

In her novel The Summer Book (1972), also published by New York Review Books, a child who has recently lost her mother spends a summer with her grandmother on an island in the Gulf of Finland. The novel …

Reading Journal: "Summer Will Show"

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show. NYRB Classics 2009. Originally published in 1936.

In Sylvia Townsend Warner’s story “The Music at Long Verney” (1971), an old landed couple find themselves listening to music outside the window of their own large country house, Long Verney, which they have rented out to a sophisticated young couple from town. While the story seems to ally our sympathies on the side of the old couple and their attachment to the English countryside, Townsend Warner dismisses them at the end of the story as “impermeably self-righteous.” Fresh experiences, fresh opportunities for empathy and understanding of other lives, fail to penetrate them. They come away from listening to the music at Long Verney grasping at an excuse not to repeat the visit. They shun the opportunity to make a deeper connection.

Townsend Warner’s fiction is peopled with insiders who find themselves on the outside. Lolly Willowes, the daughter of a respectable family, becomes a witch. Mr…

Photo Gallery: Audubon Center of the North Woods

Audubon Center of the North Woods, Sandstone, Minnesota

Grindstone Lake

Word Journal: Rhodomontade

Loneliness was the famine which had tamed him; and in the release of having some one to talk to he forgot the where and the when, forgot the unintimacy between them, forgot even the lack of credence which she could not conceal as she listened to his rhodomontades.
—Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show (1936)Sylvia Townsend Warner is a careful stylist, with an ear for the shape and the rhythm of her sentences. Here is an elegant tricolon, built upon the triple repetition of the word forgot. At the same time, excessive repetition is avoided. Townsend Warner might easily have written "forgot the lack of intimacy between them, forgot even the lack of credence...," but she creates variety by coining "unintimacy," a word that even the Oxford English Dictionary fails to recognize. The combination of repetition and variation in the sentence, the juxtaposition of the familiar and strange, is, like the rest of Sylvia Townsend Warner's writing, particularly artful …

Comment Moderation

Recently, spam comments have significantly outnumbered genuine comments on this blog, so I've reactivated word recognition for comments. Comments will also continue to be moderated.

Reading Journal: "Robert Elsmere"

Mrs. Humphry Ward, Robert Elsmere. Oxford World's Classics 1987. Originally published 1888. 576 pp.

Mrs. Humphry Ward

Robert Elsmere was an instant and sensational bestseller when it was published in 1888. William Gladstone, in between terms as Prime Minister, wrote a forty-page review of the novel, finding fault with its rejection of Anglican orthodoxy. Oscar Wilde summed it up with a witticism, dismissing it as "Arnold's Literature and Dogma with the literature left out." Mrs. Ward was, in fact, Matthew Arnold's niece, and like Arnold, she objected to the literalism of orthodox Christianity, which was based on an unscientific acceptance of miracles. The underlying purpose of her novel was to suggest a new Christianity, based on historical knowledge, the humanity of Christ, and the ideal of social justice.

The novel begins in the Lake District, where the saintly and evangelical Catherine Leyburn brings comfort to her poor neighbors and holds her family togeth…

The Grand Obsolete Party

On Tuesday, New York's 23rd Congressional District—my Republican father's old stomping grounds in his days as an administrative law judge for the New York Department of Labor—elected a Democratic congressman for the first time since the 1850s. According to a political history of the district—the northernmost congressional district in New York—part of the district (Franklin County) was, until Tuesday's election, more recently represented by a Whig (George Simmons, elected in 1852) than by a Democrat (the last Democrat was elected in 1850).

The Republican Party has strong historical roots in far upstate New York, going back to the founding of the party in the 1850s, when the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and abolitionism. The most famous abolitionist of all, John Brown, lived on a farm in Essex County, which is part of the 23rd district, and Underground Railroad lines ran throughout the district, which borders on Canada.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centu…

Friends Signing Books

Rob and Rebekah and BANR

Yesterday, after Latin class, I walked over to the Carleton Bookstore with Rebekah Frumkin, author of the short story "Monster," which is featured in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009, edited by Dave Eggers. A large group of friends and fans showed up at the bookstore to have Rebekah sign copies of the book. In a unique arrangement, the contents of BANR are selected by a committee of high school students in the Bay Area and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who work with Dave Eggers to compile the anthology.

"They thought my story was creepy," Rebekah said.

Rebekah signed books for an hour before rushing off to write a computer program and study for her Latin quiz. There may be a few copies of BANR left at the Carleton Bookstore; otherwise it can be special ordered or ordered online. A large percentage of the proceeds from the book go to 826 National, a coalition of non-profits "dedicated to helping students, 6-18, with expository and …