October 31, 2011

Best book dedications, no. 4

So Bob Dylan didn't get the Nobel after all. But would being cited in a Hunter S Thompson book dedication make a Nobel citation, or the lack of it, small beer? If Bob Dylan is anything he's unpredictable, but I’d like to imagine he thinks it does.

The Nobel Prize in Literature, after all, is the award Alfred Nobel decreed be given not for literary merit, but for "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction” -- not a very clear guideline, and one not made clearer by the judges’ record, which smacks more of realpolitik than idealism. Except perhaps for Camus. I give them Camus.

syndetics-lcBut no prize for Graham Greene, friend of too many Latin American líders hostile to the US? And how about the Czech writer Karel Čapek, who was passed over in the late '30s because the judges were worried that choosing the author of War with the newts, a brilliant satire on European dictatorships, would offend the Germans? (According to his widow, the Nobel Committee asked him if he couldn't write them something uncontroversial and he replied, "Thank you for your good will, but I have already submitted my doctoral dissertation".)

But to get back to Hunter S Thompson and Bob Dylan: I recently spent a few days and nights unpacking 41 boxes of dusty books at my house to set them out on our new bookshelves, at a pace which so infuriated my husband you would have thought they were letters from ex-lovers. Of course, in a way they are. I dusted each one with a little paintbrush (this particularly maddened him), which at times made me feel as though I were on an archaeological dig, which, once again, in a way I was, stopping to leaf through some of the ones I hadn't had in my hands for a while.

And that was when I stumbled on Hunter S Thompson's dedication of Fear and Loathing to Bob Dylan, and realised that I had let Books in the City's anniversary go by this year without my usual post honouring shining examples of the fine art of book dedication. So here they are:

1. From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

"To Bob Geiger,
for reasons that need
not be explained here
--and to Bob Dylan
For Mister Tambourine Man"

The first Bob would be a friend who gave HST, his first wife and his son Juan, just a boy at the time (rather than an IT guy in a polo shirt as he is now), a place to stay after they'd been evicted from one or another home, and I would say something else of value as well, which HST doesn't feel the need to spell out in detail in public, thus meeting one of my main criteria for a good book dedication.

And in a copy of his Hell's Angels: a strange and terrible saga, which I had never read and got for half-price the other day at Andrew Rumbles's bookstore's closing-out sale, one of those bargains which in one way you'd actually rather not get, I found this:

"To the friends who lent me money and kept me mercifully unemployed. No writer can function without them.
Again, thanks. HST."

Another interesting thing which happened to me recently in relation to HST was coming across an article which appeared in a Colorado newspaper the year he died, titled "Hunter Thompson’s family seeks permanent home for his archives".

Thompson’s family and executors hope to place the archives, now in temporary storage at a secret site in Aspen, with a university in a city or state with some connection to the author. Obvious candidates include Kentucky, Thompson’s birthplace; Colorado, where he lived for nearly 40 years; and literary-rich New York, where he once worked. 
“Something that would feel right for Hunter,” added presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who also is Thompson’s official biographer. “He’s somebody who didn’t like Phoenix.”

Douglas Brinkley was also a personal friend of HST's, so I expect he has a good sense of humour. I was curious to know if this dislike of Phoenix was something HST had actually expressed, or if Phoenix were a metaphor Brinkley came up with for the occasion. Perhaps it's a 21st century version of when East Coast theatre critics used to use Peoria, Illinois as an example of the cultureless wasteland of mid-America: "Will it play in Peoria?" they used to say.

I tried googling Phoenix and culture to see what would come up. So, Douglas, there are actually five book clubs in Phoenix, including one called "Chow Bella" devoted to books about food, and one called "Devouring Divas", which, as much as I'd like to think that it's a bookclub where Hannibal Lecter types discuss books while munching on opera stars, is probably not.

But best of all, for me, were these two lines which appeared near the end:

Juan Thompson recalls hotel bills from 20 years past, and 1,000 small, hotel-sized bars of Neutrogena soap Thompson probably purchased when he first discovered the brand.
Anita Thompson said her husband learned his archival ways from his mother, a librarian.

(you can read the whole article online at www.summit daily.com)

syndetics-lc2. From Howl’s moving castle by Diana Wynne Jones

"This one is for Stephen. The idea for this book was suggested by a boy in a school I was visiting, who asked me to write a book called The Moving Castle. I wrote down his name, and put it in such a safe place, that I have been unable to find it ever since. I would like to thank him very much."

I am a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, who died this year in March. Not from having read her books, as they came too late for my childhood, and then when I had my own little girl, I still didn't hear about her because all anyone was talking about was Harry Potter.

Diana Wynne Jones, I found out when I started working in a library, had written a story years before JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter which was very, very similar to it, and the first reason I found to like her was when I read an interview where she got asked about this coincidence, and didn't have a mean thing to say. And the more I came across her, the more she appealed to me, this talented woman with her warm, slightly muddled and yet serenely unfazed, air.

She made me think of a beloved aunt of mine who somewhat resembled her physically, the cheeks and the unruly curls. Like Diana Wynne Jones she had not had a happy childhood, if for different reasons, and she seemed to live in a world where real and unreal coexisted without being aware that this could be seen as a problem. She would do things like announcing she was getting married and inviting us to her wedding, and then when her brother, my uncle, not a rich man, travelled all the way across the US to be there, he called us when he got home to report that they'd had a lovely visit, but that the entire weekend had gone by, not only without any incarnation of a wedding or a partner, but without either of these even being mentioned.

2003 interview with Dina Rabinovitch for The Guardian  in which the Harry Potter question is asked.
"The wild magic of Diana Wynne Jones" is a lovely obituary of Wynne Jones by Alison Flood which appeared in The Guardian

syndetics-lc3. I learned about this during Banned Books Week this year. The 1960 Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence contained this added "publisher's dedication":

"For having published this book, Penguin Books were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, three women and nine men, who returned a verdict of “Not Guilty,” and thus made D.H. Lawrence’s last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom."

Penguin Books did owe those twelve people a lot, and not just for the $2,000,000 I think the book made them just in the first year. According to the Act, the purpose of which was “to provide for the protection of literature and to strengthen the law concerning pornography", the penalty for the publisher of a book which was found to have “a tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences,” was a prison sentence.

The standard of the time was what was deemed acceptable for fourteen-year-old schoolgirls. No mention of fourteen-year-old factory girls. In this particular case this may have been an important distinction: factory girls wouldn't have been receiving French lessons so the concept of the demi-vierge, so morally equivocal, could be expected to go safely over their heads.

I was fifteen myself when I read Lady Chatterley's Lover, and yes, was studying French. But the part I remember being most thrilled by was not the demi-vierge, not the sap rising in the giant oak or whatever it was, but the letter Lady Chatterley's lover writes her during the time they are forced to be apart. "We won't let them blow the crocus out," was how it went, I think.

I remember still being excited by this morally unequivocal oath ten years later when for the first time I saw crocuses poking up out of the snow, in Scotland, at Easter.

October 08, 2011

Nobel Prize in Literature announced!

So, Bob Dylan did not win the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, which went instead to another octagenarian poet, the Swedish writer Tomas Tranströmer. (Just kidding, Bob, I know you're only seventy.) As I had only read yesterday afternoon the post on The Guardian books blog which reported that the British bookmaker Ladbrokes was giving 5 to 1 odds on Dylan nabbing the prize, I hadn't even had time to decide whether I wanted him to (tending to think no, but open to discussion), or even to find out whether it was all a hoax or not.

I've just been doing a little reading up about this year's “Ladbrokes list”, as the list of favoured candidates and the odds on their winning which the company compiles every year is known among literary cognoscenti, looking for a clue. Bloomberg.com was an excellent source of information, including the nugget that the curator of the list is “a Swede named Magnus Puke, whose job title at Ladbrokes is Nordic Sports and Novelty Odds Compiler, and who writes love poetry in his spare time.”

This year Mr. Puke’s list had 77 candidates on it. At the top was the octagenarian Syrian poet Adonis as the most-favoured, followed by the octagenarian Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, followed by Haruki Murakami. The top English language contenders included Les Murray, Thomas Pynchon, Julian Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, John Banville, Don de Lillo and yes, Bob Dylan, at the time of that article being given odds of 25 to 1.

I am sure there is an apt line from a Bob Dylan lyric for this near-miss, but it isn’t popping into my mind. Maybe someone out there can suggest it. All I can come up with off the top of my head is “She knows there’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all.”

So who is Tomas Tranströmer? He is Sweden’s most famous poet, translated into over 50 languages (I include this because I know what you are thinking). For a characterisation, I can relay from today’s newsfeed from The Guardian that he is known as a “Buzzard Poet”, “a term coined by a fellow-poet Lasse Söderberg to express how he views the world from a height, in a mystic dimension, while bringing every detail of the natural world into sharp focus. His poems are often explorations of the borderland between sleep and waking, between the conscious and unconscious states.”

Sounds good to me. The fantastic Central City Library basement has two collections of his poetry, which when I looked them up just now were both already winging their way out of the library to fill customer requests.

The great enigma: new collected poems from 2006
Selected poems, from 1981

October 01, 2011

Apple censored "Ulysses" iPad app!

"I don't think the Apple representative I first spoke with even knew what Ulysses was" added the publisher's business manager.
How did this get by me? Last year on June 16, ie Bloomsday, Alison Flood told the world via the The Guardian blog, about how Apple had just uncensored a censored iPad app of a graphic (in more ways than one) novel adaptation of Ulysses.

Throwaway Horse, publishers of the comic, had been told by Apple that if they wanted to make Ulysses Seen -- this its name -- an application for the iPad they had to edit out the nudity -- a not-better-specified "naked woman" and a naked Buck Mulligan, presumably about to take his morning swim in the waters of Sandycove after descending with Stephen from the Martello Tower, not bad itself as a phallic image.

"Apple's policy had been that app developers should not be permitted to use nudity in any of their images, even if it's pixellated or covered by 'fig leaves'. Our comic has a mature rating (no one under 17 understands Joyce's book anyway), but we were still not allowed to show frank nudity," said illustrator Robert Berry. Throwaway cropped and edited as requested for the iPad app, but did continue to show the original images on the Ulysses Seen website where the comic is posted, along with a Readers Guide and various other very readable things.

And then, one day, an unexpected phone call and a happy ending: Apple called and offered them the opportunity to resubmit the original drawings. Michael Cavna from the Washington Post talked to Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller about the change of heart for Ulysses Seen, and also for another adaptation of a classic, a graphic novel of The Importance of Being Earnest which showed men kissing. Here's what she told him, as related by him in the "Comic riffs" blog he writes for the Post:

"With Ulysses and The Importance of Being Earnest, we made a mistake. When [the art] of these graphic novel adaptations was brought to our attention, we called the developers and offered them the opportunity to resubmit. Both [graphic novel apps] are now in the store with the original panel drawings."

I'm curious about what the actual phrase was behind that little paraphrase "[the art]". Surely "[the art] of these graphic novel adaptations" was visible from the start. I went to the website and read the first chapters and quite liked it - especially when the cat comes in and says her famous "Mkgnao!" My only objection is the bright blue sea - what happened to 'snot-green'?  Was she talking about [artistic merit seeing as it was based on a classic]? That might have not been visible if, as the Throwaway Horse business manager suspects, you didn't know what the original Ulysses was.

I can't help pointing out, however, that it takes a fraction of a second to do a google search for Ulysses which will tell you all about its merits, unlike what happens if you want to find out about the novel Lolita and have "Google Safe Search" set to "moderate" on your computer, as I found out earlier this week that this computer I'm writing on does. And I can't modify the setting, and neither could the guy who answered my call to the IT help desk.

I did consider, while I had him on the phone, quizzing him if he knew what Ulysses was. But he was so nice I just couldn't turn him into a guinea pig. Or myself into a pedantic fop.

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