Category Archives: Opinion Posts

Lucretius, Epicureanism, and a sinking ship: My thoughts on the Inauguration

Battle of Actium. Castro, 1672.

Battle of Actium. Castro, 1672.

The beginning of Book II of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura has always been one of my favorite parts of this Roman poet’s epic.  As Inauguration Day approaches in my country, I keep mulling over these lines for various reasons which I will explain.  First, I offer my translation of De Rerum Natura 2.1-19:

Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis
e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem;
non quia vexari quemquamst iucunda voluptas,
sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suavest.
suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri
per campos instructa tua sine parte pericli;
sed nihil dulcius est, bene quam munita tenere
edita doctrina sapientum templa serena,
despicere unde queas alios passimque videre
errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae,
certare ingenio, contendere nobilitate,
noctes atque dies niti praestante labore
ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri.
o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis
degitur hoc aevi quodcumquest! nonne videre
nihil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi ut qui
corpore seiunctus dolor absit, mensque fruatur
iucundo sensu cura semota metuque?

It is pleasant, when on the vast sea the winds are stirring up
the water, to look at the great misfortune of another person
from the land; not because it is pleasant to rejoice in
another man’s troubles, but because it is a relief to
comprehend what types of evils from which you yourself
have been spared. It is pleasant indeed to look upon great
battles in war being carried out on the battlefield,
the dangers of which you have no part in. There is
nothing sweeter than to possess the fortified, lofty doctrines of
the wise, as serene temples, from which place you might look
down upon others and see that they wander everywhere
seeking a path for their aimless lives, as they struggle with
their intelligence and fight for nobility, as night and day
they wrestle with great toil to climb to the highest
mountain of riches and to acquire things.
O miserable minds of men, o blind souls!
In what shadows of life, in what perils is this age of
yours have you passed! You see, don’t you, that nature barks
for nothing other than this, that pain be severed from the body
and that the mind, freed from worry and fear, enjoy
a pleasant feeling.

As I have spoken to various friends from around the world, especially in the blogging community, I can’t help but feel that other countries are standing on the shores and watching in horror the shipwreck that is occurring in American politics with the inauguration of our 45th President. I have a sense that Canadians in particular, with their universal healthcare, and progressive Prime Minister, are grateful, in the sense Lucretius describes, that they are not part of these turbulent waters in which we Americans have found ourselves drowning.

As the Inauguration approaches, I have tried very hard not to read about any of the preparations for it and I have also vowed not to watch the news coverage on the day of the event. I don’t want to experience this shipwreck of an historical event, but then I realized that perhaps my inability to watch the shipwreck signifies that I have created an illusion for myself. It’s not that I don’t want to watch it, but instead it’s impossible for me to see it because I am on that very ship, being drowned in those waters which the wind has stirred up. Sometimes it’s very difficult not to have such a feeling of despair.

In order to mitigate our despair what are those “lofty doctrines of the wise” Lucretius suggests to which we can cling? How do we counteract a war being played out in horror in front of our eyes—a war against healthcare, basic human rights, freedoms and liberties? We cannot exist in some Epicurean garden or paradise and simply watch these things happen without being affected and without protest or action.

I can’t help but think of our incoming president as I translate Lucretius’ description of men who crave riches and devote their lives to the acquisition of things. It is evident from any thirty-second sound bite we hear that our new leader struggles with intelligence (ingenio) and has quite a lofty view of his own nobility (nobilitate). I site as an example of this exaggerated sense of nobilitas the opulent signs displaying his name on every building he owns or partially owns.

Finally, I particularly admire Lucretius’ word choice in the last few lines when talking about pain (dolor)—our nature barks or howls out (latrare) for us to get rid of any type of pain that invades our bodies and to embrace those things that bring us pleasure. How can we apply Lucretius’ advice to our current political situation? Lucretius’ suggestion of avoidance, as I noted above, seems impossible in this instance. Avoidance, in fact, is downright irresponsible. We are left with the other piece of his philosophy—to embrace those things that give us pleasure. For me this would take the form of reading, writing, connecting with friends, holding my family especially close and setting an example of kindness, tolerance and understanding for my daughter and my students. Will this be enough to mitigate the pain? Who knows. Perhaps it might be better to look to the Stoics or the Cynics for more philosophical advice in this instance.

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Filed under Classics, Opinion Posts

Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2017

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I have the privilege every day of going to work at a place that I love and that has a long and rich tradition of education.  The Woodstock Academy, founded in 1801, is one of the oldest public schools in the United States and it has a simple yet profound Latin motto which reflects and respects this tradition: Respice Futurum– “Look back at your future.” (For the philologists out there, respice is a present active imperative, a compound made up of the prefix re (back, again) and the verb spicio (to look) and futurum is the accusative, singular of the noun futurum which is formed from the future active participle of sum.)

These two simple Latin words capture the idea that one moves towards the future while also reflecting on the past.  My husband likes to say that this motto is the equivalent of moving forward on a train while sitting in a seat that is facing backward.  I thought Respice Futurum is apt for a reflection on books as well;  it seems fitting to look ahead to my reading plans for 2017 while also reflecting on the types of books I have encountered over the past year and how they will influence my reading choices moving forward.

According to my list on Goodreads I read 105 books, a total of 24, 484 pages in 2016.  A few books were left off this list such as Pascal Quignard’s Roving Shadows and The Sexual Night. The Goodreads list also doesn’t include a few volumes of poetry I’ve read and some collections of essays.  And my list does not include any of the Latin or Greek authors I’ve translated or retranslated in 2016.   This was not a bad year for me, but not my best either.   The books in translation I have read have come from the following languages:  French, German, Spanish, Estonian, Russian, Italian, Bulgarian, Korean, Malayalam, Kannada, Hungarian, Swedish, Turkish, Slovene, Icelandic, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portuguese.

In looking at this list of lit in translation, I would like to explore more books from Asia and Africa which are not well-represented on my list.  I would also love to explore more books translated from Arabic which is a huge gap in my translated fiction.  If anyone has suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Almost all of the books I have read have been published by small presses which will continue to be my main source of reading: Seagull Books, New Vessel Press, Open Letter and Deep Vellum, Archipelago, New York Review of Books and Persephone Books. 

My first read of 2017 has been The Story Smuggler by Georgi Gospondinov.  This is #29 in the Cahier Series and the first one I’ve read from this series.  I loved it so much that I went back and bought six more titles from the series, so there will be more Cahier titles in my future.

Gospondinov’s book The Physics of Sorrow is my favorite book from the Open Letter Catalog and one of my first reads in 2017 that I just started is another title from Open Letter, Justine by Iben Mondrup. 

A book that I have already started in 2016 and will finish in 2017 is The Collected Prose of Kafka from Archipelago Press.  This is a title that I am slowly making my way through and savoring.  Archipelago has managed to collect some of Kafka’s best short pieces into one volume.

I have discovered the works of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy this year and reading his extensive backlist published in English should keep me busy for a very long time.  Next up on my list of books written by him is his title on Sleeping.

Speaking of French writers, I am eager to read Pascal Quignard’s Terrace in Rome and All the World’s Mornings in 2017.

I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of  Russian author Sergei Lebedev’s The Year of the Comet which is being published in 2017 by New Vessel Press.  I am very excited that I will have an interview with Lebedev coming up in an issue of Numero Cinq, for which literary magazine I am also privileged to continue to do production editing, to scout and recruit translators and to write reviews.   I am also looking forward to two additional lit in translation titles from New Vessel:  Moving the Palace (from Lebanon) and Adua (from Italy.)

I am always eager to read whatever Seagull Books publishes and thanks to their wonderful catalog I have discovered some classics of Indian literature.  I am also looking forward to reading Goat Days by Benyamin which is already sitting on my bookshelf.  I also understand that Seagull is publishing more works from Tomas Espedal in English translation which I am very eager to get my hands on.  A long-term, very long-term goal of mine is to read the entire backlist from Seagull Books.  I will do my best to put a large dent in that list this year.

This year I discovered Ugly Duckling Presse and I am eager to explore their backlist of poetry as well as their essays.  I have a copy of To Grieve by Will Daddario on my shelf already.  I would like to read more essays this year, so please leave suggestions for essays in the comments!

Finally, I would like to read more classics in 2017, especially Tolstoy, Pushkin and other Russian masters.  I have a collection of Tolstoy’s short stories and a copy of The Complete Prose of Pushkin sitting on my shelf that I have yet to read.  I also look forward to the reissues of classics from NYRB who is publishing more books my Henry Green.  I am hoping to have read all six reissued Green books by the end of 2017.  And, as always, I look forward to whatever classics from British, (mostly) female authors that Persephone Books has in store.

And as far as posts on my blog are concerned, I have always shied away from writing about Latin and Greek and classics, but my reading of Logue’s War Music has inspired me to continue writing about The Iliad and to do some of my own translations and interpretations of various Latin authors.

classics-booksA sampling of some of my most cherished classics books; the Loebs are nestled snugly on the bottom shelf.

Well, I could go on and on about my reading plans for 2017 or I could just go and actually get to reading.  Happy new year to all of my fellow bibliophiles.  I hope you also get a chance to Respice Futurum.

chair-bookroomThe cozy spot where much of my reading takes place.  It is overlooked by a print of The Roving Shadows cover done by Sunandini Banerjee, Seagull Books artist.

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, French Literature, German Literature, Hungarian Literature, Italian Literature, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Seagull Books

Venit Hiems (Winter Arrives)

My favorite season in New England is winter.  Most people that I encounter dread the cold and the snow, but I find it relaxing and cozy when I wake up on a day like today and find a winter wonderland outside my window.  My view from every window in the house is one of stark whiteness and yet comfort for me.

The view from my back deck which overlooks a pond.  The pond is frozen over with a pristine coating of powdery snow. 

 

The view from my dining room looking up towards the driveway

 

The gazebo covered in a layer of fresh snow. 

 

The view from my kitchen looking out over the snowy woods.

 

Our Cape Cod style home with the wrap around porch looks best to me with a  fresh dusting of pure, white snow

 

Vergil’s agricultural poem The Georgics, describes the usefulness of winter for farmers and this passage in particular captures my feelings about winter as a time to slow down, reflect and make time for the little things for which we are usually too busy.  In Georgics 1.299-310 he writes about winter:

..hiems ignaua colono:
frigoribus parto agricolae plerumque fruuntur               300
mutuaque inter se laeti conuiuia curant.
inuitat genialis hiems curasque resoluit,
ceu pressae cum iam portum tetigere carinae,
puppibus et laeti nautae imposuere coronas.
sed tamen et quernas glandes tum stringere tempus               305
et lauri bacas oleamque cruentaque myrta,
tum gruibus pedicas et retia ponere ceruis
auritosque sequi lepores, tum figere dammas
stuppea torquentem Balearis uerbera fundae,
cum nix alta iacet, glaciem cum flumina trudunt.

…Winter is relaxing for the farmer:
During the period of cold farmers especially enjoy their lot
And they merrily engage in shared feasts with one another.
Friendly winter gives them rest and releases them from cares,
Just as when laden ships finally touch the port
and the happy sailors places garlands on their decks.
But now is the time to strip acorns from the oaks
and berries from the laurel tree and olives and the blood-red myrtle,
Now is time to place down the traps for the cranes and snares for
the stags and to chase the long-eared hares, now is the time to
strike the deer by hurling the hempen thong of a Balearian sling,
when the snow lies deep and when the rivers force along the ice.*

Although I will not be hurling a Balerian sling at deer or gathering acorns, I am taking the time today to enjoy the cozy fire, read some fabulous books, sip my favorite tea and spend time with my family.  When a winter storm is raging outside it provides me with a serene sense of peace and calm like nothing else and it forces me to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

*Translation of the Latin text is my own

 

 

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Beauty and Love: My Bookstore Adventure in Maine

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I had the chance to spend some time vacationing in Maine over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Like any truly dedicated bibliophile, I seek out used bookstores wherever I go and Maine has some great selections.  I browed a rather large one in Wells which not only has rooms and rooms full of books but also has a rather large selection of maps.  I came home with an interesting mix of books, the first of which is a copy of Petronius’s  Satyricon.  Now why would a classicist need another translation of Petronius’s bawdy novel, you might ask.  This copy that I found was published in 1931 and is the translation attributed to Oscar Wilde.  It is attributed to Wilde but no one is quite sure if he actually did the translation himself or if he translated it from the original Latin text.  There are large parts of the translation that were borrowed from three previous translations.  In addition, the original copies of the book were published without naming the translator on the title page but instead the publisher sent out each copy with a slip indicating that the translator was Sebastian Melmoth, Wilde’s pseudonym.  For more information on this interesting literary hoax, here is a link to an excerpt of an article that was written about this translation: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/373513/pdf

wilde-satyricon

The next book I found as I wandered the many rooms of this bookstore was a copy of Thackeray’s Ballads published in 1856.  He is, of course, most famous for his longer work Vanity Fair and it was nice to discover that he had written this short volume of Ballads.  It’s interesting that this author who was known for his satirical works also wrote love poems and some short narrative poems.  The particular bookshop seems to have many editions of very old books.  This particular book of Thackeray’s Ballads is not valuable and I only paid $7.50 for it, but it is now one of the oldest books I have on my shelves.

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ballad-inscription

Next, I was specifically looking for a copy of anything I could find by William James, the American pragmatist philosopher.  I recently read American Philosophy by John Kaag and his discovery of a long-forgotten library with over 10,000 books, some of which beloved to James, renewed my interest in American philosophy.  I was surprised when the bookstore clerk said that books by American philosophers are very popular and I was lucky to find this copy of James’s essays published by Longmans, Green, and Co. in 1917.  This collection of essays includes some of his most famous such as “Is Life Worth Living” which was delivered at Harvard’s Holden Chapel in 1985.

james-book

The final book that I found is my favorite of the collection.  At the entrance to the bookshop there is a huge table with stacks of books on the table and around the table that are the shop’s most recent arrivals that haven’t been categorized yet.  I walked up to these piles, which are rather daunting, and plucked a slim volume of poetry off the top.  The author of the book is William Dwight Crane and I noticed that there is a handwritten inscription inside the book that reads, “For Angel, From Bill in memory of many happy times.  December 19, 1932.”  The book is also signed by the author.  I researched the author’s name on the Internet and could find no biographical information on him or titles of other books that he wrote.  This lonely, slim volume might have been sitting on a pile in that bookshop all but forgotten for years.  I am happy to give it a new home with my other books will it will be used and read from time to time.

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crane-2

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The poems are a bit simple, but they are clearly from the heart and there is something about their simplicity that captivated me.  I will share one such poem entitled “Beauty and Love” from the collection:

Beauty is the soul of man’s desire
A blessed synthesis of pity, joy, and pain
Burned from out the centre of that fire
Of Passion which else were but a stain
Upon our shields, a funeral pyre
On which in each succeeding age have lain
The ashes of the deeds to which men’s hearts aspire,
Only to rise on phoenix-wings to urge men on again,
Beauty of form, and subtle harmony of line,
Beauty of thought and faery fantasy,
Beauty of deed, which makes the thought divine
Compose this substance born of ecstasy,
We need but fashion it with gentile hands,
And, lo! the image Love before us stands.

My daughter, who also inherited the reading gene, found some books to add to her own growing collection, including one about the ocean.  True bibliophiles know that used bookstores can be such great places of adventure and discovery.  What are your favorite bookshop finds?

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Opinion Posts, Poetry

Subscription Plans: A Great Way to Support Small Presses

In this post I will highlight some of my favorite small and indie presses that offer its readers subscription plans.  By offering subscriptions a press is able to fund upcoming publications and readers get a fantastic discount on books.  These are a few of my favorites and this is by no means an exhaustive list.   I have included links to all presses for those who want more information on each plan.  Please add any additional suggestions in the comments:

new-vessel-subscription-planNew Vessel Press: A subscription of New Vessel books includes all six of their books for the publication year.  Subscribers also get to choose one book from their backlist.  The cost is $80 which amounts to about 25% off of the cover prices.  I haven’t read a book from New Vessel yet that I haven’t enjoyed.  This year’s titles include If Venice Dies and A Very Russian Christmas so this subscription is definitely worth it.  New Vessel Subscription Page.

Two Lines Press:  I embarrassed myself with a gushing review of Two Lines 25, a collection of international writing for which the Two Lines editors have scoured the world.   A copy of Two Lines 25 is included with a subscription and to me that alone is worth the price of admission.  Two Lines is also one of my favorite subscriptions because every year they send some sort of book related gift to their subscribers.  This year is was a package of postcards which all contained quotes from their latest books.  A subscription for 2016 is only $40 ($80 International) and you get four fabulous books.  Two Lines Press Subscription Page

Deep Vellum: This non-profit press offers subscriptions of five or ten books and they also provide a few options with each subscriptions.  Readers can choose both paperback and ebook versions of their books for $60 or the ebook versions alone for $50.  International subscriptions are a bit more pricey at $150.  But Deep Vellum also puts out a large variety of fantastic books that are translated from languages around the world. Deep Vellum Subscription Page.

Archipelago Books: Archipelago is also a non-profit press dedicated to publishing contemporary and classic world literature.  A one-year subscription of print books which archipelago-subscriptionincludes twelve of their titles is $170.  A full-year of ebooks is $70 and a half year subscription for six books is also $70. They provide a lot of choices depending on one’s budget.  Subscribers who are really passionate about their books and want to spend some money up front can also purchase two or three year subscriptions. Archipelago Books Subscription Page

And Other Stories: This is one of my favorite book subscriptions because they offer a recurring subscription.  I don’t have to worry about there being a gap in the books I receive because I’ve forgotten to renew.  I wish that other publishers would follow suit and also do an auto renewal option.  I was very impressed that And Other Stories sent out a lengthy survey recently to its subscribers asking for ways in which they could improve their service.  They also offer a range of options to fit different budgets: 6 books a year for £50 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $80 US), 4 books a year for £35 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $55 US), 2 books a year for £20 in UK/Europe/USA/Canada (approx $32 US).  And Other Stories also prints the names of subscribers in their books since it is the funds from these readers that have helped to publish their books. And Other Stories Subscription Page

Open Letter: This small press also specializes in world literature in English translation (notice a theme here.)  One of my favorite books this year,  The Brother by Rein Raud, has been translated from the Estonian and published by Open Letter.  They offer a six month subscription for $60 or a twelve month subscription for $100.  Shipping is free within the U.S. for both subscriptions.  I love that each new release comes with a letter from the publisher which explains the book and how they came to publish it.  Open Letter Subscription Page

Persephone Books: Persephone specializes in reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by (mostly) female twentieth century writers.  A friend who has impeccable taste in books sent me a copy of Greenery Street and I have been hooked on their titles ever since!  They offer a six month subscription for £60 or a twelve month subscription for £120.  For an additional fee they will also gift wrap the books.  Subscribers get to choose which books they would like to receive from their catalog of 120 titles.  My husband bought me a Persephone twelve month subscription for my birthday last year and it was delightful to receive a new Persephone title each month.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Persephone Books Subscription Page

nyrbplustpr-450pxThe New York Review of Books:  This press also specializes in reissuing lost classics from different countries around the world.  They call their product a “book club” but it is essentially a subscription service.   For $140 members receive a book every month for 12 months and the membership automatically renews.  For a limited time NYRB is also offering a four issue subscription to The Paris Review when readers purchase a membership.  I can’t get enough of the books from NYRB classics and I might have to buy a storage unit to house all of my books from their catalog.  I will pretty much read anything they publish and $140 is a pretty good bargain for a year’s worth of their books.  NYRB Book Club Page

Melville House: This indie press based in New York publishes a series called “The Art of the Novella.”  They have published classic novellas written by Chekov, Tolstoy, Melville and Woolfe just to name a few.  Subscribers can choose a hard copy book for $12.99 per month, an ebook for $6.99 per month or both for $17.99 per month.  Subscribers are automatically billed monthly until they choose to opt out of the service.  This is a great option for someone who wants to try a subscription and not spend a lot of money.  Melville House Novella Subscription Page

Peirene Press: Peirene specializes in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation. All of their books are best-sellers and/or award-winners in their own countries. They only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a DVD. As an added bonus, their books are beautifully designed paperback editions, using only the best paper from sustainable British sources.  A one-year Peirene subscription is £35.00 and members receive a book every four months.  There is also the option to sign up for automatic renewal (UK only). Peirene Press Subscription Page   Peirene has also decided to crowd fund Peirene Now! No. 2 on kickstarter. For a pledge of only £12 supporters will receive a copy of the book which looks like another fantastic and thought-provoking read.  Peirene Now! 2 Kickstarter Page

Pushkin Press: A one year subscription to Pushkin Press is £95.00 and subscribers receive one book each month from the Pushkin Collection, a %25 discount on all purchases from the pushkin-collectionPushkin online bookshop, and a free copy of Stefan Zweig’s novella Confusion.   The Pushkin Collection is a series of paperbacks typeset in Monotype Baskerville, based on the transitional English serif typeface designed in the mid-eighteenth century by John Baskerville. It was litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow, Cornwall.  The cover, with French flaps, was printed on Colorplan Pristine White paper. Pushkin Press Subscription Page

Vibrant Margins:  Ben Winston has started this fantastic subscription service that delivers to its subscribers a variety of books from several different small presses.  According to the website, “Great novels from small presses are out there. Let us find them and deliver them to your doorstep.”  For their debut season they have chosen titles from Dzanc Books, Restless Books, Lanternfish Press, Unthank Books, The Heart and the Hand Press, and New Door Books. Subscribers receive a new book every month and can choose two, three or six books for as low as $15.33 per book.  This is a great way to try a variety of small press books.  I will be reviewing two of the titles from their debut season later in the month and doing a giveaway.  So stay tuned!  Vibrant Margins Bookstore Page

For my next post maybe I will dare to dive into the world of literary magazines!

 

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