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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Generous grant matches timeless writing with twenty-first-century printing technology

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, a noted sponsor of scholarship in the humanities, has awarded a grant to allow The Library of America to complete the conversion of old film used to manufacture its books.

With a commitment to keep series volumes permanently in print, Library of America began publishing titles in 1982. In the more than three decades since, printing technology has rapidly changed; early volumes in the series were printed using compositors, cameras, and photographic film to produce the plates used on press. Today, all major printing firms use desktop publishing and digital plates—and virtually no commercial printer is able to use the old film and plates for their presses.

Pages of a Library of America
reprint at Edwards Brothers Malloy
in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The challenge: the first 115 titles in the LOA series were still in film—and equally troubling was the fact some of the film in storage was beginning to show signs of age, including warping, scratches, and tears. Thus, in 2006 LOA staff began converting all its old film: digitizing 125,243 pages with ultra-high-resolution scanners; positioning the images so they will correctly align in the book; checking each scan for dust, scratches, warping, and broken letters; and retouching or re-typesetting pages that show signs of damage or wear.

The process has been both expensive and labor-intensive. But by this past summer all except ten titles had been converted. The remaining titles:
  • Henry Adams: Novels, Mont Saint Michel, The Education
  • William Bartram: Travels & Other Writings
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: Poems & Translations
  • Washington Irving: Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, The Alhambra
  • Washington Irving: History, Tales and Sketches
  • Francis Parkman: France and England in North America, vol. I
  • Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969–1975
  • Eudora Welty: Complete Novels
  • Edith Wharton: Novellas & Other Writings
  • Richard Wright: Later Works
The generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation will allow LOA staff to finish this project during the next year. In fact, the Wharton volume is already in production and will be available again in bookstores in late November.

Related post:
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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Playwright-turned-novelist Kirk Lynn on Joe Brainard, James Thurber, and other influences on Rules for Werewolves

Rules for Werewolves
by Kirk Lynn
(Melville House, 2015)
Our series of guest posts by contemporary writers discussing their influences continues with a contribution from Austin-based playwright Kirk Lynn, whose debut novel, Rules for Werewolves, relates the exploits of a group of teenage squatters entirely through dialogue. Critic Greil Marcus is already a fan of the book, stating: “You get caught up with these people. You take sides. And then Kirk Lynn confounds your expectations at every turn.”
Joe Brainard taught me everything I know. I Remember is the greatest American novel that isn’t one. Brainard writes hundreds of sentences over the years that begin, “I remember . . .” and then tells the truth about growing up queer in Oklahoma, becoming an avant-garde painter in New York, and everything in between. It is a litany that wakes you up in its repetition. I keep it on my desk. It’s better than the Internet for browsing.

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson is another novel that isn’t. It asks the reader to do a lot of the work along with it, which gives me a feeling of companionship. All of Anne Carson’s books are radical, but the narrative in this one was very personal and close to me, so I keep it near. How does love work? And when it stops working, what then?

David Markson is an assassin. He killed the American novel, that vampire that gets up again and again, thank god. But read Vanishing Point, or This is Not a Novel, and it’s hard to find a better companion book. Little histories of literature and art, complete in themselves, and totally different from one another. Read Wittgenstein’s Mistress, the book that seems to have taught the author how to write in his own voice. These are all novels told in the connection of ideas, one sentence urging the reader to think about its connection to the next. If there are composers who know how to use silence, David Markson is a writer who knows how to use his reader’s consciousness.

The Autobiography of
Alice B. Toklas

by Gertrude Stein
(Harcourt, Brace,
and Company, 1933)
Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is one of the books that helped the future arrive. As with so much of the literature I adore, Gertrude Stein sees no reason to abandon humor in order to find intelligence. She sees no reason to abandon fact to write fiction. She sees no reason to let anyone else write Alice B. Toklas’s autobiography. You can go as deep as your tolerance for strangeness and meditation will allow into Gertrude Stein’s oeuvre and always be rewarded, but you can’t go very deep into literature if you won’t dive into this autobiography.

Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman is the standard of avant-garde elegance. Fact: Unable to hear a lick, Beethoven had to be addressed in writing for the last year of his life. The novel takes the form of the notebooks the composer carried in which people wrote their questions and requests. The maestro spoke his answers, so his responses are not recorded in the novel. It’s a one-sided conversation between the world and a silent Beethoven, but the composer’s passion and outsize personality dominate the narrative and echo in your mind for a good while after you’ve finished the book.

Imago by Octavia E. Butler is all about transformation and becoming something you’re not, both inside and out. I think the book changed me. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but if you can get your hands on one or two real gems a year, it’s good for your full mental range—and Butler is one of the perfect mixologists, balancing deep thought and a ripping yarn.

The Girl Who Owned a City by O. T. Nelson is a weird little wonder that fell into my hands when my middle school teacher, Mrs. Bathke, either assigned it or smuggled it into my life. A strange virus kills off everyone on earth older than twelve and the kids have to figure out how to feed and care for themselves, including how to defend themselves from other terrible twelve-year-olds. Dystopian fiction before it was all the rage. And the author never wrote another book and no one seems to know if he’s alive or dead.

Carpenter's Gothic
by William Gaddis
(Viking, 1985)
Carpenter’s Gothic could also be subtitled, for me, “the William Gaddis book I could read.” Another novel in dialogue, this one digging into the underbelly of American capitalism and colonialism. I remember falling into a trance and reading quickly. I remember reading bits of it aloud with friends. I remember there’s only one sentence of description and it’s about the leaves outside.

Emily Dickinson, especially The Gorgeous Nothings, can be an angel who responds to doubt. She did her work her way and I’m not half feral enough to get as free as she was, but some corner of the idea that form is personal and the work is its own reward can protect you. And then the work itself is so revelatory and prophetic!

And if there is one book that inspired me after I was done with Rules and made me want to get back to the prose, it’s Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Told in short, aphoristic bursts that find some middle ground between David Markson and Anton Chekhov, this book broke my heart and made want to be a better dad and husband in addition to driving me wild with envy as a writer.

And Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write! Short, sharp, human, hilarious thinking about dialogue and umbrellas and penises. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction or essays, either, but like sci-fi if you get the right one or two a year your brain will thank you. Because these are one hundred essays all jammed into one little book, it can count for a couple years’ worth of essay reading.

James Thurber:
Writings and Drawings

(Library of America, 1996)
You can convince yourself that James Thurber is totally legit because he was all over the New Yorker. But you know who might have a problem with that is the ghost of James Thurber. He didn’t have a high opinion of people who had too high an opinion of themselves. But as far as a guide for the kind of writing that doesn’t know whether it’s funny or sad, you can do no better than Thurber. And there is an openness to his formal approach to story, he captures the odd sad moment in cartoons one minute and then stretches them out to a fable and then abandons the pictures and makes short story of the captions in a sequential story like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and then sometimes takes that same conceit and dips it in real sorrow like “The Whip-Poor-Will.” A great guide if you’re looking to get lost in the American voice.
Kirk Lynn is one of six co-producing artistic directors of Austin’s Rude Mechanicals theater collective and also the head of the Playwriting and Directing Area in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin. Recent works include Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra, which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City in 2014, and the 2014 Lincoln Center commission Stop Hitting Yourself.

Previous “Influences” posts:
Jabari AsimDeborah BakerKate ChristensenJennifer Gilmore
Lauren GroffLev GrossmanAlan HeathcockJane Hirschfield
Sara Jaffe Alexandra KleemanAmitava KumarAdam Levin
Annie Liontas • Dawn McGuireDinaw MengestuJim Moore
Manuel Muñoz • Maggie NelsonViet Thanh Nguyen
Geoffrey O’Brien Arthur Phillips • Carl PhillipsKaren Russell
Timothy Schaffert Philip Schultz • Mark StatmanEmma Straub
J. Courtney Sullivan Ellen Ullman • Adam Wilson

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Photos: No stranger in this Village, James Baldwin recognized with official plaque

New York City laid a claim to one of its most distinguished native sons last Wednesday, October 7, when a plaque honoring James Baldwin was officially unveiled at 81 Horatio Street in Greenwich Village.

The plaque in honor of James Baldwin at 81 Horatio Street
in New York City, unveiled on Oct. 7, 2015.

Baldwin lived at 81 Horatio Street from 1958 to 1961 and wrote part of his 1962 novel Another Country there. The plaque commemorates his time at the address and acknowledges in a more tacit way the influence Greenwich Village had on Baldwin’s art and activism ever since he first found a refuge there, while still in his teens, in the early 1940s. (Rufus Scott, the doomed protagonist of Another Country, thinks of the Village as “the place of liberation”—years before real-life events in the neighborhood would give that term added resonance.)

The plaque is a project of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, with the support of the Two Boots Foundation; its unveiling made an apt coda to the recent citywide “Year of James Baldwin” marking what would have been the author’s 90th year.

At the ceremony Library of America publisher Max Rudin was part of a roster of speakers that included James Baldwin’s nephew Trevor Baldwin, writer Fran Lebowitz, and Gregory Pardlo, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Enjoy photos from the scene via the gallery below, and click here for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s video of the complete ceremony.

All photos © Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Trevor Baldwin addresses the crowd on Oct. 7, 2015.

Library of America Publisher Max Rudin, writer Fran Lebowitz,
and Karen Loew of the Greenwich Village Society for
Historic Preservation before the unveiling on Oct. 7, 2015.

Max Rudin offers remarks on Oct. 7, 2015.

A crowd fills Horatio Street to hear Fran Lebowitz speak
from the stoop (far right) on Oct. 7, 2015.

Click here for complete information on Later Novels, the third and final volume in The Library of America’s Baldwin edition.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Listen: Library of America makes rediscovered genre masterworks available in audio, digital formats

Library of America e-book editions of
The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold.
What’s old is new again this fall, when The Library of America simultaneously releases two rediscovered mystery-suspense novels—The Horizontal Man (1946) by Helen Eustis and Fools’ Gold (1958) by Dolores Hitchens—in both audiobook and e-book editions. The two works mark The Library of America's first foray into the audiobook medium.

The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold are part of the new LOA two-volume collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, which restores to print eight unjustly overlooked or neglected noir novels of the mid-twentieth century. Surveying the Women Crime Writers set last month in the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout singled out these two books for particular praise: “Each of them is smartly plotted, tautly written, sharply characterized and not at all dated.”

The Library of America has drawn on established talent for its inaugural audiobook productions. The reader for The Horizontal Man is veteran actress Barbara Rosenblat (Orange Is the New Black), an acclaimed reader with hundreds of titles to her credit, while Fools’ Gold is read by Scott Brick, another experienced narrator whose résumé includes literary classics like In Cold Blood and Light in August. Patti Pirooz, the former publisher of audiobooks at Penguin, produced both The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold.

As a special bonus feature, both audiobooks include commentary by Sarah Weinman, editor of Women Crime Writers and an authority on mystery-suspense fiction.

Listen to an excerpt from The Horizontal Man:

Buy from Audible • Buy from iBooks

Listen to a Fools’ Gold excerpt:

Buy from Audible • Buy from iBooks

Meanwhile, e-book editions of The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold arrive in response to ongoing demand for Library of America books in electronic form. Click on the relevant links below for specific e-book platforms.

The Horizontal Man
KindleKoboGoogle BooksiBooksNook

Fools’ Gold
KindleKoboGoogle BooksiBooksNook

Watch Reader’s Almanac for information on new Library of America audiobooks and e-books in the months ahead.

Visit the Women Crime Writers companion website for complete information on The Horizontal Man and Fools’ Gold and their authors, along with appreciations by contemporary writers and related contextual material.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sara Jaffe: From James Baldwin to Lynne Tillman—four influences on Dryland

Dryland by Sara Jaffe
(Tin House Books, 2015)
Our series of guest posts by writers of fiction, poetry, essays, and history continues today with a contribution from Sara Jaffe, whose just-published debut novel Dryland is a coming-of-age story set in Portland, Oregon, in the early 1990s. The novel is drawing praise from a number of other writers: novelist Justin Torres (We the Animals) has cited Jaffe as “an important new voice” and Sara Marcus (Girls to the Front) called the book “a gorgeous, layered, meticulous, clamoring, beating heart of a thing.”

Below, Jaffe discusses four authors who have influenced both her writing in general and Dryland in particular.
James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room. When I was living in San Francisco, I had a sudden desire to re-read Giovanni’s Room and discovered I no longer had a copy. I ran out to the used bookstore and bought one. Upon arriving home and opening the book, I discovered an inscription: from S., my first real girlfriend, with whom I’d had a very prolonged and dramatic breakup, to the girl she dated after me. It was too perfect. Giovanni’s Room is a novel of love and doom in equal measure. And though the ultimate doom of Giovanni’s death may bookend the novel, the few scenes in the middle that describe the night David and Giovanni meet and first start to fall for each other are like gay love candy—so vivid, heady, and sweet.

Part of the reason it works so well is that, though the story is told through David’s first-person point-of-view, he’s in such deep denial about his attraction to Giovanni that it takes the older queens calling him out for us to fully get the sense of what’s going on. We get both the subjective thrill of David’s unnamed excitement and the vicarious thrill of Jacques and the others watching and naming it. It’s such a deft and interesting use of the first person, because it doesn’t put the onus on the reader to identify with David; rather, it allows us to observe him.

As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
(Cape & Smith, 1930)
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. “I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” I still have my copy of As I Lay Dying from college, with that sentence, at the end of one of Dewey Dell’s sections, underlined. I think it was one of the first times I underlined a sentence in a novel not for what it had to do, in whatever convoluted and out-of-context manner, with me, but because I was so moved by the language itself. Every syllable pulses, and the image is indelible. As I Lay Dying did something to my ear, forever changed it. The novel marks when I began to seek tension-action-drama in the relationship of words to each other in a sentence, rather than (solely) at the level of narrative.

Jane Bowles, My Sister’s Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. I find it very difficult to describe the particular strangeness of a Jane Bowles story. Each character is so tightly contained in his or her own universe, utterly incapable of—or uninterested in—understanding why any other person says or does anything. A friend once described Bowles’s characters as having no interiority, but I don’t think that’s exactly it—it’s as if their interiors are turned outward, as if they lead with interiority, their speech and actions hindered by neither societal conventions, self-consciousness, nor self-awareness. In such a landscape, there’s no such thing as contradiction. And causality itself becomes completely upended, doing miraculous things to plot. What “happens” is dictated only by each character’s peculiar, particular logic. Bowles’s writing is soaked in an anxiety I recognize.

I don’t know if or how Jane Bowles actually shows up in my writing. I don’t discard psychological realism. But, in writing Dryland, when I was up against a passage that I had trouble wresting from cliche, I opened up a document called “Mrs. Copperfield” and tried to write it in a Bowlesian style. It helped me locate productive disconnections between characters, and to make characters’ actions and emotions unfamiliar to themselves.

Haunted Houses
by Lynne Tillman
(Poseidon Press, 1987)
Lynne Tillman, Haunted Houses. In the conventional bildungsroman, the protagonist is set on a path of self-discovery, and once he or she discovers what needs to be discovered, he or she changes, or comes right up to the cusp of change. But in Haunted Houses, Tillman’s first novel, the three protagonists—Grace, Emily, and Jane, who exist in parallel chapters but never meet—do not change, not really. Or, maybe more accurately, Tillman doesn’t foreground a narrative of change, or development, in any conventional sense. Her characters accrue experiences, they move through their lives, they think and act but when you remove the imperative of change each thought and action achieves a kind of parity with each other. In the resulting flatness, we feel the grain of lived experience—what it is to be a person in a body in the world.
Sara Jaffe’s fiction has appeared in such publications as Fence and BOMB and she co-edited The Art of Touring (Yeti, 2009), an anthology of writing and visual art by musicians based on her experience as guitarist (1999–2004) for the post-punk band Erase Errata. Jaffe currently lives and teaches in Portland.

Previous “Influences” posts:
Jabari AsimDeborah BakerKate ChristensenJennifer Gilmore
Lauren GroffLev GrossmanAlan HeathcockJane Hirschfield
Alexandra KleemanAmitava KumarAdam LevinAnnie Liontas
Dawn McGuireDinaw MengestuJim MooreManuel Muñoz
Maggie NelsonViet Thanh NguyenGeoffrey O’BrienArthur Phillips
Carl PhillipsKaren RussellTimothy SchaffertPhilip Schultz
Mark StatmanEmma StraubJ. Courtney SullivanEllen Ullman
Adam Wilson

Friday, October 2, 2015

Morgan Library exhibition presents an Ernest Hemingway for the twenty-first century

Library of America fans are strongly encouraged to visit the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City for the new exhibition Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars, a revelatory re-examination of a writer whose outsized fame has often threatened to overshadow everything that’s best about his work.

Organized in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, the show is a bonanza of manuscripts and typescripts, first editions, correspondence, and personal mementos. It follows Hemingway from his service as a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I, where he was badly wounded, to his stint as a war correspondent accompanying Allied troops across France in 1944–45. (Hemingway’s October 1944 dispatch for Collier’s, “How We Came to Paris,” is included in the Library of America anthology Reporting World War II: Volume Two: American Journalism 1944–1946.)

Hemingway’s 1923 passport (detail).
The Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

With an emphasis on his Paris years (1921–28) and on the craft of writing, Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars is unmistakably meant to supplant memories of Hemingway’s later public persona—the overbearing “Papa,” who starred in ads for Ballantine Ale and Parker 51 pens and who was invariably photographed in the pages of LIFE and Look with a shotgun or fishing rod in hand.

Instead, the exhibition foregrounds the ambitious young talent with avant-garde leanings who adopted Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound as his mentors soon after arriving in Paris and who claimed he learned how to write from studying Cezanne paintings at the Musée du Luxembourg. These were the years when he set about forging the deceptively simple prose style that would become an inescapable influence on generations of American writers.

Stein’s advice after reading Hemingway’s work for the first time was “Begin over again and concentrate.” The most illuminating aspect of the Morgan exhibition is how keenly he took those words to heart. Manuscript pages on display reveal a determined self-editor who could cut eight pages from the beginning of the story “Indian Camp” in 1924 and two entire chapters from the opening of The Sun Also Rises two years later. These and the other revisions documented in the exhibit make it clear we can all be grateful Hemingway made the choices he did. (Another revelation: the author had to fight to convince his squeamish publishers to keep the term “bed pan” in A Farewell to Arms.)

Three Stories & Ten Poems, [Paris]: Contact
Publishing Co., 1923. The Carter Burden Collection of
American Literature, The Morgan Library & Museum,
photography by Graham S. Haber, 2014.
For Hemingway devotees, there will be a special appeal in seeing physical copies of his rare early publications like 1923’s Three Stories & Ten Poems (printed in an edition of 300) and the first, 1924 version of In Our Time (printed in an edition of 170). Meanwhile, many of the other items on display—such as the ticket stubs from bullfights in Pamplona and Madrid, and an encouraging letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald written on ocean liner stationery—are redolent of an old-fashioned expatriate glamour.

Winding down at the close of World War II, the exhibition sidesteps the saga of Hemingway’s later years, when drinking, depression, and a staggering number of medical problems took their toll on both his writing and his psyche. Yet the Morgan’s curator, Declan Kiely, manages to close on a fascinating forward-looking note.

One of the last items on view is a 1945 letter to Hemingway from J. D. Salinger, written when the latter was recovering from what was then euphemistically known as “combat fatigue” in a U.S. Army hospital in Nuremburg, Germany. The two men had met briefly in Paris just after its liberation in 1944, an encounter Salinger recalls as “the only helpful minutes of the whole business.” It’s increasingly a critical commonplace to read The Catcher in the Rye as a kind of sublimated war novel, but the less obvious parallel is between the stark purity of Hemingway’s early stories and the Zen distillations of Salinger’s short fiction, which date from more than a generation later. By drawing that line, the exhibition hints at some tantalizing potential affinities that can enhance our appreciation of both authors and of American writing over a forty-year period.

Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars is on view at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City through January 31, 2016. Visit themorgan.org for complete exhibition information.

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