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Rebecca Walker Blog

Redux: A Movable Feast

I spent some time today reading Hemingway's gorgeous memoir, A Movable Feast. I breezed through it in college, really appreciating it now.

A particularly lovely paragraph:

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to go was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way. 

December 22nd, 2009

Interview with Tish Pearlman for Out of Bounds Radio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice interview with Tish Pearlman.

December 10th, 2009

Publishers Move to Delay eBook Releases

Interesting development, reported in Publisher's Lunch today:

Big Publishers Move to Broad Delay of eBook Releases

With delayed publication dates the only real weapon in publishers' arsenals in fighting back against the $9.99 price point for high-profile new releases in ebook form, experimentation is getting ready to turn into policy in the year ahead. The WSJ reports that Simon & Schuster will delay ebook releases for about 35 "leading titles" early next year, and Hachette "has similar plans in the works." Meanwhile, we're aware of at least one other big six publisher contemplating the same kind of policy for the first quarter of next year.

S&S ceo Carolyn Reidy tells the Journal: "The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback. We believe some people will be disappointed. But with new [electronic] readers coming and sales booming, we need to do this now, before the installed base of e-book reading devices gets to a size where doing it would be impossible."

Hachette ceo David Young adds: "We're doing this to preserve our industry. I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business."

More

December 9th, 2009

Returning to Lorrie Moore.

What Is Seized

In the wedding photos they wear white against the murky dark oftrees. They are thin and elegant. They have placid smiles. The mouth of the father of the bride remains in a short, straight line. I don't know who took these pictures. I suppose they are lies of sorts, revealing by omission, by indirection, by clues such as shoes and clouds. But they tell a truth, the only way lies can. The way only lies can.

Another morning, I heard my parents up early in the bathroom, my dad shaving, getting ready to leave for school.

"Look," he said in a loud whisper. "I really can't say that I'll never leave you and the kids or that I'll never make love to another woman--"

"Why not?" asked my mother. "Why can't you say that?" Even her anger was gentle, ingenuous.

"Because I don't feel that way."

"But ... can't you just say it anyway?"

At this I like to imagine that my parents met each other's gaze in the medicine cabinet mirror, suddenly grinning. But later in the hospital bed, holding my hand and touching each of my nails slowly with her index finger, my mother said to me, "Your father. He was in a dance. And he just couldn't dance." Earlier that year she had written me: "That is what is wrong with cold people. Not that they have ice in their souls - we all have a bit of that - but that they insist their every word and deed mirror that ice. They never learn the beauty or value of gesture. The emotional necessity. For them, it is all honesty before kindness, truth before art. Love is art, not truth. It's like painting scenery."

These are the things one takes from mothers. Once they die, of course, you get the strand of pearls, the blue quilt, some of the original wedding gifts - a tray shellacked with the invitation, an old rusted toaster - but the touches and the words and the moaning the night she dies, these are what you seize, save, carry around in little invisible envelopes, opening them up quickly, like a carnival huckster, giving the world a peek. They will not stay quiet. No matter how you try. No matter how you lick them. The envelopes will not stay glued.

Excerpted from Self-Help.

December 9th, 2009

A Soldier of Love

December 8th, 2009

Madagascar

Bernard Descamps. View the gallery

December 4th, 2009

Another poem.

Be Near Me

Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Translated by Naomi Lazard

Be near me now,
My tormenter, my love, be near me—
At this hour when night comes down,
When, having drunk from the gash of sunset, darkness comes
With the balm of musk in its hands, its diamond lancets,
When it comes with cries of lamentation,
                                             with laughter with songs;
Its blue-gray anklets of pain clinking with every step.
At this hour when hearts, deep in their hiding places,
Have begun to hope once more, when they start their vigil
For hands still enfolded in sleeves;
When wine being poured makes the sound
                                             of inconsolable children
                      who, though you try with all your heart,
                                             cannot be soothed.
When whatever you want to do cannot be done,
When nothing is of any use;
—At this hour when night comes down,
When night comes, dragging its long face,
                                             dressed in mourning,
Be with me,
My tormenter, my love, be near me.

November 28th, 2009

My humble translation of Limites, by Borges

Limits

There is a line of Verlaine I will never remember

There is another street I can no longer walk down

There is a face in the mirror I have seen for the very last time

There is a door that is closed until the end of the world.

Among the books of my library (I am seeing them now)

There are some that will never be read.

This summer I will be fifty: 

Death consumes me, constantly. 

 ---Jorge Luis Borges

November 17th, 2009

Madame Chiang Kai Shek and Eleanor Roosevelt

The Times says the book is awful, but isn't the photo sublime. The turn of the ankle, the rich blue velvet and inscrutable face. The way the eye is drawn to Madame Chiang Kai, how she gives nothing but takes everything. Then Eleanor's distinct blend of American naivete, grit, and optimism.

Addendum: From the review in today's NYT:

Christopher Isherwood, traveling in China with W. H. Auden, met Madame Chiang in the late 1930s. He caught her aura exactly: “She could be terrible, she could be gracious, she could be businesslike, she could be ruthless. . . . Strangely enough, I have never heard anybody comment on her perfume. It is the most delicious either of us has ever smelt.”

November 5th, 2009

Design, design, designers

Nice work from young designer Steph Walker.

October 27th, 2009

Does the Brain Like E-books?

Really appreciate this series of perspectives from the Times on digital vs analog reading.  

I especially resonated with this one by Maryanne Wolf, John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”

After many years of research on how the human brain learns to read, I came to an unsettlingly simple conclusion: We humans were never born to read. We learn to do so by an extraordinarily ingenuous ability to rearrange our “original parts” — like language and vision, both of which have genetic programs that unfold in fairly orderly fashion within any nurturant environment. Reading isn’t like that.

Each young reader has to fashion an entirely new “reading circuit” afresh every time. There is no one neat circuit just waiting to unfold. This means that the circuit can become more or less developed depending on the particulars of the learner: e.g., instruction, culture, motivation, educational opportunity.

Equally interesting, this tabula rasa circuit is shaped by the particular requirements of the writing system: for example, Chinese reading circuits require more visual memory than alphabets. This “open architecture” of the reading circuit makes the young reader’s developing circuit malleable to what the medium (e.g., digital online reading, book, etc) emphasizes.

And that, of course, is the problem at hand. No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain. We do know a great deal, however, about the formation of what we know as the expert reading brain that most of us possess to this point in history.

October 15th, 2009

Art + Life according to Chekhov

"Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling. There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments…you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.

Anton Chekhov

October 10th, 2009

Alexander Pushkin, Afro-Russian brother and father of Russian letters

"Years later, when Pushkin became famous, one teacher grumbled:  “What’s all this fuss about Pushkin?  He was a scamp—nothing more!”  Engelgardt, the Lycée headmaster, took an even stronger dislike to his most famous pupil. His school report in 1816:

"Pushkin’s higher and only goal is to shine—in poetry, to be precise, though it is doubtful indeed he will ever succeed, because he shuns any serious scholarship, and his mind, utterly lacking in perspicacity or depth, is a completely superficial, frivolous French mind. And that is in fact the best thing that can be said about Pushkin. His heart is cold and empty: there is neither love nor religion in it.  It is perhaps as empty as ever any youth’s heart has ever been."

"Anyone who’s ever dabbled in Zen Buddhism knows that “emptiness” can sometimes be an achievement of the highest order.  Perhaps the very  “emptiness”  --or openness-- of Pushkin’s heart made it a perfect vessel for sublime expressions of love. His “emptiness” was a treasure not to be cluttered with skills for  “the service of the state”. Already in the Lycee he had decided:

Farewell to ye, cold sciences!
I’m now from youthful games estranged!
I am a poet now; I’ve changed.
Within my soul both sounds and silence
Pour into one another, live,
In measures sweet both take and give.

 

From The Alexander Pushkin Society site

September 29th, 2009

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block


So as many of you know, I love great design.

Which is one reason I love Donald Crews. My son and I have just about every one of his books, and have spent many hours reading our favorites: Freight Train, Harbor, and especially Flying.

Crews is someone I've wanted to interview for years--his graphic work is that strong--and as I'm working on a book at the moment that integrates the visual arts, I sought him out. 

I found him, and also the work of his daughter, Nina Crews, who is a terrific illustrator in her own right. I also found an interview with her in which she mentioned a favorite children's book that inspired her work. 

It's called Nothing Ever Happens On My Block by Ellen Raskin. It was published in 1965. I immediately ordered it from Amazon. It arrived yesterday and is FANTASTIC. It's about a boy, Chester Filbert, who declares nothing ever happens on his block while a dozen fascinating stories play out behind him.

What makes the book so great, aside from its lovely, lovely design, is the way the six or seven mini-narratives unfold in the graphics behind Filbert. You have to keep going back to find the early versions of each one to follow them, which ends up feeling like a cross between a treasure hunt and reading six books in one.

GENIUS. 

And that's my post for today. Even when we think nothing is going on, we are at the center of an untold number of stories. We just have to wake up to them. Then we won't be like Chester Filbert, thinking nothing ever happens when really, we are at the center of universe. 

September 25th, 2009

So I was Tweeting Mad Men...

...and wondering with @JenDeaderick if, after her horrid birth experience, Betty Draper will read the Feminine Mystique, put her head in the oven or both. Which inspired the lovely JD to send me to one of Plath's many extraordinary poems:

Morning Song

by Sylvia Plath

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
 

Sylvia Plath, “Morning Song” from Collected Poems.

Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath.

September 20th, 2009