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  • The Original of Laura

    Wed, 11 Nov 2009 05:28


    Was it right to publish The Original of Laura, the fragmentary novel that Vladimir Nabokov specifically asked to be destroyed? Does the book "simply feel like an embarrassing and unfortunate coda to the master magician's oeuvre"? Michiko Kakutani discusses:

    Given the shape of Vladimir Nabokov's own life, it's hardly surprising that death -- and its cousin loss -- permeated his fiction like a potent but noxious perfume.

    Nabokov's wealthy, aristocratic family was forced to flee Russia in the wake of the Revolution, and in 1922 his father, a liberal politician, was shot at a rally in Berlin, trying to protect another man from an assassin. The Nazis would later drive Nabokov and his wife and son from Europe to America, where they moved from sublet to sublet, motel to motel. Although he gave up his beloved Russian and reinvented himself as one of the great prose stylists of the English language, an exile's detachment and nostalgia would always lurk beneath the surface of his playful, glittering prose, and a heightened awareness of mortality would create a powerful undertow in his novels and short stories.

    Indeed, death comes to Nabokov characters with astonishing swiftness, variety and heartlessness. He famously dispatched the narrator's mother in Lolita with a two-word parenthesis "(picnic, lightning)" and subjected other creations to death by fire, poison, ski jump, suicide, bus accident, strangulation, gunshot, assorted illnesses and firing squad.

    In The Original of Laura -- fragments of a novel that Nabokov left unfinished at his death and that his son, Dmitri, decided, after much agonizing, to publish against his father's wishes -- he imagines the death of his protagonist, a writer and neurologist named Philip, as a sort of Nietzschean act of will, as an exercise in self-erasure conducted body part by body part, beginning with his toes. It is the ultimate fantasy of a writer who wants to exert complete control over the narrative of his own life (more....)

  • Cows and the Earth

    Mon, 09 Nov 2009 04:37

    Cows and the Earth by Ranchor Prime is a fascinating book enthusiastically endorsed by both musician Chrissie Hynde ("Ranchor Prime explains the meaning behind the ancient tradition of cow protection, and its place in the 21st century environmental movement... no ecological argument can be complete without it") and Patrick Holden, the director of UK Soil Association ("the Krishna farm sets a new standard in organic dairy farming.")

    The books tells the "true story of a unique experiment to transplant Hindu values of cow protection and working oxen to the modern Western world:"

    It all began when George Harrison donated an historic Hertfordshire manor house and 20 acres of farmland to a young community of Krishna people fresh from the city, and two cows. Thirty-six years later the experiment has grown into a carbon-free working farm in a superb set of low-tech English oak farm buildings housing fifty cows and oxen. What makes the farm unique and relevant is that it is Europe's first dairy to run entirely without animal slaughter or the use of fossil fuels, and so fully embodies the principles of sustainable and ethical living necessary for future peace and prosperity.

    Cows and the Earth: a story of dairy farming that is kind to cows from Ranchor Prime on Vimeo.

    Buy Cows and the Earth by Ranchor Prime.

  • Each Monday, here on Editor's Corner, I'm going to take a look at some of the news that has been dominating the book industry in the preceding week.

    The news, as usual, is mostly gathered thanks to the excellent resources that are the Publishers Weekly website and the GalleyCat blog.

    • BookExpo America officials "have decided to limit the number of days the exhibit floor will be opened to Wednesday and Thursday when the annual convention convenes in New York City next spring. Originally, BEA had planned to open the floor from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, following a day of educational panels. That idea met with resistance from some exhibitors, however, who felt it put too much pressure to complete the show setup for only two hours of exhibit time"
    • Borders Group is "accelerating the pace of closing stores in its Waldenbooks Specialty Retail group, announcing Thursday that it will shut approximately 200 outlets in January. The retailer has been steadily closing its mall-based stores since 2001 and will have about 130 mall stores after the downsizing is completed. Stores to be closed fall under the Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet names"
    • In a New Yorker blog post this week, "James Surowiecki questioned the American Booksellers Association's 'dubious' claims about 'illegal predatory pricing' by Wal-Mart in its Book Price War with '[T]here's just no reason to believe that Wal-Mart is cutting prices now in order to raise them later: the company's entire history has been one of perpetual cost-cutting, even after it's become the country's dominant retailer'"
    • the "very first issue of X-Men #1 -- sold for $101,000 at a Missouri rare comic book auction -- apparently setting a world record for comic book pricing"
    • Simon & Schuster "turned in its best quarter of the year in the period ended September 30, with sales increasing 2.4%, to $230.4 million, and operating income ahead 13.6%, to $26.6 million. The improvement in earnings was the result of the higher sales partially offset by higher write-offs of advances for author royalties"

  • According to the Guardian, in an excellent piece by Michael Morpurgo, Cambridge University is on the verge of securing Siegfried Sassoon's personal papers for posterity:

    I once came across a letter written by a military officer to a soldier's mother. "We regret to inform you," it said, "that your son was shot at dawn for cowardice." I later discovered that more than 300 British soldiers were executed for cowardice or desertion during the first world war. Two were shot because they had fallen asleep on the job.

    As far as I know, Siegfried Sassoon didn't write about these soldiers. But what he did do, as I did when I went to the graves at Ypres, was get angry about the futility of the war. In July 1917, Sassoon -- poet, diarist, satirist, officer with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and winner of the Military Cross -- was away from the front due to injury. He wrote a letter to his commanding officer, declining to return to duty because he believed the war was being deliberately prolonged by those who had the power to end it. "I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation," wrote Sassoon, who was nicknamed Mad Jack by his men, "has now become a war of aggression and conquest."

    Sassoon's letter, titled A Soldier's Declaration, was published in newspapers and read out in the Commons; it very nearly got him executed. Now, a handwritten copy of the letter is among the wonderful collection of Sassoon's personal papers -- among them the diaries and notebooks he carried with him to the front -- that Cambridge University has all but secured for its library. The National Heritage Memorial Fund has today announced a grant of £550,000 towards their acquisition, which leaves just £110,000 to be raised (more...)

  • Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker

    Wed, 04 Nov 2009 10:23

    Interesting review of Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker over in the Seattle Times:

    How many books about poker would it take, flooding into the American marketplace, to prompt The New York Times to observe that "poker literature is assuming formidable proportions"?

    Whatever that number, it was reached -- not this year or last -- but in 1875.

    That tidbit of information comes courtesy of author James McManus, who tosses another blue chip into the swelling pot of poker literature with the publication of Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker.

    Browse any sizable bookstore, or online book purveyor, and you may decide that seemingly every player who has won (or nearly won) a significant poker event has something indispensable to say about the game. McManus focuses his attention on the game's past and its development into a worldwide phenomenon. He tracks card-playing's roots as far back as the 6th-century Korean practice of reading randomly tossed silk strips to guide important decisions, and a game developed in China a century later with dotted cards similar to thin dominoes.

    But his main focus is on poker in the U.S. and how the nation and the game came of age together.

    There's something particularly American, McManus posits, in the psyche of poker, how it rewards risk-taking, strategic vision and the ability to accurately gauge your opponent's strength while trying to prevent that opponent from assessing yours. Poker tactics and strategies have been employed by presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, according to McManus (more...)

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