New Review of The Trickster in Ginsberg

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Check out this terrific review The Trickster in Ginsberg received from a reader!

4.0 out of 5 stars A Deep Read from a New Author, August 18, 2013
By Flora
 
This review is from: The Trickster in Ginsberg: A Critical Reading (Paperback)

If you are interested in Ginsberg, Howl, or Native American mythology, The Trickster in Ginsberg is worth buying just for the bibliography. This book is an amazing survey of available research on all of these subjects. The End Notes and Bibliography are equal to about 25% of the page count. If you are seriously interested in literary criticism, start with the Introduction – it’s incredibly dense and carefully lays out the techniques and assumptions used to analyze the subject. If you are just a Ginsberg or Howl fan, dive right into chapter 1. The book continues to offer a “close reading” of the common themes found in Howl and the Native American Trickster myth, but the author treats the subject with passion and takes on some of Ginsberg’s wild and exuberant language. Howl was new to me and I read it because this book caught my attention. My life is bigger as a result. Chapter 2 begins a dive into the Trickster myth that continues throughout the book. The raw, elemental nature of this mythology set me back at first, but the author leads you to see the fundamental universality of the themes while walking through dozens of stories. These stories were also new to me and, raised as I was on Greek mythology, I would have dismissed them without the author’s lead. And nobody ever told me that the Roadrunner cartoon is rich with the symbolism of the Trickster who tries to trick and trap while ending up falling over the cliff one more time. This book does not intend to say that Howl is an intentional product of Native American thinking, if only you’re smart enough to figure it out. Instead, the author points out (in the Epilogue), that more has been written about Ginsberg the life, than Ginsberg’s poetry. And that his poetry is worth critical analysis through many different lenses – the Trickster myth serving as a rich tool for doing just that. This isn’t a 5 star book for me because it’s a challenging read – sentences are very long and complex. But the author’s love for her subject and facility with Ginsberg’s language are recurrent, for example: “…Howl became a new type of asocial space, perhaps a Beat social space…”; “there is always a skeleton supporting the pleasurable flesh of humor and innuendo”; “Ginsberg uses these bombastic and magniloquent exclamations to reveal…”; “Ginsberg displays a self-destructive type of humor (a humor that is often difficult to acknowledge simply because of it body count)…”; “…we also find a jagged tooth poking out from the grinning lips…”; “starting out on the right foot only to end up tripping over it with the other.”; “…a floating moon seeming light but in truth moored by its own loneliness…”. There is poetry in the prose of this very dense book of literary criticism – Ginsberg would be pleased, I think.

Wow! It doesn’t get much better than that 🙂

Odin’s Ravens!

Considering the upcoming sequel to the 2004 film, Anchorman, as well as our recent trip to Norway, I thought Odin and his ravens might make the perfect subject for today’s photo-prompt.

A god trapped in wood and memory makes for a bold escape. Where does this god first go post-prison and why?

Odin and his ravens, wood carving, Oslo City Hall
Odin and his ravens, wood carving, Oslo City Hall

Merry writing!

Book Review: Elizabeth Morrison’s ‘Beasts: Factual & Fantastic’

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“Here begins the book of the nature of beasts. Of lions, panthers and tigers, wolves and foxes, dogs and apes….”

— From a Thirteenth-Century Bestiary

I wanted to start with the same epigraph used by Morrison in her work, Beasts: Factual & Fantastic because, frankly, I’m amazed at how apt and beautiful her choices are throughout the book — every time I come up with a question, she’s there with an answer. Every time I can feel my interest being drawn elsewhere, her lyrical voice (with sentences like: “Part of the great appeal of medieval manuscripts to the modern viewer is the seemingly infinite variety of beasts that swarm, creep, and scramble across their pages.”) and creative use of unusual quotes draws me immediately back in.

Anyone familiar with The Medieval Imagination series will already know that these books are fast reads, much more for a bit of fresh encyclopedic knowledge than pure readerly enjoyment or extensive critical examination. But Morrison still manages to keep things fresh the whole way through. The extent of Morrison’s keen insights are quite impressive and her suggested further readings list is terrific (it’s reason enough to buy the book if you’re interested in medieval studies at all) — after all, there really isn’t much reliable information or study currently out there on medieval beasts. Certainly you’ve got a few sturdy academic texts, but not a great deal quite yet that seems genuinely interested in reaching non-academic readers. (Although, as I happen to have the honor of being friends with an up-and-coming medieval beasts and literature expert (currently working with The George Washington University’s English department), I feel I can safely say that this lacking will soon change for us non-medieval experts in the near future. :))

But here, in Beasts, Morrison seeks to do just that — to connect with readers of all backgrounds, academic and otherwise. She presents breathtaking photographs from medieval manuscripts and accompanies them with brisk, useful descriptions, hitting right at the heart of things: why are these animals special? what do they symbolize? how were they saintly? how were they heraldic? and what’s that dragon doing next to the infant Christ?

Morrison introduces her reader to these beasts by first walking us through the daily life of medieval people and their relationships to their animals from food, farming, and warfare all the way to religion and the law. From here, she delves into the beasts themselves as they are represented in various medieval manuscripts (often contextualizing these explanations with discussion of popular poems and stories of the day).

Basically, for anyone with a passing or lifelong interest in medieval and/or animal studies, this is definitely a book for your shelf, lap, book group, and reading nook.

On the author:

Elizabeth Morrison is an Associate Curator in the Department of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and specializes in manuscript illumination (specifically French Gothic and Flemish Renaissance).  She has curated a variety of exhibits there and has also contributed to Illuminating the Renaissance (2003) and Flemish Manuscript Painting in Context (2006). For more from a recent lecture she gave on medieval beasts, please visit: http://www.getty.edu/oudry/default/2007/06/07/audio_elizabeth_morrisons_lecture_on_fantastic_beasts.html

 

Morrison’s suggested further readings (online):

The Medieval Bestiary: Animals in the Middle Ages

The Aberdeen Bestiary 

University of Wisconsin Digital Collections: The Book of Beasts

A few other suggested readings:

Haylie Swenson’s “Lions and Latour Litanies in The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt

Debra Hassig’s The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature

T. H. White’s The Book of Beasts (also suggested by Morrison)

 

Morrison, Elizabeth. The Medieval Imagination: Beasts: Factual & Fantastic. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2007.

 

Publishers to Keep in Mind

Hello again, all! Lately it’s been mostly a world of home renovations and trying to get some new writing projects jump-started, but I’ve also been working more with book reviewers and bloggers about The Trickster in Ginsberg, and one of their questions recently got me thinking — how and why do we choose publishers to query or propose to?

For me, I was drawn to McFarland & Company primarily due to their status as an independent publisher and for their focus on non-fiction of all kinds and genres whether it be science, sports, history, or literature. This wide array of interests or, as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times says — “A mind-boggling array of subjects,” —  convinced me that McFarland would be a great fit for a work as interdisciplinary and academic as mine. But it’s the professionalism and generosity they demonstrated while working with me that will keep me seeking to publish with them in the future.

Of course, while I cannot speak highly enough of McFarland, they aren’t right for every project.

Here are just a few other names to keep in mind when you begin considering publishers for your own work:

“Founded in 1995 in New York City and named for the seven authors who committed to a home with a fiercely independent spirit, Seven Stories Press publishes works of the imagination and political titles by voices of conscience. While most widely known for its books on politics, human rights, and social and economic justice, Seven Stories continues to champion literature, with a list encompassing both innovative debut novels and National Book Award–winning poetry collections, as well as prose and poetry translations from the French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Italian, Greek, Polish, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Arabic.”

“The most interesting and impressive thing about Bancroft Press is that, as of 2012, the company has survived for twenty years without a niche. The more time spent in the industry, the more one understands how rare that is. So many publishers are focused on having a brand—that is, they only publish sci-fi, or they only publish romance. And if we’re talking small publishers, they rarely publish fiction at all.

It’s useful to have a focus. You probably become more of a recognized name as a publisher that way. You develop a certain company loyalty. But—there are a lot of great books you don’t publish.

Bancroft Press publishes titles we’re passionate about. That’s it. And we’ve scraped by for twenty years on that principle.”

“The first issue of Hanging Loose magazine was published in 1966. The name was inspired by the format — mimeographed loose pages in a cover envelope — and that, in turn, was inspired by a very low budget. But the format was also meant to get across a point of view: that poetry is for now, not for the Ages. If you liked a poem, you could pin it to the wall. If you didn’t like a poem, you could use it as a napkin.

The first issue of HL contained work by Denise Levertov, John Gill, Jack Anderson, Victor Contoski and other poets who would remain close to the magazine. The editors were in agreement that they were not interested in begging poems from famous writers but that they wanted to stress work by new writers and by older writers whose work deserved a larger audience. In 1968, the magazine introduced a feature which has become celebrated over the years, a regular section devoted to writing by talented high school writers.”

“Shortly after opening our doors in 2006, Dzanc Books was hailed as “the future of publishing” in a December 2007 Publishers Weekly article. A fully invested publishing house with distribution through Consortium, Dzanc Books is committed to not only publishing great works, but promoting our authors through print and online media, via author tours, and an exploration of audio/visual media.”

“Counterpath is a venue for readings, exhibitions, and performances. Located at 613 22nd Street near downtown Denver, Colorado, the space is also the main office for Counterpath Press—an independent, nonprofit, literary publisher founded in 2006—as well as the home of Counterpath Books, which carries titles published by small and independent presses.

Counterpath engages the work of writers and artists who are interested in linguistic and visual interventions in contemporary global culture. Counterpath is driven by a broadly conceived mission and strives to encompass new conceptions of what compelling work can mean. It also actively looks for work by writers and artists—including groups such as minorities and women—who are typically under-represented in such venues or media outlets.”

“The Feminist Press is an independent, nonprofit literary publisher that promotes freedom of expression and social justice. Founded in 1970, we began as a crucial publishing component of second wave feminism, reprinting feminist classics by writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and providing much-needed texts for the developing field of women’s studies with books by Barbara Ehrenreich and Grace Paley. We publish feminist literature from around the world, by best-selling authors such as Shahrnush Parsipur, Ruth Kluger, and Ama Ata Aidoo; and North American writers of diverse race and class experience, such as Paule Marshall and Rahna Reiko Rizzuto. We have become the vanguard for books on contemporary feminist issues of equality and gender identity, with authors as various as Anita Hill, Justin Vivian Bond, and Ann Jones. We seek out innovative, often surprising books that tell a different story.”

“Inspired by the simple yet radical notion that a book can change a woman’s life, Seal Press is devoted to publishing titles that inform, reveal, engage, delight, and support women of all ages and backgrounds. … Seal Press was founded in 1976 as a small DIY publisher to provide a forum for women writers and feminist issues, and since then, Seal has published groundbreaking books that represent the diverse voices and interests of women. Seal’s continually growing list includes books about women’s health, parenting, outdoor adventure and travel literature, popular culture, sexuality, gender and transgender life, sports, relationships, memoir, careers, finance, current affairs, and much more.”

“The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers.”

“Wings Press publishes multicultural books, chapbooks, ebooks and broadsides that, we hope, enlighten the human spirit and enliven the mind. Everyone ever associated with Wings has been or is a writer, and we know well that writing is a transformational art form capable of changing the world, primarily by allowing us to glimpse something of each other’s souls. Good writing is innovative, insightful, and interesting. But most of all it is honest.

Likewise, Wings Press is committed to treating the planet itself as a partner. Thus the press uses as much recycled material as possible, from the paper on which the books are printed to the boxes in which they are shipped.”

“Perugia Press publishes one collection of poetry each year, by a woman at the beginning of her publishing career. Our mission is to produce beautiful books that interest long-time readers of poetry and welcome those new to poetry. We also aim to celebrate and promote poetry whenever we can.”

 

Vacation Reads: Ritter, Sedaris, and Bryson

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As some of you may know from my previous posts, my husband and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Norway. Over our trip, we went through several books both together and separately, started many, and finished a few. But, for the purposes of this post, let me focus upon Ritter’s new Bright’s Passage, Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

“Sometimes, as they lay in bed at night, it had seemed to Rachel and him as if the whole cabin was hurtling at great speed through the dark, so loudly did the wind wail through the chinks in the caulking.” 

I’m usually dubious of a book that begins with a scene of childbirth — I don’t know exactly why but this has always been the case with me. However, as soon as I read this line (above), I knew I was going to love Ritter’s book. Ritter is better known for his musical talents (think Bob Dylan but with a beautiful voice and greater musicianship) but he’s quickly becoming known for his impressive talents as a novelist as well. This story, Bright’s story, follows a variety of timelines and story arcs that all bend toward one large and pleasantly unexpected “ending.” The characters won’t move in ways you might expect them to in a war novel.

It is the complicated story of Henry Bright, a young man from a troubled childhood, who returns home to West Virginia from the First World War with an angel inconstantly jabbering orders in his ear along with a promise — a promise that his son, whose birth made Bright a widower, is going to be something special, something more than he ever could have dreamed possible.

This book will make you rethink the things, beliefs, and realities that go unquestioned in our everyday.

Of course, Ritter was something I read alone, while waiting or boating. Something that I would pause in constantly and look out a window or diary about. When it came to Sedaris and Bryson, on the other hand, Evan and I tackled them together via audio book.

When I first started reading Sedaris years ago, I read his books on the page exclusively as opposed to with audio. I believe it had to have been some time after I actually met Sedaris at a book signing that I started getting the audio book along with the hard copies (I’ll always need my hard copies). His voice is just too good — hearing him read his own work is like having a one-man show sitting right in your lap. He’s famous for his humor and his unflinching honesty, for noticing the parts of his life that can speak powerfully to the lives of others. And he doesn’t disappoint at all with his latest book of essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. From stories of being grateful while feeding wild kookaburra to the perception of Obama’s campaign personality abroad to twisted tales with endearing dentists, these latest essays will charm, arrest, and surprise you.

Sedaris is only getting stronger with each new book.

As for Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, this was a book that I bought years ago and meant to read, one I started and never finished. It’s not Bryson’s fault, by any means, merely bad timing on my part. However, while driving from Texas to Maryland with your sweetheart, with someone to actually talk to about the mind-boggling things that Bryson has to share, is the perfect timing.

The audio book version doesn’t let you take notes in the margins the way my hard copy does, but it does allow for excellent pauses along the way during which you can look to your partner and exclaim, “No way!” or “That’s incredible!” or “I can’t believe that!” or “Isn’t his voice charming?” No joking, if the audio book contains 6 hours of recorded material, it took my husband and I at least 8 or 9 hours to get through it due to all of our pauses and interjected comments, questions, and conversations.

Bryson’s book is the oldest of the three here, having been published in 2003, but it’s one of those reads you’ll learn something new from no matter how many times you return to it.

In this book, Bryson touches on an incredible array of topics including everything from quantum mechanics to dinosaurs, from the smallest to the largest components of our universe. However, while his voice is a terrific mix of scholar and accessibility (his illustrative examples of different scientific concepts are incredibly apt and illuminating), it’s his ability to weave a clear narrative out of the entire wild jumble of (scientific) world history that’s truly amazing — it’s well worth shelling out the cash for both the hard and audio copies of the book simply to examine how he crafts this immense and intricate story-line.

 

All in all, these were three reads that filled in the gaps, the pauses, the conversation pieces, the longer dinners, the earlier breakfasts, and the X mile hikes and drives of our honeymoon. I recommend all of these whole heartedly for all readers and writers who are interested in surprising, honest stories written by master craftsmen.

Attention, All Sci Fi Enthusiasts!

Attention, All Sci Fi Enthusiasts!

This is a big day for any and all of us interested in science fiction and nonfiction writing. Not only is it the anniversary of Maria Mitchell’s 1847 discovery of Miss Mitchell’s Comet, making her “the first to discover and chart the orbit of a new comet” (she was also, of course, “the first female professional astronomer in the United States”) (Tretkoff), but it is also the time that we may one day look back on and say: “That’s when physicists finally put Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in harmony with quantum physics.”

As Adam Frank explains,

“What [Juan] Maldacena and [Leonard] Susskind showed was that their black holes + wormhole system was also an entangled quantum system of space-time. With their calculations, the two physicists had explicitly made the link [Mark] Van Raamsdonk’s work implied. They put teeth on the connection between entanglement (an essentially quantum idea) and space-time (an essentially General Relativistic idea).”

And, while this may not seem major, if you’re at all interested in the world of physics, you’ll know that this is BIG. Einstein, after all, spent the majority of his career post-quantum physics trying to show that there aren’t two separate theories for understanding the inner-workings of the universe (General Relativity explaining the world of the Large and quantum physics explaining the world of the Small). In fact, in argument against quantum physics, Einstein famously said: “God does not play dice,” (“referring to the theory that the world is governed by the accumulations of outcomes of essentially random ‘choices’ of possibilities at the quantum level”) (Gribbin, 3).

For more information and a much better explanation of this development between the concepts of quantum’s “entanglement” and General Relativism’s “space-time,” please check out the link provided here to Adam Frank’s NPR article, “Black Holes + Wormholes = Quantum Answers.”

But let’s now consider the implications for writing and science fiction — this sort of discovery, after all, could mean even more than the eventual achievement of travelling at warp speed through space. This could lead to an entirely new and, arguably, more elegant way of understanding how our universe “works” and why.

This means new uses for black holes in stories, new mad scientists, new stories focused upon the wild and emotional world of physicists, new uses for entanglement in linking different worlds and characters, new adventures for comets and quirky astronomers, and much more. Reading up on new scientific discoveries always fills me with a euphoric sense of possibility — and, in this case, one of those possibilities is the very real chance of such discoveries helping to inspire writers to put the science back in science fiction. The genre is worth more than aliens and super technologies; the genre of science fiction is capable of imagining entirely new worlds and entirely new ways for our world to work in the here and now, in mathematics, in young minds, in the Large and Small, on notebook paper in a physicist’s office….

Science fiction, in other words, is a genre that demands something more than emotional truth and reality (the only real demands of fantasy writing). Science fiction depends upon the understanding, appreciation, and extrapolation of the scientifically possible — and this is a foundation that many science fiction writers continue to stray from today. If we continue to stray further and further from the scientific bedrock of the genre, however, we’ll fall ever further into the realm of fantasy where any and all discoveries and tools can be explained away as magic, as magic that is impossible outside the realm of the inherently unreal or fantastical.

Altogether now: let’s take back science fiction from the world of fantasy! Let’s refocus our attentions on the science of today in order to dream up and  write about the potential of the science of tomorrow.

 

Works Cited

Frank, Adam. “Black Holes + Wormholes = Quantum Answers”

Gribbin, John. In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Realisty

Tretkoff, Ernie. http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200610/history.cfm