Jeff Nunokawa on Mothers

In Note Book, Princeton Professor Jeff Nunokawa writes frequently (and beautifully) about his mother, from her approach to moles to her aversion to fiction. It’s a perfect day for these choice excerpts from Note Book. Happy Mother’s Day!

1340. The Afterlife of Moles

My mother just hated them—moles, I mean—and if you were a child of hers, your earliest premonition of Ahab had to be the sight of her, out in the backyard, smoking, frowning, and plotting to destroy her own version of the White Whale. It was trench warfare: the moles would dig up the yard, pissing my mother off, big time, and my mother would stick garden hoses into the underground passages through which they, the moles, would go about their business, and whose upward and visible signs were the mounds of dirt that would drive her, my mother, to a state of more than domestic Fury. And then, having set out the means of flushing out her enemy, she would sit back, shovel in hand, watching and waiting, waiting and watching. She got one once. My brother, four or five at the time, overheard her describe her gruesome triumph to a neighbor.

“Mommy, do Moles go to Heaven?”

“I hope not!” she replied with confusing candor. “Why did you say that to him?” I asked.

“I had to tell the truth!” she answered.

And she does. Always—have to tell what she regards as the truth, no matter what.
Note: What’s there to add to the Truth?


1388. “The Unteachable Monkey,” “The Fables of
Panchatantra,” “Indian Humor”

The Wisdom of China and India, ed. Lin Yutang (1942)

Inspecting my mother’s primary bookshelf, one last time, before my second sleep and flight home, I realize with a mild start that I perform this ritual whenever I am about to leave her. And that’s right: these books, a small community library, are the bibliographic correlative and component of her moral competence. Of course I open these books almost never. Most are very old and unpleasant in appearance, and by the looks of them, to my impatient eye at least, not at all “my bag”—Pearl Buck novels; heroic accounts of Andrew Jackson, depicting “Old Hickory” as a paradigm populist; atavistic exposés of power elites, et cetera. In a rare impulse, I take one of these books down from the place where it has rested unnoticed for decades—Professor Lin Yutang’s tome, cited above. A smooth and surprising volume, filled with all manner of familiar and unfamiliar satire and solemnity.

Reading along, I come across the story whose title forms the title of this note. The story is amusing and enlightening enough—all about a monkey whose resistance to helpful instruction becomes sufficiently violent to murder the emissary of enlightenment. I am struck more, though, by the wilderness of teachable monkeys the title of this anecdote obliquely surveys.

I hope I am one of the teachable ones. My mother, I suppose, thinks that I am, but mothers often give their children the benefit of the doubt.

Note: In fairness to her, she is hardly uncritical on the subject of Andrew Jackson.


3027. “What the hell can you learn from Las Vegas?”

The Author’s Mother: A Play in Eleven Lines
The Author’s Mother: What do you want for your birthday? Jeff: I’m glad you asked. Two books by
Bob Venturi, preferably early editions …
The Author’s Mother: You’ll get whatever edition is cheapest. …
Jeff: Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.
The Author’s Mother: Hold on, I have to write this down … “Complexity and what?”
Jeff: Contradiction!
The Author’s Mother: Complexity and Continuation in Architecture would have been a better title.
Jeff: Yes, but that would have been a different book, now wouldn’t it?
The Author’s Mother: Yeah. A better book! Jeff: Also, Learning from Las Vegas.
The Author’s Mother: What the hell can you learn from Las Vegas?!

Note: You see my problem.


3302. Tradition and the Individual Eavesdropper

Kafka eavesdropped on tradition. … The main reason why this eavesdropping demands such effort is that only the most indistinct sounds reach the listener.

(W. Benjamin to G. Scholem, June 12, 1938)

—which doesn’t mean that you can’t transmit a little, the Tradition you only half hear, pass it on in bits and pieces—the defense of the truth, and of those who would extend it, even by evading it; the opposition to war and the devotion to peace; the styles of elegance and expertise in art and science; the beauty of the plain and simple (and the cryptic and the complicated); the methods for coping with the unbearable, and caring for that which makes it less so; the ways of loving what is, and laboring to bring about what should be.

My mom likes to tell the story about how once, when she and my dad were first married (this must have been sometime during the second Eisenhower administration), they were out somewhere in the woods with some other newlyweds, staying in some kind of log cabin (somewhere in eastern Washington State, I suppose—I can’t recall the details) without electricity or running water. One morning, my dad came back from the well with an empty bucket. (“Your father didn’t know anything about priming the pump!” my mother reports with gleeful and affectionate condescension.) Well, as little as he knew, I know less, and my ears glaze over whenever my mother seeks to explain with methodical clarity the practice and principle of this hydraulic feat for drawing water where all seems dry. I have never delved to consider the literal ground of what is best known as a popularizing metaphor for a central element of Keynesian economics, and certainly have no interest in disturbing the perfect record of my ignorance. But I like to think about how much my mother likes to tell me all about it.

Note: “(a sort of theology passed on by whispers dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)”
(Benjamin to Scholem).


4004. “a love stronger than any impulse that could have marred it”

She never repented that she had given up position and fortune to marry Will Ladislaw. … They were bound to each other by a love stronger than any impulse which could have marred it.

(George Eliot, Middlemarch)

My mother likes to remind me regularly of her aversion to fiction and, in particular, the kind of “fancy” fiction I have spent a good portion of my life studying and teaching. I was thus surprised this morning, in my semi-annual survey of her strange library—manuals for Hikers, Self-Helpers, and Chinese Communists; a celebratory biography of Andrew Jack- son; memoirs of Native American Warriors and dictionaries of Ancient Hawaiian Chants; histories of the Middle East and the Wild West; old (very old) field guides to flora and fauna, near and far; textbooks on Organic Chemistry and the like— to discover, nearly hidden in the thickets of this old curiosity shop, one of “my” books—a novel I am not alone in regarding as one of the greatest stories ever told. More surprising, still: the volume is, throughout, underlined and annotated by what could only be her hand.

I was less surprised to discover that amongst the passages she has marked for note are the lines that begin this report. Decades after their divorce, my parents remain bound together by an unfaded, though now hardly mentioned, belief that risking anything short of everything to marry each other (they are of different races; that was a different time) would have been a cowardice they would have both repented till the day they died. I like to think that my mother took some satisfaction when she came across a bare statement of the fact of the faith that determined the direction of her life—“a feeling that,

Note: in gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world” (E. M. Forster, A Room with a View).


4047. “Several people on the trip told me that I was an
inspiration, which made me feel good” (The Author’s
Mother)

And now you will no longer wonder that the recollection of this incident on the Acropolis should have troubled me so often since I myself have grown old and stand in need of forbearance and can travel no more.

(Freud, “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis”)

Many years ago, in the middle of the hardest defeat of my life, my mother came to visit me in New York. My apartment there is small; I, especially in my compromised state, smaller still, and my powers to accommodate her sizable stock of certitudes and self-doubts—their aggregate volume sufficient to fill any proscenium worth its salt—powers of forbearance that hardly amount to the armor of Hercules even in the best of times, reduced to the tattered thinness of a single fig leaf. She couldn’t have come at a worse time, I thought—until I realized that she couldn’t have come at a better one.

Seeing that I was in no shape to chaperone her, she struck out on her own. (She is, after all, according to her own Ancient History, of “pioneer stock.”) One morning, she left before I was awake and called me later from the viewing platform at the top of what was then the City’s tallest building, while I was still in bed. From this height, she felt called upon to tell me something about herself that she instructed me not to repeat, and I will not disobey her. What I can tell you is that what she conveyed to me when I was troubled, and in need of forbearance, was a memory of falling down and getting up again that dissipated the disturbance that left me thinking I could travel no more.

And now I no longer wonder that my sorrow at the thought of the day that she will pass beyond me is matched by the strength with which she has prepared me to meet it.

Note: “The two days in Athens were great but tiring. I actually made all of the excursions (one exception: a Venetian castle in Crete, but went everywhere else). Some people did not climb up the Acropolis, but I did. Why come to Greece and not go up? Was worth it. I was glad that I had both walking sticks. It really made it possible. Several people on the trip told me that I was an inspiration, which made me feel good. I will tell you all more about the trip later, and show you the pictures when I get them done” (extracted from my mother’s report on her most recent travels; her destination this time was the Mediterranean rather than Manhattan).

Which of these 15 myths of digital-age English do you believe?

One Day in the Life of the English Language by Frank Cioffi, a new style guide that eschews memorization in favor of internalizing how sentences actually work, handily refutes these 15 myths of digital-age English. Think brevity is best? Swear by your default settings? Feel sure the internet is a “total latrine”? Try out this “True or False” test and see whether you’re the digital-age wordsmith you thought you were:

Myth 1 image1.  In the age of the tweet, short and concise is always the best.
True, true, short messages are often the best. But not always. Sometimes one needs to go on at some length. Sometimes it is necessary to provide a context, especially if one is trying to communicate more than just minimal information. And sometimes the very brevity or terseness of a tweet makes it impossible to understand.

2.  My word processing program doesn’t let me change margins, spacing, or other aspects of format.
Most word processing programs can be set up to accommodate any standard style; however, you need to use the program’s capabilities and not always accept default settings. In Microsoft Word, for example, many writers allow the program its silly default—to put an extra line space between paragraphs of the same format. This should be unselected as a default off the “paragraph” menu.

Myth 3 image3.  My word processing program will highlight and automatically fix any errors I make.
These automatic correction programs are notoriously unreliable, as they often “fix” writing that is in fact correct. For example, at first I thought one of my students had subject-verb agreement problems; then I noted that the program tried to get me to introduce such errors into my own work. You, not the program, are the mind behind the words. Don’t rely on your program to fix everything. Let it check—but you check too.

4.  “Logical punctuation” is the best option in most situations.
This idea usually refers to putting punctuation either inside or outside of quotation marks. The logicality of doing so or not doing so has been questioned by many. It’s probably best to follow conventions of a given style, unless you are not working within any particular field. In that case, you can invent new rules; just don’t expect others to understand or follow them.

5. People don’t really read anymore; they merely “scan a page for information.”
Gary Shteyngart brings up this idea in his 2011 novel Super Sad True Love Story. It’s interesting and has some truth to it: I agree that many people don’t read with a lot of care or seek to understand and internalize the written ideas they encounter. But some do. Think of that “some” as your audience. At the same time, consider the needs of an audience that just “scans the page.” Ask yourself, “Does this page I’ve just written include information worth scanning?”

Cioffi jacket6.  Anyone can publish written material nowadays, so what’s the value of Standard Written English?
With the Internet, it’s true that anyone can publish now. And many self-publishing options are open to any writer seeking to get work in print. Simply publishing something is now less a guarantee of its excellence or importance than it once was, but if you strive to have your work read—by more than family and friends—it will have to respect some standard forms and conventions. Or to put it another way, no matter what your publishing goals, if you want people to read your work, you will have to write with a high level of competence and lucidity.

7.  People are much less precise and exact than they used to be, now that they have computers to rely on.
This is clearly not the case in all situations. In fact, people must be much more careful now with details such as spelling, especially when entering passwords or usernames. In many digital contexts, attentiveness to language accuracy is obligatory. If you are inattentive, you often can’t even use the computer or the program. If you don’t respect the syntax of a program, it just won’t run.

8.  “Talking street” is what most people want to do anyway.
I think that most people have to use multiple forms of English. They might speak one way to their family, one way to their friends, one way on their jobs, and another way, perhaps, when they need to write a paper for a college course they are taking. People can and should become multilingual.

9.  Most grammatical stuff is of minor importance—kind of too boring and persnickety to bother with.
I agree that there are more important things in the world, but I have been making the argument throughout this book that in fact these “minor” matters do seem to make a difference to some people—and a major difference to a small minority. And writ large, they make a big difference in our society. Admittedly, there is a persnickety quality to some of the material, but isn’t specialization all about being persnickety?

10.  Someone else can “wordsmith” my ideas; I just generate them.
The line between the idea and the expression of it is very fine; that is, how you say something is often inextricable from what you say. You need to take charge of not just coming up with a basic idea or notion but also of how that idea gets expressed. If you have a stake in how an idea exists in its final form, you should take great care with its exact verbal formulation.

11.  Since so many “styles” (MLA, APA, Chicago . . .) are available and used by various specialties, it’s pointless to worry about this kind of superficial overlay.
There are a lot of forms and styles, to be sure. But you need to find the form that’s conventional in your professional field and use that. If you don’t, you almost automatically label yourself an “outsider” to that field, or perhaps even an interloper. And sometimes, just abiding by the conventions of a style gains you credibility in and of itself, allows entrée into a field.

12.  There’s no possibility of an original idea anymore: it’s all been said.
One certainly feels as though this might be possible, considering the ever-expanding scope of the Internet and the existence of over seven billion human minds on the planet. However, each of us has his or her own individual experience—which is unique. And out of that, I feel, originality can emerge. You must really want that originality to emerge, though, and resist succumbing to the pressure of the multitude to simply conform to what’s standard, acceptable, predictable, dull.

13.  If something is published on the Internet, it’s true.
I know that no one really believes this. But I want to emphasize that a great deal of material on the Internet is simply false—posted by people who are not reliable, well-informed, or even honest. Much Internet material that claims to be true is in fact only a form of advertising. And finally, do keep in mind that almost anyone can create websites and post content, whether they are sane or insane, children or adults, good or evil, informed or misinformed.

myth 4 image14.  The Internet is a total latrine.
A few years ago, I heard a well-known public intellectual give a talk for which this was the thesis. And there are certainly many things on the Internet and about the Internet that bear out such a judgment. However, there are also some amazing things, which prompt me to say that the Internet is the greatest accumulation of information and knowledge in the history of humankind. But you need to learn how to use it efficiently and effectively, and sort the good from the bad.

Myth 15 image

15.  I can cut and paste my way through any college paper assignment.
There are many opportunities to create what looks like your own work—cutting and pasting here, auto- summarizing there, adding a few transitional sentences, and mashing it all together. I don’t recommend this kind of work; it doesn’t really benefit you to create it. You want to write papers of your own, ones that express your own ideas and that use your own language. The cut-and-pasters are ultimately sacrificing their humanity, as they become people of the machine. And when they’re caught, the penalties can be severe.

How did you do?

Frank L. Cioffi is professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, and has taught writing at Princeton and Indiana universities and at Bard and Scripps colleges. He is the author of The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers (Princeton), among other books.

Graphics by Chris Ferrante

Poetry by Heart

For the final entry in this year’s National Poetry Month (#npm15) series, we have a special piece by Catherine Robson, author of Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem, on what changed her mind about the merits of poetry recitation.

Poetry By Heart
by Catherine Robson

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoLast month, the third annual final “Poetry By Heart”, a national recitation competition for British 14-18 year olds, was staged in Homerton College, Cambridge. Sitting there as one of the judges in the packed auditorium, I witnessed a series of magical transformations. Time and again, slightly awkward or diffident young people walked onto the stage, paused, and then became entirely different individuals altogether. When they started to speak the words they had committed to heart, they took possession not just of themselves and their poems, but of every other person in the room. I found it an exceptionally moving experience.Heart Beats

If you had told me ten years ago that I would volunteer to work on such a competition, I would have been very surprised. Back then, when I first began work on a book about the strange phenomenon of the memorized poem, I held few positive feelings about recitation. I knew that reciting poetry used to hold a privileged place in the elementary curricular programs of the past, but I didn’t know why or when the practice became mainstream, nor why and when we all stopped doing it. But I was sure that I was not a fan. Enforcing poetry on (or into) the unwilling brains and bodies of the young seemed to me a questionable activity at best. What happened, then, to change my mind?

For one thing, I discovered in the course of my researches that my negative opinion was entirely typical for one of my age and nationality. Born in Britain in 1962, I attended state primary and secondary schools that had no time for what was then regarded as an outmoded pedagogical endeavor, an endeavor likely to turn individuals against poetry for life. Today this is not the prevailing attitude in all quarters – for one thing, the British government, in addition to funding “Poetry By Heart,” now makes “reciting” a specified activity for the youngest children in state education – but the concept of compulsory mass recitation continues to make many of my countrymen uncomfortable. The idea of the memorized poem in Britain summons up thoughts of both a discredited instructional practice and a discredited educational formation – which is to say, learning by rote, and the Victorian elementary school, the institution which supposedly backed up that rote-learning with liberal applications of the rod.

Because I have now lived in the United States for over a quarter of a century, I know that Americans, by and large, are much more positive about poetry recitation. If the topic comes up in casual conversation or the media, it tends to generates not just polite interest, but passionate engagement. I’ve lost count of the number of times an octogenarian has launched into a performance of “Thanatopsis” or a bit of Longfellow for me, and I’ve heard individuals of a range of ages and from both sides of the political spectrum turn wistful, lamenting the passing of a time when all were seemingly united by a joint stock of poetic knowledge.

Digging into the rich and at times complicated story of the memorized poem’s progress in two sharply distinct public education systems has helped me to understand why it is that Britons and Americans today feel so differently about this pedagogical practice: the book I’ve written devotes its first half to this history, and its second to the recitational fortunes of three short poems that were once school classics on two sides of the Atlantic. Coming to terms with my own dismissive attitude towards the repetition of poetry has been another kind of project altogether.

It took me some time, but today I can draw a line between bad recitation and good.  I still think it’s important to notice that dismal experiences with poetry afflicted the lives of many children in less-than-ideal pedagogical environments in the past, but I no longer believe that this fact negates the value of the practice.  I now feel that in the right circumstances, and for certain kinds of people, the memorized poem carries an enormous potential charge.  Last month in Cambridge, its power took hold of us all.

Jeff Nunokawa on Poetry

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoJeff Nunokawa, author of Note Book, has woken up and written a brief essay in the Notes section of his Facebook page every morning since 2007. Note Book is the compilation of 250 of these essays. A topic that Nunokawa is particularly articulate about is poetry, and as we are currently celebrating National Poetry Month, we thought it would be fun to highlight five of Nunokawa’s best poetry notes. (Quite a few of the notes listed below are prompted from poems written by W.H. Auden. If you want to read more of W.H. Auden’s poems, check out The Complete Works of W.H. Auden.) Without further ado, enjoy the following excerpts from Note Book and sample the first chapter, here.

3505. “Telephone Directory,” “Heaven”

W. H. Auden

One could conceive of Heaven having
a Telephone Directory (“Postscript …”).

We mostly don’t call each other anymore. Not like we used to, anyway. And when we do, we mostly
don’t pick up. That’s cool, though. It just makes us appreciate more the times we do get through.
Now, when we answer, it’s like the reverse charge of the bye, which always sounds like the
beginning of the big one; it’s like a hello from here, all the way to Heaven. That’s why our
hope goes way beyond the bounds of all area codes when we hear the ring at the other end of the
line—
Note: “Stardust in negative, between the rings” (Merrill, “Mirabell”).


3313. “Money is a kind of poetry”

Wallace Stevens

Yesterday, after my annual visit, I left my accountant’s office with tears in my eyes. I don’t
think I’ve ever left my accountant’s office actually weeping. Maybe I have and just forgot-
ten. I cry a lot, and I have a terrible memory.

Once a year, I see him about my taxes. My brother thinks I’m wasting my money. I think I’m
saving my soul. Also, a lot of time and peace of mind: I’m terrible with numbers.
Especially numbers that are symbols for money. Or maybe those numbers are bad with me—hell,
either way, it’s an ugly relationship, and I’ve basically given up on it. (Don’t tell them
that—the numbers, I mean: they know exactly where I live, and they’ll come after me six ways to
Sunday.)

On the other hand, like you, I hope, I’m involved in a lot of relationships—close encounters,
lifelong romances, or some- thing simpler (like a good neighbor)—that just get better every
year. With each passing year, for example, my appreciation for the kinds of words that help
people get through a dark night or a long day just grows and grows. With each passing year, the
kinds of words that help people get brave or loving, or help them know that they can become
so—their interest compounds like nobody’s business.

Appreciating words like that, and helping others do so, too: well, that’s the better part of my
business. Of course, I lack the instruments to quantify the rescuing resonances of the
kinds of words that are the stock in trade for retail outfits like mine—like I say, unlike my
accountant, I’m not a numbers man. But let me tell you something: every year, I leave his
office a little less worried than I was when I walked in, and numbers or no numbers, I have to
figure that the better part of both our businesses is pretty much the same.

Note: “All these forms, familiar to all the arts, place us at a distance from the substance of
things; they speak to us ‘as from afar’; reality is touched not with direct confidence but with
fingertips that are immediately withdrawn” (Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money).


4301. “an extraordinary mildness”

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,

Auden, “Herman Melville” (for Lincoln Kirstein)

I’ve never met a mildness that didn’t seem extraordinary, and something toward the end: the
smoothing something of a final act of forgiveness after a long, jagged drama of anger and anguish
and being out at sea: some compassionate writing (don’t worry: it’s all right) that coaxes
something upset to right its balance long enough to make its way back to port; some signal sent
straight to a wayward heart that it’s safe to come home; some memory of wholeness that recalls the
amputated adventurer to the going grace of the last dance, just this side of the closing
curtain.

Lately, I’ve been meeting with another mildness as well, twin of the first, I think, and no less
extraordinary. It stretches toward a new start rather than the last rest—the one that comes
after the big fall, but well before the final flight.

Note: “so tender and mild” (“Silent Night”).


4304. “Mine would, sir, were I human”

Ariel: … if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

Not being a human being himself, the spirit settles instead for making someone who is a better
one. He’s like a poem or a page or a play or a pool that prepares its pupil to navigate the sea
of tears that surrounds us. He’s like the first song you heard about someone breaking up—the one
you go back to whenever you’re breaking up, yourself, to learn again some basic lessons in
tenderness and decency under duress. He’s like the strokes you were taught in your first swim
lessons when, later, you suddenly find yourself really over your head and very far from shore.
That’s what he’s like, and all you have to do is to remember what those like him have to teach
you, and then, no matter how dark and stormy, you’ll always make it back to where you have to be.

Note: “lessons at love’s pain and heartache school” (Jackson
Browne, “Fountain of Sorrow”).

Nunokawa Blog on Poetry


4349. “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to
each”

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

—oh, I’ve heard a lot of amazing creatures sing and say a lot of amazing things. And I still
do—every day of the week, and sometimes twice on Sundays. I want to tell you the secret of
my continuing hearing, because someday (maybe not today,
but maybe someday, ten years or fifty years from today), it may come in handy for you: I don’t
worry, like I used to worry, whether what I’m hearing is meant for my ears. Now, when I listen
to people talk about what or who or how they love, I don’t care as much as I once did, if
they’re talking about me, or even to me. I’m just glad that the waves of sound are so pitched
with devotion.

If this sounds too good to be true, all I can say is that it seems like all the truest goods
sound too good to be true—something as good as clearing (slow or swift) from deafness to delight,
or a change in the mood of a verb, or a vision, that gives a new form of life to the most
tried and tired drab directions.

“You can’t hear God speak to someone else, you can hear him only if you are being
addressed.”—That is a grammati- cal remark (Wittgenstein). But grammar can be transformed at the
speed of a dream or the shift of a continent, and before you know it, you could wind up at a
case where you can only hear what you might call God speaking to someone else; never when you are being addressed, alone.

In any case, that’s all I have to say to you. And I’ll leave you in peace now, since I
know you have plenty to talk about amongst yourselves.
Note: “poetry is overheard” (John Stuart Mill, “What Is
Poetry?”).

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Colm Tóibín’s On Elizabeth Bishop

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

Author photo by Phoebe

Author photo by Phoebe Ling

In the first entry in this month’s National Poetry Month (#npm15) blog series, we are proud to feature Colm Tóibín’s On Elizabeth Bishop, the latest title in the Writers on Writers series. Irish novelist, critic, and playwright Tóibín is both a fan of and known as a master of subtle language (as evidenced by his selection of Henry James’s The Golden Bowl as current host of The Wall Street Journal Book Club), so it is apt that he considers the famously enigmatic American poet Bishop among one of his lasting literary influences.

Tóibín discovered Bishop in his teens and brought her Selected Poems in his suitcase to Barcelona (the setting of his first novels The South and Homage to Barcelona). He offers a personal and incisive introduction to Bishop’s life and work. Spanning her poetry, biography, letters, and prose works, Tóibín creates a beautiful and complex picture of Bishop while also revealing how her work has shaped his sensibility as a writer and how her experiences of loss and exile resonate with his own relationships to place, memory, and language.

Tampa Bay TiToibin_OnElizabethBishopmes book editor Colette Bancroft recently selected On Elizabeth Bishop as one of her notable prose books on poetry. Kirkus Reviews writes that Tóibín’s book is “[a]n admiring critical portrait of a great American poet and a master of subtlety….An inspiring appreciation from one writer to another.” A Starred Review in Publishers Weekly reads, “Novelist Tóibín gives an intimate and engaging look at Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry and its influence on his own work. . . . Whether one is familiar with Bishop’s life and work or is looking to Tóibín to learn more, this book will appeal to many readers.” At the Arts Fuse, Lloyd Schwartz calls it “a particularly welcome addition to the Princeton University Press Writers on Writers series. . . . [F]ew critics have dealt more revealingly than Tóibin with Bishop’s habitual illusion of ‘spontaneous’ self-correction, her process of thinking aloud on the page.” Across the pond, poet Eavan Boland writes in the Irish Times:

[C]ritical method at its best….Unorthodox, original and deeply effective….The close mesh between Tóibín’s growth as a writer and Bishop’s journey as a poet, the eloquent mirroring of place and displacement, and above all the openness to a poet’s language, a poet’s truth put this among the best books on poetry I have read in years. I have no doubt it will become an essential text on her work.

Read the first chapter of On Elizabeth Bishop on the PUP site. You can also read eleven of Bishop’s poems, including “One Art” and “The Fish,” at the Academy of American Poets site.

Don’t forget that this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day is coming up at the end of the month (April 30; #pocketpoem). Which of Bishop’s poems would you want to carry around in your pocket to share with friends and family?

PUP celebrates National Poetry Month

Princeton University Press will be kicking off National Poetry Month by featuring a new poetry-related title each week on the blog, starting with Colm Tóibín’s deeply personal introduction to the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop. The first National Poetry Month was held in 1996, inspired in part by the success of Black History Month. Organized by the Academy of American Poets, this month-long April holiday has become a widespread way to bolster the appreciation of poetry. Poets.org offers a wealth of free educational resources and information on local poetry events, from PoemCity in Montpelier, VT, to Poetry & the Creative Mind in New York City.

In addition to retrospectives like Tóibín’s On Elizabeth Bishop from our Writers on Writers series, and cultural histories like Catherine Robson’s on poetry recitation, Princeton University Press has long published the best of emerging and established poets in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets, currently under the editorship of Princeton professor and former MacArthur Fellow Susan Stewart. Here are some poetry-related choices to enjoy this April:

 

On Elizabeth Bishop What W.H. Auden Can Do For You
The Complete Works of W.H. Auden Volume V The Complete Works of W.H. Auden Volume VI
Heart Beats The Eternal City: Poems

Books in literature in 2015

Be among the first to browse and download our new literature catalog!

Of particular interest is The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Cinderella” would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style. For the very first time, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezsö.

More of our leading titles in literature can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. (Your e-mail address will remain confidential!)

If you’re heading to the Modern Language Association annual convention in Vancouver, BC January 8th–11th, come visit us at booth 217. See you there!

How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain winner of the 2014 Robert Lowry Patten Award

Congratulations are in order for Leah Price. Her recent book, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, won the 2014 Robert Lowry Patten Award from SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900!

“The Robert Lowry Patten Award, established in 2012, is given in alternate years to either the best recent study in nineteenth-century British literary studies or the best recent study in British literary studies of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century. The Patten award was created to honor the distinguished scholarly career of Bob Patten, who for more than forty years was a professor of English at Rice University, and who for nearly thirty of those years was either editor or publisher and executive editor of SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900.”

bookjacket

How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
Leah Price 

 

 

Princeton University Press’s #NewBooks for this week

Books released during the week of October 6, 2014
The <i>Bhagavad Gita</i>: A Biography<br>Richard H. Davis The Bhagavad Gita:
A Biography
Richard H. Davis


“This is an exciting book about an exciting book, namely, the Bhagavad Gita, a text in which Hinduism comes closest to possessing a universal scripture. Davis traces the varying course of its semantic trajectory through history with erudite clarity. A must-read for anyone interested in the Gita.”–Arvind Sharma, author of Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography
Biomolecular Feedback Systems<br>Domitilla Del Vecchio & Richard M. Murray Biomolecular Feedback Systems
Domitilla Del Vecchio & Richard M. Murray


“This is an excellent compendium of the most important techniques and results in the application of feedback and control to biomolecular systems. Biomolecular Feedback Systems is very timely, and a must-read for students and researchers.”–Ernesto Estrada, University of Strathclyde
Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition<br>Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler<br>Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay Birds of New Guinea:
Second Edition
Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler
Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay


Praise for the first edition:”This book is not only indispensable to any bird-watcher visiting New Guinea and the adjacent islands, but, owing to the wealth of its information, it will be of great interest to anyone who is seriously interested in birds.”–American Scientist
Birds of Western Africa: Second Edition<br>Nik Borrow & Ron Demey Birds of Western Africa:
Second Edition
Nik Borrow & Ron Demey


Praise for the first edition:”Invaluable for serious birders and scientists working in or visiting the area. It would also make an excellent addition to a collection of field guides for home or office use.”–Condor
The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life<br>Kurt Lampe The Birth of Hedonism:
The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life
Kurt Lampe


“The Cyrenaics were the earliest philosophical hedonists. Evidence for their views is limited, but Kurt Lampe combines expert historical scholarship and imaginative sympathy to offer a compelling account of what they believed, what it might have been like to inhabit their worldview, and why it matters today. His itinerary takes him in the end to Walter Pater, who offered late Victorians the profound experience and attractions of a ‘new Cyrenaicism.’ This is a learned and important book, in which Lampe, like Pater, brings aspects of a lost Greek philosophical past to life.”–Charles Martindale, University of Bristol and University of York
Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America<br>Christopher S. Parker & Matt A. Barreto<br>With a new afterword by the authors Change They Can’t Believe In:
The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America
Christopher S. Parker & Matt A. Barreto
With a new afterword by the authors


“A scathing analysis of the Tea Party movement, linking it in spirit to the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. Taking today’s conservative populists to be dangerous and their ideas self-incriminating, the authors speculate that Tea Party supporters may perceive of social change as subversion. Based on research and interviews, they suggest racism, desire for social dominance . . . drives the Tea Party.”–Publishers Weekly
The Fourth Pig<br>Naomi Mitchison<br>With a new introduction by Marina Warner The Fourth Pig
Naomi Mitchison
With a new introduction by Marina Warner


“At her best, Naomi Mitchison is forthright and witty, writes with brio and passion and lucidity, and conveys a huge appetite for life, for people, for new adventures, and for breaking through barriers.”–From the introduction by Marina Warner
Genealogy of the Tragic: Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy<br>Joshua Billings Genealogy of the Tragic:
Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy
Joshua Billings


“There is no body of work as important for understanding the idea of the tragic as German Idealism, which fundamentally changed modernity’s notions of tragedy. I can think of no better guide to these formidable writings than Joshua Billings, who takes the reader through them with clarity, deep knowledge, and revelatory exposition. A great achievement, this is a book that scholars and students of tragedy have needed for years.”–Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge
The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy<br>Michael Pettis<br>With a new preface by the author The Great Rebalancing:
Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy
Michael Pettis
With a new preface by the author


“[Michael Pettis is] a brilliant economic thinker.”–Edward Chancellor, Wall Street Journal
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method<br>G. Polya<br>With a foreword by John Conway How to Solve It:
A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
G. Polya
With a foreword by John Conway


“Every prospective teacher should read it. In particular, graduate students will find it invaluable. The traditional mathematics professor who reads a paper before one of the Mathematical Societies might also learn something from the book: ‘He writes a, he says b, he means c; but it should be d.'”–E. T. Bell, Mathematical Monthly
Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam<br>Jon D. Levenson Inheriting Abraham:
The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Jon D. Levenson


“[T]he figure of Abraham has more often been a battleground than a meeting place. This is the brilliantly elaborated theme of Levenson’s book, which retells the Abraham story while examining the use made of Abraham in later Jewish, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) Muslim thought.”–Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books
Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America's Largest Church<br>Timothy Matovina Latino Catholicism:
Transformation in America’s Largest Church
Timothy Matovina

“Matovina gives a detailed examination of the different pastoral approaches that have been adopted to deal with the influx of Latino immigrants, with some advocating the need to assimilate quickly to American ways and others preferring to focus on preserving the religious and cultural heritage that the immigrants have brought with them. . . . Matovina’s book should be mandatory reading for all bishops, clergy, and lay leaders, and for anyone else who wants to understand the future of American Catholicism.”–Michael Sean Winters, New Republic
The Life of Roman Republicanism<br>Joy Connolly The Life of Roman Republicanism
Joy Connolly


“As a demonstration of how reading Roman literature becomes absorbing political argument, this book succeeds brilliantly. Joy Connolly possesses a keen mind and her approach is informed by an astonishing stock of contemporary intellectual perspectives. She is also a deeply imaginative reader with a gift for explaining complex ideas lucidly and compellingly. I learned a great deal from this book: about Hannah Arendt and Philip Pettit as well as about Cicero, Sallust, and Horace.”—Andrew Feldherr, Princeton University
The Meaning of Relativity: Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)<br>Albert Einstein<br>With a new introduction by Brian Greene The Meaning of Relativity:
Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)
Albert Einstein
With a new introduction by Brian Greene


“A condensed unified presentation intended for one who has already gone through a standard text and digested the mechanics of tensor theory and the physical basis of relativity. Einstein’s little book then serves as an excellent tying-together of loose ends and as a broad survey of the subject.”–Physics Today
Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine<br>Lital Levy Poetic Trespass:
Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine
Lital Levy


“This is a work of immense accomplishment dedicated to understanding what it means to write in two languages about a condition of life that is, at once, both shared and separate. Lital Levy’s critical speculations are careful and courageous as her beautiful prose moves back and forth across the borderline of Israel/Palestine, forging a way of moving toward a solidarity built of sorrow and survival, failure and hope. Read Poetic Trespass and reflect anew on the ethical and poetic possibilities of a translational dialogue in a star-crossed region.”–Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest<br>Andrew Needham Power Lines:
Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest
Andrew Needham


“Rarely does a work of history unite so many seemingly disconnected fields of inquiry in such new and exciting ways. Masterfully interweaving urban, Native American, and environmental history, Power Lines is a sobering assessment of Phoenix’s expansive postwar development. The legacies of the region’s coal-powered history continue to shape contemporary politics, spaces, and our shared environmental future, making Power Lines as timely as it is insightful.”–Ned Blackhawk, Yale University
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter<br>Richard P. Feynman<br>With a new introduction by A. Zee QED:
The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
Richard P. Feynman
With a new introduction by A. Zee


“Physics Nobelist Feynman simply cannot help being original. In this quirky, fascinating book, he explains to laymen the quantum theory of light, a theory to which he made decisive contributions.”–The New Yorker
The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction<br>James M. McPherson<br>With a new preface by the author The Struggle for Equality:
Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction
James M. McPherson
With a new preface by the author


“Must surely be assigned an important place in the literature of the history of ideas and of race relations in the United States.”–The Times Literary Supplement
Theories of International Politics and Zombies: Revived Edition<br>Daniel W. Drezner Theories of International Politics and Zombies:
Revived Edition
Daniel W. Drezner


“Drezner . . . comes up with an intriguing intellectual conceit to explain various schools of international political theory. He imagines a world overrun with zombies and considers the likely responses of national governments, the U.N and other international organizations, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs). . . . This slim book is an imaginative and very helpful way to introduce its subject–who knew international relations could be this much fun?”–Publishers Weekly
Theory of Stellar Atmospheres: An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis<br>Ivan Hubeny & Dimitri Mihalas Theory of Stellar Atmospheres:
An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis
Ivan Hubeny & Dimitri Mihalas


“This eagerly anticipated book is an excellent guide for anyone interested in radiation transport in astrophysics, as well as for those wanting to make detailed analyses of astrophysical spectra. Comprehensive, lucid, and stimulating, Theory of Stellar Atmospheres is ideal for students and scientists alike.”–Bengt Gustafsson, Uppsala University
Told Again: Old Tales Told Again<br>Walter de la Mare<br>With a new introduction by Philip Pullman<br>Illustrated by A. H. Watson Told Again:
Old Tales Told Again
Walter de la Mare
With a new introduction by Philip Pullman
Illustrated by A. H. Watson


Praise for previous editions: “Walter de la Mare has given the familiar old tales so much sparkle and humor and romance that they are like new stories.”–Horn Book Magazine
The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future<br>Richard B. Alley<br>With a new preface by the author The Two-Mile Time Machine:
Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
Richard B. Alley
With a new preface by the author


“Although not all scientists will agree with Alley’s conclusions, [this] engaging book–a brilliant combination of scientific thriller, memoir and environmental science–provides instructive glimpses into our climatic past and global future . . . “–Publisher’s Weekly
Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman<br>Jeremy Adelman Worldly Philosopher:
The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
Jeremy Adelman


“[A] biography worthy of the man. Adelman brilliantly and beautifully brings Hirschman to life, giving us an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary intellectuals. . . . [M]agnificent.”–Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker

New Literature Catalog!

Be among the first to browse and download our new literature catalog!

Of particular interest is the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon edited by Barbara Cassin. This is an encyclopedic dictionary of close to 400 important philosophical, literary, and political terms and concepts that defy easy—or any—translation from one language and culture to another. Drawn from more than a dozen languages, terms such as Dasein (German), pravda (Russian), saudade (Portuguese), and stato (Italian) are thoroughly examined in all their cross-linguistic and cross-cultural complexities. Spanning the classical, medieval, early modern, modern, and contemporary periods, these are terms that influence thinking across the humanities. The entries, written by more than 150 distinguished scholars, describe the origins and meanings of each term, the history and context of its usage, its translations into other languages, and its use in notable texts. The dictionary also includes essays on the special characteristics of particular languages—English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Also be sure to note The Lives of the Novel: A History by Thomas G. Pavel. This is a boldly original history of the novel from ancient Greece to the vibrant world of contemporary fiction. Thomas Pavel argues that the driving force behind the novel’s evolution has been a rivalry between stories that idealize human behavior and those that ridicule and condemn it. Impelled by this conflict, the novel moved from depicting strong souls to sensitive hearts and, finally, to enigmatic psyches. Pavel makes his case by analyzing more than a hundred novels from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and beyond. The result is a wide-ranging survey of the novel and a provocative reinterpretation of its development.

And don’t miss out on Moral Imagination: Essays by David Bromwich. Spanning many historical and literary contexts, Moral Imagination brings together a dozen recent essays by one of America’s premier cultural critics. David Bromwich explores the importance of imagination and sympathy to suggest how these faculties may illuminate the motives of human action and the reality of justice. These wide-ranging essays address thinkers and topics from Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, to the dangers of identity politics, to the psychology of the heroes of classic American literature.

Even more foremost titles in literature can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. Your e-mail address will remain confidential!

If you’re heading to the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, IL, January 9th-12th come visit us at booth 326. We’ll be hosting a reception to celebrate the publication of the Dictionary of Untranslatables Friday, January 10th 4:00-5:00 at our booth. Also follow #MLA14 and @PrincetonUnivPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting. See you there!

Leah Price Recieves Honorable Mention for the 2012 James Russell Lowell Prize

Leah Price – How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain
Honorable Mention for the 2012 James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association

The James Russell Lowell Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding book—a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography—written by a member of the association. “Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain disentangles the network of practices the Victorians developed for not reading their books through an innovative approach she calls rejection history. By analyzing the many uses of books aside from being read, Price provides an exhaustive and well-documented account of their material life and culture. From paperweight to garbage, she looks at the evolution of the bound book in ways that trump what can only be read between the covers. Giving welcome attention not only to familiar literary classics but also to less-studied genres, Price provides new models for reading the history of the book as object, commodity, and literary artifact. To learn more about this award, click here.

k9714How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain asks how our culture came to frown on using books for any purpose other than reading. When did the coffee-table book become an object of scorn? Why did law courts forbid witnesses to kiss the Bible? What made Victorian cartoonists mock commuters who hid behind the newspaper, ladies who matched their books’ binding to their dress, and servants who reduced newspapers to fish ‘n’ chips wrap?

Shedding new light on novels by Thackeray, Dickens, the Brontës, Trollope, and Collins, as well as the urban sociology of Henry Mayhew, Leah Price also uncovers the lives and afterlives of anonymous religious tracts and household manuals. From knickknacks to wastepaper, books mattered to the Victorians in ways that cannot be explained by their printed content alone. And whether displayed, defaced, exchanged, or discarded, printed matter participated, and still participates, in a range of transactions that stretches far beyond reading.

Supplementing close readings with a sensitive reconstruction of how Victorians thought and felt about books, Price offers a new model for integrating literary theory with cultural history. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain reshapes our understanding of the interplay between words and objects in the nineteenth century and beyond.

Leah Price is professor of English at Harvard University. She is the author of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel.

Meredith Martin Wins the 2012 MLA Prize for a First Book

Meredith MartinThe Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860–1930
Winner of the 2012 MLA Prize for a First Book, Modern Language Association

Meredith Martin’s The Rise and Fall of Meter is an impressive, elegant work that intervenes in old and new literary histories alike. This book traces the surprisingly polemical history of the standardization of English prosody. Bringing to light new archival materials, the work excavates the full turbulence and excitement of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century debates about English verse rhythms. Complex, concise, and clear, Martin’s book deftly weaves together cultural analysis; the study of language, form, and sound; and literary history. With a rich critical eclecticism, the book reframes and reanimates our understanding of the history of poetry and poetics. The result is an intriguing story, as relevant to the new aesthetics as it is to older historical and cultural studies. Martin’s work reminds us that at its best, great scholarship has much in common with great storytelling. To read more, click here.

http://press.princeton.edu/images/k9715.gif The Rise and Fall of Meter tells the unknown story of English meter from the late eighteenth century until just after World War I. Uncovering a vast and unexplored archive in the history of poetics, Meredith Martin shows that the history of prosody is tied to the ways Victorian England argued about its national identity. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Coventry Patmore, and Robert Bridges used meter to negotiate their relationship to England and the English language; George Saintsbury, Matthew Arnold, and Henry Newbolt worried about the rise of one metrical model among multiple competitors. The pressure to conform to a stable model, however, produced reactionary misunderstandings of English meter and the culture it stood for. This unstable relationship to poetic form influenced the prose and poems of Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Alice Meynell. A significant intervention in literary history, this book argues that our contemporary understanding of the rise of modernist poetic form was crucially bound to narratives of English national culture.

Meredith Martin is associate professor of English at Princeton University.