Happy Birthday to the original champion of “simple living”, Henry David Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau, born 199 years ago today, was an essayist, political philosopher, poet, tax resister, naturalist and abolitionist, whose writings and methods anticipated modern day environmental and “simple living” movements by well over a century. Born in Concord, Massachusetts, he died of Tuberculosis at only 44 years old. In spite of his passionate positions on various issues of the day, from nonviolent resistance to taxation, his political writings made little impact in his short lifetime. Today of course, the transcendental author is one of the most widely studied and taught; his hugely influential memoir, Walden: Life in the Woods and as his social criticism alike continue to resonate deeply with modern readers.

thoreauThoreau’s life story is full of fascinating bits of color—he worked at a pencil factory, was influenced by Indian spiritual thought, and followed various Hindu customs. Few writers have been as widely quoted, from the famous, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”) to the obscure (“Who are the estranged? Two friends explaining”). Thoreau’s thoughts on topics ranging from sex to solitude, manners to miracles can be found in The Quotable Thoreau, edited by Jeffrey Cramer. The book contains over 2,000 passages, thematically arranged, and a true treasure for students of the famous minimalist.

Happy birthday to Henry David Thoreau, a man as witty as he was profound, and well ahead of his time.

One Day in the Life of the English Language

In an age of text messages, tweets, and all manner of shorthand, do correct grammar and usage matter anymore? According to Frank L. Cioffi, author of One Day in the Life of the English Language, they do indeed matter, but what today’s writing students need is an “anti-handbook”. In just such a book, Cioffi examines everything from the most serious newspaper articles to celebrity gossip magazines. Drawing his examples over the course of a single day, he illustrates the importance of applying grammatical principles to “real world” writing.

In this newly released video, learn more about Cioffi’s One Day in the Life of the English Language, including his stance on the changes in language owed to technology.

One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook by Frank L. Cioffi from Princeton University Press on Vimeo.

One Day in the Life jacketFrank 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 also the author of The Imaginative Argument: A Practical Manifesto for Writers (Princeton), among other books.

An interview with poet Fiona Sze-Lorrain on “The Ruined Elegance”

Sze-Lorrain, poet

© Dominique Nabokov, 2015, Paris

Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist. In her new collection—an intercultural journey that traces lives, encounters, exiles, and memories from France, America, and Asia—she offers a nuanced yet dynamic vision of humanity marked by perils, surprises, and transcendence. Recently she took the time to answer some questions about The Ruined Elegance.

Can you speak a little about your writing process or how these poems came about?

FS: Almost every poem in this collection behaved like a beast. I lost whenever I tried to fight it, until I realized how far I missed the mark. “To question the options of elegy, I’ve probably chosen the wrong epic.” [from the poem “Back from the Aegean Sea”] Several verses and their poetic narratives were deviating at the start, in part because I had tried to be clever about a “lyric/anti-lyric.” I wanted silence and music. What better paradox could there be?

It did feel like a crisis when I could only pick these poems up from their “ruins.” I censored words and images even before saying them out loud or putting them down on the page. Part of my illusion had to do with my folly of “writing to tame vulnerability and speechlessness” on the page. While finding ways to cope, I felt drawn to reading poems that were gentle yet could sustain a certain emotional rawness and moral jolt. To recenter myself, I walked — from one arrondissement to another.

The Ruined Elegance jacketWhat colors come to mind when you revisit the poems in The Ruined Elegance?

FS: Violet, vermillion, and shades of gray-green. No vintage “black and white.”

Why not?

FS: Because I hope to have the poems operate beyond witnessing, documenting or commenting about their socio-historical sources, even if some of the thematic concerns relate to specific political events — these poems believe in history, but they don’t live in the past.

Why poetry?  What would you like to be if you weren’t a poet, literary translator, or zheng harpist?

FS: I didn’t plan to “be a poet.”  Poems and Bach bring me as much joy as doubt, though sometimes not as much company as would horses and trees.

Why poetry — because it can still resist greed and social constructs.  Were I not a poet or musician, I would like to play bridge professionally or practice herbology and phytotherapy.

What are some of your poetic influences?

FS: Dickinson, Lowell, Rimbaud, Milosz, Lorca, Białoszewski, Montale… as well as translations of Buddhist scriptures and Latin texts.

 Please offer some reading recommendations for our readers.

FS: Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: it is my perennial “drug” or ritual.

I also recommend C.G. Jung’s The Red Book, Aesop’s Fables, photography catalogues of Tina Modotti, Susan Stewart’s On Longing, Pico Iyer’s The Open Road, Mark Strand’s Collected Poems, Simone de Beauvoir’s Une mort très douce [A Very Easy Death], and photographs of the Baudelairian Paris by Eugène Atget.

An excerpt from The Ruined Elegance. Note, the first line is after the last verse of her translation “Mirror,” by contemporary Chinese poet Zhang Zao, forthcoming from Zephyr Press:

Poem excerpt
Chapter one is available here.

Princeton University Press’s best-selling books for the last week

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game by Andrew Hodges
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 by Mark Greif
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education by William G. Bowen & Eugene M. Tobin
Mastering ’Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
Irrational Exuberance: Revised and Expanded Third edition by Robert J. Shiller
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird
Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School by Shamus Rahman Khan

New and Forthcoming Titles in Literature

catalog coverWe invite you to browse and download our new 2011 Literature catalog at:
http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/lit11.pdf

Check out the Writers on Writers series featuring C.K. Williams’ On Whitman and Phillip Lopate’s Notes on Sontag. See how they were influenced, fascinated or troubled by these important writers.

And for a hilarious account of the first day of a creative writing course, you need to check out Andrei Codrescu’s The Poetry Lesson. Neither a novel nor a memoir but mimicking aspects of each, The Poetry Lesson is pure Andrei Codrescu: irreverent, unconventional, brilliant, and always funny.  You will also enjoy Andrei Codrescu’s forthcoming book, Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments.  It is an irreverent and deeply funny retelling of the Arabian Nights and a wildly inspired exploration of the timeless art of storytelling.

Two essay collections are also a must read.  The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now edited by George Levine and The Princeton Reader: Contemporary Essays by Writers and Journalists at Princeton University edited by John McPhee & Carol Rigolot will make great additions to your reading list and library.

There are so many new titles to check out in the catalog.  From The Quotable Thoreau to the 4th volume of The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P’ing Mei: The Climax, you’ll definitely find something you want to read.

If you’re attending #MLA11 in Los Angeles, please stop by booth no. 111 to say hello and browse the books.  Hope to see you there.