[narcissism, vanity, exhibitionism, ambition, vanity, vanity, vanity]


THE ZODIAC OF PARIS available at Amazon!

THE ZODIAC OF PARIS is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

"This book makes a major contribution to European scientific, intellectual, and cultural history. Buchwald and Josefowicz have wrested from oblivion a subject that no previous author, French or English, has analyzed in this form or breadth. The Zodiac of Paris not only embodies interdisciplinarity at its very best, but also exposes the nineteenth-century roots of many concerns of the twenty-first century." -- Darius A. Spieth, author of Napoleon's Sorcerers: The Sophisians

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Book Art

Today's eye candy for bibliophiles:

More here. So totally wonderful. via Moonrat.

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The Bridge of the Golden Horn

The Bridge of the Golden Horn, a novel by
by Emine Sevgi Ozdamar, a Turkish woman who migrated to Germany in the 1960s as a "guest worker" and whom I've mentioned here before, is just out in translation from Serpent's Tail.

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The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana Annotation Project, initiated by Eric Ketzan, is an online concordance to the novel, organized by page and chapter. This site is a godsend, since the annotations in the print novel are skeletal and there is a great deal for allusion-hunters (allusionists?) to track down. Anyone may contribute. Brilliant.

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Fresh Ink

Just out: A review of Karl Iagnemma's debut novel, The Expeditions at Gently Read Literature; and, at Metrotwin, Something's Brewing, a list of places to find and and enjoy locally brewed beer and wine in NYC.

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Some Good News

USA Book News selected Samuel Shem's THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE (which I reviewed here) as the best book of 2008 in the general fiction category. Hooray! It's great to see a book get the attention it deserves. I'm also selfishly glad about this, because I loved the book, too, and it's nice to have one's passions confirmed. It is the sort of thing that makes crazy love seem not so crazy after all.

Sometimes I think publishing just is passion.


Another book on the list, First Snow in the Woods, which took first place in children's books, is on its way to my house as I type. At least from the marketing material, the book seems to fits with some (still vague and ill-formed) ideas I've had lately, about kids and nature, and overparenting as a form of neglect.

This has something to do with the development of a capacity to be "at home" while "away," to be at home in the world; and also, just as crucially, especially at mid-life, the capacity to feel like home can still be excitingly undiscovered territory. (This is harder than it sounds.)

The poet and animal trainer Vicki Hearne talks about the necessary and reciprocal and mutually enriching relationship that can obtain between "home" and "away," the quest and the hearth. It seems to me that one could make a good case for hothouse kids as one symptom of a larger, related poverty, a poverty of epic, in our ideas of the good life. More specifically, I mean a lack of resources that would help to make sense of perfectly ordinary but underappreciated qualities that one often finds in "unruly" or difficult-to-domesticate personalities, which is to say in people with affinities for epic, like sincere enthusiasm and largeness of heart and vulnerability to being impassioned.

Shem's novel has much to say about this as well, but in an more complicated way -- how sometimes leaving home can (alas) be pretty much the same as not leaving, and how sometimes coming back can precipitate a greater revolution of consciousness than going away.

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The Littlest Derridean Strikes Again

Today, Jane's teacher emailed to report Jane's first extended metaphor: "I'd like to marry a book. That way I could read my husband."

I don't know where to begin, really.

Taking no responsibility whatsoever, MJ bellowed: "YOU have reproduced."

At least he didn't say: You have been reissued. In a new, updated edition.

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Less Pulp, More Fiction

Dreaming about the publishing landscape after electronic media make distribution a cheap no-brainer for everyone, Jonathan Karp is actually bullish about capital-L Literature and even capital-A advances for said Lit.

"Publishers will be forced to invest in works of quality to maintain their niche. These books will be the one product that only they can deliver better than anyone else. Those same corporate executives who dictate annual returns may begin to proclaim the virtues of research and development, the great engine of growth for business. For publishers, R&D means giving authors the resources to write the best books -- works that will last, because the lasting books will, ultimately, be where the money is."

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Moominland Midwinter

Among other things, Tove Jansson's Moominland Midwinter is a sweet, funny fable of winter giving way to spring. In other words -- in more clinical or medical words -- it can be read as a story about depression and its ending. Which, perhaps not surprisingly given the pharmacopeia in my cupboard, is something I'm thinking about a lot these days.
It's winter in Moomin Valley, and all the Moomins are asleep. All the summer toys are stowed in the bathing house; sheets cover the furniture to protect it from dust; the stove is cold; the pantry is full of jars of Moominmamma's strawberry jam, waiting for the first spring breakfast. Moominmamma herself is snoring. The sun dips below the horizon and stays there.

A typical depressive, Moomintroll bolts awake in the middle of the night. The winter world is terrible. It's dark, it's cold, there's no one to play with, the sun is gone and it seems like it will never come back.

Moomintroll ventures outside. (Apparently his depression is not the agoraphobic kind.) He meets some funny characters in the shuttered bathing-house -- notably the steady, practical, if somewhat unimaginative Too-Ticky, who spends her time ice-fishing, and the irrepressible if somewhat self-seeking Little My (pictured, left), who responds to the apparent frost-bite death of a squirrel by observing that his tail would make a wonderful muff.

In their company, Moomintroll learns lots about the peculiar winter world of Moomin Valley, whose inhabitants, as charming as they are, correspond in various ways to the less charming bits of oneself. For instance, there is the fearsome Ancestor who is locked in the cupboard and should not, under any circumstances, be let out; there is the mysterious, cantankerous Dweller Under the Sink. Moomintroll must deal with these characters; they are either the keys to his release from sadness, or they are important distractions from that sadness, things to keep him busy while he waits for spring, just as one does wait, in a sort of antic hope, for the anti-depressant to kick in.

At the height of the winter, the creatures gather for a bonfire, a signal to convince the sun to come back. Too-Ticky asks Moomintroll to help, by sacrificing the "garden seat," a bench of which he is for some reason enormously protective, as fuel for the fire. Reluctantly, he relinquishes it, in exchange for a promise he has extracted from Too-Ticky: He will be allowed to meet the Ancestor.

But the Ancestor is not taking visitors. Frustrated, Moomintroll complains to Too-Ticky. She introduces him to the Dweller Under the Sink. Good-natured Moomintroll compliments the Dweller on his enormously bushy eyebrows. The Dweller takes offense, in a language that Moomintroll is dismayed to discover he cannot understand. He repeats the Dweller's words, in an effort to make things better that only succeeds in making them worse. The garden seat goes up in flames. A large cold creature named the Groke accidentally sits on the fire, extinguishing it. All the sacrifice is for nothing.

"Such things happen," says Too-Ticky, philosophically. Moomintroll is not convinced. He retires to a corner, frustrated and stuck. At this point, he might take some Prozac, or see a therapist.

Who should arrive next but -- the Hemulen! Blustery, vigorous, the Hemulen is a dynamo on skis who is suspiciously addicted to fresh air and physical thrills. In an effort to shake the group out of their winter blahs, he cheerfully recommends exercise, especially swims in freezing water. Naturally, everyone hates him -- except Little My, who sticks by him long enough to learn how to ski, and then, having no further use for him, skis off on her own.

The Hemulen's ambiguous success with Little My notwithstanding, the group decides they must free themselves from the Hemulen. But no one wants to be mean. So Moomintroll is given the task of kindly and tactfully sending the Hemulen on his way. But Moomintroll's nerve fails him. He finds he just can't do it. (Nobody said psychotherapy, which also includes resistance to psychotherapy, would be easy.) In the end, this is just as well: The Hemulen makes himself useful after all, by saving the life of the least of their community, a sad creature named "Salome the Little Creep." (Might the name be a clue to the psychoanalytic schema I'm claiming is at work here?) For this good deed, Moomintroll makes the Hemulen a gift of the last jar of Moominmamma's wonderful strawberry jam, a great prize, and the Hemulen leaves, on good terms with all, followed by the dog, Sorry-oo, who has finally found a master he can tolerate.

Inevitably, spring comes, the sun returns, and, crucially, Moominmamma wakes up. The house is a mess, all her jam is gone, so is her silver tray (Little My used it for a sled), some rugs, her furniture. She is delighted -- there is less to clean, less to worry about. Far from misbehaving, Moomintroll has done everything right.

"Mother, I love you terribly," says Moomintroll, grateful for Moominmamma's loving, skilled and discreet transformation of bad things into good.

"I love you terribly."

That is, of course, exactly what one wants to say and to hear. Among other things, the story is about two mingled wishes: the wish to offer a love one knows is flawed and terrible, and the wish to be made the object of love in return, despite or perhaps even (oh, terrible hope!) because of one's terribleness. Jansson's free, generous genius gives form to both wishes -- and then, bless her, she gratifies them fully. It's probably worth noting that Jansson dedicated this volume of the Moomin series to her mother. Can stories cure depression? Can lost mothers be brought back to life? No, and no. But there's something to be said for the comfort on offer here, for such consolation.

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I See Dead People['s Books] (LibraryThing)

LibraryThing has a group dedicated to the topic: I See Dead People['s] Books. Despite the ghoulish name, what they're chasing is important from a scholarly point of view -- and a business one, too, I think.

One of the most intriguing books I used for my dissertation was a catalogue of Carl Friedrich Gauss's library. Even though I kept coming back to it, I was never able to solve the basic historiographic problem that it posed: What sort of evidence is this? Evidence of what? What kinds of conclusions can be drawn from these data? (LT has just finished a similar project, a catalogue of Thomas Jefferson's library.)

Current academic historiographical conventions disallow, or at least frown upon, claims like "He was a wit, open-eyed and realistic, but susceptible to the epic kinds of romantic enthusiasms you find in his favorite authors, Walter Scott and Jean Paul."

But people in the business of hand-selling -- booksellers and literary agents -- make these calls all the time.

Library data encode important information. We just don't know what sort of information it is. Is it information about mentalities? Literary influences? Certainly, we learn something about what publishers think is worth publishing at any given time. But it's the decision to own that poses the problem -- and the opportunity.

Reflecting on the Jefferson project, LT's founder Tim Spalding put it this way: "Books are a sort of mental world, and shared books a shared mental space."

It's the "sort of" that gets me. Sort of this, sort of that -- we just don't know what to do with this information. We don't even know what to call it. I like Spalding's spatial metaphor, though. Instead of talking about some vague collective consciousness, we're actually talking about something real, even topographical. A shared library.

I have a feeling when big money gets behind LibraryThing (and it will), the idea will be to automate the hand-selling process. Amazon's "If You Like...Then You'll Like" algorithm isn't nearly as precise as LT's library data because the former is based on what you buy (for yourself, yes, but also for your kids, your mother, who likes how-to manuals, your neighbor who likes Tom Clancy, your nephew who really likes obscure poets, etc. etc.) rather than what you love enough to own, meaning make space in your life (on your shelf) for. In contrast, LT's got the data set that publishers really want, and it's been unavailable until now because people don't make their libraries publicly available. But LT could easily aggregate and anonymize the data, circumventing privacy concerns...

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In September, 1830, William Beckford writes to George Clarke in London: "Lord Rochford has left Easton and all his property to the D[uke] of Easton. Were there any books?"

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The Daniel O'Brindle (Not Quite a Kindle)

Good for a larf: Daniel O'Brien spoofs the Kindle.

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A Hotel Called The Library

This hotel in Thailand is called The Library. It really does have a library. Also, a red pool. Hmm.

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Used Books Are Nice

Jane is flipping through my latest purchase, Roger Chartier's The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries.

She points to a page on which the book's previous owner underlined a sentence in pencil. "There's writing in it."

"It's a used book," I tell her. "That's part of the charm."

"Used books are nice," she says after a moment. "They remind you of other people."

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Jet-Lagged & Useless

I am briefly in Munich, trying to work and not succeeding. What I learned today: Nineteenth century Egyptologists [J-STOR; sub required] thought the djed symbol represented a nilometer, but these days no one is at all sure what it means. Well, that ties up one loose end in the new book. Sort of.

I went to the bookstore though, and found (but did not buy) Die Fliegende Berg, a new novel by Christoph Ransmayr... I also read something by Emine Sevgi Ozdamarwho is a very fine, lucid, thoughtful writer who deserves to be better known; I only wish I had more time to do a proper translation of at least the first piece in Der Hof im Spiegel. Silke Scheuermann is very good also, but her new novel Die Stunde zwischen Wolf und Hund isn't in bookstores yet even though the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is publishing tantalizing bits of it. Grr.

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UnSuggester, by LibraryThing

We now have ample confirmation that people who like books by Sophie Kinsella don't generally like those by Immanuel Kant.



Boston for Bibliophiles

Anne Fernald's paean to Boston's bookstores made me homesick for the place. She missed Schoenhofs, though, and post-book-buying tea at Algiers. (She preferred Pamplona.)

Later: MJ rightly points out that I have forgotten the (now closed, and much missed) Avenue Victor Hugo used bookshop, as well as the Trident.

The Book Fair happens next week...

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Whimsical Book Idea of the Day

A book called Vinyl, with the history of that material (from records to naugahyde sofas), with a vinyl cover.

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Today Laura Bush Made Me Laugh

Via TPM, I learned that while on vacation in Crawford, GWB went looking around for a book to read, and the First Lady recommended Camus' The Stranger. In which a callow French man murders an Algerian and is tried, not for his crime, but for his character. The trial, naturally, is a farce, and in the end, Merseault consoles himself that at least others will be happy about his execution.

Hint, hint?

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