July 15, 2015 by Reader's Connection
On Saturday, October 10th, at the Indiana Author Award Dinner at Central Library, Marianne Boruch will be given the award in the National Author category, Adrian Matejka will receive the award in the Regional Author category, and one of three finalists–Clifford Garstang, Skila Brown, or Laura Bates–will receive the award in the Emerging Author category.
Click on the award icon for more details about the award.
National Award Winner: Marianne Boruch
Born out of a gross anatomy course, the title poem of Boruch’s eighth collection is a 30-part sequence in the voice of the 99-year-old woman whose body was dissected in the class: “The body–before they opened me–the darkest dark// must live in there. Where color is wasted./ Because I hear them look:/ bright green of gallbladder, shocked yellow fat.” Boruch’s broad attention, intelligence, and imagination manage questions of death, physicality, and the transactions of knowledge both within the lab and across history. Every moment is charged with multiple meanings–narrative, scientific, epistemological, ontological–as the deceased speaker references her own life and death, comments on dissection techniques, explores anatomical formalities, and ponders the clinical and social negotiations of the medical students (“The way one of them,// I’m sorry to me/ when her knife flashes wrong.”). Equally concerned with mortality and meaning, the collection’s other poems are contained lyric meditations anchored in the real and specific. – Publishers Weekly
Regional Award Winner: Adrian Matejka
The third book from Matejka (Mixology) covers the life of legendary heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and like a fighter in the ring, these poems are fierce and fast on their feet: “It’s always better to whip than/ to be whipped, so I took the fight/ straight to the bigger boy. Not long// after, fighting became a way/ to make money.” This Jack Johnson, whose channeled voice dominates the book, resembles the real-life boxer in his lovers, opponents, enthusiasm for opera, and in the marks racism left on his life: “I always abide by the rules inside/ of the ring. Those dock fights were/ more about survival than winning.” The five sections here are woven with lyrics, letters, and brief interviews. Strongest are the shadow-boxing poems, titled alternately “Shadow-Boxing” and “The Shadow Knows,” because they go far beyond elaboration in verse to argue with the dominant narrative: “You’re not fooling me/ by quoting Shakespeare, Mr. Champion of the Negro/ World. No matter how/ carefully you enunciate,/ Tiny was a slave/ & the condition of the son/ follows the condition/ of the mother.” Matejka’s project straddles that risky line between life and art, and some readers may question whether it transforms Johnson’s life sufficiently into art, but others will find this to be a powerful and accessible poetry collection. — Publishers Weekly
Emerging Author Award Nominees:
What the Zhang Boys Know has a dozen chapters, each one a vivid short story in itself. Garstang makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The lives of the inhabitants of a condominium in Washington, D.C’s Chinatown are told separately AND as part of a web of entanglements. The entrances and exits are handled with the deftness of a French comedy, but the empathy of the author brings all the characters achingly alive. What the Zhang Boys Know is a wonderful and haunting book. – John Casey, author of Compass Rose and Spartina, winner of the National Book Award
“Forest sounds / all around / but on the ground / the sound / of Me / grew. Echoed. / I heard a path I could not see.” Exquisitely crafted poems are the basis of an unusually fine verse novel set in 1981, in the middle of the Guatemalan Civil War. When the government helicopters appear over the small village of Chopán, young Carlos obeys his mother when she tells him to go into the forest to hide. When all is quiet, he climbs down from his tree and soon comes across a group of four guerrilla rebel soldiers, lost in the forest. They confirm his greatest fears — that Chopán was burned to the ground, and that the people there were massacred by the government soldiers. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Carlos begins to walk — caminar — on a mission to reach his grandmother’s village at the top of the mountain, to warn them about the helicopters. The poems, all written from Carlos’s point of view, are emotional, visceral, and lyrical. Layered and varied, some are shape poems; some can be read in more than one way, as if written from two perspectives; and all are accessible to young readers. When Carlos first encounters Paco, the rebel soldier his own age, their meeting is described in a poignant mirror poem. All combine to give us a chillingly memorable portrait of one child surviving violence and loss in a time of war. — Horn Book
The unorthodox bonding of a Shakespeare instructor and a convicted murderer. Beginning in 2003, English professor Bates (Indiana State Univ.) began an inaugural group-study program in a solitary confinement prison space, much to the chagrin of the university department chairperson, who found the foray into criminal education a risky venture. The author’s history with prison education extends back to 1983, when she volunteered at Chicago’s Cook County jail while studying for her doctorate. She then taught English classes and Shakespeare studies at Indiana’s supermax Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, an institution housing her home state’s most dangerous criminals. There, she taught an inmate who became the first to seriously frighten her, even after many years boldly volunteering in solitary confinement. The prisoner was “caged beast” Larry Newton, a nefarious yet intellectually sharp murderer serving a life sentence without parole for crimes committed as a teenager. Bates inherited her mother’s “mix of fearlessness and fearfulness,” which fostered the way into the maximum security penitentiary to host an intellectual discussion on Shakespeare’s plays. The author emerges as a selfless tutor dedicated to education without reservation, and she fought hard to educate Newton and other surprisingly charismatic inmates, whom she profiles with a dignified mixture of pride and humanitarianism. The 10 years spent in supermax became a transformative journey for students and teacher alike. An eye-opening study reiterating the perennial power of books, self-discipline and the Bard of Avon — Kirkus Reviews
For more information about the Award Dinner, please contact the Library Foundation at 317-275-4700 or email@example.com. Thanks to a generous grant from The Glick Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation, 100% of the proceeds from the Award Dinner will benefit programs of The Indianapolis Public Library and Indianapolis Public Library Foundation.
July 13, 2015 by Reader's Connection
It’s called the ALL IN Irvington Pleasant Run FLOW, and its purpose is to raise awareness of Pleasant Run waterway, celebrate the Pennsy Trail, and encourage community interconnection, cooperation and collaboration. Click here for more details.
And on Monday, August 3rd, at 6:30 p.m., in anticipation of the FLOW, the Irvington Library will host of discussion Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, which is a 2012 update of a 2002 book.
Author Florida brings his book up to date to reflect recent trends in the growth of a new economic class made up of architects and engineers as well as writers, artists, musicians, educators, and innovators in business and law. Data and statistics demonstrate that rather than being driven by corporations or technology, economic growth occurs most in places that are tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity, because these are places where creative people of all types want to live for quality of life reasons. This edition integrates insights from the 2008 recession and the Occupy Movement and offers new chapters on the global spread of the creative class, the geography of inequality in the US, and the continuing influence of class as a force shaping the economy, politics, and health. A new final chapter presents six key principles for creating new institutions to rebuild our economy and society. — Book News Reviews
From an announcement about these programs: “FLOW is an example of creative placemaking, a collaborative effort to improve the quality, character or experience of a place. Examples include festivals, community gardens, farmer’s markets, block parties and public art.”
And the announcement includes links to sites about creative placemaking:
If you were wondering, Irvington Library’s regular book discussion will take place on August 13th, and will feature Ellen Straub’s The Vacationers. It will be included when I do my blog post of August book discussions.
July 9, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Whoever you are, you fit into one of 4 categories:
1. You have read Lawrence Block’s novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, but you haven’t seen the movie.
2. You have seen the movie, A Walk Among the Tombstones, but you haven’t read the book.
3. You have done both. Book & movie. My personal category.
4. You have done neither. My blog post is addressed chiefly to those in this fourth category, and my message, of course, is Read the book first.
A personal story: Over the 4th of July weekend, at a family gathering, I saw a stack of DVDs that someone had rented. A Walk Among the Tombstones was on top of the stack, which made me go Wooo hooo.
I hadn’t seen the film in a theater last autumn, but I’d rented it from a Redbox earlier this year. The changed ending didn’t make me happy (detective Matthew Scudder is more of an action hero than he is in the book), and I had mixed feelings about the story’s being told partly from a point of view of other than Matt’s, which allows the filmmakers to dwell on unsavory elements. Members of categories 2 & 3 will know what I mean.
As revealed in at least one earlier blog post, I’m a Scudder fanatic. It’s true that while reading A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, an incredibly violent Scudder novel, I have thought to myself I wouldn’t want to watch a movie of this. But the attempt to film Tombstones was worth the effort. Liam Neeson is a fine Matthew Scudder. Dan Stevens, whom you may or may not recognize as the fellow who played another Matthew on Downton Abbey, is a interesting surprise as a New York drug trafficker who hires Scudder to find his wife’s kidnappers.
I like it that the movie is set in New York, and–if IMDb is correct–at least some of its exteriors were shot there. A movie was once made of the Scudder novel Eight Million Ways to Die, but they moved the story to Los Angeles, which was preposterous. Sorry to complain about that again.
Back to my 4th of July story. I did not tell my brothers and sisters “You’re all going to love this.” I did not say it was a great movie. I just said that I loved the books, and would be glad to watch the movie again. I warned them, at least twice, that the movie (like the book) was “nasty.”
My family nevertheless freaked out. After the first horrific moment and its subsequent groans and gasps, I said, “Hey, we should watch something else!” But it was too late. They were locked in to being freaked out, and voted against switching to Paddington, which we watched the next night.
So is my family partly to blame, since they chose to press on? It doesn’t matter. I felt guilty, and still do. I love these people, and I helped to lead them down a dark road for which they weren’t prepared with flashlights or flares. So to those of you in Category 4–whom I might love, too, if I knew you–I say again: Read the book first. Then, if you feel like it, check out the DVD.
A Walk Among the Tombstones is also available as an audiobook on CD.
Hey, wait. I posted this, yesterday, but I want to add a complaint about the movie. Not enough side characters. I like Brian “Astro” Bradley, who plays TJ, but where is Elaine Mardell, the prostitute who has become Matt’s girl friend? Jim Faber, Matt’s AA sponsor? Joe Durkin, the cop?
July 6, 2015 by Reader's Connection
• I am reading my way through Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge, as created by Rachel Manwill. I doubled the requirement, so the goal for the year is 48 books.
• 28 down, 20 to go.
• With the doubling, I’ve decided to change a rule: Rereads are to be avoided, but they’re allowed on my chart if the reading is compulsive, and as long as one of the books in each category is a first time read.
|A book written by someone when he or she was under the age of 25|
|A book written by someone when he or she was over the age of 65||John Barth’s novel Every Third Thought. I may not blog about it, though. Didn’t enjoy it much.|
|A collection of short stories||Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link|
|A book published by an indie press||Song of the Shank, by Jeffery Renard Allen, published by Graywolf Press||Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner, published by Tupelo Press|
|A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ||The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín||James Merrill, Life and Art by Langdon Hammer|
|A book by a person whose gender is different from your own||The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss||Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto A compulsive re-read.||In the Freud Archives, by Janet Malcolm Another compulsive re-read.|
|A book that takes place in Asia||The Kite Runner & And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Yes, I know, the characters move around, not everything happens in Afghanistan. But I say: these characters all take Afghanistan with them.|
|A book by an author from Africa||The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu.|
|A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture||Forty Days Without Shadow, by Olivier Truc, about the Sami of Sápmi|
|A microhistory||Stay : A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It Microhistories don’t have to be about little things like salt and pepper shakers.|
|A YA novel||The Hybrid Chronicles, by Kat Zhang I had read the first of the trilogy, What’s Left of Me, a few years ago, and I knew I wanted to read the rest to meet the challenge.|
|An SF novel||Frederik Pohl’s Gateway and Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, the first two books in his Heechee saga|
|A romance novel||New Uses for Old Boyfriends, by Beth Kendrick||Smoke and Fire, by Julie Cannon|
|A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade|
|A book that is a retelling of a classic story|
|An audiobook–but I’m unable to listen to audiobooks safely, so I’ve invented a new category: Read a magazine, cover to cover.||The May 2015 issue of Poetry||And then the June issue|
|A collection of poetry||Who Said, by Jennifer Michael Hecht|
|A book that someone else has recommended to you||Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton, recommended (more or less) in a poem by Ostriker’s wife.|
|A book that was originally published in another language||Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, trans. from the Italian by William Weaver|
|A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, or a collection of comics of any kind||Justice League 3000. Volume 1, Yesterday Lives|
|A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure||Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book Felt guilty because I didn’t think I’d get a blog post out of it. Eventually blogged about it, but the guilt was while I was reading.|
|A book published before 1850|
|A book published this year|
|A self-improvement book||I had left this one out, and Chris kindly commented, and I shamefacedly responded.|
The Red Window appears, as always, courtesy of Adrian Stasiak.
July 2, 2015 by Reader's Connection
What have Meryl
an’ Tom an’
It’s also the worst title I’ve ever invented for a blog post, but I was afraid to call it, “Here’s a wonderful 800-page biography of a poet I like. Listen up.”
So what do Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and James Merrill have in common?
Stonington Borough, Connecticut, that’s what.
Many of the outdoor shots for the film Hope Springs, in which Streep and Jones appear–and which were supposedly set in the Maine town of that name, to which they go for marriage counseling–were actually filmed in Stonington.
Local newspapers were interested in what was filmed where.
And it was in this house on Water Street in Stonington that James Merrill (1926-1995) and his companion David Jackson lived off-and-on from 1955 to the ends of their lives. It was here that they began consulting their “familiar spirit” Ephraim on a Ouija board, a consultation which resulted in some of the 20th century’s weirdest poetry.
Langdon Hammer’s new biography, James Merrill: Life and Art, does a wonderful job of telling the poet’s story. We learn, or learn in more detail, that:
• Merrill was the son of Charles Merrill, the co-founder of Merrill Lynch. The poet’s wealth allowed him to travel, to live here and there—in Athens and Key West, as well as Stonington and NYC—and to take his time working toward the kind of poetry he wanted to write.
• His parents divorced when he was just getting into his teens, and it messed him up for life.
• He didn’t have much use for the “confessional” poetry that was becoming popular as he was beginning his career, or for “beat” poets like Allen Ginsberg; and he felt that T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound had been too “impersonal, oracular.”
• Some of Merrill’s early work was attacked as being too elegant, and lacking an emotional, real-world base. The charge of being an overly elegant rich boy never quite went away, but he learned to fuse his emotions and perceptions with an incredible range of styles–to use what he thought of as a poetic human voice.
Of course you readers already know
Your blogger’s brow is terribly low.
I didn’t pay Merrill much attention
‘Til his poems entered the Ouija dimension.
There wasn’t any particular reason for me to buy a copy of Merrill’s 1976 collection Divine Comedies. I don’t think I knew about the Ouija board carry-on.
But I was enthralled by the book’s longest poem, “The Book of Ephraim,” in which that familiar spirit tells JM and DJ how the world works. We are all representatives of disincarnate patrons. We have been incarnated many times. There are different levels of incarnation.
And so on. Such a description doesn’t let let you know how the different sections of the poem work together, or why Harold Bloom would have called the poem an “occult splendor.” After reading it a few times, I went back and read some earlier Merrill; and I’m thankful to Langdon Hammer for leading me to some poems,early and late, that I hadn’t read.
In addition to reading and enjoying earlier Merrill poems, I also–for better or worse–bought a copy of The Changing Light at Sandover. This book brings “The Book of Ephraim” together with two Ouija-inspired poems that are much longer and were books in themselves: Mirabell: Books of Number and Scripts for the Pageant. Ephraim takes a back seat in these books, while invisible bat-like spirits rattle on about the lost city of Atlantis and a cosmic eugenics program. These longer books have their moments, but I don’t think I’ll ever reread them, the way I reread “The Book of Ephraim.”
Langdon Hammer gives a wonderful account of their composition, though; and I was glad that he highlighted the wallpaper talk at the beginning of Mirabell, which always makes smile when I think of it.
Gay Liberation was the necessary condition for this convincing description of [Merrill and Jackson’s] “gay marriage.” Whatever else it might be, Mirabell is a document from the post-Stonewall era in the struggle for gay rights . . .
The openness of Mirabell has less to do with gay sex, however, than with gay talk. The language of the bats is so weird and arresting, we might overlook another stylistic innovation in the poem: the explosion in verse of the camp idiom Merrill used with gay friends . . . Camp had been a poetic resource for Merrill for years. But he’d never before given such free reign to languour, gossip, and hilarity, and this in the context of his most elevated, manifestly serious work. The long poem begins by turning the solemn conventions of epic beginning inside out: “O very well, then. Let us broach the matter/Of the new wallpaper in Stonington.” Putting interior decoration in the first lines of the poem in a breezy parody of the fey homosexual’s supposedly trivial concerns, Merrill honors another gay male writer by subtle allusion to the opening of E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End (“One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.”) The epic drama of Mirabell begins in a gay couple’s parlor, where the serious is felt as frivolous and only the frivolous can be taken seriously–the first rule of camp.
The library’s copy of Merrill’s Collected Poems seems to have been reincarnated on another level, but if Langdon Hammer inspires you to read more Merrill, we do own James Merrill: Selected Poems. We also have his Collected Prose.
Hammer sometimes mentions a poem that isn’t included in Selected Poems. When that happens, have a look at an earlier collection, From the First Nine: Poems, 1946-1976.
I was thinking of passing the buck and saying that author Frederick Buechner, Merrill’s friend from school days, was appalled when he read Merrill’s memoir A Different Person (1993). I read only a part of that memoir when it came out, and may not have reached the appalling parts.
But I have to say that while reading Hammer’s biography I was troubled by the ways that Merrill’s wealth allows him to maneuver in his relations with Greek guys of a different economic/educational/aspirational class. Hammer is sometimes troubled, too.
Enough of that. You’ve been warned. If you’re interested in Merrill at all, this is a glorious biography.
I was going to wrap this up with a poem that brought Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones and James Merrill and David Jackson back together in Stonington; but it didn’t work out. You can breathe easy.
The three images that aren’t cover art are all from Wikimedia Commons. Not sure if I’m supposed to add:
Meryl Streep: Andreas Tai.
Tommy Lee Jones: gdcgraphics.
The Water Street house: Creative Commons, which I think also applies to the other two.