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radiantfracture

September 2017

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The St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church not only has a beautiful interior, very like the hull of an overturned ship; it has the best bookshop in town, Churchmouse Books. The shop is a side room filled with gently used volumes released (certainly not discarded) by a congregation of serious readers. All books are obtainable by donation. The other weekend they had an open house and larger book sale, with books laid out all along each pew -- it felt sacred and profane all at once -- whence I fished out this small remarkable creature.

Cover )
Title Page (bit blurry, sorry, it tried to escape) )

It appears to be a teleplay by novelist Elizabeth Bowen about Anthony Trollope: Anthony Trollope: A New Judgement (OUP, 1946). As you can see, it's a beautiful little booklet, maybe A6 size, with a marbled cover, presented more like a monograph than a script.

AbeBooks adds this: "A play broadcast by the BBC in 1945." Hmm, BBC.

Adding "BBC" to the search produces The Wireless Past: Anglo-Irish Writers and the BBC, 1931-1968 via Google Books:

This warning against nostalgia and advocacy of the 'now' appears most clearly in Bowen’s final radio feature, "Anthony Trollope: A New Judgement", which was broadcast two days before VE day in May 1945. In this broadcast, Bowen continues the ghost-novelist conceit of her other radio features while also communicating more explicit messages about the relationship between print culture and nostalgia. The later broadcast was evidently popular—Oxford University Press published the script as a pamphlet in 1946. (100)

It strikes me that while this book may have been of the "now" in 1946, it has become an object of almost irresistible print culture nostalgia. Someone surely was thinking of that, even at the time. The deckle edge. The marbling. And printed right after the war, too, when paper might still have been scarce.

...actually, Wireless goes on to discuss the shortage -- apparently these broadcasts were "oriented towards publics that could not access books" (103). I'm not, via skimming, entirely clear why Bowen is anti-nostalgia, but then, she seems like someone who would be.

Any readers of Bowen? I've only read The Death of the Heart for a graduate course on the modernist novel.

There's no indication on the pamphlet itself that it is a screenplay or was ever broadcast or has anything to do with the BBC -- at first thumb-through, I thought it was a monograph in avant-garde format. Which I guess it is, or rather the record thereof.

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Good day:

Today I received a package from [Bookseller] which I believe was in fulfillment of the order indicated above.

However, when I opened the envelope, it turned out to contain, not Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson, but A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.

This is a wonderful novel, but not the book I ordered. Unless someone else ordered it for me as a gift?

Haunts of the Black Masseur is (by reputation -- I haven't read it) one of those books that is a kind of sport, a genre unto itself: an art historian's surreal history of swimming. A Wizard of Earthsea is, of course, a terrific young adult fantasy novel in the young-wizard-goes-to-school genre, though it's also more than that -- an exploration of what magic might be, of connection to land, of failure and redemption. I know because I own the compact illustrated Puffin edition (1980) and therefore have no immediate need for this second copy.

If this was a case of mistaken identities, I feel a bit sad for the perplexed young person who ordered LeGuin and got my Sprawson. (Then again, maybe it will be a revelation.)

Can you clear up this confusion? Apart from being the wrong book, the order is otherwise entirely satisfactory.

Thank you,

R. Fracture



Note: This letter has been slightly expanded for my own amusement.
Tags:
I almost never cull books, since I am shoring them up against the apocalypse. Once in a long while I let myself admit that there are books a) that I will not read and b) that won't be immediately useful after the revolution. I culled my novels on Saturday, and therefore on Sunday there were thirty boxes of free books at the library. They were left over from a rummage sale for the seniors’ centre.1 I took home five books. I call that remarkable self-control (and illness-induced fatigue).

  1. Samuel Beckett, Stories and Texts for Nothing Grove Press, N.Y. A collection of pieces first published in the Evergreen Review. In terms of material culture, this is the score. It has a great cover: fragments of Beckett's name arranged orthagonally in blue and green. The paper's water-damaged and mustier than I usually accept -- but the illustrations!

    The book is illustrated with terrific 60s-era line drawings, and these drawings are all about the line. Geometrical forms somehow give the effect both of rapid work and of obsessive precision, and the image arises out of their intersection -- almost despite the lines rather than because of them.

    I thought I had a mystery in the illustrator’s name (which I was misreading), until a friend pointed out his credit on the copyright page right where you’d expected it.

    The illustrations are actually by Avigdor Arikha. (Cut for biography intersecting with traumatic 20th C history.) )

    Further instances of obsessive precision behind the cut )

  2. James Thurber, Lanterns and Lances I mean, Thurber. This is an odd artefact, a "Time Reading Program Special Edition"3 printed in or about 1962. The cover is of thick immobile cardboard, matte purple inside. There's no jacket copy, just Thurber's drawings blown up. It is also illustrated, by Thurber, natch. You'll be excited to know it has a New Introduction, probably because it's a posthumous edition.

    A thing I like very much is a book with layered introductions which, as we read forwards, take us backwards into innocence and before death. Alternatively, I have, I think, that edition of James Tiptree, Jr's Warm Worlds and Otherwise with the two introductions, before and after.

  3. (Collected by) Sage Birchwater, Chiwid Now this is interesting. It's an oral history of a Tsilhqot'in woman named Chiwid, born in 1904. She lived in the Chilcotin (a region of British Columbia just south of the Cariboo, where I was born a long time later.) Birchwater seems to have been interested in her because she was famous for living independently on the land, and maybe more as a figure around whom stories crystallized than for herself (she'd died before the book was published).

  4. Christina Rosetti, Goblin Market A tiny Phoenix booklet containing the titular poem and a few others, marked 60p. A lot of UK expats fetch up here.

  5. Vera John-Steiner, Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking Printed in 1985, this is an obviously dated book about modes of thought, but as I leafed through I saw it had a section called “The Thinking of the Body”, which goes to my preoccupation with embodied mentation, so I snagged it on spec. As well as compiling published research, John-Steiner conducted many interviews for the book with subjects from novelists (Margaret Drabble) to psychologists, poets, and scientists (though fewer of these).

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1. I say material culture, but it's just books and ephemera. "Rummage sale" makes me think of a fluted lamp of molded pink glass or a warped cardboard landscape in a heavy wooden frame, but no -- just books.

2. The 5 looks like a 1, but that would be an oddly specific price.

3. More on that imprint here. This edition follows the design specs they detail: "The editions were trade paperbacks, with covers constructed of very stiff plastic coated paper, for durability .... each book had a wraparound cover with a continuous piece of artwork across both covers and the spine".
Early in the year, I vowed (or heavily implied) that I would read only books that, at the end of the year, I'd be glad to have read. Then I got sick, and I guess inasmuch as I'm now glad I've read anything at all that vow is still in force.

Plans of the best-laid varietals.

Here are the top 11 book recommendations I received )

Audiobooks

I’ve been listening to the recent Shirley Jackson biography, A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, using my local library’s Hoopla subscription. It's grand to have effortless access to such a recent audiobook. This doesn't quite count as reading the book since I use it to fall asleep and so have dreamed through many months of Jackson's life. I know the skeleton of her story well enough to be able to pick up wherever I start in again, at least so far. I'm having a little trouble with the voice of the reader; she seems skilled, but a bit mechanical. That could be my brain fog, though.

Books of the paper variety

After Loving, I finished another of the three Henry Green novels in the collection, Party Going. (They are very short novels.) The Howards End re-read is finished in time for book group, but I may not actually go, depending on my health by Sunday. Last time my most insightful contribution was a sporadic hacking cough.

Next, I went on a bit of an Alan Garner bender, reading Red Shift, The Owl Service, and Thursbitch, all of which I liked – probably Red Shift most. It was the most difficult, and had I not already listened to the Backlisted conversation about the book, I would have had quite a lot more work to untangle the threads.

The three books are all roughly the same kind of spell of deep time and sentient landscape (a term I've just learnt by reading reviews), but each through a different myth.

Some spoilers for Red Shift and Owl Service )

I did have a go at puzzling out the message at the end of Red Shift, and by rights should have got it, since I could see what the first sentence had to be and I had the cipher block, but somehow I became hopelessly muddled. I love puzzles, and books that are puzzles, but I am not that perfect reader who actually works the whole business out. I do, though, enjoy a Mystery as much as a Puzzle, so that’s all right.

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Notes

I don't think I get to use "equivalenced" as a transitive verb, but I wish I could.

Here's a link to some discussions of / with Garner. I have not listened to them yet.


Unlinked References

Butler, Catherine (as Charles). “Alan Garner's Red Shift and the Shifting Ballad of ‘Tam Lin’”. Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2001. Web.

(I am delighted to discover Catherine Butler whilst down this rabbit hole.)
This isn't so much a post as an excuse to show you a paper owl.

I went to Russell Books today and -- inspired by Backlisted, my new podcast boyfriend -- hunted up Alan Garner's Red Shift.1

The Owl Service was also on the shelf, which let to this fruitful use of my afternoon:



I like very much that Garner makes his books into puzzles, without its being coy or forced. I am trying to hold off on decoding the ciphered message at the end of Red Shift until I've actually read the book. No spoilers please.

So far I like The Owl Service -- the only thing that makes it a young adult book is the way it leaps immediately into its weirdness, rather than easing you through a process of deduction the way a book with aspirations to a certain kind of maturity -- to creating a realistic unreality -- might.

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0. I looked for, but did not find, the edition of Woolf's The Waves with the absurdly patriarchal back cover copy mentioned elsewhere.

1. I am still compiling the list of essential books recommendations from friends (old, new) and helpful strangers, so right now my reading looks like this: Owl ( Red ( Recommended ( Party (Howards End) Going) Mystery Book ) Shift ) Service, with books for teaching in their own noble stack at my left hand.
Just a quotidian report, for those who like dailiness, and to remind myself that such exists.

Reading, walking, shopping, and Superbowls )

I should perhaps sketch our domestic arrangements. )

As I walked home tonight, it was snowing in minute grains, almost rain, yet not at all sleety -- just a fine particulate crystal on the edge of its melting point.

I am disappointed, obviously, at the symbolism of the Superbowl outcome, but it is in keeping with the register of the year so far.

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1. As I was writing this, I realized that "I made some progress with Howards End" or "I got a bit further into Howards End" and any other metaphors of progress were all going to come out sounding wrong.
2. Though to be fair, "recently" probably means something like 2011. Gah.
3. !!!
This eternal virus1 and the world virus of authoritarianism have made me irritable. In this state (and next door to that one) it's difficult to focus and it's difficult to like things and people.

What better time to review some books?

During my illness, I made very few ventures out, but one was to Sorenson's Books, recently and beautifully rehoused with fellow bookseller Chronicles of Crime in a wonderfully arcane warren more like a dream of seeking than a retail space.

I went to hunt up a copy of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia because they were reading it on Backlisted. I ought to have been looking for Howards End, because that is the next book for book club, but in my fog I could hold only one book in mind at a time. They did not have Venetia. I eventually found it as an abridged audiobook through my local library’s Hoopla subscription, which met my needs perfectly well.

The book I walked out of Sorenson’s with was Loving * Living * Party Going, a Picador omnibus of three of Henry Green’s novels. I was somehow under the impression that they were a series, but Green it seems just loved a gerund.

I’ve been hearing about Green as an under-rated novelist for a good long time, maybe most recently in The New Yorker. He was in my headfiles under to be read (sometime), and this seemed to be bookstore serendipity's signal that it was time.

Henry Green’s Loving )

Mad Shepherds and Other Studies by L.P. Jacks )

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Footnotes

1. Which is to say, this cold I’ve had since Dec 22
2. The wealthy family are named the Tennants. Get it?
3. L.P. stands for "Lawrence Pearsall".
Thanks for the follow-backs, journalfolk. I have no plan for how to make it worth your while.

I am finished Barchester Towers, and glad to be quit of it.

I liked The Warden very much, and there are many things to like about Barchester Towers, but, having read this novel of his, I cannot say with conviction that I like Anthony Trollope. I wonder if the reason I gave up on the Chronicles of Barsetshire all those years ago was my annoyance with this book and specifically its constant lumbering jocularity about the Nature of Woman.

Some of the good qualities of The Warden are still in evidence; Trollope is very good on the pettier, more self-concerned, but not actually evil side of human behavior -- the way that resentment and pride override charity and compassion, for example. Mr. Arabin, ruefully trying to remake his life at 40, moves me, and the signora, though not precisely adequate as a portrait of a woman with a disability, comes close to being a fascinating character study. I wouldn’t say she tips over, quite, into actually being fascinating, though the ambiguity around her injury and its cause, and the constant speculation about What's Under the Blanket, would provide excellent material for, say, Lacan.

The major characters of The Warden seem to have foregone any further personal growth in the sequel and are content to run the little grooves of their personae over and over, like table hockey characters. That was my feeling; the book group liked them better, and thought that the relentless babbling about the hilarious weakness of women was meant more ironically than I did.

(Some poking at the mass conversation (Look! The Victorian Web is still there!) produces various interesting possible positions on this question.) (When I was a youth nothing pleased me more than nested parentheses, especially if I could wrap them all up together at the end: ((())).)

In The Warden there are really no villains – just short-sighted selfish people, and I like that about it. Barchester Towers is painted in broader, almost Dickensian strokes. Mr Slope is stuck in the begged question of bad guys: why is he the villain? Because he's bad. How do you know he's bad? Because he's the villain. Also, red hair. Watch out.

Next up: Howard's End, last read about the same time as BT, which is to say, a very long time ago indeed.

I got violently winded walking to book group yesterday, though the sticky toffee pudding was worth it. Today a little errand walking similarly exhausted me. It was ten days ago the walk-in clinic doctor gave me the puffer and said this thing would play itself out.

So tired. I think tomorrow will be an ugly shirt day (a day when you're too tired to iron the good shirts).

An invitation, of course, to think about illness and wellness, access and ability. Something to discuss with the senora.

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