Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I long ago promised myself that I would not give $18 to Dan Brown nor would I scorn the book entirely: I'd just wait for paper. I'm not very deep into the book but this is proving a particularly happy moment to read it. The dear one's baby sister is due to arrive any day--like her older sister, she is taking her time and waiting beyond her due date--and nothing kills the hours of counting contractions and going to the seventh or eighth "final" doctor's appointment better than a book about "the sacred feminine" and a bunch of strange men who believe that pain is good...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ticknor Week

It’s Ticknor Week over at the Lit Blog Co-op. You can read the great funny posts about it from Sam (aka Golden Rule Jones) and Mark (aka The Elegant Variation). And don’t forget—everyone who comments this round is entered into a drawing to receive a complete set of the nominated books!

The book’s premise emerges from the longstanding friendship between Harvard professor George Ticknor (1791-1871) and the epic historian William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859). Ticknor wrote an acclaimed biography of Prescott, turning himself into a Boswell as, apparently, many reviews of the time noted. Multivolume nineteenth-century histories are generally not my bag, but I’m told by my husband that, where Francis Parkman is the historian most people seeking to delve into multivolume 19th-century histories go to first, it was clear to him that all the cool kids would turn to Prescott. He likened it to announcing a preference for Finnegans Wake over Ulysses.

In any case, the novel isn’t really about these men. It isn’t really even very accurate. (The real Ticknor was married with children.) But the jealousy, the ambivalence—and worse—about being a second banana—are very real indeed. It’s an amazing little big book and definitely worth your time.

I had kind of a love-hate relationship with the slim Ticknor myself. Ultimately, I liked it enough that it still rings in my head, I still wonder what I think about some of its experiments. I may post some more thoughts about that myself over at the LBC later this week. Stay tuned….

Saturday, April 22, 2006

To a Little Invisible Being Who Is Expected Soon to Become Visible

by Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825)

Germ of new life, whose powers expanding slow
For many a moon their full perfection wait, --
Haste, precious pledge of happy love, to go
Auspicious borne through life's mysterious gate.

What powers lie folded in thy curious frame, --
Senses from objects locked, and mind from thought!
How little canst thou guess thy lofty claim
To grasp at all the worlds the Almighty wrought!

And see, the genial season's warmth to share,
Fresh younglings shoot, and opening roses glow!
Swarms of new life exulting fill the air, --
Haste, infant bud of being, haste to blow!

For thee the nurse prepares her lulling songs,
The eager matrons count the lingering day;
But far the most thy anxious parent longs
On thy soft cheek a mother's kiss to lay.

She only asks to lay her burden down,
That her glad arms that burden may resume;
And nature's sharpest pangs her wishes crown,
That free thee living from thy living tomb.

She longs to fold to her maternal breast
Part of herself, yet to herself unknown;
To see and to salute the stranger guest,
Fed with her life through many a tedious moon.

Come, reap thy rich inheritance of love!
Bask in the fondness of a Mother's eye!
Nor wit nor eloquence her heart shallmove
Like the first accents of thy feeble cry.

Haste, little captive, burst thy prison doors!
Launch on the living world, and spring to light!
Nature for thee displays her various stores,
Opens her thousand inlets of delilght.

If charmed verse or muttered prayers had power,
With favouring spells to speed thee on thy way,
Anxious I'd bid my beads each passing hour,
Till thy wished smile thy mother's pangs o'erpay.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


As readers at Fernham well know, there is the kind of copyediting hell that I just emerged from, and then there is normal—or even fun—copyediting. So it goes for editing, too. Here, I’m talking about the comments one receives from peers early in the publication process. They really run the gamut. I once got a reader’s report that went into great detail about how insufficiently Marxist my piece was. That puzzled me: I’m not one bit Marxist at all, so it’s hard to argue with the charge of insufficient Marxism. If you’re looking for a Marxist reading of literature, I’d recommend you look elsewhere.

About a month ago, a reader’s report sat, radioactive, on my desk for a couple weeks. It began: “I think there are some good things in this essay, but that in its present form it doesn't seem publishable to me.”

“Geez, hon, what are you reading? Someone must have sent you some real junk,” laughed my beloved husband.

“Um…that’s about my writing.”


So, after sending my manuscript off to India, I looked at emails from two editors for two forthcoming short pieces with trepidation and irritation: what now?

Email #1 requested that I please send us an updated contributor’s note and sign the attached copyright agreement. #2 is pleased with my contribution but wonders if I could make it 250 words shorter.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring's READ THIS announced @ LBC

Head on over to the litblog co-op and then to your favorite book store or library to read about, acquire, and read this, Television, by Jean-Philippe Toussaint.

Poem of the Day (April 15)

I really like this one:
I May After Leaving You Walk Quickly or Even Run
by Matthea Harvey

Rain fell in a post-romantic way.
Heads in the planets, toes tucked

under carpets, that’s how we got our bodies
through. The translator made the sign

for twenty horses backing away from
a lump of sugar. Yes, you.

When I said did you want me
I meant me in the general sense.

The drink we drank was cordial.
In a spoon, the ceiling fan whirled.

The Old World smoked in the fireplace.
Glum was the woman in the ostrich feather hat.

From The Best American Poetry 2006, just published by Scribner, via the American Academy of Poets' daily email.

My favorite line: “The drink we drank was cordial.” The pun on cordial is lovely and restrained.

I like the gap between the formality of the poem and the colloquial title: the placement of “after leaving you” is unusual but everything else about the title expresses passion in need of an outlet.

Then, the English-major beginning, “a post-romantic way.” I don’t know what it means but it immediately connotes a speaker who’s a bit too smart.

I love trying to imaging what the sign “for twenty horses backing away from / a lump of sugar” might be and then, the poignant hilarity of that image as applied to a really, really stupidly gun-shy blind date.

I’ve been on those dates—where, for reasons mysterious, the man you find so attractive seems to find you somehow a bit too much; where, the lump of sugar you offer looks, to his eyes, terrifying.

And yes, the best thing to do afterwards is often to walk away quickly or even run.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Radio, Radio

So fun to listen to tune in late to a long NPR interview and try to figure out who is being interviewed. I heard a man with a lovely accent, Caribbean--no, African--talking with great assurance about his own rightness. He spoke about corrupt regimes in Africa and the role he had had in bringing them down and I wondered, is this man corrupt, too, or is he a great an noble person, a hero? He spoke about his experience of Independence (he was a young man, in college) and his rather quick recognition that the new, black leaders were not much less corrupt than the English who had just left and I thought about a great story by Bessie Head and also about the phenomenon of the “big men” that Ama Ata Aidoo skewers in Our Sister Killjoy. (The “big men” are European-educated Africans who return home to Africa and, although they know how to drive, insist upon having drivers [often men who do not know how to drive and crash the cars], and proudly spend time with the whites in Africa and wax nostalgic about Mother England.) But it took me a long time to know who was speaking.

Then, he spoke about Nigeria and Nigerian literature and, at last, I figured it out: Wole Soyinka! Hurrah! A wonderful interview on the Leonard Lopate show. Soyinka will be at the 92nd St. Y on Monday. You can find a link to a review of his memoir over at Moorish girl:
Events: Wole Soyinka will be speaking
Monday, April 17 at 8 pm
The 92nd Street Y
For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit

Leonard Lopate is also co-hosting the May BBC book club in NYC which will discuss the work of another towering African writer, Chinua Achebe. You can actually go to the taping and ask a question in person. Or, submit one via email. Wow!

I’m late to this whole newfangled podcasting thing, but as I write, I’m listening to the Bat Segundo show. If you haven’t downloaded any of these interviews, do. They’re funny and moving and great. He’s had two really BIG gets this month—Erica Jong (who is right now talking about what she thinks about The Da Vinci Code) and Jay McInerney. Don't know if I have the stamina for more McInerney--that might be too much of an 80s hangover for me--but the Jong is terrific. Boy I like her. You can see that she's a good teacher.

Finally, and not on radio, be sure to pop on over to the Lit Blog Co-op. Discussions of the spring nominees and the spring Read This! selection start on Monday. Mail off your taxes and tune in. In a change of procedure, we’re announcing the summer nominees early. They are:
  • Michael Martone by Michael Martone from FC2
  • White Spirit by Paule Constant (translated by Betsy Wing) from University of Nebraska Press
  • Skin by Kellie Wells from University of Nebraska Press
  • Crawl Space by Edie Meidav from FSG
Beautiful Nebraska! Two nominees!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Copyediting: the final frontier

I sent the manuscript off to Chennai at noon today. I won’t see it again for six weeks when it will be in proofs. Finally, my publishers took note of my grousing and asked their own people in New York to look at the job that was done. They agreed with my assessment that, for every error the copyeditor found, she missed two. The NYC production manager even offered a list of corrections to three of the pages. These run along lines like this:
  • page 31, line 2: should be “beliefs” not “belief”
  • page 31, line 4: clause unclear, ask author for clarification. Perhaps “and at her”?
  • page 32, line 3: comma required after “see”

In short, they look like copyediting. Of the eight or so items on his list, I had caught six or seven, so I am not such a bad copyeditor. Still, this means that roughly one per cent of my manuscript has now been properly copyedited by my press.

Now, anyone who writes a scholarly book would be deluded to think that the world waits with bated breath for its arrival. However, it hurts to have that worldly indifference enacted so flagrantly by one’s own publisher. Still, I do think there are good things in my book and even occasionally enjoyed revisiting some of the ideas I tease out. In short, as utterly demoralizing as this experience has been—and it’s been one of the worst, if not the single worst, writing experiences of my life—I am striving not to turn my animus on the book itself.

There is good news, however. The press—or its contracted agency—will input all my corrections and print them out again. This corrected typescript will then be given to a senior copyeditor at the same company who will copyedit it a second time. These corrections will then be set to proof. I will receive a copy of the second round of copyediting alongside the proofs. This way, the proofs will be as clean as possible and I’ll get to see for sure what the senior copyeditor has changed. They have assured me, too, that I won’t be charged for changes at the proof stage.

I’m putting this all behind me as of now. But I have enjoyed reading others’ stories of the road to publication and I thought my sad little tale might make for some good schadenfreude among my readers. My experience is certainly different from Michael Berube’s, who got to copyedit his book in the UNC Press offices where people actually seemed to care about his getting idioms right:
I’m still in a copyediting frenzy, and my plane for State College leaves in two hours. I finished the page proofs for What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? last night, having spent the entire day slogging through the first copyedit of Rhetorical Occasions. But I had the odd experience of copyediting a book for the University of North Carolina Press in the offices of the University of North Carolina Press, surrounded by the people who’ve been working on the book for the past year. That was cool. Also extremely efficient. Whenever I ran into a snag, I would just holler randomly down the hall: “hey,” I hollered randomly, “is ‘cohort of theorists’ singular or plural”? This launched a learned debate about whether “cohort” implies the kind of collectivity and loss of individuality one associates with “herd,” since of course “herd” is singular. It was finally decided by a 17-12 vote that “cohort” is plural, which suggests that the staff of the UNC Press are a cohort rather than a herd.

But then, I’m no Michael Berube.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Copyediting III: the Nightmare continues

So this is what it comes down to. After years and years of work, in the final few days, I need to decide: is it “counter-public sphere” or “counter public sphere”?

(Reasonable scholarly sources are split; I picked the hyphen.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Poetry Month

In honor of poetry month, here’s one especially for Bud who’s been battling rats!

The Rats by Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

In the yard the autumn moon shines white,
The roof-edge drops fantastic shadows;
A silence dwells in the empty windows
From which the rats now quietly plunge

And flit about, squeaking, here and there;
A grayish misty exhalation
From the outhouse sniffs after them,
Spectral moonlight trembling through it,

And the rats brawl avidly as if mad
Filling up the house and barn loft
Already full of grain and fruit,
Icy winds whimper in the yard.

I came across this wonderful, spooky little poem in John Hollander’s collection, Animal Poems for young people. It’s got challenging, lovely poems by great poets and vivid lovely illustrations that bleed to the edge of every page, giving the book extra intensity. Simona Mulazzani did them.

I love the way the poem does not quite tip its hand about its attitude to the rats: there’s more sympathy for them than I generally have, but they are still spooky, mad, scary—even the wind seems a bit afraid of them.

If you go to the Academy of American Poets’ website you can, as I have done, sign up for a poem a day to be delivered to your email in box all month. Strangely, humorously, a glitch in their system led to the delivery of twenty copies of Louise Gluck’s wonderful “A Myth of Devotion” on Saturday. At first, I thought it an April Fool’s joke! They seem to have fixed the error and I’ve just gotten one since.

Enjoy the poetry. Steer clear of the vermin!