Sentence of the Day: Missing, Presumed

  • The more you don’t make contact, the more impossible contact becomes, as if silence can enlarge like a seep of blood.

The writing in Missing, Presumed got stronger, the voice more confident, after about the halfway mark.

Today, self was in Heffers and found yet more books she wishes she could have purchased. But — no, it’s too much. She’s hauling luggage to Durham next.

She had to content herself with taking pictures.

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Heffers, Trinity Street, Cambridge: Friday, 23 November 2018

When, oh when, is The Secret Commonwealth, Book 2 of the Book of Dust, coming out? Philip Pullman keeping very mum.

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Waterstones, Sidney Street, Cambridge: Friday, 23 November 2018

Can you imagine, Emily Wilson, whose translation of The Odyssey self bought in hardcover from Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, earlier this year, is reading tonight in Cambridge?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Poetry Wednesday: C. P. Cavafy

An excerpt from Second Odyssey (translated from the Greek by George Economou)

Telemachos’s affection, Penelope’s
fidelity, his father’s longevity,
his band of old friends, his people’s
loyal devotion, the blissful repose of home
poured like rays of joy into the seafarer’s heart.

And just like rays, dissolved.

A thirst
awoke inside him for the sea.

This translation of C. P. Cavafy was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Iowa Review.

Stay tuned.

What’s Available in The Only Bookstore in Redwood City, CA

Self is reviewing her reading list. Really, it’s become almost an obsession. She goes into the closest bookstore to her house, the Barnes & Noble in Sequoia Station, and out of a list of 22 book titles (novels published 2017), she found just these three:

  • As Lie Is to Grin, by Simeon Marsalis
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  • Mikhail and Margarita, by Julie Lekstrom Himes

She doesn’t wish to knock her neighborhood Barnes & Noble because it really is a good store, with a better-than-average fiction section. Anyhoo, congratulations to authors Marsalis, Saunders and Himes for having their books in the store.

BTW, an island book which was recently published and which self highly recommends is Lillian Howan’s The Charm Buyers, set in Tahiti. She read it when it was first published last year and it is just the most luscious thing.

A week ago, self went back to her B & N, toting along a list of 60 titles, all recommended by her fellow Hawthornden writers in June 2012 (She found this list again just a few weeks ago; it was stuck in a drawer), and all she found in the store were these:

  • The Things They Carried and The Lake in the Woods, by Tim O’Brien
  • Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  • The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michael Faber
  • Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Granted, the Hawthornden list is made up of books at least several years old.

When she was last in Mendocino, she took her list of Island Books to Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, and the salesperson, a very nice young man, told her: “With all due respect, these books are pretty old.” (I’d say! For example, these titles: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, published 1927; The Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness, published 1957; A House For Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul; published ___ decades ago?; Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown, published 1972)

She found Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey and when she was paying for it, she kept telling the bookstore person who rang up the sale: This is a very good book! Why do you only have one copy?

And the beleaguered staff person had to say: Well, we don’t normally have people come in from the street asking for The Odyssey.

Poor guy! Self didn’t mean to be so insistent but she is absolutely relentless in her quest for the Holy Grail — er, for the books on her list!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Odyssey, Book 24: Like Bats

Then Hermes called the spirits of the suitors
out of the house. He held the golden wand
with which he casts a spell to close men’s eyes
or open those of sleepers when he wants.
He led the spirits and they followed, squeaking
like bats in secret crannies of a cave,
who cling together, and when one becomes
detached and falls down from the rock, the rest
flutter and squeak — just so the spirits squeaked,
and hurried after Hermes, lord of healing.

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Agamemnon’s spirit meets the spirits of the suitors in Hades and cries out in astonishment:

What happened to you all?
Why have you all come down here to the land
of darkness? You are all so young and strong;
you must have been the best boys in your town.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

And Here We Go: The Odyssey, Books 21 and 22

Book 21 is the archery contest. All the suitors try and fail to string Odysseus’s bow, but the mysterious beggar, who the suitors have been abusing all evening, gets up, strings the bow with ease, and shoots an arrow through the lined-up axe handles.

Then

With his eyebrows
he signaled, and his son strapped on his sword.,
picked up his spear, and stood beside his chair,
next to his father, his bronze weapons flashing.

This is how Book 21 ends. Book 22 begins:

Odysseus ripped off his rags . . .  “Platyime is over.”

Self has read three translations of The Odyssey: Fitzgerald, Fagles, and now Wilson’s.

It’s very fresh, in Emily Wilson’s translation. Despite the fact that it’s probably the one where she’s most aware of formulaic utterances and repetitions. It is a story.

Her favorite character is, oddly enough, not Odysseus but Telemachus. His psychological dilemma is  acute. She really identifies with this young man who grows up fatherless, at the mercy of his mother’s boorish suitors. His journey is almost as epic as his father’s. In one section, Telemachus tells how his house is known for the single son. Laertes, his grandfather, was a single child, and so is Odysseus. So is Telemachus. This seems a rather risky practice, but anyhoo it is certainly a powerful image. And every time Athena makes Odysseus or Penelope more attractive to fool other people, self can’t help thinking: Catfish! Catfish!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

The Importance of Footbaths: The Odyssey, Book 19

Odysseus (disguised as a beggar) to his wife, Penelope:

I do not care for footbaths; do not let
any of these slave women in your house
come near my feet, unless there is an old one
whom I can trust, who has endured the same
heartbreak and sorrow as myself. If so,
I would not mind if she should touch my feet.

Penelope orders an old slave to wash the beggar’s feet, which she does.

Then the old woman took the shining cauldron
used for a footbath; and she filled it up
with water — lots of cold, a splash of hot.

Odysseus Tests Eumaeus: The Odyssey, Book 14

The swineherd Eumaeus to Odysseus disguised as a beggar:

. . .  You will get all the clothes and things
a poor old beggar needs — at least for now.
But in the morning, you will have to put
your old rags on again. We only have
one outfit each, no spares.

We Meet Scylla: The Odyssey, Book 12

The Odyssey is the greatest adventure story ever told.

No other book she reads this year will come close.

Now to Scylla:

She has twelve dangling legs and six long necks
with a gruesome head on each, and in each face
three rows of crowded teeth, pregnant with death.
Her belly slumps inside the hollow cave;
she keeps her heads above the yawning chasm
and scopes around the rock, and hunts for fish.
She catches dolphins, seals, and sometimes even
enormous whales . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

The Odyssey: Book 10, The Winds and the Witch

One of the smallest stories follows. After the horror of the Cyclops and the magic spells of Circe, this counts as a very wee segue (but, by a strange coincidence, she’s at the point in The Amber Spyglass when Lyra and Will head for the Land of the Dead):

The youngest one — Elpenor was his name —
not very brave in war, not very smart,
was lying high up in the home of Circe,
apart from his companions, seeking coolness
since he was drunk. He heard the noise and bustle,
the movements of his friends, and jumped up quickly,
forgetting to climb down the lofty ladder.
He fell down crashing headlong from the roof,
and broke his neck, right at the spine. His spirit
went down to Hades.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Circe to Odysseus, Book 10 (“The Winds and the Witch”)

CIRCE to Odysseus:

Now sheathe your sword
and come to bed with me. Through making love
we may begin to trust each other more.

Holy cow, Circe! Could you dial it back a little?

Odysseus is suspicious, and rightly so:

How can you command me
to treat you gently, when you turned my men
to pigs . . .
so you can take my courage and my manhood
when you have got me naked? I refuse . . .

Wait, didn’t Hermes tell Odysseus NOT TO REFUSE CIRCE?

Odysseus, my man, you had one job. ONE job.

Stay tuned.

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