David Ferry’s New Translation of Virgil’s Aeneid

David Ferry’s new translation of  Virgil’s Aeneid  has just been published by University of Chicago Press.

Are you excited?  I am.

That’s because I know Ferry’s poetry.  In his National Book Award-winning collection, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, he included excerpts from his translation of the Aeneid.  Ferry is not only a translator, but a poet in his own right.

I reread Virgil in Latin every year (yes, I’m a classicist), but not everybody is so lucky. When I taught the Aeneid in Latin,  I also assigned parts of Robert Fagles’ translation, because intermediate students could not read the poem in entirety in Latin in a semester.   The translation gave them a broader perspective on the poem as a whole.

Michael Dirda of The Washington Post is enthusiastic about Ferry’s new translation, and about Virgil in general.  He writes,

Ours is a great age for classical translation. Just in the past dozen years, Virgil’s “Aeneid” has been tackled by Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo, Frederick Ahl, Sarah Ruden and, now, David Ferry, who previously gave us the best modern English version of Horace’s odes . Being the work of an award-winning poet, Ferry’s “Aeneid” can be read with excitement and pleasure — but so can all those other translations. What really matters is to read at least one of them.

And Dirda beautifully explains the influence of Virgil’s epic on Western culture..  He reminds us that after Virgil’s death in 19 B.C.,

For the next 1,800 years, “The Aeneid” was generally viewed as the preeminent masterpiece of the Western literary tradition. Its famous opening words, “Arma virumque cano” — Ferry translates them straightforwardly as “I sing of arms and the man” — can be found scribbled as graffiti at Pompeii. An awed Dante follows the arch-poet through Hell and Purgatory. In essence, wherever Latin was studied, Virgil’s poetry was revered. An English “Aeneid” first appeared in a 16th-century Scottish version by Gavin Douglas — highly praised by Ezra Pound — and was followed in the 17th century by John Dryden’s classic rendering in heroic couplets.

Robert Fagles’ translation is very good.

I love the Aeneid, and have often tried to sell it as a beach book:  see my post on The Epic As Beach Read.   I said, “The best beach epic of all, and possibly the best epic poem in any language, is Virgil’s Aeneid,  the story of the founding of Rome by a refugee of the Trojan War.”

Every Roman schoolboy read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in Greek, and the Aeneid is in part Virgil’s homage to Homer. The first half of the Aeneid corresponds to the Odyssey, as Aeneas and the survivors of the Trojan War sail from their native country to find a new home in Italy (Rome), their journey as long and tangled and god-thwarted as that of the trickster Odysseus.  And the last half of the Aeneid is a  Roman Iliad, the story of the war between the Trojans and inhabitants of  Italy, before they can found Rome, as the gods prophesied. 

The Aeneid has been read as a celebration of empire; it has also been read as an anti-war poem. Most important, it is a great story, with beautiful imagery and complex figures of speech.

Most translations of Virgil have good introductions. The Fagles has detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and place lists.  (I do not yet have Ferry’s book, but have already read many excerpts, and assume there are notes. I also recommend his translation of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics.)

Meanwhile, here is Ferry’s elegant translation of the first 34 lines of Book I of the Aeneid.

Virgil’s Aeneid Translation of Book I. 1-34

I sing of arms and the man whom fate had sent
To exile from the shores of Troy to be
The first to come to Lavinium and the coasts
Of Italy, and who, because of Juno’s
Savage implacable rage, was battered by storms
At sea, and from the heavens above, and also
Tempests of war, until at last he might
Build there his city and bring his gods to Latium,
From which would come the Alban Fathers and
The lofty walls of Rome. Muse, tell me
The cause why Juno the queen of heaven was so
Aggrieved by what offence against her power,
To send this virtuous faithful hero out
To perform so many labors, confront such dangers?
Can anger like this be, in immortal hearts?

There was an ancient city known as Carthage
(Settled by men from Tyre), across the sea
And opposite to Italy and the mouth
Of the Tiber river; very rich, and fierce,
Experienced in warfare. Juno, they say,
Loved Carthage more than any other place
In the whole wide world, more even than Samos.
Here’s where she kept her chariot and her armor.
It was her fierce desire, if fate permitted, that
Carthage should be chief city of the world.
But she had heard that there would come a people,
Engendered of Trojan blood, who would some day
Throw down the Tyrian citadel, a people
Proud in warfare, rulers of many realms,
Destined to bring down Libya. Thus it was
That the Parcae’s turning wheel foretold the story.

Fearful of this and remembering the old
War she had waged at Troy for her dear Greeks,
And remembering too her sorrow and her rage
Because of Paris’s insult to her beauty,
Remembering her hatred of his people,
And the honors paid to ravished Ganymede –
For all these causes her purpose was to keep
The Trojan remnant who’d survived the Greeks
And pitiless Achilles far from Latium,
On turbulent waters wandering, year after year,
Driven by fates across the many seas.

So formidable the task of founding Rome.

The Booker Longlist 2017: Are Any of Them Worth Five Stars?

Tomorrow the Man Booker Prize shortlist is announced.

I’m always excited about the Booker.  It has introduced me to so many brilliant authors over the years:  A. S. Byatt, Anita Brookner, Penelope Fitzgerald, Graham Swift, Peter Carey, Allen Hollingsworth, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and the list goes on and on. And the nominees are often even better than the winners.

But one of my favorites, William Trevor, never won. And I rooted for him four times.

I kept up with the Booker till 2011, the year nobody liked the longlist.  (And I really didn’t like it.)

But one of my real-life best friends, who asks to be called The Man on the Street, has read six from the longlist this year, and agreed to share his star ratings.

He says flippantly, “We take our Booker very seriously in Des Moines.  What else is there to do after the State Fair?”

But  he is not, alas, overly-impressed with this year’s longlist.

HERE ARE HIS  RATINGS OF SIX ON THE LONGLIST (WITH FIVE STARS BEING THE HIGHEST RATING):

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie   ★★★★ (four stars out of five)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid ★★★★ (four stars out of five)

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry  ★★★1/2   (three-and-a-half stars out of five)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders ★★★  (three stars out of five)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead  ★★★ (three stars out of five)

Autumn by Ali Smith ★★ (two stars out of five)

He says his favorite is Home Fire, which he describes as a well-plotted, well-written retelling of Antigone.

Is anyone else keeping up with the Booker reading this year?  What do you recommend?

Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved

Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite novelists.  In the last week and a half, I have reread three Wessex novels, The Woodlanders. A Laodicean, and The Well-Beloved.  In our mellow golden autumn, Hardy’s fictitious countryside, Wessex (based on his native Dorset), seems particularly vivid to me.  I do wish I could travel to Wessex,  but, no, I’m more likely to watch the film of The Woodlanders.  (Is it any good?)

I loved two of these books, but, alas!  I have never been able to warm up to The Well-Beloved. Considered one of his lightest novels, it has always struck me as very chilly.  Is  it a novel?  Is it a fable?

Hardy is a passionate writer, and though critics attacked the sexuality and sensuality of Tess of the d’Urbervilles  and Jude the Obscure, somehow The Well-Beloved slipped under the radar.

Perhaps Hardy was influenced by Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey in the conception of this odd little book.  The handsome hero, Jocelyn Pierston, a sculptor, is something of a womanizer for decades.  He is always in love,  but “the Well-Beloved,” as he calls his love of the moment, migrates from one woman’s body to another.  And since the Well-Beloved keeps shifting shape, he does not hold himself responsible for hurting rejected lovers.

He muses,

To his Well-Beloved he had always been faithful; but she had had many embodiments. Each individuality known as Lucy, Jane, Flora, Evangeline, or what-not, had been merely a transient condition of her. He did not recognize this as an excuse or as a defence, but as a fact simply. Essentially she was perhaps of no tangible substance; a spirit, a dream, a frenzy, a conception, an aroma, an epitomized sex, a light of the eye, a parting of the lips. God only knew what she really was; Pierston did not. She was indescribable.

In the course of the book,  Jocelyn falls in love with three identical women of different generations of one family: his childhood friend, Avice Caro; her daughter, Ann Avice; and Ann Avice’s daughter, Avice.  And isn’t that the ultimate male fantasy?

At 20,  Jocelyn visits his father on the “Isle of Slingers” (Portland, Dorset), and falls in love with his childhood friend, Avice.  She is sweet, funny, and well-educated, though Jocelyn doesn’t quite approve of the education.  And it turns out she even recites poetry on a platform at the Street of the Wells.

As always, Hardy’s dialogue is humorous.

‘Recite!’ said he. ‘Who’d have thought anybody or anything could recite down here except the reciter we hear away there—the never speechless sea.’

‘O but we are quite intellectual now. In the winter particularly. But, Jocelyn—don’t come to the recitation, will you? It would spoil my performance if you were there, and I want to be as good as the rest.’

Jocelyn and Avice become engaged, but on the eve of his departure, she writes him a letter canceling their evening rendezvous, because she does not want to “carry out the Island Custom in our courting” (pre-marital sex!), nor does she want anyone to think they have.   Ironically, the cancellation means he meets another woman that night, the beautiful, rich, shallow Marcia.  And so he and Marcia get engaged–and he never sees Avice again.  But he and Marcia break up, too.

Hardy ironically underlines Jocelyn’s faults, and with age the course of love does not run smooth.   At 40, Jocelyn, now a famous sculptor and member of the Royal Academy, returns to the island, still single.  Avice ‘s funeral is in progress, but he glimpses her daughter Ann Avice and falls in love: she looks just like Avice, is even prettier, though, it turns out, is entirely uneducated. The family had fallen on hard times, and Ann Avice works as laundresses. Joceyln rents a castle on the island, and flirts with  Ann Avice when she delivers the linen.  But he has met his match in Ann Avice.  Like Jocelyn, she is always in love, but it never lasts. And when she accompanies him to London to work as a servant….It’s not what you think!

And then twenty years later, when Jocelyn is sixty, he meets the new Avice, the original Avice’s granddaughter.  And it’s so ridiculous I won’t even tell you about it.

Hardy does have a sense of humor.  Jocelyn is not a particularly sympathetic hero.  But this book is so light.   Kind of a male fantasy, except that Hardy undercuts that with his wit and irony.

I’m sure someone out there loves this book.  Alas, it is not for me.

Transported to Wessex: Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders

Thomas Hardy’s cottage

Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite writers.  I frequently reread him and am mentally transported to Wessex, the fictional countryside of his novels based on his native Dorset and other parts of southwestern England.

This week I reread The Woodlanders, a masterpiece, and A Laodicean, which is quite a page-turner.  (I’ll write about A Laodicean later.)  There is a curious modernity to Hardy’s sharp observations, his sexy characters, and understanding of psychology. (It is easy to see why D. H. Lawrence considered Hardy the only great 19th-century writer.) Hardy’s spare lyricism and modern treatment of classical themes move us in the direction of twentieth-century literature, away from the verbose satire of Dickens  and the Gothicism of  Charlotte Bronte.  Hardy was always being accused of writing too much about sex. Some critics thought Tess of the d’Urbervilles pornography. (I cannot imagine!)

This is my third reading of The Woodlanders, and the first time I’ve loved it.  The language is lyrical, the dialogue lively, and the plot revolves around two inter-class love triangles.   Set in Little Hintock, a tiny woodland village that is fantastically hard for outsiders to find, this brilliant novel is one of Hardy’s best explorations of class struggle.   The upper-class characters, Mr. Fitzpiers, a doctor who comes of an aristocratic, if impecunious, family, and Mrs. Charmond, a rich, self-absorbed widow who lives at the Manor, are charming when they want to be, but also deceptive and promiscuous.

Is the middle class any better?  Well, yes, they have better morals. The  timber merchant,  Mr. Melbury, and his wife are decent people who have worked hard for what they have.  They are proud of their well-educated daughter Grace, just home from boarding school.

And what about the working-class?  Are they the best of all?  Well, not quite; they have too many problems.  Two of Hardy’s most memorable  characters, the clever Marty South, who takes over her father’s work making “wood-spars” for thatch when he becomes ill, and the level-headed Giles Winterborne, a woodsman and smart businessman, should be well-matched but are doomed to unhappiness.  Marty loves  Giles, but Giles prefers  Grace Melbury, whom Mr. Melbury promised to him long ago.  While Grace is educated above her class, Giles loses his property and falls down a few class levels.

I love Hardy’s description of Little Hintock, the tiny woodland village that is so very hard to find:  in the first chapter, Hardy humorously describes Barber Percomb’s arrival near the village after dark and his search for Marty South, so he can buy her beautiful hair for the lady of the manor, Mrs. Charmond, who wants to supplement her thinning locks.  He alights from a van and “plunged towards the umbrageous nook, and paced cautiously over the dead leaves which nearly buried the road or street of the hamlet.”

Life is slow, unbelievably slow, in Little Hintock, but it is  picturesque .

It was one of those sequestered spots outside the gates of the world where may usually be found more meditation than action, and more passivity than meditation; where reasoning proceeds on narrow premises, and results in inferences wildly imaginative; yet where, from time to time, no less than in other places, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and closely knit interdependence of the lives therein.

Though there’s not much action, the character have powerful emotions.   Fitzpiers courts Grace Melbury but thinks nothing of giving a tumble one night to Suke, a voluptuous gal who is happy to make love in a field.  Grace has her doubts about Fitzpiers, but her father thinks he is a good catch.  Anything to elevate Grace’s status!

Oddly, the last time I read this I thought the book was dull and the characters anemic. This time, I  found it very quiet but beautifully-written, and the characters well-drawn.  I very much like thoughtful Grace Melbury, who is kind to Giles when he throws a Christmas party where everything goes wrong:  the Melburys arrive too early, and end up helping make the pies.   Mind you, Grace likes Giles anyway.  But she does doubt that he is her ideal beau.

In the late 19th century, when a marriage falls apart, is divorce possible?  The law did not favor women.  Life would have turned out very differently for several of our characters if the laws were just.

But what about Mary South?  She is a strong character, as likable as Grace, but Hardy gives her short shrift.  She is important in the opening chapters, and then disappears until the end, except  to interfere occasionally when Giles is hurt.  Why doesn’t Marty get Giles?  Or get a man?  Is it because she does sell her hair (like Jo in Little Women) when her father is sick, and her hair is her one beauty?  Would Fitzpiers have loved Mrs. Charmond if she didn’t have Marty’s hair?

One wonders.  Maybe it is that simple.

The Non-Ivy League Geek Dream Courses!

Where did you go to school?  Harvard?

No, because it’s expensive!  It costs more than $60,000 a year.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 0.4 percent of American undergraduates go to Ivy League schools.  Seventy-three percent are educated at state universities and public colleges.

But New York publications continue to–excuse this nasty phrase–suck Ivy League d—.   In a recent article at the Literary Hub,  Emily Temple felt nostalgic for her school days,  so selected 10  courses  from university syllabi she’d like to take “from her couch.”  I raised an eyebrow when I noticed that seven of the 10 are offered by Ivy League schools, because isn’t Literary Hub supposed to be hipper than that?

Here are the Lit Hub stats.

  • Princeton:  3 courses.
  • Harvard:  1 course
  • Stanford:  1 course
  • Cornell:  1 course
  • Northwestern (the only Midwestern school, an elite private university):  1 course
  • Williams College (junior Ivy League):  1 course
  • Berkeley (a very cool state university, but very elite):  1 course
  • University of Florida (a state university, perhaps chosen to balance the others?):  1 course

And, to remind you-all that there are affordable schools between the east and west coasts,  I have selected three fascinating courses offered by the University of Iowa and University of Illinois.

THREE DREAM COURSES.

University of Iowa, Comparative Literature:  The Tale of Genji

Close reading of Murasaki Shikibu’s classic Tale of Genji; students come to know the characters by exploring the social and cultural context of the tale and discover the art, literature, and film that the Tale of Genji has inspired while tracking its reception through the history of Japan and across the globe. Taught in English.

(Some of you remember I read Tale of Genji the summer of 2016.  I’d love to do it right:  all the notes in the world can’t make up for not having a professor.)

University of Iowa, Comparative Literature:  Wonder Woman Unleashed: A Hero for Our Times

Development of the woman warrior archetype in mythology (Athena/Minerva and Artemis/Diana), literature (Camilla from The Aeneid by Virgil), and history (Artemisia and Joan of Arc); focus on the development of Amazon narratives in Metamorphoses by Ovid, The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizzan, and On Famous Women by Boccaccio; students read Wonder Woman Chronicles and one or two critical studies on the subject, which may include The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.

University of Illinois, English: Literature of Fantasy, From Mordor to Gormenghast: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings  and Peake’s Gormenghast

If J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955, rev. 1966) established the dominant paradigm for the genre of secondary-world fantasy fiction, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy(1946-1959) established a rival paradigm that, while less influential, has been all the more important for defining an alternative to hobbitry—so much so that Peake has sometimes been described as “the anti-Tolkien.” Among contemporary fantasy writers who have preferred Peake’s vision, China Miéville has gone so far as to say that “The nicest thing anyone ever said about [his novel] was that it read like a fantasy book written in an alternate world where the Gormenghast trilogy rather than Lord of the Rings  was the most influential work in the genre.” …

There are so many great courses and creative professors out there!

What to Read When You’re Ill: Mary Wesley, Muriel Spark, Dodie Smith, Jacqueline Susann, Mary McCarthy, & Pushkin

Many years ago, on an idyllic vacation in the northern woods, a spider bit me My swollen ankle turned black with necrosis, I developed clonus (involuntary muscle spasms, symptomatic of neurological disease),  became delirious, and spent three weeks in the infectious disease ward of a hospital.  I was given every test:  MRIs, EMGs, EKGs, etc., etc.   Was it encephalitis?  I did not respond to the medications at first.

Slowly, I recovered.  Very slowly.  One afternoon, encouraged by a kind nurse, I ventured down to the  cafeteria, forgetting to change out of my pajamas.  When I scooped the money out of my pink bathrobe pocket, I was embarrassed to realized I wasn’t dressed. In pajamas, not fully cognizant.   I consoled myself : Who cares?  I’m a sick person in pajamas at a hospital.  And I ate my sandwich in front of a fountain, marveling at the rush and flow of water.

Since I could not yet go home, I found refuge in books. One afternoon,  as I sat in a chair by the window with its gloomy view of the hospital complex, I became lost in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington, one of my favorite books.   A doctor  came in, asked me what I was reading, and was obviously relieved to see me becoming human again.  He said I was well enough to go home.

“But what was the disease?” I asked.

He said that it is not always necessary to identify the disease.  Not all diseases follow a typical course. They had tried different medications until I responded.  They did not think I’d had encephalitis.  I’d had a serious infection.  I did not have brain damage.  I should not worry.

Many years later, I try not to think of this illness.   Everything was much harder for me for a month or two than it had ever been.  At first I could barely walk to the corner and back. nd, paradoxically, I was hesitant about lying down, because I had trouble getting up again.  I was in my thirties.  I regained my health, little by little.

Books help with pain.   One day after coming home, I lost myself in Mary Wesley’s novel, An Imaginative Experience The novel opens with a stopped train: a sheep is lying on its back in a field, and a young woman, Julia Piper,  who is returning from the funeral of her young child and estranged husband,  pulls the emergency cord on the  train so she can help the sheep. Two men watch her from the window:  Sylvester Sykes, a charming editor whose wife is divorcing him, and  Maurice, a  sinister birdwatcher/stalker (yes, really) who reeks of tobacco and alcohol.

Although the novel is a love story, the prospective lovers, Julia and Sylvester, do not meet till near the end of the novel.  Sylvester wonders who the plucky sheep rescuer is, but Julia is not thinking of men.  Her young son Christy was the love of her life;  her irresponsible husband, Giles, whom she had veen in the process of divorcing, had had his license revoked and should not have been driving.  Her mother had lent Giles the car.

Sylvester’s pain is less intense, but it is still pain. His  wife  has left him to return to her first husband, who has grown very rich.  Sylvester once loved her, but has a slightly comedic attitude toward their five-year marriage:  sex had been their only connection, and she had dreadful taste. He  especially hated a plaster cupid in the garden.   When he comes home from the train, he smiles to see a taxi in front of the house, and his wife heaving the TV  into the trunk, cursing  the driver for not helping.    Although she has taken almost everything he owns, he is glad to start over again, with his own things.

Sylvester and Julia come together accidentally:  Sylvester needs a cleaner for her house, and Julia responds to his  ad at the grocery store they frequent.  Julia has a key and cleans when he is at work: they communicate by note, and never meet.  And when he writes that he would like his garden tidied up, she creates a kind of secret garden.  Each had assumed the other was old:  when they meet, they are startled.

The now underrated Mary Wesely, who published her first novel when she was 71, had a reputation for perspicuity, a graceful style, and sharply drawn characters.  Her witty novels are short and well-plotted. As a writer, her work falls somewhere between the very literary short novels of Penelope Lively and the buoyant popular fiction of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Second Fiddle is my favorite Wesley novel:  I wrote about it here.

 BOOKS TO READ AFTER AN ILLNESS.    HERE ARE SOME RECOMMENDATIONS.

1  Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye (which I posted about here.)

Muriel Spark’s mordant comedies are the flip side of P. G. Wodehouse’s featherlight farces.  Ballad, published in 1960, makes you wonder who exactly the angels and the devils are in Spark’s light satire. The hero, Dougal Douglas, a Scottish trickster, moves to Peckham and, without a twinge of conscience, accepts two jobs from rival textile companies.  The company directors, Mr. Druce at Meadows, Meade & Grindley, and Mr. Willis at Drover Willis, say they want him to bridge the gap between art and industry in his new position as assistant personnel manager.

Dougal is so outrageous that the reader cannot feel sympathy for him.  Although he has a deformed shoulder–I kept thinking of Richard III– he uses it to get sympathy from women.   He has no compassion:  he refuses to visit his fiancee, Ginny, when she is ill, especially when she is in the hospital, because his “fatal flaw” is an intolerance of illness. Ginny doesn’t think much of his fatal flaw, and drops him. But Dougal uses this breakup with Ginny to get to know women at work:  he has a crying breakdown in the canteen, and the women pity him, comb his hair,  and tell him their stories.

I love everything Spark wrote, and this satire is perfect light reading.

2.  Dodie Smith’s The New Moon with the OldFans of Smith’s charming novel, I Capture the Castle, will love  The New Moon With the Old, a kind of fairy tale of work.   It begins when  Jane Minton, the new secretary of busineesman Rupert Carrington, arrives at Dome House to take up her duties. His four children are charming:  Richard, a composer; Claire, 21, whose only ambition, she light-heartedly insists, is to  be “a king’s mistress,” a la the women in Dumas books; Drew, 19, who is writing an Edwardian novel; and Merry, 14, an aspiring and very talented actress.

But a few days after Jane arrives,  Rupert flees the country because he is guilty of fraud, and Jane is left to cope with the household.  The novel is a fairy tale of work:  all  the Carringtons must cope with their work, and the story is fascinating.

You can read the rest of my post here.

3.  Jacqueline Susann’s The Valley of the Dolls.  Believe it or not, this is available in a Virago edition, but the cover of the 50th Anniversary Grove Press edition is more fun!  Susann’s pop classic proceeds along the lines of Nancy Hale’s The Prodigal Women and Mary McCarthy’s The Group: it is the story of three young women who move to New York, become friends at the beginning of their careers, and climb the ladder of the entertainment industry, not without much popping of pills.  Anne, the emotionally stable one from New England, works as a secretary and then becomes a model.  She doesn’t need pills (well, only very briefly).    But you can imagine what the pills do to Neely, the Broadway star who becomes a screaming home-wrecking harridan, and Jennifer, the lovely, sweet,  pill-dependent woman who decides to act in French art films because no one values her for anything except her body.

4.  Mary McCarthy’s A Charmed Life, a satiric novel, published in 1955,  centered on several residents of an artists’ colony in a New England village. Is this a comedy or a tragedy?  I loved every minute of it, and it is time to rediscover Mary McCarthy:  her complete works are now available in Library of America editions.  You can read my post here.

5.  Pushkin’s Eugene OneginIn this brilliant novel in verse, Pushkin tells the story of Eugene Onegin, a rakish Byronic hero who, bored by carousing, wine, women, song, writing, and even books, moves from St. Petersburg to the country after inheriting an estate.  He befriends a young poet, Lensky, to whom he is very devoted, but thoughtlessly wrecks their friendship by flirting  at a dance with Olga, Lensky’s fiancée.  The fiasco results in a duel with Lensky.  (Eugene doesn’t want it, and yet somehow he doesn’t say no.)  And the whole thing is complicated by Eugene”s rejection of Olga’s sister, Tataina, who writes a love letter to him.

You can read the rest of my post here.

AND DO RECOMMEND BOOKS YOU LIKE TO READ WHEN OR AFTER YOU’RE ILL!

Books in Omaha: Four for Me, One for Him

Books I bought in Omaha.

We’d love to live in Omaha. It’s fun to visit a big city, and we like the understated Midwestern hipness. You can shop in the Old Market area, visit the Joslyn Art Museum, go to concerts, and, best of all, browse at Jackson Street Booksellers.

Will we drive three hours to a bookstore?  Yes, we will. We passed yellow soybean fields and  windmill farms and finally crossed the bridge from Council Bluffs to Omaha. We headed straight to the Old Market so we could browse at Jackson Street Booksellers, a great used bookstore.

Jackson Street Booksellers, Omaha

I picked up several books and carried them around the store because I couldn’t decide which to buy–a lot of Anita Brookner, an adorable Penguin omnibus of mysteries, and some nice editions of Trollope–but iI limited myself to four books. I am so disciplined!

So here’s what I bought!

1.  I’d never heard of the Brazilian writer Rachel de Queiroz, but was intrigued by the cover art on this 1975 paperback of Dora, Doralina,  translated by Dorothy Scott Loos.  De Queiroz (1910-2003) was a novelist, journalist, and translator who, in 1966, was a Brazilian delegate to the UN.  She won many awards, including the Camões Prize in 1993.

And she has a statue in Brazil!  I do want to go to Brazil.

Kate Braverman is a poet and fiction writer.  Her 1979 novel, Lithium for Medea, used to be in every bookstore. Somehow it never appealed to me.  Did I even know what Lithium was?

Anyway, I was drawn by this 1989 Penguin Contemporary American Fiction edition, because I was always fond of this “yuppieback” series.  And her prose is stunning!  I’m racing through it.

The Goodreads description says,

“Lithium for Medea is a tale of addiction: to drugs, physical love, and dysfunctional family chains. It is also a tale of mothers and daughters, their mutual rebellion and unconscious mimicry. Rose grew up with an emotionally crippled, narcissistic mother while her father, a veteran gambler, spent his waking hours in the garden cut off from his wife’s harangues. Now an adult, Rose works her way through a string of unhealthy love(less) affairs. After a brief, unhappy marriage, she slips more deeply and dangerously into the lair of a parasitic, cocaine-fed artist whose sensual and manipulative ways she grows addicted to in the bohemian squalor of Venice.”

It is depressing, but somehow I can take this now that I’ve Lived a While and Seen a Few Things I Would Rather Have Not.

3.  I missed Virago Month, but here’s the good news:  I found a Virago at the bookstore, Fanny Burney’s Cecilia.  I am fond of 18th-century novels, and enjoyed Burney’s Evelina, so look forward to this.

4.  We were  very excited to find an Everyman copy of John Updike’s The Complete Henry Bech, sans book jacket, for $6:   Bech: A Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1982), Bech at Bay (1998), and the short story His Oeuvre (2000).  My husband and I are both fans of Updike.

Here’s the Goodreads description:

“From his birth in 1923 to his belated paternity and public apotheosis as a spry septuagenarian in 1999, Bech plugs away, globetrotting in the company of foreign dignitaries one day and schlepping in tattered tweeds on the college lecture circuit the next. By turns cynical and naïve, wry and avuncular, and always amorous, he is Updike’s most endearing confection-a Lothario, a curmudgeon, and a winsome literary icon all in one. A perfect forum for Updike’s limber prose, The Complete Henry Bech is an arch portrait of the literary life in America from an incomparable American writer.”

HERE’S WHAT MY HUSBAND BOUGHT IN OMAHA!  Only one book.

1.  Uwe Johnson’s Speculations about Jakob.  My husband is mad about this award-winning German writer, and recommends Arrivals. Here is a link to an article about Johnson in The Millions.