Balzac, Blond Love, & Book Clubs

An 1898 copy of a Balzac

I have read the the Penguin translations of Balzac, and a couple by Modern Library, but where are the translations of the other novels, novellas, and short stories in La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy)? I own a few tattered 19th-century editions with translations by Ellen Marriage and R. S. Scott, but the pages flake and the paper is yellow.

I am delighted that NYRB has published a new translation of Balzac’s The Memoirs of Two Young Wives. Morris Dickstein writes at The NYR Daily:  “While complete sets of Balzac’s work in English translation were once common, few contemporary readers have sought out many of his lesser-known books. Graham Robb concludes his prodigious 1994 biography of Balzac with the terse suggestion that “unknown masterpieces are waiting to be rediscovered.” The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, first published in 1842, is not exactly a masterpiece, but it’s a singular work, one of Balzac’s Scenes of Private Life, full of arresting detail yet cutting against the grain of his received image as a social realist. James himself wrote a long preface to a 1902 translation, but the novel soon dropped without a trace from the English-speaking world. It’s a gem of a book, occasionally florid and schematic yet engrossing, and this new translation by Jordan Stump makes for precisely the kind of rediscovery that Robb invited.”

I had a feeling I might have an 1898 copy published by the Gebbie Publishing Company. Sure enough, it was published as Letters of Two Brides in a volume with A Daughter of Eve (which I wrote about here). Since I have it, I will try the R. S. Scott first.  But I will probably end up buying the NYRB.

An illustration for Letters of Two Brides (Gebbie Publishing Compay)

 ANACREON AND BLOND LOVE.

Long ago, when I was young, I was in the evil thrall of Love. As the Greek poet Anacreon put it,

Love struck me like a smith with a big hammer,
then washed me in an icy stream.

Not a very poetic translation, but that’s the gist.  (It is my literal translation.)

In Anacreon’s poetry, Love is blond.  Why?  I often reflected about incongruous images.  I was reading Anacreon at the kitchen table,  no doubt munching Royal Lunch crackers, when I came across the phrase “Golden-haired Love.” Why wasn’t love brunette?  In the first stanza of this poem, Blond Love hits the poet with a purple ball to call him to play with a girl wearing “multi-colored slippers.” Balls and slippers–the Greeks are strange.  In the second stanza, we learn that the girl with the slippers rejects him because of his white hair, and simultaneously she ogles a woman across the room. An odd poem.  Is Love spitefully twitting the poet for being too old for love? Why is Love blond?  I was blond then.

When I told my students that literature affected me more than reality, I wasn’t exaggerating.  Reality wasn’t great after I’d broken up with my boyfriend.  I  had taken a job at the “Wodehouse School” because I had no idea what else to do. My life was now devoted to teaching Latin to brats who were more rich than gifted. (There were exceptions.)  I  missed my boyfriend so much. The present meant grading papers.  Many, many papers.

Why was I obsessed with my boyfriend?  I wondered if Blond Love had struck me with a hammer, or hit me with a purple ball, or what the deal was.  The hammer was the more apt metaphor, I would say.

Anacreon is very, very strange.  And thank God those days are over.

(You can read Anacreon in Richmond Lattimore’s superb translation, Greek Lyrics.)

The DAVID BOWIE BOOK CLUB & “NOW READ THIS” CLUB.   Several articles at The Guardian and New York Times have recently profiled the David Bowie Book Club.  This month the selection is Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. which does not sound like my kind of thing.  Can you believe a Penguin is going for $899 at Amazon?

I am more interested in the “Now Read This” book club offered by the PBS NewsHour and The New York Times. This month they are reading Sing Unburied Sing by Jessmyn Ward.  Here is a link to the “Now Read This” video at PBS.

Bibliobits: Book Clubs & BookTube

I’m not unsociable. I am chatty.  Sure, I’m a bit prim.   My idea of fun is going to the library, or reading Juvenal in Latin with my husband at Cafe Diem, a coffeehouse in Ames.

I do think my diversions are comical.  Who in this day and age has a Latin club?

And I belong to many other book clubs, too, because I’m kind of geeky.

My “real-life” book club is currently reading Olive Higgins Prouty’s Now, Voyager (in the Femmes Fatales series at the Feminist Press).

I also love online book groups, and have read dozens (literally) of Trollope’s books for groups.  But for the next few months, many excellent groups are reading books I’ve already read.  For instance,

  1. Ellen Moody’s Trollope19thCStudies group at Yahoo Groups is reading Anna Karenina.  I love this brilliant novel, but have already reread it this year, and  have posted about it at this blog seven times.
  2. The Inimitable-Boz group at Yahoo Groups is reading Bleak House, my favorite Dickens novel, which I  have read at least seven times.
  3. The European Literature in Translation group at Goodreads recently read Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualites, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.  Unfortunately, I joined too late.  They are currently reading Balzac’s Grand Illusions, which I have read three times and blogged about once.  And in October they’re reading Celine’s Journey into Night, which I’ve also read.
  4. Blogger readalongs are problematic for me, because so often they discuss books I’ve already read.  Several bloggers read Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, all three trilogies, a few years ago.  It’s not that I’m not crazy about Galsworthy, but I’ve read the saga three times.
  5. I do participate in Women in Translation Month (August), an annual event celebrated by booksellers, librarians, reviewers, publishers, bloggers, and journalists.  Only 30% of new books in English translation are by women.  And so we try to read women writers.

I wish I’d read this with the group!

But I may participate in Emily Asher-Perrin’s  Dune reread at Tor (the science fiction site).  I reread Dune last year (a  classic), and the group is now on the third book, Children of Dune.

Please let me know of other good online book groups.  The ones I mentioned are excellent.

Is BookTube the Next Worst Thing?

The very good blogger, I Prefer Reading, mentioned BookTube before  she went on break last spring.

Well, I love I Prefer Reading, but BookTube is not for me. I  couldn’t find anything!   My heart sank as I watched monotonous videos that make PBS look like action films.  BookTube is like very, very bad TV.  The “vloggers” ramble, there is often no script, and obviously no editing.  It’s Narcissist City!

The sincerity is evident, but the segments are too long:   eight to twelve minutes of  babbling. My advice: Cut the first three or four minutes and get straight to the books.  And, if you’re chatting about seven books (and seven is the magic number in “vlogs” about “Favorite Books of the Year So Far”),  limit the chat to 30 seconds per book.  Let your model be the PBS “Summer Reading” interview with writers and bookstore owners Louise Erdrich and Emma Straub, who recommend 19 books in eight minutes.  Sure, Jeffrey Brown asks a few questions, but both these writers are very well prepared.

Louise Erdrich at her bookstore, Birchbark Books.

Here’s an excerpt from the superb PBS transcript of this superb video, which you can watch here:

LOUISE ERDRICH:  I don’t think people usually take poetry to the beach to read, but this book has been sold by its cover for quite some time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we should say, it’s called “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” right, by Natalie Diaz.

LOUISE ERDRICH: It is.

Natalie Diaz is a powerhouse of a writer. And this book is a wild ride. It has headlong rushes of ecstatic, beautiful language, small details about life on Mojave Reservation. Natalie Diaz is Mojave.

And this is set in Arizona mainly, but it’s also, of course, set in her heart and her head. And there’s a sensibility that is so dark, but so funny. It’s just such a rich, compelling piece of literature. You know, it’s just the kind of book that you want to live with each poem for a while.

I’ve got it on reserve at the library.