Anniversary of the Book

We just passed the anniversary of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, published May 17, 2003. Hard to believe it’s been fourteen years! I still kind of miss the magnifying glass from the old cover. Every trip is a quest, indeed.

How to Read Lit IMG_0973

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Poetry Cover

The new How to Read Poetry Like a Professor 1cover design for How to Read Poetry Like a Professor arrived yesterday. Pretty sharp, I think. Sadly, it’s not really the spine of the book but a front cover using the spine of some other, much classier book. I’d really like to read that one–or at least hold it. Due out Winter 2018, assuming I write a little more and edit a whole bunch.

 

Math Challenged

This is one my writer friends can appreciate. How to Read Poetry Like a Professor is coming along very nicely, except for a couple of things. First, the book is about 90% drafted (don’t get too excited–there’s a world of work before it’s a submittable draft). And second, it’s 120% of the contractually specified length. In other words, I’ve spoken too much and not said enough. I bailed on math after Algebra 2, but I’m not seeing any sort of calculation that will bring those together. I guess there’s going to be some chainsaw editing.

Seasons of Being

Today is also the date, I’m told, that Shakespeare’s Sonnets were first published. If you want to know how to use seasons and weather figuratively to describe various aspects of the human condition, you will find no better textbook than the Sonnets. “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate” That time of year thou may’st in me behold / when yellow leaves, or few, or none to hang / upon the bough that shakes against the cold.” And on and on. Plus, even if you don’t understand everything he’s saying, they just sound great.

That Oxford Crowd

Today is the birthday of W. H. Auden (1907), who is worthy of an entry of his own, and I’ve done that in the past. For now, I want to know what was in the air of Oxford in the 1920s, when Auden overlapped with fellow students Louis MacNeice, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day-Lewis (slightly older), and Stephen Spender (slightly younger). All of them proved to be important writers. Of the five, MacNeice is my favorite poet. Day-Lewis wrote bunches of poetry and fiction, including detective fiction in the Lord Peter Wimsey vein. Isherwood wrote the stories that would become Cabaret, and Spender was a permanent presence in English letters for six decades. And Auden, of course, is Auden, responsible for some of the truly great poems of the century, including his elegy, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” his poem on the coming of WWII, “September 1, 1939,” and “Musee des Beaux Arts,” which he begins with, “About suffering they were never wrong, the old Masters.” And neither was he.

Dorothy Richardson

The forgotten stream-of-consciousness trailblazer Dorothy Richardson was born on this date in 1873. When the roll-call of SoC novelists is read out, the number is generally three: Joyce, Woolf, and Faulkner. Sometimes there are objections: what about Proust, say, or Dos Passos or Nicholson Baker or this one or that one. Just not Richardson, who more or less invented the use of interior monologue (a major component in SoC) in English. True, she was almost thirty years behind Edouard Dujardin’s little gem, Les Lauriers Sont Coupe (apologies for the lack of diacritical marks), but she beat the rest of the Anglophone world off the mark.

So why forgotten? Her books don’t stay in print. There was a push in the Eighties, I believe it was, to republish the entire thirteen-volume saga, Pilgrimage in multi-novel volumes, but those went out of print. Even Dalkey Archive Press, that champion of neglected modern classics (it takes its name from a Flann O’Brien novel, for crying out loud), has failed to pick up her banner. I had a discussion with the editors there once, and I think the problem is with the copyright holder. Then there’s that thirteen volume business. Anthony Powell’s twelve-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, has declined in popularity in recent decades. When that was finished in the mid-Seventies, it was all the rage. Julian Barnes, I think, has a character remark that it was more or less impossible to attend a dinner party at which at least two people weren’t reading Dance, but that jibe comes from ca. 1984. Times change, tastes change. These days, one begins a novels, finds out that it has more than ten siblings, and the heart sinks. Even so, it is sad that the woman Virginia Woolf declared had discovering or inventing “the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.”

Book, with Boards

It’s a hardbackIMG_0973! Just to be clear, after about five minutes of disappointment all those years ago, I realized that my book could never find an audience at hardcover prices. Up till now, the only version with rigid covers was the Japanese edition. Beautiful, but I can’t read it. So now there’s a new problem: can I still call myself a paperback writer? I think I’ll risk it.