Friday, November 30, 2012

Test your knowledge of literary tidbits

When last we convened, fearless reader Gioconda expressed interest in the book Curiosities of Literature, so here are some gleanings from it to whet your appetites.
    •    During WWII, more than 1,300 pocket-sized Armed Services Editions (ASEs) of an array of novels were published for as little as ten cents each and distributed to the troops. Choices ranged from Mark Twain to Zane Grey to Virginia Woolf (highly collectible). The most popular title? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I'm thinking Edna St. Vincent Millay, not so much.
    •    Poet Amy Lowell (a woman of means) rented five rooms in any hotel she stayed at to create quiet above, below, and on both sides (and I thought I was noise averse!! Too bad they didn't have noise-cancelling earphones; she could have been listening to some Mozart and all would have been well with the world).
    •    The shortest poem in the English language is purported to be "Fleas": Adam / Had 'em.
    •    The Brontë family patriarch Patrick was actually born a Prunty, in County Down, Northern Ireland. After moving to England, he morphed his patronymic to Bronte because uprisings in his native land were making the Irish unpopular in England. He added an umlaut at the end to further muddy the waters.
Peter & Wendy
    •    As adolescents are wont to do, Susan Alexandra Weaver decided her given name was boring and changed it to Sigourney because of a passage in The Great Gatsby. She was later to find that "Mrs Sigourney Howard" actually reflected how women were described by their husband's names in the '20s (and beyond). No matter: the moniker seems perfect for the striking actress (and way more suitable than her father's original choice of "Flora").
    •    J.M. Barrie invented the name "Wendy."
    •    Prolific novelist Anthony Trollope had a short fuse, and he particularly loathed brass bands and barrel organs. He died of a heart attack, possibly brought on by screaming at same out of a hotel window. (Sounds like a plot for Agatha Christie!)
    •    Bulgari jewelers paid one of my favorite writers, British novelist Fay Weldon, ₤18,000 to recast The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, with product placements strewn about. "When asked how she, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, could sell out this way, she replied that the buggers had never actually given her the prize."
    •    Now test your literary acumen by guessing the ultimate names of these provisionally titled novels: First Impressions, Hearts Insurgent, The Last Man in Europe, According to Cocker, The Man of Feeling, The Sisters, Tote the Weary Load.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books about books & art by people who love books

It's no secret that our passion for books is what got all of us at Daedalus into this business in the first place. Today I thought I'd revel in that a bit by plucking out some "books about books" titles from our current stock and showing some favorite images from the equally passionate "Book community board" over at Pinterest. Here's the roll call (and don't forget they're all 10% off the listed price if you order from the web): 
Above left: 'Le Carnet Rouge' by Agata Kawa
"Figuration Feminine" by Marchesini Nella, 1901
I swear my parents have a photo of me exactly like this one. My favorite book at that age: The Musicians of Bremen.
Vintage poster promoting libraries; I like the design and the insouciant girl
Oh god, this says it all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Majestic flowers from Thornton’s “The Temple of Flora”

As we plunge into the chilly depths of winter (those of us in the North anyway), I thought it would be restorative to contemplate some gorgeous depictions of flowers in full bloom. Some of these beauties seem almost abstract or surreal in their majestic close-ups. They're from “The Temple of Flora,” the third and final part of Robert John Thornton’s New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, engraved with state-of-the-art techniques in 1807.
Important reminder: Everything on the website is 10% off until Dec. 2—so get cracking on your Xmas list (or stock up for yourself)! If you like the above, do check out the Botanica 2013 Wall Calendar.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hitchcock: master and menace

The most popular and paradoxical of great filmmakers.... What Hedren endured in the making of these films—and what Hitchcock subjected her to—is a crucial element of their artistic power... “Marnie” is the movie in which Hitchcock did so most radically; it’s the movie where his personal torment and Hedren’s own burst forth in every scene, in every moment. “The Girl” is not an especially sophisticated or nuanced drama, but it’s an irresistibly fascinating one, simply for calling attention to what’s already there for the viewing in Hitchcock’s greatest film. In effect, “The Girl” is not a drama but a work of criticism—not one of any groundbreaking originality, but one that points to what everyone ought already to have been talking about in the first place: not least, that it’s no surprise to learn that a filmmaker whose art is devoted to pain, fear, control, and sexual obsession also experienced and inflicted them in life.—Richard Brody, New Yorker film blog “Front Row”
While his minions did nothing, Hitchcock unleashed live birds during filming on an unsuspecting Hedren (Sienna Miller), and continued to do so for umpteen takes.
Written by Gwyneth Hughes with the participation of Tippi Hedren, cast and crew from The Birds, and Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius), BBC/HBO's The Girl stars Sienna Miller as the actress whose Cinderella story ended up in the dustbin, thanks to the creepy, manipulative, and predatory behavior of the famed director. Hedren flatly told an AFI audience that she stopped working with him because of his relentless and gross importunings—what we now call sexual harassment. Furious because she wouldn't succumb, he refused to release her from her seven-year contract, and for two years she languished in limbo, until he sold her to another studio. Apparently the onus was on her, and she retained the aura of an actress difficult to work with. (Presumably, Kim Novak, Grace Kelley, and Eva Marie Saint—the other famous blondes who he said “make the best victims”—had more armor or better agents to protect them. No sign of the latter was visible here.) One Slate writer deconstructed this brief '60s interview with Hedren for signs of trauma:
At a London screening of The Girl, Hedren told the audience: “I don’t know if any of you women have had a horrible experience of being the object of someone’s obsession. If you have, you would know exactly what that’s like. It’s oppressive and frightening. You find out that you’ve been followed and you’re being spied upon, and made demands of that you would never acquiesce to in any circumstances. It becomes a situation of not being able to deal with it, not wanting to deal with it and not dealing with it.”
On a brighter note, I'm keen to see the new film Hitchcock, about the making of Psycho. The critical buzz over the weekend trended toward the theme that Anthony Hopkins as Hitch and Helen Mirren Alma Reville Hitchcock make (and steal) the show, which for me is reason enough to see it! (Apparently, Sir A refused to play the part unless his good friend Helen agreed to co-star.) The great Toni Colette also has a part, and who can resist the "bodacious" (NYTimes) Scarlett Johannson as Kim Novak?The period costumes and decor are another bonus, and will have to satiate Mad Men fans until the new season commences.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Early Hitchcock film discovered, "The White Shadow"

For a limited time, you can view the first half of Alfred Hitchcock's first film, The White Shadow, discovered after some sleuthing by American archivist Leslie Lewis at the New Zealand Film Archive. This silent feature released by Hollywood in 1924 was thought lost, until Lewis identified two reels marked "Twin Sisters" and "Unidentified American film" as the first half of the picture (about 30 minutes). Credited as assistant director, Hitch also devised the plot, designed the sets, and edited the footage of what was billed as a "wild, atmospheric melodrama" starring actress Betty Compson as twin sisters, one angelic and the other "without a soul." Love the concept! If you get a chance to watch it, let us know what you think.

More Hitchcock: Strangers on a Train deluxe edition.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Turkey Day! With Little Eva, St. Cecilia, Auden & Britten

This guy looks like he'd rather be herding peacocks!
Little Eva's take on the Turkey Trot will help you work off some of those holiday calories:

And here are some turkey-themed articles if you feel like retiring to a cozy corner to read.
Did anyone watch the dog show? Macy's parade? Get in line for bargains?
Today is also St. Cecilia's Day (she's depicted by Raphael at left). As the patron saint of music, she inspired many works in her honor, including ones by Purcell, Handel, and Benjamin Britten—all composers based in England. Britten's was set to a poem by W.H. Auden. Here's the first stanza:
In a garden shady this holy lady
With reverent cadence and subtle psalm,
Like a black swan as death came on
Poured forth her song in perfect calm:
And by ocean's margin this innocent virgin
Constructed an organ to enlarge her prayer,
And notes tremendous from her great engine
Thundered out on the Roman air.
Blonde Aphrodite rose up excited,
Moved to delight by the melody,
White as an orchid she rode quite naked
In an oyster shell on top of the sea;
At sounds so entrancing the angels dancing
Came out of their trance into time again,
And around the wicked in Hell's abysses
The huge flame flickered and eased their pain.
Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.
The rest is here

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Edward P. Jones' multigenerational sagas of Black life in Washington, D.C.

As Thanksgiving looms, many of us will be heading to a place where we more or less grew up. I came of age in the Washington D.C. suburbs and then lived in the city for a decade, while my mother and grandmother were longtime denizens. Writer Edward P. Jones is also a native of the Nation's Capitol, and I've been gradually making my way through his rich and mesmerizing "tales of the city" found in the collection All Aunt Hagar's Children. Because he's African American and I'm not, his stories offer a take on the city and its populace I couldn't possibly be privy to, so there's an overlapping sense of both reminiscence and discovery as his beautifully drawn characters wend their way through their lives on familiar crossroads. Jones told NPR that when he was growing up almost all of the adults he knew had been born and raised in the South, so there's a bifurcated approach as he weaves his tales, with actual visits to home states as well as back stories and other lore.
Here are some excerpts from Debbie Elliott's NPR interview with Jones.
On the Name Hagar:
"In the Bible, it's Abraham's concubine, his slave. The phrase, "all Aunt Hagar's children" is one my mother used for black people. The novel I wrote, The Known World, was going to be titled Aunt Hagar's Children, because when I started it, it was going to be about the black people that the slave owners owned. But as the years went ahead ... the original title didn't work. So I never throw anything away, and I found a use for that title here."
"...the other things she would say, people weren't black at that time, they were 'colored.' So it was either 'colored' or 'all Aunt Hagar's children.' It was just a phrase she used ... it's along the lines of what Penny says in the title story. She says, 'All the bad things they do to all Aunt Hagar's children.' That's sort of the same way my mother would've spoken those words."
On Blacks Who Moved to Washington
"I think a lot of them came and found a good life, a lot of them came and found a sort of hell. So my whole thing was that they take different paths at the end. So for one of them it works out, for the other it does not. And I think that's probably the case with most of the people who came from the South to Washington. I'm sure it was the same for my Mom ... I think life was rather hard for her, and there weren't a lot of things very good along the way. I think she took pleasure in her kids, but there were a lot of other things that weighed her down."
On Growing Up in Washington
"By the time I was 18, we'd lived in about 18 different places… On 10th street, we were there for a year or two, I believe. We were there when Kennedy was assassinated. All the places were horrible. You couldn't depend on any heat in the winter. A lot of times we went to bed with coats on top of blankets."
"I often say that one of the stories I'd like to write would have the beginning 'We never get over having been a child,' because that's so much of where it all happens; it all begins there. The sad thing for a lot of us is that we live our lives and can't remember the moment where things began for us and because we can't remember that moment, we continue living sad lives."
"It's a simple statement: We start out as children, good and bad things that happen to us, some of us get over bad things, some of us don't."

Excerpt from the story "In the Blink of God's Eye," from All Aunt Hagar's Children
That 1901 winter when the wife and her husband were still new to Washington, there came to the wife like a scent carried on the wind some word that wolves roamed the streets and roads of the city after sundown. The wife, Ruth Patterson, knew what wolves could do: she had an uncle who went to Alaska in 1895 to hunt for gold, an uncle who was devoured by wolves not long after he slept under his first Alaskan moon. Still, the night, even in godforsaken Washington, sometimes had that old song that could pull Ruth up and out of her bed, the way it did when she was a girl across the Potomac River in Virginia where all was safe and all was family. Her husband, Aubrey, always slept the sleep of a man not long out of boyhood and never woke. Hearing the song call her from her new bed in Washington, Ruth, ever mindful of the wolves, would take up their knife and pistol and kiss Aubrey's still-hairless face and descend to the porch. She was well past seventeen, and he was edging toward eighteen, a couple not even seven whole months married. The house—and its twin next door—was always quiet, for those city houses were populated mostly by country people used to going to bed with the chickens. On the porch, only a few paces from the corner of 3rd and L Streets, N.W., she would stare at the gaslight on the corner and smell the smoke from the hearth of someone's dying fire, listening to the song and remembering the world around Arlington, Virginia.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oz matters

Mooning over the 70th Anniversary Edition
of this wondrous classic film led me to these backstage photos of the Wizard of Oz in the making (courtesy of Chris Wild at Retronaut). Below, director Victor Fleming positions some cast members; Judy takes a break from shooting (and the ruby slippers), with some vaguely louche Munchkins loitering in the background; and a shot is set up while the Wicked Witch straddles the roof.

Finally, here are some 1902/03 interpretations of Baum's iconic characters. (The Tin Man in a kilt? What's up with that? And Dorothy is somewhat of a hottie!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Still unravished brides of quietness

"Young people today, immersed in a digital universe, love the volatile excitement of virtual reality but they lack the patience to steadily contemplate a single image—a complex static object such as a great painting or sculpture. The paintings of their world are now video games, with images in febrile motion; their sculptures are the latest-model cellphone, deftly shaped to the hand." 
That's Camille Paglia, in the November Smithsonian. Does what she's saying resonate with you? Paglia has a new book on art out now called Glittering Images, in which she asks the reader to "stop and scrutinize each picture as if it were a devotional image in a prayer book." I enjoyed her close readings of assorted poems in Break, Blow, Burn (including "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell), and look forward to the exegeses in her "Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars."
I must confess that one of my favorite pastimes is slowly perusing a newly acquired art or photography book, submerging myself in the timeless beauty therein until the perpetual hubbub of daily life is but a distant murmur. Daedalus Books is an unfailing source for these treasured tomes, including beautiful books on Renoir and Modigliani, an exquisite volume depicting Eros in Renaissance paintings, and rare collections of prints by Hokusai and other Japanese masters.
One of my hobbyhorses is ancient Egyptian art, and we have oodles of books depicting it, including ones on Egyptian art at various museums and mammoth surveys of its many-millenia history.
"Sarumaru Dayu" from Hokusai's 100 Poems series
"These color Pictures of 100 Poems by 100 Poets, Explained by the Nurse'' interpret traditional Japanese ... poetic forms visually by means of the persona of a 'nurse' who functions as a less sophisticated viewer and commentator than the artist himself. The results are spectacular. Whether showing semi-nude women abalone divers struggling with their catch while a male crew of shriveled old salts leers from a nearby boat, or the carefree rapture of a leisurely group of men and women observing cherry blossoms at their peak, Hokusai captures with drama and delicacy sublime and ridiculous states. The artist's simplicity, though deceptive, is also remarkable: he illustrates a poem about a lovers' seaside tryst with a magnificently imposing yet unadorned sailing vessel, its small window offering a coy glimpse of the fortunate couple inside. Each print (as well as 41 black-and-white sketches of projected prints apparently never completed) is accompanied by the poem, in Japanese and English."—Publishers Weekly

Friday, November 16, 2012

Famous personages in their younger years

Bela Lugosi, age 18
Hitch (LIFE magazine)

Winston Churchill
Leonard Bernstein
Charlie Chaplin
Guess who, in a photo booth
Marilyn! (LIFE magazine)
Elvis, in a photo booth
Princess Elizabeth, doing her stint in the Army, 1945