October 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Well it was bound to happen at some point. The day would come when I would mention Jane Austen.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but, as a woman who writes about books and literature, I find it incredibly dangerous to talk about Jane. It’ s always difficult to know which approach to take: should I play the ‘you’ve-got-to-admit-Darcy-is-wonderful’ card? Or I could use the ‘her-books-are-actually-a lot-deeper-than-you-think’ angle, or even ‘I-bet-you-don’t-even-know-that-she’s-written-more-than-six-novels-you-amateur’?
So I will circumvent the issue by talking about this fine collection of covers Penguin has recently made for Austen’s novels. I like that they break away from the traditional covers that are all too frozen in their 19th century paintings to offer a new angle from which to approach the book.
The covers drawn by Kazuko Nomoto are both very modern through their ethereal quality and clear lines yet also nostalgically romantic through their pastel colours and fine contours. The texture of the ink and the unfinished lines of the illustration bring depth to the composition but also turn it into more of a suggestion than an affirmation of a drawing.
In that sense, the illustration is closer to Austen’s notoriously nuanced, measured style. Everything is hinted at in little touches, little spots of ink that take on different hues, denoting contrasting yet also complementary meanings. Thus, these covers’ minimalist aesthetic is a nice change from the usually stuffy and repetitive portraits displayed on the cover.
That being said, Austen does have an incredibly dry sense of humour that deserves to be admired. Romantic moments oozing with sentimentality are only an exaggerated interpretation of an author who is most eloquent through what she chooses to leave out yet who is not afraid to say what she means without coating it with sugar. Plus, she never takes herself or her characters seriously. And we can certainly all learn from that.
There. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist.
October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Their Eyes Were Watching God’s prose sounds like poetry. Perhaps it’s the rhythm, perhaps it’s the imagery. This book is one that takes its time. It oozes into you like golden syrup poured into a bowl. Slowly, thickly, beautifully.
On this autumn morning, it makes me dream of long, hot summer evenings in the deep South. I like Autumn, but hearing about the sun is nice every once in a while.
October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
Languages are selfish. Everyone knows that once they’ve been abroad and struggled to make themselves understood. That is a sad thing, but even sadder is that they separate us from great books.
As a multilingual person, I knew about the cruelty of translation as something terribly frustrating to do – how do you translate Gatsby’s ‘old sport’ in another language without making it sound ridiculous? Is it even worth trying to translate a poem? And if you do give it a go, what do you choose to leave out? The rhyming scheme? The metaphors? The rhythm?
But my frustration deepened and took another dimension recently when I finished a great book. In French. And I wanted my boyfriend to read it. In English.
And there were no translations available.
That is when I started appreciating how lucky I am to be able to read in several languages and how much I have been taking it for granted. This matter is not trivial when we know that some people learn a specific language to gain access to its literature in the original – Dante, for instance (and it certainly is on my to do list). I have always worried about not being able to read everything before I die but once I started taking literature in languages I cannot speak into account, my head started spinning.
And I also started wondering who decides. Who has the power to say that a particular book will be granted publication in a different language and that another one will remain the privilege of a lucky few? I am sure many elements come into play, such as how popular it has been or whether it would translate in cultural terms but it seems sad that some books should be left out simply because only a few can be afforded and all the others do not make the cut. I suppose some take longer than others – for instance, I wonder if J.K. Rowling’s new title would have been translated so quickly (or at all) despite its mixed reviews if she wasn’t the phenomenon that she already is.
And so I can only shout at the top of my lungs on this vast Internet space: To Whom It May Concern, please, please, PLEASE translate Marie-Aude Murail’s Miss Charity into English! It is brilliant, will delight children and adults alike and it takes place in England, for heaven’s sake!
NB: Incidentally, many other of Marie-Aude Murail’s books are fantastic and some have actually been translated (a list can be found here) although my favourite ones are not available in English yet. I may have to write about them at some point anyway.
October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
I apologise for being so quiet over the last week, but in my defence, I had a very hard paper to write and… had the best surprise birthday weekend one could wish for with my boyfriend and some dear friends flying over just to be there on my special day! But I am back here now, feeling a bit sentimental, missing them already.
And so here is the book cover I chose for this week, because it is about love and it is so pretty and reminds me of Chinese silhouettes (and I love Chinese silhouettes). It pretends to look innocent but cunningly hides what we learn inside about the difficulty of uncovering one’s feelings, talking about pain and love. Duffy does it so simply it is easy to identify with some of what she says. Love always sounds the same and she is aware of that – so much so that, even though what she writes has been written before, she manages, unlike so many, to make it sound right. The cover reflects this beautifully. After all, the trinkets that remind us of loved ones are the same, whoever we are – a train ticket, a necklace, a little note, a few pictures, a dried up flower or a lovely pen. This is perhaps the true beauty of Love Poems: they are universal, yet remain so personal. But these are commonplaces, and since I didn’t offer you a quote to start the week with, I will let the poet speak for herself with her beautiful ‘Valentine’ :
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
What an ambitious title! But Ruskin’s beautiful descriptions do bring Art into Life – and vice versa – I suppose… Have you ever read ‘Of the Open Sky’? (Modern Painters I, Part II, Section III). You will never look at clouds in the same way again – or rather – you will start looking at them.
“…And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly… the sky is for all…”
I admire the talent of creating a cover that suits the content of the book and describes one of its main aspects in one glance and I think this one truly does it, blending Pre-Raphaelite and Neo-Gothic aesthetics. I also love that Penguin’s Great Ideas’ series has embossed covers that make these slim, simple-looking books so precious, adding yet another dimension to their exterior design. It’s so pretty!