Tag Archives: literature

Does Where You Live Determine Your Education?

22 Feb

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like life imitates art? That the same issues that were being written about — class, education, nationality — in the books of previous centuries can still be written about today?
Does where you grow up determine your education? Does it depend on coming from the “right” type of family who signed you up for extracurricular coursework? Or, is education self-determined? Can you embrace the autodidact tendencies of Massachusetts-raised Jack Kerouac, who skipped school to read voraciously in library?
Education was paramount in my family. My father especially believed that getting a good education was my job. It was his job to have a job, to have a career in which he could earn money to provide for his family. This would allow him to put me through the best and most expensive college so that one day I could have a reputable, well-paying job. Consequently, as a teenager, I could babysit occasionally, but I was not allowed to hold a regular after-school job when instead I should be studying. From what I observed growing up, that was common among the class of immigrant families in my hometown. Parents who had pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps worked tirelessly so that they could provide their children with a good education that would enable us to live better, easier, more fruitful lives.
Yahoo Real Estate recently came out with its annual list of most educated states in America. It didn’t surprise me at all to see my home states of New Jersey and New York on the list. I attended a Blue Ribbon high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, and my classmates and I went on to attend some of the highest-ranked colleges in the country. Not only that, almost every single friend from my childhood that I’ve kept in touch with went on to grad school as well—and that includes people that were in honors and AP classes and people who were never really into academics.
I mention friends first because I didn’t grow up with extended family nearby. My cousins—those from my father’s side, first generation; those from my mother’s side, here just a few generations longer—were in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these states as well were all in the top ten most educated states in America!
That’s not to claim that my family is the most well-educated or that we use our education to further traditional, high-paying careers. Some of us have master’s degrees, others of us just graduated high school. Some of us have careers, others of us are homemakers. Some of us read for pleasure, some of us play video games. Still, we have the foundations and the options to choose what we want to do. I’m reminded of the eighteenth-century British novels I read about women of a certain class, who were well educated even though they were never going to use their education outside the home. They would surely study French and Latin and learn to play the piano and paint frescos because it made them more interesting, more desirable, more well-rounded. They enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.
I think there’s something to be said for living in a state that values education. Even if one prefers to work with her hands or to be a stay-at-home father, both of which are noble, being well educated provides options and allows one to enjoy a rich interior life. One of my friends lived in a state that did not value education. Rather, when her daughter raised her hand to answer questions in class, her classmates mocked her for being interested in school. The girl began to shut down, to stop raising her hand, to stop caring about school. Fortunately, my friend recognized what was going on and was able to get her out of that situation. Now her daughter reads and writes even outside the classroom.
I go through phases where I get lazy and watch a lot of Netflix. Right now, though, I’ve been reading and writing a lot again—and it feels so good! I can’t believe I ever got so distracted and lazy to stop doing what I love. Suddenly my life feels richer. I feel like I’m doing what I’m called to do. And part of me has been thinking about furthering my education again. I’ve been missing the structure and challenge of academia. I’ve been wanting to be exposed to new ideas, to be challenged by books I’d never think to read on my own. I wonder if it’s worth it to get my PhD. University costs are so outrageously expensive, and when you work in the arts, where little money is the norm, it’s hard to justify going into debt. That’s why I’m glad I live in New York. New York is a university unto itself. There are so many great readings, lectures, and panels I can attend—and often for free. I can go to the library and check out books at random or I can do a little digging and find recommended reading lists like Allen Ginsberg’s Celestial Homework.
In descending order, the most educated states in America are:
  1. Minnesota
  2. New York
  3. Vermont
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Virginia
  6. New Jersey
  7. Connecticut
  8. Maryland
  9. Colorado
  10. Massachusetts
No matter where you’re from in America, though, you can educate yourself by seeking out mentors and reading good books. Even if one is illiterate, a lot of libraries and churches offer volunteers who can help.
You might also be interested in:::
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The Wall Street Journal Excludes Greek American Novels in Its List about the Immigrant Experience

7 Oct
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In a list of “10 Notable Novels about the Immigrant Experience,” there are bound to be many great and notable novels who don’t make the cut. This isn’t about just literature, though. This isn’t just about craft or sales numbers.
It’s nice to see a novel about a Swedish-American family on the list, as we Swedes are sometimes overlooked. However, I was disappointed not to see any novels about the Greek-American immigrant experience on the list.
That being the case, I would like to offer up Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, which in portraying three generations of Greeks weaves a story of immigration and the American Dream.
What would you add to the list?
PS::: Remember that time Jeffrey Eugenides’ vest was Tweeting? And a great quote from the author.

John Freeman’s New Lit Mag Packs in High-Profile Writers

7 Oct

Freeman

John Freeman has a new literary magazine. The eponymous Freeman’s already it has the literary world buzzing. In the internet age where everyone and their long-lost brother publishes a lit mag, it’s rare that a new publication garners this much attention.

But this is John Freeman we’re talking about. While on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, the author and literary critic had been at the front and center of drawing attention to the diminished coverage of books in print media. As editor of Granta, he edited everyone from Chimamanda Adichie, Peter Carey, Colum McCann, Mary Gaitskill, Herta Muller, Richard Russo, and Salman Rushdie to Joshua Ferris.

Back then, I blogged about a panel on magazines that he moderated at McNally Jackson.

For a little background on Freeman’s departure from Granta and what he’d been up to before launching his own literary magazine, check out this Vogue article.

Freeman’s boasts no shortage of literary talent. The premiere issue, out this month, includes Lydia Davis, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdich, Haruki Murakami, and many other literary superstars. Here’s how it’s described on the Barnes & Noble website:

We live today in constant motion, traveling distances rapidly, small ones daily, arriving in new states. In this inaugural edition of Freeman’s, a new biannual of unpublished writing, former Granta editor and NBCC president John Freeman brings together the best new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about that electrifying moment when we arrive.

Strange encounters abound. David Mitchell meets a ghost in Hiroshima Prefecture; Lydia Davis recounts her travels in the exotic territory of the Norwegian language; and in a Dave Eggers story, an elderly gentleman cannot remember why he brought a fork to a wedding. End points often turn out to be new beginnings. Louise Erdrich visits a Native American cemetery that celebrates the next journey, and in a Haruki Murakami story, an aging actor arrives back in his true self after performing a role, discovering he has changed, becoming a new person.

Featuring startling new fiction by Laura van den Berg, Helen Simpson, and Tahmima Anam, as well as stirring essays by Aleksandar Hemon, Barry Lopez, and Garnette Cadogan, who relearned how to walk while being black upon arriving in NYC, Freeman’s announces the arrival of an essential map to the best new writing in the world.

Sounds like a collector’s edition to me!

Nerdy Travelers Rejoice: A Bucket List of Literary Museums for Literary Travelers

21 Aug
HuntingTheGrisly
Bustle came out with a listicle entitled “9 Best Museum In The World for Book Lovers, Because There’s Nothing Like An Original Manuscript.” It has some fantastic recommendations that this nerdy traveler will undoubtedly be adding to her bucket list.
No list can ever be complete, so I’d like to add my recommendations:
The Beat Museum
It should come as no surprise that I’d recommend the Beat Museum in San Francisco. Not only can you see a huge collection of Beat Generation mementos, but there’s also a bookstore that sells first editions, signed copies, and other collectibles.
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historical Site and Interpretive Center
Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center out on Long Island is the place for fans of the Good Gray Poet. What I love about this museum is that it gives a snoopy look into the private home life of the poet and also keeps his tradition alive through contemporary poets. There’s also a wall in the museum that makes me think Whitman inspired Kim Kardashian….
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
Speaking of birthplaces, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is a must-see. (It’s currently closed but will reopen in a few months.) Oh, sure, he’s remembered today for being one of our presidents, but he was a prolific author, and his birthplace shows how he went from a sickly reader to a big-game hunter. I wrote about the museum in the introduction to his Hunting the Grisly.
Washington Irving’s Home
Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, is also a fun visit—particularly around Halloween! I went there a few years ago with a friend and to this day we still talk about it.
Junibacken Museum
I mentioned the Junibacken Museum, devoted to Astrid Lindgren’s works in Stockholm, Sweden, in a recent post. It’s particularly fun for children, but even adults may enjoy it.
The Writer’s Museum
I would also recommend The Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. My sister and I visited there quite a few years ago and saw the literary lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson come to life. My sister does a mean Robert Burns impersonation.
Some people go to the beach on their vacations. I visit museums and bookstores.

Friday Links: For the Literary Traveler

27 Jun

Happy Friday! I’ve rounded up a bunch of Buzzfeed articles that feed my need to travel. Hey, if you’re a starving artist and not traveling anywhere this summer at least you can read!

The Trainspotting Guide to London

12 Literary Spots in London That Every Book Lover Needs to Visit

17 Bookstores That Will Literally Change Your Life

23 Beautifully Bookish Places to Explore This Summer

26 Real Places That Look Like They’ve Been Taken Out of Fairy Tales

40 Books That Will Make You Want to Visit France

 

 

Friday Links: Summer 2014 Reads

20 Jun

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When I was a kid I used to participate in the summer reading challenge at my local library. I think I need to challenge myself to do something like that again. I want to spend a lot of lazy hours in Central Park with a book and some fancy French lemonade.

I decided to check out what’s on everyone’s summer 2014 reading list and share it with you:::

NPR came up with 12 summer reading lists by category — including a miscellaneous one about “drugs, dragons and giant peaches”

Goodreads is a good place to find good reads for summer

Flavorwire offered 10 Must-Read Books for June

Modern Mr. Darcy released the 3rd annual summer reading guide

The New York Times offered A Critic’s Survey of Summer Books

Or you could always take a cue from J. P. Morgan’s Summer Reading List

A summer 2014 reading list from TED

Add your own list in the comments section!

 

 

Lack of Translation in America Is “Shameful,” Says Lahiri

26 Feb

hedge

Jhumpa Lahiri criticized the American literary world as “shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.” The Indian American author said this on the panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival that I blogged about earlier, when I remarked on Xiaolu Guo’s sentiments that American literature is “overrated.”

I agree with Lahiri that our reading preferences in America are too inward focused. Ideally, we’d all be able to read in at least a second language, like Lahiri, who apparently hasn’t read anything in English in over two years. Good for her, but I’m a Greek school dropout. When I was in high school, I used to read Spanish decently, but I unfortunately haven’t kept it up and nowadays only read the Spanish advertisements in the subway station. Sometimes I tell myself one day I’ll go back to school to really study a language, but that day hasn’t come yet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s that I know my limitations, and as horrible as it is to admit this learning another language just isn’t a priority at the moment.

That pains me especially when it comes to contemporary Greek literature. I am quite curious about the literary trends in Greece right, particularly in how they treat the economic crisis. I’ve read some translations of contemporary Greek works, but the truth is they’re hard to come by.

Translation in general is, as Lahiri pointed out, not a priority for American readers. Maybe because for many, reading isn’t a priority. With the difficulties the publishing industry has faced, it feels sacrilegious to condemn them for not publishing more translations. I do want to applaud one publishing house I’ve been keeping my eye on for the past few years: Europa Editions. Here’s why:

Europa Editions was founded in 2005 by Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who are also the owner-publishers of Rome-based Edizioni E/O, one of Europe’s most prestigious independent publishing houses. Our idea was to capitalize on Edizioni E/O’s decades-long experience to bring fresh voices to the American market and provide quality English editions of international literature by enlisting some of the best translators in the business. Our appearance would be distinct, incorporating both European and U.S. jacket design standards, reflecting our conviction that books today must be pleasing to the senses as well as to the mind.  Our catalog  is eclectic, for we believe that dialogue between nations and cultures is of vital importance and that this exchange is facilitated by literature chosen not only for its ability to entertain and fascinate, but also to inform and enlighten.

Also, can I make a bit of a suggestion for those interested in translation? If there’s a note from the publisher or translator, read it! It’s fascinating and eye opening to read about the decisions the translator grappled with when bringing a foreign-language work to an American audience.

What contemporary Greek authors should I be reading right now? Where’s a good place to find Greek works translated into English?

Also, you might enjoy:

 

I’m with Guo: American Literature IS “Overrated”

19 Feb

Gao

“Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it’s so realism, so story-telling driven … so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society,” said Chinese British author Xiaolu Guo, speaking about the effect American literature has had on Asian reading habits, on a panel about global literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Oh, and she called American literature “massively overrated.”

I kind of agree. I love American literature, but when I was getting my MFA and started attending writing conferences I began to get frustrated by the push toward what I’ll call commercialism. What I mean by this is that a lot of the feedback I received had to do with creating scenes, telling a story, writing a memoir that reads like a novel. I suppose that’s good feedback because that’s what people want to read…

—Except, I don’t. Much of contemporary fiction seems so contrived to me. Worse, it’s lacking in Art. It’s straightforward, it’s fast-paced, and it’s even enjoyable, but in the same way a sitcom is. Now, I’m not one for magical realism, so I’m not saying I want to venture as far away from the American tradition as Guo might be suggesting, but I think a little messiness, a deeper dive into postmodernism, some stream of consciousness, less obviousness, more layered meaning would do our literature some good, would give it a little more heart, a little more authenticity, more rigor.

What do you think? Which American authors are you particularly enjoying right now that you think would change my mind?

100 Facts on William S. Burroughs for His 100th Birthday

5 Feb

burr2

The title say it all, and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s just get on with it!

      1. Burroughs was born on February 5, 1914, which would make him 100 years old today!
      2. But he passed away on August 2, 1997
      3. The S. in William S. Burroughs stands for Seward
      4. Burroughs is actually Burroughs II
      5. Burroughs’ father’s name was Mortimer Perry Burroughs
      6. Mortimer ran a gift shop called Cobblestone Gardens
      7. The II comes from his grandfather
      8. William Seward Burroughs I was the founder of the Burroughs Adding Machine company
      9. William S. Burroughs II named his son William Seward Burroughs III
      10. Burroughs’ mother’s name was Laura Hammon Lee
      11. Burroughs’ pen name was William Lee
      12. Burroughs’ maternal grandfather was a minister
      13. In the ’60s, Burroughs joined and left the Church of Scientology
      14. In 1993 he became a member of the Illuminates of Thanateros
      15. Laura Hammon Lee’s family claimed to be related to Confederate General Robert E. Lee
      16. Burroughs’ uncle was Ivy Lee, the founder of modern PR
      17. His family was not very affectionate
      18. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri and lived on Pershing Avenue in the Central West End section of St. Louis
      19. He attended the private school John Burroughs School, named after the naturalist
      20. Burroughs was class of ’31
      21. Burroughs’ first publishing achievement was at the school when his essay “Personal Magnetism” was published in 1929 in the John Burroughs Review
      22. He didn’t graduate from John Burroughs School
      23. On its website, John Burroughs School calls William S. Burroughs a “controversial author”
      24. After John Burroughs School, he attended Los Alamos Ranch School, an elite boarding school in New Mexico
      25. Another famous author later attended Los Alamos Ranch School: Gore Vidal (born 1925)
      26. At the boys boarding school, Burroughs kept a diary about his attachment to another boy at the school
      27. Burroughs was a virgin through high school
      28. Burroughs dropped out of Los Alamos too
      29. Next up, he went to Taylor School in Clayton, Missouri
      30. From there, he went to Harvard to study art
      31. At Harvard, he was part of Adams House
      32. Back home on summer break, Burroughs became a cub reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
      33. His beat? Police docket
      34. Surprisingly, he hated the job and refused to cover gruesome stories
      35. That summer he lost his virginity
      36. He shed his virginity to a female prostitute
      37. It was back at Harvard that he was introduced to gay culture when he traveled to New York City with his wealthy Kansas City friend Richard Stern
      38. Stern was apparently a bit like Neal Cassady when it came to driving: he drove so fast that Burroughs wanted to get out of the car once
      39. Burroughs graduated from Harvard in 1936
      40. After he graduated, his parents gave him $200 a month
      41. After Harvard, Burroughs went to Vienna to study medicine
      42. There he became involved in the gay subculture
      43. He also met his first wife there, Ilse Klapper, a Jewish woman fleeing the Nazis
      44. Burroughs and Klapper were not romantically involved, but he married her in Croatia so she could move to the US
      45. After they divorced in New York, they remained friends
      46. By 1939, he had become so obsessed with a man that he severed his own finger — the last joint of his left little finger, to be exact
      47. In 1942, Burroughs enlisted in the US Army
      48. When he became depressed that he was listed as 1-A Infantry instead of officer, his mother called a family friend, a neurologist, to get him a civilian disability discharge due to mental instability
      49. It took five months for him to be discharged, and he waited at Jefferson Barracks, near his family home
      50. Afterward, he moved to Chicago
      51. In Chicago, the Harvard grad became an exterminator
      52. The Burroughs family was friends with another prominent family, the Carrs
      53. William S. Burroughs II was eleven years old when Lucien Carr was born
      54. During primary school in St. Louis, Burroughs had met David Kammerer, who was three years older than him
      55. Kammerer had been Carr’s youth group leader and become obsessed with him, following him to the University of Chicago
      56. When Carr fled to Columbia University in New York City, Kammerer followed — as did Burroughs, who moved a block away from Kammerer in the West Village
      57. Carr met Allen Ginsberg at Columbia and introduced him to Burroughs and Carr
      58. Burroughs met Joan Vollmer Adams around this time, and he moved in with her
      59. In the summer of ’44, Carr killed Kammerer with his Boy Scout knife, and then went to Burroughs — Kammerer’s friend — for help
      60. Burroughs flushed Kammerer’s bloody pack of cigarettes down the toilet and told Carr to get a lawyer and turn himself in, but instead Carr sought out help from Jack Kerouac
      61. Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as material witnesses, but Burroughs’ father posted bail for him (Kerouac married Edie Parker to get bail money)
      62. Burroughs became involved in drugs around this time, becoming addicted to heroin
      63. When Burroughs got arrested for forging a prescription, he was released to his parents in St. Louis
      64. When he was finally allowed to leave, he went back to New York City for Joan Vollmer Adams, and together, with her daughter, moved to Texas
      65. It was Joan who gave birth to William S. Burroughs III in 1947
      66. After Texas, the family moved to New Orleans
      67. Around this time, Burroughs was arrested after police found letters at Ginsberg’s place that incriminated him
      68. Burroughs, Joan, and the kids went on the lam to Mexico
      69. In Mexico, Burroughs decided to go back to school: he studied Spanish and the Mayan language at Mexico City College
      70. He studied under R. H. Barlow, a homosexual from Kansas City who commit suicide through overdose  in January 1951
      71. He also decided to take up a game of William Tell. It didn’t go so well: he shot Joan in the head, killing her
      72. He only spent 13 days in jail, after his brother bribed authorities to let him out while he waited for trial; witnesses were also bribed so Burroughs would appear innocent. Either way, Burroughs skipped town
      73. Burroughs considers his killing of Joan to be the beginning of his life as a writer; he wrote Queer at this time
      74. Queer was not published until 1985; Burroughs’ first book was actually Junkie, published in 1953 — four years before Kerouac’s On the Road came out
      75. Burroughs III went to live with his grandparents in St. Louis; Joan’s daughter, Julie, went to live with her maternal grandmother
      76. Burroughs himself went down to South America in search of the drug yage
      77. From there, he moved to Palm Beach, Florida, with his parents
      78. His parents paid for him to travel to Rome to see Alan Ansen
      79. They didn’t hit it off romantically, so Burroughs left for Tangier, Morocco
      80. When Kerouac visited Burroughs in Tangier in 1957, he typed up his manuscript for him and edited it into Naked Lunch
      81. In 1959, Burroughs moved to the Beat Hotel in Paris; Ginsberg, Ginsberg’s lover poet Peter Orlovsky, poet Gregory Corso, and photographer Harold Chapman lived there
      82. There, he discovered the cut-up technique of Brion Gysin, which greatly influenced his work
      83. In 1966, Burroughs went to London to seek treatment for his drug addiction and worked there for about six years
      84. Student editor Irving Rosenthal, of Chicago Review, lost his job for publishing excerpts of Naked Lunch and founded his own lit mag, Big Table, where he continued to publish Burroughs’ work. The United States Postmaster General found the work so obscene that he ruled it couldn’t be sent through the mail. This intrigued Maurice Girodias, publisher of Olympia Press
      85. A 1966 case against Naked Lunch remains the United States’ last obscenity trial against literature
      86. Back in the US, Burroughs’ own son had gotten involved in drugs and gotten arrested on prescription fraud (just like dear old dad); Burroughs took him to the Lexington Narcotics Farm and Prison
      87. Burroughs covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention for Esquire magazine; he refused to alter his style to fit Playboy‘s literary demands for another article
      88. Burroughs hated teaching because it expended all his energy and he felt like he got nothing back in return
      89. Bookseller James Grauerholz initiated Burroughs’ reading tour, which helped Burroughs remain in the public eye … and make money for it
      90. In 1976, Burroughs’ son had liver cirrhosis and underwent transplant surgery; Burroughs stayed with him in 76 and 77 to help care for him
      91. Burroughs III cut off his father, writing an article in Esquire that said his father had ruined his life, and died in 1981
      92. In 1978, the Nova Convention took place — a multi-venue retrospective of Burroughs’ work that included readings and discussions by Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, and Timothy Leary in addition to concerts featuring The B-52s, Debbie Harry, and Philip Glass
      93. Speaking of musicians, in the 90s Kurt Cobain hung out with Burroughs
      94. In the 80s, Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he spent the remainder of his life
      95. Always the gun aficionado, there he created an art form in which he used a shotgun to shoot spray paint bottles that would explode paint onto a canvas
      96. In 1983 Burroughs was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
      97. He played a character from one of his own short stories in the 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy
      98. His collaboration with Nick Cave and Tom Waits gave birth to Smack My Crack, a collection of short prose and spoken-word album
      99. Burroughs died from complications of a heart attack
      100. He is buried the Burroughs family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery

Jack Kerouac’s First Novel Translated in Persian, and It’s Not “On the Road”

3 Feb

dharma

More than fifty years after he rose to literary stardom in America, a novel by Jack Kerouac is being published in Persian for the first time, according to Iran Book News Agency.

Rozaneh Publications hired Farid Qadami to translate Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums.

Apparently you can get Farsi subtitles to the film adaptation of On the Road but the novel hasn’t been translated into Persian yet.

Although this may be the first time a novel by Kerouac is being translated into Farsi, the Iran Book News Agency reported in 2010 that Kerouac’s poetry volume Book of Haikus was translated into Persian by poet Alireza Abiz, a story that David S. Wills covered for Beatdom.

In his now famous interview with Ted Berrigan published by The Paris Review, Kerouac claimed to have Persian origins:

And it’s a Cornish name, which in itself means cairnish. And according to Sherlock Holmes, it’s all Persian. Of course you know he’s not Persian. Don’t you remember in Sherlock Holmes when he went down with Dr. Watson and solved the case down in old Cornwall and he solved the case and then he said, “Watson, the needle! Watson, the needle . . .” He said, “I’ve solved this case here in Cornwall. Now I have the liberty to sit around here and decide and read books, which will prove to me . . . why the Cornish people, otherwise known as the Kernuaks, or Kerouacs, are of Persian origin.”

Here is a story about Houman Harouni translating Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” into Farsi, which I found via the Allen Ginsberg Project.