In early drafts for the first Babar book, Jean de Brunhoff opened the story with this episode showing the death of Babar’s mother. In the published book, he began instead with the reassuring image of Babar’s mother rocking him to sleep in a hammock. At this stage in his composition process, Jean had not yet given his protagonist the name “Babar” — he was called simply “Baby Elephant.”
As the season for giving arrives, Biblioklept reviews three beautiful books that children and adults alike will enjoy.
First up is E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 Christmas classic Nutcracker in translation by Ralph Manheim and beautifully illustrated by the late Maurice Sendak. In 1983, Sendak designed sets and costumes for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s adaptation of Nutcracker and in 1984 he translated some of those designs into a book edition.
According to a 2001 profile with NPR, Sendak was initially unsure about working on what he considered “the most bland and banal of ballets.” However, upon reading Hoffman’s original text, Sendak discovered a work full of “weird, dark qualities that make it something of a masterpiece,” an observation he notes in his introduction to Nutcracker.
The NPR profile notes that Sendak intended to bring “Hoffmann’s original story back to audiences, especially by having the main character, a girl named Clara, brought back into the story.” Sendak believed
The whole ballet is about her and for the most part you get her in act one, and then she discreetly disappears for the rest of the work. My feeling is this has to be disturbing to children. . . . [She goes] where the wild things are . . . She is overwhelmed with growing up and has no knowledge of what this means. I think the ballet is all about a strong emotional sense of something happening to her, which is bewildering.
These “strange, weird” qualities—the same tones that made Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are a classic of children’s literature—are on display in Nutcracker. Hoffman’s text in Manheim’s translation has a wonderfully episodic, even picaresque quality that restores a sense of adventure—and even peril—to the smooth play we might be familiar with sitting through each December.
Nutcracker’s reading level, length, and tone make it likely appropriate for children over eight or nine, but younger children will enjoy reading the story through Sendak’s marvelous and strange illustrations.
Nutcracker is available in a new hardback edition from Random House.
Next up is Annelore Parot’s Kokeshi Kimonos from Chronicle Books.
Koskeshi Kimonos is a fun and stylish book that uses kokeshi dolls to showcase facets of Japanese culture including attire and family life. The book features folding flaps, pull out sections, and other interactive features that will appeal to younger children. It’s the sort of aesthetically charming book that adults can enjoy as well.
Kokeshi Kimonos will likely appeal to younger readers—five to nine—and seems particularly suited to girls (although this doesn’t mean boys wouldn’t enjoy it, of course). The cute kokeshis are a wonderful alternative to the sterile, plastic world of Barbie and other facile dolls.
Finally, Ernest Raboff’s Albrecht Dürer, part of his Art for Children series. The book is out of print but not impossible to find.
Raboff presents Dürer’s life simply and in clear context, using about a dozen beautiful prints from the German master, as well as many of his etchings. Raboff also hand letters the book, and provides his own sketches and illustrations occasionally to clarify and explain Dürer’s work.
What I love most about Raboff’s book though is the way he integrates elements of art appreciation into his book in subtle, simple ways. Lovely:
Book shelves series #47, forty-seventh Sunday of 2012
So this is what happens—books pile up. Okay, maybe that sentence is missing a clear subject: I pile books up.
This stack mounded on my record player over the last week; I intended to shelve about half of these:
My shelving solution is woefully short-term (more double stocked shelves).
Anyway, this shelf is mostly other media, including DVDs, a few records, and playing cards.
Of note (perhaps) are the three illustrated volumes on the left that I’ve had forever.
The illustrated Kidnapped features art by N.C. Wyeth:
The illustrated Kipling was actually my father’s:
Have you read Adam Novy’s novel The Avian Gospels? It’s good stuff.
Like many bibliophiles, I’m a sucker for plain Penguins:
Book shelves series #44, forty-fourth Sunday of 2012
Not a particularly beautiful shelf—it sits between a TV and a soundbar; houses an unused Wii, an analog clock, and a picture of my kids. The books camouflage cords and wires.
You can see the whole shelf in the top pic. The big pic on the right: a Kokeshi doll set on Henry Miller volume that was a gift from a friend years ago in high school.
To the left: Bukowski, Miller, Anaïs Nin. Then, a section of stuff you can’t really see, including an extremely tattered copy of A Passage to India.
Lower right: Mass-market paperbacks that were especially important to me over the years and as a result have managed to hang around—even in cases where they were replaced by handsomer volumes. Usually obscured by the clock. Includes stuff by Borges, Carson McCullers, Hemingway, Twain, Chopin, Richard Wright . . .
Every library answers a twofold need, which is often also a twofold obsession: that of conserving certain objects (books) and that of organizing them in certain ways.
—Georges Perec, from “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books” (1978)
For all of 2011 and half of 2010, I ran a death mask on this blog every Sunday. I liked the idea of having a regular, uniform post on the blog, and I enjoyed searching for death masks (and life masks) and learning about them. However, my interest is waning; it’s time to move on.
Still wanting to run a regular post each Sunday, I’ve elected to photograph the bookshelves, or the surfaces that hold books in my house. These will not be beautiful, arranged pictures, but rather simple pics from my iPhone documenting the spaces that books occupy. I will photograph each space “as is” and then remove a book or two, photograph it, and then comment on it.
I didn’t know where to start, so I started with what may be the most plain book shelves in my home, the nightstand next to my bed. (Right now it is unusually tidy, having been cleaned out and partially restocked for the new year; in a week or two it will be crammed to its wooden gills). Here is what it looks like:
Not very exciting, I know! This is perhaps the only photo in this book shelf series that will not feature shots of spines. Like I said, I don’t plan to arrange any of the shots in this series. I talked about a lot of what’s in here in yesterday’s riff on recent reading and a post last week on stuff I plan to read in 2012.
Stuff on the top tier tends to be stuff I’m currently reading; the second shelf is filled with books I’m always rereading, or picking at slowly. The third shelf is where stuff goes to marinate or get dusty or cry to be shelved.
There’s also a bunch of kids book on the floor. More kids books are in this giant magazine stand, along with some notebooks, art pads, and probably an actual magazine or two (Anthony Browne’s book Changes is a surrealist masterpiece for kids, by the way):
The Perec quote above comes from an essay collected in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books” will be in some ways the guiding inspiration for the Biblioklept book shelf series; my aim is not so much to present beautiful pictures that show off my books (I’m not equipped to do that, and other people do it very well already), but to comment on how my books are arranged and how they move and flow throughout the house; it will also give me a good opportunity to pick up books that might have been lingering (do books linger?) on a shelf for sometime.
I pulled these three books, not quite at random, from the shelves. The Perec book is one of those volumes I like to read scattershot-style. The latest issue of Paris Review still has a few pieces I haven’t read. Nausicaa: I meant to start it the other night. It will migrate to another room, a day-reading room, not a night-reading room:
I don’t anticipate future book shelf posts being quite this long; my intention here is to kind of set the ground rules (for myself) or delineate both spirit and letter to this project. As such, a final note on movement: I will move “outward” from this nightstand, photographing any place where books are set. I will photograph every kind of book in this house in its natural habitat; this includes children’s books and cookbooks, but does not include personal photograph albums, instruction manuals, or anything else of that nature. I plan to do 53 total book shelf posts, including this one (there are 53 Sundays in 2012).
My hope is that readers will respond to these posts by sharing their own bookshelving habits.
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is larded with strange little pockets of the black humor, humor so black that it’s hard to catch on the first or second reading. Re-reading the book again this week, I was struck by how funny a passage in Chapter XI is. The passage comes immediately after one of the more confounding moments of the book. Judge Holden, the giant, malevolent, Mephistophelean antagonist who dominates the narrative, has just told a puzzling parable about a harness maker who commits a murder and then begs for his son’s forgiveness. It’s a strange story and I’m not sure exactly what it means. Anyway, after he tells this story, Tobin, the ex-priest asks the Judge, “So what is the way of raising a child?” Here’s the reply–
At a young age, said the judge, they should be put in a pit with wild dogs. They should be set to puzzle out from their proper clues the one of three doors that does not harbor wild lions. They should be made to run naked in the desert until…
Hold on now, said Tobin. The questions was put in all earnestness.
And the answer, man, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind, would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet?
The humor of the Judge’s initial, concrete answer rests on the fact that it is wholly earnest: even in his bizarre, hyperbolic surrealism, the judge is serious. Pits, wild dogs, wild lions. Running naked in the desert. That’s how kids should be raised. The move to the abstract–to highlight humanity’s predatory instincts–is a retreat from humor to philosophy, a pattern that McCarthy repeats in the novel. The effect stuns the impulse to find humor in the language. Humor cannot sustain throughout the narrative, even though it is present.
Roberto Bolaño, from an interview with Eliseo Álvarez, republished this month in Melville House’s Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview:
I suppose that within his brutality and his courage–he is a very courageous man–my father loved me as I love my son. In the end, one could talk for hours about the relationship between a father and a son. The only clear thing is that a father has to be willing to be spat upon by his son as many times as the son wishes to do it. Even still the father will not have paid a tenth of what he owes because the son never asked to be born. If you brought him into this world, the least you can do is put up with whatever insult he wants to offer.
Okay, so sons didn’t ask to be born, but what about daughters? How did Bolaño feel about his daughter?
I won’t say anymore. I’ll start to cry. The only explanation I could give would be to cry. It’s beyond the beyond.
Reading these quotes, I thought about two of my favorite depictions of fathers and children in Bolaño’s work. First, there’s Bolaño as the son, “B,” in the title track from the collection Last Evenings on Earth. The story is a strange mix of sinister and funny, with the (perhaps overly literary) son fearing for his dad, a boxer who, at least in the son-narrator’s view, doesn’t seem to be paying attention to just how bad things seem to be turning on the pair’s vacation to Acapulco. Then there’s (possibly) Bolaño as parent, this time in the form of Oscar Amalfitano in 2666. If Bolaño would cry for his daughter’s safety, for anxiety and wariness of a cruel world, then Amalfitano becomes a literary center for those fears. And, if you’ve read that book, you know his paranoia is justified. In any case, it’s clear that Bolaño loved his children deeply. In another of the the book’s interviews–literally, “The Last Interview,” Bolaño, the exile who lived everywhere said, “my only country is my two children.” He even asked that his masterpiece 2666 be divvied up into five parts in the hopes that it would provide steady income for his son and daughter.
For more about Bolaño, check out Tom McCartan’s fantastic limited-run series, “What Bolaño Read.” We’ll do our best to get a full review out before McCartan (who annotated The Last Interview, by the way) addresses everything in the book.