Pierre, Herman Melville’s follow up to Moby-Dick, was, without a doubt, the most challenging, perplexing, befuddling book I read in school. I still don’t get it.
Still, I love Melville, and I love Maurice Sendak, so when I saw this unused copy of the Kraken addition for half-cover price at my favorite local used bookshop, I couldn’t resist.
Sendak’s bawdy illustrations recall William Blake to me—great stuff—although I’ll probably read Moby-Dick or The Confidence Man again before I make time for Pierre.
RIP James Gandolfini, 1961-2013
RIP to James Gandolfini, who brought sensitivity and depth to the roles he played. I don’t think The Sopranos could have existed without him. He made me laugh and cry so often in that role, never more than at the end of The Sopranos, where I experienced what I could only describe as catharsis.
Maurice Sendak’s animated intro for the 1977 film Simple Gifts was based on an earlier design for a Christmas card by the artist:
(Image and info via the very cool Michael Sporn Animation blog, with a hat tip to Jescie for sending me the link).
The good people at Random House are giving away a copy of ETA Hoffman’s Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak to one lucky Biblioklept reader. The book is beautiful, so you’ll have to work for it.
The first person to answer all of the following questions correctly will be sent a copy of the book (sorry, US addresses only). Email answers and your mailing address to biblioklept.ed[at]gmail[dot]com.
Okay, folks, we got a winner. Congrats to Mihaela Geaman who was the first to send in a set of correct answers. Answers below:
1. Which Sendak book most often appears on the ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books list?
2. Which two American Renaissance era writers did Sendak frequently cite as favorites?
3. What English artist did Sendak “borrow” images from for his collaboration with Robert Graves?
4. What fictional character did Sendak consider his “twin”?
5. What tragic news story inspired elements of Sendak’s book Outside Over There?
1. In the Night Kitchen
2. Emily Dickinson & Herman Melville
3. Beatrix Potter
4. Mickey Mouse
5. The Lindbergh baby kidnapping
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:
We’ll be running a giveaway contest for one of these beautiful editions of Hoffman’s Nutcracker, featuring illustrations by Maurice Sendak sometime next week.
Herman Melville is a god. … I cherish what he did. He was a genius. Wrote Moby-Dick. Wrote Pierre. Wrote The Confidence-Man, wrote Billy Budd. … Oh, yes — look at him. … Scares the bejesus out of people and makes them hate him. Because he’s so good. Claggart has him killed in that book. Claggart has his eye on that boy. He will not tolerate such goodness, such blondeness, such blue eye. Goodness is scary. It’s like you want to knock it. You want to hit it.
Maurice Sendak from his 2004 interview with Bill Moyers.
Sendak also references Melville’s idea that artists must “take a dive” into the deep in this beautiful short film:
“In the Dumps,” originally published in The New Yorker, is collected in Spiegelman’s latest MetaMaus.