All posts by peaadmin

The sound of your own heart beating…

I want to tell you a very, very true story.

Once upon a time, I was working in a cubicle at a job I really, really didn’t like.  It was the kind of job that induced tension headaches and stress-induced vomiting.  I tended to work through lunch, simply because, for that one shining hour, everyone left me alone.

So one day, during my lunch break, I am sitting in my cubicle, relishing the peace and quiet, when my heart stopped beating.

It didn’t last long–I estimate that from beginning to recovery, the entire episode lasted about 10 seconds.  And it wasn’t a serious medical episode–stress can make your body do a lot of strange things, including things called ectopic heartbeats.

But I will never be able to describe to you what it feels like not to hear your heart beating.

It’s a sound that we take for granted; one that is with us from the moment we’re born.  As a result, we don’t think about that reassuring, constant sound…until it stops.  Our heartbeat is a feeling throughout our body that we may notice when we’re in pain or overwhelmed, but we don’t value what that feeling really means until the sensation has stopped.  Because, for all that the heart is a concept–a thing that can soar, can be broken, can flutter, can sing–it’s also a hard-working, long suffering muscle that keeps every other piece of the body working and breathing and imagining and dancing.  And while it’s not beating, nothing else can happen.

I will never be able to describe to you how grateful I was to feel it begin beating regularly once again.  It’s a sound you don’t take for granted after that, believe me.

People say that libraries are the heart of their community.  That is a saying I treasure, because I know it means that libraries are the places that allow our imaginations, our creativity, and our basic everyday business to happen, just as Lady Pole mentioned in her post on Saturday.  But, like the heart, we are also an entity that many take for granted.  And honestly, that, too, is terrific, because if you imagine that the Library is always there, we are doing our jobs properly.

But that could stop.  Kelley’s post yesterday talked about the programs that the Library offers as a result of funding from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)–programs which are currently all slated for erasure.  There has been a lot of talk recently about losing PBS.  And that is scary, because a lot of us can remember a time before PBS.  We talk a lot about the loss of music and arts funding.  And that is scary because a lot of us already know what it is like to go to a school without music education, or without art classes, or without art supplies.  But we haven’t talked very much about how scary it will be to lose a library, because few of us, especially in this area of the country have had to face that reality before now.

So I would ask you today to face that reality.  Just for 10 seconds.   Think about what the Library, your Library, our Library, means to you.  What it provides, what it enables you to do.  Then think about what more your Library could do for you.  Think about a future with Libraries in them.

Then…let’s make that future happen.

Making Magic: The NEA, NEH, IMLS and Your Library

*This post is part of Free for All’s “Making Magic” series, which will focus on Kelley’s exploration of the opportunities in the library’s Creativity Lab as well as musings about the arts, creativity and imagination.

If you’ve been reading the news, you know that the President’s proposed budget cuts funding to a number of cultural organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). What you might not realize is just how deeply these organizations affect your library. Now, read closely here and note that I said YOUR library and not libraries in general. I stress this because, though many don’t realize it, a number of our current and former services and programs are/were supported by these organizations.

For today’s post, I’m not going to talk about the dollars and cents of this proposed change. Instead, I’d like to share with you some of the specific things that the NEA, NEH and IMLS have done for YOUR library.

creativity lab logoThe Creativity Lab: The IMLS makes possible the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding administered to states. LSTA funds made possible the opening of the Peabody Institute Library’s Creativity Lab, a popular makerspace that offers its resources free to the public. For those of you who love the Creativity Lab’s classes, Open Labs, 3D printers, laser cutter, vinyl cutter and sound recording equipment, you owe a big thank you to the IMLS.

conversation circles logoConversation Circles: Conversation Circles is another important service made possible because of a two-year LSTA grant. Thanks to the IMLS, the library was able to obtain equipment and resources to offer free, volunteer-led sessions that provide weekly opportunities for non-native English speakers to practice basic conversational English in an informal setting. This grant also allowed the library to open a Language and Literacy Center on the third floor of the Main Library.

neh logoDiscussion Programs: If you attended the library’s Muslim Journeys, Let’s Talk about It: Jewish Literature, Picturing America, or America’s Music discussion programs, you have the NEH to thank. The NEH funds numerous discussion programs in libraries and the aforementioned are just a selection of the ones we have been lucky enough to host in Peabody. Thanks to the NEH we were able to hire scholars to facilitate discussions, invite field experts to talk about artists, and purchase books and supplies necessary to run each program.

big read logoThe Big Read: Did you participate in the library’s Big Read of Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies? Materials and programs for that month long series, including a Skype visit with Julia Alvarez herself, were made possible by a Big Read grant from the NEA.

All of the examples I mentioned in this post are/were offered free to the public. The NEA, NEH and IMLS don’t just celebrate arts and culture, they make access to arts and culture possible for everyone.  As you can see, we owe much gratitude to these federal cultural organizations. Their work enriches our libraries, but more importantly their work enriches our lives.

Saturdays @ the South: Libraries are Essential

Sometimes, other people are able to say what we long to express better and more eloquently than we could hope to. This is one of those times. Other awesome librarians throughout MA have shared this article from Bustle which lists 7 Reasons Libraries are Essential: Now More than Ever and, instead of expounding on the virtues of libraries furthermore, I thought I would simply share this article with you, our dear patrons and beloved blog readers.

I can assure you that all of the items that are listed in this article are things we take very seriously here at the Peabody Library, but it’s often good to remember that it’s libraries everywhere who are working towards making the world a better place for everyone, one patron at a time. This article served as a good reminder to me about why I do what I do (though there are a LOT more than 7 reasons why I love and do my job). Hopefully, it will also remind those who use libraries that we understand that we’re important to you and work to maintain that level of importance, historically, now and in the future.

Feel free to share this article with anyone you think would find it useful. And remember, we couldn’t do all that we do without all of you. Till next week, dear readers, keep loving your library knowing that we love you right back!

Five Book Friday!

Technically, this is our first Five Book Friday of Spring, beloved patrons, and I had a great post planned about the onset of longer days and brighter skies and warmer weather….but we had warmer weather in February, and now we are paying for it, because the weather gods are feckless, cruel beings.  Nevertheless, here are a few myths, legends, and stories from around the world about the coming of spring to keep your hopes high:

  1. The Spring Beauty, A Chippewa Legend (click the title for the full story)
    “I am Seegwun, the Spirit of Spring,” answered the youth. “I breathe, and flowers spring up in the meadows and woods….I shake my ringlets…and the warm showers of soft rain fall upon the Earth. The flowers lift their heads from the ground, and the grass grows thick and green. My voice recalls the birds, and they come flying joyfully from the South-land. The warmth of my breath unbinds the streams, and they sing the songs of Summer. Music fills the groves wherever I walk, and all Nature rejoices.”
  2. Persephone, of the Greek Pantheon
    And oldie, but still a goodie: Demeter, Goddess of agriculture, had a daughter named Persephone. One day Persephone was snatched away by Hades, God of the Underworld, to live with him in down in the Underworld.  Demeter, heard her cries but couldn’t find her daughter, so she left all the harvest alone and as a result, mass famine struck. One day while Apollo was making his rounds through the underworld as he does through the sky, he spotted Persephone down there and reported the finding to Zeus. Zeus then sent Hermes, the messenger god, to bring Persephone back. Unfortunately, Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds given to her by Hades in the land of the dead. This trickery bound her to return to the underworld for six months every year. When Persephone returns from the underworld each year, Demeter makes the earth bloom and grow beautifully which is the time of year we know as Spring and Summer. When Persephone returns to the underworld, Demeter stops and Fall & Winter arrive.
  3. Baldur, of the Norse pantheon
    The god of light Baldur was the son of Odin and Frigga. He was so attractive and personable that he was beloved by everyone and was considered the most handsome of the gods. Naturally Loki, the premier trouble-maker in Norse mythology, resented Baldur, and, eventually killed him with mistletoe.Frigga was in such despair the world grew colder and plants shriveled up and died. Humanity prayed for deliverance from the oppressive cold and the lack of food, and finally Odin interceded.  He learned that Hel, the goddess who ruled over the land of the dead, was not inclined to release Baldur unless everything living and unliving mourned for him. Though Frigga was not able to convince everything on earth to mourn for him, Baldour was allowed to return for a small amount of time every year (much like Persephone does in the Greek tale).
  4. The Legend of the Blue Corm Maiden, from the Hopi People (Click the title for the full tale)
    Winter Katsina saw that he needed to make peace with Summer Katsina, not war. The two sat and talked.  They agreed that Blue Corn Maiden would live among the People of the Pueblos and give them her blue corn for half of the year, in the time of Summer Katsina. The other half of the year, Blue Corn Maiden would live with Winter Katsina and the People would have no corn.  Blue Corn Maiden went away with Summer Katsina, and he was kind to her. She became the sign of springtime, eagerly awaited by the People.

…Are you enjoying these stories?  If so, why not come into the Library and check out a few more?  Here is a sample of some of the sensational books that have clambered up onto our shelves this week:

Exit West: Mohsin Ameed’s work has already been celebrated around the world, but this book is being hailed as quite possibly his best work, providing a heart-rending look at the world in which we live, touched with the magic of love and the weirdness of fairy tale.  In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair that grows and is eventually threatened when violence explodes around them.  They begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.  This is a book not only about our own political climate, but about the effects of violence on human life and relationships, and the vicious and vital promise of hope.  Entertainment Weekly agrees, giving this book a glowing review which reads in part, “Nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gunsmoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of [Exit West] is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.” 

LolaMelissa Scrivner Love’s debut crime thriller puts a phenomenal twist on the “girl” titles of recent years (this “girl” has a name!  Yay!), with a  story about a ruthlessly intelligent gang leader, and the city she both embodies, and calls home.  The Crenshaw Six are a small but up-and-coming gang in South Central LA who have recently been drawn into an escalating war between rival drug cartels. To outsiders, the Crenshaw Six appear to be led by a man named Garcia. but what no one has figured out is that the gang’s real leader (and secret weapon) is Garcia’s girlfriend, a brilliant young woman named Lola. Lola has mastered playing the role of submissive girlfriend, and in the man’s world she inhabits she is consistently underestimated. But in truth she is much, much smarter–and in many ways tougher and more ruthless–than any of the men around her, and as the gang is increasingly sucked into a world of high-stakes betrayal and brutal violence, her skills and leadership become their only hope of survival.  This is a story for anyone who enjoyed Breaking Bad, and Love is definitely an author on whom thriller fans should be keeping their eye.  The New York Times agrees, calling this book, “Intense, gritty, and breathlessly paced…The titular Lola is The City of Angels made flesh, beauty and horror living side by side with no barriers between. …I fell hard for Lola in all her fierce and broken beauty, her reckless and necessary hardness, her bottomless capacity for loyalty. Don’t miss this ride.”

Delicious GeographyTravel and food. I fail to see how this book can check too many more of my boxes.  This entertaining book takes us on a fascinating exploration of the world of food, as father and daughter duo, geographer Gary Fuller and chef Tracy Reddekopp, travel the globe in an exploration of how we are all linked by food.  By studying the preparation of 35 different dishes, Fuller and Reddekopp show how sharing of foods and food traditions are prime examples of our global connection, not only in the present, but in the past as well.  There are reasons that the same dishes, or types of dishes, appear in different geographic locales when they do, and becoming conscious of this, while become well-fed, is an excellent learning experience, as well as a delectable culinary adventure!  Booklist had this to say: “From discussions on global impacts of specific ingredients, such as the introduction of the potato into Bolivia, to the social influences of ingredients like that of dairy, Fuller and Reddekopp put an interesting personal slant to each chapter. Recipes are bolstered with the history of the highlighted element of each featured recipe, along with…intimate stories to bolster the well-researched histories and tried recipes with a unique slant. . . . This is an enjoyable read that features a number of intriguing recipes that have been crafted for the home cook.”

The River of KingsTaylor Brown is a master at the American journey story, having brought us a journey during Reconstruction in last year’s The Fallen Land, we now are treated to a river trek–and a historical journey–that is just as touching and engrossing. The Altamaha River, Georgia’s “Little Amazon,” has been named one of the 75 “Last Great Places in the World.” Crossed by roads only five times in its 137-mile length, the blackwater river is home to thousand-year-old virgin cypress, descendants of 18th-century Highland warriors, and a motley cast of rare and endangered species. The Altamaha has even been rumored to harbor its own river monster, as well as traces of the most ancient European fort in North America. Brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins set off to kayak the river, bearing their father’s ashes toward the sea.  Both young men were raised by an angry, enigmatic shrimper who loved the river, and whose death remains a mystery that his sons hope to resolve. As the brothers proceed downriver, their story is interwoven with that of Jacques Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied the 1564 expedition to found a French settlement at the river’s mouth, which began as a search for riches and ended in a bloody confrontation with Spanish conquistadors and native tribes.  Publisher’s Weekly loved this trip, saying that Brown’s book “Captures the essence of an enchanting place with a story combining adventure, family drama, and local history.”

No One Cares About Crazy People: In this heartbreaking, well-researched, and determined book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Powers asks, How did we, as a society, get to this point in our treatment and thinking about mental illness. Powers traces the appalling narrative–from the sadistic abuse of “lunaticks” at Bedlam Asylum in London seven centuries ago to today’s scattershot treatments and policies. His odyssey of reportage began after not one but both of his beloved sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Braided into his vivid social history is the moving saga of Powers’s own family: his bright, buoyant sons, both of whom struggled mightily with schizophrenia, and the way their personal history fits into the scope of his wider history on mental illness.  Kirkus Reviews gave this journey a starred review, saying, “Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Powers presents two searing sagas: an indictment of mental health care in the United States and the story of his two schizophrenic sons…. This hybrid narrative, enhanced by the author’s considerable skills as a literary stylist, succeeds on every level.”

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

Stories that save you

We all have stories that save us.

I’ve used this phrase a few times here, dear readers, and I really do believe it.  We’ve all had a person who came into our lives precisely when they were most needed, and gave us a new direction, some advice, or perhaps some comfort, and made an indelible difference on our lives.

Books can be like that, too.

Recently, Stephen Fry recorded the entire Sherlock Holmes canon for   You can hear a sample of it in the clip above.

…and let me assure you, the rest is just as glorious.  The best part is that he also wrote and recorded a series of introductions for the various books of stories, talking about the history of the stories, of Conan Doyle’s life (and his friendship with Oscar Wilde!), and Fry’s own relationship to Sherlock Holmes’ adventures.  In one of these introductions, he talks about how Sherlock Holmes saved his life.

And I kind of know what he means.

I found my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was twelve years old.  For some reason, my sixth grade teacher had a copy of six random Sherlock Holmes stories bound together–I know for a fact that “The Sussex Vampire” was the first I read, which is why, even though I know it’s really not one of the better stories, it’s among my favorites.  “The Blue Carbuncle” was in there, as well, which is also one of my all-time favorites.  I brought that book with me on a god-awful camping trip that they made all the sixth-graders take to “build character” and “bond socially”.  I got lost in the woods and nearly drowned, neither of which really helped my intense feelings of awkwardness, which were largely brought about by being taller than everyone else and not having a clue about how to fit into a group of my peers.  But at night, while everyone else was building their character and bonding socially, I hid in my sleeping bag and read about Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes, too, was an outsider; a man who admitted to not having many friends and not fitting in–and who was taller than most people.  And he, with all his weird quirks and socially awkward manners, was the hero of his story.  I also think I learned how to be a good friend by watching Watson.  Watson didn’t try, at any point, to be something he wasn’t.  He expressed everything he felt clearly, and he showed up when he was needed.  When we got back from that hellish trip, I used my savings to buy a huge collection of Holmes stories, which included A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and all the stories up to and including “The Final Problem”.   Having those two around got me through what turned out to be one of the hardest years of my growing up, with bullies and mean teachers and the outdoors all conspiring against me.

Jeremy Brett is the best Sherlock.

By high school, I had read and re-read the entire Holmes canon multiple times.  I actually made a few friends who had read a bit about Sherlock Holmes as well–admittedly, not to the same obsessive level that I had, but who were willing to keep up a conversation with me, or watch the Jeremy Brett adaptations with me.  But college is when Holmes really stepped up to help me out.

I did my junior semester abroad in London, and trust me when I tell you I was living in the creepiest, most unsanitary, and poorly insulated dorm room you can imagine, with some of the least personable people this side of a sitcom.  But I had Holmes.  And I had David Timson’s recordings.  Timson, for the record, is a marvel.  He created a different voice for every character in the entire Holmes world.  And played them all accurately.  I saved up my tiny stipend once a month to buy a new CD collection of stories, and listened to them at night to help me fall asleep in my weird, dingy dorm.  No matter how bad things got, Holmes could set them right.  There is no story that doesn’t end with order being restored, and when you’re living in a place of disorder, that can mean everything. During the day, I learned to navigate London by the walks that Holmes at Watson took in the various stories.  I got hopelessly lost one day trying to get home from Oxford Street, and was about ready to cry when I remembered that Mr. Henry Baker walked from Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street after his Christmas festivities in “The Blue Carbuncle”, and replayed the scene in my head as I walked.  I made it to the Tube in time to catch the last train home.

In grad school, I became slightly notorious for bringing Sherlock Holmes into every class I took.  Because to know Sherlock Holmes means to understand the tensions within the British Empire.  It means understanding a bit about the Victorian legal system, about social customs and attitudes, and about gender relations.  It also means understanding the impact of railways and travel on the average person in history.  And I made my students read a few Holmes stories for themselves, because they are more fun than a textbook, and more enlightening than my lectures in many respects.  In every case, Holmes was a kind of security blanket for me, easing me into a new, and potentially scary situation by being that familiar, that constant friend, that fixed point in a changing age.

Heck, I even, tangentially, got this job at the library because of Sherlock Holmes.  When I moved back to Peabody, I joined the Library’s Classics Book group in order to make a few friends.  The first book the group read with me as a member?  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I kid you not.   It was those stories that kept me coming back to the Library, and they haven’t gotten rid of me since.

And today, when anxiety crops its ugly head, I plug in my earbuds, or pull out that same battered old volume of Holmes stories, and transplant the angry, insecure voice in my head with Watson’s calm narrative, and Holmes’ practical problem-solving.  These two friends have been with me for twenty years now, helping me through every change in life, and every rough patch that I’ve hit along the way, from practical advice about growing up to navigating a foreign city, from intense historic analysis to calming stress-relief.  Those are the stories that have saved me.

I hope you have some, too.

Private Eyes…They’re Watching You, Watching You…

When I was little, I wanted to be a spy.

I also want to be “the lady who worked at the Library”, so I think I’m doing a pretty good job on the life goals, all around.

But back to the main point–I wanted to be a spy.  I adored watching re-runs of Get Smart on tv, to the point where I may have written Maxwell Smart a fan letter.  Although I did realize, at some point, that I wasn’t going to be able to work for Control, I really never outgrew a love for spy fiction.  Some of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories were the ones where we got to meet “international agents” like Eduardo Lucas, who managed to be an internationally recognized tenor and a super-spy.

In college, I found the James Bond novels, and found them…sexist and ridiculous, to be honest…but amidst all the feeding people to sharks and men who grew fur during the full moon, Ian Fleming managed to create a world where being a spy was a high-paying, classy-as-all-getout job, complete with trips on the Orient Express, and classic whiskey, and designer weaponry.   This was a Cold War that was fought civilly–with barbed discourse and knives concealed in tuxedo jackets, rather than atomic bombs and mass murder in the developing world.

On the other end of the proverbial spectrum, you had the books of John Le Carre.  LeCarre’s books showed a much more realistic, seedier, and honest view of spywork–a world of betrayal and cynicism and crushing bureaucracy (anyone who remembers the archivists from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will know what I mean).  While James Bond could saunter around with his martinis, Smiley and his crew were doing the real work, averting disaster, and suffering the very real consequences.

But then the Cold War ended.  And the spy novel got really quite boring.  I read a few books about industrial espionage, but, after you’ve flown on a jet with Bond, or slunk through the shadows with Smiley, or tried to talk in the cone of silence, rifling a filing cabinet just isn’t that stirring, and the high visibility violence  of the War on Terror took any pleasure out of reading about spies in the modern world for me.  These spies weren’t upholding civilization–they were witnessing its demise.  Sure, spy novels were published, but they were bleak and depressing and clearly suffering the same heartbreak over the lack of post-Cold War peace and harmony that I, as a reader, felt (read some of John LeCarre’s later works to see what I mean).

Stop manhandling women, James Bond. Thank you.

It was around this point that we saw the rise of the historical spy novel, with classics like Robert Harris’ Enigma, which focused on the code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and Alan Furst’s novels about spies across Eastern Europe during the second half of the twentieth century.  In these books, it was clear that the tension and the dingy glamor of the Cold War still hadn’t worn off.  Moreover, in this nostalgia, it was very easy to see a longing for a time where things were black and white, and it was relatively easy to know your allies from your enemies.  Time moved a little more slowly, and information flowed at a speed that the brain could take in.  These novels celebrated the social aspect of the spy novel–it boiled complex, terrifying, real-world scenarios into manageable sizes, and provided us with a few heroes and heroines who could set the world to right through their wits and courage.  For all the nifty gadgets and smarmy phrases of our favorite spies, the goal of each novel was always to keep the world familiar, and therefore, safe.

And now, with the world getting bigger and scarier and more confusing seemingly hour by hour, the spy novel is making a comeback, playing not only on our need to believe that a few intrepid humans can make things right, but also feeding our increasing hunger for technology…wouldn’t Maxwell Smart have a field day with an iPhone?!

So here are a few suggestions for some terrific new books on conspiracy theories, undercover investigations and international intrigue, perhaps to take your mind off…conspiracy theories about covert agents and undercover investigations and international intrigue.  I can guarantee you these suggestions have much, much better plots that then ones on the news….

Slow Horses: Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series (also known as the Slough House series) is one of my favorite spy series of all time, and with the recent release of the fourth book, things are only looking up.  The ‘horses’ of the title are all MI-5 agents who have failed.  Colossally failed.  But rather than being booted from the organization, they are moved to Slough House, and left to shred paper, troll the internet, and generally waste away in obscurity.  But the folks at Slough House aren’t about to go quietly into that good night, and keep finding cases that no one else wants to take–or knows how to take–or knows about at all.  Herron has a wicked sense of humor, and writes stories that are linguistically surprising, intricately plotted, and just plain fun.  Plus, I’m in love with River Cartwright.  There.  I said it.

Jack of Spies: David Downing’s Jack McColl novels are historic spy fictions set around and after the First World War.  He channels some of the great writers of First World War spycraft, like Somerset Maugham, to create a world that is big and complex and fragile, and where alliances are made–and broken– in heartbeats.   These books are well-thought out and feature phenomenal period detail, not the least of which is the real threats that menace our hero McColl from every side–from Irish revolutionaries to Chinese intelligence agents, to his own lover, McColl’s world is full of the same complexities as our own, but everyone is better dressed.  And he is just the man to try and put it to rights.

The Journeyman TailorI think we’ve mentioned this book before, under a different category, but it deserves mention here, again.  Gerald Seymour, who also wrote Harry’s Game, does a magnificent job here showing the very real, gritty, and often terribly mundane world of British spies who were working to bring down the IRA during the height of its bombing campaigns.  When a new recruit is brought in to infiltrate the IRA in the mountains of Northern Ireland, he quickly learns that this is not an assignment where men earn glory, nor is it s a place capable of being saved, no matter how much he or his eccentric colleague might try. It is also a deeply complex tale about those IRA fighters, their families, and their communities, and takes a very hard look at the effects of this war on both sides, making it one that is tense, deeply unsettling, and haunting.

The Man Booker International Prize Longlist is here!

We are getting extraordinarily spoiled for book awards around here lately, dear readers!  Today, we present the Man Booker International Prize Longlist, celebrating the best books not originally written in English, and the people who translate them so beautifully.

Every culture, and every language, has its own literary traditions.   The English language tradition has Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Austen–all the names that we learned about in school, and whose skill shaped, and continue to shape, the books we read today.

But now, imagine growing up in a world where those authors….weren’t the ones you grew up reading.  A world where you had other authors–other traditions–other phrases that called up your emotions.

It’s really hard to do.  But that is what makes books not written in English so incredible.  They are based in different cultures, different linguistic structures, different overall world experiences.  And I don’t know if there is a more intimate way to experience a different culture than to read its literature.

Better yet, the Man Booker Prize celebrates translations, as well.  If writing a book is a difficult process, translating that book is another matter entirely.  The ability to interpret not only an author’s words, but his or her intentions is a rare one.  To be able to keep one foot in the original language and one in the new is a balancing act that few can pull off with grace.  Vladimir Nabokov explained the complicated art of a translator far better than I ever could, in an article he wrote for the New Republic in 1941:

We can deduce now the requirements that a translator must possess in order to be able to give an ideal version of a foreign masterpiece. First of all he must have as much talent, or at least the same kind of talent, as the author he chooses…Second, he must know thoroughly the two nations and the two languages involved and be perfectly acquainted with all details relating to his author’s manner and methods; also, with the social background of words, their fashions, history and period associations. This leads to the third point: while having genius and knowledge he must possess the gift of mimicry and be able to act, as it were, the real author’s part by impersonating his tricks of demeanor and speech, his ways and his mind, with the utmost degree of verisimilitude.

So while we celebrate these remarkable books, let’s not forget the remarkable translators who made it possible for us to read them in English.  And be sure to check out these longlisted books soon!*

*Note: The full longlist can be found here.  Because so many books have not yet been released in the US, only the available ones are provided below.

We’ll be back with more information when the shortlist is produced in April!  Until then, dear readers–enjoy!