Tag Archives: News!

“…tell the old story for our modern times…”

Hey, Homer

The Odyssey is a work is one of the oldest works in the history of literature, and has inspired countless other works of art.  It has been sung, performed, discussed, and read by millions and millions of people across the generations, across approximately three millennia.  It has been in print in English since about 1615.

But The Odyssey has never been translated by a woman.

Until now.

Emily Wilson, by Ralph Rosen, via Bustle

Oxford graduate and UPenn professor Emily Wilson (pictured above via Bustle) is the first woman to translate this ancient text into English, and the results are truly astounding.   Not only does she bring a different perspective to the piece, but she highlights people, situations, and themes that no other translator has sought to do.  And that emphasis can change the way we think about a work that has been with us, literally, for ages.

Homer has a story for you…

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, a veteran of the Trojan Wars, who, in attempting to return home to his wife and son, offends the god Poseidon, and ends up being cast adrift.  He and his crew wander to remote islands and caves, have liaisons with gods and fight sea creatures, and, eventually, find their way home to Ithaca.  It is an adventure story.  A story about overcoming odds, and beating the forces of fate.

At the same time, Odysseus’ wife Penelope is forced to fend of a legion of suitors for her hand, tolerating their advances and abuses, and putting up with her whining, generally unhelpful and sulky son, hopeful that her husband will return home.  This story is one of silence, of undoing, and of endurance.  And though many previous translators and scholars have attempted to frame Penelope’s portion of the story has heroic in its own way, the truth of the matter is that this is not a feminist text.  And usually, translators overlook this in order to get back to the doing, the adventuring.  Emily Wilson doesn’t.

Instead, she takes a new, closer look at Penelope, and the world of Odysseus’ home, bringing and understanding to these sections that is normally not present.  She doesn’t try to transform Penelope into a hero/ine.  Instead, she examines her life and her actions through the medium of words.  As she explained in an essay at The Guardian“Female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men.” She called translating Homer as a woman an experience of “intimate alienation.”

This kind of focus–the kind that allows us to see Penelope’s life in greater detail–also takes in other people who have been marginalized, not only in literature, but in real life, as well.  Wilson calls the slaves who live and work in Odysseus’ house, “slaves”.  Not ‘maidservants’, which implies they have a choice in the matter, or ‘whores’, as some male translators have done previously (emphasizing that they ‘sold themselves’ to men, rather than that, once again, they have no control over their own situation or bodies).  Instead, as she explained in an interview with The New York Times: 

Young female slaves in a palace would have had little agency to resist the demands of powerful men. Where Fagles wrote “whores” and “the likes of them” — and Lattimore “the creatures” — the original Greek, Wilson explained, is just a feminine definite article meaning “female ones.” To call them “whores” and “creatures” reflects, for Wilson, “a misogynistic agenda”: their translators’ interpretation of how these females would be defined.

Wilson has also attempted, throughout her fascinating and powerful translation, to keep the language active, exciting, and vibrant.   As Vox described in an article about her work:

In its matter-of-fact language, [Wilson’s translation is] worlds different from Fagles’s “Sing to me of the man, Muse,” or Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 version, “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story / of that man skilled in all ways of contending.” Wilson chose to use plain, relatively contemporary language in part to “invite readers to respond more actively with the text,” she writes in a translator’s note. “Impressive displays of rhetoric and linguistic force are a good way to seem important and invite a particular kind of admiration, but they tend to silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement.”

And, according to all reviews, she succeeds in stellar fashion.  Her understanding of ancient Greek, in the power of language, and in the nuanced meanings of words, syntax, and phrasing, make this work more than just a “first” in literature.  It makes it a really significant event in the history of translations.

We’ve talked here about the significance of translators to literature, the difficulty of the work of translation, and power that the translator has over the piece on which they work.  Emily Wilson realizes all of these elements of her work, and she has been more than responsible in her duties.  We are so eager to delve further into her work, and so very excited for this new era of The Odyssey!

 

Congrats to the Houston Astros!

It’s been a tough few months for Houston, and just as we at the Free For All have been eager to help in the recovery efforts, we also share in their joy as the Houston Astros win the 2017 World Series.

via houstonlibrary.org

And because we’ve been up too long watching the game (and every game in these series, for that matter!), we will simply refer you to this article, which documents the Library Battles that have ensued between the Houston Public Library system and the Los Angeles Public Library system.  Here’s a brief sample of a magic, via the Los Angeles Public Library and Houston Public Library Instgram feeds:

 

We launched our blog with some book-spine poetry, but we are seriously going to have to step up our game if we are ever going to compete at this level!

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, dear readers!  If you’re looking for a fun adventure this weekend, be sure to check out the Boston Book Festival, a glorious weekend of book-loving, book-buying, and book-discussing!  It’s all taking place in Copley Square, and the line-up of authors this year is really impressive, diverse, exciting, and engaging.  You can get all the details at their website: https://bostonbookfest.org/

And if that isn’t enough books for you for one weekend, then feel free to check out these books (and many others!) that gamboled onto our shelves this week!

 

The Power: The winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has at last arrived, both on our shores, and on our shelves!  This is a book that is both outlandish and challenging–but Naomi Alderman possess a phenomenal talent for making the world of her book feel normal, believable–and all the most chilling for it.  In this story, Alderman creates a world that looks remarkably like ours, with a wealth of intricate characters from around the globe, whose lives converge when a vital new force takes root and flourishes: Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.  This is a book is as much about our own world as that of the world that Alderman has created, and offers plenty of commentary on the state of gendered and age power structures.  Perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing is the correspondence that frame the main book, which highlights in painful clarity the language we use in talking about women, and how absurd it is taken out of context.  The Boston Globe‘s review echoed this sentiment, saying, “Alderman has conducted a brilliant thought experiment in the nature of power itself…Turning the world inside out, she reveals how one of the greatest hallmarks of power is the chance to create a mythology around how that power was used. In that sense, The Power is a testament to its own force – it begins and ends in the voice of the author herself – as if to say, lightning would be nice, but for now – and here – there’s the pen. It can do a lot.”

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman. Though she and Friedman are in many ways the “Adam and Eve” of the NSA, Elizebeth’s story has always been overshadowed by William’s…until now.  In this well-researched and very well-told story, Jason Fagone presents Elizebeth’s life, her genius, and the real import of her work, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence.  Fans of Hidden Figures are sure to find plenty to enjoy here!  Booklist gave Fagone’s work a starred review, too, hailing it as “Riveting, inspiring, and rich in colorful characters, Fagone’s extensively researched and utterly dazzling title is popular history at its very best and a book club natural.”

Death in the Air: the true story of a serial killer, the great London smog, and the strangling of a city: Fans of Erik Larson and David King should not waste a minute in checking out Kate Winkler Dawson’s fascinating and unsettling history of the deadliest air pollution disaster in world history…and the murderer who worked alongside it.  In winter 1952, London automobiles and thousands of coal-burning hearths belched particulate matter into the air. But the smog that descended on December 5th of 1952 was different; it was a type that held the city hostage for five long days. Mass transit ground to a halt, criminals roamed the streets, and 12,000 people died. That same month, there was another killer at large in London: John Reginald Christie, who murdered at least six women. In a braided narrative that draws on extensive interviews, never-before-published material, and archival research, Dawson captivatingly recounts the intersecting stories of the these two killers and their longstanding impact on modern history.  Authors from Douglas Preston to Simon Winchester have written blurbs for this all-around winner of a book, with the latter providing a poignant reminder of how close to these events we still are, and what a rare gift it is to be able to discuss such events in an insightful way.  He writes: “I was seven, and living in London, when these two dreadful and murderous events uncoiled, and I–asthmatic as a result–remember them still. It seems to me that only an outsider, a non-Londoner, could possibly bring them so vividly, so excruciatingly and so unflinchingly back to life. Kate Winkler Dawson has done the history of my city a great service, and she is to be commended for telling a terrible tale memorably and brilliantly.”

RighteousFans of Joe Ide’s debut mystery, IQ, should definitely check out this follow-up story featuring the compelling  Isaiah Quintabe.  Ten years ago, when Isaiah was just a boy, his brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The search for the killer sent Isaiah plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life. Even with a flourishing career, a new dog, and near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown, East Long Beach, he has to begin the hunt again-or lose his mind.  But at the same time, I.Q. and his volatile, dubious sidekick, Dodson find themselves plunged into a case featuring Chinese gangsters, a terrifying seven-foot-tall loan shark, and a case that threatens not only I.Q. and Dodson, but the love of I.Q.’s life, as well.  This series is a hit with fans, critics, and other mystery writers alike, with its gritty scenarios, trash-talking characters, and the deep emotionality that Ide brings to the hardest of hard-boiled characters’ interactions.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this case a starred review, declaring it “Outstanding . . . Ide again makes his hero’s deductive brilliance plausible, while presenting an emotionally engaging story that doesn’t shy away from presenting the bleakest aspects of humanity.”

The Written WorldWhat is better than a book?  A book about books!  In this groundbreaking book, Martin Puchner leads us on a remarkable journey through time and around the globe to reveal the powerful role stories and literature have played in creating the world we have today. Puchner introduces us to numerous visionaries as he explores sixteen foundational texts selected from more than four thousand years of world literature and reveals how writing has inspired the rise and fall of empires and nations, the spark of philosophical and political ideas, and the birth of religious beliefs. Indeed, literature has touched the lives of generations and changed the course of history.  From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter, Puchner’s delightful narrative also chronicles the inventions—writing technologies, the printing press, the book itself—that have shaped religion, politics, commerce, people, and history, making this a book that history buffs, techno-geeks, and book lovers alike will savor.  Any time Margaret Atwood composes a Tweet to your book, it’s a good day, and this tweet says it all: “Well worth a read, to find out how come we read.”

The Man Booker Prize 2017: Congratulations to George Saunders!

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: George Saunders Wins the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in the Bardo! 

 

 

…Because as soon as the announcement is made as to the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize, we’ll be relating it here…

Until then, feel free to place your bets on which book will win one of fiction’s most coveted prizes.  Here are the latest quotes from Ladbrokes:

From Library Land: Is Dr. Seuss Tired?

The world is a fraught place, dear readers.  And in such a world, it can be really, truly difficult to avoid seeing the world as an exclusively polarized place…as black/white, good/bad, right/wrong…and forget that very few things in human society are that simple.*

A few weeks back, there was a bit of a brouhaha in Library Land over a letter written by a children’s librarian in Cambridge, addressed to the First Lady of the United States regarding the donation of several children’s books to the school at which she worked.  The letter is still posted on The Horn Book website.  You can read it, if you so choose, and form whatever opinion you chose.  The letter and its author have become the target for so much public debate, acrimony, and verbal bile that it doesn’t seem particularly useful for us to wade into the whys, wherefore, and whataboutisms.

However, I would like to bring up one point in the letter that many people have tended to overlook: that line that calls Dr. Seuss  “a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

Now this is a subject that requires a lot more scrutiny.  This is especially true in light of a recent announcement by the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield recently ordered a mural at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum to be removed because it contains an illustration of a Chinese man with chopsticks.  This was in response to a letter written by author and illustrator Mo Willems and two other authors, Lisa Yee and Mike Curato stating that they would not be attending an event at the Museum, first, because of a mural on display there that depicts a scene from Dr. Seuss’ first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, and secondly, because, when contacted, the administration of the  museum “replied that it was the responsibility of visitors to contextualize the oversized painting of the ‘Chinaman’ for their younger wards, not theirs.”

The image depicts the reference in the story to “A Chinese man who eats with sticks“.  The image itself is of a very stereotypical Chinese caricature, with a pointy hat, and slanted eyes.

So what are we to do with this information?  What good librarian patrons do…get more information before making a judgement call.

Ted Geisel was absolutely a man of his time.  He frequently reproduced cultural and racial stereotypes in his work without questioning their validity, their effect on others, or the harmful mentality that produced them–the Chinese man (or Chinaman in the original text) is just one example.

And, because it’s not a stereotype that is as widely discussed today, the image of the slant-eyed Chinaman with the pointed hat originated during the late 19th century.  Chinese immigrants were associated with opium dens and often accused of ‘polluting’ British and American men (and women) who visited these dens.  Around the turn of the century, it was quite normal to see highly stereotyped Chinese villains in books and films.  They were portrayed as something other than human, and a threat to all “good” people.

To provide a few examples: Philip Nel, who wrote the endlessly fascinating and extraordinarily thought-provoking book Was The Cat In The Hat Black?, points out that Geisel wrote and performed in a blackface minstrel show in high school, called “Chicopee Surprised”.  When he was drawing the initial sketches for the Cat, in The Cat and the Hat, Nel observes,  Geisel was “inspired by blackface performance, racist images in popular culture, and actual African Americans.  Now, in 1920-1 when this show was performed, blackface was a very popular, highly visible form of caricature and entertainment.  It was criticized as racist, demeaning, and offensive by some, but you don’t have to look any further than Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer to see how well-known and generally unquestioned it was.  (The photo to left is Geisel in 1925, when he was a student at Dartmouth College in Massachusetts, via Today In History).

Following the bombing of Pearl Habor, Geisel, who drew a large number of political cartoons in the course of his career, drew a cartoon of a line of Japanese people, captioned the “Honorable 5th Column” waiting in a line to receive blocks of TNT, while one (highly racialized and stereotypes) figure looks eastward with a telescope “Waiting for a Signal from Home“.  The cartoon supports Japanese interment camps, which were being established on the west coast, and in which American citizens of Japanese origin and heritage were treated with brutal inhumanity.  This was not, by any means, the only racialized cartoon he drew to represent the Japanese during the Second World War.

None of these facts are pleasant or easy to discuss.  It’s hard to accept that a person whose books you grew up cherishing was a human person with ugly, unquestioned prejudices.

But the story doesn’t stop here.  Because Geisel was also a human being in the very best sense–he was able to grow, and to change.  As Willems, Yee, and Curato wrote in their letter, “The career of Ted Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is a story of growth, from accepting the baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career, to challening those divisive impulses with work that delighted his readers and changed the time.”

Geisel began Horton Hears a Who in 1953, after a postwar visit to Japan, when he was researching a piece for Life magazine on the effects of the war and post-war efforts on Japanese children. With the help of Mitsugi Nakamura, dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Seuss went to schools all over Japan and asked kids to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Having met Japanese people, and seen the effects of the war on everyday human beings there, he realized just what kind of harm caricatures like his earlier political cartoons had provoked.  The book is dedicated to Nakamura, and the message, about embracing everyone’s humanity, regardless of whether they look or sound like, marks not only a huge moment in children’s literature, but also an enormously revelation for Geisel himself.  The Whos are saved by one small Who, named Jo-Jo, makes his “Yopp!” heard–as Kelly Smith points out in this sensational blog post, “Dr. Seuss is stressing the power of a single voice making all the difference for a people and, with it, showing how he should have used his voice to protect the Japanese, rather than denigrate them.” 

via Dr. Seuss Wiki

He more explicitly apologizes when he puts himself in his rightful place in history with the previously skeptical kangaroo, who says “from now on, you know what I’m planning to do?… From now on, I’m going to protect them with you” (page 58 of Horton Hears a Who)

Following Horton, he wrote The Sneetches, another book about how individuals are punished for the way they look, and the harm it does, not only to them, but to their whole society, as well.  In 1973, he changed the text and the images in And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.  He removed the “Chinaman” reference, changing the wording to “Chinese man”, and made the character’s face the same white color as the rest of the figures in the story.  It’s not the everything.  But it’s a huge sign of change.

We need diverse books.  We need to have children from all backgrounds and experiences to be able to see themselves in the stories we tell.  Therefore, Dr. Seuss should by no means be the only books we read.  However, neuroscientists have proven, through the marvels of science, that Dr. Seuss’ use of repetition, rhythm and rhyme help children in crucial ways to process the speech they hear, and fine-tune the connections between auditory and language networks in the brain.

But, maybe more importantly, Dr. Seuss’ own story teaches us a powerful lesson: people can change, and they can change for the better.  Children, just like grown-ups, are faced everyday with people who are scared, who are angry, and who are resistant to change.  We cannot protect them from that.  But we can show them what positive growth and change looks like by talking to them about Dr. Seuss, and how he grew as a person, an author, and a spokesperson for humanity.  This lesson is as important today–perhaps even more important–as it has ever been.

Portraying Seuss’ illustration of “the Chinaman” without talking about how it changed, and how he changed, really isn’t fair, either to Dr. Seuss or his readers.  Portraying him as “tired” does enormous dis-service to the energy with which he combatted stereotypes and xenophobia in his later career.  For that reason, it’s important not to forget Dr. Seuss’ inspiring contributions, even as we work to fill our shelves with a world of diverse books that tell even more powerful stories.

Because a person’s a person, no matter how small.

Via Dr. Seuss Wiki

 

 

*Some things are that simple.  Things like “be kind to others”, don’t drive if your motor skills are impaired”,  “mosquitoes buzzing in your ears at night is awful”, or “raccoons are terrifying”.

On Libraries and Hurricane Relief Updates

None of us need a reminder that this year’s hurricane season has been historic and, for many of our friends in Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands, life-changing.  And with even more hurricanes moving closer to Puerto Rico and the other Leeward Islands, it doesn’t look like life is going to be getting easier for many of those good people anytime soon.

But even as we in Massachusetts prepare for what is now Tropical Storm Jose, and send all our good wishes to our friends in the CLAMS Library Network, it’s really important that we don’t forget the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are undertaking.  Because they will be taking years.

Downed trees outside the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Coconut Grove Branch after the storm
Photo courtesy of Miami Dade Public Library System

So, having said that, here are some updates from the wonderful people at the Texas Library Association and the Florida Library Associations, with some additions ways you can help!

Our first update comes from the American Library Association’s  #LibrariesRespond page, that not only advocates for disaster preparedness, but also offers a number of resources for helping Florida’s and Texas’ Libraries:

Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Library Association is working with the State Library of Florida to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries across the state.  We have already begun receiving requests to help.  Anyone wishing to assist Florida libraries with their recovery efforts is urged to donate to the Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.  Donations can be open to assisting any library affected by the storm, or can be directed to assist a specific library in need.  We will update our website frequently as we learn details about specific libraries and their needs.

There is also the inspiring “Rebuilding Florida Library” page on the Florida Library Association page, that is being consistently updated with needs and offers of help from libraries across the country.  Donations are being accepted through any of the links posted here.

Secondly, American Libraries Magazine has posted an update on the rebuilding efforts in Texas.  This article features some of the horrible circumstances that Houston’s Libraries faced, but also their incredible resiliency and determination to reopen as quickly as possible:

Nineteen of the 26 branches of the Harris County Public Library reopened on September 1 for emergency relief purposes only—for residents to fill out FEMA forms, use computers or internet, charge cellphones, or make use of a quiet, air-conditioned spot. Four branches are closed until further notice: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek, and Kingwood. The library opened a pop-up library at the NRG Stadium to give evacuees some diversion with books for all ages, storytimes for kids, a 3D printer for informal edutainment, and a bank of laptops with internet access.

Texas Libraries begin cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey

For those looking to help, the Texas Library Association (TLA) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to assist damaged libraries across the Gulf Coast region. TLA has a disaster relief fund that is actively seeking contributions. Hundreds of individuals and companies have donated to the fund, and offers of books, furniture, volunteer assistance, computers, and preservation services are coming in regularly to TLA. The two organizations have also set up the Texas Library Recovery Connection, an online sharing system to bring together assisting organizations with libraries needing help.

The thing that consistently surprises me about these sites is the Google Spreadsheets.  On these documents, libraries post their needs, from computers to bookcases, from books to supplies.  And other people/groups/institutions can (and do) respond.  For all the complications and trouble that the Internet has brought into our lives, there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way that it can also bring people together and accomplish lasting good.  So feel free to check out these sites, contribute in whatever way you can, and appreciate the good that our species is capable of doing.

The 2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist!

In the wee hours of the morning, we learned the titles that made the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, one of our favorite fiction awards here at the Library.

As a lot of news outlets have noted, there are a number of surprises in this list.  The first is that many of the really big names who were a part of the longlist, including Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy, and Zadie Smith, did not make the shortlist.  The second is that two debut authors, Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley, who are also the youngest nominees.  For many, the final surprise is that half the list are American authors.

The bidding has begun, with bookmakers giving George Saunders’  Lincoln at the Bardo the best odds to win, and there is no doubt that speculation, debates, and a lot of reading, will be going on between now and when the final announcement is made on October 17th.  But, as noted on the Man Booker website:

If there is anyone who will find the next month more relaxing than previous ones, it is the judges themselves. Not that their work is done but rather that they can take a bit more time over things. They have read each of the shortlisted books a minimum of twice already and now they will have to read them for a third time and ask themselves not which book is a contender to win but which book deserves to win. For all concerned the next four weeks will seem simultaneously a very long and a very short time. Hopefully, for a few days at least, they can all take a couple of moments to reflect – and maybe even congratulate themselves – on what they have achieved so far.

So here, without further ado, is the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.  Come in and check out these titles, and make your own educated guesses about who will win, today!

The 2017 shortlist:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (Not yet released in the US)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)