Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic.
“Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” ― Edward Said (in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2003)
Remembering Edward Said, who was born today in 1935.
PBS has cobbled together this fabulous and oddly catchy autotune Julia Child song for her 100th birthday.
I’ve already listened to it…five times. And then I ordered Mastering the Art of French Cooking online. These are almost certainly related.
Happy birthday, James Baldwin! From “Sonny’s Blues,” my favorite of his short stories:
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.”
It’s also Harry Potter’s fictional birthday too.
[The library] is just as exciting as any of those stadiums. And these librarians and people around, they are so happy to see you. They have cards for you, pamphlets for you. You can walk out loaded.
A belated happy birthday (7/12) to Bill Cosby, a library lover!
PEN America 2: Home and Away
This talk was originally presented at a Twentieth-Century Masters Tribute to Marcel Proust, sponsored by the PEN American Center, Lincoln Center, the PEN Forums Committee, and Lipper Publications.
“Proust felt that a long sentence contained a whole, complex thought. The shape of the sentence was the shape of the thought, and every word was necessary to the thought. When he used a deliberate effect like alliteration, it was there not as an empty flourish, but to tie two similar elements or contrasting elements together in one’s mind. He despised empty flourishes. He categorically rejected sentences that were artificially amplified, that were overly abstract or that groped, arriving at a sentence by a succession of approximations. Great length was not desirable in itself. As he proceeded from draft to draft, he not only added material but also condensed. ‘I prefer concentration,’ he said, ‘even in length. I really have to weave these long silks as I spin them,’ he said. ‘If I shortened my sentences, it would make little pieces of sentences, not sentences.’”
That most delicate unibrow, the manicured moustache, those big doe eyes—yes, it is Proust! On the occasion of his 141st birthday, a snippet from the Lydia Davis translation of the Combray section of Swann’s Way:
The old porch by which we entered, black, pocked like a skimming ladle, was uneven and deeply hollowed at the edges (like the font to which it led us), as if the gentle brushing of the country-women’s cloaks as they entered the church and of their timid fingers taking holy water could, repeated over centuries, acquire a destructive force, bend the stone and carve it with furrows like those traced by the wheel of a cart in a boundary stone which it knocks against every day.
Happy birthday, Shakespeare, historical dreamboat! Today I’ll be posting some of my favorite lines from his plays and poetry.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.
It’s been roughly eight years since I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and I feel now distant from it. The experience is like looking at a receding country from a ship headed oceanward: I have been there, but am bound for other places. I don’t feel like Márquez’s finest novel (and yes, I believe this strongly) is any less important to me, just farther away. I’m afraid to read it again, in case it’s different this time, but I know someday I will. I’ll have to.
Today is Gabriel García Márquez’s birthday—Gabo—and that he is somewhere in the world drinking coffee and looking at the patterns its grinds make (he mentions this too often in his fiction for me to believe that he doesn’t do this with every fresh cup) makes me happy. When I think about him, I think about his friendship with Shakira. That in his youth he used to wear brightly colored and printed shirts, clothes that verged on clownish. I think that 20 percent of why I dated this one boy in high school was because he once saw Gabo on the beach, and they waved at each other. And when I think about his obsession with sex workers, I cannot digest it. I feel like I’m rolling marbles around in my mouth. I’m never quite sure what to make of this man.
When I read One Hundred Years of Solitude I listened to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain on repeat. I cannot listen to that album without hearing Márquez’s words, thinking about Ursula growing smaller, seeing the sign to remind insomniacs that “GOD EXISTS,” feeling the rumble of the train that carried the bodies of 3000 dead banana plantation workers. Appropriately (or not), all of the ipods I’ve ever owned have been named after its characters. I took six years of Spanish (unsuccessfully) so I could read it in its original language. I cannot think of another novel whose images have stayed with me like this one’s.
I found it among my mother’s books. It had a beautiful cover. (I read many books for their covers.) This one made it look both good (of high literary quality) and good (are those people making out? in a forest? in the sunset??). I think I was first struck just by the beauty of the language. It read like a old song or poem: simple, evocative, puzzling, almost mythic. As I read more I identified a quality that felt organic, the story’s naturalness, which must have partly grown out of the fantastical oral storytelling tradition that Márquez so famously borrows from. Thinking back now it was also the (seemingly) effortless harmony Márquez struck between style and story, so that the novel itself felt like an organism, keenly attuned to itself. It was unlike any book I had read.
Most readers have a book that changes them: the novel, like Irene Adler is to Sherlock Holmes the woman. This one was, is, mine. I didn’t need convincing of the merits of literature, of fiction, of books—I was already a convert, and Márquez was preaching to his choir. What I didn’t know yet was what literature, fiction, books were capable of. One Hundred Years of Solitude astonished me with its beauty, its depth, its variety, its humanity, its tone capable of rendering the true fantastic and the fantastic true, and its exuberance in the pleasures of storytelling. For that I have to wish its author a very, very happy birthday today, and offer him my thanks.