Professor Greedy or Professor Diligent?

How many books should a professor be allowed to check out of a university library? 350? Not enough for this guy. He had over 750 checked out at once before the library lost its collective (eh? eh?) mind and banned him from further withdrawals until he started bringing things back. Sounds bad, right? Well, what if he’s 65, unused to modern research, and mostly digging into books that haven’t even been digitized anyway. Tough call. If you keep reading though, you find he comes off as a bit of a dick, screaming at librarians, etc., and his email signature alone is worth a slap, so I don’t know what to think here. I have very little sympathy these days for privileged old men who throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. I’m sure Solomon could have solved this by cutting him in half or something, but I’m no Solomon.

30 seconds in author Heaven

Okay, hot shot: you are standing in line waiting to get your book signed by your favourite author–you’ve got 30 seconds of face time to prove you’re not a blathering idiot. What do you say when it’s your turn? This kind person has you covered with book-signing conversation tips for readers. (Note: please follow up with one for authors trying to make small talk with those guys that show up with stacks of everything you ever wrote, including crappy journal publications from the 90s, for you to sign so they can …. what?…. sell them to the highest bidder? HAHAHAHHAH.)

For a book nerd, an author book signing is no small prospect. Standing face-to-face for 30 seconds with an author whose work you love is equally thrilling and nerve-wracking. You don’t know this person, yet, after reading their stories, you almost feel like you know them better than you know some of your best friends.

I remember getting my book signed by Michael Ondaatje and him saying, “Nice to meet you,” and me saying “Actually, we’ve met a couple times a year for a the last few years. And I sang harmony for you at a party at Redhill’s. And I won your shirt at that party as well.” And he looked at me quietly for a moment with those inscrutable squints and nodded like I was insane and he didn’t want to exacerbate the situation by further engaging. I think it went fairly well.

Caldecott in question

It’s true that I often picked up the Caldecott Medal books first when looking for something to read to the kids–it’s pretty reliable. And I can’t see how it would be anything but more reliable if they were to follow this fellows thinking that it should be expanded to allow international entries.

…lately the Caldecott Medal has begun to show its age for reasons that cannot be written off to the vagaries of time or taste. Today, in fact, the world’s very first prize for children’s book illustration is in urgent need of a makeover: The outdated rule that candidates must be American needs to go.

Who gets to be a writer?

This guy got asked by a student in a workshop how the fuck she’s supposed to be a writer when it takes money to live. Good question, kid. I love this. It’s like she was reading one of those articles about Millennials who have founded their own companies and are way richer and more successful than their peers, only to come across the part (buried about 600 words in) where they outline that the seed money came from their trust fund or inheritance. Whew. NOW I understand. I just need a rich relative to kick off. (But, sadly, no matter who goes in my family, all I’m going to inherit is debt.) Coming from a background without any artists, and having grown up in an area of rural Ontario famous for dairy cows, trailer parks, drug use, and voting Conservative, I have occasionally felt sorry for myself that I wasn’t born into a rich family, or even a supportive one. As a non-academic poet, I have a choice: day jobs or poverty. (Don’t say I could teach: my BA cost me $40G in student loans that took me 10 years to pay off–there’s no fucking way I’m going back into that shit for a piece of paper that supposedly qualifies me to teach better than, you know, having written 10 books) I have had great jobs and have had shitty jobs, but until very recently I’ve always had a job. And even this push to write the great Canadian fantasy novel (note: does not contain actual Canadians) can’t last. I’ll have to go back eventually. I have too many children who are in or on their way to university and a house and a car and etc. I chose that, and in doing so agreed to keep everyone alive and give them what I could, and any artistic ambition I have has largely come second. So in a sense, is this much different than the guy who works in a shitty low level sales job for years and dreams of getting his old Whitesnake/Poison-inspired cover band back together for a few gigs? When I go to the smoke shop beside the local Sobeys to buy a lottery ticket, I sometimes see another writer there and we laugh and tell each other we’re paying into our poets’ retirement fund. But without a windfall, I’ll either be eking out the same existence when I’m 80. Anyway, I’m rambling. And my poet buddy is here for a coffee. So I’m done whining.

In January 2019, Concepción de Leon wrote in The New York Times that “the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered.” In other words, the aspiring writer would be wise to flip a proverbial burger or two if they want to make a real living wage. And as for me, I went from my proverbial “good-ass job” and became an adjunct lecturer making less than a third of what I had made before, and there were only two upsides: I could get free healthcare through Medicaid because I made so little, and go to work loving what I did. 

Nobel analysis…

From the most huggable of the CanLit curmudgeoncritics, Steven Beattie (this is as opposed to the more strangleable lot of CanLit curmudgeoncritics).

It is unfortunate that Tocarczuk, a fine writer whose win would in any other year be uncontroversial, should find herself forced under this particular shadow. She is generally considered one of Poland’s finest novelists; the English translation of her novel Flights won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize; and her second novel translated into English, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, has made its way onto many best-of lists for 2019. It is a shame that she is not being afforded the attention or acclaim she deserves, especially given the distressing fact that she is only the fifteenth woman to win the prize in its 118-year history.

Geez, worst I ever do is grab a Big Turk without telling my wife

You know the impulse items at the checkout? What if one of them was a bookstore? This woman is interviewed about her split second decision to buy an entire bookstore after hearing Tracy K Smith speak on the radio. (Thanks, Tipster Art!)

Buried deep within the alluvial silt of Twitter’s great and brackish tidal id one discovers, every now and then, a gem pure and bright. So it was I came across this thread from Bayfield, Wisconsin resident Julie Buckles, telling the story of her impulse buy (!?) of used bookstore, What Goes Round, after hearing Tracy K. Smith on the radio. And instead of just embedding all her tweets (some of which you can read below), I got in touch with Julie to find out what the hell, exactly, transpired that night.

Who’s your translator?

Because Tacitus was done by Elizabeth I. That’s right, the stern monarch shrink-wrapped in brocade with the giant forehead and frilled dinosaur fringe around her neck who would probably stalk you carefully through the jungles of Costa Rica before spitting acidic poison in your face and gorging on your intestines. Cool. Wait. Where was I? Oh, right: Lizzy was a translator.

As well as composing an impressive range of original works in verse and prose, Elizabeth I was an enthusiastic translator. Whether engaging foreign visitors in multilingual conversation or delivering withering ripostes in Latin to impertinent ambassadors, Elizabeth was celebrated for her linguistic abilities even in her own lifetime. Particularly strong in French, Italian, and Latin, she was also proficient in Spanish and Greek, whose alphabet would eventually pepper her everyday handwriting (in later years, she used “φ” for “ph”). She undertook translations of Jean Calvin, Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca, Horace and Boethius, all of which survive today. Elizabeth’s perennial favourite, Henry Savile, produced a translation of Tacitus in 1591, which he dedicated to the queen, drawing particular attention to her “most rare and excellent translations of Histories”. John Clapham, another of Elizabeth’s contemporaries, refers to her translation of “some part of Tacitus’ Annals” in his history of the queen’s reign, which he composed with the help of the courtier Robert Cecil. Clapham mentions Elizabeth’s Tacitus first and foremost among the queen’s translations, which “she herself turned into English for her private exercise”. Though the other translations which Clapham mentions have since been accounted for, the Tacitus translation has thus far remained elusive.

NYer on William Gibson

Did you see how sick that segue was?? I’m telling you. Anyway, one of my first more literary loves, Mr. Gibson, gets a pretty decent piece of press in the New Yorker. Neuromancer BLEW MY 14-YEAR-OLD MIND in 1985. I read everything up until Pattern Recognition when it started to feel a little toooooo…. now. Which is what this article is mostly praising. Maybe I should let old George have a new crack at those titles? Do I need to read them in a particular order?

“Neuromancer” was science fiction for the modern age. The novel’s influence has increased with time, establishing Gibson as an authority on the world to come.

The ten novels that Gibson has written since have slid steadily closer to the present. In the nineties, he wrote a trilogy set in the two-thousands. The novels he published in 2003, 2007, and 2010 were set in the year before their publication. (Only the inevitable delays of the publishing process prevented them from taking place in the years when they were written.) Many works of literary fiction claim to be set in the present day. In fact, they take place in the recent past, conjuring a world that feels real because it’s familiar, and therefore out of date. Gibson’s strategy of extreme presentness reflects his belief that the current moment is itself science-fictional. “The future is already here,” he has said. “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”