“Incurable is a word Charcot used: ‘The great asylum,’ he wrote, ‘as you are surely aware, contains a population of over 5,000 people, including a great number of incurables who are admitted for life. . . . In other words, we are in possession of a kind of living pathological museum, the resources of which are considerable.’ That word incurable has a flip side—as in, aren’t we all incurable when it comes to mortality? When it comes to desire? Here’s a playlist of music by women who are that flipside of incurable in their music, and often in their lives—brave, renegade, spilling over.”
Read Jo Firestone’s essay about grieving the loss of Adina Talve-Goodman in the New York Times and more about the author’s legacy from writer and bookseller Arvin Ramgoolam in Anomaly and from Girls Write Now.
“Her Here is about two women, Elena and Ella, one in search of the other. It’s also about travel as adventure and escape, about fleeing the self and being faced with it. Many of the songs below capture the vivid joy and sadness of being always on the move, of wanting to disappear, to escape exposure. Some call up the terror of going too far, of losing track of home.”
Read more about and listen to Amanda’s playlist for Her Here at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Tune in to NPR’s Marginalia for a fascinating interview with Andrew Krivak about his novel The Bear; take a hike with the author up Mt. Monadnock, the mountain that inspired the novel, on WBUR; and learn more about his hopes for the conversations The Bear will spark as an NEA Big Read selection.
“A good portion of the novel takes place during World War II, when [J.D.] Salinger, a member of the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps, experienced horror after horror. . . . The Andrews Sisters appear as disembodied creatures in Sergeant Salinger. Sonny, as Salinger was called, had to identify each of the Andrews Sisters at a checkpoint in “The Green Hell” of the Hürtgen Forest, or he might have been arrested as a German spy. He rattles off their names—‘Patty, Laverne, and Maxene’—and gets through the checkpoint unscathed.”
Read more about and listen to Jerome’s playlist for Sergeant Salinger at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The following pieces constitute a highlight reel of the music I reference in each of the five chapters in Uncommon Measure—essentially, my personal playlist* and a set of program notes for the book. The recordings I have chosen are by no means the “definitive” ones; rather, they are the performances and interpretations that continue to inflect the way I play, love, and listen to classical music.
*Find a longer playlist on Spotify or click the links below to listen to individual pieces
Chapter One “Untrainment”
“La campanella” from Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, Op. 7. III: Allegro spiritoso (Rondo alla campanella) (1826; arr. early 1900s for violin and piano by Fritz Kreisler)
Niccolò Paganini, 1782–1840
Recording: Ivry Gitlis with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stanislaw Wislocki. October 2, 1966, Paris.
The great lore surrounding Paganini, of course, is that he sold his soul to the Devil in order to play so damned well. An illustration from the late 1820s, by the Viennese artist Johann Peter Lyser, shows him fiddling and stamping inside a runic circle, surrounded by a dancing host of shadows dead and undead, his flashing eyes and floating hair befitting the demon-lover from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” A critic in the French journal L’Entracte proclaimed him a “Satan onstage, Satan knock-kneed, bandy-legged, double-jointed, twisted. . . . Fall to the knees of Satan and worship him.” In a 2007 article in Current Musicology, the violinist and musicologist Maiko Kawabata—citing L’Entracte, Lyser, and others—compiles a list of monikers by which Paganini was known throughout Europe during his lifetime: sorcerer, charlatan, wizard, der hexensohn, Faustus, Mephistopheles, Satan, Zamiel.
Paganini composed frequently in the form of theme and variation, of which rondos like “La campanella” represent their own more specific form. Variant sections revolve around a fixed theme whose inevitable, eternally approaching return fills the listener with a kind of holy dread. Rondos were, I think, ideal for the buildups of unbearable tension that caused audience members to cry out and occasionally collapse during Paganini’s performances, effects that only fed rumors of his demonic powers. Each successive variation is an opportunity for a more daring, more terrible exhibition of the violinist’s skill than the last, while the recurrent summoning of the theme renders the music simultaneously familiar and strange—incantatory, talismanic, chthonic.
The myth of Paganini survives in a persistent modern fascination with his character, particularly in film and, in the American playwright Don Nigro’s 1995 play Paganini, on the stage. “Variation upon variation,” Nigro’s Paganini cries, “but which variation leads to salvation and which to damnation? Music is a question for which there is no answer.” For sheer cool-headed style, I recommend this 1966 performance of “La campanella” by Ivry Gitlis, one of the towering violinists of the twentieth century, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.
Chapter Two “A Sixth Sense: Notes on Improvisation”
“Wilder Reiter (The Wild Horseman)”, from Album für die Jugend, Op. 68 (1848)
Robert Schumann, 1810–1856
Recordings: Luba Edlina, Schumann: Album for the Young, 1999; Gabriela Montero’s improvisation at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, January 27, 2020.
It touched me to learn, while researching these notes, that 19th-century Europe had its own version of the Suzuki Method (if not so much in organized practice, then at least in spirit): the philosophy that to teach children music is to nurture them toward becoming virtuous people and moral citizens, toward living well and with love. Inspired by Rousseau’s 1762 treatise Emile, or On Education and its emphasis on both the child’s imagination and his independence—his “best right of all”—a new wave of German philosophers and pedagogues began to argue for the incorporation of music into childhood education, essential to Rousseau’s project of “mak[ing] a loving and feeling being—to perfect reason by sentiment.”
Among those influenced was the composer Robert Schumann, who in 1848 published a collection of children’s pieces entitled Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young). Conceived in part as a birthday present for his eldest daughter, Marie, the album is unique in that the pieces are written not just for children to play, but, as the scholar Lora Deahl notes in an essay for College Music Symposium, “from the perspective of a child” (emphasis mine). The eighth piece in the album, for example—a brief tune, at once playful and somber, entitled “The Wild Horseman”—is riddled with surprising and off-kilter accents meant to mimic the ride, as Deahl puts it, of “a child on a hobbyhorse, knocking recklessly against the legs of chairs and tables.” Schumann, a father of eight, wrote that the Album was of special personal significance to him because its scenes “were taken directly from my family life.”
More than a century and a half later, the pianist Gabriela Montero would riff on “The Wild Horseman”—a piece she first learned as a child—to illustrate how, for her, “improvisation was always just a way to narrate life,” crucial to her development not only as an artist but as a human being. You can listen to Montero’s improvisation on this theme at the Radcliffe Institute here (her performance begins at 15:36). For the original piece (and the complete album), I recommend the Ukrainian pianist Luba Edlina’s 1999 recording.
Chapter Three “Symmetry Breaking”
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1904, revised 1905)
Jean Sibelius, 1865–1957
Recording: Jascha Heifetz with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Walter Hendl, 1960.
“My tragedy,” wrote the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius of his early musical ambitions, “was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of fifteen I played my violin practically from morning to night.” It wasn’t until his mid-twenties, however, a decade after he first began studying the instrument, that Sibelius “had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.” His violin concerto—the only concerto he ever wrote, for any instrument—has thus been widely interpreted as his valediction to a former self. It is a brutal piece, angry, melancholic, unrelenting; wracked with suffering, suffused with tenderness, relieved only occasionally from itself in moments when the fever of its intensity breaks into a dull chordal throb, an ache from beyond. I remember in particular how difficult it is to save enough bow for the long notes in each of the three movements: the strength and restraint required to hold the intensity of the phrase without choking the tone; the locus of tension in the gut, the burning stillness somewhere in the back of the upper right arm.
When I first learned Sibelius’s concerto in high school, for conservatory auditions, I was as frightened by its backstory as I was moved by it. It seemed to me a bad omen, an embodiment of the future I was fighting against, the ghosts of anticipation that moved in my periphery as I played: the double-octave shifts I missed more often than not, the extra noise that, try as I might to silence it, cluttered a difficult bow change in the opening melody.
I didn’t realize until much later, when I was no longer practicing violin in the same way, that the labor that goes into playing the piece—the relentless physical struggle required both to learn and to perform it—is perhaps essential to the music’s emotional power, not to mention its meaning for the generations of violinists who continue to grapple with it. I also think of an anecdote from Erik Tawaststjerna’s 1976 biography of Sibelius, describing his failed audition for the Vienna Philharmonic in 1891, when he was twenty-five years old: “When he got back to his room, Sibelius broke down and wept. Afterwards he sat at the piano and began to practice scales.”
The conflict between Jascha Heifetz’s yearning melodic phrasing and the uncompromising tempi carried forward by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in their 1960 collaboration with the iconic violinist, captures this struggle with particular poignance.
Chapter Four “Chaconne”
“Ciaccona” from Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (~1720)
Because the chapter itself revolves around both the Chaconne and the larger work to which it belongs, I will focus here, briefly, on a detail of that magnum opus, the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. The original manuscript is titled, in Italian, as per convention, Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato, six solos for violin without bass accompaniment. But there is a mistake in the Italian grammar, one by which Bach himself speaks directly to the performer—in other words, no mistake at all. “Six solos” should be sei soli in Italian, not sei solo, which, translated, means “you are alone.” In German, Bach’s native tongue, its sense is even stronger: sei solo is a command, the singular imperative form of the verb sein, to be. In a score practically devoid of articulations, explicit tempi, and even dynamic markings for the performer to lay a course by, Bach’s singular instruction to both player and listener is, simply, to be alone. His violin sonatas and partitas, perhaps like all of his music, simultaneously remind us of our lonely condition and challenge us to face it, dwell in it, rise to meet it as we are.
I mention in the book that there are as many interpretations of the Chaconne as there are violinists, and every violinist, too, will play and listen to it differently at various stages of their life. Two particular recordings meant more to me during the process of writing Uncommon Measure than any others. One is a historical performance by the violinist Rachel Podger, from her 1999 Bach album, on a gut-stringed, Baroque-style instrument whose shadowy resonance somehow captures the lilt and curve of cathedral walls. The other, a 2010 recording by the young Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan, harnesses the full power of a modern violin and bow and bristles with verve and energy, raw and clarion in its cry of rage and sorrow.
Chapter Five “The Still Point of the Turning World”
“Café 1930” from Histoire du Tango (1986)
Astor Piazzolla, 1921–1992
Recording: Augustin Hadelich and Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, Histoire du Tango, 2013.
With the structural rhyme of its alternating A–B–A sections and its dual preoccupation with love and time, tango is to classical music as the sonnet is to English poetry: a highly formal expression of desire, a long tradition with a wistful sense of its past. That profound self-consciousness, both sad and celebratory, finds its most explicit outlet in Astor Piazzolla’s 1986 masterpiece “Histoire du Tango,” whose four interlocking movements trace the evolution of tango music from the brothels of early twentieth-century Buenos Aires to the modern-day concert hall. And yet tango, unlike the traditional sonnet, has always been about far more than courtship. It is Argentina’s “street language,” or cayengue, in the words of the pianist Pablo Ziegler, who performed with Piazzolla’s tango Quintet from 1978 to 1988: “Defying and exhibitionist, the authentic tango expresses mugre (filth) and roña (fight). . . . Piazzolla has very sophisticated compositions, and at the same time, they are mugrosas. Such mugre can be felt, in spite of the intricacy with which those tangos were written or whether the language was contemporary, impressionist or expressionist.”
Indeed, Piazzolla is credited above all other composers with transforming tango into concert music: he almost single-handedly developed the style of nuevo tango, which infuses tango’s traditional forms with the full-bodied warmth of chamber music, the electric shiver of jazz. But Ziegler is right that all of Piazzolla’s works retain a shadow—indeed more than a shadow—of the blood and grittiness that make tango, well, tango. The second movement of “Histoire,” for example—the violet-hued “Café 1930,” whose opening murmur conjures the luminous windows and black cobblestones of a rainy Parisian afternoon—expresses its mugre in the form of brief accelerated passages that, like a temper momentarily lost, lurch toward explosive ardor with an intensity that dissipates as quickly as it blooms.
Originally composed for flute and guitar, “Histoire” is commonly performed by violinists in combination with other instruments, usually guitar, piano, or piano and cello. My favorite recording—for its mugre, roña, beauty, grief—is the 2013 album by the German-Italian violinist Augustin Hadelich and the Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas.
“Features one of the most memorable closets since C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Publishers Weekly interviews “Writer to Watch” Juan José Millás about his North American debut novel From the Shadows.
“Songs about the end of the world are either too gloomy, too playful, or too political, and The Bear is not any of these. Rather, what I’ve tried to do is present a range of new music I came across while I was writing The Bear, music that came to me in a kind of obliquity, which is to say, when I least expected it and really needed it.”
Read more about and listen to Andrew’s playlist for The Bear at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Blurring the line between fact and fiction, Eduardo Halfon shares family photographs and an annotated excerpt from Mourning in “A Yom Kippur Scene (With Footnotes)” on the Jewish Book Council’s “ProsenPeople” blog.
Congratulations to Wolf Season, a Firecracker Award Finalist and National Reading Group Month “Great Group Read” selected by the Women’s National Book Association. Find additional resources for the novel—including an interview, excerpt, reviews, discussion questions, and more—at BookBrowse.
The Kansas City Public Library and Kansas City Star have selected Helen Benedict’s novel Wolf Season for the “FYI Book Club.” Join the discussion, read an excerpt from the novel, and find an interview with the author in the Kansas City Star.
Wrath-Bearing Tree, an online magazine established and maintained by combat veterans, has selected Wolf Season for their “Monthly Fiction” feature. Read an excerpt from the novel and an interview with author Helen Benedict.
Helen Benedict talks about war literature with authors David Abrams, Cara Hoffman, Matt Gallagher, and Dalia Sofer in the “Life During Wartime” panel at the Center for Fiction, and with authors Seth Brady Tucker, Jesse Goolsby, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, and Samuel Snoek-Brown in the “Duty and Dilemma: 100 Years of Writing About War” AWP Roundtable.
Find out how Rose-Lynn Fisher’s TheTopography of Tears inspired the cinematography in First They Killed My Father in British Cinematographer and read about Darquer’s “Tears and Lace” haute couture line, which was also inspired by The Topography of Tears project, at Lingerie Francaise.
I have been writing since the late sixties and though my writing has taken many forms—history, novels, essays, book reviews, pamphlets, leaflets, songs—all of it has been shaped by my determination not to oversimplify or hide behind irony, but to write about women and politics in a voice that reaches beyond intellect to feeling.
My most recent publication, Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights, calls for a politics based on human rights, a politics complex enough to oppose Western invasions and fight bigoted attacks on Muslims, and at the same time be unafraid to act in solidarity with movements in the Global South that fight the Islamist oppression of women, religious minorities, gays, and freethinkers. In it, I applied the method I developed for my first book, The Rising of the Women, combining storytelling, close reading of sources, and a search for patterns—an approach I am also using in A Road Unforeseen, this time for current history.
When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, and Assad viciously attacked his own people, I watched in horror, but I was not surprised that the Islamic State took off like wildfire, for I could see no force with sufficient political strength and enough military experience to stop them. This remained true until the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept down upon the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority in Sinjar, promising genocide and sex slavery. The vaunted Iraqi peshmerga had agreed to defend the Yazidis, but melted away when the time came. Out of nowhere came a miraculous rescue—Syrian and Turkish Kurds, including special women’s militias, who cut a passage through the Sinjar mountains to get the Yazidi out, fighting Daesh as they went.
They came from the Rojava cantons, a place I had never heard of. Racing to learn all I could about Rojava, I realized its people were putting core feminist, ecological, and cooperative ideas into practice, based on pluralism and separation between religion and the state, with a bottom-up democratic form of governance, with at least 40% of every organization being women, and co-leadership positions in everything, one male, one female—all in the middle of a fight to the death with Daesh and other Islamist militias, while under siege and unable to even get medical supplies because Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan had closed their borders.
For twenty years or more, my colleagues and I had been saying that only unity between leftwing movements and feminists could provide enough strength to take on both a rising tide of fundamentalism and an increasingly oppressive form of globalized capitalism. Because poor women in the Global South are the real “wretched of the earth,” we said, any movement for transformation had to make their needs central. But no leftwing movement I ever saw took up the challenge until Rojava. As I came to understand what they were trying to do, I knew their experiment was vitally important to all of us, and that I must help them get their story out, so they could get the support they need to survive.
A Road Unforeseen is a feminist reading of the war against Daesh, whose rule by rape and genocide is so akin to an adult-film version of Mordor that I felt the title had to come from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “We must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be.”
“Like the songs of our day, those of the nineteenth century had much to do with current events, whether the hanging of a notorious criminal or a political campaign. Conventions and stump speeches, camp meetings and revivals were likely to conclude in an impassioned singalong. Printed on broadsides and sheet music, lyrics were fresh as newspaper headlines.”
We are a nation given over to consumption. The predilection for novelty is everywhere present, not excepting in our art and our literature. For much of my writing life, I believed that the works of the past belonged there. Romantic novels by Hawthorne and Melville or naturalistic ones by Stephen Crane and Frank Norris were to be endured in pursuit of a degree (even if sometimes secretly enjoyed). Once having been examined on past literary achievements, I hurriedly put them behind me in favor of fiction produced by Modernists and Postmodernists. I tended to judge art and literature by its novelty and its stylistic beauties (never mind their worth).
Late in my career, I have taken up the thread dropped forty years ago and am attending to the stories of the American past—that is, of course, how it has come to be known (how it is always coming to be known by successive generations of readers) by its literature. Through my American novels, I hope to understand, a little, the present American era by what came before and shaped its thought, beliefs, prejudices, virtues, vices, and emotional undertow. I want to believe that I am serving a purpose higher than aesthetics, which also has its place in my writing. I love to fashion beautiful sentences, but I hope that they are expressive of the state of my feelings about the world around me and of the truth, as I grasp it, of that elusive world, acknowledging that it is only an approximation.
The literature of the past conferred on readers and writers a larger view. It seems to me that this amplitude of time and space encouraged a corresponding amplitude of theme and purpose. In general, nineteenth-century literature was not small nor did it consider ethical, political, social issues outside the jurisdiction of fiction. It is precisely this old-fashioned grandeur of thought, moral intent, spaciousness, and comprehensiveness—in its breathtaking view of a continent being made and remade—that I hope to emulate in my American novels. Such an ambition is certainly presumptuous, but, with his or her every sentence composed with the intention that it be read, the writer presumes.
Find out what it’s like to participate in Colin Ellard’s walking tours/research projects, “exploring the relationship between psychology and urban design using the tools of neuroscience,” in the Toronto Star.
From Mumbai to Lake Victoria: Colin Ellard talks about the places that have left an “indelible emotional mark” on CBC Arts; discusses the psychological cost of boring places with New York magazine; investigates the psychology of scary places with CHCH-TV; and writes about the Pokémon Go craze and brain health at Quartz.
Listen to Colin Ellard discuss “how your city’s streets affect your mental health” on HuffPost Live; the science behind psychogeography on ABC Radio National’s Sunday Extra; the “psychology behind urban politeness” on Monocle magazine’s The Urbanist; our environment’s effect on physical and mental health on HumanLab; and the importance of library design with the Ontario Library Association’s Open Shelf.
At Slate, Jonathan D. Moreno explains how J.L. Moreno’s 1930s experiments at Sing Sing and the New York State Training School for Girls ultimately led to today’s group therapy and social networking practices.
Cormac James talks about The Surfacing with the Irish Examiner, shares his favorite books and authors with the Irish Times, and tells the Scotland Sunday Herald why he uses the pen name “Cormac James.”
In O, The Oprah Magazine, read Melissa Pritchard’s tribute to Ashton Goodman, the young, female US soldier she was embedded with in Afghanistan (from the essay “Finding Ashton”) and her homage to Simon, her beloved Dachshund (from the essay “Doxology”).
“Eighteenth and early nineteenth century music ornaments many of the scenes in Palmerino. . . . Music was as indispensable to Vernon Lee’s intellectual and emotional life as were the books she read and wrote. As she grew older, near total deafness isolated her. Deprived of music and conversation, a remaining consolation was her ability to ‘hear’ music perfectly through il chant interieur, the memory of music.”
Read Melissa’s entire playlist for Palmerino at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
During her US tour, Michèle Forbes discussed Ghost Moth and the writing life with authors Roxana Robinson, Caroline Leavitt, John Searles, Bernice L. McFadden,and Elizabeth Nunez at a special Strand bookstore event, sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association. Watch the video here.
Listen to a four-part BBC Outlook field report from Lynne Jones, conducted during her 2012 return trip to the Balkans, where she was researching the new edition of Then They Started Shooting. Episode 1. Episode 2. Episode 3. Episode 4.
Norman Lock shares his playlist for Love Among the Particles at Largehearted Boy:
“John Adams’s “The Chairman Dances,” from Nixon in China, which I heard for the first time in 1985, determined, in no small way, the course of my mature work. That sardonic and sensuous foxtrot confirmed for me what Doctorow’s Ragtime had first brought to my attention in the 70s: that one could bring into one’s fictions—a dreaming on paper—persons who had had actual lives, as opposed to persons with equally plausible and often more satisfying imagined ones. (That being said, one can hardly deny that an aspect of real life, in any guise, is always at least partially imagined.) And so, the dancing Chairman Mao, a charming conceit, drew me after him into realms of story-telling that led, first, to A History of the Imagination (FC2, 2004), then Land of the Snow Men (Calamari Press, 2005, in which Captain Scott and his doomed Antarctic explorers waltz on the Ross Ice Shelf), and now—thanks to the good offices of Erika Goldman and the excellent Bellevue Literary Press—Love Among the Particles.”
Continue reading Norman’s playlist at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Read an NPR interview with Eduardo Halfon, then tune in to NPR’s Alt.Latino to hear him spin tunes and talk about Guatemala, Latin American cultural identity, jazz, writing, living in Florida and Nebraska, the influence of Bob Dylan, and much more.
Irish author Michèle Forbes had trouble finding a publisher for her debut novel, Ghost Moth, until she sent her manuscript to Bellevue Literary Press. Read her story in the Irish Times and the find out more about its very happy ending in The Bookseller.
Michèle Forbes shares her playlist for Ghost Moth at Largehearted Boy:
“Music has always played a vital part in my creative life. In my work as an actress I have performed in many new plays that utilized original scores and this can mean being lucky enough to end up working together with musicians on stage. I listened to music mostly when I was driving over the period in which I worked on Ghost Moth. It was a great way for ideas to casually and creatively knit together for me, for images and words to link in new way and just to let the subconscious do its work. The music I’ve chosen here either appears in Ghost Moth as an integral part of the story, played its part in inspiring me to write the novel in the first place, or just kept me going.”
Continue reading Michèle’s playlist at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Find out why Eduardo Halfon says he’s “only writing one book, and everything I publish along the way is just part of it” in a Shelf Awareness feature about the different ways Halfon and Andrés Neuman approach the art of fiction.
Watch Eduardo Halfon discuss “bringing to life deeply personal stories of exile, displacement and resettlement” with Claudio Lomnitz and Mark Mazower in the Columbia University Institute for Ideas and Imagination Writing Lives series.
As a publisher, it is one thing to believe that our books can change the world, but it’s an extraordinary feeling when those responsible for focusing attention on global affairs discover a book that guides their thinking. With The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers, we have published such a book. As diplomat Charles Petrie, who investigated the United Nation’s role and responsibilities during the Sri Lankan conflict, said:
“When I was commissioned to do this report, the first thing I was handed was a copy of The Cage. Weiss’s scrupulously balanced account should serve as a guidepost for decision-makers and scholars of international affairs. A book can change the world.”
My objective in writing The Cage was to challenge the myth that few civilians had been killed during the crushing of the Tamil Tigers by Sri Lankan government forces in 2009. I wanted to argue that given the nature of the long civil war, it was in some sense predictable that the conclusion of the war would be extremely vicious.
I had also been thinking about, or dealing with, many of the matters I discuss in this book in my daily work with the United Nations: human rights, international law, war, insurgency groups, nationalism, idealism, historical events, global currents, and the media, so The Cage was also an opportunity to distill some of those ideas, and bring them to bear on the topic at hand. Continue reading…
The title of the collection, “Understories” has several layers of meaning. The most literal is a reference from “The Understory” to the plants that grow at the base of the forest canopy, farthest from the crowns’ light and glory but just as critical to the overall habitat, and surely as intriguing when you hunker down close and know what to look for. I took a class called Forest Communities of New Hampshire where we went out hiking and examined the various layers in different forest stands, and I was amazed at how much you could learn by looking down as well as up and discerning connections between the levels. Even in “The Understory,” though, the word has a double meaning, referring also to the hidden stories, the stories that lie underneath the received version of events or the surface narrative that a person presents. Continue reading…
The Polish Boxer brought together author Eduardo Halfon and an international group of five accomplished translators who—instead of competing for a contract—decided to work in concert with each other to deliver an exquisite manuscript. Their collaboration is a concrete example of the passion Halfon’s work generates among English-speaking readers and further proof that exhilarating literature has no geographic or linguistic boundaries.
Discover even more about the book’s remarkable path to English publication from author Eduardo Halfon at New Spanish Books.
A Note from Translator Daniel Hahn
Doing any kind of creative work collaboratively entails certain risks. Writing is no exception; and translators are, of course, creative writers. Sharing the task of creating a voice between two different writers can lend the text an uneasy irregularity; sharing it between five is more than a little foolish. But that’s what we’ve done with The Polish Boxer. It helped that all five translators (and author Eduardo Halfon) have taken part in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s annual summer school, so we did have some experience of the pleasures and challenges of collaborative translation work. The aim was always to produce one final translation, a single unified text, rather than lots of different-flavored fragments all sort of bolted together, a hybrid with all-too-visible joins. And I believe we’ve succeeded, too. Continue reading…
Melissa Pritchard shares her playlist for The Odditorium at Largehearted Boy:
“The eight stories in The Odditorium took shape as I exhumed human ‘curioddities,’ to borrow Robert Ripley’s coinage, attempting to conjure historical persons dwarfed by neglect or mythicized and made into hollow giants—each one imprisoned, unmoving, within glass cabinets of half-fact and false fact. I listened to almost no music as I wrote these pieces, since it seemed to take every last aural wit I possessed to ‘hear’ what a specific time and place, what specific persons, might sound, look and think like. So the original playlist for this collection is largely subliminal, made up of quaint, sublime, sorrowing or frantic compositions and ghostly harmonies, sung by voices begging redress, exoneration, new life and breath.”
Continue reading Melissa’s playlist at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Tim Horvath shares his playlist for Understories at Largehearted Boy:
“There are a handful of stories in the collection—they literally fit in the palm of the hand—that remind me of Minutemen songs—short, thwacky, flirting with absurdity, but, one hopes, possessing a logic of their own. Several of the two or three pagers are like this. What I love about the Minutemen is what I love in the best flash fiction, the way they subvert expectations in a matter of words/chords/minutes (usually two or less), their sublime way of making things gel, their staccato wit, the way they tinker endlessly with form. Or maybe you’d want to call them poets, formal poets who leap from villanelle to haiku to sonnet to form upon form of their own idiosyncratic invention without missing a beat. There are some pieces in Understories I’d consider more prose poems than stories, and they’re the ones that take about a minute to read.”
Continue reading Tim’s playlist at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The Lives They Left Behind gave rise to a successful campaign to commemorate patients who had been buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of the Willard State Psychiatric Hospital. Find a multimedia presentation about this campaign and the lives it has touched in the New York Times.
Gregory Spatz shares his playlist for Inukshuk at Largehearted Boy:
“I grew up hearing my parents sing and play as a ’60s folk-rock duo. All of my earliest recollections have to do with that music —a constant soundtrack—and not just their music either, but anything I loved and happened to get my hands on: The Beatles, Frank Zappa, Boccherini, The Clancy Brothers, Mendelsohn, The Red Clay Ramblers, Fairport Convention and Vivaldi were memorable favorites. I was musically obsessed, and a musical omnivore. And at that age I was also completely sure that there was zero distinction between the music I loved and whatever stories I was reading or engrossed in.”
Continue reading Gregory’s playlist at Largehearted Boy—one of our favorite places on the Internet. It is, in the words of its curator David Gutowski, “a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.” In the “Book Notes” series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Mary Cappello, author of Awkward: A Detour, discusses her work with Propeller magazine.