(Messing around with some new and different post formats to liven things up a bit around here. File these random thoughts under "Works in Progress")
1) On style: It's a sickness, really, but even with all the books that show up here every week, with all the shelves of unread material demanding my attention, with all the favorites I'd like time to reread, I still can't pass up a library sale when I see one. Saturday was the Pacific Palisades branch book sale, and I was running errands nearby, so I stopped in for a look.
Library sales tend to run heavy on popular fiction and outdated non-fiction (Does anyone really need a copy of Windows ME for Dummies, however cheap?), neither of which much appeal to me. But there are always a few gems hiding in the boxes and this time was no exception. I found a hardcover edition of a Saul Bellow short story collection I'd never heard of, Him With His Foot In His Mouth and other stories. (Three bucks.) But the real find of the day was the "Revised and Expanded Edition" of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. (Also three bucks.)
Now, this volume is of special interest to me for a couple of reasons. First, I have always been fascinated by style books. When I was managing editor of the Washington Square News, the NYU student newspaper, I knew the AP Style Manual (which we followed) pretty well front to back. The other editors would often ask me before looking things up themselves, and I loved sorting out questions about whether time should a.m. or A.M., and when one could use an acronym on first reference and so on. (The Times advises if an acronym exceeds four letters, only the first letter is capitalized, so Unicef, not UNICEF.) My tattered copy of AP Style still sits on my shelf nearby.
I'm doubly interested as a contributor to the New York Times Book Review who has occasionally run afoul of its sometimes Byzantine preferences. When I wrote my first review, I suggested my bio tag read "Mark Sarvas hosts the literary weblog The Elegant Variation." The use of "host" as a verb set off rounds of emails as we struggled for a suitable alternative. I remember then wishing I had a copy of the stylebook myself for reference. I didn't know it was publicly available. Of course, the first entry I went to was for "host":
host. Do not use host as a verb except in direct quotations. In news articles, people should not host parties or broadcasts, just as no one guests them.
I really do eat this sort of thing up, am endlessly interested in this sort of minutae. (For example, only the parent company of Barneys New York - Barmey's Inc - takes an aposotrophe.) As I make my way through the book, I'll share any especially amusing or interesting entires I come across.
2) On libraries (of a different kind): I've been thinking about libraries a lot lately, the personal kind, not the public kind. A few months before Clara was born, Orhan Pamuk wrote an essay about his father's library for the New York Review of Books. After reading it, I began to think about my own library differently as well. I'd always been proud of my personal library, even as I admit the vanity that attends such enterprises. But I remember being especially pleased when my wife told me, about a year earlier, that the thing she loved most about the books was that whenever she saw a book talked about or referenced somewhere, especially a classic, she was confident she could walk up and find it in the house. She's likened it to living in a library - though not always fondly, especially when the silverfish pop up. But in the main, I know she approves.
Reading Pamuk's piece, I began to realize that I had built something that will be available for my daughter one day, if she is so inclined. She will be able to discover the literature of the world in her own home and, if she wishes, she can take ownership of it all one day. My bequest. That has made this enterprise seem a bit less self-indulgent to me.
But I realize she is unlikely to start her reading career with Proust. (At 44, I'm just getting to him myself.) And so when we took a stroll into the village this weekend, we stopped at Village Books, our wonderful local independent, and added a few children's staples to the library. The day's haul included:
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey
I Am A Bunny, Richard Scarry and Ole Risom
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
The Story of Babar, Jean de Brunhoff
Revolting Rhymes, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams and William Nicholson
The selection is a cross-section of my favorites and Mrs. TEV's, along with a recommendation or two from the bookseller. I imagine you can guess which are which. And not that TEV readers need the reminder, but this is why I love independent stores. The bookseller was tremendously knowledgeable about her subject and about the store's inventory, suggesting Ducklings when my first choice, Blueberries for Sal wasn't in stock, and locating Mrs. TEV's obscure childhood favorite, I Am A Bunny. (Interestingly, Mrs. TEV's experience was that the Sendak was not unversally popular among the girls she knew, that it was more a boy's favorite. To me, it was always THE indispensible book of childhood - but yes, I was a boy.)
If there are books you think Clara's shelf must contain, feel free to add them in the comments box below. We'll be back at Village Books next week.
3) Galley of the Week. In which I begin a new feature. As must be painfully obvious, I get more books than I can read and write about, but it never fails that each week the mail brings at least one title that makes me shove everything aside and at least crack open. Those galleys immediately go to the top of the list, but even that top can take a good long while to get to. So I thought I'd begin sharing with my readers the one galley I receive each week that excites me above all others. I will aim to make this a regular Monday feature.
My inaugural Galley of the Week comes from Oxford University Press, and it's the long awaited translation of Pierre Assouline's biography, Hergé, The Man Who Created Tintin. As the Tintin movie nears, we're likely to see more and more books like this but this is one I've been waiting years for, and I can't wait to read it. Here's how OUP describes it:
One of the most beloved characters in all of comics, Tintin won an enormous international following. Translated into dozens of languages, Tintin's adventures have sold millions of copies, and Steven Spielberg is presently adapting the stories for the big screen. Yet, despite Tintin's enduring popularity, Americans know almost nothing about his gifted creator, Georges Remi - better known as Hergé. Offering a captivating portrait of a man who revolutionized the art of comics, this is the first full biography of Hergé available for an English-speaking audience.
Born in Brussels in 1907, Hergé began his career as a cub reporter, a profession he gave to his teenaged, world-traveling hero. But whereas Tintin was "fully formed, clear-headed, and positive," Assouline notes, his inventor was "complex, contradictory, inscrutable." For all his huge success - achieved with almost no formal training - Hergé would say unassumingly of his art, "I was just happy drawing little guys, that's all." Granted unprecedented access to thousands of the cartoonist's unpublished letters, Assouline gets behind the genial public mask to take full measure of Hergé's life and art and the fascinating ways in which the two intertwine. Neither sugarcoating nor sensationalizing his subject, he meticulously probes such controversial issues as Hergé's support for Belgian imperialism in the Congo and his alleged collaboration with the Nazis.
He also analyzes the underpinnings of Tintin - how the conception of the character as an asexual adventurer reflected Hergé's love for the Boy Scouts as well as his Catholic mentor's anti-Soviet ideology - and relates the comic strip to Hergé's own place within the Belgian middle class.
A profound influence on a generation of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the elusive figure of Hergé comes to life in this illuminating biography - a deeply nuanced account that unveils the man and his career as never before.
Perhaps Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg will finally succeed in making a household name of Tintin on these shores.
4) On taking the piss: David Gates seems to be one of those critics who divides readers. I have friends who think he's just terrific. I find his criticism pretty dreadful. There's something almost concertedly anti-literary in his reviews, and perhaps his life's mission is to take the piss out of everyone and everything, but that seems like a pretty joyless brief for a critic. In the end, when I read sentences like this one, from his most recent review of Justin Cartwright's To Heaven By Water ...
I’ll admit that “To Heaven by Water” isn’t the worst novel ever written.
... I find myself wondering who Gates thinks is served by unedifying stuff like this. It's almost insistent in its desire to be unserious, disengaged, and I think novelists deserve better. I expect banalities like this from the Daily News; it always disappoints me to find them in Times. To borrow from his own review, if this foretaste of Gates's sensibility sounds like your idea of a good time, don’t let me discourage you. But I find it pretty thin gruel.