Around the time I finished writing A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa (now available at Amazon, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, Powell's, Alibris, AbeBooks, and elsewhere!) I was saddened to read about the demise of Heinemann's African Writers Series, which began with Things Fall Apart and went on to publish many important African writers. I reviewed more Heinemann titles in my own book than those of any other publisher, including Things Fall Apart, Efuru, When Rain Clouds Gather, Mission to Kala, The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, Voices Made Night, The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison, Mayombe, Season of Migration to the North, A Cowrie of Hope, The Seven Solitudes of Lorsa Lopez, A Grain of Wheat, and The Gunny Sack. Now I've learned from Laila Lalami's blog that the African Writers Series is back! Good news for fans of diversity in literature.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Whitman's Brooklyn is now live online -- please share the good news! Come enjoy this highly-immersive experience of Brooklyn's pictorial heritage. Many of the images we've uncovered have never been published online before, and most have never been seen in such a large, vivid format. Color, too! All the images can be viewed at maximum browser size, and some-- including bird's eye views and maps--can be explored using a powerful zoom-and-pan tool. The site currently contains only a portion of what we have collected and prepared. Many more remarkable images and stories will be posted over the coming weeks. The site has been built in a format to enable visitors to participate by leaving comments, questions, ideas, and stories. Join in!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
My earlier hopeful post about developments in Zimbabwe was obviously off target. Sunday’s Times carried a heartbreaking story about the horrific violence being used against opponents of President Mugabe as a runoff election approaches. Today’s paper reports that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has decided that the level of violence is too high to justify taking part in the election. Meanwhile Mugabe declares, “Only God will remove me!” and South Africa has declined to put any serious pressure on Mugabe’s government.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Please excuse the silence. I’m in a state of shock right now. My youngest brother John passed away earlier this month, less than three weeks after our father’s death from cancer. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. John had high blood pressure and a heart condition called bundle branch block, though I had never thought that this was life-threatening. He was under severe stress in recent months, both because our father was ill and because he had lost his job at the social services agency where he worked for almost twenty years. He told me he sometimes went three days in a row without sleeping. In his last email to me, he said that he was ready to concentrate on finding a new job but that it was scary because he’d never really had to do it before. My partner Jenn has created a website for John, which includes a slide show set to the song “You’re Missing” by Bruce Springsteen (one of my brother’s favorite musicians). Well over 75 people came to a memorial gathering for John on June 14, though it was put together at short notice. John had many friends, and all of us will miss him.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
There was very little meat, and it tasted somewhat similar to the dark meat of chicken, gamey like duck or rabbit. The meat was fatty and stringy at times. I had to pick it off the little ribs, and the skin was crunchy, with parts of it thicker with a chewy, almost rubbery, texture.I was reminded of The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian, the 16th volume in the Aubrey-Maturin series, in which Dr. Maturin sets out on a perilous mission through the Peruvian Andes. The account of guinea pig is even less appealing there:
Three times that day, and at ever-increasing heights, they had left their mules in the hope of a partridge or a guanaco, and three times they had caught up with the llamas not indeed empty-handed, since Stephen carried a beetle or a low-growing plant for the pack of the animal that carried their collections, but without any sort of game, which meant that their supper would be fried guinea-pig and dried potatoes once more; and each time Eduardo had said that this was a strange, unaccountable year, with weather that made no sense and with animals abandoning customs and territories that had remained unchanged since before the days of Pachacutic Inca.A few pages later, Maturin suggests shooting a vicuña for food, observing to his companion, “You yourself said that you were tired of fried guinea-pig and ham.” Eduardo quietly confirms this in a little while, when Maturin says he would like to dissect an unusual bird they have just bagged.
‘That would mean fried guinea-pig again,’ observed Eduardo.The two eventually arrive at a Catholic mission, but the priests are nonplussed at having little to offer their guests. “Well,” says one at last, “there may be a few guinea-pigs left in the scriptorium.” One would think that O’Brian has exhausted the subject, yet his final unfinished novel (published under the title 21) features “a formal dinner given by an Argentine grandee, which includes lobster in a bitter chocolate sauce and 70 freshly harvested guinea pigs.”
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
His colour sense was as faultless as his draughtsmanship. A set of his stamps sits on a page like butterflies in a case. And, needless to say, he loved butterflies and came up with a country for them — Rups, which is the Dutch for ‘caterpillar’. He himself said he had no originality, and that he preferred to work from photographs or given images: yet one flat panorama of Achterdijk has the ‘breathed-on’ quality of a sepia-wash landscape by Rembrandt. His art was so disciplined that it was patient of receiving anything that happened to attract him — zeppelins, barnyard fowls, penguins, pasta, a passion for mushroom hunting, Sung ceramics, shells, dominoes; drinks at the Bar Centrum; windmills that were ‘abstract’ portraits of friends; the vegetable market at Cadaques, or a recipe for pesto from Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Cooking: his way of recording the pleasures of food and drink reminds me, somehow, of Hemingway.
Monday, June 2, 2008
One of the pleasures of rereading Patrick O’Brian is that the Aubrey-Maturin novels become funnier as you become attuned to O’Brian’s understated sense of humor. Much of the humor is in the dialogue (pay particular attention to the pauses), but by no means all. This passage (p. 195 of Master and Commander) made me wonder if O’Brian was lectured as a child about ending a sentence with a preposition. Captain Aubrey is speaking to some midshipmen who have been doing poorly on their navigation homework:
‘You can write decently, I suppose? Otherwise you must go to school to the clerk.’ They hoped so, sir, they were sure; they should do their best. But he did not seem convinced and desired them to sit down on that locker, take those pens and these sheets of paper, to pass him yonder book, which would answer admirably for them to be read to out of from.