Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kate Mosse / Top 10 Ghost Stories

Kate Mosse's top 10 ghost stories

From Henry James to Susan Hill, the author of Labyrinth selects tales that deliver 'the fun of the shudder'
The Turn of the Screw
Shudders ... Rebecca Evans in English National Opera's production of The Turn of the Screw. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Kate Mosse is the bestselling author of five novels, two books of non-fiction, short stories and a play, Syrinx, which won a Broadcasting Press Guild award in 2009. The first novel in her Languedoc Trilogy, Labyrinth, won Richard & Judy's Best Read award in 2006 and topped the bestseller lists for six months; the second, Sepulchre, was also an international bestseller; and the third, Citadel, will be published in 2011. Her current novel, The Winter Ghosts, is published in paperback this week.

             "Spirits and apparitions, headless monks and white ladies, the traditional ghost story still exerts a hold on our imaginations. Their habitat is ancient woods, ruined abbeys, isolated old houses and crumbling monasteries. But what makes a ghost story? Though purists might quibble, I'd say there are three distinct types of ghost story – as opposed to tales of horror, which have a different dynamic and purpose, or novels that have ghosts in them, such as Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude or Ben Okri's The Famished Road.
             "The traditional ghost story is often inspired by folklore and a sense of decaying history, and is similar in tone to the Gothic novels that came before it. In the psychological ghost story, the emphasis is on the mental state of the victim rather than the actions – the existence, even – of the ghost or poltergeist. These stories implicitly, sometimes explicitly, question the reliability and sanity of the heroine or hero, and often reference social or political issues of the day. Finally, there's the antiquarian ghost story which is associated with a certain sort of Edwardian Englishness. Like their traditional counterparts, they draw on old mythologies and folklore, but are rooted in realism and the sense of the ordinary disrupted or made extraordinary. I see the influence of all three traditions in my own books – though The Winter Ghosts is my first pure ghost story – but in the end, as with the choices that follow, what matters is that each has what the great Edith Wharton called 'the fun of the shudder'."


1. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

From the master of the morbid imagination, this gem of a story blurs the edges between horror and ghost fiction. A murderer's guilty conscience gets the better of him, driving him to confess his crime. The unnamed narrator murders an old man with a "vulture eye". He plans carefully and hides the body by dismembering it, but his guilt will not let him rest. Is he imagining the beating of the heart beneath the floorboards or is there something there? Gripping and horrifying, the perfect mix of horror and Gothic, the forerunner of the psychological ghost stories that were to come into vogue.


2. "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens (1866)

This perfectly balanced, beautifully judged story both preys on both the anxiety provoked by the new technology of railways and deeply held beliefs that a ghost can be an alarum for events to follow. Three times, the ringing of a spectral bell is followed by the appearance of a ghost, harbinger of a dreadful accident. Creepy, clever, and has you looking over your own shoulder.


3. "At Chrighton Abbey" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1871)

Another classic of ghost-story writing, with a doomed family and a crumbling, historic house at the heart of it. The narrator, Sarah, returns to her childhood home as a guest, having been obliged to work as a governess. There, although the halls are brightly lit and the old servants delighted to see her, a sense of disaster hangs over the festivities and Sarah's glimpse of a ghostly hunt forewarns of tragedy to come.


4. "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" by MR James (1894)

This is the very first story in the first published MR James collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. A young Englishman and scholar leaves his friends for the day to spend time alone in a claustrophobic, decaying French cathedral city in the Pyrenees. He is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an antique manuscript volume which is possessed of older and evil memories. Wonderfully atmospheric, wonderfully creepy.


5. "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (1898)

This is, possibly, the most exquisite and perfect of all psychological ghost stories. Again, an unnamed narrator, another governess, a different manuscript that claims to tell the story of mysterious country house, a widower and his children and two ghosts of former servants of the house. It is never clear if the ghosts are real or the product of the governess's increasingly unstable mind. And here, unlike in many ghost stories, there are several strong and engaging characters, not least of all the strange children, Miles and Flora. Simply, a masterpiece.


6. Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories by Algernon Blackwood (1912)

Blackwood is the neglected master of the Edwardian ghost story renaissance. Gentlemen travellers and scholars fill his pages, but always with a psychological – often animist – slant on things. For Blackwood, Nature always has a capital 'N' and was a living, breathing thing, sometimes benign, but often sinister. This collection is the place to start, even though my favourite story is "The Man Whom the Trees Loved", where a wife finds herself powerless to save her husband from the trees he loves. The forest does seem to be alive, getting closer and closer to the house, until the husband vanishes all together. Atmospheric, beautiful, a very subtle story of a peculiar haunting.


7. "The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare (1912)

De la Mare was a significant writer of ghost stories, publishing some 40 supernatural tales in collections such as Eight Tales and On the Edge, but I'm choosing perhaps his most famous work, this lyrical and haunting poem. It's never clear what bargain the traveller has made, and with whom, only that he has kept his word to come to the deserted house in the wood. The opening line still makes my hair stand on end: "'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door."


8. "Bewitched" by Edith Wharton (1925)

The celebrated author of novels such as The House of Mirth, Wharton was also a terrific writer of ghostly tales. A blend of Poe, Hawthorne and Henry James, she has a lightness of touch that belies the often very grisly tale. This story, first published in the Pictorial Review in 1925, has a fabulous sense of place and is a revenant story with a twist. It leaves the reader doubting their interpretation of events. Clever stuff.


9. "The Ghosts" by Antonia Barber (1969)

This is my favourite children's ghost story, a wonderful time-slip novel set during the first world war. Lucy and Jamie Allen move with their mother and baby brother to the country, where their mother has been engaged by a mysterious gentleman, Mr Blunden, as caretaker of an abandoned house until the rightful owner can be traced. One day, Lucy is walking in the garden to explore and to pick flowers when she meets Sara and Georgie. It becomes clear that the children are ghosts, children of the house who died 100 years ago in the fire that destroyed the estate. It's a gentle, thoughtful ghost story, of parallel time and the chance to make amends for mistakes in an earlier life. The novel won the Carnegie Medal and was filmed in 1972 as The Amazing Mr Blunden.


10. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1982)

For my money, the greatest of the contemporary ghost writers. Hill creates believable period characters, she creates a hermetic world that yet speaks of wider superstitions and histories, and creates plots with tension, pace and jeopardy without ever becoming heavy-handed. This is a story of vengeance, of an old curse from an embittered woman, all centred on the brooding Eel Marsh House, gloomy and isolated and cut off from the mainland at high tide. As the tension of premonition and disaster builds and builds, the ghostly screams of an accident long ago will haunt the reader's imagination long after the last page has been turned. Perfect.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Obituaries / Dmitri Nabokov

Dmitri Nabokov with a picture of his father, who described him as 'dazzlingly fearless'. 
Photograph: Donald Stampfli/AP
Dmitri Nabokov obituary
Translator and editor dedicated to his father's literary legacy

Brian Boyd
Monday 27 February 2012 18.00 GMT

Dmitri Nabokov, who has died aged 77, was the only child of the writer Vladimir Nabokov, and became his translator and editor, and fierce keeper of the flame of his father's reputation. For Dmitri, living in the shadow of a famous father was almost all reward: intense pride in his father as writer and man ("the best person I ever met"); an income from the post-Lolita success; and a 50-year translating career. But he also had a rich life of his own, as an opera singer, racing driver and playboy.
When Dmitri was born, in Berlin, his parents, Vladimir and Véra, were poor Russian émigrés and he "their only luxury", fed the juice of a dozen fresh oranges a day. In 1937 the family fled Germany for France and at last managed to escape to the US, where they settled in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Dmitri, as the indulged son of two doting parents, found it hard to adjust to his numerous schools, but eventually achieved distinction.
Vladimir had to borrow to send his son to Harvard University in 1951. He reported that Dmitri's interests there were "mountaineering, girls, music, track, tennis and his studies, in that order ... He is completely and as it were dazzlingly fearless, loved by his friends, endowed with a magnificent brain, but a stranger to study." At his father's prompting, Dmitri wrote an honours thesis on Pushkin's use of Shakespeare, and surprised everyone by earning a cum laude for his degree.
In the summer of 1955 Vladimir secured for his son the role of translating Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time into English, only to have to complete the translation himself. Dmitri began to train as an opera bass in the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also worked as translator and editor for the Current Digest of the Soviet Press.
After the success of Lolita in the US in 1958, Vladimir offered Dmitri the job of translating an earlier novel, Invitation to a Beheading, from the Russian. He welcomed Dmitri's rich English vocabulary, his offering multiple options for difficult locutions, and his readiness to let his father have the last word. The translation, published in 1959, would become the basis of a long working partnership, lasting until Vladimir's death.
In 1959 Vladimir travelled to Europe, where his Italian publisher helped Dmitri find a singing coach at La Scala. A year later Dmitri won a competition that entitled him to an opera debut. Journalists came to hear the son of Lolita's author and ended up writing more about the tenor also making his debut, Luciano Pavarotti. In 1962, Dmitri began to race cars competitively but in 1965 was persuaded to focus on his singing and until 1982 maintained a professional operatic career as a basso profundo.
He also continued to translate with his father many of his Russian works, including the novels The Eye (1965), King, Queen, Knave (1968) and Glory (1971), and three volumes of short stories. In 1977, after his father died, Dmitri wrote a moving memoir, On Revisiting Father's Room, in which he recalled a visit to the Alps together in the mid-1970s: "He told me then, in one of those rare moments when father and son discuss such matters, that he had accomplished what he wanted in life and art, and was a truly happy man."
Dmitri ended with an account of their "penultimate farewell": "After I had kissed his still-warm forehead – as I had for years when saying goodnight or goodbye – tears suddenly welled in father's eyes. I asked him why. He replied that a certain butterfly was already on the wing; and his eyes told me he no longer hoped that he would live to pursue it again."
Five years later, in Switzerland, Dmitri spun out of control in one of his five Ferraris. Badly burned and with a broken neck, he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to his father's literary legacy. He began by translating Vladmir's Russian plays and editing his essays on drama, then translating The Enchanter (1986), the 1939 Russian novella that first sketched out the paedophile-marries-mother-to-possess-daughter theme. With Matthew J Bruccoli, Dmitri edited Selected Letters 1940-1977 (1989).
After the death of his mother in 1991, Dmitri assumed responsibility for the estate and sold the remainder of the Nabokov archive to the New York public library in 1992. He attended conferences dedicated to his father and used them, along with editorial forewords or afterwords, to attack with relish and disdain those who offended against Nabokovian principles. He approved the screenplay of the 1997 Adrian Lyne remake of Lolita and enjoyed his role in its production.
Suffering from diabetes and polymyalgic neuropathy, he used a wheelchair for most of his last decade. Intermittently he tried to write his memoirs. Financial troubles, and a change in 2008 to a new literary agent, Andrew Wylie, contributed to his controversial decision to publish his father's last, unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, in 2009, despite Vladimir's instruction to burn it if it remained incomplete. It sold well in Russia but fared poorly elsewhere.
He once told reporters that he had "come close to marriage several times – but I escaped! My life has been too complicated to inflict myself on others."
 Dmitri Vladimirovich Nabokov, translator, opera singer and racing driver, born 10 April 1934; died 22 February 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Philip Ardagh / Top 10 children´s books by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl
Poster by T.A.

Philip Ardagh's top 10 children's books by Roald Dahl

To mark Roald Dahl Day, the winner of the Funny prize set up in his memory selects his favourite tales from 'the master'

Philip Ardagh
The Guardian
Monday 13 September 2010

Roald Dahl
Funny guy ... Roald Dahl. Photograph: Stephen Hyde / Rex Features
Children's author Philip Ardagh won the upper age category in last year's Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the first of his Grubtown Tales, and his Eddie Dickens adventures have been translated into 34 languages. He's also written funny stuff for radio (including BBC radio's first ever truly interactive drama) and is an "irregular regular reviewer" of children's books for the Guardian.

This year, he's a judge for the Roald Dahl Funny prize, which has given him "an excuse to immerse [him]self in some wonderfully inventive fiction from some of today's funniest children's writers".
He has an impressively large beard.

"Dahl was the master. When he died, I was working in a library. A child asked me: 'Who will write Roald Dahl books now he's dead?' Fortunately, his books live on for whole new generations, while we oldies have the excuse of reading them to our children."
In no particular order, his top 10 favourites are:

1. The Twits

Beard-hating Dahl at his best in this tale of an ever-warring couple: repulsive Mr Twit and his equally repulsive glass-eyed wife. Not forgetting the monkeys. You mustn't forget the monkeys. If I tell you any more I might spoil the story. Read it. It's bonkers.

2. Matilda

Matilda is a lovely girl. Her parents aren't. Matilda loves books and reading. Her parents love conning people and watching telly. School, ruled by the evil Miss Trunchbull, whose speciality is swinging children by their hair and throwing them out of the window, isn't much better. Then Matilda discovers that she has supernatural powers ...

3. The Witches

The Grand High Witch has a simple but fiendishly clever plan to rid England of its children: her hags will take over all the sweet shops, and sell doctored sweets to the children, turning them into mice. (Did I say simple?) Fortunately, a boy overhears their villainous scheming. Unfortunately, he's turned into a mouse before you can say Jack Robi—

4. James and the Giant Peach

An everyday story of evil aunts (Sponge and Spiker), a giant, flying fruit (the peach of the title) inhabited by characterful, giant insects (including the Old-Green-Grasshopper) and, of course, James himself. Lots of funny policemen, too.

5. George's Marvellous Medicine

George's grandma is such a groucher, a grumbler and a griper that he decides to mix up some medicine to try to cure her of her nastiness. As with 94.8% of plans in Roald Dahl books, this one doesn't turn out quite the way George intended. The results are explosive!

6. Fantastic Mr Fox

Mr Fox is the good guy, looking out for his foxy family (at least that's how he sees it). Farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean are certainly the baddies. In this battle of wits between farmer and "vermin", Mr Fox is tunnelling for food whilst the farmers are trying to dig him out. A simple tale told as only Dahl can.

7. The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me

A giraffe with an extending neck, a pelican with a bucket-sized beak, a dancing monkey and a boy with big ideas join forces to create the Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company. Their biggest job? To clean all 677 – yes, six hundred and seventy-seven – of the Duke of Hampshire's windows. Expect chaos in this lavishly illustrated silliness.

8. Esio Trot

Spell "Esio Trot" backwards and you get the word "tortoise", which should give you a clue as to how crazy this (very short) novel is. It's about Mr Hoppy's unrequited love for Mrs Silver downstairs who, in turn, only has eyes for her pet tortoise, Alfie.

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Dahl's best-known book has everything: grotesque characters, ludicrous situations and, of course, chocolate! Who could ask for more? When Charlie Bucket wins the last "Golden Ticket" to get a free tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, he soon discovers that his fellow winners have bitten off far more than they can chew.

10. The BFG

If flatulence, royalty and a giant with disproportionately large ears are what you're after in a story, this is the book for you. Throw in kidnapped orphan Sophie (snatched and taken to Giant Land) and a trumpet that blows dreams into sleeping children's rooms, and the result is an extraordinary Dahl-esque/Dali-esque vision.
NOTE: All of the above are illustrated by Quentin Blake. What a marriage made in Heaven that was!

Classics corner 139 / Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer / Review


No 126

Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer – review

These peculiar tales of life in eastern Europe showcase Isaac Bashevis Singer's genius for storytelling

Anthony Cummins
Sunday 26 February 2012 00.05 GMT

he Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991) filled his fiction with demons and imps rather than Zionists or antisemites: he felt writers could leave the real world to politicians and sociologists. Most of the four dozen or so tales in this book unfold in Jewish eastern Europe before Hitler and Stalin arrived. Among their protagonists are a cuckolded baker, a cross-dressing schoolgirl and Satan, a narrator several times over, whose dupes include a precocious scripture buff coaxed into Christianity. "If everything goes well," the devil wheedles, "they'll make you pope one day." The story ends in hell.

Singer, who won a Nobel prize in 1978, left Poland for New York before the second world war, and later pieces here draw more on Brooklyn literary life than old country folklore. While the supernatural element recedes, much peculiarity remains, and things get even funnier. A magazine asks a grumpy critic for an essay on Yiddish writers and, instead, receives one about horses, well past the deadline. The editor sees in his boss's eyes "something like the grief of a doctor when a patient comes to complain about a head cold and it turns out to be a malignant tumour".
Singer's gossipy, buttonholing style ("now listen to what happened") crackles with wit: one character learns early in life that "if one wanted to be a real Jew there was no time for anything else". Many of the best tales owe their appeal to inexplicable deeds. In "The Manuscript", a refugee crosses back into Nazi-held Warsaw to retrieve the draft novel her lover left behind. That alone would make a story, but when she returns only to find the author in bed with another woman, our shock leaves us entirely in sympathy with her impulsive response – and  in wonder at Singer's manipulative skill.

Meet the author / Joyce Carol Oates / 'I had a dream about a woman whose make-up was dried and cracking, she made a fool of herself'

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates: 'I had a dream about a woman whose make-up was dried and cracking, she made a fool of herself'

The American author talks about writing, widowhood and the dream that turned into her latest novel, Mudwoman

Interview by Tim Adams
Sunday 26 February 2012 00.01 GMT

American author Joyce Carol Oates, 73, published her first book in 1963 and has since written more than 50 novels as well as short stories, poetry and plays. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, whre she has taught since 1978.
Your new novel, Mudwoman, is about a woman, abandoned on a rubbish tip as a young child, who goes on to become president of an Ivy League university. It has a kind of mythic, subconscious quality; is that how you see it?
Unusually, it did come that way. I was at the Edinburgh festival some years ago and one night I had this dream about a woman who had put way too much make-up on her face and it had dried and cracked and she made a spectacle, a fool of herself. She seemed to be someone at a university with an exalted rank. When I woke up the image seemed quite profound to me. I wrote five or 10 pages very excitedly. I always wanted to go back to find out who the woman was.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My hero / Graham Greene

My hero: 

Graham Greene by Richard Holloway

'I loved him then and love him now because his art deals with the spiritual loser's lust for redemption'

Richard Holloway

Friday 24 February 2012 22.50 GMT

I once lived for two years in a house in which Graham Greene had stayed for a while, and I felt in communion with his shade, which was still glooming round the place. I loved him then and love him now because his art deals with the spiritual loser's lust for redemption. Here's Minty in England Made Me: "But again he was detained. A church claimed him. The darkness, the glow of the sanctuary lamp drew him on more than food. It was Lutheran, of course, but it had the genuine air of plaster images, of ever-burning light, of sins forgiven."
Being a broken man himself, Greene knew how to probe the pain and romance of faith and its failed practitioners better than anyone else. Even those of us who never ended up in a prison in Mexico waiting for execution, like the whisky priest in The Power and the Glory, knew what his self-disgust felt like. We knew what Greene was on about when he described the sadness of missing happiness by seconds at an appointed place. A little more self-discipline and maybe our tormented hearts would have ceased tormenting yet. But we also knew somewhere inside that it was our failures that kept us human.
Being a priesthood themselves, great writers understand this better than most. Tennessee Williams knew that if he'd exorcised his demons he'd have destroyed his angels as well. And the poet Ian Crichton Smith understood that "from our weakness only are we kind". Greene would have agreed with them both. There was human solidarity in weakness, fellowship in failure. That's why the spoiled priest in his greatest novel was overwhelmed with compassion for other losers. When you looked at other men and women, "you could always begin to feel pity. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination." And that had to include self-hatred. In Greeneland, in the end, everyone is forgiven because everyone is understood.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Esther Freud / Top 10 Love Stories

Esther Freud's top 10 love stories

From Boris Pasternak to Nancy Mitford, the novelist lines up the stories that have broken her heart

Esther Freud
The Guardian
Wednesday 28 April 2010

Dr Zhivago
Julie Christie and Omar Sharif in the film version of Dr Zhivago.
Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd. / Allstar

               Esther Freud was named by Granta magazine as one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. Her books include Hideous Kinky (1992), Peerless Flats (1993) and Gaglow (1997). Her most recent novel is Love Falls (2007).
              She is a judge of the 2010 Le Prince Maurice prize for literary love stories. The shortlist for this year's prize is East of the Sun by Julia Gregson; Small Wars by Sadie Jones and Whatever Makes you Happy by William Sutcliffe. The winner will be announced in Mauritius on 5 June, 2010.
            "The love stories that have stayed with me are the ones that broke my heart. Novels that managed to create the unbearable longing of two people to be together as well as the misunderstandings, disenchantment and lost hope when love slips beyond their reach."


1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was the first book I read that took me on that journey. Rhett Butler's slow, cool devotion to Scarlett through so much of the novel, and the terrible moment when he stops loving her, and she realises she does, in fact, love him, had me feverishly begging fate, or Margaret Mitchell to intervene. My copy was battered and tear-stained by the time the book was finished.


2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre was responsible for a misguided belief in the power of romance that complicated my teenage years. The idea that you could lean out of your window and whisper your lover's name, and that he might actually hear you, appealed to me too much.


3. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Who can ever forget the moment when Tess fails to find the letter that has been pushed under her door? The scene is seared into the hearts of millions of readers across the world.


4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Possibly the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy captures the rollercoaster arc of Anna's passion for Vronsky, and shows us the impossibility of her love ever being a match for what she's lost. The scenes between her and her small son whom she must abandon, are heartbreaking in their restraint, and it is these moments you remember, when Vronsky's ardour begins to fade.


5. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

It's hard to beat a Russian love story, especially this epic tale, set against the backdrop of war, but Zhivago's love for Lara and the unexpected chance they have to re-ignite their passion when fate throws them together in exile, is hard to resist.


6. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Like consuming the most delicious treat. An acutely funny novel, it is told from the point of view of Fanny whose mother "The Bolter", has left her to be brought up by an aunt. She spends much of her time with her cousins, the eccentric, glamorous Radletts, and it is Linda Radlett – a composite of Mitford and her sisters – whose search for the perfect companion is at the heart of this wonderful book.


7. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann

First published in 1936, this was years ahead of its time in its description of a young woman's affair with a married man. Lehmann takes you on her journey – the waiting, the bright moments of hope – without ever allowing you to lose sympathy for any of the characters. Passionate and brutally honest in its portrayal of how love can overwhelm your life.


8. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

In this collection of stories, Lahiri gives us three linked stories. Hema and Kaushik are two Bengali Americans whose parents were friends when they were young and who meet by chance in Rome. They are drawn to each other, irresistibly, even though Hema is about to be married. As the feelings between them intensify, you are consumed with longing for them to take courage and alter the course of their lives. But then fate – or nature – intervenes, and the pain of the ending had me gasping in physical pain.


9. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

A many stranded novel about loneliness and the chances missed in love. Alma, a 15-year-old girl attempts to make sense of her life after her father's death by unravelling the story of the novel her mother is translating. This beautiful, funny and mysterious story draws its characters together in the most unlikely but life-affirming way.


10. One Day by David Nicholls

Following the story of Emma and Dexter through 20 years of friendship, infatuation, missed opportunities, misguided marriages and eventual coming together, this is a brilliantly structured, hysterical and ultimately heartbreaking book.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beautiful Women / Sophie Turner

Sophie Turner at the Fox Reality Channel's Really Awards on 13 September 2009



BornSophie Turner
30 April 1984 (1984-04-30) (age 27)
Melbourne, Australia
Years active2001–present
Height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Hair colorBlonde
Eye colorBlue
Measurements36-24-36 (US)
Weight125 lbs
Dress size2–4



Sophie Turner is an Australian model and reality television personality who first gained notoriety as a contestant on the Australian television series Search for a Supermodel.

 Sophie Turner was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1984, the youngest of four children. Turner was first scouted at the age of 14, while she was on a suburban Adelaide beach. She was asked to enter a swimsuit competition, which she won. Sophie was titled Australia’s ‘Miss Beach’ in 1997. In 2008, Turner earned a Bachelor of Laws from Flinders University of South Australia.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska Dies at 88

Wislawa Szymborska, Nobel-Winning Polish Poet, Dies at 88

Wislawa Szymborska, a gentle and reclusive Polish poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, died on Wednesday in Krakow, Poland. She was 88.           
          The cause was lung cancer, said David A. Goldfarb, the curator of literature and humanities at the  Polish Cultural Institute in New York, a diplomatic mission of the Polish Embassy.       
Wislawa Szymborska
with her Nobel Prize medal in 1996
          Ms. Szymborska (pronounced vees-WAH-vah shim-BOR-ska) had a relatively small body of work when she received the Nobel, the fifth Polish or Polish-born writer to have done so since the prize was created in 1901. Only about 200 of her poems had been published in periodicals and thin volumes over a half-century, and her lifetime total was something less than 400.
          The Nobel announcement surprised Ms. Szymborska, who had lived an intensely private life. “She was kind of paralyzed by it,” said Clare Cavanagh, who, with Stanislaw Baranczak, translated much of Ms. Szymborska’s work into English.
          “Her friends called it the ‘Nobel tragedy,’ ” Dr. Cavanagh, a professor of literature at Northwestern University, said in an interview on Wednesday. “It was a few years before she wrote another poem.”
         Ms. Szymborska lived most of her life in modest conditions in the old university city of Krakow, working for the magazine Zycie Literackie (Literary Life). She published a thin volume of her verse every few years.
          She was popular in Poland, which tends to make romantic heroes of poets, but she was little known abroad. Her poems were clear in topic and language, but her playfulness and tendency to invent words made her work hard to translate.
           Much of her verse was contemplative, but she also addressed death, torture, war and, strikingly, Hitler, whose attack on Poland in 1939 started Worl War II in Europe. She depicted him as an innocent — “this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe” — being photographed on his first birthday.
          Ms. Szymborska began writing in the Socialist Realist style. The first collection of what some have called her Stalinist period, “That’s What We Live For,” appeared in 1952, followed two years later by another ideological collection, “Questions Put to Myself.”
         Years later she told the poet and critic Edward Hirsch: “When I was young I had a moment of believing in the Communist doctrine. I wanted to save the world through Communism. Quite soon I understood that it doesn’t work, but I’ve never pretended it didn’t happen to me.
           “At the very beginning of my creative life I loved humanity. I wanted to do something good for mankind. Soon I understood that it isn’t possible to save mankind.”
           By 1957, she had renounced both Communism and her early poetry. Decades later, she was active in the Solidarity movement’s struggle against Poland’s Communist government. During a period of martial law, imposed in 1981, she published poems under a pseudonym in the underground press.
           She insisted that her poetry was personal rather than political. “Of course, life crosses politics,” she said in an interview with The New York Times after winning the Nobel in 1996. “But my poems are strictly not political. They are more about people and life.”
          Ms. Szymborska “looks at things from an angle you would never think of looking at for yourself in a million years,” Dr. Cavanagh said on the day of the Nobel announcement. She pointed to “one stunning poem that’s a eulogy.”
         “It’s about the death of someone close to her that’s done from the point of view of the person’s cat,” she said.
        That poem, “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” as translated by Dr. Cavanagh and Mr. Baranczak, opens:

Die — You can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here,
but nothing is the same.
Nothing has been moved,
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.
Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.
Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should. Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

           Wislawa Szymborska was born on July 2, 1923, near Poznan, in western Poland. When she was 8, her family moved to Krakow. During the Nazi occupation, she went to a clandestine school, risking German punishment, and later studied literature and sociology at the prestigious Jogiellonian University in Krakow.
           Her marriage to the poet Adam Wlodek ended in divorce. Her companion, the writer Kornel Filipowicz, died in 1990. She had no children, and no immediate family members survive.
           Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish exile who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, said of Ms. Szymborska’s Nobel selection: “She’s a shy and modest person, and for her it will be a terrible burden, this prize. She is very reticent in her poetry also. This is not a poetry where she reveals her personal life.”
          Her work did, however, reveal sympathy for others — even the biblical figure who looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. Ms. Szymborska speculated in the opening lines of “Lot’s Wife” on why she looked back:

They say I looked back out of curiosity,
but I could have had other reasons.
I looked back mourning my silver bowl.
Carelessly, while tying my sandal strap.
So I wouldn’t have to keep staring at the righteous nape
Of my husband Lot’s neck.
From the sudden conviction that if I dropped dead
He wouldn’t so much as hesitate.
From the disobedience of the meek.
Checking for pursuers.
Struck by the silence, hoping God had changed his mind.

           Her last book to be translated, “Here,” was published in the United States last year. Reviewing it for The New York Review of Books, the poet Charles Simic noted that Ms. Szymborska “often writes as if on an assigned subject,” examining it in depth. He added: “If this sounds like poetry’s equivalent of expository writing, it is. More than any poet I can think of, Szymborska not only wants to create a poetic state in her readers, but also to tell them things they didn’t know before or never got around to thinking about.”
            In her Nobel lectura, Ms. Szymborska joked about the life of poets. Great films can be made of the lives of scientists and artists, she said, but poets offer far less promising material.
           “Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic,” she said. “Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines, only to cross out one of them 15 minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens. Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?”
          Paul Vitello contributed reporting.
            This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: February 3, 2012. Because of an editing error, an obituary on Thursday about the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska misstated the pronunciation of her given name. It is vees-WAH-vah, not VEES-mah-vah.

        A version of this article appeared in print on February 2, 2012, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Wislawa Szymborska, 88, Nobel Poet.

My hero: Michael Ondaatje by Teju Cole

 Michael Ondaatje: ‘shadowed and prismatic prose’.
Photograph: Murdo Macleod

My hero: 

Michael Ondaatje by Teju Cole

Here’s a celebrated writer who can’t stop taking risks on the page

Teju Cole
Friday 17 February 2012

hen you are starting out, each great writer gives you specific forms of permission. Michael Ondaatje's work taught me how to be at home in fragments, and how to think about a big story in carefully curated vignettes. All his books were odd, all of them "unfinished" the way Chopin's Études are unfinished: no wasted gestures, no unnecessary notes.

In Coming Through Slaughter, I encountered the use of photographs in a text in a non-straightforwardly illustrative way, long before WG Sebald did the same thing. Running in the Family was an exhilarating confusion of genres that I read and reread, and loved each time, and still couldn't decode. The English Patient was like a fine film by Chris Marker (quite different from the fine film Anthony Minghella made of the same book). And the latest, The Cat's Table, is fleet and gently magical, a book full of love.
For purposes of marketing, writers are designated as poets, novelists, or something else. But writing is about matchmaking, an attempt to marry sensations with apt words. Ondaatje makes language translucent – the exact word, the exact placement of a comma – and the reader has the uncanny feeling of encountering ideas directly. His work is about the things I care most about: memory, threshholds, solitude, work (usually the work of hands), dangerous loves, half-remembered songs and scars of all kinds. It is a particular constellation of thoughts and experiences, so particular to me, I sometimes feel, that I'm unsure if I'm reading or if I'm the one being read.
The kind of hushed attention that Ondaatje brings to his work isn't to everyone's taste. His lyricism leaves some sceptical. The shadowed and prismatic prose regularly runs into unsympathetic critics. But that is precisely what I value about it. Here's a celebrated writercelebrated and loved by many, who can't stop taking risks on the page, who can't stop making one-of-a-kind books. To read him is to understand that he's very good at being free. No noisy certainties here. His ambiguities are quiet and precise. I want to be like that when I grow up.
 Teju Cole's Open City has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award.