Monthly Archives: August 2014

Tens of books

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There is a current trend on social media, mostly Facebook, that challenges people to come up with a list of ten books that have somehow influenced, stuck and hold a special place with them. A friend of mine, Hazel, included me in it, but as I am not usually willing to adhere to ‘chains’, I decided to update the lonely, dusty blog instead.

To actually force myself to provide something meatier, however, I’ve tried to track down the origin of the books too, and therefore to whom I am grateful for the suggestion or gift. So thank you, various people who enabled my reading. It paid off, a bit.

In no particular order:

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry. Given to me by my mum, part of a postal reading subscription. Fairly simple, heavily criticised, still to the point (and I am dreading the film adaptation). What if we all were the same, and the price was that we forget our past, for better or worse? And what if you and you alone were forced to remember for everyone?

Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson. Part of an Italian series that came with a newspaper, introducing to graphic novels from around the world; this version was by Elena Fattoretto (2004). Growing up in a not-officially-Catholic-but-who-are-we-kidding country, the book screamed at me with Craig’s struggle with his belief, relationship to his family, and absolutely stunning artwork. The first book that I remember making me cry.

Comme un Roman (1992), by Daniel Pennac. First read in Yasmina Melaouah’s (1993) Italian translation. A gift from my dad, after I stole most of his Pennac books. A non-fictional essay by a reader for readers about reading, and the source of the excellent Rights of the Reader (also the title of Sarah Adams’ translation), made into a poster by Quentin Blake.

A Monster Calls (2011), by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suggested by BJ Epstein, my academic supervisor, for a reading group. I fell in love with it, I cried, I was terrified of going to sleep, I found my displaced anger in the boy and the monster, and felt ashamed of it all, and loved it even more.

The Incredible Hulk #377 (1991), by Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver. No idea where I first read this one, but I’ve been searching a copy as far as I can remember, and finally obtained one this year. How to control and convert multiple angry, out-of-control personalities into one complete (green) being.

Baol. Una tranquilla notte di regime (1990), by Stefano Benni. Probably also a gift from my dad, as I also stole all his Benni books. One of the most surreal, caustic, irreverent, profane, political works by Benni, and a really short read that has yet to make it into English. But it travels with me whenever I move house, and I have been compared to the main character by some of my friends in the past. For yet unexplained reasons.

Hyperion (1989), by Dan Simmons. Recommended by an Italian writer friend, who specifically asked me not to read the translation. I devoured this one and its three sequels over a summer, and I was brought back into sci-fi literature, reminded of what it can really do with notions of genre, canon and technology. And the horror of the Shrike.

L’Allegria (1931), by Giuseppe Ungaretti. Cultural baggage, Ungaretti permeates Italian literary education. One of my favourite collections of Italian poetry, and the first venture into literary translation as part of my undergraduate dissertation. War poetry, but not quite. Hermetic poetry, but not quite. Resonant poetry – quite.

Written on the Body (1993), by Jeanette Winterson. My first purchase in English that was not via my mum or aunt. I cried on the plane back to Italy during a school trip reading it. Poetry based on medical language, my introduction to queer literature and a tagline that still makes me shiver: why is the measure of love loss?

W;t (1995), by Margaret Edson. Part of a module about teachers and teaching I took at the University of Leeds, by Denis Flannery. A one-act play dealing with words, language, poetry, literature, life, death and punctuation, as Professor Vivian Bearing deals with ovarian cancer and the joys of healthcare and John Donne. Emma Thompson’s TV movie rendition is devastating, too.

Honourable mentions: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Mike Carey, Peter Gross et al’s Lucifer and The Unwritten, Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t want to know, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bà’s Daytripper, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

Now, what does this tell me? I wasn’t exposed to or sought out enough diversity (gender, ethnicity, you name it) growing up, and much of what I did read then did not make as big an impact as what I was immersed in during my university years. I have been addressing the issue, especially of recent with the ReadWomen2014 and WomenInTranslation initiatives, and several translations I read of some of the books above were indeed by women. I am part of the Readers Circle in Norwich, which seeks out the best new books available over the course of a year, and pushes us beyond our comfort reading zones. I am translating a series of poems by Italian women poets for The Norwich Radical, to bring more of their writing into English, and research the field more myself. I am following Malorie Blackman’s work on diversity in YA, and wholeheartedly support it.

But those are the ten books so far. Any further recommendations, as always, are more than welcome.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #8

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Synopsis
In “Sang” part three, to find the maanim, Sir Thomas must succeed where all other knights have failed. Which isn’t going to be easy when his own identity keeps shifting, and when the story itself seems determined to create a very different hero.

Story
The ‘Sang’ story arc finds its end, which is of course only the beginning of something much bigger, in issue 8 of the Unwritten: Apocalypse, and the manipulative nature of the series’ creators and characters alike does not give signs of ceasing any time soon. Neither in writing nor in art, and definitely not in plot.
We are given a little more grounding to the events of the previous issue, showing the long term game that Pullman and Madame Rausch have been playing all along – and probably even Wilson – as well as returning to poor Danny abandoned during the first issues in a darkness of his own purported making; and all makes sense, except for when it doesn’t, but even that appears to be intentional, with a new player free from the bounds of time running through the issue.
As Mike Carey continues to prove just how much fun he can have with his writing, making everyone and everything ‘bilingual in medieval bullshit’ (actual quote), he even manages to make Tom a little more likeable, at last, as he is now aware of how little power he and Leviathan actually have in the face of everything swirling around them.

Art
Peter Gross continues in his engraving-like style for the most part in the issue, but with the perfectly executed visual bilingualism accompanying the script: the cast and settings shift, even within the same panel, between ‘real world’ and ‘medieval epic’ on wisps of colour and linework. In addition, though some characters are not actually in the book, their presence is very much felt in the background and borders of the pages, giving an eerie feeling where no added eeriness was necessary – but chillingly welcome.
Credit where it’s due: Chris Chuckry, whose name finally features on the cover(!), has a big hand in depicting those currents of reality/fiction and demarcating the difference between the scenes with Danny, Tom and the small cutaways to Pullman and his ‘agent’. All of which end up inevitably clashing at some point or other. Todd Klein seems to step back a little in this issue, but the title page still looks amazing, and some font choices work really well with the rest of the art.
As we turn back to the cover, as always by wonderful Yuko Shimizu, we also find the muted colours of parts of the issue, and of this number’s two predecessors – but the staggeringly good part is all in the object held by Sir Thomas, the maanim, which Shimizu manages to capture a number of different variations of in a single image, while referencing previous covers in the series’ run!

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
Think of all the ways in which a story gets contorted and convoluted and mis-told and re-told by every voice that retreads the same ground. Think of all the ways that Carey and Gross have done that so far. Think further, and you’ll get close to what happens in this issue, as all possible endings are possible, and most of them happen. In sequence, though not necessarily chronological. Some threads are unravelled, some knots are combed out, some wrinkles are smoothed – and nothing is about to make perfect sense. Welcome to the post-literary maelstrom. Welcome to the (yet) Unwritten Apocalypse.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #8 is now available in shops and digitally here.

Twentyquattordici

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San Martino del Carso

Of these houses
nothing left
but some
shred of wall

Of many
who wrote back
nothing left
nothing at all

But no cross is missing
in my heart

The country most in mourning
is my heart
Dulce et Decorum Est

Piegati in due, mendicanti sotto stracci
Ginocchia nodose, tosse di strega, nella melma bestemmiando
Fino al volgere delle schiene agli spettrali razzi
E verso il lontano riposo ci incamminammo.
Uomini marciano nel sonno. Molti a stivali rotti
Ma sanguinolenti tentennano avanti, mutilati, cecati
Ebbri di stanchezza, sordi anche ai botti
Di stanchi, sfiniti bossoli dietro a loro lanciati.

Gas! Gas! Presto, ragazzi! — Frenesia d’armeggiare,
Sistemando appena in tempo gli elmetti;
Ma ancora fuori si sentono urla e l’inciampare
di chi annaspa, come di fiamme infetti.

Fioco, tra vetri offuscati e densa verde luce
Come sotto un verde mare, lo vidi affogare.

In ogni mio sogno, la mia vista debole lo conduce
a lanciarmisi contro, sempre a soffrire, sempre ad affogare.

Se in sogni soffocanti anche voi poteste marciare
Dietro al carro su cui lo avevamo caricato ,
E vederne degli occhi bianchi nel viso l’agitare,
Quel viso spento, come un diavolo stanco del peccato;
Se poteste dai polmoni schiumanti gorgogliare
Sentire, ad ogni scossa, il sangue
osceno come un cancro, acre come lo scoppiare
Di orrende, incurabili piaghe su innocenti lingue,—
Amici miei, non saltereste dall’ovest all’est
A raccontare a giovani in preda a disperati ardori
L’antica bugia: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Part I is here.