Category Archives: Housekeeping

Don’t Fear the Reaper

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‘You could say to the universe, this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.’
(Soul Music, 347)

Terry Pratchett died today, at the age of 66, at over 70 books, at eight years of struggle with his Embuggerance, at home.

You can find multiple obituaries all over the internet as I type this, and I am not about to attempt another. No, this post is a way for me to process my own thoughts about Terry Pratchett and his writing, his world, and his impact on me as a reader. And to say thank you.

I never met him in person. I always managed to miss events close-by, and was unable to make the further away ones. The closest I ever got was researching his life and works for my first contributions to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Daniel Hahn – the author/editor – was, in fact, the person who told me the news.

I only met his books, and some of my favourite people through of them. Almost all of his books, at this point.
Starting with a badly received The Carpet People in Italian translation (by Angela Ragusa) at the age of 8, in primary school.
Ignoring them for a long while after that – only to discover Peter Gabriel’s Genesis The Carpet Crawlers, and thinking they were linked.
Being handed the English copy of Pyramids by ‘Auntie Penny’ for the length of a read around the age of 12, and falling, inevitably with a Thud!, into Pratchett’s books and the Discworld , and the world of reading, in English, harder than before. Or at least, that is how I remember it.
Rediscovering the series as I arrived in the UK at the age of 19, staying with Penny and Allan and Pen’s collection, via Reaper Man.
Re-rediscovering Lords and Ladies and Carpe Jugulum at the University of Leeds, with now Japan-bound Maria, who shared my raised eyebrow at the live-action adaptations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
Seeing the first theatrical adaptation of The Truth, a book that I never thought could be adapted, in Oxford, at the age of 20.
Retracing the pineapple on pizza footnote from The Last Continent for a seminar in my first year of teaching, at the age of 24, while also developing the idea of the T-Space for the British Centre of Literary Translation; an obvious rip-off and homage to the L-Space and its genteel Black Holes.

Softly, silently crumbling, at the age of 26, at the news of Terry Pratchett’s passing.

My enabler, Penny, told me to ‘remember what a legacy he left us all. He wasn’t afraid of dying, just very pissed off. A very sad day indeed, but for all the right reasons.’ She is right. As Neil Gaiman pointed out, he was angry. He was spurred on by fury, in his writing as in his living. And we should learn from that. We should channel that.

Given the equation (that camels also know):

Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass

we all carry part of the L-Space and of its ideator’s fierce, furious power within us.

Time to also pick up our pens, and start to write.

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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.

A New Endeavour

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I’m going to do something new. I’m going to write a monthly review of the final 12 issues of the Vertigo comics series The Unwritten. Because I think it’s a series that needs a wider readership, and it gives me a chance to write something different.

I will follow my own set of reviewing rules: ‘no invisible labour’ – writers, pencillers, inkers, colourists, letterers, cover artists, editors, translators will all feature when necessary, and commented upon. The reviews will be around 500 words, and will include the official synopsis from the solicitations. I cannot include artwork from the comics themselves, but I will make sure to have the publicly avaialable cover image.

So, once a month, there will be a comics review.
Starting right here, right now.

(Well, from the next post.)

Duemilafourteen

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Because it’s 2014, because I loathe the rhetoric building up again in the UK (and beyond), because I cannot believe some people can be so devious and twisted, because Kitchener was chosen for coins.

San Martino del Carso

Di queste case
non è rimasto
che qualche
brandello di muro

Di tanti
che mi corrispondevano
non è rimasto
neppure tanto

Ma nel cuore
nessuna croce manca

E’ il mio cuore
il paese più straziato

(G. Ungaretti – 1916)



Perché è il 2014, e in parti d’Europa si iniziano a ‘celebrare’ i 100 anni dell’inizio della prima guerra mondiale. Perché c’è una retorica in Europa che mette i brividi. Perché non si dimentichi.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(W. Owen – 1917)