Baggy Paragraphs

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Why I refuse to learn Finnish or tryst with Gwyneth Paltrow

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Translating a novel from Finnish to English must be like landing a spacecraft on Jupiter’s moon Europa in order to tryst with winsome Gwyneth Paltrow, who avowed she’d be there, too.

Sometimes, as in Arto Paasilinna’s The Year of the Hare, the sentences, like mine, come out a little funny:

imgresTheir apartment had become an extravagant farrago of shallow and meretricious interior-decoration tips from women’s magazines. A pseudo-radicalism governed the design, with huge posters and clumsy modular furniture. It was difficult to inhabit the rooms without injury; all the items were at odds. 

Wasn’t “farrago” an early 1960s Ford, fitting into the model lineup between the Falcon Futura and Fairlane 500? The Farrago Finesse was top of the line?

Wait, it’s already highlighted in my dictionary. It means: “A confused mixture: hodgepodge.”

Herbert Lomas, the novel’s translator, was very capable, and so far—other than the gummed up passage on display—this fable’s pages have flown by. Mr. Lomas specialized in Finnish; he had taught in Helsinki and somehow mastered the difficult tongue.

Maybe he had an easier time picking it up than most would, but Finnish looks pretty challenging.

It shares almost no root words with English or other European languages, meanwhile adding complex variables. To learn Finnish must be about as simple as being handed a hammer and saw with the instructions that you, having no experience whatsoever in the textile industry, must build a loom and produce piqué-knit shirts. You have three weeks.

Does it ease your mind that Finnish is related to Estonian, more distantly to Hungarian, and to some small languages in the Ural Mountains of Russia? If you could learn Finnish, then Udmurt and Erzya are, so to speak, just a few steps away.

How many novels written in Udmurt by G.D. Krasilnikov are being overlooked for translation into English? Gennady Dmitrievich, we need you!

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April 30, 2015 at 4:00 am

Weeding through books closes the trail on ‘Sexual Pathways’

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Because I’m pretty much finished working on my landscaping project, which is a wintertime thing (it’s now heating up in the Palm Springs area), I’ve started doing some spring cleaning and rearranging inside. It is now exactly two years since I bought this house. IMG_6297

When I moved in, I dropped bookshelves here and there and loaded them up. The past two evenings have been devoted to moving them to better locations and weeding out quite a few books. Yes, I moved them here from Michigan in 2011. Why didn’t I throw them out then?

Of course, perspectives change. And I keep acquiring new volumes. But no more bookshelves, ever! Hence, the weeding. I keep books that I might reread or refer to–that’s it!

So I look at Gore Vidal’s memoir Palimpsest. Why did I read it in the first place? I’d never laid a hand on one of his novels. All I remember from his memoir is that he didn’t like to kiss his gay lovers. “Girls invented kissing,” he wrote. I may even be able find it somewhere in those 434 pages.

Now I remember why I own it: I once met Gore Vidal. It was around 1980, backstage at The Tonight Show. I knocked on his dressing room door, gave him the trifling ‘zine I used to produce, and chatted with him before he went on the show.

“We authors must do our duty,” he told me, referring to the TV tour for his new book, whatever it was.

I had met a big-time author! IMG_6299

Alas, he failed to mention the moment in his memoir.

I’m also unloading Sexual Pathways: Adapting to Dual Sexual Attraction, which I purchased in July of 2013 for $29, hoping to understand. She said she wasn’t gay, or even really bisexual, and would never do that again. Maybe it’s true, as the book asserts, that some people don’t identify as bisexual, that they carry on a same-sex relationship as a one-time thing.

But what I’ve learned about her is that she probably would do that again if status were to be gained, if a famous lesbian showed interest.

Now, though, Sexual Pathways is like a bus with an “Out of Service” sign.

There are a lot of other surprises in the outbound pile, lesser or obscure works by DeLillo and Roth, and even Bonfire of the Vanities, which has gone from blockbuster to mere block.

Let us see what develops. I could end up regretting the Vidal.

Written by baggyparagraphs

April 11, 2015 at 4:00 am

People from 99 countries visited Baggy Paragraphs in 2014

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,300 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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January 1, 2015 at 4:00 am

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11 Books That Stayed with Me

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Being tagged on Facebook to name 10 books that have stayed with me, I received these meager guidelines:

  • Don’t think too hard or take more then a few minutes.
  • They don’t have to be great works of literature but must have affected you in some way.

Of course, I’ve overthought it. And there’s the need to elaborate and provide context.

Old_YellerFrom youth, a group of titles comes to mind:  Old Yeller (by Fred Gipson), Rascal (Sterling North), The Pond (Robert Murphy), The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings), and Animal Farm (George Orwell). All featured animals (but no cats).

So here’s my list:

Fahrenheit 451: My younger sister Kate and I accompanied our father to the the Francois Truffaut film version when I was 11 and she was 10. It was hard to comprehend. The fire trucks had funny sirens compared to those I was used to. And why were firemen setting books ablaze? I’ve read Bradbury’s novel a couple of times since and figured it all out.

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky. My idea of a big, important novel. In our home, our father cultivated a disdain for high culture in general and British culture in particular. (Continental culture came in a close second, though.) The monarchy and all that proceeded from it were derided. Of course I was affected, so I wasn’t inclined to read Thackeray or Hardy. When I was 19, in my first college literature class, Crime and Punishment was exotic, a premium novel I’d always heard of. And not British.

The American, by Henry James. After an American literature survey course, when I first heard of Henry James, I read this novel over Christmas break. The experience opened me up to a different kind of writing–the realism and the prose–and gave a view inside a rare world. I’ve read a fair amount of James since.

The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. After college, I found my way to this nonfiction novel, which in its enjoyably bombastic style and robust subject matter offered release from academic constraints.

sins-of-madame-bovary-dvdMadame Bovary shows incredible deftness, making us feel compassion for Emma while also seeing her as a fool.

The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey (and illustrations by R. Crumb), was encountered when I was in my late-20s–the perfect thing at the time. I’ve never reread it, but maybe I ought to!

White Noise, by Don DeLillo, is a satire about a family fleeing an “airborne toxic event” (namesake of an indie rock band) and rings true in every line.

The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino, is my favorite of his novels, although not long ago I had a great time reading another of his absurdist fables, The Nonexistent Knight.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg, came along at the peak of my interest in Scandinavian literature and film, the rare thriller on my shelf.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, is the best contemporary novel I’ve found in years. The main female character, Madeleine, made me think of someone I’d once been very fond of.

Great Expectations, by Dickens, embodies the benefits of this great novelist, now that I’ve finally gotten around to him. (I finished in June.) It’s quite a page turner, actually, and one superb line after another.

That’s 11 books. Good thing I read so slow, or I would have finished many more, adding to the difficulty of this task.

 

 

 

What the Wall Street Journal Missed by Omitting My ‘Twelve Months of Reading’ Roundup

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Once again the Wall Street Journal has neglected to include me among the fifty people who recount highlights from their past year’s reading. Maybe this oversight should come as a relief because, as usual, I bought more books than I read, most recently a friend’s automotive journalism title. At his book signing, I met a self-proclaimed “Southern lady novelist” with a sideline in motor racing who was so pleased that I could recite the names of two novels by Carson McCullers that she made the unsolicited promise to send me a review copy of a newly reprinted work of her own.

Internal organs, before and after.

Internal organs, before and after.

I’m in the hole for at least couple of reading years when you add in the number of books received as gifts—books that wouldn’t even have caught my second glance. “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout, for example, had somehow eluded me, although I’d almost surely have noticed a volume called “Elizabeth’s Trout,” by Olive Kitteridge. Today’s mail brought a Christmas package containing the former.

Much of last winter was devoted to Daniel Yergin’s hefty “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World,” but the reading was always a pleasure and Mr. Yergin made me feel almost blasé about trading carbon credits. Soon afterward, I took up a kind of sequel to Yergin’s themes of scarcity and plenty in “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think,” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Thanks to this book, I’ve allowed myself to drink as much beer as I like, knowing that, thanks to tissue engineering and stem cells, a 3-D printer will be capable of making my next liver.

“The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House” was a secret pleasure. No way I’d tell my friends, almost all of whom are liberal conformists, but I delighted in Edward Klein’s portrait of the POTUS as a bungler and charlatan with a prickly nature and a jealous wife; not long after finishing it I told my elderly father, who was salivating at the prospect of ditching Obamacare, “I think President Obama will be reelected in the fall and the whole idea of repeal will die, so everybody might as well start getting used to it.”

Yes, there is also fiction, and just as I felt thrilled yesterday when I needed a rolling pin for the tart I was making and found exactly one available at Target, it was also a thrill in early November to secure the last remaining copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” in the Austin, Texas, airport. Alas, it proved to be one of the ten worst books I’ve ever read, and I can attest that the rolling pin has a better idea where it’s going and is more entertaining. And as a added virtue, the rolling pin can play itself in the movie.

Written by baggyparagraphs

December 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm

The first faltering steps of Sony Pictures in Hollywood

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Jon Peters and Lesley Ann Warren in 1978

Jon Peters and Lesley Ann Warren in 1978. 

A skunk in the works. All boogered up. Guber and Peters.

The latter phrase, a grouping of two proper nouns, should endure as a quintessential expression of incompetence and subversion from within, no matter what organization. A Sioux Falls accounting firm could be just as Guber-and-Peters as a Hollywood studio.

I’ve just finished “Hit and Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood.” This report by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters, already a generation old, fills in some gaps in my knowledge of Hollywood.

Made into a movie, this comedy would require airsickness bags in the back pockets of all seats.

As Sony aimed to marry hardware and software, Sony executives were convinced they needed Guber and Peters to run their new studio. It was a mess from the start, but Guber and Peters made everything worse with their grandiosity. Huge salaries for themselves and other execs, overpayment on scripts and productions, a fleet of jets, and even lavish Christmas parties for the staff. Expenses at Sony Pictures were way out of line with revenues.

One starts to root for the protagonists to meet a grisly end. But in Hollywood, you get a production deal.

This is a very well told story, although Jon Peters disappears rather abruptly from the narrative. Not that the reader misses him! Orangutans are better behaved.

If at any time in the near future you find yourself spending several billion dollars to acquire a Hollywood studio, follow your own instincts about how to run it instead of letting loud-mouthed promoters sit behind the steering wheel. Then you’ll be all Guber and Peters.

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May 19, 2012 at 10:20 am

Where there’s a Willa away, Cather if you can

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Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) This is actually...

I’ve been reading Willa Cather‘s stories from “The Troll Garden,” which was published in 1905. It’s a while since I’ve read anything from this period and longer since I’ve read any Cather. This is good reading, but I sure am amazed at how much language has changed since 1905. I don’t think I’d even dare use a word like “celerity” in a story. (No, it has nothing to do with green vegetables; it means “rapidity of motion or action.”) One of my professors from the University of Nebraska says “celerity” is a favorite word of his, but then he doesn’t write for the public print. I’ve used plenty of words like “celerity,” which I would say is an obscure word, but this one today seems like a wooden leg in a sentence.

At the same time, I’ve also been writing a piece for Automobile about the history of automotive headlamps, with two sources being articles from The Horseless Age (1907) and Motor Age (1908); the way the sentences wind themselves up makes me snicker. But 100 years from now a reader might say the same about these sentences. There was a terrific piece in the Wall Street Journal a while ago (I knew I should’ve clipped it; I can’t find the link) about the rapid changes occurring in English, including the incorporation of graphic symbols. Decrepitude inheres.

 

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April 11, 2012 at 8:37 am

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