Dana Gioia on the late Scott Timberg: a bitter symbol for those who have been marginalized by our “creative culture.”

December 16th, 2019
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A society-assisted suicide. He leaves behind a wife and son.

The Los Angeles Review of Books has a long piece on gifted cultural journalist Scott Timberg, who killed himself last week. He was 50. I wrote about it here, and my supposition was correct. He was killed by the “gig economy” he deplored in his 2015 book, Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, which discussed how digital technology and economic polarization were damaging American cultural life.

The LARB piece ends with a range of tributes, one of them from from a close friend, Dana Gioia, California poet laureate and former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts:

I knew Scott Timberg for over 25 years. He was not only a close friend and colleague — he was a constant presence in my life. For many years he emailed or phoned me nearly every day to discuss what he was reading or writing. In 2003 we edited a book together on the new literary Los Angeles for which Scott came up with the perfect title, The Misread City.

Scott was determined to give Los Angeles the careful reading that it deserved. I don’t think anyone covered LA culture so prolifically or omnivorously. He wrote about everything happening in the Southland — rock, poetry, fiction, film, theater, jazz, classical music, and the visual arts. He produced hundreds of articles, which had the special Timberg quality of being simultaneously open-minded and opinionated.

Dana Gioia: “something wrong with our culture”

In an age of cultural specialization, Scott’s range was invaluable. His commentary reflected the needs of the general reader who explores the arts with curiosity but finds little intelligent guidance in the media. Scott provided this animated coverage for nearly thirty years at a variety of publications, mostly notably The Day in New London, New Times LALos Angeles Times, and Salon.

Thousands of musicians, artists, writers, publishers, and presenters profited from Scott’s meticulous attention and advocacy. He was not so fortunate.  His professional career was slowly eroded by the economic and technological changes that transformed the contemporary media. Despite his immense productivity, he struggled to earn a living for himself and his family.

Scott combined his difficult personal experiences with his capacious knowledge of the arts and media to create a brilliant study, Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class (2015). This underrated volume remains the best diagnosis of our current cultural dilemma in a society where “information” corporations have become as large as nation states while the writers and artists whose work they exploit can no longer make a living.

Scott’s suicide was a tragic act. He was so greatly loved and so conspicuously talented. No one can truly know what despair or temporary madness motivated it. But his death makes at least one thing obvious to any attentive observer. There is something wrong with our culture when Los Angeles, which now has more artists than any other city in North America, including New York, cannot provide a living wage for such a hard-working and gifted critic.

In his death, Scott Timberg becomes a representative figure, a bitter symbol for thousands of other writers and artists who have been marginalized by our much-touted “creative culture.” I mourn him personally and publicly. His passing diminishes the California culture he did so much to honor.

Read the whole thing here.

A postscript from Dana’s brother, the jazz scholar Ted Gioia, on his Facebook page (we also quoted him in our earlier post here):

Los Angeles Review of Books has published a collection of heartfelt tributes (from me and 18 others, including my brother Dana) to our friend Scott Timberg, a brilliant arts & culture journalist who took his own life last week, leaving behind his wife Sara and 13-year-old son Ian.

I feel compelled to add a few more comments here—because Scott seemed like surrogate member of my family at times, and his passing has left such a mark on me (as it has on so many others—I note that around 600 people have donated to the GoFundMe campaign for his family).

When someone you know commits suicide, the first reaction is disbelief. More than almost any other human act, suicide resists attempts to find meaning in it. Even so, in this case a kind of larger significance has been attached to Scott’s death by many who knew him well—and it started happening almost within hours of his passing. To many of us, his death seemed to have uncanny and disturbing connections with his professional life over the last decade, when he emerged as our leading chronicler and champion of the many people who have lost their bearings in the “culture business”—a group that, for Scott, included everyone from artists and arts journalists like himself all the way to the film lover who once worked at the local video rental store (before it closed) or the minimum-wage clerk at the indie bookstore.

Scott had lost his job at the Los Angeles Times shortly before he turned 40. As an outsider, I was mystified by this turn of events, because Scott was one of the finest arts and culture writers in the country, smart and passionate and capable of delivering insightful articles at short notice on almost any subject. He never recovered his bearings after leaving the Times. Thrust into the turbulent freelance economy, he continued to do outstanding work, but with fewer opportunities and smaller rewards.

He increasingly focused his attention on others like himself who had been squeezed and displaced in the shrinking arts economy. He drew on his own experiences in writing a book on the subject, the harrowing (even more so after his death) Culture Crash, published by Yale University Press.

A different person with Scott’s talents would have reinvented himself in a different career or setting. But Scott loved journalism—he believed it was the highest possible profession, almost a kind of priesthood—and he loved Los Angeles too. He loved them too much perhaps. It may seem like a gross simplification to say that losing his position at the L.A. Times caused his death, but there’s some truth in that. I believe he would still be alive today if he had been able to do the work he was destined to pursue in his adopted hometown.

The narrative that has emerged in the last few days presents Scott as a martyr to the cause he chronicled in his writing. From this perspective, he is the patron saint of the suffering culture professional in the gig economy—and his own death has turned into a commentary on his life. It’s easy to criticize this way of packaging a tragedy that (for me and others) will never lose its sting. But there’s a large dose of truth in it too. All the pieces fit together, almost too well.

More to the point, it gives some small circumference of meaning to something otherwise so meaningless. And, frankly, I suspect Scott would have no disagreement with such a framing of his life and death. He saw the challenges he faced echoed in the lives of so many others, and he cared deeply about all those who suffered in this way. The notion that his abbreviated life might serve as potent symbol for the compassion owed to those squeezed by the shift in our culture, would have given Scott a small bit of gratification. I know it gives me some consolation.

Intellect, critic, provocateur Scott Timberg: “His death is a casualty in the fight for the soul of the city.”

December 14th, 2019
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I didn’t know Los Angeles cultural journalist and author Scott Timberg, but it seemed all my friends did. The Los Angeles Times obituary called him “a ferocious listener and reader whose cultural appetites fueled his career as an author and journalist in Los Angeles and led him to question the future of the arts in the internet age.” Timberg died on Tuesday. He was 50.

“His death by suicide shocked us all while also silencing a voice of tremendous insight and eloquence about so, so many things that he loved,” wrote the writer’s brother, Craig Timberg, in a message to friends.

The Palo Alto-born journalist wrote Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, which discussed how digital technology and economic polarization were damaging American cultural life. The acclaimed book was published in 2015 by Yale University Press.

Ted Gioia recalls “earnestness and enthusiasm”

“You could talk to him about virtually any subject,” wrote friend and author Ted Goia. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who combined earnestness and enthusiasm (typically opposed traits) in such a high degree.”

An excerpt from the obituary:

Timberg’s cultural explorations continued after The Times laid him off amid budget cuts in 2008, and the Timberg family had to relinquish their home. Timberg began to question conventional wisdom about the internet boosting opportunities for writers, artists, musicians and others.

Between freelance assignments for clients including the New York Times, Timberg gradually assembled the manuscript that became Culture Crash and took it to Steve Wasserman, who edited the book for Yale University Press and now serves as publisher and executive director of Heyday.

The book, wrote reviewer Richard Brody in the New Yorker, is “a quietly radical rethinking of the very nature of art in modern life.”

Timberg’s lament for the creative class “seemed to have been written with a pen dipped into the inkwell of his own blood,” Wasserman said Friday. He called Timberg a man of “exquisite, promiscuous curiosities” whose death “is the moral equivalent of a book-burning.”

“A pen dipped into the inkwell of his own blood”

“He could write about music better than any other literary journalist, and he could write about literature better than any other music journalist,” said David Kipen, a friend, editor and founder of the nonprofit Boyle Heights lending library Libros Schmibros.

Said his friend and editor Joe Donnelly, “His death is a casualty in the fight for the soul of the city.”

After discussing his book, the L.A. Times says: “The sting of those disappointments, friends and family said, never seemed to fade.” It wasn’t clear whether it was the disappointment in  the digital technology and economic polarization, or being laid off and losing one’s home. I know what it is like to live as a free-lancer in the “gig economy.”

I look forward to reading his book. He will be missed.

Read the whole thing here. Tweets from NBC news journalist Dennis Romero, Ted Gioia, and the Los Angeles Times‘s Tom Curwen.

Nobel-winning author Olga Tokarczuk’s big week in Stockholm!

December 12th, 2019
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It was a magic week in Stockholm, especially for the woman of the year, Nobel prizewinning author Olga Tokarczuk! The Polish literati, and many of the literary star-watchers in the West, have been raving about her for years. Now everyone else is, too. Let’s follow her to the Nobel awards, with thanks to Bo Persson for providing Joanna Helander‘s lively photos of the occasion.

But first, let’s be with her as she met Swedish children at Stockholm’s Rinkeby Library in Stockholm. The kids had studied her writing for weeks beforehand, and were happy to chat with the writer who was generous with her time. The event was organized by the Library’s Gunilla Lundgren and her colleagues. (Photos: Joanna Helander)

Then, the Grand Hotel Stockholm for the award ceremony. First, chaps with top hats came to sweep off the carpet. Then, actor and writer Irek Grin masterminds the selfies, with filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and Michał Rusinek, the former secretary for another Nobelist, Wisława Szymborska (he now runs her foundation). Below that, Polish journalist Justyna Sobolewska beams at the camera.  Next, Tokarczuk with her husband, Grzegorz Zygadło, joined by a friend. And finally, the Queen of the Nobel ceremonies herself. (Photos, merci, Joanna Helander)

Happy Birthday, Milton! Here’s how you can support him – no, no, not with another civil war, but by preserving his cottage.

December 9th, 2019
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Milton makes whoopee.

Happy 411th birthday to John Milton! You can see him at the party today at left. He celebrated – where else? – at his cottage in Chalfont St. Giles, his refuge while he was out of royal favor after the defeat of Oliver Cromwell. We’ve written about it here and here.

Milton’s Cottage is the only surviving home of the poet and parliamentarian who wrote Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Lycidas, Comus, Areopagitica, and so much more. Today, his birthday, is a good way to think of how we can all help preserve this chunk of 17th century literary history.

Why? Let one of the trustees, Stanford alum John Bradley, tell you: “Here in 1666, he completed his epic work Paradise Lost.”

“During his lifetime in the 17th century he laid the groundwork for the democratic way of life we enjoy today. He championed the four basic freedoms of thought, of speech, of religious following, and of freedom of publication, which we are still hotly debating today. This legacy provides an anchor for the civilized world as we know it. His influence on founding father Thomas Jefferson and John Adams is fully apparent in the wording of both the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, which enshrines theses freedoms.”

Americans can make tax-deductible donations via the British Schools & Universities Foundation and Network for Good here, noting Milton’s Cottage Trust as a preference. And if you’re in Britain, you have a chance to make donations that will be quadrupled here for “Darkness Visible,” to support a program at the Cottage for the visually impaired (as Milton was). But you must move quick! quick! quick! Donations must be received by midday tomorrow – London time.

Update:  John Bradley wrote this morning to tell me that all U.S. donations will be doubled until the end January 2020 (at least). Go to the Milton Cottage website here and scroll down to the section on “U.S. Donors.” Do it for Father Christmas.

Want to see the Milton Cottage yourself? Try the video below.

Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel lecture: “Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world.”

December 8th, 2019
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Today at the Swedish PEN-club (Photo: Joanna Helander)

This weekend Olga Tokarczuk gave her Nobel lecture, a much-anticipated event in literary world. Her topic: “The Tender Narrator.” It was a knock-out.

Her explanation of the title:

Tenderness is spontaneous and disinterested; it goes far beyond empathetic fellow feeling. Instead it is the conscious, though perhaps slightly melancholy, common sharing of fate. Tenderness is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected, cooperating with, and codependent on itself.

Literature is built on tenderness toward any being other than ourselves. It is the basic psychological mechanism of the novel. Thanks to this miraculous tool, the most sophisticated means of human communication, our experience can travel through time, reaching those who have not yet been born, but who will one day turn to what we have written, the stories we told about ourselves and our world.

A few excerpts:

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

***

Reading in Yonkers last year, in the home of Izabela Barry.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

***

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

***

With translator Jennifer Croft, after winning the Man Booker Prize in 2018 (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

A story always turns circles around meaning.

***

In Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann wrote about a composer who devised a new form of absolute music capable of changing human thinking. But Mann did not describe what this music would depend on, he merely created the imaginary idea of how it might sound. Perhaps that is what the role of an artist relies on―giving a foretaste of something that could exist, and thus causing it to become imaginable. And being imagined is the first stage of existence.

Read the whole thing here.

The first case of real forgiveness ever? Maybe so. My talk on René Girard at Notre Dame.

December 5th, 2019
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Giovanni Maria Bottala’s “Joseph Sold by His Brothers,” circa 1636-42

On September 23, I was honored to be invited to Notre Dame to deliver the inaugural Church Life Journal lecture on “René Girard and the Present Moment.” The talk is now up here

An excerpt:

Roughly 200 billion tweets appear every year. And 100 million hours of videos are watched on Facebook daily, and more than 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook. Reaction time gets faster and faster, and we are free to vent our worst side, our unconsidered selves, on more and more platforms. We excuse our daily defamation as harmless, but it is not. It changes us.

In this environment, how difficult to hold to Girard’s injunction of total non-retaliation! …

We have some good precedents: Girard often described the story of the Old Testament Joseph, son of Jacob, bound and sold into slavery by his mob of ten envious and resentful half-brothers. He called it a counter-mythical story, because in myth, the lynchers are always satisfied with their lynching. But here, the story takes a different twist. Initially, the brothers plan to kill Joseph, but one of them, Judah, has the idea to sell him into slavery instead. However, Joseph reestablishes himself as one of the leaders of Egypt and then tearfully forgives his brothers in a dramatic reconciliation. Its full description of forgiveness is, Girard claimed, the first in all of history, in its sophistication and nuance. I haven’t been able to disprove him yet.

I recommend Robert Alter‘s magnificent retelling, with annotation, of the story in his Genesis. The read is absolutely gripping, a page-turner, with very careful breakdown of the dialogue. Before his self-revelation, Joseph tries his half-brothers with several ordeals, and demands that they bring him their youngest brother, Benjamin. He is cautiously testing his half-brothers with Benjamin, the only other child of Jacob’s beloved Rachel, born of the rivalry that poisoned the family. After all, he does not know whether they have killed Benjamin, too. Why would they not?

But the figure who is at least as riveting, to me, is Judah—the very brother who had the idea to monetize the elimination of his brother. During the dialogue, he is transformed. He says his father’s heart would break with the loss of Benjamin—he who had maliciously, recklessly shredded his father’s heart before, accepts the bitter pill of his father’s outrageous favoritism, and begs to offer himself as a slave instead.

The wailing of Joseph in the recognition scene is so loud and unrestrained that, as it is written, “the Egyptians heard and the house of Pharoah heard.” We all admire Joseph, we imagine we would like to be like him – but who wants to be Judah in his culpability, in his callousness, in his repentance, and his anguish? Yet the Jewish people are named for him.

 

Read the rest here.

Remembering Clive James: “Dying turned out to be just what he needed.”

December 2nd, 2019
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Bryan Appleyard has written a vibrant retrospective in The Times of London with the title (don’t blame him for it; he didn’t write it): “From Plato to Playboy,  Clive James could juggle the lot.” 

The article on the death of the celebrated literary critic and author, published today, begins:

In 2010, already knowing that he had emphysema, Clive James was admitted to hospital with kidney failure. There he was also diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. But somehow he just kept going. Until now. Since that day nine years ago, there have been four books of essays and, just published, a collection of his writing on Philip Larkin. There have also been several books of poems and a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“I feared the world of men.”

Approaching death, the nuisance of incapacity and constant medical care drove Clive to ever greater heights of creativity.

In fact, before 2010 he had been in decline. Dying turned out to be just what he needed.

“I was getting tired of life,” he told me in a 2012 interview. “I’ve lived long enough. I’ve done what I can. I had suicidal thoughts when I was young. I fancied myself as a melancholic; quite a lot of people do — it’s a fashionable thing. Anyway, all these ideas were coming to me when I was going to sleep, ideas of self-destruction. They all promptly vanished the moment I was under real threat. There was a sudden urge to live. I wanted to do more, to write more.”

What happened next? Lots. “He went on to do, well, everything: novels, satirical poetic epics, essays, anything that came his way or into his head. Whatever it was, it had to be out there, protecting him from the abyss. It would be wrong to think this was simply existential dread, the fear of personal extinction — we all have that, and Clive had more than most in his final nine years. His own analysis suggests the heart of the matter was the death of his father in 1945, when Clive was six.

“We are all lucky to have got here.”

“His father had survived a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and was on his way home when his plane crashed, killing him. Clive was with his mother when she got the telegram. He wrote: ‘I understood what it did to her in one second. I understood everything. I knew she had spent all that time waiting and she could not bear it. When she collapsed I saw suffering she could not bear and it marked my life, no question. I had a feeling of helplessness. I was man of the house . . . I couldn’t help her, and I had been helpless ever since. I sometimes thought . . . that everything I had ever written, built or achieved had been in order to offset that corrosive guilt, and that I loved the world of women because I feared the world of men.'”

He concludes: 

It is a sadness that I cannot claim Clive was a friend. We met, we talked, we said nice things about each other, but we were not friends. …

Friend or not, I owe him. He extended the playground in which I play. And what a death he died! He showed us all how to do that. He attained serenity amid the frenzy of his late work, and he lived and worked with that supreme insight of the poet Wallace Stevens: “Death is the mother of beauty.”

“By complaining at all,” he once told me, “I am complaining too much. We are all lucky to
have got here.” And in one of his final poems he wrote: “Life cries for joy though it must end in tears.”

Read the whole thing here. Online comment from around the net: “An intellect lightly worn. Rest in pages, Clive.”

An Advent villanelle from Philadelphia’s Frank Wilson: “one of those memories that are like photographs”

December 1st, 2019
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The first day of Advent this year, on a footpath in Yonkers, NY. Photo courtesy Izabela Barry.

Today is the first day of Advent. Is there any poem to commemorate the day? I had to look no farther than “Books Inq.,” the blog of Frank Wilson, retired book editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Walking home

The poem began when he was visiting his friend, the composer Harold Boatrite, who had set another villanelle of his to music. Frank had been studying piano with the composer, who lived on a short, tree-lined street in the heart of Philadelphia, and the lessons often finished with discussions of religion. “As I left his house one day, I looked up at the sky and around at the trees, and the first line just came to me,” Frank recalled.

“Advent had just begun and I must have been thinking of it, because the third line, which of course rhymes with the first, then came to me. I had nice long walk home ahead of me and, like Wallace Stevens, that’s when I liked to work on poems. The second line reference to winter, despite the clear and sunny, not-so-very cold day, gave the line the context I needed, and I had the first stanza of a villanelle. If memory serves, it was mostly – if rather roughly – done by the time I got home.”

“That opening line coming to me just after I left Harold’s has been with me ever since, one of those memories that are like photographs. I never look at the poem without being back at that moment of that day.”  

Advent

The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear
(Though winter’s scheduling an arctic flight).
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Some say a telling sign will soon appear,
Though evidence this may be so is slight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Pale skeptics may be perfectly sincere
To postulate no ground for hope, despite
The rumor that a rendezvous draws near.

More enterprising souls may shed a tear
And, looking up, behold a striking light:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

The king, his courtiers, and priests, all fear
Arrival of a challenge to their might:
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

The wise in search of something all can cheer
May not rely on ordinary sight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Within a common place may rest one dear
To all who yearn to see the world made right.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Happy birthday to the Book Haven! We’re ten years old!

November 30th, 2019
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We began on November 19, 2009. And we’ve been going ever since. For years we’ve anticipated this special tenth anniversary (alright, alright, we’re eleven days late; we’ve been busy).

What did we imagine? We had envisioned champers and brie and little pink cakes! We had hoped for international acclaim and cybercards and cyberroses … oh well, why bother? Instead: one solitary woman at a computer, cranking out books and articles (and even the occasional blogpost) faster than any reasonable person should.

However, the occasion of our tenth anniversary was not entirely unmarked. The Book Haven has made it’s debut appearance in The Smithsonian Magazinewith this paragraph in the current issue, on a subject we know startlingly little about. It generated a scholarly query last week in my inbox, so it’s good to know our July 11, 2018, post is getting some attention

The end result, according to a blog post by Stanford University’s Cynthia Haven, was a masterful collection of 1,299 gouaches, 340 transparent text overlays and a total of 32,000 words. One painting finds the artist cuddling in bed with her mother; another shows a seemingly endless parade of Nazis celebrating Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor while swastikas swirl above their heads.

Maybe next year?

Read more here.

What else has happened, since we last wrote about ourselves, five years ago, here? Some time ago, we hit a record high of 45,000 hits in a month. However, gone are the days when we used to wake up in the morning, pull the laptop out from under the bed, and compulsively check our numbers on Google Analytics. We have our following, and we get our bouquets and our punches … and our letters. Like this one a few days ago, from the U.K.: “I am just writing a very quick thank you for introducing Edna St Vincent Millay to me. I had been searching for Sara Teasdale and found a wonderful article written by you at The Book Haven. If it wasn’t for your article I wouldn’t  have found and fallen in love with Edna.” We’re glad you did, sir!

This year alone: We’ve posted on the controversy surrounding the Stanford University Press here and here. After the death of the notable Johns Hopkins polymath and bibliophile Richard Macksey, we were quoted in The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun and wrote about his passing here and here and here. We’ve forged a partnership with The Los Angeles Review of Books to create an Entitled Opinions channel, as well as a series of articles.

Books, books, books. We’ve written about many books. We wrote about our debut in Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Nation, plus reviews of Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. (Too many to list – put it in the Book Haven search engine). Plus… we were named a 2018-19 National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, the inaugural Milton Cottage resident, and oohhh, so much more.

Sorry, maybe for 2020.

The Book Haven broke the national news of President Trump‘s plans to scuttle the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts – but other media outlets were close on our heels. We memorialized fallen greats at Stanford, many of them friends: Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank and theater director and Brecht protégée Carl Weber, French intellectual Michel Serres and Milton Scholar Martin Evans, and of course, the French theorist René Girard. And, this month, another cherished friend, the French scholar Marilyn Yalom.

The Book Haven has taken you to Bergen, Sigtuna and Stockholm, Kraków and London, Warsaw, Paris, and Avignon, among other locales.

We’ve described how we brought about the acquisition of Russian Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky Papers at Stanford, and our debut on Russian TV … and later the acquisition of Russian poet Regina Derieva‘s papers.

We’re still here. So many excellent blogs and online journals have folded – Elegant Variation, House of Mirth, Bookslut – and journals, too, such as Quarterly Conversation and Smart Set. We’re still here, and looking forward, in six weeks time, in joining you for the brand new decade for all of us.

C’mon, December, we’re ready to take you on – to the end of the year and beyond. Our vision going forward is 2020.

Happy birthday to us! Long may we live!

René Girard in Europe’s prestigious “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”!

November 25th, 2019
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Usually gifts are for Christmas and not Thanksgiving, but I’m getting my presents early! My article on René Girard was published over the weekend at Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of Europe’s leading newspapers. The article (in German) is here. Or below, if you can read the tiny, tiny type.

There’s more: Not only did the article look handsome on the page, but it was also presented on the cultural channel of the Swiss radio, which chooses an article from the Swiss/German press every morning and discusses it to bring it to the attention of potential readers.


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