As a Pudding

Italian composer Paulo Zilotti explains the complicated genesis of My Grandmother’s Pudding: The Opera:

M T-R – Well, could you perhaps explain how it was you finally came to the decision to adapt Ijit Yoy’s novel My Grandmothers Pudding?

Zilotti – One day I was reading this book, My Grandmother’s Pudding. I read the book and I enjoy the book. Then one day I think, this would be good opera.

M T-R – Could you specify any elements of the book that might be said to have provoked such thoughts?

Zilotti – Yes. The pudding.

M T-R – What was about the pudding that you considered being such a ripe subject for an opera?

Zilotti – Just the idea of a dancer dressed as a pudding. I thought that was very funny.

More on this here.

Upturn the Nesting Swan!

A nesting swan reminds me/ of a woman reading quietly

Thus spake Alma Koks in her 1967 poem ‘Swoman’. I know many people who would not approve of these lines, for a variety of reasons. The one that most readily comes to mind, however, is Johannes Speyer, whose polemical essay from the same year (‘Upturn the Nesting Swan!’, collected two years later in Seven Essays) vehemently rejects the idea that readers, male or female, should conflate reading with nesting. ‘A book is not an egg that we nurse under warm wings’, Speyer writes. ‘No, a book is a living thing. It needs air. It needs to be taken out for walks. It needs to be treated like the active object it is’.

And so Active Reading was born…

Fabled for Thoughts

I have, as you probably know, a real fondness for fables. When one is out of sorts, as they say, there’s nothing like a good Hungarian fable to jump-start your soul. The Eagle, the Hen, and the Lonesome Fiddler, most versions of which come in under three hundred words, is one of my particular favourites: a near faultless piece of storytelling. Or what about a fable from further afield? The Black Sea has an especially rich tradition of fantastic fables, amongst which one may find such masterworks as The Snake who saw the Midday Moon and Uncle Boris and the Angry Cloud.

Western Europe, of course, has also produced its fair share of fables – though it must be said that I rarely venture into those well-worn fields. This last weekend was, however, an exception, as I enjoyed several happy hours devouring the works of everybody’s favourite seventeenth-century French fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. Here, for your immediate edification, is an example of his concise and witty writing.

The Mountain’s Delivery

A mountain having labour
With clamour rent the air.
The neighbours who came running
Predicted she would bear
A city broad as Paris
Or at least a manor house,
But at the crucial moment
The mountain dropped a mouse.

How like so many authors
Who say they’ll set to paper
A vast Promethean epic
But all that comes is vapour.

Like all good fables, this one sets the mind thinking. And my own thoughts turn, inevitably, to that uncertain philosopher Leo Barnard, the self-professed ‘mountain of thought’ who drops more than his fair share of mice. Consider, for instance, his much-hyped History of Boredom, in which the great man aims to prove that ‘boredom is greater than love’. A fair claim, perhaps, but one that hardly requires two thousand pages to prove. I could do the same in half an hour.

Making Light of Death

Ambling through a park this morning I overheard someone employ the phrase ‘making light of death’. My thoughts turned, with inevitable haste, to Koira Jupczek’s excellent novel, Death Charts, one of the funniest books about suicide you’ll ever read (including Victor Pawski’s Two Thousand Tractors).

Jupczek’s novel is set in a private school somewhere in central Europe, the pupils and alumni of which are renowned for ending their lives in mysterious and amusing ways. The whole novel, of course, makes light of death, but it also features a character who aims to literally make light of death. Kisirov, a talented Russian student, is working on a contraption which will ‘turn his death rattle into energy: enough, he hopes, to power a small lightbulb’.

From the Life

Constance Kreik’s new study, From the Life, tackles head-on that thorniest of questions: when does fiction become autobiography – and vice versa? So often the line between the two, as we all know, is finer than the thread of a very thin spider. In the vain hope of establishing some sort of order out of this chaos, Kreik has constructed the following ‘fool-proof’ system by which (she writes) ‘all forms of writing can be loosely categorised’. To aid, or possibly to obfuscate, understanding I have added my own embellishments in parenthesis.

Type One: Autobiographical Mode –  in which the writer openly writes about his/herself, with frequent recourse to verifiable facts. Not to be confused with the ‘absolute truth’, which is of course a non-existent concept.

(For example: A man named Georgy Riecke edits a journal called Underneath the Bunker).

Type Two: Semi-autobiographical Mode – in which the writer more-or-less writes about his/herself, changing facts as they see fit, often with the purpose of shielding the identity of close friends and enemies. This mode is reguarly employed ironically.

(For example: A man named Jorge Riker edits a journal called Below the Citadel).

Type Three: Demi-semi-autobiographical Mode – in which the writer continues to write about his/herself, but is very loose with facts and/or the rules to which ‘reality’ adheres.

(For example: A twelve-foot giant named Jorgius edits and publishes a series of edifying journals from his mountain palace in Jorgestan).

Type Four: Quasi fiction – in which the writer’s shadow begins to take on a life of its own, not all of which closely relates to that of the writer or his/her close friends and enemies.

(For example: Amongst the activities enjoyed by King Jerges we may find peasant-grilling, nobleman-mauling and journal-editing).

Type Five: Fiction – in which hardly any trace of the writer’s actual life can be discerned by the reader at first glance. Not to be confused with ‘complete fantasy’, which is of course a non-existent concept.

(For examples: Jerges of the Mohaitans would rather eat a Hungarian poet than read their work, except on Sundays, when he gets all sentimental and can’t help himself).

[There will be no more on this later]

As doth the pissing dog

Sometime over the last week, someone was drawn to this blog by the following search-term: “active reading without damaging books”

I am, as ever, intrigued. Is this person seriously seeking a way of reading actively without damaging books? You might as well desire to travel to the North Pole without having to see or touch snow. Damage is an inevitable outcome of active reading, just as it is an inevitable outcome of living. It is not the purpose of it and, on rare occasions, books may emerge relatively unscathed. But to openly try to avoid damage would be a dangerous thing indeed. The pristine book is something to be feared. A book without scratches, like a face without wrinkles, is something to be highly suspicious of. As doth the pissing dog, so life will leave its mark.

Unless the text becomes completely unreadable, one should not worry about the physical damage a book suffers. One should care only about the relationship between the book and the reader. Only if this is damaged is there cause for concern.