Can you say, “Brilliant, creative over-achiever?!?” Saturday, Jun 20 2009 

This post today from “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor” just left me speechless. Good thing I can still write. Little writer’s joke there for you … .

I’m going to copy/paste this, and then see if I can find a picture of this person. Are you as impressed with his abilities as I am? Leave a comment, please!

Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth

It’s the birthday of poet and novelist Vikram Seth, (books by this author) born in Calcutta, India (1952). Seth grew up in India, went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and moved out to Northern California to study economics in graduate school. He started working on a master’s thesis he titled “Seven Chinese Villages: An Economic and Demographic Portrait,” but one day got fed up of entering numbers into a computer database. He walked into a bookstore and up to the poetry section. He pulled off the shelf several volumes. One of them was Pushkin’s novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, a new translation by Charles Johnston (1977) — a version that preserved Pushkin’s Onegin stanza of iambic tetrameter, a type of rhyme scheme. Seth was so impressed and obsessed with the book that he decided to quit working on his master’s thesis for a while and write his own novel in verse using that scheme, set in California.

He never finished his graduate school economics project, but he did write that novel in verse, published in 1986 as The Golden Gate.

It begins:
To make a start more swift than weighty,
Hail Muse. Dear Reader, once upon
A time, say, circa 1980,
There lived a man. His name was John.
Successful in his field though only
Twenty-six, respected, lonely,
One evening as he walked across
Golden Gate Park, the ill-judged toss
Of a red frisbee almost brained him.
He thought, “If I die, who’d be sad?
Who’d weep? Who’d gloat? Who would be glad?
Would anybody?” As it pained him,
He turned from this dispiriting theme
To ruminations less extreme.

Seth’s native language is Hindi. He writes in English, and he’s fluent in Mandarin and Urdu, Pakistan’s national language. He’s also studied Welsh, German, and French. He plays the cello and the Indian flute, and he sings German lieder. His other novels are A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (1999), and his poetry collections Mappings (1980), The Humble Administrator’s Garden (1985), and All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990). His most recent book is a work of nonfiction, Two Lives (2005), a love story about his Indian great uncle and German Jewish great aunt.

Are you hip to Bloomsday? Tuesday, Jun 16 2009 

From today’s “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor,”

James Joyce | Dublin

James Joyce | Dublin

Today is Bloomsday. It is the day on which James Joyce’s (books by this author) Ulysses takes place, in 1904. It’s named after the main character, Leopold Bloom, and Joyce chose this day for the action of the novel to commemorate the first date he had with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, an uneducated chambermaid from Galway whom he met for a stroll around Dublin. A few days earlier, Nora had stood him up for their scheduled date.

Today, Joyceans all over the world celebrate with staged readings of Ulysses. Dublin has a long tradition of hosting celebrities, politicians, and international diplomats to do these dramatized readings. In fact, in Dublin, Bloomsday is not just celebrated for a day — it’s a weeklong extravaganza. There are Ulysses walking tours, where a person can retrace the steps of the fictional Leopold Bloom, as well as literary-themed pub crawls, musical acts, and museum exhibits. There’s also an annual Messenger Biker Rally, where people dressed in Joyce-era clothing ride old bicycles along the route that Leopold Bloom would have walked, and there are large-scale Irish breakfasts and afternoon teas devoted to Ulysses devotees.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

Editor’s Note: You can listen to a podcast of today’s “Writer’s Almanac,” which includes an excerpt of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from >Ulysses < here and a description of the activites in Dublin surrounding this day.

Also, the Saint Louis Beacon has a couple good videos of performances from this same passage and another. St. Louis, with its large community of Irish descendants and literary and theater groups, has readings and performances around town today to celebrate this, too.

This book was originally banned from the US and deemed “obscene,” when it was firt published in Paris in 1922. That’s a tidbit for those who may have slept through their English lit classes. Here’s a >link< to the whole, sordid story on that.

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La Musique de Satie, L’Avant Garde Sunday, May 17 2009 

From “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor” for Sunday, May 17, 2009,

Satie, Self Portrait

Satie, Self Portrait

It’s the birthday of composer > Erik Satie <, born in a seaport town in northern France (1866). He’s known for his eccentric piano pieces, with French titles that roughly translate into Flabby Preludes (for a Dog) (1912) and Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear (1903). His scores also contain instructions to the performers like “Light as an egg,” “With astonishment,” or “Work it out yourself.”

> Sample Satie’s Premiere Gymnopedie < here, from Musopen!

Click the link, then click the Download button to play the piece.