December 12, 2007


Holiday Reading Treats (OTTO PENZLER, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

When you've finished shopping, trimming the tree, planning parties and dinners — and figuring out how to get out of certain invitations without hurting anyone's feelings — is anything more appealing than putting your feet up with a book good enough to draw you in so deeply that the hassle of the day dissolves as quickly as willpower when the dessert tray appears?

Let me recommend a first novel by Caro Ramsay, a Scottish author who is able to write scenes of heartbreaking tenderness nestled amid evocations of such grotesque violence that it is difficult to imagine that they can coexist as such sublime interlocking pieces of the whole.

I've been reading Tom Holland's excellent Rubicon:

Odes to Longing, And to Change (ERIC ORMSBY, December 12, 2007, NY Sun)

When skillfully done, rhyme obliges the translator to strive for conciseness and felicity of phrase; at its best, as here, in Mr. Krisak's version, it can suggest the compressed elegance of the original.

Rhyming translations of Horace are as old as English poetry itself, and as venerable. To transpose his odes into trim quatrains was somehow to domesticate him, to make him fully English. For Horace had the unusual distinction of serving not only as a much-loved author, admired for the exquisite perfection of his verse, but of standing as a model for the welllived life. Mr. Raphael notes that Horace called himself, in slyly self-deprecating mode, "a porker from the herd of Epicurus." By this, he not only flaunted his modesty but signaled his earthiness; even his most magnificent flights are firmly grounded.

As an Epicurean, Horace was keenly aware of death. In one of his most celebrated odes, addressed to a friend with the gloomy moniker "Postumus," he wrote:

O Postumus, my friend, think of the years,
And how, my Postumus, they slip away,
ill old age brings the furrows ploughed by tears—
And death, which piety cannot delay.

But for Horace, awareness of death acts as a spur to life. His ideal may seem quaint — to live modestly, without grandiose expectations, but to live to the full — and yet, it is an ideal with a sweet reasonableness all its own; it is an ideal within everyone's grasp. This makes Horace sound a bit dull, and yet he was quite a party animal too:

Now is the time to drink and dance; feel free
To stamp the earth now; fancy food should be
Laid out on couches of the gods.

Mr. Krisak's versions of the four books of Odes and the magnificent "Centennial Hymn" are easily the finest recent re-creations of Horace. They are accurate and stubbornly faithful to the original but read beautifully as English poems in their own right. Mr. Krisak is especially adept at capturing the wide tonal range of Horace's verse, from the slyly understated to the triumphantly full-throated. This is a remarkable achievement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2007 8:55 AM

James Hornfischer, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

Posted by: Mike Morley at December 12, 2007 10:26 AM

Happy that man and he alone,
He who can call today his own,
He who secure within can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst,
For I have lived today

Posted by: lebeaux at December 12, 2007 11:47 AM

I'm reading The Searchers on oj's recommendation. I'm also half way into Paul Johnson's Modern Times and I'd recommend it to anyone that, like myself, has a poor understanding of early/mid-20th century history.

Posted by: Patrick H at December 12, 2007 12:19 PM

"The Trial of Socrates"

Posted by: Bartman at December 12, 2007 1:49 PM