Our Virtual Commonplace Book

commonplace:  noun, Archaic. A place or passage in a book or writing
noted as important for reference or quotation.

Findings from Our Work and Reading

Thursday
Mar222012

The Mills of Imagination

Frank Delaney's The Last Storyteller

         

In an author’s note to his first novel, Ireland (2005), Frank Delaney suggests that “mere facts can never be enough” if one is to understand the Irish. “This is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination,” merging myths with facts in order to tell its story.

This is something we all do, Delaney says, and in his trilogy of novels narrated by Irish folklorist and accidental adventurist Ben MacCarthy he demonstrates how “every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days.” The life story begun in Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show (2010) and continued in The Matchmaker of Kenmare (2011) concludes in The Last Storyteller.

Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show starts with the birth of the title character on the first day of January 1900 in New York (“She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd”). Thirty-two years later, when Ben is eighteen, he and Venetia meet, marry, and conceive, but are torn apart before the birth by a combination of family dysfunction and what Delaney describes as Ireland’s “wonderful new dramatic form—politics.” So begins Ben’s decades-long search for Venetia, which, in The Matchmaker of Kenmare, includes intrigue in wartime London, ventures behind enemy lines in Europe, a picaresque journey from New York to Kansas, and a brief encounter with Venetia on the Atlantic coast of Florida.

At the start of The Last Storyteller, it is 1956 and Ben is engaged in his job with the Irish Folklore Commission. His mentor in the Commission, James Clare, is ailing, and it falls to Ben to continue collecting stories from “the most powerful remaining storyteller in the country,” John Jacob Farrell O’Neill. O’Neill’s stories provide the myths that accompany the facts of Ben’s story, which quickly moves onto dangerous turf when Ben becomes unwillingly involved with Irish Republican activities that are both illegal and violent. With the threat of ramifications always looming, Ben goes about his official folklore business and learns that Venetia has returned to Ireland with her American husband, “Gentleman Jack” Stirling. Jack is an ill-tempered, brutal man, and Venetia serves as his assistant in a show featuring magic, pickpocketing, and hypnotism. Venetia has clearly been beaten down—literally and figuratively—and her theatrical life is a pale shadow of the rich entertainment she provided the Irish countryside with her show in the early 1930s.

Delaney skillfully weaves the stories of Ben’s activities and his attempt to liberate Venetia with the legends of the land as told by O’Neill. Along with recurring characters from the earlier novels, Delaney introduces several new and interesting personalities: O’Neill himself, from whom Ben learns the compelling art of storytelling; Randall Duff, a painter of whom Ben asks, “How did you paint a fish lustrous enough to make us gasp, while using as your model the naked body of a lovely girl not yet twenty?”; that lovely girl, Elma Sloane, caught between a violent father and a kind, elderly man who wants to marry her; Jimmy Bermingham, a would-be IRA assassin; Marian Killeen, a woman whose past dictates her future and who is pivotal in Ben’s deliberations about whether to rescue Venetia. And of course the dastardly Gentleman Jack.

All through the telling, the pleasure of Delaney’s language invites one to stop and read out loud. Simple descriptions like “The rain cleared, and a late sun wiped the sky clean” and “My boots clanging with false bravery on the metal of the bridge, I walked on” jump from the page and animate the reader’s imagination as if the storyteller were in the room. And that is the chief source of the satisfaction elicited by The Last Storyteller (and of all of Mr. Delaney’s output): Reading his work is to put yourself in the presence of a master. History, human nature, happiness, grief, humor, yearning, beauty, danger—all of these are confronted and transformed from quotidian to mythical to quotidian and back again, submerging the reader in the very substance of what it means to walk on earth.

 

 

Monday
Feb062012

Reading in a State of Primal Innocence

From the Just Finished Reading Department:

How It All Began by Penelope Lively

A lovely story about how the mugging of an older woman named Charlotte changes the lives of the people closest to her, as well as those of several people she will never meet. As Charlotte recovers from a broken hip, she reflects on aging, parenthood, love, and identity. And she affirms the power that stories and memories have to shape our lives.

 

Here are a couple of excerpts about reading and quotidian memories:

Forever, reading has been central, the necessary fix, the support system. Her life has been informed by reading. She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction, even. She has read to find out how sex works, how babies are born, she has read to discover what it is to be good, or bad; she has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her—then, discovering that frequently they are not, she has read to find out what it is that other people experience that she is missing.

Specifically, she read bits of the Old Testament when she was ten because of all that stuff about issues of blood, and the things thou shalt not do with thy neighbor’s wife. All of this was confusing rather than enlightening.

She got hold of a copy of Fanny Hill when she was eighteen, and was aghast, but also intrigued.

She read Rosamond Lehmann when she was nineteen, because her heart had been broken. She saw that such suffering is perhaps routine, and, while not consoled, became more stoical.

She read Saul Bellow, in her thirties, because she wanted to know how it is to be American. After reading, she wondered if she was any wiser, and read Updike, Roth, Mary McCarthy and Alison Lurie in further pursuit of the matter. She read to find out what it was like to be French or Russian in the nineteenth century, to be a rich New Yorker then, or a Midwestern pioneer. She read to discover how not to be Charlotte, how to escape the prison of her own mind, how to expand, and experience.

Thus has reading wound in with living, each a complement to the other. Charlotte knows herself to ride upon a great sea of words, of language, of stories and situations and information, of knowledge, some of which she can summon up, much of which is half lost, but is in there somewhere, and has had an effect on who she is and how she thinks. She is as much a product of what she has read as of the way in which she has lived; she is like millions of others built by books, for whom books are an essential foodstuff, who could starve without.

~  ~  ~

Today is one of those days, because pain is putting on a bravura act. Her back hurts, and her hip chimes in sympathy. Remember it is not always like this, she tells herself sternly. Tomorrow may be quite different. Tomorrow may be all song and dance, figuratively speaking. Think positive.

It is lunchtime. Rose will not be back till later because she is meeting up with her friend Sarah. Charlotte makes herself a salad, sits down to eat it and attempts some positive thinking. Thought drifts into recollection, as it so often does. But that can indeed be positive. By and large, good memory eclipses bad memory. Tom arrives; they are in the car, he is driving, he reaches over and lays a hand on her knee, which means: here we are, off somewhere, what fun, and by the way, I love you. Where were they going? This thought segues into another, in some mysterious process of free association; now she is pushing an infant Rose in her pram back from the library—her attention is distracted, and when she looks down into the pram she sees that Rose has got hold of the greengrocer’s brown paper bag, there are squashed tomatoes all over Elizabeth Bowen and Irish Murdoch.

Why had these particular moments lodged? Well, lodge they have, and thanks be. Without them, one would be—untethered. What we add up to, in the end, is a handful of images, apparently unrelated and unselected. Chaos, you would think, except that it is the chaos that makes each of us a person. Identity, it is called in professional speak.

Savoring identity, Charlotte defies pain, which snarls on, but sulkily. She decides on a fruit yogurt, for afters.

Monday
Dec122011

The New Revised Catechlysm is Here!

 

One of my favorite projects from this past year has just become available from Amazon and Smashwords.

The New Revised Catechlysm by Brother Paul, D.U.I. is a smart and scrappy parody of the Baltimore Catechism. It comes complete with explication, Q & A, and exercises that guarantee you will get the most out of this most Catholic of teaching.

Confused, for instance, about The Creation and the Fall of Man? Consider these helpful questions and answers:

What is man?

“Man” is a creature composed of body, soul, and a memory full of pop song lyrics. He is made in the image and likeness of God, though the resemblance isn’t obvious most of the time. And don’t forget that “man” is also “woman.” For some reason, they want to be included in the whole mess. 

Is this likeness to God in the body or in the soul?

The likeness couldn’t be in the body, since God goes to the gym almost every day, and is not just All-Powerful, but All-Muscular and All-Chiseled, too. So the likeness must be in the soul. Do not strain yourself in the search. 

Who were the first man and woman?

The first man and woman were Adam and Eve, the parents of the whole human race and the only people whose immediate family engaged in widespread and completely defensible incest.

At Tucker Seven we had the pleasure of editing the Catechlysm, a task for which we received a relic of the hucklebone of St. Belinda de ZaZuZaz, patroness of pole dancers and posthole diggers. We also designed the book’s interior and prepared the files from which the ebook versions were created, which netted us a choice between a year-and-a-half off our Purgatory time or salary arbitration with the Boston Red Sox; the latter have not returned our calls. Finally, we contracted with Brad Norr of Brad Norr Design to sheathe the Catechlysm in a prayerful, holy, and wholly necessary (so flight attendants will know you are not playing Words With Friends) cover.

We are proud to have participated in the creation of this incredible resource, a book that is destined to educate and enlighten generations of seekers, the sought, and America’s Ten Most Wanted.

Learn more about the Catechlysm at its web site. Or go straight to Amazon to purchase it in print, or Smashwords for any of several electronic formats.

Amazon:   Smashwords

In the words of Brother Paul: HEY, PAX VOBISCUM!

 

Monday
Nov212011

From Our Portfolio: Mary Glickman

I have already called attention to the novel One More River by Mary Glickman elsewhere on this blog. It was a tremendously satisfying read, even for a proofreader. The book is now available in both print and electronic formats--click on the cover image for information.

The Midtown Review has just posted an interview with Mary Glickman at their site. Click here to give it a listen.

Monday
Nov212011

From Our Portfolio: The Habit by Susan Morse

It's always nice to see good press for books we've worked on here at Tucker Seven--in this case a proofreading job.

The Habit by Susan Morse is a memoir of a daughter and her mother, particularly of that difficult time when the mother is aging and the daughter has a husband and children of her own to attend to as well. The range of emotion is captured by the opening line of an article about the book from Philly.com:

"Nobody dies at the end of this book," writes Philadelphia's Susan Morse in the preface to The Habit, a sometimes searing, often hilarious account of a mother-daughter relationship Hallmark probably doesn't have a card for.

The relationship is complicated by the spiritual searching of Morse's mother, whose most recent endeavor is to take the habit of an Orthodox Christian nun. Both skeptical and respectful regarding her mother's choice, Morse tells the story of her family background with humor and grace. Also humorous, but perhaps a bit less respectful, are Morse's tales of navigating the complications of the eldercare, healthcare, and insurance bureaucracies as she attempts to find the best living situation for her mother in the Philadelphia area.

The Habit is available in print and ebook forms. Click the picture for more information.