Tag: june theme

Summer Reading Giveaways!

Don’t close your beach bag yet! There’s a chance to add to your reading queue with these newly released titles from Yale University Press, also part of our Freshman Reading recommendations for new and lifelong collegiate learners. Enter today with your Goodreads account for a chance to win Terry Eagleton‘s How to Read Literatureand paperback editions of Melissa Harris-Perry‘s Sister Citizen and Robert Utley‘s GeronimoSit back, relax, and open your mind to the ideas and stories of these eminently written books.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton

How to Read Literature

by Terry Eagleton

Giveaway ends August 02, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Sister Citizen

by Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Giveaway ends August 02, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Geronimo by Robert M. Utley


by Robert M. Utley

Giveaway ends August 02, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Delving into The Zelmenyaners with Sasha Senderovich


The Zelmenayers is one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century, following a Soviet Jewish family through four generations as they deal with political change, new technologies, and the transformation of Jewish Life. Jewish scholar Sasha Senderovich, in a recent conversation with the Yiddish Book Center, explains, in depth, the cultural context of this classic of Yiddish literature recently translated into English by Hillel Halkin.

A highlight of the interview includes a discussion of the wordplay of author Moyshe Kulbak. Senderovich describes how Kulbak uses the Soviet regime’s idiomatic use of language, combined with intergenerational language shifts to imbue the novel with humor. A novel with such sensitive attention to language certainly provides an interesting translation challenge that Halkin has successfully risen to.

Jeffrey S. Cramer Explores the Fascinating Life and Ideas of Thoreau

Thoreau Essays Jeffrey S. Cramer, award-winning editor of six previous volumes of works by Henry D. Thoreau, offers yet another insightful look into Thoreau’s life and writings in Essays: A Fully Annotated Edition. This rich volume chronologically traces Thoreau’s contributions to periodicals, newspapers, and compendiums as well as his lectures. It recreates for modern readers the experience Thoreau’s readers had following his writings and development of ideas over time. Cramer’s abundant on-page annotations help guide the reader through the text, providing for even further insight into Thoreau’s writings.

Fans of Essays or Thoreau in general will also enjoy other works edited by Cramer. I To Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau presents all aspects of Thoreau’s life; from writer, thinker, and social reformer, to friend and neighbor. Cramer’s careful selection of passages taken from Thoreau’s journals spanning twenty-five years paired with helpful annotations, connect the journal passages to work published in Thoreau’s lifetime.

The Maine Woods: A Fully Annotated Edition tells the story of Thoreau’s journey from Concord to Bangor as he explores nature and wildlife and muses on the vulnerability of solitude in the wilderness. Thoreau’s interest in nature is further explored in Walden which records Thoreau’s experiment in simple living. In both volumes Cramer’s annotations once again help enrich the reader’s experience, allowing them to fully immerse themselves into Thoreau’s world.

So whether you are a die-hard Thoreau fan or just discovering his writings, Essays: A Fully Annotated Edition or any other Thoreau works edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer make great additions to any library.

How to Read Literature : Your Guide to Summer Reading

Attention students who have gotten their summer reading assignments and probably haven’t thought about cracking them open yet, read this first.

In How to Read Literature, Terry Eagleton helps readers deepen their experience by asking seemingly obvious questions, and pointing out which questions we don’t ask of the books we read. Many readers are seduced into relating to characters and stories as if they are real. Eagleton teaches readers to understand the “literariness” of the story as well, giving them access to underlying layers of meaning.

In the book’s five chapters, openings, character, narrative, interpretation and value, Eagleton identifies five major elements experience that illuminate the meaning behind the formal techniques of literary works.


While one might think that a book that looks deeply into literary form requires prior knowledge, or a professor to explain the nuances, How to Read Literature needs no how to manual. Eagleton’s amusing voice carries you through the book, using examples from Shakespeare and Henry James side by side with examples from Harry Potter.

This friendly and authoritative guide will re-teach you how to read. Now get started on that summer assignment!

An Interview with Author Arturo Fontaine by Translator Megan McDowell

Margellos World Republic of Letters LogoWe are pleased to release an exciting interview between Arturo Fontaine and Megan McDowell, author and translator respectively of La Vida Doble, which is now available to the English speaking world through Yale University Press’s Margellos World Republic of Letters series. In the interview, Fontaine and McDowell discuss what it means to be a Chilean writer, Fontaine’s writing process, and the role of the translator.

Megan McDowell: All of your novels have dealt with particularly Chilean subjects—Cuándo éramos inmortales has a lot of your own childhood in it, Oír su voz takes on the complicated process of Chile’s rapid economic liberalization with Pinochet still in power; and of course La Vida Doble deals with the mentality of revolution and the psychological effects of torture. This is your first book translated into English, and I wondered if we could take the opportunity to ask: what does it mean to you to be a Chilean author?

Arturo Fontaine: I have no way of knowing what I would be if I weren’t a Chilean writer. I guess I’d be a Uruguayan or French writer, or a Chinese or Congolese one, who knows. And then, all the same, my books would try to transform my world, to turn to fiction and use it as a means to bring my world closer to those who don’t know it, to turn it into a human experience that is open to anyone. When I read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Banville’s The Untouchable, or Coetzee’s Disgrace, the Irish Catholic world, or a U.S. suburb, the world of a certain English milieu with its refined spies with their ties to the KGB, or the racial tension in South African—each is very present, with its unique local characteristics; nevertheless, through those very distinctive stories and situations the human condition of any time, any place is explored.

La Vida Doble

:What does it mean to be translated for an English-speaking audience who won’t have the intimate experience and knowledge of Chile’s history that your Chilean readers have had?

AF: It’s true that the Chileans, Argentines, or Spanish who have read the novel are closer to what I’m narrating. Even so, the story itself is enough. A novel is like a laboratory where an experiment is taking place, but the experiment can be repeated in other places and in other ways because what it shows is of general significance. Hopefully the readers of La Vida Doble: A Novel will be submerged in the strange and idiosyncratic world in which Lorena must live, where they’ll find not “Chileans” or “Latin Americans” but rather simply humans of flesh and bone who cross over by means of the story. Hopefully. Lorena herself says: “Listen well: don’t let the historical anecdote I’m telling constrain you; Chile’s narrow geography, either.

: A related question—in the U.S., words like “Socialism,” “Communism,” and “Revolution” have a different resonance than they do in Chile. Even for people on the left, “communism” is associated with experiences of dictatorship and repression, and doesn’t have romantic or idealistic associations that it does for Lorena, or that people in Chile are more aware of, even if they don’t share them; there is little history of socialist ideas or movements in the U.S. Is there anything in particular you think your North American readers should be aware of about Chile’s history as they read your book?

AF: Not much, really. Lorena makes things understood as they need to be understood; for example, what it means to her to belong to a radical revolutionary movement that tries to win a utopia through armed struggle, one that demands from her the complete sacrifice of her life. There have been so many movements like that, and there always will be. Whether the inspiration comes from Che Guevara, or the movement’s name is this or that, or whatever the specific content of the project for a new society, these are not essential matters. The willingness to sacrifice oneself for something that feels huge, almost impossible, is always a human possibility. The Islamic fundamentalists are painful reminders of this. Furthermore, the immediate enemy is brutal dictatorship. But the use of torture to get information out of terrorist groups is something that has happened in many countries, even in some democratic ones and not too long ago… I would like for the novel to show, in contrast to the film “Zero Dark Thirty”, the victim’s perspective, the way his or her identity as a person is gradually torn to shreds. Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”—in spite of its merits, such as its momentum—takes on torture in a superficial way. It only shows us the perpetrator’s gaze, and the victim is thus dehumanized. This kind of treatment “un-realizes” cruelty. Henry James, comparing some Dutch painters with Guardi, at some point uses the expression “artistic conscience”.  “The Italian,” writes James, “…dispenses with effort and insight, and trusts to mere artifice and manner—and a very light manner at that. …The Dutchman… feels that, unless he is faithful, he is doing nothing.” I believe in that concept. I believe that an artist must be faithful to the world he is trying to show, to the world he wants us to imagine. Kafka, for example, was a master in this. For an artist to do this superficially is an ethical failure in his work as such.

: As I worked on the book, you were very helpful and generous in answering my questions, and you also kept a bit of distance, stressing that I had to find the voice, the way to convey the book in English, which was something that I appreciated a lot—a translator couldn’t ask for a better balance. I wonder if you have spent time considering your stance on the translator’s role, or if you’ve ever been a translator yourself?

AF: I’m happy you felt that way. The novel in English is your work. La Vida Doble: A Novel should read as if it had been thought and written in English. I think your translation achieves that. It’s been your responsibility, as translator, to find an equivalent to what one reads in Spanish, but also flows in English. Translating is a creative task, an artistic and difficult one. But not impossible. Proust’s A la recherché…  flows with a rhythm characteristic of French, of English in Scott Moncrieff’s translation, and of Spanish by Pedro Salinas, José María Quiroga Plá and Consuelo Berges. A priori, it seems like it shouldn’t be possible. I don’t think El Quijote ever had an English translation that did it justice until Edith Grossman’s. If Nabokov had read Cervantes in that translation he wouldn’t have written what he did in his Lectures on Literature. He didn’t get the humor or the humanity of Quijote. Gregory Rabassa did an extraordinary translation of 100 Years of Solitude. When I was studying at Columbia University, Rabassa came to a translation workshop directed by Frank MacShane, who was then the director of the Writing Division. I asked Rabassa what his secret was in translating 100 Years of Solitude. He answered: “Before starting to work, I would spend twenty minutes reading a novel by Faulkner”.

And yes, I have published some versions—I don’t dare called them translations—of some classic poems in Spanish. Many times, I must admit, I’ve failed. For example, I’ve struggled and struggled for years trying to translate two very famous poems by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” and “And Death Shall Have No Dominion.” They stood by me like two faithful dogs during my father’s long and painful illness before he died. I have never managed to translate them. I go back and try again every once in a while. The problem, of course, is their music, so interlaced with the metaphors and the meaning. These are cases when it seems like the music shapes the meaning.

: La Vida Doble has a great deal of research behind it. There were three people in particular who had experiences very similar to Lorena’s, although the character is not directly based on any of them. You also interviewed people from the left and from MIR. Can you talk a bit about how those interviews were? You also interviewed people who were close to the dictatorship, and their families. How did you approach them? Was it difficult to broach these topics?

Megan McDowell

Megan McDowell

AF: It’s true, I read many testimonials and watched many documentaries. They are listed at the end of the book. On one hand, I list them out of respect for the truth—this is not just pure imagination; there were many people who suffered though similar horrors, in Chile, in Argentina, and other countries—and also to salute the people who investigated and told these stories, sometimes at great risk. I got the chance to talk for a long, long time with one of the three women on whom the novel is based. I promised not to tell which one. I also talked with some intelligence agents of the dictatorship’s repressive apparatus, the CNI; some of them knew and worked with these women. They were weary, slippery men who knew their destiny lay in jail. I also spoke with people who participated in MIR, an armed revolutionary organization founded in the 70’s; they lived in secrecy and they fought back during the dictatorship. The book’s structure—one long interview—arose from those experiences. But, of course, the fiction is not the double of the real, it brings something new into the world with the goal of shining light on the real.

Were they difficult conversations? Well, yes, at times. Luckily, many of them had read previous novels of mine. They felt free because I wasn’t a reporter. And they wanted, I suspect, to tell me their stories. For some mysterious reason, there is something healing about telling one’s story. Maybe, when you feel you have lost, it can mean a lot to have someone seek you out who wants to listen to your story. And once we were there and a certain climate of intimacy had been created, phrases emerged that were dead at birth, certain silences, certain movements of the face or hand that were marked by an insurmountable pain—those, I will never forget. Those involuntary gestures influenced the novel more than most of the stories I heard.

My challenge was to find a language that could transmit the experience of horror with the immediacy of the real. I had to find a language that would not dull sensibilities. But a language that would also not be like squeezing lemon onto a live oyster. On the contrary, I had to make the reader imagine the horror and still want to keep reading. I thought a lot about the question in Lessing’s famous book: Why do we find beauty in the sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons” when, if we were facing the scene in real life—two boa constrictors tightening around the extremities of the father and his sons—we wouldn’t be able to stand it, it would inspire only horror in us and would be devoid of any beauty? What transmutation of the real allows us to look and keep looking at the sculpture and to approach the real experience of unbearable pain? I wrote hundreds of pages searching blindly for a language, not knowing what language I was looking for. Suddenly, out came the sentences that begin the novel: “Can I tell you the truth? That’s a question for you. Are you going to believe me? It’s a question only you can answer. All I can do is talk. It’s up to you whether you believe me or not…” The next day I reread the lines and I knew immediately: there, in that tone, was the novel. Lorena was born in that tone. She is that tone.

: Your portrayal of Lorena’s torture is so affecting because it is so subjective, or maybe suggestive. There is little linear or objective narration of what is happening, everything is told from the point of view of Lorena as she experiences it, and the effect is disorienting and disturbing. Can you talk about the process of imagining and writing those scenes?

AF: Well . . . I wanted to avoid the objective, cold, positivist and meticulous language that is used in documentary testimonials and in reports. That language allows you to know, but not imagine. And when you don’t imagine, you no longer feel a thing. I thought: these testimonials are a reconstruction after the fact, oftentimes put together from previous information. Often it seems like the person talking is looking at the scene from outside. For example, you don’t see, they’ve covered your eyes. That darkness was my starting point. You hear voices, you hear their threats, their humiliating insults, you feel naked and they manipulate your body, you’re at their mercy, the world disappears, then, all that’s left is your pain and you cry out, you scream like never before, you screech like a boar, like a donkey, possessed by an unheard-of and infinite pain, but no, there is someone controlling your pain, someone who is calculatingly shaping you with a chisel.

: Were there challenges to writing in a woman’s voice? Could the character have as easily been a man? How would the book be different then?

AF: When I reread those lines I cited before from the beginning of the book, I had no doubt: this was a woman’s voice. A very particular woman, of course. Because she was a woman, I think now, maybe it was easy for me to love her, in spite of everything, in spite of everything.  Everything depends on her: Who is Lorena? That’s the enigma that runs through the novel from beginning to end. I kept on writing only to find out who that woman was. The political situation is only the first layer to the book. Really, what matters is Lorena.

: Lorena is a graduate in French literature, and the novel is peppered with quotations of poetry and philosophical references. I believe I read you say (to paraphrase) it was important for you that she have a critical ability to analyze herself and her situation, to be outside herself, watching and criticizing, at the same time she lives through events. It seems to me that Lorena’s education, particularly her knowledge of literature, gives her a way to conceptualize and find metaphors for her experiences that in a less educated person would be left unarticulated. Lorena makes reference more than once, for example, to Dante’s conception of traitors: once a human commits a betrayal, his soul is immediately banished to the final circle of hell, even while his body goes on living, inhabited by the devil. This is a powerful image to express the utter desolation Lorena feels for her actions, which to her are beyond forgiveness or comprehension. Can you talk a bit about why it is important for Lorena to be an intellectual?

AF: Experience is always richer than language. But a cultured person has, perhaps, more colors on his or her palette. Above all, the idea was, as you say, not only to narrate, but also to reflect during the narration. The intelligence agents in the novel are tough and simple. They are astute men, but not very contemplative. They don’t see themselves. They don’t feel much need to explain themselves to themselves. They can’t tell their story. Lorena, though, can see them. Lorena with her antennas, with her intelligence, allows us to explore the clandestine combatants’ world, and also the world of the agents who hunt them down. She has that double gaze.

Lorena mistrusts writing, she doesn’t believe in the possibility of telling what she is telling: “The truth was invented not to be told,” she repeats. She says: “The truth is too disturbing, too thorny, too contradictory and horrible. Truth is immoral. It shouldn’t be printed. You won’t write what I tell you.” And even so, she goes on talking as if it were an imperative to try, even as she is conscious of her inevitable failure—she plays with the idea that she is lying, and maybe she is. She says: “Do you want to believe me? Because we’re here in this hospice home in Ersta, Stockholm, and if you don’t want to, I’m not about to try to convince you. I don’t have any way to. As for me, I don’t give a shit about the truth. Am I telling the truth when I tell you I don’t give a shit about the truth? It’s my story, after all. But, does such a thing exist? As I talk to you, I look at you and calibrate your reactions. What I’m telling you is thought of as for you. I would be saying this in a different way to Roberto, in another tone, with other things emphasized and other omissions. Understand? What you want to do with my story, and above all your gestures—the way you suddenly raise your eyebrows or twist your mouth or interlace your fingers—are incorporated into me and they give shape and content to what I say and don’t say.” The one who tells the story is a fictional narrator, Lorena, created by the person talking so that she can tell the story. “I want to be Lorena to you. You’ll never know my real name.” She resists being understood, as if being understood meant a reduction in the complexity of life. “You are a crow with an ear for a beak,” she says. “No one can understand this story. And no one would want to. It’s futile. Only the edifying fable will be left, along with its moral; only the husk of the facts will remain, their pornography of horror. We already know them. But what gave meaning to them, what made them human—that dies with us.”

What’s more, her words are trying to give shape to what the writer will write, she gives him instructions and aesthetic advice: “I don’t know how you’ll use what I tell you, though I’m curious. I don’t know if it will help you at all. I don’t think a novel should repeat reality. Perhaps you should just imagine me on your own.” And, towards the end: “So here I am, telling you my shitty story… But it’s better if you don’t write it. Change it, make up something else, find a metaphor.”

Not only that: she gets ahead of the reader, she seems to also want to create her own reader. “I don’t want to go on. It’s too much. I don’t like the curiosity in your eyes, I don’t like the corners of your mouth; there’s something obscene about them.” And further on: “You’re not going to like what you hear at all. I can read it in your eyes. Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère: Hypocritical reader, my double, my brother!… Ha, ha! Why am I laughing? You said you wanted my version, so don’t ask me to give you yours. You have to listen to my story. That’s why you came to Ersta. No one made you come here. You know what? I can smell your contempt, your virtuous-souled contempt.”

So, within a very simple and stripped-down narrative structure—a woman who talks and a writer who listens—three stories are told: first, the combatant transformed into a victim and then, into traitor and torturer. Second, the story of the betrayals and abandonments of her childhood and early adulthood. And third, the story of her attempt to tell her story.

Arturo Fontaine

Arturo Fontaine

: It’s also important, perhaps, that as an intellectual, Lorena could not be accused of blindly following either her revolutionary brothers or the men of the repression. Rather, she is aware, and she is searching for something, some way of belonging to the world that she has never found. What do you think?

AF: Of course, she is no naive little girl. She knows what she is doing. She thinks, analyzes, scrutinizes. She pushes herself and wounds herself over and over with the thorn of her guilt. Her reading, those quotations, that’s what she is. “My being is a pit filled only with quotations,” she says. She holds herself over the abyss of her self, she lives from what she reads, her days are like pages. I didn’t want an “intuitive” woman who makes guesses based on hunches and doesn’t reason. I didn’t want Breton’s Nadja or Cortázar’s La Maga. “I describe those rivers,” says Oliveira in Hopscotch, “she swims in them.” No. Nor did I want a woman who was frigid or insensitive to motherhood. No. I didn’t want an intellectual or a combatant who channels all her erotic needs into those identities. No. I wanted a complete woman. I wanted a womanly woman who was truly intelligent, able to be lover and mother, both intellectual and political, an able combatant and, later, a ferocious agent. What’s more, as a man myself, I was drawn to the challenge posed by constructing a feminine character.

Her transformation takes the lid off the taboo of violence and with it, that of Eros. Her exploration of different forms of sexual pleasure is, in its way, an investigation of different forms of domination and submission, and their unsettling pleasures. But it is also a way to be a different person; better yet, to be different people, to be whoever. Her “self” is completely malleable, liquid and discontinuous, which she experiences as a liberation after the years of asceticism that the redemptive project of revolution forced on her. “I can tell you,” she says, “whatever I want. Like everything that happened in that club in Malloco. I can be someone else. That was the fascinating thing.” And, elsewhere: “Our hypocritical education is a gag. There’s a tyrannical pleasure in the degradation of oneself. We are that, too. In the underworld of that dark, bewitched house, I lived it frenetically, like one returning to a lost Paradise—not the sterilized and anodyne paradise of Genesis, but a cruel and delicious unleashing, a plunge into the burning and confused sea of our origins, a sudden fusion with the savage animal that inhabits us and that we cut ourselves off from. In that pit I touched the bottom of the truth that we deny ourselves, the truth that we invent. Not “The Truth,” but rather instants of vehemence, vertiginous truths like bites or burns, momentary passions that I lived deeply and free from confusion.”

: You are a man who wears many hats—professor at the University of Chile, Director of CEP, board member of the Museo de Memoria. Do you have enough time to write? Is writing a major part of your life? Can you talk about the nuts and bolts of your writing—when do you do it, what rituals and routines do you have?

AF: I never have enough time. I could always use more. Although I’m not sure that I would know how to make the most of that time, if I had it. I like to share life with people who are not writers. The idea of living only among writers doesn’t attract me, it seems boring. I have the impression that a lot of what I read has been written because someone had to write; it hasn’t been written from the guts. So they seek, then, to épater le lecteur and fill up pages—a bad-tempered, capricious imagination. I try to write every day. Often I don’t have the energy. Writing is tiring, and it hurts. The words emerge from layers buried within you, and it doesn’t come out of there without tearing you up. At least not in my case. I know there are writers who this doesn’t happen to, they are more professional than me. They write more methodically. Good for them. As for me, the birthing process doesn’t come easy.

: You are both a poet and a fiction writer—do you prefer one over the other?

AF: I wanted to be a poet from the time I was a child, although I also wrote stories. The novels came later. I’ve published several books of poetry, and some of my poems have appeared in well-known anthologies. Even so, the truth is I’ve had more recognition as a novelist than as a poet. It occurs to me that my readings and work as a poet have given me a certain sensitivity that underlies my novels. Still, I think that as a genre, in general, poetry is superior to the story, and the story is superior to the novel.

: You’ve given many interviews about the book, and I hate to make you repeat yourself. What question/s do you wish people would ask you about La Vida Doble that you’ve never been asked?

AF: I can tell you that for me, by far the best recognition has been that some of the victims or people close to victims have called me or wanted to talk to me. One woman told me: “Look, my husband, well, we knew he had been held prisoner, we knew he’d been beaten, but he never told us anything about it. Someone gave me your novel, my old man read it, and for the first time in thirty years he cried with me, for the first time ever, he told me. I’ve slept next to him for thirty years and not a word. And now, everything, after thirty years…” That day I knew it had been worth it, all those years I dedicated to writing this short novel.


Arturo Fontaine was born in Santiago and is professor of philosophy at the Universidad de Chile. He is the author of four volumes of poetry and three novels, and he regularly publishes essays on cultural topics. He is the director of the Chilean Center for Public Studies, and he is on the board of Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights. He lives in Santiago.

Megan McDowell is a translator specializing in Chilean and Latin American literature. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

The ginkgo is a tree that has existed for 200 million years. They were around when dinosaurs walked the earth and have survived through ice ages and near extinction, its lineage connecting us to past worlds. Even a 200 year old tree has seen more generations than we ever could, offering a unique reflection on time. In Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot, Peter Crane, dean and professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, explores the vast history of the ginkgo as well as its medicinal, artistic, and religious importance.

Crane tracks the ginkgo from its origin, through its near extinction, to its resurgence, and finally to its ubiquitous presence in our lives today. This extensive history is explored through various means including the examination of fossils and references to the ginkgo found in literature dating as far back as 980 A.D. when it was mentioned by Tsan-Ning, a “learned monk” in the Ko Wu Tshu Than, or Simple Discourses on the Investigation of Things.

Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

Scattered throughout this stimulating read are remarkable facts about the ginkgo that will stick with you long after the page has been turned. For instance, since ginkgos are resistant to disease, tolerant of pollution, and able to withstand extremes of heat and cold, they are now familiar in urban landscapes over much the world. From San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, to the streets of Manhattan, to the Meiji-Jingu Park in Japan, ginkgo trees can be found lining streets and bordering neighborhoods. The ginkgo has also been cultivated for a thousand years for its edible seeds, and many ancient trees are greatly revered by followers of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism. For as long the ginkgo has been prized for its edible seeds, it has also been valued for its medicinal qualities. Ginkgo is often associated with health and longevity, fertility, memory, and is used in the treatment of many ailments including lung and respiratory conditions.

After finishing Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot, don’t be surprised when you find yourself searching for a ginkgo around your neighborhood and enjoying all the trees around you just a little bit more.

Rabbits, Rhubarb, Raccoons, Oh My! My Very Own Backyard Jungle

My Backyard JungleThanks to the insight of James Barilla’s new book, My Backyard Jungle: The Adventures of an Urban Wildlife Lover Who Turned His Yard into Habitat and Learned with It, we at Yale University Press are sharing stories of our own backyards and the specially hidden, and often overlooked, secrets contained in each. To come along and share your own stories with us, follow My Backyard Jungle on Facebook or visit the My Backyard Jungle website .

Cara Borelli—

One of the best aspects of my childhood home in Western Massachusetts is the lush, well-sized backyard, stretching back towards a thick forest; though it wasn’t large, it shielded us from any other neighbors or houses. Every morning while brushing my teeth, I eventually find myself at the bathroom window, gazing out over the backyard, whether it’s full of life and fluffy green leaves, or blanketed in snow patterns with the crossing tracks of various animals. I start by looking past the deck to the small brook bubbling all the way into the woods beyond, over the shed nestled amongst the trees lined by blueberry bushes and rhubarb leaves. Around the central island of trees standing tall, back to the patio, fire pit and eventually the deck, where the process begins again, most likely causing me to brush my teeth far longer than is normally recommended. Throughout the day, I can often find another member of my family simply admiring our small slice of paradise as well, soaking up its splendor.

From James Barilla’s Backyard Jungle: Bees in My Bonnet: Beekeeper’s clothing is typically white because bees are known to respond negatively to dark clothing, which may remind them of a furry predator.

While the backyard is definitely a place of beauty and solitude, it was also once a place of great adventure. As a child, my brother and I, and any number of neighborhood kids would venture out into the woods beyond, discovering all sorts of hidden treasures; like a huge fallen tree or an entire deer skeleton lying by the brook. Or on a particularly exciting day, another group of children from the other side of the woods waving a Canadian flag and defending their territory with pellets of mud. Forts were built and “landmarks” were established. Dinosaur bones were dug for in the old garden. It was a great place to be a kid, imagining all sorts of adventures.

In addition to beauty and adventure, the backyard also provides some interesting wildlife, which seems to have gotten a bit wilder in recent years. We have the usual rabbits, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, groundhogs, hawks and birds common to our region.  Many deer with spotted fawns and the occasional antlered stag have traveled through the yard, feasting on any attempts at a garden and chomping off the heads of tulips, leaving only a line a slender stems. Often a brood of fifteen or so wild turkeys will meander through the yard, nibbling at this and that. Many a time I was prevented from recoiling the garden hose because a family of snakes, mom and babies both, would slither out from the rocks, causing me to promptly drop the hose and run in the other direction. Recently we have been host to a few more “wild” encounters, such as a mountain lion sauntering through the yard, and a reported bear sighting from the neighbors.

Fall Crops at Red Hook Community Farm: Urban honeybees thrive under the care of Tim O’Neal at the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn. Because this urban farm was once a parking lot and baseball field, most of the crops have been planted in a layer of soil on top of asphalt.

One memory in particular though will always stick with me, marking the beginning of the backyard’s approach to more “wild” times. It brings to mind some of James Barilla’s own encounters from My Backyard Jungle with the wildlife in his yard. In particular, the initial fear brought on by “the night visitor,” a pesky rodent heard rummaging between the walls of his house. A coyote spotting one day, a deer leg found in the front yard another, and things were getting a bit out of the ordinary. After dinner one night a strange yelling noise started coming from the woods, getting louder and louder. We gathered at the screen door leading to the deck trying to figure out what was causing it. A few moments later a few feet from the deck a young deer emerged from the woods, falling to the grass, bleating that awful noise. My first thoughts were grim. Coyote plus deer leg plus small struggling panicked deer could not equal anything good. The deer continued to stumble, and when it finally found its footing, decided to oddly start heading towards my father who was out on the deck. My father quickly ran inside replacing the screen door with the glass one, while the deer continued to come closer, beseeching us through the glass panes. From this close we could clearly see that the young deer was in no physical harm, but simply terrified, and staring at us like it expected us to help. After continuing to advance even closer still, the deer suddenly stopped, turned around and bounded through the yard and into the woods, lost from sight. After several minutes of bewilderment, we concluded that the young deer must have gotten separated from its mother and the rest of its herd, bringing about the panicked bleats and behavior. While this event turned out to be not very serious, it still remains one of my odder encounters with the other inhabitants of our backyard.

Barilla Wildlife Habitat Sign

In the end, my backyard provides a nice balance of features. We get our own private sanctuary without being miles from civilization. We get a taste of wild animals without anything really threatening being the norm. We have to upkeep the yard but can let the woods beyond be naturally wild. We can go on great adventures and still be home in time for dinner. While my backyard jungle has been more “backyard” than “jungle,” it has still been host to some exciting events and has always provided a taste of all that Mother Nature has to offer.

Cara Borelli is a Yale University Press intern who recently graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Communication Design. She now really misses her backyard.

Ivan Brunetti’s Aesthetics : Book Trailer, Cartoon Caption Contest, Bookmarks, Signed Copies, CLICK ALREADY!


Ivan Brunetti is one of the great contemporary graphic artists. His signature, highly evocative style often captures a moment of acute absurdity, or humor, or melancholy, with text that is painstakingly edited to a minimalist perfection.

We’d like to give three of you a signed copy each of his marvelous new book, Aesthetics: A Memoir, which is hot off the presses. (You can see and read an excerpt from the book on the Paris Review Daily, and a delightful book trailer appears below.)

Brunetti Punk FigureBrunetti Rosie FigureHere are two Brunetti figures, which Ivan was generous enough to draw for us for the creation of bookmarks we printed to commemorate the publication of Aesthetics. We’d like you to come up with a single speech or thought bubble that undergoes a shift in meaning when applied to these two figures. The text in the bubble needs to be identical, but you can use different punctuation for each figure. Send us your text by July 1; the winning entries will be posted on our blog and each will receive an autographed copy of Aesthetics (and a bookmark).

And for another chance to win a copy of the book, visit our friends over at Forces of Geek!

June Theme: Summer Reading

We’re a little late getting started with sharing our Summer Reading  list with you—can you really blame us with the New England summer thus far?—but there’s still plenty of books for us to talk about this month!

Yale University Press June 13

With updates to our Freshman Reading catalog, we’ll sponsor a Goodreads giveaway for Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen, and release the Yale Press Podcast episode for Richard Sennett’s Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation. Along with Terry Eagleton’s signature topic: How to Read Literature and the paperback publication of Robert Utley’s award-winning biography of Geronimo, there’s plenty of titles to pack your beach bags.

We’ll release the book trailer for Ivan Brunetti’s Aesthetics: A Memoir, combining Brunetti’s work as artist, editor, and teacher, into an explanation of his creative process, artistic trajectory, and obscure interests. This eye-popping account is filled with drawings, doodles, ephemera, and sketches spanning multiple decades, and we’re sponsoring an Aesthetics contest to celebrate publication!

New titles from the Margellos World Republic of Letters bring new conversations, such as that between Arturo Fontaine and Megan McDowell, author and translator respectively of La Vida Doble, a tale of violence, lofty ideals, and moral ambiguity set in the darkest years of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. And in breaking literary news, poets Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah have been awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize for Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, just as Adonis and Khaled Mattawa won two years ago for their selection of Adonis’s poetry for our literature in translation series.

And our long-awaited personal stories, inspired by James Barilla’s My Backyard Jungle, make us want for a life outdoors; new adventures await us at home every day, and you can follow more updates from Barilla’s wildlife habitat with My Backyard Jungle on Facebook. Stay tuned, as always, for more book news! 

The Gateway Arch : A National Icon with a Troubled Past

The Gateway Arch: A Biography

An abstract and mysterious structure, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis conveys wonder, but leaves many visitors questioning the “why” behind the monument. Its history is surprisingly sordid. In The Gateway Arch: A Biography, a new addition to the Icons of America series, author Tracy Campbell documents the series of questionable political maneuvers, accusations of plagiarism aimed at Arch architect Eero Saarinen, and city planning failures that built this national monument.

To get off of the ground, the Arch required voter approval of a $30 million expenditure. This was an  incredible amount for St. Louis, a struggling city in the 1930s. As Campbell tells the University of Kentucky News in an interview on the The Gateway Arch, “the election was fraudulent in a lot of ways – that thousands and thousands of false voters were registered in empty parking lots or run down tenements, but that was necessary to get the approval of the voters.”

Tracy Campbell The Gateway Arch Interview

The Gateway Arch provides an interesting case study on the results of pork-barrel spending on the economic life of a city. In the context of the current debt crisis, it inspires reflection on the current and past financial strategies for dealing with economic depression and recession. In the 1930s, election fraud approved funds to start the monument project that, while beloved, failed to inspire the economic development that city planners hoped—an interesting consideration to keep in mind for determining the legacy of our current financial decisions.