Friday, August 6, 2010

A Pelican Weekend Meander

33 comments:

  1. Gintaras, have you read Schama's book Landscape and Memory? I just started it last night, and it starts with a visit to his ancestral home on the border of Lithuania and Poland, and the "disappearing" of the Jews. Even the land conspires to swallow up the graveyards outside of Vilnius.

    I know the book is going to head off in an entirely different direction eventually, but the opening is fascinating!

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  2. And in the creep you out department, no sooner did I type that post (and search for the spelling of his name), Amazon sent me an email about one of Schama's books. I know none of these services come free, but still...

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  3. "Oh,a wondrous bird is the pelican!/His bill holds more than his belican/He can take in his beak/Enough food for a week/But I'm darned if I know how the helican" Dixon Lanier Merritt

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  4. I _love_ that poem, but then I have a thing for pelicans. A friend took that about a month ago at Freezeout Lake.

    Funny, as I was beginning to respond, one of _your_ favorite animals looked in from the deck. Had to take a break to chase him off. I've had it with squirrels.

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  5. I haven't, av, but sounds like it would be a very interesting book.

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  6. He starts with a very personal tie to the land -- i.e., his ancestors -- and then the entire first part is about the forested land between Poland and Lithuania and the historical "sense of place" for lack of better word associated with it.

    I was interested in it because of the Lithuanian bison, which Schama takes from something like the 17th century through Goering's hunting expeditions into that land -- and his eventual burning of the forests in retreat. Powerful story.

    But it's a huge book. I'm just reading the sections that interest me. Like the woman who went on a crusade to have Susan B. Anthony added to Mt. Rushmore. Who knew?

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  7. They call the bison stumbras in Lithuanian. Look pretty much like their American counterparts, although not quite as big. There are still a few around.

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  8. Yes, they had to bring them in from the zoos to restart a "herd" after the war. Not unlike the history here.

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  9. To which I should add about the zoos.... according to Schama.

    He's one of those erudite writers who seem to know everything. So you just assume they know what they are talking about. Again, no footnotes -- but pretty thorough notes at the end of the book.

    What fascinated me about that section was how the bison took on the same sort of cultural meaning that the bison assumed over here. And how that's tied up with the land/forest and even the origins of scientific forestry which Schama briefly mentions.

    Other countries adopt other animals -- e.g., the bear for Russia. But somehow the bison (and elk) become the symbols of greatness in that shifting territory between the two countries.

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  10. After following your link and reading that excerpt online from Google books, via Russian/Lithuanian Google, I'm now officially googling in Russian.... I once tried to teach myself to read Russian but it was a dismal failure. Maybe this is my second chance?

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  11. Very sad to see that Tony Judt has died. I really admired him as a writer and historian.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/books/08judt.html

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  12. And for Bo:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/08/105year-old-dawons-book-shops-clearance-sale.html

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  13. Av, Gintaras, are you saying the Lithuanian bison are forest animals? That would distinguish them from their North American cousins.

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  14. I love history, especially the avrds/bo/squirrel kind. Takes me back to some good old days.

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  15. Well, that's definitely a different kind of history. But those were the good old days. Or, as Carly Simon might say, _these_ are the good old days.

    As for the Lithuanian bison, they are indeed forest animals according to Schama (and I just checked -- they are indeed bison: _Bison bonasus_). Here's some of what Schama writes (and I take it back, there are a couple actual end notes in this excerpt):

    "The bison was as important to the Lithuanian-Polish cult of knighthood as the bull was for the Spanish warrior caste at the other end of Christianity's frontiers. It was a one-ton prodigy, exhibiting primitive ferocity of the frontier wilderness. 'Here in the wildest forest of Lithuania,' Hussowski wrote... 'may be found an animal so might that three men may be seated between his two horns'; a beast of dark savagery comparable to nothing else; the pendulous shaggy dewlap descending from throat and belly to the ground; the short but wiry mane and beard; ....the phenomenal displays of strength, as when two beasts in the hunt of King Alexander in the early sixteenth century smashed into the pavilion holding his wife, Helena, and her courtiers, crushing the structure and nearly killing the queen....

    [T]he animal was depicted as a miraculous relic of a presocial, even prehistoric past -- a tribal, arboreal world of hunters and gatherers, at the same time frightening and admirable. the bison became a talisman of survival. For as long as the beast and its succoring habitat endured, it was implied, so would the nation's martial vigor. Its very brutishness operated as a test of strength and justice."

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  16. The grizzly was once a plains/coastal animal. Perhaps the movement of people forced these animals into the forests -- or maybe they developed in totally different ways after the massive land split.

    I looked at a Biodiversity paper about them just to confirm that they were indeed bison (Linneaus and Buffon apparently both believed them to be, in essence, feral cattle). It said their big issue now is in-breeding since the species was brought back from so few animals, and they are all interrelated throughout Europe:

    http://www.ekoi.lt/uploads/docs/BalciauskasAZL%209%283%29_3-18.pdf

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  17. So another interesting fact on which to hang a national myth. And some dreaming. Thanks, guys.

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  18. I just finished reading "Stiff" by Mary Roach. I'd forgotten that I had the book when I saw the author on The Daily Show last week, promoting her latest book "Packing for Mars."

    Stiff was informative and humorous (in an odd way). The author researched the history of the use of cadavers. There were two chapters that were extremely off-putting later in the book. One was about a man who experimented with transplanting dogs' heads (creating 2-headed ones) and another chapter was about cannibalism. Ugh. The rest of the book was good.

    I bought this in paperback two years ago on a recommendation. I was at the funeral of a co-worker and her daughter told me about it.

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  19. A little black humor to start the day....

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  20. If you can figure out how to skip to the second story, this is well worth your time. BRILLIANT story (The Appropriation of Cultures):

    http://beta.wnyc.org/shows/shorts/2010/aug/15/

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  21. I heard the program when it was broadcast; it was a great story.

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  22. Enough rave reviews for Franzen's Freedom -- and one that's probably more on the mark

    (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/24/AR2010082405326.html) --

    have come out before the book was available to make me have second thoughts. So picked up a book recommended by Rick instead: Stoner.

    Some people just know how to tell a great story.

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  23. Avrds, I recently listened to a podcast of Fresh Air (Terry Gross) that had a re-broadcast of an interview with Tony Judt from March 29th.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125231223

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  24. Thanks, Marti. I'll listen to that. I see his book is also on the best seller list in L.A.

    Here's a follow-up to the Charles' review of Freedom. My first thought was what in the world is he thinking? But as I kept watching, I think he may be on to something here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2010/08/30/VI2010083003847.html

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  25. Perhaps a counterpoint to Skloot?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/books/31book.html

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  26. Ms. Wilkerson and Ms. Skloot, both professors of "narrative nonfiction." The former's book looks interesting, the review made me think of The Children of Sanchez. Incidently, I heard a woman complaining on NPR yesterday over the amount of positive press Franzen's new book has received. She basically said she didn't care whether the book was any good, that it just got too many glowing reviews. She said further that no woman's novel would be given that amount of attention. It made me think immediately of my suspicions of Skloot's intimacy with the literary taste makers. Plenty of hmmm's here.

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  27. I was totally committed to reading Franzen's new book -- I liked Corrections okay -- until more and more rave reviews kept piling up. In the meantime, you couldn't buy the book to judge for yourself.

    I agree with the NPR commentator that a woman writer would never get that kind of attention. That's just the nature of the beast I'm afraid. But I was still hopeful.

    The problem with reading too many reviews is you get a pretty good sense of the book and in the end it doesn't sound like something I'd like. I like the idea of it -- a big family-centered novel -- but probably not the actual book itself.

    Plus, I hate to say this, but a rave from Michiko Kakutani is the kiss of death with me. The Washington Post reviewer seems like he is more in tune with my point of view.

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  28. I like the description of how Wilkerson treats her subjects in that review. This is something I hate in non-fiction and fiction alike -- when the writer thinks s/he is smarter than his/her subject or character.

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  29. BOOKS: If you ever see anything by Hornaday (like on Taxidermy) I'd love it! But that doesn't seem like the kind of book you'll find in a SF library sale. Still, you never know....!

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  30. Franzen is a literary pretty boy as far as I'm concerned. Couldn't stand Corrections and can't imagine I would like anything by him. Not a big fan of po-mo in general, which Corrections struck me as a later incarnation of this style.

    That whole thing with Oprah some years back really took the cake. My guess is that he was purposely antagonistic so that he could reap both sides of the aisle.

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  31. From the Sam Tanenhaus review that appears in the Sunday Book Review:

    "To their envious neighbors, a step behind the golden couple, there “had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.” They are “the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive every­body so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege.”

    These heckling strophes drip with spite, but spite is often the vehicle of premonitory truth."

    My main complaint with The Corrections was that it treated its characters with derision from beginning to end. Tanenhaus seems to be describing the same technique in Freedom, although he employs the word spite instead. I guess if I thought Franzen was a satirist I could buy into the business about premonitory truth. But The Corrections didn't didn't seem satirical to me. Rather it seemed to be the product of a thoroughgoing misanthrope.

    I must say, however, that Freedom sounds like it might be better than The Corrections.

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  32. I suppose one could look at Corrections as very biting satire, which it seems many critics did, but it just came across to me as very mean spirited. No one person or one country escaped his wrath. It was like he just pulled Lithuania out of a hat and decided to use it as his dysfunctional Eastern European country, but without any of the humor in which Sacha Baron Cohen uses Kazachstan in his Borat sketches. I think I gave up on the book when the grandparents embarked on their ill-fated cruise to Europe.

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  33. I forgot about the Lithuanian business and how that pissed you off.

    As I remember the book, he wanted to write a big family-centric "modern" novel that had all the literary pyrotechnics but that also told a real story. In terms of his goals, I thought he did a pretty good job. Seemed very contemporary, though, so I figured after reading it that it wouldn't hold up over time (or even to a second reading).

    The initial reviews of Freedom suggested he had really matured as a writer and was able to push those goals even further -- nice literary albeit contemporary excerpt in the Times -- but the more I read about the storyline and the people (like the excerpt quoted by Rick above), it just seems like something I can miss after all.

    The Post's reviewer seems to have it down. (They sure do have a couple contrarian reviewers, which I enjoy)

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