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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: memento mori, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Book-giving serendipity

Last month I sent Darin Strauss a copy of Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori after he vastly overpaid for his part of a cab ride home from a party. In return, he introduced me to the Essential Stories of V.S. Pritchett. And then he discovered an edition of Memento Mori with an introduction written by Pritchett (pictured), and we were as excited as any two book nerds could be.

So far I’ve only found a few tiny excerpts. “Only one other novelist and playwright of consequence — Samuel Beckett — had looked at Mrs. Spark’s subject: the corruption of the flesh, the tedium of waiting to die,” Pritchett said, praising her for taking on “the great suppressed and censored subject of contemporary society, the one we do not care to face, which we regard as indecent: old age.” I hope someone will get permission to republish the full text online.

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2. Is Muriel Spark too funny to get the respect she’s due?


My mystification that Muriel Spark isn’t more widely read has continued to grow, but last week her editor, New Directions publisher Barbara Epler, offered a theory in email that echoes what Howard Jacobson has said about the devaluation of comedy in literature.

“The fact that she is so unbelievably and witchily entertaining,” Epler argues, “has kept her from her full share of glory as the greatest British writer of the 20th century. Humor has never been the long suit of most critics.”

Spark really is hilarious, and her humor, like Twain’s, is the kind that doesn’t date. As my (new, thanks to Jessa) friend Elizabeth Bachner observed after I pressed Memento Mori on her as she headed to the train last week, she’s also incredibly sly.

Epler’s admiration was mutual. Spark praised her “wisdom, charm, humour and intuition, [which] must be the envy of every author.”

Reading Epler’s remarks on editing, it’s easy to see that she and Spark, who resisted all but the smartest and most intuitive edits, would have had a natural affinity. In 2008, Epler said, “Your job is just to worry, to check and double-check. One study pointed out that the difference between competent people and incompetent people is that competent people know they might be wrong and double- and triple-check; incompetent people know they’re right. (Or, as a Brazilian publisher joked, What’s the difference between ignorance and arrogance? “I don’t know and I don’t care.”) Editing doesn’t seem to be a process of knowing but of asking. You just do the best you can.”

And last year she spoke with Powell’s about, among other things, New Directions’ mission: “We really just try to find the best writing we can, albeit in a somewhat narrow bailiwick. (We are now owned by a trust and one of its provisions is that we continue to publish the kind of books J. L. wanted: a sort of baggy category, but with an emphasis still on experimental or what used to be called avant-garde writing.)”

New Directions has just republished Spark’s Not to Disturb, and will soon bring out her charming, idiosyncratic, stripped-down autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, which serves as a kind of preemptive corrective to Martin Stannard’s sprawling biography.

My personal Spark hierarchy starts like this: Memento Mori, T

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3. Memento Mori

Studs Terkel, prize-winning author and radio broadcast personality was born Louis Terkel in New York on May 16, 1912. His father, Samuel, was a tailor and his mother, Anna (Finkel) was a seamstress. He had three brothers. The family moved to Chicago in 1922 and opened a rooming house at Ashland and Flournoy on the near West side {LISTEN}. From 1926 to 1936 they ran another rooming house, the Wells-Grand Hotel at Wells Street and Grand Avenue. Terkel credits his knowledge of the world to the tenants who gathered in the lobby of the hotel and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square, a meeting place for workers, labor organizers, dissidents, the unemployed, and religious fanatics of many persuasions. In 1939 he married Ida Goldberg and had one son.

Terkel attended University of Chicago and received a law degree in 1934. He chose not to pursue a career in law. After a brief stint with the civil service in Washington D.C., he returned to Chicago and worked with the WPA Writers Project in the radio division. One day he was asked to read a script and soon found himself in radio soap operas, in other stage performances, and on a WAIT news show. After a year in the Air Force, he returned to writing radio shows and ads. He was on a sports show on WBBM and then, in 1944, he landed his own show on WENR. This was called the Wax Museum show that allowed him to express his own personality and play recordings he liked from folk music, opera, jazz, or blues. A year later he had his own television show called Stud's Place and started asking people the kind of questions that marked his later work as an interviewer.

In 1952 Terkel began working for WFMT, first with the "Studs Terkel Almanac" and the "Studs Terkel Show," primarily to play music. The interviewing came along by accident. This later became the award-winning, "The Studs Terkel Program." His first book, Giants of Jazz, was published in 1956. Ten years later his first book of oral history interviews, Division Street : America, came out. It was followed by a succession of oral history books on the 1930s Depression, World War Two, race relations, working, the American dream, and aging. His latest book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken : Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, was published in 2001. Terkel continued to interview people, work on his books, and made public appearances until his death. He was Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the Chicago Historical Society.

(Courtesy: http://studsturkel.org)


Tony Hillerman was born in 1925, in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma. Although he was raised among the Pottawatomie and Seminole Indians and studied at an Indian boarding school, Tony Hillerman is not Native American. He attended Oklahoma State University (1943), the University of Oklahoma (B.A. 1946), and the University of New Mexico (M.A. 1966). He worked as a journalist in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico (1948-63), lived in Albuquerque, and taught journalism at the University of New Mexico (1976-85).

He has written numerous mystery novels drawing on Native American culture, the most successful featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. His many bestselling novels include Sacred Clowns, Coyote Waits, and A Thief of Time. Hillerman is a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and has received their Edgar and Grand Master awards. His other honors include the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award. He lived with his wife, Marie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

(Courtesy: http://mysterynet.com)

Lisa Alvarado

1 Comments on Memento Mori, last added: 11/12/2008
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