Jessamine Price http://www.jessamineprice.com Stories without Borders Sun, 10 May 2015 15:39:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.3 http://www.jessamineprice.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/lettering-red-J-large-5548cb3ev1_site_icon-32x32.png Jessamine Price http://www.jessamineprice.com 32 32 87295392 Reflection: “The Last Grain Race” by Eric Newby http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/reflection-in-memoir-the-last-grain-race-by-eric-newby/ http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/reflection-in-memoir-the-last-grain-race-by-eric-newby/#respond Wed, 06 May 2015 17:46:18 +0000 http://www.jessamineprice.com/?p=561 Eric Newby was eighteen when he signed onto a four-masted sailing ship as an “apprentice seaman.” He spent 1938 to 1939 sailing around the world in the grain trade. When he arrived home in Britain, World War II had started. Commercial sailing ships would never again carry cargo—sail would become a hobby and a sport rather than ... Read more

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Eric Newby was eighteen when he signed onto a four-masted sailing ship as an “apprentice seaman.” He spent 1938 to 1939 sailing around the world in the grain trade.

When he arrived home in Britain, World War II had started. Commercial sailing ships would never again carry cargo—sail would become a hobby and a sport rather than a livelihood. The annual “grain race” from Australia to Britain was over for good.

The memoir Newby published in 1956 is famous among sail aficionados. Newby knew the days of sail were numbered when he set out and he kept diaries so he could write about the voyage later. He vividly describes the hard, dangerous work of sailing. His use of dialogue, description and scene is modern, even though his ornate syntax bears the mark of Churchill’s England.

Newby also has a very English sense of humor—wry, self-deprecating. As a result, The Last Grain Race is a coming-of-age narrative full of reflection. Ultimately, my favorite moments are when Newby writes about how young and naive he was.

In this passage, Newby is thinking about his heroic-adventurous ideas about travel, which he picked up from his childhood neighbor Mr. Mountstewart. It was Mountstewart who suggested the young man apprentice on a sailing vessel.

Now his shipmates are telling him stories of other amazing journeys he should take. He’s tempted to keep going.

Here Newby listens to shipmate Kroner reminiscing about an exotic island off the coast of Lebanon.

the-last-grain-race penguin edition webAs he spoke I listened to him with mounting restlessness until the sun was almost vertical overhead and, obscured by the jibs, left us in shadow.

First it had been Mountstewart who had unsettled me, uprooted me, and sent me into exile while he enjoyed my experience vicariously by his study fire. Now it was Kroner with his literary romantic approach to the sea who had been sent to disturb me. Listening to him, I found it difficult to tell at which point his memories cased to be of authentic experience and became something created by his own splendid imagination. I never discovered the truth; everything he said reminded me of something I had read long ago but was unable to identify or put a name to.

I began to wonder whether my face had an air of guileless receptivity that invited others to flights of wild fancy. Had Mountstewart really invented the paravane, had he ever smoked his pipe at the skysail yard of a clipper? Had Sandell ever been to the Arctic? Had Martini Nordlund ever existed? Was Hilbert’s story of the moonlight part of a complicated conspiracy to delude me? And finally, was Kroner’s story the result of an overdose of The Wind in the Willows and the letters of T.E. Lawrence? I didn’t know, but I was sure that if I succumbed to Kroner’s persuasion and went to his island I would encounter there someone who would tell me that the only place worth visiting was a small salt lake in North Asia.

The rhythm, language and syntax are perfect for the public-school British audience of the nineteen-fifties. But more importantly, Newby describes his seduction-by-stories thoughtfully, as if he’s observing himself from the outside. This ability to stand apart from oneself often makes for the most striking moments in a memoir.

Despite Newby’s skepticism, he went on to become a best-selling writer of travel memoirs. Like The Last Grain Race, his other books typically take a wry tone and emphasize the discomforts of travel, making him a forerunner of twenty-first century travel writers. But his writing is never cynical. Though he suggests travel stories are a kind of mirage, he also suggests the unreliable nature of these stories is part of their charm. ♥

The Last Grain Race is available at Amazon as a paperback, Kindle edition or audiobook.

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10 Google Doodles Honoring Writers http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/google-doodles-for-writers/ http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/google-doodles-for-writers/#respond Wed, 06 May 2015 00:18:55 +0000 http://www.jessamineprice.com/?p=534 Today’s Google doodle honors writer, adventurer and inventor Nellie Bly. It’s a cute tribute to the nineteenth-century muckraker and women’s advocate. She was best-known for her expose of life in a New York insane asylum and her race around the world (in which she beat her opponent as well as Jules Vernes’ 80 days). This got me ... Read more

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Today’s Google doodle honors writer, adventurer and inventor Nellie Bly. It’s a cute tribute to the nineteenth-century muckraker and women’s advocate. She was best-known for her expose of life in a New York insane asylum and her race around the world (in which she beat her opponent as well as Jules Vernes’ 80 days).

This got me thinking: it’s the first time I’ve seen a Google doodle honoring a writer. Inventors and computer scientists—those are the usual Google honorees.

But maybe it’s just that the US version of Google doesn’t showcase many writers. Google varies from country to country. It turns out that in some countries, Google has displayed numerous doodles honoring famous authors.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have a disproportionately large number of writer doodles relative to their population. Australia, too.

By comparison, I looked up a few major American writers and no luck. Nothing for Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, or Ernest Hemingway. Vonnegut, Salinger, Ginsberg or Capote? No. Edith Wharton, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather? No. What about Thoreau or Emerson? Nope.

jane austen doodleWhat about British or European writers who are famous in the United States? We usually don’t get to see their doodles. Google has designed doodles in honor of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen (above) but didn’t display them on the US homepage. Why do the Czechs get to honor more writers than we do?

Google has been publishing its doodles since 2000. The company has a team of illustrators who have created roughly 2000 images to date. The company says they choose subjects based on “interesting events and anniversaries that reflect Google’s personality and love for innovation.

With innovation in mind, I also searched their archives for science fiction writers and children’s authors. I searched for poets. After spending way too much time in the archives, I found eight writers besides Bly to be honored on Google’s US homepage. Three of them were honored worldwide, and four were for domestic consumption only. Here they are:

1. Nellie Bly

May 5, 2015, Google celebrates the writer and adventurer’s 151st birthday. The doodle in her honor is visible in the USA, Canada, Australia, India, and a pretty random list of countries in Europe, Africa and South America.

Watch it here:

 

2. Mark Twain

mark twain google doodle

November 30, 2011, would have been his 176th birthday. The clever doodle incorporates the Google logo into Tom Sawyer’s most memorable story. This one appeared around the world.

3. Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurston doodle

January 7, 2014, was the 123rd anniversary of the writer’s birthday. The doodle depicts the deep South setting of novels such as Their Eyes were Watching GodThis one didn’t appear on any of Google’s overseas homepages.

4. Richard Scarry

richard scarry doodle

One of two children’s authors to make it to the US homepage. June 5, 2011. The author of Oh, What a Busy Day! would have turned 92 on June 5, 2011. Google honors him with an original scene of life in Busytown. Like Hurston’s doodle, this one was only for US audiences.

5. John Steinbeck

steinbeck doodle

On February 27, 2014, Google honored Steinbeck’s 112th birthday with a beautiful slideshow illustrating his major works. Follow the link and take a look (click on the image to advance to the next page). It includes The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl and Travels with Charley.

We got to enjoy this one just here in the United States.

6. Herman Melville

melville google doodle
October 18, 2012, was the 161st Anniversary of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick first coming off the presses. The illustrator came up with a few possible designs before settling on this woodcut-style image. The negative space forms a white whale and the whale’s spout forms the L of Google.

This was one of the rare American writers whose doodle was displayed worldwide. Way to go, Melville!

7. Langston Hughes

The poet’s doodle is an animated series of illustrations to accompany one of his most famous poems. Google posted it on the US homepage on Feb. 1, 2015.

8. Dr Seuss

dr seuss google doodle

The second children’s author to make the cut. March 2, 2009, was the 105th birthday of the prolific writer and illustrator. The doodle isn’t particularly creative, though, because his designs are pretty distinctive. Even Google doesn’t dare tinker with them.

It’s interesting to see that Dr. Seuss is well-known in certain countries beyond our borders. Check out the assortment of places where his doodle appeared:

reach of dr seuss doodle

9. Jules Verne

jules verne doodle follow link for animation

The one international writer to make it onto the Google homepage in the United States. Though Verne was French, his science fiction and adventure stories were popular around the world. Accordingly, his doodle was displayed everywhere in Google’s reach.

His doodle is an amazing piece of animation. Visit the page for yourself. It’s possible to use the lever to maneuver the submarine like Captain Nemo.

I found many Google doodles honoring writers born outside the United States. But besides Verne, none of them got play here. I’ll post a few of them in future so we can honor them too.

 

10. Laura Ingalls Wilder

laura ingalls wilder doodle

This beautiful hand-crafted image celebrated the 148th anniversary of Wilder’s birth in a log cabin in Wisconsin. Wilder’s Little House books, based on her childhood and adolescence on the prairie, must have been read abroad as well: the doodle appeared throughout North America and in two dozen other places.

I’m glad Google made good choices. They haven’t honored many writers in the United States, but the ones they selected are a mix of familiar (Twain) and less well-known (Hurston). Three of the ten are women, and two are African-American. The list doesn’t discriminate by age either, giving just as much credit to the authors of best-selling picture books. And we see a mix of elevated, challenging literature (Melville) and direct, colloquial story-telling (Wilder).

The list includes one journalist, one poet, two picture-book authors, five novelists and one memoirist. Most of that variety entered the list in 2015, when Google added Bly, Hughes and Wilder. 2015 has actually been a big year for writers on the US homepage. Does that mean maybe Google is thinking about honoring more writers in the United States? ♥

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How to Be Famous in 300 Years http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/how-to-be-famous-in-300-years/ http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/how-to-be-famous-in-300-years/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 15:20:08 +0000 http://www.jessamineprice.com/?p=521 Today’s Google doodle celebrates the little-known Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano. He was born today in 1655, and spent two decades developing his new alternative to the harpsichord, the pianoforte. Unfortunately, the piano didn’t catch on in his lifetime. He died in 1731, without fame. Cristofari’s doodle, which plays music and highlights the inner workings of ... Read more

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googlepiano-007Today’s Google doodle celebrates the little-known Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano. He was born today in 1655, and spent two decades developing his new alternative to the harpsichord, the pianoforte. Unfortunately, the piano didn’t catch on in his lifetime. He died in 1731, without fame.

Cristofari’s doodle, which plays music and highlights the inner workings of the piano, is particularly well-designed. It clearly shows that Cristofori invented the piano.

It also allows users to adjust the music volume from piano (soft) to forte (loud). The animated piano player in breeches and white wig demonstrates that striking the keys harder produced louder notes. The fact that the piano could be played at varying volumes was a major advantage over the once-popular harpsichord.

It’s sad and striking that the inventor of the piano wasn’t recognized in his lifetime. Today, it’s hard to believe the piano was once a strange new invention of dubious usefulness.

For everyone who creates something beautiful, Cristofori’s story has a hard truth. If you create something wonderful, it will find an audience. It will be appreciated. Perhaps someone will even celebrate your birthday with the future equivalent of a Google doodle.

But the appreciation might come after you’re dead.

And for everyone who scoffs at an eccentric cousin or neighbor with outlandish ideas, Cristofori is a reminder to judge each invention and creation on its own merits. Popular opinion changes swiftly. That weird new invention or story you don’t understand might be valuable to the world after all. Just you wait—a century or two. ♥

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“You Have to Fear Failure More than Death” http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/you-have-to-fear-failure-more-than-death/ http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/you-have-to-fear-failure-more-than-death/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 03:00:10 +0000 http://www.jessamineprice.com/?p=512 I think of writing as an extreme sport. Physically, I might not look like an athlete at the keyboard. But psychologically, writers have a lot in common with athletes. Writing a book requires repetitive daily practice, year after year. Daily practice requires the kind of discipline or obsession that propels people to the Olympics. Overcoming the logistical obstacles ... Read more

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Diana_Nyad_routesI think of writing as an extreme sport.

Physically, I might not look like an athlete at the keyboard. But psychologically, writers have a lot in common with athletes.

Writing a book requires repetitive daily practice, year after year. Daily practice requires the kind of discipline or obsession that propels people to the Olympics. Overcoming the logistical obstacles to writing requires the single-mindedness, focus and determination that powers people who run marathons.

I love to read stories of people pushing themselves to their limits, because the question at the center of them is the same: “Give up or keep going?” And what writer hasn’t asked that question, perhaps several times a day for decades?

But though I often look to athletes and adventurers for inspiration as I write, I don’t expect athletes and adventurers to realize we’re distant kinfolk. So I was excited listening to this radio segment today about long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, in which she compares her physical feats to the work of writers and artists.


She tries to explain the motivations that drove her to continue trying to swim from Cuba to Florida despite several failures.

She first attempted the swim at the age of 28, in 1978. Strong winds pushed her off course and she gave up after 42 hours. But at the age of 60, she started to train again to make the swim. She made four more attempts before she finally succeeded at the age of 63, in 2013.

When she explains her refusal to give up, she says writers and athletes focus on their goals to the exclusion of all other concerns. Her greatest fear was to die without achieving something amazing. Her goal was more important than the risk of death.

And I knew what she meant. I want to get so much done in this little lifetime. I can’t afford to waste time on things other than writing. Or—since I do need to eat and sleep—I can’t waste time on things that don’t help me write.

This single-mindedness leads to dilemmas sometimes. Will clean clothes help me write? All that schlepping around laundry baskets feels like a waste of time when I could be writing. Eventually I need to leave the house and look presentable. But how often? How little laundry can I get away with, to do my best work?

I bet Diana Nyad understands the laundry dilemma. You can hear her for yourself on this 12-minute segment from The TED Radio Hour.

Credit for illustration: Froggerlaura [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Writing Anthem: “Laura Palmer,” Bastille http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/writing-anthem-laura-palmer-bastille/ http://www.jessamineprice.com/other/writing-anthem-laura-palmer-bastille/#respond Thu, 30 Apr 2015 17:12:40 +0000 http://www.jessamineprice.com/?p=474   The first TV show I watched in a serious way was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I read the arts section in the newspaper every day when I was a teenager. We lived in the DC suburbs, so the TV critic was the great Tom Shales of the Washington Post. I don’t remember much about his writing, ... Read more

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The first TV show I watched in a serious way was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I read the arts section in the newspaper every day when I was a teenager. We lived in the DC suburbs, so the TV critic was the great Tom Shales of the Washington Post. I don’t remember much about his writing, which later won a Pulitzer, but I loved reading him. He was one reason I tuned in for Twin Peaks. On the day the show premiered, he wrote, “Twin Peaks disorients you in ways that small-screen productions seldom attempt. It’s a pleasurable sensation, the floor dropping out and leaving one dangling.”

Another reason I watched was that Twin Peaks was a big pop culture phenomenon. The magazines next to the grocery store check-out line had Laura Palmer’s hazy snapshot on the covers. “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” was the big headline of spring 1990. Imagine it: a moment when surrealist director David Lynch was mainstream, cozied up next to the National Enquirer’s latest report on how aliens kidnapped Elvis.

The show was a TV turning point. We hadn’t seen this kind of continuous narrative on evening television. For the first time, I had to program the VCR to record the episodes I would miss—skip one episode and you were lost.

But it was also unlike anything on TV before or since. The surrealism was sometimes hilarious, sometimes unsettling. The greatest mysteries in town go unexplained, giving Twin Peaks an air of the uncanny.

Credit: “Twin Peaks” is entirely the property of ABC.

An aging spinster walks around town cradling a piece of firewood in her arms, talking to it. No one knows why. They just call her the Log Lady.

A woman with a black eye-patch grows obsessed with the sound of her curtains opening and closing. She devotes herself to inventing silent drapes.

“Don’t drink the coffee,” a man says, “I just found a fish in the percolator.”

And the traffic lights. Those long, moody shots of the traffic lights changing at night on empty streets. Red, green, yellow, red.

Amazingly, it’s twenty-five years since the show premiered. I can still remember the feeling of strange anticipation I felt on Sunday nights. What would happen was the least of my questions. Chiefly I wondered, would the show get weirder this week? Would it finally veer off the rails?

Here, too, was a vision of post-Cold War life in which nothing was settled, no conflicts resolved. The world wasn’t growing more banal with “the end of history,” as Fukuyama called it in 1989. The world was instead growing more eerie. Could anything heal the unease underlying life in Twin Peaks?

Bastille-Laura_Palmer
Credit: Album cover, all rights belong to the original copyright holder.

The British band Bastille’s 2013 single Laura Palmer is a decidedly anthemic ode to Twin Peaks. It has a chorus I can’t stop singing along with. The lyrics reach out to something we can’t quite see, just like the story did. The mood is triumphant rather than uncanny, which is a bit odd given that Laura Palmer is dead. But the joy in the song reminds me of how David Lynch’s strange world was, in fact, a place of wonder. A place of cryptic joys.

This is your heart. Can you feel it? ♥

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