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Black Lamb

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This Week in Literary History

November 1st, 2014

American writer James Agee (A Death in the Family, 1957) is born in 1909 in Knoxville, Tenn.

ageebyevansJames Agee, b. November 27, 1909, d. 1955

During his lifetime Agee was known primarily as an influential film critic for The Nation. His 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families is often considered his masterpiece, but even better is his autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, for which he won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, and his screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter.

Suggested Reading Novels A Death in the Family, 1957. Non-fiction Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941. Screenplays The African Queen, 1951. The Night of the Hunter, 1954. Film criticism Agee on Film, 1948. Agee on Film II, 1952.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

This Month in Black Lamb

November 1st, 2014

In November’s issue, Terry Ross tells the truth about the town he inhabits in Not exactly Portlandia. In Putting the fun in funerals, Elizabeth Fournier describes some trends in the death industry. Toby Tompkins reviews J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf in Epic treatment. In Love’s not easy, John M. Daniel warns of some pitfalls to avoid in writing about relationships. Dan Peterson gives us another chapter in his multi-section portrait with State of Italy, part 3. And Alex Houston, M.A. Orthofer, and Brad Bigelow contribute expert reviews of four books.

We wecome operetta king William Gilbert and American writer James Agee into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis challenges us with more puzzles in declarer play. Our monthly lamb recipe is for James Beard’s classic Mushroom-stuffed Lamb Chops. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Epic treatment

November 1st, 2014

BY TOBY TOMPKINS

Beowulf, A Translation and Commentary
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Lo! The glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in days of old we have heard told, how those princes did deeds of valor.
— first line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf

The beloved author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was by profession a professor of Old and Middle English at Oxford University. In the 1920s, while a young don, he rendered Beowulf, orginally written in England during the eighth century in a Northumbrian variant of Anglo-Saxon, into modern English. But he never tried to publish it, feeling that it didn’t meet his exacting standards. In addition, he was preoccupied with his studies and scholarly publications, and later, with the lectures he delivered to his doctoral candidates on the poem and other surviving texts of Old English literature, lectures which presupposed his students’ working knowledge of Anglo-Saxon.

But he continued to tinker with the translation off and on throughout his life, seeking a version which best approximated the compressed force of the epic poem. Beowulf was written in unrhymed, strongly-stressed alliterative verse whose lines were divided into two sections of dactylic trimeter, like all Anglo-Saxon poems, but Tolkien decided from the first not to replicate that poetic form exactly in his modern version, feeling that in contemporary English it ran the risk of sounding monotonous. Instead, he wrote his translation in prose, but kept the interior stresses. The result, when read aloud — and of course Beowulf was orginally declaimed from memory at the feast-table of a king, by a bard, or scop — preserves the power of the original while impelling the reader to keep up with its swiftness and fluidity. Things happen fast in the tale, and as the commentary included in the current translation suggests, the scop probably recited all of it in the course of a single long, bibulous evening in his monarch’s mead hall.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Books and Authors, Tompkins | Link to this Entry

Last Week in Literary History

November 1st, 2014

American postmodern novelist Don DeLillo (Underworld, 1997) is born in New York City in 1936.

Don DeLillo, b. November 20, 1936

delilloFor many years thought of as a cult writer, DeLillo made a sort of breakthrough with his eighth novel White Noise in 1985, followed it up with a bestseller in 1988, and settled in as a much-honored muse to such other writers as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, and Martin Amis, all of whom exhibit their own versions of DeLillo’s encyclopedic and dark take on current events.

Suggested Reading Novels Ratner’s Star, 1976. White Noise, 1985. Libra, 1988. Mao II, 1991. Underworld, 1997.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: A Week in Literary History, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

Last Month in Black Lamb

October 1st, 2014

All-Dancing Issue

In October's special All-Dancing Issue, John M. Daniel sings the praises of Fred Astaire. Elizabeth Fournier declares herself a Dancing fool. In Two left feet, Toby Tompkins regrets that he never learned to dance very well. William Bogert remembers his most famous dance partner in The light fantastic. Clinton Wilson describes a dance of death in At the Met with Salome. Terry Ross explains the incomprehensibility of Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku in Cracking the Code. In No longer underrated, Will Mawhood reviews a collection of Elizabeth Taylor’s short stories. M.A. Orthofer reviews Lloyd Jones’s prize-winning novel Mister Pip in A Pip off the old block. And in Human little verses, Brad Bigelow goes back eighty years to look at Rebecca McCann’s Cheerful Cherub.

We also usher Günter Grass and Doris Lessing into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis proffers two more challenging hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for Rosemary Lamb Kofte. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Dancing Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The light fantastic

October 1st, 2014

BY WILLIAM BOGERT

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Black Lamb.

I am pleased to report that this year’s recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award will be Julie Andrews. It’s always nice to see a former dancing partner achieve success.

andrewsjulie copyMore than fifty years ago there appeared on Broadway a mildly amusing comedy called Anniversary Waltz. In those innocent days before the explosion of television, “mildly amusing” often equated to “modest success.” And so it seemed it would with this play. Somewhat to the surprise of all concerned, it ran for more than two years, and it was decided on the second anniversary (get it?) of their opening they would give a party.

The show was running at the Booth Theatre, which is at the corner of 45th Street and Shubert Alley, a private pathway that connects 45th to 44th, and the producers of AW invited all the casts of the shows playing those blocks to the party, which took place in the Alley after the performance of the night in question. One of those shows was the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings, in which an old friend of mine was the dance captain. Her husband was the company manager, and the party was on payroll night, so he couldn’t go. She asked me if I’d like to fill in, and I said that I thought I could find the time.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Dancing Issue, Bogert | Link to this Entry

Two months ago in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 9 — September 2014

September 1st, 2014

In September’s issue, Terry Ross looks back on the thirteen years since 9/11 in Baker’s dozen. In Make ‘em laugh, John M. Daniel gives advice on writing funny. The Green Flash is Toby Tompkins’s recreation of a day in his childhood. Elizabeth Fournier pinpoints a lifelong fixation in I love canned food. Dan Peterson gives us another installment of his view of the state of Italy. Brad Bigelow reviews a famous Sixties’ book in Geek nostalgia. Terry Ross reviews two books about a famous city in Paris times 2. We welcome Richard Wright and William Golding into our exclusive club of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis proffers two tricky game hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for an historic preparation of Irish Stew. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry

A few tips on writing funny

September 1st, 2014

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

Okay. Lessee. Okay. A guy slips on a banana peel and falls on his butt. No, wait. The guy’s all dressed up, on his way to the career interview of a lifetime, and he slips on a banana peel and falls in a steaming pile of dog feces. Make that cat feces.

Did you hear the one about the man who was so poor he was reduced to eating his own shoes?

How about the woman who reads someone else’s mail by accident, misunderstands, and thinks the man she loves is two-timing her. It breaks her heart.

This working-class married couple lives in an apartment in New York. They yell at each other constantly. Their best friends are neighbors, a couple who also yell at each other. Sometimes the two couples get together and they yell at each other. By the way, one of the men is obese, and both of the men frequently threaten their wives with violence.

So this salesman runs out of gas on a country road. A farmer takes him in for the night, but the salesman abuses the farmer’s hospitality by seducing the farmer’s teen-aged daughter, making her pregnant and ruining her life. The farmer forces the two strangers to get married at gunpoint, thereby ruining both of their lives.

There’s this starving coyote, see. His prey eludes him and he accidently runs off a cliff and falls thousands of feet to the rocks below.
A nice Italian or maybe Jewish or maybe both fruit vendor is minding his own business when a gangster, a yuppie, and a cop all bash their cars into his pushcart, destroying his inventory and scattering all the money he’s earned that week.

A homeless drunk needs to urinate so bad that he.…

STOP!

What?

That stuff isn’t funny.

Maybe I’m not telling it right. People have been laughing at this material forever.

It’s not funny. It’s sad.

I didn’t say it wasn’t sad. What do you think humor is, anyway?

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

August 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 8 — August 2014

August 1st, 2014

The All-England Issue

In this special themed issue, John M. Daniel writes about an unpublished historical novel, Willikins Rex. In Not like us, Terry Ross elucidates a few differences between English and Americans. Elizabeth Fournier examines English mourning rituals in Headstones. In Imaginary England, Toby Tompkins thanks the old country for its rich literature. Four books are reviewed by writers Brad Bigelow, Sharon Harrigan, and M.A. Orthofer. Authors Percy Bysshe Shelley and Walter Scott are added to our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis offers new maneuvers of interest. Our delicious monthly lamb recipe is for Lamb Chops Stuffed with Chicken Livers. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another tricky Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All England Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The All-England Issue

Including the fascinating story of Willikins Rex

August 1st, 2014

BY JOHN M. DANIEL

During the summer of 1961 I worked for an antiquarian bookstore in Dallas. While I was there the store acquired a Book of Common Prayer inscribed by Caroline of Brunswick to her ward, William Austin, dated Christmas 1805, Montague House, Blackheath. The store manager sent me downtown to the public library to research these people in order to put a price on this book.

What I uncovered allowed us to charge $100, which was cheap, I thought. A hundred bucks bought a lot of book back then, but this one had a royal signature and included a special prayer for the King’s health, which was touch and go at the time, to the grief of his adoring subjects and the annoyance of his heir, who was impatient for the old man to get on with the business of dying.

georgeiii*Who were these people? The King was George III (pictured), who had lost his American colonies in 1776 and who was now mad as a hatter. The heir was George, Prince of Wales, the promiscuous, over-eating scoundrel who would eventually become Prince Regent and finally King George IV. Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick was the Prince’s first cousin as well as his wife, and the person he hated most in all the world. William Austin was Caroline’s darling child, whom she adopted in 1802, when he was three months old. Little “Willikins” lived and traveled with Princess Caroline until she died in 1821.

I typed up a one-page paper relating these facts, and it was displayed in a glass case next to the book. That one page was the first of hundreds of pages I wrote about Caroline and Willikins, off and on over the next twenty years. It turned into a novel of love and hatred, insanity and cunning intrigue, manners and scandal. Fortunately for my career, my novel, Willikins Rex, never got published. I had no business attempting a historical novel, but I enjoyed the writing and the research. Along the way I bought every book I could find about Caroline and George, many of which were deliciously opinionated one way or the other about the twenty-five-year royal squabble. At this point I don’t remember how much of my novel came from research and how much I made up. I told the story from the point of view of William Austin, who was a child, and bonkers at that.

Here are a few things that really happened.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All England Issue, Daniel | Link to this Entry

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