The composer behind E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Nußknacker und Mausekönig

As this is the season of memories, joy and delight—many people include in their festivities a night at the ballet to see a remarkable staple of the holiday season: The Nutcracker. The composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, has not only given the world this perennial treasure of unforgettable ballet music (in an ironic twist, as a quintessential Russian, he also has given the United States a piece of music that is brought out every 4th of July to help us celebrate our national birthday—his stirring The Year 1812, more commonly known as the 1812 Overture). Tchaikovsky is, without doubt, considered to be one of the world’s greatest composers and one whose way with melody and emotion is almost unmatched.

This review appeared exactly 20 years ago in the December 1992 issue of The Bloomsbury Review. It will give you some insight into the man behind the music. The Nutcracker was first performed 120 years ago at the Mariinskii Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on the 18th of December, 1892.

The Final Years, 1885-1893

Norton, ISBN 0-393-030997

The clamor of our age finds little room for the truly genuine. Foolishness tends to sing a little loudly. Horrors surface with regularity on the smooth face of the television only to submerge beneath a wash of banality and a repetitive tide of raw commerce. Fifteen minutes of fame, sound-bites, 22-minute half hours, 0-60 in 6.9 seconds, USA Today, fast food, and the ubiquitous MTV and CNN—so much in a short-attention-span hurry that acronyms more than suffice—are the disposable snapshots of a quickly fading, easily forgotten, substanceless time.

The quest for those things that justify humanity’s infestation of the globe can be lonely and often unrewarding—but occasionally, in a concert hall or art gallery, on a stage or in a book (never in the halls of power and no longer in a church), enough of a flash of the divine is revealed in the flesh that the word redemption lives up to its full definition. Such is the case with the completion of David Brown’s massive four-volume biography of Tchaikovsky.

Serious musicologists often dismiss Tchaikovsky with a scoff, a disparaging wave of the hand, a mumbled comment about him not being not much more than a crowd-pleasing melody-maker who clumsily stitched his pieces together without much structural skill. Those are judgments with which Tchaikovsky, who was probably harder on himself than anyone else could be, might agree—in part—and there may be an element or two of truth in that assessment. There are, however numerous perspectives from which to judge music. There are many kinds of genius, and while Tchaikovsky may not have had the mathematically pure abilities of a Bach, the organizational inspiration of a Mozart, or the innovatively intellectual and architectural talents of a Beethoven, he was nonetheless a genius—a genius of his age and time, a genius in the literary sense of “romantic,” a genius of the emotions.

There is something about his music—and the man—that has fascinated the world for more than a century; the 100th anniversary of his death will be observed next year. Numerous books have been written about him—more than 25 volumes are in print. Any worthwhile outlet outlet carrying recordings will have bins and racks of the various recordings of Tchaikovsky’s music. Now, with the publication of Tchaikovsky: The Final Years, 1885-1893, the definitive exploration of Tchaikovsky’s fascinating life and unique music has been published.

This fourth movement, the final volume of David Brown’s magnum opus tetralogy, has been a long time in coming. Readers heard the opening strains of this piece in 1978. Even David Brown, whose original scheme called for three volumes, was surprised, it seems, when it became apparent that no less than four volumes would be necessary—and with the final volume wrapping up during the dissolution of the USSR and in the face of glasnost, who can guess how many volumes this might have run to had Brown had access to the classified Tchaikovsky archives? It boggles the mind.

The four volumes, all titled Tchaikovsky, are subtitled chronologically thus: The Early Years, 1840-1874 (Norton, 1979), The Crisis Years, 1874-1878 (Norton, 1983), and The Years of Wandering, 1878-1885 (Norton, 1986). There are two levels to each volume: The first level is the music, complete with musical notations, staffs, bars, and notes accompanied by a commentary that feasts as if it were at a gourmet buffet, lifting this particularly tasty morsel from this concerto and that delicious forkful from that symphony, and yet another heaping helping from one of Tchaikovsky’s eleven operas. All the opera and ballet discussions are accompanied by full synopses.

Final scene from the opera “Orleanskaya Deva” – “The Maid of Orleans” by Tchaikovsky

Brown is nothing if not searingly objective—and while he may be painfully condemnatory of a certain section of a piece (“some dismally trite moments”), he will, on the other hand, lead you to a totally overlooked portion and allow you to be amazed at the cleverness, beauty, originality, and, yes, genius to be found there. All the major works and a great number of the minor ones are given their due throughout all four volumes this way, the music interwoven with the life of the composer—and it is the life of Tchaikovsky that forms the second level to these volumes.

And what a life it was. Just as no one could have guessed that the child Einstein would amount to more than a hill of beans mathematically, so, too, there was not much evidence that the sensitive child Pyotr would have a career as a musical giant. Most of the biographical facts are well known to anyone even superficially interested in serious music: his homosexuality, his disastrous marriage to the decidedly unstable Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova; his relationship, entirely by letters, with his patroness, the fabulously wealthy and decidedly unstable Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck; the drug-addicted members of his family; and the melancholy that pervaded both his life and music. David Brown brings us closer than anyone ever has before to the whole man and to the dedicated, hard-working, and innovative composer.

Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck

This last volume covers the period of some of his greatest creative endeavors: The Sleeping Beauty ballet, the fascinating and quirky opera The Queen of Spades, and his last and greatest symphony, the enigmatic Pathétique. It is also the period of his greatest fame: an honorary degree from Cambridge University, his triumphant tours of Europe and America—the latter at the invitation of Andrew Carnegie to open Carnegie Hall (and where Tchaikovsky marveled at the “amazing” warmth and kindness of Americans, and at the terrifying height—”nine stories!”—of some of New York’s buildings). This is also the period when, inexplicably, Nadezhda von Meck withdrew her financial and, more importantly, her emotional support that had sustained Tchaikovsky through many a personal crisis.

One of the most valuable aspects of this final volume is Brown’s exploration of how this “most Western” of Russian composers is at the same time the “most Russian” of Western composers. Tchaikovsky’s inventive ability to meld Russian musical traditions with traditional European forms was original and ingenious and led him into creating heretofore unknown—and often, now, too imitated—musical structures.

Most of all, however, Tchaikovsky poured his emotions into his music like no composer before or since. His was an uncanny ability to hold up a mirror to his soul wherein we can see our own longings, feelings, and passions. David Brown has created a living biography of one of the world’s most valuable personages, one that can be illustrated, enhanced, and underscored with music—with the opportunity of interweaving the music, the musical examples, the history, and the background, all with the occasions of Tchaikovsky’s life—makes this a multilayered biography of genuine and unforgettable depth.

And of course the final volume deals with the myths, rumors, and speculations surrounding Tchaikovsky’s death. It is a back-and-forth argument that has gone on for years and is still unresolved: Did Tchaikovsky deliberately commit suicide, and if so, what were the circumstances?

Brown unstintingly investigates every story, report, and rumor that surround this issue—including the latest brought to the West by Alexandra Orlova and supported by hearsay from other sources. That story claims Tchaikovsky was overly interested in the nephew of Duke Stenbok-Fermor, and an accusatory letter was to be sent by the Count to the Tsar. A “court of honor” consisting of Tchaikovsky’s former colleagues from the School of Jurisprudence was allegedly convened, and it was decided that Tchaikovsky should commit suicide to save the school and the composer from disgrace. Though the issue has been a complicated one, with feelings running extremely high, this “court of honor” story has been vehemently dismissed by many scholars; most recently challenged by Alexander Poznansky, author of Tchaikovsky: Quest for the Inner Man and Tchaikovsky’s Last Days: A Documentary Study. Brown’s conclusion is that we will probably never know. There are inconsistencies in every account. Whether it was a reckless drinking of unboiled water that gave Tchaikovsky cholera or, in a fit of depression, Tchaikovsky deliberately drank the water or it was engineered by poison to appear as though his death was brought about by cholera (the same disease that killed his mother), it was a tragedy to lose at the relatively young age of 54 a talent that reached around the civilized world.

What emerges from this magnificent four-volume biography is more than a portrait of a composer. It is a lesson in listening and judgment, an exploration of one man’s life and music that humanizes both. Tchaikovsky emerges from these pages restored in the respect he deserves as a musical man of genius, as a warm and deep, thoughtful, generous, and loving human being who immeasurably enriched the world not only with his music, but also with his presence. David Brown has written a biography of genius, invaluable for scholars, yet readable, mesmerizing, objective, and fascinating. This is biography as it should be written—Tchaikovsky lives again in these pages, brought to life by the love of an honest friend.

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We have plans. Help us “Make it New.”

Ezra Pound’s famous charge, to “Make it New,” changed literary history. “Pound’s aspirations for literature were grand. He believed that bad writing destroyed civilizations and that good writing could save them … he thought that literature could enhance the appreciation of life for everyone,” as Louise Menand noted in a 2008 review of Peter Gay’s Modernism.

Menand goes on to say: Pound’s “attention and interventions helped the writers of his era and sped their careers. He edited them, reviewed them, got them published in magazines he was associated with, and included them in anthologies he compiled; he introduced them to editors, to publishers, and to patrons; he gave them the benefit of his time, [and] his learning.” In this way, Pound is much like Tom Auer (pictured above), the founder of The Bloomsbury Review.

Tom is no longer with us, sadly, but his dream still is. His sister, Marilyn, and a mighty fistful of dedicated volunteers passionately believe in that dream—and if Tom were here, there is no question but that he would urge us to do exactly as we intend to do: Make it New.

The past year has been an annus horribilis in many ways, including lack of advertising support from publishers—in spite of our 33-year history of promoting excellent books that other review media have ignored or overlooked, and in spite of publishers’ regular use of our excellent writers’ reviews as blurbs to promote their books. Our duty to those books and the authors of those books remains unchanged, unshakable, and clear, however, and we intend to find a way for those deserving books and authors to receive their due attention. Economic realities in book publishing are what they are in these times. We are a creative crew and we will find a way.

In a tribute to The Bloomsbury Review and on the occasion of a recent anniversary, Pat Schroeder, then President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers said,

The Bloomsbury Review is cause for celebration by anyone who cares about books and literature. At a time when newspapers and magazines across the country are cutting back on their book review pages, The Bloomsbury Review has become a national treasure.

We are determined to continue to live up to that praise, and you can help. Your generosity will allow us to get out the next print issue, which is on the boards, and will help to take The Bloomsbury Review into the future as well. We will Make it New by also taking the magazine online, and restructuring and reshaping TBR into a new way of being—not only for the sake of TBR but also for those new books and writers who are waiting in the wings needing a champion.

We wish we didn’t have to ask. The viral e-mail campaign has kept various wolves from the door—and we are grateful beyond words for that support—but there is another pack of wolves just down the hall. We have reviews to publish and books and authors to serve.

In the meantime, we are diligently working to reconfigure TBR into a 21st-century entity while remaining true to our mission and purpose. We have plans to make our current offerings more readily available. We have a remarkable 33 years of unique literary treasures found nowhere else—including in-depth interviews with people as diverse as the Dalai Lama and Barry Moser, and with authors such as Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk, Leon Uris, Carolyn Forché, J.P. Donleavy, Linda Hogan, Sherman Alexie, Harlan Ellison, Philip Levine, Jane Hirschfield, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Gary Snyder, Thomas McGuane, Louise Erdrich, Ted Kooser, Maxine Hong Kingston, Barry Lopez, and hundreds more—all of which we intend to make more easily accessible online.

We’ll be sharing those steps with you here as we move forward with our resolutely ambitious plans. And we are working on creating new fiscal ways to survive so we don’t have to come to you again and again for your help and support. But we need you now—more than ever—to keep alive this singular dream that is The Bloomsbury Review.

Please, contribute what you can—either through the Paypal link at the bottom of the page, by calling us at 1-800-783-3338, or via mail to: The Bloomsbury Review, 1553 Platte Street–Suite 206, Denver, CO 80202. We know there are many, many worthy places to give your charitable donations, and places that can give you a tax deduction (which we can’t offer as yet—that’s another change we are working on), but The Bloomsbury Review is a one-of-a-kind magazine “Celebrating and Serving Literature” as no other entity does.

As the First Lady recently said,

We believe strongly that the arts aren’t somehow an “extra” part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life. It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and we express our hopes for the future. Our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not. They expand our understandings, and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways. It’s through this constant exchange—this process of taking and giving, this process of borrowing and creating—that we learn from each other and we inspire each other.

We hope you will see the existence and the future of The Bloomsbury Review as we do: as something essential, necessary, and at the heart of our cultural life. For Tom’s dream and ours, for our past and our future, for writers past, present, and for those waiting to be heard from—we hope you can help and we hope you will join us as we move ahead and inspire each other.

(And if you should care to make a contribution as a gift in someone else’s name—contact us and we will see that they receive a special Thank You notice from us telling them of your generosity.)

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The Cost of Ethics…

Friends, followers, and fans of The Bloomsbury Review are aware of, and have been inspired to act on our current email viral fund-raising effort. We are encouraged by the early response, and grateful beyond measure to those who have responded—not only with their donations, but by enthusiastically spreading the word to their friends, fellow bibliophiles, and to like-minded organizations beyond as well.

To say that Blooms is an act of love for everyone involved is an understatement as large as the mountain ranges we can see out of our office window. It began as a simple idea over 30 years ago: To review those eminently worthwhile books overlooked by other review media. “Profit” has never been a motivating factor. It’s a magazine founded and sustained by people who love discovering new books off the beaten path, and who love the authors and poets who struggle with their art and craft to bring us something different, new, and fresh beyond the usual formulaic literary fare.

We’ve also been fortunate in that Blooms has acted as an enticingly warm flame that has drawn in superb, knowledgeable, highly-qualified writers from around the world who have believed in our simple mission, who have then turned around and faithfully crafted for us—without compensation—brilliant book reviews and unique author profiles and interviews because they share this vision. Many of those same writers have gone on to develop a literary career of their own. Volunteers (like me) and dedicated young interns—without compensation—take on a myriad of tasks to pull each issue together. Why? For the same reason: We share the same desire to explore literary landscapes beyond the well-trod.

So much for that—the point is that good reviews about good books from The Bloomsbury Review are different than what you might find elsewhere. Many people are not aware that some “book review magazines” receive compensation from either authors or publishers to have their books reviewed. The Bloomsbury Review has never done that—nor has it ever been considered. Reviews are crafted from the cloth of integrity. Furthermore, Blooms won’t accept a review—even from one of our long-time contributors—if the reviewer knows the author of the book, even casually. No one can buy a review with any coin. Reviews in The Bloomsbury Review can be trusted.

Every day books come through the door—and every day for over 30 years books have come through the door, in the mail, via UPS, via FedEx, from the hands of publishers, publishers’ representatives, publicity offices, and writers around the world. Thousands of books. Many thousands. The Bloomsbury Review has never sold a single review copy to any outside source. Not one. What doesn’t get reviewed goes to charitable organizations.

In short, The Bloomsbury Review is honest. A proven honesty born out of a pure love for books. There are ways that Blooms could have bent the rules to sustain itself over these past 30+ years—but it has chosen a path grounded in ethics. Reviews from Blooms have been highly-valued, welcomed, and trusted by publishers—you will often find excerpts from reviews published in our pages on book jackets and covers. But in these uncertain times, publishers have cut down on advertising—which over the history of The Bloomsbury Review has been the financial engine that has made it possible to get each issue out the door.

We have new plans and new ideas to make Blooms even better and more self-sustaining—but in the interim, please join in the viral email fundraising effort mentioned above and give us a hand so that The Bloomsbury Review can continue to grow and bring you the best—and most honest—book reviews and author interviews you will find anywhere. The cost of our idealism and ethics has been high, but it wouldn’t be The Bloomsbury Review had it been done any other way.

Should you be willing to join us in this campaign, our gratitude would fall in the category of eternal.

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A grassroots plan to keep The Bloomsbury Review going—from Alice Auer Connor

Alice Auer Connor is the sister of Tom Auer, founder of The Bloomsbury Review, and sister to our current Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn Auer. She is currently spearheading a grassroots viral e-mail campaign on behalf of the magazine. Below is the text of the email she has been sharing with many of the fans and friends of Blooms, asking them to spread the word and share it throughout the internet wherever they can. We would be deeply grateful if you would cut-and-paste it and email it to your friends and/or organizations who might also want to help us in our hour of need, or direct them via a link to this blog post.

For whatever you might be able to do, “Thank you” is too pale a phrase to convey the resplendence of our gratitude.

Dear Book Lover and Friend,

I am starting a grassroots effort to preserve one of our national literary treasures, The Bloomsbury Review. It is a small, beautifully written quarterly magazine about what is new and upcoming in the book world, focusing on the work of new and seasoned writers. It has been advertising supported for the last 33 years, but as we all know, advertising dollars are severely limited these days. We have loyal readers and followers—it is to you that I am reaching out today and to your friends who read. I am an avid book lover and reader and average about $40 per month in book purchases.

As these times are so very difficult for the arts, I am asking that you please donate $40 one time to The Bloomsbury Review, to keep the magazine open, to keep my sister Marilyn, the editor and publisher, working her special kind of magic for the written-word artists in our world today. If this amount of money is not comfortable for you, please send what you can. The bare-bones budget won’t change. It will remain the same.

My grassroots effort is a one-time deal—no gifts, no monthly pledges, no gimmicks, no fundraisers to go to, just a cyberspace one-person-at-a-time effort to keep a needed voice for literature alive.

Please send this email and our message to your friends who read and love books and may wish to help. You could also attach your own message and reason for forwarding it. Thanks.

If you wish to donate by check, please make it out to The Bloomsbury Review and send it to 1553 Platte St, Suite 206, Denver, CO 80202-1167. If you would like the convenience of a credit-card donation please call the office at 303-455-3123, or use the Paypal button below. This is not tax deductible, but it is good karma.

We appreciate your help and send our best wishes,

Alice Auer Connor

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“Writing Wrongs in Writing Books” by Ed Quillen

“Colorado has lost one of its most thoughtful and colorful characters,” Denver Post editorial-page editor Curtis Hubbard said. “For decades, Ed’s humor and keen eye shed light for Denver Post readers on topics ranging from our current politics to the state’s rich history.”

Ed Quillen was a character in the full sense of the word—and a wordsmith of the first order, often contributing to The Bloomsbury Review–reviewing approximately 80 books for us over the years. And when he wielded his words, he took no prisoners, whether he was writing his columns for The Denver Post (which he did for years), or in any of the dozens of other outlets that welcomed his unique talent and singular voice.

We are pleased to bring you an exceptional piece, which appeared in the September 1984 issue of The Bloomsbury Review“Writing Wrongs in Writing Books: “How to Write” Right Rules Are Too Soon Broken.” Even over the space of almost 30 years, his remarkable insight, humor, and wisdom shines through every paragraph. Our world has lost a one-of-a-kind voice.

Craftsmanship is as important to good writing as it is to good carpentry or good bricklaying. And like those skills, literary craftsmanship can be taught. Some of it can be learned from books, although a good editor will teach more than a dozen libraries. But the best writing demonstrates more than mere skill with the language; it is inspired stuff. The prime rule of writing, after all, is not “Write what you know” or “Spell correctly” or “Query first”; it is “Have something to say.”

This fundamental truth appears in only two of the sixty writing manuals, stylebooks, guides, grammars, dictionaries, documentations, thesauruses, quotation collections, and handbooks that burden the shelves above my keyboard. One is The Lively Art of Writing by Lucile Vaughan Payne. Aimed at beginners, her book is simple and clear. Unfortunately, it is often employed as a text for college composition classes. Great manuals, like great novels, suffer horribly when they are press ganged into service as required reading.

The other is The Writer’s Art by James J. Kilpatrick, the syndicated conservative columnist. No matter how I fume at Kilpatrick’s politics, I always enjoy his style, a blend of E.B. White whimsy and H.L. Mencken calumny. Ever a craftsman, Kilpatrick fits every word into place after testing to insure that it is the best word. Here he illustrates the process with a draft-by-draft explication of one elegant paragraph. With the examples come precepts: “The Things We Ought to Be Doing,” “The Things We Ought Not to Do,” and “My Crotchets and Your Crotchets.”

Kilpatrick pleases, delights, and instructs. As a fellow conservative, at least in matters of usage, I find little to quarrel with. His advice on handling sexist language is the best to date for the writer who must serve his inner ear while placating ardent feminists. That alone is worth the price. Or, if you’re as poor as most working writers, then it’s worth the embarrassment of standing in the bookstore aisle and peeking at pages 89-92.

The only flaw here is the fault found in all other such books. Kilpatrick doesn’t always follow his own advice. Of the despicable use of “author” as a verb, he writes that it “should be put on a high, dark shelf.” But a few pages later, he notes that he and former Senator Eugene J. McCarthy “co-authored” a political bestiary. He warns us to abide by trademarks like Xerox and Kleenex, but he then writes of “playing Scrabble.” No matter how noble his intentions, that will bring Kilpatrick a letter from the Selchow & Righter Corp., advising that one does not play “Scrabble”; one plays “the Scrabble-brand crossword game.” Kilpatrick tells us to check everything. Then he describes Mr. Hobson of “Hobson’s Choice” as “a New England innkeeper.” Thomas Hobson, who received two epitaphs from John Milton after his death in 1631, rented horses in Cambridge—Cambridge, England, not Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kilpatrick insists that we think about stupid locutions, so that we do not write illogical phrases such as “centered around,” but then he says a book “has some startling omissions.” Just how can anything have an omission, if an omission is what something doesn’t have?

But Kilpatrick entertains as he instructs, so his few sins are easy to forgive. It requires a saint to absolve Theodore A. Rees Cheney and his Getting the Words Right. Cheney fights the good fight, urging writers to apply broadaxes and scalpels to tautologies, pleonasms, prolixity, intrusions, mixed metaphors, and the other weaknesses of the flesh. Sound as his advice is, it reads like a dated translation of the Poetics of Aristotle. And Cheney cannot follow his own rules.

Cheney points out that an easy way to improve one’s writing is never to start sentences with “there” followed by a form of “to be.” Now try the beginnings of three consecutive paragraphs: “There are many tautological phrases … ” “There is another, frequently unneeded word … ” “There are some tautologies … ” Like all writing mentors he abhors cliches–in other people’s work. He says some writing can be “dull as dishwater.” The author advises writers to know their grammar, but he insists that “many trips there” in “I wrote about polar regions after many trips there” is a subordinate clause. Things may have changed, but clauses once required verbs. I could go on and on and on, but this exercise soon plunges from sport into dismay.

The “improve your writing” authors commit mere misdemeanors. The “make a mint with your writing” books commit felonies. Even so, The Self-Publishing Manual should be required for every writer; it explains more about the publishing industry than a lifetime subscription to The Writer and a decade of workshops. I wish I’d had it during my unprofitable forays into the publishing business; I might well have stayed in business if I’d known what Dan Poynter tells here.

Even if the writer considers himself an artist above the mundane demands of commerce and has no more desire to get into the publishing business than he has to edit a confession magazine, he needs the information in this book. It’s written for would-be publishers; and the writer should know the enemy’s stratagems for paying as little as humanly possible for writing. It explains where ISBN’s come from. It details the process from inspiration (what’s likely to sell) to wholesale discounts. And true to form, the author fails to follow his own advice.

Poynter goes into useful detail about the mechanics of converting an idea into an attractive book. Writers should know the process, even if they never see a printing press. But Poynter’s grasp of technology slips; he says “Photos taken from other magazines and books have already been screened and may be pasted right on to the boards.” That may be true, but their highlights will turn chalky, and their shadows will bleed into smudges; they will look like hell, and he should mention that. His explanation of type measures is inaccurate; a font size is not the height of the capital letter. Poynter stresses good grammar, then offers this clause: “the contents is out of date.” He confuses totally the difference between editing—how you improve a manuscript before it is set in type—and proofing or proofreading—how you correct a manuscript after it is set in type. This confusion could lead to no end of arguments between an aspiring self-publisher and the typesetting company. When it’s time to promote the book, the author says the advertisements should contain order coupons with prices. He follows with this:

When drafting ads, don’t say:“California residents please add 6% sales tax.” This is a sure way to lose sales. Your potential buyer is not a mathematician and he may be embarrassed if he doesn’t know how to figure percentages. Just ask for so many cents for sales tax. For example: “Californians please add 54¢ sales tax.”

Sound advice, but does he follow it? The order form on the back page of The Self-Publishing Manual says “Californians: please add 6% sales tax.”

Even so, if you’re interested in publishing your own book, this is the one to get. Avoid all others; most are like How to Self-Publish Your Book & Have the Fun & Excitement of Being a Best-Selling Author. A writer can commit two unpardonable sins. He can bore his readers, or he can mislead them. This one does both. Like many other products aimed at writers, it preys on a weakness found in almost all would-be writers—the belief that anyone can get rich quickly without working. Writers certainly aren’t the only victims of this most American of urges, but they must be the most gullible. Look through any magazine for writers. How many advertisements offer quick riches, usually involving work-at-home schemes that have more to do with mail fraud than literature? In the most recent edition of Writer’s Digest, I find advertisements for bumper sticker printing devices, telemarketing services, T-shirt printeries, drop-shipment services, and dozens of ways to become a millionaire through mail order. Marketing by mail is what most self-publishing guides are really about. There’s the chance you might learn something if you can stomach the prose. I, for one, refuse to believe that I can improve my writing or my income if I keep reading phrases like “How Would You Then Maximize Your Success Using Your Creative Talent?” and “Hopefully, you’ll write an excellent ad.”

Enough, enough. English syntax offers so many chances for error that no one totally masters it. I’ve had my fun here. Any of the authors I’ve criticized, should he feel the impulse to retaliate in kind, will find absurd flaws in my writing.

Kilpatrick offers the joy of writing, the joy of doing something well, and knowing that it is good. That he and many lesser writers cannot always follow their own precepts merely illustrates how difficult it can be to make one word come after another, and then to make something that resides in your mind appear in someone else’s. That it happens at all is a sort of miracle. When it’s done well, it touches on the divine.

Kilpatrick comes close to that exalted plane and may have reached it. In a few years, I’ll be able to tell you whether his counsel has earned a position of trust and frequent use on my reference shelf.

If it does, it will join an excellent explanation of good writing, the previously mentioned The Lively Art of Writing by Lucile Vaughan Payne. No other book sets forth the principles of prose half so clearly. Many extoll William Zinsser’s On Writing Well for the same purpose. Zinsser entertains better; Payne is more instructive. It’s a matter of personal preference, and I prefer Payne.

For guidance on usage, many swear by Fowler’s A Dictionary of English Usage. Those who don’t will turn to Follett’s Modern American Usage or Partridge’s Usage & Abusage or Bergen and Cornelia Evans’ A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage or, heaven-forbid, Rudolph Flesch’s The ABC of Style. I have them all, yet I most often reach for The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage by the late Theodore M. Bernstein. He organizes better, he explains more clearly, and he can be correct and precise without being stuffy and pedantic. If I could have only one usage guide, it would be his.

There remains the classic, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. It has been praised so often and so eloquently that I can add nothing to the list of its virtues. I cherish and respect it. As I wrote this, I was tempted to see if they followed their own rules, but that would be like guzzling Wild Turkey or peeking under a nun’s dress. No, it would be worse. Some things really are sacred.

From The Bloomsbury Review, September, 1984—Volume 4/Issue 6
Photograph courtesy of Sean Cayton, Cayton Photography.

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If you are not yet a subscriber to The Bloomsbury Review, you can subscribe here. If you are interested in advertising, more information can be found here and for authors and publishers, here. And if you are already a friend of Blooms, and you would like to make a contribution to help enable us to continue our historical work, you can do that here. We are grateful for your continued interest in and your continuing support of our decades of serving and celebrating literature.

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An Out-of-Bounds Essay: “On Chekhov”

Here’s what some of Chekhov’s people do. In a graveyard, they help an actor find the obscure grave of the man who led him to become an actor and whom he hated for having done that. They write letters in secret by candlelight and then drop them into a mailbox addressed “to grandfather in the village.” They take long journeys over the unending steppe in a post-chaise without springs. They wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake listening to the far-away watchman tapping, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. They fall in love properly, for the first time in their life, only when their hair is gray. They express surprise at the appetite of the dog that has just eaten three kittens. They wonder if the landrail is more at home in Russia or in some other country. They are led by their love for another to forgive her the many misspellings and lapses in punctuation in her letters. They get drunk and tell each other secrets that they immediately regret having spoken aloud. They argue about whether life imprisonment is more humane than being sentenced to death. They dream about how nice it would be to break into some rich man’s house. They put on great-coats and caps before going out into the cold. They see the sunrise for the first time in their lives on the morning of a duel. They play vint for hours, or play the piano so their guests might dance. They make up nicknames for each other: names like Tit or Radish or Forty Martyrs. They say that they’ve beaten a horse to death with their fists. They make the sign of the cross and bend over to kiss a loved one lying in a coffin. They play softly on a balalaika.

© Halvard Johnson, New York City, NY

The “Out-of-Bounds Essay” is a unique feature that appears regularly in The Bloomsbury Review. Each is an imaginary work of nonfiction, “out-of-bounds” only in the sense that they are not necessarily tied to anything specific in the magazine, neither tied to a review, an interview, nor a pre-determined editorial theme. If it should, it is the beauty of serendipity at play only. One of our long-time contributing editors, Reamy Jansen, oversees and edits the feature, asking his essayists for “fresh, offbeat, nonfiction prose that assays boundaries of fiction/nonfiction,” encouraging the writer to “even leap over” those boundaries, if she or he will. The single caveat is “no more than 300 words.” An Out-of-Bounds Essay is simply the literary equivalent of a musical prelude—a short work that ideally takes the reader on a small journey into what Emily Dickinson would call in her singular way, a “revery.”

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If you are not yet a subscriber to The Bloomsbury Review, you can subscribe here. If you are interested in advertising, more information can be found here and for authors and publishers, here. And if you are already a friend of Blooms, and you would like to make a contribution to help enable us to continue our historical work, you can do that here. We are grateful for your continued interest in and your continuing support of our decades of serving and celebrating literature.

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Bloomin’ Good News for Authors, Publishers, and Advertising

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, after Alice’s frightful telescoping followed immediately by her dizzying diminution, she finds herself soaked in a pool of her own tears. On scrabbling to safety, the courteous Mouse offers to dry her with the driest thing he knows: the story of William the Conqueror. Perhaps more arid than the story of William the Conqueror, Mouse might have regaled her with the statistics on book publishing. As you are (hopefully) comfortably dry reading this—and as I have just indulged myself with this excuse and opportunity to revisit Lewis Carroll’s story again—I’ll refrain from boring you at length with those desiccated statistics and swiftly shrink to the point: Readers were inundated with over 1.1 million new titles published in 2011 alone.

There is a way for authors and publishers to keep their collective heads above this pool of tears however. The Bloomsbury Review has initiated an Author Advertising Program—which offers reasonable display advertising rates to authors with the desire to increase attention for their books, new and/or old.

Many established publishers have tested this new Author Advertising Program, welcomed it, and worked with us and their authors to take advantage of this by designing ads for authors wanting to expand the reach of information about their books. We (and the authors) are grateful for their help and cooperation in expanding the authors’ ability to speak to our legions of ardent readers. And, if need be, we can help in the production of your ad.

As we say in our Mission Statement, “We want our readers to discover fascinating new books.” It’s as easy as contacting the marketing department, and we will send you the necessary information to take advantage of our new program and work with you in alerting the thousands of Bloomsbury readers around the world about your book.

These financial times are forcing publishers, rightly or wrongly, to slash not only marketing budgets—but marketing staff —meaning not only less advertising but less publicity as well. In light of that, as we are all in this together: authors, publishers, and readers, it seemed only proper to devise a fresh new path in advertising: Affordable display advertising rates directly to authors and for authors who want to raise the profile of and increase attention for their books. The simple fact is, no one can buy a book they don’t know is available—and that is what advertising is all about, after all.

The Bloomsbury Review has spent over 31 years searching out and championing authors who deserve attention—particularly those excellent writers and thinkers who may not receive notice in the limited space of other review media, as well as those fine authors who may not otherwise receive the marketing muscle that publishers tend to reserve for their bestselling authors. Seeking out those unsung books and deserving authors has always been our mission—and will continue to be our mission.

Our readership is loyal—and worldwide. If you are an author, or the friend of an author who is in need of greater exposure, or a publisher who recognizes what a boon this can be for everyone involved, contact the marketing department. We can help with special prices, and send you information about available sizes and specifications.

The Washington Post Book World called The Bloomsbury Review “a leading publication, wholly, even zealously devoted to literature.” Pat Schroeder, Former President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers said “The Bloomsbury Review is cause for celebration by anyone who cares about books and literature. At a time when newspapers and magazines across the country are cutting back on their book review pages TBR has become a national treasure!” We think it’s a splendid place to be seen.

Your Book, Your Baby & the Cold, Cruel World.

It’s written, it’s born, it’s nurtured, it’s published, it’s out there on its own. Now what? Give it all the support you can. Tell the world what your book has to offer and where it can be ordered. Don’t leave your baby out in the cold. Contact The Bloomsbury Review and let us help you put your book into welcoming hands.

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If you are not yet a subscriber to The Bloomsbury Review, you can subscribe here. If you are already a friend of Blooms, and you would like to make a contribution to help enable us to continue our historical work, you can do that here. We are grateful for your continued interest in and your continuing support of our decades of serving and celebrating literature.

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Save the University of Missouri Press: Petition

A few days ago, we posted on our Facebook page the sad news that the University of Missouri Press has been instructed to close its doors. An insightful story behind that ill-considered decision can be found here. But John Henry Newman, in his famous lectures on “The Idea of a University,” said that a university, “is a school of knowledge of every kind…a place for the communication and circulation of thought.” And in that “every kind” and in that “place” for communication, for almost every major university in the United States, that has included one of its most valuable resources: a publishing entity.

The Association of American University Presses (AAUP), in a statement outlining the virtues and values of a university press, says that they “perform services that are of inestimable value to the scholarly establishment—researchers, teachers, librarians and the rest of the university community—but also to the broader world of readers, and ultimately to society itself.”

Most university presses must rely on some sort of subsidy to survive, but put next to the amounts that universities spend on the not-quite-so-intellectual pursuits of their athletic programs, these subsidies are genuinely minuscule. Over the years, The Bloomsbury Review has reviewed hundreds of outstanding, excellent general-interest books from university presses (almost always universally overlooked by the rest of the review media)—including fiction and poetry as well as nonfiction—and we’ve been fortunate enough to have many fine students from the University of Missouri do internships here.

The university press is an important American institution, consistently doing remarkable, significant, invaluable work. There is a petition on a special “Save the University of Missouri Press” Facebook page. We hope that you will join us in helping try to undo this deeply tragic decision.

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“Calling for a Change of Heart”

Twenty years may at times seem long ago. But a careful examination of this interview by John Keeble with Derrick Jensen about his classic book Out of the Channel published in 1991, dealing with the Exxon Valdez oil spill is a classic example of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” unfortunately. It’s also a classic example of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If the wisdom demonstrated in this interview had been put into practice then, where might we be now? Too many of the truths revealed in this interview are still shockingly real. Looking back at interviews from the past can be illuminating, if sometimes frightening. This one, particularly, gives us a reason to look hard at the present—and more importantly, it gives us hard reasons to look at the future.

An interview with John Keeble by Derrick Jensen

As I drove to meet John Keeble, my car hit a bird, a red-shafted flicker. There was a flash of orange, a flutter of wings, and then it was over. I stopped the car and watched the bird die, then sadly drove on. I wasn’t sad because it died, but because it brought home what inevitably happens when modern culture meets the natural world.
The natural world is dying simply because it’s in our way. The spotted owl lives in forests we measure in board-feet, so it’s got to go. We value cheap electricity more than animal life, and the sockeye salmon are in our way.

On March 24, 1989, Blight Reef in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska happened to be in the way of the Exxon Tanker, Valdez. The tanker grounded and spilled 11 million gallons of oil. The leading edge of that spill eventually traveled more than 450 linear miles, soiling beaches and suffocating every living thing in its path. It is estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 otters died in that spill, and more than 575,000 birds.

In his book, Out of the Channel, John Keeble examines the chain of destruction set off by the Valdez spill, and tries to understand its causes, which go beyond the simple culpability of Captain Hazelwood, and even beyond Exxon’s purely economic view of the world, to embrace our entire culture. He also examines the effects of the spill on the local communities, both human and natural.
Keeble is the the author of four works of fiction, most recently Broken Ground, and is a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. This interview was conducted over three weeks in April 1991.

The Bloomsbury Review: Why did you write Out of the Channel?

John Keeble: Outrage. But one thing that struck me when I first went up there was the paradox of the whole situation. The oil spill was out of control. There was an irony between the fact that the oil was out of control and all the rational talk about it. The same thing happened in the Persian Gulf in an even more horrifying form. Schwartzkopf talked of 100,000 Iraqi dead. Birds were dropping out of the sky in Kuwait City because of burning oil wells.

TBR: The book seems to be about systems. Even the title, Out of the Channel, has to do not only with ocean channels, but bureaucratic channels.

JK: Yes. For example, VECO, the primary cleanup subcontracting company, had two subsidiaries, one of which was union, the other nonunion. Each would not accept the other’s recovered oil. That is the kind of absurdity we encountered daily.

TBR: Even from the beginning, everyone except the locals seemed to be more interested in setting up systems than in actually accomplishing anything.

JK: Many of the Exxon Employees were absolutely mortified by what happened. Frank Iarossi [then Exxon’s head of shipping] was one of them. One of the things that separated him from some others is that he was there and he got out of his closet, made a point of seeing what it was like. What I understand from people who worked closely with him is that this made a difference. Maybe the problem was not the employees of Exxon. Maybe they were scapegoats, just as Hazelwood was a scapegoat.

So to get to the point, we’re not necessarily talking about the failures of individuals so much as we are about the failures of systems. The individuals fail, I guess, when they refuse to question the system they are operating within, even when it becomes apparent there is something terribly wrong. And then the next problem is, how do you manage to shake people loose, or how do people manage to shake themselves loose?

WE’VE LOST OUR CAPACITY to keep big corporations accountable, to insist on their accountability.

TBR: Doesn’t it say in the Declaration of Independence that is our duty to fight against an oppressive government? What about an oppressive system?

JK: As a matter of principle, I would have to say that it is the duty of the individual to fight against an oppressive system. And the level of cooperation that exists between federal and state governments and large private corporations amounts to an oppressive system. It’s really difficult, though, for us to take the effects of the oppression seriously on a day-to-day level, because we Americans are living in a state of relative comfort.

TBR: So where are we headed?

JK: I have an answer to that in two parts: We’re in a position where we’re beginning to see quite clearly the warning signs of a world that is slipping away. The signs are becoming increasingly dramatic. It has to do with mass culture, and the way that human beings are really vermin on earth. We’re like rats in all the nooks and crannies. It’s really out of control. So as a response to that, societies tend to fall into totalitarian or repressive systems as a way of trying to control it. But it’s getting away from us in terms of pollution on the one hand and devastation of armies and peoples and cities and cultures on the other hand.

TBR: And individual psyches.

JK: And individual psyches, on a massive scale. These are the early warning signs of a system that is starting to slip away. We are losing our ability—I almost said “grip,” but that is not the word I want to use—our ability to maintain balance.

TBR: So we’re in for more of the same.

JK: Until a new balance is found or an old balance is restored. I would prefer the old balance with every bone in my body, but there’s a part of my brain that tells me that won’t happen.

Part two, then, is how do we conduct ourselves. There are a number of stages one can go through. The first stage is to try to be like some of the people I observed in Alaska, people who were faced, particularly in the early stages of the spill, with what they thought might be the end of their lives as they knew it. They had the capacity to contain the horrifying contrarieties, or the paradoxes they were presented with, yet to continue to conduct themselves in a positive way. That’s the first step. What some of us need to do, who aren’t faced with this directly, is to conduct ourselves as if we were faced with it. From there you go on to community action, so long as you can continue to act with some kind of hope.

TBR: Somehow it seems easier to conduct yourself in a positive way when you’re not associated with a system.

JK: Systems tend to create patterns. Patterns reduce the fluidity with which one can interact with the world. But then you have a practical problem, which is—the level of the population being what it is—how are you going to deliver fuel on the necessary scale? I don’t have the solution, but I think one exists. Ken Adams, a vice-president of Cordova Fisherman United, asked, “When do the oil companies become accountable, and when do companies undergo a change of heart?” When they do, then the number of spills will be drastically reduced. No amount of Coast Guard regulation, no number of double-hulled ships will matter until the oil companies have a change of heart.

TBR: But if a company does have a change of heart, won’t it become economically inefficient and be replaced?

JK: What we could do about that is very clear. We could say we’re not going to buy Exxon fuel until Exxon becomes accountable as a company. Then when we have an agreement with Exxon, and we are convinced they are going to follow it, we could move on to Texaco. The strategies for doing something about the situation are very simple. The problem is not figuring out how to do something about it, but getting enough people to have a change of heart themselves to something about it. Maybe that’s the purpose of the book.

TBR: Where does capitalism fit into all this?

JK: What is capitalism? Do you mean international superproprietors? What I witnessed in Alaska was the tremendous gap between energetic, ambitious people and the power of monopoly. And the incredibly devastating effect, not only economically but also spiritually, a monopoly can have on an independent ambitious people. What we’re seeing in this fifty-year microstep of history is that we’ve lost our capacity to keep big corporations accountable, to insist on their accountability.

TBR: I thought your treatment of Hazelwood, captain of the Valdez, was more fair than any other treatment I’ve seen. And more complex.

JK: Hazelwood was used as a scapegoat. The trick is to allow yourself to perceive the complexity of things as fully as possible, for the sake of truthfulness. And at the same time to not allow the complexity to paralyze you.

When I write I have to the job I have to do. I can try to be simple, but when the problems are complicated, it’s wrong not to try and capture the complexity.

One of the things I’m really trying to communicate is the necessity not to accept oversimplified versions of complicated problems. That certainly has become the norm. As a result we have political campaigns based upon the American flag the perverse use of unfortunate people, like the criminal Willie Horton. Those kinds of symbols are used to replace information.

In some ways, particularly as it applies to information, our society is totalitarian. It leads, as Kunders says, to a lightness of being. The flag, Willie Horton, Hazelwood—those symbols are very lightweight. Whereas to try to take in the sometimes contradictory, sometimes difficult-to-comprehend reality, makes one heavy. And we have to accept some of the heaviness.

ONE OF THE THINGS I WOULD HOPE READERS WOULD THINK ABOUT is how to address the problem of information. And how they can conduct their lives in a way that will be effective.

TBR: Tell me your idea on sound bites and the medium of television.

JK: When I was researching, I traveled between Alaska and Spokane because it was cheaper. As a result, I would see the outside coverage, and frequently there seemed to be very little connection between what I had seen and what was being presented on television. The print journalists were, in general, more accurate, and some of them very good, very impressive, both in person and in terms of results. TV journalism up there, on the other hand, was abrasive, aggressive, and destructive, I felt. The you come down here and see these sound bites, which are so fragmentary in their presentation that they are untrue.

It’s all very thin. We have to hope that the thinness of the information people are allowing to pass into them, that the thinness of the kind of entertainment that people are indulging themselves in, the thinness of so much of our so-called literature, and that the thinness of human relations will take us to a point of exhaustion, and that we will then turn to something else.

The first settlement between Alaska, the federal government, and Exxon broke down. One of the primary causes, I suspect, was the arrogance of Larry Rawls when the settlement was first announced. In effect, he said, “It’s a good settlement because it won’t affect our profit margin, nor will it affect the take of our shareholders.” And that’s absolutely correct from his vantage point. But the callousness, arrogance, and stupidity of that statement is quite extraordinary. He is callous, and his callousness is systemic. I don’t think you’d have to back him against the wall to fix him. I think you could just drop him somewhere, and let him figure out how to build a fire to keep warm. It would put him in touch with something besides his stockholders and his desk.

The final irony to this story is that even after the public outcry and after the overturning of the settlement by a federal judge in Alaska, a new version of the settlement went through a few months later with essentially the same provisions.

TBR: What response do you hope for from readers?

JK: That they will be conscious of the incompleteness of the information they receive. Behind the information about various things, like catastrophes and wars, is a great deal more complexity than they are led to believe. It is very likely that there is a great deal of heavy-duty political and economic maneuvering going on behind the scenes that they’re not going to be aware of unless they look closely into the story.

One of the reasons why information, if you can call it that, is allowed to remain so incomplete is that we have to continue to conduct our lives. If we start chasing all these various intrigues and political fiascos, we might need to spend most of our lives doing that. So one of the things I would hope readers would think about is how to address the problem of information. And how they can conduct their lives in a way that will be effective. One of the most compelling things in Prince William Sound was the powerlessness of the communities. And set against that is the fact that the Native people and the fishing people are very self-reliant, and were very willing to do things, both mechanically in terms of the oil spill and in terms of trying to inform the public of what was actually going on. Yet ultimately, I think, in the face of the economic power of Exxon and the ties that the petroleum industry has with government, the communities are at an incredible disadvantage. That’s one of the major problems of this country that we need to deal with: how to find a way to return power to communities.

TBR: Do you see any way to do that?

JK: I see a couple of ways, but they would require a tremendous amount of work and a serious change in our way of thinking. The quickest way to accomplish it is to have a national catastrophe. That sounds terrible, but as long as people who managed to stay alive through it stayed alert and of good heart, that would be the quickest way. The other way would be to try to reform the system. I suppose we could have a series of setbacks which were not on the level of a national catastrophe. I think there was a moment in the first couple months following the oil spill when something on the order of a political reformation in the state of Alaska was very near to happening, because the truth about shipping practices was suddenly evident to all. It was briefly possible for community people to see all the nooks and crannies the oil companies and government had managed to fill, and out of which they had to be leveraged. The longer the clean-up went on, though, and the more Exxon took control, the more obscure the nooks and crannies became.

TBR: We seem to be on an information treadmill. How do we catch up? A person could devote his life to the study of one very small field…

JK: The publishing industry is not cooperating. There’s a relationship here between capitalism and the way in which information is handled. Particularly when there are capitalist institutions which have tremendous power, because then any information that comes under their purview is going to have spin to it. It swerves lightly in the air. In the publishing industry, there are now a very small number of very large companies.

When we get to the point where the industrial and economic monoliths have either direct or indirect control over information, then our society will have locked up. We’re very close to that now. When it happens it might be a good thing because our seriousness needs to be called into being. In the same way that it took an environmental catastrophe to bring the Alaskan people out of themselves, it may take a catastrophe of the word to do the same to those of us who care about language.

TBR: I keep thinking about Orwell’s 1984. Obviously 1984 has come.

JK: In order to take action you’ve got to find a where the resistance is. So first find a way to clarify that. By the way, the response to this devastation of the word is already happening. In the last twenty years there has been a great growth of small publishers, like weeds almost. But when it all becomes clear, when Gulf owns Random House and Rupert Murdoch owns HarperCollins and GE owns…and so on, when that picture is finally completed, it will be clear to many of us where the resistance is and what we must do.

TBR: In his book, Green Rage, Christopher Manes suggests that it’s civilization itself which the resistance that civilization must be unmade.

JK: The first thing Barry Lopez said to me when he heard I was working on this project was, “We’ve got to shut this machine down.” And he’s right.

TBR: So what can we do? In your book you mention people blockading oil tankers. Is that OK?

JK: For a time in Alaska, I think it would have been. Ken Adams said, “Exxon is not accountable.” We can conclude from this that we must find a way to make these companies accountable. And it may take blockading the channel, or tying a fishing boat to the anchor of a tanker, which means the tanker cannot move without capsizing the boat. Of course, if the tanker decides to go ahead and move, then we’re on the other side of the veil. It would be interesting to see what would happen if we were taken to the other side of the veil.

TBR: In the book, somebody suggests plugging the pipeline.

JK: Or cutting it. Blowing it up somewhere.

TBR: But that would cause massive environmental destruction.

JK: Right. Figure out any way to stop the flow. The fishing people were very angry.

TBR: That would be acceptable?

JK: Good question. I think Exxon’s leases should have been lifted. With the final settlement we were talking a little over three billion dollars paid by Exxon. I don’t think that’s sufficient, because ultimately it’s their responsibility to pay up in total. Even Hazelwood’s supposed drunkenness was their responsibility because he had a record which they failed to track. They should have been shut down, at least temporarily. If I rob a bank, I’m probably going to be sent to jail.

All across the country, plant after plant is dumping toxic materials into our waterways. My view is that those places should be shut down. It’s that simple. Pretty soon most would get the message. So as a culture we’re not the least bit serious about implementing the remedies available to us. And if it takes action to make it clear that those remedies are necessary, I’m in support of it. Am I going to go and blow up the pipeline? No. Would I have tied on to the anchor of a tanker? Maybe, if I had a boat. But mainly what I’m trying to say is that you’ve got to begin with the conduct of your own life.

TBR: So are you hopeful for our future?

JK: I’m fighting. I’m writing. That’s got to be an indication of hope.

TBR: What is the source of this hope?

JK: I believe in the human spirit. It’s a question of what kind of shift can you make: It’s also a question of are we going to make the necessary shifts now or later? If we don’t make them now, we will have to make them later. We have to continue to fight, especially those of us who are concerned with language and with writing. Our job is to hold on as tightly as we can to the powers in language and to mean it when we say something or write something.

From the 12th Anniversary Issue of The Bloomsbury Review, Volume 12/Issue 1, January/February 1992.

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If you are not yet a subscriber to The Bloomsbury Review, you can subscribe here. If you are interested in advertising, more information can be found here. And if you are already a friend of Blooms, and you would like to make a contribution to help enable us to continue our historical work, you can do that here. We are grateful for your continued interest in and your continuing support of our decades of serving and celebrating literature.

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An Out-of-Bounds Essay

I Love to Think of Those Naked Epochs
~ Baudelaire
One night in Paris, my wife and I took a small room on the top floor of a hotel just off the boulevard St-Michel. It was an odd little room—no right angles anywhere, every wall of a different surface, stone, brick, plaster, paper. The furniture was Typical Hideous. But the furnishings did not matter. What mattered was that the room came cheap. And that my wife and I could lie in the bed and look out over a squabble of rooftops, chimneys, antennae, sky. And that I could turn the desk around into the window-niche and sit up late making notes in my journal, looking down into the courtyard, into the windows of my neighbors.

For a while, light enough to write by came down from the sky. Later I burned a candle. The desk created a little room of its own, at the edge between interiority and exteriority. I could feel the warmth of our room at my back, and, through the open window, the cool air of the evening on my face. On the roof-garden opposite, a young man in a flowered housecoat watered some plants, then stooped to pick up a cat. Behind one window, an old man sat before an easel, a dog napping at his feet. In another, shadows slow-danced behind a thin muslin curtain. The quarter is very old. It reminds me that everything has happened before. St Germain-des-Pres was overrun by Nazis, and yet it has survived to be beautiful once again, flowers tumbling in profusion from its iron balustrades.

So. An hour or two of composition. A time of deep stillness, into which the stars cast their tiny bolts of love. Then, a walk down among the crowds in the streets. Dinner in a Japanese restaurant on the rue St-Séverin, with fresh flowers in a little vase on our table, and the singular flame of a white tea candle. Then out into the crowds again, pausing to look at the dubious talents on display near the Metro—a man carving canaries out of carrots, a man putting out cigarettes on his palm. Come the morning, we would wander out into all the rain-bright colors of autumn, which arrived as we slept. Clouds bunching up on the horizon. A sharpness to the air. Brown crabby leaves blowing down on the sandy square of St-Sulplice, looking like Rilke’s “cheap winter bonnets of Fate.”

© Frederick Smock, Louisville, KY

The “Out-of-Bounds Essay” is a unique feature that appears regularly in The Bloomsbury Review. Each is an imaginary work of nonfiction, out-of-bounds only in the sense that they are not necessarily tied to anything specific in the magazine, neither tied to a review, an interview, nor a pre-determined editorial theme. If it should, it is the beauty of serendipity at play only. One of our long-time contributing editors, Reamy Jansen, oversees and edits the feature, asking his essayists for “fresh, offbeat, nonfiction prose that assays boundaries of fiction/nonfiction,” encouraging the writer to “even leap over” those boundaries, if she or he will. The single caveat is “no more than 300 words.” The Out-of-Bounds Essay is simply the literary equivalent of a musical prelude—a short work that ideally takes the reader on a small journey into what Emily Dickinson would call in her singular way, a “revery.”

We will be placing more of these rare-cut gems on the blog in the future. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy sharing them with you.

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If you are not yet a subscriber to The Bloomsbury Review, you can subscribe here. If you are interested in advertising, more information can be found here. And if you are already a friend of Blooms, and you would like to make a contribution to help enable us to continue our historical work, you can do that here. We are grateful for your continued interest in and your continuing support of our decades of serving and celebrating literature.

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