The Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection, a treasure trove of letters, recordings, photos, and other items collected over the course of a 24-year friendship between Frost and a Cincinnati rabbi, opens this week at the University of Buffalo.
Nearly 75 years ago, Frost and Rabbi Victor E. Reichert met at a reading in Cincinnati and spent summers together in Vermont, where the Reicherts had a summer home, sharing talks and hiking excursions. Over the years, the pair forged a friendship build on literature, philosophy, and religion. During the course of that friendship, the star-struck Reichert, who was nearly 60 years younger than Frost, saved thousands of Frost-related items, including books with personal messages or quotes from Frost poetry, gifted to Reichert family members; more than 60 photographs of Frost at ceremonies, public events, and in private settings; some 600 newspaper and magazine clippings about Frost; rare Frost chapbooks and holiday publications; and handwritten letters between Frost and Reichert.
Upon his death, Rabbi Reichert left the treasured memorabilia with his son, Jonathan F. Reichert, a retired physics professor who taught for three decades at the University of Buffalo. Reichert, now 81, donated the items to the university just in time for an anniversary display of Frost, who died 50 years ago this month at the age of 88.
“I wanted the friendship of my father with Frost to be part of history,” Reichert told the Buffalo News. “Because I saw it. I know it changed Frost.”
The collection is a major acquisition for the university and vaults it into the top Frost archives and collections in the country. It also sheds new light on the beloved poet famous for such poems as “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken.” In particular, the collection offers new insights into Frost’s views on religious beliefs, a topic that until now has stumped Frost experts. Frost and Reichert shared discussions about the New and Old Testaments as well as personal tragedies, including the deaths of Frost’s wife and children.
“There is not the slightest doubt in my mind about the deep, deep religious nature of Robert Frost,” Reichert once wrote in his notes on Frost. He said Frost once summarized his faith by calling himself an “Old Testament Christian.”
“He saw that the laws that Judaism had built up really were not the essence, and that Jesus was a great prophet, rather than seeing Jesus as the son of God, or the savior," Reichert told NPR. "That's how I interpret what he meant when he said, 'I'm an Old Testament Christian.’”
The pair’s relationship is captured in a 1994 book, “The Poet and the Rabbi,” by Andrew Marks.
Frost, along with his relationship with Reichert, and his views on religion, will gain fresh attention with his 50th anniversary exhibit at the University of Buffalo.
The exhibit will run from 9 AM to 5 PM weekdays from Jan. 31 through March 29.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Yes, we as a society now use computers to analyze large amounts of data. But can a computer parse literature as well as (or better) than a human reader?
That’s the question being explored by researcher Matthew L. Jockers, who used a computer to go through more than 3,000 works that were published between 1780 and 1900. According to a piece in The New York Times, Jockers released his findings last year and is about to publish a book compiling it titled “Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History.”
Based on the computer’s analysis, Jockers, who is a researcher at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska as well as an assistant professor in the English department, found that Jane Austen (happy birthday, “Pride and Prejudice”!) and “Ivanhoe”’s Sir Walter Scott were the most influential writers of their time.
They were “the literary equivalent of Homo erectus, or, if you prefer, Adam and Eve,” Jockers told The New York Times.
The researcher said that using such analysis can allow society to analyze literature in a larger way than ever before.
“Traditionally, literary history was done by studying a relative handful of texts,” Jockers told the Times. “What this technology does is let you see the big picture – the context in which a writer worked – on a scale we’ve never seen before.”
The computer also uncovered patterns in the writings of George Eliot that are similar to the patterns in writing of male authors. Jockers says he uses algorithms that search for patterns in words and common themes.
But can a computer ever reason on the same level as a human when it comes to literary analysis, a field where there is often more than one right answer?
Jockers told The New York Times that his algorithms can’t work on their own – analysis is only complete when there’s someone who has knowledge of literature overseeing the process.
“You’ll always need both,” he said. “But we’re at a moment now when there is much greater acceptance of these methods than in the past. There will come a time when this kind of analysis is just part of the tool kit in the humanities, as in every other discipline.”
What do you think? Could a literary expert and computer working in tandem analyze books to an extent that has never before been possible? Or will human beings always have the edge when it comes to matters literary?
Poehler’s book will be a “an illustrated, nonlinear diary full of humor and honesty and brimming with true stories, fictional anecdotes, and life lessons,” according to a statement from the publisher, and was “inspired in part by Poehler’s interest in helping young women navigate the adult world.”
This will be the “Parks and Recreation” star’s first book. Poehler was recently nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Comedy or Musical, an award for which she was nominated in 2012 as well. Poehler has starred on “Parks” since 2009 and has appeared in such films as “Baby Mama,” “Blades of Glory,” and “Mean Girls.” She starred on “Saturday Night Live” from 2001 to 2008 and has frequently guest-starred on the show since.
Carrie Thornton of It Books said that she was “blown away by [Poehler’s] creativity and her passion” after meeting with the actress.
Poehler’s Golden Globes co-host, Tina Fey, released her collection of essays, “Bossypants,” in 2011 and the book has been on many bestseller lists consecutively since then, currently taking the twenty-fourth place on the New York Times bestseller list for print and e-book nonfiction, the tenth spot on the paperback nonfiction list and the seventeenth spot on the nonfiction e-book list for the week of Feb. 3. Fellow former NBC comedian Mindy Kaling of “The Office” and, now, Fox's “The Mindy Project” published her memoir, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?,” in 2011, as well. Kaling's book has also sold well, currently occupying the fifteenth spot on the paperback nonfiction list in the same edition of the New York Times bestseller list as well as the thirty-fifth spot on the e-book nonfiction list.
The highest honors for children’s books for 2013 were awarded to writer Katherine Applegate and writer-illustrator Jon Klassen, with Applegate’s “The One and Only Ivan” capturing the John Newbery Medal and Klassen’s “This Is Not My Hat” taking the Randolph Caldecott Medal for Outstanding Illustration.
This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, which has honored such books as “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey and Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day.”
The groups also award Newbery Honors and Caldecott Honor. This year “Splendors and Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz and "Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage were cited for Newbery Honors. Five books, including “Creepy Carrots!," written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown; "Extra Yarn," written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen; "Green," written and illustrated by by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; "One Cool Friend," written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by David Small; and "Sleep Like a Tiger," written by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, received Caldecott Honors.
“This Is Not My Hat” has experienced strong sales since it was published last fall. Even before the award announcement, it was still occupying the sixth spot on the Children’s Illustrated IndieBound bestseller list for the week of Jan. 24, after being released last October.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Barnes & Noble, which reported that it had struggled with sales over the holiday season, will shutter one-third of its current locations over the course of the next ten years.
The chain will close about 20 a year, which will be bring the store’s locations to between 450 and 500 total. Barnes & Noble currently has 689 retail locations as well as 674 stores at colleges, which are counted as a different chain.
"It's a good business model," Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "You have to adjust your overhead, and get smart with smart systems. Is it what it used to be when you were opening 80 stores a year and dropping stores everywhere? Probably not. It's different. But every business evolves.” Klipper pointed out that currently, only 3 percent of the Barnes & Noble locations are losing money.
Barnes & Noble spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating pointed out that the chain opened two new prototype stores during 2012.
"Barnes & Noble has not adjusted its store closing plan whatsoever... We have historically closed approximately 15 stores per year for the last 10 years," Keating said. "Of that number some of the stores are unprofitable while others are relocations to better properties."
Barnes & Noble has been battling rivals like Amazon for the past several years and continued to have problems despite concentrating on innovations like the Nook, the chain’s official e-reader and tablet. The stores also took steps like refusing to sell Amazon-published books.
During the last ten years, Barnes & Noble closed around 10 stores a year, according to the Wall Street Journal, but before 2009, it regularly opened at least 30 locations per year.
Barnes & Noble’s downsizing of locations also comes, of course, after its former biggest competition, Borders, filed for bankruptcy and closed all its locations.
Tamim Ansary was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, to a father believed to descend from Arab brothers who conquered the city some 13 centuries ago. According to legend, their bodies remain to this day in a pair of hillside tombs where they have company in the form of spirits known as djinns. Considering that history, it's perhaps fitting that Ansary has spent much of his life trying to understand the ghosts that haunt the foreigners who endlessly try to run things in this great land. Ansary, who became an American author and educator, explores the tangled history of his home country in a gripping and enormously readable new book titled Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan. I called Ansary in San Francisco, where he runs a writers workshop. We talked about Afghanistan's crucial role in the world, the unique ways of its culture and his advice for a president who will spend another four years trying to understand this most foreign of faraway countries.
Q: Why has Afghanistan been a hot spot for so long?
The geographical reason is because it's in the way for people for people going from one major spot to another. That was what defined Afghanistan: You had a Turkish civilization to the north, India to the south, Persia to the west. It was the place where all this overlapped, the place you had to pass through.
In many periods of its history, other cultures have gone through and dropped things off. They've found buried cities near Kabul with glass from Egypt, artifacts from China and carvings from Siberia, all these different things.
Q: How did Afghanistan lose its importance over time?
After the 1500s or so, when the West began its rise, the oceans became the highways of the world. Places like Afghanistan were far away from anything.
After becoming a really cosmopolitan place, it transformed into this remote spot that no one ever went to until the British and Russians showed up over the past 200 years. Then it was back in play again.
Q: It's like Grand Central, isn't it?
It's a Grand Central that it's everyone has to pass through to get somewhere else. That's been both a blessing and a curse.
It sounds like a whole lot of fun: "It's lighthearted, a great game! Ah! Good game, old chap!" It has resonance.
Of course, it wasn't fun at all.
Q: You write that another game, called Buzkashi, provides insight into an Afghanistan culture that's so mystified outsiders. It's still immensely popular today. How was this ancient game, which requires men to push a goat carcass across a goal, played in the past?
It's a game of northern Afghanistan and across the river into the lower states of Central Asia.
Sometimes the field would stretch for miles, or it might be a few hundred feet. There was a goal post at one end and another at the other end. There was any number of players, and there weren't teams. No place was out of bounds, and there were no spectators.
It's not exactly about winning. Nobody was counting how many times they'd won a game.
Instead, it was a platform for individuals to gain prestige, manifest their charisma and gain followers. It was about how you'd handled yourself during the game, manifesting your manliness, your courage, your honor.
Q: What do the ancient ways of Buzkashi tell us about Afghanistan culture?
In Afghan society, there was a similar process going on, in which people who emerged into power positions and became authorities and leaders as if they were playing a game of Buzkashi.
There were no rules. By manifesting their great qualities, they would acquire followers and bound their followers through a complicated unwritten ritual of being generous and incurring obligations.
Q: How does that contrast to the way things are done in places like the US?
From the very beginning, and in a way it continues to this day, the West has evolved toward a civil society with a bureaucracy.
In our world, the things that count are the titles that people hold. If you take a guy out of the job and put some other guy in the job, then he plays that role.
Q: Like when we change from one president to another. To borrow a phrase from history, "The king is dead, long live the king," right?
Yes. The assumption of the people from the outside is that if you establish one man on the throne and make him king, you can control the country.
But he's not king because he wears that crown. It's only if he's gone through that leadership process, which is never settled because people rise a little and drop a little. One day they are more of a leader, and one day they are less.
Q: What does this tell us about Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan?
A: The foreign community treats him like he's the ruler of Afghanistan.
To me, it seems that even as all the elections are going on, as cabinet ministers are being appointed, there's a whole other system, a kind of alternative universe. He's not just discharging his duties. He's busy politicking in the old Afghan way, building his network. He's trying to establish himself as a leader in that other sense.
Q: What do Afghans misunderstand about us?
There is some sense in which Afghans don't understand that the West has values.
They see how Western people operate: that they have money, they're efficient, they get things done and they don't squander a lot of time managing social relations in every interaction.
But they don't get that the West has all these unwritten hidden rules that we don't even think about.
There are do's and don'ts, and we know what they are. But when a man from that society comes to this society and sees women on the streets, not being covered up and dressed to be attractive, they think that means they're available and there are no rules. We know that's not the case.
Q: What's behind that perception of women?
Our sense of gender relations is based on a long evolution of a concept of individuality. We have ingrained in our deep psyche that every individual is a person and has rights.
Afghanistan has a psyche that you're only an individual within a collective, a family, a clan, a tribe.
Q: What would you tell President Obama if you had his ear about Afghanistan?
The way they have been operating, people shuffle in and out of Afghanistan maybe on a six-month basis. I feel that something is lacking. There should be a reliance on people who have a longer term commitment to working with Afghanistan.
And when they do cultural training, it should acquaint people with the broad framework of Afghan culture.
I've been asked to do some workshops with soldiers, who really wanted a list of rules. I say, "You'll never learn enough of these things to pass as an Afghan. They'll give you a pass on shaking with the wrong hand. But you need to know what's private and public, and the underlying basis of all of these ideas about men and women."
Q: What's an example of things people should understand?
You need to understand what people think of the Koran.
The Koran is not religious material, it's not a book. It's completely different from the writings of a saint or of a prophet: It's incarnation of god in the material realm. If you understand what they think that is, you don't have to memorize all the rules. You can act toward it in the way that seems appropriate.
Q: What do you see in Afghanistan's future?
When Afghanistan finds its way to its national identity, it's probably not going to be a modern secular country in which there's a separation of church and state.
But it's much more important for that country to have a stable daily life for the people, a sense of cultural sovereignty over its own fate, and a system of governance, rule and law that people can embrace as their own.
As long as one faction pushes against the foreigner, it disrupts the process. But I believe when Afghanistan gets to that, if it gets to that, then we'll actually see the progress that we'd like to see.
Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” have been adapted into play form and will be performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Writer Mike Poulton adapted the novels into a two-part theatrical adaptation and the company will perform the shows at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. The productions will premiere in December 2013 and run until March of the next year and will be directed by Jeremy Herrin, who is currently serving as associate director at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
“Hilary Mantel has been working alongside us to find a genuine theatrical language for these plays, even promising to include material she left out of the books in order to do so,” RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said, according to The Bookseller. “The gripping tale of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power under Henry VII, and the King’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn, has captivated readers in their thousands, and I am thrilled to bring them to our stages.”
Doran told the Guardian he knows exactly who he wants to take on the role of Thomas Cromwell, protagonist of Mantel’s novels and adviser to King Henry VIII.
“I wish I could tell you,” he said.
In discussing the new stage adaptation, Mantel recalled going to Stratford alone at age 15 and seeing Shakespeare plays.
“It was a shaping experience,” the writer said in an interview with the Guardian. “So it really is a dream come true for me to have the opportunity to see the RSC present my plays… I don't say that lightly.”
The RSC’s new season will also include a production of “Richard II” starring “Doctor Who” actor David Tennant.
Adding to athlete Lance Armstrong’s troubles, two readers are suing him and the publishers of his books, Penguin Group and Random House. The readers are pursuing a class action lawsuit because they say the athlete, Penguin, and Random House all committed fraud and false representation by touting Armstrong’s memoirs as fact. The plaintiffs are Rob Stutzman, a public affairs adviser who worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jonathan Wheeler, a chef.
The complaint was filed on Jan. 22 in federal court in California, reading in part, “Throughout the book, Defendant Armstrong repeatedly denies that he ever used banned substances before or during his professional cycling career… [The books were bought] based upon the false belief that they were true and honest works of nonfiction when, in fact, Defendants knew or should have known that these books were works of fiction.”
Stutzman and Wheeler are represented in court by California and New Jersey-based law firms.
Representation for Armstrong had no comment, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Penguin published Armstrong’s memoir, “It’s Not About the Bike,” which was released in 2000. His book “Every Second Counts” was published by Random House in 2003.
The literary world saw a somewhat similar case when writer Greg Mortenson was sued for fabrications in his memoir, “Three Cups of Tea,” which detailed his work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When significant pieces of Mortenson's story were discovered to be untrue, four readers sued Mortenson, his co-author David Oliver Relin, Mortenson’s school-building organization, and his publisher Penguin Group. However, the federal judge who took on the case in Montana dismissed the lawsuit.
“The imprecise, in part flimsy, and speculative nature of the claims and theories advanced underscore the necessary conclusion that further amendment [of the complaint] would be futile,” US District Judge Sam Haddon said.
Bookworm teens in Montclair, N.J., rejoice! There is a place for you. Watchung Booksellers, a local bookstore, is setting up a teen advisory council, reports booksellers industry newsletter Shelf-Awareness.com. Beginning on Feb. 1, the teens will meet every other month to read, discuss, and review advance copies of books under the eye of store employee Liane Freed.
The goal is to get teens reading and thinking about “what sorts of books they like to read, when they’ve got the time,” Freed told Shelfawareness. Their reviews will be posted online at Watchung’s website. The store hopes that teens' commentary on their favorite titles will offer reading recommendations for other young readers and gift ideas for adults.
Publishers have already offered to send advanced reading copies and Freed has reached out to local high school teachers to find participants. The council is expected to begin with eight members although others may join as they go along.
Freed acknowledges that, between the search for college, homework, and extra-curricular activities, it's hard for some high schoolers to find time for reading, but she told Shelfawareness that she hopes the advisory board will be "only a small burden." She also says that she would like to see the young readers take charge to some degree. “Hopefully they can rally to bring in an author or plan a trip to a publisher.”
In an era when many worry that young readers are distracted by TV and the Internet, the notion of an active community of teen readers in a neighborhood bookstore is an appealing one.
According to Freed, the council could also be “a place for teens who are readers, but not necessarily involved in other activities and clubs.” If the end goal is more teen readers, then a lively new community of them is an elegant solution.
Another beloved children’s book is getting the stage treatment.
Natalie Babbitt’s book “Tuck Everlasting,” first published in 1975, is being adapted into a stage musical that will premiere in Boston at the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre in July. The show, which is taking place with Babbitt’s approval, was adapted by writer Claudia Shearer and is being directed by Casey Nicholaw, who snagged a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on the enormously successful show “The Book of Mormon.” Music is by Chris Miller and lyrics are by Nathan Tysen.
“Tuck Everlasting” was planned to premiere in May, but production delays have pushed that date back to July.
The novel follows Winnie Foster, a young girl who meets a family, the Tucks, who drank from an enchanted spring and can now live forever. Winnie must choose whether to drink from the spring as well and stay with them or pursue a normal life.
In discussing the show, Babbitt says that she often got concerned questions from parents who couldn’t believe her novel, with its serious themes, was aimed at children.
“Adults say to me, ‘What, you’re writing a book for children about death?’ ” the author said. “ 'They don’t know anything about death.’ Of course they do.” She mentioned circumstances such as a pet or grandparent dying in which children would have come face-to-face with it.
She said she was very happy with the musical.
“It all is magic to me,” Babbitt said. “[The creative team is] doing a beautiful job.”
The role of Winnie will be played by actress Sadie Sink, while the Tuck son she befriends, Jesse, will be portrayed by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and his mother, Mae, will be played by actress Carolee Carmello.
The show will premiere July 28. "Tuck" was previously adapted into a film which was released in 2002 and starred "Gilmore Girls" actress Alexis Bledel as Winnie; William Hurt as the Tuck patriarch, Angus; and Sissy Spacek as Mae.