October 30, 2011

Authors Card Game


The other day we were at a potluck with some fellow Mennonites. We mentioned, for some reason, that we had started playing Authors with our kids. Authors, along with Dutch Blitz, is one of those tribal games that few outsiders seem to have heard of (I'm going to shrug off my congenital Mennonite humility for a moment and state here, for the record, that I kick major ass at Dutch Blitz, and have even, on occasion, toppled the mighty Pete "Fleetfingers" Dula and Steve "Quickhand" Weaver). Ordinary card games were frowned upon by conservative Mennonites. These tame alternatives weren't associated with gambling, drinking, or loose women.

Authors is basically Go Fish. The Authors set we use (it's at least thirty years old) has the following authors: Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, James Fenimore Cooper, and (the lone woman) Louisa May Alcott. When I was a kid, I naturally assumed that these were the giants of Western literature, and placed them on appropriate pedestals. The size of these pedestals I adjusted according to their appearance on the cards. Thus, I assumed that the dashing Hawthorne, with his flowing, strawberry-blond locks, was the pinnacle of literary greatness, while the wan and sickly Scott, with his thin damp hair (we used to call him "Fishface"), I relegated to a minion. Cooper's war-reporter looks and list of manly titles (The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer, The Spy, The Last of the Mohicans) suggested deeply compelling thrillers similar to The Eye of the Needle. Boy, how wrong I was! Cooper, when I finally got around to reading him in high school, turned out to be a dreadful writer. Hawthorne was similarly unreadable. But when, during one stay at my grandparents' Lancaster County, PA house, I ran out of Guideposts and Reader's Digests, I was forced to pick up the only novel on the shelves - Ivanhoe. It was wonderful!

From this distance, of course, Longfellow and Irving look a bit silly in that list. At the potluck, we were trying to decide who should inhabit an updated game. Here's my stab at it: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ernest Hemingway, Yeats. Hmmm. Maybe Faulkner in place of someone . . . Frost? And what about Nabokov? Is he allowed in, even though he was born Russian?

Authors has undergone various metamorphoses. Sets have varied from eleven to fourteen authors, and have included  Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, James Russell Lowell, Victor Hugo, Robert Burns, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Cornelia Meigs (WTF?). The picture below shows the strange inclusion of John Greenleaf Whittier, second row, second from right:

Here's another version, aimed at children (Hans Christian Andersen, A.A. Milne):
Here's an antique version:


These days, there are a number of Authors games on the market, including American Authors and Women Authors. The quality of the artwork, unfortunately, is shoddy.


October 29, 2011

Writers Who Were Artists




















In the last week, I came across articles on Tolkien's art for The Hobbit (above) and Sylvia Plath's ink drawings (below).














There is a deep connection between writing and visual art, just as there is between music and math. Here are some other writers who were artists:


Wyndham Lewis - Lewis, like Dante Gabriel Rossetti (see below), was perhaps better known for his painting than his writing. That's Ezra Pound in the painting above.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Rossetti's poetry has fared less well over time than his paintings.


D. H. Lawrence - Toward the end of his life, Lawrence started doing oil paintings.


Mervyn Peake - Peake, the author of the Gormenghast novels, was a wonderful illustrator. Above is an illustration for The Ancient Mariner.


Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) - Dinesen trained as an artist. Her beautiful paintings have been used on the covers of several of her books.


William Blake - Blake's prints are hugely influential. More than any other writer, his art and writing are deeply entwined.


Kurt Vonnegut - Breakfast of Champions is full of Vonnegut's lively drawings. He developed an interest in silkscreen printing, samples of which may be seen here. Note the flavicon! 


Rudyard Kipling - Kipling's father was an artist, and Kipling did the illustrations for Just So Stories (Wikipedia says they're woodcuts, but they look like ink drawings to me).


William Makepeace Thackeray trained as an artist. His illustrations for Vanity Fair are wonderful. 


Bruce Chatwin - Chatwin's astonishing photographs may be seen in Photographs and Notebooks, as well as on the covers of several of his books. 


Hans Christian Andersen - Andersen made delightful paper cut-outs with which he entertained children and adults while telling his stories. 

I can't find any examples online, but Lawrence Durrell did wonderful watercolors, reminiscent of Raoul Dufy. Annie Dillard studied art (the handsome little shrub on the frontispiece of Teaching a Stone to Talk is hers). John Updike attended art school before he switched to writing.



October 6, 2011

Tomas Transtromer














Tomas Transtromer, the Swedish poet, has won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. Here's my favorite of his poems:

Breathing Space July

The man who lies on his back under huge trees
is also up in them. He branches out into thousands of tiny branches.
He sways back and forth,
he sits in a catapult that hurtles forward in slow motion.

The man who stands down at the dock screws up his eyes against the water.
Ocean docks get older faster than men.
They have silver-grey posts and boulders in their gut.
The dazzling light drives straight in.

The man who spends the whole day in an open boat
moving over the luminous bays
will fall asleep at last inside the shade of his blue lamp
as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.