Ilan Stavans at the Texas Book Festival: A Most Imperfect Union

DSC_2041I’m honored that I’ll be speaking with Ilan Stavans—prolific author, translator, critic, Amherst College professor and Publisher of Restless Books—at this year’s Texas Book Festival. Stavans and I will discuss his most recent book, A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States, an illustrated history of our country that serves as a corrective to mainstream received ideas. From the press materials:

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school. Ever since Columbus–who was probably a converted Jew–“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

The event, which will also be broadcast on C-SPAN’s BookTV, will be from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent. The festival is held in downtown Austin, TX, along Congress Ave. and in the State Capitol building. I hope to see you there!

A MOST IMPERFECT UNION

Date: Sunday 10/26

Time: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent
Authors:
Ilan Stavans
Moderator:
Nathan Rostron

 

Literature: It’s Better with Pictures

Remember trying to read “Moby-Dick” in high school? It was awful: Melville’s knotty prose and madman plotting were rendered in minuscule type in a claustrophobic paperback edition–it was like drowning in a stew of language. But I was lucky–years later, I made a discovery at my local bookstore (holler, @Powells): a stately, oversized edition with breathable type and, best of all, woodcut engravings that gave you a visual break from Melville’s insane story. I increasingly fell in love with it as I read, and nowadays, “Moby-Dick” is probably my favorite novel.

My turnaround with Melville made me wish all of those classics I resented having to read in high school would find their way back to me, complete with pictures. Artist Matt Kish has answered my call with a new edition of Joseph Conrad’s classic (also despised by my teenage self), “Heart of Darkness.” Each right-hand page bears the text of Conrad’s novel, set very readably on thick, creamy paper, and on each left-hand page is a vivid, striking image that corresponds to the text. For instance, here’s the image opposite the lines, “We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows–cannibals–in their place”:

Cannibals: fine fellows

I realize that the physical shape a novel takes should not alter your experience of a story, but Kish’s edition of “Darkness” presents a counter-argument. Beyond the pleasure of reading such a well-produced book, there’s brilliance in Kish’s illustrations in that they don’t attempt realism in the slightest. Rather, they’re like the hallucinatory images from a fever dream, which have the effect of displacing you further from your physical surroundings and pulling you deeper into the story, without stage-directing your experience. “The mind of man is capable of anything,” Conrad writes, and Kish illustrates:

The mind of man is capable of anything.

Conrad’s novel has had its psychedelic afterlife. Frances Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” a Vietnam-ized rendering of “Heart of Darkness,” has become so culturally potent that in coming back to the novel I half-expected to see Conrad’s storyteller, Charlie Marlow, hazy with opium or freaking out in a hotel room like Martin Sheen in the movie. But Marlow is no smoky-voiced burnout: He’s a vibrant raconteur, a yarn-spinner not unlike Melville’s Ishmael (though better at sticking to the point). Yet, the vision of darkness Conrad shows us is every bit as brutal as Coppola’s…. Read the rest on Bookish