I recently finished re-reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, one of my favourite books. Now, I am dipping into the multi-volume edition of his letters. All of the books are secondhand copies, and I am sure that some of them have their own stories to tell. My copy of the first volume once sat on the shelves of a branch of The New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue in Mid-Manhattan.

The letters are collected according to theme. There’s a volume of correspondence covering Merton‘s close friendships; there’s one devoted to poetry, literature, and the vocation of writing; and yet another two that deal with religious experience. The fifth and final volume collects together his letters on “Times of Crisis”. I think I might start with that one.

Sad to hear that Deirdre Bair, who wrote the first major biography of Samuel Beckett, has died at the age of 84. Her work continues to exert an influence on contemporary Beckett scholarship, to say nothing of its inspiration to modern practitioners and performers of his writing. She also wrote a biographies of Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs NinCarl JungSaul Steinberg and Al Capone. Most recently, she was the author of Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir. She will be sorely missed.

Neil Genzlinger has written an obituary for Bair in The New York Times.

The coronavirus has sparked a widespread cultural revaluation of writers who touched on themes of solitude in their work. Holland Carter takes a look at Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, and suggests that “there’s plenty to learn from standing still”. Source: The New York Times.

“I translate it in my head as ‘far away from here’, the longing to be elsewhere.”

In a recent interview with Granta, Teju Cole discusses his new book of photographs, Fernweh (literally, ‘far-woe’). Source: Granta Magazine.

paulstewartMy friend and former editor has written a new novel. Paul Stewart’s Of People and Things is now available from Armida Books in print and electronic formats. Paul is not only a writer, but an actor and an academic who has been living in Nicosia, Cyprus, for over twenty years. He currently teaches as a Professor of Literature at the University of Nicosia. You can find out more about Paul and his new book at the Armida Books website.

John Berger
John Berger

“I’d rather reject the terms optimistic and pessimistic. They suggest a calculation of how things are going to evolve, and if it’s going to evolve in the way you want, you’re optimistic. That has very little to do with despair and hope. Hope is not a form of guarantee, it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.”

— John Berger, who died on 2 January 2017.

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William Blake, ‘Newton’ (c.1795-1805)

The poet and artist William Blake was born in Soho in London on 28 November 1757. His ‘Newton’ conveys the scientist as allegorical figure: absorbed by man-made geometry to the exclusion of the self and the wonders of the natural world. Blake’s poetic and artistic works became important cultural touchstones during a tumultuous period in Western history, but his words and images comprise social commentary and critique that still speaks to our times.

tolstoy

“Evidently salvation is not to be found by increasing the comforts and pleasures of life, medical treatments, artificial teeth and hair, breathing exercises, massage, and so forth; […] It is impossible to remedy this by any amusements, comforts, or powders – it can only be remedied by a change of life.”

— Leo Tolstoy, ‘What then must we do?’ (trans. Aylmer Maude)

“So I think, be out, get out, look up, walk where and when you can, and be curious, and be astonished by the world.”

— Robert Macfarlane talks to Krista Tippett about his book, Underland. Read or listen to the conversation at the On Being Project.

Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis

“In her notes, we see her honing her habit of attention, her sensitivity to shades of meaning and the music of language, her tropism toward writers with a talent for noticing.”

— Parul Sehgal reviews Essays One, a new collected volume from Lydia Davis. Read the review in The New York Times.

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“Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narratives being offered to give a sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous.”

— John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket

Toni Morrison

— Do you prefer being called Professor, Doctor, Mrs or Ms?
— I like Toni.

In 2017, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Mario Kaiser sat down with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Their conversation took place in her home in upstate New York. Read more at Granta.

Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson

“Commonplace things can be fascinating.”

― Tove Jansson, The Summer Book (trans. Thomas Teal)