Late in 1942 a Buddhist monk living in Los Angeles carefully inscribed his name in a recently published book by the poet Wallace Stevens. The Buddhist monk had moved to Los Angeles from Japan a year earlier. The book was Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction, published by the Cummington Press, a small press in Massachusetts and was one of 80 numbered copies signed by Stevens. The full inscription reads, “from the Alcestis Library of Bhikshu Padmasambhava (Ronald Lane Latimer) 1942.” Three years later, the same man—now a former Buddhist monk calling himself Ronald Lane Latimer and studying at a seminary in Berkeley to become an Episcopal minister—ornately inscribed “from the Alcestis Library of Ronald Lane Latimer” in Esthetique du Mal, another book of Stevens’ published in a limited edition by the Cummington Press.
These inscriptions, unknown to scholars for 75 years after they were written, are fascinating because the shape-shifting Latimer was, years earlier in the mid-1930s, one of the most important young publishers of contemporary poetry in the United States. His brief career was as remarkable for its impact and influence as for its brevity, before he vanished. He, almost single-handedly, reinvigorated the poetic careers of both Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in the 1930s, publishing two books by each of them through his Alcestis Press, restarting their publishing of new books of poetry after an interregnum of a dozen years.
It's not that Pandora was oblivious to its competition, or complacent about its place in the industry. It was, however, an innovator in digital music at a time when the major labels were hostile to the entire concept and would fight on every front to preserve the lucrative of the compact disc era. To take on this legal and lobbying juggernaut, Pandora needed a clever strategy to avoid the kind of head-on fights that had sunk Napster. The solution was the radio model of music licensing, a brilliant strategy at the time, but one which would be the subject of a long fight between Pandora and the recording industry. Pandora would win that battle, but in doing so, it also found itself stuck with a business model that could not evolve alongside the streaming space.
Apparently most people can close their eyes and see—with varying degrees of clarity—whatever it is they want to see: a beach, an apple, their husband’s face. But for the first thirty-four years of my life, whenever someone talked about “seeing” something in their mind or instructed me to visualize something—whether it was a ball of light moving between chakras or a goal I wanted to achieve—I assumed it was just a turn of phrase.
And then I read an article by poet Katie Prince, and I felt a wave of awed recognition roll through me.
I wrote that one-sentence review to myself about half-way through reading Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro's just published eighth novel.
Lest you think that doesn't sound like much of an enticement, know that I've probably written something like that sentence about every Ishiguro novel I've read. He is the master of slowly deepening our awareness of human failing, fragility and the inevitability of death — all that, even as he deepens our awareness of what temporary magic it is to be alive in the first place.
On its own The Committed is a rich and valuable read, but together with The Sympathizer, it amounts to much more than the sum of its parts. These two novels constitute a powerful challenge to an enduring narrative of colonialism and neo-colonialism. One waits to see what Nguyen, and the man of two faces, will do next.
You and I maybe have never met. You
May be a friend of a friend of mine
Reading these words on my Facebook,
Or – if they get published in a book –