I went into Bongs & Noodles today, (the one in Union Square — yes, I know, why would you go to B&N if you are at Union Square when the Strand is right there? and the answer is, I had to buy some non-book items for upcoming birthdays), and as I was heading single-mindedly for the non-book items section, I beheld a display table of books from small presses. So I swung sideways and espied a book that was not so much a book and more of a box. A box by Anne Carson, called Nox.

The reasons I thought I was going to be disappointed when I opened the box Nox:

1. Anne Carson and Anne Sexton are the same person.*
*Fun fact: No, they aren’t. Anne Carson translated Sappho, and Anne Sexton hit her children and killed herself.

2. Anne Carson killed herself over thirty years ago**, therefore all her stuff has already been published, therefore this will just be fragments o’ crap they are trying to make interesting by putting them into a book and then putting the book in a fetching little box.
**No, she didn’t. That was Anne Sexton. Stop it, brain.

3. I love things that come in nice boxes. Not only do they have a prearranged storage unit that makes them seem tidy even when strewn around my room like all my other stuff, but also they feel like a present. The publisher knows this and is trying to seduce me.

4. Many things look pretty because someone came up with a good marketing scheme, but then when you dig a bit deeper, they turn out to be not nearly as awesome as the marketing scheme that made you want to dig a bit deeper.

5. I read how Zachary Mason (whoa, y’all, I never reviewed The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Stand by.), whom I will of course be marrying someday, sent The Lost Books of the Odyssey to reviewers inside of a little wooden Trojan horse. No box containing a book will ever win more than that.

But then I opened the box, and the book wasn’t a book, but one long, foldy paper that folded out accordion-style. And the first page after the copyright and acknowledgments contained a smudgy copy of Catullus 101, the poem he wrote after going to see his brother’s grave. I may have shrieked out loud. It was like running into an old friend unexpectedly. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but I love Catullus. I love him. (I wrote I love him three more times, but deleted them because I know you get the picture with me just saying it twice.) He has such a lovely, human variety of poems — some of them are whimsical, some are pining, some are vindictive, some are really filthy, and some — like 101 — are heartbreaking. I am utterly fond of that poem and realized last year that I remembered a surprisingly high percentage of it from memorizing it in a grade school Latin class. Catullus travels to his brother’s grave, getting there of course long after his brother has died. He says he’s come ut…mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem, to speak in vain to his brother’s silent ashes.

Anne Carson the poet and classicist created a journal of scraps and reflections following her brother’s death, and Nox, this book in a box, is the closest approximation to that journal that she could manage. Each fold-out verso contains a single word from the Catullus poem, with a translation of that word and some examples of its use. The rectos have a variety of things on them, memories and photographs and thoughts about history and night-time and memory.

There is nothing not great about this. Except, obviously, that Anne Carson’s brother died. The book is in a box. It’s Catullus. It’s Anne Carson-not-Sexton, whose haunting, evocative scraps of translated Sappho in If Not, Winter won my heart, as if my heart needed winning. (Catullus adored Sappho’s poetry, by the way. Catullus loved Sappho so much that when he had to use a fake name for his married girlfriend so her husband wouldn’t catch on, he nicknamed her “Lesbia” after Sappho’s island home of Lesbos.) The papers fold out.

Okay, this is not a review. I didn’t read the book yet although I really really want to. I didn’t buy it because I am about to get a bunch of new books from another source, and since I am poor, and new books are not a regular feature in my life, I’d rather space out the new book acquisitions. My plan was to wait until some week when I was having a really, really bad day, and then buy the book for myself as a lovely treat. Only it occurred to me that Nox is published by New Directions Publishing Company, and it is a small press, and what if I waited and then when I went to buy Nox I couldn’t find it? That would make a bad day worse, not better. Thoughts?

P.S. Frances of Nonsuch Book loved it, and has pictures. Ditto Emily of Evening All Afternoon.

51 thoughts on “I WANT THIS. I WANT IT.

  1. Well dude, not to be an enabler or anything, but you will SO not regret it if you make a hasty purchase of Nox. Its contents are every single bitty bit as good as its beautiful packaging, which is quite a feat to live up to.

    • I will let you know how it is. I am expecting a high degree of wonderfulness, now that I have comprehensively sorted out Anne Carson’s separateness from Anne Sexton.

  2. I saw Frances’s post about this and was intrigued by the format, but I totally missed the idea that this was Catullus. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten almost all the Catullus I studied in high school, but I do remember liking his work much more than Ovid or Horace. The idea of a box of Catullus makes me extremely happy. Must look for this.

    • It’s because he is much better than Ovid or Horace. Particularly Horace. Ovid has lovely, if less immediately apparent, qualities, but I cannot discern that Horace has any good qualities at all. I HATE HIM. But I’d rather have Catullus in a box than any other Roman poet.

  3. I have no idea what half of who and what you talked about are/were. I have obviously led a vastly different reading life than you.

    However, the jist of this post better be that you *did* actually buy that Box/Nox (nox in a box Dr Suess!) because I think your head will explode/implode otherwise. On your way to The Strand to buy a cheap book, get that Nox.

    • I did. I did buy it in the end. I couldn’t live without it. I have such a crush on Catullus. I wouldn’t have led him on like his real girlfriend did — of course, then the world would have been without some really charming poems. So…

  4. I’m not much for poetry but your obvious enthusiasm for Catullus’s work has me curious enough to want to look up his work.
    Hope the Nox lives up to your expectations.

  5. I’ve been wanting to read Nox ever since Frances mentioned it. But sadly, I am poor too. I think what we should do is what until we have enough to get it and then do so. Jenny, I mean the SECOND we have money to do it!

  6. 1. This sounds triple-cool. I only regret that I will not get to borrow this.

    2. Your leet Latin skillz fascinate me.

    3. Buy it. I’m feeling the love from the blogworld.

  7. Sounds like it’s a limited edition type thing, and if you don’t get it, it really may not be there next time.

    *And* you already know you love the author, *and* it’s a work of art.

    So, buy it. If you feel like you must save it for a rainy day, wrap it and shelve it until you need it.

  8. Ohhhhh I know the pull of the awesome book. If you can, buy it, because it sounds super cool and like something you’ll love owning. If you absolutely can’t buy it, for whatever reason, have faith that fate will bring it around again when you can!

    • It’s just — it’s not just a book, it’s a piece of art. It’s an artifact! And I love art that you can play with. My only regret about most art is you can’t touch it because you will deteriorate its quality.

  9. This might be a bit late but I say get it πŸ™‚ And goodness, I am ashamed to say I took up Latin as an elective only to be stumped by the eh Latin you peppered your tags with πŸ™‚ So no, I won’t be saying I took up Latin now. Nyargh, I just did! But get it! Our souls need perk-me-ups and I’m sure this box would last you a long time.

    • No way could the Latin in my tags make sense to anyone who didn’t already know the poem. I was never any good at sight translation in the first place, and the lines of poetry are all out of order. Verbs and subjects are missing! :p

  10. Oh, I also think that based on your love and appreciation for the box and it’s contents that it must be yours soon. Here’s hoping that a sudden windfall ends up in you owning this soon.

  11. In the good old days when I working in a bookstore, I would eat every other day in order to buy more books. Now, I am not suggesting anyone should follow such a daft plan, but I would say have it and fix sandwiches for your lunch, or some such budgetary measure. You know you want it, and it will make you happy. Btw, I loved this post, it made me laugh so.

  12. I’m just going to join the chorus of enablers here: buy it!

    I know I’m horribly late and you may have bought it already, but still. Your post makes me think that we could all be screaming “No! Don’t!” at you in gigantic font size and you’d still buy it because you’ve fallen in love with it. ^-^

    • I hadn’t bought it already, and if y’all had all screamed NO DON’T, I’d probably not have bought it. I took your advice into account before deciding to get it. Of course, I did sort of load the deck my way by asking a bunch of book lovers if I should buy a book…

      • if y’all had all screamed NO DON’T, I’d probably not have bought it

        I never do this with things I’ve fallen head over heels for. If I listened, I’d just end up hating everyone forever and ever for making me not get it. (Okay, probably not. But I’d still feel pretty awful.)

  13. Hi Jenny πŸ™‚ I haven’t read Anne Carson before (I haven’t even heard of her name), and ‘Catullus’ rings a bell, but I haven’t heard of that poem or the character either. But after reading your post, I have just one suggestion. If you haven’t already done so, please go to the bookstore today and buy ‘Nox’. Don’t hesitate and don’t wait and don’t think about anything else. Books which we prize, tend to disappear from bookshelves and never appear again. I have lost a few treasures like this. These days, when I see something which wins my heart, I don’t think about anything else and why I got into the bookstore in the first place – I just buy that book. So, please, please, please buy ‘Nox’ πŸ™‚

    • I hadn’t heard of her before people started reading her translation of Sappho’s poems, so she’s not a longtime favorite. I love her a lot NOW though.

      I went! Your comment was the last straw! I could make no other decision in the face of this chorus of support! But this is going to be the last book I buy for a while.

      • I am really really glad, Jenny! I have been a poor commenter recently, and I just discovered that you have posted the review of ‘Nox’. I am going to read it now πŸ™‚ Hope it was all you expected it to be and more πŸ™‚

  14. This post makes me want to dust off my Latin abilities like I’ve been threatening to do in my inner monologue forever. Also, I’ve been lending out my copy of Lost Books to a couple of people to great success. I might reread it when I resume possession of it.

  15. Confession time – I had never heard of Catullus until I read this post. But your enthusiasm is so infectious I now love him! Go. Buy the Nox. If only because “Nox” is really, really fun to say.

  16. I was so glad to see that you bought it. It’s just so gorgeous. (I don’t have a copy — yet, anyway — myself, but I completely understand how you fell in love with it.) I’ve read some of her slimmer, less-pretty books and they’re pretty amazing too, even just on ordinary paper in ordinary bindings. Enjoy!

  17. Pingback: Review: Nox, Anne Carson « Jenny's Books

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