Showing posts from March, 2010

You Really Need to Visit Jonah Lehrer Everyday

Today he talks about Costco and Shopping and neuroscience

Out of context quotation fragment to get you going:

. . . [W]e try to avoid anything that makes our insula excited.

Less on Lady GaGa

This review of the Lady Gaga phenomenon reproduces my own reaction to her, particularly in the last paragraph.

I have no great antipathy toward her work, but neither do I see anything startling, new, or worthy of the tremendous accolades that have been heaped upon her.

A New Poetry Award

The inaugural Ted Hughes Poetry Award recepient (via Books Inq.)--Alice Oswald, Weeds and Wildflowers

And here is an interview and a sample poem from Ms. Oswald

And another 

The first poem required that I find more, and now I'm convinced I need to seek out Ms. Oswald, a name admittedly hitherto unknown to me.  C'est dommage ça--dommage pour moi.

The Passion of Queen Victoria

Link thanks to TSO: Queen Victoria's Passion for Nudity

I'm surprised that anyone is surprised.  Just because one does not wish flagrant display of naked flesh in person in public does not mean that one cannot appreciate great art depicting the nude.  There is a considerable distance between here/now/in-person and artistic representation.  We need to get over our prejudices about the Victorian Era and begin to discover what it was really about.  Rather like our prejudices about puritans in this country.  Steampunk has gone a ways toward reexamination, but not nearly far enough.

Bradbury's "Method"

I'm not so certain one could call this a method so much as an antimethod or an idiosyncratic approach; however, it has evidently worked for a great many years, so who am I to call it into question.  This from my nearly annual reading of Dandelion Wine.  Yes, I'm aware that the book is about the coming of summer, but for some reason it breathes spring for me and so along with Morte d'Arthur and a couple of others not so frequently repeated, the reading of at least a portion of Dandelion Wine is an annual ritual.

Dandelion Wine (reissue 1992) Ray Bradbury
This book, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise. I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer. Before that, like every beginner, I though you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies. It was with great relief, then, that in my earl…

Steampunk: Darwinists vs. Clankers

A Review of Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

I've been intrigued by this book when I've seen it in stores and tried to pawn it off on my son so I'd have a reason to buy it.  But this reviewer just gave me permission--well, not really, but now I can justify the expense to myself.

Reading Along with The Lord of the Rings

Shelf Love presents a Lord of the Rings read-along with interesting questions and commentary--especially good for those who've wanted to give the series a try but have never made it through.

Does Great Literature Require Free Thinking?

(See the last line of the article referenced below)  Or does it demand deep thinking?

Where have all the Christian Writers gone?

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Man Booker Prize, and SF

Kim Stanley Robinson on the Man Booker Prize.

Unfortunately we have to settle for this precis because the New Scientist wants us to subscribe to read the whole.  So better yet, go out to your Library (if it subscribes to the New Scientist) and find the original article.  I'm sure it is far more interesting than the sound-bites.

Less Commuting=Greater Happiness

Jonah Lehrer explains the algebra of a short commute and greater contentment

Everyone thought I was insane when I first moved to my present city and set about choosing my house.  I carefully mapped out the routes to Disney and excluded anything likely to be affected by traffic to and from.  Then I plotted work place and chose places only east of work to live (I learned from living in Columbus that living west of work is a tedious and dreadful thing in terms of commute--sun in eyes morning sun in eyes evening--assuming, of course, that Columbus was having one of its exceedingly rare days of sun.)  And finally, I didn't want to be more than 15 minutes away from work.  Walking distance (not possible) would have been better. 

And now the brain scientists tell me why all of that work was worth it!

A Poet on HIs Poetry

via Books Inq  Ed Byrne talks about his poetry--along with a wonderful poem

And while you're there, check out the rest of the blog--this one is likely to become a permanent fixture on my blog visits.

A Neat Note on Epigraphs

Miéville on Ballard

One of the Most Compelling Reviews of Cormac McCarthy I've Ever Read

At Mookse and the Gripes, a wonderful review of Blood Meridian.

It's one of those books I'm always meaning to get to, but never seem to quite accomplish.  Perhaps I should move it up on my list.

Notes on Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7 (in B flat major), Opus 81

You will quickly notice that I am neither a professional musician nor a professional commentator on music.  But I found, as with so many other things, that the act of writing while listening made the listening more profound or the experience more intense.  What I'll place here for you are the edited jottings made while present at a piano recital during which Prokofiev's Piano Sonata in B flat major was played as the concluding work.  Keep in mind that I have little training in music and so some of the terminology may not be particularly accurate or helpful to those with a greater understanding. Most importantly, keep in mind that while the music was not programmatic, my impressions of it certainly are--a human mind trying to make story out of a stream of sensation.

Called a War Sonata (sonatas 6, 7, and 8) we see Prokofiev, already a sarcastic musician at his most sarcastic (comments made by the pianist before playing).  The second movement is vulgar, sleazy, and naughty (not …

From Open Culture--The Vatican EXPOSED

Thought that might get you--a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel

One of the Great Sad Events in Literary History

Agatha Christie on Life

Because I wanted a record of this on my site, I just blatantly stole it from Happy Catholic.  Thanks Julie, this is a real keeper.

I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.  ---Agatha Christie

A Review of one of Steinbeck's Better Books

Five Questions with David Vann


Another country heard from

Looking at others' noble lists of books that have influenced them, I suppose I ought to be embarrassed, but I find it difficult to be so.  And I'm at a loss as to explain why.  Perhaps because I truly believe that however much most of us try to hide it, men never really grow up.  What was there as a boy is there as a man buried under many layers of accumulated muck--but there nevertheless.  Wordworth's "The child is father of the man. . ."  is true in so many ways--and the child always remains with the man.  Women have observed this, sometimes contemptuously, sometimes indulgently.  But there are so many ways (at least I've observed) that it is true and perhaps even, a little, virtuous--so long as one is childlike not childish.

And another.

And another.

And I continue to grow more abashed and want to say--well, if you extended the list, of course. . .But reality--those early influences are pervasive and what I listed really did influ…

Why We Do What We Do

I very much enjoyed Jonah Lehrer's book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, so when I saw How We Decide in the Library, I thought it was a lead-in and picked it up.  Much to my surprise and pleasure it is a more recent books, so I don't have a long list of back-reading in the Lehrer Canon.  The introduction of this book is promising.

From How We Decide Jonah Lehrer
But this doesn’t mean that our brains come preprogrammed for good decision-making. Despite the claims of many self-help books, intuition isn’t a miraculous cure-all. Sometimes feelings can lead us astray and cause us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes. The human brain has a big cortex for a reason.
The simple truth of the matter is that making good decisions requires us to use both sides of the mind. For too long, we’ve treated human nature as an either/or situation. We are either rational or irrational. We either rely on statistics or trust our gut instincts. There’s Apollonian logic versus Dionysian feeling; the id ag…

A Reading Plan

Poem of the Week--W. H. Davies

School's Out

Not so much a poem as a simple cry for joy and one that all of us, even those most enamored of school (and I was among them) can sympathize with.

Via Books Inq.--The Evolution of Reading

Don't fear the e-reader

I've used some version for 10 years now.  I never abandoned print books.  I did not dry up and fly away.  Metal parts have not (so far as I am aware) significantly replaced important body parts.  Indeed, I have found it liberating to get on a plane, train, or other conveyance with the calm assurance of carrying five-thousand books with me, lest I should get bored or need to consult the 1919 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Catholic Encyclopedia at the spur of the moment.  Being able to find any word in any book with a simple search--lovely--better processor speed would make this lovelier.

So, it's a brave new world that has such creatures in it, and it is with us to stay.  You do not have to become one with the collective, but "turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. . . it is not dying, it is not dying."

Insights from Polkinghorne

More on Lydia Davis

The Greater Northern Ohio Tourist Board Urges You to Visit

Winesburg, Ohio--in this and subsequent posts.  One of the truly great forerunners of (and an admitted influence on) Hemingway--but nothing at all like him.  The stories "Paper Pills" and "Hands" still haunt me.

Skeletons in the Reading Closet

D.G. Myers brings to light the notion of "reading skeletons."

Of course I find this infinitely amusing and even more amusing to consider the reality shows that could be made from the confessions of discoveries of these loathsome secrets. "Next up, after Supernanny, A.S. Byatt visits a bibliotherapist to treat her love of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

Or perhaps the reality show that would include me Shameless Readers--stories of everyday people who gorge themselves with the most unspeakable and deplorable reading trash.  We could explore the deep dark secrets of people who aren't even aware that they should be ashamed of having read and enjoyed the things they have.

Mr. Myers Suggest a Blog

And I concur--Interpolations

A Review of One of My Favorite Books

One of the reasons I'll be forever indebted to my book group.  We decided, for no good reason that I can think of, to read A Handful of Dust(reviewed here) and I went on to read everything I could find by Mr. Waugh.  I had already perused Brideshead Revisited and The Loved One, but A Handful of Dust was something else entirely.

A Meme from Quid Plura?

Introductory Text below from Quid Plura?  The choices, distinctly my own.

Memes come, memes go, and I rarely inflict personal stuff on readers of this blog [I copied this from Quid Plura, but how well you have already come to know how untrue it is for me]. However, this meme is fun: list the ten books that most influenced you. Forget the books you love, or the books you think you need to say you’ve read; instead, list the books that answer the question, “Who are you, and how did you get that way?”

Tom Sawyer--From the time of first reading until today, I have never lost the sense of freedom and of what it is just to be a boy with the interests and the foolishness of a boy, with the pranks and those things that are deadly seriously.  And, there is no skill more powerful than convincing everyone that painting the fence is a privilege worth paying for.

Treasure Island--See Tom Sawyer.  Plus--action, adventure, and a sense of coming into your own.

Dracula--From the time of reading I have…

Just in Time

Easter Poems

Including Joyce Kilmer's response to Yeats's poem on the Easter uprising, etc.

A Scholarly Seder

Hurrah Another lovely poem

Another poem from Quid Plura?

I love alliteration and use it excessively.  It's the sound of the words and their rhythm that makes poetry an art.

At Open Culture: The Endlessly Self-Delusive Sam Harris

Sam Harris: Science can provide definitive answers to moral questions.

Wow, I can't wait to hear the insight of Josef Mengele and Werner von Braun on questions of equality of humanity.  Or the insights of people who can't even give appropriate credit for work when accepting a Nobel.  Or those that steal and publish their graduate student's work.  I expect these insights into moral questions to be profoundly stirring.

Mr. Harris has no religion and so arrogates one of the possible functions to science and proceeds to undermine any validity his viewpoint may have had.  He is right only in one thing--moral questions do fall into the realm of knowable facts--but they are not empirically knowable as witnessed by the fact that we have many who see nothing wrong with slavery, slaughter, and mayhem if it serves their purposes. 

Science is a useful tool for knowing the natural world.  To presume that the natural world reveals some sort of morality is to dive head-first into a sea o…

Back to the Hugos

The Guardian considers Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

Fred recently considered it here.

I have to be honest, I just don't see it, didn't see it, and don't quite get it.  I've read the book three or four times trying to get what others did out of it, and it just doesn't work for me.  But perhaps it is time for another go-round with it.  As one's viewpoint changes stories that previously did not engage become more engaging.  If I were to nominate one LeGuin for everyone to read it would, without doubt, be The Dispossessed.   Although I am also very partial to The Lathe of Heaven.

But to be fair, this is the book everyone goes ga-ga over and everyone holds up as her triumph.  I am definitely a dissenting voice in this match.

Critics and Reviewers

A note from Novels, Stories, and More on the difference between critics and reviewers.

I have vanishingly little interest in criticism--I find the apparatus often gets in the way of the text and makes it nearly impossible to enjoy or appreciate it. Critics have ruined Ulysses for the common reader for whom it was written.  I find that criticism tells me more about the critic than about the work under investigation--and sometimes it tells some very interesting things.

I fall, therefore, into the world of the book reviewer.  I'm unlikely to reveal new layers of a text or different understandings or open the world of the book to anyone other than those who have not already read it.

Best Poetry Blogs

Best Poetry Blogs (Books INQ.)

An Author in Complete Control of Her Work

Maeve Brennan is an amazing writer. I've lingered over this book of short stories for so long a time, in part because other things intruded, but mostly because I don't want to let go.  I really enjoy spending time in her world.  Her work reminds me (a little) of the few short stories I've read by Elizabeth Bowen--work I care for far more than I did The Death of the Heart.

To give you a sense of why I find so much good in Maeve Brennan, just glance at the excerpt below.

from "The Poor Men and Women"
in The Springs of Affection
Maeve Brennan

There must have been a time when he knocked on all the doors of the terrace to find out who was open to him, but for years now he had come straight to her. His feet slapped the pavement inoffensively as he went along. He begged in silence. She kept thinking he might say something to her, but he never did. One time she threw a friendly remark after him, and he turned back so confused that she was ashamed. It was a long time before …

Harvard at Open Culture

The Pen/Faulkner Prize

Pen/Faulkner Awarded to Sherman Alexie War Dances.

Guess I'm going to have to try to get into this author's materials.  I haven't been mesmerized by what I've encountered so far, but perhaps I've started off on the wrong foot.

An Elegy for Easterly--Petina Gappah

I do not read books in translation nor books by authors outside the United States simply for the pleasure of being able to claim some sort of faux-eclecticism.  I read a book because something about it engages me, and Ms. Gappah's book of short stories certainly did that.  I've posted numerous excerpts from the book in the recent past, so you already have a sense of the quality and breadth of the writing.

An Elegy for Easterly is a book of short stories and it is an uneven book.  Some of the stories are superb--masterful, controlled, eminently entertaining.  Others seem to have lost their sense of purpose and it is at times difficult to make out what the author was trying to get at.  All of the stories have a very highly refined sense of place that allows one a better sense of a small portion of the African continent.

Let me start with the perceived flaws: at times it seems that Ms. Gappah wishes to limit her audience to those with a robust knowledge of the languages and system…

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior Ori and Rom Brafman

I don't read a lot of nonfiction and I tend to be very selective about what I do read--it has to amuse me in some way.  This book certainly qualified.  I love books that spell out the obvious and help me codify or qualify observations I have already made.  Sway is that kind of book par excellance.  What Sway sets out to do is to tell us why we sometimes find ourselves doing the oddest, strangest, most counter-intuitive and often counter-productive things.

Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman have identified trends in thought or behavior that sometimes dominant our decisions and thought to the point of irrationality: risk aversion, commitment, diagnosis bias, value attribution, fairness, group dynamics.  We've all seen these in action but what Brafman and Brafman do is show us how these trends affect things like fatal airline crashes, losers on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the concept of fairness as it varies among cultures, the price of eggs, and the outbreak of bi-polar disorder. 


The Sheila Variations

My sincere thanks to Anthony at Times Flow Stemmed for introducing me to the delightful blog that is The Sheila Variations.  I pass that kindness on to all of you.  The blogmaster shares a deep interest in all things _Ulysses_ and, perhaps (I've not investigated enough to know at this stage) all things Joyce.  But the first thing I encountered upon entering the site was a warm greeting from Patrick Henry--a personal hero.  Go and enjoy!

An Introduction to the Fibonacci Sequence

This little clip was originally found at Open Culture, a place to which I was directed by a much more somber spectacle--a documentary about the crimes of Nazis in Germany.  But this was lovely and I wanted to share it more broadly.  Although, my audience can hardly be considered to expand on anyone's.  Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy.

Poem of the Week

A Pure Clear Light--Madeleine St. John

It is one of my great regrets in life that I often come late to the table.  I have read two other Madeleine St. John novels and picked this up right before my trip and was drawn in.  In preparing to write a brief review, I looked her up only to find that she died in 2006--what a shame, because I, for one, could do with a great many more books like this one.

Most of Ms. St. John's novels are simple domestic dramas--sometimes tragedies, but in this case a kind of uxb planted firmly in the middle of a loving marriage which inexorably changes the marriage.  Flora Beaufort and her husband Simon are a happily married couple when Flora visits France with their three children while Simon stays behind to become embroiled in an affair with a young accountant.  Flora returns home and begins to take more seriously the question of God and religion which disturbs Simon deeply.  He tries to control the direction of this while carrying on the affair.

From these contours you can see that it is a s…

In Philadelphia for a convention

Expect blogging to be light--but I hope to get to some more Petina Gappah and a wonderful book by Madeleine St. John.

Query for those in Great Britain--is St. John as a last name still pronounced sinnjinn, or is it more like St. John?

Dancing News from Zimbabwe

I'm really enjoying Petina Gappah's collection An Elegy for Easterly--and what follows shows one of the reasons why.

from "The Mupandawana Dancing Champion"
in An Elegy for Easterly
Petina Gappah

Fame is an elastic concept, especially in a place like this, where we all know the smells of one another's armpits. Mupandawana, full name Gutu-Mupandawana Growth Point, is bigger than a village but it is not yet a town. I have become convinced that the government calls Mupandawana a growth point merely to divert us from the reality of our present squalor with optimistic predictions about our booming future. As it is not even a townlet, a townling, or half a fraction of a town, there was much rejoicing at the recent ground-breaking ceremony for a new row of Blair toilets when the district commissioner share with us his vision of town status for Mupandawana by the year 2065.

More on Solar

Richard Wilbur Poem for the Day

In Honor of St. Patrick's Day--Maeve Brennan

When I started out this morning I had no intention of posting what follows.  Not because it is not good, but because I had other items in the line-up, which may still make it into the rotation for the day.  But I was so moved and touched by the lines you're going to read because they bring together such a splendid story of dreams and disappointments, that I thought, what a nice way to commemorate, quietly, the day.

from "A Free Choice"
in The Springs of Affection
Maeve Brennan

In the hall below, Hubert waited alone and watched for Rose to come down the stairs. He held her lace handkerchief in his hand. He had seen it slip from her sleeve as she entered the drawing room, and he had picked it up and put it in his pocket to keep for her. He would have told her he had it, but she had given him no chance to speak to her. She had danced off, and then she had gone on dancing, round and round the room, and finally she had begun dancing with that Nolan fellow, and he had gone off in…

St Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's day to all.  An occasion for some to drink green beer, perhaps become uproariously and (to their own minds at least) hilariously drunk.  A license for drunkenness for a day--a free pass. 

But having now visited Ireland--a country with which I have no ties whatsoever--genealogically I may be one of 10 caucasian people in the United States who has no Irish ancestry whatsoever--I think somewhat differently of this day.  Having seen the post office pillars that stand as silent memorials to those who lost their lives in the most recent series of troubles, having read the Easter Proclamation, having seen the Famine memorial has brought home to me a very different view of Ireland--one both more somber and more lovely.  And St. Patrick's day gives me cause and pause to pray for the continued peace of that nation, for its continued adherence to the beliefs for which it was so long punished, and for the continued livelihood and prosperity of the people who brought so…

Review Pulled

I had posted a much more negative review that I'm entirely comfortable with of Peter Carey's Wrong About Japan.  I have pulled the review and simply noted that I have read the book.

I don't like to post negative reviews for a number of reasons and I had promised myself that if it didn't get at least 4 stars I wasn't going to spend the time to review, etc.  I did in this case for reasons I can't quite articulate and it does a disservice to the writer.

It is enough for everyone to know that for what I felt were good reasons, the book did not appeal to me.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the writing and my reasons for disliking it were entirely subjective and not based on the merits of the work itself.  Therefore, it is unfair, and worse, unkind of me to post anything that could be seen as detraction.  I apologize to all of you and to the author and will, in the future, endeavor to keep any such to myself, noting only when I didn't care for somethi…


Episode 25

The Short Story, Episode 25: Leo Tolstoy--at the Guardian--next up J. G. Ballard.

The Fatwa Against Terrorism

ToC, Introduction, and notes in English. 

The first sixty or so pages of the Fatwa in English along with the complete ToC to give a sense of the extent of the teaching of the document.  How refreshing it is to read, what a pleasure it is to know that people of good will work toward the same ends regardless of differences of thought and opinion.

A Book I've Always Meant to Get To

At least recently.  WSJ comments on Zeno's Conscience.

Interview with a Poet--Seamus Heaney

A Moment of Good Advice for All

Whether or not one holds to any faith, much less that of Judaism, which gave rise to the Psalms, or Christianity, which took them into its heart, these words are words for the wise.

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.(KJV)

Teach us to number our days aright,
       that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.  (Translation from Liturgy of the Hours)

As I said, whether or not one believes in God, it is good to know and remember that as good as the days are and as wonderful as life can be, it is not forever.  As to whether anything follows--that is a matter for faith.  But what concerns us here and now is to understand how that shortness of life can inform the heart and make it both compassionate and wiser--not choosing foolishly among the many foolish choices that can make up a life.  Our choices, in a very real sense, end up defining who we are for better or for worse.…

Ostensibly about Climategate

An indictment of the American system of colleges and universities.  And is it, perhaps, mostly on target?  I certainly think there is some truth to it, judging by those I daily interview for positions and find lacking in all sorts of essential knowledge and skills.  But then, there may be any number of reasons for that.

The Age of Innocence--An Appreciation

A marvelous appreciation of one of Edith Wharton's finest novel-length works, The Age of Innocence.

While, in general, I don't agree with Ms. Wharton's conclusions regarding marriage and love, I did not live Ms. Wharton's life, which is a compelling argument in favor of her positions.

Logic in Verse

D. G. Myers has a couple of posts up about poetic syllogism.  The previous link is to the second of these, but go to the main blog and read down--you'll enjoy the subsequent posts as well. Contribute to the discussion, if you're of a mind to--we can all learn as we talk.  I'm grateful people are willing to post serious and interesting pieces about literature.  Even if the premise is one that I find difficult to fathom, it is worth hearing it spelled out and properly argued and Mr. Myers always does so with humor and graciousness.

A Foray into Morte D'Urban

At Novels, Stories, and More a review of J. F. Powers masterwork, Morte d'Urban.  Or I should say an appreciation with the promise of a review.

"An Old and eldern Knicht"

Sir Patrick Spens--the poem of the Week at the Guardian

Get your monthly recommended requirement of the ballad.  And some eldern Anguitch.  (My name for English that is more difficult to read--a pormanteau of anguish and Englitch--or something of the sort.)

"Ars Gravis, Vita Levis"

At Quid Plura? a new poem.  One I would call a romp.

The One Who Needs This Knows Who He Is

Do It Yourself built-in shelving

You know who you are--and providence provides--you need only ask.

A Room of One's Own Redux

Does having a room of one's own equal a masterpiece?  Only if you're Virginia Woolf.

Lenten Reading--Chesterton on Aquinas

Unlike many of my co-religionists I am emphatically NOT a fan of G. K. Chesterton (except perhaps the Father Brown stories--I debate with myself over their merits.)  I found The Man Who was Thursday tedious to the point of tears.  The poetry is just short of dreadful and most of the fiction a trial.  Now keep in mind, I am a minority opinion and this evaluation really says nothing at all about the work of Chesterton and says a tremendous amount about me.  But I offer this preface to say that I am once again enjoying Chesterton's biography of St. Thomas Aquinas--a figure who fascinates me endlessly.  Reading through it, I am once again inspired to one of those ill-fated mini-forays into the wilds of the Summa (probably with Peter Kreeft as my guide).  I don't really expect to get far because I never do.  I get to about the point of Divine Simplicity and find my head reeling from thoughts about things that no one can really know, and yet a great many spend an enormous amount of …

Off the Beaten Trakl

Issa reviews a new translation of the Poetry of Georg Trakl.

Samples included.

I've yet to read a good translation of much of this poet's work.  The samples posted seem quite promising.

Jayne Anne Phillips

International Reading

And Now, the View from Hungary

Imre Kertész--The Union Jack, a review.

I have only recently become acquainted with the work of Mr. Kertész and I have to say that what little I have read compels me onward into the rest of the oeuvre.  Like J. M. G. Le Clézio, Mr. Kertész is one whom I must thank the Nobel Committee for bringing to my attention.

I Am Alone. . . Utterly Alone

A nice review of Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky.

It is possible to get more depressing, but even in the works of those who would be as depressing--Sartre, Beckett, there are usually elements that relieve the unrelenting oppression (thus making it more oppressive).  Mr. Bowles is not long on humor, though he is a very, very talented, skilled writer.  It does not, however, ever pull The Sheltering Sky out of the realm of the terminally depressing.

The Multiply-To-Be-Dreaded Master Poet of Dundee

A poetical gem found within the pages of the 40 Bad books article.  I present for your delectation and delight:

The Poetry of William McGonagall

It must be read to be believed and so I present this excerpt from one poem within Poetic Gems.

from "Loch Leven"
William McGonagall

BEAUTIFUL Loch Leven, near by Kinross
For a good day's fishing the angler is seldom at a loss,
For the Loch it abounds with pike and trout,
Which can be had for the catching without any doubt;
And the scenery around it is most beautiful to be seen,
Especially the Castle, wherein was imprisoned Scotland's ill-starred Queen.
What more need be said on the matter?

Super Cool

Shields on the Novel

Views of Reality Hunger by David Shields.The consensus--who cares? and go away--said far more politely, of course. 

I'm of the ho-hum school.  The book is subtitled  "A Manifesto" so it's obviously a book driven by one person's agenda.  From the description of it, not an agenda I have the least interest in.  I haven't cared for most of the highly footnoted fiction I've glanced at, nor with most of the fragments, anti-novels, or experiments in form.  They're all fine for what they are, but I'm obviously not the intended audience and I'm okay with that.  If an author wants to write for the 30 people in the world willing to tolerate her/his written version of LaTourette's, more power to him/her.

A Bestseller's Database

Again from Books Inq.--a Bestseller database.

Interesting to peruse and see how many I have read and how many I've forgotten completely.  Also neat is to see some of the anomalies:

Willa Cather Shadows on the Rock
Joseph Conrad The Arrow of Gold--not one of his more notable books, but presence on the list at all is remarkable.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Hound of the Baskervilles--Not really unexpected as a best seller--I just tend to forget that Holmes crept into the 20th century.
Elizabeth von Arnim The Enchanted April (misfiled under Elizabeth)

Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose
William Faulkner The Reivers--Again, not a stand-out book by the author and, I believe, his last, but still to see Faulkner on such a list is a bit of a surprise.
Ellen Glasgow Vein of Iron
Hemingway hits the list five times, but Hemingway was nothing if he was not accessible by a large reading public--whether or not that public got from his books what he put into them may be debatable, but still, we see A Mov…

A Plethora of Bad Books

At Books Inq. a link to a list of bad books--at least in someone's opinion--I'm so gratified to see someone agreeing with me on Let the Great World Spin.

More Award Winners

Tolstoy on Reading

Wuthering Expectations guides us through Tolstoy's guide to reading.  Very nicely considered.  Perhaps I should turn back to Tolstoy.  My wife got me the newest War and Peace and it has been a while since I've indulged.

James Wood on "Lyrical Realism"

The Kindly Ones on the Con side

Another reviewer takes on The Kindly Ones and finds it to be lacking, or perhaps too much:

"There is a French tendency to confuse graphic pornography and intellectual refinement (cf. Houellebecq) and, whilst some of the criticism leveled at The Kindly Ones in the US press has seemed a little prudish, the degree of sexual deviancy and its predictability is a real problem here."

Note to Self: Don't Even Pretend Like This is a Possibility

Giving up book buying

Even reading the title I start to shake a little, and my mouth goes all dry, and I get this dull headachy feeling like when you've been without caffeine for, oh say thirty seconds or so.  If books came in IV drips, I'd say sign me up even though I'm constitutionally against the use of piercing metal objects on my body.

A Poem from the Chinese


from "Something Nice from London"
in An Elegy for Easterly
Petina Gappah

We wait for the Friday morning flight from London, as I stand with my mother, my brother Jonathan, and his wife, Mukai, and watch through the transparent glass of the observation platform. Our somber faces are out of place, surrounded by those that smile in anticipation, with mouths that laugh and fingers that point out to children, there they are, there she is, he is here at last; they arrived on time. My mother stares unseeing at the passenger below us who crane their necks to look up at the platform, anxious to catch a glimpse of a familiar face, arms waving and jangling with bracelets, faces broad with smiles. They have made an effort for the flight, the women in manicured wigs and weaves, their England clothes fitting well, their skin lightened by years and maybe even by just as little as six months of living out of the heat and stress of poverty. Those receiving them have also made an effort, or ma…

And One Last

Because I know after all my coy references you are desperate to see the creepy Joyce Statue people  (the people themselves are not necessarily creepy, just what's being done).  Personally, I prefer Molly in the foreground (as does my son).  In the background the grounds of Trinity College.

How to Make Divine Simplicity. . . well. . .

And Another for no Better Reason

Throughout the central blocks of Dublin, from North of the Liffey near the old Irish Post office to as far south and west as the National Library/National Museum, there are scattered 16 plaques that honor events, moments, words, of Ulysses.  For reasons I cannot fully explain, this is one of my favorites--at the Junction where O'Connell Street becomes Westmoreland, across the street from the building that is still called the Ballast House.

And then:

Just so you know that Ireland loves her artists--the building, built on the same spot, obviously not the original.  (It says Foundation stone laid on 10th April 1981, A stone from the original Ballast house is below the foundation stone at top, and a stone from the Royal Liver Building (Liverpool) is at the bottom.):

Just Because--Joyce in Dublin

In Dublin, there is at least one person who does the Statue of Liberty thing w/r/t this Joyce Statue.  I saw him once near Molly Malone and, as with all such, found it unspeakably creepy.  But not this.

Yann Martel's Forthcoming Book

Beatrice and Virgil reviewed at Biblioklept

I did read, and enjoyed enormously Life of Pi.  I little care if every book club in America read it and enjoyed it.  It does not matter to me that it is sometimes classed with YA books.  The book itself is solid, interesting, and conceives of a rather interesting voyage and the questions it raises about faith and living in sacred time are interesting far beyond the measures of the book.

Joyce on Joyce? Or rather not?

This article from the Guardian claims to have letters from Joyce and Pound on the Wake.  Perhaps so, and if so, it just confirms my thoughts in the matter.  But if not, well, the thought's in the right place--and I say that as one who profoundly loves the play of the Wake.

Wallace on Updike

An essay by David Foster Wallace on John Updike.  I was peripherally aware of this piece, but now that it has come into full consciousness and expresses my thoughts about the several writers mentioned at the beginning, I shall reread and seek to find if Mr. Wallace has expressed my own reservations about Mr. Updike's fiction.

Stories from LOA

Via Whispering Gums, an online series of which I was unfamiliar--the current edition being Kate Chopin's "A Respectable Woman.

Is Mr. Hitchens Really This Utterly Clueless?

Wow, the sheer hubris, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement is certainly breath-taking to witness.   A critique could go on for hours--but this was the same man who railed at Mother Teresa during her funeral: for such a one is there really any explanation or rebuttal?

Jewish Fantasy Writing

Why no Narnia for Jewish Writers?  Reviews of Lev Grossman et al.

an excerpt:

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition. Let us take two central examples: the magical world and the idea of evil.
I find this interesting for several reason--chief amongst them was that I was reflecting on how we've lost the …

Rene Char via Books Inq

Stephen King on the Short Story

R.T. provides this link to a interesting comment by Stephen King on why people don't read short stories any more.

For me the short story is an amazing art form.  All too often when I am reading novels, I think of Pascal's famous statement to the effect of , "Had I more time I would have written a shorter letter."  I remember completing The Witches of Eastwick and thinking "There was a really good short story buried somewhere in all that."  And so with many authors whose ability to talk far exceeds the matter about which they have to talk (myself included).

The skills required for a short story are prodigious, one must straddle the line of concision between poetry and novel (although Lydia Davis et al. are presently at blurring that line even further.)  One must have supreme command of what it is one is about in a short story.  There is no line, no word even that can be wasted.  I recall reading a few of Raymond Carver's short stories and thinking how lu…

Revisiting Brideshead

Brideshead Revisited revisited

A book of wonderful complexity, I find myself headed back for it again and again to see if any of the screen adaptations, any of the talk of it, any of the swirl of ideas and nonfacts about it hold weight.  And I always find myself wondering in the wake of revisiting.  I don't know what to make of it still--in some ways the most enigmatic and inscrutable of Waugh's work and the most unlike the rest of the opus.  Give me the relative simplicity of Vile Bodies or A Handful of Dust, or even Scoop over this troubling and haunting spectre.  Or not.  I love the entire opus from Decline and Fall through Scott-King's Modern Europe, through to the Posthumous collections.  A master of laser-like intensity and, one would suppose, perhaps not the most pleasant of persons to spend time in a room with.

Magnificent Beginnings

Better than best first lines--magnificent beginnings. . .

Or at least favorite ones.  Doesn't include some of mine, and seems to have a chronochauvinist bent, but so be it.

True Love

The Worst of the Worst

Showgirls, Teen Wolves, and Astrozombies reviewed at the New Yorker.

I have to say that the title of the book certainly includes two possibilities for the worst, each in a different Genre.  Showgirls has to be one of the very worst A-Budget highly touted films ever made.  Because it is so bad it has become cultic and made the producers and director back all of their investment and then some.  Bad movies are something of a specialty for me--and I would include in the honorable ranks that howler Dante's Peak, notable not merely for bad film-making but also for atrocious science.

Books and their Makers

Rube Goldberg Ascending

Indeed, he is:

And the full article:

How Go OK's Amazing Rube Goldberg Machine Was Built

Contrary to the article, this does not appear as though it could have been shot in one continuous take.  Moreover, some pieces of the device are a little obscure in their operation.  That doesn't stop it from being delightful.

Books v. E-books or i-Books, or whatever

Another country heard from

An interesting analysis that parallels our own.  Prune away the massive popular tree-killers and make room for the real book-making art.

Resurrection from a Jewish Point of View

Fascinating article about the resurrection of Jesus.

A Jewish scholar admits the possibility, but questions the meaning.  This is profoundly interesting and the reasoning behind the scholar's conclusions also fascinating.  If you've an interest in the subject, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

The Government and Schlitz Beer

Consent of the governed?  Who can say?

(probably from Books Inq.)

This, I hope, tantalizing taste:

Glenn Harlan Reynolds in The Washington Examiner In fact, when I think of the federal government's brand now, I think of Schlitz beer. Schlitz was once a top national brew. But, in search of short-term gains, it began gradually reducing its quality in tiny increments to save money, substituting cheaper malt, fewer hops and "accelerated" brewing for its traditional approach.

Each incremental decline was imperceptible to consumers, but after a few years, people suddenly noticed that the beer was no good anymore. Sales collapsed, and a "Taste My Schlitz" campaign designed to lure beer drinkers back failed when the "improved" brew turned out not to be any better. A brand image that had been accumulated over decades was lost in a few years, and it has never recovered.

The federal government, alas, finds itself in much the same position.

Sven Birkerts Treading the Same Old Ground

Gutenberg Elegies, countless articles, and this one to add to Sven Birkerts's dismal croaking about the fate of reading.  I may say that like I don't care for what he has to say, but I enjoy every word and I'm trying to figure whether he is a Cassandra, or just plain wrong, or somewhere in between (methinks the last of these for which the first was made).

Another Gargoyle

Burton Visits Wonderland

What can one say?  Burton visits wonderland and makes it his own, and because he is such an engaging film maker with so powerful an imagination, I don't even mind.  He eviscerates the Alice stories and sews them back together with his magical thread and I find myself wanting more.

Really, the film probably should have been called Jabberwocky, because that is the core and the theme.  While the characters from the Alice books are all gathered round, they are gathered round the Frabjous day and the Jabberwocky holds pride of place in this story.

Even my son, who has become notoriously picky about deviations from the sacred canon of his books (when it come to film, excoriating the film makers for the liberties they took with  The Lightning Thief even while enjoying the film) I say, even my son loved this film, talking about it frequently and often seeking to parse and critique the auteur's choices.  "Did you notice the Queen of Hearts had heart-shaped lips?"  "Do yo…

The Literary Vagaries of Philip Roth

The Guardian considers Roth.

I still haven't come to terms with Roth and don't know that it lies within me to do so.  So much a product of his generation that he can be alienating to those who are not, his often fetishistic descriptions of sex are sometime beyond the pale of nauseating.  And then he gives us The Plot Against America, a masterpiece. 

Part of my problem with Roth is that I simply can't figure out how seriously to take him when he is writing about sexual excess.  Is he writing to critique or writing to promote?  Sometimes it seems the former, and then I find myself most amenable to his writing, and other times it seems the latter and it's all I can do not to throw the book across the room.

William Carlos Williams

Not that you need it, considering it is one of the most anthologized and overanalyzed poems in the English Language, but The Guardian walks behind "The Red Wheelbarrow" in their poem of the week.

Another Joycean

Received a note from a fellow reader of Joyce who directed me toward his site.  If you're interested in Joyce (or baseball--interesting combination) you might want to check out the site.

from Wrong About Japan

I picked the above referenced book from the library more for its subject matter than for the author.  Indeed, the name of the author was somewhat obscured by the plethora of tags and IDs from the library.  What a pleasant surprise to find that it was by Peter Carey--an author whose work I had formulated a wish to take in.  Now, I know this will not be exemplary of his work; however, it provides an entrée to the prose--a sampling, as it were.

from Wrong About Japan
Peter Carey

"Come!" he called from the bathroom, "Come now. Quick!"

Whatever he had seen in the bathroom, I knew immediately, was very strange. He'd already seen weird Japanese stuff on the way here--the white-gloved taxi driver, the extraordinary neon-lit shop of pink and organe and blue flowers, a newsstand filled with countless manga with spines two inches thick.  But the strangeness he was now negotiating was of a different magnitude.

"Everybody with a taste for traditional architecture," …

Advice for would-be writers

Jewish Fiction in America

The Seafarer

Son announced that he had just read the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer" ( in a translation quite similar to this one).

Being 11he said, it was interesting.  I asked him if he had read it aloud.  He naturally responded no.  Now I won't go off on my diatribe on poetry as a spoken as well as a written art and how every poem should be heard as well as read and that poetry demands reading aloud (oops, I just did).  But I did ask him to read it aloud for me, and as he did so we paused every few lines and reviewed what was going on both in the "story" of the poem and in the language.  What amazed me was his very clear grasp of what the poem was about, the differences between the seafarer and the youth and why those differences occurred. 

I am convinced that if parents, teachers, or anyone would just take a little time and listen to their children reading and stop and ask them questions, we would improve education in this country 10,000% in a single year. It takes so l…

Author's Choice

More lists

Literary Saloon gives a Dutch list of the best books of the decade

And the Guardian gives us a list of authors' favorite books of the decade

What is interesting here is to see Jonathan Franzen's entertaining, but hardly magnificent The Corrections set amongst first class works such as Atonement, The Plot Against America, and Snow.  Franzen's book was competent, well composed, entertaining, and unfortunately by the nature of what Mr. Franzen decided to do with the material utterly trivial.  The Plot Against America brought me back to Roth for the first time in decades and made me wonder what I had been missing. 

Also notable is the presence of The Kindly Ones on this list.  A highly controversial work, I started it once and got about 50 pages into it before I decided that I needed to table it and wait until I had the leisure to devote to it and really read through it.  It is decidedly not a book to be consumed in 5 to 10 page segments throughout a day, week, month…