Showing posts from September, 2010

King on Vampires et al.

Stephen King on putting the bite back into vampires.

Top 10 Vampire novels--

Agree with Number 1, 2, 5. Anno Dracula--really?  What about They Bite among a plethora of others more worthy.  But at least in these a Vampire is still a vampire--evil, relentlessly destructive, and despite all of that (or perhaps because of it) seductive.


Review of What Ever Happened to Modernism?

When Anthony at Times Flow Stemmed reviewed this looked very interesting.  It remains so.

Perspective on the Greek Pantheon

The Ladbroke's Odds

A Bit More on Tomas Tranströmer

Neuromancer reviewed

A review of William Gibson's Neuromancer

To which I can say--precisely.  Some excellent inroads but overall a seeming muddled mess.  I'll side with Shelf-Life here and recommend with her (except perhaps for the rather thudding ending) Snow Crash  with its redundant centerpiece Hiro Protagonist, expert pizza deliverator.  Or the much more intelligible steam-punk romance The Difference Engine (Sterling and Gibson).  And, in general, I would say that Sterling is the better prose artist and stylist.

The Nobel Prize in Literature

This year's odds-on favorites for the Nobel

Do keep in mind that last year's early speculations were way, way off and only as we got closer to the date did anyone home in on Herta Muller.

And this year, I'm once again left scratching my head: Tomas Tranströmer?  We couldn't even manage Torgny Lindgren, if we're going for Swedish?

Another look at same

Another Nobel Analysis

I'm dismayed to see that William Trevor--certainly deserving isn't even mentioned prominently anywhere.

A View from AMNH

For those not from New York--American Museum of Natural History--"The Known Universe"

Radio News

Dystopian Views

Sxi Scientists Share Their Favorite Science Fiction

Concluding the History

Open Yale Lectures

DFW on 5 Novels

Comics with a Cause

On Philip K. Dick

The Decadent Novel

My version of the Religion Quiz

Because I circle in a group that tends to have intense religious interests, I can say that if I were to pose the same quiz, it would look more like this:

(1) What are Halacha? (please pardon transliteration) How many?  How do they (if they do) compare to Shari'a law?

(2) What is the word for the dietary laws observed by Muslims and from what source are they derived?

(3) Name the most famous avatar of Vishnu.

(4) What are Jains?

(5) What are the towers of silence, what is their significance,  and to which religion do they belong?

(6) What is the tao and who are the two most famous teachers?

(7) What is the difference between a Mughal and a Muslim?

(8) Of which branch of Islam was Rumi a teacher?

(9) Who is Moses Maimonides, what is his best known written work,  and by which name is he better known in the west?

(10) What are conversos? Which prominent Saint is thought to have come from a converso family?

(11) What is Mohism? Who was its founder?  What are its principle teachings?



Sukkot: a poem

Now, there's a religious question  for you (following on the previous post).  If you really want to test religious knowledge, one would ask about Sukkot, what it is and what it celebrates.  Click the word at Quid Plura to find out more.

Test Your Religious Knowledge

via Maverick Philosopher

Test your religious knowledge

Scored 15 out of 15--however, I'd argue that at least three of the questions are less about religion and more about history/civics/demographics.  And these questions don't come anywhere near being a torture test of religious knowledge.  Now, if one were to ask the exact nature of the Albigensian heresy and how it was similar to and different from the Manicheean heresy--or the nature or even the names of the two great divisions in the Buddhist religion or the nature and meaning of a Bodhisatva--there you're getting into true religious knowledge.  As it stands, anyone who has been paying attention to news and general culture should do fairly well on this test.

Here are the demographics on the test.   And I must admit to being shocked at the relatively low scores.  And I'm ashamed to say that my demographic scored only middling, while other practitioners of my faith were dead last.  But perhaps that indicates less about…

What Do Christians Say?

A Late Encounter with the Enemy

A review of Wise Blood

No question, Flannery's novels are strong meat.  If one finds Wise Blood odd, it's good to move onto, as Flannery calls in in one of her essays (quoting a woman asking for it in a bookstore, "The Bear that Ran Away With It"

I love them as much as the short stories, but both novels are very strange journeys.  But then, from brief exposure, it would seem to be what one might expect.

Beautiful Reflection on Presence

Reflection on Presence

An excerpt:

I see it all the time, people who are sleepwalking through life, focused on some personal thought, carrying on a continual, meaningless chatter or text conversation with other sleepwalkers. They’re dangerous, when they’re not comic relief like the lady at the car wash.

But I catch myself doing it, distracted when I should be present, seeking entertainment and confirmation from online rather than those who are right there with me. It’s so easy to become lost in the ghost world, even in a glorious fall day like today.

You've heard it all before

But it's worth hearing again: an apology for fiction


Just about every literary nerd has had this conversation at least once (and I had one recently):

Me: Oh, you're a reader - cool! What do you like to read?
Non-Literary Nerd: Non-fiction, almost exclusively.
Me: You don't like fiction?
NLN: Nope. There's too much to learn about the real world to read stuff that's made up.
Me: Sure, dude.
I've said it, nearly everyone I know who reads fiction has said it, and it is ultimately unpersuasive because those who read nonfiction do not really do so to gain information about the world--such information is of its time and of the prejudice of the writer and ultimately subject to revision and rerevision.  Truth is, most of us don't really know why we do much of anything.  There are relatively few choices that we could explain rationally, and of those few, what we choose for recreation may be the least explained choice of all.

But it never fails to interest…

Two Videos

These are old, and I may have posted one of them before, but I like them so there's no harm in showing them again.  (Thanks to Mockingbird whose post reminded me)

First, the Rube Goldberg device:

I just love the metaphorical fall of umbrellas.

And then OK go and friends--utterly charming and sweet:


An interesting, but it seems, flawed arguement at A Commonplace Blog.  Or perhaps it is only my reading of it that is flawed.  The passage I take exception to:

Toleration, though, is always from a position of power. Religious opinions that differ from the established view (from my own religious commitment, that is) are granted the freedom to express and spread themselves, because they are not a threat. They are not a threat precisely because their arguments, spilling out from within a different circle, cannot serenade me with any degree of persuasion.
What I read here is that if one is not secure in one's religious conviction then no tolerance should be practiced because one COULD be wooed by the siren song of that other faith.  Having been a practitioner, or attempted to be a practitioner of a great many faiths, I can say, that I am wooed by reason and by the siren song of the truth that is central to the revealed faiths.  I would argue that toleration does not come from bei…

Father Thomas Dubay R.I.P.

Father Thomas Dubay has died.  Author of some of the most erudite and some of the gentlest and kindest books on prayer and the presence of God has passed away.  He has left us a lasting legacy in his words and teaching and in his probing insights into contemplative prayer and prayer in general.  In modern times it would be difficult to find a better or more profound teacher of the path of Christian Prayer.

New Yorker iPad App

New Yorker iPad app revealed.  I'll like be there.

A Moment in Solzhenitsyn

from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In all the time he spent in camps and prisons, Ivan Denisovich had gotten out of the habit of worrying about the next day, or the next year, much less how to feed his family. The fellows at the top thought about everything for him, and it was kind of easier like that. Winter after winter, summer after summer--he still had a long time to go. But his business about the carpets upset him.

Too Long Away, We Revisit an Old Friend

You did not think that I would cast you adrift to wander the wilds of Wordsworth alone did you?  Or more like you are thinking, "I thought we'd gotten away from that obsession."  Ah, but no.  Wordsworth is more than an obsession, more than a moment's preoccupation.  He is one of the few poets I can think of who offers what amounts to a real vacation in the middle of you day or week as you read him.

For those tracking closely, we pick up where we left off in book 6.

from The Prelude Book VI
William Wordsworth

Mighty is the charm
Of those abstractions to a mind beset
With images, and haunted by herself,
And specially delightful unto me
Was that clear synthesis built up aloft
So gracefully; even then when it appeared
Not more than a mere plaything, or a toy
To sense embodied: not the thing it is
In verity, an independent world,
Created out of pure intelligence.
Part of the continuing Ode to Geometry--as unlikely a subject as one can bring to mind with only a moment's …

A Brief Interview with Sam Lipsyte

Blood Meridian hits 25

Bill Bryson's African Diary

A slender book, written as a fundraiser for CARE efforts in Africa, the African Diary has all of the trademark evidences of Bryson authorship--humor, warmth, and lively prose.  The book tells the story of 8 days spent in Kenya visiting some of the poorest places in the world.  It also recounts some of the efforts made by CARE and others to assist the people of Kenya.

I don't know if the proceeds still benefit CARE or if the book is still available, but if so, you could pick a worse way to donate to a laudable cause.


The Violin of Auschwitz--Maria Angels Anglada

One can tell from the title--not likely to be a cheery heart-warming story.  And yet one would be wrong--at least insofar as heartwarming goes.  Cheery no, but victorious--yes.

One night at a concert a musician hears the sound of a wonderful, warm violin.  Intrigued, he speaks with the owner, who at first does not say much, but who leaves him the "documents in the case" so that we learn how the violin came into being. 

A luthier imprisoned in Auschwitz and suffering the same horrors as the other prisoners is set to work making a violin.  What he does not know as he starts is that a wager is placed upon the completion of this violin during a certain span.  If completed in time, one party of the bet is to receive a case of wine.  If not, the other party is to receive the Luthier as a participant in some of his medical experimentation.

The harsh facts of its origin do not betray the instrument itself.  The luthier works his art and magic and produces a violin amidst the horrors…

Ms. Johnson Speaks

Female Authors

Times Flow Stemmed reads Maureen Johnson and pauses to reflect.

from Ms. Johnson, a list:

Edna Ferber, Diana Wynne Jones, Kate Chopin, Patricia Highsmith, Miles Franklin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Virginia Woolf, Marianne Robinson, Lorrie Ann Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary McCarthy, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edwidge Danticat.
And, of course, other than the obvious--that the list comprises only the 20th and 21st centuries, I would ask where are:

Willa Cather, Sylvia Jewett Orne, A. S. Byatt, Penelope Fitzgerald, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alice Munro, Julie Orringer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, Chimamanda Ngozi Adechie, Maaza Mengiste, Helen Garner

and a host of others all of whom deserve a wider readership?  (Well maybe not Munro and L…

Rossetti Reanimated

Christina Rossetti, an unjustly neglected poet, who, it seems is remembered (if at all) for "The Goblin Market," and "In the Bleak Midwinter."  Unjust for so fine a poet to be relegated to two works out of all the many she wrote.

The Great American Novel

Sherlock Holme's Doggy Adventure

Classics in Context: Dracula reviewed

Dracula reviewed

While Bram Stoker could be blamed for the modern epidemic, Dracula remains a wonderful, powerful story of darkness and seductive evil.  And in Stoker's book there is no question of its intrinsic evil, something modern fetishists tend to negate or forget.  Because Dracula, as its central taboo violates one of the most important of the kosher laws (Lev. 14:17)--placed with the Chosen People to assure the continued humanity of humanity.

Sacred Hearts reviewed

The Caretaker of Lorne Field Dave Zeltserman

In a word--superb.  A horror novel, a meditation on faith and belief, the story of a modern Job, and perhaps much, much more.  I tore through this book at a prodigious rate--especially notable given the reading doldrums in which I have found myself for the past several weeks/months.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field is the story of Jack Durkin, the 9th generation of Durkins given the task of tending to a field in the middle of nowhere.  And 9 generations of Durkins is only the beginning because one gets hints that Native Americans before this also tended the task.  Bound to the laborious task of weeding the field from sun-up to sun-down from first frost to winter thaw by an elaborate contract that details every aspect of the job, Durkin is paid $8,000 a year and given a house to live in.  This is not enough for his wife, who while happy enough at the prospect of the job at the beginning has seen no cost-of-living increase in the 20 or so years she has lived with Jack.  The story details the…

Reissues: The Magic Christian

Poem of the Week--John Lucas

Easter, 1944

Gorgeous, and, oh so hard.  It is so difficult to read a well-wrought poem like this with all of its implications for every parent and child.

Journey to Trianon

Three Books

This weekend absorbed an eclectic mix of books, about which more, perhaps in moments:

The Caretaker of Lorne Field David Zeltserman
The Violin of Auschwitz Maria Angles Anglada
Bill Bryson's African Diary Bill Bryson

Presently I am reading:

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Alexander Solzhenitsen
Kokoro Natsume Soseki
The Invisible Bridge Julie Orringer
Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
The Jesuit Guide to (Nearly) Everything James Martin

Pay-to-Preview on Amazon

Pay-to-Preview on Amazon

What a great idea!  I can think of no better way to drive readers back into the languishing bookstores than to require that they purchase a book without the opportunity to sample the content. 

When I go to Barnes and Noble or Borders, or my local bookseller, I read through any number of books without ever buying them.  Conceivably, I could take a small book to the cafe and sit and read the entire thing before I leave.  It's a cost of doing business and it ultimately increases sales.  So, go ahead Amazon, charge for previews and see how your customers like it.

Reviews Gathered by Julie

via Happy Catholic

Nightlife of the Gods  Not even one of the better Thorne Smith, but still worlds beyond most such stuff published subsequently.

The Little Stranger

Both would seem to be excellent October reading.

Conspiracy Theorists and other UFOlogists

I must admit to being fascinated by the whole question of Roswell and its "cover-up"

The Other Inkling

Charles Williams

And a comment by Tea at Trianon through whom I found the link.

I have read a majority of Williams's novels, two books of his theology and a longish poetry compilation called The Arthurian Torso.  And of the inklings, I must say that he is at once the oddest and least accessible, and also one with the most perfervid imagination.  I've liked nearly everything, except the one that I had most expected to like, which I could hardly finish (Descent into Hell).  But the book that lingers in the mind for me is All Hallow's Eve, which is his picture of purgatory--along the lines of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce thematically.   War in Heaven is also very fine with its odd beginning and grail-quest theme.  And another work features a powerful ring of Solomon.

All-in-all, if you haven't sought out his work, and you like works of vast imagination and an odd mix of supernatural, you would do yourself a favor to seek out Charles Williams.

I would be remiss if I d…

Mrs. Gaskell Reconsidered


A Review of A Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale

I read A Handmaid's Tale some time back.  To me, it is a prose example of what happens when an author descends into the realm of political commentary and agenda.  I found nothing about it convincing or even interesting except, perhaps, the author's evident distaste for men and everything about them.  The anger and even hatred in this book convinced me that despite the wonderful ability of the author to express herself, there was nothing in what she had to say for me.

But I will readily admit that I could be wrong.  That was the past and a time in which I could brook no book or piece in which I perceived an agenda.  Perhaps a revisit would reveal to me what would appear to be a different book.  It doesn't much matter because I need to keep moving--there are a great many books both of the past and of the present that demand more time than I can give anyway.

Issa Reveals Another Side

When he shares with us a shopping list found in a copy of Carl Jacobi's Revelations in Black.  And I thought I was the only person with extant copies of that work!

The Other Side of Milton

A racy poem attributed to Milton

via University Diaries.

More October Reading

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Another great book by the inimitable Shirley Jackson.

An Elegy for Feminism?

More Poetry

The Countess of Pembroke reminded me. . .

Of one of my all-time favorite poems:

To My Dear and Loving Husband
Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.
    If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
    If ever wife was happy in a man,
    Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
    I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
    Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
    My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
    Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
    Thy love is such I can no way repay.
   The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
   Then while we live, in love let's so persever
   That when we live no more, we may live ever.  An essay-guide to the poetry of Anne Bradstreet.

The Countess of Pembroke

Yes, the sister to whom Sir Philip Sidney dedicated, indeed titled his epic Arcadia, was a poet, a very fine one in her own right.  Below, the excerpt from a translation of Psalm 46:

from "Deus noster refugium"
The Countess of Pembroke, Mary (Sidney) Herbert

Yea to the deep up boyling make
          Such watry mountains rise
As at their dashing cryes
The earthy mountains seem to shake
Yet shall a Rivers streaming joy
          With myrth wash from annoy
          The citty God hath chose
His Holy dwelling to enclose.
More from the Countess

Seeking to Scratch that October Itch

And have already tossed aside your well-worn editions of Shirley Jackson.  Stephen King not to your taste?  Looking for Lovecraft that isn't Lovecraft?

Well you could do worse than to check out The Literary Gothic,  a site that I have been perusing for what seems like forever at this point (but obviously cannot be).  Collected here are a great many public domain texts--books and short stories.  You can find a great many of the works mentioned in H. P. Lovecraft's magnificent essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature,"  indeed, as the link indicates, you can find the essay itself.

Additionally, you can find works by Vernon Lee, J Sheridan Le Fanu, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Maria Edgeworth, Matthew "Monk" Lewis; in many cases you can also find critical essays and biographical information to accompany the works. 

So if you're looking to head into October Country, this could be your one-stop shop.

Long Live Books!

A comment on a technical review that says that paper books will survive.

While I agree with most of what the commenter has to say, I disagree with one proposition which I cannot determine from context whether it belongs to the reviewer or the original article.  All of the stuff on my Kindle, or at least nearly all of it (because I make my own e-books) will continue to be readable into the future because I will simply convert the files into whatever format comes forward as the next e-reader.  Worst comes to worst you extract them to html or xml and you have ultimately repurposable files without much concern about backward compatibility.  I've done it from palm to kindle to iPad and will continue to do it into the future.  I like portability.  I like being able to have a choice among thousands of books if I'm away from home.  I like being able to walk to the corner of Grafton Street across from the Fusilier's Arch and read Dubliners or to Davy Byrne's and sit down with U…

Literature in Translation

How Very, Very Sad

An Interview with Matthew Hooton

Matthew Hooton, author of Deloume Road, interviewed.  I'm hearing more and more about this book and the more I hear the more interesting it seems.  Obviously one that I'll need to look into.

A Review re Orion

Orion, You Came and You Took All My Marbles

I know the rhythm of the title alludes to a modern song, but right now I just can't quite place it.  Strange thing is I can hear the melody but not the words.  That aside, this sounds like one interesting book.  Go and check it out.

Librarians and Rock Stars

How the Bront&eauml;s Divide Humanity

In this battle of the 19th Century Female Heavyweights, I'd count myself a librarian having never made it through Wuthering Heights except in movie format.  But to be fair, I suspect my failure, as in so many things, was one of finding the right mood for the book--not the book itself, which I found engaging and repellent by turns.

Don Delillo's Award

A Selection of Catholic e-Book Classics

A selection of classics available in the open-format epub--works on computers and iPad and any epub capable reader.

Truth of the matter is that the interested reader can get these files and make their own epub books with a software program like Calibre. (And being a book-geek, I've already done so.  But I'm lazy and I don't really need or care for cover art, etc.  All I care about is well-formatted text. )  For those who don't want to make their own, these are reasonably priced and are said to be human edited and mediated--and they do appear to have some cover art, etc.

It's nice to see things like Lord of the World and Come Rack, Come Rope more widely available again.

Just Shows How You Can't Trust Even the Finest Critics

Just goes to show you how you can't trust even the finest critics when their agenda gets in the way

Harold Bloom on The New Testament--and he couldn't be more wrong about the Apocalypse--in every way and every nuance.  It's remarkable how many people are utterly insensitive or hypersensitive to aspects of this book.  My wife absolutely despises it and is horrified by it--I find it hypnagogic and utterly fascinating.

What I find too often in Bloom is vast and general critical statements made on the basis of personal like or dislike of the content and not on the merits of the work. When he likes a work he seems to be able to do a remarkable job of focusing on germane and valuable elements of it.  But as with Poe, and St. John, when he doesn't care for the content, he does not seem to be able to separate that from a discussion of the quality of the work.

But then, I'm a big one to talk.  Ever at your service pulling the mote out of your eye, while knowing you over wi…

Speaking of Old Wives

Another Irresistible Quotation from Kay Ryan

"It’s funny how writers will all want to jump on the same bed till the springs pop out. Then they go jump on another one. Transgressive apparently now means sex. Didn’t there used to be other transgressions?"

It's That Season Again

Office pool for Nobel Prize Winners


People whom I would like to see win (whose work is noteworthy enough):  William Trevor, Alice Munro

People who are likely to win--I probably haven't heard of them yet--but I'm anxious to see who the more-informed bookworld thinks worthy and likely.

Three Poems at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . . "

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan, an appreciation

Kay Ryan's Ladder

Kay Ryan, herself, on cooperative endeavors in the creative arts.

A short porfolio of her poems

More Poems

And a review from earlier this year of her "greatest hits"

A taste:

from "I Go to AWP"
Kay Ryan

I have a weak character. I am very susceptible to other people’s enthusiasms, at times actually courting them. I like to sit among people who feel strongly about a basketball team, say, and get excited with them. I love to love ouzo with ouzo lovers. These are, of course, innocent examples. But this weakness concerns me in going to AWP. If I’m exposed to the enthusiasms of others, I know that I am capable of betraying my deepest convictions, laughing in the face of a lifetime of hostility to instruction, horror at groupthink. The only way I’ve ever gotten along in this world is by staying away from it; I have had only enough character to keep myself out of situations that require character. Now here I am, going to…

Going to the Dogs

Celebrating the Arrival of Fall

Fall Equinox

For those in the northern hemisphere it is sobering to contemplate that this day marks the long descent into night that culminates on the shortest day of the year (December 21-22, depending on the year).

Of Opiliones

Different Shades of Sunset

Forlorn Sunset--the best book you've never heard of.

The bloggger who wrote the review certainly makes the book sound profoundly appealing.

On The Boat

How Writers Review Their Critics

Herodotus and Cowper

e.e. and his world

Great Libraries of the World

A blogpost from some years ago, but worth seeing again--Great Libraries of the World

via Tea at Trianon

From the Paris Review Interview of Truman Capote

A point so often made and so often ignored.

from Paris Review Interview of Truman Capote, 1957

INTERVIEWER Are there devices one can use in improving one's technique?
CAPOTE Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well, in such cases, it is certainly only their fingers they are exercising.
Precisely.  Joyce could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners.

At his very best Capote approaches Wilde in his aphorisms, see the final sentence.

Another Fan of Matthew "Monk" Lewis

A review of Matthew Lewis's The Monk

As the reviewer says, this is a heady brew of action, gothic, and all manner of arcane and otherworldly things.  Certainly one of my favorite October reads, perhaps I'll take it up again.

On Prayer

Quintessential James


Reading through Ulysses and going very, very slowly through the Circe episode--sometimes presented as a play and called "Ulysses in Nighttown."  But, as I've noted before, Ulysses is ultimate a day book.  That is, nearly all of the action of the novel (with the possible exception of the last episode with Leopold and Stephen and Molly Bloom, takes place in daylight.  Admittedly by Nighttown we're approaching sunset, but given the time and the date 10:00 at night in high summer (near the longest day of the year) is still pretty bright.

Why do I go to such pains to make the point?  Well it is not original to me to refer to Finnegans Wake as Joyce's "book of night."  Nor, probably (not being a Joyce scholar I cannot say) to call Ulysses the "book of day."  What is interesting is that in this episode of Ulysses, Joyce begins to develop the nightlanguage that will show up in the Wake.  Just a sample:

from Ulysses
James Joyce

VIRAG (Head askew, arches …

The Invisible Bridge Revisited

from The Invisible Bridge
Julie Orringer
The next day he prayed and fasted. During the early service he felt certain he had made a terrible mistake. If he'd waited another week, he thought, she might have come back to him; now he had secured his own unhappiness. He wanted to run from the synagogue to the rue de Sévigné and retrieve the box before anyone found it. But as the fast scoured him from the inside, he began to believe that he'd done the right thing, that he'd done what he had to do to save himself. He pulled his tallis around his shoulders and leaned into the repetition of the eighteen benedictions. The familiar progress of the prayer brought him greater certainty. Nature had it's cycles; there was a time for all things, and all things passed away. (205)
What a beautiful statement of the power of fasting in the spiritual life--incidental to the overall story, but a statement of deep faith nevertheless.  And we see the serenity that comes from taking th…

From The Luminarium--Poetry Wars

I love this site, have loved it for years, and continue to promote the good work that the site-owner does in making these works available to the public.  Below one marvelous example among many that may be found there.

"Sir THOMAS WORTLEY'S Sonnet Answered."
Richard Lovelace

The Sonnet.

I                                   No more
    Thou little winged Archer, now no more
                                  As heretofore,
    Thou maist pretend within my breast to bide,
                                  No more,
    Since Cruell Death of dearest Lyndamore
                                  Hath me depriv'd,
    I bid adieu to Love, and all the world beside.

II                                   Go, go ;
    Lay by thy quiver and unbend thy Bow
                                  Poore sillie Foe,
    Thou spend'st thy shafts but at my breast in Vain,
                                  Since Death
    My heart hath with a fatall Icie Deart

Luminarium Editions

The Best of the 16th and 17th Centuries--Obscure works of major poets including Swift, Dekker, and Drayton.

Washington D.C. Area Residents

Mark Atithakis has arranged an interesting sounding panel discussion tonight at George Mason University.  Check out his blog to learn more about it.

Professor Myers Considers Cardinal Newman

Prof. Myers looks at the recently beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman as a literary figure.  One whose "Dream of Gerontius" inspired a lovely oratorio/opera by Sir Edward Elgar.

Looking at David Mitchell's Magnum Opus to Date

Cloud Atlas reviewed

I spent a few hours trying to read this book.  I must assume that I just wasn't in the mood because I found nothing of what many reviewers have claimed is there.  But then, I have to admit, I can be incredibly thick headed.  It is sometimes said that I have the density of platinum--a fact of which I am very proud because it brings me in close contact with something intrinsically valuable.

Suzanne Collins Revisited

The Complete Paris Review Interviews

The complete Paris Review Interviews are available online.

via Mark Athitakis

In 2010 alone, these include David Mitchell, Ray Bradbury, and John McPhee among others.

Start with the 50s and see Truman Capote, Isak Dinesin, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, and E. M. Forster, among others.

What a tremendous treasure!

Camille Paglia

H.R. 4646--Debt Free America

Proposed--a 1% tax on every transaction made through a bank.  So, if you deposit money, you get to deposit 99% of what is left after the federal goverment has already had their hands on.  I don't normally follow things like this, but this bill is another pernicious tax that will never go away.  So we have income tax, sales tax, transactions taxes.  This new tax is supposed to phase out the old tax, but we all know how tax phase-outs work--well, maybe we just need it for one more year, well, maybe for another, until there is no phase out.

But in the interim, if I have to make a transaction to pay my tax bill, I get to pay 101% of what is owed.

Track H.R. 4646 here.

2/23/2010--Introduced. Debt Free America Act - States as purposes of this Act the raising of sufficient revenue from a fee on transactions to eliminate the national debt within seven years and the phasing out of the individual income tax. Amends the Internal Revenue Code to impose a 1% fee, offset by a corresponding …

Pens That Take Notes

Haste and Perspective

"On the Hurry of This Time"

featuring William Wordsworth among others.

The Nicholas Sparks Phenomenon

I've not read any Nicholas Sparks, but given this appreciation, perhaps I should take up a volume.  They seem to be fairly easy, quick reading and might make for a break in and among the other things I read.

Questioning Prayer

Ah, so now we can make out that any prayer is an intrusion and therefore an aggression.


But is it really a "nice gesture" at all? There's clearly something suspect about the motivations of those in Hitchens's first two squadrons, but the blunt disregard for the wishes of the person at the heart of this human tragedy leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, all too familiar from the pope's demands that Christianity must maintain a central place in modern life.
I, for one, will continue to pray for Christopher Hitchens's return to health, not in spite of Hitchen's himself, but because my faith requires it.  Further, "No man is an islande. . . send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

Additionally, prayer, for whatever reason, is turning toward God in supplication, as at a Father's knee, and even if there is no cure for Hitchens nor any conversion, it little matters, because the effort itself is an act of love, for …

LOC Story of the Week

Considering Psmith

Henry James, Detective

A review of What Alice Knew by Paul Marantz Cohen

The James Gang (Henry, William and Alice) track down Jack the Ripper.

via Books Inq.

Calvino in Review

Defoe and Joyce

Joyce's Literary Tastes

Robinson Crusoe as the English Ulysses. What a peculiar book and artist to choose for an apotheosis.  But then peculiarity tends to mark genius.

Author Interviews: Michel Houellebecq

The Paris Review Interview of Michel Houellebecq

via Times Flow Stemmed

An interesting excerpt:

(Houellebecq) I think sometimes I need a break from reality. In my own writing, I think of myself as a realist who exaggerates a little. But one thing definitely influenced me in The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft: his use of different points of view. Having a diary entry, then a scientist’s log, followed by the testimony of the local idiot. You can see that influence in The Elementary Particles, where I go from discussions of animal biology, to realism, to sociology. If not for science fiction, my biggest influences would all belong to the nineteenth century.

The Measured Rationalism of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins on the Pope

from "Papal Visit: Is Richard Dawkins Turning into Ian Paisley"
Jenny McCartney

And yet something about the style in which Dawkins has been pursuing his campaign reminds me of Paisley in the vehemence of his youth. Of late, Dawkins has moved away from the defence of science, and towards attacks upon religious belief. The reckless showman in him is outstripping the ardent rationalist, just as in Paisley it regularly held the theologian hostage.

Earlier this year, Dawkins described Pope Benedict – among other, worse accusations – as “a leering old villain in a frock… a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part”. He added that he was the most appropriate head for an “evil, corrupt organisation”. There was later some talk, mercifully abandoned, of performing a citizen’s arrest during the visit to Britain. . . .I am neither a creationist nor a Catholic, but the Pope-bashing jars. As a Protestant i…

Protesting the Pope

Protesting the Visit to England

Let me be the first to say that while I have not engaged with our present Pope in the way that I did with John Paul II, and while I acknowledge there is much to protest and decry, and I would say that the human institution of the Church is flawed and more than flawed, it seems odd to me to protest a man coming into your country to honor one of its great men.  But then, we have a protest mentality and you could probably find someone out there willing to protest medical aid to underprivileged countries.  Not many, but some.

Another view of same

San Francisco

More on Franzen--Commentary on a Review

Franzen'sFreedomand the New York love of self

and the review that spawned the commentary

an excerpt of the Review:

from "Peace and War"
Stanley Tanenhouse

That twinning is where the trouble begins. As each of us seeks to assert his “personal liberties” — a phrase Franzen uses with full command of its ideological implications — we helplessly collide with others in equal pursuit of their sacred freedoms, which, more often than not, seem to threaten our own. It is no surprise, then, that “the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage,” as Franzen remarks. And the dream will always sour; for it is seldom enough simply to follow one’s creed; others must embrace it too. They alone can validate it.
That observation--that it is insufficient to believe and have the freedom to do so, but that one's own beliefs must be bolstered by others is certainly one of the more difficu…

On Dalí

On  Dalí's Marsupial Centaurs

What I find so interesting is the claim that   Dalí remembered his time in the womb.  When my son was younger he often made statements that were well beyond his years (he still does) but some of these seemed to imply that he ha memories of times before birth.  Some of them were most intriguing in the suggestion of a breath of paradise, a moment of exposure to the divine--but he was young and I was interpreting.

Just Because

Kalooki Nights Howard Jacobson

A review/summary of Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson.

The selection for the Guardian Book Club.  The review makes the book sound fascinating, although perhaps too intense for me at this season.

Poem of the Week--"A Mind of Winter"

Martha Kapos--"A Mind of Winter"

Lovely and intense.

An excerpt:

from "A Mind of Winter"
Martha Kapos

until his footprint gaping open in the snow
became a shape he no longer recognised
letting through a patch of green
and it was like a holiday
he'd been looking forward to for months
and a keyhole to the heart.

September 19: Our Lady of Salette

Jewish Legendry

Lectio on The Book of Hebrews

Sustained reflection on the book of Hebrews.  

An excerpt:

We share in a heavenly calling, but we walk through a desert. There will always be the temptation not to trust God, but to lean instead on some frail reed. Fortunately, Jesus, whose very name is salvation, and who was tempted in every way, and having won every battle and defeated death, is able to help us when we, through fear of death, are tempted. He is our hope. He is our rest.

Papal Homily for the Beatification of John Henry Newman

Papal Homily for the Beatification of John Henry Newman
Found Via Tea at Trianon

from "Papal Homily for the Beatification of John Henry Newman"
Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or "Heart speaks unto heart", gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230…

"How good it is when brothers sit down together . . ."

By an incredible synchronicity of events, I am reading the Yom Kippur section of The Invisible Bridge on the day of.

From The Invisible Bridge
Julie Orringer

Together they said the prayer for donning the prayer shawl; together they draped the shawls over their shoulders. The cantor sang in Hebrew, How good and sweet it is when brothers sit down together. Again and again the familiar melody. One line low and somber like a work chant, the next climbing up into the arch of the ceiling like a question: Isn't it good for brothers to sit down together? Polaner had learned the melody in Kraków. Andras had learned it in Konyár. The cantor had learned it from his grandfather in Minsk. The three old men standing beside Polaner had learned it in Gdynia and Amsterdam and Prague. It had come from somewhere. It had escaped pogroms in Odessa and Oradea, had found itscway to this synagogue, would find its way to others that had not yet been built.
How beautiful, the persistence of faith, it's…

The Great Leap Forward

Mao's Great Leap Forward

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Dikötter continues to have access to the recently reopened archives after this little bit of information.  One would suspect that those doors will be pulled rapidly closed in our researcher's face.

The Ultimate Insult

Franzen chosen by Oprah again. 

Oh, the schadenfreude I experience as I imagine the inner recoil and writing of Franzen on this mounting board pin.  It's absolutely indescribable.  How much better off we would be with a smidgen more humility.

An Appreciation of Ronald Firbank

Awful Writing

Why is awful writing tolerated?

It seems we overlook the obvious--most people do not read for writing or love of words but for story.  As abysmal as Dan Brown's prose is, his stories are pretty clever.  Same with J. K. Rowling.  Bad writing is tolerated for reasonably good or comfortable story telling--so it has always been and is likely always to be.  Tell me that Thomas Peckett Prest is a master prose artist.

Story will always triumph over prose unless the writing falls below the level of comprehensible.

What I find harder to understand is why people tolerate beautiful polished prose that leads nowhere--neither beauty nor interest nor value.  We build edifices around these prose artists justifying their transgressions based on their handling of the language.  No--I'd rather have the poor prose artists who tell a satisfying story and don't transgress.

More on Censorship

Ghost Stories