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Showing posts from January, 2010

Last Post for January--Joyce Carol Oates again

Oh, and one last point--it came as a great relief to me as a member of the Joyce-Carol-Oates-of-the-Month Club to find her latest book.  Last year there was a stretch of three weeks or so when we thought we'd have to find another author lest Ms. Oates should disappoint us by not providing reading material for that month.  I believe she came through--so our book for January  The Fair Maiden--our usual Gothic melange of Oates's obsessions stemming from her earliest short stories.

Second-to-Last Post for January--Miscatologuing

Today went to the library and finally found Orhan Pamuk's Istambul.  It could be justified to place it in biography; however, it was filed in biography under the name of the person who translated the book from Turkish.

A miscatalogued book is potentially a lost book.  It certainly is of no use to those of us who would check 949.xxx for historical books about Turkey and even less to those looking for a biography of Pamuk under P rather than K (I think--Kelly or Kellogg) for the translator.  I'll bring this to the attention of the circulation department, but I rather doubt anything will be done about it.  I recognize the monumental amount of work that goes into correcting this kind of error and given that I'm one of three people in my area likely to want to read it--there is certainly no reason to go through the effort.

William Trevor--"Bravado"

Reading Cheating at Canasta amongst other things and marveling at the way a master can get away with the things every creative writing class tells you not to do.  For example, there is this beginning to the poignant story "Bravado:"

from "Bravado" 
in Cheating at Canasta
William Trevor

The leaves had begun to fall. All along Sunderland Avenue on the pavement beneath the beech trees there was a sprinkling, not yet the mushy inconvenience they would become when more fell and rain came, which inevitably would be soon. Not many people were about; it was after midnight, almost one o'clock, the widely space lampposts casting pools of misty yellow illumination. A man walked his dog in Blenning Road in the same blotchy lamplight, the first of autumn's leaves gathering there also. An upstairs window opened in Verdun Crescent, hands clapped to dismiss a cat nesting in a flowerbed. A car turned into Sunderland Avenue, its headlights dimmed and then extinguished, its alar…

A Motive Force

On revisiting books already read.

If it's worth reading, it's worth rereading.

Another Gargoyle Heard From

An Enticing Review

I have always been interested in reading the classics.  I have read some, perhaps many of the essay of Montaigne.  I haven't gotten from them what many reliable attest to being there and so I have felt a bit at odds.  However, Nigeness's review of How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell increases my desire to reacquaint myself with this master.

Sex and the Novel

D. G. Myers writes briefly about sex and the novel

His comments may have some relevance whenever I may get around to reviewing Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. I finished it as I flew into Dublin and have spent a great deal of time subsequently trying to think through what I could say about it that would cogent, coherent, and fair to the author.  I wrote about a dozen pages yesterday on the flight back, but still came up with an ungelled mass of conclusions.  Nevertheless, the imperative is to review and I will do so.  I was thinking thought that I might want to dip back into "Death in Venice" to make certain I have my pointers right.

More on the Author of this Blog's Title

Back from Dublin

A trip to Dublin, even when it entrails extremely long work days (after all, you work your Dublin day and then there are still five to seven hours left that your American colleagues are demanding your attention) is always a pleasure.  For one thing, the Irish seem to take enormous pride in their writers, artists, scientists, politicians.  If you walk by the houses in the Georgian area of town (I'm acquainted with those in the southwest part of town), you'll see plaques for the houses of A.E., Yeats, Jack Yeats, Oscar Wilde (birthplace and childhood home), Oscar Wilde's father (whose name slips my mind) and on and on and on.  It's wonderful.  I walked along the Canal and could take a seat by Pat Kavanaugh (a little chilly, I did not avail myself of the opportunity.) Ulysses plaques scatter the pavement along O'Connell, Westmoreland, Grafton, and Kildare streets (perhaps elsewhere, I didn't find all fourteen that are reputed to be there.) North of the Liffey on a…

Maeve Brennan Redux

I have to pause in my reading long enough to remark upon what I've read thus far in The Springs of Affection. Maeve Brennan creates stories that are unaccountably powerful.  Unaccountably because taken separately the characters, the setting, the plot are all adequate, reasonable, the stuff of New Yorker stories (which these originally were.)  However, combined with her language and attention to detail these stories are, as William Maxwell wrote, "ferocious."

Fair warning--beyond this point lie "spoilers."  I don't think they will spoil anything, but some readers tend to be more sensitive to others.

What can you say about a man whose attitude toward his son is summarized by the following passage?

from "A Young Girl Could Spoil Her Chances"
in The Springs of Affection
Maeve Brennan

He had been disappointed when John joined the priesthood, but, to tell the truth, at the same time he had been relieved. John was a poor example of a fellow, weak and timid…

The Great Odd Bird of the Romantic Revolution

Reprint: One of My Favorite Nonfiction Titles

Mandelbrot is one of my great heroes--not for the book that I treat below, but for his amazing contribution to the understanding of fractals.  But the book reviewed below is worth a read for anyone interested in understanding chaotic dynamics and one view of the stock market.
A Random Walk through Mandelbrot on August 31, 2004 2:14 PM | When I was doing my graduate work, I hated most statistics. Most particularly I hated "random walk" models and "monte-carlo simulations." Whenever there was an anomalous blip that could not be readily explained, someone trotted out these hoary old creatures and set them to dancing.
How delightful then to chance upon this:
from The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
Benoit Mandlebrot and Richard L. Hudson
With such theories [Bachelier's Analysis, Gaussian Curves (Bell-Curves), and Random Walks] , economists developed a very elaborate toolkit to analyzing markets, measuring the "variance" and "betas" of diff…

Adventures in Dublin

Okay,  I'm sure I've thrilled you with the tales of the James Joyce plaques.  I discovered two more today and didn't discover one that I thought would certainly be there.  One was right in the center of western sidewalk of Westmoreland Street just north of the hotel I'm staying at.  The other was in front of the National Museum on Kildare street.  I was disconcerted to note that I found nothing for the National Library.  Given that one of the major episodes of Ulysses takes place within the Library, I was surprised to find no plaque.  Tomorrow I will visit the National Maternity Hospital to photograph it and whatever associated plaque there may be.  I hope to publish a sort of compendium/guide to some of these markers.  (I am more convinced than ever that I have missed more than I found.)  Oh, and today I had a glimpse in the distance of Howth (pronounced Hoath) Hill.  That's for you fans of Finnegans Wake(. . . brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation to Ho…

Romantic Poet Du Jour

Yesterday they picked the utmost in obscurity and today we get an analysis and discussion of Ozymandias.

Given that this is likely the single poem anyone who doesn't read a lot of poetry is likely to have read by Shelley, it constitutes a good choice for a discussion of what makes this a poem by a Romantic Poet and what Romantic Poetry means (hint: it's not all about Valentine's day--although you sometimes couldn't tell it--"She walks in beauty like the night. . . ")

A Really, Really Big Book

Romantic Poet of the Day--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Recollections of Love" and commentary on Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Not the poem I would have chosen ("This Lime Tree Bower My Prison" and "The Aeolian Harp" leap to mind among the shorter poems--of course "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kublai Khan," and "Christabel" among the longer).  But it's always refreshing to hear from sources less obvious/common.

More on Ulysses

Turns out that on Grafton Street I had missed something like three plaques and so I took those, went up to Davey Byrnes and photographed that one again, just in case (has to be photographed off-hours otherwise it's under the tables set up for outside dining).  This morning took a walk along the Grand Canal and photographed Patrick Kavanaugh (see poem from yesterday) sitting on his bench.  Hope to put together a little scrapbook when I get back home and show you some of the literary sites of Dublin--there are a few.

Colm Toibin and the Costa Award

Joyce Notes

Last time in Dublin, I took pictures of the brass Joyce plaques that finally penetrated the densities of my consciousness. I got quite a few--but today, I saw two more--perhaps three--one or two on O'Connell street and one at the corner of Nassau and Grafton that I had managed to overlook last time.  On my way down to the canal tomorrow and can get the one at Nassau and Grafton, and I was thinking of some evening pictures at Tommy Moore anyway, so the other O'Connell/Westmoreland street plaques might join those.

Bookends from William Trevor

William Trevor is a master of the short story.  I would say that even if I hadn't seen it written all over after reading the story excerpted below.  Read this story while sitting in The Pig's Ear looking out over the darkness pressed down around Trinity College--the meal was Shepherd's Pie (by far and away the best I have EVER had) and Gur Cake and Tea Ice Cream.  Truly a wonderful meal though quite expensive by American standards.  Seems to be the going rate around here.

from "Cheating at Canasta"
in Cheating at Canasta
William Trevor

It was a Sunday evening, but Sunday, Mallory remembered, had always been as any other day at Harry's Bar. In the upstairs restaurant the waiters hurried with their loaded plates, calling out to one another above the noisy chatter. Turbot, scaloppa alla Milanese, grilled chops, scrambled eggs with bacon or smoked salmon, peas or spinaci al burro, mash done in a particularly delicious way: all were specialities here, where the waite…

Okay, Bragging Time

My 11 year old son loves books.  We went into a Barnes and Noble that was having their classics collection on sale 3 for 2.  We picked up a Jane Eyre for school and he chose an Aesop's Fables.  Well there, we had two, so we may as well get the free one.  He latched on to a copy of The Metamorphosis and Other Stories.  His mother tried to dissuade him, but I said, "If he thinks it sounds interesting, where's the harm."  Recalling the summer experience with some books that were a trifle advanced, I further opined inwardly ("It isn't as though he's actually going to read it.")

Well what a surprise came in e-mail today when Linda wrote to tell me that he had finished the book and delivered an oral report.  The chief result of which was the question, "Would you still love me if I turned into a giant cockroach." Lady-of-the-House reassured him that it would be so, though hugs and kisses might be in shorter supply--which he readily acknowledged. 

Uwem Akpan at Back Bay View

Romantic Poet of the Day--William Wordsworth

The Gift of a Friend

We're meeting today in an office building near the Grand Canal in Dublin.  I've not been this far south in this part of the city.  If time allows, I may stroll along the canal so that I can find this:


Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin
"Erected in Memory of Mrs. Dermot O'Brien"
by Patrick Kavanagh

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully.
Where by a lock Niagariously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges -
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

Source.

From the Other Book I Was Reading

This one over sticky toffee pudding. I do believe I'm becoming quite the expert on world sweets and can say that I've had quite a few different versions of this one and know just where to go to get the best.  But then, that's an uninformed American point of view--what I like may be quite appalling to the average Irish person.  And I'm sure bangers and mash is not a delicacy, but you don't find that kind of thing in the states.

From "The Return"
in Collected Short Stories
Elizabeth Bowen

Mr and Mrs Tottenham were impossible. They were childless, humourless and dyspeptic. They were not even funny. There was nothing bizarre about them, or tragic or violent or farcical. They neither loved nor hated each other, there was nothing they did not know about each other; no mystery or fear between them. In the early days of their marriage they had been actively and articulately unhappy. She had had a lover; he had left her for months together and lived in some drab wick…

The Poor Poor Clares

An unexpected moment of hilarity from my reading.  Sitting in a darkened pub eating bangers and mash and reading alternately from the two books I had brought with me, I found this passage:

from "The Barrel of Rumors"
in Springs of Affection
Maeve Brennan

I had heard that the Poor Clares slept in their coffins, with stones under their heads. I had been told that they were measured for their coffins the first day they entered the convent and that they never knew any other bed afterward. My mother liked to throw cold water on this story, but I could not forget it. I used to wonder if they had separate cells for sleeping, with a coffin in each cell, or if they slept in a dormitory, and if they had sheets and blankets and pillowcases, and, if so, how they made their beds in the morning. Also I wondered, what about the coffin lids? Where were they kept? On the floor alongside the coffin? Or leaning, like hockey sticks and bicycles, against the wall? I knew that the nuns never slept m…

Quentin Tarantino

An hour with Quentin Tarantino

An amazingly talented director, I keep waiting for him to make his first film for adults.  All of his films are spectacularly violent in a comic-booky sort of way--but there are moments in each film that are really spectacular.  For example in this last film (Inglourious Basterds) there is a long conversational prelude in a French Country house in which the Nazi bad-guy is getting the owner of the house to admit that he is hiding Jews in beneath the house.  I could have watched that movie, without violence, without any further motion for quite some time--perhaps for the length of feature.  Just ordinary conversation and the intensity builds and builds and builds and then explodes apart in the usual senseless comic book fashion.  Same with Death-Proof--the man has a deft hand at conversation.  But I never feel that I have entered the real world of real people in his films.  The violence is over-the-top comic-book mayhem: witness the moment in the Battle w…

Has It Been that Long?

Yet More Awards

National Book Critics Award Nominees

At least one need not deal with Let the Great World Spin again.  We do have the much overhyped Wolf Hall (some nice writing, some confusing messes, few interesting insights into the life and times of) but it's nice to see both American Salvage (a friend reports this is very fine) and Lark and Termite not to mention several things I have not seen on any other list..

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

A brief review of Child Harold's Pilgrimage (Byron) with an excerpt from Canto IV.

I would have chosen Don Juan if I were to pick the narrative verse.

Random Excerpt from Oliver St. John Gogarty

You know what I'm looking for--and of course I found a double whammy--Joyce and the Poddle redux--

From Rolling Down the Lea
Oliver St. John Gogarty

Yes, Brinsley is the last left of the men of genius whom I used to know in the old town. There was Joyce, who loved the Liffey and wrote about its rolling as no other man could. Ann Livia Plurabelle impressed Pat Colum because (I think he said) 133 rivers mingle with its wave. He said this in America, where Joyce is greatly esteemed for the scope of this sort of thing which his books afford: America, the home of the smoke-signal.

I know only two rivers that run into the Liffey in its course between Guinness's [west side of the city] and the Custom House [east side of the city]. One, I forget the name of it--Bradoge, I think--comes down from under Grangegorman Lunatic Asylum and enters Anna Liffey at the end of East Arran Street. They say that the trout in it think a lot of themselves. This megalomania may be due to their river passi…

Now Officially Out of Synch with My U.S. Friends, And. . .

On Greenwich Mean Time. 

And so today I went to see the Book of Kells--yes, it's overpriced and touristy, but it helps to support the college library and I did get to see two full spreads of the original.  It is a book and it is important.

Afterwards toured Dublin Castle.  As with most of these things, the locals are singularly unimpressed, but I can tell you that I enjoyed it.  The plasterwork alone was worth the price of admission--that and seeing the Poddle River--it was in part the confluence of the Poddle and the Liffey that gave rise to the Black Pool from which the Anglo name for Dublin is derived.  (The Irish do not call the city the Irish spelling of Dubhlinn--they call it something else entirely--I can't even spell it and have no notion how it is pronounced.) 

So after Mass this morning in a Church run by Discalced Carmelites, I finished the day with sung, choral evensong at Christ Church Cathedral.  I was floored both by the beauty of the service and the beauty of t…

Chinua Achebe--What Nigeria Means to Me

An interview with Chinua Achebe, certainly one of the first and most prominent novelists of color from Africa to come to World prominance.  Certainly there were others--Amos Tuotela, among them--and of course, one never mentions the white novelists out of Africa (as though they should not have a voice because of the color of their skin--ironic, isn't it?) Alan Paton, Isak Denisen, etc.  It is not right that these should eclipse the voices of Black Africa, but I will continue to read and support the reading of Cry, the Beloved Country and Too Late the Phalarope.  Just as I will insist to everyone who will listen that The Palm-Wine Drinkard is required reading.

Varanasi Visited and Revisited

I've slipped into the second half of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, and the humorous momentum continues.

from Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Geoff Dyer

Nothing made any difference, so we rode roughshod over everything.  Everything except a manhole, completely uncovered. We veered round it in the nick of time even though the hazard was clearly indicated--by a half brick placed inches from the rim. Cars, buses and tuk-tuks reeled into view and shrieked past. I've never had any enterprising ideas, but it occurred to me that there was scope for a simulated version of this experience, a computer game called Varanasi Death Trip or simply--in homage to Scorsese and De Niro--Tuk-tuk Driver. The idea would be to travle from the Taj Ganges to Manikarnika without getting crushed, losing a limb or having your nerves shredded.

The book has surprising delights, but I am sometimes appalled at some of the material within it as well.  As I think I've noted before, there are tinges of …

Aren't You All Fortunate

My Airport has free wi-fi and I arrived waaaay too early because my previous experience with an international flight suggested that early arrival was essential.  So, you all get the benefit (dubious though it may be) of me sitting around an airport.

New Mission for the Faithful

Teach your priest to blog!

Yes, Pope Benedict XVI has asked priests to spread the word through blogging.  Some may need the able assistance of those of us who have been doing this for eons.  A new lay mission--what could be better.

(Thanks to BooksInq.)

Last Minute Update

As a result of a drop by the library and some irresistible remainder purchases, my book list has changed.  I will be taking:


The Appoinment Herta Müller
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi Geoff Dyer
Cheating at Canasta William Trevor
Springs of Affection Maeve Brennan

I'm particularly pleased with this last given how much I enjoyed her short novel The Visitor. By arrival time in Dublin, I hope to be ready to tell you about at least one of these.  Perhaps two depending on how much and how well I can sleep.

One of the Great Sonnets

Keats--On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

A pamphlet on this classic sonnet--abba/abba/cdecde

Keats at his height in the shorter forms--the odes, and others are, perhaps better poems, but this sonnet is difficult to beat post-Shakespeare.

Ulysses 2.0

Off for a Week in Dublin

For all the amateurs Ulyssesites out there I will every day have to walk under the "Tommy Moore's roguish finger. They did right to put him up over a urinal: meeting of the waters. "  It will stand between me and my destination near the southeast corner of St. Stephen's Green.  Of course this will also take me (daily) by Davy Byrnes:  He entered Davy Byrne's. Moral pub. He doesn't chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once. 

Undoubtedly I will find my way to both the National Museum and the National Library only off by a street or two and perhaps as far as the apothecary that Bloom visits at the beginning of the book--we'll see.  I'm there on business and there will be limited time for touring about--but some time nevertheless and I'll make the best of it.  I can't say what is likely to appear here in the interim but I'm taking with me several slender volumes--Herta Müller: The Appointment,…

Daniyal Mueenddin

Also from Mr. Atithatkis's blog an interview with Daniyal Mueenddin, Author of the remarkable In Other Room, Other Wonders.

Yiyun Li Interview

In my attempt to leave no Li stone left unturned, From Mark Athitakis's blog, this link to an interview with Yiyun Li.

Reprint: Raising a Child with Soul

I reprint this from my previous blog because I truly feel that this book should be getting much more attention than it is likely to have done.  It was a wonderful book, superbly executed, thoughtful and insightful and. . . well, read below:

Raising a Child with Soul by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff
 on November 25, 2008 7:52 AM

This is going to be a very difficult book to review. I'd rather just quote the entire thing to you--it is simply THAT good. Ostensibly a book on child-rearing, Ms. Jungreis-Wolff uses the occasion to teach all of us some solid Torah wisdom that we would be wise to incorporate into our own lives. Let's start somewhere:

from Raising a Child with Soul
Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

[Speaking to parents who are concerned about taking their daughters to the funeral of their grandfather]
"I appreciate your concerns," I told them, "but life is not Disneyland. Besides the proper honor that is required to be given to their grandfather, your girls must experience life. …

Reprint: On As I Lay Dying

Faulkner is one of my favorite authors for a great many reasons.  And As I Lay Dying is nearly the perfect introduction to Faulkner.  It is simple enough in approach for a High School Student to read it--I did.  But it is deep and complex enough to keep an adult mind ruminating for several says on the Bundren family--Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, Vardaman.

It's also near and dear to me because my family life recapitulates an episode from it.  (Horrifying to think about isn't it?)  When my grandmother died in Florida, my grandfather transported her back to northern Ohio for burial.  He drove the route and stopped by where we were living in Virginia, at which time we were introduced to the woman who would become our new "grandmother."  The story goes on, but I won't regale you with the details.

CAVEAT LECTOR: Please note that these notes consider the book in some detail and may contain elements you'd rather read about after partaking of the book itself.

Some Faulkne…

On Divine Simplicity

Plotinus on Divine Simplicity

I can't find the quotation at the moment, but I believe it is from Chesterton and I paraphrase, but articles like this always make me think of the woman Chesterton quotes, "Well, if that's what His simplicity is like. . . "

Via A Reader's Respite

New Apps for the Kindle may be coming!

I'd have to see if these are tempting enough for me to upgrade from my first generation (I can think of a lot more useful things to do with nearly three hundred dollars.  But it is nice to see.

Reprint: A Faulkner Diptych

A series in which I treat The Unvanquished (as fine and simple an introduction to the main lines of Faulkner as one could hope for) and Absalom, Absalom! (a book that rose almost to the heights of Ulysses in my estimation).

The Unvanquished
 on November 28, 2007 7:25 AM Having already begun the inextricably intertwined premier book of this civil war diptych (Absalom, Absalom), gives some perspective on this work of William Faulkner. This is, by far and away one of the most accessible of Faulkner's works. While there are some subtleties and complexities in the prose, the stream of consciousness approach is filtered through the mind of a highly educated adult, even in the early parts of the book which are told from the point of view of a child between the ages of 10 and 12.

The novel originated as a chain of short stories published during the time Faulkner was writing Absalom, Absalom, and people more knowledgeable about Faulkner as a writer and a person might say that this book is,…