Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Original Translation from the Chinese

Books Inq. has reported working with another author to produce a translation of some Chinese Poetry.  Here's a Sample: "Ascend the Heron Tower"

Beneath the Lion's Gaze--Maaza Mengiste

I have, after long reading, finished the book.  It is perhaps too early to give a coherent review--books like this one sometimes need to linger on the palate (as it were) before one can truly give them their due.  Be that as it may, I'm going to try to give a sense of the work.  Like Uwem Akpan, I expect that my sense of the work will change over time, and if I'm correct about it, more likely to change for the better, although, as you'll see, I'm starting from a very good place with the book.

Ms. Mengiste gives us the story of the transition of the Ethiopian Government from rule under a muddled Emperor with vaguely beneficent intent, to rule by a military Junta becoming progressively more aligned with Soviet and Cuban powers. She tells this story through the family of Hailu, a doctor in Addis Ababa.  Hailu has two sons--Dawit and Yonas, a daughter-in-law Sara, a wife Selam, and a number of other hangers-on who are, for all intents and purposes family.

The book starts in the last moments of Haile Selassi's reign over Ethiopia--the famine has expanded and taken in much of the country, and Selassi and his ministers are ineffectual at doing anything about it.  War looms on several fronts--Eritrea and Somalia, and there is rising discontent among the population as they learn more and more about the horrors that are afflicting their country.

Mickey and Dawit are friends from the time of Mickey's first appearance on the scene when Dawit protected him from the derision of others. Mickey opts to enter the military because, although he is brighter than Dawit, his opportunities in the relatively stratified society under the Emperor are few.  He hasn't the money to buy his way into the university.  Going off to military service, he is assigned to the famine areas and becomes converted to the philosophy of change.

I don't particularly want to go into the story line any more because it would begin to give away essential elements of the plot and the development.  At this point suffice to say that the Junta begins and conditions for those who were well-off, at least, degenerate.

What is remarkable is how compassionately the story is told all around. Everyone is treated with the dignity of a person, even when those persons do not give the same courtesy as others.  Haile Selassi is seen as a largely confused old man who has come to believe and invest in his own myth-making venture; Mickey is seen as one who wills good but has no reasonable channel to express it.  Even the monster of the piece Geddu, is ultimately shown as somewhat sympathetic, despite his atrocities.

The language is nuanced, balanced, beautifully attuned to its subject.  And have no doubt about it, the subject for the most part is very hard indeed.  Like Akpan, not even the children are spared in the relentless look at human brutality.  In fact, the only false moment in the book, the only stumble that I detected in my read, came about exactly because Ms. Mengiste wanted to cushion the blow, the shock of what had been written--and even if the passage were true--there's no way of saying it is not--it rings as false amid all the other sometimes harshly realistic detail.

One minor fault in a first work of this length can be considered nothing less than a truly remarkable accomplishment.  Ms. Mengiste introduces us to some truly memorable, well-rounded, living and breathing characters.  Her prose is at times poetic, even approaching rhapsodic, but only as required.  It is otherwise dead-on in this relentless exposition of the potential for cruelty that underlay even the best intentions.

****1/2--Highly Recommended--go out and get it so we can talk about it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Via Woodenspoon--Adventures of Lil' Cthulhu

Lest We Forget. . .

The Literary Gothic: an online repository of texts including works by the remarkable Vernon Lee, William Hope Hodgson, and a great many others.

Truly Animated Writing

Animation of a single sentence from Lydia Davis. . .

and while we're at it the whole Electric Literature school

and the Journal

Nifft the Lean--An Appreciation

Fred has a two part post about the wonderful Nifft the Lean, a Vance-esque dark fantasy collection.

Geoff Dyer's Point 3

From the previous post on how to write, I liked this so much I needed to keep it forever:

Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

Friday in Hell with Maurice

Yesterday, or perhaps the day before--mornings are a cloudy time for me, I introduced M. Sceve, a poet living in France at about the time of Sir Thomas Wyatt.  His Délie is counted by Harold Bloom as among the world's great poetic works.  And the book I have before me is a wonderful introduction--but only that, leaving the reader longing for more.  And I hope you were, because I will share again, first the French, then the English.

from Emblems of Desire: Selections from the Délie of Maurice Sceve
Ed. and Tr. Richard Sieburth


Comme Hecaté tu me feras errer
Et vif, & mort cent ans parmy les Vmbres:
Comme Diane au Ciel me resserrer,
D'ou descendis en ces mortelz encombres:
Comme renante aux infernalle vmbres
Amoidriras, ou accroistras mes peines.
     Mais comme Lune infuse dans mes veines
Celle tufus, es, $ seras DELIE,
Qu'Amour à ionct a mes penseés vaines
Si fort, que Mort jamais ne l'en deslie.


As Hecate, you will doom me to wander
Among the Shades, alive & dead a hundred years:
As Diana, you will confine me to the Sky
Whence you descended to this vale of tears:
As Queen of Hell in your dark domain,
You will increase or diminish my pains.
    But as Moon infused into my veins,
You were, & are, & shall be DÉLIE,
So knotted by Love to my idle thoughts
That Death itself could never untie us.

So, for Maurice Sceve, while using classical allusions, we also get the sense of Délie as the Blessed Virgin: the reference to "this vale of tears," being an allusion, perhaps, to one of the most significant of the Marian prayers--"Salve Regina." Thus we have the holy and the unholy combined, just as life and death are combined.  What is also interesting, and perhaps not unique--but notable, is the pre-Coleridgian reference to "life in death," as a state of being in which one in love finds him or herself.

And here I am particularly transfixed by the image of Délie as "Moon infused into my veins."  What a magnificent and powerful image of the pervasiveness of influence and meaning.  Délie is not merely outside influence time and space and position, but she is part of me, in my blood, completely encompassing my body, alive and dead and there can be no separation of the two.  Nice.

Ten Rules

These ten rules, yeah, these 176 rules for writing fiction shall ye heed.

On "Easter 1916"

A brief appreciation

And the poem itself

Easter, 1916

by William Butler Yeats 

I have met them at close of day   
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey   
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head   
Or polite meaningless words,   
Or have lingered awhile and said   
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done   
Of a mocking tale or a gibe   
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,   
Being certain that they and I   
But lived where motley is worn:   
All changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent   
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers   
When, young and beautiful,   
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school   
And rode our wingèd horse;   
This other his helper and friend   
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,   
So sensitive his nature seemed,   
So daring and sweet his thought.

This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,   
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,   
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone   
Through summer and winter seem   
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,   
The rider, the birds that range   
From cloud to tumbling cloud,   
Minute by minute they change;   
A shadow of cloud on the stream   
Changes minute by minute;   
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,   
And a horse plashes within it;   
The long-legged moor-hens dive,   
And hens to moor-cocks call;   
Minute by minute they live:   
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.   
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part   
To murmur name upon name,   
As a mother names her child   
When sleep at last has come   
On limbs that had run wild.   
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;   
Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith   
For all that is done and said.   
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;   
And what if excess of love   
Bewildered them till they died?   
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride   
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.

"Too long a sacrifice/ can make a stone of the heart " 

As in many poems by Yeats, the poet comes up with a line or lines that lingers in memory or defines precisely a moment or a meaning.  From this poem, about a great and terrible day for the Irish people--the reading of the Easter Proclamation, not beginning, but certainly taking full-bore the conflict that had already raised its ugly head on the Island.  A day meaningful in Irish History and preserved in Irish Literature in a transcendent way.  The Easter Proclamation belongs to Ireland and to Ireland alone, but its celebration in poetry belongs to the world.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tournament of Books

Pre-game color commentary for the Tournament of Books at Hungry like the Woolf

Witty, Profound, Touching, a Real Three Hanky Book

Just went to Blog2Print to discover what this brilliant gem of a blog is worth as far as literary property goes, and judging by the price tag, I'm assuming they expect very, very low sales--like library only sales. To print this blog as a beautifully bound book--fully as advertised above--would cost $166.85.  As magical as I think words may sometimes be, especially my words (to me), I think I'll forego the pleasure--I don't expect the library sales to recoup my investment--unless you, my faithful readers wish to have a volume to peruse at your leisure.  (Before you write me saying yes, please consult with your nearest mental health care professional.)

John Banville Interview

All over the blogworld--interview with John Banville.

Aleksandar Hemon on Five Books

An appreciation of five of Hemon's favorite books.  WARNING: Graphic Death Camp Imagery (going along with the discussion of Tadeusz Borowski's powerful This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen.

For French Poetry

Composing the last I came upon a really nice site for French Poetry that I wanted to preserve here and in the links in the right-hand column:

Les Grands Classiques

How About the Sir Thomas Wyatt of France?

I was delighted to find on the shelves of a local library a "scholarly" publication that provided translations from the work of a major French poet who was lost for some time and only rediscovered in the 1940's.  I present the excerpt below in a manner opposite that of the publication--the French first, for those who read it well (very well) to formulate their own opinions before reading the translation.

from Emblems of Desire: Selections from the "Délie" of Maurice Sceve
Ed. and Tr. Richard Sieburth


L'oeil trop ardent en mes ieunes erreurs
Girouettoit, mal cault, a l'impourueue
Voicy (ô paour d'agreables terreurs)
Mon Basilisque auec sa poignant' veue
Perçant Corps, Coeur, & Raison despourueue,
Vint penetrer en l'Ame de mon Ame.
    Grand  fut le coup, qui san tranchante lame
Fait, que viuant le Corps, l'Esprit desuie;
Piteuse hostie au conspect de toy, Dame,
Constituée Idole de ma vie.


The Eye, too afire with my youthful errors
Whirled like a weathercock, without design;
When suddenly (what delight, what terrors)
My Basilisk, now sharpening its sights,
Pierced Body, & Heart, put Reason to flight,
Lancing deep into the Soul of my Soul.
     The Blow was hard, which without whetted blade
kills the Spirit through the Body survive,
Pitiful victim, I, now faced with you,
Lady appointed idol of my life.

The French was particularly difficult until you realized that typographically Old French appears to have emulated some of the conventions of Middle English (or more likely, vice versa) and that many of those "u"s in the French are actually "v"s.  Hence viuant is actually vivant (living).  For one who speaks French natively, this is no more challenge than reading Elizabethan English is for an English speaker--however, for one who is merely an occasional visitor to the frontiers of the language--this provided sufficient challenge for an evening of puzzling.

The editor and translator says in his introductory notes that Sceve has been compared to the magnificent French Symboliste Stéphane Mallarmé (known to many for being the inspiration for Claude Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un Faune.  And there are elements of the poem that seem to have symboliste correspondences (pardon the pun).  And there is something about the language--in translation at least, that suggests this.  However, I'm not completely certain that the French itself does.  And it is premature for me to make that evaluation having read the dedicatory poem and this first piece.  Indeed, as weak as my own grasp of the language is, I doubt that I will ever be placed to make such a comparison.  But the suggestion was enough for me to drag out that entire 19th century line of poets, starting with Baudelaire and ending with Rimbaud and Verlaine.

So, perhaps more later, although nothing terribly deep nor thoughtful as I can only begin to touch the surface here.  But the surface is so lovely and so tempting that I thought it worth sharing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Interview Uncovered

A newly uncovered interview with T.S. Eliot.

On Miéville on McCarthy

At Biblioklept via Times Flow Stemmed

For One Friend In Particular--The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation is one of my favorite in the Bible--I think it may be because the imagery speaks more fully than any interpretation of it ever can.  And what the imagery actually says, I cannot say, because sometimes one must just appreciate the beauty.  This was the advice I gave a gentleman who confessed the other night that he never could make it through Ulysses because he could not understand it.  Sometimes it isn't necessary to understand in order to appreciate.  I know that flies in the face of our logical positivist, scientific empiricist world--but it is simply the truth.  Truth, goodness, and beauty, the platonic triad need not be fully comprehended to be appreciated--nevertheless, they will out if one gives them the opportunity.  (Full disclosure forces me to note that I have a high tolerance for reading things I do not fully understand as witnessed by the fact that I have been through The Wake three times now--on the other hand, I'm not certain Joyce understood all that he was doing in that particular opus.)

Okay, so enough with the mystical and mushy introduction.  Back to the central point--The Book of Revelation is one of my favorite in the entire Bible.  I like the thought of beast with seven heads and ten horns and a kind of Kwan Yin Blessed Virgin shining like the sun, etc.    Hence, when I found a book in the library about the Bible as literature, the first place I turned was to see what they had to say about the Book of Revelation.

From "Revelation"
Bernard McGinn
in The Literary Guide to the Bible
eds. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode

Reading the Book of Revelation has tended to be more of an obsession than a pastime. Those reader who could dismiss it, either with a quip like George Bernard Shaw. . . or with studied indifference like John Calvin, have been few. Many who have hated the book have been unable to escape from it. D. H. Lawrence, for instance, felt compelled to write his own form of commentary to try to exorcise it from his mind. Suspect in its origins, controversial throughout its history, even today Revelation raises the question of how it is to be read in a more dramatic way that perhaps any other book of the New Testament. The insistence of many commentators, both early and late, that they alone have found the real key to this unveiling of the mysteries of the end has served only to compound the enigma as history has demonstrated the errors of insufficiencies of various readings. St. Jerome showed more wisdom than most, not only in merely revising someone else's commentary rather than writing his own, but also in remarking that "Revelation has as many mysteries as it does words."

So, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, I return to the point I started with.  It is unlikely that anyone on this side of the veil understands completely what John intended in his writing of this most puzzling of works; however, it is clear that the literary form is that of the Apocalypse--"a lifting of the veil" which shows us, not the future, or at least not the future of the world, but the future of those who believe in Jesus, for the point isn't all of the fascinating and horrible things that happen throughout, but Chapter 21:

 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (NIV)

The point of the book is its end--no matter what the trials, tribulations, horrors, atrocities, and bizzarities that the true believer may experience, all of it is as nothing because it all passes away with the result explained above.  That isn't to dismiss the remainder of the book, because like any good work of literature, the denouement is only meaningful after the build-up.  And ultimately the Book of Revelation is a book of comfort--it is, once again, the song of God's love for His people.  And what it says ultimately is that so long as there are people, there will be these things that are so awful and so incomprehensible as to be nearly unendurable--to be utterly mind-altering.  But once belief enters into the picture, whatever is to be can be endured knowing that it is not the end of the line.

Whether or not one accepts John's statement, is, of course, a matter of faith.  But to read the Book of Revelation is almost any other way is simply to twist the symbols to mean as we desire them to mean.  We can read the Holy Mass, or the future of the world, or an allegory of the ancient world with Nero and all of the other persecuting emperors of Rome.  I can't say which is valid, but what I can say is that regardless of which of these one chooses to start with, one still ends with chapter 21--the point of having written the whole.

A Reconsideration of My Decision Yesterday

A reader was kind enough to leave a note and ask me to reconsider my decision not to include the poem I referred to yesterday.  Because I was waffling yesterday on the matter, and because I agree in large part with the reasoning supporting the conclusion, and because, frankly, the blog acts as a kind of system of record for me and so I would like to be able to find this once again--the plea was enough to make me reconsider.  If the author of the poem should google herself and find herself transported here and if she should prefer not to have the poem here, I will gladly remove this post.  For the time being however, let it stand in honest appreciation for work well done.

Abigail Gramig

is the
perfect day

The sky
just so
clouds moving

Drops of water
on leaves
of Russian sage

Dog sitting
her chin
on crossed paws

Light streams
through branches
of locust tree

I sit
just so
at the
small table

Everything is
just like this
you would have said

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Poetry Last Night

Last night I was glancing through and anthology edited by Billy Collins 180 more Extraordinary Poems for Every Day and happened upon a poem by Abigail Gramig which was absolutely lovely.  Because copyright does not allow for quotation of entire works and because one should not take so freely of an author's work, and because the whole thing is quite short and completely integrated, it would serve no purpose to try to post an excerpt; however, I encourage everyone to get the book from the library and read the poem.  It is simple and lovely and a truly fitting requiem.

On the other hand, excerpts from two other poems that I read (at least in part) are suitable.

from The Throne of Labdacus
Gjertrud Schnackenberg

The first warning passing through Thebes--
As small a sound

As a housefly alighting from Persia
and stomping its foot on a mound

Where the palace once was,
As small as a moth chewing thread

In the tyrant's robes;
As small as the cresting of red

In the rim of an injured eye; as small
As the sound of a human conceived

The Throne of Labdacus, in case the title did not betray it, is a book length poem examining the Oedipus story.  I have not yet read sufficiently in it to say more than this.

And one last little excerpt (yes, I'm aware that the citation is longer than the excerpt--ah well.)

from "Rest on the Flight into Egypt"
Debora Greger
in 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day
ed. by Billy Collins

And so to the fifteenth century, in a far corner
of the Louvre. where, when the Madonna and Child

stopped to rest on the flight into Egypt
they find themselves in the Netherlands

I heard the end of an era. . .

Or did I?

Two nights ago, as we were settling to sleep, a sound, like that of thunder, only louder, more powerful, shook the house and rattled the blinds.  Thunder, no being uncommon where I live, I thought it rather sudden and tremendously intense, but then my wife said, "I guess the shuttle has returned."

Yes, I can watch them as they go up from my front yard, and I feel/hear them as they come back to Canaveral. And this one, if I am not mistaken is the last of its kind.  Given the mood of the nation, I am a little worried about the fate of the program. But I know that NASA has plans if we can only find the money to fund dreams.

But see here for other possibilities.

Friday, February 19, 2010

More on Natsume Soseki

A new translation of Shanshiro is available. (ht Philosophy etc.)

This is not a work I am familiar with, but it is one that I hope to possess soon and review when I actually have it in hand.  This is great news for fans of Japanese literature.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Harry Potter Plagiarism Again?

J. K. Rowling has once again been slapped with a plagiarism lawsuit.  I fully expect that it will be summarily dismissed based on a comment on this description of the legal action.  "The plagiarism allegation concerned the story plot rather than the words."  But what is copyrighted in every case is the words, their placement and usage, their accumulation into a work.  You cannot copyright an idea, not even an idea like an entire plot.  If not, then we would lose a substantial part of the world of the Romance Novelists--there are limited permutations and combinations of events and incidents.  Plots--a wizard challenge (for example) are the structural backbone of writing, but I'm willing to bet if one went to the Index of Folklore and mythology, such a challenge of witches and wizards would be a fairly common theme. 

Forster on Jane Austen

"Jane, How Shall We Ever Recollect" an article by E.M. Forster in The New Republic, 1924

Once again, isn't the internet wonderful?  We are so blessed (and cursed) with its capabilities.

A Review of German Short Works

Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist

Philosophy--Alain de Boton

Not being a professional philosopher, I have no idea of the standing of Alain de Boton in that field.  However, if one is interested in evaluating his work, one could do worse than to view the six episode Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, starting here.

From the Office of Readings for the Day

from a sermon by Pope St. Leo the Great

Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvelous beauty of the elements as they obey him demands from the intelligent creation a fitting expression of its gratitude.
 Not only His mercy, but his chesed which is often translated as loving-kindness, but which really doesn't seem to have a word or word chain in English that can encompass the fullness of the phrase.  It is God's deep love that sustains all that is--His abiding concern for His creation is not the fondness of a watchmaker for his wares, but of a Father to His children, each of whom He loves as though an only child.

If you are of a mind to read more, and there is much more worth reading, you can find the whole of the Office of Readings at Universalis.

The Lion's Gaze--Preliminary Notes

As I may have intimated in previous posts, Beneath the Lion's Gaze is emotionally difficult fare--how could any book set in Ethiopia during the famine not be? It is made more so by the author's deft hand with detail.  Rather than say more myself, it seems wise to let the author speak:

from Beneath the Lion's Gaze
Maaza Mengiste

Now, in front of him was a small child with a head bigger than the rest of his body, crouched in a posture of fatigue that only dying old men should know. His bony skull rested on frail wrists, and he stared into the distance blankly, his sagging mouth host to flies and holes where once teeth grew.

It is a perfect word-picture of an image many of us have seen.  It adds to that picture the gritty details of the specter of death that hovers around it.  Add to that this dulled and jaded reaction:

"What about this boy?" Mickey said, pointing to the child, "Shouldn't we take him somewhere?"
"His mother left him there to look for food.  There's nothing here." He spread his hand as if the landscape were an empty table, the gestured again towards a small tent where a tired nurse leaned against the the wooden post and watch them with flat eyes. "And with all this, there's a cholera outbreak." he walked on without a glance at the child.

"The emperor came here to visit last year. he must have seen this. Isn't he helping?" Mickey had to quicken his pace to keep up.

"It's not enough." The clerk shook his head. "And it's come too late. When you are convinced that everything that happens is the will of God, what is there to do but wait until God's mercy?

For a taste, this is sufficient.  The atmosphere is melancholy, heavy, and labored but the language is not.  What is amazing is the sympathy that Mengiste can still evoke for the Emperor whose negligence was at least in part (and possibly in large part) responsible for the horrendous human disaster that was the Ethiopian famine.  Ah, but we have the Derg to come and save the day--and that is what the book will recount for us--the frying pan and the fire.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Elegant Exposition of Dickinson

Oh, there are so many, many good things available on the web--here's another via Books Inq.  (a marvelous blog for sources if there ever were one.)

On "The soul selects her society. . ."

An excerpt of this interesting reading:
Mark Richardson

Now, it is not possible grammatically to sever the first line from its successors in this stanza, which leads me to the second point I’d make: the grammar is equivocal, in that the stanza admits of several possible readings. We might read the stanza as follows (and here I will print it, for illustrative purposes, in sentence form): 1) “The soul selects her own society, then shuts the door. To her divine majority, present no more.” Or we might read it: 2) “The souls selects her own society, then shuts the door to her divine majority, present no more.” Or: 3) The soul selects her own society, then shuts the door to her divine majority. Present no more.” In examples 1 & 3 “present” is a verb, with the accent on the second syllable; in example 2, it is an adjective, with the accent on the first. So, how to decide? Because if I am to read the poem aloud, I must decide what to do with my voice. Dickinson’s eccentric punctuation, here, as in many another place, leaves more than one possibility open.

Objects at Rest and Otherwise

From the Online Version of the New England Review (via Books Inq.)--Matthew Olzmann--"Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion."


Matthew Olzmann
is an object at rest, and will remain at rest,
reclining on the couch while drinking Guinness
and watching football. Or, he is an object at rest,
and will remain at rest, sprawled over the couch
while drinking Guinness and watching hockey.

And don't you complain--I DID NOT give away the punchline.  Enjoy.

Free Options for Online Language Learning!

An article from NYT
Followup from NYT
From Open Culture

These were tremendously exciting to me--some of the real promise of the internet realized.

Open Culture

Originally sent to the blog to hear F. Scott Fitzgerald read from Othello (see February 7, 2010), there is a tremendous amount of useful, interesting material on the blog--open source resources for culture--Open Culture, very nice.

See the construction of Fallingwater
Picasso painting on glass
An ultra-deep field 3-d tour of the universe
and others that may be of more interest to you.

Jewish Orthodoxy--A Compelling Witness

Mr. Myers of A Commonplace Blog writes about Jewish Orthodoxy in terms that many of those of us in the Catholic Faith comprehend and acknowledge.  Powerful, interesting, wonderful. 

Death Cat

Found via another blog, I think Maverick Philosopher, Oscar--the Cat who Predicts Death

Natsume Soseki--New Translation

Kokoro, one of  the best novels from pre World War II Japan is available in a new translation.  For those seeking entree into the world of Asian Literature, Kokoro   (Heart) offers a starting place that is curiously accessible to the western reader.  Unlike Japanese classics such as The Tale of Heike, The Tale of Genji, and even Narrow Road to the Deep North (On the Road to Oku), Kokoro provides handles and a story with incident that a western reader of realism and naturalism can grasp. In a certain sense, Kokoro is akin to Akira Kurasawa's Ikiru--distinctively Japanese, but with story elements and symbols that transcend the culture and reach out to grab and engage the reader.  Also there is less of the Ukiyo-e/ethereal feeling one might get with other Japanese writers. Another delightful novel, in three volumes, by Soseki is I Am the Cat.  Either of these works provides a starting place that is not so difficult or culturally dependent as say Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, or even Kenzaburo Oe.

First in a Promised Series

Reviews of books by Jewish writers--the series starts with Emma Wolf: Other Things Being Equal

See also this post that alerts us at The Commonplace Blog

Wilfrid Owen in the Underworld

"Strange Meeting" and an analysis.

A great poet, one of the many tragic loses of World War I, Wilfrid Owen was killed just a week before the war ended.  It is a shame we have so little of what this poet could have given us.


Mookse reviews Mishima to fine effect.

With his complexes, obsessions and concerns Mishima has never been one of my favorite Japanese authors.  He has some really fine works, and this reader's review makes me want to reconsider the short stories.  Perhaps time has tempered my impressions.  I love it when I find I've been looking at things the wrong way round.

Indeed, one of the great pleasure in life is being able to repent, change your mind, and enjoy what you had previously forbidden yourself to enjoy.  Too bad so many are so afraid of being wrong.

An Intriguing Conjunction

The blogger at Blographia Literaria finds an interesting conjunction in The Forever War and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I love these kinds of finds--books that resonate peculiarly when they are brought into contact with one another.

A Dissenting View on The Unnamed

Joshua Ferris's book The Unnamed has received decidedly mixed reviews.  It's always a pleasure to find someone who can point out the high points and encourage us to read.  The blogger at Reading Matters does a nice job of it for The Unnamed.

Robert Louis Stevenson as You Probably Have Never Seen Him Before

At Wuthering Expectations, a very fine review of the Stevenson Short--"The Beach of Falesa"

Really Cool Post on Irregular Verbs

The blogger at Linwë treats us to a study of English irregular verbs and their origins in German grammatical rules.  Cool.  Don't you just love everything about language?

Literature in Translation Awards

At the Literary Saloon

I was struck by the thought of how chauvinist the title of this award is.  Literature in Translation--but really literature in translation can be Romanian to Greek, Albanian to French, Arabic to Chinese.  But really the award is about the best Literature translated to English.

Not that I really care--just wanted to share the perversity of my brain.

From the Office of Readings for the Day

For Ash Wednesday--from the Office of Readings

Isaiah 58:1-12

 1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
 2Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
 3Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
 4Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
 5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
 6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
 7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
 8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
 9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
 10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
 11And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
 12And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.


from Pope St. Clement I
Letter to the Corinthians

Let us fix our thoughts on the blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that blood is in God's eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind. For we have only to survey the generations of the past to see that in every one of them the Lord has offered the chance of repentance to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached repentance, those who gave heed to him were saved. When, after Jonah had proclaimed destruction to the people of Niniveh, they repented of their sins and made atonement to God with prayers and supplications, they obtained their salvation, notwithstanding that they were strangers and aliens to him.

All those who were ministers of the grace of God have spoken, through the Holy Spirit, of repentance. The very Lord of all himself has spoken of it, and even with an oath: By my life, the Lord declares, it is not the sinner's death that I desire, so much as his repentance; and he adds this gracious pronouncement, Repent, O house of Israel, and turn from your wickedness. Say to the children of my people, Though your sins may stretch from earth to heaven, and though they may be redder than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, yet if you turn wholeheartedly to me and say ‘Father’, I will listen to you as I would to a people that was holy.

Thus, by his own almighty will, he has confirmed his desire that repentance should be open to every one of his beloved.

Let us bow, then, to that sovereign and glorious will. Let us entreat his mercy and goodness, casting ourselves upon his compassion and wasting no more energy in quarrels and a rivalry which only ends in death.

My brothers, do let us have a little humility; let us forget our self-assertion and braggadocio and stupid quarrelling, and do what the Bible tells us instead. The Holy Spirit says, The wise man is not to brag of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his wealth; if a man must boast, he should boast of the Lord, seeking him out and acting with justice and uprightness. More particularly, let us remember what the Lord Jesus Christ said in one of his lessons on mildness and forbearance. Be merciful, he told us, that you may obtain mercy; forgive; that you may be forgiven. What you do yourself, will be done to you; what you give, will be given to you; as, you judge, so you will be judged; as you show kindness; so it will be shown to you. Your portion will be weighed out for you in your own scales. May this precept, and these commands, strengthen our resolve to live in obedience to his sacred words, and in humility of mind; for the holy word says, Whom shall I look upon, but him that is gentle and peaceable, and trembles at my sayings?

Thus there exists a vast heritage of glorious achievements for us to share in. Let us then make haste and get back to the state of tranquility which was set before us in the beginning as the mark for us to aim at. Let us turn our eyes to the Father and Creator of the universe, and when we consider how precious and peerless are his gifts of peace, let us embrace them eagerly for ourselves.

For all who celebrate this day that marks the beginning of Lent, may it open to you a time of holiness and growth.  And for all those who do not so celebrate, may the day bring you the blessings that all hope to have--peace, security, tranquility, and love.

"Ash Wednesday"

Ash Wednesday
T. S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Find the full poem here

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hunger Trilogy--Wang Ruowang

This must be in the running for the book with the most unpromising title neither of the two words taken separately can be considered auspicious for launching into reading.  Hunger, um, no, I prefer feast, as in Babbette's, or for that matter Belshazzar's.  Trilogy--not only am I going to read about and perhaps be hungry myself, I'm going to have to go on and on and on.

First, let me prepare you--the shocking reality is that this trilogy--the entire three pieces just barely reaches a short novel length.  And secondly, it is really good reading.  It is good reading for at least two reasons: (1) it is intrinsically interesting and (2) it is written by an author who is a member of  an underrepresented group among Chinese writers.

Wang Ruowang  is (or is it was at this point in time?  I cannot say) a member of the Chinese Communist Party.  He was a member long enough that the first section of this trilogy takes place during the time of the guomindang--during which time he was placed in a prison as a rebel.  Thus, we meet the young hero of this book, who can be taken as a stand-in for the author (at least according to the introduction) at the age of sixteen. In this segment, Wang is imprisoned with a number of other communist rebels in a prison in which the food is inadequate.  He describes in detail how the prisoners stage a hunger strike for better food as well as other precious commodities.  The outcome of the strike, I leave to you, the reader to discover--but such as it is, you know that our intrepid hero survives to enter episode 2.

The second part of this trilogy takes place during the Japanese invasion of China.  The communist forces and the guomindang are working together to fight the common enemy.  Wang and his platoon are ordered to a distant wood, there to regather with the dispersed forces.  In the course of the march, they cross a vast desert-like wasteland and once again are exposed to extreme hunger and forced to resort to the expedients nature provides to relieve that hunger.

The final episode takes place in 1969 and Wang finds himself once again in prison.  The cause this time is somewhat less certain.  He is imprisoned with a famous doctor whose crime against the state was "revealing state secrets"--a method of using acupuncture in place of or as a supplement to anesthesia.  Once again, the conditions rival that of the first prison.  One significant prisoner develops hepatitis, another attempts crimes against the state by trying to take his own life.

Each of these vignettes limns a different state and cause of hunger, and it also outlines the difficulties that accompany living in a regime that is trying to define itself--a regime that is somewhere west of the China ruled by an Emperor.  The Emperor, we are given to understand, still exists, but is called by various names at various times. 

The book is not written as an indictment of China or the Communist Chinese government.  It is written by one sympathetic with the aims of that government--particularly the articulated aim of easing the suffering of those most oppressed.  But time and again, Wang runs up against the corruption of power that undermines all of these aims, no matter how noble.

Because of the political views of the author, this opened a new image of China for me.  While the regime was oppressive and was doing wrong, Wang argues that the regime is those in power and not every communist in his daily walk.  Of course, if one pauses to consider the matter, that is a conclusion one might arrive at oneself if prejudices are pushed to the side.  But the accomplishment of this book is that Mr. Ruowang helps us to come to terms with that reality.  He helps us to understand the hunger of the Chinese people at different times during their existence.  And, he helps us to understand that sometimes hunger strengthens us to endure more and sometimes it kills us.

Recommended ****1/2

Monday, February 15, 2010

Who Knew?

Evidently, many, if they were paying attention.  Via Quid Plura--Tolkien's Translation of the Book of Jonah.

"Can Creative Writing Be Taught?"

via Books Inq. Francine Prose on the question that has puzzled educators for some time.

Like Ms. Prose, I tend to side with those who say that there are aspects that can be taught.  But there is a fundamental reality that sometimes we struggle to come to terms with.  While almost anyone can be taught to write acceptable prose, there are a very small number of people who are born writers.  And by this, I don't mean particularly good prose artists, all of whom are published, but rather, people for whom there is no other way of living. I think of myself, regardless of my occupation at any point in my life, as a writer because when I cease to write, there is a fundamental instability in my life.  That is, writing provides a framework, a real framework, for everything I do.  It allows me to process information and make sense of it.  In some ways, things do not become real until they have been written.  The process of writing is the process of reification--of bringing new light and new understanding to things that have happened.  The person for whom this is true, whether published or not, is a writer

The Week Blogging from Washington D.C.

Not that it matters, but often while away from the office on such assignments as may come up, it becomes more difficult to blog with the vigor I would like.  So please be aware, if things are somewhat sparser than they usually are, I haven't the leisure in the evening to prepare the things that will occur the following day--nor can I use my lunch break to catch up.  Ah well, the perils of earning a living. 

But I would like to share a review of Wuo Rangwuo's Hunger Trilogy and some notes on Beneath the Lion's Gaze if opportunity permits.

A Different Kind of Twilight--Samuel Menashe

A lovely poem offered with background about the author-- "Twilight"

""Europe is the Less. . . "

It is sad to hear that Dick Francis has died.  I've never been able to plow through a single one of his books, but to quote from one of John Donne's most famous pieces:

from "Devotions upon Emergent Ocassions XVII"
John Donne

No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

With Sallinger and Francis, and others who have died this year so far, the literary world is the less.  Not because there are not legions ready to fill to the holes in the ranks, but because there is no one who will be the same--there never is, nor can there ever be.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where in the World

From View from the Foothills this diptych map that shows you where you'd be if you dug through earth from where you live now.

One Last Sharing of Present Reading

I have longed to read the work of W.G. Sebald, but honestly Austerlitz was too stern, too strong a beginning. For a variety of reasons, I could not start there and have cast about since for some way to begin readily available to me from the library resources.  Between the two counties, they do not have much, but I found and embraced the book excerpted below, and hope that what has sustained me through the beginning can entrance me through to the end.

from After Nature
W.G. Sebald

Here two painters in one body
whose hurt flesh belong to both
to the end pursued the study
of their own nature. At first
Nithart fashioned his self-portrait
from a mirror image, and Grünewald
with great love, precision and patience
and an interest in the skin
and hair of his companion extending
to the blue shadow of the beard
then overpainted it.
The martyrdom depicted is
the representation, to be sensed
even in the rims of the wounds,
of a male friendship wavering
between horror and loyalty.
It is conceivable that Nithart
who was also a maker of water displays,
in later years furthered
his mistaking of his person for
the increasingly unsociable Isenheim master,
that perhaps he was the connecting link
between Grünewald and the world become
inaccessible to him in his misfortune.

That this should be so simple and so luminous even in translation is a tribute to the translator and to the original.

Seamus Heaney and his Aeneid

The introductory poem from his collection Seeing Things is a translation of a portion of book 6 of the Aeneid.  And, as with all of his poetry, there are memorable highlights, and observations.  But I plucked this one out because its mood and mode matched most closely that of the other excerpt I have made available today:

Day and night black Pluto's door stands open.
But to retrace your steps and get back to upper air,
This is the real task and the real undertaking.

The Deep Sadness of the Lion

I'm not certain that I will be able to finish the book I have most recently started--not because it is not good--the excerpt below pleads otherwise--but rather because it is so good that the deep sadness of it is difficult to bear for any length of time.  Perhaps that fades after this very early portion--I don't know.  But let me share a few lines with you:

from Beneath the Lion's Gaze
Maaza Mengiste

Then, without a word, she started clapping, her hands and feet moving her shoulders up and down. Like this. Now faster. Don't think, move the way your heart wants you to move, ignore the body. Let the muscles go. There is no room for anger in our dances, pretend you are water and flow over your own bones. His tears stopped, his attention focused on his movement. . . .

One day, Emaye, my mother, I will put water into my bones and dance until my heart obeys. Dawit spun, eyes wide open to take in the slowly darkening sun.

And add to it, this gorgeous observation:

There is this to know of dying: it comes in moonlight thick as cotton and carves silence into all thoughts.

This writing is fearfully, wonderfully strong and it is too easy to enter into the plight and the existence of the characters portrayed.  And if I do not do so, it will be my own fault, not the fault of the book.  And yet with something so strong, so powerfully written, there is much that is frightening about trying to enter--one makes oneself vulnerable in ways that many books do not demand.  And so one must ultimately decide whether or not one trusts the author enough to expose that vulnerability and go where she needs to go.  But with language like this it is hard not to follow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"The Ballad of Judas Iscariot"

 A kindly commenter at University Diaries alerted me to this poem.  Judas Iscariot has always been a figure of deep interest for me (and, by the way for St. Francis Borgia).  I excerpted this poem because I find some of the thought exceptionally appealing and some of the imagery superb.

The Ballad of Judas Iscariot
Robert Buchanan

'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
    Did hush itself and stand,
And saw the Bridegroom at the door
    With a light in his hand.

The Bridegroom stood in the open door,
    And he was clad in white,
And far within the Lord's Supper
    Was spread so broad and bright.

The Bridegroom shaded his eyes and look'd,
    And his face was bright to see —
'What dost thou here at the Lord's Supper
    With thy body's sins?' said he.

'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
    Stood black, and sad, and bare —
'I have wandered many nights and days;
    There is no light elsewhere.'

'Twas the wedding guests cried out within,
    And their eyes were fierce and bright —
'Scourge the soul of Judas Iscariot
    Away into the night!'

The Bridegroom stood in the open door,
    And he waved hands still and slow,
And the third time that he waved his hands
    The air was thick with snow.

And of every flake of falling snow,
    Before it touched the ground,
There came a dove, and a thousand doves
    Made sweet sound.

'Twas the body of Judas Iscariot
    Floated away full fleet,
And the wings of the doves that bare it off
    Were like its winding-sheet.

'Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
    And beckon'd, smiling sweet;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
    Stole in, and fell at his feet.

'The Holy Supper is spread within,
    And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
    Before I poured the wine!'

The supper wine is poured at last,
    The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom's feet,
    And dries them with his hair.

Find the full poem here.  Tomorrow, perhaps I will comment more on it.   "And the wings of the doves that bare it off. . ."  quite lovely, quite insightful.

Virginia Woolf Speaking

I thought I had posted this earlier in the week, but I can't seem to find evidence of it.  (I was reminded by seeing it at Nigel Beale's blog) Virginia Woolf pictures and voice:

More Literary Neuroscientists

Jorge Luis Borges joins their ranks at Jonah Lehrer's blog.

Originally from Philosophy, lit, etc.

And here's my review of the original Proust Was a Neuroscientist

"The Far Field" continued

Nice presentation and commentary on "The Far Field."  Things like this are what make the internet so wonderful.  Outside of a college class, there are few chances to share in this kind of reflection and, dare I say it, true love of literature and of a poem.  My deepest thanks and appreciation to the commentator--nicely shared, beautifully done.

The Art of the Short Story

Lydia Davis short stories reviewed

Lydia Davis is a writer with whom I have only recently become acquainted.  The few pieces I've scanned I've found interesting and intriguing.  But I suspect that nearly single-handedly she has forged a revolution in what can be considered a short story and a short-short story.  I noticed that Sam Shepherd's latest book of short story seems to follow closely in Lydia Davis's tracks.  And there is a delightful little ditty out called Sum: Forty Tales of Afterlives by David Eagleman that seem to take cues from some of the innovations and stylistic tendencies of Ms. Davis.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Close Look at Poetry

In this case, Theodore Roethke's The Far Field

An On-Line Developmental Epic

Lathynarn--Dwarfish Knight--an epic poem in pieces.

A Collection of Interviews with Authors

Author Interviews from the BBC  Some are quite old, but they include Updike's last recorded interview and an interesting session with Joyce Carol Oates.

Young Conservatives

Young Conservatives composing books.  Very young--14 years old.  I could care less about politics, but pursuant to my anecdote about Son and Kafka, young people can be far more perspicacious than we give them credit for.

The Global Novel

The Dull New Global Novel

More Lenten Reading

Laughing at Lucifer in Lent

An interesting perspective from an interesting author.

Kafka and My Son

To start with, from Books Inq.  The Last Days of Kafka.

Now to the relationship with my son.  I may have narrated how recently in a book-buying blitz, my son (11) chose from all of the possibilities a small volume of Kafka's short stories.  Now, I wouldn't push Kafka on anyone, 11 or otherwise, and I'm fully cognizant that being 11 my son will not derive from Kafka all there is to get.  On the other hand, exposure to great, if weird literature, is always a good thing.  Son dutifully read "The Metamorphosis" and reported back to his mother on the details of it.  His mother, not being entomoligcally tolerant succinctly expressed her views about any human sympathetic to or being one with the Dictyoptera.  Which, of course, produced much merriment and a search on Son's part for more such to share with his mother. 

Well, the other day we were at Disney and riding around on the steam engine train that circles the park.  Our seats got somewhat crowded as an extended family from North Carolina joined us.  Son took up a conversation immediately as is his wont and discovering that the woman he was speaking with was a teacher asked her if she had read "The Metamorphosis."  The response was yes and she didn't like it/did like it seemed ambivalent about it.  Son rejoined, "While I don't think it's really likely that a person could turn into a cockroach, I do think that the mean way everyone treated him is something that can happen."

So I guess he got more out of reading it than I might have supposed upon initial inspection.  Strikes me that understanding alienation is a pretty advanced concept for one so young. 

Zora Neale Hurston

Keeping in mind the adage of one thought one post, I try my reader's patience with yet another set of downloads generously offer by Biblioklept.  This one is Zora Neale Hurston's WPA work collecting folklore and stories from Florida (indeed, quite nearby I should think).

Huxley and Hermann Together Again for the First Time

Aldous Huxley narrating Brave New World with Bernard Hermann soundtrack--downloadable mp3 tracks.  I don't know which prospect is more exciting.  Haven't heard this yet, but hope to asap.

via Biblioklept

Renewing One's Home

A review for later--getting things really flat and cleaning one's flat.

On a Snow-Covered Satyr

Saudade-- a poem that brought to mind through the manifold perverse associations this little ditty from one of my long-time favorite authors

That is not dead which can eternal lie
and with strange aeons even death may die.

Yesterday, I exalted the poet in striving to reach a comparison, today, I bring him down from his lofty heights and compare him to. . . well, still one of my favorite authors--so I guess it isn't really a plunge.  And this doggerel is really not comparable to the poem you will enjoy if you click the link.

There is a disturbing and fascinating metrical irregularity to the poem that prevents it from falling into the sing-song while still suggesting (around the edges, as it were) a song.  

What's Your Addiction?

A fascinating run-through of some of literature's more spectacular drugs

My favorite and one that is keenly missing is the one from Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said; however, if I told you what it did, I would be committing the ultimate spoiler.  So I sha'n't--but read it and find out.  It is one powerful drug.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Geert Wilder Interview

Geert Wilder Interview

Entirely beside the point, but I never fail to be fascinated by the fact that so many people around the world speak such beautiful English.  Would that I were so fluent in the languages that I can read but hardly speak.  I have little trouble reading Désert, but tremendous difficulty reading it aloud in anything like the way it should sound.

Catholic Lenten Reading

A few days ago, I may some suggestions that might constitute a list of possibilities for Lenten reading.  Most of those sources had Protestant roots (very good, very firm, very reliable Protestant roots) and today,  I thought perhaps it was time for a few possibilities rooted in the Catholic Tradition.

I must, of course, make at least a head nod to what is perhaps the most-read Christian spiritual work outside of the Bible--The Imitation of Christ. It has earned its place in the library of spiritual reading through its no-nonsense, solid, practical advise for those who are seeking a better way.  One can find it in everything from Latin to on-line editions,  (two) (three) (four) (five) this is one work that every Catholic should take the time to acquaint themselves with.  It rewards slow lectio-like reading and could make a perfect devotional (depending on one's temperament) for the season.

For a little break in the prose, one might wish to intersperse the reading of the Imitation with the poetry of Robert Southwell  or the works of Richard Crashaw. 

There are other classics we could trot out as well--The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, A Sinner's Guide by the Venerable Louis of Granada,  and Holy Wisdom by Father Augustine Baker,

For somewhat off-beat and more challenging reading one might approach the English mystics including Richard Rolle Fire of Love, Julian of Norwich--Revelations of Divine Love, or The Cloud of Unknowing.

But the best guide for reading in Lent, or spiritual reading of any sort is to read that which leads you on to greater love--for God and for your fellow human beings who manifest God in the world today.  These classics can be a little austere and chilly for some--inspiring more the sense of penance than the true wonder of love. 

How marvelous then that there are so many possibilities available to those who are seeking a "reading pilgrimage" during the great Lenten season.  It might be wise to reconsider the dilemmas of the priests in The Power and the Glory and Silence.  Or perhaps we just need to pass some time with extraordinary/ordinary people as in Kristin Lavransdatter and Torngy Lindgren's The Way of a Serpent or Sweetness or François Mauriac's Tangle of Vipers or Woman of the Pharisees.  Or perhaps something more like Gertrude von le Fort's Last to the Scaffold, or Georges Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest.  The hagiographical novels of Louis de Wohl (many recently reprinted and available from Ignatius Press) make for some relatively light reading with a strong spiritual flavor and undertone, among my favorites is the biography of Cassius Longinus The Spear, and The Quiet Light about St. Thomas Aquinas.

Of course, there are a myriad of other possibilities, all determined by your own thoughts, reflections and inclinations.  Perhaps as the season looms, I'll post a few more suggestions--but if you're making a reading plan it is better to get to it quickly as we have little over a week left.

My Before Breakfast Routine

from Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll

Alice could not help laughing at this, even in the midst of her tears. `Can you keep from crying by considering things?' she asked.

`That's the way it's done,' the Queen said with great decision: `nobody can do two things at once, you know. Let's consider your age to begin with -- how old are you?'

`I'm seven and a half, exactly.'

`You needn't say "exactly",' the Queen remarked. `I can believe it without that. Now I'll give you something to believe. I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day.'

`I ca'n't believe that!' said Alice.

`Ca'n't you?' the Queen said in a pitying tone. `Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.'

Alice laughed. `There's no use trying,' she said `one ca'n't believe impossible things.'

`I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!'
Alice excerpt--From an uncommonly nice presentation of the E-texts.

An Evolutionary Theist

Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum

As you can see--the video is quite long, but for those interested in the subject worthwhile.  I have read his arguments against creationism but NOT against theism and agree with him on both points--it is possible to at once ascribe to evolution as a reasonable theoretical construct encompassing life on Earth as it is presently and a theological worldview.  It is not possible to maintain these stands when allied with any form of literalism--evolutionary or biblical.  Literalism in the evolutionary sense gives rise to Spencerian nonsense and some of the worst strains of Kipling's "White Man's Burden" ideology. 

Self-Refuting Positions

From a NZ Theology Geek--site looks most interesting.

Father Longenecker on the Future of the Church

Why Progressivism is Passé

Alvin Plantinga via Maverick Philosopher

The Plantinga family is one I have been awe of for some time--at least I believe they all comprise a family: Alvin, Cornelius (author of a magnificent book--Not the Way It's Supposed to Be) and Harry who runs (or ran) the CCEL and made it into the magnificent resource it is.  Thanks Maverick!

One Feels As Though One Has Stumbled into a Stash of Long-Lost Keats

Or Milton, or other long lost poet who actually has some clue as to whom Philomel is.

"From Arcadia to the stone fields of Inisheer. . ."

Yetis and Wendigos--For Those for Whom It Is an Issue

Ever wonder how to distinguish a Yeti from a Wendigo--wonder no more--all is made clear.

from Monster
A. Lee Martinez

"And you believe you have a yeti in your freezer--is that correct?"

The words were beginning to lose their absurdity.

"Yes, I think so," she said, though she wasn't as certain as she had been five minutes before.

"Can you describe it?"

"It's big and white and eating all the ice cream," she said.

"What flavor?"


"What flavor does it seem to prefer? Yetis generally go for rocky road. Now wendigos, on the other hand, prefer strawberry in my experience."

"What's a wendigo?" Judy asked.

"Like a Yeti, except meaner."

Judy considered that this woman might be screwing with her. If Judy were working a lonely job in the middle of the night and got a crank caller, she'd probably do the same.

"It didn't seem to like vanilla."  There was an awkward pause. "I am not making this up."

There you have it.  If you encounter a Yeti-like creature in your grocery store's walk-in freezer, stop and consider what it is eating and you'll know if you have an Anthropohirsutus yeti or  an Anthropohirsutus (Wendigo) canadensis, not to be confused with the much smaller and often much more warm-season colored Anthropohirsutus (Wendigo) magnapeda.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Cultural Perspective

See how evocatively, but to the western eye exotically a very common occurrence can be described.

from Hunger Trilogy
Wang Ruowang

"Hey! Look--there are lights over there!" Someone had discovered light glimmering in the far distance. Everyone looked int he direction he was pointing and, sure enough, there were spots of light looking like soy beans in the distance.

It would never occur to me to describe the glimmering of lights in the nighttime as "looking like soybeans in the distance."  There is something about this that is strangely evocative--particularly considering the title of the work and the primary focus on times of starvation.

Fortcoming Free E-Books

e-Book versions of 19th Century Literature to be made available for free from the British Library

The number mentioned in the article is 65,000, so this obviously includes more that your Standard Austen, Dickens, Trollope, and Hardy.  Even throwing in Mrs. Gaskell isn't going to push the number up over a thousand.  I can't wait to see what they may be.  I wonder if they'll have bulk downloads for people like me. 

(I think Books Inq. led me here.)

Brutal Fictions--Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan has a deft hand with the short story.  She is unsparing in her details, indeed brutal in incident. 

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

Then he began laughing and he asked her if she had ever danced with a feather bed, and without giving her time to say no he told her to look over her shoulder and she found herself straight straight at Mrs. Fleming, who was in charge of the hat counter, and whose extravagantly towering hair arrangement was designed to draw attention away from her fatness, which was alarming, seeming to flow solidly not down to the floor but away from her and around in all directions, as though she grew larger as you watched. But Mrs. Fleming had been on the floor all evening. She had not missed a step, dancing around like a young girl with all the younger me, smiling brightly on everyone, like an empress.

The description of Mrs. Fleming's physique, is, in a word, brutal.  And it is entirely surprising considering the source through whom it is filtered--Rose.  What we have shown us here is that Rose, who is by far and away the most pleasant and likable of the people in these stories is, in fact, no more or less than any of the others.  What goes on inside is  every bit as ugly as what other people exhibit; however, Rose keeps it hidden.

It begs the question--if we spend out time thinking in these ways but never saying anything or acting on it, are we free from the taint that goes with the thought--or does that mode of thought eventually taint all thought and action so that it eventually shows?  I don't know if Maeve Brennan plans to address the question--but she at least poses it for us. 

A List! A List!

Via Books INQ.: My Favorite Historical Novel

Limits--American Historical Fiction

Another Blogger Heard From

A review of Goldengrove.

For those Awaiting 2012

This elegant and tasteful end-time clock.

Buy now, and we'll throw in a lifetime supply of demi-urge repellent, guaranteed to keep away denizens of the lower circles of fallen angels.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More About Torgny Lindgren

A gentle reader requested to know a bit more about Torgny Lindgren.  And so ever one to oblige those seeking knowledge about my favorite writers, you all shall be punished for his curiosity.

I have only five books, I don't know how many are available in translation: The Way of a Serpent, LightSweetnessBathsheba, and Merab's Beauty.  The first three that remain most vividly in my mind--the first a story about a wicked landlord who collects the rent from a family in rural Sweden and when the money runs out begins to exploit the women of the household.  The title is taken from proverbs 30:19

the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.  (KJV)

And though my recollection is at something of a distance now, at least two, and possibly all three of these is developed in the course of a very short novel.  Perhaps the best description of the book is gritty and realistic.  It is a novel of sin, redemption, self-sacrifice, atonement against a harsh background, made harsher by the people who should make it easier and brighter.

If The Way of a Serpent is a bit grim, Sweetness, is both grimmer and more grotesque.  In Sweetness a writer/lecturer specializing in the lives of the Saints is invited to speak with a group in northern Sweden.  He goes and encounters two brothers Hadar and Olaf and begins to uncover a story of resentment, betrayal, and darkness.  Each brother has lived as long as they have only because they are too cussedly stubborn to die first.  The story was very, very dark, sometimes grotesque, but shot through with a dark humor as the writer/lecturer serves as intermediary between the brothers and uncovers their history in all of its darkness.  (And you don't really want to know what the sweetness in the title refers to--believe me.  (How's that for a ploy to encourage readership?))

Light--think Rabbit Plague in Rural pre 20th century (though what century isn't quite clear) Sweden.

All three of these stick in my memory and encourage me to promote Mr. Lindgren at every opportunity.

Hope this whirlwind guide was of some help.  I'm certain that there are pages out there that would have better information and a more thorough and scholarly view of the work.  All I can say is that I have enjoyed, thoroughly, everything I've read.

Abigail Adams Advises

Abigail Adams on the importance of e-mail to romance.

Interview with Aleksandar Hemon

An Interview with Mr. Hemon at Guernica

I've checked his books out from the library a couple of times but never got to them--not because they were not good--but because I am too distracted.  (In the short life of this blog, how often have you heard that?)

Drowned Boy--Jerry Gabriel

Normally I wouldn't post a review like this one, and I suppose I shouldn't with this--but I thought that perhaps by writing it I could come to terms with the book in a way that would otherwise not occur.

Let's start on the upside--there are some evocative moments in the book--some good writing, some memorable scenes.  The book inspired me to remember my own experiences in Ohio and to write about them in somewhat more detail that I have heretofore.  And there were moments when Mr. Gabriel really locked in a sense of the setting for me.

On the downside:  I had read two reviews of the book that suggested that it would be superb reading--an up and coming artist whose work I needed to pay attention to.  And perhaps to some extent this is true--there are flashes of brilliance, moments of real poetry.  But for the most part, the stories didn't really go anywhere.  The title story evoked neither sympathy for the drowned boy, nor sympathy for those affected by his death, nor horror at how it was commemorated, nor deep thought on how it was meaningful.  A boy drowned, has a funeral, a couple of people meet, drift away in opposite directions. The plotting was scattered, the attention to detail sparse, and the language occasionally rough--a thorough copy edit would have been a benefit.

That said, there were some stories that really stood out in odd ways.  The last story in the collection which has the main character searching (sort of) for his brother.  The chronologically displaced story about the narrator who is reviewing the baseball career of a would-be start who opts for academics instead.

I don't know--overall I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped.  I come away with a handful of moments, a couple of scenes, but a sense that this writer is just on his way--the promise is there and truthfully more than promise.  The book is worth reading.  It just isn't in the realms of great yet--it is is the realm of promise.  And so, perhaps my disappointment is too great for its occasion, because there is nothing that prevents me from saying that this book is


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Signs of Collector's Fever

It is horrifying to admit to any duplicate books in a collection other than study copies and pristine copies, or personal copies and loaner copies.  However, I have discovered the following duplicates in my library and it does say something about me and the library I keep:

Daisy Miller, Washington Square, Portrait of a Lady, Mrs. Dalloway's Party, Kew Gardens, (oh, here's a mortifying one) Flush, The Sea and Poison, Kokoro, Some Prefer Nettles (this is explained by the fact that my original is falling to pieces).

And that's only the start, I'm afraid.  I think I shall leave off plowing through the newly opened room for the evening to give myself respite and breathing space to recover from a surfeit of nearly everything.

Elizabeth Bowen on Orlando

Happening upon a comment elsewhere regarding the book noted above, a comment I heartily endorse and agree with, I also found this while sorting through my many books:

from "Orlando"
in The Mulberry Tree
Elizabeth Bowen

Virginia Woolf's Orlando was first published in London in October of 1928. I remember, the book was regarded with some mistrust by one generation--my own, at that time 'the younger'. We, in our twenties during the '20s, were not only the author's most zealous readers, but, in the matter of reputation, most jealous guardians. Her aesthetic became a faith; we were believers. We more than admired, we felt involved in each of her experimental, dazzling advances. Few of us (then) knew the still-conservative novels of her first period; a minority had informed itself of The Mark on the Wall and Kew Gardens, hand-printed and issued in 1919 by the original Hogarth Press. She broke full upon us, it would be correct to say, with Jacob's Room, 1922, on which followed Mrs Dalloway, 1925; then, while we were still breathless, To the Lighthouse, 1927. What now, what next? Next came Orlando. It was Orlando's fate to come hard on the heels of the third of those masterpieces, of which each had stimulated a further hope. We regarded this book as a setback. Now, thirty-two years later, I wonder why this should have been so.

And I can respond, that it is a common enough reaction.  Once immersed in the world that Woolf had fully discovered and fleshed out in the three novels named, it is an oddity to be dragged back to this one by a trifle as ordinary and mundane as Orlando.  And yet, that really is the reaction only in proximity--because even though Orlando is a lark, a frolic, a bon-bon, a trifle, Woolf's trifles exceed in skill and dexterity some of the finest writing of lesser, much-lauded writers.

So, take heart those who come down from the heights of the Lighthouse to discover Orlando.   It is my sincere belief that Orlando requires a season and a space of its own.  It does not play well with others.

Apropos Pun of the Day

Contemplated while sorting through my shelves

Torgny Lindgren is not all Sweetness and Light.

Those who have a passing acquaintance will know what I mean.