Thursday, September 30, 2010

King on Vampires et al.

Stephen King on putting the bite back into vampires.

Top 10 Vampire novels--

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


Review of What Ever Happened to Modernism?

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

Perspective on the Greek Pantheon

Another review of The Infinities

The Ladbroke's Odds

The Ladbroke's Odds place my favorite William Trevor in a tie with Umberto Eco

A Bit More on Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer Reviewed

Neuromancer reviewed

A review of William Gibson's Neuromancer

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

The Nobel Prize in Literature

This year's odds-on favorites for the Nobel

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

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

Another look at same

Another Nobel Analysis

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

A View from AMNH

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

Radio News

Adventures of Philip Marlowe Radio Show episodes

Dystopian Views

Things We Didn't See Coming

Sxi Scientists Share Their Favorite Science Fiction

What is the most accurate science fiction in your field?  Six Answers.

Via Hungry Like the Woolf

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Concluding the History

A Common Reader contemplates the finish of The History

Open Yale Lectures

Amy Hungerford lectures on Blood Meridian

DFW on 5 Novels

Five direly underappreciated american novels

via Biblioklept.

Comics with a Cause

The Borderland Saga and fundraiser

On Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick: A Day in the Afterlife

The Decadent Novel

Where did the decadent novel go?

My version of the Religion Quiz

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

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

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

(3) Name the most famous avatar of Vishnu.

(4) What are Jains?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(12) What is Santeria and from what is it derived?

(13) What is animism and what is its principle form in Japan?

(14) For what is St. Simon Stylites best known?

(15) What is the ka'ba (qa'ba)?

(16) What is the wailing wall and what does it represent?

(17) What is Mahayana?

(18) What are Sikhs and what is one of their distinguishing articles of apparel?

(19) How do Hutterites differ from Amish and Mennonites?

(20) Who was the founder of the Shakers?

Now, to me, these are religious IQ questions.  And I'm only scratching the surface because outside of Christianity and some Judaism, that is all I really can do.

That said, I guess if you can't tell me which religion Mother Teresa practiced, you'd be hard-pressed on any of these.  However, if one seeks the truth in faith, it would seem that one should seek the truth wherever it is, not necessarily just where one is.  I have found a home, but I have found a home after long wandering and much discover of good things in all faiths--signs of the presence of God.  I just happen to be convicted by one of these much more than any of the others. 

With the thought that some  people might want to take a stab at answering, I'll withhold the answers in the comments.  If no interest, then I won't bother with the answers.


Sukkot: a poem

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

Test Your Religious Knowledge

via Maverick Philosopher

Test your religious knowledge

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

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Do Christians Say?

Do Christians Say All Other Religions are Bunk?

A Late Encounter with the Enemy

A review of Wise Blood

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

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

Beautiful Reflection on Presence

Reflection on Presence

An excerpt:

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

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

You've heard it all before

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


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

Me: Oh, you're a reader - cool! What do you like to read?
Non-Literary Nerd: Non-fiction, almost exclusively.
Me: You don't like fiction?
NLN: Nope. There's too much to learn about the real world to read stuff that's made up.
Me: Sure, dude.

I've said it, nearly everyone I know who reads fiction has said it, and it is ultimately unpersuasive because those who read nonfiction do not really do so to gain information about the world--such information is of its time and of the prejudice of the writer and ultimately subject to revision and rerevision.  Truth is, most of us don't really know why we do much of anything.  There are relatively few choices that we could explain rationally, and of those few, what we choose for recreation may be the least explained choice of all.

But it never fails to interest and stir me to read a rousing defense of reading fiction.

Two Videos

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

First, the Rube Goldberg device:

I just love the metaphorical fall of umbrellas.

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


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

Toleration, though, is always from a position of power. Religious opinions that differ from the established view (from my own religious commitment, that is) are granted the freedom to express and spread themselves, because they are not a threat. They are not a threat precisely because their arguments, spilling out from within a different circle, cannot serenade me with any degree of persuasion.

What I read here is that if one is not secure in one's religious conviction then no tolerance should be practiced because one COULD be wooed by the siren song of that other faith.  Having been a practitioner, or attempted to be a practitioner of a great many faiths, I can say, that I am wooed by reason and by the siren song of the truth that is central to the revealed faiths.  I would argue that toleration does not come from being comfortably nestled in one's own convictions but from being unafraid to change one's mind if the truth should be presented to one in a convincing fashion.  That is, rather than the courage of convictions, one has the courage to change in the face of the truth--one has the courage to be mistaken.  To my mind, that is the strength from which toleration can and should be practiced.  If shown to be wrong, one is willing to admit it and move to do what is right.

There is a good deal of question whether one faith can show another to be wrong.  My answer would be, that for me, at least, the conviction always comes from within.  In my Christian context I would say by the working of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps it comes from a lifetime of being wrong and discovering, quite joyfully, the excitement of having discovered some little part of the truth.

Anyway, perhaps I misread or misunderstand the blog author, Mr. Myers.  However, I would argue that the position of strength is always the ability to say "I've been wrong, I want to be right."  It is in this light that toleration has meaning--the possibility of seeing.

The original post to which Mr. Myers's is a response. It sounds as though my view may be closer to this original.  But to be honest, when it comes to these matters I tend to be a very sloppy reader and interpreter, so I could be way off base.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Father Thomas Dubay R.I.P.

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

New Yorker iPad App

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

A Moment in Solzhenitsyn

from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Too Long Away, We Revisit an Old Friend

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

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

from The Prelude Book VI
William Wordsworth

Mighty is the charm
Of those abstractions to a mind beset
With images, and haunted by herself,
And specially delightful unto me
Was that clear synthesis built up aloft
So gracefully; even then when it appeared
Not more than a mere plaything, or a toy
To sense embodied: not the thing it is
In verity, an independent world,
Created out of pure intelligence.

Part of the continuing Ode to Geometry--as unlikely a subject as one can bring to mind with only a moment's thought--Wordsworth tells us what the interest is.  Geometry pulls the poet who is caught up in words and images out of that vast and deep pool--it pulls the poet out of self with the contemplation of a higher, more abstract thing.  But Geometry, like poetry builds.  It builds on what has come before.  Just as poetry advances image by image and poet by poet, so too with geometry and in the end of both you have created a new world.  They are of different types, but both are new and alive in unexpected and unaccountable ways.

A Brief Interview with Sam Lipsyte

Interview with Sam Lipsyte

Blood Meridian hits 25

Actually probably older, but the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Blood Meridian.

And a review

Bill Bryson's African Diary

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

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


The Violin of Auschwitz--Maria Angels Anglada

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

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

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

The harsh facts of its origin do not betray the instrument itself.  The luthier works his art and magic and produces a violin amidst the horrors of the camp, from which he is not spared even while at this work.

The prose is spare, quiet, just enough.  The tone quiet to a whisper.  The effect--a bombshell--a celebration of human spirit in the most horrible and horrifying of all environments--places whose ugliness and wretchedness and evil defies human comprehension.

Ms. Angladas produces a quiet and fine work--a work of power, sensitivity, and a quiet brilliance which makes for both good reading and good reflection.

Highest recommendation *****

Ms. Johnson Speaks

The article mentioned in the previous post

Female Authors

Times Flow Stemmed reads Maureen Johnson and pauses to reflect.

from Ms. Johnson, a list:

Edna Ferber, Diana Wynne Jones, Kate Chopin, Patricia Highsmith, Miles Franklin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Shirley Jackson, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Virginia Woolf, Marianne Robinson, Lorrie Ann Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary McCarthy, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edwidge Danticat.

And, of course, other than the obvious--that the list comprises only the 20th and 21st centuries, I would ask where are:

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

and a host of others all of whom deserve a wider readership?  (Well maybe not Munro and Lahiri, both of whom have quite large audiences--but still--you get the point.)

The answer, of course, is that no list is exhaustive, and that the offered list is merely to whet the reader's appetite for books by and about women.  Although why one should need to have one's appetite whetted for half of the fictional world is well beyond my ability to understand.

Rossetti Reanimated

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

The Great American Novel

Comments both on the phrase and on Franzen's Freedom.

Sherlock Holme's Doggy Adventure

Hound of the Baskervilles reviewed

Classics in Context: Dracula reviewed

Dracula reviewed

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

Sacred Hearts reviewed

Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts reviewed

The Caretaker of Lorne Field Dave Zeltserman

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

The Caretaker of Lorne Field is the story of Jack Durkin, the 9th generation of Durkins given the task of tending to a field in the middle of nowhere.  And 9 generations of Durkins is only the beginning because one gets hints that Native Americans before this also tended the task.  Bound to the laborious task of weeding the field from sun-up to sun-down from first frost to winter thaw by an elaborate contract that details every aspect of the job, Durkin is paid $8,000 a year and given a house to live in.  This is not enough for his wife, who while happy enough at the prospect of the job at the beginning has seen no cost-of-living increase in the 20 or so years she has lived with Jack.  The story details the progressive erosion of the contract, though not of Jack's willingness to try to fulfill it despite all of the obstacles placed in his way.  Jack insists on keeping to the field as a one-man mission to save humanity from the Aukowies--weed-like beings that grow at a prodigious rate.  Their reproduction could bring an end to humanity in a mere two weeks.

While there is some ambiguity in the story, as with any really excellent novel of horror, it seems that the end of the book pretty much does away with any doubt about what has happened.  The story traces the trajectory of Jack's rise to respect as the Caretaker and his eventual fall as all of the older generation who understood what he did dies off and Jack is left facing a disbelieving younger crowd. 

The story is riveting--from the first sentence to the last Mr. Zeltserman binds the reader in the spell of the events and in the question of Jack Durkin's sanity or lack thereof.  In this way an inheritor of the mantle of such works as The Haunting of Hill House, Mr. Zeltserman produces a unique story--one that will live with the reader for some time to come. (Ironic, in a way, that a story which is essentially about weeding a "garden" could be so compelling.)

One of the reasons for the power of the story is the question of meaning.  The story reads at once like a modern psychological thriller, a horror novel, and a parable of faith, belief, and changing times.  And it works well on all of those levels. As one ponders the progressive dissolution of Jack and his family, one is forced to ponder also how what we believe shapes how we live and how what we don't believe flies in the face of a tradition which may be far more right than we know--how what we abandon on the basis of the new and modern may actually be more true than what we hold to.

Powerful writing, a fast tempo, engaging themes, interesting characters--this book is well worth any reader's time.  And, very important, excellent reading for your journey into The October Country.

Highly recommended *****

Reissues: The Magic Christian

Terry Southern's The Magic Christian reviewed

Poem of the Week--John Lucas

Easter, 1944

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

Journey to Trianon

One author's road to publication

Three Books

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

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

Presently I am reading:

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pay-to-Preview on Amazon

Pay-to-Preview on Amazon

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

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

Reviews Gathered by Julie

via Happy Catholic

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

The Little Stranger

Both would seem to be excellent October reading.

Conspiracy Theorists and other UFOlogists

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

The Other Inkling

Charles Williams

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

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

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

I would be remiss if I did not note that War in Heaven is available as a free e-book.

Mrs. Gaskell Reconsidered

A Celebration of Elizabeth Gaskell


John Cleese on the origins of creativity.

A Review of A Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale

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

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

Issa Reveals Another Side

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

The Other Side of Milton

A racy poem attributed to Milton

via University Diaries.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More October Reading

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Another great book by the inimitable Shirley Jackson.

An Elegy for Feminism?

Susan Faludi--An Elegy for Feminism?

More Poetry

Two Eyes

The Countess of Pembroke reminded me. . .

Of one of my all-time favorite poems:

To My Dear and Loving Husband
Anne Bradstreet

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

The Countess of Pembroke

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

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

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

More from the Countess

Seeking to Scratch that October Itch

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

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

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

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

Long Live Books!

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

While I agree with most of what the commenter has to say, I disagree with one proposition which I cannot determine from context whether it belongs to the reviewer or the original article.  All of the stuff on my Kindle, or at least nearly all of it (because I make my own e-books) will continue to be readable into the future because I will simply convert the files into whatever format comes forward as the next e-reader.  Worst comes to worst you extract them to html or xml and you have ultimately repurposable files without much concern about backward compatibility.  I've done it from palm to kindle to iPad and will continue to do it into the future.  I like portability.  I like being able to have a choice among thousands of books if I'm away from home.  I like being able to walk to the corner of Grafton Street across from the Fusilier's Arch and read Dubliners or to Davy Byrne's and sit down with Ulysses, all for the ultimate cost of toting around the weight of perhaps two paperbacks.  (With the iPad it is more, but still work it).  The arguments against the technology hold no water for me--partially because I'm not addicted to the medium but to the art and it little matters to me where it is--newspaper, cereal box, iPad, Kindle, or book.  Any one of them will suffice for me.

Literature in Translation

The AmazonCrossing spring list.

How Very, Very Sad

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Mitchell Heisman, who stared into the abyss, and accepted the invitation.

An Interview with Matthew Hooton

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

A Review re Orion

Orion, You Came and You Took All My Marbles

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

Librarians and Rock Stars

How the Bront&eauml;s Divide Humanity

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

Don Delillo's Award

Don Delillo comments on receiving Pen/Saul Bellow Award

A Selection of Catholic e-Book Classics

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Old Wives

Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale reviewed.

Another Irresistible Quotation from Kay Ryan

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

It's That Season Again

Office pool for Nobel Prize Winners


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

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

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

Ascension, Water, and Raw Beauty

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan, an appreciation

Kay Ryan's Ladder

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

A short porfolio of her poems

More Poems

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

A taste:

from "I Go to AWP"
Kay Ryan

I have a weak character. I am very susceptible to other people’s enthusiasms, at times actually courting them. I like to sit among people who feel strongly about a basketball team, say, and get excited with them. I love to love ouzo with ouzo lovers. These are, of course, innocent examples. But this weakness concerns me in going to AWP. If I’m exposed to the enthusiasms of others, I know that I am capable of betraying my deepest convictions, laughing in the face of a lifetime of hostility to instruction, horror at groupthink. The only way I’ve ever gotten along in this world is by staying away from it; I have had only enough character to keep myself out of situations that require character. Now here I am, going to AWP. How am I going to remember: these people are THE SPAWN OF THE DEVIL? They will seem like individuals, not deadly white threads of the great creative writing fungus.

On the enthusiasms jag, I sympathize with Kay.  I, too, am very easily swayed by the opinions of others, the bulwark against which is my stubborn refusal to be swayed by anything, including me.

My first exposure to Ms. Ryan's poetry was in Battery City Park.  The water taxis/shuttles that move people around the island of Manhattan had a line of her poetry written on the hull:

"Look boats of mercy embark from our heart at the oddest knock"--Kay Ryan

That line just struck a chord with me and lingers with me still.

And here, you can see a photograph of it.

Going to the Dogs

"White Knuckles"  an interesting and complexly choreographed video

Celebrating the Arrival of Fall

Fall Equinox

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

Of Opiliones

Daddy Long-Legs

Different Shades of Sunset

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

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

On The Boat

A review and appreciate of Nam Le's The Boat.

How Writers Review Their Critics

Writers as critics--not a pretty picture

Herodotus and Cowper

Learn something about the Thracians from Herodotus and William Cowper/Vincent Bourne

e.e. and his world

If you want to start appreciating e.e. cummings, you could do no better than this post.

Great Libraries of the World

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

via Tea at Trianon

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

From the Paris Review Interview of Truman Capote

A point so often made and so often ignored.

from Paris Review Interview of Truman Capote, 1957

Are there devices one can use in improving one's technique?

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

Precisely.  Joyce could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners.

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

Another Fan of Matthew "Monk" Lewis

A review of Matthew Lewis's The Monk

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

On Prayer

The Placebo Effect of Prayer--hint--it isn't

Quintessential James

The quintessential Jamesian sentence


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

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

from Ulysses
James Joyce

VIRAG (Head askew, arches his back and hunched wing- shoulders, peers at the moth out of blear bulged eyes, points a homing claw and cries.) Who's Ger Ger? Who's dear Gerald? O, I much fear he shall be most badly burned. Will some pleashe pershon not now impediment so catastrophics mit agitation of firstclass tablenumpkin? (He mews.) Luss puss puss puss! (He sighs, draws back and stares sideways down with dropping underjaw.) Well, well. He doth rest anon.

I'm a tiny tiny thing
Ever flying in the spring
Round and round a ringaring.
Long ago I was a king,
Now I do this kind of thing
On the wing, on the wing!

[Virag is Leopold Bloom's grandfather.] 

In this case the nightlanguage is not the language of dreams, but the language of gradual (and progressively more phantasmagoric) intoxication.  There are examples splashed throughout the narrative, But words like "pleashe pershon" are not merely an imitation of drunken slurring, but also meaningful pormanteau words that can be unpacked in the context of the passage.  What might it mean--to start pleashe looks like it can be broken into "plea" and "she" but it also contains elements of pleasure.  And when one is in nighttown, one is both making a plea to she, and looking for pleasure.  There are probably embedded in that simple phrase multi-linguistic puns as well.  And, following the "rules" for interpreting the nightlanguage, it is possible contextually to support both of these reading of the single word.  (And I wonder about pershon--are we beginning to see the kernel of Shem and Shaun who both show up in the Wake?  So then, could this be read as "according to (per) Shaun/Shem" (shon)?)

This passage, among others, is one of the reasons I warn people that they need not at first glance understand everything they see in Ulysses.  You have to give yourself permission for an imperfect understanding.  Can I parse for you everything in this passage?  Not easily, and perhaps not at all.  But then, that is what the nightlanguage is all about--music and meaning that sits just below the glimmering surface of the words.   What for example is a firstclass tablenumpkin?  I'll work on it awhile, but I have to say that it doesn't really matter to the essence of what is going on in the episode.  For Leopold to be talking to his Grandfather is an interesting situation to say the least.

Nightlanguage is ultimately the language of music and of sound.  It makes a certain sense spoken aloud but eludes a complete analysis or pinning down of meaning, precisely because it has the meaning of dreams. Nevertheless, it isn't nonsense, even when it is difficult to understand.  But it also isn't necessary to rest in the word play.  The one thing necessary here is to read and move on capturing the phantasmagoria that is the visit to nighttown.

The Invisible Bridge Revisited

from The Invisible Bridge
Julie Orringer

The next day he prayed and fasted. During the early service he felt certain he had made a terrible mistake. If he'd waited another week, he thought, she might have come back to him; now he had secured his own unhappiness. He wanted to run from the synagogue to the rue de Sévigné and retrieve the box before anyone found it. But as the fast scoured him from the inside, he began to believe that he'd done the right thing, that he'd done what he had to do to save himself. He pulled his tallis around his shoulders and leaned into the repetition of the eighteen benedictions. The familiar progress of the prayer brought him greater certainty. Nature had it's cycles; there was a time for all things, and all things passed away. (205)

What a beautiful statement of the power of fasting in the spiritual life--incidental to the overall story, but a statement of deep faith nevertheless.  And we see the serenity that comes from taking the time for even a momentary contact with the great I AM.

From The Luminarium--Poetry Wars

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

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

The Sonnet.

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

                                  Go, go ;
    Lay by thy quiver and unbend thy Bow
                                  Poore sillie Foe,
    Thou spend'st thy shafts but at my breast in Vain,
                                  Since Death
    My heart hath with a fatall Icie Deart
                                  Already slain,
    Thou canst not ever hope to warme her wound,
                                  Or wound it o're againe.

The Answer.
    Thou witty Cruell Wanton, now againe,
                                  Through ev'ry Veine,
    Hurle all your lightning, and strike ev'ry Dart.
    Before I feele this pleasing, pleasing paine,
                                  I have no Heart,
    Nor can I live but sweetly murder'd with
                                  So deare, so deare a smart.

                                  Then flye,
    And kindle all your Torches at her Eye,
                                  To make me Dye
    Her Martyr, and put on my Roabe of Flame :
                                  So I
    Advanced on my blazing Wings on high,
                                  In Death became
    Inthroan'd a Starre, and Ornament unto
                                  Her glorious glorious name.

Source:  Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature

Luminarium Editions

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

Washington D.C. Area Residents

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

Professor Myers Considers Cardinal Newman

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

Looking at David Mitchell's Magnum Opus to Date

Cloud Atlas reviewed

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

Suzanne Collins Revisited

A review of Mockingjay--a book I'm looking forward to reading.

The Complete Paris Review Interviews

The complete Paris Review Interviews are available online.

via Mark Athitakis

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

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

What a tremendous treasure!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Camille Paglia

Whatever happened to Camille Paglia?

H.R. 4646--Debt Free America

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

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

Track H.R. 4646 here.

Debt Free America Act - States as purposes of this Act the raising of sufficient revenue from a fee on transactions to eliminate the national debt within seven years and the phasing out of the individual income tax. Amends the Internal Revenue Code to impose a 1% fee, offset by a corresponding nonrefundable income tax credit, on transactions that use a payment instrument, including any check, cash, credit card, transfer of stock, bonds, or other financial instrument. Defines "transaction" to include retail and wholesale sales, purchases of intermediate goods, and financial and intangible transactions. Establishes in the legislative branch the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action to review the fiscal imbalance of the federal government and make recommendations to improve such imbalance. Provides for expedited consideration by Congress of Task Force recommendations. Repeals after 2017 the individual income tax, refundable and nonrefundable personal tax credits, and the alternative minimum tax (AMT) on individuals. Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to: (1) prioritize the repayment of the national debt to protect the fiscal stability of the United States; and (2) study and report to Congress on the implementation of this Act.

Later: corrections made to better reflect the actual intent of the act.

Pens That Take Notes

Pens that record while the user records

Haste and Perspective

"On the Hurry of This Time"

featuring William Wordsworth among others.

The Nicholas Sparks Phenomenon

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

Questioning Prayer

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


But is it really a "nice gesture" at all? There's clearly something suspect about the motivations of those in Hitchens's first two squadrons, but the blunt disregard for the wishes of the person at the heart of this human tragedy leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, all too familiar from the pope's demands that Christianity must maintain a central place in modern life.

I, for one, will continue to pray for Christopher Hitchens's return to health, not in spite of Hitchen's himself, but because my faith requires it.  Further, "No man is an islande. . . send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

Additionally, prayer, for whatever reason, is turning toward God in supplication, as at a Father's knee, and even if there is no cure for Hitchens nor any conversion, it little matters, because the effort itself is an act of love, for God, and for a fellow traveler and sufferer.  Life must be lived compassionately--prayer allows us to enter into the passion of others and to bear some small part of the burden. 

LOC Story of the Week

Kate Chopin's "Désirée's Baby"

Considering Psmith

One Hundred Years of Psmith in the City: Life Before Jeeves

Henry James, Detective

A review of What Alice Knew by Paul Marantz Cohen

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

via Books Inq.

Calvino in Review

Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics

Defoe and Joyce

Joyce's Literary Tastes

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

Author Interviews: Michel Houellebecq

The Paris Review Interview of Michel Houellebecq

via Times Flow Stemmed

An interesting excerpt:

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

The Measured Rationalism of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins on the Pope

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

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

Earlier this year, Dawkins described Pope Benedict – among other, worse accusations – as “a leering old villain in a frock… a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part”. He added that he was the most appropriate head for an “evil, corrupt organisation”. There was later some talk, mercifully abandoned, of performing a citizen’s arrest during the visit to Britain. . . .
I am neither a creationist nor a Catholic, but the Pope-bashing jars. As a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I abhorred the Paisleyite stunts, not least because they caused distress to many decent people, and fanned a dangerous climate of hysteria. The same arguments apply today. Dawkins’s views are both defensible and debatable, but the means in which they are delivered does his acute intelligence little credit, and increasingly suggests “a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part”.

A couple of years ago, Dawkins lent his name to the oddly constructed atheist slogan: “There is probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” There is enough doubt in that “probably” to warrant at least dropping the hectoring tone. Perhaps Mr Dawkins should take a lesson from Mr Paisley, learnt so very late in life, and turn down the volume.

Yes, that certainly sounds like the coolly considered thoughts of a rationalist.  And evil?  From an atheist.  It would seem to me that evil in an Dawkinsian atheist context is an extremely difficult concept that really boils down to, "what I don't like."

Now,  I'm no great fan of Pope Benedict XVI.  I find him too distant and too chilly at times.  But then, that is in comparison to his predecessor and not really a fair and objective evaluation--just an impression.  Nevertheless, I am impressed with his intellect, his spiritual focus, and his ability to lead through the dark waters of this present difficult time for the Church. And I find Dawkins so over-the-top that I wonder whether he isn't enacting some sort of bombastic satire, proclaiming things that not even he can believe for effect.  But alas, I think it is not so.

I have no beef with atheists--those who believe there is no God.  Their faith is as stunning and as profound as those of us who hold that one does exist.  But how is this sort of hate-mongering any better than what he claims for religion itself.  Wouldn't the rational approach be to model how the church should behave--to point out the grave moral flaws and rational lapses in all charity and in the spirit of kindly atheist love and humanity?  The truth is, that there is something in faith, pro or con, that tends to bring out in some people the very worst aspects of who they are.

I encounter atheists and agnostics daily who are smart, thoughtful, kind, and gentle people.  Naturally, I think they would be better off if they believed in God, but I also think that they model how all people of faith should work to interact with one another.

Protesting the Pope

Protesting the Visit to England

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

Another view of same

San Francisco

The Unseen Sea, San Francisco as you don't normally think of it.

More on Franzen--Commentary on a Review

Franzen's Freedom and the New York love of self

and the review that spawned the commentary

an excerpt of the Review:

from "Peace and War"
Stanley Tanenhouse

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

That observation--that it is insufficient to believe and have the freedom to do so, but that one's own beliefs must be bolstered by others is certainly one of the more difficult and deadly aspects of the human person.  If I don't like Keith Jarrett and you do, that must be cause for civil unrest at best and war at worst?

I think back to a similar satire--

"The People's Front of Judea"

"The Judean People's Front."

and "We can recognize Stan's right to have a baby, even though he can't, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans'."

Later: Another discussion of Franzen at A Commonplace Blog

On Dalí

On  Dalí's Marsupial Centaurs

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

Just Because

Reflections from a Wine Bar

Kalooki Nights Howard Jacobson

A review/summary of Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson.

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

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

Martha Kapos--"A Mind of Winter"

Lovely and intense.

An excerpt:

from "A Mind of Winter"
Martha Kapos

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

September 19: Our Lady of Salette

Our Lady of Salette: A Summary of the Appartions

Jewish Legendry

Jews, Legends of the Carefully Indexed

Lectio on The Book of Hebrews

Sustained reflection on the book of Hebrews.  

An excerpt:

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

Papal Homily for the Beatification of John Henry Newman

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

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

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or "Heart speaks unto heart", gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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

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

From The Invisible Bridge
Julie Orringer

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

How beautiful, the persistence of faith, it's universality, and its power to transcend nationality and unite a people

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Great Leap Forward

Mao's Great Leap Forward

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

The Ultimate Insult

Franzen chosen by Oprah again. 

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

An Appreciation of Ronald Firbank

Ronald Firbank

Awful Writing

Why is awful writing tolerated?

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

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

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

More on Censorship

Molly Norris considered again

Ghost Stories

M. R. James considered

Continuing with Herodotus

We're up to Salamis

You would really do yourself a favor by bookmarking A Common Reader and keeping up with the thoughts and considerations there.

A Different Sort of Review

of Franzen's Freedom

and another

Blind Hatred of Business Fiction

Business Fiction--who knew such a genre existed?

Zombies and Existential Angst

A course in Zombies

Hubert Selby Jr.

Not a candidate for one of the Greats, in my mind, but it shows you how wrong I can be.

More Haiku

At one of the very best blogs of its type--more haiku

Elegant Thoughts on the Apple Product Line

Seriously, a nice appreciation of the history of the iPod.

On Taste

Gustibus non est disputandum; chacun á son goût: there are a great many ways to say it, but they all point to the same general trend--the desire of one group to feel in some way superior to another by the great refinement of their taste.  The truth of the matter is that the elitism of refined taste opens the door to sadness and dissatisfaction.  When we "develop our taste" we are developing our ability to not enjoy certain real and substantial goods.

Too often refined taste is an exclusive doorway, you pass through and, by the rules of taste, you are prohibited from enjoying certain good things that you once did.  Taste moves us from a genuine enjoyment of Thomas Kinkade to a simulated enjoyment of Kandinsky, Rothko, or worse (or better--depending on how your taste is defined).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying things of exquisite beauty and goodness, however one might define those.  And really there is nothing fundamentally wrong about choosing not to enjoy certain things that do not rise (or sink) to the same level.  But when I look back over my own life at those things I chose to segregate myself from as being "beneath" me, all I see is a landscape of lost opportunity--lost opportunity for enjoyment, appreciation, and edification.

If great art is greatly edifying, it could be said that almost any work of art that adheres to the central principles of truth, beauty, and goodness, is edifying: from Spongebob Squarepants and lessons about what it is to be a good friend, to Krysztof Penderecki and lessons about what it is to be a believing and feeling person.  From Brahams to Brad Paisley, and from Monet to Modigliani.

That is not to say that we won't like some things better than others from the get-go--that some things will be harder to access, appreciate and regard in the light of potential enjoyment and enlightenment.  It is not to say that we will ever appreciate everything.  I suspect that much of the world of Rap Music is forever beyond my pale--which is to imply nothing about its overall worthiness.

In my life I have chosen foolish reasons to wall myself off from tremendous beauty and value.  I have erected false barriers in the way of appreciation of so much that is good. I have grown tired of conforming to what those I respect tell me is good and worthwhile.  While I will continue to respect them, pace Harold Bloom, I will also continue to read Poe and Lovecraft and Heinlein and Silverberg, I will continue to admire Monet, Renoir, Dali, Miro, I will continue to listen to Enya and Brahms and Lady Gaga and Debussy.  I will continue now to try to enjoy what was so long inaccessible to me.  In the last couple of years I opened the door to Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald and Brad Paisley and Josh Turner and Johannes Brahms and other artists too numerous to name.  I've not yet scaled the wall of appreciation for Miles Davis and John Coltrane at their extreme ends, nor Keith Jarrett nor Rap and Metal groups the names of which I do not even know.  But I now refuse to be regulated by taste, by the opinions of others, by words like "low-brow" "middle-brow" and "high-brow,"  by artificial fences that have too long walled me off from worlds of enjoyable and edifying material.  I will never like everything or embrace all.  I might never cotton to the idea of wearing meat dresses or Thomas Kinkade; however, I will do my best not to scorn those who do.  I might, as I often do at work, rib those who are ardent fans, just to get a rise.  But I have learned the long and hard lesson of self-imposed isolationism. And I encourage all persons "of taste" to do likewise.  There is too much to be lost by walling oneself off with that barrier.  Instead, choose to like what you do whether it represents "refinement" or not and make no excuses for it.  I may not agree with your evaluation--but that doesn't make your enjoyment any less.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki and Animation

What could be better Penderecki and Animation

Moody, creepy, interesting--worth your attention.

An Opportune Synchronicity

First, the best romance novels of the last 50 years, and now this, a review of Reading Romance.

For No Reason in Particular

I think of Jessica Powers

An excerpt

from "The Kingdom of God"
Jessica Powers

Not towards the stars, O beautiful naked runner,
not on the hills of the moon after a wild white deer,
seek not to discover afar the unspeakable wisdom,-
the quarry is here.

Woolf at the Shore

Reflecting on Woolf reflecting on The Waves.

The Future of Free Speech

We're surrendering case by case--and this is the future we face.

Acedia or Apathia?

"Why Artists Don't Care if They're Wrong."

Jane Austen Online

No, everyone knows that you can get everything Miss Austen wrote (and then some) through Project Gutenberg.  This is about the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts online.  For the completist, the fanatic, and those, like me, mildly interested in what such things would look like.

For example: Two Chapters of Peruasion

Proust, Sassoon, and ??Emmylou Harris??

Together again for the first time, Sigfried Sassoon, Marcel Proust, and Emmylou Harris

I Am By No Means Expert in These Matters

But I'm certain that I could have come up with a better choice for "most romantic novel in the last 50 years."  But one must bear in mind that it is a company of specialists doing the nominating and voting--and so dilletantes like myself and others should confine their comments to the broader spectrum.  But I'm certain that since 1960 there have been better romantic novels published.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


And unexpected, in some ways, from the new generation. Dilla.

Dubliners--James Joyce

It is always a great pleasure to revisit an old friend and discover about it new and more interesting aspects. For those not intimate with the Joycean oeuvre, Dubliners is the earliest of the extant prose works and consists of a series of short stories, one of which has been called the finest short story in English in the twentieth century.

As short stories, these are the most accessible of Joyce's work. This is not to mean that they are necessarily "easy."  But it does mean that on first approach the reader can make some sense of them and grasp the essentials.  As I've intimated, revisiting the stories allows one to encounter them in greater depth and breadth, and even simple tales like "Araby" develop (to use the florid language of the SCOTUS) emanations and penumbras.

A quick tour reveals stories about new love, old love, mistaken love, lust, and modern unhappiness.  Dublin apparently wasn't a grand place to live at the turn of the twentieth century and all too many Dubliners were fully aware of its failings. When we encounter the blithely amoral and nihilistic heroes of "Two Gallants" and the remote and misanthropic centerpiece of "A Painful Case" we are brought straight back to the first story, "The Sisters", which begins, "There was no hope for him this time."  And we're made to contemplate the reality that is brought home in Ulysses--in which the metaphor for Irish Art is a cracked lookingglass of a servant.

Joyce's masterful control of language, incident, detail, and plot are all on display in each story.  And the finest, finest story of the bunch is, without question, "The Dead."  Subject to more conflicting interpretations than almost any other work I've bothered to dip into the criticism of, "The Dead" is the story of Gabriel Conroy at a Christmas Party in a house on the edge of Dublin.  I'd rather not say more than to say that this is a party with so many and so pointed undercurrents that I, for one, would wish, had I gone, that I had stayed home.

My enjoyment of these stories was greatly enhanced by being in Dublin at the time.  When I read "Two Gallants" I walked to the end of Grafton Street and looked across at Stephen's Green, and in a reverse sort of ramble wandered up to Merrion Square.  Reading "The Dead" I could see the places all along the Liffey and up near the park visited by all of the characters.  There was at least one more mention of Davy Byrne's (also figuring notably in the Laestrygonian segment of Ulysses) and many other Dublin institutions and pubs (many of which are still in place).

Dubliners is, without question, a book of place and a book of time. As with Ulysses, if you know the places, the meanings become more obvious and the incident more chiseled and realistic.  Dubliners is one of those very, very fine books that reward repeated careful readings.  But caveat lector: we're not talking a cheery experience.


More On Virginia Woolf

An appreciation of "The Mark on the Wall"

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition--Ernest Hemingway

Late last year, I had read through the heavily edited first edition of A Moveable Feast and found it wonderful and quite a different take on Hemingway than I had experienced before. This restored edition strikes me as both stronger and in some ways weaker than the "edited" version.   And the strengths and weaknesses are kind of mixed in the same issues.  For example, parts of the restored edition are narrated in a sort of ruminative second person, Hemingway speaking to himself as it were in retrospect. This can be disconcerting, but also powerful.  The removal of this entire aspect is a notable weakness on the part of the Traditional A Moveable Feast (TAMF).  On the other hand, some of those things that more unimpressed readers would typify as "macho" Hemingway were edited out of TAMF and actually made for a better narrative.

Comparing the two,  AMFRE is the stronger work.  The ordering is less sequential and less clearly a continuous narrative, but there are interesting experiments (such as that recounted above), there are more details about some episodes, and there are interesting appendices that show a Hemingway approaching his own end trying to come to terms with the events of his first two marriages. The slightly more disjointed narrative works well with the experiments conducted in the prose.  The distressing aspect of the AMFRE is that it tends to a more raw, unfiltered experience.  To my mind, it occasionally veers clearly into the realm of TMI.

I think there are benefits to reading both versions of this excellent work.  TAMF is somewhat more subdued and "romantic," giving a kind of sepia gloss to "The Lost Generation" of expatriates in Parise. AMFRE gives more details of Hemingway's writing, Hemingway's interactions with other writers, and actually considerably more information about James Joyce.

**** Recommended to Hemingway completists


For those who think literature was interred with Mr. Wallace--The Pale King.

I will admit it as my own failing, but I have yet to make it through an entire work by Mr. Wallace.  He is the darling of the modern literati,  and I am deeply sorry for his loss (No man is an island).  I hope many receive enjoyment for his final, posthumous opus.


Issa Bug Haiku--completely charming.  I have to admire the teachers who put their students up to this.

Someone Really Doesn't Like Franzen!

Wow, juvenile prose and Jonathan Franzen--the Atlantic's Take

And Mark Athitakis's

Not having read the book, but following from previous experiences with Franzen, I suspect my view would be closer to the former than the latter.  However, I really shouldn't be reading all of these reviews because they make me disinclined to approach the novel itself.  Too much publicity always does that to me.

First Occasional and Now Topical

Two topical poems, each in its own way amusing.

Fascinating Occasional Poetry

I suppose poetry for a challenge could be viewed as occasional--"To Be Alive"

The Uncaused Cause in Hawking

Proving the existence of God through theoretical Physics without really trying.

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Nobel

The Alternative Universe Nobel Prize

While I can't quite bring myself to indulge in all of the author's choices (Edith Wharton for Sigrid Undset, for example), I can't help but admire the nomination of Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie. 

Gay Dumbledore and the Meat Dress

Meat. . . uh. . . Meet Lady Gaga in her meat dress and other authorial trespasses

via Books Inq.

Louis MacNeice on the Net

A much maligned, much forgotten poet whose work deserves more attention than it receives.

via Books Inq.

This Is Amusing

Jean Shepherd's Literary Hoax, I, Libertine.

via Books Inq.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"The Second Coming"

A commentary and consideration of one of Yeats's Masterpeices--"The Second Coming"

Climate Change--Some Sense at Last

Similar to what I've been saying, with perhaps a bit too much Gaia.

(Unless assumed metaphorically, the earth as operative entity is a bit beyond the pale.)

Via Books Inq.

Audio Books in Review

A big swathe of audio books reviewed.

I can't imagine Swann's Way as an audiobook.  Perhaps I should look into it.  Or listen into it.

Agreement in Full: Jennifer Egan

Mookse reviews Jennifer Egan's The Keep and exactly encapsulates my own reaction to this earlier work.  I didn't work my way through A Visit from the Goon Squad, but I attribute that failing to me, not to the author.  I do intend to return.

E.F. Benson

With M. R. James, amongst the finest ghost stories in the language--a review of E. F. Benson's collected short stories.

Memorable, "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery," "The Room in the Tower," and "Mrs. Amworth."  While I don't agree with the blogger in Benson's wider range (M. R. James has quite a range from "Casting the Runes" to "Count Magnus" to "'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad,"  and Lovecraft also had a large range from "Cool Air" to "Whisperer in the Darkness" to "Color Out of Space" not to mention the central position of the Mythos. 

But that said, I cannot argue with the reviewer's admiration of the quality and range of Mr. Benson's wonderful collection.  Well worth one's time if one is into October Reading.  And what is particularly nice is that Benson does offer us, occasionally, the real and true, dyed-in-the-wool ghost story--a rarity even among purveyors of the ghost story.

From Open Culture

Free Digital Golden Age Comics

William Burroughs on Led Zeppelin

This latter reminds me of an anecdote.  Recently I had opportunity to visit with a good friend and long time business acquaintance.  We were having lunch in Philadelphia during a convention.  Conversation got around to previous incarnations/jobs/realities.  It happened that he mentioned that he used to work as a "bouncer" at a funky little club in the DC area.  This piqued my interest.

"Really, which one."

"It was this little place down on F Street, called the 9:30 club."

"The 9:30 Club, I used to go there all the time."

"Really?  What did you see?  I was there for Klaus Nomi."

"I saw Klaus Nomi.  And Bill Nelson.  And I went to this William Burroughs reading that also had a local premier of a John Waters film."

"I was ticket taker for that one. "

So we had seen each other some years before.  We had actually exchanged a momentary interaction--a ticket, a piece of paper.  And here we were some years later tracing our now amiable and enjoyable interaction to a random moment of passing paper.  (Turns out that while we both enjoyed the energy and excitement of the punk and new wave movements, we also both stood toward the back of the crowds to avoid much of the more earthy interaction that could transpire at a given concert.  And we had been in the same club/same vicinity a great many times without being aware.)  I just find this whole thing so cool.  By the way Burroughs was reading that night from Cities of the Red Night.  Honestly, I have no idea why I went because I didn't think then and still don't think all that much of him as a writer.  But perhaps it was the lure of another "cult" film.  I seem to think that it may have been "Desperate Living."  Whatever it was, it did star Divine.