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Showing posts from 2011

The Leisure Seeker--Michael Zadoorian

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Sometimes you're browsing through the fiction in the library and for no reason at all a book falls off the shelve and into your hands.  You look into it, evaluating, wondering.  You're caught by a sentence on the first page, or perhaps your eye crosses a paragraph further on in the novel and you're caught.

I have many such experiences, but, like most blind dates, they don't work out.  You take them home for a leisurely read and you wonder, "Now what exactly did I see in this book?"  I bring home piles of books every week.  In fact, I am single-handedly responsible for keeping the library funded in my county--I keep those books and other materials moving in and out at a pace defying imagination.  Bring home two bags with thirty potential candidates and wind up returning sixteen of them the next week.  The others age well on my to-be-read shelf, but eventually they too make it back to the library--mostly unread.

Michael Zadoorian's book was one such blind …

Shockaholic--Carrie Fisher

I've read the previous memoir, Wishful Drinking and. . . well. . . I suppose enjoyed is not quite the right word for my experience with it--although my recollection of it was enough to make me pick this up when in the library.

This continues the story begun in Wishful Drinking and the title refers directly to Carrie Fisher's treatment for near suicidal depression and related psychiatric problems.  While the book does talk about and illuminate this aspect of her life, it doesn't stop there and dwell on things.  Indeed, the most substantial part of this book is a loving and in many ways compassionate memoir of her later life with her famous father Eddie Fisher.

I don't follow celebrity news or entanglements, so it came as something of a revelation to me (not of the fireworks and sudden dawn variety) that Elizabeth Taylor was, for some small part of Ms. Taylor's life, the step-mother of Carrie Fisher.  And you all say, "Well, duh!"  Told you I wasn't con…

The Death Cure--James Dashner

Mr. Dashner rounds out the trilogy begun in The Maze Runners and continued in The Scorch Trials.  These are of the YA genre that seems to have escalated in popularity in recent days--bad adults put young people in serious danger for some perceived good or order in society.  It is understandable why they appeal to young people, because we all remember the times when the adult world was out to subvert us and to harm us "for our own good."  But it does become a trifle tiresome after a while, and this third book of the series bears this out.

While the series ends, it doesn't seem finished.  This last book seemed somewhat overlong and rambling without really getting to a critical point.  Mr. Dashner seemed not to know where he wanted to be with the book--Teen Angst or ZA (Zombie Apocalypse--for those not up on the terminology).  As a result, the book seemed a bit of a muddle to me.

However, if you've read this far, you'll want to finish out the series, so enjoy.  A li…

Crossing to Safety--Wallace Stegner

I should preface the bulk of my comments by saying that I finished this book on the way home from a trip to Austin.  When I completed it my initial impulse was to hurl it across the room.  My secondary impulse was to want to shred--eviscerating it, destroying it page by painful page--to inflict upon it some of the relentless damage it inflicted upon my psyche in the reading of it.  All of which is to say I had a very personal and substantial reaction to it.  If one follows Harold Bloom's notion that great literature "reads the reader" then I am left with the interesting quandary of wondering whether I want to know what it found out in the reading.

Crossing to Safety is the chronicle of two couples.  They meet in depression era America in a university setting and the story follows them as one couple, affluent and gracious, welcomes the other couple into their family circle. We see the couples in good times and in bad for each of them--through loss of job and success as a w…

The Lost City of Z--David Grann

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I had read about this book last year when there was a huge amount of hype.  I'm highly allergic to hype--I break-out in all sort of unpleasant spots and rashes.  I stayed far, far away for fear of the hype-allergens.

Strolling through the Library looking for books to support my son in his study of the civilizations of Peru, I saw this.  The hype had died down, everything was safe for approach, so I grabbed it off the shelf opened it up and fell in.

Fell in completely--so much so that midway through reading I went out and purchased the book.  For those of you who as children read the "lost worlds" novels of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and most prominently H. Rider Haggard, this is a treat beyond imagining.  It tells the true story of a Amazon explorer who was dedicated to the task of finding the legendary lost city of Z.  Sometimes called El Dorado, sometimes thought to be completely impossible, the Lost city of Z became the personal obsession of Percy Harr…

Great Consolation from the Jewish Tradition

from Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life
Leonard Felder

If you look underneath the cumbersome English phrase "gratefully acknowledge" and just focus on the feeling of the Hebrew words Modeh/Modah, it's almost like the sensation of kvelling, a Yiddish word that means "to feel joy in your entire being." Kvelling expresses a sense of fullness or completeness because something wonderful is happening or because you feel loved and connected to a best friend, a beloved partner, or a child whose joyfulness makes you feel alive.
Tonight I am kvelling, and I don't know why.

Rashi--Elie Weisel

In Rashi, Elie Weisel gives us a very brief overview of the life, times and works of one of his spiritual guides and mentors and one of the great Jewish thinkers of all time.  It really is nothing more than a tantalizing glimpse, enough to whet one's appetite for more.  Or, if you're of a mind to become acquainted with a great thinker and scholar, perhaps enough.  Myself, I'd like to read and understand more about this thinker's influence on Judaism and ultimately the world at large, because much of his work was translated into Latin and influenced Medieval thought about the Old Testament.

Recommended--****  minus one star for extreme brevity.

And for Those Who Prefer to Hear Their Books. . .

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An audio excerpt of The Marriage Plot

A representative of Macmillan audio was kind enough to send me a link so you can enjoy the opening (perhaps much of the first chapter--I don't recall division) of the book.

A great Christmas gift for those interested in serious literature but without as much time as they might like to read--but be warned--very adult content.  You can find it here.

I only suggest it because I think this may be one of the books to read this year (please see my earlier review below).

Amusing Moments

I'm not certain if I will launch seriously into this book, but these two moments only a little apart are amusing.

from The Banquet Bug
Geling Yan

He tries to describe the texture of the delicate flesh, the subtle contact between the meat and this palate and tongue, the slippery sensation it gives when it passes the entrance of the throat, leaving the oral organs in such wonder. But he has no vocabulary for it. Putting together his education with hers, they can barely write a decent letter to their parents without checking a dictionary.

****

A neighbor woman yells outside the plastic curtain, asking what's taking them so long and whether they shower hair by hair.  Laughing Dan Dong yells back that he has twelve toe to scour.

The New Mass Translation

So, those of us in the States were exposed (and I use the word with all of its implications) to the New Mass Translation.  For the most part the changes were largely inconsequential--intellectually accurate, but without art--resulting in a Mass that sounds a bit like two lawyer magpies discussing some pretty bauble.  This is directly the result of the usual tin ear demonstrated by the American Bishops in any translation they put foward.

I judge the language of the mass by the ability of those serving to read everything as it should be and there are some tortuous and awkward constructions that everyone I saw tripped over.

However, there are some very nice restorations.  What I do wish had been restored along with "And with your spirit" is the return of the Priest standing at the head of the congregation and facing the altar with the rest of us.  As it stands now, the way we celebrate mass, the altar stands between the people and the priest and it seems less like the Priest …

Train Dreams--Denis Johnson

In Train Dreams Denis Johnson takes us through the life of a man from near its beginnings until its end--all in less that about 100 pages.

The novel is told in a series on non-chronological vignettes and includes things like seeing Elvis Presley's train stopped in its tracks--build the (at the time) largest railroad bridge in the world, having everything one possesses destroyed in a wildfire, and being cursed by a Chinese man who was on his way to a lynching.

The novel bears repeated reading to get a sense of the time and the person.  But narrated as it is, it is very much dreamlike in quality--floating, anchored only here and there by incident and event.  The lack of chronological narration is an interesting and effective device for this story.  The language is beautifully wrought and brings the reader very much into the mind of the main character and into the spirit of the time.

Highly Recommended *****

Lime Creek--Joe Henry

In a series of connect short stories and vignettes, Joe Henry invites us into the lives and times of a family living in Montana (I think--throughout most of the collection it sounded as though they were perched out on the vestibule to the 9th circle of Hell).

There is some gorgeous langauge--some interesting juxtapositions, and a really deft handling of all of the novelistic elements.  However, I found that at times I just didn't get it.  In a couple of cases it was all about horses and the man-horse link which I lack entirely.  In another case it was some confusion over a high-school football game.

So while there is much to savor here and those closer to nature will probably get more out of it, I have to admit that at times I was stymied by the subject matter.

Nevertheless, highly recommended for those who want to read something that is at times exquisitely beautiful.

***1/2

On Deck

Aramind Aviga's Last Man in Tower

The Sharper the Knife the Less You Cry

Eoin Coffler--Plugged

Joe Henry--Lime Creek

Dennis Johnson--Train Dreams

Elie Weisel--Rashi

Alexi Zentner--Touch  (Seems reminiscent of Gilead, Home,  and Peace Like a River, we'll see how it actually plays out.

Oh and Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety

The Marriage Plot--Jeffrey Eugenides

Let me start out the review by saying that I enjoyed this book very much.  I found some of the incidents and thoughts enlightening, some aggravating; some of the characters endearing, some annoying; in short, it was a good blend of event and person.  While nothing much really happens in the book, everything possible important happens.  And that is, perhaps, the source of my greatest disappointment--the ending.  I don't get Portrait of a Lady, which, it seems, is what I was heading for.  But nowadays, Portrait of a Lady is impossible because divorce is not so unthinkable--indeed, divorce appears to be the first recourse when anything gets to be a little difficult.  I did not get Anna Karenina (although I'm sure that Eugenides referred to it more than obliquely in more than one scene).  No, I got what seemed to me like a lame sort of Casablanca ending.  You know, "We'll always have Paris. . ."

And that's a shame because otherwise this was a compelling, interest…

Considering a Little Classic Reading?

A Gift from a Catholic Friend

Happy Thanksgiving!!

As no one will read this long post on facebook, it seemed wise to repeat myself:

While I agree with much that people have posted on the usurpation of Thanksgiving, I note that we are in a time in which the lyrics of this song are most germane:
Mame:Haul out the holly;Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.Fill up the stocking,I may be rushing things,but deck the halls again now.For we need a little ChristmasRight this very minute,Candles in the window,Carols at the spinet.Yes, we need a little ChristmasRight this very minute.It hasn't snowed a single flurry,But Santa, dear, we're in a hurry;So climb down the chimney;Put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen.Slice up the fruitcakeIt's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.For I've grown a little leaner,Grown a little colder,Grown a little sadder,Grown a little older,
All:And I need a little angelSitting on my shoulder,Need a little Christmas now.


And so, I've noted, my neighbors have rush…

Being and What It Entails

from The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

For thirty-five years she'd been inspecting her corn with Mendelian patience, receiving no encouragement or feedback on her work, just showing up every day, involved in her own process of discovery, forgotten by the world and not caring. And now, finally, this, the Nobel, the vindication of her life's work, and though she seemed pleased enough, you could see that it hadn't been the Prize she was after at all. MacGregor's reward had been the work itself, the daily doing of it, the achievement made of a million unremarkable days.
This is how a life means--not in the light of the expectation of others or of our own unreasonable expectations of ourselves, but through following a passion that allows us to BE in a way that no other thing can.  A million unremarkable days that may lead to an overwhelming question--or it may lead to silence.

We fail to understand that meaning isn't something you make by willing to make it, but meanin…

Variant--Robison Wells

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The latest contribution in what is becoming a well-worn track in teen fiction.  Epitomized by Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series  and continued in a myriad of others such as James Dashner's The Maze Runner series, the teens-in-danger zeitgeist recurs here.  But it is also very much part of a newer genre--the teens without guidance, the teens without adults,  and the teens threatened by adults (see Dashner).

A troubled teen who is shuttled from foster home to foster home applies to attend a very elite school in the wilds of Northern New Mexico.  He is dropped off by a woman who zooms away, pursued by two of the school inhabitants, but only after they have given our hero a mysterious message.

It doesn't take long to discover that there is something very wrong about this school.  There are no adults. None.  No one to do the teaching except other students, no one to do the cooking, maintenance, etc.  And from there, the story becomes one long attempt to escape from this pl…

A Killer's Essence--Dave Zeltserman

I last had the pleasure of reviewing Mr. Zeltserman's work with the really creepy and wonderful The Caretaker of Lorne Field.  That book was superb, readable, in all ways truly a fine example of the type of work it was.

I'm pleased to say that this book was also rewarding and entertaining, although I must say that it didn't quite hold together as well as Lorne Field.  Mr. Zeltserman has a strong prose style that draws the reader in and holds his or her attention until the book has ended.  His characters are interesting and the plot--a serial killer loose--was sufficiently interesting to hold our attention.

In addition we are introduced to a character with a very special and very rare ability--a fascinating ability that I am certain shall play an important role in the books to come.  And it seems fairly clear from this one that there is at least one more book to come.  This is certainly a welcome note for me.

I think my biggest quibble with the book is that it straddled ge…

A Salutary Reminder

The Layers--Stanley Kunitz .
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp_sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next…

Apollinaire

An intensely tricky poem to translate--see one translator's struggle here.


Le Pont MirabeauGuillaume Apollinaire
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peineVienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeureLes mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasseVienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeureL'amour s'en va comme cette eau courante
L'amour s'en va
Comme la vie est lente
Et comme l'Espérance est violenteVienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeurePassent les jours et passent les semaines
Ni temps passé
Ni les amours reviennent
Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine

Why I'm So Glad I Missed Deconstruction and Post Modernism

The tyrrany of the deconstructionists/semioticians as evinced by Jeffrey Eugenides:


from The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
     He flipped the pages until he found the one he wanted.  The he returned to the bed and handed the book to her.
I Love You je-t'aime/I-love-you
As she read these words, Madeleine was flooded with happiness.  She glanced up at Leonard, smiling.  With his finger he motioned for her to keep going.  The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal, but to the repeated utterance of the love cry.  Sudeenly Madeliens happiness diminished, usurped by the feeling of peril. She wished she weren't naked. She narrowed her shoulders and overde herself with the bed-sheet as she obediently read on.
     Once the first avowal has been made, "I love you" has no meaning whatever. . . 
     Leonard, squatting, had a smirk on his face.
Utter foulness.  Those who would say that words have no meaning or have meanings that are infinitely mutable do not u…

The Shock of the New in the 16th Century

from When I Am Playing with My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?Saul Frampton
     Around this time a fog descended over northern Europe. It covered the Rhine, merging with the reed beds and sea mists. It cloistered the churchyards of France. It slipped inside books, it tarnished sword blades.  It scaled the high walls of Oxford and surrounded Aristotle. It seems to enter flesh itself, and confuse the identities of thins and the very boundaries of mater. And then it settled in men's minds. . . .
     Scepticism arrived as a new and intoxicating intellectual force in the sixteenth century.

The Night Strangers--Chris Bohjalian

Warning:  Anything I write about this book will tell those extensively read in the literature much of what to expect.  While I don't want to interfere with your enjoyment, still I must tell what I have seen.

Ah, revisit Harvest Home and add a large dollop of Bethany's Sin and then stir in more than a little Rosemary's Baby, and then perhaps more than a little of Conjure Wife, and you will have a very clear sense of Mr. Bohjalian's book.

ONe interesting, though not entirely successful aspect of the book is the author's choice to narrate a portion of it in second person.  I can recall offhand only two other such works--Carlos Fuentes's Aura which also had the distinction of being the only book I've read that was written entirely in the future tense and Jay McInerny's Bright Lights, Big City in which the second person narration was like a driving hammer through the entire work.  In this book the device came off as a kind of authorial experiment--I could no…

Marginalia

I was reminded this morning of a blog that I much enjoy--(Really Mr. Jurek) that features thoughtful posts about fantasy, science fiction, writing, and other concerns of those who write and are interested in the literature of the fantastic.

Marginalia

My Focus Needs More Focus

Flitting like a bumblebee from blossom to blossom--my reading flung wide over the entire field, I'll never make it back to the hive:

from When I Am Playing with My Cat How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing with Me?Saul Frampton
But with the hardening of religious attitudes that inevitably resulted, Stoicism began to snowball, almost in a kind of ideological feedback loop. For what made is so difficult to displace as an attitude was the fact that it was seen to be quintessentially noble, honourable--male--and no self-respecting sixteenth-century man who called himself a man would beg to differ, as is affirmed in an emblem from Henry Peacham's Minverva Britannica (1612):  Amid the waves, a mightie Rock doth stand,
Whose  ruggie brow, had bidden many a shower,
And bitter storme; which neither sea, nor land,
Nor JOVES sharpe-lightening ever could devoure:
This same is MANLIE CONSTANCIE of mind,
Not easly moov'd with every blase of wind.
And if so, it speaks volumes as to the state of…

The Revisionists--Thomas Mullen

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It is a positive thrill to be able to review a book as interesting and profound as Mr. Mullen's The Revisionists.  Time travel, or its near facsimile must be this season's zeitgeist, because both The Revisionists and The Map of Time have it as a central core.

For long-time fans of science fiction, Mr. Mullen doesn't really pull out any new stops in his story as far as the SF elements go.  If you take an pound or so of Leiber's Change Wars and mix liberally with the paranoia/schizophrenic world you find in Philip K. Dick,  you'll have a good sense of the novel.  Oh, and add in a little C. L. Moore as in "Vintage Season."

Our hero--known to us as Troy--travels in time to preserve the Perfect Present in which he lives.  His job is to preserve the disasters of the past that have ultimately led to the wonders of the future. Right now he watches over the series of events leading up to The Great Conflagration--the event immediately prior to the establishment of…

"To Autumn"

The most anthologized poem in the English language, but worth another look anyway.

TO AUTUMN.                                John Keats
                                      1. SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
        Until they think warm days will never cease,
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells. 2. Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
        Drows’d w…

A Map of Time--Félix J. Palma

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Jack the Ripper, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Henry James, Her Majesty the Queen with a Squirrel Monkey, and the end of the world in the year 2000.  Those are only some of the delights that await the intrepid reader willing to enter the metafictional world Mr. Palma has created for the reader in this novel.

The novel consists of three interlaced stories all of which center around time travel and its possibilities and all of which involve that foremost inventor of time machines.  Because the jacket copy is so vague I hesitate to provide any additional information that might detract from the readers' enjoyment of this marvelous book.

I'm not sure how I felt about the metafictional element and the occasional authorial intrusions.  They didn't particularly bother me, but I'm not certain I have enough distance to understand how they enhance or alter the work.  They were, at times, quite amusing and generally were not enough to get in the way of the determined reader.  (Let…

Ignorance of Faith

While I am interested in and sensitive to Mr. Juan Williams's plight in having be chastised for stating an opinion that has crossed the minds of most thinking American's even as they did not allow it to become the signpost and guide for their thinking, such profound ignorance as is expressed in the passage that follows cannot be allowed to pass without comment:

from Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate
Juan Williams

Catholic leaders threaten to deny politicians the right to communion if they disagree with the church hierarchy, without acknowledging that there is a major divide on the issue of abortion among the most faithful Catholics.
There are several disturbing points in the passage most of which stem from the fact that I sincerely believe that Juan Williams thinks he understands Catholicism, the faith, and what Church Leaders are and do.

Let's start with the simplest--there is no "right" to communion.  Indeed the word implies that one is united with the body t…

Go Read It!

from "The Whisperer in Darkness"H. P. Lovecraft
I hope--devoutly hope--that they were the waxen products of a master artist, despite what my inmost fears tell me. Great God! That whisperer in darkness with its morbid odour and vibrations!  Sorcerer, emissary, changeling, outsider. . . that hideous repressed buzzing. . .  and all the time in that fresh, shiny cylinder on the shelf. . . poor devil. . . "prodigious surgical, biological, chemical, and mechanical skill" . . .  For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance--or identity--were. . .
H. P. Lovecraft is one of the greats.  This is one of the four or five major canonical stories--but each tale has its own compelling interest.  And if only for his influence on major writers of our own day, one should take time to peruse the occasionally florid, sometimes purple prose of HPL and get a glimpse of the cosmic horrors he made his metier.

The Gates John Connolly

Our intrepid 11 year old protagonist, Samuel Johnson and his faithful dog Boswell are our guides for this spooky-funny trip to the End of the World as we know it.

Using the energy of the High-Energy Hadron Collider at CERN, some not so nice denizens of another world break through and begin to prepare to make Earth quite literally Hell on Earth.   Samuel Johnson (who brings in the Angels dancing on the head of a pin for show-and-tell), his dog, his mother, some of the feistier denizens of his village, and a few other friends are all that stands in the way of the plans of the Great Malevolence.

A fun, light-hearted, amusing (in a Dennis Adams sort of way) romp through our childhood fears and some very real evils.

*****

On the Strength of the Inclination to Bad

from When I am Playing with My Cat, How Do I know That She Is Not Playing with Me?
Saul Frampton
Our zeal performs wonder when it seconds our inclinations to hatred, cruelty, ambition, avarice, detraction, rebellion. But moved. . . toward goodness, benignity, moderation, unless by miracle some rare disposition prompt us to it, we stir neither hand nor foot. Our religion is intended to eradicate vices whereas it covers, nourishes, incites them.  (Quoting Montaigne)
All too true and frightening, and so how much more frightening, then, when words, spoken innocently enough and without guile or intent to deceive can be used to foment division and unrest.  Words of faith, rightly used and wrongly construed still result in the negative that Montaigne conceives here.  So our doctrine must not only be sound, but soundly worded so that there can be nothing within it that can be taken to detract from the value of another human being--nothing that can be interpreted to mean that one person is nece…

Quotation of the Day

I wanted to preserve this random Quotation that showed up on the site because, while I may not necessarily agreed with all that it entails, I think it captures a sense of mystery perfectly.  Oh, and it is lovely, absolutely lovely.

Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

Virginia Woolf
(1882-1941)

The Lantern--Deborah Lawrenson

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First the good news--Deborah Lawrenson gives us a remarkable and well-written first novel.  I was a little afraid upon reading the first twenty or so pages that I had stumbled into another example of borgeous writing--but it was not so.  The writing is superb, beautifully balanced, well-handled.  The descriptions both germane and adding to the overall effect of the book.  It really is a delightful novel.

Ms. Lawrenson gives us a gothic in the fashion of Daphne DuMaurier (whose Rebecca is mentioned by name, and who is further honored by the name of our hero's first wife--Rachel).  We have a house in Provence that may be haunted, a romance doomed by an impassioned first marriage and divorce, perhaps a few ghosts--although it takes a long while for this element to be resolved, a nosy neighbor constantly issuing cryptic warnings, and a serial killer in southern France.  At least these are the elements on the surface.  They are brought together into a confection that makes for delight…

On Homosexuality (Incidentally)

One issue I never tire of tiring of is the question of homosexuality whenever a relationship, of whatever sort, occurs between two men.  The latest example to tweak me in this way is from a very fine (so far) study of Montaigne--the second in as many years.


from When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing With Me: Montainge and Being in Touch With Life
Saul Frampton
     Montaigne's letter is clearly a moving testament to his friend. But the question that inevitably raises itself is to what extent was there more than friendship at stake--that is to say, was it a platonic relationship or a romantic one?
     The idea that the two men's relationship was a homosexual one is by no means implausible, but neither is it necessarily the case: Montaigne later adds to his essay a reference to: 'that other Greek licence . . . justly abhorred by our conscience', meaning homosexuality, a crime one of his schoolmasters, Marc-Antoine Muret, was accused of, for …

Aftertime--Sophie Littlefield

Aftertime is an interesting, powerful, and confusing book.  It is published by Luna Press which is a division of Harlequin Romances and this occasionally shows, though not to the detriment of the work overall.  Aftertime is an apocalypse-quasi-zombie novel.  Note, I have deliberately avoided saying a Zombie Apocalypse novel because in fact, that is the innovation Ms. Littlefield has introduced.  The plague of horrific zombie-like creatures is a result of the actions that bring about the apocalypse in the novel.  To say more would be to detract from some of the more interesting revelations along the way.

Ms. Littlefield has served up several variations on the typical zombie novel. The creatures in this book, called beaters, are, in fact, not dead.  They are victims of a fever induced by. . . well, that would be telling.  They retain human characteristics but have acquired a taste for human flesh. Because of the effects of the fever, they are largely helpless at night, but powerful and …

Octoberation

The most merciful thing in the world, I think is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

H. P. Lovecraft--the open of "The Call of Cthulhu"

On the Road--Jack Kerouac

I have long avoided On the Road--for a variety of reasons.  For one, there is Truman Capote's famous gloss, "That's not writing, that's typing."  Second, there has been entirely too much said and written about the work so that it is nearly impossible to read without all of the baggage.  And third, the several times I tried it, I simply wasn't hooked, I found it overwritten and simplistic.

Now I've attempted the work and I have to say that there is the phantom of my third reason lingering in my head.  The prose is hopped up, perfervid, and overdosed.  There are entire passage in which it is nearly impossible to make out what Kerouac is trying to convey--and I get the suspicion if I could make it out, I probably wouldn't care for it any more than I do the surrounding prose I comprehend.

On the Road is a nightmare of a book--four interminable trips with people who don't know what they want, don't know how to get it, and don't know where to loo…

Marginalia

I am so remiss.  Notice of this blog came to me ages ago and I have neglected to post it.  But there is some very fine stuff at

Marginalia

University of Chicago Press--October Free E-book

Rebel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America


Can You Forgive Her?--Anthony Trollope

Can You Forgive Her? is the first novel in the "Pallisers" series.  I'm not certain whether this series of novels was ever known in Trollope's time under this name; however, ever since the BBC production of the entire series, they have become known as such to us.  The Pallisers is a series of six novels that center around Platagenet and Glencora Palliser--although in this novel the couple is hardly at center stage.  Or, if at center stage they share it prominently with one other trio and are shadowed by yet a third trio.

Indeed the novel is a novel of twos and threes.  There are three groups of three people--Glencora, Plantagenet, and Burgo Fitzgerald; Alice Vavasor, her cousin George Vavasor, and John Grey; and Mrs. Greenow (an Aunt to Alice Vavsor), Captain Bellfield, and Mr. Cheesacre.  The first two listed are the centerpieces of the novel, the last trio is present largely for broad comic relief--the poor Widow Greenow besieged by suitors on all sides while stil…

Gideon's Sword--Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

First of a new series featuring a new hero Gideon Crew.  As such, is a guaranteed fast and amusing reading.  It is also guaranteed to be notoriously sloppy when authors want to get around certain inconvenient problems---like people revealing secret information.  Crew manages in nearly every case to draw out secrets that no sane or awake person would ever tell.  The plot and action here as usual--fast paced, the reading light.  The story--the barest traces of one, whisked away from one's memory almost upon turning the last page.  Not that that is a problem--these books are not meant to be immortal, they are meant to help one pass a few pleasant hours, and this indeed allowed for that.

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Pay Me in Flesh K. Bennett

You've heard of bloodsucking lawyers--well, welcome to their ranks the living dead.  Only the heroine of our particular tale is an interesting hybrid--she combines the raised from the dead Haitian Voodoo Zombie with the lover of cranial contents so much enshrined in modern cinema.  Her task--to defend a recently-made vampire against charges for a crime that the lawyer knows the vampire didn't commit.  How does she know?  Well, that would be telling wouldn't it.

Very light fare, but some fun for those into courtroom drama and zombies.

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Kerouac's Novel as Religious Revelation

From very early on in the novel:

"Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me."

Kerouac argued that his novel was not an encouragement to much of what followed him, but rather a quest, a quest for a kind of religious salvation.

Kerouac Sketching Out America

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from Book of Sketches
Jack Kerouac

  Ah Neal--the shaggy
whiteface cows are
arranged in stooped
  dejected feed, necks
  bent, upon the earth
  that has a several
mood under several
  skies & openings--Ah
  the sad dry Land ground
  that's open between
grasses whip't bald
by the endless Winds--
  the clouds are bunched
up on the Divide of
the horizon, are shining
  upon they city--the
little fences are lonely--
The commentary made in a journal entry on an earlier passage works as well for this:

There is about this a poetic
naivete that is endearing because
it is undemanding. The lines break
where the lines break without much
thought of rule or order or consequence
or meaning or rhythm or any of the other
guiding lights of well-considered
poetry--and yet because it lacks
these almost by design, it has an
kind of swinging, free and open
rhythm--a movement all its own and
not replicable without trying
and trying would lose the naivete
of the whole.  I don’t know if
the whole book wi…

Sighing as She Passes By . . .

Saying so long to Irene with a sigh of relief and a prayer for those in the path--especially family members and Jane

A poem

Beach Reading in Boston and Beyond--Part II--Ready Player One--Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is light science fiction romp through the pop culture--movies, games, and music of the 1980's.  It seems that in the post energy crisis world, the only way to get away from the poverty and nastiness that is living in the "stacks"  (think trailer park piled vertically) is to slip into the OASIS--an immersive virtual reality experience that is the place most kids get their education.  Our hero, 18 at the start of the story is about to graduate virutal high school and spends most of his life wrapped up in the realities created by the OASIS mastermind.

But the mastermind has died and he has left behind a fortune to go to the lucky gamer who can find the "easter egg" embedded in his most elaborate game.  The world is full of skilled gamers, all of whom work toward the prize.  And among these gamers are a group of corporate stooges who want to seize the OASIS and start charging a monthly fee for its use--a fee most present users can't afford to p…

Beach Reading in Boston and Beyond--Part I--Hammered--Kevin Hearne

Hammered is the third in the Iron Druid series, and as with others in the series presents a lively fast-paced story featuring everyone's favorite druid, his disciple, a vampire, a wereworld, and the Russian Thunder-god.  Yep--Russian thunder God, along with the Finnish national hero and several others.

The story this time around.  Well, there was this werewolf and this vampire see and they had a thing about the Norse Thunder god and wanted to get back at him for having been wronged so very many years ago so they got together with this druid who rode on the back of the squirrel that runs up and down the world tree. . .

No, you just have to read it.  A light, bright, quick afternoon indulgence.

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In Boston

A Week in Boston--and it appears I am in luck.  The Isabel Stewart Gardner museum has extended hours on the third Thursday of each Month, so I may be able to get there this trip.  We're heading out for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts after work this evening.

Washington's Lady--Nancy Moser

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I must start by admitting a terrible prejudice.  I came to this book half in dread--part of which was caused by the cover--which, as you can see bears the mark of a period romance.  And I suppose that there is that element of the book as we shall discover.  But a further, and far more terrible strike against it (in my fevered imagination) is its publisher Bethany House--renowned as a Christian press and purveyor of the most vapid and terrible fiction imaginable--all in the name of Christian art.

Well, yes, I did read one bad book from Bethany House before I picked up this one.  And yes, it was so terrible that I picked this one up three times before I committed to it.  But the subject matter of this one was so compelling, so utterly interesting and involving, that I was compelled to pick it up.  No matter how terrible, no matter how fierce-bad, I had to read it because it is about one of those fascinating figure in history--half hidden and fully revealed--a person about whom there is …