Showing posts from November, 2011

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. . .

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.


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

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…


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…


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.


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

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

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…