Thursday, April 28, 2011

Paris Review: Geoff Dyer

Interview with Geoff Dyer
via Books Inq.

Reevaluating Influence

An interview with Howard Bloom
(via Books Inq.)

I've always found the concept of "the anxiety of influence" interesting.  What is more interesting and perhaps less commented on is the anxiety of the canon, by with I mean that as time spins out and more an more new works come to notice, it becomes more and more difficult to stand out.  Certainly time does a fair share of weeding--but it is easier to stand out in a world where perhaps a thousand books a year are published as opposed to a thousand books a day/and hour/(with the internet) a minute. 

Standing next to Shakespeare and Joyce, it takes a tremendous amount to hold your own, much less be pulled into the canon. 

It suggests that we need to develop the literary equivalent of atavan.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dorothy Dunnett Considered

An appreciation of Dorothy Dunnett's historical novels

The Million Dollar Flies

Algorithmic book pricing and how Drosophila makes the top of the list.

"There Has to Be a Penalty for Stealing Our Services"

Homeless mom jailed on grand theft charges for enrolling her son in Kindergarten

I'm appalled that we can even think this way.  I pay taxes to support the schools even though I homeschool.  I would gladly give the "voucher" to someone who needs a place for their child.  There are millions of childless people who pay into the system and who get nothing from it other than the proper education (by some lights) of all of our children.  How is enrolling your child in a school stealing anything at all? 

Perhaps if this enrollment actually prevented the enrollment of another child, I could see the point.  And yes, there will be a problem if everyone starts doing this.  No question.  So, why not bring the underperforming schools up to par?  (Easier said than done, but better than relegating countless children to them.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

"The Preposterous Politics of Passover"

Surveying the new Haggadot--a marvelous article by Michael Medved.

Thanks to Prof. Myers.

On the Misreading of Victor Frankl

Prof. Myers posts an interesting note about misreading Victor Frankl.

Prof. Myers's point is quite different from my own.  The book is often presented as the story of the triumph over the inhumanity of death camps--but I failed to find any real triumph here.  Frankl was as oppressed and impressed by the camps as any other survivor.  His triumph was a triumph of numbers and accident--not a triumph of will--or at least not exclusively.  This doesn't detract from either Frankl or what he came to understand from the experience, but it records an instance of "reading into."  There is no triumph here--there is no meaning that one can paste over the experience of the holocaust.  There is no ultimate conclusion from it except that some, for reasons of grace, will, or completely opaque causes, survive and others do not.  When the "how" of existence becomes merely mechanistic there can be no triumph. 

I have not yet found the triumph in Frankl's book and suspect that I shall not.  It is the memoir of a horror in which there was no triumph, in which to live was as difficult, perhaps more difficult than to die.  It is a book everyone should read if only to dissuade some who might perpetrate the evil again.  It is too easy to succumb to the darkness that builds a death camp if we do not have constant reminders that they exist and arise all too easily.  From the Holocaust to Rwanda to Cambodia, to ?  It has happened, and so long as we forget love or denigrate love into lust, it shall happen again.  That, perhaps is the greatest horror of the holocaust--despite one occurrence, it is so easily repeated.

"So I'll Continue to Continue to Pretend. . ."

"Canterbury Bells (Good Friday)"

Jack: Secret Circles--F. Paul Wilson

I have always liked F. Paul Wilson's work--ever since The Keep I have paid attention on and off, and as I read more, I realize that I should probably have been paying more attention.  Now I have a lot of catch-up to do.  Which is a good place to be.

Jack: Secret Circles is the second in a trilogy of Repairman Jack books intended for the YA market.  In this work Jack learns a life lesson about how repairs don't always take right and what is being repaired may indeed need to be replaced.  The story of the relic found in the previous book continues and we learn something more about the mysterious Lodge that seems to figure large in the tale.

Wilson promises that these three novels will have a prominent role in the last Repairman Jack novels, whenever they may be produced.

During the weekend also took in a large portion of Soft, the first of the short story collections.  Particularly wanted to read "Dat Tay Vao" as it has importance for The Touch.  But was reacquainted with one of my all-time favorites "Buckets."

In short, if you enjoy the dark fantasy/horror genre at all, F. Paul Wilson might be another worthy addition to your bookshelves.

LoA: Story of the Week--Kate Chopin

"A Morning Walk"

Ms Chopin, noted mostly for the short novel that got her in trouble, The Awakening, had a deft hand at the short story as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday Reflection

from "The Biblical View of Reality"
in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Philosophy of religion is primarily not the philosophy of a philosophy, the philosophy of a doctrine, the interpretations of a dogma, but the philosophy of concrete events, acts, insights, of that which is immediately given with the pious man.  The dogmas are merely a catalogue, an indispensable index. For religion is more than a creed or an ideology and cannot be understood when detached from actual living. It comes to light in moments in which one's soul is shaken with unmitigated concern about the meaning of all meaning, about one's ultimate commitment, which is integrated with one's very existence; in moments in which all foregone conclusions, all life-stifling trivialities are suspended, in which the soul is starved for a inkling of eternal reality; in moments of discerning the indestructibly sudden with the perishably constant.

Religion is never meaningful in the abstract, only in the concrete reality of living and so it is imperative that each of us who practices faith does so with the knowledge that the eyes of the world are focused on us, trying to see what it is we do--all-too-ready to revile and ridicule, all-too-reluctant to pause a moment in awe before the moral magnificence of a Mother Teresa--but somehow reluctantly persuaded by what is done.  Hence, we add fuel to the fires of the Dawkinses and Harrises of the world when we act contrary to our belief.

It's a hard reality--but the world is a judging place and we are in the dock.  Therefore, it is imperative that the practice of our faith yields the good fruit we have so often heard about.  Anything less and we convict ourselves and once again hammer in the nails.

And yet, and yet, we must not forget--we are broken and imperfect hence:

O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Problem with T.C. Boyle

I have a problem with T.C. Boyle.  Every time I start a book by T.C., every time, I find myself in awe of the gorgeous writing. . . but lacking any desire to read through it to find out what story may lurk behind the facade.

Without fail.  Short stories included--though I get through those by dint of length.  Tackling what seems like the longest novel ever written right now.  I'm sure it's note--I'm certain that Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge holds that record--what was it, four times as long as A la recherche du temps perdu?

But When the Killing's Done is a close competitor.  Here's to hoping I get over the slump soon.

from When the Killing's Done
T. C. Boyle

It was only then that she became aware of the height of the waves coming at them, rearing black volcanoes of water that took everything out from under the boat and put it right back again, all the while blasting the windows as if there were a hundred fire trucks out there with their hoses all turned on at once. And here was the rhythm, up, down, up, and a rinse of the windows with every repetition: "Where are we?" she heard herself ask.

As I said, beautiful prose (although one is a bit put-off by "black volcanoes of water"  really?  Really? C'mon, I've seen waves and waves and waves, and none of them every said to me, "I am a volcano."  Even the great wave of Kanagawa distinguishes the two.

LoA: Story of the Week--Mark Twain

A Dog's Tale

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pulitzer Prizes

Pulitzer Winners announced.

The good news:  Kay Ryan for her collected poems.
The pitiful news: Jennifer Egan for A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Monday, April 18, 2011

iPads Changing Science

iPads at Pompeii

Billy Collins Reflects on HIs Art

Billy Collins on assembling poetry collections

Link courtesy of a friend:  Thanks TSO

Jack: Secret Histories--F. Paul Wilson

Since the time of The Keep (which in the demise of our much beloved Borders, I have repurchased with intent of rereading), F. Paul Wilson has been one of my favorite purveyors of dark fantasy.  Recently I read and reviewed his riff on the classic vampire story, Midnight Mass, and now it is my pleasure to record impressions of the first of a series (likely a short series) that he has written for the YA market.

Jack: Secret Histories is a Repairman Jack novel set in Jack's teen years.  Jack, his friend Weezy, and her brother Ed are out exploring the edges of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey.  In the course of their work, they discover a dead body and a mysterious artifact.  From there the story is a roller coaster ride as they try to decipher the meaning of the artifact, the facts about the dead body and its relationship to a mysterious Lodge, and the realities of teen life int he 70's and 80's.

The story is deftly told, with Wilson's customary aplomb, but absent many of the elements from Wilson's adult fiction that would make of the stories a less suitable vehicle for the YA market.  Although the novel does touch on some difficult themes--teen alcoholism and drug use, it does so in a way that seems real for the teen world, and places on Jack the burden of helping without "squealing." 

A good, light, enjoyable read.  So much so, that I am currently investigating its sequel, Jack : Secret Circles.

Recommended: ***1/2

On the Banks of the River of Heaven--Richard Parks

On the Banks of the River of Heaven is, in one word, lovely.  It is a collection of short stories, some related by time, place, and character, others unique in all three.  Each story is a gem, a small jewel of Scheherezade-like story telling--compelling, fascinating, alive.

The title story "On the Banks of the River of Heaven" concerns the actions of the otter that lives in the river of heaven and how otter, upon receiving a special blessing from the cowherd/fisherman who lives on one of the banks, bestows upon this hard-working soul his own benediction.  He does this by fooling with the powers that be and showing them what really is rather than what they thought was.

In the second story, "The Finer Points of Destruction," Kali Ma manifests inside our heroes television set and reports that she, along with another 10 avatars, is searching for her husband, Shiva.  She intents to manifest (and thus destroy some object) until her husband is found.  And so the luckless apartment owner goes out in search of Shiva in order to preserve his meager possessions.

"The Twa Corbies, Revisited" gives us the tale of a ghoul who hopes for something more, and who, as a result, sets about making a legend of himself in the world of the living.

"The Carver of Skulls" gives us a different insight into immortality and helps us to understand the downside to granting the wishes of others.

Each story is exquisitely drawn and each interesting from sheer innovation on ancient themes.  The stories all reflect common elements that one could find in any thematic analysis of folklore and m&auml:rchen.  The author has a deft hand, most particularly at the stories that reflect a Chinese or Japanese background.  The descriptions are deft, rich, and full integrated, so that one does not feel that one has stumbled over a block of poetry that was somehow cut adrift in the midst of prose.

The only defect occurs in the later stories in that there were serious problems with the editing/proofreading that occasionally jar so seriously as to throw the reader, only for a moment, out of the world of the story.

Beautifu, rich, and deep stories worth the time and the energy to savor slowly.  Go, enjoy.

High recommended.  ****1/2

Monday, April 11, 2011

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

For those of you who don't know me on facebook sharing something from there. An aquarium with whale sharks and manta rays:

An E-Book Convert Confesses

Confessions of an E-Book Convert

I've been a long-term unashamed e-book reader.  I read them on PDAs. So I'm ecstatic with the huge and lovely screen offered by my iPad.

Compressed Air Car: Is it Real? Is it Practical?

Compressed Air Car

Pondering The Pale King

Considering DFWs posthumous opus maximus

An Interview with Jennifer Egan

"An Interview with Jennifer Egan."

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann

Some video of this most infamous of Nazi War Crime trials.

Poem of the Week: Anne-Marie Fyfe


James Joyce du jour II

"The Sensual World" becomes "Flower of the Mountain"

I have long lived in blissful ignorance of Stephen Joyce's stranglehold on his grandfather's estate--one of the best reasons I can think of for systematic conscientious objection to our present ludicrous copyright laws.  But Kate Bush can now sing what she first had in mind when constructing her magnificent song.

And what better tribute to Joyce himself than to take his most musical novel and make of a bit of it a piece of music.

(Ah, I love Kate Bush--from Wuthering Heights to the present.)

James Joyce du Jour I

Is Ulysses overrated?

Ah, this is so simple--of course it isn't.  It may be liked more by some, less by others-but its fundamental influence on the shape of nearly all subsequent fiction--the one-two punch of Joyce and Woolf given us much of the restucturing and understanding of the way fiction works.  It is, in fact, impossible to overestimate the importance of Ulysses.  I would ask rather that in the shadow of Ulysses, have we underestimated the importance of some other works of twentieth century fiction?

A Literary Non-Scandal

Travels with Charley

Steinbeck's book examined as a heavily fictionalized memoir.  This doesn't rise to the height of even notability.  If one thinks that a memoir does not contain heavily ficitonalized or even large stretches, one is being somewhat naive about human nature.

LoA Story of the Week--Willa Cather

A Wagner Matinée

In all that she does Willa Cather is without equal--her stories, her novels, her sense of place and person--all of these are worth a little of your time.  And this story provides a pleasant enough entrée into the work.

Friday, April 8, 2011

More Lenten Reading

"How to Train Your Gargoyle"

A review of Fr. Longenecker's The Gargoyle Code, a book in the vein of C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Peter Kreeft's The Snakebite Letters, and Randy Alcorn's Lord Foulgrin's Letters. These are most helpful not when one is smugly observing all the sins of one's neighbors, but rather when one is being pinned to the display board oneself.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

By-Now-Daily Rilke

from Rilke's Book of Hours 
from "The Book of Pilgrimage"
Rainer Maria Rilke
tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy 

Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.

II, 7

The mystical strain of this poetry follows the common ground of a mysticism.  There is a mysterious and serious violence that seems to follow "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."  This seems to be the strain we are entertaining here. The violence of this poem suggests the violence of the love that will transport the individual. This love is transformative--"stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat."  This is a fire that burns but not with a burning that is destructive.  Rather it is a fire that is reconstructive.

I don't know that it is possible for me to recommend this book highly enough to those interested in the mystical in poetry or mysticism in general.  I tend to think of it as something parallel to Omar Khayyam in what it has to say to us about the expression of faith in poetry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Sub-Atomic Particle

A new sub-atomic particle, a new force, or a fundamental misunderstanding of present physics?

Kate Bush Can Quote Joyce

Ugh--the Joycean Copyright trap.

Wilfrid Owen

For a month of poetry: Wilfrid Owens's "Six O'Clock in Prince's Street"

Reviewing Wood

On How Fiction Works.

I note this review because I'm ambivalent about the book.  I've read it once and read at it a couple times after.  I'm not sure how much I agree with the essential oils pressed from literature.  I'm not certain where I stand with respect to where Wood stands.

In short, I probably didn't really understand it.  But the prose is engaging and readable, if, one sometimes observes, sparser than one might like.  I recommend the book to all--if only as an antagonist (which is not the way it is to me, as I've said above)--it is worthy of consideration.

Deeply Mysterious and Worthy of Reflection

from Rilke's Book of Hours
from "The Book of Pilgrimage"
Rainer Maria Rilke
Tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

So God, you are the one
who comes after.

It is sons who inherit,
while fathers die.
Sons stand and bloom.

You are the heir.

II, 9

I don't even know where to start with this.  The logic is so alien and yet so right that reading this opens many doors.  In what way, precisely is God the heir?  What is it that he inherits?  How is it that He comes after.  And yet-- "I am the alpha and omega,  the beginning and the end, the first and the last."  So not only is He father, but He is also the last, the one to whom all things must come.

As I said, there is a logic here that makes the poem like a little puzzle box, fascinating, mysterious, and worth the time to think about carefully.

More Rilke

Part of a poem that really struck me:

from Rilke's Book of Hours
from "The Book of Pilgrimage"
Rainer Maria Rilke
Tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

. . . 

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

II, 16

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rilke and God, Part II

from Rilke's Book of Hours
from "The Book of a Monastic Life"
Rainer Maria Rilke
Tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I come from the soaring
in which I lost myself.
I wa song, and the refrain which is God
is still roaring in my ears.

Now I am still
and plain:
no more words.

To the others I was like a wind:
I made them shake.
I'd gone very far, as far as the angels,
and high, where light things into nothing.

But deep in the darkness is God.

I, 50

Whether it is Rilke himself, or Rilke through translators, he exactly captures some sense of what St. John of the Cross describes in the via negativa.  In the darkness, one finds God.  It is only by not seeking and not possessing that we find and we have.  It makes no sense.  Unless you've been there.

King of Plagues--Jonathan Maberry

Another distraction in a long line of distractions that distract me from my distractions.  I wonder when I'll discover what it is I'm being distracted from.  Reading, it occurs to me, is like a long conversation between two old friends--you may start anyplace, but in the course of ranging the field, you'll cover a great deal of ground and never truly exhaust the initial topic of conversation.

Ah, well then,  The King of Plagues.  For a reasonable description think, James Rollins crossed with Matthew Reilly.  James Rollins for the fact-based scenarios and Matthew Reilly for the sheer love of military equipment.  It is this latter that I find hard to take in the Joe Ledger series of books.  So difficult, in fact, that I have not finished the first in the series--Patient Zero--dearly beloved of the Zombieists in the audience.

So, what to say without giving the house away?  Well, once again we're in plague-land--while it isn't obvious from the beginning of the book, the jacket blurb tells you that much--if the title weren't sufficient. Super bad guys, for a variety of motives--sociopathy, megalomania, greed--are bent on destabilizing governments and economies for profit.  They hit upon a scheme whereby discrete terrorist acts in various countries are targeted to begin this destabiliztion.  Enter the good guys who with various pieces of armament splatter the world back into a semblance of its bad (but not apocalyptic) self.

Overall, a good thriller read of its type.  Terrorists bent on apocalypse versus truth, justice, and the American Way.  And, of course, the latter wins.

Reasonably good prose and good plotting make this a wonderful diversion--a great beach read for those who crave something in the line of thriller/action.  ***1/2

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rilke and God

The unfortunate closing of Borders across the country has led to momentary benefit for me in straightened  circumstances.  Wandering in, I came across a book of poetry I didn't even know I wanted at a much reduced price.  The example will clearly indicate why this was a good thing.

from Rilke's Book of Hours 
from "The Book of a Monastic Life"
Rainer Maria Rilke
tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy  

Because someone once dared
to want you,
I know that we, too, may want you.

When gold is in the mountain
and we've ravaged the depths
until we've given up digging,

it will be brought forth into day
by the river that mines
the silences of stone.

Even when we don't desire it,
God is ripening.


Gorgeous in its expression of the mystical desire for God and in the subtle understanding of God's preparation of the individual for same.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Czech Baroque Library

Gorgeous--Czech Baroque Library

via Books inq

More on Diana Wynn Jones

More about Diana Wynn Jones

via Books Inq.

A Gift from a Friend: Franz Liszt

The Contemplative Journey of Franz Liszt

A friend sent me this link.  Franz Liszt is one of my very favorite classical composers--I love the Etudes after Paganini and the Mephisto Waltzes, the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, amongst other wonderful pieces.

An excerpt:

Both Franz Liszt's piece, "Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude," and St. John's poem revel in their rich and ecstatic language, daringly extreme in their attempts to depict a state of spiritual bliss, the highest form of which was pointedly called the spiritual marriage by many saints

The first-time listener or reader would have been unwittingly on target in his intuitive, instinctive reaction. Both the composer and poet realized (the former through aspiration and reading, the latter though inspiration and burning experience) that Christian contemplation is meant to be a love affair; that human love, even at its pinnacle, is a mere shadow of that love with which God created us and to which he calls us for an eternal consummation.

Hear part of it--Part One

Gaddafi Lit

The Greatest Hits of the Dictator

I think this was from Books Inq.  Tab has been open so long I don't rightly recall.

Pictures of Mercury

Orbital Pictures of Mercury

I'm with Miranda on this one--"Oh brave new world that has such [features] in it."

The Purpose of Review

There are many theories as to what a book review is supposed to do and it is in the application of one or the other of those theories that we can determine how successful a review is. 

Following on the article re: NYT book review going into chador, I found one condemning statement made therein provocative.  The article condemned the NYT reviews for not intriguing a reader into reading the book but for providing a kind of cliff's notes to it so that in a passing conversation the NYT reader could avoid reading the book but also converse intelligently about it.  And I would say that the statement identified what I think central about a book review--intriguing the reader, coaxing the reader into deciding that the book is worth the time.

On this basis, I have noted that two reviews from Bookmunch in a row--one yesterday and the one posted just below this post--have successfully performed the functions of a good book review.  The two books they have reviewed in the past two days are now added to my TBR list.

My view is that the purpose of a book review, as opposed to a critique or piece of criticism on the work, is to inform a reader in such a way as to encourage the reader to take up the book (or to leave it lay). I tend to be on the side of encouragement, largely because I know my own dislikes with respect to literature are highly idiosyncratic and often driven by mood, day of the week, and other extraneous factors.  No writer should be punished for my inconstancy.