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Showing posts from May, 2011

The Book Group Choice

Tiring of angst, agony, irony, and other vestiges of the postmodern in our literature, the book group unanimously elected to pursue the reading of P.G. Wodehouse's The Mating Season.  As I have yet to make it through a Jeeves and Wooster novel or even collection of short stories, this will present a signal challenge and opportunity.  Wodehouse is much like Chesterton for me--legions of vehement fans--but I just don't get it.  So let's hope that this is my opportunity to get it--and, if not become a rabid fan, at least have a new source of gentle comedy to turn to when the angst of the new age becomes too overwhelming.

By the way--the entire group hated Brockmeier's The Illumination.  The verdict--beautifully written--but too many unrelated gimmicks in a story that was really too dismal for words.  That said--I know that there are a great many out there who will enjoy it and my overall ranking for it--despite by personal distaste remains four-star.

The Sleekest, the Neatest Top 10 New Species of the Year

The Sleekest, the Neatest Top 10 New Species of the Year

Glowing fungi, spiders that build river-spanning webs, rust eating bacteria, and other more cuddly species.

Beautiful Photographic Survey

Thinking About the Bookgroup

Thinking about the bookgroup I belong to and the fact that I'm kinda looking for something that isn't post-modern and isn't "all that" in the most recent circles of the literati.  Indeed, I'm rather tired of the choices of the literati and thought that a return to 19th or early twentieth century British fiction might do the trick.  I'm looking at the following titles.  If anyone has additional suggestions, I'd love to hear about them:

The Painted Veil--W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor's Edge--W. Somerset Maugham
The Secret Agent--Joseph Conrad
(Nostromo)--Joseph Conrad--sort of in the back of my head--perhaps a little too much right now
Cranford--Elizabeth Gaskell
Parade's End--Ford Madox Ford
The Old Wives Tale--Arnold Bennett
Something by D.H. Lawrence?  Women in Love?  The Rainbow?  In college, Sons and Lovers was quite enough of a Lawrence experience--but perhaps the time has come to revisit?

Having read one Joyce and one Woolf with mixed reviews i…

LoA: Story of the Week--Wallace Stevens

While called the story of the week, this weeks offering is actually a poem from the LoA collection of "religious verse."  In the instance--Wallace Stevens's magnificent "Sunday Morning."

"Sunday Morning" is a gorgeous, rich, lush meditation on matters religious and otherwise and as with another poet of my acquaintance it perfectly enunciates the inner struggle some have conducted in search of truth--whether or not it comes from faith.

The Illumination--Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination is a book of seven short stories each linked at a single point through a single device.  It tells the story of a diary of love notes that passes from hand to hand and the stories of those individuals who receive the diary.

Beyond that, I have little to say for the novel.  It is well written.  There are parts that are compelling.  There are characters about whom you want to know more--but the necessarily brief space allotted each does not really allow for a deep understanding of each character.

I suppose I would speaking too strongly to say that I was disappointed in the book; but there is some truth to the statement.  It never seemed to gel for me in the way something like The Imperfectionists, which is constructed along the same lines, did.  The novel didn't seem to have so much an ending as a stopping point.  But I don't know what more I could have asked from it or form its unique device.  You see, the illumination is an event at which every human pain and i…

A Welcome Restoration

Meatless Fridays for Catholics in England and Wales

While there is a standing obligation to perform some form of penetential recognition of the day, I know that I often do not do so--more often than not.  Not because I'm unwilling but because the law itself is too nebulous to be of help.  When it is expected of all (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday,  and the Fridays of Lent) it is relatively easy to observe.

A moment out to remember what we are about as a people is salutary.  Perhaps the obligation should be more other-focused--but that is hard to do without serious interference in daily life.  For example an obligation to serve at a food station for the homeless, or to take a home-bound neighbor to the store, a doctor's appointment, or other needed or desired destination.  These would be the penance not of "sack-cloth and ashes"  but of "liberating the poor, the lonely, those imprisoned unjustly" etc.

But this sort of penance would suffer from the present Friday…

Edge--Thomas Blackthorne

I first picked up Edge in a bookstore because of the unique cover treatment.  There was an end-dump with books from Angry Robot ( a press I had not heard of) and this one had a cover design that was nearly all words--so much so that the title is a little difficult to distinguish the title.  The cover described what can only be described as a "Running Man" type scenario with knife fights and sudden death.

So, in an England of the future where the right to vote is dictated by the willingness to carry a knife and engage in knife duels and challenges, a young man runs away from his psychiatrist's office and the young man's father goes on a legal rampage against the psychiatrist.  He also hires our knife wielding hero to find his son.  One would think given that this is a future of intense monitoring of all activity that it wouldn't be such a trick.  But just as everything is monitored, much can be cloaked, hidden, and changed in the system.

We follow for much of the …

LoA: Story of the Week--Shirley Jackson

Ezra Pound for Young Writers

Another Startling View of WCW

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

But after thinking of both of them for many years, I believe that the person to whom Williams can be most suggestively compared is his younger contemporary, William Faulkner. They are nothing alike in their ways of writing or in their subjects. They dealt with two distinct varieties of American disorder: Williams with the accumulating mass of detail in the rapidly industrializing New Jersey suburbs of New York City, Faulkner with (among other things) racial division both within individuals and among people who lived more or less together and sometimes were kin to one another.  Both dealt, in different ways, with the reduction of the country's original abundance to a sum of exploitable and deteriorating "resources" for industry. They seem to have been, if not similarly, then equally burdened by their subjects--not, as with many writers, subjects sought out or acquired, but subjects that they inherited b…

Influential Works

One often sees lists of influential books and written media, but as I was thinking about it, while books have been highly influential, so have other works of art.  I present below a list of the most influential works or artists in my life:

E. A. Poe
H. P. Lovecraft
Philip K. Dick (most particularly The Man in the High Castle, but also the amazing, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said)
Harlan Ellison--particularly "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin,' Said the Tick-Tock Man."
Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke
Mendelssohn--Overture to the Hebrides (Fingal's Cave) and Incidental Music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Claude Debussy--particularly Jeux, Images, and La Mer
Richard Wagner--(I suppose I should be a little ashamed of this--but I can't muster up much shame for it--splendid if often over-the-top music)
Salvador Dali
Rene Magritte
Yves Tanguy
Claude Monet
Auguste Renoir
Basho
The Bible--but most especially the incredibly…

Pet Sounds Breakdown

Pet Sounds Breakdown

Those who know know, and those who do not won't care.

The Kindly Ones considered

The Anything But Kindly Ones reviewed

Repulsive, abhorrent, deeply wrong--this book sounds like a candidate for the surrealist manifesto prize.

Apropos de l'imagisme

More on Williams

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

The now-prevailing idea seems to be that poets occupy their designated place in the departmented structure of the arts and sciences, of which the increasingly industrialized modern university is the model. Poets, that is to say, are professional like other professionals and specialists like other specialists. Their business is to produce, ideally, perfect poems of lasting value individually, as objects of art or "high culture." This assumption seems to underlie the judgment of such dismissive critics as Donald Davie and Bruce Bawer. Precedent to them was Yvor Winters, who, admirable as he was in some ways, ranked individual poems as the greatest ever, greatest in English, etc. as if the art of poetry were a sort of contest. Increasingly, moreover, poets are attached to universities and are dependent upon them for a living. I have been at times so attached and so dependent myself, and thus I know something …

A Nice Hypertext Hollow Men

The Complications of Past Sex

10 Japanese Writers You Should Know

10 Japanese Writers you should know--or not

Well, at least contemporary--it would seem a shame to ignore Soseki, Kawabata, Tanazaki, Basho, Shonagon, Murasaki, Issa, and countless others--but this is a nice short photo guide to 10 who might be worth your interest.  Ryu Murakami gave rise to a book that in turn gave rise to one of the most disturbing of all of the Japanese or Asian horror films--Audition. 

Hmm, but what of a list that does not include Yoko Ogawa?

George Saunders Interviewed--Part I

An interview with George Saunders

Saunders is author of some amazingly funny short stories and a marvelous collection of essays titled The Brain Dead Megaphone.

A Complete Short Story by Daphne DuMaurier

Existential Star Wars

Image

Joanna Russ--R.I.P.

On Williams Redux

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

He was learning to make of his own language a work that could be nothing but a poem--that could not be replaced by a picture, say, or by anything in prose.

Good News for the Poetry Crowd

Good news in the form of a book: The Poetry of William Carlos Willims of Rutherford by Wendell Berry.

For those who respect Berry's voice, thought, and approach, this is an unabashed tribute and appreciation the goal of which is succinctly stated in the prologue:

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

To the extent that a life can have an agenda, my life's agenda for a long time has included some sort of deliberative writing about the poetry of William Carlos Williams, not as an "objective academic endeavor, for which I had no need, but rather as a payment or at least an acknowledgement of a personal debt. I would need to do this late in my life, I thought, the better to understand both Williams' effort and my own, and therefore the character and size of my debt to him. Through most of my life as a writer, I have taken an increasingly familiar pleasure and an invaluable sustenance and reassurance from his poetry And there was a time in my…

University of Chicago Free E-Book--May

Chasing Science at Sea

While we're on the topic, I had two rare delights on Sunday before Sam's recital (another rare and extraordinary delight). We went to Sea World so he could ride Manta and Atlantic.  Generally while he rides Manta, I go into the nearby aquarium and enjoy the fact that we have somehow learned how to maintain a reef community aquarium, an accomplishment available only to the most elaborate aquaria and research institutes only a short while ago.  But the real delight is that Octopus vulgaris was out of her lair and swimming about her aquarium.  I've been here many times and the only view I had was of the octopus stuffed into a small tube that connected to adjacent aquaria.  But here she was out and about stretching and flexing for all the world to see.

So, while Sam was riding Atlantis, I went into the nearby aquarium where normal one can see Pacific Sea Nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) and, usually, Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) both incredibly beautiful …

Osama Bin Laden RIP

If true, may he rest in peace.  If true,  this is a somber victory and should be regarded as such.  No one wins when we make a martyr of anyone, and especially not when people figuratively spit on his grave.  I'm truly sorry that this has to be the resolution of the whole terrible ordeal.

As Anthony says of Caesar,

"The evil men do lives after them;
the good is oft interred with their bones;
so let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
hath told you that Caesar were ambitious;
if it were so, it was a grievous fault
and grievously hath Caesar answered it.

I am no partisan of bin Laden and his followers, but surely we have matured to a place in our civilization where we do not need to crow over a fallen enemy?  That the observance of such a deep moral victory can be made a solemn occasion for remembering not only that something great has been accomplished, but that it had to be accomplished at a terrible price in lives--both those who have died today and those who have died as we…

Reading the Holocaust

More from The Illumination

from The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier

When he flipped the light on, the objects that greeted his eye had an unusual tidiness to them, a strange and frightening aura of completeness, as if the treadmill and the storage hutch, the stereo and upright speakers, had all suddenly become imprisoned inside their own outlines. The silhouette of a beetle whisked its legs inside the ceiling fixture. One of the pipes gave a tug beneath the house. In the quiet, the noise made him shiver.

Perfect Description

from The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier

He was discharged from the hospital on one of those stern late-winter afternoons when a low blanket of rain clouds had turned the sky the color of a blackboard coated with chalk dust.
The last time I encountered description this powerful and apposite was in Maaza Mengiste's Beneath the Lion's Gaze.  That gives me great hope for this book being powerful and beautiful.

Arrian Continued

The Common Reader continues to share wonderful insights into Arrian's work.

Go to the main page and look back over the last several days--the work is wonderful, the insights worthwhile.  Would that we all took the time to go back and read and learn from these classics.

When the Killing's Done T. C. Boyle

Once one breaks through the massively over-written introduction to this tale of ecologists v. animal rights activists, one is plunged into a story with few, if any likeable characters battling it out over ideology.  What is most fascinating about this is that despite the lack of engagement I felt for any of the major characters in the book, Boyle managed to keep me reading.

The first chapter or so is so grotesquely overwritten as to offer a fairly high barrier to even the interested reader.  But charge through it--there isn't so much given there that you'll miss a great deal if you skim.  You'll learn about the rats on Anacapa and you'll get a kind of insight into the other book-end of the story.  I dare say no more because while there is something germane here at the beginning that leads to an ending that requires some thinking-through, it would be too much to make my point "above the break" as it were.

T.C. Boyle's story traces the work of an ecologist …

Santo Subito

Il Magnifico--or his Polish Equivalent given the wonderful Mercy of being beatified on a day precious to him (Totus Tuum) and on the day of celebration of the feast he erected--Divine Mercy Sunday.  I do know that there is a variety of Catholic who will not be pleased with this--but I am ecstatic--fallible, human, broken, like us all--but a man of great Holiness with a heart for peace.

Spiral--Paul McEuen

Of the three books I mentioned in my post below, this was the next easiest.  I breezed through it in less than a full day of reading and given its compelling writing and subject matter, it is easy to imagine that the interested reader would do likewise.

McEuen, in this novel at least, is vying to join the ranks of Preston and Cloud, Rollins, Reilly, and Maberry.  While nowhere near as armaments oriented as the last two, neither is the plot nearly as convoluted as the first two.  And that makes for a satisfying, deeply interesting, and intelligent read.

More intriguing is that Mr. McEuen, while he may not be aware of it, also brings the strains of a fascinating Japanese horror film into his book.  The "Spiral" of the title is Uzumaki  (the Japanese word for Spiral and the name of a fascinating and grotesque Japanese horror film about people who turn into snails as the result of a curse--or something--as with most Japanese horror, the cause is never really quite there.)  Uzuma…

Soft and Others--F. Paul Wilson

I had three books to review.  I thought I'd start with the easiest.  For fans of dark fantasy/horror, it's really very simple--get it and read it.  I don't know if it is any longer available in print; however, it is easily available in Kindle format and is bargain-priced at $2.99.

This book is worth that price for three stories along--"Cuts," "Buckets," and "Soft."  Add to that the "prequel" or backstory to The Touch--"Dat Tay Vao" and you have a superb collection.  And those are only the highlights.  "Cuts" is a nasty revenge tale that very nicely shows the position of those who seek revenge.  "Buckets" is a disarming and difficult tale that addresses a modern topic in a way that many readers simply will not care for--but for those of a bent similar to mine, simply puts the truth out there to see.  And of "Soft" Wilson indicates in his preface that it was inspired by the incipient epidemic of …