Reading Emma’s tweets would be like reading – well, lots of people’s tweets…
Emma by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)
I’m finally back on the original 2013 reading list, finishing out the year with appropriate (to me, anyway) seasonal choices. As is my rule of the last few years, I’m reading my second Jane Austen novel of the year (for many years I read all six of the completed novels every year, as I’ve noted elsewhere, but recently I have moved to a three year cycle of only two books a year).
That novel is Emma – Jane Austen’s finest novel, I believe.
I know that most will argue for Pride and Prejudice, and some will claim that both Persuasion and Mansfield Park have a claim to that distinction. I’ve made abundantly clear my problems with the latter of those novels (great as it is). Persuasion is my personal favorite of Austen’s novels, and its importance as a harbinger of “modern” (i.e. realistic) novels is, I think, inarguable. And certainly its “proposal scene” is the most finely imagined in all Austen’s works and, indeed may be the best handled in all of English literature. Continue reading →
Even in America, home is where (historically) the class is
I grew up in a Southern mill town.
Such towns come in one of three primary flavors: tobacco, textiles, or furniture. My hometown was a textiles town, the home of several major textile companies over its roughly 220 year history. As a fellow writer who’s also an Eden native once put it, most of the population of these towns worked in one “good Bastille” or another. Of course, that’s all gone now. Like most Southern mill towns, Eden, NC, is a town struggling to find an identity even as it struggles to survive. Continue reading →
Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (image courtest Wikimedia)
I’m in the midst of reading a detailed architectural history of my hometown, Eden, NC, a gift from my lovely and talented mate. While interesting (to me, anyway, since I’m from there), it is a tad on the dry side (though well done as such tomes go) and a slow read as a result. I’ll review that after Thanksgiving. To divert us in the meantime, I’ll do a little of what I’ve complained about academics doing(and which I did plenty of at earlier points in my career) and write a nice little popular culture analysis.
John F. Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade moments before his assassination (image courtesy Wikimedia)
I’ll start by quoting myself – a typically Boomer act of self-absorbed self-reference. First, from an email discussion among S&R writers about whether or not we should write about the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination:
JFK is the story of the Boomers – so many advantages, so much potential, so little realized. That we ended as we did may be a psychological reaction to seeing a guy seemingly about to do big things get his brains blown out. And never, ever getting an explanation that didn’t have logic holes, political meddling, and scary implications about the lie we want most fervently to believe about life – that we can know anything for sure. Continue reading →
Great English Short Stories, various authors, ed. Paul Negri (image courtesy Goodreads
To paraphrase an old joke, dying is easy; writing short stories is hard. This review looks at a compilation from one of the budget publishers, Dover, called Great English Short Stories.
As you can tell by the cover, this “thrift edition” uses authors whose work has gone into the public domain. That is not a bad thing; the authors represented in this collection include some of the most revered writers of 19th and early 20th century English fiction: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence are represented, as are “genre writers” H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and M.R. James. Even some of those whose reputations once ranked high but whose stars have fallen from favor are featured: John Galsworthy, George Gissing, Rudyard Kipling, Wilkie Collins, and Saki all provide pieces.
What is interesting about this collection is this: it is a primer for teaching students or student writers about what one should or shouldn’t do when writing short stories. Continue reading →
Smoky Mountain Trout Fishing Guide by Don Kirk (image courtesy Goodreads)
In an entry written not too awfully long ago, I confessed to one of my great passions and pleasures in life: fly fishing for trout here in my native North Carolina mountains. As you might guess, on my bookshelves reside books related to that passion. Some, like The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, might reside on the shelves of any serious angler. But some are specific to the sort of trout angling I do here in NC.
Such a one is the book in this review, Don Kirk’s exhaustive look at trout fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (and nearby environs), Smoky Mountain Trout Fishing. Kirk does a fine job of offering suggestions to anglers about where to find trout, stream sizes, casting difficulties that might be faced by anglers (especially important to fly fishers), and the remoteness of streams as well as the strenuousness required of fishers for reaching them. This is all great info for any angler interested in pursuing that beautiful and elusive creature, the Southern Brook trout, affectionately known to mountain natives as the “speck.” Continue reading →
Man’s one method, whether he reasons or creates, is to half-shut his eyes against the dazzle and confusion of reality …. Life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing, and emasculate …. The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material . . . but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is designed and significant. – Robert Louis Stevenson
An interesting and slightly obscure fact about the author in this book review: Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry James were friends. I know, right? As odd couples go, Stevenson, one of the greatest adventure writers and James, he of “the figure in the carpet”contemplation, make no sense. But James admired Stevenson’s style and his ability to captivate readers with intricate and engrossing plots involving pirates, smugglers, and scientists mucking about with dangerous experiments designed to separate good and evil. Continue reading →
Rudyard Kipling, old fashioned storyteller (image courtesy Wikimedia)
This starts with a conversation I had in graduate school. I was trying to decide which author I would focus on for my master’s thesis. I knew it wouldn’t be a poet (I adore poetry and have a large number of poets whose work I admire and love to read and discuss, but I’m a prose writer myself and I felt I’d be more simpatico working with someone who did what I do), and I knew I wanted to choose someone who hadn’t been, in the words of my adviser, “done to death.” This was the early 1980′s and my school’s English department was actively discouraging students from writing any more theses on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any Beats – and you couldn’t even whisper that you wanted to write about a Romantic. We Boomers had worn out professors’ patience writing – and writing – and writing about these same authors. Continue reading →
Google honors the father of industrial design; so does Scholars & Rogues
I have grown to really appreciate design in recent years. I’ve never had any formal training in it, unfortunately – what I know has mostly been learned ad hoc, on the fly. I have done a bit of low-level design work in the course of my work and hobbies, but I understand my limits. There’s a big difference between being a shade-tree designer and being a serious pro. I have had the opportunity to work with some very good ones through the years, and while great designers as a species can sometimes be a maddeningly OCD crowd, you always come away knowing more than you did before.
I enjoy the process and try to learn all I can.
This all said, I hope you saw today’s Google doodle.
Since I’ve been skylarking, having left the original 2013 reading list in the dust long ago (except for the Christmas selections) and now having left the extended reading list behind, too, it seemed like a good idea, given that Halloween was approaching, to choose a book that fit the holiday. So I pulled my copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the book shelf. Couldn’t go wrong with the antecedent of all mad scientist stories as a choice for the spooky holiday, right?
As is the case with some other books on this list (Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the Austen novels Mansfield Park and Emma), I have read Frankenstein before – at least twice that I remember – and I think more times. I read the novel while in undergraduate school just because I wanted to and then read it in graduate school as part of a course on the Romantics. I believe I even taught it once in a freshman intro to lit sort of class – pretty sure I did, in fact. So there’s another time….
So I came to this reading with rather a healthy fund of knowledge about both the book and about its critical interpretations. To paraphrase my beloved Twain, however, I didn’t let my education get in the way of my learning this reading. So, on to the book… Continue reading →
Dante created contrapasso – the idea that divine punishment of the damned in Hell would mirror the sin being punished.
Dante Alighieri was born in approximately 1265 in Florence to poor but noble parents. He became involved in Florentine politics, was a delegate to Pope Boniface VIII, was sent into exile when his political enemies (and possibly eventually his allies too) took exception to him, and died in 1321 in Ravenna at the approximate age of 56. He was married into a politically powerful family and fathered several children, but he fell in platonic love with Bice Portinari, ostensibly at first sight at the age of nine. Dante fought several battles over the years, mostly over which faction ruled Florence, but was not a remarkable soldier.
In most respects Dante was an unremarkable man. Yet that one way – his poetry, and especially The Divine Comedy – has had an unusually large influence on not just Italy and the Italian language, but also western civilization and Christianity in general. Continue reading →
The age of Matthew Arnold is dead: “elitism” vs. popular culture…
Educator, Poet, and Big Time, Professional Literary Critic Matthew Arnold (photo courtesy Wikimedia)
In Part 1 of this discussion of contemporary reading habits, I sought to find some rationale for the domination of “fiction bestseller lists” (flawed as measurement of anything though those lists might be) by works that are, in one form or another, escapism. I discussed the decline of what the old “high culture/low culture” model called “literary experience” – the introduction, chiefly via the education system, of works/authors that could arguably be called classic to both those in elite private institutions and to those of us better classified as the hoi polloi through our public schools.
The genesis of this entire essay, as I mentioned earlier, was my anecdotal experience as a regular visitor (both as author and reader) to the popular social media site, Goodreads. The democratization of culture that the power of the Internet, and especially its most powerful weapon, social media, has been in some ways liberating, in some ways unfortunate. Continue reading →
This is a picture of a dog reading – Cujo, likely, perhaps The Call of the Wild. One might wish it were Travels with Charlie, but let’s be reasonable…
This started mainly as an idle exercise. Each time I go to Goodreads, I am apprised of someone’s latest book which is, I am assured, a triumph of – well, some sort. Many of the books are #’s 3-4-5 in a “series” of books about – this or that currently popular genre. If you are a reader, or play at being one as many seem to do, you know the drill by now: the most successful books are those which appeal to current reading interests. In the second decade of the 21st century, that means one should write something in at least one of the following veins: science fiction (or one of its variations like cyberpunk or steam punk); paranormal thrillers – or romances (zombies and vampires have been quite successful, and wizards have made billions); or apocalyptic/dystopian adventures/romances/thrillers. Preferably any/all of these should be aimed at a “young adult” audience – though the range of that age group seems to be a matter of concern both to those who would censor any thing that doesn’t meet their narrow minded world views as well as to some writers who, silly creatures they are, think adults should read adult books on adult topics – you know, stories that might not end with “something magical” happening.
Cover, The Essential Grandma Moses by Jane Kallir (courtesy, Goodreads)
Art books tend to be heavy duty critical affairs like the Arthur Danto work I reviewed earlier this year or large tomes full of beautiful reproductions of a master’s work that have the feel, despite their higher purpose, of coffee table books. The books between seem to err either on the side of wanting to offer historical fiction as analysis of an artist’s oeuvre or oversimplification of an artist’s complexity – reductio ars ad absurdum, one might call it in very incorrect Latin – in order to “explain” art or an artist so that its (or his/her) worth seems undeniable to even the most philistine of audiences so as to help them learn to appreciate and support art.
Government shutdown, debt crisis reveal how much GOP has in common with other sociopaths…
Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris?
I believe Philip K. Dick had it right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technology had, in that not-so-distant future, created androids that were nearly indistinguishable from humans. The one thing people had that the Nexus 6s didn’t, the quality that made them essentially human, was empathy. Continue reading →
Cover, Classic Rock Covers by Michael Ochs (courtesy, Goodreads)
I picked up a fascinating book at my favorite used book store recently. It’s by Michael Ochs, arguably rock music’s preeminent archivist (and, in case you are wondering, yes, he’s the great Phil Ochs’ brother and was his manager for the last nine years of that brilliant, tragic folk singer/songwriter’s life). The book is called simply, Classic Rock Covers, and it covers rock music album covers – items now, I suppose, quickly becoming the province of antiquarians – and archivists like Michael Ochs.
As you’d guess, this book is primarily pictures. That’s understated: this book is overwhelmingly pictures of album covers covers from the 1950′s-90′s. Ochs offers a brief introduction, then brief (all too brief) overviews of each era of the Age of Rock. He occasionally offers a comment (and by that I mean a sentence or two) among the hundreds of album covers. One wishes for more. Continue reading →
Eventually there comes the moment when any author has to submit what they have written to the jaded palate of agencies. Friends have enjoyed what I’ve written, but one always receives a bit of a free pass from that quarter. Today I started the process of seeking representation. Continue reading →
I read and reviewed Hemingway’s final book, True at First Light, back in February. In that review I talked about the issues surrounding Hemingway as writer and Hemingway as media creation. One characteristic of the Culture of Media-Driven Celebrity – as we might arguably call the 20th century – which has been noted by media critics such as Simon Frith and Clive James is the tendency (perhaps an aim, conscious or unconscious) of media to undercut artistic achievement by focusing on – and worse, overemphasizing – the celebrity that attaches to a successful writer/artist/musician rather than on the writer/artist/musician’s accomplishments in their field. That undercutting has been one of the tragedies of our time. It makes the task of understanding achievement in the arts (and other fields – let us not ignore celebrity’s effect on scientists such as Einstein or Sagan, for example) more complicated; it also creates an environment where even the most dedicated achiever feels pressure to maintain celebrity status. In too many cases, especially as media has come to dominate how we understand our world, the Culture of Media-Driven Celebrity has made us lose sight of WHY achievers deserve their celebrity. Continue reading →
Cover, The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham (courtesy, Goodreads)
Somerset Maugham again – this time, his “early” (1908) novel, The Magician. Maugham’s attempt at “paranormal romance,” as the young folks call it (and the heading under which book stores would/should stock it) is part good old fashioned British object lesson on the dangers of young women being indulged – and protected – too much, part horror story, part soap opera, and part ripping yarn. This selection from the extended 2013 reading list has a little something for everyone.
The novel tells the story of young Margaret Dauncey (a word that can mean egotistical or odd), the beloved (and former ward – see what I mean about a lesson? Always listen to Daddy-figure/Hubby) of Harley Street surgeon Arthur Burdon (a surname Maugham chose as carefully as Jane Austen chose Knightley for the surname of the hero inEmma). These two seem blissfully happy, although the joy of their nuptials has been postponed so that Margaret can go study art in Paris (there’s that indulgence I was on about earlier). It is there Arthur visits an old mentor/colleague, Dr. Porhoët, who has become a student (scholarly, only) of the dark arts: necromany, alchemy, yadda yadda. And speaking of yaddas, this is where the villain of the piece enters: one Oliver Haddo, another student – and would be practitioner - of the dark arts whom Porhoët knows. You can probably guess what’s going to happen…well, kinda, sorta….
(Haddo is a caricature of Aleister Crowley, whom Maugham met while he was in Paris doing – something or other, but mainly hanging out and meeting cool people like Cezanne. Crowley and Maugham evidently didn’t get along, Crowley being all about his image – dark and dangerous – and Maugham considering him a buffoon. A friend of mine likes to say, “You turn your back on a poet at your own risk.” Well, the same can be said of novelists, especially witty, urbane, and just a tad mean spirited ones like Maugham. Haddo, for all Maugham’s effort to make him sinister and repulsive, comes off as – you guessed it – something of a buffoon.) Continue reading →