In which we learn that saving the world is not so very different from selling shoes when one stops and thinks about it…
Larissa Takes Flight by Teresa Milbrodt (image courtesy Goodreads)
The always interesting Teresa Milbrodt’s latest story collection, Larissa Takes Flight, is what the publisher calls a “pastiche novel.” I know something about these having published a couple of my own, so I feel relatively qualified to ramble on a little about this work in my own inimitable, if slightly eccentric style.
Larissa – and her adventures – cover two wide swaths of American culture: Milbrodt’s own special blend of the mundanity of current American life with the epic (or, perhaps, mock-epic) and legendary which one writer colleague has called “Midwestern Mythic” as well as the author’s take on life as part of that sociological group we most often see referred to as “Gen X.”
The book is composed of a series of 58 flash fictions (though some are better considered short-short stories) that cover most of the areas of daily experience in the 21st century (“Larissa Loses Her Job,” “Larissa Gets a Credit Card,” “Larissa and Computer Problems”). Of course, given that “Midwestern Mythic” thing I mentioned, there’s plenty of unusual goings on (“Larissa and the Closet Monster,” “Larissa and Vampires,” “Larissa and the Genie”). Continue reading
Pussy Riot’s commitment to social justice in the motherland is more than admirable. It perhaps merits a spot in Russia’s artistic canon.
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia closed today, and if you set aside the homophobia and generally strong-armed approach to governance by the host, one Vladimir Putin, these games were remarkable in just about every way.
The images of the opening ceremonies have lingered with me for the past couple of weeks. If you watched, you know that the creative team built their narrative around the highwater marks in the nation’s glorious history, honoring their accomplishments in the arts, literature, science and technology. Given Russia’s considerable heritage, the little girl’s interaction with Cyrillic alphabet primer, associating a historical moment with each letter, couldn’t help being an impressive reminder to the world of the nation’s rich cultural legacy. Continue reading
Maybe feminism isn’t all that recent as a social movement – or, “we built this city on women’s roles…”
The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (image courtesy Goodreads)
One of the tendencies of modern scholarship has been to “re-interpret” texts from other historical eras in light of modern (or postmodern – or post-postmodern) sensibilities. My most recent completed work from the 2014 reading list (I’m a little behind now due to some family matters) is by 14th/15th century author Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies is typically medieval. Its author uses much material from “other sources” – which is medieval-speak for “borrowing” freely from both classical and contemporary sources – and the work is itself allegorical – the “city” of the title is actually de Pizan’s book.
The premise of the book is, however, anything but medieval. Christine de Pizan explains that she is “building the city” at the behest of three virtues (all represented in feminine form, of course): Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. These virtues – which are cardinal virtues of women, Pizan is subtly arguing – have appeared to Pizan in a dream in order to help her defend the intelligence, honor, and integrity of women. Women’s intelligence, honor, and integrity have been maligned, primarily, Pizan explains, at the hands of two groups of men – theologians and courtly romance writers. Theologians, despite their elevation of the Virgin Mary to a status nearly equal to that of Christ, primarily depict women as the source of mankind’s trouble dating back to the original troublemaker Eve. Courtly romance writers such as Jean de Meun in Roman de la Rose portray women primarily as sexual objects – creatures to be used for male pleasure and amusement with little or no thought given to their sense or feelings. Continue reading
Perhaps on their way to go shopping, a mother leads her brightly-dressed little girl along a quiet but well-traveled street in Nakano-ku…
As a new contributor to Scholars & Rogues, I thought I would begin here with a piece from my beginnings as the visual, poetic Japanophile I am today. It’s a “poem without words” called “Red City”…
On the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, perhaps it’s time to clarify what we mean when we say “The Beatles…”
Tonight will be the 50th anniversary of the advent of what most people think of as “The Sixties.” The avalanche of commentary that has accompanied this anniversary ranges from the hagiographic to the asinine, much of it driven by the political ethos that infuses every aspect of our lives these days. “If only these white guys hadn’t spoiled everything, other artists (implied: more worthwhile) would be more appreciated and influential”; “Without The Beatles no other artists (implied: no matter how clearly brilliant and innovative they were/are) could have accomplished the task of changing the culture.”
None of them spend much time on trying to discover and understand the simple truths of The Beatles as part of the American experience….
The dark side of the 1970′s – family disintegration, existential angst, and other snakes in Southern California’s Eden emerge in Sumioka’s debut novel….
Mark Sumioka’s The Threshold of Insult is the first full length novel from a writer whose gritty, realistic fiction has graced the pages of a number of literary journals, including Scholars and Rogues. The same skills of capturing characters’ distinctive nuances and situations’ subtle breaking points that characterize Sumioka’s short fiction serve him well in this first attempt at fiction’s major genre.
The novel recounts the story of an unhappy family, Carl and Jessica Rose and their son Randy. Carl hates his job and feels trapped by his marriage and son. His wife Jessica, called Jess through most of the novel, feels trapped as Carl does, her suffering exacerbated by her low self-esteem and sense of dissatisfaction in her role as traditional housewife. Their son Randy, troubled by the tensions in his parents’ relationship, has his young life complicated and ultimately damaged by the unhealthy attentions of a seemingly kind neighbor, Van Witherspoon. The complex dynamics of the relationships of these four characters form the crux of the novel’s main story line. Continue reading
Marianne Dashwood, the epitome of sensibility, is the heroine Jane Austen most disapproves of…
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)
The six complete Jane Austen novels divide into three interesting pairs. There are the “place” titles – Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park – both of which critique the heroine’s naivete. Emma and Persuasion – the “one word” titles – focus on, in the former case, the consequences of a young woman with too much self-confidence and, in the latter case, the consequences of an older woman’s youthful lack of self-confidence. Finally, there are the “characteristics” titles – Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice – that, via characters in each novel who exhibit behaviors related to the titular characteristics, allow the author to show, in the latter work, how the character weaknesses of the novels’ most important couple, once overcome, lead to marital bliss – and, in the former work, contrast sisters who represent both sense (careful behavior based on rational application of one’s understanding of social mores) and sensibility (the insistence that the personal emotional response, however idiosyncratic and dismissive of social mores it might be, is the only “true” way to live one’s life). Continue reading
To paraphrase Jimi, there are writers – make that readers – I do not understand…
The Discworld Graphic Novels (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) by Terry Pratchett (image courtesy Goodreads)
I admit readily that I am no fan of science fiction and fantasy. I like Tolkien fine, but having read the Rings trilogy in college and The Hobbit my first year out of undergrad school for my first teaching job, I have felt absolutely no urge/desire/itch/yen to read those works again. During that same period of my life I read the Asimov Foundation trilogy, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, all at the behest of friends whose intelligence and taste I respect deeply. I found them interesting, as I find any well told story interesting, but I was not been inspired to read more by Asimov, Heinlein, or Herbert. See first sentence of paragraph.
Around the time that I read The Hobbit, I stumbled upon Phillip K. Dick (remember, I am not an activist sci-fi reader). I enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – yet I have read no other Phillip K. Dick.
Later on younger friends whose intelligence and taste I respect pushed me to wrestle with one of sci-fi’s cousins, cyberpunk. I dutifully read Gibson’s Neuromancer and a story or two by Bruce Sterling. Interesting stuff – but, as you’ve guessed by now, I’ve read no more. Continue reading
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” applies not just to Lord Byron but to every writer…
An Insider’s Guide to Publishing by David Comfort (image courtesy Goodreads)
David Comfort’s latest book, An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, is not the “nuts and bolts” sort of a book you’d expect from its title. Instead, Comfort has written a longish (nearly 300 pages) compendium of anecdotes, explanations, analyses, and observations on writers and writing, the publishing industry past and present, and the role of technology in that past, present, and future of literature.
The book is alternately charming and churlish, funny and depressing, and, well, engrossing. Unlike most books in this genre, Comfort doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince the reader that “if you do this, you’ll be the next E.L. James” (the author of the mega success Fifty Shades of Grey). Instead, he delves into the story of E.L. James and explains – carefully but tongue firmly in cheek – how a writer who can’t write worth a damn can make $1 million per week from sales of what is popularly called “Mommy porn.” Continue reading
Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens (image courtesy Goodreads)
The Dickens Christmas Song Remained the Same…
After finishing A Christmas Carol, I continued with a few of Dickens’ Christmas short stories. “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” “A Christmas Tree,” “What Christmas is as We Grow Older,” “The Poor Relation’s Story,” “The Child’s Story,” “The Schoolboy’s Story,” “Nobody’s Story,” and “The Seven Poor Travelers” cover a range of Christmas – and Dickensian themes.
Some of these – “A Christmas Tree,” “What Christmas is as We Grow Older” – are more personal essays than short stories. Both have a creakiness and a rambling quality that sometimes plagues Dickens’ work. When one was as successful and avidly read a writer/celebrity as Dickens in his time, the tendency was, for good or ill, to capitalize on that popularity with hastily done work. These “recollections/reflections/anecdotes,” unfortunately, reveal some of that haste. Continue reading
Much of what we think of as Christmas comes from Dickens
Charles Dickens in 1868 (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The next to last review of the year looks at a seminal work in the creation of “Christmas as we have known it” for the last 190 years or so years (I think Clement Moore has to get a nod for “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” for giving us our initial envisioning of Santa Claus). Charles Dickens’ Christmas “story” (really a novella) A Christmas Carol is responsible for many of the rest of our conceptions of how Christmas should be celebrated: holly, carolers, roast goose, snow, merriment, the indulgence of children, and charity acts towards our neighbors.
The story, characters, and message are so familiar that recounting them seems pointless. One could, instead, write a fascinating book about the liberties, variations and perversions that have been committed upon the elements of Dickens’ classic. A recent version includes mice as prominent supporting characters and portrays Scrooge’s rehabilitation/redemption as a childish act of avoiding punishment rather than as a recognition of his error in choosing greed as guiding principle for his life and a sincere attempt to reconnect with humanity that is the thematic heart of Dickens’ work. Continue reading
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
From screwball comedy to – well, screwball comedy
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.
This past Friday (sad anniversary though it was) I watched TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight. This regular feature of the “old movies channel” as some think of them (I think of them as a national resource for learning about film history) has focused on screwball comedies of the 1930′s-early 1940′s. Continue reading
The short story as its own reward
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
Robert Louis Stevenson (image courtesy Wikimedia)
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
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
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.
Good luck with that. Continue reading