WordsDay: Literature

H. E. Bates and the pleasures of fine writing…

H. E. Bates writes about war, romance and that delightful thing we know as English eccentricity with equal facility and with skill that makes one understand what is meant by the term “fine writing.”

H.E. Bates (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have made clear, I am a great fan of the writing of Somerset Maugham. He represents a school of English – and American – literature that daintily dances along the line dividing deliciously readable middle brow fiction of the sort I’ve written about here and here. Whether he’s detailing the muddle between high brow and middle brow literature or skewering a self-proclaimed “magic man,” Maugham delivers eminently readable, often profound observations on the human condition. He also inspired a number of younger writers to follow in his footsteps.

One of the best of these “sons of Maugham” is H.E. Bates. Best known to the American audience, perhaps, because of Masterpiece Theater’s broadcasts of London Weekend Television’s adaptation of his novel Love for Lydia, an adaptation well known for helping launch the careers of actors such as Jeremy Irons and Peter Davison, among others.

I was fortunate enough to find a copy of New Directions Publishing’s re-issue of Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories recently at my favorite used book shop. As I hoped, it is a delight. Continue reading

african mask

Harry Potter and the Racist Subtext

african mask“We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing.” – Leo Quetawke, Head Councilman in charge of law and order for the Zuni people

Cultural appropriation is a difficult concept to understand for those of us who belong to the majority culture. We see the world as one unified whole. We measure the sun by Greenwich Mean Time, the seasons by the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII. For us, an African mask in a shop is a decoration, divorced of cultural significance. We congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and modernity because we can recognize its beauty.

This state of affairs does not make us bad people. It does not make us responsible for colonialism or slavery, any more than African American or Indigenous American genes make their owners victims or losers. On the contrary, it presents us with an opportunity to rise above our past, to forge a new global fellowship built on trust and open communication. As with any educational pursuit, this requires hard work. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Art and commerce, art and communication

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” – Dr. Samuel Johnson

I was going to write today about Hilary Masters’ novel Cooper which I finished a couple of Anthony Burgess (image courtesy Wikimedia)days ago, but I started another book and the introduction to that book has been rattling around in my head since I read it, so I think I’ll write about that. You may ask, what could deter this disciplined professorial writer of literary fiction from his appointed rounds?

Well, the guy to the right of this text can. I had picked up a copy of H.E. Bates’s A Month by the Lake and Other Stories in the New Directions edition. The introduction to Bates’s collection is by Anthony Burgess, a name known to most people in association with his most famous novel, the brilliant and nightmarish A Clockwork Orange. The theme of Burgess’s introduction, which is both a wonderful appreciation of Bates and a screed of sorts against the literary world, is worth, I think, some consideration. Continue reading

Greatness and greatness: appreciating Sir George Martin

Scholars & Rogues honors the “Fifth Beatle”

George Martin working that magic…(image courtesy Rockcellar Magazine)

“He enabled their ideas to pour forth, providing the electronic effects, the string quartets, the cor anglaise, the trumpets and piccolos, that helped the Beatles transcend the limitations of pop and create music of sublime originality. He allowed them to give expression to their genius, and provided a model for all pop music thereafter.” – Mick Brown, The Telegraph

When the news began to filter out this morning that Sir George Martin, pop music’s most legendary producer, Dutch uncle and studio wizard who helped The Beatles become – well, The Beatles – had died, tributes immediately began pouring in. Artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Noel Gallagher, and Jose Carreras expressed sorrow at Martin’s passing and heaped praise on him for his brilliant production work and his gentlemanly demeanor.

Martin’s body of work covered the range of music – classical, jazz, pop – and included comedy (one of the reasons he clicked with The Beatles is that he produced the records of comedy troupe The Goons, favorites of The Fabs whose surreal humor anticipates Monty Python). Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Constance Fenimore Woolson: writing is hard…

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann

Constance Fenimore Woolson (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I’m about three-quarters of the way through Hilary Masters’ interesting novel Cooper, and so I don’t have a book to write about this week. For a guy who writes about books, one would think that would be a problem, but for a literature guy like me it’s merely a chance to talk about writers rather than about books.

I’ve just ordered a book of stories, Miss Grief and Other Stories, by the writer pictured to the right, one Constance Fenimore Woolson. The grand niece of James Fenimore Cooper, Woolson had a highly successful career as a novelist and short story writer in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

She was also a close friend of American writer Henry James, and a spate of magazine articles in places like The Nation and The New Republic are currently exploring that relationship and its effects on Woolson’s career and life in light of two new books published recently.  Continue reading

ArtSunday

Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife – a real world conveyed

In part two of her saga of medieval Norway, Sigrid Undset explores the nexus of private and public life…

Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife by Sigrid Undset (Image courtesy Goodreads)

Sigrid Undset’s epic saga of medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter, moves at the pace of medieval life. The slowness of that pace serves two useful and powerful purposes. The first of these is that this measured pace, slow as it might feel to contemporary readers, allows Undset to develop characters of great depth, characters whom the reader is able to get to know intimately. This deliberate pace also allows Undset to offer descriptions of living conditions in 14th century Norway that give Kristin Lavransdatter II the believability of history even as it offers the drama of fiction.

The story picks up just after the events of the first novel (known as The Wreath) end. Kristin, against her father’s preference and, having broken the heart of her betrothed, Simon Andresson, marries her lover Erland Niklausson.   Continue reading

Book-Review

The readable and the not yet readable…

Someone I can’t remember once wrote that we come to books when we’re ready to appreciate them…evidently I am not ready to appreciate some books….

Kristin Lavransdatter II; The Wife by Sigrid Undset (image courtesy Goodreads)

I’m about 100 pages into Book Two of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, The Wife.

This is not the book I expected to be writing about. I began Book I of The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu in the Royall Tyler translation. About 50 pages in I realized that I could not make myself read it. Whether it is Tyler’s translation or the work itself, I found it impossible to stay the course. The Tale of the Genji’s focus on the life of a young prince at the emperor’s court in medieval Japan is certainly a fascinating topic. Still, 50 pages in I found myself completely unengaged.

When one reads (well, when I read), there is always that moment of absorption – that moment when one, in a psychologically satisfying way, “enters” the world of the story. Perhaps it was the artificiality of the storytelling in The Tale of the Genji; there is certainly a level of distancing in the text that reflects both the formality and the subtlety of Japanese culture. Perhaps the translation, scholarly and thorough as it is, is problematic in that it adheres to the letter of the language (in other words, it transliterates rather than translates, an ever more challenging). For whatever reason, I found that I simply bounced off Skikibu’s classic each time I attempted to enter it.

That brings us to Book II of Undset’s classic of medieval Norway. Continue reading

saint john the evangelist san francisco

Anglican Communion: the radical inclusion of Jesus Christ

saint john the evangelist san francisco

At the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist, in the Mission District of San Francisco, we share communion standing in a circle, the homeless, the transvestites, the breastfeeding mothers, the white guys in bow ties, a family gathered around a table, celebrating the unbreakable love that holds us together. My Baptist roots pray that Jesus returns, right here, right now, sees us like this, shoulder to shoulder, taking care of each other, sees that we will be alright, that we are going to make it. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CrimeCorruption

Stop the rape epidemic, part 2

We have a problem. No doubt about it. Women were raped in Cologne, Germany and the police tried to sweep it under the rug. It’s the same problem we’ve been having forever, in the colleges, in the military, and in society at large. Now we’re paying attention to it because the rapists are foreigners. When men of a different race or different religion act the same way our men act, suddenly it’s a problem. Because the violence wasn’t hidden in a fraternity house, because the violence wasn’t facilitated by quaaludes, suddenly it’s a problem. Not to go all feminist on y’all, but I warned you about this.

Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Persuasion: Jane Austen looking to the future…

In Persuasion Jane Austen looks forward to where the novel must go – and suggests a path for her successors to follow….

Persuasion by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

My last Austen essay – on my favorite Austen novel.

My laptop died about ten days ago. Luckily this came at the end of the academic term so I had finished my classes. Unluckily, this occurred at the beginning of my holiday vacation time. In the holiday rush of shopping, cooking, gatherings, etc., I lost the thread on writing of all sorts as is wont to happen this time of year. Coming as this did on the heels of the busyness of the end of the academic term, I now find myself
woefully behind on writing that I have meant to do this month.

Thus it is that I find myself far nearer the end of the year as I begin this last round of essays on works I have read (or in this case re-read for perhaps the, oh, I don’t know, 15th time?). This does not reduce my pleasure in writing about Persuasion: indeed, it probably enhances it.

Yes, I am one of those people who saves the cherry on the sundae until last. Continue reading

Sports

What Abby Wambach should have said

Is Abby Wambach a xenophobe? I doubt it. But her remarks on foreign-born players were clumsy at best.

On Wednesday night Abby Wambach, the greatest striker in women’s soccer history, played her final match, an uninspired 1-0 loss to China that was in no way the sort of send-off she deserved.

While the game lacked fireworks, her appearance earlier in the day on the Bill Simmons podcast ignited a bit of a firestorm.

In the interview, Wambach launched a broadside at men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, saying that he should be fired for failing to develop the US youth program. Continue reading

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For 2016, re-elect Andrew Shepherd: Fiction trumps the Republican reality

the_american_president_28movie_poster29In my favorite bad movie, The American President, Michael Douglas as the fictional President Andrew Shepherd confronts his Republican challenger’s claims about Shepherd’s character.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. … You scream about patriotism and tell them [who’s] to blame for their lot in life … [emphasis added]

Now remove Bob Rumson’s name and insert the name of any of the recent CNN main stage GOP presidential candidates (or even Wolf Blitzer, as he goaded them into ISIS hysteria). Continue reading

Barclays-Premier-League

Premier League TV deals, the Super League and the death of European domestic football leagues

Can Europe’s domestic football leagues survive the new Premier League TV deals? Not a chance.

Barclays-Premier-LeagueA good bit has been written about new TV deals for England’s Premier League – Sky domestically and NBC in the US – and the numbers are frankly mind-boggling: Sky is ponying up more than £5.1B (~$7.75B) and NBC is paying around $1B for rights through 2021-22. When rights for all international deals are factored in, the Prem will haul in around $4.3B a year. (Massively detailed analysis here.)

This is great news for the league’s clubs, obviously, as the payout for even the worst teams will assure that they’re wealthier than all but the biggest clubs in the rest of the world. The top 14 English sides are already among the world’s 30 richest before the new deal even takes effect. Continue reading

refugees

Refugees: an American fail

refugees

image courtesy of LobeLog.com

We have accepted more than 100,000 Somali refugees since 1991. In the last 25 years, 50 of them have become terrorists. That’s 0.05%, which is good, but not good enough for us. We want zero terrorists, including those who go back to Africa to kill people. We don’t want African people to die either. That is our strength, no quarter, no shadowy corner where the darkness can hide from the light. Continue reading

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Between war and peace: NATO, Russia, and the dumpster fire in Syria

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image courtesy of nbcnews.com

First let us remember our fallen brothers. One Russian airman (possibly two) and one marine are dead. Let’s be quiet for a moment and think about that. For their families, none of this will ever make sense. None of this will ever be justified. This is what war is, families torn apart by violence. The people of Russia have courageously stood up for our shared values, truth, reason, love, and peace, and now their sons are dead. They will not be returning home as their families prayed that they would. Let us honor their spirit and remember their unflinching devotion to Russia and to our collective safety as global citizens.

The Russian military command sees this conflict very differently than we see it in the West. They share our concern regarding global terror. They have been attacked from the shadows by psychopathic cowards just as we have. They understand that a bunch of deposed Iraqi power junkies are using misinformation to lure Muslim youth into a demented suicide pact. They understand that the misinformation itself is crowdsourced, has been propagated for decades by irresponsible hatemongers, just as racist propaganda has been disseminated worldwide throughout history and continues to fester in the shadows. Continue reading

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Help me Governor McCrory, you’re my only hope

refugee_children_from_syria_at_a_clinic_in_ramtha2c_northern_jordan_28961347726329

image courtesy of wikimedia.org

The Syrian refugees who are currently undergoing a two year vetting process had nothing to do with the attacks in Paris. They are the Albert Einsteins trying to get out of Nazi Germany, and we are stopping them. This is how we lose the war. We burn a whole city to get revenge on two already-dead homicidal maniacs. There are a limited number of brainwashed suicide bombers. Remember Japan. It’s an act of desperation. It’s the hallmark of a General out of options. Continue reading

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America, refugees and assimilation

twelve-syrians-drown-heading-from-turkey-to-greek-island-1441235628-2607Jeb Bush has proposed only admitting Christian Syrian refugees. On the face of it, it’s an obnoxious, bigoted suggestion, a clear violation of the fundamental principle of separation of church and state, and flies in the face of all this country stands for. But what if he’s right?

The problem is not so much that some of the refugees could be terrorists, although that’s certainly a possibility, e.g., the Tsarnaev brothers, as it is that they could form a potential breeding ground for future terrorists. The risk is second-generation terrorists. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Religion

Women at wells have problems, evidently…

In which we learn that Buddha and Jesus met the same sorts of people…

4th Century statue of Buddha (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Each morning my wife Lea and I read together, a delightful habit which we have been practicing for a number of years. Our readings consist of a religious/spiritual works (we are eclectic, though our readings tend to rotate between the Christian and Buddhist, particularly Zen Buddhist, traditions primarily), works about art (we’re fond of both art history and criticism), and poetry.  We recently finished the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and we are currently working our way through a work called Teachings of the Buddha. This work is a compendium of various lessons and stories – one might use the word parables safely – attributed to Siddhartha Gautama.

Of particular interest to us have been remarkable similarities between stories of the Buddha’s experiences and stories of those of a later teacher, one well known (at least by name) to Western culture – Jesus Christ. One of these “shared stories,” the woman at the well, is worth a look because it gives us insight into the traditions of two major religions and of how we understand their teachings. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

The human detritus of war

After the U.S. Civil War, the violence didn’t stop. Numerous gangs of bandits continued to fight on for almost thirty years after the war was officially over. The most famous of course was the James-Younger Gang, but there were also the Daltons and the Doolins, Henry Berry Lowrie and the Swamp Outlaws in North Carolina, the Baldknobbers in Arkansas and the Klan. Some of these are purely for-profit initiatives, but as often as not, they have a political bent. They are, along with the maimed, widowed and orphaned, and dislocated and impoverished, the human detritus of war.

Some wars produce more. The Hundred Years War in Europe produced so many companies of bandits that various popes proposed Crusades in an attempt to siphon them off into hopefully deadly wars, just as the French would later enlist SS into the Foreign Legion after WWII and sent them to Indochina. Others produce only a few. The Vietnam War contributed a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Gulf War Timothy McVeigh. Sometimes so many are produced that they destroy entire countries, as the Liberia Civil War ended up ravaging Sierra Leone.

Regardless of nuance, the basic formula is the same. Angry young men, trained in the art of war, who come back disaffected and often with limited prospects. So they do what they know how to do—blow shit up and kill people.

Now we’re seeing the same thing in the recent wave of terrorism. New York, Madrid, London, Mumbai, Boston, and now Paris, again. We don’t know all the details yet, but what we do know suggests military grade weapons handled with military-level expertise in a military-like operation.

It’s not really about Islam or a reaction to the devastation created by the foolish adventuring of the Bushes and Cheney. It’s much simpler than that. They’re young, impassioned, angry and deadly and there are simply too many of them.

 

Book-Review

Book Review: Tortuga Bay by S.R. Staley

Sam Staley’s latest entry in his Pirate of Panther Bay series is a swashbuckling pirate tale with a subtext of social criticism. 

Tortuga Bay by S. R. Staley (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

S.R. Staley, whose alternate holiday adventure, St Nic, Inc. I reviewed last year, is back with a new novel, this one the second in his series on female pirate Isabella. Tortuga Bay continues Isabella’s saga, this time putting her history as an escaped slave seeking justice for her fellow plantation workers. This desire to help others find freedom as she has done forces Isabella into making difficult decisions.

Isabella, who escaped slavery on a sugar cane plantation and learned the pirate trade in the first book in the series, finds herself on the run from the Spanish viceroy of the Caribbean. Complicating that danger is the fact that the man she is love with, Juan Carlos Santa Ana, is the Spanish officer charged with capturing her and seeing her brought to Viceroy Rodriquez who plans her execution.

Another complication in this already complicated scenario is Isabella’s friendship with her partner and mentor Jean-Michel and her pirate crew. Completing this set of complications that create a classic emotional triangle is a prophecy Isabella lives with that she is to be a deliverer of her fellow slaves. Continue reading