The OF Blog: April 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

German, Spanish, and other used Book Porn

I've been rather busy this month, thus it's been a month since I last traded in/bought used books at McKay's in Nashville.  Looks like I got lucky this time (spent $80 in store credit, leaving with 22 cents, for those that are curious) in the books I got, as I managed to snag two McSweeney's books I've been contemplating for some time, as well as a Library of America edition of Zora Neale Hurston's nonfiction.  Oh, and that Jack London has been on my radar as well and Sor Juana de la Cruz has been an occasional target as well.  Then there's that book on Rimbaud and Jim Morrison...

Lots of German plays and stories here, including the original version of that infamous Werther and his sorrows.  Never have read Kosinski before and since Passion Play was cheap, why not?  Most of these here were under a dollar, a real bargain regardless of the language of publication.

Any of these you own and/or want to read?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Because I never can decide...

What color would you say this eye is?

Dreams deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? 

 Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem" has long been a favorite of mine, but my relationship with it has changed over the years.  When my mother taught it in high school Freshman English, poetry was a mostly undiscovered country to me; I was drawn to it, yet there was something frightful about considering its final lines.  When it was discussed in my college Freshman Composition class, the focus shifted more to the similes employed in service of the imagery generated.  How do dreams "run?"  Do they ever "stink like rotten meat," and if so, what can I derive from this?

Later, the poem's haunting final line came to the fore.  What follows from that vague menacing reference of "or does it explode?"  Is it related to the mistreatment of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance (the title after all is "Harlem" and not "A Dream Deferred," like some presume)?  Is it something something even more universal, something akin to what Marxists of several stripes predict will ultimately occur in the end game of class struggle and conflict?  This is what I pondered when I was in graduate school.

Now I am nearing middle age.  I received my MA in History in May 1998.  Thirteen years can make a huge difference.  I once dreamed of contributing to the Functionalist/Intentionalist debate surrounding the Holocaust or of unveiling new ways of perceiving the religious symbolism found within some Third Reich structures.  I dreamed of traveling much of the world, but not going to the usual tourist traps.  I wanted to influence lives and to feel enriched for doing so.  I dreamed big dreams of change, destruction in its most benevolent guise.

Yet now, looking back, all those dreams, deferred.  There were no influential papers; I dropped out of my Ph.D. path after earning my MA due to burnout.  I have yet to leave the United States and who knows if I ever will wander the length and breadth of the old Habsburg lands or to travel up and down the Americas to sit in restaurants listening to conversations and thinking new thoughts within the confines of a new language?  I read, not for escape, but for engagement, but sometimes that is not enough.  There just needs to be something different, ya know?  A new paradigm that reshapes my dreams without crushing them in that transformation. 

I do not know if I will ever find it.  Perhaps dreams, just like friendships and romances at various stages in one's life, are meant to be shed like a snake's skin.  Maybe Langston Hughes did not go far enough in his poem.  What if the explosion is more akin to a transformation that alters the person in such profound ways that s/he looks at the past as not just merely prologue, but as a false step?  Or perhaps it is something else, an implosion that makes an agoraphobic out of claustrophobia.  Or possibly instead of continuing to defer a dream, no matter how noble it might be, it might be best to dream anew, dreams that take from one's current self in an attempt to say to the world, "Ἰδού, καινὰ πάντα ποιῶ."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tibor Moricz, O Peregrino (The Pilgrim)

Uma escuridão imensa.  Siléncio.  Um nada absoluto.  Foi assim por um tempo desconhecido.  Até que se iniciou um rumorejar.  Como água correndo pelo leito de um rio.  De começo uma correnteza leve.  Depois uma enxurrada que sai arrastando tudo o que encontra pelo caminho.  Estava mergulhado nela, sendo arrastado.  Ora submergindo, indo até as profundezas mais densas, ora explodindo na superficie, procurando por ar.  A água corria por leitos impenetráveis.  Embora estivesse sendo conduzido violentamenta para algum lugar, era-lhe impossível determinar o seu destino.  Era-lhe impossível determinar qualquier coisa, porquanto a escuridão ainda imperasse. (p. 9)

This opening passage from Brazilian writer Tibor Moricz's 2011 novel, O Peregrino:  Em busca das crianças perdidas (The Pilgrim:  In Search of Lost Children) is attention-grabbing for its evocative starkness:  An immense darkness.  Silence.  An absolute nothingness.  So it was for an unknown amount of time.  Throughout the first third or so of this short 196 page novel, Moricz's narrative is replete with short, sharp bursts that illustrate the harshness of the land through which his titular pilgrim wanders.  This land is a vision of the 19th century US West, seen through the eyes of a non-native.  The story was interesting for how weird it felt at times.

Moricz's story of the pilgrim (his name, although revealed in the narrative, I'll leave unsaid for those few who might want to read this in Portuguese) captures this sense of brutality and strangeness in the world that so often inspires others to wander forth into its unforgiving embrace.  It is not a straightforward tale; there are a few asides and false steps that I encountered as I read it.  But it was a tale that held my attention throughout the narrative. 

What I enjoyed most about O Peregrino was Moricz's prose.  He uses short, descriptive passages to lay out his version of the American West in a fashion that reminded me at times of Cormac McCarthy.  This is not to say that their stories are similar, but rather that there was a kindred harshness that was reciprocated in the narrative structure.  Darkness looms in this novel, from its first lines until the end.  It is punctured in places with light, but those moments only serve to underscore the bleakness that I found in several scenes. 

One problem that I did have was with the nomenclature.  Perhaps due to being a (to me) foreign writer, Moricz's names of several people felt a bit off, unsuitable at times for the locale.  Then again, that sense of "offness" did not impair the narrative, but rather gave it a sort of weird, transposed feel, as though the American West were not the myth-creating locale to which I had become accustomed, but rather had been transformed into something else, something less familiar and vaguely more threatening.  This quality made O Peregrino an enjoyable, albeit slightly flawed work of the imagination that will appeal to those who want to read a story set in the American West with a few elements of steampunk sensibilities added in for good measure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Out of Touch with Fandom Issues

Removing oneself, if albeit just a little bit, from the cutting edge of SF blogosphere arguments (this blog being neither fish nor fowl) certainly grants a certain perspective on certain matters.  It seems the debate du jour is on, of all things, Fan Writing Hugos.  It is perhaps one of the oddest things that have inspired a call to arms, but yet it also is very unsurprising.

Much of the discussion centers around comments on the A Dribble of Ink blog.  Although I expressed bemusement at my relative lack of awareness regarding the fanzine scene (it is a different scene from the one in which I participate), Aidan Moher takes things further and questions why certain blogs were not finalists.  It is, on the surface, a good question to ask, but as I thought more about it, it seems to be a misguided one as well.

What does it mean to be "a fan" of SF and to write about it?  Does it mean reviewing the newest and shiniest, often neglecting the older works?  Does it mean engaging others of like interests and covering the movers and shakers of SF and SF fandom?  If it is more the latter than the former, then why fret so much over an award that seems to be designed more to recognize those people who take time to work with others in SF fandom to create pamphlets (or in most cases in recent years, e-prints) that are designed to serve those who take a more active role in the WorldCons and other convention circuits than those who just write a few columns that barely regurgitate publisher press releases while claiming that they write "as fans?"

It just leaves me feeling out of touch.  I'm more of a dilettante critic than anything else; I have my likes, but I prefer to explore the inner workings of texts than trying to be a mere "fan," whatever that might mean in the context of reviewing works and commenting on trends in a variety of fields.  It is strange seeing those who have earlier defended their book commentaries as being "a fan's point of view" taking the issue of how a convention award apparently intended more for those who spend time interacting with like-minded individuals (especially in the form of writing missives and exchanging views back and forth much better than the monologuish blog format usually accomplishes) chooses who is the "best fan writer" or who writes the "best fanzine."  One might be pardoned if she got the impression that those protesting think that they themselves are better "fan writers" than those who involve themselves more directly with the more official SF fandom groups.

Me?  I have no dog in this hunt.  I don't consider my writings to be primarily associated with SF, nor do I think what is published here would qualify as being a "fan writing" of any sort.  Do I wish I had the time and desire to get to know those who do participate in SF fandom activities such as running fanzines?  More or less, yes, but as I noted above, it's a different scene and I'm not one inclined to pass judgment over those who are active in that scene only because my own is not recognized.  Maybe next year there'll be a Best Squirrelist Fanzine and Best Squirrelist Fan Writer Hugo, but until then, I wish those who do enjoy participating in that field many more happy endeavors. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weekly quotage

There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.

It is impossible to convey a just idea of the agony which this disease can inflict.  In general, people are apt to relegate such inconceivable sufferings to the category of the incredible.  Any mention of them in conversation or in writing is considered in the light of current beliefs, the individual's personal beliefs in particular, and tends to provoke a smile of incredulity and derision.  The reason for this incomprehension is that mankind has not yet discovered a cure for this disease.  Relief from it is to be found only in the oblivion brought about by wine and in the artificial sleep induced by opium and similar narcotics.  Alas, the effects of such medicines are only temporary.  After a certain point, instead of alleviating the pain, they only intensify it.
The civil wars which existed there, however bitter, were conducted with all bourgeois propriety.  Politics, religion, art, science, grouped themselves, and courteously competed for numbers and reputation.  This summer, however, had seen a spectacular triumph of drama, for it had become known that Peter Stanhope had consented to allow the restless talent of the Hill to produce his latest play.

Last night, I finished work on my fourth novel. It is my greatest achievement, I think.

It was an incredibly untidy business.  The results are scattered about all over this room in a hotel by the Baltic Sea, and I really must collate the myriad pages.  I have been a victim of that unique mental fever from which only writers suffer.  It is a malady brought on by a combination of a retreat into an inner world of the imagination and too much intense concentration.  In this state the real world loses substantiality, and dreamlike visions from the depths of imagination take over completely.

The birds suddenly leap into the air from the grass and from the trees, come together and rise in a palpitating clot, then disperse to the horizon...each one black against the darkening blue sky.  The wind leaps from the grass and trees, it rises and grows stronger, more alarming.  Over my grave the turf is ruffled, the dry flowers knock against my stone battering their petals away.  The world is filled with energy; these minute events each impart another twist to this or that hidden coil, and behind our earthen walls decay rifles our bodies like hot wind - we feel it, too.  The wind rises and flickers through our sere, pompous grave clothes.  At its far extremity a woman in a costume raises her veiled head and howls softly at the sky.  She is turning into a coyote with a light heart, though her appearance stays the same.

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierflass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.  He took off his hat and came slowly forward.  The floorboards creaked under his boots.  In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase.  Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting.  He looked down at the guttered candlestub.  He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer.  Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin.  That was not sleeping.  That was not sleeping.

Hello, miss.  Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am looking for some company this evening.  My name is Simon, and you are...Rosemary.  Funny, I was just daydreaming in the key of Rosicrucianism.  Never mind.  Please sit, and watch out for splinters on your chair, so you don't catch your dress.  It appears that everything around here has come to the point of frays and splinters.  But what this old place lacks in freshness of decor it amply makes up in atmosphere, don't you think?  Yes, as you say, I suppose it does serve its purpose.  It's a little lax as far as table service, though.  I'm afraid that in the way of drinks one must procure for one's self.  Thank you, I'm glad you think I have a nice way of talkin'. Now, can I get you something from the bar?  All right, a beer you shall have.  And do me a favor please:  before I come back, you will already have taken that wad of gum out of your mouth.  Thank you, and I'll return shortly with our drinks.

Hopefully, you know some of the stories that I quote here.  Perhaps you'll be curious enough about the rest to inquire after their titles in order to purchase them.  Several are famous and most of the rest at least deserve even greater acclaim.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Still desiring more "unusual, original works of the imagination" - any suggestions?

Back in September 2010, I posted a call for readers:

I've been reading George Meredith's 1855 oriental fantasy novel, The Shaving of Shagpat, tonight.  Found myself thinking that it'd be interesting to see what other books are as strange and as "magical" as this one.  Or if there are dark, twisted works that rival those of Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, "Monk" Lewis, or even more recent writers like Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft. 

What sorts of works do you know of that would be good, strange, excellent imaginative fictions?  They don't all have to be obscure, older works, but perhaps it might be best to avoid naming generic post-Tolkien epic fantasies here.  Please share! 

I've been going through that list in the seven months since then and there are quite a few gems there.  Just hoping a reposting might get even more books of the imagination (especially those of a darker, more surrealist or "weird" bent) listed.  In most cases, the original language won't matter, as I can read English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French (in order of reading fluency) with little need for a parallel translation or dictionary to consult and my German has improved somewhat in the past four months, if not quite back to the level it was in 1997 when I was reading it with little need for translations or dictionaries.  I will be very grateful for any titles listed (be sure to check the link to make sure there aren't many redundancies) and might review some of these here in the coming months.

Final note:  Am nearly 150 pages into Michel Tournier's Le Roi des Aulnes and this is verging on brilliant.  More like this, please!

What to make of the 2011 Hugo Award nominees?

The 2011 Hugo and Campbell Award nominees were announced earlier today.  If you haven't seen the list posted elsewhere, just take a moment to glance through the linked page above.  Now for some thoughts:

  • Interesting to see that 4 out of the 5 finalists in the Novel category are women.  Yet what struck me more about that list was the mixture of newer and more established authors.  N.K. Jemisin and Mira Grant appear on the Novel finalist list for the first time this year, while Connie Willis, Lois Bujold, and Ian McDonald have appeared separate times.  I haven't read the Grant (zombies don't interest me), Bujold (I sampled one of her earlier nominated works and was left feeling meh about it), or Willis (more of a personal reading blind spot than any explainable lack of interest) and it is uncertain if I will read these works by the summer (or ever).
  • The Novella category interests me the most here.  I likely will make an effort to read the Swirsky (who I think is an outstanding writer) and Chiang (ditto) in the near future (maybe downloading them onto my iPhone).  Same likely for Hand's story.  Uncertain if I will get around to reading the others.
  • The Novelette category is much less intriguing.  It seems to be dominated more by the established names and publishing venues.  Had a vague hope that Peter Beagle's "Dirae" would have made the list here (I think it's Novelette length at roughly 20 printed pages from the Martin/Dozois anthology, Warriors)
  • Short Story category is a mixed bag to me.  Might read the nominees and comment, or I might not.  Undecided at the moment.
  • Related Works category seems designed more for the aging Baby Boomer group; Heinlein does not float my boat at all.
  • Graphic Story category seems to be dominated by sequels of previous nominees.  I can't claim to have read the works in question, but from what I have gathered second-hand, this might not be a very adventurous group of nominees.
  • Dramatic Presentation, Long Form pretty much confirms my belief that SF film sucks ass.
  • Is it telling that the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form has the cutesy "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" paean as a nominee?  I guess Dr. Who is a default option that reinforces the dearth of anything approaching explicit SFnalness on television?
  • Best Editor, Short Form might as well be a carbon copy of the past decade of nominees, more or less.
  • Best Editor, Long Form is slightly better, with some newer names emerging.
  • Professional Artist nominees are fine, albeit most of those names have appeared in years past.
  • Best Semiprozine nominees are solid, although there is only one new nominee (and market)
  • Best Fanzine has me puzzled, as some of these have no online presence and outside of Hugo time, I never really hear of these people.  Must be different seas, different schools of fish swimming about.
  • Best Fan Writer - see what I just said above.
  • Best Fan Artist - who the hell are these people?  
  • Campbell Award for Best New Writer - amused to see what qualifies as "new" for one particular case, although I am familiar with the works of Ahmed, Beukes, and Grossman and think each would be a deserving winner (despite questioning Grossman's not qualifying until 2009).  Uncertain if I'll read the other two.
  • Seems to be an admixture of newer, more Gen-X (and Y) voices with the greybeards, yet there doesn't seem to be anything outre about any of the nominations.  Just a middle of the road sort of nomination, which might be the best to hope from a fandom-selected awards shortlist.

In honor of today...

One of my favorite Easter hymns, "O Filii et Filiae":

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
O filii et filiae,
Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae
morte surrexit hodie.

R. Alleluia

Ex mane prima Sabbati
ad ostium monumenti
accesserunt discipuli.

R. Alleluia

Et Maria Magdalene,
et Iacobi, et Salome
Venerunt corpus ungere

R. Alleluia

In albis sedens angelus
praedixit mulieribus:
In Galilaea est Dominus.

R. Alleluia
Et Ioannes apostolus
cucurrit Petro citius,
monumento venit prius.

R. Alleluia
Discipulis astantibus,
in medio stetit Christus,
dicens: Pax vobis omnibus.

R. Alleluia

Ut intellexit Didymus
quia surrexerat Iesus,
remansit fere dubius.

R. Alleluia

Vide Thoma, vide latus,
vide pedes, vide manus,
noli esse incredulus.

R. Alleluia

Quando Thomas vidit Christum,
pedes, manus, latus suum,
dixit: Tu es Deus meus.

R. Alleluia

Beati qui non viderunt
et firmiter crediderunt;
vitam aeternam habebunt.

R. Alleluia

In hoc festo sanctissimo
sit laus et iubilatio:
benedicamus Domino.

R. Alleluia

Ex quibus nos humillimas
devotas atque debitas
Deo dicamus gratias.

R. Alleluia


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why I'm a much better critic than a dog groomist

Remember when I posted this picture back in December 2010 of the family's long-suffering dog, Ally?  Well, it's beginning to be warm around here (already had a temp above 90 earlier this month) and this dog's coat is extremely thick.  Since she's so skittish around vets, I thought it might be a good idea to buy some electric clippers and shear her myself.


There's a fine art of running such through such a thick coat, as I learned to my chagrin...

The blade got caught when I was cutting her neck fur and it jumped and got stuck and...

You can see the results for yourself:

Yes, I'm SO good that I gave my nearly 14-year old mix a bald spot.  Well, she's nearly 100 in dog years, so maybe she won't mind it so much.  She didn't even blink when it happened, oddly enough.  Well, I guess this is better than taping bacon to a cat, I suppose...

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 2011 Book Porn

Not that many books purchased or received (at least, those I plan on reading shortly) this month, as I'm cutting back on buying books for a while to increase my savings account for a possible part-time return to grad school in the next 1-2 years.  All but one of these pictured above have been read (I just received the Tournier book on Thursday and plan on reading it this holiday weekend) and I would endorse each of the ones read.

Still collecting limited-edition leatherbound classics from Franklin Library and Easton Press (17 Franklin Library books and nearly 2/3 of the Easton Press The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written series); these are the three that I've bought in the past three weeks or so.  Will get to these in the near future, once this time sink called End of Course exams is over on May 6.

Any of these particularly interest you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An encomium

Note:  I wrote this Monday night, but delayed posting it just in case there was any who might read this who knows my family personally and would read this before certain events were announced publicly.

Originally, I had thought about saying something about my mother in honor of her sixty-second birthday.  I could mention how she inspired a decades-long passion for poetry and that I enjoy teaching as much as I do due to her influence.  My mother means the world to me and I am as close to her as I am to any human being on this planet, but instead, I'm going to be talking about my father.

You see, there was a bit of "bad news" that he had to share with the family.  After coaching football for over forty years, he was forced out as head football coach at my high school alma mater.  The reason is petty (mostly, it boils down to county politics and the football schedule), but that is not what this post shall be about; it just merely shortened by a year or two a coaching career.  Rather, what I want to talk about is my father the person.

So often reviewers such as myself try to dissect a book, pointing out how well-done the characterizations are.  Yet what does it mean to have "character," especially a "good" one?  Despite having a very different personality from my father, he has been the gold standard when it comes to a "good character."  When I was a child, I used to resent all the time he was away from the home, practicing or watching film (then tape, and finally DVD) in preparation for the next game.  When I grew older and learned how much he did for my schoolmates and those that followed after, I began to understand a bit better.

He has said to me on several occasions that coaching is a combination of teaching and ministry and based on the stories that I've heard from older ex-players (I've worked over the years with several people who had my dad as a coach at two different high schools), I can believe that.  He never really talked about what he would do when practice was over and a player, often one who came from the so-called "broken home" and who had a "troubled situation," needed that ride home or that opportunity to just talk.  My dad can talk with anyone, make them comfortable, unless he needs to discomfit them for a greater good.

My father is one of the most moral people I know.  Just this past Monday, I was doing an Adult Living discussion in my classroom and I talked about peer pressure and drug use.  I told them how my dad refused to take anything alcoholic after my grandfather, a recovering alcoholic, made him promise to never touch alcohol.  When he was in Vietnam, his fellow soldiers learned of this when he would not go out drinking with them and one time they raised $100 (or roughly $300-400 in spending money today) as a bribe if he would just drink one beer.  He never would.

Some might hear this and think he would be a self-righteous and rigid individual.  No, he had a firm set of beliefs he hewed to, but he could be very compassionate and understanding of others and their frustrations.  That's not to say that he wouldn't call a spade a spade, for he did not massage egos; he was much more interested in helping so many grow in their religious faith and to become better people.  I learned only just now that several times over the 30+ years that he would take players to the annual summer Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Black Mountain, NC that he and my mother paid the way for the very poor, troubled teens, those who perhaps were within an eyeblink of being kicked off the squad and even out of school, to come and experience the fellowship that happens at a camp such as this (my favorite memories growing up were attending these camps; Asheville, NC is one of my favorite spots on this planet due to these memories).  He more than spent his entire coaching supplement on giving back to his teams, to his school, and to the local community.

Yet some are not satisfied with that.  There are always those who look at the "bottom line" without ever looking at all the tallies above that make a singular figure so meaningless when the final play is snapped and the lights go off in the stadium.  Yet despite those people who will be busy for weeks writing letters in the county paper saying why my dad should have been fired a long time ago or that "the community" doesn't support him, there will be those who will remember those little moments that might have made a difference in their lives or in the lives of their family members.  Yet I hope that he can be spared the worst of the vitriol and the community division that so often results from this.

Rather, sad as this moment is for him and my family, I believe ultimately good will come of this.  Maybe he'll be a volunteer coach or find some way to minister to the needs of those youth who need guidance from someone who is firm but fair with them.  I know that he has been a great influence on my life.  He used to tease me about certain "sports heroes" and how their foibles had led to me being so cautious about whom I would admire.  Yet, looking back, I think as I've grown older and have come to understand him better, I think it is my father who has influenced me as a person.  I may not be a tenth of the leader and support he is, but I certainly keep in mind the values he instilled in me when I deal with residents who say that they "don't give a fuck" about school, life, or themselves.  This world needs more people like my father and while I'm going to have to get used to him (and my mother, who announced today that she's retiring at the end of the school year due in large part to what happened to my dad) not being a school's teacher/coach, I can only hope that he finds new ways to do both in his retirement.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brief thoughts on the first episode of the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones

I happened to catch the first episode of HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones tonight thanks to DirecTV's free weekend.  Here are a few thoughts that I had while I watched the opening episode:

  • The scenery was appropriate (minus the snow on the ground for the direwolf scene), yet it felt so typical.  Not that this was anything bad, mind you, but it just felt a bit drab and too reminiscent of other faux-medieval dramas.
  • The characterization was OK, but few sparks flew in this episode.  Tyrion was decent, but until the end, none of the others had that je ne sais quoi panache to their characters that would make me curious to know more (provided that I could forget the entire plot).  The end part with Drogo and Daenerys was well done, though, as the actors' body languages told much.
  • So far, the series seems to be following the book very faithfully, with even the dialogue being so close to that of the original medium.
  • Not surprised with the scene chosen to end the episode, but I wonder if there will be similar closers, as without it, I would have found most of the opening episode to be rather prosaic.  I suspect this may become a complaint for several of the early episodes.
All in all, it is something that I might want for a Christmas gift as a DVD box set, but I am uncertain if I would download individual episodes each week (presuming they are available on iTunes soon after initial broadcast) to keep up with matters.

Sunday Quotage

Oh the sin of writing such words - words which are clear as crystal, , limpid and musical as bubbling springs, words which sparkle and glow like the poisoned diamonds of the Medicis!  Oh the wickedness, the hopeless damnation, of a soul who could fascinate and paralyze human creatures with such words - words understood by the ignorant and wise alike, words which are more precious than jewels, more soothing than music, more awful than death!

He that to honour only seeks to mount
And that his chiefest end doth count,
Let him behold the largeness of the skies
And on the strait earth cast his eyes;
He will despise the glory of his name,
Which cannot fill so small a frame.
Why do proud men scorn that their necks should bear
That yoke which every man must wear?
Though fame through many nations fly along
And should be blazed by every tongue,
And houses shine with our forefathers' stories
Yet Death contemns these stately glories,
And, summoning both rich and poor to die,
Makes the low equal with the high.
Who knows where faithful Fabrice' bones are pressed,
Where Brutus and strict Cato rest?
A slender fame consigns their titles vain
In some few letters to remain.
Because their famous names in books we read,
Come we by them to know the dead?
You dying, then, remembered are by none,
Nor any fame can make you known.
But if you think that life outstrippeth death,
Your names borne up with mortal breath,
When length of time takes this away likewise,
A second death shall you surprise.

Montenegro and the blue Adriatic melted into the October haze along that depressing Emankment that aped a riverbank, and sentences from the letter flashed before my eyes and stung me.  Picking it up and reading it through more carefully, I rang the bell and told Annie to find the blouses and pack them for the post, showing her finally the written description, and resenting the superior smile with which she at once interrupted.  "I know them, sir," and disappeared.

Harold March was the sort of man who knows everything about politics, and nothing about politicians.  He also knew a great deal about arts, letters, philosophy, and general culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was living in.

At length did cross an Albatross:
Through the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

All teaching, and all intellectual learning, proceeds on the basis of previous knowledge, as will appear on an examination of all.  The Mathematical Sciences, and every other system, draw their conclusions in this method.  So too of reasonings, whether by syllogism, or induction:  for both teach through what is previously known, the former assuming the premisses as from wise men, the latter proving universals from the evidentness of the particulars.  In like manner too rhetoricians persuade, either through examples (which amounts to induction), or through enthymemes (which amount to syllogism).

He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his Stoutness Exercises in front of the glass:  Tra-la-la, tra-la-la, as he stretched up as high as he could go, and then Tra-la-la, tra-la-oh, help! - la, as he tried to reach his toes.  After breakfast he had said it over and over to himself until he had learnt it off by heart, and now he was humming it right through, properly.

Only one hint:  I read all of these for free on my phone's e-reader function.  I think at least one of these should be familiar and virtually all should be better known by people.

Recent Poll Results

Been slacking on posting the last three polls here, so some of these date back to late March.  Here are the results of three polls (two expiring back on April 2, last one on April 16) on books to be read/reviewed (the middle one is for Shakespeare's comedies):

Faulkner, Go Down Moses
  15 (18%)
Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
  9 (11%)
Joyce, Ulysses
  38 (47%)
Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone (5 vols.)
  19 (23%)
Beukes, Zoo City
  6 (7%)
wa Thiong'o, Dreams in a Time of War
  18 (22%)
Maupassant, The Tales of Guy de Maupassant
  21 (26%)
Hughes, The Poetry of Langston Hughes
  2 (2%)
Disch, The Prisoner
  10 (12%)
Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don
  6 (7%)
Beaulieu, The Winds of Khalakovo
  8 (10%)
James, The Ambassadors
  13 (16%)
McIntosh, Soft Apocalypse
  6 (7%)
Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos/The Lost Steps
  7 (8%)
Doctorow, With a Little Help
  10 (12%)

The Tempest
  21 (47%)
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  3 (6%)
The Merry Wives of Windsor
  4 (9%)
Measure for Measure
  4 (9%)
The Comedy of Errors
  3 (6%)
Much Ado About Nothing
  8 (18%)
Love's Labour's Lost
  3 (6%)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
  14 (31%)
The Merchant of Venice
  9 (20%)
As You Like It
  5 (11%)
The Taming of the Shrew
  10 (22%)
All's Well That Ends Well
  1 (2%)
Twelfth Night
  8 (18%)
The Winter's Tale
  11 (25%)

Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior
  44 (48%)
D.F. Wallace, The Pale King
  20 (22%)
Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust
  14 (15%)
wa Thiong'o, Devil on the Cross
  7 (7%)
Anonymous, El poema del Cíd/The Poem of El Cid
  8 (8%)
Finney, The Unholy City
  4 (4%)
Bolaño, Los sinsabores del verdadero policia
  16 (17%)
Petronius, The Satyricon
  10 (11%)
Sterne, Tristram Shandy
  16 (17%)
Morris, The Wood Beyond the World
  8 (8%)
Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
  18 (20%)
Munn, Merlin's Ring
  5 (5%)
Machen, The Three Imposters
  5 (5%)
Bukowski, Pulp
  14 (15%)
Dunsany, Over the Hills and Far Away
  19 (21%

Each of these highlighted entries will be seriously considered for a review in the near future (it might take a few months, depending on a lot of factors; I need to rediscover my reviewing mojo) and at the very least will be read (if not already) in the coming weeks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

February-March 2011 Reads

I've fallen behind in listing my monthly reads and now at just past the halfway mark for April, I'm only now posting my February and March 2011 reads.  You might find these to be an eclectic list, but perhaps not, considering who is the primary blogger here.  Since I have 61 books to list, I'll dispense with even the cursory comments that I usually do, but feel free to ask about specific titles in the comments below.  Time permitting, I'll answer any inquiries there with my takes on those books mentioned.


41  William Butler Yeats, The Poems of William Butler Yeats

42  John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

43  Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

44  Aesop, Aesop's Fables

45  Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

46  Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales

47  Michel de Montaigne, Essays

48  Franz Kafka, Der Prozeß

49  Franz Kafka, The Trial

50  William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

51  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

52  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

53  St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine

54  Paul Kearney, Corvus

55  François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

56  Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

57  Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

58  Octave Mirbeau, Torture Garden

59  Stendhal, The Red and the Black

60  Col Buchanan, Farlander

61  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels

62  Emile Zola, Nana

63  Justin Halpern, Shit My Dad Says

64  Aristophanes, The Birds & The Frogs

65  Blaise Pascal, Pensées

66  William Shakespeare, Poems

67  Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

68  Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs

69  D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love

70  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions 1

71  Rubén Darío, El modernismo y otros ensayos

72  Bret Harte, California Stories

73  Jack London, The Sea-Wolf

74  Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

75  Emily Dickinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson

76  T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909-1962

77  Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime

78  Joe Abercrombie, Best Served Cold

79  Brian Stableford, The Dedalus Book of Decadence:  Moral Ruins

80  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part One

81  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust/Urfaust

82  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part Two


83  Omar Khayyam, The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam

84  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions, Livres VII à XII

85  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

86  Honoré de Balzac, Le pére Goriot

87  Honoré de Balzac, Pére Goriot

88  Joe Abercrombie, The Heroes

89  Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

90  Fyodor Doestoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

91  Aristotle, Politics & Poetics

92  Zoran Živković, Pisac

93  Steven Erikson, The Crippled God

94  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Dreams in a Time of War

95  Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

96  Roberto Bolaño, 2666

97  James Joyce, Ulysses

98  John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids

99  Jack Vance, Emphyrio

100  Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper, Herland, and Other Stories

101  Samuel Delany, Nova

So far in April, I've read another 19 titles, with perhaps 1-2 more to be complete by Sunday morning.  Interesting to see a dip in March compared to previous months; it's one of my worst reading months in three years.  However, I'm not dismayed by that, since there were some new activities that began around the same time and my mind has not been as much on reading compared to previous springs, where I sometimes would read 50-60 books in a month, many of those outdoors.  Then there's the nature of some of those works as well, with some being quite weighty works, more so on the mind than on the hands.

I see due to deciding to re-read classics that I first encountered from 16-23 that there have been very few female authors read.  Hopefully, this will change in the coming months, although I don't expect there'll be more than 25% female authors in my final 2011 reading list.  That may seem poor, but if I read 100 female authors this year, I suspect the raw number will more than offset a skewed pattern.  All I know is that I'm continuing to wake to sleep as I go.  I'll leave it up to you to figure out that reference.

Why I Read

Over the past several weeks, I have noticed several blogs that have talked about why they love "genre" and why speculative fiction is important to them.  On the whole, these posts interested me, mostly because I gained some insight into their authors, yet I found myself thinking, "Well, that's nice, but isn't there something else besides one literary grouping that can be discussed as giving the reader pleasure?"  So I dwelt upon this for a while, perusing through several shelves of books idly, lost in a sort of haze.

What I found when I looked at titles such as Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics was a sort of captured conversation.  What Plato (through the constructed Socrates) proposes, Aristotle refines, sometimes ejecting material that seemed deficient.  Then I looked around and saw Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (in Italian and English) and I remembered how part of that excellent novel references Aristotle's thoughts on comedies and tragedies.  Speaking of such, the memory of Shakespeare bubbles up to the surface now, with his keen insights into human psyche.

Shakespeare's Memory, of course, is also the title of Jorge Luis Borges' last, slim volume of short fiction and it is along the garden with the bifurcating paths that I find myself recalling the first time I read Don Quixote in Spanish and the greater pleasure it gave me to "get" more of the allusions there.  Pierre Menard would be proud, no doubt.  Then other, darker pleasures came to mind, such as Octave Mirbeau's Torture Garden.  There is something about the French Decadents and Symbolists:  whether I read Lautréamont, Gourmont, Gide, or Huysmans, I found my thoughts wandering twisted paths.  Doubtless a more existential approach, perhaps something by Camus or Sartre, might be more beneficial at times, yet I found myself going on.

Graham Greene, especially in The Power and the Glory, reminds me of faith, even if his prodigious narrative power might be eclipsed by Flannery O'Connor's devastating Southern Gothics.  Speaking of my native South, Thomas Wolfe, particularly in You Can't Go Home Again, spoke to me again and again in my young adulthood, during my peripatetic days.  Wandering in mind, body, and soul has led to introductions to William Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (which I may revisit soon, now that I'm older), Dickens' oevre, to Nabokov's delightful wit and prose, among others.  Learning Spanish in order to communicate with students of mine nearly 10 years ago has introduced me to Gabriel García Márquez, Horacio Quiroga, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Rulfo, and a whole host of Latin American writers in their original tongue.  I have not had such a surfeit of experiences since I learned enough Latin to read Vergil's epic in the original.

There is something about the interplay of image, metaphor, and sound that appeals to me.  Poetry has long attracted me, even though I am not the "maricón" or "marica" type referenced in Roberto Bolaño's recent posthumous novel, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía.  Maybe it began with reading Samuel Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and pondering on the albatross, or maybe it was later, reading an excerpt from The Epic of Gilgamesh my first week in Honors Western Civilization my freshman year at The University of Tennessee.  Whenever it began, there is just such a delight in reading (and later, cursory translation) poetry that it never fails to make me dream, if only for a moment, of other times, moods, and locales.

I majored in history and earned an MA in European Religious and Cultural History (emphasis of study on late Weimar-early Nazi Germany) in large part because people fascinate me and the ethos of various times/places enchant me.  Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms, read first in the above-mentioned freshman class, forever has endeared me to studies of why fairy tales vary in shape, form, and moral while retaining a sort of kinship.  The Great Cat Massacre, by Robert Darnton, is still a favorite over 15 years later.

Dramas performed in theaters move me more than virtually all movies.  Seeing George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman and Georg Tabori's Mein Kampf performed during my time at UT developed in me a greater appreciation for how the body aids the voice in telling a story.  Although I have yet to see it performed, part of me finds myself desiring to see Goethe's Faust (both parts) performed on stage.  Perhaps I'll relearn German to the point where I can appreciate it being performed in its original tongue (reading it in German, with some aid from English translations, was a delight).

All of these encomiums do not mean that I do not appreciate speculative literature.  Far from it.  Without the conversations these authors above have had between their works and with their societies, it would be hard to imagine the weird and fantastical fiction that I love ever existing.  I cannot see the "New Weird" being anything without the influence of the Decadents, among others.  While I distrust Positivism, I can't envision science fiction, especially during its "Golden Age," taking such a form without its influence (even when it was to cause a reaction in some writers).  But while I will eagerly read what a Brian Evenson, Jeff VanderMeer, Jeffrey Ford, M. John Harrison, Peter Beagle, or any other of a host of outstanding speculative writers will produce, I cannot place their works into a hermetically-sealed shelf called "genre" and expect their narratives to move me, enrage me, seduce me, or transform me without being aware of their own contribution to the larger literary "conversation" that expands over millennia of time and space to envelop all human societies in its multilingual, oral/written/printed forms.  The symbols that we decode from these texts ought to be much more than just an "escape" from something/into something; it might be best to view this transmitted learning as an engagement that allows us to insert our tiny little selves into this wonderful, delightful interaction of emotions, thoughts, and dreams.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding words

So I've been quiet these past four days or so.  Just not much to say.  Haven't done all that much reading since Sunday, completing only a re-read of Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," although I'm about halfway through Aristotle's Ethics and have re-read parts of Defoe's Moll Flanders.  Just haven't been in a reading mood for a relatively long time now, just a little over a week.

Much of that has been what I've been teaching this week.  Since April is Holocaust Awareness Month, I've been covering that period for the past two weeks.  Although I decided not to show my students Night and Fog (after rewatching it Wednesday afternoon), I've just been in a somber mood from sorting through the images of the starved and dead that I did place on the bulletin board for the display.  That, combined with the lingering effects of this damn shingles outbreak (having to take medication that's most commonly prescribed for genital herpes doesn't cheer me, leaving aside the fact that it upsets my stomach on occasion and leaves me feeling on the edge of a fever), has just left me feeling lethargic.

A bit more energy today, but still not much toward reading.  Did play some Iphone games, including the updated Oregon Trail and Civilization Revolution, but nothing that took up more than a few minutes here or there.  Maybe there'll be some reviews this weekend, but if not, it'll be because my mind hasn't returned its focus toward reading and reviewing yet, or even book buying for that matter (I think I've purchased maybe 3 used books these past couple of weeks).

But since it's the weekend, how are you doing this weekend?  Anything exciting or any new, enjoyable books to share with others here?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I have a new toy

I actually bought this Thursday afternoon, but I thought I'd play around with it some before blogging about the 16GB Iphone 4.  I'm not one who's been actively involved in any of the smartphone bits.  I rarely text, I even tended to forget to charge my old LG Dare for a week or two simply because I rarely used it.

However, I think my new Iphone will be receiving a workout for a while, for several reasons.  First, I think some of the Apps are going to be fun using and if I could figure out how to display the Sky View app on an LCD projector, I could see using it as a teaching tool for my students, most of whom do not know any of the constellations except maybe Orion.  Hopefully, there will be similar apps that I can find that might be of use (I already have used Solar Walk via the Mac App Store and when shown on the projector screen, it did grab the students' attention for a while; amazing how simple science images can capture even jaded teen interests, no?) in the future.

I've also tested out the e-book programs, just to see if it might be a viable supplement to my regular reading.  So far, the screen is very nice and easy to read.  I've tested Ibooks, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, a third-party Classics site, and will explore Google Books in the next few days.  Out of these, I'd have to say I liked Ibooks the best, for the simple reason it (like the others) allowed me to customize the font color/size and that it (unlike the others) has a simple pagination feature that makes it feel more like a book and less like a doc file.  Not likely going to be purchasing many e-books, so this part of the phone will be relegated to reading snatches of classics that I do not own and which are not targets for collection via the Easton Press or Franklin Library leatherbound collections.

The games are fun.  I enjoyed playing some Pong and Yar's Revenge via the Atari app and being a Civilization junkie, I was pleased with Civilization Revolution being available for $7.  Probably not going to download much more, since I prefer using my free time at home for reading/translations instead of playing games for more than 15 minutes or so at a time. 

The phone features are nice, although it took me a while to figure out how to get a customized ringtone (after googling for 15 minutes, I found a free ringtone that replicated part of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused").  Battery life is acceptable and I love that my Ipod charger can serve as a phone charger as well.  Music and video plays well and everything syncs nicely with my MacBook.  For under $200 (I had a $50 loyalty discount), it was money worth spent.

Now to crash.  I am up late due to my stomach being ill from the meds, so tomorrow will be one of "those" days, I fear.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Future Reviews in April (or so I hope!)

I'm going to try to be more active in my posting this month, even if I don't quite feel good enough physically some days to attempt much (see yesterday's post).  So, with the mind of keeping my focus, here are some books that I want to review shortly:

James Joyce, Ulysses

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Roberto Bolaño, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía

Tibor Moricz, O Peregrino

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Dreams in a Time of War

William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses

These six are already read or I should finish reading in the next 1-3 days.

Other books to be read shortly:

The final four volumes of Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone

Guy de Maupassant, The Stories of Guy de Maupassant (will read some in French as well as in English translation)

Zoran Živković, The Writer/The Book/The Reader

Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear

William James, The Ambassadors

John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

Lord Dunsany, Over the Hills and Far Away

I also have realized that I have not posted my monthly reads for February or March yet.  I might do that later.  I can say that I'm currently reading book #111 for this year, if that helps place matters a bit.

R. Scott Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

The largest Sranc clans the Horselords battled rarely numbered more than several hundred.  Sometimes a particularly cruel and cunning Sranc chieftain would enslave his neighbours and open warfare would range across the Pale.  And the legends were littered with stories of Sranc rising in nations and overcoming the Outermost Holds.  Sakarpus itself had been besieged five times since the days of the Ruiner.

But this... slaughter.

Only some greater power could have accomplished this.

Meat sweated in open sunlight.  Flies steamed about the scrub and grasses.  Cartilage gleamed where not chapped with gore.  The stink was raw unto gagging.

"The war is real," he said with dull wonder. "The Aspect-Emperor...His war is real."

"Perhaps..." Zsoronga said after listening to Obotegwa's translation.  "But are his reasons?" (p. 112)

The White-Luck Warrior, R. Scott Bakker's fifth Earwä fantasy novel and the middle volume of his The Aspect-Emperor trilogy, perhaps can best be described as a continuation of what has come before and the harbinger of things to come.  This middle volume, both in the middle series and likely for the overarching series as well (plans are for the Earwä novels to be at least eight volumes, but nine would not be surprising), develops further the themes explored in earlier books and it deepens the struggle while simultaneously expanding the scope of matters established in the Prince of Nothing trilogy and its immediate prequel, The Judging Eye.  This results in a volume, that while not "self-contained," that masterfully develops its themes, with new iterations on prior themes that serve to connect almost seamlessly the events of before and the portents of things to come.

As in The Judging Eye, there are three main scenes of action:  The Great Ordeal, led by the Aspect-Emperor and whose main narrative PoV is that of the young Sarkapian king, Sorweel; the "slog" guided by the Wizard Achamian and his lost lover's daughter Mimara; and Momemn, where the Aspect-Emperor's wife fights to maintain control of the empire while her husband is away.  When The Judging Eye concluded, there were machinations that had only begun to crank up.  Whether it be the Hundred Gods of Earwä, led by the Earth-Mother Yatwer, stirring up divine forces against the New Empire and Kellhus' new religious formula, or it be the hidden mysteries contained within the Nonman companion in the slog, Cleric, the previous volume left much to be explored in The White-Luck Warrior, including the eponymous character who presumably will be stalking Anasûrimbors.  On the whole, this volume fulfills the promise of its predecessor, as not only are most of these mysteries revealed, but the implications of the actions in the previous four volumes are proved to be much more than what one might anticipate.

Bakker's prose typically has been tight, measured bursts of information told in a limited third-person point of view.  Here in The White-Luck Warrior, he exploits the possibilities contained within this narrative approach in an even more efficient fashion than before.  Take for instance the scene quoted above dealing with two reluctant members of Kellhus' Believer-Kings cadre, Sorweel and the Zeum heir, Zsoronga.  Bakker finds a good balance here (and in most of the important scenes in this volume) between narrating the events and the characters' interpretations of them.  Here we see the carnage of an earlier battle between the Ordeal and the Sranc forces opposing their march to the Consult center of Golgotterath in the far northwest of Earwä.  The toll was appalling and Bakker does not skimp on the details.  What is interesting is the emphasis on "real."  What is "real," the events or the motivations that cause the events?  This question lies at the crux of Bakker's novels and here in The White-Luck Warrior he explores possibilities throughout several scenes, some subtly and others as direct as the one quoted above.

The plot here is very tight.  The three main centers of action receive about five chapters each for their development, or roughly 190 pages per scene of conflict.  In this space, Bakker develops conflicts (Sorweel's self-conflicts regarding Kellhus overlaying the external conflict of the Ordeal's march through Sranc lands; Achamian and Mimara's questions on sorcerous damnation in the context of their march with the Skin Eaters and the enigmatic Cleric as they strive to reach the fabled Coffers of the Library of Sauglish in the north; Esmenet's rising paranoia regarding her tenuous hold of the New Empire while her Anasûrimbor children and brother-in-law seem to be concealing much, while the White-Luck Warrior emerges) begun in The Judging Eye before exploding them in the final chapters for each narrative arc.  Nothing feels rushed nor underdeveloped; the tension rises gradually but steadily until the pressure points give away, leading to three cliffhangers to be explored in the third volume, tentatively called The Unholy Consult.

Bakker manages to avoid what I feared might be a flaw in one of the subplots, that of enemy forces.  The Sranc forces, although presented in earlier volumes to be a sort of stand-in for the ubiquitous Orcs, prove to be a cunning, crafty foe.  Too often enemy masses are presented as being a false horror, with only the overwhelming numbers of them being their real threat to the heroes.  This is not the case here, as the Sranc are shown to be vicious and yet intelligent creatures, whose strategies serve to sap the Ordeal.  It is a testimony to how well-thought out Bakker's narrative is that there was a palpable sense throughout this volume that the shit was going to hit the ceiling.  There is a rising horror in the Ordeal subplot that is mirrored to an extent in the Achamian one, only with a different sort of psychological suspense arising, one that is more internal than the external threat represented by the Sranc.

Outside of a few moments where it felt Bakker was repeating his themes too broadly and too explicitly (more a case of individual preference than an actual narrative flaw), The White-Luck Warrior contains a unity of theme and action that is rarely seen in epic/heroic fantasies.  The action unfolds nicely, while the import of these actions and the motivations behind them are revealed gradually and fully.  The characterizations are superb and the stage has been set for a massive conflagration in the final volume of this middle series.  What happens before certainly does cause what comes after and The Unholy Consult (or whatever name this volume ultimately receives) will almost certainly reveal more for those left hungering for more once the final cliffhanger is reached.  Early favorite for one of the best 2011 speculative fiction releases.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Can you guess what this is?

Just returned from the doctor's office after wondering about this odd rash.  The diagnosis isn't unexpected, but I just thought I'd see what people reading this think it is based on the picture alone.

Any guesses?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A surfeit of reading pleasures

So I've been a bit quiet this week.  It's not due to work as much it is to just enjoying several high-quality reads.  Here's what I'm in the process of reading:

R. Scott Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior (less than 100 pages to go).

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (nearly 100 pages into roughly 550 pages)

Roberto Bolaño, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía (50 pages into 320 or so)

Tibor Moricz, O Peregrino (roughly 1/4 in)

Each and every one of these, in their own ways (none resemble the others in form or the stimuli each gives my imagination), are shaping up to be very enjoyable works.  I promised Tibor a review last week and while sheer exhaustion kept me from reading it that weekend as I had hoped, I should have that review and the Bakker one up by Sunday, if not as earlier as Friday evening for the latter and Saturday for the former.  The Wallace and Bolaño will be reviewed in the next week or so.  There ought to be a lot of specifics in each review.

Excited, or just ho-humming it right about now while hoping that I'll review a Goodkind novel again?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

This might be a challenging passage to translate

Here's part of the first paragraph from Roberto Bolaño's 2011 posthumous novel, Los sinsabores del verdadero policía:

Para Padilla, recordaba Amalfitano, existía literatura heterosexual, homosexual y bisexual.  Las novelas, generalmente, eran heterosexuales.  La poesía, en cambio, era absolutamente homosexual.  Dentro del inmenso océano de ésta distinguía varias corrientes:  maricones, maricas, mariquitas, locas, bujarrones, mariposas, ninfos y filenos.  Las dos corrientes mayores, sin embargo, eran la de los maricones y la de los maricas.  Walt Whitman, por ejemplo, era un poeta maricón.  Pablo Neruda, un poeta marica.  William Blake era maricón, sin asomo de duda, y Octavio Paz marica.  Borges era fileno, es decir de improviso podía ser maricón y de improviso simplemente asexual.  Rubén Darío era una loca, de hecho la reina y el paradigma de las locas (en nuestra lengua, claro está; en el mundo ancho y ajeno el paradigma seguía siendo Verlaine el Generoso).  Una loca, según Padilla, estaba más cerca del manicomio florido y de las alucinanciones en carne viva mientras que los maricones y los maricas vagaban sincopadamente de la Ética a la Estética y viceversa.  Cernuda, el querido Cernuda, era un ninfo y en ocasiones de gran amargura un poeta maricón, mientras que Guillén, Aleixandre y Alberti podían ser considerados mariquita, bujarrón y marica respectivamente...

What struck me as I was reading this a few minutes ago is the variations in grade? and quality? of terms for homosexuals.  Although I am familiar with most of the terms that Bolaño employs above, it would be a challenge to find le mot juste, to borrow Flaubert's term, to label all of these.  Perhaps one might say that a "marica" is to gay as "maricón" is to faggot, but that is not really the case.  Although "fileno" seems to be more obvious in its borrowing from the Greek for "brotherly love," the asexualness of this term for a vague, quasi-homoerotic yearning depends here more on one's awareness of Borges' almost non-existent sexual life than it does on the term being something that could be translated precisely into English.  "Mariquita" and "bujarrón" are the hardest for me; I have not heard them used much, if at all, in Latin American dialects.  "Mariposa," which chastely translates as "butterfly," intuitively is associated with flittering about, almost like a male coquette, but "mariquita" puzzles me.  One just can't use "gay," "queer," "invert," "faggot," or "bent" as substitutes, because later on in this introductory section, there is a word play on "marica" and "maricón" that is similar to a joke I heard about the tomatito wanting to become a tomatón while the huevito cried.

Will be very curious to see what choices whoever (Wimmer, perhaps?) assigned to translate this unfinished 1990s novel into English will make in rendering these slang expressions.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Quotes from books being read that you might just need to read

'Speaking of which, what do you think of when you masturbate?'




Neither had said a word for the first half hour.  They were doing the mindless monochrome drive up to Region HQ in Joliet again.  In one of the fleet's Gremlins, seized as part of a jeopardy assessment against an AMC dealership five quarters past.

'Look, I think we can presume you masturbate.  Something like 98 percent of all men masturbate.  It's documented.  Most of the other 2 percent are impaired in some way.  We can forgo the denials.  I masturbate; you masturbate.  It happens.  We all do it and we all know we all do it and yet no one ever discusses it.  It's an incredibly boring drive, there's nothing to do, we're stuck in this embarrassing car - let's push the envelope.  Let's discuss it.'

'What envelope?'

'Just what do you think of?  Think about it.  It's a very interior time.  It's one of life's only occasions of real self-sufficiency.  It requires nothing outside you.  It's bringing yourself pleasure with nothing but your own mind's thoughts.  Those thoughts reveal a lot about you:  what you dream of when you yourself choose and control what you dream.'





'You asked me.  I'm telling you.'

'That's it?  Tits?'

'What do you want me to say?'

'Just tits?  In isolation from anybody?  Just abstract tits?'

'All right.  Fuck off.'

'You mean just floating there, two tits, in empty space?  Or nestled in your hands, or what?  Is it always the same tits?'

'This is me learning a lesson.  You ask a question like that and I go what the hell and I answer it and you run a DIF-3 on the answer.'




'So what do you think about, then, Mr. Envelope Guy?'

Stock cue SOUND:  "Presenting SCANALYZER, Engrelay Satelserv's unique thrice-per-day study of the big big scene, the INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface between you and your world!"

Stock cue VISUAL:  cliptage, splitscreen, cut in bridge-melder, Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere depthunder (today MAMP, Mid-Atlantic Mining Project), spaceover (today freefly-suiting), transiting (today Simplon Acceleratube), digging (today as every day homimage with autoshout).

Spring.  Down in the Cispontine Quarter the vegetation has begun to flourish again.  The fuel-gathering women are no longer seen.  Ragwort clothes all the fallen walls and earthy scars, its stems already infested with black and yellow caterpillars (later in the year these become an attractive crimson moth which was once the symbol of the city).  Up at Alves, jackdaws are squabbling all day over nesting sites in the cracked dome of the observatory.  And in that demimonde which has its centre at the Plaza of Unrealised Time, the women smile down from their casement windows, lifting a hand to pat newly washed hair.  Humanity has recolonized the inconceivable avenues of the High City - gaping up open-mouthed at the inexplicable architecture of the Afternoon Cultures while it empties its bladder in their millennial gutters - and hung out its washing again in the Low.  The "Winter of the Locust" is over.  Only a sudden increase in the number of beggars (some of whom have the most novel deformities) along the Rivelin Way persuades us that it ever took place, that we ever listened to that white thin song.

So they are;
My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up,
My father's loss, the weakness which I feel,
The wreck of all my friends, nor this man's threats
To whom I am subdu'd, are but light to me,
Might I but through my prison once a day
Behold this maid.  All corners else o' th' earth
Let liberty make use of; space enough
Have I in such a prison.

One day the King turned to the women that danced and said to them:  "Dance no more," and those that bore the wine in jewelled cups he sent away.  The palace of King Ebalon was emptied of sound of song and there rose the voices of heralds crying in the streets to find the prophets of the land.

Then went the dancers, the cupbearer and the singers down into the hard streets among the houses, Pattering Leaves, Silvern Fountain and Summer Lightning, the dancers whose feet the gods had not devised for stony ways, which had only danced for princes.  And with them went the singer, Soul of the South, and the sweet singer, Dream of the Sea, whose voices the gods had attuned to the ears of kings, and old Istahn the cupbearer left his life's work in the palace to tread the common ways, he that had stood at the elbows of three kings of Zarkandhu and had watched his ancient vintage feeding their valour and mirth as the waters of Tondaris feed the green plains to the south.  Ever he had stood grave among their jests, but his heart warmed itself solely by the fire of the mirth of kings.  He too, with the singers and dancers, went out into the dark.
I was seven years old before I understood the meaning of "Bad" and "good", because it was at that time I noticed carefully that my father married three wives as they were doing in those days, if it is not common nowadays.  My mother was the last married among the rest and she only bore two sons but the rest bore only daughters.  So by that the two wives who had only daughters hated my mother, brother and myself to excess as they believed that no doubt my brother and myself would be the rulers of our father's house and also all his properties after his death.  My brother was eleven years old then and I myself was seven.  So it was at this stage I quite understood the meaning of "bad" because of hatred and had not yet known the meaning of "good".

Uma escuridão imensa. Silêncio. Um nada absoluto. Foi assim por um tempo desconhecido. Até que se iniciou um rumorejar. Como água correndo pelo leito de um rio. De começo uma correnteza leve. Depois uma enxurrada que sai arrastando tudo o que encontra pelo caminho. Estava mergulhado nela, sendo arrastado. Ora submergindo, indo até as profundezas mais densas, ora explodindo na superfície, procurando por ar. A água corria por leitos impenetráveis. Embora estivesse sendo conduzido violentamente para algum lugar, era-lhe impossível determinar o seu destino. Eralhe impossível determinar qualquer coisa, porquanto a escuridão ainda imperasse.

Two of these are 2011 releases, one was released posthumously, and all I am enjoying so far, even if one is actually a re-read done for the third time since 2007.  Which ones do you know or think you know?  Which excerpts appeal to you and why?
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