The OF Blog: February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quotations from books nominated for recent awards

I'll post the names out of order at the end of this post, but I wonder who could identify a DeLillo, Millhauser, Yoshimoto, or Otsuka by the quote alone (and without searching for it online).  For those who want to play along, the quotes:

The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom.

Maybe it was having him in the room that did it, after having been alone so long.

The runner took the turn slowly, watching ducks collect near the footbridge where a girl was scattering bread.  The path roughly followed the outline of the pond, meandering through stands of trees.  The runner listened to his even breathing.  He was young and knew he could go harder but didn't want to spoil the sense of easy effort in the dying light, all the day's voices and noises drained out in steady sweat.

We had driven for never-ending miles along what seemed to be more a mudbank than a road between fields of virulent green – jute?  rice?  what was it this benighted hinterland produced?  I ought to have known, but my head was pounded into too much of a daze by the heat and the sun and the fatigue to take in what my driver was telling me in answer to my listless questions.
Walter Lasher.  One September evening when Walter Lasher returned from the city after a hard day's work and was walking to his car in the station parking lot, a man stepped out from between two cars, walked up to him, and slapped him hard in the face.  Lasher was so startled that he did not move.  The man turned and walked briskly away.  Lasher was a big man, six one, with broad shoulders and a powerful neck.  No one had dared to hit him since the sixth grade.  He remembered it still:  Jimmy Kubec had pushed him in the chest, and Lasher had swung so hard that he broke Kubec's nose.  Lasher looked around.  The man was gone, a few commuters were strolling to their cars.  For a moment he had the sensation that he'd dreamed the whole thing:  the sudden appearance of the stranger, the slap, the vanishing.  his cheek stung:  the man has slapped him hard.  Lasher entered his car and started home.

The dusk settles over a day in late autumn.  The sun sets above the East Henan plain, a blood-red ball turning the earth and sky a deep shade of crimson.  As red unfurls, slowly the dusk turns to evening.  Autumn grows deeper; the cold more intense.  The village streets are all empty and silent.

Dogs are in their dens.

Chickens at roost in their coops.

The cows have returned early from the fields and are snug in their sheds.
The family is gathered at your eldest brother Hyong-chol's house, bouncing ideas off each other.  You decide to make flyers and hand them out where Mom was last seen.  The first thing to do, everyone agrees, is to draft a flyer.  Of course, a flyer is an old-fashioned response to a crisis like this.  But there are few things a missing person's family can do, and the missing person is none other than your mom.  All you can do is file a missing-person report, search the area, ask passersby if they have seen anyone who looks like her.  Your younger brother, who owns an online clothing store, says he posted something about your mother's disappearance, describing where she went missing; he uploaded her picture and asked people to contact the family if they'd seen her.  You want to go look for her in places where you think she might be, but you know how she is:  she can't go anywhere by herself in this city.  Hyong-chol designates you to write up the flyer, since you write for a living.  You blush, as if you were caught doing something you shouldn't.  You aren't sure how helpful your words will be in finding mom.

Deeti's shrine was hidden in a cliff, in a far corner of Mauritius, where the island's western and southern shorelines collide to form the wind-whipped dome of the Morne Brabant.  The site was a geological anomaly – a cave within a spur of limestone, hollowed out by wind and water – and there was nothing like it anywhere else on the mountain.  Later Deeti would insist that it wasn't chance but destiny that led her to it – for the very existence of the place was unimaginable until you had actually stepped inside it.

Life, as we know, is a living, shrinking affair, and somewhere down the line I became taken with the idea that man and his world should be renewed on a daily basis.  Those days I liked thinking in absolutes – life, man, the world – but people like to be specific about things.  Hence, my actions were a little difficult to explain.  To be a slow ramblin' stranger!  It made perfect sense to me.

Lonely, as all such posts are, this one is particularly frightening.  No habitation for miles around, and no vegetation except for a few wasted and barren date trees leaning crazily against one another, and no water other than a trickle among some salt-encrusted boulders, while also dries out occasionally, manifesting a degree of hostility. 

Nature has not remained content merely at this.  In this land, she has also created the dreaded bad-e-sad-o-bist-roz, the wind of a hundred and twenty days.  This wind rages almost continuously during the four winter months, blowing clouds of alkali-laden dust and sand so thick that men can barely breathe or open their eyes when they happen to get caught in it.

He wasn't talking.  He was looking from the window of the car all the way.  Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath.  He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn't.  For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels.  They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower.  At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo.  They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony's Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb.  Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier.  He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.

In the top floor room of the dilapidated town house across the Terrace, a light has been on all night.  From your bed it was visible whenever you turned towards the window, which you had to do in order to fetch your bottle from the floor.  Most nights, the same.  The bulb is lighted at dusk.  In the mornings, a couple of moments after the street lamps flicker out, it dies, and the ragged curtain is closed.

And so when I began to go on evening walks last fall, I found Morningside Heights an easy place from which to set out into the city.  The path that drops down from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and crosses Morningside Park is only fifteen minutes from Central Park.  In the other direction, going west, it is some ten minutes to Sakura Park, and walking northward from there brings you toward Harlem, along the Hudson, though traffic makes the river on the other side of the trees inaudible.  These walks, a counterpoint to my busy days at the hospital, steadily lengthened, taking me father and father afield each time, so that I often found myself at quite a distance from home late at night, and was compelled to return home by subway.  In this way, at the beginning of the final year of my psychiatry fellowship, New York City worked itself into my life at walking pace.

She'd been lying in the hammock reading poetry for over an hour.  It wasn't easy:  she was thinking all the while about George coming back with Cecil, and she kept sliding down, in small half-willing surrenders, till she was in a heap, which the book held tiringly above her face.  Now the light was going, and the words began to hide among themselves on the page.  She wanted to get a look at Cecil, to drink him in for a minute before he saw her, and was introduced, and asked her what she was reading.  But he must have missed his train, or at least his connection:  she saw him pacing the long platform at Harrow and Wealdstone, and rather regretting he'd come.  Five minutes later, as the sunset sky turned pink above the rockery, it began to seem possible that something worse had happened.  With sudden grave excitement she pictured the arrival of a telegram, and the news being passed round; imagined weeping pretty wildly; then saw herself describing the occasion to someone, many years later, though still without quite deciding what the news had been.

To start with, look at all the books.  There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Brontë sisters.  There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov.  There were the Colette novels she read on the sly.  There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot.  There was, in short, this mid-size but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn't trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth.  And then you waited for the result, hoping for "Artistic," or "Passionate," thinking you could live with "Sensitive," secretly fearing "Narcissistic" and "Domestic," but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating:  "Incurably Romantic."

The Authors (out of order):

Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table
Teju Cole, Open City
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon
Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After Mom
Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke
Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care
Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda:  Nine Stories
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others:  New and Selected Stories

Which ones appealed to you the most and why?

2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction nominees

Since I'm seemingly bent on reading and possibly reviewing every one of the major spring literary award shortlists in fiction (and a few other fields), here's the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award shortlist that was announced a week ago, with the winner to be announced March 26:

  • Russell Banks for Lost Memory of Skin
  • Don DeLillo for The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories 
  • Anita Desai for The Artist of Disappearance
  • Steven Millhauser for We Others:  New and Selected Stories 
  • Julie Otsuka for The Buddha in the Attic
I've already read three of the finalists here and I should finish the others in the next week or so.  If I get the chance to review them before the winner is announced, I'll either post them on Gogol's Overcoat or here, maybe as a delayed mirror of the post there.

Very solid list from what I've read so far, especially Otsuka's book, which I reviewed very positively when it was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award in Fiction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Man Asian Prize nominees

Regrettably, I did not hear about this until today, so it'll be very tough sledding to read the majority, much less all of them, by March 15, when the winner will be announced.  But I was able to buy sic of the seven as e-books through iBooks, so I should find some time to read them, now that I've finished reading all of the National Book Critics Circle Award nominees that I planned to read to in three categories (those reviews, like the ones for these books, will be appearing in the near future on Gogol's Overcoat):

"The Wandering Falcon" by Jamil Ahmad (of Pakistan)
"Rebirth" by Jahnavi Barua (of India) [not available in e-book and hard to find in print in US]

"The Sly Company of People Who Care" by Rahul Bhattacharya (of India)
"River of Smoke" by Amitav Ghosh (of India)
"Please Look After Mom" by Kyung-Sook Shin (of South Korea)
"Dream of Ding Village" by Yan Lianke (of China)
"The Lake" by Banana Yoshimoto (of Japan)
Of these authors, I've only read Yoshimoto beforehand and if her past work is indicative of the quality here, then this shortlist should contain some excellent reading.  If any of you have read any of these stories/authors, care to chime in with your thoughts?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Today's (mostly) used book porn, including French book porn

Well, I had planned to stop by McKay's today before they move to their new location March 10, but I found out the website was wrong and that they had closed the day before.  So while I wasn't able to trade in a box of books I had, I did the next best thing and went to the used bookstore that I frequent when I want to buy something a bit more expensive.  Therefore, I drove to Hillsboro Village and went to Bookman/Bookwoman and bought the following books (minus one that I received as a review copy this morning), and of course the Easton Press edition of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that is pictured above.

Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize in literature a few years ago, so I thought I'd add to my collection of his works (OK, I only owned Désert before now) by purchasing Le procès-verbal.  I'm fascinated by several of the recent Europa Editions and this title by Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore, struck my fancy.  When a blurb begins "A devotee of Stendhal who has shunned the company of his fellow human beings to live on the outskirts of a tiny village in Savoy is kidnapped and left for dead along a forest road," my interest is going to be piqued.

I was a historian long before blogs ever were dreamed of, so it should be little surprise that I found a used copy of the Library of America edition of Henry Adams' 19th century history of James Madison's Presidency to be worth buying (I have nearly half the volumes published to date now).  The only non-purchase today was a review copy I received from Tor of Phil & Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius: Omnibus Volume One:  Agatha Awakens.  All I know about it is that it's a graphic novel, steampunkish in style and story, and that the authors won a few Hugos for Graphic Novel despite it being only available in webcomic form until now.  I may read it between several others on my plate right now.

Any of these strike your fancy, whether from a descriptive point of view or the cover art?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A very wonderful passage from Zoran Živković's The Five Wonders of the Danube

Remember how I said my ability to read quickly was actually due to Serbian reading squirrels?  Well, this passage from The Five Wonders of the Danube made me happy:

She thought he would be right back but an enormous squirrel appeared in his place.  The prompter backed away again, although not as far as she had the first time.  She liked squirrels.  She wasn't aware that they came this big, but why not?  Dogs came in different sizes too.

The squirrel knocked on the metal edge of the box, then picked up a book and started to read in a soft voice.  The prompter was not very surprised.  If dogs can clap, why shouldn't squirrels read?  They weren't any less intelligent than dogs.  On the contrary.  And they didn't need to be trained.  They learned everything by themselves.  Just like hedgehogs.

Yet one more reason to finish reading and later review this Živković book (and others that I have yet to review), as well as one more example of why squirrels are awesome creatures that make anything in which they appear better (minus soups, recipes, hunting shows, and the like).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ah, internet fan polls!

I missed out on all of the drama associated with the Best of 2011 Readers' Poll that concluded recently.  It seems there was a bit of ballot stuffing, if one looks at it from the vantage point of the casual observer, as several authors who are not well-known or best-selling authors seemed to somehow muscle their way onto the Top 10.  Patrick over at Stomping on Yeti covers this in nice detail, so I suggest looking at his blog first before reading the rest of this post.

Let's look at the final vote tallies for the Top 10:

  1. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (140 votes)
  2. The All-Pro by Scott Sigler (105 votes)
  3. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (63 votes)
  4. The Seventh Throne by Stephen Zimmer (63 votes)
  5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (55 votes)
  6. The Final Arbiter by Mark Rivera (55 votes)
  7. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (53 votes)
  8. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (52 votes)
  9. Dancing With Eternity by J.P. Lowrie (50 votes)
  10. Among Others by Jo Walton (49 votes)

What struck me about this, considering that the poll ran for at least a week, was the relatively low number of votes for a site such as, which seems to have traffic that's likely 100x or more than this blog's (depending on the counter service, I seem to average somewhere around 700-1000 page views/day for the past couple of months).  It's slightly higher than the nominations for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, if I recall (I think some get in under the Top 5 cutoff there with around 40-50 votes, but I could be mistaken), but less than I would expect for a site that probably has more than 5,000 daily visitors (which I think is somewhat more than those who are full or supporting members of the yearly Worldcons).

Now I'm not as certain as Patrick seems to be that there is something corrupt going on.  I could see an author who releases $0.99 Kindle edition stories picking up a readership that flies under the radar of those of us who distrust authors who self-publish (that is, those who have no reputation for quality, as several authors I do enjoy, such as J.M. McDermott and Minister Faust, seem to be experimenting in releasing story collections as e-book exclusives independent of traditional presses).  Scott Sigler is a prime example of that, as he started in a similar fashion and gained a huge readership through podcasts and cheap e-releases, if memory serves.

But this wouldn't lead to a readership in the hundreds of thousands, at least not in 99% of these cases.  But I could see a hyper-loyal fanbase in the low hundreds that follows these authors much more than the majority of Rothfuss, Sanderson, Martin, or Scalzi's fans follow them.  From what I've gathered, none of those authors publicized this poll's existence (after all, is it really going to boost/dent their sales?) and yet the self-published authors on this list seem to have mentioned it on their blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter and attracted just enough votes to crack the Top 10.  55 votes to make the top 5/6 is a pretty small amount for a forum like, after all.

What one could argue, and this is where I found Patrick's chart of Amazon reviews/ vote to be interesting, is that there is a very large margin of error that could be attributed to evenness of promotion elsewhere, makeup of fanbases, and extremely small sample size.  What reader polls like's illustrate is not the books that are necessarily "the best" for a given span, but rather the dynamics of fan interest/awareness playing out across multiple media.  There don't seem to be eliminating factors such as those found (in an imperfect fashion, of course) for the Locus Awards (subscribers get their votes weighted twice as much as non-subscribers, plus there's a provided list that tends to dampen write-in nominations) or even the Gemmell Awards, which I consider to be nigh useless because some elements of "bloc voting" seem to occur there.  What this particular poll reveals is just a bunch of fans in separate communities trying to promote their favorite author without much regard to actual quality of the writing.

After all of this e-ink being spilled here stating the near-obvious, I do find myself wondering what would happen if I promoted a similar thing here.  Would anyone be interested in seeing the results to that, provided that if I set up such a poll that I would expect readers to tweet about it, post it on Facebook, or blog about it?  Or is that something best left to non-squirrelists?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2012 LA Times Book Prize finalists released

Just saw the shortlist and it's an intriguing one.  I'll note in bold the ones I have read and will link to the ones I have reviewed before.  Uncertain if I'll have time to read/review any (I'm behind as it is for National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists) before the April 20 awards banquet, but I may at least try to review some of the winners later:


    Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, John A. Farrell (Doubleday)
    Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manning Marable (Viking)
    Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, Robert K. Massie (Random House)
    Reading My Father: A Memoir, Alexandra Styron (Scribner)
    My Long Trip Home, Mark Whitaker (Simon & Schuster)

Current Interest

    Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, David Bellos (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo (Bloomsbury Press)
    Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven (PublicAffairs)
    The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear, Seth Mnookin (Simon & Schuster)


    Ghost Light, Joseph O’Connor (A Frances Coady Book/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje (Knopf)
    The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka (Knopf)
    Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories, Edith Pearlman (Lookout Books/University of North Carolina Wilmington)
    Luminarium, Alex Shakar (SoHo Press)

Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

    The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach (Little, Brown & Company)
    Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson (Ecco/HarperCollins)
    Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner (Coffee House Press)
    Shards, Ismet Prcic (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic)
    The Arriviste, James Wallenstein (Milkweed Editions)

Graphic Novel

    I Will Bite You! And Other Stories, Joseph Lambert (Secret Acres)
    Celluloid, Dave McKean (Fantagraphics)
    Finder: Voice, Carla Speed McNeil (Dark Horse)
    Congress of the Animals, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)
    Garden, Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox)


    The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination, Javier Cercas (Bloomsbury USA)
    1861: The Civil War Awakening, Adam Goodheart (Knopf)
    To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
    Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History, Rachel Polonsky (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, Richard White (W.W. Norton & Company)

Mystery / Thriller

    Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)
    Plugged, Eoin Colfer (The Overlook Press)
    11/22/1963, Stephen King (Scribner)
    Snowdrops: A Novel, A.D. Miller (Doubleday)
    The End of Wasp Season, Denise Mina (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)


    Songs of Unreason, Jim Harrison (Copper Canyon Press)
    Discipline, Dawn Lundy Martin (Nightboat Books)
    The Public Gardens, Linda Norton (Pressed Wafer)
    DoubleShadow: Poems, Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
    Devotions, Bruce Smith (University of Chicago Press)

Science & Technology

    A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher, Joel Achenbach (Simon & Schuster)
    The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, James Gleick (Pantheon)
    Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Mara Hvistendahl (PublicAffairs)
    Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, Sylvia Nasar (Simon & Schuster)
    Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution, Holly Tucker (W.W. Norton & Company)

Young Adult Literature

    Beauty Queens, Libba Bray (Scholastic Press)
    The Big Crunch, Pete Hautman (Scholastic Press)
    A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press)
    Life: An Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet (Candlewick Press)
    The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Which of these is "the original" and which is "the translation?"

Normally, questions like the one asked in the title are easy to answer: "Whatever is published first and which is in the original language."  But when it comes to this interesting anthology that Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo put together in 1940 (and expanded in the 1960s), the lines become a bit blurred.  Look at the picture of the partial table of contents for both the English and Spanish editions:

If the reader who owns both anthologies, as I obviously do, wants to read as many stories in "the original" as possible, to which version does s/he turn?  Although there certainly are translations in both that are neither Spanish nor English in origin, the majority of these tales come from writers in those two languages.  If the percentages are nearly equal (and they are not, as 42 stories were originally written in English, 15 in Spanish), do both have equally valid claims for being the anthology "in the original?"  What about the numbers I just provided?  The Spanish edition came first, with the English not being published until 1988, if I understand the copyright correctly.  Yet the English edition has by far the great number of stories "in the original."

Or does "reading it in the original" cover more than just the idiom of choice for the original compositions?  Is there something to be said for reading stories that Borges, Bioy Casares, and Ocampo translated into Spanish (there are likely other, unlisted translators from which they selected several of their tales from non-English sources)?  There certainly could be a strong argument for viewing the impact of the anthology as a whole from the viewpoint of those experiencing these "foreign" tales in the same idiom as the original Spanish stories.  But others may argue, with certain evidence to support them, that to experience the stories best, that one should encounter them in their original idiom, which in this case is English.

It certainly is an intriguing issue to consider, which is why I'm blogging this little bit, but one that could be solved for a few by just sampling from each and then cross-reading them in the English/Spanish translations and then evaluating the anthology's impact in each language.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A look at the aborted Best American Fantasy 4 shortlist and where these authors are today (Part II)

This is what I said last month when I was doing a follow-up on the authors I had selected for consideration for the later-cancelled Best American Fantasy 4 anthology:

It was around 18 months ago that the decision was made to put the Best American Fantasy series on hiatus.  I was the new series editor at the time and I had just compiled a list of 66 print (and a couple of online) works (Alan Swirsky I believe handled all but a handful of the online submissions)  that I thought were worthy of the guest editor Minister Faust's consideration for the final list of 20-25 titles.  Glancing over that list, I found that there were several emerging voices to go with the more established writers and I thought that it might be a good idea to make a post listing these authors and recent publications, in case a few want to check out their works.  Order is based on the listing I did in August 2010, which was by order of story read:
Now, later than I had planned, here is the second half of "what have they done" post:

32.  Viet Dinh.  He has had several stories published in several leading literary journals/magazines and has been working on a novel that apparently hasn't been published yet.

33.  Stephen Marche.  Marche's most recent book was How Shakespeare Changed Everything, published in 2011.  He has had other novels and stories published in years prior. I have an e-book edition of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea to read in the future.

34.  Traci O. Connor.  Connor published her debut short fiction collection, Recipes for Endangered Species, in May 2010.  May order this shortly.

35.  Adam McOmber.  He has a blog, plus his debut collection This New & Poisonous Air was published in 2011. His debut novel, The White Forest, which seems to already have comparisons to Erin Morgenstern and Sarah Waters, comes out in September.  I see his Amazon page notes the shortlisting for BAF 4, which is very cool.  I bought an e-book edition of This New & Poisonous Air to read later.

36.  A.C. Wise.  Wise also has a blog, which lists her published stories, but no indication there if she's had a story collection published yet. 

37.  Teresa Milbrodt.  I reviewed her debut collection, Bearded Women, back in November 2011.

38.  Karen Russell.  Russell's Swamplandia! (which I read, mostly enjoyed, but didn't write a formal review) came out in February 2011.  She was chosen as one of The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers during the summer of 2010.

39.  B.R. Smith.  Could not locate a blog, but did notice that he's working on a novel, based on the short bio at the end of his "Caregivers," which is the story I chose for consideration.

40.  Joe Meno.  Meno is an established author, who had two books come out since early 2010.  I bought his collection Demon in the Spring and his novel The Great Perhaps came out in 2011.

41.  Judith Cooper.  Her "Sister Light-of-Love Love Dove" appears in the anthology New Stories from the Midwest.  Could not find more information when I searched.

42.  Kelly Luce.  Luce has a blog that highlights her work.  No collections published since early 2010, however, although her 2008 book, Ms. Yamada's Toaster, is available on Amazon.

43.  Gilbert Allen.  This is the only information I could find on him.  It seems to be out of date, as nothing is listed after 2007.

44.  Sean McMullen.  Interesting, as I seem to have listed an Australian SF writer here, but his site does list his works.

45.  Wayne Wightman.  Wightman has released several of his short fictions in e-book format over the past year.  This link will take you to his Amazon page.

46.  Elizabeth Hand.  Hand is an established writer who has two novels coming out this year:  Available Dark, released last week, and a possibly YA-marketed novel, Radiant Days, coming out in April.

47.  M. Rickert.  Rickert is an award-winning SF/F short fiction writer, whose latest collection, Holiday, came out in December 2010.

48.  Damian Dressick.  Dressick has a site and apparently his debut collection, Fables of the Deconstruction, was to be published in late 2011 by Spire Press, but I haven't yet found a link to where I could purchase it, as it is not on Amazon.

49.  Anthony Farrington.  Could not find a site/blog for him and it seems he has no collections or novels released.

50.  Melanie Rae Thon.  Thon has had several books published, including a novel (The Voice of the River), which I've purchased as an e-book, and a story collection (In This Light), that came out in 2011.

51.  Debbie Urbanski.  Could not find information as to whether or not she has had any collections or novels released.

52.  James B. Pepe.  Could not find information as to whether or not he has had any collections or novels released, although I did see he received an Honorable Mention for Best Horror of the Year, vol. 2.

53.  Richard Parks.  Parks has had several collections and other short fiction and novels released in both print and e-book formats over the past few years.  Here is a link to his Amazon page that highlights this.

54.  J.W.M. Morgan.  Morgan has a site that lists his publications, but no collections nor novels listed there.

55.  Blake Butler.  I reviewed Butler's excellent There is No Year back in July 2011.

56.  Brad Modlin.  Modin is a poet and writer, but no collections seem to have released yet.

57.  Adam Peterson.  Could not find any definite news as to whether or not he has had a collection or novel released.

58.  Micah Rieker.  No information on whether or not he has had a collection or novel released, but there is a little bit on Cincinnati Review about his short stories published there, plus his inclusion in an anthology linked to above in Judith Cooper's entry.

59.  Laura C.J. Owen.  Owen has a site that lists her publications, but no collections or novels.

60.  Tabaré Alvarez.  I found a short bio sketch that lists Alvarez's publications through 2009, but nothing newer than that.

Hopefully, some of these authors and their works will lead to further explorations by readers here.  While I am still sad that BAF had to be discontinued, hopefully this look back at the longlist I developed will underscore the reasons why Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and the original BAF series editor, Matt Cheney, felt it was important to have this anthology series founded in the first place.  Even though BAF 4 will not be, the first three volumes are out there for readers to discover other authors (and some of the ones mentioned in these posts of mine also appeared in those volumes) and perhaps new favorites.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reviews of mine elsewhere over the past month

For those who don't follow me over on Gogol's Overcoat or Weird Fiction Review, I have written several columns/reviews over the past month that may be of interest to you:

Weird Fiction Review:

"Julio Cortázar:  Examining the Strange Transformation of 'Axolotl'"

Forthcoming:  A column on Mercé Rodoreda that should be up shortly, as it's already been edited; working on pieces on Jean Ray's "The Shadowy Street" and Eric Basso's poetry.

Gogol's Overcoat:

William Faulkner, Sanctuary

"1961 Nobel Prize Finalists:  E.M. Forster"

Zora Neale Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain 

William Faulkner, "Barn Burning"

William Faulkner,  Light in August

William Faulkner, "Red Leaves"

William Faulkner, "Shingles for the Lord" and New Orleans Sketches

Forthcoming: Faulkner article on Pylon, Nobel piece on Lawrence Durrell, review of Hurston's Seraph of the Sewanee, among others.

Let me know if you're reading along over at these sites or if not, what you thought of the reviews that I hoped you just spent a few minutes reading via the links above.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What I've been reading, watching, and buying this week

I haven't been in a posting mood for about four days now. Lots going on, none of it really bad, but just not feeling like posting, even though I know I need to get a few reviews written in the next 24 hours (I hope to have the Faulkner Friday post live by Friday night my time, although I might have to play with the submission time a bit), but I've been stuck contemplating a few matters. In order to try to ease this block, I've been reading and, in one case, watching a few things. Not counting the e-books I've been reading while I exercise on a stationary bike, these are what I have been reading, watching, and buying these past four days:

Shortly I plan on writing a piece on Jean Ray for Weird Fiction Review's 101 Weird Writers feature.  In order to prepare for it, I have re-read his only novel, Malpertuis, and watched the Director's Cut edition of the 1972-73 movie of the same name.  Maybe later I'll have something to say about both, but for now, I'm using these excellent works more as supplementary materials for the column I'm trying to finish writing this weekend.

I've been dipping into Jenny Boully's excellent 2011 take on Wendy and Peter Pan (and a whole lot more on matters of imagination and gender roles) for the past couple of weeks.  I first read an excerpt from this book, whose title is taken from Barrie's classic, when I was doing selections for BAF 4 and I was entranced then.  The full work so far justifies that initial response.  Fuminori Nakamura's The Thief is a review copy that I hope to finish shortly, as it seems to be a literary/crime novel set in Tokyo.  It's coming out in the next few weeks in translation and is promising so far.

I'm beginning to read more Spanish-language contemporary fiction and when I saw these two Rosa Montero books at McKay's on Wednesday, I thought perhaps these will do for new readings over the next couple of weeks.

Antonio Machado is one of my favorite early 20th century Spanish poets.  Curious to see how his poetry for children reads.  Don't know much about Yasmina Reza's play, but the title grabbed my attention.

Speaking of intriguing titles, these two novels by Muriel Barbery and Robert Olen Butler caught my attention when book buying Wednesday as well.  Perhaps I'll get around to them in the near future as well, although lately I haven't been able to finish that many books due to dipping in and out of a dozen or more in a cycle lasting the past couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Ken Lee," Language, and Pop Culture

It seems Dubravka Ugresic's Karaoke Culture is inspiring several posts these days.  This one deals with a Bulgarian, Valentina Hasan, who appeared on Bulgarian Idol (itself a progeny of the British and American Idol programs) in 2008 to sing Mariah Carey's "Without You," except Hasan refers to it by part of its refrain, "Ken Lee" (can't live).  This video clip went viral shortly after:

From there, the discussion went from Bulgarian/Balkan channels (Ugresic notes that there was a back and forth between Bulgarian, Turkish, Gypsy, Greek, and Macedonian commentators about which group to which she belonged, with pejoratives and denials of association with Hasan's ethnicity) to French (where TV people try to bait Carey herself into commenting on Hasan's "cover" of her song) to Spanish (which Hasan speaks fluently after living and working in Spain for four years at the time of "Ken Lee") to ultimately English-language YouTube clips, with subtitles superimposed in order for Anglophones to understand what had transpired.

There are several things that can be taken from this.  One is the sadomasochistic quality of the initial event.  We see someone who "bravely" (I believe those were the used used by Carey and others to describe what Hasan does in the first clip) attempts to interpret another's song through an alien idiom.  She does not have a grasp of the lyrics, only of the approximate sounds made by Carey in the original.  Hasan's singing, when reduced to sound replication, actually comes somewhat close to what Carey originally sang.  Listeners familiar with the original likely could recognize Hasan's a capella rendition as being at least an attempt to sing "Without You."  If we stop and think back to when we were trying to learn the lyrics to our favorite songs, chances are high that we (even those of us who speak natively the language being sung) have to hear the song several times before full lyrical comprehension sets in (nearly twenty years later, I would still have to look at a lyrics sheet to understand just what in the world Snow was singing in "Informer").

Hasan's butchering of the lyrical content thus is not surprising when considered in this context.  Ask me to sing "Te ví" (or rather "Un vestido y un amor," which is an easy mistake to make, as Hasan did with her titling of "Without You" as "Ken Lee")   from memory and I will likely produce sounds that might approximate "que llorar o salir a matar" but which would not have the intelligibility of those lyrics for a native Spanish speaker.  In listening to this, it was easy to have sympathy for her attempt and to feel some disgust toward the responses of the judges and of the French host who appears to be baiting Carey into belittling Hasan.

Yet if we look deeper into this, we sense that this performance and the resulting response is part of a larger game.  The various Idol shows draw their family and notoriety not from the Carrie Underwoods or Adam Lamberts that stand out for their singing or showmanship abilities, but for that loser, that dork, that hopeless wannabe that fails.  There is a cruelty about this new pop culture, one which Ugresic notes that people like Valentina Hasan are acting as "both an active consumer of this culture and a potential participant."  We all seek our Warholian 15 minutes of fame, yet we also desire to see the comeuppance of our fellow everyperson competitors.  How easy it is to look at some poor schmuck, say Jersey Shore's The Situation, strut about and act as though his vain shallowness were a desirable trait.  Oh how we might cackle in our minds or to others, "That dumbfuck is going to be on Celebrity Rehab in a few years!"  In today's pseudo-reality culture, where we know the events and characters have been gamed to spark outrage and commiseration despite our inner awareness that this is somehow "fake," homo lupus homini est truly reigns.

In prior generations, faux pas (if we can even call Hasan's butchering a faux pas) were generally localized.  Sure, there might have been some ridicule, yet there was not as great of a sense that those enacting in the ridicule were performing a role in which they, the Greek Chorus of condemnation, might step out and take the place of the tragic hero.  Yet today, these roles are all conflated.  There are few restraints on our ability to make a name for ourselves; even the negative consequence of ridicule has in some quarters become viewed as a sign of validation.  Twenty years ago, Hasan's performance would not have been aired on TV and later on YouTube for tens of millions to experience in a plethora of languages.  If she were to have sung "Ken Lee" back even in the early 1990s, she likely would have received a smattering of "polite applause" and she would have walked off that stage no ironic hero of amateur hour.  That is, of course, if she even felt compelled to go out there and sing for a national or even local audience.  Today, this has changed.  William Hung is now a poster child for a new pop cultural model in which the supremely untalented are as at least as likely to gain some modicum of fame as those who actually can sing or dance worth a damn.  Ugresic views this as one more sign of an emerging global culture in which:

"Valentina, 'the people's princess,' inadvertently carnivalized a body of authority (a Bulgarian television jury [ed.- replete with a female judge who bears more than a passing resemblance to Paula Abdul, it might be noted]), inadvertantly knocked a 'queen' (Mariah Carey, the queen of pop) from her pedestal, and then made one final gaff:  like a modern Eliza Doolittle, she knocked the English language off its pedestal."
Much could be said about this transposition of carnival values into the cultural thoroughfares; after all, who hasn't gawked at the original geeks?  Yet today, it seems the geeks have gained the upper hand.  Performances that were once considered gauche are now heralded for being a symbol of that ultimate transgression, that against the limns between "professional" and "amateur."  The floodgates are open, the bon ton are in full flight, and anarchy may yet rule supreme over what constitutes popular culture.  Interesting times are ahead for us.  We are left only to wonder what will come after the flood.

Dubravka Ugresic on the state of literature today

Her Karaoke Culture is proving to be a memorable, quotable book:

It is unfortunate that today, thirty years later, Danojlić is a half-forgotten author, and that his novel, together with the time and context in which it was written, is completely forgotten.  Criticism has changed.  Today no one dares set out the differences between master and amateur, between good and bad literature.  Publishers don't want to get involved; they are almost guaranteed to lose money on a good writer, and make money on a bad one.  Critics hold their fire, scared of being accused of elitism.  Critics have had the rug pulled out from under them in any case.  No longer bound by ethics or competence, they don't even know what they're supposed to talk about anymore.  University literature departments don't set out the differences – literature has turned into cultural studies in any case.  Literary theorists have little to say on the subject – literary theory is on its deathbed, and the offshoot that tried to establish "aesthetic" values long in the grave.  Critics writing for daily newspapers don't set out the differences – they're poorly paid, and literature doesn't get much column space in newspapers full-stop.  Literary magazines are so few as to be of no use, and when and where they do exist, they are so expensive that bookshops don't want to stock them.  Tracy Emin's bratty retort – What if I am illiterate?  I still have the right to a voice! – is the revolutionary slogan of a new literary age.  The only thing that reminds us that literature was once a complex system with in-built institutions – of appraisal, classification, and hierarchy, a system that incorporated literary history, literary theory, literary criticism, schools of literary thought, literary genres, genders, and epochs – are the blurbs that try and place works of contemporary literature alongside the greats of the canon.  Vladimir Nabokov is the most blurbable of names.  But if so many contemporary books and their authors are Nabokov-like, it just means that literature has become karaoke-like. 

So much of this rings true, based on personal experience as much as some observations of trends related to the pop culture and book markets.  It has always amused me when some irate readers call what I write "elitist," because I know better.  I know that what I write is a pale shadow of the richness of commentary that used to be prevalent in book reviews a century ago.  In a world of the culturally blind, the one-eyed shall be king?  I don't know about that, but there is that sense that something vital is lacking in our cultures today.

And now on to read her comments on fan fiction.  This might get interesting.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

More critical quotes and a few thoughts

In-between a host of other writing projects (this is beginning to turn into a full-time, albeit very low-paying job), I have been reading the five finalists for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, which will be awarded March 8.  Based on what I've sampled so far (at least 50 pages for each of them), it is going to be very difficult to judge which book is most deserving of this honor, as in different ways each of them is generating a wealth of thoughts on a variety of issues.  Below I'm going to post my highlights from four of them (I already made a dedicated post quoting from Dubravka Ugresic's Karaoke Culture) that I have saved on iBooks or my Kindle for iPad app:

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence:

A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted.  The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense.  In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright.  It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity.  In fact, it is neither.  Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.

Thomas Jefferson, for one, considered copyright a necessary evil:  He favored providing just enough incentive to create, nothing more, and thereafter allowing ideas to flow freely, as nature intended.  His conception of copyright was enshrined in the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."  This was a balancing act between creators and society as a whole; second comers might do a much better job than the originator with the original idea.

Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition:

If something occurs that moves me deeply – the kind of experience that might provide inspiration for a poet – my instinct is to articulate and analyze it in an essay.  I feel at home in essays.  They're what I most enjoy reading and writing.  When I left university I thought being a writer meant you wrote novels; either that or you were a critic who wrote about writers' novels.  A few years later, during what I still regard as my period of most intense intellectual development (aka, living on the dole in Brixton), I discovered Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Nietzsche, Raymond Williams, and, crucially, Berger, and realized there was another way of being a writer, one that I might aspire to.  Like Aldous Huxley, then, I consider myself "some kind of essayist sufficiently ingenious to get away with writing a very limited kind of fiction."  The life of the long-haul novelist, moreover, has never seemed as attractive to me as one made up of all sorts of different kinds of writing, including periods of fictioning.  What could be nicer than one day to be writing a review of a novel or exhibition and the next to be going off to Moscow to write about flying a MiG-29?  Put like that, the pipe-smoking scribe with leather patches on his elbows might seem like a relic or fossil from a bygone era of literariness; on the other hand, this style of freelancing represents the contemporary embodiment of a deeply traditional idea of the man of letters.  Would it be immodest to claim that this book gives a glimpse of a not unrepresentative way of being a late-twientieth-early-twenty-first-century man of letters?

Ellen Willis, Out of the Vinyl Deeps:  Ellen Willis on Rock Music

Dylan is not always undisciplined.  As early as Freewheelin' it was clear that he could control his material when he cared to.  But his disciplines are songwriting and acting, not poetry; his words fit the needs of music and performance, not an intrinsic pattern.  Words or rhymes that seem gratuitous in print often make good musical sense, and Dylan's voice, an extraordinary interpreter of emotion though (or more likely because) it is almost devoid of melody, makes vague lines clear.  Dylan's music is not inspired.  His melodies and arrangements are derivative, and his one technical accomplishment, a vivacious, evocative harmonica, does not approach the virtuosity of a Sonny Terry.  his strength as a musician is his formidable eclecticism combined with a talent for choosing the right music to go with a given lyric.  The result is a unity of sound and word that eludes most of his imitators.


If Dylan manages to predict the next day's [September 11, 2001] news by once again tapping into the language of millennial apocalypse, he also captures contemporary anomie (his own, ours) by inventing a narrator – or narrators, it's hard to tell – who descends into the hell, or purgatory, or limbo, of America's mysterious rural past, which seems to be located mainly in the South.  Contemplating the "earth and sky that melts with flesh and bone," "goin' where the wild roses grow," following the southern star, crossing rivers, staying in Mississippi a day too long, staying with his not-real Aunt Sally, dreaming of Rose's bed, proposing to marry his second cousin, our hero (or is it heroes?) (or antihero/antiheroes?) walks the line between love and battle, not that there's much of a difference.  Between "Don't reach for me, she said/Can't you see I'm drowning too?" and "Sugar baby, get on down the road, you ain't got no brains nohow/You went years without me, might as well keep goin' now" falls a manifesto of sorts:  "I'm not sorry for nothing I've done/I'm glad I fight, I only wish we'd won."  By the end, the topical is slowly submerged as the timeless closes over our heads.

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?:  Translation and the Meaning of Everything:

It's a well-known fact that a translation is no substitute for the original.

It's also perfectly obvious that this is wrong.  Translations are substitutes for original texts.  you use them in the place of a work written in a language you cannot read with ease.

The claim that a translation is no substitute for an original is not the only piece of folk wisdom that isn't true.  We happily utter sayings such as "crime doesn't pay" or "it never rains but it pours" or "the truth will out" that fly in the face of the evidence – Russian mafiosi basking on the French Rivieria, British drizzle, and family secrets that never get out.  Adages of this sort don't have to be true to be useful.  Typically, they serve to warn, console, or encourage other people in particular circumstances, not to establish a theory of justice, a weather forecasting system, or forensic science.  That's why saying a translation is no substitute for the original misleads only those who take it to be a well-known fact.  It's truly astounding how many people fall into the trap.

Each of these quotes capture something that I have been reflecting upon even prior to reading them.  Creativity certainly is an elusive entity.  Sometimes, I almost want to recognize that there just might be Muses out there (Cleo?  Calliope?) that serve to spark some thought that had lain dormant in my thought before the propitious time of its emergence.  Like Dyer, I have seen myself as a writer, but not of fictions (I did briefly try my hand at that, had some positive feedback, but abandoned it because my love was elsewhere).  There is something to be said for interpreting thoughts, of engaging in "love and theft" (also the title of the Dylan album Willis discusses in the second excerpt) and "stealin' a few licks" and creating something that is greater than the original.  This perhaps is a simultaneous echo and rejection of the Ugresic quote from Karaoke Culture that I posted yesterday.  Appropriations distort, they do not provide true vivaciousness to what results from this failure to internalize and adapt what was taken from another.  Translation appeals to me because here is "love and theft" at its deepest level:  transforming a text during the process of "bearing it across" from one linguistic shore to another.  Bellos is right; we substitute all the time and sometimes those substitutions appeal to us greater than the originals.  After all, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet are more memorable than the source stories from which that play is derived.  Creativity is a precious thing; no wonder societies seek to protect the cultural investment these authors have made.  Yet in that "ecstasy of influence," as Lethem titles the key essay in his eponymous non-fiction collection, there is a sense of danger, that those who try to take that sacred Promethean flame may singe themselves and others around if they cannot corral and make their own the elements so freely lifted from another's inspiration.

Over the next couple of weeks as I finish reading each of these five finalists (with likely reviews in the days leading up to the awards announcements), there will be more to consider, no doubt about that.  Hopefully these quotes and the short commentary I provided will spark some reaction within you.  Maybe you'll see things from a new perspective, go listen to a favorite artist again (as I have been with Dylan lately), or maybe you'll string some words together to create something beautiful or illustrate a vision or sing or declaim to your heart's content.  Writings like these are like manna from heaven for those of us who love to think and to move in the world about us, experiencing a wide array of emotions and events that will serve to transform us and others around us.  This is truly something to celebrate and hopefully these few paltry words at the end will help facilitate this.

Friday, February 10, 2012

This little quote might generate some discussion

This is from the National Book Critics Circle Award-nominated book by Dubravka Ugresic, Karaoke Culture (itself a fitting title for what she discusses in her introduction):

Amateurs, Keen claims, devastate systems that are based on expertise and destroy the institutions of author and authorship, information (newspapers are slowly disappearing, blogs are taking over), education (Wikipedia, the work of anonymous amateurs, has replaced encyclopedias, the work of experts), and art and culture (amateurs create their own culture based on borrowing, expropriation, appropriation, intervention, recycling, and remaking; they are simultaneously the creators and consumers of this culture.)

Alan Kirby, an Oxford professor of literature, maintains that this new culture is in need of its own "ism," and as a provisional term suggests "pseudo-modernism."  "this pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterizes the pseudo-modern cultural world.  Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity.  In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism.  You click, you punch the keys, you are 'involved,' engulfed, deciding.  You are the text, there is no-one else, no 'author'; there is nowhere else, no other time or place.  You are free; you are the text:  the text is superceded."

There is a lot to digest in just those two paragraphs near the beginning of Ugresic's introductory essay.  A lot of it rings true to me, but there are still places where I'm skeptical (perhaps the essays to follow will elaborate on this "karaoke culture," or "Generation Re-Run" as I like to think of recent trends to recycle and appropriate older narratives and symbols) of the extent to which this is happening/has happened.  What about you?  What are your immediate reactions to this quoted passage?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Revisiting an old article of mine

Nearly seven and a half years ago (yes, I've been blogging for a little over that time), I wrote a post called "Placing Fantasy Within the Larger Story" where I presented the introduction to a planned longer writing that I never completed:

But suppose the world is in fact now coming to an end, the world of Meaning we have always lived in. And suppose that the Powers who must make from it a new one - one that will be just like the old one in most but not all respects - are mulling just now over what sort the new world might be, and what garb they themselves might appear in too. If that's the case, then that old multilayered earth and its shape-shifting travellers would have to be among the worlds from which they could choose - mutatis mutandis, the same but never exactly the same, take a little out of the waist and plump the shoulders. More likely not, though; more likely they'll choose something entirely different this time, something in a fierce hound's-tooth maybe, or a moiré taffeta, eye-fooling, iridescent: can't you see them (I can) moving amid the racks and counters fingering the goods, unable to decide, all possibilities laid out before them once again before they make their choice, thereafter to pretend (once again) that everything has always been this way, that they themselves have all along had these aspects and not others, rank on rank, the army of unalterable Law?

And who is that littlest one among them, wide-eyed, just awakened and believing he has never made this choice before? You know, don't you?
John Crowley, Dæmonomania

Imagine a world just like our own. A place of conflict, beauty, sadness, and success. A realm where meaning was more than just the expression of scientific concepts. A condition in which beliefs were not bound up in what was provable or disprovable. A time and space so similar to our own and yet so utterly alien. Let's call this world our past.

Gazing back on our past, we might feel as Pierre Menard did when he set out to recreate Don Quixote bit by painstaking bit. The sunrises might appear to be the same, the blooming flowers might still exude the same scents, or people might still have hopes and fears, but the meanings of these have changed even as the structures have stayed virtually the same.

There is a gulf that divides us from our past interpretations of the world and its realities. A wall of perception that is so high and so thick as to make earlier conceptions of our world to be almost incomprehensible. It might be a world of beauty or a realm of horror, but whatever "it" is, "it" is not what most would call real. There is something that lies between this conception of a world and our own selves. Sometimes, the very attempt to define this something creates an even larger rift, causing this fleeting apparition to fade into the mists of our collective subconscious. 

 If I recall, I was going to write an essay of probably 5000-10000 words on the ways in which people historically in several cultures have used the non-real, or "irreal" as I sometimes call it to signify a sense of reality frayed and unraveled for an individual or group of individuals, to construct stories that contain symbolic references to their hopes, dreams, fears, and nightmares.  Today, that is a project beyond me, due to other interests that take precedence today as well as my hesitation now to believe that I could pull this off without a lot more research.  Nonetheless, there is something appealing even today about looking at various societies and seeing how they viewed their world and the ways that they expressed their worldviews through fictions mundane and fantastical alike. 

Of course, there are dangers in trying to tackle such a topic.  Naturally, one's own viewpoint is going to color other interpretations, such as in the case of "magical realism," in which one society views this as a subset of fantasy and thus, based on prioritization schema in that society, is not all that worthwhile as a subject of study for social attitudes.  This view marginalizes an alternate view, frequently but not exclusively held in the countries of origin for some of the most famous magic realist tales, that these tales use symbols of the fantastical to represent even more clearly the very real and troubling social ills that afflict certain societies.  If I were writing this paper today, I almost certainly would have to battle to present these conflicting views in a way that shows how diverse human understanding of self, society, and the imagination truly can be.

Anyway, I thought this abandoned project was worth revisiting for those who weren't following this blog way back in September 2004.  Any thoughts on the quote, the 2004 introduction, and the comments appended to it in 2012?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I don't need to travel

We used to go fishing here as children.

See how beautiful the combination of a deciduous woodland and a pond is?

The photo was taken today during a walk around my family's property in a semi-wooded eight acre tract near Nashville, TN. People who know me well, from other family members to vacationing Canadians who have fled the harsh Canadian winter and the odiousness of some of their fellow Canucks, have expressed envy that I get to live in the aptly-named "Greenest Land in the Land of the Free" for virtually the entire year.  Imagine that!  It's like Happy Acres, minus the cornball comedy and ridiculous theme music!

Many of you, here and on Facebook, simply cannot believe how I can afford to enjoy natural beauty at home as much as I do. That always puts a smirk on my face, for there is no reason why most of you couldn't do the same. Most of you make as much or more money than I do, after all.

The biggest misconception out there is that living surrounded by natural beauty is a luxury. It's a ridiculous lie. Problem is, most people believe this. And hence, they also believe that they don't have the means to enjoy the wildlife around them.

As children, my siblings and I would wander through the woods, inventing games to keep us fascinated by the looming, mysterious branches from oak, sycamore, wild walnut, and poplar trees.

So I've decided that I'll write a post or a series of posts explaining just how you can stay at home without breaking the bank. Summer is coming, so here's to hoping that many of you will use this information to enjoy the natural beauty that could be yours for free (minus applicable property taxes). If you have some money on the side and a desire to see the backyard, chances are that you'll realize just how easy and affordable walking around your property can be.

Imagine how cool that would be! I'd be the one commenting on how beautiful your pics are on Facebook instead of the other way around! You'd see unbelievable sights, meet great and fascinating wildlife and domesticated pets, be forced to see the world through new perspectives, experience life in sometimes entirely different ways, and much, much more. And on your way back inside when you'd share your thoughts about your experiences, you just might raise the ire of and be accused of mocking the blissfully ignorant.  Wouldn't that be great?!?!?

One example of the domesticated life you might find outside your door.

With this post or posts, I just want to demonstrate how easily and inexpensively anyone can take time to enjoy the natural beauty around you and experience the trip of a lifetime.

There is a price for beauty, as houses surrounded by golf courses may be built just a couple hundred yards away.

I know that life has not always been easy for Pat and that he's often found himself strapped for actual beauty near him in the past. Well, hopefully these posts will show that everyone has the means to actually go outside and enjoy natural beauty that is practically outside your doorstep. And the next time he wants to elaborate on why he supported something as heinous as writing about a country about which he has little clue, he will be able to offer insightful commentary based on his own real-life traveling experiences outside his doorstep instead of a quote from a Robert Stanek work. . .

Stay tuned for more. . . And start making outside adventure plans for this spring/summer! =)

Yes, I am blessed to have many squirrels and their dreys around my family's property.
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