Thursday, August 31, 2017

Listen in …

… Episode 233 – Ellen Datlow | Virtual Memories.

“The biggest part of the editor’s job is asking questions. If something’s not on the page, you have to ask the writer.”

And here's one from last year that's worth revisiting:

Episode 181 – Chris Rose.

“After Katrina, I looked around and saw we had reporters out covering the destruction, but ain’t nobody looking around and what’s left. So that’s what I started to do to. I drove my car around the city until I ran out of gas. I got on my bike and rode around until I got a flat tire. And then I started walking. And I wrote about what was here, rather than what was gone.”

Q&A …

… Claudia Rankine on Blackness as the Second Person – Guernica. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Local, local, local …

… The Writer’s Almanac for August 26, 2017 | The Changing Light | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

His own man …

… “That Little Sob in the Spine”: Vladimir Nabokov in Conversation - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The best-written profile in Conversations dates from 1959 and was published in an unlikely venue, Sports Illustrated. “An Absence of Wood Nymphs” (available at the Sports Illustrated website) was written by Robert H. Boyle, and it stands on its own as a perfect little gem of an essay. Boyle, who died in May of this year at age 88, accompanied Nabokov and his wife on a butterfly collecting trip to Arizona. He prepared himself by reading his subject’s books and researching the butterflies of the Southwest, and then wove what he learned into a Nabokovian narrative for the readers of an American sports magazine. Boyle builds a nicely ironical sense of suspense into his story: will Nabokov capture Nabokov’s wood nymph, the species he discovered in the Grand Canyon in 1941 and to which he gave his name?
Imagine. A journalist going to all that trouble beforehand.

Hear, hear …

… Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation - The New York Times.

Eyewitness in Houston …

 Anecdotal Evidence: `His Eye Is Also on the Crocodile'. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Hmm …

 Informal Inquiries: Crimes against humanity in Iceland.


 Best Sellers: Books Most Borrowed, August 2017. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Appreciation …

… The Shakespeare Scholar Who Crossed Swords with C.S. Lewis - The Imaginative Conservative. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It would be entirely unjust, however, to see the importance of Fr. Milward solely in terms of his correspondence with Lewis, relegating him, so to speak, to being a mere footnote in the life of Lewis. Milward was a formidable foe, disagreeing with what he saw as Lewis’ constricted definition of allegory: “On this discussion of ‘allegory’ I found Lewis limiting his discussion to one, abstract meaning of the term, while I preferred a more concrete application of it—as Aquinas applied it to the Bible, and Dante to his own Divine Comedy, and Spenser to his own Faery Queene, while I wished to carry it further even to the plays of Shakespeare.” Many years later, more than thirty years after Lewis’ death, Milward published a book entitled A Challenge to C.S. Lewis in which he took issue with his former mentor on a host of topics, from the aforementioned subject of allegory to historicism and even to “mere Christianity” itself.

The way we were …

… Capturing the Architecture of American Agriculture—and a Passing Way of Life - Glimpses - Zócalo Public Square. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

My take...

Something to think on …

The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.
— Maria Montessori, born on this date in 1870

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Walker Percy

Walker Percy's The Moviegoer is a book I didn't know much about, but was one, nevertheless, that I was rooting for, that I wanted to enjoy. It had, after all, the makings of something lasting: strong, clear prose; an interesting, if wayward, central character; and an alluring setting in the form of New Orleans and the American South. 

But what I found instead was a book in search of itself, and a character -- Binx -- who never fully emerges, who never quite proves his literary worth. I found this frustrating, not least because Percy gets off to such a strong start: there's intrigue around Binx and his family, and his love interest, Kate, is troubled in a way that evokes both sympathy and understanding. 

As the novel progresses, Percy seems to lose control (particularly of the themes he introduces). Binx is motivated by money and material culture, but at the same time is cast as something of a loner, a moviegoer in search of the profound. He's further interested in women, but feigns an intellectual streak that runs counter to his rakish behavior. 

The same, I think, could be said for others of Percy's characters: both Binx's aunt Emily as well as Kate seem so profoundly torn between the themes Percy works to introduce that in the end they represent something far simpler than he imagined. Kate, for instance, seems ultimately to represent a confusing mixture of both freedom and constraint, while Emily emerges as a vision of the Old South, as the voice of the genteel, of the aged. 

All of this, of course, is a shame, because Percy is an excellent writer: there's a clarity here which I found rewarding, and an exploration of "nothingness" that I considered absorbing. But the concepts Percy introduces are too heavy handed, too explicit: it's as if they overwhelm his characters, and in the end, what emerges is a novel in search of characters with meaning, with momentum. Binx cannot be everything at once: he cannot be both on the road and a victim of social custom; he cannot be loose in his morals but eager to philosophize. 

Well, maybe he can. But the result is a confused reading experience, one in which Percy struggles -- in my estimation, at least -- to fully capture a time, a place, a family. The despair to which he so often alludes simply did not come to life.  

Those you write about …

… Imagine Them Reading Your Book | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey …

Anecdotal Evidence: Dispatch from Houston IV. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Hmm …

… Should Critics Aim to Be Open-Minded or to Pass Judgment? - The New York Times. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Fair, honest, and judicious will do, I think, and no one size fits all.

Because he never shows up?

… Why We Keep Waiting for Godot | Literary Hub. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Because of Beckett’s demands, productions of Godot rarely change. And although theaters have ignored his dictates, what he wanted is what we most often see: four male actors, the dead tree set, the uncut dialogue, the gloom. Where Shakespeare’s words are endlessly adapted—cut up, re-worded, placed in new settings such as the controversial production of Julius Caesar at the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park this summer—Godot does not change to suit us. Among our own changing circumstances, it abides.

Anniversary …

… Informal Inquiries: Mary Shelley's birthday and questions about S/F.

I haven't read a lot of science fiction, so I can't say much about it. (I like science fiction movies, though.)

Something to think on …

Learning should be a joy and full of excitement. It is life's greatest adventure; it is an illustrated excursion into the minds of the noble and the learned.
— Taylor Caldwell, who died on this date in 1985


… First time in English: a powerful Russian voice from the Ukrainian conflict | The Book Haven.

In the works …

 Paul Davis On Crime: The 'Dickens Of Detroit': ‘Justified’ Producers Developing Elmore Leonard Detroit Novels As TV Series.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tracking the decline …

… Instapundit — A FEW BRAVE PROFS (VERY FEW): Fifteen professors at Harvard, Yale and Princeton have written an open

Hmm …

 Informal Inquiries: Pondering Oliver Wendell Holmes on his birthday.

I have a mind well-trained enough to know the limitations of mind. It is why I try to spend some small portion of every day listening in silence.

In the wake ofHurricane Harvey …

… Anecdotal Evidence: Dispatch from Houston III. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Reviewing and criticism …

 Informal Inquiries: John Locke's birthday and my return to literary criticism.

I should have added to the comment I appended to Tim's post that reviewing makes use of the reviewer's critical faculties, but those faculties should not be the focus of the review.

Anniversary …

Charlie Parker was born on this date in 1920.

For those who like that sort of thing …

… Is Poetry the New Adult Coloring Book? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Hmm …

… The John Updike Society — Famed literary critic doesn’t think much of Updike’s style. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

So Eagleton thinks ”in that suety Pennsylvania way” is “rather too knowing."  Speaking as a Pennsylvania, I would call it accurate.

A man and his art …

… Celebration of the World | Commonweal Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

At one point in the 1980s Wilbur served on a committee advising the Harvard English Department about a proposed major in Creative Writing. He was dubious about this idea, as was the only other writer on the committee, John Updike. Wilbur and Updike shared other affinities: religious faith; a talent for drawing and cartooning; and most centrally, a shared conviction that literature, poetry, is “a conscious celebration of the world—both its bounty and the intimation it gives of the world beyond.” This “positive” attitude toward the world and the spirit has not recommended itself to some of Wilbur’s critics. Reviewing the collected poems, Adam Kirsch opined that Wilbur’s temperament and his religious faith ill-equipped him for “certain kinds of moral inquiry.” Whatever those “kinds”—presumably of a darker color—might be, Wilbur (at least to this reader) seems about as well-equipped to deal with them as any poet in twentieth-century verse and beyond.

Drawing proper distinctions …

 Paul Davis On Crime: A Distorted View Of Concealed Carry: Opponents Of Reciprocity Blur The Difference Between Legal And Illegal Guns.

Not much in common …

 F. Scott Fitzgerald & Ernest Hemingway: New Biographies Explore Great Novelists’ Differences | National Review. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The trouble with Hemingway, seen from the privileged vantage point of hindsight, is that he looks increasingly like a great influence but not a great author in his own right. No 20th-century writer would leave a deeper mark on his contemporaries, and as late as 1948, Evelyn Waugh, no respecter of reputations, unhesitatingly described him in print as “one of the most original and powerful of living writers.” Yet all but the very finest of his short stories now sound mannered and artificial, while the novels come off as little more than sustained exercises in mirror-gazing and pose-striking. I would like to like him more than I do, but the truth is that I find him almost unreadable, and my chronic distaste for his work is more than merely an allergy.
That is how much of his writing has always struck me, too — mannered and artficial.

Something to think on …

Our reason may prove what it will: our reason is only a feeble ray that has issued from Nature.
— Maurice Maeterlinck, born on this date in 1862

Monday, August 28, 2017

And the postman always rings twice …

… Ask Not for Whom the Doorbell Tolls. They Won’t Answer It. - WSJ.

“Electronic communication supplies some feelings of connection, but studies find it does not equal face-to-face interaction for emotional closeness or mental health,” says Ms. Twenge, whose book “iGen” is about how smartphones may contribute to an epidemic of anxiety and unhappiness in young people.

The latest …

… Anecdotal Evidence: Dispatch from Houston II. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Hmm …

 In the Key That Our Souls Were Singing - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

People do not disbelieve in inequality or racism or global warming because they have not been informed: they disbelieve because they cannot or choose not to imagine it. They are cruel because to them, others have become an abstraction, and cannot be truly imagined.
Who exactly doesn't believe in inequality or racism? And global warming is not an object of belief. It is a subject for demonstration. And there is plenty of room for skepticism. There is no room for faith.

Back to basics …

… A Creative Nonfiction ABC | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Savor this …

The ride back to Santa Fé was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,--and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!

— From Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop

Little Known Facts...

The Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania is one of the oldest rivers in the world and twice as old as the Atlantic Ocean;

The banks of the Susquehanna have some of the oldest prehistoric petrogylphs


… List of territorial entities where English is an official language - Wikipedia.

Anniversary …

… Informal Inquiries: Leo Tolstoy's birthday celebration and a postscript.

Hear, hear …

… Free Speech, Curiosity, and More Nazis — Annoyed Librarian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I could make the typical absolutist free speech argument like the ALA does, talking about intellectual freedom, the marketplace of ideas, fighting bad speech with good speech and stuff like that.
Instead I’ll make a contextual argument not about the value of intellectual freedom as such, but about the value of encouraging and supporting curiosity, which is one of the many reasons intellectual freedom is important in the first place.

The art of coming through …

… Forgotten Poems #27: Elizabeth Akers Allen, "Endurance".

It's been a grim month in the larger world, a grim month in a grim year. 
I was born in 1941. It was a grim year. The world was at war. It got grimmer. Seven weeks after I was born, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Things may not be as we would like them to be these days. But they could be much worse. 

Latter-day pilgrim …

In Her Best Black Heels. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

More on Harvey …

 A Reporter’s Tale in Houston: When a Story Becomes Your Own Disaster - The New York Times. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In the wake of the storm …

… Anecdotal Evidence: Dispatch from Houston. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Let us pray that all goes well.

Something to think on …

What is hardest of all? That which seems most simple: to see with your eyes what is before your eyes.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born on this date in 1749

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hmm …

 Bogus Advice for Op-Ed Authors – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Well, Orwell doesn't say to never use the passive voice. He says, "Never use the passive where you can use the active." That means he acknowledges that there are times when you must use the passive. I think his overall point is best illustrated as he himself illustrates it:

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is what Orwell was objecting to. And his objection deserves to be sustained.

Paging Dr. Asimov

Germany is working on ethical guidelines for self driving cars.  Among them:
  • The protection of human life always has top priority. If a situation on the road goes south, and it looks as though an accident is going to happen, the vehicle must save humans from death or injury even if it means wrecking property or mowing down other creatures.
  • If an accident is unavoidable, the self-driving ride must not make any choices over who to save – it can't wipe out an elderly person to save a kid, for instance. No decisions should be made on age, sex, race, disabilities, and so on; all human lives matter.

Listen in …

… audioBoom / Clive James: Injury Time. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Memories of Books Past

I flip between books simultaneously, being enamored of certain areas and wanting to explore them further, from junk fiction to intricate nonfiction.  I'm not much for literary fiction, as my life is far more dynamic (mostly not by choice)  than the concerns of characters who are experiencing existential crises about ... something. 

Electronic books make flipping easier, so that I can lie in bed deciding whether I want to read Michael Connolly’s latest, or pick up again where I left Ong's Orality book, or something else.  I do have problems staying up sometimes, especially getting in more than a couple pages, and my iPad where those ebooks are will slip out of my grasp as I fall asleep, and clunk me in my nose, which regular books do better, as they fall more gently when I fall asleep with them, the pages and binding lessening the force of their descent.

But enough about books falling on noses at bedtime.  Recently, just because, I revisited The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the iPad.  The last time I read it through, I was about 8, and just been given a volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes on Christmas morning, and I didn’t move for the rest of Christmas day while I sat in front of the fire in our old stone colonial house in Bala Cynwyd, in a big easy chair, ignoring the snow and cold outside, and eating an entire box of Fruit Loops as I read.  Here, from The Red Headed League, is the denouement of the bad guy, who Holmes noted, was the fourth, or perhaps third, smartest man in London:
Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and small like himself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair.

“It’s all clear,” he whispered. “Have you the chisel and the bags?  Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I’ll swing for it!” Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar.

When I reread that, and so many other similar passages just recently, the memories of that  almost perfect Christmas Day of my childhood came flooding back.

If you would like a quick vacation, and not just lose yourself in a work, but lose yourself in your memories of your first encounter with the work, I would highly recommend that you revisit some of those books that you read a long time ago.  Analogously, think Proust and madeleines.

Well, yes …

… Memorize That Poem! - The New York Times. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I can still rattle off some I memorized decades ago.

Strategies of escape …

 Informal Inquiries: Tarzan, a paradox, and an argument.

Reading is co-creative …

… The University Bookman: The Book Doesn’t Change, But the Reader Does. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

What’s so interesting is that this pattern of initial confusion or misreading and then reconsidering O’Connor’s work mirrors what happens to many people when they read her stuff today. I’ve had dozens and dozens of students read “The River,” for example, and come to class thinking that O’Connor is trying to satirize “religious brainwashing” or something like that. Then when we talk about what she called the challenge of “documenting the sacrament of baptism,” they get very uneasy. One of them once joked during class, “Can I have my paper back?” And when many people read The Violent Bear It Away, they assume for the first hundred pages or so that the old man, Mason Tarwater, is flat-out insane and that Rayber is the “rational” and “modern” one. But by the end of the book, many people find themselves switching sides, or at least not choosing one, or not knowing what to think. That’s O’Connor’s favorite authorial maneuver and one that the critics replicated through the years.

Faith and imagination …

… The Sufi imagination – Mark Vernon. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… there is also a crucial sense in which all perceptions are of the divine Imagination because the most fundamental truth is that all perceptions are God’s perceptions. “For none other than Him perceives Him, so it is with His eye – may He be praised! – that I see Him.” It’s perhaps what Hippolyta intuits when, in response to Theseus, she remarks that even apparently fanciful imaginings grow “to something of great constancy” that are “strange and admirable”.

Inquirer reviews …

… William F. Buckley, Jr.: Conservative 'Galahad,' counselor to presidents.

… 'The Long Haul': A trucker's tales of the road.

… Margaret Mead in pursuit of fame and sex.

… Kevin Kwan's 'Rich People Problems': Funny, twisty-turny beach read.

Something to think on …

Every phenomenon of nature was a word — the sign, symbol and pledge of a new, mysterious, inexpressible but all the more intimate union, participation and community of divine energies and ideas.
— Johann Georg Hamann, born on this date in 1730

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Careful who trust …

… The Afterbirth, 1931 by Nikky Finney | Poetry Foundation. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)
Today is Nikky Finney's 60th birthday.

Oral and literate cultures

I am reading a book called Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word by Fr. Walter Ong, now deceased, who was the pioneer in studies of how textuality -- literacy -- changed human society and thinking.  Part of his thesis is that the oral and illiterate mentality is simply different, and almost impossible to understand by minds formed under a literate society, because basic thinking is different -- not better or worse, just different:
- an oral culture simply does not deal in such items as geometrical figures, abstract categorization, formally logical reasoning processes, definitions, or even comprehensive descriptions, or articulated self-analysis, all of which derive not simply from thought itself but from text-formed thought.
- Oral cultures tend to use concepts in situational, operational frames of reference that are minimally abstract in the sense that they remain close to the living human lifeworld. There is a considerable literature bearing on this phenomenon. Havelock (1978a) has shown that pre-Socratic Greeks thought of justice in operational rather than formally conceptualized ways and the late Anne Amory Parry (1973) made much the same point about the epithet amymon applied by Homer to Aegisthus: the epithet means not 'blameless', a tidy abstraction with which literates have translated the term, but 'beautiful-in-the-way-a-warrior-ready-to-fight-is-beautiful'.
It is a fascinating read. 

You come too …

 Informal Inquiries: Robert Frost, "The Pasture," and a postscript.

True insight …

… The unforgettable James Baldwin and “the terror within” | The Book Haven.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”

Not sure I get this …

… The Hashtag and the Use of Knowledge in Society - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

If I google #barcamp, I get all sorts of links to BarCamp, just as I do when I just google barcamp. So what's the big deal about the hashtag. I realize that I'm old and increasingly out of touch (indeed, glad to be so). But I'm also someone who has always tended to go his own way. That hasn't changed.

Sight and vision …

 Zealotry of Guerin: Three Spheres II (Escher), Sonnet #366.

Something to think on …

Only those who are capable of silliness can be called truly intelligent.
— Christopher Isherwood, born on this date in 1904

Friday, August 25, 2017

More than what the clock tells …

… Raymond Tallis | Issue 120 | Philosophy Now. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I want to put the human experience of time at the centre of ‘time’. That’s quite difficult, because if you seem to say that the very existence of time depends on humanity, then you’re rejecting an awful lot of what we know from science, particularly that there was a temporal sequence of events before there was any consciousness, never mind human consciousness. The Big Bang came before the emergence of the planets, and the Earth came before there was life, and life came before there was conscious life. So clearly time antedates human consciousness. So I’m not implying that physical time is internal to human consciousness, because that would then put me in a very difficult position in regards to what we know about the history of the universe.
Tallis is good on time, less good in the little he says of eternity, which cannot be grasped in terms of time. The relation between time and eternity is likely comparable to the relation between two dimensions and three.

Anniversary …

 Paul Davis On Crime: Happy 87th Birthday To The Great Scot Actor Sean Connery.

Hmm …

… The Writer’s Almanac for August 20, 2017 | Will We Survive? | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

I think that most of us yearn for more than mere survival.

Principled quipper …

… Dorothy Parker Was A Quip Queen — And NAACP Ally – The Forward. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

… Parker’s act surprised her friends, especially her estate’s executor, playwright Lillian Hellman. Hellman was unimpressed with Martin Luther King Jr, considering him arrogant, and she contested the will, spending years complicating access to Parker’s work and royalties.
Another reason to dislike Hellman.

Mistake in a bookstore...

The other day I was at a bookstore here in Montana.  I visit it often, and is named the Country Bookshelf, and it is an older, beautiful bookstore with character and many many books: "The largest Independent Bookstore in Montana" which may sound slightly oxymoronish to some, but Montana actually has the most bookstores per capita in the US, and the Country Bookshelf is impressive enough to even have been named one of the top 19 independent bookstores in the world in this article.

I have too many books, which is why the electronic Kindle on iPad books are so useful, but they don't have the appeal of being real paper and bought in a bookstore like the one I was in.  And I do like to support those.

I had recently read a book called Surrender, New York, set in New York and about murder and forensics versus criminal science and other things, and it was mostly well written and very engaging, written by - someone - whose name I couldn't remember at the moment, but I did recall he had also written a book called The Alchemist, which I also had enjoyed, and was also about a murder story and other things set in New York at the end of the last century and so I asked the clerk for the author's name.

"Paulo Coeho" he promptly replied, and so I went off in search of other books by him.  I found a recent book called The Spy about Mata Hari.  Wow I thought the guy certainly writes quickly, I think Surrender New York just went to paperback and here is another one.  I bought the book (and a couple there because why not) and went back home.

When I opened the book up, I read in the introductory material that Mr. Coelo had written many books, was claimed to be the best selling author in the world(!) and I thought wait a minute.  But I started reading it, and I didn't like it very much (Mr. Coeho is about soft spirituality, it turns out, which is something I am not really enamored with, and the book was too fuzzy and distant for me to get into it or learn about Mata Hari.)

I realized then that it was The Alienist I had read, not The Alchemist, and it is by Caleb Carr, who also wrote Surrender, New York.

So I blew a little money on a book I have no intention of reading, and I also realized that my memory is slowly fading.

Comedian of manners …

In Praise of Barbara Pym. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
… Pym has always had champions among the discerning. She had her first revival when, in 1977, The Times Literary Supplement asked a number of prominent writers whom they considered the most underrated author of the century; she was the only writer to receive two votes (one from her friend the poet Philip Larkin). Suddenly her books sailed back into print. Her next novel, “Quartet in Autumn,” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year.

A most compelling poem …

… Informal Inquiries: Charles Wright: poetry puts music in our ears.

Who knew?

… Boxing is Always in Crisis: On Joyce Carol Oates, Floyd Mayweather, and Conor McGregor | Literary Hub. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I did not know that Joyce Carol Oates was a boxing aficionado, but the quotes in this piece prove that she really is. I'm so old I can remember listening with my family to the radio broadcast of the 1948 Louis-Walcott match.

Crime and how cops deal with it …

 Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times Review Of Michael Connelly's 'The Late Show'.

The ordering of words …

… Enjoy the Joy of Syntax | The Smart Set. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

All our science calculates with abstracted individual external marks, which do not touch the inner existence of any single thing.
— Johann Gottfried Herder, born on this date in 1744

Misidentified supporter...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thank God at least THAT military threat is gone!

Young Chinese are 'too fat and masturbate too much to pass army fitness tests'

Fabulous creatures …

… Radio Readers BookByte: Turtles As Survivors | HPPR. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

I am a big fan of turtles.

Discovery …

 5 new poems by master haikuist Shiki found 150 years after birth:The Asahi Shimbun. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)


… Robert Frost in Context - Google Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Anniversary and more …

… Informal Inquiries: The Gutenberg Bible, God, and Informal Inquiries.

Something to think on …

I am a Tory anarchist. I should like everyone to go about doing just as he pleased — short of altering any of the things to which I have grown accustomed.
— Max Beerbohm, born on this date 1n1872 

Hmm …

… Wall Street Journal Editor Admonishes Reporters Over Trump Coverage - The New York Times.

Baker is right. Warren Phillips, the man who made the Wall Street Journal what it is today, and whom I have had the privilege of knowing, also insisted on strict separation of reporting and commentary. It used to be an elementary distinction. The Times ought to try it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

10 best comedies...from the BBC and others

The BBC has:
  1. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
  2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
  3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
  4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
  5. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
as their top 5.  The article has the author's selections and others (read the comments.)


… ‘Why Poetry’ and ‘Poetry Will Save Your Life’ - San Francisco Chronicle. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

It works for me …

… Can science prove Christian meditation works? | Christian News on Christian Today. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Brave man …

… First Known When Lost: Eclipse.

I caught a glimpse of it through the clouds during a therapeutic walk, and will remember mostly the duskiness.

Night in day …

 Zealotry of Guerin: The Cricket Eclipse, Sonnet #365.

Hmm …

 Informal Inquiries: A Farewell to the World.

Homage …

… The Achievement of Loren Eiseley —  Education & Culture. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… Eiseley’s lack of specialization, and his essential outdoorsiness, though problematic, were never as offensive as his propensity for wonderment. And that propensity has made Christians some of his best and most fervent readers. No one understood Eiseley better than the poet W. H. Auden, who wrote that Eiseley’s great theme is “Man the Quest Hero, the wanderer, the voyager, the seeker after adventure, knowledge, power, meaning, and righteousness. . . .The Quest is not of his own choosing—often, in weariness, he wishes he had never set out on it—but is enjoined upon him by his nature as a human being.” (I do not believe that Auden knew of Eiseley’s interest in Tolkien.) Auden’s shrewd commentary, in a long review of The Unexpected Universe (1969), rightly notes several of Eiseley’s most persistent traits: his melancholia; his preference for nonhuman company; his love for “the lost ones, the failures of the world” (Eiseley’s own words); and his prayerfulness. “He reveals himself as a man well trained in the habit of prayer, by which I mean the habit of listening.” And listening leads to wonder.

A fan's notes …

… Donald E. Westlake: The Writer’s Writer’s Writer - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Those first Westlake books zipped by so quickly that I wasn’t even aware I was reading them until they were over. And unlike all the “serious” and “noteworthy” books I usually tried to read, they never had me anxiously checking how many pages there were left until the next chapter, or looking up words in the dictionary, or skimming back over the previous pages to find something I had missed. Every image leapt off the page; every scene quickly set me in a location so vivid and immediate that it felt like I wasn’t entering some fictional space but simply remembering an actual location where I had already been. And every line of dialogue opened up the voice and personality of the character who spoke it.

Literary vacation …

… Paul Davis On Crime: Take An Ernest Hemingway-Inspired Trip to Key West.

Something to think on …

There is the silence of age, too full of wisdom for the tongue to utter it in words intelligible to those who have not lived the great range of life.
— Edgar Lee Masters, born on this date in 1868

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Good idea …

 Universities are broke. So let’s cut the pointless admin and get back to teaching | André Spicer | Opinion | The Guardian.

Underlying all this bad news is an often overlooked fact. Universities have been growing for a decade, but most of the resources fuelling that growth have gone into expanding university administration, not faculty. One US study found that between 1975 and 2008, the number of faculty had grown about 10% while the number of administrators had grown 221%. In the UK, two thirds of universities now have more administrators than they do faculty staff. One higher education policy expert has predicted the birth of the “all-administrative university”.

Cri de coeur …

 Lamentation I – Guernica. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

In case you wondered …

… Randy Newman Explains Every Song on His New Album, Dark Matter | Pitchfork. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

So what's "cool" for a woman?

A few days ago, Frank wrote about Elmore Leonard being the coolest guy Frank knew.  
What is the equivalent word for a "[something like cool"] female?  
"Cool" may capture some aspect of guy-ness perfectly, but I can't quite think of a distaff analogue

This looks like science …

 Big data finds the Medieval Warm Period – no denial here | The Spectator Australia.

'Arry Potter...In Chestnut Hill PA

Mark Thy Calendar, October 21 and 22nd.   As a resident, (when I'm not in MT) I can tell you it is an absolutely crowded, crazy, wonderful event.  

Ouch …

… Michiko Kakutani is leaving the New York Times, so we counted up her favorite cliches. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Listen in …

 Episode 232 – Gordon Van Gelder | Virtual Memories.

"For years, my basic rejection letter would use ‘alas,’ and the SF community picked up on that and started calling them ‘alas-o-grams."

A great poem …

 Informal Inquiries: "Aubade" by Philip Larkin -- and a bit more.

Anniversary …

 Informal Inquiries: Ray Bradbury's birthday and crimes against books.

And the winners are …

Winning Poems 2017 June : IBPC.

The Judges's Page.

(Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

A masterwork …

Claude Debussy was born on this date in 1862.

Something to think on …

I hate all politics. I don't like either political party. One should not belong to them - one should be an individual, standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.
— Ray Bradbury, born on this date in 1920

Monday, August 21, 2017

Perilous investigation …

… Informal Inquiries: Oedipus: first among sleuths.

On taste …

… Another Music: Polemics and Pleasures - John McCormick - Google Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Forgotten no longer …

… Jazz Profiles: Sadik Hakim: A Remembrance by David Ouse.

A timely volume …

 Informal Inquiries: The Magician's Nephew -- an invitation to excellence.

Books, Inq. goes real time!

Spooky eclipse in Montana

Vintage commentary …

… Reviewing and being reviewed | The New Criterion. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Of all these reviews, one pleased me, and for the following reasons: it understood the intention of my book exactly, it was elegantly phrased, and it was written by a writer whose work I myself admired and whose views I could not predict.
I once received a letter from J. V. Cunningham thanking me for a review I had written of his Collected  Poems and Collected Essays, in which he said it was nice to be praised for the things one would wish to be praised for.

Restoration …

… Marianne Moore’s Poetry, the Way She Intended It - The New York Times. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Heather Cass White has set things right. This elegant, big volume, “New Collected Poems,” gives “Moore’s poems as they were when she first wrote and published them,” arranged (with well-explained exceptions) in the order of Moore’s individual books, from “Observations” on: We see what Eliot and Bishop saw. We also see Moore emerging, in her 20s, from late Victorian light verse (“I could not bear a yellow rose ill will / Because books said that yellow boded ill, / White promised well”). We watch her discover her style: ultra-long complex sentences, intentionally awkward rhymes, embedded quotations and multiple changes of subject, each with its own quirky simile. Moore admired and emulated elaborate artifice, so long as its products turned out less boastful than useful; another early poem lauds “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish,” whose “scales turn aside the sun’s sword with t

May You Live In Interesting Times...

The Washington Post speaks on Trump's isolation on many fronts, including the mass exodus of people and organizations ("the elites strike back") from various groups, as well as the turning away of corporate America in an "evolution of capitalism";

Scott Adams speaks on mass hysteria bubbles, with the anti-Trump contingent leading the way;

I think we are in the midst of far deeper change than even the 60's were, Adams is right re: hysteria, but it is far deeper and broader than the politics of the moment.

Now it can be told …

… Robert Frost Gave Me a Piece of Advice—but Forbade Me to Speak of it in His Lifetime | Reader's Digest. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)


… Brian Aldiss dies aged 92 | The Bookseller. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

Let us think only of spending the present day well. Then when tomorrow shall have come, it will be called today, and then we will think about it.
— Francis de Sales, born on this date in 1567

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Joseph Conrad

Would it be surprising if I stacked Heart of Darkness above Lord Jim (and I mean well above Lord Jim)? Because that's what I'm going to do: no doubt about it. 

For one thing, Lord Jim is a tough book: more challenging, I felt, than it needed to be. Whereas Conrad clarifies in Heart of Darkness, he obfuscates and meanders in Lord Jim. I found the prose difficult to navigate, the story here opaque. 

Which is not to say that there's nothing to like: quite the opposite, in fact. Lord Jim manifests an author at the height of his powers, one who knows his characters well (even too well, I might argue). The result is a novel brimming with adjectives, with descriptors of Marlowe and Jim at any moment, at every moment. 

In a sense, Jim's story is a simple one; it's the emotional anguish that results from that story which drives the novel. It's as if Conrad set out in the book to capture the very idea of guilt, to construct a situation in which a character -- Jim -- experiences that sensation and seeks, for the remainder of his time, to navigate its meaning (and if possible, to rid himself of it). 

That strikes me as a solid premise for a book; I'm just not sure that it's successfully executed here. Jim runs away from his guilt: he hides at the edge of the earth. But even there, amidst the isolation, amidst the new life he's constructed, he can't quite free himself of the past. And more than that: he can't rid himself of the failure he's become. Indeed, Jim fails one population at the start of the book and fails another at the end. The result is less guilt, I'd argue, than weakness, than some sort of deficiency. 

Again, I'm not certain, in the end, what all of this comes to. It was a slog at times getting through Lord Jim, and by the end, after all of the descriptions, after all of the broken dialogue and perfect descriptions of water and time, I'd lost sight of Jim. I'd traded him somewhere along the way for more general meditations on humanity, frailty, and the nature of disappointment. 

For what it's worth, this was not the reaction I had when reading Heart of Darkness. There, I knew Kurtz quite well: so well, in fact, I feared him. 

Consider the oyster …

 Informal Inquiries: The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky.

Anniversary …

… Informal Inquiries: Lovecraft: yea or nay?

Pilgrimage …

 Retracing Willa Cather's Steps in the South of France | Literary Hub. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

“No books have ever been written about Lavandou, no music or pictures ever came from here, but I know well enough that I shall yearn for it long after I have forgotten London and Paris,” she writes. “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as if to fortune and fame.”

Indeed …

 OPINION | Americans don't trust the media, and for good reason | TheHill.

As journalists, we’re supposed to sort through press releases, talking points and propaganda, using them only to the extent they enlighten us as to what special interests want to believe: Is it true? Is it the whole story? Who wants you to think it and why? Are they trying to deflect attention from other facts or a more important story?
Of course, that's hard work — though not as hard as it used to be.