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Libyrinth [Jun. 15th, 2014|08:29 am]
timons
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   As I was wrapping up the paperwork on the thesis novels for the term, I finally plucked from the shelves Libyrinth, written by one of my colleagues at Seton Hill's WPF program, under the name Pearl North. It's a YA Science Fiction novel cleverly set in a Fantasy-like post-apocalyptic setting.
   Let me discuss this cleverness. I read a lot of anachronism-ridden Historical and Fantasy manuscripts, by authors who really can't bring themselves to accept the premise of the setting they chose. They want a "simple" medieval or ancient world, but they want all the conceptual stuff that comes after. They want books in illiterate worlds with no paper and no printing. They want gunpowder-age ships in a world with no cannon. They want potatoes in worlds without America, and the Roman alphabet in a world without Latin. They want all the psychological ideas that Freud invented in a world that couldn't possibly use them, and characters driven by adrenaline but ignorant of biochemistry.
   North gets to have all that, and logically. Her world derives straight from this one. So while life is mostly primitive, they have copies of Huckleberry Finn. There are buildings with electricity. Our slang can logically be their slang.
   And that means that her readers can have comfortable familiarity, in an unfamiliar setting. Very clever.
   The fundamental conflict of the story is that there is a nation whose culture is bent on the idea that written books are made of "murdered words" and that oral tradition should be all. They intend to destroy the last known library (which is so vast that one can, literally, get lost in the stacks and never come out), but not before they convert key texts into song. Our protagonists hope to save the Libyrinth. It then gets complicated.
   A main character has the unusual gift of being able to hear nearby writing. The books talk to her, recite themselves to her. Which brings me to the really endearing trick this author uses to trap its audience into further reading. The quotes are labeled in the back of the book, so if they pique the interest of the reader, the source can be found. In other words, this book about defending a library may send its readers back to the library.
   So if you're looking to spur a young person's interest in reading...
   In all fairness, it should be pointed out that this is a 5-grimace novel, and that it suffers from the current meme of having characters, especially POV characters, blink at every crucial moment. Ms North was young and inexperienced when she wrote this, and it should not be held against her.
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Tania, or Titania, or Tanne, or Karen, or Isak (or even Pierre and Osceola) [Jun. 14th, 2014|10:06 am]
timons
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   In Savannah we spent a short while in The Book Lady Bookstore and I picked up a copy of Tania (which the cover then informs us was "first published as Titania"), Parmenia Migel's kinda weird biography of Isak Dinesen, otherwise known as Baroness Karen Blixen.
   An aside about the bookstore: it's a treasure. We came out of it with only five or six books between us, but that's because we had to fly home from Atlanta, and cargo space was limited. Should we go back to Savannah (and we intend to), I expect to spend the better part of a day in there.
   Back to the biography. I was introduced to Dinesen in college, by Dr. Peter Fuss (a Philosophy through Literature course which I remember quite fondly); and I promptly read almost everything that was in print. I even have a copy of The Angelic Avengers under its double pseudonym. Any number of articles have come to my attention over the years, including a review of this biography when it was rereleased in 1987, but I'd never thought to read a biography. The woman had an interesting life, though, and faced with a used copy ... I snapped it up. My level of interest is reflected in my having read it within four months of purchase. (I think the average linger time on my unread shelves is over a decade.)
   This is an authorized, one should really say requested, biography. Migel was a friend of Blixen's. She was also rather old-fashioned in her approach. Blixen's father committed suicide, but Migel can't be bothered to tell you that, and never mentions the method. (Hanged himself; but because the bio discussed his love of hunting, I'd assumed shotgun.) She does allow that he died "by his own hand" but that's it. Both father and daughter had syphilis, and Blixen's life problems with that disease and questions of whether it was cured are well documented, but Migel doesn't mention the father's case, nor will she name it for her subject.
   Which is just perverse.
   While the book mostly insists on Blixen's charm, it does paint a portrait of someone who couldn't live without an audience, had to be the center of attention, and who could be a bit petty about that. There's a famous story told here, of Blixen's late-in-life visit to New York City, where she basically summoned Pearl Buck (I assume from Green Hills Farm, in Bucks County), but when Buck arrived for lunch Blixen simply talked incessantly and didn't let the poor woman say a thing.
   I strive not to follow that model of behavior.
   Blixen's life was rich and fascinating, and she proved to be one tough cookie. She was an aristocrat, but not really; a Colonial plantation owner, but not quite really; a feminist, but against the grain (her mother and aunts were the militants); a writer who didn't fit in to her own country's literary world; a failure at marriage, a loser at love, and so on. Her writing, which was seen as not-of-its-era, needs no excuses. Indeed, my project for the summer is to reread some Dinesen while also reading Flannery O'Conner. That should make for some good hours on the porch.
    Anyway, this volume is a bit odd. It is more hagiography than biography. It's also relatively short, it sketches an interesting life, and I judge it an effective starter-bio. I expect not to have time to ever read another one, and this gave me much to think about. That'll do.


CBIP: student thesis novels
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The Sinister Pig [Jun. 13th, 2014|02:57 pm]
timons
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 I'm down to nearly the end of the Tony Hillerman Navajo mysteries. The Sinister Pig is the antepenultimate Tony Hillerman. I'm not really looking forward to finishing the series.
 I seem to be finishing off a lot of dead-author series these days: van der Wetering, Van Gulik, Gur, Gill, and -- in SF -- Banks. Makes my reading-for-pleasure bleaker than reading for pleasure ought to be.
 Two caveats about this book, neither of them a reason to skip it. First, this is a 5-grimace book. That's about typical for him, and he's the author who sensitized me to the overuse of that pretty-much-useless word. Second, this book, as with most of the later volumes of the series, is actually a lot shorter than the average. By my estimations he seems to have dropped his target length by 12K words or more in the last few years of his life. This one weighs in at well under 60K, maybe 55-57. They feel less dense as a result; aren't quite as satisfying.
 In this volume things get ugly quick. An ex-CIA operative is secretly sent to the Reservation area to check on some oil leases, and is almost instantly murdered. The FBI's local office suddenly gets overridden by the DC office; Jim Chee has to deal with the body; Joe Leaphorn gets called in to find out why the Feds are tripping over each other; and down on the border Bernadette Manuelito trips over a major conspiracy in her first week on the job. Of course they're all connected, and of course they put everybody at real risk. The dead CIA guy makes that Very Clear.
 It was a good recreational read, it played on the heartstrings, it was over too soon.


CBIP: student thesis novels
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Sightseeing [Jun. 12th, 2014|05:00 pm]
timons
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      I was impressed by Sightseeing, a collection of short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, set in Thailand. This is a candidate for my World Literature class roster.
        There are six short stories and one novella, "Cockfighter." They are almost all set among the poor, though one involves a family well-enough off to bribe their son's way out of the draft.
        They are gritty, realistic stories, and the characters are never in a position to win happy endings. Survival, with minimal damage, counts as a victory.
        Lapcharoensap was actually born in Chicago, but grew up in Thailand, before coming back to the West for advanced education. He now lives in Berlin, I believe. I wonder if that's part of the reason that there's little that's uniquely Thai in the story settings. It struck me during several of the stories that they could be as easily set in Latin America, or India, or parts of Africa, except for a name or two.
        And that, by itself, might be an interesting item for class discussion: ubiquity versus specificity.


CBIP: student thesis novels
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Apology [Jun. 11th, 2014|09:33 pm]
timons
I have to apologize for the presentation of recent posts. LJ has gotten wonky again, and mutilates the texts in ways that don't seem fixable.

I'm afraid I'll have to look into shifting to Goodreads, and eventually a self-hosted blog. I've been delaying posts in the hopes that they would fix the latest problems, but it's just not happening.
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Writing Down the (Expanded) Bones [Jun. 11th, 2014|09:27 pm]
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      Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition) was the only "textbook" I used in this term's Publication Workshop class, and it seemed to be what the students needed. Its subject is the discipline of writing, and attitudes toward the practice of writing, rather than technical details of composition. That seems to be a subject that hadn't come up in any of their other classes.
        WDtB was originally published in 1986, and I had expected the updated, expanded edition to bring the essays into the age of the Internet. That didn't happen, so a few of the items are a bit dated. The expansion consists of the addition of a new preface and an interview with the author tacked on the end.
        Still, there are many writing exercises proposed, along with the rationale for doing them. There's a healthy crossover between exercises aimed at poetry, or fiction, or memoir, or essay. Indeed, if one looks carefully, one suspects she sees them all as more connected than not.
        There are many fine mottos and exhortations in this book, but my favorite quote is from her discussion of "showing" versus "telling" and I love the ruthlessness of her example of the failure of the latter style: "Go ahead, take Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic and get it to show what he is telling. We would all be a lot happier."
        Sadly, the solecism "honed in" appears on page 85, uncorrected from the first edition. I see that age has brought experience, but not knowledge.


CBIP: student thesis novels
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Historic Bonaventure Cemetery [May. 21st, 2014|10:12 pm]
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      Down in Savannah we picked up Images of America: Historic Bonaventure Cemetery, by Amie Marie Wilson and Mandi Dale Johnson. This is the cemetery that was the central image of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It's a very Romantic place, and well worth the visit. We spent a couple of hours there, and could happily have spent a couple of days.
        We sat on the bench that is Conrad Aiken's marker, and saw the nearby bench that is Johnny Mercer's footmarker. There are Civil War era figures, and many others from later on, and the most interesting parts seem to be the Victorian statuary areas. We have such monuments in the Homewood Cemetery at the end of my street, and the Allegheny Cemetery, but not in these numbers. And not surrounded by live oak trees, draped in Spanish moss.
        This book is informative, and sticks mostly to archive photographs from the Georgia Historical Society. Some of these go back to the very early days of photography. The weakness of this volume is that the reproductions of many of the pictures are only of medium quality. That reduces the impact considerably, and doesn't quite give you the feeling that you can really tell what it's like to be there.


CBIP: student thesis novels
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Reminiscences of My Life in Camp [May. 11th, 2014|10:33 pm]
timons
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        So when I was down in Savannah recently, the History Museum in the old train station reminded me of a memoir I'd been meaning to read: Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, by Susie King Taylor. Taylor was a washerwoman with the regiment, the same regiment that Thomas Wentworth Higginson was colonel of, and which he famously described in his own memoir, Army Life in a Black Regiment.
         The edition (Patricia W. Romero & Willie Lee Rose, eds.) I found in one of the National Park bookstores down there is entitled A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs, for marketing purposes, but they have the old cover page inside. This edition has some useful footnotes, though one or two of them are a bit shaky. Still, it's good that it's in print, and this is a serviceable version.
         Taylor was born in 1848, and was therefore quite young in the Civil War. She must have been 14 when she fled to a Union-held coastal island, and perhaps 15 when she married a soldier. She didn't write this memoir until around 1902, ten years before her death.
         It isn't a lengthy book, and it is very episodic. Which is not surprising, having been written nearly 40 years after the fact. It's still a wonderful piece of history. Notable are all the efforts being made by Savannah's slaves to circumvent the rules against educating blacks. There were tutors and secret schools, which she tells about. Later, when she served as washerwoman and nurse for the regiment, she spent her spare time teaching the soldiers, and anyone else who wanted, how to read and write. This brought her to the attention of the officers, and she was introduced to the many tourists who came down from the North to see how the experiments in teaching freed slaves, and the experiment of teaching ex-slaves to be soldiers, were going. She worked with Clara Barton, for example.
         She survived a number of shipwrecks in her day, which is a bit remarkable. She also has comments on the Jim Crow laws of the post-war era, and other observations that illuminate the time. She moved to Boston for many years, and describes how uncomfortable she was traveling South to Louisiana for a sick son, who died. The colored-only train cars, and the Civil War veterans who wouldn't wear their Union regalia, were a shock and surprise.
         This doesn't quite count as a slave narrative, but it belongs on the shelf with Fredrick Douglass and the others.
        
CBsIP: student thesis novels
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The Best American Essays 2011 [Apr. 29th, 2014|06:37 pm]
timons
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         So before I started reading my latest batch of student thesis novels, I finished The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.. An excellent collection, as they always are.

         Christopher Hitchens was the editor of the previous year's volume, and sadly this collection contained an essay ("Topic of Cancer") that discussed the sudden onset and diagnosis of the cancer that would kill him later the year this collection was published. I noted that Hitchens, a British-American, seemed to select a good number of essays from or about the British Commonwealth; so it's only fair to note that Danticat, a woman of color, selected 54% female-written essays (Hitchens was more like 15-20%) and at least 37% "writers of color" for this collection. This is an observation, and not a complaint, and is one of the reasons this series benefits from using a variety of annual guest editors; because they keep the mix unpredictable. I had been a little irritated at the heavily male representation in his volume, and this is the tonic for that.

         To repeat, my mentioning of the statistics is only an observation, and the quality of the collection varies not a whit. I put exclamation marks or other notes of praise beside a majority of the titles in the table of contents, and could really have marked more of them.

         Pittsburgh writer Toi Derricotte has a heartbreaking piece called "Beds" which expands the structure of the essay, as does Christy Vannoy's completely different "A Personal Essay by a Personal Essay." Both Hitchens and Rachel Riederer address the issue of sudden immersion in the hospital experience, and though this is a common story, both made it riveting and new. Several of the essays centered on minority experiences, several on forms of grief (including Muslim corpse-washing), and there was a welcome focus on family.

         If I were teaching a class on the writing of the essay, I think I would pick this precise volume of the series to use as the main textbook.



CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2, Robert Musil

Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, Susie King Taylor

Sightseeing, Rattawut Lapcharoensap

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Goa, Blood of the Goddess One [Apr. 18th, 2014|11:13 pm]
timons
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         So I picked up Goa, by Kara Dalkey, and had it autographed, and it has only been sitting on my to-be-read shelves for, um, well, 18 years. Which is sadly typical, for me.

         This book is subtitled Blood of the Goddess, Volume One, and the reality is that this isn't a book in itself, it's the first act of a book. There is no real resolution at the end, no completed arc. It just ends. (The later parts were called Bijapur and Bhagavati.)

         And it has several grimaces. Be warned.

         The story is engaging, and the pages turn easily. This is an alternate history Fantasy, set in the Portuguese colony of Goa, on the Indian subcontinent, in 1597. The grandson of Vasco da Gama is Governor, and the Inquisition is in control. It's a fascinating historical place and period, but in this version there appears to be real magic afoot. It seems the dead can be resurrected, and that an ancient goddess is alive and powerful, somewhere down the caravan routes.

         The canny reader will be able to figure out who the goddess is, before the reveal at the end; and it's a fun conceit.

         Irrelevant to the book, but intriguing, is the Richard Bober cover illustration. It evokes a mysterious era, but it also seems to have nothing to do with the actual setting, other than there being a galleon in the picture. The mosque is Aya Sofya in Constantinople, but lowered to the level of the shore. A Chinese junk and a Venetian gondola also appear along the waterfront, which has nothing to do with the book's setting. I'm not sure what the idea for this was.



CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2, Robert Musil

Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, Susie King Taylor

Sightseeing, Rattawut Lapcharoensap

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Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven [Apr. 18th, 2014|06:02 pm]
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         I've been reading McSweeney's 45, Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven in snatches over the last few weeks, and enjoying the heck out of the experience. Most of this issue is a selective reprint of two volumes edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow, 1952) and Hitchcock (Stories Not for the Nervous, 1965) early in, or before, my lifetime. Both editors ranged into literary authors for their selections, so this collection contains works by Franz Kafka, John Steinbeck, John Cheever, Roald Dahl and others.

         Four new stories were added to the mix, to give some contemporary chops: China Miéville, Brian Evenson, Ben Percy and E. Lily Yu being the authors of those.

         I knew that I'd read the Bradbury collection, because I own it. Reading this issue revealed that I must have read the Hitchcock collection, too, because I knew all those selections. The experience also brought me back to some early influences, which I now realize are reflected in stories of my own. Most specifically, my interest in Von Neumann machines that are non-organic, and an interest in Pandora's boxes.

         I have to say that anything that has both "In the Penal Colony" and "Dune Roller" in it is worth having; but this also has "Sorry, Wrong Number" (the basis of several films) and your copy may, if you are unlucky, have "Don't Look Behind You" rather than "The Tottenham Torturer."

         Part of the fun of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern is that you never know what stunt they'll try next. This one is rated, by me, a success.


CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2, Robert Musil

Goa, Kara Dalkey

Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers, Susie King Taylor

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Phil Sheridan rides again [Apr. 10th, 2014|08:41 pm]
timons
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        My latest read is Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Vol. II, by, of all people, P. H. Sheridan. This volume covers the period from the staging of the Shenandoah Valley campaign to Sheridan's return from Europe after being an observer during the Franco-Prussian War. (Though he served as Commanding General, U.S. Army for several years, his memoir -- finished just days before his death -- does not cover that period.)

        In my remarks on the previous volume, I described his narrative as thinner than Sherman's or Grant's memoirs, and that generally continued here. He focuses a bit on the famous Ride on Rienzi (who can be seen, preserved as a display, at the National Museum of American History), and on the Battle of Sedan, but this volume moves pretty quickly.

        Of interest to me, because I only knew slightly about them, were two issues he faced in the post-Civil War period. First, he missed the victory parades in Washington after Appomattox, because Grant had sent him urgently to subdue forces in Arkansas and Texas. Things had largely settled down before he got there, but Grant urged him to get forces to the Mexican border, to put pressure on the Mexican Emperor. Grant, Sheridan insists, looked on the French incursion there as a part of the Confederate Rebellion. Sheridan seems to have found a way to supply weapons and supplies to the revolutionaries there, but was frustrated by Andrew Johnson's refusal to break neutrality.

        Johnson and Sheridan were not friends. Sheridan saw Johnson as trying to throw away the whole effort of the Union in the War. Sheridan was military governor during the pre-Reconstruction era, and spent considerable time trying to protect the rights of Union sympathizers and of black citizens. Johnson was happy to put ex-Confederates in charge of everything. As Sheridan tells it, Johnson never got to reverse Sheridan's firings, arrests and decisions under martial law, because the guys Sheridan sacked so obviously deserved it that it would have backfired on Johnson. Eventually, though, Sheridan got moved up to St. Louis, and then got involved in the Indian Wars. And when word came that there would be war between France and Germany, he applied for permission to leave the Wild West for Europe, so he could watch it.

        Indeed, he spent that war as part of Bismarck's personal party; rubbing elbows with the Kaiser. During the Siege of Paris he asked Bismarck how long the siege would go on, and then traveled through Eastern Europe as far as Constantinople and Athens, before returning to catch the surrender. (His description of "hunting" on the King of Italy's estate is a stitch.)

        I'll end with a paragraph of Sheridan's assessment of the Prussian cavalry in the Franco-Prussian War. As the veteran of the use of a Cavalry Corps as an independent body, he found it old-fashioned.


          I did not have much opportunity to observe the German cavalry, either on the march or in battle. The only time I saw any of it engaged was in the unfortunate charge at Gravelotte. That proved its mettle good and discipline fair, but answered no other purpose. Such of it as was not attached to the infantry was organized in divisions, and operated in accordance with the old idea of covering the front and flanks of the army, a duty which it thoroughly performed. But thus directed it was in no sense an independent corps, and hence cannot be said to have accomplished anything in the campaign, or have had a weight or influence at all proportionate to its strength. The method of its employment seemed to me a mistake, for, being numerically superior to the French cavalry, had it been massed and manœuvred independently of the infantry, it could easily have broken up the French communications, and done much other work of weighty influence in the prosecution of the war.


CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

McSweeney's 45, Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2, Robert Musil

Goa, Kara Dalkey

Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan

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China in Ten Words [Mar. 31st, 2014|08:06 pm]
timons
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         I'm scoping out candidates for the next time I teach World Literature, and China in Ten Words, by Yu Hua, was on that list. The book is made up of ten essays, each about a single word or name. The ten are: people, leader, reading, writing, Lu Xun, revolution, disparity, grassroots, copycat, and bamboozle.

         I realized that I've read a number of books that dwell on the Cultural Revolution (notably Anchee Min's memoir/novels and background elements in Qiu Xiaolong's mysteries), so this book wasn't as eye-opening for me as it might be for my college students who are unburdened by any knowledge of modern Chinese history. I do think the approach of following an assembly of ideas associated with a historically important word, thus providing slices of life rather than dry history, is very effective. My decision is to put this on the supplementary list.

         Yu Hua was assigned the job of rural dentist in the waning years of the Cultural Revolution, a job he found tedious and mind-numbing. He claims that he saw workers attached to the cultural center having time to sit outside and relax, and decided that was the life for him. So he set himself to the job of getting published, so that he might apply for a transfer of positions.

         The one essay that covered material I really didn't know was on the writer Lu Xun, who stayed in print during Mao's years, because Mao was an admirer. Hua recounts using him as a source of slogans, but not really reading his works; and then rediscovering him long after.

         I'll quote one paragraph on literature from the Reading essay, which struck me as so apt that I read it to my students: If literature truly possesses a mysterious power, I think perhaps it is precisely this: that one can read a book by a writer of a different time, a different country, a different race, a different language, and a different culture and there encounter a sensation that is one's very own. Heine put into words the feeling I had as a child when I lay napping in the morgue. And that, I tell myself, is literature.

         And that paragraph was, for me, what it talked about.


CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Vol. II, P. H. Sheridan

McSweeney's 45, Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2, Robert Musil

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The Miracle at Speedy Motors [Mar. 30th, 2014|11:56 am]
timons
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        I read Alexander McCall Smith's The Miracle at Speedy Motors during our recent trip to Savannah both because I generally take a Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency story on vacations, and in self-defense. The self-defense is against the anger of my wife, who is reading the series along after me and is irritated that I'm six years behind the author. This volume is #9 in the series, of which there are now 14.

        I love these little moral tales, and the complicated doings of Mma Ramotswe; Mma Makutsi; and the unmoved mover behind all events: Mma Potokwane. I love that the heroes are not always heroic, that the flaws are not always fatal, and that love is often the answer. Love and respect.

        Things are not easy on Tlokweng Road in this volume. You may not want to risk reading about it. Money is spent unwisely, cattle are sold, relationships are tested. Mma Makutsi alters her wardrobe, to the astonishment of all. There are not enough cases of crime and misbehavior to support the Agency.

        There is, however, persistent detection. And good hearts. Good hearts and iffy engines.


CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Vol. II, P. H. Sheridan

McSweeney's 45, Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

China in Ten Words, Yu Hua

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Embassytown [Mar. 29th, 2014|12:37 pm]
timons
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        My 15th completed book of the year is China Miéville's Embassytown. I should probably hate Mr. Miéville, for being so wildly inventive, and for pulling off things that I've long wished to do. In fact, I will hate him for it, once I get over enjoying the ride.

        This is a work of speculative fiction, mostly resembling science fiction this time out. There is FTL space travel, but by some form of extra-dimensional cheating. We learn that there are several modes of this, but the protagonist of this novel is a navigator, and the method seems to be a use of the imagination. The space drive, in other words, is a metaphor for what the book itself does.

        Another recursive element is the basic event of the book, which turns an abstract concept of linguistics into life-and-death action. The premise that allows this is that Embassytown is a conclave (humans and other aliens) on a planet where the local sentients, Ariekei, use a unique communication style that the humans refer to as Language. It requires two mouths, and seems also to require two minds. They speak simultaneously, and what has confused the visitors is that they (the visitors) were able to decode Language and understand the Ariekei, but for the longest time the Ariekei wouldn't recognize humans trying to speak to them, even when their speech was pitch-perfect.

        I won't spoil the story by explaining how the humans develop ambassadors who can partake of Language; but I will mention that there are characters who are similes. Not like similes, but are actual similes.

        The enigmatic element, the conundrum, is that the Ariekei cannot lie, because Language does not use signifiers.

        Ariekei technology is also fun, because they build everything out of living tissue.

        I loved the symbolic image of the hyperspace markers that so mislead the early explorers of that realm, but it would be a spoiler to explain. A spoiler on at least three levels.

        I read this on Spring Break, and it was the perfect vacation book, because it COMPLETELY took me out of my quotidian concerns and put me in a whole nuther place.


CBsIP: Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, ed.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Writing Down the Bones (expanded edition), Natalie Goldberg

Plutarch's Lives, Plutarch

Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Vol. II, P. H. Sheridan

McSweeney's 45, Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven

The Best American Essays 2011, Edwidge Canticat, ed.

China in Ten Words, Yu Hua

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