Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This is my last post here at Liquid Thoughts. I started blogging because I thought it would be a fun way to connect with like minded people, or even better, connect with a diverse group of bloggers and readers. However, it's becoming a chore to blog and I'm going to go back to my journaling ways and leave the blogworld.

I'll still be reading blogs and hope you all continue to publish such great essays.



Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I just found this site at LitKicks. It would be cooler if the shirts didn't have the names on them, but I may have to get a couple.
In college, we knew all the cliques. Cliques seem to be stereotypes that transcend time and location. In Donna Tartt's The Secret History, a group of gifted and privileged students studying Greek and the classics commit murder. The novel challenges the reader to watch these students, Henry, Francis, Richard, Bunny, Camilla and Charles deal with the emotional turmoil that comes with covering up a murder. It never goes smoothly, does it? The students think they're smarter than everybody else, tricking cops, the FBI, classmates, parents, teachers and the Vermont community. Unfortunately, Tartt actually does make them smarter than everybody and that is one of the downsides of the novel because Spoiler Alert they get away with, not one, but two murders. I don't know what Tartt's trying to say with this. Later in the book, we learn that a few of the kids crack and never really get their lives in order, but I wanted more trouble for the murderers. I wanted them to pay for their crimes, not just emotionally. I'm a square through and through, but I understand that life is not always black or white. I watch film noir and read Raymond Chandler. I know that people do some awful things because they feel there's no alternative. But Tartt doesn't want us to sympathize with these characters. And that's good because I didn't want to. These were cold blooded killers that were supposedly above reproach. The protagonist/narrator Richard, actually ends up going for his Ph.D in literature and is the least scarred of all the killers. I like shady protagonists...people on the skirts of society, living in the shadows of right and wrong. Richard isn't that guy. He's more of guiltless Ripley-esque character, without Ripley's charm.

It may not seem it, but I enjoyed the novel. It was an easy and entertaining read. I just never got what Tartt was trying to say, if anything. I didn't underline or mark any passages (and that's sad,) I simply read it and was done with it. I think Tartt's friend and former classmate, Brett Easton Ellis can still claim to rule the world of collegiate narcissism and moral corruption.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I enjoyed The Secret History and hopefully I'll post about it today or tonight. Eventhough it was about 650 pages, I read it in about four days. Now I'm breezing through Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies. I started it last night, but I should finish it during lunch today. It's great!

And maybe I'll get up here this fall and walk in Edna St. Vincent Millay's footsteps.

Now reading:
Paul Auster The Brooklyn Follies

Up next:
Marcel Proust Sodom and Gomorrah

Just finished:
Donna Tartt The Secret History

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Enough! So long Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. We hardly knew ye. Three hundred pages and another wasted lunch hour were about all I could take of Jonathan Strange.

I never got into Harry Potter and I can't deal with the adult version either. I enjoy a magic show, but I appreciate it for what it is. Magic, illusion, slight of hand, mind games. In Jonathan Strange, the people believe in magic for real and want to use it for practical purposes...war! I couldn't grasp it. I've already given it to a co-worker and have decided to read Donna Tart's The Secret History. A friend has recommended it and let me borrow it and so...I begin.
125 pages Monday. 110 page Tuesday. And it's 8:17 a.m. and I've already read another 20 pages of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In most cases, reading this many pages so quickly would be a good sign. It would seem to mean that I was enjoying the book and that I was nearing some sort of end. However, it's neither. The book is such an easy read, that you just sort of flow along, not really becoming entranced by the magic, magicians or anything much for that matter. I've been reading it with a certain nonchalance that I'm not accustomed to. But it's the book that demands this. How else are we to make it through 1,006 pages? This book is a behemoth. I'm 255 pages in and I'm not even out of the first section. The second main character, Jonathan Strange, has just been introduced into the fold.

This book has received nothing but rave reviews, winning countless book of the year awards. Now, I really don't care about awards or reviews for that matter, but I do pay attention to them. Hopefully, I'll be able to make my own judgment. I'm not saying Clarke's book is bad or poorly written. I was just hoping to be sucked into the world of mystery and magic, with mist and eerie British settings, conducive to prolonged periods of reading as rain falls, quieting the world around me. Instead, I've been lulled into a world of practical magic, where Mr. Norrell wants to use his powers to aid in the war against Napoleon and the French. I don't want people being turned into pumpkins, but magicians fighting wars? I get it. I take it as a modern version of Merlin. Or something like that.

Maybe the next 250 pages will be the catalyst to invigorate me, to invigorate the book. I would think that after 500 pages a book would speak to me. May Jonathan Strange whisper for me to put him down? We shall see...

p.s. I am not reading this book as part of Carl V.'s Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.)Autumn Challenge, but I may take up this challenge if I can get through Jonathan Strange.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I admit that I had never heard of Rebecca West until sfp at Pages Turned wrote about her. What many already know is that West was a brilliant writer. I quickly realized this after reading only a few pages of her books. Then I read that she had an affair with H.G. Wells at the age of 19 and they had a son together. However, Wells was still married. His wife reportedly knew of the affair, but chose to ignore it. At this time, I was reading Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau and by coincidence, A.S. Byatt's Possession. The turning point came when I began to see similarities between Byatt's Victorian romance and the real life Wells-West relationship.

In Possession, Randolph Henry Ash, a famous poet and writer in Victorian England begins a secret affair with Cristobel LaMotte, also a gifted writer, but supposed lesbian. At the time, Ash and LaMotte were writing epic poems and stories based on old British and Breton myths. It was a world of fantasy, shadows and metaphors, similar to modern science fiction that Wells was writing of. Now, I have no idea if any of this makes sense, but I enjoy finding these little nuances in novels and trying to discover if they have any relation to anything real.

Ash and LaMotte have this affair which produces a child, just as Wells's and West's did. Though LaMotte has the child in secret and gives it up for her sister to raise, there was a child. Also, LaMotte's lover Blanche tells Ash's wife that Cristobel and her husband are having an affair. Ash's wife chooses to ignore this news and continues to live her life with Ash as if nothing happened. This was similar to Wells's wife's knowledge of his fairly public affair with West and her choosing to remain with him.

And the last thing that struck me as interesting is that though West was well known and respected in her time, Wells is certainly the more famous writer of the duo. West is still read and studied, but nowhere near on par with Wells. In Possession, it is Ash that retains the fame and notoriety, while LaMotte becomes a subject for select scholars. Byatt may have simply been following the all too familiar path of women writers through history...neglect.

These are possibly only mere fancies I've created. Mere coincidences, not probabilities. But Byatt is a scholar of the Victorian and she would certainly have known about Wells and West, as many already do. Wouldn't it then be possible that she had this love affair in the back of her mind as she began writing Possession? I don't know and it probably doesn't matter in the end, but it added layers to the novel that I would have glanced over, were it not for the real life similarities.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I just finished A.S. Byatt's Possession and I'm going to write about it. But, I want to do a little research and find out more about the relationship between H.G. Wells and Rebecca West. The Victorian love story between Randolph Henry Ash and Cristobel LaMotte, in Possession seems to have far too many similarities to the Wells - West relationship than simple coincidence. I'm not taking notes or anything, just reading more about it all. It's actually more interesting than the novel itself.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cross-posted at Slaves of Golconda

I was talking to my father the other day about invention. From the beginning of history, people conducted their lives in similar ways. For thousands of years, news traveled the same way, wars were fought the same way, food was cooked the same way. Then in the mid-1800s, the world changed. People went to sleep one dreamfilled night in what could have been 1625 and awoke to a world that they didn't recognize. Trains, the telegraph and later indoor electricity. The Victorians were on the doorstep of the modern world. They were the first through the door. And the advent of modern science was the umbrella that covered their contemporary lives.

Yes, Darwin changed the way people thought of humans and therefore thought of themselves. His studies allowed for people to begin experiencing life like never before. Dimensions to worlds unknown opened up. Seances and spiritualism became common. Victorians were expanding their spiritual and religious realm. If what they thought about themselves had been altered by science, then maybe what they thought or knew of the dead and the soul, was different as well.

But it was writers like H.G. Wells, that uncovered hidden truths in them all. Writers like Wells made readers and the public rethink what it was to be human. Not just how they thought, but how the felt. The emotional turmoil pervading society had to be a sort of shell shock. If humans came from apes, then what does that do to our sense of who we think we are? Do we feel like humans? What does that even mean? Or could we be nothing more than wild creatures that wear clothing? What truly distinguishes us from 'them.'

Reading The Island of Dr. Moreau, these were the questions I was dealing with, repeatedly returning to. Rationalization is not the only thing that seperates us. Neither is knowledge or conscience. It must be all.

The narrator of Moreau, Prendick writes, Yet I felt an absolute assurance in my own mind that the Hyena-Swine was implicated in the rabbit-killing. A strange persuasion came upon me that, save for the grossness of the line, the grotesqueness of the forms, I had there before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form.

These animal-human hybrids are humans in Prendick's estimation. Their ability to reason has changed them and has made them all too human like. However, I wonder if it was their strange mutation into human like beings that gave them reason or if they had always had reason and were now only able to communicate it. I fall into believing the latter in this case. Moreau had partly succeeded in his dungeon of science.

Prendick's experience on the lost island of mutation and vivisection, changed his way of feeling. It certainly changed the way he thought and what he thought about. Everything he thought he knew before, was turned upside down. He was left grasping.

I fell indeed into a morbid state, deep and enduring, alien to fear, which has left permanent scars upon my mind. I must confess I lost faith in the sanity of the world when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island.

A blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence, and I, Moreau (by his passion for research), Montgomery (by his passion for drink), the Beast People, with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels. But this condition did not come all at once...I think indeed that I anticipate a little in speaking of it now.

This sentiment still reverberates today. I hear it echoed in Ginsberg's infamous first lines of Howl: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. There's something primitive in Ginsberg's feeling of desolation and I sense the same in Prendick's lament.

As a society, we cope with watershed changes in a myriad of ways, but we have to deal with them nonetheless. But what does it mean to feel this way? Can we always change things for the better? Should we leave life, science, nature, better left untouched? I don't know.

I leave Dr. Moreau with more questions than answers...but I prefer literature that way. It is the discoveries I make on my own that validate my experiences.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

When I decided to give up on writing for a living (thank you Emerson College and your Master's Degree in Print Journalism!) the world opened up to me and didn't close in and suffocate me like I envisioned. Everyday was a battle, questioning myself, questioning my writing. My writing didn't match up to my peers in grad school, let alone the rest of the literary world. The outlook was bleak. My decision had nothing to do with giving up. If anything, it was overcoming a frightening obstacle. I am now able to pursue careers in nearly any field, experiencing places and people without having to sit and write for an editor. I write for myself and that's all I really ever wanted. I'm not Pepys and I don't intend to imitate any such personal journalists, diarists, essayists or even modern bloggers. I've written about this before, but the past few days have been trying, stretching my will to points unknown.

"All writers read, but not all readers write." I don't know exactly who said that and it doesn't particularly matter. In fact, I'm repeating myself, because I know I've written a piece on this before. But the point is, I read. I'm not a critic or reviewer. I'm not articulate enough. I'm a reader. It's what give me breath each morning and keeps me awake at night, listening to the creaking of the window panes. It is what I've become.

Last night, I continued reading Allen Ginsberg's journals from the 1950s. It is this experience that has reinforced my decision. I could never compare to genius. He was about 30 years-old when he started these journals in 1954 and his mind grasped words, concepts, structure and history as well as anyone. I'll be 30 in three years, by then, maybe I'll be able to understand half of what I read. Ginsberg knew he was to be a 20th Century Whitman. It was his destiny to write of a life, his life. It was his salvation. My salvation comes in a form of voyeurism, where I get to sneak into his bedroom late at night and steal through his journal. My salvation is in this reading. My nirvana comes with the crafted printed word.

(For a related article, check out Emily Barton's review of Francine Prose's new book on writing in the NY Times.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I don't know why I haven't written in nearly a week. Probably just laziness. I've been reading Byatt's Possession and only have about 190 pages left. It's longer than I thought it was, but it's good. I'm not totally impressed with the language, but the story's fairly entertaining.

I've also been finishing The Island of Dr. Moreau. I'm still surprised how much I've enjoyed the book. I didn't finish my extra credit book, The Time Machine, but I Wells has been a more than pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It was either last year or earlier this year that I first read Ward Just. Just is a former journalist and war correspondent. An Unfinished Season was a well written book, but it just didn't affect me. However, his latest novel (a Houghton Mifflin title)Forgetfulness reads like it was written by a man under intense pressure, using as few words possibly to convey a point or express something. Now I know why Just is heralded with such acclaim. Reading his prose is like taking part in a fight. Each line hits you harder and harder. By the end of the book, I already know I'm going to be KO'd.

She was trying to put her mind in another place altogether but was so far unsuccessful. She was unable to free herself of the forest. It seemed to her the very end of the known world so she conjured images of welcome aliens. For now she was in the hands of strangers, dubious men who did not belong here. So she spoke aloud, telling them to be careful, to take their time, not to be so rough. She was no longer young, as they could see. And she was injured and not herself. She thought to add, "Please."

Florette, a fifty-five year old French woman, married to an American and living in the shadow of the Pyrenees, has injured herself while taking a hike in the foothills of the mountains that lead to Spain and beyond. But the men taking her down the hill in a stretcher are strangers. Florette's pain comes in rushes and her mind wanders, but it's her desire for the mundane cigarette or to take a pee, that makes the situation too real. I can picture soldiers in Vietnam being mortally wounded, being husked back to awaiting choppers, but asking for a cigarette in their dying breaths. Here Just, reflects this intense and common urge onto the reader, making us all too aware that we would probably react the same way if the situation were reversed.

Now reading:
Ward Just Forgetfulness
H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau
H.G. Wells The Time Machine

Just finished:
Jack Kerouac Tristessa
Sarah Waters Fingersmith

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The start, I think I know too well. It is the first of my mistakes

I imagine a table, slick with blood. The blood is my mother's. There is too much of it. There is so much of it, I think it runs, like ink. I think, to save the boards beneath, the women have set down china bowls; and so the silence between my mother's cries are filled-drip drop! drip drop!-with what might be the staggered beating of clocks. Beyond the beat come other, fainter cries: the shrieks of lunatics, the shouts and scolds of nurses. For this is a madhouse. My mother is mad. The table has straps upon it to keep her from plunging to the floor; another strap separates her legs, so that I might emerge from between them. When I am born, the straps remain: the women fear she will tear me in two! They put me upon her bosom and my mouth finds out her breast. I suck, and the house falls silent about me. There is only, still, that falling blood-drip drop! drop drop!-the beat telling off the first few minutes of my life, the last of hers. For soon, the clocks run slow. My mother's bosom rises and falls, rises again; then sinks for ever.

I feel it, and suck harder. Then the women pluck me from her. And when I weep, they hit me.

- Sarah Waters Fingersmith

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's getting darker earlier. With the 8 o'clock hour, comes the twilight. Only minutes later, the houses and trees whimper in the permanent shadows of night. Windows, lit from within act as beacons for the bugs repeatedly hitting the screens. They could be heard if all were quiet on the street. But it's never quiet. Not that quiet.

(But it's a perfect setting to read Sarah Water's Fingersmith)

Monday, August 14, 2006

No one warned me. Hardy ends the last quarter of Jude the Obscure with such a devastating event, that I put the book down and just stared at it for a few moments. I won't give the details away and spoil the terribly sad plot. Once the catastrophe takes place, our heroine, Sue, becomes unhinged, taking to church and prayer daily, wanting nothing to do with poor Jude. The circumstances of their relationship are complicated to say the least, but Sue only compounds the situation at times. Sue was an individual and unique woman who wanted nothing to do of the traditional modes of life. She was not religious, but ended up changing her life based on repentence and religion. She was never keen on marriage, but ended up in loveless marriage, for the second time to the same man. This strong person was defeated by society and her own compulsive impulses, leaving Jude alone in the cruel world they once shared.

Yet, Hardy made Sue likeable past the point I would have thought. He didn't simply turn her over to make a point. He split up the two lovers, who were like one, to show how grief is assumed and love endured. Lincoln said a 'house divided can not stand' and I think that somehow fits this story. Together, Jude and Sue could withstand the taunts, jealousies and setbacks because they had one another. Seperated, they were destroyed souls, walking, but not living.

Just finished:
Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure

Now reading:
H.G. Wells The Time Machine
Sarah Waters Fingersmith

On deck:
H.G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau
One meme, two meme, three's another via Litlove

1. First book to leave a lasting impression? Looking back, I guess William Saroyan's The Human Comedy has resonated with me through the years. Freshman year of high school, we had to read this and I never read anything like it before. It was the first 'real' thing I had read and Saroyan's language spoke to me and still does.

2. Which author would you most like to be? Before I thought about the questions, I figured I'd put Kerouac, but I don't think that's my choice. John Clellon Holmes was a brilliant and a truly gifted writer and friend of Ginsberg and Kerouac. He was married and considered more of a square than the rest of the Beats. He lived a normal suburban life and this pseudo-outsider status gave him great insight. I'd like to be John Clellon Holmes.

3. Name the book that has made you want to visit a place I was trying to think of something exotic and unique, but I kept on thinking of only two places...New York City in the 1950s and Walden Pond. I'll go with Walden Pond because I have been there and I'll leave 1950s New York and the automats in Times Square to my dreams.

4. Which contemporary author will be read in 100 years time? J.M. Coetzee

5. Which book would you recommend to a teenager reluctant to try 'literature'? In my head, I was thinking of a book each for a teenage boy and a book for a teenage girl, but didn't want to make a distinction. How about John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces?

6. Name your best recent literary discovery Within the past year, I've read Maeve Brennan, Margaret Atwood and Julian Barnes for the first time. I'll go with Maeve Brennan because her book Notes of the Long-Winded Lady were as close to E.B. White as one can get.

7. Which author's fictional world would you most like to live in? As an observer, sitting on a porch in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

8. Name your favorite poet Hart Crane? Kerouac? Auden? Edna St. Vincent Millay? Allen Ginsberg's poetry trumps them. It still blows me away.

9. What's the best non-fiction book you've read this year? E.B. White's essay, Second Tree from the Corner. But for a longer book, I'm reading Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name: the Biography of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.

10. Which auther do you think is much better than his/her reputation? I think E.B. White is widely recognized as children's author, but he is a brilliant writer and I can't say enough about him. But for this question, I'm going to choose my favorite writer, Jack Kerouac. Kerouac sometimes gets a quick look when people talk/write about literature. And if he is brought up, only On the Road is mentioned. However, his canon of work is varied and plentiful, but most of all, it's unique in vision and wonderfully written.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I bought three more frames today and was thinking of using these photos.
I was out all day today and had Jude on my mind the whole time. I kept wanting to get back to my apartment to see where Mr. Fawley led me today. Back to the arms of his first wife Arabella who suddenly showed up in Christminster? Did our hero compromise the marriage of his beloved cousin Sue and proclaim his undying love for her? Was it time for him to begin a life anew, with neither of the women? Well, I know he does end up with Sue before something terrible happens, but I still don't know what will become of Jude and his love. Hardy hints at the tragedy that befalls Jude's family with forebodings of failed marriages, early deaths and desertion. With it being 11:15 p.m. on a Saturday night and nowhere to go, I guess I'll indulge in a little more Jude tonight as Miles blows quietly in the background. Kind of Blue, Miles? Kind of blue.
I'm certainly guilty of this...

Friday, August 11, 2006

I'm still surprised when a certain auther resonates with me. Thomas Hardy is one of these authors. I read Far from the Madding Crowd last year and couldn't get the characters out of my mind. Their British stoicism, wit, charm and good sense still felt real. The late 19th Century English countryside was alive as Bathesba, Gabriel Oak and Farmer Boldwood fought for one another, yearned for one another and slugged through days of hard work, quiet and solitude. The country life, I have nothing to compare it to, I'm a city guy, but the twists of love and struggle for survival were all too familiar.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy once again awakens my latent sensitivities. Jude Fawley strives to learn. Day and night he dreams of going to college in the city of Christminster. For nearly ten years he works as a stone mason, rebuilding churches and colleges, working feet away from the scholars he wishes to become. Along the way, Jude gets married, his wife leaves him for Australia, he moves to Christminster, falls in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead and still remains outside the cloistered walls of academia.

The trees overhead deepened the gloom of the hour, and they dripped sadly upon him, impressing him with forebodings - illogical forebodings; for though he knew that he loved her he also knew that he could not be more to her than he was.

At this stage in my life, I relate to Jude at a level that I know would have been missed if I had read the novel at any other time in my life. I'm not doing what I want to do for a living. I'm not living my dream. For good and bad, life has gotten in the way. Bills, loans, rent, are some of the obstacles that make earning a living the be all end all of my existence for the moment. I know I can change my life, but for the moment, like Jude Fawley, I'm still working to get there. The dreams may be receding into the horizon, but they're out there still.

Now reading:
Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure
Mark Anderson Shakespeare by Another Name: A Biography of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare

On deck:
Sarah Waters Fingersmith

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I just spent $19 on 5 books on Amazon. I was hoping that since I bought all the books from the same seller that I'd get a discount on shipping, but not so much. I was going to cancel the transaction, but figured, hey, less than $4 a book, not bad. Now the letters of E.B. White, E.B. White: What a Writer, Kerouac's San Francisco Blues (I think I lost my old copy,) H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau, for the Slaves' new read, and John Clellon Holmes's The Horn will all be occupants of my library in 2-4 business days. Such is the life of a bibliophile. Exhilrating, I know.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I saw this list a few days ago over at Danielle's A Work in Progress and thought I'd take a shot. I do love lists...

1. ONE BOOK THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE Remarque's classic All Quiet on the Western Front was the book that got me reading. It got me interested in lives outside my own. I was in seventh grade and had to do my first big book report. This book opened up the rest of the world for me and I haven't stopped since.

2. ONE BOOK THAT YOU'VE READ MORE THAN ONCE Moby Dick is the book I've read the most, only about three times. I think it's the greatest novel in the English language.

3. ONE BOOK THAT YOU'D WANT ON A DESERT ISLAND I would have to say Don Quixote. I couldn't imagine getting tired of it, no matter how long I stayed on the island.

4. ONE BOOK THAT MADE YOU LAUGH John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces has to be the smartest, funniest, serious book I've ever read. A perfect read.

5. ONE BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY I can't say I've cried while reading or after I've finished a book. But I could have cried for Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot or Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

6. ONE BOOK THAT YOU WISH HAD BEEN WRITTEN Danielle mentioned Harper Lee's second novel and I agree with that. I would have liked to see Whitman try his hand at a novel. An epic of America, the Civil War, Brooklyn. That I would have read.


8. ONE BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING E.M. Forster's first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread. My first Forster and I can't say I'm highly impressed.

9. ONE BOOK YOU'VE BEEN MEANING TO READ Shelby Foote's first volume of the Civil War. I'm halfway through, but haven't finished it yet. I'll get there. Book I've been meaning to read, but have never opened? List is endless...

Thanks for the idea Danielle!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just finish it. That's what I keep telling myself every time I pick up another book this summer. I've read a few these past two months, but nowhere near as many as I would have liked. But I've started more books than normal. Jude the Obscure, The Line of Beauty, Where Angels Fear to Tread and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I've started and read at least 25 pages in each over the past three days and that doesn't count the incredible biography of Edward de Vere,Shakespeare: By Another Name by journalist Mark Anderson.

Time for some self-prescribed discipline. I intend to finish Forster's Where Angels Fear to Trend this week and then get into Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. That's that.

Now that my schedule's in place I've been wanting to write about Anderson's stunning work that claims Edward de Vere is in fact the author of Shakespeare's work. I don't necessarily care who wrote the plays, whether it be William Shakespeare the actor, Edward de Vere, or anyone else, but I do want to know is who wrote them. I think it's integral to our history, to the understanding of ourselves, to know the truth and it won't change the significance of the least not to me.

After about five pages, I was mesmerized by the parallels Anderson was making between de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) and the Shakespeare plays. After 100 pages I've nearly been convinced that William Shakespeare the actor was not the author.

There are some passages that hit upon the improbability of the actor Shakespeare even being able to write some of the plays. Anderson explains that Laurence Nowell was de Vere's tutor at Lord Burghley's estate in 1563 when he translated the only known copy of Beowulf in the English language and inscribed it to de Vere.

Beowulf and the original Hamlet myth ("Amleth") are cousins from the same family of Scandanavian folklore. Shake-speare uses both as sources for Hamlet. Once Hamlet kills his uncle Claudius, Shake-speare stops following "Amleth" and starts following Beowulf. It is Beowulf who fights the mortal duel with poison and sword; it is Beowulf who turns to his loyal comrade (Wiglaf in Beowulf; Horatio in Hamlet) to recite a dying appeal to carry his name forward; and it is Beowulf that carries on after its hero's death to dramatize a succession struggle for the throne brought on by an invading foreign nation.

By the time Hamlet was written and performed, I'm sure William Shakespeare may have had opportunity to read the myth and make it his own, but in de Vere, it was ingrained in him.

And, though not definitive in any sense of the word, de Vere's life is too similar to the plays to be mere coincidence.

Perhaps the most autobiographical play in Shakespeare is Hamlet, with multifarious connections to de Vere's life that are discussed in nearly every chapter of this book. For example, when de Vere was traveling through France at age twenty-six, he encountered a Teutonic prince who paraded his troops before de Vere's eyes. Soon thereafter, de Vere boarded a ship that was overtaken by pirates, and de Vere was stipped naked and left on the English shore. In Act 4 of Hamlet, in a sequence that is in no known source text for the play, Hamlet first witnesses the invading Prince Fortinbras's troops and then boards a ship that is overtaken by pirates, in an ordeal that leaves a humiliated Hamlet stripped naked on the Danish shore.

Though the books is saturated with such assurances, there are sure to be many people who either won't read the book or who would read the book, but still defend Shakespeare the actor. To each their own. I've had a few discussions with friends about de Vere and the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and I've been met with much resistance. I don't know if it's too much of a change to the fundamentals of our lives if Shakespeare the actor was nothing more than a performer and not the author of our memories. But if de Vere is the true man behind the greatest literature, why not give credit to the man who has lived in the shadows for too long? It is plausible and so far, probable.

Now reading:
Mark Anders "Shakespeare" By Another Name
E.M. Forster Where Angels Fear to Tread
Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty

Just finished:
Charles Nicholl The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

Up next:
Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure
Susanna Clarke Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I don't know much about loss. I know what longing is, but with loss, I'm a novice. I've had a few grandparents pass away during my life, but no uncles, cousins or parents. A couple friends committed suicide within a couple of years of one another. I guess that's the closest to loss that I've come that has seriously affected me. But I didn't love them so the loss seems vacant almost. I was mad at them more than anything and I still am. Stll, this loss is death and I know it can take on any personality, any form. Loss is a shapeshifter.

For the first half of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety I was fooled by the author into believing I was reading a striking book on common experiences. Stegner's narrator, Larry Morgan, was a writer teaching at a Wisconsin college when he and his wife Sally meet the two people that will irrevocably change their lives. I have heard of people's lives being changed by a dramatic or traumatic event-a death, a divorce, a winning lottery ticket, a failed exam. I never heard of of anybody's life but ours being changed by a dinner party.

A lifelong friendship is formed that night, the bonds of which are never broken. A truly remarkable 4-way relationship. But it's the unexpected event that takes place on a harmless camping trip that has kept me thinking and rethinking what love and loss mean. Sally is stricken with Polio. The jubilant 30-year old becomes reliant on crutches and braces for the rest of her life. That's in the late 1930's. This to me is like a loss of life. Not to Sally, or Larry for that matter. Without function of my body parts, how could I live the life I had? Could I live a different one, one that would be dictated by my ability to get around, slowly and painfully with crutches and braces? But Sally never seems to hesitate. As readers we aren't brought into the years of struggle she must have gone through. Instead, Stegner simply refers to it in passing a few times. She has a sick body, but a lively spirit type of thing.

Now in the 1970's, Larry and Sally are visiting the Lang's on their much beloved estate in Vermont. It's the last time all four will be together. And they know it. Charity Lang is dying of cancer and has called the Morgans there to have her entire family around. Planning her last breaths till the end, just like she planned and scheduled the rest of her life and everyone else around her.

It was her death. She had a right to handle it her own way. But I felt sorry for Sid, a reluctant stoic, and I dreaded the coming hour or two when I would be alone with him. I was the person he was most likely to confide in, and I feared his confidence and had on tap no word of consolation or comfort. It crossed my mind, while I sat waiting on the lawn above the green and blue view, that down under his anguish and panic he might even look forward to her death as a release. Then I decided not. Charity had mastered him, but also she supported him. She not only ran his life, she was his life. I didn't like to think what would happen to him with her gone. His resistance and resentment were only expressions of his dependence. Sally resented her crutches, too, but without them she would have been hardly more than a broken stick with eyes.

It's this eventual loss that I've yet to experience and I'm in no rush to witness. But it encompasses humanity in tow relationships between husbands and wives. Is this passing something any of us can prepare for? Don't we block this inevitability out of our minds, banish death to the darkness of our knowing? At least I try to.

At times Stegner scared me with his frankness...with the truth. It's uncharacteristic to read such things about love and life. It's all too real, a little to close for comfort, but Stegner steps over the boundary of conventional literature and christens the reader with the true word of truth.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

If I had to describe Malamud's The Assistant after the first 100 pages or so, I'm certain my summary would have failed miserably. It is not a story about deprivation or about loneliness. It is not a story about lost chances and desperation. It is a story about survival and hope. It is a story about redemption and aspiration. The heart of the novel is how we all struggle to survive in the world we live in, in the world that has formed around us. Sometimes it's because of our own actions, but oftentimes, it's the environment that shapes our world and darkens the doorways. But we always have hope. Morris Bober had hope. Helen Bober had hope. Frank Alpine had hope. And in times of disaster, when the lighted path fails to show itself, hope is our Beatrice. Whether it's Frank's hope to repay a debt that has sunken his soul or whether it's Helen's hope to go to college and better her life. This hope gets us through the long impenetrable months of solitude and loneliness.

Waking, she fought an old distrust of the broken-faced stranger, without success. The stranger had changed, grown unstrange. That was the clue to what was happening to her. One day he seemed unknown, lurking at the far end of an unlit cellar; next he was standing in sunlight, a smile on his face, as if all she knew of him and all she didn't, had fused into a healed and easily remembered whole.

Malamud gave Frank the passion and Helen the feelings and thoughts. The dichotomy of characters intriguing...partly because it goes against stereoptypes, but mostly because it gave the book movement. The characters, though sometimes lacking vigor to struggle through life, became people I knew. They were me and I was them. Part Frank, part Helen, part Morris. Malamud captured my humanity in a few characters in a couple hundred pages. Knowing my thoughts and writing what I would have said, Malamud is the voice of the street of New York and Boston. Moscow and Chicago. He knows us all so well.

Just finished:
Bernard Malamud The Assistant

Now reading:
Wallace Stegner Crossing to Safety
Plutarch Makers of Rome

Monday, July 10, 2006

Almost four weeks away from the blogosphere. My hiatus began with computer problems, making posts became impossible. Then one week of not blogging turned into two weeks of lounging and trying to enjoy the summer. I took from the midsummer what I could and my reading and writing ways are back. I only read Walker Percy's The Moviegoer and Michael Dirda's Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life.

My summer reading books are piling up beneath my desk, ever closer to toppling over and scattering under the bed. Listening to the MLB All-Star Home Run contest, I'm trying to finish Bernard Malamud's The Assistant. I always thought it was about a young professional in the corporate world. Don't ask why. I just did. I couldn't have been further from the truth and that's a good thing. Malamud has painted a painfully real portrayal of not just urban life, but life. A struggling grocer in New York, Morris Bober, is mugged by two assailants. Alone, this act is nothing too unusual. However, one of the thieves comes back to help the grocer, to repay what he stole. He doesn't tell the grocer, or the grocer's wife that he was one of the robbers, but he works hard in the store paying the money back, but continuing to pilfer here and there.

It's a story of redemption, religion and love. Because not only does Frank Alpine try and redeem himself, but he falls for Morris's daughter Helen. For any male reader, Helen is the ideal.

He asked her what book she was reading.
The Idiot. Do you know it?
No. What's it about?
It's a novel.
I'd rather read the truth, he said.
It is the truth.

This is Helen. This is my Helen.

Now reading:
Bernard Malamud The Assistant
Plutarch The Makers of Rome

Friday, June 23, 2006

After reading Stefanie's post on Proust I thought that I'd post the famous Proust Questionaire.

Here are Proust's answers at 7:

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? To be separated from Mama

Where would you like to live? In the country of the Ideal, or, rather, of my ideal

What is your idea of earthly happiness? To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? To a life deprived of the works of genius

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? Those of romance and poetry, those who are the expression of an ideal rather than an imitation of the real

Who are your favorite characters in history? A mixture of Socrates, Pericles, Mahomet, Pliny the Younger and Augustin Thierry

Who are your favorite heroines in real life? A woman of genius leading an ordinary life

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Those who are more than women without ceasing to be womanly; everything that is tender, poetic, pure and in every way beautiful

Your favorite painter? Meissonier

Your favorite musician? Mozart

The quality you most admire in a man? Intelligence, moral sense

The quality you most admire in a woman? Gentleness, naturalness, intelligence

Your favorite virtue? All virtues that are not limited to a sect: the universal virtues

Your favorite occupation? Reading, dreaming, and writing verse

Who would you have liked to be? Since the question does not arise, I prefer not to answer it. All the same, I should very much have liked to be Pliny the Younger.

Seven years later, age 20:

Your most marked characteristic? A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired

The quality you most like in a man? Feminine charm

The quality you most like in a woman? A man's virtues, and frankness in friendship

What do you most value in your friends? Tenderness - provided they possess a physical charm which makes their tenderness worth having

What is your principle defect? Lack of understanding; weakness of will

What is your favorite occupation? Loving

What is your dream of happiness? Not, I fear, a very elevated one. I really haven't the courage to say what it is, and if I did I should probably destroy it by the mere fact of putting it into words.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? Never to have known my mother or my grandmother

What would you like to be? Myself - as those whom I admire would like me to be

In what country would you like to live? One where certain things that I want would be realized - _and where feelings of tenderness would always be reciprocated_. [Proust's underlining]

What is your favorite color? Beauty lies not in colors but in thier harmony

What is your favorite flower? Hers - but apart from that, all

What is your favorite bird? The swallow

Who are your favorite prose writers? At the moment, Anatole France and Pierre Loti

Who are your favoite poets? Baudelaire and Alfred de Vigny

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Hamlet

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Phedre (crossed out) Berenice

Who are your favorite composers? Beethoven, Wagner, Shuhmann

Who are your favorite painters? Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt

Who are your heroes in real life? Monsieur Darlu, Monsieur Boutroux (professors)

Who are your favorite heroines of history? Cleopatra

What are your favorite names? I only have one at a time

What is it you most dislike? My own worst qualities

What historical figures do you most despise? I am not sufficiently educated to say

What event in military history do you most admire? My own enlistment as a volunteer!

What reform do you most admire? (no response)

What natural gift would you most like to possess? Will power and irresistible charm

How would you like to die? A better man than I am, and much beloved

What is your present state of mind? Annoyance at having to think about myself in order to answer these questions

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Those that I understand

What is your motto? I prefer not to say, for fear it might bring me bad luck.

Yes, 7 and 20. It almost doesn't seem real, that someone, let alone at such young and impressionable ages, could answer these questions with such perfection.

I'd post my responses, but then people may see me for who I really am and that may be better left unseen.
Go out today and read Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

When we set out to do something, does it ever happen as we expected? Going to the grocery store, do we only stick the listed items? Ok, that's maybe a bad analogy for the voyage of the pilgrims on the Mayflower, but I'm trying here. Imagine setting out for a new world, still vastly undiscovered and certainly unreliable.

When he later wrote about the voyage of the Mayflower, Bradford devoted only a few paragraphs to describing a passage that lasted more than two months. The physical and psychological punishment endured by the passengers in the dark and dripping 'tween decks was compounded by the terrifying lack of information they possessed concerning their ultimate destination. All they knew for certain was that if they did somehow succeed in crossing this three-thousand-mile stretch of ocean, no one-except perhaps for some hostile Indians-would be there to greet them.

I may not have agreed with their religion, but those on the Mayflower had conviction like I've never known. Their voyage to America was supposed to be the great beginning of a life of religious freedom. Basically kicked out of England at the beginning of the 17th Century for their reformist views on the Church, the English Separatists found refuge in Leiden, Holland. After nearly 12 years in Holland, they were beginning to wear out their welcome. Next stop America.

Young William Bradford was one of the first men of the congregation to sign up for the voyage. However, Bradford and his wife Dorothy, decided to leave their son John in Holland, presumably with her family. It would have been a dangerous passage and then the settlement would be another terrible ordeal. I don't know if William and Dorothy were right in leaving their son behind, but I want to find out.

Now reading:
Nathaniel Philbrick Mayflower
Jeanette Winters Lighthousekeeping

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My head's been all over the place recently. That's my excuse for lack of posts. I'm still reading Atwood's The Blind Assassin and I'm getting deep into it. But I also bought Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower. I wanted to read a work of non-fiction, so I got this Costco. Hey, I'm an advocate of independent bookstores, but it's a brand new hardcover and it was only $16. I couldn't pass it up. Ok, I could have, but I didn't. I lack will power. Always have. So that's two books I'm reading and I don't know how to write about non-fiction, but I'll give it a go tomorrow.

It was supposed to be in the low 80s today in Boston with chance of rain. Yesterday was 90 and Sunday it was about 98 or 114 degrees. Today, at 81 or 82, I thought it would feel like a reprieve. It didn't. Anyway, I went to my courtyard to read, but only lasted about 15 minutes there before scampering inside, making straight away for the cooler aisles of the library. Three books and 30 minutes later, I was on my way back outside and off to the dreaded cubicle life. At least Kenneth Harvey's The Town That Forgot How to Breathe, Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping were tucked, and stuck, under my arm, set to keep me company in my cube. If misery loves company, boredom and heat love books.

Monday, June 19, 2006

She stubs out her cigarette in the brown glass ashtray, then settles herself against him, ear to his chest. She likes to hear his voice this way, as if it begins not in his throat but in his body, like a hum or a growl, or like a voice speaking from deep underground. Like the blood moving through her own heart: a word, a word, a word.

- Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin

Friday, June 16, 2006

Twenty-five years ago Bukowski was a literary outcast. Now the author of Notes of a Dirty Old Man will be housed at the Huntington Library in California. My, how far we've come.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

When I finally got home with my new purchases around 8 p.m., I had The Blind Assassin on my mind, but the soccer field was calling me. New soccerball? Check. New cleats? Check. I played until just around 9 p.m., when the light faded enough that I would have injured myself in one of the all too common potholes that potmark the field.

I feel like I cheated on Atwood. I didn't mean to, but even a former athlete and current oaf like me has to do get off the couch every now and again.

And getting on the field again, even if by myself and only for a little while, I know why people write books and movies about sport. Smelling the grass, the feel of my boots squishing in the not firm ground, made me think of The Natural. I guess that's only because there are no great soccer movies to relate to.

Just thought I'd share that tonight. I felt young again...if only for a night.

Reading now:
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin

Listening to:
Frank Sinatra In the Wee Small Hours
Things no one told me. 1)Margaret Atwood is great. 2)Margaret Atwood is a post-modernist. 3)Margaret Atwood gives David Mitchell a run for his money. All of the above were unbeknownst to be me...until now.

Atwood's The Blind Assassin tells the story, I think, of Iris Chase Griffen. But it's Iris's sister Laura Chase that retains most of my attention. Or at least, begs my attention.

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

Come on. She can't really start a novel with a sentence like that, can she? It's brilliant. Through the first 140 pages or so, Iris is telling us her life story in a way. Iris is now 80 years old and living on her own. She tells the story of her family's button factory and their strange tale of war, courtship, shell-shock, death and buttons. But intricately placed within this relatively common storytelling concept, Atwood has placed chapters of Laura's posthumously published novel, The Blind Assassin, as section breaks. Laura's Assassin narrative is about two unnamed lovers secretly meeting in rundown places to make love and tell stories. The unnamed man is telling the woman a story that I figure takes place in the future, or something of the sort. It's a bizarre story, but hell, it's enticing.

The more of Atwood I read, the more I look back on Mitchell's Cloud Atlas as an almost tame book. His sections were separate narratives stitched together with a sometimes obvious connection. Atwood doesn't explain herself like Mitchell does. She doesn't tie things up. At least not yet.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

In the kitchen, there's one window that opens up onto the backyard and looks toward the beach. The kitchen gets the cross breeze, the living room gets traffic noise. Somehow this doesn't seem right. I spend more time in the living room and instead of gentle, salt scented air wafting through the room, I get cars thumping music, horns and ambulances. Not a situation conducive to reading...or blogging, but I try.

I finished Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants in this very room, two flights above screeching brakes and and trembling bass. I had never read Gruen before, but knew that she had an affinity for animals in her writing. Water for Elephants is no different. It tells the story of Jacob, a veteranarian school dropout from Cornell who catches on with a traveling circus during The Depression. He becomes the defacto vet and becomes a member of the bizarre. What's unusual about this novel, at least what I found unusual, is that the freaks, geeks, fat ladies and clowns are secondary characters. Instead, Gruen focuses on the roustabouts and the animal handlers. Basically, we're given enough time to see otherside of the circus, where cruelty and good faith are often times blurred. Why? Because the world is like that.

Jacob of course falls in love with the beautiful Marlena who performs with the horses and the elephant Rosie. But it's Marlena's belligerent husband August that stands between the two lovers. Though the love affair is an obvious eventuality, Gruen handles the circus jargon and doesn't get tied up trying to explain it all too much. As Jacob learns the life of the circus, so do we.

Just finished:
Sara Gruen Water for Elephants

Now reading:
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin

Listening to:
The street

Monday, June 12, 2006

The sun stopped lighting this part of the earth hours ago. With the black and blue night now fully encompassing the houses, trees and cars along my street, I somehow get lost in my thoughts again. I think more at night. Not better. More.

I haven't considered myself a writer for sometime now. I'm a reader and I know that. But Julian Barnes wonders who we read for. If critics have already written eloquently and insightful essays on a particular book and we have nothing new or better to add, then why do we read the book? Why? Because by reading it, it becomes yours. I'm interested in this idea that we, as readers, become possessive of a book, that we take it and make it our own. However, Barnes carries the analogy one step we possess our lives.

But life, in this respect, is a bit like reading. And as I said before: if all your responses to a book have already been duplicated and expanded upon by a professional critic, then what point is there to your reading? Only that it becomes yours. Similarly, why live your life? Because it's yours. But what if such an answer gradually becomes less and less convincing?

Barnes's narrator, George Braithwaite, is writing about his wife's attempted suicide, but I think the idea, or rather, the question is much larger than that. Is Barnes challenging us to make our lives more convincing, to make our lives worthwhile? Possibly, because like great art, I become encouraged and motivated after experiencing it...and like great art, the subject is open to interpretation. That is what I'm leaving with tonight. My life, though ordinary to the highest degree, has not been duplicated and only I can expand upon on it. I am my own critic and I am taking back my life...with the little help of a book.
I'm still here. Crazy weekend, but tonight I'll be ready to write a bit about the rest of Flaubert's Parrot and the first 100 pages of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.

Just finished:
Julian Barnes Flaubert's Parrot

Now reading:
Sara Gruen Water for Elephants

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Parrots only learn and repeat words, sayings, phrases, sounds, that they've been taught or have heard over a long period of time. There's one at my dog's vet that sounds like a Nextel phone. It's uncanny. Is Flaubert's fascination with the parrot metaphorical for the life of a writer? Do writers only regurgitate what they've heard before? Or is there actual creation in the writing, true art? And now that I think about it, what makes me believe that Flaubert was fascinated by the parrot? Is it because Barnes writes that Flaubert possibly had two stuffed parrots (but at different locations) and stared at them while writing Un coeur simple, A Simple Heart? Within three weeks, the parrot began to "irritate him," Barnes states.

Flaubert may have been of the literary philosophy, some call him the first Modern writer, that there is no deeper meaning in novels. They are what they are. But Barnes seems to revel in this idea of Flaubert who, with every novel, wrote more and more about his life, even if subconsciously.

We can, if we wish (and if we disobey Flaubert), submit the bird to additional interpretation. For instance, there are submerged parallels between the life of the prematurely aged novelist and the maturely aged Felicite. Critics have sent in the ferrets. Both of them were solitary; both of them had lives stained with loss; both of them, though full of grief, were persevering. Those keen to push things further suggest that the incident in which Felicite is struck down by a mail-couch on the road to Honfleur is a submerged reference to Gustave's first epileptic fit, when he was struck down on the road outside Bourg-Achard. I don't know. How submerged does a reference have to be before it drowns?

I don't know either Julian, but I'm going to read the rest of your book to see if I can get a better glimpse. So far, I don't know if Flaubert's Parrot is more of a testament to Flaubert's or Barnes's brilliance and I don't know if I ever will.
I'd ban coincidences, if I were a dictator of fiction. Well, perhaps not entirely. Coincidences would be permitted in the picaresque; that's where they belong. Go on, take them: Let the pilot whose parachute has failed to open land in a haystack, let the virtuous pauper with the gangrenous foot discover the buried treasure-it's all right, it doesn't really matter.

One way of legitimising coincidences, of course, is to call them ironies. That's what smart people do. Irony is, after all, the modern mode, a drinking companion for resonance and wit. Who could be against it? And yet, sometimes I wonder if the wittiest, most resonant isn't just a well-brushed, well-educated coincidence.

- Julian Barnes Flaubert's Parrot

I'm enamored with Barnes's intellectual game he calls a novel.

I just got in to work, wet and soggy from the New England rain, and just wanted to write this up quick. I couldn't stop thinking about Barnes playing with the concept of literature. This quote is a microcosm of the book so far. At first you think he's going to be serious about coincidences, but by the end, I don't know if he's still anti-coincidence or what. Maybe that's the point? I love the book so far anyway. It's a like a brainteaser.

When I get home tonight, I'm going to attempt to write about my perception of the parrot as writer metaphor that Barnes and Flaubert tackle. If they could do it, I should have no problem. Piece of cake.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I don't know what it is about The Name of the Rose, but it's not the same Eco from The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. His writing is fluid, precise and difficult, but it's making for a fairly tedious book. I don't read with a dictionary at hand and I seldom, if ever, refer to a dictionary when I'm done with a book. If I don't know what the word means, then I don't want to know or I like to think the author didn't want us to know, therefore it's not integral to the novel. Eco surely doesn't expect his readers to know all the Latin he uses in Name of the Rose and I couldn't imagine looking up the words. Instead, it's all a matter of the words flowing and speaking of the novel in the scientific, ancient way in which they're spoken by the monks. I like that. But Eco has taken it too far. It's a long novel and it's being dragged down with the Latin terms and sayings. And I know it's much more than a mystery, but there seems to be too much going on. I feel like young Adso following brilliant William, but not necessarily knowing what he's speaking about. Not a fun way to spend your spare time.

I'm halfway through and should finish it this week, but Eco is not making me want to finish it and that I have a problem with. Saramago, who I somehow keep comparing Eco to, never tries to make his readers feel inferior. Eco, is coming off as being smarter-than-thou. And if I was smarter now, I'd drop the book for a more enjoyable read, but a quitter I'm not. At least not yet.

Eco said it perfectly himself: Graecum est, non legitur
It is Greek to me

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I stole my friend's respite spot. I know, I'm awful. The Boston Public Library, though some parts are beautiful and gothic, most of the library is similar to the cement based buildings of the 1970s. Danielle at A Work in Progress wrote about Brutalism architecture in a recent post. That is the BPL. But in between the divergent library wings is a courtyard, complete with gurgling fountain, flowers, plants and green. Now it's mine. Lunch hours are eased away in a seat by the fountain, book harmlessly held shut, eyes hesitantly closed and the city and work far away. After work, for a cool down, I sit and try not to worry about the next day. Do I read there? Hardly. I dream there. It is mine.

She claims she can no longer go there because I've stolen it. Why she can't continue to go there is beyond me, but I don't mind, I'll take it. For her it's a park bench on Comm Ave. among walkers, workers and wanderers passing as she tries to steal a few pages. I may also have workers and wanderers, but we are a chosen few who have selected this hideaway as our escape and relinquish it, we won't. You can find me there tomorrow too. And the day after.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And beneath the feet of the ancients, and arched over them and over the throne and over the tetramorphic group, arrranged in symmetrical bands, barely distinguishable one from another because the artist's skill had made them all so mutually proportionate, united in their variety and varied in their unity, unique in their diversity and diverse in their apt assembly, in wondrous congruency of the parts with the delightful sweetness of hues, miracle of consonance and concord of voices among themselves dissimilar, a company arrayed like strings of the zither, consentient and conspiring continued cognition through deep and interior force suited to perform univocally in the same alternating play of the equivocal, decoration and collage of creatures beyond reduction to vicistudes and to vicissitudes reduced, work of amorous connecting sustained by law at once heavenly and worldly (bond and stable nexus of peace, love, virtue, regimen, power, origin, life, light, splendor, species, and figure), numerous and resplendent equality through the shining of the form over the proporionate parts of the material-there, all the flowers and leaves and vines and bushes and corymbs were entwined, of all the grasses that adorn the gardens of earth and heaven, violet, cystus, thyme, lily, privet, narcissus, taro, acanthus, mallow, myrrh, and Mecca balsam.

-Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

One sentence. Had to quote it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Finally got a call back. I have an interview Saturday morning for the manager position at an indenpendent book store her in Boston. Well, it's right outside of Boston. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to an hour delay on the T today, I was able to finish Hilary Mantel's Fludd. I'm not quite sure if I'm going to write about it yet. And I don't know if it has inspired me to read anything else by Mantel. It was a decent, short book, but I'm going to sleep on it until I pass any more judgement on it.

I'm trying to decide what book to lend my friend, the one who hated Case Histories and who struggled through Sarah Hall's The Electric Michelangelo. However, I talked enough about Coetzee's Disgrace that she finally borrowed it and really liked it. Now, what to do...

Just read:
Hilary Mantel Fludd

Now reading:
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

On deck:
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin

Monday, May 29, 2006

One of the used book stores I frequent in Middleton was hit hard in the recent floodings in Massachusetts. The owner said they lost about 3,000 books. Entire listings of authors, who lived on the lower shelves, are gone. The W's did look a little thin. No Thomas Wolfe to be had.

Though some books were washed away, I picked up seven titles for $25. Not bad for a quick stop. Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Library, Robertson Davies's What's Bred in the Bone, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Michael Dorris's A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin and Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories all found their way into my awaiting hands.

(This book store still uses the old credit card machine where they slide the press over the card. No computer.)

The books remained dormant that night as I took my sister out for her 23rd birthday. Happy 23rd A.B.!

That night, nestled snugly into his own high feather bed beneath the only roof he had ever called his own, he was, without awareness of a transition, plunged precipitously into dreams of terrific violence that shuddered him awake hours later to a quaking darkness and bedclothes damp with sweat, unable to locate precisely where or even who he was. Then he remembered. It's America, he thought, and you, whoever you are, will be alright. It's America, and everything was going to be fine.

And so ended Amalgamation Polka, Stephen Wright's nod to the gothic Civil War tale. I was waiting for a great ending and Wright fulfilled my expectations with this killer paragraph. At a time when the America seemed like it was going to break at the seems of the Republic, Liberty Fish shudders at his memories of war, but remains optimistic of our future, an all too common thread in history. But without such people, our country, as we know it, would never have been.

Wright captures the onslaught of war and one's difficulty in finding their place in it better than Charles Frazier ever did in Cold Mountain. When Cold Mountain and it's ubersentimentality, was laden with romance and war better left to the masters like Tolstoy or in the pages of Doctor Zhivago. Wright dodged sentimentality with ease and portrayed a truer world. A world that is often left to the imagination.

Even as a child Liberty had known-though he couldn't begin to say how-that this world was not what it seemed, that closely hidden behind the mundane affairs of the day lurked layer upon unexamined layer of outright strangeness, of which what passed for ordinary was merely protective out covering, the skin, so to speak, of a beast so huge, so vital, it could never be discerned whole in all its proportions. This vacant town was permitting him a modest peek.

Liberty Fish is more than just a young man on a rite of passage, men like him always are. Liberty walks through life observing human nature at its best (at home with his mother and father, vehement abolitionists) and the worst (in the South with his maternal grandparents,) and we are allowed to see the breadth of humanity in his travels. Once again, as in many books I find moving and poignant, as Liberty explored his world and discovered himself, we discovered a little of ourselves along the way.

I've written almost an identical conclusion before, but it seems to endure in my mind like few other themes.

The snow fell between them like a cheap, disintegrating curtain.
"I was fortunate," admitted Liberty, attempting to conceal his discomfort behind a wan smile.
"No, you wasn't, that's for true. It's how it was writ down in the book before you, me or anybody was ever born. It's how you was writ from the beginning, the character you was dictated to impersonate through all the daylong turnings of the page."

Now reading:
Hilary Mantel Fludd

On deck:
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I wouldn't say I was hesitant to read Stephen Wright's Amalgamation Polka, but I couldn't stop thinking about the Boston comic, Stephen Wright. Yes, I kept hearing the monotone Wright and his dry, "Why do you park in a driveway and drive on a parkway?" But I overcame my strange momentary apprehension and picked up Amalgamation at the library last week. Good move. Each sentence is sewn together with beautiful words, seemingly plucked from the sky or picked out of a thesaurus that I've never seen. The storytelling is old story telling, with a modern sense of the world.

Last night, my dears as often occurs in someone of my advanced years, I experienced some difficulty sleeping. The mind, you should understand, possesses a will of its own that not even prayer can always correct. So, as is my custom on such occasions, I sat for many an hour in my rocker in the parlor window, watching the dead wandering like fireflies among the stones of the cemetery across the valley. They can't sleep either, poor things. They're here with us, you know, every minute of every hour. No, no, don't bother twisting your necks about. You cannot see them from where you are sitting. If you could step outside yourselves even for a moment and view the world through your spiritual eye, then all would be instantly apprehensible. This is heaven, children. We have, each blessed one of us, already been translated. Our earthly senses are like blinders beguiling us from the truth.

Is Ma'am L'Orange speaking to us or the kids, her students? It comes through the page as if we were the ones being preached to by an old, somewhat daft lady. Though she was out of her senses, I'm sure we've all been told worse stories than her beautiful elegy.

From now on, it's breath Stephen Wright, author, in and Stephen Wright, comedian, out.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Contrary to what most people think, making a decision is one of the easiest decisions in the world, as is more than proved by the fact that we make decision upon decision throughout the day, there, however, we run straight into the heart of the matter, for these decisions come to us afterward with their particular little problems, or to make ourselves quite clear, with their right edges needing to be smoothed, the first of these problems being our capacity for sticking to a decision and the second our willingness to follow through it.

It's easier to touch upon the larger themes of Double than the plot and characters. If I tried to explain the layers of the plot, in my amateur methods, I'd probably give too many hints and uncover the Saramago-ness of it all.

I guess I have more questions than answers after reading this book and I know that's not always a bad thing. Saramago prods us to think about life in ways that many of us could never fathom. Reality doesn't necessarily have layers as some artists argue, but according to my reading of Saramago, reality can be altered with our slightest actions. I like this concept. Giving humans the knowledge and will to change their lives is godly and Saramago doesn't mind touching upon humans' idea of what is natural. Is is it natural to have an exact duplicate of ourselves? Is it natural to accept things just because they've always been so? Is it natural to kill and rape just because we can? Who creates these laws and norms? Can they be changed? Should they be changed?

Double was a second tier book, not Saramago's finest. Yet, ideas and words flow from him as if from another life source. I don't know if Saramago is our conscience or the devil in us, but he stimulates me. What more can you ask from literature?
I wouldn't be worried or think it's the world would end. What's that? Oh that's the answer to a question I've been asking myself the entire way through Double. What's the question? How would I (you) feel if I suddenly realized that there was another person walking around that looked absolutely identical to me? Same eyes, same wrinkles, same scars, same hairline. I wouldn't be worried or think it's the end of the world. But Tertuliano Maximo Afonso seems to think just this. He starts to flake and care less about his classes and students (he's a high school history teacher,) he doesn't tell his girlfriend, he doesn't tell his mother. Instead he becomes obsessed, crazed to find his doppleganger. But what does it all mean? What is Saramago trying to tell me? Unlike Blindness and The History of the Siege of Lisbon, I don't see Saramago's big picture. Of course all that we know, or all that we think, to be true would be turned upside down, but that happens in a lot of real situations as well. What is it about an exact duplicate that creates a bizarre world? Jose, what are you trying to tell me? I can't hear you...yet. I'll try and finish it tonight, then I'll sleep on it and dream of a world in which there are two Liquid Thoughts out there. The world might not end, but I think one's enough.

Now reading:
Jose Saramago Double

On deck:
Stephen Wright The Amalgamation Polka

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I think I may go back and finish three books that I started and abandoned. Henry Jame's The Portrait of a Lady, Gogol's Dead Souls and Balzac's Euegenie Grandet. I owe it to James and Gogol to finish their masterpieces and I owe it to Balzac who's never led me astray in the past. But the clouds seem to have parted and the sun is making itself felt now so I don't know how much reading I'll get done tonight. Tonight may be more apt for dreaming instead of reading, but I have Saramago to near my side. And though it's not nearly as interesting as The History of the Siege of Lisbon or Blindness, Double still has enough of Saramago's supreme language to maintain my enthusiasm. It's six o'clock Sunday and I'm going to enjoy the rest of the day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Finished Eco's Mysterious Flame last night and made my way to the half way point of Saramago's Double.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I stole this top ten list idea from Danielle at A Work in Progress. My mother always said, when there's a fire, everyone grab the photo albums. Well, these are the top ten books I'd save from a order.

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
2. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
3. Volume 1 of Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
5. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
7, The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky
7. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
8. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
9. A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton
10. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
What is it about memory that makes intrigues writers? Proust, Kerouac, Eco and a list of others write about memories. Proust and Kerouac wrote about their youths as they remembered them. Or more correctly, as they wanted to remember them. Can Proust really remember exactly how he felt when he visited Combray or can Kerouac really remember what he saw from his crib? I don't think they actually want us to think they could. It's their relation to their memory that has made them search for themselves in art as a way to explain themselves or those around them. Eco plays with the concept of memory in a more problematic way. For the first part of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana he questions the derivatives of memory and what memory is. If we don't remember something, but we're told a story that relayed what happened, does that constitute a memory? Is memory only something that we think we remember or is it anything in our past? Did it have to happen to be a memory? Or can we think it happened? Then in the second part of the novel, Eco begins to remember his childhood perfectly. Only problem is that it isn't necessarily in order. And I agree with this because I don't believe we can reach into our minds and pull out experiences without dragging out various other experiences that related to one another. Chaos with no order as Saramago would say.

I think writers deal with memory because it's a topic that has no definitive answer. I certainly wouldn't read a writer that was simply spewing facts at me. I like reading something that makes me think, especially about the world and myself. And as an amateur writer, I would never want to write about something I'm certain about. I write because it's the investigation that interests me. Writers are supposed to be inquisitive and relay their findings, no matter how vague, to us. At least that's how I see it. I guess that's why I don't care much for books that have tied-up endings. Life isn't that way and neither should my art. I think.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I decided to leave Eco at home today for a number of reasons. First, my bag was loaded with library books I have to return during lunch. Second, I only have about 70 pages left and I didn't want to have to bring another book along in case I finished Eco before I got home (Imagine spending a 45 minute train ride with no book?!) Third(ly?), I wanted to have it at home, waiting for me to finish it. I like that sort of excitement.

In place of Eco, I brought along Mr. Saramago's Double. I know I've read one his books earlier in the year, but the man is brilliant. I read with a pen in my hand, within striking distance of the page, ready to underline any passage, sentence, name, or town I want...and I could underline every line of a Saramago novel.

Why, Because you're not content with anything, I'd be content with very little if I had it.

Tertuliano Maximo Afonso cannot shake off the idea that so many chance events and coincidences coming all together could very well correspond to a plan, as yet unrevealed.

The fact that history does not record a fact doesn't mean the fact did not exist.

However great an effort it may take, we know that all it requires to escape from a nightmare is to open our eyes, but the cure in this case was to close the eyes, not his own, but those reflected in the mirror.

In the first 36 pages, I noted these passages. With 300 more to go, I know I'll be able to find more shards of wisdom from Mr. Saramago.

Intuitive. That's how I'd describe him. Does that make sense?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"I did not read everything word for word. Some books and magazines I skimmed as though I were flying over a landscape, and as I did I was aware of already knowing what was written in them. As though a single word could summon back a thousand others, or could blossom into a full-bodied summary, likethose Japanese flowers that open in water. As though something were striking out on its own to settle in my memory, to keep Oedipus and Don Quixote company. At times the short circuit was caused by drawing, three thousand words for one picture. At times I would read slowly, savoring a phrase, a passage, a chapter, experiencing perhaps the same emotions sparked by my first, forgotten reading."

Waiting for the coffee to finish percolating, I keep going back to Eco's perception of rereading his life. In an attempt to regain is memory, Eco's narrator, Yambo, retreats to his family home and spends hours sweating in the attic or in his grandfather's old study, refamiliarizing himself, with, well, himself. Would you want to reread all the books of you childhood? I know many of the ones that I remember are part of popular culture and I've reread them many times since my first experience with them, but I'm not thinking about Curious George or Dr. Seuss. More like Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne, as Eco writes about. The problem with my childhood, is that the books of my youth are nothing on par with Eco or most others. Since I didn't start reading or appreciating stories until the seventh grade, when I was a little bit older, my memories of Matt Christopher sports novels. I know many readers still remember the books their parents read them or they read to themselves on their top bunk at night. My only other frame of referene is the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I seemingly read every mystery, but lack the memory of particular episodes.

In Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana,as Yambo discovers a memory brought out by a particular book, I feel like I'm remembering something as well. It's impossible, I know. But it's a mysterious and wonderful feeling to have a memory of something you didn't experience. As Yambo plays pulls out his notebooks from his grammar school days during World War II, I'm rummaging through the attic of my youth, spreading out my life for the first time...again. I had never heard of Le Avventure di Ciuffettino...The Adventures of Ciuffettino. A boy who had "an immense quiff that gave him a curious appearence, causing him to resemble a feather duster. And do you know, he was fond of his quiff!

I never had a Ciuffettino, but because of Eco, I now hold part of him and will only hope to get more.

Now reading:
Eco The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
W.G. Sebald After Nature

Listening to:
Billie Holiday Lady in Satin

Friday, May 12, 2006

I'm surviving, but barely. My internet connection at home has been down for two days. I never realized how much I use the world wide web before. Checking ESPN for baseball scores, checking e-mail, writing posts, browsing my daily blog...anything and everything I seem to do, is on-line. And I'm not. But that should change today. I called Comcast last night and a tech is coming out today to check our modem. My sister's going to be there so I don't have to take a day off of work, which wouldn't have actually been a bad thing.

In my new found time of not blogging or losing myself in space, I finished Tussing's The Best People in the World and have moved on to Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. It's my first Eco and I've been surprised so far. I never really took him for a modern writer, but his style is a cohesive version of post-World War II literature. Which, I guess it is because that's what he is. He plays with sentence structure and memory and I'm digging it so far.

The story's about a man who has had some sort of problem and ended up in the hospital with now memory of his personal life. We haven't been told how/why he ended up in the hospital, but that's part of Eco's game I take it. The narrator, is an antiquarian book dealer in Italy that can remember everything he's read and learned, but not his children, his wife or favorite food. He's fully functional and Eco allows the narrator, nicknamed Yambo, but who's actually named after the great Type and Font creator Bondoni, to experience firsts again. He eats his favorite food for the first time again; he falls in love with his grandchildren for the first time again; he makes love for the first time again; and most importantly, he goes home for the first time again. And that's where I am right now. Yambo has arrived at his family's country home and now the secrets will be least I think and hope they will.

Eco's a master craftsman and now my only regret is that I put off reading The Name of the Rose for so long simply because I saw the movie so many times.

Onward and upward.