Friday, October 6, 2017

October Report

A List: Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.................................................................101/120
B List: Gertrude Stein, Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas..................................214/252
C List: Charlaine Harris, A Bone to Pick...........................................................131/262


Two books with "Alice" in the title is an interesting coincidence.


I know it hasn't been that long since I read about Alice for the IWE list and wrote about it here. However it had never come up on the A list before and sometimes it happens that certain books will have their turn come up on both lists fairly close in time--this occurred with The Age of Reason. The repetition does not bother me, in fact I find it helpful, since I don't actually have a very thorough familiarity with most of the central books in this line I have been following.


The Charlaine Harris book is one of a series of light, perhaps even mildly goofy, mysteries in which the sleuth is a librarian in a small town in Texas. There is some humor in it however, and a good pace, and I am enjoying it as a change from what I usually read. It was published in 1992, so it takes place in that pre-internet world of my young adulthood that I miss sometimes, though mostly I think because I don't travel or go to parties or fun social events anymore and I associate all of these fun things with that particular period of my life the end of which happened to coincide with the rise of ubiquitous technology and the increasingly sour national preoccupation with politics. But still, characters within the period of my own experience reading newspapers and looking up information in books, how can I resist?


Due to an extra block of words that did not properly belong to any particular book on the IWE list that I did not know what to do with, I decided to have a Bonus Mini-Challenge. Needless to say, one of the words used to generate results was "Stein".


1. Sol Stein--Stein on Writing....................................................................288
2. Sol Stein--How to Grow a Novel..............................................................61
3. Sol Stein--Reference Book for Writers.................................................... 10


For the record, I had #2 beat #3 and #1 beat #2 and I have already secured my copy of #1. It looks like it's going to make me feel bad about myself, since it is about serious professional level writing as practiced in the latter part of the 20th century, which must remind me in some way of everything that bothers me about my life. Well, tough, right. Take your medicine, boy.







Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ireland

1. Dublin..............................................11






2. Galway..............................................7
3. Mayo.................................................5
4. Cork...................................................2
5. Sligo...................................................1

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Elizabeth Barrett Browning--Aurora Leigh (1856)


A week ago, as I began to try to organize this report, I was overcome, as I frequently am, for several days with one of the stronger instances I have yet had of the futility of all of these pursuits (i.e. reading, though this could be expanded to any area of study or investigation usually thought of as requiring intellect), seeing as, as I have frequently noted, they have long ceased to lead to any noticeable improvement in either my thinking or personality. This aside however, I think the real problem is that I am no longer in regular contact with anyone who lives any kind of intellectual-artistic life even semi-professionally, which turns all of it into something remote and unreal, a sort of play-acting. I was brought somewhat out of this mood by watching several of the extra features on the Criterion Collection DVD of Robert Bresson's 1983 movie, L'Argent, which happened to be his last film. As a side note I had somehow never heard of Bresson until I was out of college, even though I later found out that he was well-loved there and one of the professors gave a lecture or published something serious on the subject of his films. Anyway the special features included a half-hour Q & A session featuring the aged director at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a very well done video essay of about 45 minutes titled "Bresson A to Z" which explores some of the recurrent themes in his work, such as "doors", "hands", "ellipsis", etc, in an illuminating manner. The Q & A (with a nearly entirely French audience; the moderator translated all of the questions into English but none of the participants appears to be an English speaker) is notable mainly because Bresson is largely dismissive of the pedestrian questions that are posed to him, either by returning with a question of his own as to what the other person means as if he had said nothing at all, or if a supposition is included in the question ("There is no hope at the end of the film...") he will counter that of course the exact opposite is true. The French audience is comfortable with this sort of thing, indeed they seem to expect and enjoy it, they don't have the expectation that the great man is going to engage with them on their own everyday level, and indeed in the presence of someone like Bresson the great artists, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bach, Mozart, various 18th century painters, etc, come alive and are important again as they were when I was a student, the way they could always be I sense if I had found the right working or social path. But I rarely have the kind of encounters anymore that bring me back to that state of mind.



Despite including the book among its "Library of Literary Treasures" the IWE introduction is fairly lukewarm. "It has been criticized as much too long," they say, "and it is very long; and also the good poetry is often lost between unadorned narrative that should be in prose and is forced into metrical verses." I felt something of this, though given that I am largely out of the practice of reading long stretches of blank verse and often found myself getting tired quickly unless I had just awakened from a nap, I thought it might just be me. The versification and poetic sensibility are legitimately strong for the most part, and easily justify the use of the form. The story is both slight and implausible, and while it is not what one would specifically read the poem for, it does put an unnecessary strain on the verses at times.

I am going to try not to copy too many verses here since they don't make for exciting blog posts, but I always want to note a couple of samples to remember the books by. There were several passages of a feminist nature, decrying the expectations for a woman's life in Victorian England, the regard in which their intellectual and artistic abilities were generally held, etc, but there wasn't any brief set of lines on those topics that I especially liked. I do like her descriptions of the English landscape, indeed I admired these in several places.

(Book I, ll. 1079-84)

"And view the ground's most gentle dimplement,
(As if God's finger did not touch but press
In making England) such an up and down
Of verdure,--nothing too much up or down,
A ripple of land; such little hills, the sky
Can stoop to tenderly and the wheatfields climb;"

(II, 109-114) Aurora, defending her desire to write poetry to a skeptical man (and her eventual husband)

"...I perceive
The headache is too noble for my sex.
You think the heartache would sound decenter,
Since that's the woman's special, proper ache,
And altogether tolerable, except
To a woman."

(II, 218-25) The men in this time were of course pretty scornful of women's claims to any kind of cerebral equality or even pretension. In any event they would always have their say.

"Therefore this same world
Uncomprehended by you, must remain
Uninfluenced by you.--Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and perfect wives,
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you,--and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind."











(II, 901-7) Back to some more sublime nature poetry

"The hidden farms among the hills breathed straight
Their smoke toward heaven, the lime-tree scarcely stirred
Beneath the blue weight of the cloudless sky,
Though still the July air came floating through
The woodbine at my window, in and out,
With touches of the outdoor country-news
for a bending forehead."

(II, 991)

"Dear Romney, need we chronicle the pence?"

I regarded this as a humorous example of the author's poetic sensibility.

(III, 161-2)

"Three years I lived and worked. Get leave to work
In this world--'tis the best you get at all."

Evidence of the Carlyle influence. I should note that the poem does engage at some length with the horrible conditions of the working poor and the outright indigent, and with socialistic ideas.

(IV, 434-6)

"How strange his good-night sounded,--like good-night
Beside a deathbed, where the morrow's sun
Is sure to come too late for more good-days:"

I like these three little lines. Only a few more to go.

(VII, 224-7)

"The world's male chivalry has perished out,
But women are knights-errant to the last:
And if Cervantes had been Shakspeare too,
He had made his Don a Donna."

(VII, 1211-14) Sadly this applies all too fittingly to me

"...I marvel, people choose
To stand stock-still like fakirs, till the moss
Grows on them, and they cry out, self-admired,
`How verdant, and how virtuous!'"


I read this modern Norton Critical Edition of the book, since the only older hardback copies of it I could find were from the actual 1800s, which don't make for good reading copies. I do like the layout and the notes in the Norton Books, I have owned both their English and American literature anthologies for 20 years and always go to them first for poems especially if they have what I need. I must confess though when I got to the end I didn't have it in me to read through any of the 200 plus pages of critical essays.

(VIII, 677-79)

"Because the First has proved inadequate,
However we talk bigly of His work,
And piously of His person."

Is the president vindicated by the appearance of a word he was ridiculed for using in the work of a fairly major poet?

(VIII, 829-32) The perception of women having a "talking versus doing" problem when it comes to achieving great accomplishments. Some are insistent that this remains the case today, though I cannot claim to hold this opinion with any confidence.

"By speaking we prove only we can speak,
Which he, the man here, never doubted. What
He doubts is, whether we can do the thing
With decent grace we've not yet done at all."

That is enough, I think. 



The Challenge

After a string of lackluster challenges, the recap of this poem produced a large and varied field of contenders, with the qualifying cutoff at a fairly high 45. Among the interesting and notable books that failed to even make the tournament were Flush by Virginia Woolf (36), Eve's Hollywood by Eve Babitz (23), and Gigi by Colette (a mere 10).

1, Erin Morgenstern--The Night Circus.......................................................................6,120
2. Jim Butcher--Skin Game..........................................................................................3,610
3. Jim Butcher--The Aeronaut's Windlass....................................................................1,604
4. Tan Twan Eng--The Gift of Rain.................................................................................751
5. Jim Butcher--Furies of Calderon.................................................................................659
6. Sinclair Lewis--It Can't Happen Here.........................................................................620
7. Lisa Jacobsen--100 Ways to Love Your Husband........................................................340
8. Karl Rove--Courage and Consequence.......................................................................256
9. Willard (movie--2003).................................................................................................193
10. Charlaine Harris--Bone to Pick..................................................................................174
11. Matthew L. Jacobsen--100 Ways to Love Your Wife...................................................155
12. Charlaine Harris--Last Scene Alive............................................................................119
13. T. S. Eliot--The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock..........................................................83
14. Elizabeth Barrett Browning--Sonnets From the Portuguese........................................53
15. James Robert Parish--It's Good to be the King.............................................................50
16. Casese Quien Pueda (movie)........................................................................................45

Round of 16

#16 Casese Quien Pueda over #1 Morgenstern

I had missed the publication and apparent success of this runaway #1 seed, which dates to 2010. Normally such a book would easily be able to put away a movie, even a sexy-looking foreign one like Casese Quien Pueda appears to be, but the film had an upset allotted to it, which it takes here.

#15 Parish over #2 Butcher

The Parish book is a biography of Mel Brooks. I don't know who Jim Butcher is, but he appears to be some kind of science fiction/adventure writer, which sort of thing I have not found to my taste.

#14 Barrett Browning over #3 Butcher

While I am not sure I am ready for more Elizabeth Barrett Browning right away, she has to get the win here.

#4 Eng over #13 Eliot


Not that I don't love Prufrock, which I have of course read several times, and even recall a few classic lines from, but the Eng looks something like a worthy book and the challenge is supposed to be to some extent a departure from my comfort zone (though the classics are still allowed to win over books I really don't want to read).

#12 Harris over #5 Butcher

Both genre books. Harris is 200 pages shorter.

#6 Lewis over #11 M. Jacobsen

It Can't Happen Here seems to be the Lewis book that it most read nowadays, due to its popular subject matter, though my impression is that it was not considered one of his major works in his lifetime. I wrote admiringly about Arrowsmith here a few months back. Jacobsen, in addition to tallying less than half as many points as his wife for his mushy self-help book, is not acknowledged as a legitimate author by the library community, as not one of these institutions carries a copy of his book.

#10 Harris over #7 L. Jacobsen

Same story for the other Jacobsen.

#8 Rove over #9 Willard

I know, giving a win to Karl Rove is difficult, but I much try to set personal feelings of a non-literary nature aside in running this competition. Willard is a strange-looking movie starring the famous eccentric Crispin Glover, who since his famous turn as McFly in the original Back to the Future movie, has sworn off taking roles in anything that would be appealing to normal people.


Elite 8

#4 Eng over #16 Casese Quien Pueda

#15 Parish over #6 Lewis

The Lewis book is rather long for a Challenge book (458 pages).

#14 Barrett Browning over #8 Rove

#10 Harris (Bone to Pick) over #12 Harris (Last Scene Alive)

Final Four

#15 Parish over #4 Eng

Eng is also a little longer than is ideal for this competition (435 pages).

#10 Harris over #14 Barrett Browning

While it's another matchup EBB should have handled easily, she falls victim to the upset curse.


Championship

#10 Harris over #15 Parish

Controversial, and a mystery about a female librarian is not my usual fare. However it has a lot of momentum in the tournament, it is pretty short, and I think I am at a spot in the program where it wouldn't hurt to stick in a lighter reading for a couple of weeks to sharpen my concentration on the literature I am still taking on elsewhere.
  










Friday, September 8, 2017

September Update

A List--Thomas Carlyle--Sartor Resartus..........................................240/264
B--Elizabeth Barrett Browning--Aurora Leigh...................................299/312
C--Theodor Fontane--Effi Briest...........................................................84/239

All three current books are from the 19th century, though different parts of it, the Carlyle being from the 1820s, Browning the 1850s, and the Fontane from the 1890s. I also have managed to have one female author and one from a foreign literature, albeit a major European one.

I have been following a very strict reading schedule for about the past three years with regard to this project, either forcing myself to read my allotted amount of pages late at night before going to bed, or reading extra over the next day or set of days in order to catch up and stay on schedule. I think this was important as far as getting the program rolling enough that I didn't want to abandon it, but it's gotten to the point where some of my days are so busy that it just isn't possible to squeeze in 40-50 pages of book reading at any remotely quality level, however much I would like to. And then with another long Victorian poem coming up on the B-List, I decided I could relax my pace, for a while at least, to accommodate the reality of my day to day life. I do like long form old English poetry, and in my glory days of reading in the mid-90s when my brain was sharp and I had not been exposed to the internet yet I used to read a good deal of it calmly and undistractedly. The way my life is now this is difficult to do however. I have made a point of only reading the Browning especially when I am pretty well rested. Several times in the evening I have taken an hour or two nap before getting up and tackling a few hundred lines or so with a clearer head, and it has helped to some extent.

I have always found Carlyle to be the most generally incomprehensible of the famous Victorian writers. I can't imagine most modern people are able to get much out of him, except in snippets of comparative clarity in which his mindset (not to mention his language) are still so far from where almost anybody is now, or has been for the last sixty or seventy years. By which I mean his conception of man's place in the universe, relation to God, what kinds of human actions and attitudes and striving have significance and which either do not or escape his consideration are very different from the way we tend to think about these things now. His book is good to read as an accompaniment to Barrett Browning, who was friends with him and whose poem shows the influence of many of his ideas.

Giving that I usually have a period of 1-2 weeks in which to read the "C" list books while I am trying to write the essay for the "B" book, I have also scaled back on trying to read at least a little of the "C" book every day as well unless I have some extra time, which I do have a couple of days a week now that school has started again. Thus far I am enjoying Effi Briest, a book as well as an author of which I was completely ignorant heretofore, a great deal. I have often lamented that my systems did not give me more German literature to read, and in addition to being the kind of languid realist novel that I like anyway, the Imperial German setting has enough of a freshness for me that my interest is further heightened. To see Berlin depicted as a normal European capital on which the upper classes of people descend to shop and eat and stay in hotels and go to the theater just like we have read in a thousand books about London and Paris and Moscow and St Petersburg and New York is illuminating because I am not accustomed to thinking of it in that way. Maybe it is that way now, but the European world is seemingly so different from what it was for such a comparatively long time, and Berlin's character had diverged from these other capitals for most the last century anyway. Another new place for me in my reading life appears when Effi moves to the resort town on the Baltic Sea, in what is now Poland, although the area where the story is set is very near the current German border. The Baltic Sea coast is a big part of Europe, but stories and artwork set in it have not made their way to me very much. This area seems to have a character somewhat similar to where I live, in New England, quiet, lonely even, with a short summer season. So all of this has a great appeal for me.


The room where Sartor Resartus was written


Supposed to be Aurora Leigh, I think.


Effi Briest was made into a film by the legendary German director Fassbinder in 1974.


Evocative of Bergman


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Aucassin and Nicolette (c.1200)





One of the most popular and presumably accessible, as well as one of the greatest of the medieval Provencal romances, this is sometimes referred to as the French "Romeo and Juliet". It is also one of the shortest works on the entire list, so I wonder if I should not try reading it in (old) French sometime. Of course it is on the internet. Here are the first four lines:


"Qui vauroit bons vers oir
del deport du viel antif
de deus biax enfans petis,
Nicholete et Aucassins..."


I can probably make out enough of it to follow the story. Whether I would get it enough to get a much better sense of it as a work of literature, I don't know.


I read the relatively celebrated Andrew Lang translation in the 1957 Modern Library edition of Medieval Romances, which surprisingly does not include anything else that made the IWE list, though it does contain classics like Tristan and Iseult and Sir Gawain and the Green Night. Medieval Romances are evidently underrepresented on the program. I like romances and the ideals of the Middle Ages and old French literature enough that I enjoyed the tale and the nicely translated poetic parts well enough, though I was still more distracted than I would like to be and could not achieve the level of absorption in the book that I like to. Aucassin and Nicolette are, to my perception, a strange pair of lovers. Aucassin comes off as rather whiny and petulant, as opposed to say, angry and fierce, during the parts where his love is denied, refusing even to defend his father's castle from attack, though at other times he demonstrates bravery and martial skill more appropriate to his station. Nicolette, a Saracen who was captured as an infant and sold to a viscount is plucky and keeps her eye on the prize of marrying Aucassin, though I did not get a sense of her having a great romantic passion in the Shakeperean or Villonian sense. Apparently some experts have considered that Aucassin and Nicolette might be a parody of the romantic genre, and there are some decidedly odd episodes in it such as the king being in childbed and the battle fought with hunks of cheese for weapons.








I wish that perhaps I had read this when I was younger and more passionate and more innocent of the world of literature. It probably would have made a stronger impression on me.


I noted on the threadbare Wikipedia page for this book that Walter Pater in the Renaissance and Mortimer Adler somewhere in his writings took up this story. Since I have both of these at home I meant to take them up today and see what they had to say, but of course it slipped my mind because there were multiple things going on at my house today, and now I am not there. I am so scatterbrained nowadays it is comical. I need to try to finish this tonight or who knows how long it will take me.


It is now the next day, as I did not finish the report last night. And I forgot to look at the books again! My excuse is that I am I in the 2-week dog days period where my wife, who is a teacher, has gone back to work but the children haven't gone back to school yet so I have all of them all day. Also there were carpenters in the house today framing walls, so there were a lot of impingements on my intellectual life.


This is the (a?) week where everyone has been riled up politically and morally over Nazis, or wannabe Nazis and the "alt-right", which terms some have declared interchangeable. Of course I have a lot of thoughts about this, which seem to be more coherent when I am not trying to write them down, or maybe I am less tired earlier in the day. These kinds of topics are endlessly fascinating, I suspect because most people, apart from Donald Trump and a small number of others like him, are very attuned to the appearance in the world of people who may hate them, and there has been a considerable amount of hatred expressed in one form or another over our wonderful internet during the past week. Much commentary and denunciation have been passed on the Nazis/alt-righters themselves which I don't have much to add to. I don't deny that they are an embarrassment. I am not convinced how much of a threat they are. Supposedly they constitute a main leg of Trump's support, though there is some dispute about how much of a force they really are. From such footage as I saw there looked to me to be two distinct groups: the tattooed musclebound biker crowd who at least in my lifetime have always been pretty openly racist and offensive and don't really care if everybody knows it. I don't think there is much danger of these guys overthrowing the establishment; and then there were the second, even weaker-looking group, the uncertain, even dorky-looking guys in the torch parade, who it is pretty evident are the products of a socialization and education gone badly wrong and are grasping at any kind of identity that feels vaguely masculine. My guess is that to some extent they perceive that their minority enemies are considered adequately masculine, and that they derive some portion of this strength from it being more socially acceptable, if not encouraged, for them to be aggressively antagonistic towards whites. Whether there are more people turning out like this than people realize, or previously cared about, I don't know, but I suspect that the answer is yes. I also have to wonder if the people who hate them with the most vehemence are subconsciously delighted that the cretins have come out in the open so that they can stomp on them and destroy them in the epic good vs evil confrontation that they have long craved. But now I am going off on a tangent. I had jotted down a few short thoughts this afternoon when I wasn't tired that I thought were reasonable and pertinent. I am going to write those here, hopefully without embellishment:






There are a lot of people of the internet eager to direct my thinking on this issue. Evidently there is only one way to think about it, and perhaps there is, but unfortunately my school training such as it was placed a very heavy emphasis on the idea that it is unlikely there is only one way to think about anything, so these uniform exhortations are not as effective with me as I might like them to be for my own sake.


I saw a dozens of reminders that being silent in the face of such evil is basically akin to being complicit in it, that if we ever wondered what we would have done during the Nazi occupation, etc, that what we are doing now corresponds, and so on. Even if we do nothing else about it, I suppose we must at least have it on the record that we have denounced it though since in this instance about 50-100 million people are shouting denunciations in full-throated fury, if Nazis do somehow manage to take over the country, I am assured it will not be because too many people were silent. Also while it may be necessary to suggest that we are currently reliving the Nazi era in real time in order to prevent it from actually happening (though I am skeptical), we in fact are not, not yet. If anything, there are as many calls from the left for stripping people of rights, employment, money that are actually coming from seats of actual power as there are from the right.


Kim Jong Un. Worse or better person than Thomas Jefferson? Robert E Lee? Trump? He certainly doesn't elicit as much passionate fury from the left as any of these guys. I get that he is foreign and not white and most people agree that he is generally bad, while the wickedness of these other guys needs to be taught, perhaps forcefully, to half the U.S. population. Still, if we are to have no tolerance for slavery, murder, homophobia, etc...


I have to admit I increasingly find the left to be unbearably sanctimonious on their pet issues. As much of a debacle as Trump is, I really dread the left getting back into power anytime soon after this, since now there is undoubtedly going to be extra pressure and motivation to "punish" people perceived as being likely Trump supporters, which would be ugly. I don't see a Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman type figure on the horizon.






So far the places that have notably taken down confederate statues or have mobs take them down that I have seen are two big cities with mostly black populations (Baltimore and New Orleans), three cities that are the home of major (i.e. wealthy, largely upper middle class, global-minded) universities (Gainesville, Charlottesville, and Durham, and in the two latter of these the statues did not come down without conflict). In my old haunt of Annapolis they are apparently finally going to remove the statue of Roger B Taney from the state house grounds--there were people talking about doing this when I lived there 25 years ago--but this is in the capital of what is now one of the most reliable Democrat states in the country and one that was not actually part of the Confederacy. In short, places whose spiritual connection to the Old South has grown more tenuous with the passage of time than other old southern towns.


I am planning to do a post on Robert E Lee on the other blog one of these days. I am going to get a computer when school starts so I can write at home. I'm going to put it on a credit card, which I hate doing, but what has it been, two or three years. I still think of myself as a writer in my approach to everything, and I feel left out of everything when I am not trying to do something in that line.


Challenge


1 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (movie)...............................................9,740
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban (movie)............................................2,636
3. Imitation of Life (movie-1959).................................................................................664
4. The Train (movie-1965)...........................................................................................485
5. Chip & Dan Heath--Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.......422
6. Charles Frazier--Nightwoods....................................................................................340
7. Marjorie Bowen--Mary Queen of Scots....................................................................139
8. Theodor Fontane--Effi Briest......................................................................................43
9. Threepenny Opera (movie-1931)...............................................................................32
10. Wilderness (movie--2008)........................................................................................27
11. Andrew Lang--Tales of Troy......................................................................................9
12. Lynne Tillman--Someday This Will be Funny............................................................6
13. Bloom's Critical Modern Views: Tennessee Williams................................................1
14. David Ruffin--"I'm So Glad I Fell For You/I Pray Everyday You Won't Regret Loving Me (record)..............................................................................................................................0
15. E. Jane Burns--Courtly Love Undressed.....................................................................0
16. Jay Ruud--Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature.........................................................0
17. The Violin: A Research and Information Guide..........................................................0
18. Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore (ed. Sherman)..................0


Qualifying Round


#18 Storytelling over #15 Burns
#17 The Violin over #16 Ruud


Incredibly, all of these books except for Courtly Love Undressed have made it into a library somewhere in my state.


Round of 16


#18 Storytelling over #1 Fantastic Beasts


This is at least the 2nd appearance of Fantastic Beasts in the tournament.


#17 The Violin over #2 Harry Potter
#3 Imitation of Life over #14 Ruffin






#13 Bloom over #4 The Train
#12 Tillman over #5 Heath
#11 Lang over #6 Frazier


Lang's book is rarer, and I am intrigued by Frazier a little, but another effort by the once-appreciated translator of Aucassin and Nicolette gets the nod here.


#7 Bowen over #10 Wilderness
#8 Fontane over #9 Threepenny Opera


Theodor Fontane, apparently a quite celebrated author of whom I had never heard, wins the battle of the German productions.


Final 8


#18 Storytelling over #3 Imitation of Life


What a draw for Storytelling.


#17 The Violin over #7 Bowen


The same for The Violin, which beats Bowen because no libraries saw fit to pick up her book.


#8 Fontane over #13 Bloom


Effi Briest is not found outside of academic libraries, though it has been published in English as part of the Penguin classic series.

#12 Tillman over #11 Lang


Final 4


#8 Fontane over #18 Storytelling
#12 Tillman over #17 The Violin


Championship


#8 Fontane over #12 Tillman


"Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)...regard by many as the most important 19th century German-language realist writer." Given the comparatively paltry extent of my reading in, and even basic knowledge of, German literature, this was a pretty easy choice, though I'll have to scare up a copy of the book.





Thursday, August 10, 2017

August Update

I am a few days late this month because I had a couple of days off at the beginning of the week. If I cannot keep up with this, I can't keep up with anything...


A List: Coleridge--"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".........................................13/18
B List: Between books
C List: Bruce Chatwin--The Songlines...............................................................160/293


It seems remarkable that it took me nearly 23 years of working on the A list before it got to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", but sometimes it works out that way.


Other things read this month: Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas. Walt was a spirit ahead of his time and plenty of his visions of the form American art should take would not be out of keeping with the current mindset. Matthew Arnold, "The Study of Poetry". Good essay about the distinction between titanic, universal, all time poets, merely excellent poets of a particular generation and country, and everybody else. The sorts of things I try to keep in mind when trying to evaluate contemporary writing and thought.


I had another very short book for the "B" or IWE list. Report hopefully to follow shortly.


Chatwin is, as I noted in a previous post, a much-praised writer, especially among global eco-minded traveling types, and I can see why. His style is very pared down, and to the point. I could never write like that because I feel obligated to explain my thought process and why I am choosing this point of emphasis and justify these approaches. But Chatwin doesn't have to do that, he assumes the validity of his perception to be self-evident. There are some things about him that I don't love. Having been born in 1940 in England in I guess somewhat favorable circumstances he received what is by current standards a pretty thoroughgoing classical European liberal arts education, English version--Latin, Greek, logic, reams of poetry, history, enough music to be able to hang in and take part in good company--in short the education I have always imagined I would have wanted to have enough of to be manifest in social and professional situations--yet he seems to take it for granted and be pretty ambivalent about its having any great universal value. I guess when you have it, and are past the point of always having to strain to try to get it, its limitations are apparent and you have the clarity and intellectual honesty to confront them. He also frequently writes with condescension towards white people who are not as articulate or intelligent or otherwise lacking in some way he deems significant--on one occasion a person is demeaned for having gotten an unattractive sunburn--and of course he never casts negative judgments on indigenous people. I suppose these people--the stupid white people--were more of an aggressive nuisance in his lifetime and needed to be combatted. But it isn't just the obviously stupid and obnoxiously racist, it is anybody who doesn't talk well and has failed to adequately systematize their modest collection of learning and thought to form any kind of cohesive mind, and in this of course I recognize myself.


No time to do pictures this time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Algernon Charles Swinburne--Atalanta in Calydon (1865)



This was my first time ever reading anything by Swinburne. It was not the best time for this, as my summer days now are very busy and there are a lot of demands on my time that are not there when everyone goes back to school. At night when everyone finally goes to bed I am too tired to concentrate well on a Victorian poet, who, if not exactly difficult ("difficult"), often writes very lengthy stanzas and discourses and requires, like Browning, practice in figuring out to read him properly, which attainment I cannot claim to have reached on this occasion. In each of the last two summers, at least, I happened to be occupied for this list by very long novels, which I think is preferable for me in this season at the current time, since it is possible to read 10 or 15 pages of most of them even when I am a little tired, and I can always feel like I am 'making progress' with the book. Making progress does not apply in the same way with Swinburne-type poetry if you are not engaging intimately with its essential character and strengths. In short, my experience with this book was somewhat unsuccessful.




Thinking about this poem, or poetic drama, though I don't think it was ever intended to be performed, I keep coming back to the perception I had that it was strange, in the sense that I kept getting slightly thrown off both from my original expectations of what was going on in it and from the initial adjustments I made in those. It is prefaced by four pages of verse in Greek, apparently written by Swinburne himself, which, even though there was a translation of it in the footnotes, I felt obligated because it had been printed in my book to try read through and make out any meanings I could, which mainly had the effect of making me irritable before I even got to the poem proper. Then I was thrown off again at realizing that the Atalanta story that was the subject of the poem was not the one involving the footrace with the suitors, but that of a hunt for a wild boar that was terrorizing the kingdom of Calydon. After that it was the slow realization that Atalanta herself only had a minor role in the drama and that Queen Alathea was the main character. Then there were the what seemed to me exceptionally long speeches with their digressions about emotions and other rather general concepts, and after that the realization that this was not a traditionally action-driven story, that the buildup we were heading for was not so much a series of events but of characters making long speeches about events that have taken place while the chorus was pontificating about the ways of the gods. None of this means that I didn't like it--I did at times, when I could keep up with the flow of words and construct meanings and images out of them, but for the most part that did not happen. So I am reserving judgment for the time being. I hope it comes up on my GRE/"A" list sometime, which it may. I think I would get more out of it if I could read it again at some remove of time.






Recalling that Swinburne was held in some regard by Joyce, Eliot, and others of the modernist generation of authors, I thought I would look into my Ezra Pound book to see what he had to say about him. There wasn't much that struck me. He did say that Swinburne was possessed of genius, which in Pound is a compliment though more in the sense that there is something in him that is not completely stifling and banal. It doesn't necessarily indicate that any successful poems were ultimately achieved. He also wrote that in Swinburne's early poems he expressed a love of liberty "that was rare in England". He said what I have often seen written of Swinburne, that his language was beautiful even when his thought was pedestrian, though as I have already noted I was not able to pick up on this. My mind was off.






There are not a ton of editions of this readily available even online. I guess there is a Penguin edition that gets reprinted pretty regularly, which perhaps I should have gotten. I bought a hardcover published in 1970 by Bobbs-Merrill containing the Poems and Ballads as well as Atalanta, edited by Professor Morse Peckham of the University of South Carolina. Peckham was a gassy writer marinated in the kind of Freudian worldview popular at the time for which I was not really ready either. I guess he must have had some idea of what he was talking about with regard to Swinburne's poetry, but I don't really trust him all that much either. The author of other books such as Man's Rage For Chaos and Art and Pornography, he took a great relish in writing about Swinburne's odd psychosexual issues. "Swinburne was an active masochist; he could achieve sexual pleasure only through suffering, specifically through being beaten" he begins, and goes on and on and on...I do not have it for this book, as least as far as writing about it goes. I need to move on to the next one.









The Challenge


I knew this would be another small one, as the write-up on it from which I mine words is very short.


1. Marlo Thomas & Friends--Free to Be You and Me..........................................396
2. Silent House (movie).........................................................................................200
3. Van Morrison--Veedon Fleece (record).............................................................100
4. Bruce Chatwin--The Songlines..........................................................................100
5. Antjie Krog--Country of My Skull.......................................................................31
6. World Poetry: Anthology of Verse From Antiquity to Our Time.........................25
7. Leonard Cohen--"Going Home" (song).................................................................1
8. King of Sorrow (movie).........................................................................................1


Round of 8


#8 King of Sorrow over #1 Thomas


King of Sorrow was in line for an upset here. I own the Free to Be You and Me Record both on vinyl and CD (my wife is a fan), which includes a track of Alan Alda telling a version of the Atalanta story (the race against the suitors, not the Caledonian boar hunt that was Swinburne's subject). That word association was probably the cause of its appearing here.






#7 Cohen over #2 Silent House


I was unfamiliar with the music of Leonard Cohen before his death last year, at which time I was introduced to some of his songs via various channels where a strong affection for this artist had previously been a secret to me. "Suzanne" I thought right away was a very fine song, and my son's junior high class sang a version of "Hallelujah" at their spring arts night which was the most moving part of the program, and aroused an interest in me for that song also. This song, which I have taken the time to listen to once, seems good enough in the Leonard Cohen vein, although I am too fidgety and conscious of my time constraints to give myself over to it if I'm just sitting at my desk. I do wish I had known about this guy in college. These seem like they would be good records to listen to if you are just sitting at your desk drinking for three hours like we used to do.


#6 World Poetry over #3 Morrison.


This doesn't seem to be one of the iconic Van Morrison albums, though I am sure someone loves it. I had never heard of it however, and no library in my state has deemed it essential to house a copy of it. Of course I am not going to read a 1,338 page poetry anthology through from end to end if I can help it.






#4 Chatwin over #5 Krog


The Chatwin book is about Australia, while the Krog is about South Africa. This essentially is going to be the championship. Bruce Chatwin is much-loved on the internet by the kinds of world-traveling (but not globetrotting) backpacker type people I always want to be friends with. I mean they rave about his books. I have never seen him criticized or called overrated at all. As far as I know he is a writer without flaws. So I am excited to have the opportunity to read him, if that materializes (By the way the Dava Sobel book about female astronomers that won the last challenge is turning out to be mostly a snooze--addendum--when my son attended a baseball camp at the stadium of the local minor league team and I had the opportunity to sit in a shaded part of the stands outdoors on a beautiful day and read for a couple of hours in an unhurried concentration it was much more interesting, though still not great or essential in any way. Nonetheless, circumstance makes such a difference in these matters).






Final 4


#4 Chatwin over #8 King of Sorrow


King of Sorrow, an obscure 2007 Canadian television movie, was only due for one upset. It gets a colossal whupping from Bruce Chatwin here.


#7 Cohen over #6 World Poetry


Cohen is due an "upset" too, Since he is a song and officially a song cannot beat a book, I will count his as his upset.


Championship


#4 Chatwin over #7 Cohen


It was inevitable, but at least we get to end on a song