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




Friday, July 7, 2017

The July Update

Like everything else I do, it has to be rushed, and I can't really think or write quickly, but what must be must be.


A List: The Arabian Nights..........................................................781/823
B List: Swinburne, Atalanta and Calydon........................................xi/98
C List: Dava Sobel, The Glass Universe...................................vii/324(?)


Winding down the Arabian Nights. Just finished in the last few days the famous stories of Alaeddin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, with which I was previously unfamiliar. They really are great stories despite being completely ridiculous in many ways. They both have a spiritedness and good humor that carry them to much greater heights than they have any right to go to.


Given that in this month I have only read 2 plays for the B list and subsequently spent 2 weeks producing the essays I make myself finish before I can move on to the next book I had to read more from the C list than I normally would. I got through the entire third volume of Knausgaard since the last update. I thought the first 100 pages of this one, which dealt entirely with his childhood up to about junior high school, were not very interesting, but it picked up and was about as good as the other ones in the end, though overall I guess I would rate it my least favorite so far. When it starts getting to the age when he and his friends are constantly kissing and groping and otherwise ingratiating themselves with girls (at one point he inserts a disclaimer that no one if they knew the spirit and emotions involved could regard some of the rougher and more aggressive behaviors he describes as sexual assaults, and of course I want to believe him, but they seem to be exactly the sorts of things people have in mind when they refer to something by the name of sexual assault) naturally it is extremely depressing for me to contemplate my own life, with its dearth of such action, all of which leads back to, well, everything. No time to get into it here. I have heard that the 4th volume is perhaps the best of the series, as it gets into his college and drinking young adult years. Giving that I still have to get through a number of shorter readings and their accompanying essays for the IWE list I will probably be getting to it sooner rather than later.


I also read the comic book/graphic novel (though it really is not like reading a novel) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi which I think was quite good, at least it told its story in an unusually vivid manner. Not having read much of this type of literature I don't know how it compares with other notable efforts in that mode. But this seems like it must be better than average. This is the second work by a contemporary Iranian woman I have read in recent months. There are some similarities in terms of nationalistic pride (though Satrapi, perhaps because her education and ex-pat life were in France, comes off as more favorably inclined to the West than the other author, Solmaz Sharif, who had the misfortune to land in America), but these observations, which I can make because I have nothing else to do and no one to please in my literary endeavors, I am actually saving for a post in my other blog, which I have not abandoned but have just not been able to work on at all. But it is not dead, for any readers here who also look at that other site.










It was not my fate to be as handsome as Knausgaard, but I think several of my sons might be.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Regarding the July Update

I'll do it tomorrow. I had to finish that Shakespeare post tonight.



William Shakespeare--As You Like It (1599)


The journey of the List returns, as it will periodically throughout its wending, to Shakespeare, by far the most frequently appearing author on it, and his universally well-known but perhaps only sporadically well-understood plays. I find as a middle-aged man of no particular distinction or status that it is hard to make a claim on Shakespeare and his art as anything having much to do with me. If it did, after all, shouldn't I be better? Much better? Wittier, more economically productive, more energetic, more generally competent, more able to at least contend with the government and corporations among a million other things? That is the world in which Shakespeare moves, or would seem to lead to if he is all that he is said to be. Yet I have reached a point where I can barely read him. I mean I can still read him, but not at leisure, often not without being so tired that I dose off or lose the thread of where I am, not so that I can become so immersed in the stories that ideas about them occur to me. I am reduced in such cases to simply reporting on my emotions as I revisited the play for what must be in this case the third or fourth time. 



One thought that kept recurring to me, and that I have often had recur to me when I try to think about Shakespeare, was a memory of my junior high school locker room. The most perfectly developed athlete in the class for some reason which I forget had a beef with some hapless nerd (not in fact me, but I could easily imagine the dynamic repeating itself with me in this other gentleman's stead) which required rectification and the reminder to certain individuals of their various places in the social order. The athlete, clad only in a white towel, his taut muscles gleaming under the 1960s era lamps, reprimanded the other for his impudence calmly but firmly and unsmilingly. The humorous aspect, if it can be called that, of this spectacle was all of the backup that the athlete had. A substantial crowd had formed behind him, posing and glowering in varying degrees of seriousness, while no one was directly behind the nerd, including me. I was somewhat off to the side at an oblique angle, though with a more or less head-on view of the athlete, behind whom stood a skinny, weaselly boy who was about as substantial as the unfortunate victim himself, gloweringly ferociously at the offender while massaging the neck of the hero in anticipation of the violence that it was threatened could ensue. Often when some man arrogantly asserts a personal understanding of or affinity with Shakespeare's greatness that is lacked by just about everyone else who attempts to read him, which always includes me, I think of the sneerer as this neck-stroking fellow, only the neck being massaged is that of Shakespeare, who is relaxed and smirking with his earring and his long hair, holding over your head the threat of instant evisceration via language at any moment of course, not likely to carry it through all the way of course, but he doesn't have to, since the manifest nature of the threat alone has already crushed you in the eyes of the public and finished off your pretentions to being any kind of full men, which fate they themselves to this point have avoided.



I have said thus far very little about the play itself because what is there to say? It has been to this point and still is one of my favorites among the comedies/romances, the sensibility in it is so fine and soothing. The genius, much admired by me, in melding the evocative, proto-modern European aspects of the setting and characters and convincingly presenting their expressed thoughts as representative of the general universal mindset is prominent here. One feels it is a vision of life as it should be more often, not in the sense of social organization or other macro-structures, but of being alert to and engaged with the world and other people around one and the power which speech and thought give to that end, which I daresay most people rarely experience. Are the characters, particularly the female characters, your Rosalind, acceptably deep depictions of female personhood for our age? I'm sure an argument can easily be produced that they are, or at least are deeper and more interesting than either most comparable artistic depictions of women or of the majority of living specimens themselves, though that wherein lies their supposed depth would perhaps be dismissed as either not realistic or not concerned with the right qualities. I suppose I am confused on these matters myself now. There is still clearly a great deal of relevant meaning in the highest caliber literary and other artistic works and what they have to say about men and women and being human and so forth and even if most people are not interested in them or reject them there are still many who do not but I don't have any sense anymore of what these stories mean to them or what they take from them or how they influence their beliefs or how they live their lives. I am really at sea on this, perhaps especially with Shakespeare, since as a force in the world his writing is kind of a repudiation of my entire approach to life yet I still really do love him after my own fashion.



To our modern sensibility I suspect Jaques and Touchstone the clown are the most realized and immediately acceptable characters. They certainly are to me at least.

I had thought of something else to say about this the other day but I forgot to write it down and now I don't remember what it was.

The Tournament
1. William Shakespeare--Much Ado About Nothing.............................................688
2. Dava Sobel--The Glass Universe........................................................................57
3. Cynthia Greenwood--The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare's Plays........10
4. Poul Anderson--The Snows of Ganymede.............................................................5
5. Charles Boyce--Critical Companion to William Shakespeare, Volume I.............0
6. Christopher Berry-Dee--Talking With Psychopaths and Savages.........................0

The qualifying did not give us much for this renewal of our celebration of the arts.

Preliminary Round

#3 Greenwood over #6 Berry-Dee

No libraries in my state carry the Berry-Dee book. One carries Greenwood.

#5 Boyce over #4 Anderson

Boyce uses a similar formula to overcome Anderson, at one time evidently a moderately successful science fiction author now neglected by librarians. Boyce has published other Shakespeare-related books as well and would appear to be accepted as an Expert on the man's work.



Final Four

#1 Shakespeare over #5 Boyce

In general I think the master beats his scholar in these kinds of matchups. Most of Shakespeare's plays are not eligible for the Challenge here, being already on the IWE list, but Much Ado is for whatever reason one of the handful that got left out. It hasn't got much competition for the title.

#2 Sobel over #3 Greenwood

The subtitle of the Sobel book is How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. This makes it sound like one of those breezy modern books that doesn't necessarily imply that history has exactly lied to you, but that its emphases and choices of where to shine its lamps have been regrettably narrow and benighted enough that it is not clear how fully we can trust any of its claims. Dava Sobel is however a best-selling author of historical science books for a popular audience--Longitude and Galileo's Daughter are two titles recognizable even to me--which indicates that she must be at the least a highly readable author--and this is her latest book.

Championship

#2 Sobel over #1 Shakespeare

This was a very close final game, and according to the formula Shakespeare should have won, and indeed I am not even familiar enough with Much Ado About Nothing as a play (I think I've read it once but don't recall it well) that I feel comfortable about letting it slide. My reasoning went something like this: 1. With Shakespeare and Shakespearian-related words scheduled to recur repeatedly throughout these challenges there is a good possibility it will come up again. 2. I am going to be on vacation in a couple of weeks and in the event that I go somewhere I want a somewhat longer book so that I don't have to carry a bunch of little books around with me. So Sobel wins over The G.O.A.T.




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Luigi Pirandello--As You Desire Me (1931)

Luigi Pirandello, winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature, was a native of Sicily, and is I believe the first "modern" (meaning after the Roman Empire) Italian writer we have encountered on the program. He is most famous in this country, to the extent that he is famous at all, for his post-World War I modernist plays, such as this one. The original (to me) plot of this concerns a woman who is a sort of nightclub dancer and live-in companion of a writer in postwar Berlin who has been identified by the visiting agent of a wealthy Italian gentleman as the latter's wife, who has suffered a lapse in memory due to trauma experienced when their villa and the neighborhood was overrun by the invading armies during the war. She accepts the possibility of this, as evidently she has admitted to remembering no past prior to her current situation in her Berlin life either, and goes to live in the villa in Italy, where she reconstructs the persona of the lost wife via letters and diaries and other records that she finds among her possessions, and performs the role so pleasingly and in a sense better than the pre-war person occupying that role ever had, that almost everyone, including her husband, in that milieu, apart from some relatives who stood to inherit the villa if the wife had remained unfound, overcomes their skepticism about her identity and accepts her as the genuine wife. The English title at least is expounded upon in a long speech in the middle act of the play, in which the central female character (who is never named, her part is that of "The Strange Lady" in the text, "The Unknown One" in the list of characters) explains without consuming resentment or bitterness that she retains no personal identity even so far as impressions made upon her senses; these are only projections of what the others would have her experience. "I came here; I gave myself to you utterly, utterly; I said to you: 'Here I am, I am yours; there is nothing left in me of my own. Take me and make me, make me as you desire me!"






Being a play of course, this did not take but a couple of days to read and so I did not have as it were enough time to get immersed in it so that thoughts on it came to me readily. I did find myself saying right away, having been reading a number of modern things during the interval while I was working on the As the Earth Turns essay that there was nothing like the old books. I don't remember what exactly prompted this reaction, but I think it was the overall effect of the calm, deliberate tone of the writing, the emphasis on the means of how language and thought are employed in getting at the problem in the story is the story, and always is in literature-as-art, which this certainly is. Our collective contemporary instinct, us being those who have had some exposure to progressive trends in Western intellectual-artistic circles, is at the very least to wonder if there is not something sinister at hand (on the part of the writer) in the attitude of self-effacement of the main female character and her allowance of projection/direction of her identities by others, the male gaze and so on. I am the product of several layers of conditioning with regard to how I read, and the oldest and most solid one I am guided by is the necessity of accepting literary and artistic works as they are if they have some ring of truth to them, and are interesting. The current fashion for being suspicious of the older male authors in the European tradition having any authority to create female characters that do not adhere to certain guidelines of autonomy, forcefulness and the like has insinuated itself in my thinking as well, though more in the manner of a pest that must be acknowledged than a solid, foundational part of my makeup.








Despite all of the accolades the play supposedly received in the United States, there are not a lot of printed copies of it in circulation. I finally had to settle on a 1957 compilation put out by the Crown publishing house of the Twenty Best European Plays on the American Stage, which seems to be the most recent mainstream publication of As You Desire Me available in this country. It does look like a good collection. It has no other IWE plays in it, but all of the works are by major writers and there are some undisputed classics in it such as No Exit and The Sea Gull that I might read someday. It is one of those books in which the pages consist of two columns of small print and it is also a big book, so it is difficult for me to read presently, when I do not have a large desk to set it open on and a nice green-shaded lamp and quiet calm in which to luxuriate in the words. My reading habit at present is more of the hurried/furtive variety. I only bother to do it to maintain a tenuous contact with that portion of the world I see myself as really belonging to.







Judith Anderson, recognizable from many classic films including Rebecca, Laura and The Ten Commandments, played the role of the Unknown Woman in the original New York production at the Maxine Elliott Theatre on January 28, 1931. Greta Garbo played the role in the 1932 film version, which featured among others Erich von Stroheim as her German writer companion. The star in the original Italian production was a celebrated actress named Marta Abba, who also wrote the English translation that was both performed in New York and printed in my 1957 edition of the play. She lived from 1900-1988, and was notably Pirandello's creative muse from 1925 until his death in 1936. Here she is






Happily, this is not, provided of course that I live long enough, the end of Pirandello on the program, as Six Characters in Search of an Author, considered his masterpiece by many, is also on the list though I won't be getting to the Ss for a long long time.






The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge


This challenge for some reason turned up a great many audio-visual contestants which overwhelmed the few, and mostly obscure, books that entered the contest.


1. West Side Story (movie)...............................................................1,457
2. Footloose (movie)........................................................................1,106
3. Marjane Satrapi--Persepolis...........................................................607
4. Hyde Park on Hudson (movie).......................................................542
5. The Other Sister (movie).................................................................419
6. Toni Braxton--The Heat (record)....................................................335
7. Britney Spears--Circus (record)......................................................330
8. Mordecai Gerstein--The Man Who Walked Between the Towers...156
9. Hazel Gaynor--The Girl From the Savoy........................................145
10. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Season 7 (TV)).......................109
11. It's Alive (movie).............................................................................65
12. That's Entertainment Part III (movie)............................................50
13. That's Entertainment Part II (movie)..............................................37
14. Moby--South Side (record)..............................................................25
15. Blind Justice (movie).......................................................................21
16. Hercules: Zero to Hero (movie?).....................................................12


The Round of 16


#1 West Side Story over #16 Hercules Zero
#2 Footloose over #15 Blind Justice
#3 Satrapi over #14 Moby








#4 Hyde Park on Hudson over #13 That's Entertainment II
#12 That's Entertainment III over #5 The Other Sister


Based on my personal opinion that The Other Sister looks horrible.


#6 Braxton over #11 It's Alive
#10 Real Housewives over #7 Spears.








#9 Gaynor over #8 Gerstein


As happened the other time only three books qualified the tournament, two of them faced each other in the first round. The Gerstein book was a children's book about Phillippe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center roofs. It did win a Caldecott medal though.


Round of 8
#1 West Side Story over #12 That's Entertainment III
#10 Real Housewives over #2 Footloose
#3 Satrapi over #9 Gaynor


The only two books left have a death match in the quarterfinals. The Satrapi is I believe something like a comic book, but it has been pretty celebrated, and would be something of a departure from my usual habits.


#4 Hyde Park on Hudson over #6 Braxton






Final Four of this Grim Tournament
#1 West Side Story over #10 Real Housewives
#3 Satrapi over #4 Hyde Park on Hudson
Championship
#3 Satrapi over #1 West Side Story.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Gladys Hasty Carroll--As the Earth Turns (1933)

One last American novel from the era between the World Wars before we leave this particular turf for a while.




Somewhat forgotten today--I can only find one other blog post about it on an internet search--As the Earth Turns depicts a year (1932, to be precise) in the life of a Maine farming family. It was a great success in its time, finishing as the #2 best-selling novel in the United States for its year (behind only the previously-written-about-here Anthony Adverse!) and inspiring a film adaptation in the next one. It is of especial interest to me perhaps because it is set about 40 miles from where I live now (the author was born in Rochester, N.H. and lived most of her life just across the river in South Berwick, Maine, on which the town of Derwich in the book is presumably based) as well as a similar distance in the other direction from where I lived in Maine as a teenager. As with most of these IWE books, I liked it better than almost anything else I read, if not quite as enthusiastically as my encyclopedia's editors did. These extolled it as "very fine", said that it "richly deserves its great success" and that its "central character, Jen, is an admirable creation." It is a quiet book about ordinary things in particular lives, but it does evoke well the (somewhat incredibly)lost people and way of life that predominated in much of this part of the world eighty years ago--the childhood of my grandparents--and had not entirely disappeared even thirty years ago. But the reader who cares will get a sense of my thoughts and feelings about this book through the many notes I have taken on it which I must get to now.


p. 61 (keeping up my habit on holding off on note-taking until I start to get a feel for the book): "It was the spell the male on the farm had the power of casting over his women when occasion demanded it. The rooster swelled up, stretched his neck, and crowed, when he had done it. The bull threw back his head and roared." What exactly has been done to the men in our time? The absoluteness of the decline on all fronts cannot be explained as easily or contentedly as people seem to want it to be.


p.86 On a farmhouse restored for a soon-to-be-married couple: "Margaret would go inside the house and keep it, while Ed worked for her in the fields." Strict gender roles and the proper carrying out of them are taken very seriously in this book. Carroll is sympathetic towards those weaker or flightier souls who cannot maintain the necessary focus and energy or who are inclined towards a different kind of life. However those who live most in accordance with the ideal are the most exalted characters.


p.115 "Most people nowadays had no time to search the woods and nobody knew the herbs, which to use or where to find them, but went to drug stores, and likely paid a dollar for nothing half so good to clear the blood as thoroughwort." While accurately, and from Carroll's point of view probably lovingly drawn, I admit I find these unwaveringly hard-working and frugal old Yankees kind of tiresome and humorless.
No connection with the book, but this picture kept coming up so why not

p.195 "They interest me. I haven't had much chance to get used to people of another race. Come to think of it, until now there's never been anybody but Yankees around here, except the woodchoppers. That's unusual...You know, Jen, I've never even yet seen a negro in my life! Nor a Chinaman nor a Jap!" This is spoken by Olly. He is the educated one, who is in college. This extreme racial (or non-racial) dynamic was still the case here until very recently. Certainly it was that way when I lived in Maine in the 80s and even in the late 90s in New Hampshire seeing a nonwhite person more than once a week was still a rarity. The nonwhite population of these states even now are only around 5%, but that is a substantial increase from 0.2, which is what they were up to about twenty years ago.


p.196 More on this topic of non-Yankee people, referencing an exotic family of Poles that has settled in the neighborhood, the consideration of whom brought up the subject in the first place: "They plowed and planted and drove past the edge of the lane every day. Their baby had the croup and their children went to school with George's and the Forrests and the rest. There was nothing in that to make anybody think of Chinamen and negroes and give himself the shivers."


p. 219. On the patriarch and master Maine farmer of the story: "For Mark Shaw the country outside of Derwich was shut off by hills he could never see over, and the language there was one he could not use; unless the children were at home they were 'away', and more than that, switchboards, airports, colleges, bosses, salaries, courses, he could not grasp; thinking of it bewildered him."


p. 242 Romance, Yankee style: "He liked the sound of her voice. He liked the way her hair shone and her hands moved. He sat watching her. 'One man alone can't get ahead fast, though, on a place like mine that needs so much done to it.' 'Not fast,' Jen agreed."


Jen, who is nineteen and more or less has not stopped working and cooking and keeping the house in perfect order since her mother died when she was ten, is the heroine of the story. She came off to me in the reading as a grim, humorless, judgmental person giving off something of a lesbian vibe, though I really don't think homosexuality among these types of characters would have been on Carroll's radar in the early 1930s. I think we are supposed to think that she cooks and works endlessly out of love or effusive self-expression, but she seems to be more of an inflexible adherent to duty, for whom pleasure independent of that fulfillment does not even exist.


p. 246 Regarding the Polish boy who is determined to stay and make the farm work even when his parents have given it up (and who is in love with Jen): (Mark) "As I see it, it'll show what he is. What he does." (Jen) "Yes. It's a matter for judgment."


Obviously this sort of judgment is still cast now in other forms, but the severity here seems a bit much.


As with Margaret Landon, whom I wrote about around this time last year, when Gladys Hasty Carroll died in York, Maine on April 1, 1999 at the age of 94, I was probably in the vicinity, as that is only about 55 miles or so from here and we go to the beach there at least 3-4 times every summer. I don't know what I did that day, as it was a Thursday, and I was off on Thursdays in those days, but my wife would have had to work, so I was probably home, and I probably spent most of the day writing, as that was before my children were born and that was when I making whatever push I could be said to have made in that area. It is sad, other than the children very little has changed in my personal life since 1999. I was already married then, I lived in the same house and already had the same job that I have now. I have become smarter about some things I am sure but so has everyone else. My expression is not much more incisive or arresting than it was then, and my writing at least has declined a lot.


p. 278 "Jen and her father stood by with pleasant faces, non-committal. They had neither time nor money for a fair, nor wish to mix themselves with crowds and noise and skin-games going on." Continuing the theme that work is the only way to get/earn anything in this life. George, the brother who is inept at running his farm and is forever in debt and various financial distresses who blew off a day of work to spend money he didn't have at the fair, is the forerunner of the helpless modern man so familiar to us.


p.312-313 George again. "As a boy he had once shot a deer and this one triumph teased his memory in the fall until he left everything to try again, though deer were few and his aim not of the best." Times have changed. With regard to the deer population I mean.


The writing gets a bit mawkish at the end.


With all of the emphasis in the book on making sure young people hit their teenage years ready to work and otherwise pull their weight I realized that aside from the setting of the book taking place in a farm community the overall demographic situation, which was that that prevailed in most times and places, required young people to be ready to assume mature roles at young ages with an urgency that simply does not exist today, where most people in their twenties are superfluous to the economy and the organization of society. There are very few people in this book who are much over sixty. Mark Shaw, who is the patriarch and village elder of the book, is identified as being fifty-two.  In any event they are outnumbered by a factor of five or six by the under-thirties, as was generally the case in reality, whereas with us there are actually more people alive in the 50-70 age cohorts than in those from 30-50, and about equal to those currently in their 20s. The point being that all the lamenting about young people failing to take on the markers and responsibilities of full blown adults is tied in with there not being any real necessity, and less room, for them to seriously do this given the current distribution of population and economic resources/power among various age groups.


As noted above, this will be our last old American book for at least a little while, as none of the next five items on the list fit this description, though they all look to be pretty short (2 plays and 3 poems), so maybe I'll be back in this genre before the end of the summer. I haven't looked beyond these next five for now.


Last year at this time I was very emotional and probably mildly depressed. For some reason my oldest child's graduating from 8th grade and my oldest daughter's finishing preschool were a very great deal to me. My second son, who has also gone to the school for 8 years, is graduating from it next week, and it does not seem to be arousing the same cathartic emotion in anyone, including me, though I still think of it as a big deal, and it has been as huge a part of his life as it was for his brother. For whatever reason I seem to be calmer and in a better overall frame of mind this year, despite the election and the impending decline/collapse of everything that is supposed to be following upon it.


The Challenge


Once again a very small field despite what I thought was a strong group of keywords. I begin to suspect that the Internets have figured out my scheme.


1. A Douglas Stone--Einstein and the Quantum......................................................78
2. Lisa Miller--The Spiritual Child...........................................................................63
3. John A. Farrell--Richard Nixon: The Life............................................................47
4. Ryan Berg--No House to Call My Home..............................................................20
5. Ben Jonson--Bartholomew Fair.............................................................................5
6. Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery............................................................................4
7. A Violin's Life: Music For the Lipinski Stradivari (record)...................................3
8. Kelsey Neilson--Coolibah Creek...........................................................................2
9. Dario Castello--Sonate: Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libra Primo (record).........2
10. Craig Morrison, PhD--American Popular Music: Rock n' Roll...........................1


Qualifying Round


#10 Morrison over #7 A Violin's Life


A mild upset in that I didn't expect any libraries to carry a copy of the Morrison book. But one did.








#9 Castello over #8 Neilson.


The Castello appears to be a distinguished record.




Quarterfinals


#1 Stone over #10 Morrison
#2 Miller over #9 Castello






#3 Farrell over #6 Mrs Beaton
#5 Jonson over #4 Berg


The surprise here was that Berg couldn't break into any libraries.


Semifinals


#1 Stone over #5 Jonson


Two reasons for this choice, despite the Jonson being much shorter and probably the greater work of literature: In the first place I have already read a lot of things like Jonson, including several works by Johnson himself for this list. Second, one of the main purposes of the creation of the Challenge was to get more popular non-fiction into my routine, and I seem to have been getting away from that as late. In short the Stone is the sort of book I invented this game for.


#2 Miller over #3 Farrell


It came down to 374 pages versus 737.


Championship


#1 Stone over #2 Miller


Stone seems a more likely candidate to hold my interest. A pretty clean tournament this time. The two books in the final were evenly matched in terms of size and publication dates. It is probably a bland generalist of book but I am kind of in the mood for something like that. (addendum--as noted in the monthly update, I am already well into this book, which is not bland nor especially generalist, unless the knowledge of math and physics somewhat above the usual high school level is more widespread than we have been led to believe. I have enjoyed it, though it requires a lot of effort (for me) to try to keep up with the scientific concepts as best as I can, and I am kind of exhausted by it.






The author discusses the book. I should watch it myself.