Thursday, February 11, 2016


1. Berlin.........................................5
2. Hesse.........................................3
    Lower Saxony............................3
    North Rhine-Westphalia............3
5. Mecklenburg-Vorpommem.......2
6. Brandenburg...............................1

Friday, February 5, 2016

February Update

A List: Maurice Baring--Comfortless Memory.....................182/192

B List: Mikhail Sholokhov--And Quiet Flows the Don........314/554

C List: Luis Alberto Urrea--The Devil's Highway................153/220

Not the most celebrated group of authors this month. Mike Sholokhov did win the Nobel Prize
in 1965, though his current reputation is attended with much controversy, including the suggestion
that he did actually write his most famous book. I will revisit this when I do my big report on him.

Baring was one of those prolific English authors of light social comedies set among the privileged classes, often in foreign locales, who flourished in the period between the world wars. I was hoping his book, published in that high-spirited year of 1928, would be a Nightmare Abbey-ish work full of drolleries and inimitable upper class English bantering, but it is nothing much. It doesn't live.

The subject matter of The Devil's Highway, which is about an expedition of Mexican would-be illegal migrants who got lost in the inhospitable Arizona desert after entering the United States on foot in 2001, resulting in the deaths of fourteen men, is one that interests me. Like most Americans I have always been curious to go out to the west and see the desert and check out what is going on out there, but besides that of course there is whole angle of the future being formed and playing out in the mass movements across the border. Urrea writes in a kind of pseudo hard-boiled, wearily knowing style that I find annoying, but evidently other people like it, so I guess it works for him...Maybe I will finish my thoughts on this book in a separate post. The continuous interruptions while trying to do what should take 30 minutes at most have defeated me for tonight...    

Picture Gallery

Apparently there is a film of 'And Quiet Flows the Don'

Viktoria Federova, "the Sophia Loren of Soviet Cinema".

Is this real? 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Author List Volume IX

Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910) The Fisher Lass (1868) Born: North Osterdalen Museum, Bjorgan Farm, Kvikne, Norway. Buried: Var Frelsers Gravlund, Oslo, Norway.  Aulestad, Follebu, Norway. College: Oslo.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) Flowering Judas (1930) Born: Indian Creek, Texas. Buried: Indian Creek Cemetery, Indian Creek, Texas. Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center, 508 Center Street, Kyle, Texas.

Jose Echegaray (1832-1916) Folly or Saintliness (1876) Born: Madrid, Spain. Buried: Cemeterio Sacramental de San Isidro, Madrid, Spain. College: Escuela de Caminos

Maxim Gorki (1868-1936) Foma Gordyeeff (1899) Born: Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Nov. obl,, Russia. Buried: Kremlin Wall, Moscow, Russia. Gorky Museum (Ryabushinsky Mansion), Mal. Nikitskaya St 62, Moscow, Russia. Maxim Gorky Museum House, Semashko St 19, Nizhni Novgorod, Russia. Monument to Sadriddin Aini and Maxim Gorky, Somoni Avenue, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Wouldn't you like to see this guy take on Jonathan Franzen in a bar fight?

Kathleen Winsor (1919-2003) Forever Amber (1944) Born: Olivia, Minnesota. Buried: Apparently unknown. College: California (Berkeley)

Artie Shaw (1910-2004) Born: 255 E 7th Street, New York, New York. Buried: Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, Los Angeles, California.

Lana Turner (1921-1995) Born: Wallace, Idaho. Buried: Cremated, ashes in private hands.

John Galsworthy (1867-1933) The Man of Property (1906), In Chancery (1920), To Let (1922) Born: Parkfield, Kingston Hill, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, England. Buried: Ashes scattered over South Downs, nr Bury, Sussex, England. Memorial, Cloisters, New College, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. Memorial, Highgate Cemetery West, Highgate, London, England. College: New (Oxford).

One of the whiter of the infamous Dead White Males

Franz Werfel (1890-1945) The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1934) Born: Havricek 11, Prague, Czech Republic. Buried: Zentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria.

John Donne (1572-1631) Born: Bread Street, Cheapside, City, London, England (*****9-1-96*****) Buried: St Paul's Cathedral, City, London, England (*****6-21-01*****). John Donne Pub, Nikitsky Boulevard 12, Moscow, Russia. College: Hertford (Oxford).

Charles Morgan (1894-1958) The Fountain (1932) Born: Warreston, Rodway Road, Bromley, Kent, England. Buried: Gunnersbury Cemetery, Hounslow, London, England. College: Brasenose (Oxford)

Vicente Blasco Ibanez (1867-1928) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916) Born: Corner of Editor Manuel Aguilar Street and Baron de Carcer Avenue, Valencia, Spain. Buried: Cementeri di Valencia, Valencia, Spain. Blasco Ibanez House/Museum, Paseo Maritimo, Valencia, Spain. Fontana Rosa, Avenue Blasco Ibanez, Menton, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France. College: Valencia

Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) Born: Rudolph Valentino Museum, Via V. Emmanuelle 17, Castellaneta, Apulia, Italy. Buried: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.

St John the Divine (c.6-c.100) Born: Bethsaida, Israel. Buried: Basilica of St John, Ephesus, Turkey. Cathedral of St John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, New York.

Anne Frank (1929-1945) Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1952) Born: Anne Frank Educational Center, Hansaallee 150, Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany. Grave: Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, Lohheide, Lower Saxony, Germany. Anne Frank House, Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Anne Frank Center USA, 44 Park Place, New York, New York.

Mary Godwin Shelley (1797-1851) Frankenstein (1818) Born: Oakshott Court, Werrington Street, Somers Town, London, England. Buried: St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England. Frankenstein Castle, Darmstadt, Hesse, Germany.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1818) Born: 1 Milk Street, Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Buried: Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin Court, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin House, 36 Craven Street, Westminster, London, England. Franklin Institute, 222 N 20th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924) Freckles (1904) Born: near Lagro, Indiana. Buried: Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site, 1205 Pleasant Point, Rome City, Indiana. Limberlost State Historic Site, 200 East 6th Street, Geneva, Indiana.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1910)  Born: Sigmund Freud Museum, Zamecnicka 17, Pribor, Czech Republic. Buried: Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green, London, England. Sigmund Freud Museum, Berggasse 19, Vienna, Austria. Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, London, England. College: Vienna.

Robert Greene (1558-1592) Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1590) Born: Norwich, Norfolk, England. Buried: Unknown. College: St John's (Cambridge)

James Jones (1921-1977) From Here to Eternity (1951) Born: Robinson, Illinois. Buried: Poxabrogue-Evergreen Cemetery, Bridgehampton, Suffolk, New York.

Charles MacArthur (1895-1956) The Front Page (1928) Born: Scranton, Pennsylvania. Buried: Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, Rockland, New York.

Ben Hecht (1894-1964) The Front Page (1928) Born: Lower East Side, New York, New York. Buried: Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, Rockland, New York, New York.

William Stevenson (1530-1575) Gammer Gurton's Needle (c.1553-1566) Born: Hunwick, Durham, England. Buried: Unknown? College: Christ Church (Cambridge)

Robert Hichens (1864-1950) The Garden of Allah (1904) Born: Speldhurst, Kent, England. Buried: ??? College: Royal College of Music.

Francois Rabelais (1490-1553) Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-62) Born: Musee Rabelais (La Deviniere), Seuilly, Touraine, France. Buried: St Paul des Champs, corner of Rues St Paul et Neuve St Pierre, 4eme, Paris, Ile, France. (ed--This church and its cemetery were unfortunately destroyed during the Revolution in 1796. However, it appears that some ruins of the old church remain on the spot. College: Montpellier

Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660) Born: Cromarty House, Cromarty, Highland, Scotland. Courthouse Museum, Church Street, Cromarty, Highland, Scotland. Buried: Windsor Castle (?), Windsor, Berkshire, England. Urquhart Castle, nr Drumnadrochit, Highland, Scotland. College: King's (Aberdeen)

Urquhart collects donations at the Cromarty Courthouse Museum. 

Pierre Le Motteux (1663-1718) Born: Rouen, Normandy, France. Buried: Church of St Andrew Undershaft, City, London, England.

Jacques Leclercq (1898-1972) Born: Austria. Buried: Long Island National Cemetery, East Farmingdale, Suffolk, New York.

There are many references on the internet to Leclercq's brilliance, sophistication and bon-vivant nature. His daughter was a noted ballet dancer and Leclercq himself was well-known as a man about town in cultured New York circles during the middle years of the 20th century. Basic biographical information about him on the internet is scant however. (His well-regarded translation of Rabelais for the Modern Library was published in 1930, hence his appearance in our notes here). I also cannot find any pictures that are definitely confirmed to be him. 

Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) The Gentleman From San Francisco (1916) Born: Voronezh, Voronezh obl, Russia. Buried: Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois Russian Cemetery, Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, Essonne, Ile, France. Ivan Bunin Museum, ul Maksima Gorkogo 16, Yelets, Lipetz obl, Russia. Ivan Bunin Museum, Georgievsky per 1, Oryol, Oryol Obl, Russia. Bunin House-Museum, Turgeneva St 47, Efremov, Tula obl, Russia. Vorontsov Palace, Alupka, Ukraine.

Anita Loos (1889-1981) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) Born: Mount Shasta, Siskiyou, California. Buried: Etna Cemetery, Etna, Siskiyou, California. Chantilly lace cocktail dress, Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Avenue, New York, New York.

Friday, January 15, 2016

MacKinlay Kantor--Andersonville (1955)

MacKinlay Kantor was a prolific and well-known American writer of mainly Civil War-themed books (mostly novels, to my surprise; my father had a number of his books when I was young and I had always assumed they were popular histories) during the middle decades of the 20th century whose profile has inevitably dropped since his death in 1977, and that of most of his readers in the years since. Andersonville won the Pulitzer Prize for its year, beating out, among other contenders, The Recognitions, A Good Man is Hard to Find, and The Ginger Man. (Lolita was originally published that year in Paris as well, but did not appear in a U.S. until 1958). It is an earnest effort, much in keeping with the fashion of the time, at writing a sprawling, epic-caliber masterwork that would, by way of the cauldron of the Andersonville prison and the fall of the Confederacy, define and celebrate the National Character. And 'celebrate', is not, in this instance, by any means an ill-chosen word. Even though his subject is a horrific prison camp where over 13,000 men died, mainly of starvation, gangrene, scurvy, infections, and the like, the books lacks the moral edge, the shaming effect on the reader that modern books about this subject anyway seem to need to attain important status. Kantor is not an angry writer, looking around for people to condemn and wish some kind of retribution on, or if he does it is more for their incompetence and slipshod management, their deficiency of honor and military professionalism than for their being evil. He views the ordeal of Andersonville as a personal tragedy for the young men, especially those possessed of some promise, who had the misfortune to die there, though with something of the attitude that such unpleasant things will occur in war, and great wars are formative and probably necessary experiences for Great Nations to go through. Certainly at the end of the book the central character, the plantation owner and erstwhile slaveholder Ira Claffey, is reconciled to and almost giddy about the reunification of the states, the abolition of slavery, and the wonderful future that the country had to look forward to.

I gather that my book, while not a first edition, is a fairly early one, since the author blurb in the back refers to Andersonville as if it were Kantor's latest effort, and makes no mention of the Pulitzer Prize. As a book that was a big seller in the 1950s and has kind of been forgotten in the ensuing years, my local used book barn had at least five copies of it moldering away in the stacks. The author blurb is one of the better ones I have read in a while; though I hadn't realized it about him, Kantor's biography was right in tune with those of the to us impossibly self-confident, manly, wide-ranging white male writers of his generation who were supremely convinced of their importance and superiority vis-a-vis everyone than other supremely confident and high-achieving white male men of action:

"MacKinlay Kantor was born in Webster City, Iowa, February 4, 1904. His parents were separated before his birth, divorced soon afterward. The future novelist spent a chaotic childhood and youth in Iowa and in Chicago--years marked by poverty, hard work, and occasional moments of comparative luxury. He started to write seriously at sixteen, became a newspaper reporter at seventeen, and an author devoted exclusively to fiction at the age of twenty-three. Mr Kantor's first novel was published in 1928. Since then thirty of his books in all have been appreciated by readers in America and abroad: novels, verse, collections of short stories and novelettes, juvenile books, and histories. He has come to be regarded as a foremost interpreter of the essentially American flavor and scene. MacKinlay Kantor's accomplishments vary from the Hollywood motion-picture complex (he wrote the original story for the world-famous The Best Years of Our Lives, which won thirteen Academy Awards) to a year and a half spent living the life of a patrolman in the New York City Police Department. He has achieved combat experience in two wars and was personally decorated by the commander of the United States Air Force. Mr Kantor was married in 1926 to Irene Layne, an artist. They are the parents of a daughter and a son (the latter now a flyer in that same Air Force) and the grandparents of two small boys. The Kantors divide their time between Sarasota, Florida, and Spain, where much of Andersonville was written. The author began his intensive study of the Andersonville prison more than twenty-five years ago."

I took a few notes early in the book while I was getting used to Kantor's approach to various subjects, most of which were fairly characteristic of mainstream male writers in the 1950s, though if you have not read anything from this school in a while the initial blasts can knock you off course for a moment or two. Here is the book's main character and moral center, plantation owner Ira Claffey, contemplating his (grown, or nearly grown) daughter on page 10:

"...but Lucy was yawning. He felt a fire as he saw that yawn. Soon, then--To bed, to bed! Incestuous sheets, sweet prince? Nay, my Veronica and I lie within the embrace of a mortal primness known as Holy Wedlock."

On the nobility of war, which as discussed above, is an important, but to most contemporary intellectuals probably an idiotic theme in the book:

"But he did not like their attitude. They seemed to bring a meanness to war. There should be nobility about the business of risking life, even the business of taking it..."

There is a very brief interlude in Paris near the beginning which introduces the character of Henry Wirz, who was an actual historical personage who became the commander of the Andersonville stockade and was hanged after the war for his role in that catastrophe (though Kantor did not explicitly mention the execution in the book, leaving off the character with his arrest, though it is strongly implied as he takes leave of his wife and children that he isn't going to be seeing them again). The Swiss-born Wirz, whose arm was badly injured in battle, is in France to seek medical assistance from an old university classmate who has become a renowned surgeon. The Frenchmen provides one of the few comic lines in the 760 page book:

"I don't pay much attention to what goes on over there (i.e., in the war). My dear friend, you'll forgive me when I state a simple if unpleasant professional fact. Between my own patients and what goes on at the hospital and my lectures at the school--Well, my wife tells the children not to run shrieking to their nurse that a strange impostor has forced his way into the house, on those rare occasions when I do appear. As for my mistress--"

Among the many vignettes of the prior lives of various of the prisoners that Kantor drew in the course of the story to illustrate the vastness and variety of the American landscape and nation, there were a couple of buddies who hailed from the village where our Vermont house is, which was probably more populated, and was almost certainly more village-like in character, in 1850 than it is now.

We now return to the aforementioned Lucy, daughter of the plantation owner, and her fantasies while enduring the lonely years of the war, as only a mid-20th century American author with overinflated self-esteem could express them (I jest affectionately here):

"Lucy did not know exactly how the act of love was performed--she had only wicked whispered girlish gossip to go by--but in lonely nights she lay charmed by the contemplation of her own body, excited nearly into fever. Somewhere there might still be a man's body constructed for the express purpose of gratifying her own...waiting the muscular man who would step toward her, smiling and courteous but not to be restrained, out of tapestried shadows."

On a couple of southern gentleman whose close friendship might have appeared in a certain hue to the more vulgar-minded reader:

"They had held that deep love which is disassociated from sex because of the nature of the lovers; they are men made for women, never men made for men. Abhorrent as decay itself was the notion that ever either of them could have loved physically one of his own fashioning, in intimacy."

Just so we're all clear on this.

One of the westerners who ended up in Andersonville had lost his father to Indian torture in Nebraska:

When being a writer was fun

" day, ten miles from Fort Cottonwood, he was shot down by a party of Cheyennes who tore off his silver scalp and built a hot fire between his legs so that he might not be able to procreate in the Next World. Had they known that he took pleasure in song, they would also have cut out his tongue, since he was the enemy of the Indians and they did not wish him to have pleasure."

Kantor evidently didn't get the memo reminding him to wonder what business all these white guys had wandering into the ancestral lands of the Native Americans in the first place.

More testimony to the unabashed heterosexual pride coursing through the literary establishment of the time:

"There were a round dozen sluggers, also the cooks and housekeepers--two of these latter were homosexuals whose affection some of his men enjoyed, but Willie himself did not crave such peculiar ecstasies, his laughter burst at the very idea."

Willie by the way is Willie Collins, a real figure from history who was the most violent man in the stockade and leader of, for a while, its most brutal criminal gang.

My sense incidentally is that Kantor probably considered himself to be fairly liberal and progressive by the standard of his day. With regard to the black population, he seemed to have considered the progress made by 1955 in the professions and education just ninety years removed from slavery to have been remarkable, though current popular opinion I think would hold that these attainments were much less than they should have been, or would have been had society been operating under any kind of just system. It is evident that he did not hold acceptably high expectations where black achievement was concerned.

The episode concerning the friendship of Coral Tebbs and the escaped prisoner Naz Stricker in the waning days of the war, one a Georgian and the other a Pennsylvania, one deprived of a foot and the other of a hand, is emblematic of the corniness that pervades and mars the end of the story.

I have mentioned before in some of my other writings that I have an especial fascination in the end periods of cataclysmic wars where a substantial nation that has fought and carried out the war with great fury over a period of years in brought to the point of total ruin and destruction. Our very own Civil War offers one of the more vivid manifestations of this phenomenon, particularly in modern times, and Kantor, no doubt knowing and feeling the enormity of this event, made an effort to bring it to epic life in his book. While he was pretty strong on the technical aspects of final military collapse--mainly the breakdown of organization that overwhelms any attempt at maintaining a system--he cannot call up the intensity, either moral or emotional, that the great literary depictions of these epoch-marking military defeats convey. For example Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom deals with the defeat and fall of the Old South within a much smaller framework, limited primarily to a handful of families in a single small town, but the meaning and the thoroughness of the defeat is expressed more immediately and powerfully. I cannot think of any other examples from the Civil War offhand. I haven't read Gone With the Wind, and I don't know that I ever will.

Near the end Ira Claffey ponders--about two or three weeks after the war has ended (the news of Lincoln's assassination has reached even rural southwestern Georgia) what I take to be Kantor's personal viewpoint as to the legacy of the war:

"Here was a truth to offer strength and--perhaps, later-courage. This truth: any creed for which men are willing to die achieves an historic dignity and cannot be shamed, no matter how one hated it. I hated the North, said Ira. Hated the National Government. My sons warred against the Nationals, my sons were killed by the Nationals. Yet the youths who suffered within these walls have given the National Government a greatness it did not possess before; and in time that Government may be embraced, welcomed, respected, worshipped by those who once were unwilling to love it without stint."

This was definitely written at the height of U.S. nationalistic feeling. People took it for granted it would last at least into the whole of the foreseeable future.

The IWE blurb for Andersonville is especially howl-inducing: "The forte of MacKinlay Kantor is tender pathos, sentiment such as all men feel and only the Nordics seem to consider shameful." They also note that "The major character, Ira Claffey, who loved his fellow men, has seemed to some critics to be overidealized. He is not. He existed, and he is no less typical because there were and are unfortunately too few of him." Claffey's paternalistic and semi-humane treatment of his slaves, and their loyalty and family feeling for him in return, were emphasized throughout the book. Though he has doubts at the end of the war that the suddenly freed slaves will really be able to survive in their new condition, he comes rather quickly to the revelation that that struggle has now become the necessary element animating their lives going forward. Again, this is about the best that Kantor, an obviously cognitively able and would-be liberal man of his generation, seems to have been able to muster as a vision of the role of America's black population both in its past and looking to its future.

The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge

While Andersonville was a very long book, it had a fairly short summary, resulting in a only a few qualifying rounds for the Challenge, enabling works with as few as 1 internet review to make it into the field.

1. Mary C. Neal--To Heaven and Back.....................2,241
2. Margaret Mitchell--Gone With the Wind...............2,036
3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (movie).......................760
4. Rocky Balboa (movie)...............................................508
5. The Loft (movie)........................................................287
6. Luis Alberto Urrea--Devil's Highway........................222
7. Jack and Diane (movie)..............................................86
8. Heaven (movie)...........................................................85
9. Ain't Them Bodies Saints (movie)...............................69
10. Jamesy Boy (movie)..................................................66
11. John Nichol & Tony Rennell--The Last Escape.......20
12. Juri Lina--Architects of Deception............................10
13. Ronald E. Casey--To Fight For My Country, Sir.......9
14. Rebel Wife in Texas: Diary & Letters of Elizabeth 
      Scott Neblett 1852-1864.............................................4
15. Donna Rembowski--Medieval Law & Punishment....2
16. Filson Young--Christopher Columbus & the New World
      of His Discovery, Vol 1...............................................1
17. Charles Shaw--Heaven Knows, Mr Allison.................1

Play-In Round

#16 Young over #17 Shaw--Neither is readily available to me, though both books have some interest about them. The complete (8-volume) Young received 11 reviews, indicating that it still has currency somewhere, and Shaw's post-World War II novel was made into a film in 1957 which, though I have never heard of it, was directed by John Huston and starred Deborah Kerr. I and giving Young the nod because his book seems slightly more interesting to me at the moment.

Round of 16

#1 Neal over #16 Young

As noted above, the Young is not generally available to me for free.

#2 Mitchell over #15 Rembowski

No contest again because of the unavailability of the lower-seeded book.

#14 Neblett over #3 Sin City
#13 Casey over #4 Rocky Balboa
#12 Lina over #5 The Loft
#6 Urrea over #11 Nichol & Rennell

Urrea is 300 pages shorter.

#7 Jack & Diane over #10 Jamesy Boy

Jamesy Boy looks to gratuitously violent for me.

#8 Heaven over #9 Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Ain't Them Bodies Saints is giving off major pretentious/incomprehensibility vibes to me. Heaven looks to be the safe middlebrow choice.

Elite 8

#1 Neal over #14 Neblett
#2 Mitchell over #13 Casey
#6 Urrea over #12 Lina

These are all availability questions

#8 Heaven over #7 Jack & Diane

I don't know, Heaven is a few years older. Also teenage romance type stories are not very satisfying to me anymore, because I never had any in my own life and it still bothers me.

Final Four

#1 Neal over #8 Heaven
#6 Urrea over #2 Mitchell

The Urrea book sounds like it might be interesting and fresh--no suburban whitebread stuff you know--plus I am not in a frame of mind to take on a 1200 page novel that is not on my list.


#6 Urrea over #1 Neal

A very close decision, given to Urrea on the basis of more enticing subject matter, plus the indication that he might represent one of the neglected literary populations we are all supposed to be getting better acquainted with.

The winner. Obviously no stranger to the lectern.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January Update

A List: Robert Byron--The Station: Athos: Treasures and Men...51/256

B List: Kantor--Andersonville...671/760

C List: Atul Gawande--Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End...223/402

The Byron book is not really a classic, though it is a curiosity of sorts, and is periodically reprinted in modern editions. It has made its way onto the list by being one of a group of four books reviewed by D.H. Lawrence in a 1928 article that has itself attained list status. I am going to attempt to read as many of these four books as I can get my hands on. Byron's book, his second, concerning a year he and three Oxford friends spent at the now somewhat celebrated but then remote and little--known Byzantine monastery in Greece, was published when he was 22 years old. He was a cheeky, cocky sort of youth, upper class, successfully classically educated (i.e., could actually read Greek and Latin and retained the content of his learning the whole of his life), fond of contention, iconoclastic after the manner of his generation. I used to like these kinds of guys when I could sort of imagine myself as being after the same type, but I really don't know how to take them now that it is so obvious that I do not have this sort of mind at all. I becomes tiresome to be forever reading things that one is never going to have a part in, and are not doing one any good. The style of the book is also overwrought and ordinary situations and observations are presented more opaquely than they need to be. Byron wrote nine books by age 31 and then went into politics. He was killed in war action in 1941 at the age of 35.

The Kantor I will be doing a longer essay on. I have mostly enjoyed it but it is laboring to get to the end of the story and has completely lost any sort of tightness it had going over its first half.

We went over Gawande's incredible resume and accomplishments in a previous post. His book (which is not as long as it looks here--the Large Print edition was the only one that came available at my library), despite its apparent popularity, is not particularly compelling. It is an information book rather than a story book--though there are stories in it, they are not really interesting or humorous, and the salient facts that Gawande tends to notice about people, as well as the way that he relates them, have the effect of being depressing more than anything else. The subject of the book is very, very old people, as in, over age 85, and the various ways in which they become impaired and the various ways in which they are cared for at this stage of life, in the end mainly by being put into nursing homes, where people tend to be miserable due to the institutional nature and lack of any personal autonomy which becomes one's fate once you enter one. My impression is that people have very unrealistic ideas about the kind of life you can reasonably expect to have when you are in your 90s, and the baby boomers, who are going to be the worst of all, have not even begun to enter serious old age yet. It is scary, and I would not be looking forward to it if I thought I was going to live that long (people my size rarely seem to make it much past the early 80s at the utmost), and I suppose there are improvements that could be made to nursing home care, make it less impersonal and so on, but of course that would cost even more money than is already spent on elders, at a time when as a society we are doing terribly at developing young people into adults who can govern themselves or contribute meaningfully in any way...

As an honorable mention I got as a kind of stocking stuffer a little volume called The Film Snob's Dictionary. I don't know whether some kind of statement about me was intended but it is a quite funny little book. It was published in 2006 so it is slightly dated--certain notoriously pretentious video stores in places like Los Angeles and Chicago were referenced which I suspect are no longer particularly important for example, but otherwise it makes for good reading. Of the genres which feature most prominently, the only one with which I have any familiarity is that of the self-consciously and usually pretentious art films. Horror/slasher movies, the ultraviolent Asian films much loved by Quentin Tarantino, and sex films attempting to pass themselves off as artistic meditations make up much of the (often hilarious) content. Obvious entries such as Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini are omitted because they are "mere name-drops for bourgeois losers wishing to seem cultured. Watching a Bergman movie is so PBS tote-bag, so Mom-and-dad-on-a-date-in-college, so baguettes and Chardonnay." (Of course some of us can only aspire to have moms and dads who went on a date to a Bergman movie in college). From the entry on 1960s Japanese B movie director Seijun Suzuki: '...(his) violent CinemaScope action pictures grew increasingly eccentric as time went on, culminating in 1967's Branded to Kill, about a Yakuza hitman with a fetish for sniffing freshly steamed rice. Fired by his studio, Nikkatsu, for making 'incomprehensible films' (a not entirely unfair charge), Suzuki spent years in the wilderness before being lionized by his burgeoning Snob constituency (which includes Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch)." There is lots of this throughout. While I mostly agree with their assessments of various movies and the cults that have come to surround I do think L'Atalante, which the authors (David Kamp and Lawrence Levi) single out for ridicule on several occasions, really is a deep and very sad and moving picture.

Picture Gallery


Memorial at Andersonville

The book

Some art

 The closest thing to a hot babe picture that came up. The girl on the left is pretty cute at least.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December Update

A List: Galsworthy, Forsyte Saga.......522/878 (In Chancery)
B List: MacKinlay Kantor, Andersonville.......179/760
C List: Sun-Mi Hwang, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly.......115/134

I'm still enjoying the Forsytes, even though it could be protested that not much really happens given the number of pages, characters and passing years that make up the story. There is enough good period detail and amusing dialogue, especially now that the version of England that is depicted in these novels, parts of which I feel like still lingered at least psychologically into the time of my youth, is really fading into history, to keep up interest. There was a fourteen year gap between the publication of the first volume of the trilogy (The Man of Property) and the second, In Chancery. The tone and outlook of the two volumes are quite consistent, which is surprising to me given the passage of that much time, not only with regard to the change in age of the writer, but of society as a whole, movements in literature, etc. Perhaps the later volumes were written closer upon the first than the publication dates would indicate, and were held back for some reason, though that does not seem characteristic of this writer. I suppose I must look that up. There is no longer any excuse not to.

Andersonville I am finding to be highly readable and impressive in some ways, in others showing the characteristics of its generation that are not held in high esteem today, though these dated parts for me tend to be almost interludes of comic relief along the way than anything that impedes my ability to get into the book. Of course I will do a long report on this when I have finished it.

For the C-list I am supposed to be reading Being Mortal by Dr Arul Gawande, however this book is so popular that all three of my public library's copies are currently checked out, and two of them have already been placed on reserve when they do come in. Since I like to have an easier and somewhat contemporary third book around, especially when I am beginning a book that is going to take me a couple of months to read on my serious list, and the dreaming hen book, which had been in the competition for this spot, was extremely short and available, I decided to break from my protocol and take it up, and do the Gawande afterward if it becomes available, as I will be on Andersonville until probably late January. It's a little too...twee? feminine? the words don't come, they never come, at least not at my taste, though I suppose there is nothing objectionable about it. And look at all of the multicultural writers I am getting in this way. I am on a veritable roll.

Picture Gallery

This is from a movie about Anne Boleyn. It came up in the magic word search for the Forsyte Saga


Irene and Soames from the 1967 Forsyte adaptation. Pictures from the more recent one seem to indicate a lot more sexy stuff going on than I am getting from the book, unless things really begin to pick up.

Andersonville today. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hans Christian Andersen--Fairy Tales (From 1835)

The first Scandinavian book (of surprisingly many) to appear on the IWE list, though 'book' in this instance was rather suggested than defined, as the complete Andersen's Fairy Tales would run to several thick volumes, and the outline that accompanied the entry in the encyclopedia was restricted to just seven of the more celebrated stories. I thought I would like to read something a little in-between these two extremes, so, there being an old Modern Library edition of Andersen (combined in a single volume with the Grimms, who come up later on this list), as I often do I decided to read that as a default. Incredibly however, that edition was missing one of the seven core stories ('Thumbelina"), so I had to supplement that book with a edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham (orig. 1932) that my children have, though I don't think any of them have ever read it. This volume also included a few other stories that were not in the Modern Library Edition. So in all I read about 500 pages of Andersen, which I think is a sufficient amount.

It took me a while to get in a comfortable reading mode with these stories. Even though it is undoubtedly a children's book so far as content, the prose partakes more of the elaborate and dense 19th century literary style than most children's literature, but not, I found, always in a way that carried me through the pages. It seems to me that most modern children would find it difficult to read as an entertainment. The breaking up of the reading into fifty or so separate stories also seemed to work against settling into a consistent rhythm for me. At times however, a story would come that I could get into somewhat, and I was drawn into the romantic Old Europe state of mind that is what I largely seek in reading books like this. 

As an author Andersen's extreme use of personification, perhaps the most fantastic I have encountered among this class of imaginative writer, stands out. Where other writers will have articles of clothing or furniture or other inanimate objects come to life as characters, Andersen will find personality in ever more minute partitions, not merely will a whole shirt be a character, but the collar and the cuff links and all of the individual buttons; not simply a glove, but each of the five fingers (On the other hand, this is not an uncommon way of thinking with children. My six year-old said something this morning which unfortunately I have already forgotten, but it had to with someone inanimate object wondering why we had 'insides' or something like that). This level of micro-personification is absent from all of the more celebrated stories, however. Andersen loved storks, and these interesting birds and the theme of their annual migrations between Denmark and Egypt appear in several of the better of the lesser-known stories. I also duly noted the Christian elements that frequently appear in the stories, though I tended to gloss over them with a lazy approval, as I find my idea of the austere old Scandinavian Protestantism to be aesthetically satisfying to a certain degree, though as in all Western religious cultures, I am conscious that the implementation of this vision upon the earth often resulted in inflicting great torments especially upon the more vulnerable segments of the population. Andersen's wisdom and morality, being of a petulant--some might even say childish--quality, suspicious (or resentful) of arrogance and the centrality of wealth and social status in human relations, especially when the origins of these conditions long pre-dated the lives of the individuals concerned, seem to have been broadly in step with what I perceived as a child to be the general direction of mass opinion during the 60s and 70s. At least the morals of his stories strike me as being more fully in tune with the particular attitudes of that time, perhaps because they were somewhat more widely realized then, than with those of the present.  

Brief impressions of the seven main tales:

"The Little Mermaid"--In the Modern Library Edition, just "The Mermaid". From the literary standpoint the best of the stories by far, and moving in its way, though there is still something pathetic about it. I have never seen the Disney movie, though I remember something about the feminists going crazy because the mermaid gives up her voice for the sake of a man, and one who is rather vapid and nondescript apart from unearned social rank and physical beauty at that, though that does happen in the original story and is rather central to the plot. However, apparently the mermaid does not die in the cartoon, and that seems rather essential to the plot too.

"The Little Match Girl"--I am impressed at the existence of a story of scarcely more than a page recognized as a classic of a kind, and nothing is coming to me by which I might set to eviscerating the conception and the elements of the tale. But having long grown accustomed to stories being much longer, I could not but experience it as rather slight.

"The Emperor's New Clothes"--This story has never really worked for me. My imagination has always been more consumed with the idea that the king is literally buck naked than the allegorical meaning being put across (it was never my good fortune to live in an environment where I was able to develop a level of comfort with public nudity).

"Thumbelina"--("Thumbelisa" in the Rackham). The young frog and the mole who were suitors for Thumbelina had some humorous qualities.

"The Snow Queen"--Perhaps the translation in my book was a poor one, but I was actually confused by this story, though that was probably due to the difficulty I had in staying awake while trying to read it. In any event I was not into it.

"Big Claus and Little Claus"--Kind of a silly story, though I guess I was able to stay awake all the way through. I envisioned the title characters as Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.

"The Ugly Duckling"--It's all right. Some of these stories are so well known that it is hard to have any reaction to them unless something about them really strikes you, and that did not take place with any of these.

"The Princess and the Pea" didn't make the IWE essential Hans Christian Andersen list.

Some of my favorites among the lesser well-known tales include "The Travelling Companion", "The Beetle", "The Strange Goloshes", The Tinder Box", and "The Marsh King's Daughter". These tend to involve journeys or quests or be speculations on identity, which are the kinds of themes in which I am always interested.

The Challenge (!)

1. To Kill a Mockingbird--Harper Lee.....................................................8,059
2. Being Mortal--Arul Gawande..............................................................3,933
3. The Fault in Our Stars (movie)...........................................................2,746
4. Cinderella (2015 movie)......................................................................1,867
5, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (movie).............1,190
6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (movie)..........................................................781
7. Thumbelina (movie)................................................................................432
8. Go (movie)..............................................................................................299
9. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (movie)....................................................231
10. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (movie).......................................151
11. The Lotus Palace--Jeannie Lin.............................................................124
12. Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters--Shannon Hale.....................90
13. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly--Sun-Mi Hwang.......................84
14. Happy Christmas (movie)......................................................................71
15. Trouble--Gary D. Schmidt......................................................................45
16. Surrendering to Motherhood--Iris Krasnow...........................................41

1st Round

#1 Lee over #16 Krasnow

I sometimes consider the upset when a book is really well-worn, but I wasn't up for a psychological treatise about mothering.

#2 Gawande over #15 Schmidt

The Schmidt book is some kind of genre novel, with which class of book, unless the author is a broadly acknowledged master of the form, I am trying to be finished as much as possible

#3 The Fault in Our Stars over #14 Happy Christmas

This is purely a matter of seeding, as I have no real interest in either movie, and they even came out in the same year (2014)

#13 Hwang over #4 Cinderella

#12 Hale over #5 Indiana Jones, etc.

#11 Lin over #6 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

#10 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians over #7 Thumbelina

Though the Santa Claus film is rated among the worst movies of all time, it does date to the 60s and is going up against a cartoon, and I am burned out on cartoons as well.

#8 Go over #9 Princess Kaguya

A mid-90s sort of dark Generation X-looking endeavor over another kid's film,

2nd Round

#13 Hwang over #1 Lee

Hwang is a South Korean writer. Her book under consideration here looks to be very slight and twee, and is frequently compared in reviews to the infamous Jonathan Livingston Seagull. However, as her book turned up more than once during the qualifying for the Challenge, it was entitled to an upset, and her is its upset.

#2 Gawande over #12 Hale

Gawande's book, which is about end of life medical care, is making the most of my aversion to genre novels.

#11 Lin over #3 The Fault in Our Stars

#10 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians over #8 Go

No reason other than its age, and that I am oddly reluctant to revisit the period from the mid to late 90s, which tends to make me melancholy.

Final Four

#2 Gawande over #13 Hwang

In the end, there were to my mind too many annoying little things about The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly for me to have any enthusiasm to read it.

#11 Lin over #10 Santa Claus, etc


#2 Gawande over #11 Lin

Lin coasted into the finals by beating a string of movies, but her book is a Harlequin romance.

The suave victor

My library has 3 copies of the Gawande book, all of which are currently checked out, so I may not be able to get to it. It has certainly sold a ton and is attracting a lot of interest for a subject that does not exactly set my pulse to racing, so I guess I am willing to see what the fuss is about. He is a New Yorker staff writer as well as a Rhodes Scholar, prominent surgeon, adviser to  Bill Clinton and otherwise possessor of a championship resume all around, so obviously we'll be dealing with an intellect of some kind if we can get hold of his book.