Thursday, July 7, 2016

Addendum to July Update

I wanted to note another book I read during the interval between updates, the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.  By his own account Equiano was born around 1745, probably in what is now southeastern Nigeria, and was captured by slave traders as a ten year old child and carried to what is now that . Even I was shocked at the cruelty and inhumanity of that story in the book, though there has been some credible recent scholarship suggesting that he may actually have been born in South Carolina and not Africa. As a boy he was sold quite frequently and ended up serving primarily on ships running between England and the West Indies, especially Barbados and Montserrat, becoming adept at navigation as well as trade and enduring, as seamen do, numerous calamitous voyages, including one shipwreck on an uninhabited and waterless island off the coasts of the Carolinas. He was able to buy his freedom when he was around twenty-two and moved to England, which was a safer and more congenial environment for a free black man than anywhere in the Americas--he pointedly named the West Indies as the worst of the worst for being abused, robbed, risk of re-enslavement without any hope of appeal to the white authorities, though he had a dangerous episode in Savannah, Georgia also. Though the book is mostly about his travels he also became prominent in the abolitionist movement in England in the 1780s and 90s.


I recommend it. It is quite short, only around 160 pages, but the travels are interesting, and it certainly covers a strain of that period of history that was of major importance but tends to be underrepresented in the canonical literature and history of that time. I am sure anybody reading this will already be much more attuned to and fired up about the injustice and cruelty of North America's history than any outrage I would be able to summon in behalf of this, but that is in the book too, and at a time when it was a living, active force. Equiano as a writer is interested in relating the facts and making his points, and is not given much to expansiveness, which sometimes makes the writing come off flat. No more time.


I wanted to report also that the Salman Rushdie book I got from the library has a beautiful shimmering golden dust jacket. I love it.


I can't find any good pictures on a quick search. Maybe next month.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July Update

A List--Baudelaire--Les Fleurs du Mal...131/229


B List--Hervey Allen--Anthony Adverse...68/1,224


C List--Salman Rushie--The Ground Beneath her Feet...87/575


I am reading Baudelaire in (or from) French, for what it is worth. My favorite insight so far that I can fruitfully apply to my own life is that our own personal Paris, the Paris of our youth, and probably that of any great city that means something to us, is always dead and gone by the time we are thirty-five, if not thirty.


Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville
Change plus vite, helas! que le Coeur d'un mortel);


It is becoming evident to me that my primary obstacle to finishing the "B" list before I shuffle off the old coil here is that its lineup is heavier than I realized on 1,000+ page books, one after another after another, leavened with the occasional 2,500 page trilogy. I like reading these large books, especially if they are good, of course, and I suppose I feel a certain pleasure at coming to the end of something that took a month or two to finish that I don't feel in finishing something shorter, though this is silly from any kind of serious or intellectual standpoint. It is going to be hard for me to make much headway towards getting on pace to finish the whole list prior to entering my 80s for a while though.


Anthony Adverse is a category of book that I suspect may be the weakness of the IWE list, giant, mega-selling (loosely) historical fiction from the 30s and 40s, of which Gone With the Wind is the primary exemplar, though it actually is not on the list.  Forever Amber is on the list however, as is So Red the Rose and I am not sure if there is anything else from this school, but there is probably something I am forgetting. I am guessing whoever was in charge of creating the IWE canon had a fondness for these books dating from youth that he or she was not able to put by. Adverse is not completely unreadable to me, and it has the elements of what could be an interesting book in places, but it isn't literature, and if I were younger and still had hopes of developing into a serious person, I would feel that I should be reading something else. It's the kind of book where the amusing lines are things like (when the hero's mistress offers to sell her jewelry for him) "One can take a man's wife and remain a gentleman, but taking his jewels would not do". The women characters are all straight clich├ęs from the romantic school and are beyond redemption, the pace is slow, the descriptions are probably overdone...all that said, I am looking forward to going home and reading my ten pages before bed, so strong is the nostalgia and romanticism of the List with me as to overrule any sense of taste.


The Rushdie book is not Anna Karenina, I suppose, and I don't remember it being lauded as a great book when it came out (in long-ago 1999), though maybe it was and I missed it, but so far I find I am liking it. I am already nostalgic for 1950s Bombay, something I never thought about before taking up this book. There have been a few episodes where the narrative appeared to be tottering dangerously close to the edge of magic realism, but it pulled back just enough to remain in the realm of literary fictional plausibility. So far so good on this one.


I don't have time to do pictures this month. Maybe I'll put a literary girlie picture up tomorrow or something.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Leo Tolstoy--Anna Karenina (1877)

In the course of going through any long-term reading list such as this one I have embarked on, especially one that consists almost entirely of older books, with many of those being what are today considered extremely long novels, coming to a book such as Anna Karenina marks an emotional high point in the course of the journey. This has not only to do with how enjoyable the experience of reading the book is, or appreciation of its numerous superiorities when compared even with other books on the list, but because of its very wide status throughout the reading world as a kind of lodestone, or highly treasured masterpiece. The very best and smartest people have not been able to possess it entirely, while still acknowledging for the most part that it still possesses the highest worth. So it has been exciting, in a low-level kind of way, for me to read this, especially as it my second time with the book, and I did not have the same response to it the first time I read it that I did on this occasion. 


My history with Tolstoy goes back to the summer before the old senior year of college; War and Peace is the traditional summer reading before that last year there, and I suppose probably still is. Everyone comes back for the final fall having read it and in most cases willing to engage in conversation about myriad of his aspects, sometimes after a few drinks, spirits being as infused with the reading as they are, the 1812 Overture will be put on the stereo. It is a hopeful and fun time, as beginnings always are, though one that, in my usual lunkheaded way, I largely missed out on because I had let the approach of the new school year sneak up on me and did not begin the book until the day before the first class. I did manage to get through about 400 pages, which is enough to get a sense for its special qualities, but not enough to be a member of the War and Peace club. I did read through the whole thing some time in the late 90s, and it is on this list too, course, though as I am doing this alphabetically I am not on schedule to get to it until I am about 80. I read The Death of Ivan Ilych somewhere in the early 2000s as well as my previous reading of Anna Karenina. I have not read any other Tolstoy, though I have often had the desire to throw off all of these other books and go through his whole opus. Boyhood, Childhood and Youth look, based on glancing over a few pages, like they would be considered classics in their own right if anyone else had written them, the short stories, The Sketches of Sebastopol, The Kreutzer Sonata, even A Confession, though one of my friends, back when I used to have friends, told me it wasn't very good. But I haven't done this yet.
   





I read the Constance Garnett translation this time. On the previous occasion I had used the Maude translation. I love the Maude War and Peace and in a comparison of passages I prefer it to Constance Garnett, but with Anna Karenina I found I preferred the Garnett. I can't say what was lacking in the Maude, or my first reading of the book. It is not that I didn't like it, but it had not stayed with me, and even at the time I remember thinking it was like Madame Bovary, which I had read around the same time, and maybe not as good. Perhaps Garnett's translation style fit the spirit of the book better. I certainly think I was more drawn into it as an experience, or inhabited world, which is much of what sets Tolstoy apart from other novel-writers.



While I was reading this there was an article published by a respectable outlet about how lousy various of the recent English translations of the Russian classics are. I felt somewhat vindicated in my own decision to stick with the old translations, my reasoning being that these were the versions of these authors that all of the old guys, Joyce and Hemingway and George Orwell and whoever else you want to throw in there, read, and I have not been persuaded yet that the people reading the new translations, wonderful and advanced as some of them probably are, are as yet getting any more literary-wise out of the books than the best readers of past ages did. Still, I must always bear in mind that it is perhaps my primary (curable) flaw to be skeptical of all progress and innovation even when it has been proven beyond all doubt to be superior to whatever preceded it.



Even on this reading I found the earlier parts to be somewhat as I felt the first time, not inadequate by any means, but not extraordinary or as spectacular as I had been led to expect. But this time I really felt, as is often the case with long old books, how it got better and better as it went along. I actually neglected to take any notes for my report until I was on page 658, when I thought I had better start noting a few things to remember about this time, or I would lose them.



On that page 658 there was a description of a scene in the country which reminded me of our camp in Vermont and my own happy life, or at least one of the parts of my life that is happy:



"...he left the edge of the forest where they were walking on low silky grass between old birch-trees standing far apart, and went more into the heart of the wood, where between the white birch-trunks there were gray trunks of aspen and dark bushes of hazel...It was perfectly still all round him. Only overhead in the birches under which he stood, the flies, like a swarm of bees, buzzed unceasingly, and from time to time the children's voices were floated across to him."



The period in which I was reading this--roughly April 26 to June 24--were unusually emotion months for me, as it began with spring vacation and went through the end of the school year, which included my two older sons going a trip to England and Iceland, my daughter finishing pre-school, which means she'll be going to all day kindergarten next year, and last of all, my oldest son's completing 8th grade, at the school he had been going to for eight years, getting him through all eight years of which was a big deal to me. I had a couple of odd recurring visions throughout my time with Anna Karenina, which I assume something in the book called up to remind me of pleasant associations, one being the old elevated running track at St John's, the other being a rather tired Friendly's restaurant located on U.S. 7 in Bennington, Vermont that we went to for ice cream at the end of an otherwise not very productive day during April vacation right when I was beginning the book--we had driven out that way to do a hike, only to find the park closed; then we went to some other places, minor sites and used book stores mostly, that were either closed, nothing ever being open in this part of the world before Memorial Day, or had gone out of business. I liked the location of it, right near the old part of town, and the atmosphere inside called up the less coldly efficient era of my youth in the late 80s or early 90s. After my son's graduation we went to the Friendly's in Concord on Main Street, which is similarly plunked down in the middle of an older neighborhood, and I had to take baby, who was rambunctious, out to walk around the block numerous times while trying to contemplate the meaning (to me) of this end of the first of the children in this school, thinking about which I now realized had occupied so much space in my mind over the previous eight years. All of this is a propos of nothing with regard to the book, but I wanted to record something of my mental state during this time when I was reading it.






I have to admit that I often felt nostalgia in reading Anna Karenina, not only that evoked by the writing about nature, which was a considerable amount, but also for the (dying?) western literature tradition that has been so important to me, so much of what is superlative and most admirable about which is contained within its pages. I was about two thirds of the way through when an article entitled "The Canon is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read it Anyway" was making the rounds of the internet, in which younger scholars are advised that, unfortunate though it is, "If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you're going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets." Eventually, one assumes, this odious necessity will be mitigated somewhat by the appearance of greater, or at least equally great, poets, whose backgrounds and outlooks are less personally offensive. I won't say that I do not understand emotionally the idea that one might love or care deeply about English literature without caring much for, to list the authors featured in the course under protest in the above article, "Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and Eliot", though I think it is probably unlikely to do so in any kind of deep or thorough way. It is true that I come out of a background that insisted very strongly that, especially at the Chaucer-Shakespeare-Milton level, the work under consideration is of such a high and rare quality and importance as to be really beyond taste or transitory political or social orientation. An extremely intelligent and learned person, practiced in thinking at levels serious enough to be productive of interesting insights, might be able to offer some meaningful criticism or question various aspects of the civilizational significance of the authors under consideration; but even such people as this are rare. Obviously this viewpoint continues to hold a lot of weight with me.



p. 701: "And again the light died away in his eyes. Again, as before, all of a sudden, without the slightest transition, he felt cast down from a pinnacle of happiness, peace, and dignity, into an abyss of despair, rage, and humiliation. Again everything and everyone had become hateful to him."



I noted that this passage described my current state.



p. 709. "At home, looking after her children, she had no time to think. So now, after this journey of four hours, all the thoughts she had suppressed before rushed swarming into her brain..."

I noted that the description of Anna on horseback on page 715 was "great, characteristic stuff." It obviously made a strong impression on me at the time.



pp. 742-3: "During the game Darya Alexandrovna was not enjoying herself. She did not like the light tone of raillery that was kept up all the time between Vassenka Veslovsky and Anna, and the unnaturalness altogether of grown-up people, all alone without children, playing at a child's game."

I noted that I often felt this way myself. Like on Facebook.






p. 790 On debt: "Even the consideration that with such an expenditure he could not go on living for a year without debt, that even had no force." This is pretty much the condition I have been driven into psychologically. I have given up resisting.



p. 794 The meeting at the university, especially the cloth-covered table, reminded me happily of old Europe type associations. Prague perhaps?



p. 823-4 Levin, the night before his wife has her baby. This relates to the debt question also. "There are no conditions to which a man cannot become used, especially if he sees that all around him are living in the same way. Levin could not have believed three months before that he could have gone quietly to sleep in the condition in which he was that day, that leading an aimless irrational life, living too beyond his means, after drinking excess (he could not call what happened at the club anything else), forming inappropriately friendly relations with a man with whom his wife had once been in love, and a still more inappropriate call upon a woman who could only be called a lost woman, after being fascinated by that woman and causing his wife distress--he could still go quietly to sleep."


There is a great deal of what constitutes life in this paragraph, and yet it is so straightforward and unremarkably stated. This is what I admire most in this author.



p. 839 "This position, like all such appointments, called for such immense energy and such varied qualifications, that it was difficult for them to be found united in any one man." This one I just thought was funny.



For the most part I found the best realized characters to be relatively minor ones. Oblonsky perhaps is not minor, but his personal story is not one of the central dramas. Both of Levin's brothers, the consumptive, acerbic, pitiful, rather Dostoevskyan Nikolai, and the intellectual Sergei Ivanovitch, both seemed to me more realized than Levin himself. While they only appeared in one brief scene, I was also taken with Levin's exquisitely educated and serenely wealthy and stable in-laws, Lviv and the mysterious and beautiful third Shtcherbatsky sister, Natalia. I had vividly remembered Natalia's "beautiful arms" being, as I thought, noted at least a couple of times in the Maude translation, though she only appeared briefly in this, and I don't think her beautiful arms were mentioned.


p. 876. Anna's glimpse out the window at the carriage, an observed moment of fleeting and lost life:

"As she passed through the drawing-room she heard a carriage stop at the entrance and looking out of the window she saw the carriage., from which a young girl in a lilac hat was leaning out giving some direction to the footman ringing the bell. After a parley in the hall, some one came up-stairs, and Vronsky's steps could be heard passing the drawing-room. He went rapidly down-stairs. Anna went again to the window. She saw him come out onto the steps without his hat and go up to the carriage. The young girl in the lilac hat handed him a parcel. Vronsky, smiling, said something to her. The carriage drove away, he ran rapidly up-stairs again."




I had a congenial, if brief, talk with my wife about the book, which she read quite a few years ago, when we were in school actually, but she has a better organized memory than I have, and was able to pull up numerous thoughts that she had had at the time. I mentioned that Anna's neuroticism, in combination with the generally chilling nature of the superiority of most of her other qualities, i.e. beauty, carriage, taste, manners, and so on, was so pronounced as to make it difficult for me to like her very much. My wife said that the conditions of her life (or something like that; she would not have said "society") made her that way, because it was too limited, there was nothing for her to do. I agreed that the society depicted in the book was an unhealthy one, though this was a meaningless statement, as all societies everywhere seem to be eternally unhealthy in their relations between male and female as far as anyone is ever satisfied with them. She said that it appears that way to us, now, but that the views of women that it expresses would have been accepted as true, by men at least, up to thirty years ago, such as the old saw that there are two types of women, one represented by Anna, and one by the childish Kitty. She mentioned that at the time she had read it, when she was around twenty, that a man had said something to her to the effect that one of the hard truths underlying the story was that women become unattractive under childbirth, which she said had always bothered her. I would not say such a thing as this, in part because I don't actually believe it, and given that Tolstoy makes a point of depicting Anna as a ravishing beauty even after she has had children, I doubt he wholly believed it either, though the idea that this is so obviously has a power that plays on women's minds, that men who are attuned to this psychology are able to use with effect.    

This is last of the three "Anna"-titled books we have to read on the list. 


The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge



1. Helen Bryan--War Brides....................................................................9,070
2. Skyfall (movie)....................................................................................9,058
3. J. K. Rowling--The Casual Vacancy...................................................5,672
4. Les Miserables (movie-2012).............................................................3,978
5. Malala Yousafzai--I am Malala..........................................................3,122
6. The Duchess (movie)..........................................................................2,172
7. Tom Rob Smith--Child 44..................................................................1,143
8. Anna Karenina (movie--2012)..............................................................976
9. Ghost and Mrs Muir (movie)................................................................774
10. Louise Renneson--Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging...........686
11. Ricki and the Flash (movie)................................................................644
12. Robert Heinlein--The Moon is a Harsh Mistress................................521
13. Jill Alexander Essbaum--Hausfrau.....................................................467
14. Amy Belding Brown--Flight of the Sparrow......................................417
15. Shirley Jackson--We Have Always Lived in the Castle.......................385
16. Lois Liveen--Secrets of Mary Bowser.................................................376



1st Round


#16 Liveen over #1 Bryan



Because my library has the Liveen book. Otherwise they look pretty similar in terms of length, age, etc.



#15 Jackson over #2 Skyfall

#14 Brown over #3 Rowling



Shorter, plus the library has it.



#13 Essbaum over #4 Les Miserables

#12 Heinlein over #5 Yousafzai



Malala did get shot while standing up to the Taliban in the cause of women's rights, but I have been interested in reading Heinlein for some time.



#6 The Duchess over #11 Ricki and the Flash

Neither of these particularly excites me, but the loser looks more painful.



#10 Renneson over #7 Smith



The Smith book looks like some kind of thriller, with which genre I have not had satisfying experiences.



#8 Anna Karenina over #9 Ghost and Mrs Muir

Normally I would choose the oldie (Ghost and Mrs Muir dates from 1947), but the modern Anna Karenina presented itself so many times in the qualifying stages that I have to weight it some. There were no than 5 Anna Karenina adaptations that offered themselves as competitors for the tournament--the 1967 Soviet version, the 1935 version starring Greta Garbo, the 1947 version starring Vivien Leigh, and a 1997 version starring Sophie Marceau--but the 2012 version, which does not look very interesting to me, was the only one with enough reviews to make the field in what was one of the more competitive of our challenges, with a score of 376 points required to be in the tournament. There were a number of interesting old movies (and books) that did not qualify, the most notable looking to me among these being a 1964 film called On the Streets of Moscow.



Elite 8

#16 Liveen over #6 The Duchess

#8 Anna Karenina over #15 Jackson



A painful upset, but the weighted system requires it.



#10 Renneson over #14 Brown



A close contest, but the Renneson has some slight advantages in the metrics.



#12 Heinlein over #13 Essbaum



Final Four

#8 Anna Karenina over #16 Liveen



#12 Heinlein over #10 Renneson



Championship

#12 Heinlein over #8 Anna Karenina

I had to add a new rule ensuring that a movie could not defeat a book in the championship round to overcome my upset rule. I am always adapting to steer the results somewhat in the direction I want them to go.





Friday, June 10, 2016

Author List Volume X

Alain Rene Le Sage (1668-1747) The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane (1715-1735) Born: Sarzeau, Brittany, France. Buried: Boulogne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, France. Cathedral of St Mary, Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain.

Though there is a famous anecdote regarding Le Sage's funeral and the inscription on this tomb that shows up frequently in old books, there is no indication as to where he was buried other than one reference to its being in Boulogne. The site, wherever it was, may very well have been destroyed in the Second World War. 

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) God's Little Acre (1933) Born: The Little Manse, Erskine Cladwell Museum, East Camp Street, Moreland, Georgia. Buried: Scenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland, Oregon. College: Erskine (S.C.)

There are indications on the internet that the Caldwell Museum is now closed. He does seem to be increasingly forgotten as the years go by.

Lucius Apuleius (124-c.170) The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius (c.150) Born: M'Daourouch, Algeria.

James Hilton (1900-1954) Goodbye, Mr Chips (1934) Born: 26 Wilkinson Street, Leigh, Lancashire, England. Buried: Knollkreg Memorial Park, Abingdon, Virginia. Shangri-La, 900 South Beretania Street, Honolulu, Hawaii. College: Christ's (Cambridge)




J.B. Priestley (1894-1984) The Good Companions (1929) Born: 34 Mannheim Road, Manningham, Yorkshire, England. Buried: St Michael and All Angels Church, Hubberholme, Yorkshire, England. College: Trinity Hall (Cambridge).

Pearl Buck (1892-1973) The Good Earth (1931) Pearl S. Buck Birthplace, 8129 Seneca Trail, Hillsboro, West Virginia. Buried: Green Hills Farm Grounds, Perkasie, Pennsylvania.  Pearl Buck House, 520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Pearl Buck Museum, 6 Runzhoushan Road, Zhenjiang, China. College: Randolph-Macon.




Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923) The Good Soldier Schweik (1929) Born: Skolska Street, Prague, Czech Republic. Buried: Old Lipnice Cemetery, Lipnice nad Sazavou, Czech Republic. Hasek Museum, Lipnice nad Sazavou, Czech Republic. Monument, Prokopovo Namesti, Prague, Czech Republic.


Selma Lagerlof (1858-1940) The Story of Gosta Berling (1894) Born: Marbacka, Sonne, Sweden. Buried: Ostra Amtervik Kyrkogard, Sunne, Sweden. College: Uppsala.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) The Grapes of Wrath (1939) Born: John Steinbeck House, 132 Central Avenue, Salinas, Monterey, California.  Buried: Garden of Memories, Salinas, Monterey, California. National Steinbeck Center, 1 Main Street, Salinas, Monterey, California. College: Stanford.

George Barr McCutcheon (1866-1928) Graustark (1901) Born: nr Lafayette, Indiana. Buried: Spring Vale Cemetery, Lafayette, Indiana. College: Purdue.


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) The Great Gatsby (1925) Born: 481 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota. Buried: Old St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland.                     Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, 919 Felder Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama. College: Princeton.

Louis Bromfield (1896-1956) The Green Bay Tree (1927) Born: Mansfield, Ohio. Buried: Olivet Cemetery, Lucas, Ohio. Malabar Farm, 4050 Bromfield Road, Lucas, Ohio. Oak Hill Cottage, Springmill Street and Oakhill Place, Mansfield, Ohio. College: Cornell.

Lynn Riggs (1899-1954) Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) Born: Claremore, Oklahoma. Buried: Woodlawn Cemtery, Claremore, Oklahoma. Lynn Riggs Memorial Exhibit, 121 North Weenonah, Claremore, Oklahoma. College: Oklahoma.

Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) Born: Harlem, New York, New York. Buried: Mt Zion Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens, New York. College: Columbia.



Michael Arlen (1895-1956) The Green Hat (1924) Born: Rousse, Bulgaria. Buried: (possibly) Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green, London, England. College: Edinburgh.

W. H. Hudson (1841-1922) Green Mansions (1904) Born: Museo Historico Provincial Guillermo E. Hudson, Calle 1356, Avenida Hudson, Quilmes (Florencio Varela), Argentina. Buried: Broadwater and Worthing Cemetery, Worthing, Sussex, England.

Marc Connelly (1890-1980) The Green Pastures (1930) Born: McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Buried: Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester, New York.

Roark Bradford (1896-1948) Born: Lauderdale County, Tennessee. Buried: Unknown. College: California (Berkeley)

Jakob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) Grimm's Fairy Tales (1815) Born: Parade (now Freedom) Plaza 1, Hanau, Hesse, Germany. Buried: St Matthaus Kirchhof Cemetery, Schoneberg, Berlin, Germany. Bruder-Grimm-Haus und Museum Steinau, Bruder Grimm-Strasse 80, Steinau-an-der-Strasse, Hesse, Germany. Bruder Grimm-Museum Kassel, Bruder Grimm-Platz 4A, Kassel, Germany. Monument, Am Markt 14-18, Hanau, Hesse, Germany. College: Marburg (all both).

Charles Perrault (1628-1703) Born: 5eme, Paris, France (baptized, Eglise St Etienne-du-Mont). Buried: Carrieres de Paris, 14eme, Paris, France. Chateau d'Usse, Rigny-Usse, Centre-Val-de-Loire, France.

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) Growth of the Soil (1917) Born: Lom, Norway. Buried: ashes in garden, Norholm, Grimstad, Norway.  Knut Hamsun Centre, Hamaroy, Norway.


The Knut Hamsun Center in remote northern Norway. 

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Gulliver's Travels (1727) Born: 7 Hoey's Court, Dublin, Ireland (*****9-3-96*****). Buried: St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland (*****9-3-96*****) College: Trinity (Dublin).

Hamlet: Buried: (1) Marienlyst Castle, Helsingfor, Denmark. (2) Ammelhede, Randers Municipality, Denmark. Kronborg Castle, Helsingfors, Denmark.

Brian Donn Byrne (1889-1928) Hangman's House (1926) Born: New York, New York. Buried: Churchyard, Rathclarin, Cork, Ireland. College: Dublin.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Expanding on the June Update

I was overtired the other night when it was due and in my haste to slap a few sentences together and get it up I mad a sloppy posting. I was (probably) especially unfair to David Eisenhower, whom I described as an unmanly prig. In truth his account of himself as a young person reminded me of myself, if my grandfather had been the president and I had been as a general result of that association a few rungs higher on the privilege ladder. As a result of this I actually have some sympathy for him, as I am sure whenever he has had to engage with really accomplished or powerful men even from an early age, that they have taken their measure of him largely by way of comparison with his grandfather, by which he could not help but come off lacking. In pictures of him as a young man he comes across as an unthreatening, slightly dorky, rather complacent guy, which also irritated people. His wedding to Julie Nixon, it is sometimes claimed, inspired the angry Creedence Clearwater Revival rock hit "Fortunate Son". Most of the people I knew growing up (apart from my grandparents) despised Richard Nixon, in some ways on a more intimate and impassioned level than that of the hatred that people feel for the candidates in the current presidential race, and as such young David Eisenhower's connection with that family, in addition to his blandness and lack of a distinct and strong personality, I would imagine negatively affected his popularity and esteem as well, especially with the more rebellious element of the 60s generation.

Dwight Eisenhower, the President, comes across here mainly as an old guy who is used to being surrounded by people whose existences revolve around doing what he tells them to do, which of course is what he was. It's all very matter of fact, there are no complicated intellectual motivations or gymnastics involved beyond the circumstance that Dwight Eisenhower assumes leadership and the giving of directions in his interpersonal relations and assumes that the other person will fall in line. I would be curious to know more about his upbringing in Kansas, because in addition to himself two of his brothers achieved substantial success as well, the one being described as a millionaire and the top lawyer in Tacoma, while the other was a college president (Johns Hopkins) and foreign policy expert who held significant positions in politics during Franklin Roosevelt's administrations. The family is always described as being poor, yet these three sons rose to positions of great eminence. How does this happen?

Oh dear, I am getting tired again. President Eisenhower was pretty old-fashioned in is beliefs, He certainly did not believe, for example, that as a general rule women were capable of running affairs and governments.

David Eisenhower, as noted above, married Richard Nixon's cute daughter Julie in December, 1968, about a month after my parents, who are also roughly the same age, Unlike my parents, David and Julie are still married now, and even appear to still like each other, which would make them the only young-married Baby Boomer couple of that era that I am aware of to have achieved that distinction. Here is some footage of the wedding:




Apropos of nothing, here is the report of the wedding of their nephew (and Richard Nixon's grandson) in 2010. Besides themselves, among those on the guest list were Henry Kissinger, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Rendell, and the ubiquitous Hillary Clinton. Despite their notoriety, the 1968 wedding looks to have been a fairly modest and low key affair--Julie even looks like she went light on the makeup, which especially for a Republican is astounding. I assume that Dwight Eisenhower earned a decent income by the time he left the Presidency, but, having been a military officer most of his life, he certainly never developed extravagant spending habits, and other than wintering in Palm Springs, his retirement routine on the farm in Gettysburg strikes the modern follower of politics as almost banal. David Eisenhower went to Exeter Academy and Amherst in the 60s but apart from this his mode of life did not seem that removed from that of middle class people of the time. My point being that all of these people of this class either seem to have a lot more money now, or they are employing it more shrewdly to distance themselves from the mainstream of American life. Probably both are at work here.

 

Monday, June 6, 2016

June Update

A List: Between books

B List: Anna Karenina 664/950

C List: David Eisenhower--Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life With Dwight D Eisenhower 1961-1969  175/284

The most recent things I've read for the "A" List are a couple of short stories, Sherwood Anderson's "I Don't Know Why" and Henry James's "The Real Thing". The Anderson story was written around 1920 and is kind of a darker take on the snappy Ring Lardner-esque American vernacular style. The post-modern reader would probably be most struck by its copious and unabashed use of the "n" word. The A List is taken from the GRE exam circa-1990. A lot has changed since then. I possess a copy of the story in a 1968 edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. I also have an edition from around 1995 in which this story was replaced by different Anderson stories. I am guessing that the story was most notable for its style and other aspects of it technique, narration, etc, which were not bad, though I felt like I could see where the story was going pretty early on. The contrast between the beauty and excellence represented by the horses with the bestiality and sordidness of men did not strike me as having anything new to say on that subject. The James story, which checked in at around 30 pages, was very Jamesisan, from his middle period, It is tasteful, neat, and largely devoid of action, but I have learned, somewhat, how to read and approach Henry James as a type, or a brand, and this is what you get with him.

The Eisenhower book I find engaging enough as a memoir of the almost quaint old days of the American 60s. His grandson, David, who seems to be the primary author thus far (his wife, Richard Nixon's daughter Julie, is named as a co-author), comes across as a fairly undynamic and even priggish boy and man who seems to represent a considerable decline in the manliness department from his grandfather. I have more to say about this book, perhaps I will do an addendum to this post tomorrow....

Picture Gallery


Portrait of a Young Lady (so-called Anna Karenina) by Aleksei Mikhailovich Kolesov. 



Checking out the girls at a poetry reading in London. 



Portrait of genius



Eisenhower Memorial, Abilene, Kansas.



This person is a writer named Julie Bell. Most new writers seem to have to be attractive nowadays. 



Just some of the cuteness that was Julie Nixon (Eisenhower) in the 60s. I found the other writer-Julie when I was looking for her. 


Friday, May 6, 2016

May Update

A List: Hank James--The Aspern Papers....72/87

B List: Anna Karenina...179/950

C List: R.R. Palmer--Age of the Democratic Revolution, Vol 2: The Struggle...512/578

I am rather enjoying The Aspern Papers, a book about which I knew nothing beforehand. I would say it was a good introduction to Henry James, akin to The American, but I am not sure anything qualifies as a good introduction to Henry James (though I don't think I would recommend starting out with Wings of a Dove). Most people who had an interest in what the fuss was about would probably just have to jump in somewhere. This is one of his sparer efforts, set in a decaying palace in Venice where an ancient lady and her niece have been living in seclusion for many years, scarcely ever even leaving the grounds. Obviously their food is either delivered to the house or their servants go to the market for them, though Henry James never concerns himself with these kinds of practical details. The old aunt was in her faraway youth a celebrated beauty and the lover/muse of Aspern, a Byron-like poet, and is believed to still possess letters and other mementos of the great man, which are coveted by literary scholars. The attempt of one of these latter to infiltrate the house and gain access to/possession of the papers forms the plot of the story. I am guessing the book is a meditation on the futility of trying to experience/gain possession of an atmosphere of artistic genius from outside, or at second hand/distance in time. Anyway I am finding it interesting, and while many would probably find the pace and claustrophobic life depicted in it excruciating, it suits my own present mood.

The book is a little longer than the 87 pages I record it as being would suggest. The copy I am reading it out of is in an old Norton Anthology, which like to fit a lot of text on a single page.

Anna Karenina we will get to later. I read it once sometime in my early-mid 30s when I was going through my mid-life crisis and literature was not working for me as it had in much of my life up to that point, and the book did not leave much of an impression on me; indeed, I had mostly forgotten it. So it is almost like reading something for the first time now.

I am finally winding down with the Palmer. The C-list I only read a short snippet of each day, which is why I generally favor shorter titles for it. I just finished the section on how the British ruling class managed to contain and suppress revolutionary movements or even expressions of discontent in that country, and especially in Ireland, during the upheavals of the 1790s. While I have not traced his family history, Palmer comes off as belonging to the Wasp-y professor/historian class of men that historically predominated in the Ivy League and other of the more venerable northeastern colleges. He betrays an admiration, as if out of personal identification, for the manner and ease with which the British elite handled their unrulier elements, though most of these latter seem to have been concentrated among semi-educated workingmen rather than disaffected aspiring bourgeois, the more of able of whom I suppose have been traditionally co-opted enough into the rituals and institutions of the top people to limit the fervency of their unhappiness. If anything these books have given me a stronger realization of how heavy-handed and brutal the policies of the British ruling class often were during the heyday of their national power even compared with other European countries traditionally regarded as less progressive and more vicious, which truths, while they have been more emphasized in recent years, are usually done so in a provocative and confrontational manner that practically begs one to be suspicion of the author or speaker's motivation in bringing them up. In such instances a relatively dispassionate record of the facts by a writer who is if anything favorably inclined towards the people in question is more likely to have an effect on me.

Picture Gallery

   
An adaptation in which some liberties were obviously taken.