Monday, November 20, 2023
Tuesday, November 07, 2023
Over the period of a decade beginning with The Time Machine in 1895, H. G. Wells wrote some of his most popular fictions in the form of scientific romance novels, what I refer to as speculative fiction. These books have captured the imagination of readers ever since and are arguably as popular today as they were more than one hundred years ago. Among these perhaps the strangest and best is The Island of Dr. Moreau. Undoubtedly influenced by Robinson Crusoe, but also by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island which was published only thirteen years earlier, this book goes far beyond those deserted island tales and looks forward to the twenty-first century and beyond. In its day it was considered blasphemous, but in the age of cloning its depiction of vivisection takes on new meaning while the blasphemy recedes into the background.
The story is an insightful allegory of civilization as only the tip of the evolutionary tree and humans the only highly evolved animals. By using his cold-blooded scalpel, Moreau is, in a way, quickening the pace of evolution and giving his creatures two features that are exclusive to humans: primitive speech and a terror and wonder combination that is essential to religious belief. Their lowest impulses take over after the death of their god, Moreau, as exemplified by Montgomery's reckless actions, which spearhead the subsequent frenzy of self-indulgence. Observing the beast's plunge into self-destruction, the narrator Prendick is left alone when Moreau and Montgomery are slain.
After the terror passes, Prendick acknowledges that he might have acquired part of the "natural wildness" of the animals he had coexisted with. He senses the "animal [that] was surging up through them" and travels among humans in terror for a long time afterward, even though he knows this is unreasonable because he lives among "perfectly reasonable creatures" who are not bound by their instincts. The Island of Dr. Moreau is another warning about human reasoning put to the wrong use, and it offers more evidence of Wells’s inner debate on the issue. Above all this is a good story with suspense that holds even after the first breathless reading that it usually inspires.
Thursday, November 02, 2023
“There was desperation in his eyes. As he looked at me, it was as though he were looking into me from another world, trying to reach across some void, but everything he said was somehow falling short, not quite carrying its meaning across.” ― Seán Hewitt, All Down Darkness Wide
This memoir is shaped by the story of a poet who writes of his friendship with a man whose unhappiness was causing him great suffering. In it, the author felt he had to prove "that I was good, that I was kind, that I followed the rules" while growing up in England in the 1990s and 2000s, despite the fact that he "was brought up vaguely Catholic" and "had a secret to keep."
I found this memoir to be a heartbreaking discourse on "ghosts" like Hopkins and the inability to achieve permanence. It is filled with beautiful scene after beautiful scene, from Hewitt's own father, who confided on his deathbed, "All I want is my boys," to a patient at the mental hospital who laments that his son never visits and remarks, "I knew you'd come." As long as I can continue to spend time with my boys and enjoy listening to the birds while I sit in the garden. I only want that. It is a deeply poignant reflection on mental illness, queer identity, and the transience of existence.
Sunday, October 29, 2023
“For all sensation is a bond, pleasure as much as pain, joy as much as misery. The only free mind is the one that, pure of all intimacy with beings or objects, plies its own vacuity.” ― Emil Cioran, The Temptation to Exist
When this eleven-essay collection was first released in France, it caused a literary frenzy on the Left Bank. Cioran writes sharply about writers, novels, mystics, apostles, philosophers, and Western civilizations. Twenty years ago, Richard Howard's excellent translation of this remarkable European thinker's work, The Temptation to Exist, first introduced it to American readers. The book has subsequently turned into an underground classic, and the literary aura around Cioran has only deepened.
Cioran is a typical modern-day exponent of the metaphysical futility school. It is possible to argue that the titles of the first two articles in The Temptation to Exist, "Thinking Against Oneself" and "On a Winded Civilization," perfectly capture the tone and perspective of the entire collection as well as Cioran's body of work. Here, as elsewhere, Cioran presents a series of intensely personal observations on a variety of instructive subjects, including the collapse of Western civilization, the place of the intellectual in modern society, the end of the novel, the benefits of tyranny, the future of utopia, and other related subjects.
Thursday, October 26, 2023
He is living with one La Maga and sitting around drinking and talking—about jazz, painters, empirical ontology, illusion, time, identity, the Sartrean bit, or what he calls the ""giddy discontinuity of existence."" He returned to Argentina in the second section, met up with a couple known as the Travelers, and went to work with them in a mental health facility where they played hopscotch in a courtyard. The final section, which the author kindly calls the "Expendable Chapters," is a back-and-forth between the two universes interspersed with quotes, letters, notes, and other such materials. Cortazar's extraordinary versatility as a language artist allows him to express a wide range of concepts, recollections, and supporting associations. The richness of the cultural allusions makes one think of William Gaddis' recognitions. Then there's wordplay in Spanish, French, and occasionally a tongue that not even pig Latin can match. Since nothing has any reality, we have to start ex nihil."" Having started ex-nihil, one goes nowhere. But it can be fun to relax and enjoy the play of language in this postmodern classic.
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
The death ship it is I am in,
All I have lost, nothing to win
So far off sunny New Orleans
So far off lovely Louisiana.
(from "Song of An American Sailor")
This was B. Traven's first novel, published in 1934, and it is my favorite of his works. It is a sea story unlike any other in that it is a story of men at sea as a metaphor for men against what Jack London infamously referred to as the "Iron Heel" of modern industrialism. It is a novel with hypnotic power, timelessness, universality, and authenticity. In this work, Traven approaches the ability of Joseph Conrad to make the sea come alive for the reader.
The main figure who doesn't have a name—at least not a true one—isn't a victorious hero. He is an ordinary person who is struggling. His tale alternates between being hysterical and really somber at points. The reader is made to feel like his existence is pointless and that he has nowhere to fit in. It's interesting to note that B. Traven, the author, published under pseudonyms and declined to have his works recognized. His identification has never even been adequately confirmed due to the extent of this. Maybe that's why I found the writing to be so captivating. It was, in part, the author's way of venting his dissatisfaction with the world he witnessed.
Bruce Catton called the book "a startling novel about the horrible things that can happen to a man in the cock-eyed post-war world of Europe if he can't prove he is who he says he is. . . Our sailor is entangled in a world gone mad, a world in which justice and sanity have simply ceased to exist." A few decades later and several wars as well, and the world seems at times to be just as cock-eyed, no more just or sane.
What intrigued me, perhaps even more than this mesmerizing first novel, is the mysteriousness with which B. Traven hid his personal life. Even after many more novels, including the great Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven continued to hide behind a post office box in Mexico City. However that does not matter since his novels stand for themselves as exciting and daring adventures into the world of men and nature. This reader found The Death Ship was a novel with hypnotic power, timelessness, universality and authenticity.
Sunday, October 15, 2023
“Memory is a wound, you said. And some things are released only by the act of writing. Unless I go in with my scalpel and suction to excavate, to clean, to bring into light, that wound festers, and the gangrene of decay will eat me alive.” ― Rabih Alameddine, The Wrong End of the Telescope
The story narrates the travels of Lebanese doctor Mina Simpson to the notorious Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, after receiving an urgent call for assistance from her friend who manages an NGO there. As a Trans woman, Mina has avoided going so near to her birthplace for decades because she is estranged from her family, with the exception of her loving brother Mazen. However, Mina intends to do something significant during her week off work and without her wife of thirty years, amidst the hordes of Western volunteers who take photos with beached dinghies and the camp's kids.
Sumaiya, a very defiant Syrian matriarch who has terminal liver cancer, is soon transported across by boat. Sumaiya refuses to tell her family about her diagnosis since she is adamant about protecting her kids and spouse at any costs. Sumaiya's secret brings her together with Mina, who plans a course of therapy with the few resources at her disposal, she must face the circumstances that led to the migrants' displacement as well as her own limitations in being able to assist them.
Told through a compilation of short vignettes, I found this novel a touching and emotionally uplifting story of a trans woman's success in difficult situations. What comes through is the warmth and humanity of the heroine and her modern odyssey in theLevant.
Sunday, October 08, 2023
Willa Cather stated in 1936 that "the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts," and since then, college freshmen have been fretting about it like a soup-bone. With its leave-nothing-to-the-imagination subtitle, "Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature," Bill Goldstein's book, The World Broke In Two, which focuses on some of the major figures in the Western literary world in the year 1922, has that unsettling idea at its core.
Wednesday, October 04, 2023
“A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.” ― Henry Kissinger
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
“We’re part of the sky, and the rocks in your mother’s garden, and that old man who sleeps by the train station. We’re all interconnected, and when you see that, you see how beautiful life is. Your mother and sisters don’t have that awareness. Not yet, anyway. They believe they’re contained in their bodies, in the biographical facts of their lives.” ― Ann Napolitano, Hello Beautiful
This is a novel that explores themes of family, love, trauma, and healing. The book is about the connections between family and love, and how loyalty and honesty can cost and power.
William Waters was raised in a tragically silent home where his parents could barely bear to look at him, much less love him. When he meets Julia Padavano in his first year of college, it's as if the world has suddenly come to life for him. Since she and her three sisters are inseparable, Julia also brings her family with her. Sylvie, the family's dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book; Cecelia is an independent artist; and Emeline patiently looks after them all. William finds new happiness with the Padavanos; there is loving anarchy all the time in their home.
Then, however, shadows from William's past come to light, compromising not only Julia's meticulous plans for their future but also the sisters' unwavering love for one another. A devastating family rift results, altering their lives for future generations. Will the ties that previously bound them still be strong enough to bring them together when it counts?
Some say the book is a moving and propulsive work that mirrors real life and inspires readers to address challenges in their own relationships. Others say the book is a beautiful story about family bonds and love. But ultimately, it is an elegant homage to Louisa May Alcott's timeless classic Little Women, paints a powerfully touching picture of what is possible when we decide to love someone not despite who they are but because of it.
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Sunday, September 10, 2023
"Over and above the darkness and the mystery of the procession, Harvey could feel the land close around him once more, with all its thousands of people asleep, and the smell of earth after rain, and the familiar noise of a switching-engine coughing to herself in a freight yard; and all those things made his heart beat and his throat dry up as he stood by the foresheet. . . somebody waked with a grunt, threw them a role, and they made fast to a silent wharf flanked with great iron-roofed sheds full of warm emptiness, and lay there without a sound."
Friday, September 08, 2023
Thursday, September 07, 2023
By Howard Nemerov
I frequently draw inspiration from writers of different genres, especially those who write outstanding books. However, in order to convey a message that has significance for readers who value the written word's creators, poetry may occasionally be necessary. The poem, "The Makers" by Howard Nemerov, makes a stronger argument for this.
We can never locate that initial item that got us going, that initial spark that spans generations. In his poem "The Makers," Howard Nemerov strives to trace the history of poetry and comes to the realization that what counts most is that all of those concrete, physical feelings are transmitted throughout time through poetic tropes and pictures. It makes no difference who the first poets were or the specific tree, rock, or star that was first mentioned. What matters most is that we can relate to each other through these descriptions. The repetition of these sensory cues reveals a fundamental truth about the human condition.
Who can remember back to the first poets,
The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
No one has remembered that far back
Or now considers, among the artifacts,
And bones and cantilevered inference
The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
So lofty and disdainful of renown
They left us not a name to know them by.
They were the ones that in whatever tongue
Worded the world, that were the first to say
Star, water, stone, that said the visible
And made it bring invisibles to view
In wind and time and change, and in the mind
Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
Of the city into the astonished sky.
They were the first great listeners, attuned
To interval, relationship, and scale,
The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
Who having uttered vanished from the world
Leaving no memory but the marvelous
Magical elements, the breathing shapes
And stops of breath we build our Babels of.
Thursday, August 31, 2023
The dismal, brooding descriptions and magical atmosphere sometimes appealed to me. The storyline, the valley, the tainted forest, the ominous tower, the names of the people and places... You may like this read if you're searching for an atmospheric book that's ideal for fall, with a little romance and a lot of magic to spice it all up.
I can admit, though, that I did not find this to be a particularly compelling read in which I was eager to find out what would happen next. I didn't like this book, even if it was a relatively atmospheric read. Even in the middle of a "action" sequence, I could always put it down. Which may or may not be a good thing. Uprooted can be an excellent option to pass the time if you know you'll be busy at work or your child will interrupt your reading a thousand times a day. Like a haven of warm tranquility in the middle of a dreary day.
The author has a highly illogical approach to using magic. The lack of regulations or restrictions on magic in this universe, as well as the fact that everything was extremely individualized, further irritated me. It seemed a little too haphazard, and I dislike it when magic that seems overly convenient is used to advance the plot.
Regarding the romance, I wouldn't describe this book as very romantic. I still got a strong sensation that they could be a terrific couple, despite the fact that I wished there were a few more embers between them. I had the impression that they were connected in some way the entire time. And I much prefer that profound (albeit not fully explored) connection than platitudes and extravagant declarations of love. The bottom line is that I was disappointed and would not recommend this book.
Monday, August 28, 2023
The book's title comes from a scene in which Mann's son Klaus became alarmed by what he thought to be a monster in his room. Mann claimed to be a magician and promised to expel the beast using magic. Since the plan worked, his six children referred to him as the magician. However, the word has a deeper meaning in Tóibin's book since Mann is a character who has the ability to work magic with words, whether in his books, letters, or speeches.
This book is a work of magic by Tóibin, himself. He has given the reader an intimate look at a great writer who lived with contradictions by bringing Thomas Mann to life in stunning prose. His recognition as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century was at odds with his hesitant and secretive inner life. His happy marriage to Katia and their six children also was at odds with his repressed homosexuality, while his love of Germany and its culture was at odds with the Nazi ideology he loathed.
Tóibin explores the themes of living abroad, the creative process, and the preservation of personal identity (and in particular, homosexual identity) throughout the majority of his works. These issues are explored in The Magician through Thomas Mann's difficulties with them. It was enjoyable to read as it painted an exceptional writer's life in moving prose. I hope it would encourage those who have not experienced Mann's magnificent oeuvre to explore some of his many now classic novels, stories, and essays.
Sunday, August 27, 2023
“Whatever else it might be, the divine is certainly the thing that imposes with maximum intensity the sensation of being alive.” ― Roberto Calasso, Literature and the Gods
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
The selection criterion this week is to pick a genre and list your top ten selections based on that genre.
I have chosen the Historical Fiction genre. Since I've read more than a hundred novels in this genre from a variety of authors, I have listed ten of my favorites in no particular order. They all represent historical fiction by writers that I love to read.
Top Ten Tuesday is sponsored by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl
Cloudsplitter: A Novel by Russell Banks
Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel
The Siege of Krishnapur
by J.G. Farrell
Night Soldiers: A Novel by Alan Furst
I, Claudius from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius
by Robert Graves
Memoirs of Hadrian
by Marguerite Yourcenar
The Covenant by James A. Michener
An Instance of the Fingerpost
by Iain Pears
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
Monday, August 21, 2023
"I never was very capable of expressing my feelings or emotions in words. I don't know whether this is the cause why I did it in music and also why I did it in painting. Or vice versa: That I had this way as an outlet. I could renounce expressing something in words." - Arnold Schoenberg
"All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it." - Jean Cocteau
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), a native of Vienna, was forced to work at a bank from 1891 to 1895 after his father passed away, but he still found time to further his musical training through amateur chamber music performances and composition sessions with Alexander von Zemlinsky. The early String quartet in D from 1897, which was successfully performed, displays the influence of Dvorak and Brahms.
However, Schoenberg's subsequent piece sparked the controversy that would follow him throughout his career. The Vienna Music Association rejected the string sextet "Verklarte Nacht" (Transfigured night) due to certain uncomfortably discordant chords, despite its Romantic nature and emotional richness of harmony and color recalling Wagner and Richard Strauss. In 1901, Schoenberg wed Zemlinsky's sister and settled in Berlin. There, he orchestrated operettas in a cabaret theater to help pay for the composition of the symphonic poem "Pelleas und Melisande." On Richard Strauss's advice, he was hired to teach at Berlin's Stern Academy, saving him from this drudgery. This marked the start of Schoenberg's lengthy career as a renowned educator.
He came back to Vienna in 1903 to give private lessons. The following year, he began teaching Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who would go on to form the "Second Viennese School" alongside Schoenberg. This atmosphere of creative stimulation produced bold and rapid developments in Schoenberg's style, with the First chamber symphony pushing and the Second string quartet breaking the limits of tonality ( the traditional method of composing a piece of music in one particular key). The soprano that Schoenberg added to the quartet sings words that appear symbolic and significant: "I breathe the air from another planet."
"Pierrot lunaire", a setting of 21 poems for speaker and chamber ensemble, was premiered in Berlin in 1912 under the direction of Schoenberg, who had returned to the city. The surrealist writings of Albert Giraud, which portray the realms of latent brutality, lunacy, and desperate nostalgia that were implied in the musical worlds Schoenberg was investigating, served as the inspiration for this important work of the 20th century. Sprechgesang, a vocal production style that straddles singing and speaking, is highlighted throughout the piece. The methodology of serialism, an atonal approach in which the 12 notes of the chromatic scale are treated with equal emphasis, is the product of Schoenberg's creative experimentation. The Piano Suite and the Suite for Eight Instruments are two early examples of his compositions in this genre that date back to 1923.
Sunday, August 20, 2023
“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.” ― Walter Benjamin
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
The play provides one of Shakespeare's most thoroughly evil characters in Edmund while much of the rest of the cast is aligned against each other. The story of Lear and his daughters is mirrored by the suffering of the Earl of Gloucester who is tricked by his bastard son Edmund into believing that his other son Edgar is plotting against him. While there are a few lighter moments the play, often produced by the commentary of Lear's Fool, the tone is generally very dark filled with the bitter results of Lear's poor decisions at the outset. It is difficult to understand how little that Lear really knows his daughters. Interestingly we do not get much of a back story and find, other than his age of four score years, little else to suggest why Lear would surrender his power and his Kingdom at the outset. The play is certainly powerful and maintains your interest through dramatic scenes, while it also provides for many questions - some of which remain unanswered.
Monday, July 31, 2023
The novel is gruesome, accomplished, and darkly humorous. The best intentions fail and well-known ideas of virtue and vice fall to pieces in it. This kind of tragedy is distinctively Jamesian, and Philip's tale unmistakably invokes The Ambassadors' storyline. Similar to Strether in James' novel, Philip goes to the continent in order to save a fellow countryman from disgrace (first Lilia, then her son), only to fall in love with the place, find himself in the unlikely position of defending it, and have additional "ambassadors" (Harriet and Caroline Abbott) sent in order to save his mission. John Marcher, the main character of Henry James' "The Beast in the Jungle," and, in a way, the model for Strether, have similarities with Philip in his disengagement from life and inability to make snap decisions. However, Philip's tragedy is more difficult to accept because of his conviction that nothing can save him, which is actually the reverse of Strether's.