Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thomas Hardy Letter on Critics

A Guest Doodle

An actual work doodle, by person or persons now unknown, but I'm guessing perhaps Kitri Wood, now a professional graphic designer, bless her. Talented woman, either way.

Daily Dose

From Very Good, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse


"Then gradually, by degrees -- little by little, if I may use the expression -- disillusionment sets in. She sees him eating a poached egg, and the glamour starts to fade."

From Jeeves and the Old School Chum

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Bookstore Doodle

Invariably the question arises, though never aloud in a retail establishment, obviously, but, seriously, do these old parties really think that that hair-hat is convincing anyone of, well, anything? Bless 'em.

Daily Dose

From Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays


"It is crazy to want what is impossible. And impossible for the wicked not to do so."

From Book Five, # 17

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fancy an Essay by Thomas Fuller

Daily Dose

From Erewon, by Samuel Butler


"No. Men are kept at their posts, not by fear that if they quite them they may quit a frying-pan for a fire, but by the hope that if they hold on, the fire may burn less fiercely."

From Chapter 17, Ydgrun and the Ydgrunites

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quick Review

Self-Portrait in a Convex MirrorSelf-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Actually, I did finish this book, but I feel justified in adding it to the "abandoned" shelf as I don't think I'll ever feel the need to try Ashbery again. I don't regret reading this book -- if that's even the right verb to describe the experience -- or indeed, any of my goes at Ashbery. I do think that this will be my last. The fault, if it is one, is clearly mine, as John Ashbery recently became the first living poet included in the Library of America. No small thing, that. (Ashbery is also the favorite of my dear friend, a poet himself, for whose sake I've tried Ashbery's poetry, despite my friend's warnings that I would not like it, many times before. My friend was right of course. Nothing. may I add, in this most recent attempt has disproved, so far as I'm concerned, either my friend' warning or his admiration of Ashbery. I trust he simply knows better than I, bless him. Not the first instance nor likely to be the last in our long friendship.)

I only just begin to understand a little of what others find either interesting or admirable in these poems, though, again, that they are poems at all is something I have come to simply accept as a given. There are pretty phrases, indeed pretty phrases and pretty conceits of all sorts, and by the bushel basket, even in a book as slim as this, but arranged, if that's the word, to little if any point that I can find, even musically. (One of conundrums for me, saying these things aloud was finding nowhere in particular to breath.) For the most part, in an apt phrase of Maureen N. McLane's, even the "opportunities for derangement," presented by Ashbery's refractories ultimately seem to me rather less than more interesting the longer meditated, at least by me.

And then there's the near-narrative of that last, long title piece, and there's where I came to rest for some time. Straight through, then again, slowly, and then aloud, and always, almost... something about art, was it? Indeed, something may well have been said, though what it was seemed to matter less with each reading, even as the piece itself seemed to resolve into increasingly obvious, if no more coherent prose with every pass.

I also read a nice long interview with the poet, reprinted online from an issue of the Paris Review. The piece was from 2009, I think? Anyway it was recent enough. In it, the poet sounded rather sweetly dotty, rather like an increasingly vague, if rather dear old auntie, every bit as detached from anything like feeling or meaning as his poems. The interview in fact reminded me of nothing so much as Cheshire-cat-smile, but I now think about it, that seems wrong, as it suggests something intentional, even if that's only confusion, or a joke. I still find the idea of art too fine for sense offensive; not so much irrational as anti-rational, not mysticism but mystification, and not that himself could be made to say any such thing, or anything at all as clear as that -- very much against his principles, evidently, lowering himself to mere coherence, even in conversation. But why think anything as mean as that when, ultimately, this all matters to me as a reader hardly at all? It seems likelier to me now, if I could now be bothered to work up the required steam, that Ashbery aesthetic would be better explained by some more clinical diagnosis, something in the way of autism, but then I'm hardly qualified or still interested enough to say any such thing.

Still, it's a bit sad conceding, finally, my complete failure to see what my friend sees, or anything much at all in this, according to those that should know, America's greatest living poet. For me, it seems, thick as dishes, as my grandma used to say -- and here I mean either me or the poems, and does it really matter which?

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Daily Dose

From Poems, by Rudyard Kipling


"With fevered jaw and dusty flank
Each jostling each along the bank."

From The Jungle Book

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Brothers Dorrit

Daily Dose

From New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith


Itrod a foreign path, dears,
The silence was extreme
And so it came about, dears,
That I fell into dream.

That I fell into dream, my dear,
And feelings beyond cause,
And tears without a reason
And so was lost.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Cave at Dahra

Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by John Keats


"Souls of Poets dead and gone,
What Elysium have ye known,
Happy field or mossy cavern,
Choicer than the Mermaid Tavern?"

From Lines on the Mermaid Tavern

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Lost Pilot, by James Tate

A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Transposed Heads: A Legend of India, by Thomas Mann, translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter


"Here he bade his guests sit down, which they hastened to do, in all modesty, well knowing that they were here only for his asceticism, so to speak, to sharpen its teeth on."

From Chapter 10

Friday, June 22, 2012

Quick Review

The Middle AgesThe Middle Ages by Roger Fanning

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fair warning: a number of these poems touch on the experience of madness, and some of these poems are just mad. The distinction of which is which and what's what, for that matter, as often as not is left to the reader. So, how then is Roger Fanning's latest book so enjoyable, even to a reader disinclined to spend time, even on the page, with mad people? I don't know that this was necessarily true for the poet when he experienced his "break with reality," -- or for any of the people actually in hearing of him at the time -- but now, reading the result, there is an amazing, even explosive sense of fun, even in what, it must be admitted, must have been a hellish disorientation. Yup. I said it. Fun.

All of Roger Fanning's virtues as a poet, long since established, are still here. First of these, for me, is the poet's obvious delight in what might be called the commonplace; his gift for close observation and the reconstruction of everyday life, specially the lost country of boyhood and youth. So that in the poem, "Pique," for instance, he remembers not just a pretty girl's ankle, but the fishstick dinner over which said beauty was contemplated, and his own ugly mug as seen distorted in a toaster. More, he delights still in the alliterative, in puns, jokes, in being often if not always slightly dirty-minded, in an absolutely winning way, as in the poem "God Lives Underwater," ripe with a playful Priapism.

So when, as in a number of poems here, he ceases to make any kind of sense anywhere, presumably, outside of his own mental muddle, his invention, his instinct for the apt and the witty and the abrupt, never deserts him, even if sense does. The result can be a bit disturbing, even distressing in a poet one has come to trust, among other things, for his usual good sense, but strangely, even his maddest poems do not disappoint entirely: there's still music there, and clever phrases, images of a rare beauty, and yes, even humor.

The trouble with most mad people when encountered casually, say on the bus, is the lack of purchase they afford either for conversation or even escape. Usually, once they have you, there's no way to or 'round them. The trouble with mad writing -- and here I am specifically thinking not just or even of writers who've gone mad so much as those who would, from either experience or philosophical perversity try to put madness down on the page -- the trouble is, for me at least, the opposite of that urgency, that inescapable and impervious authority. On the page, crazy is usually just boringly purposeful: either fishing for sympathy or self-congratulatory for having loosed the bounds of stifling reason, etc., etc., ho hum.

Either or both motivations may or may not have played a part in Roger Fanning's decision to publish something like "How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?" -- I'm guessing that this would be one of the poems written when he'd left purport behind-- but whatever the why of it, even here there's a value in reading it. I don't know how to respond to lines like:

"Buddyboy, you have no power to send me to Hell.
Pussycats like you crucified me."

Oh? How very unfortunate. And, yes, how wonderfully, weirdly droll. But in the context of this book as a whole, and reading Fanning for a few years now, these few poems feel more like the shadows of his more usual turns, or put it another way, the irregular product of an imagination too much in the habit of poetry to not. As such, they are interesting of themselves, as curiosities almost, and because they aren't included here, it seems, to prove anything to or to ask anything of the reader other than that we keep playing with this most playful of poets.

How to resist such an invitation? Why would I?

So long as there are still lines like "Neon, for our family, neologisms," I still enjoy the poet's sometimes uncomfortable company.

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Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by James Schuyler


"The day is gray
as stone: the stones
embedded in the
dirt road are chips
of it."

From The Day

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From My Poets, by Mareen N. McLane


"There are words that are 'rare' for the general and words that are 'rare' for you, words that are 'obsolete' in the language and those that are 'obsolete' for you: 'Christian'; 'fuckwad'; 'wife.'"

From My Chaucer/Kankedort

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Doctor Johnson Declining to Recommend

Daily Dose

From The Life of Johnson, by James Boswell

"It is a melancholy consideration, that so much of our time is necessarily to be spent upon the care of living, and that we can seldom obtain ease in one respect but by resigning it in another..."

From a letter quoted, to Dr Staunton, 1762

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton


"She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them."

From Chapter XLVI

Monday, June 18, 2012

Quick Review

Native GuardNative Guard by Natasha Trethewey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'd never read this poet, or heard of her before her appointment was announced on June 7th, 2012, as the latest Poet Laureate. Congratulations to her, and for the Pulitzer! She seems, from reading this one book, a nice person. Keeping with recent tradition, I can't quite think of any other reason for her appointment. She would seem to write the kind of poetry, memorable neither in phrase nor line, meant to memorialize rather than mean, say, or do anything much. The only thing more blandly familiar than the subjects here are the structure and language of these poems, even when she chooses an unusual form. Maybe someone not only still in the American South, but interested in it, would find all of this more engaging. For me this all felt terribly dutiful and dull, dull, dull.

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Daily Dose

From Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories, by Anton Chekhov, translated by David Magarshack


"He could look out of the window, take another turn round the room, and then what? Sit here all the time like a stone idol, and think? No, he could not do that."

From Ward 6, XVII

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Cartoon

Daily Dose

From Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains, by Washington Irving


"At this place they encamped for the night and made a sumptuous repast upon fish and a couple of dogs, procured from their Indian neighbors."

From Chapter XXXIV

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by Jame Schuyler


"The dogs, the chat, the dinners,
the insomnia and the sleep"

From People who see bubbles rise

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, edited and introduced by Mark Roskill


"One must know the structure of the figures so thoroughly, in order to get the expression, at least I can not see it differently."

From a letter to his brother Theo, dated The Hague, end of April 1883

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quick Review

Batman - The Dark Knight Vol. 1:  Golden DawnBatman - The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Golden Dawn by David Finch

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

David Finch is an artist I like very much. His wrinkled, tangled, tight line is always dynamic and interesting. He is specially good at ugly. Gotta love ugly.

David Finch's Batman, however, at least as encountered for the first time here, is rather spoiled by supernaturalism -- always a failure of imagination in Batman -- and the kind of post-Frank Miller self-importance that by now is frankly a bit of a bore (Must the Fate of Humanity be constantly in play? How 'bought a bank robbery?)

Would that Finch had concentrated on his art and left plot to a pro.

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A Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Passing Through: The Later Poems, New & Selected, by Stanley Kunitz


Great events are about to happen.
I have seen migratory birds
in unprecedented numbers
descend on the coastal plain,
picking the margins clean.
My bones are a family in their tent
huddled over a small fire
waiting for the uncertain signal
to resume the long march.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Quick Review

Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop CultureMost Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Why? Well, that's harder to answer now I suppose than even before I read the book. I haven't watched his little talk show very often, or thought much of it when I did, I think the Housewives-brand he's produced for Bravo is not just unwatchable but reprehensible, and I can't say, having now read his autobiography, that there's much the man has to say that I don't think either insipid or just silly. That said, I kinda like the guy.

Again, why? His enthusiasms seem completely genuine, but they're not mine. His store of anecdote, with a few exceptions, is hardly stocked with names about whom I give a rat's ass (Susan Lucci? Diana Ross? Oprah? No, no, and nope.) He can be very funny; about the awkwardness of encountered celebrity, his time on a low-rent morning show, and at his best, when describing his own thoroughly endearing family. His voice, at least here, is charming; self-deprecating, earthy and unpretentious. He's forgiving of his youthful vanity, but unsparing in detailing his early mistakes, both personal and professional. He is however considerably more reticent about describing his personal life now and downright tight-lipped when it comes to sex or romance after achieving his professional success. We learn little or nothing from this book about his expansion social circle after he becomes a powerful producer and cable executive, and there's not a hint of who may or may not be in that much fabled and exclusive company of culturally significant or politically influential gays in which he presumably now moves -- other than one coy mentioned of his pal, Anderson Cooper. As for boyfriends, lovers, partners or fuck-buddies, famous or no, there's not a one that I could see here one Cohen gets to his present employer. Based just on the evidence in this book, one might assume the poor man hasn't gotten laid since the nineties. (There's an obvious irony in a man who helped invent a genre of reality TV made exclusively from the manicured but still unsavory exhibitionism of bored and boring rich women, being coy about who he's fucking now that he is himself rich.)

And yet... I like the guy. Yes, there's an intentional and irritating superficiality to both autobiography and subject, and he certainly can not be said to have used either his talent or his influence to do much good in the world, but he is a very visible gay man, who's signature personal and professional style, it could be argued, has had an impact on normalizing GLBTQ people for a certain segment of largely younger, middle class white women. That's not a bad thing, entirely. And he's clearly great fun to watch the Oscars with, now that he isn't tasked with luring reluctant stars to waste their mojo on a third-place network morning show.

Did I mention that he hates singing school children? Maybe that's reason enough.

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Daily Dose

From Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald


"He tried to arrange an attitude but no logic seemed forthcoming."

From Chapter VII

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blind Date with the Muse, by Stephen Dunn

Daily Dose

From The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis


"Once decided upon his future conduct, his mind became more easy: he threw himself upon his bed, and strove by sleeping to recruit his strength, exhausted by his nocturnal excesses."

From Chapter VI

Monday, June 11, 2012

Quick Review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here's another instance of the kind of graphic memoir that always pulls me in: suggestive of recent headlines, but personal, great production values, complicated story, but drawn rather than simply illustrated from a text. This book told me what it means to be under the eyes mullahs, did it without too much preaching, and with a sense of humor, even as the story being told grew darker and more realistic as it went along.

This kind of very personal cartooning, when, of necessity it takes on larger, more overtly political issues, can be a bit crude, and that happens here eventually; the Iranian religious leaders all starting to look like, well... cartoon villains. I'm not suggesting they not, just that seeing them depicted as such can feel reductive. The subtleties of a straight prose narrative would be likelier to give such devils their due, but then that may well be the attraction of the graphic in the first place; emotional simplicity. Cartoons know how to hate.

And what is not to hate about the bad guys here? Anyone old enough to remember the late Shah might also remember the all too brief optimism engendered by his fall. Could what came after though look any blacker? Certainly not from the safe distance at which I read this book, and obviously not from where the artist draws.

This one convinces me more than ever that the memoir is the most interesting aspect of the graphic revolution.

Daily Dose

From Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe


"Let no Man despise the secret Hints and Notices of Danger, which are sometimes given him, when he may think there is no Possibility of its being real."

From page 180, this edition

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Battle Hymn

Daily Dose

From Meditations on the First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Real Distinction Between the Soul and the Body of Man are Demonstrated, by Rene Descartes, translated by F. E. Sutcliffe


"And first I will call to mind the things I have hitherto held to be true, as having received them through the senses, and on what grounds my belief was founded. And after that I will examine the reasons which have since obliged me to doubt them."

from The Sixth Meditation

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Quick Review

Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953 by Jean-Pierre Filiu

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here is the great David B., author of Epileptic, bringing his amazing talent to the service of something almost like history. The result is every bit as fun, funny and visually witty and exciting as anything the cartoonist has ever done. That he and his co-author can not have intended anyone -- other than, perhaps, the French -- to read this as actual history is evident from the opening chapter, which features mythical boyfriends Gilgamesh and Enkidu, lusting after wood. (There is history in here, of course, amidst the agitprop, but the skewing sometimes bends this stuff so hard, if anybody but David B. was drawing this thing would just snap, the whole enterprise reading like a freshman book report on Noam Chomsky.)

Some of the editorial is just embarrassing. Witness this nugget on 19th Century American diplomacy: "Their representatives in Istanbul were very active in corrupting local officials" Indeed. Before the Yankees got there? Evidently, the locals were upright as church pianos. Verbs can be so meaningful when the words are few, no? And then there's the knothole perspective of things like this, "On his voyage to the Middle East, Mark Twain was highly critical of local religions." Ha! Just embarrassing! That one lil' word, "local," meant to focus mind I guess. As if Mark Twain otherwise was a big fan of the Pope, or Mary Bake Eddy, or God. (That's just... lazy-minded.)

What saves the book from being a pamphlet on American imperialism is the endless invention of David B. In his mad hands, the grand Pasha's turban inflates into the globe, his mustaches flashing scimitars. The conquest of Mecca by the Wahhabis, seen here in a full-page, single panel, shows mosques and minarets tumbling about like Escher staircases, "decadent" tobacco pipes ablaze in a bonfire, and everywhere at once, the striped clothes and handed headgear of the conquerers adds to the delightful, general dizziness and destructive fun. (Only in the last story, in Chapter 4, "coup d'état," does Dav B.'s invention start to flag a bit, but then this, the American investiture of the last Shah, is all too familiar a tale -- sparked up a little here at least, by the artist's inspired, jack-o'-lantern portrait of Kermit Roosevelt as the omnipresent bad guy.)

Anyone reliant on this book for history will be roughly as well informed as an attendee at a "no Blood for Oil" rally, but nothing David B. does is ever not worth a long look. I'm already looking forward, eyes rolling, to part two.

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Quick Review

The Silence of Our FriendsThe Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memoir seems to suit Nate Powell. This collaboration, telling a very personal, very white story of the Civil rights struggle, works beautifully, in large part because of Powell's busy, sometimes frenetic line; his streets and sidewalks swirling away from the eye, his night and his shadows, shivering into tense, jagged edges that exceed the frame. That tension -- almost wholly the creation of the artist here rather than the writing -- lends an urgency that feels authentic to the story and the period, and elevates what is otherwise just a fairly predictable testimonial to some decent people in an indecent system into something more dynamic and allegorical.

Interestingly, straight history and biography, when given a graphic treatment -- as in at least two comics I've read on Dr. King and the Movement, and one on Malcolm X -- always feel a little like Illustrated Classics. There's an almost inevitable dumbing down of any long or complicated historical narrative when it is, of necessity, chopped into just so many discreet boxes and balloons. (There is the occasional, brilliant exception, like Chester Brown's amazing Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.) On the other hand, the more personal stories, of smaller lives, so to say, are often expanded into something representative of larger issues and bigger stories -- witness Persepolis becoming how Americans understand the Iranian Revolution.

The greatest virtue of this collaboration is in those personal scenes, good and bad, that make this a personal story, a series of memories: kids tossing a ball, and epithets under a street-lamp on a summer night, a father crabbing with his kid in a tide-pool, a smoke on a courthouse stair. The larger set-pieces: the assault of a little girl on a bike, a police-riot, a court drama, work powerfully here, again, mostly because of Powell's pen, but also because of the necessary context of memory and family, the immediately familiar, smaller moments, throughout. These are beautifully made, and they make the book.

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Daily Dose

From Edward Lear: Selected Letters, edited by Vivian Noakes


"You rummy old daddy -- do you know you have sent me a letter without any signature? -- only it ends -- 'Dear Lear, I am.'"

From a letter to William Holman Hunt, dated Bradgate Arms. Newtown Linford./ near Leicester./12 Octr. (1853)

Friday, June 8, 2012

If you would seek a friend among men

Quick Review

Are You My Mother?: A Comic DramaAre You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bechdel's earlier graphic memoir, Fun Home, was an unexpected revelation; deeply felt, funny, wittily drawn and smartly written. At the center of that book though was the enigma of her father's death and the secret history of his marriage and his sexuality. Fun Home is a brilliant book.

At the center of this second memoir, not so much a sequel as an addendum, there is only... what? Therapy? Not so fascinating. Still felt, and occasionally funny, still wittily drawn, as always now with Bechdel -- a really gifted cartoonist -- but, again, this time, the story? Not so interesting. Really, in the main, rather amazingly dull.

The most interesting stuff in the book is all autobiographical detail that should be at least a little familiar to fans of Bechdel's long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For: and by that I mean mostly girlfriends. On the subject of her own romantic and domestic misadventures, Bechdel is a practiced and proficient comedian. All her girlfriends, ever, are worth the ink. And when she is telling the story of her apprenticeship as an artist, that's pretty wonderful stuff too.

Sadly though, none of that is quite the point this time. What is, is the author's difficult relationship with her mother. Oh. See, at least as described here, that one adjective -- "difficult" -- does not so much define what obviously is almost always an incredibly complex relationship, but difficult is about all there is to it here; no mystery, not much happening dramatically, not much... period. No matter how much all this matters to Bechdel, it can't much matter narratively to anyone not her. (Perhaps the only thing less inherently interesting than using autobiography as a therapeutic exercise would be actually describing therapy. She does that here too. Oh my.)

I can't say I regret this book -- Bechdel is too accomplished an artist, and too much a favorite of mine for me not to read -- but I can't really recommend this book either.

Hope mother and daughter are doing well.

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Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by Tomas Tranströmer, and edited by Robert Hass


"A morning in June when its too early yet
to wake, and still too late to go back to sleep.

I must go out through greenery that's crammed
with memories, that follow me with their eyes.

They are not visible, wholly dissolve
into background, perfect chameleons.

They are so close that I can hear them breathe
although the singing of birds is deafening."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hairdo Doodle

Quick Review

Any EmpireAny Empire by Nate Powell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Other than an unfortunate, almost inevitable gravity, this is a nearly perfect, nearly wordless comic. Powell's space is elastic within his unframed panels; expanding and contracting with detail and emotion, always in service to his rather gently disturbing story; never just showy or empty. If the whole thing rather painlessly slides into melodrama, well, worse things could happen. Meanwhile the narrative, for the better part of the book, feels perfectly observed and completely emotionally convincing, and Powell's technique and talent shine.

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Daily Dose

From Native Guard: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey


"Oh how history intersects -- my own"

From Native Guard, January 1863

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quick Review

The YardThe Yard by Alex Grecian

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wasn't looking for much more in Alex Grecian's The Yard, other than a night's entertainment, and so I won't say I was disappointed. This is not so much a novel in any literary sense; the novelist has precious little to say, doesn't have much of an ear for the period, and writes in the kind of alternating dialogue and short, declarative sentences that suggest comic books. Appropriate that, as this is the first book Mr. Grecian has written without pictures. Actually, the result reads like nothing so much as an episode of old detective TV; backlot London, full of fog-machines and not-quite-convincing Cockneys, calling the rather bland domestic leads, "Guv'nor," in dinner theater accents;less The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, than "a very special episode of Murder She Wrote."

I can't fault the writer's research necessarily as some of the tin turns out, after the laziest search, to be just plausible historically, though words like "mugger" still sound wrong. (I've never encountered it in any novel of the period, or even in Mayhew's London -- though that may be where the novelist found it, for all I know or frankly care.) That said, like so many mystery and thriller writers who will write historical novels, I'm always shocked at how little like Victorians most, including Mr. Grecian, can be bothered to make either their prose or their characters sound. (Again, the feeling is always more Hammer Studios than Hammersmith.) Here there are not one or two, but perhaps as many as half a dozen fairly major characters -- and here I'm thinking of just the women -- not one of whom speaks or behaves as any woman of her period and class ever did, could or would have. Whether it's a timid wife transformed overnight into quite improper sort of poisoner, a slattern with just a glimmer of new gold in her heart, or a respectable schoolgirl anatomist put out unexpectedly to char, none of them ring true to either the time or their class, and here I'll just mention without further comment the murderous, lesbian barbering whores.


I don't think saying any of that can spoil what fun there is to be had from this book. Comparisons in some recent major reviews to either Dickens or Wilkie Collins are, naturally, just embarrassing; nothing about this book suggests that Alex Grecian has ever so much as read either gentleman, except perhaps as classic comics, let alone tried to imitate them. (I don't know that he could if he wanted to.) So, The Yard should be taken for what it is: a fast, silly, brutal, cartoon of Victorian Scotland Yard, and enjoyed for the evening it takes to read it.

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Daily Dose

From Bel Ami, or The History of a Scoundrel, by Guy de Maupassant


"In Paris, it is better to have no bed than no clothes."

From Chapter One, Poverty

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When a people reach the top of a hill

Daily Dose

From On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius, translated by W. E. Leonard


"For what we have at hand --
If therefore naught sweeter we have known --
That chiefly pleases and seems best of all;
But then some later, likely better, find
Destroys its worth, and changes our desires
Regarding good of yesterday."

From Beginnings of Civilisation -- 1009 - 1455

Monday, June 4, 2012

A man adrift on a slim spar

Daily Dose

From Selected Poems, by Tomas Tranströmer, and edited by Robert Haas


"Apple trees and cherry trees in flower help the town to float
in the soft smudgy May night, white left-vests, thoughts go far away.
Stubborn grass and weeds beat their wings.
The mailbox shines calmly: what is written cannot be taken back.

A mild cooling wind goes through your shirt, feeling for the heart.
Apple trees and cherry trees laugh soundlessly at Solomon.
They blossom in my tunnel. And I need them
not to forget, but to remember."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quick Review

Charles Lamb and His Hertfordshire
by Reginald L. Hine

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As largely pointless exercises in hero worship and or local history go, this little book could be a template of how best to over-do it. Everything about this book, from the breathless and rather over-excited style, to the very brief materials from which it was made, suggests that only the truly obsessive collector of Lamb need ever look at this book.

That said, yeah, I'm kind of that person and I enjoyed the book accordingly. Not only does the author track every reference and location, quoting all the relevant passages from the Essays, he describes in considerable detail the changes to the landscape since Lamb's time, and celebrates all that survives from that day.

There are a number of charming illustrations, some particularly of town and street previously unknown to me, the rest taken from an edition of Lamb that I specially treasure for exactly these.

Considering the original date of this book's publication, I doubt this book would now prove a good guide, but as the manifestation of a fellow cultist's devotion, I'm glad to have come across this reprint. No one else need bother with this.

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Daily Dose

From The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald in Two Volumes, Vol. 1


"I should sometimes write to you if I had anything worth telling, or worth putting you to the trouble of answering me."

From a letter to Thomas Carlyle, dated only Rectory, Bredfield, Woodbridge, 1854