Dickens and Christmas
According to Mark Sanderson
of England’s Telegraph newspaper, A Christmas Carol,
by Charles Dickens, has not been out of print since it was first published in 1843. This edition, released in England last October
, has a other stories with it, including the one which inspired Scrooge’s tale. Sanderson says Dickens was so associated with the Christmas season that, “On his death in 1870 a London barrow-girl is supposed to have cried: ‘Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?’”
Dr. Kenner Dies in Athens on Monday.
Dr. Hugh Kenner died at age 80 in Athens, GA, on Nov. 24. From the Washington Post
”Dr. Kenner achieved his greatest recognition for books about Ezra Pound and James Joyce, but he also was regarded as a keen interpreter of T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett. Reviewers noted that his work was heightened by accessibility and lack of jargon, even when the subjects themselves were ferociously difficult. The author's sympathy for his subjects, and in many cases his friendship with them, allowed him to study those writers on their own terms.
“He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a hearing impairment from childhood, the result of influenza, led to a further love of literature because conversation could be cumbersome.
“‘What kept me going for a long time on was my ability to read,’ he said. ‘When I got to the University of Toronto, I was almost totally deaf, but I had read almost the entire English curriculum.’ (He added that in the 1970s, when he faced some derision at conferences for his lack of scholarly attention to female writers, he liked to turn off his hearing aid.)”
According to the article, Kenner challenged meaningless ideas disguised in high jargon by asking students to paraphrase them in more vulgar words. Some abstract thoughts collapse when put in common terms, and academics is fertile soil for high-minded abstractions.
Kenner is the author of many books including A Homemade World
, on Modern American Authors.
About the #2 Best Book of 2003
Amazon editors' #2 book, The Time Traveler's Wife
, looks like an interesting love story with a science-fiction twist. Here's a review
from Canada's Globe and Mail. Chicago author Audrey Niffenegger says, "At best, I thought I was writing a small cult novel for a few librarians. I've worked so long in the visual-arts world where the audience is small. . . . It amazes me to no end the extent to which regular people seem to be willing to take the book up and read it."
Audrey Niffenegger reads from The Time Traveler's Wife
and Martin Amis reads from Yellow Dog
on Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. at The Revival, 783 College St., Toronto, according to the article linked above.
"So, what did you like about the book?" -- "Yes, I really liked it."
, I asked about the use of Amazon’s Top 50 Editor’s Picks
. It seems Publishers Weekly
had the same question and interviewed Amazon’s Senior Editor Brad T. Parsons to get answers.
Parsons said best of year lists are popular with buyers and challenging for the compilers, so they did one. It greatly differs from the top 50 consumer buys for the year. The latter list looks like a best-seller list rehash. Still the editor’s list is a marketing scheme. Books like Frey’s A Million Little Pieces
sell much better for being labeled “The #1 best book of 2003 according to Amazon.com editors!” Other books, like The Time Traveler's Wife
, can be marketed as being one of the top 5 best of the year. Publishers like that. I suppose some readers do too.
In case you’re thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll look into that Million Pieces book now,” I should say that it’s a “fierce debut” according to Parsons, “an edgy and at times vulgar book, not an obvious #1,” according to Publishers Weekly. Parsons defended choosing it for the #1 slot by saying all of the editors liked it. No need to explain further, I suppose.
And now, we return to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.
I’ve wanted to do one of these for several days now. . . .
What’s in the bag?
Drat! The stormtroopers are running through my apartment building, turning my good neighbors out of their ears. I’ve got to grab a bag of artworks to hold me while I live for an undeterminable period of time on a desert island! What should I stuff in my bag? For more explanation, click this magic spot.
Book: Harvard Shelf of Fiction
Music Album: Classic Yo Yo Ma
Can of Soup: New England Clam Chowder
Painting: A. Bierstadt’s “Out of the Mist”
Movie: BBC's Pride & Prejudice
Seriously, if bag capacity doesn’t matter, this is what I’d take with me. I’d do another one to pick a list of only one item each, but I’d probably repeat myself too much. This game is hard for me. I'm too likely to choose things I don't even know if I'd like at all.
(From The Gods of Winter) "The Next Poem"
How much better it seems now
than when it is finally done–
the unforgettable first line,
the cunning way the stanzas run.
The rhymes soft-spoken and suggestive
are barely audible at first,
an appetite not yet acknowledged
like the inkling of a thirst.
While gradually the form appears
as each line is coaxed aloud–
the architecture of a room
seen from the middle of a crowd.
This Dana Gioia poem beautifully expresses my own literary dreams. Stories seem better before they are written, as if full of potential, masterpieces of wonder. Once written, they can become dull tales I feel I've heard too much. Not always, but often. Read of the rest of this wonderful poem here.
Has it become critics vs. best-selling authors?
As a rank amateur in the literary arena (assuming I’m actually in the arena, not outside waiting in line for a whole-grain corn dog), I have two thoughts on Stephen King’s remarks at the NBA ceremony. First, that he makes a good point about genre authors being serious writers. I suppose many mass-market paperbacks in the romance, fantasy, horror, and mystery genres are formulaic shadow plays which barely reflect real people in real life, somewhat like the movie Titanic without good special effects; but I’m sure some—hopefully the most popular—are not simple mockeries of life. Perhaps P.D. James’ stories go a few steps deeper into the human heart than most detective fiction. Perhaps Issac Asimov has lead us to think in new ways. I’m sure some readers of John Grisham’s thrillers have learned something about morality which their schools and parents hadn’t taught them. Are their literary efforts negligible? Being best-selling authors, are they more influential than prize-winning literary authors who aren’t read?
Mark Twain was quoted
saying a few pertinent things. “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” He also said, “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.” Now Twain definitely wrote from his heart and about real people, even if he didn’t try to work philosophic concepts into his characters’ lives or mouths; but I think he would have good advice for a large section of today’s literary establishment. He would dismiss the nonsense about serious art being boring (see previous entry
) and possibly welcome King’s charge to be involved in the culture of average readers, a culture which is closer to the Mississippi River than to New York City.
My second thought relates to an impression of certain critics. Remember an earlier post on the latest Dido album? (I’ve just discovered that this post as few other August entries are missing from my archives. I’m glad I write in MS Word primarily. I’ll re-publish part of this entry below this one.) Some critics apparently feel they must criticize whatever most of the public enjoys, or perhaps enjoys too much. Is it possible that King’s critics are at least partially envious of the money he earned? These letters from Moby Lives' readers
may shed a thin slit of light on this subject.
I read somewhere (I getting bad about this) that authors like James Patterson were born to be advertised whereas more classy authors are born to be reviewed, praised, and awarded. The point, I think, was similar to Hazzard’s response to King’s speech at the NBA. She said it doesn’t help anyone to give literary editors, publishers, and artists (and the public by extension) a list of widely read authors. That may not be said out of envy, but then it may be. As one reader letter at Moby Lives put it, the real test of a book is time. The good stuff will endure, whether written by best-selling or low-selling authors.
Part of a Missing Entry (see above)
from August 16: How Can You Tell a Critic is Compromised?
In last week’s Sunday Herald, Chris Salmon reports his interview with Dido, a singer whose first album “No Angel” has sold 12 million. I’ve been interested in Dido as an artist since I read World magazine’s music critic say that the album has “Lush, ethereal pop framing vocals that blend and often surpass those of Enya, Dolores O’Riordan, and Sinéad O’Connor.” I doubt I would love her music, but this recommendation combined with hearing “Thank You” on the radio stirs my interest. I’m interested in excellent art of almost all styles.
But I link to this story here because of its comments on criticism. Dido and Salmon say that she didn’t receive bad reviews until her underground album sold over a million. “No Angel was an album by a part-time backing singer with a tiny budget and no label. Sure, the album’s gentle instrumentation and songs of love and defiance sung in a cracked-crystal voice might not be to everyone’s taste, but then neither is Kathryn Williams and she doesn’t attract anything like the style-police scorn Dido does. The main difference? About 12 million sales.”
Is this normal for art critics? Does success foster distain for most of them, or are there a few influential ones for which this is true and they lead the rest of the pack? Or is it that certain i’s must be dotted and select t’s crossed before these music critics feel comfortable praising an album?
We're Buying More Books
In financial news,
Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders reported strong third quarter earnings. Both major booksellers are optimistic on holiday sales.
National Book Awards: What Should My Reaction Be?
There’s too much for me to discuss on the National Book Awards given this Wednesday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers this light report
for the casually interested. Sounds like a dull mutual appreciation gathering from this, though a little is written on Stephen King’s speech which chided the literary establishment for ignoring genre authors like himself. More importantly, this article has links to reviews of the fiction and nonfiction NBA winners and excerpts from all winners.
Who are those winners?
Polly Horvath’s The Canning Season
for Young People’s Literature
C.K. Williams, The Singing
Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire
Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy
I read somewhere that the fact Hazzard hadn’t written a novel in 20 years indicated the NBAs are of little interest to anyone but the literary establishment and publishers who hope they can gain from whatever publicity it generates. That sounds more cynical to me now than when I first read it because of this, from the AJC review by Denise Gess:
It bears mentioning that 22 years have passed since the publication of Shirley Hazzard's last novel, "The Transit of Venus." In the two decades between Hazzard's novels, the world has changed. Many readers have stopped reading novels altogether. And some readers only know Hazzard from her more recent nonfiction, "Greene on Capri," and think of her as memoirist rather than the author whose powerful fiction reduces our cache of superior adjectives to ash.
She has always been that good. Now, with the publication of her sixth novel, "The Great Fire," it is clear that the long hiatus from fiction hasn't diminished Hazzard's remarkable gifts.
Hazzard must be worth looking into. For what it’s worth, The Great Fire is #20 on the American Booksellers Asso.’s hardcover fiction bestseller list (former President Carter’s novel is #28).
Terry Teachout, who was one of five judges for the nonfiction award, gives a first hand account
of the evening on his excellent blog. I wonder if he tipped his judge’s hand early when he praised Carlos Eire’s book in an August 25 entry
. Teachout recommended this book as the one must-read for our summer reading lists. On Wednesday, Eire gave an acceptance speech with tears, according to reports, saying that if he had published his book in his homeland, Cuba, he would be in Castro’s jail.
As for the titles nominated but not awarded, here are links to the Christian Science Monitor mini-reviews on the five selections in each category.
As a side note, Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
raked in three of these awards. Carlos Eire’s book is published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press imprint. If you’re interested, it is available as an e-book for your Palm at $15
was awarded an honor for his contribution to American letters. When announcing the award, National Book Foundation Executive Director Neil Baldwin said, "Stephen King’s writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative. He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths – some beautiful, some harrowing – about our inner lives."
King's speech is the biggest story of the event. Steven Zeitchik of Publishers Weekly Daily email reports, “King grabbed the audience by the lapel early with a speech that spared nothing. ‘There are some people who think [awarding his work] is an extraordinarily bad idea,’ he said, then went on to chastise literary pretension (‘If you think you get social academic brownie points for staying out of touch with your own culture...’) and ask people to help ‘build a bridge
between the popular and the literary.’"
Back in September, Steve Almond addressed that first claim on MobyLives.com
, saying Harold Bloom, who argued against King’s honor, was wrong on many counts. “I don't think there's any argument on the matter of whether Stephen King belongs in the same league with Bellow or Roth,” Almond writes. “But he's no hack. He is, at worst, an uneven writer, one who dips down into pulp, but also has produced—particularly of late—some genuinely moving prose. But I don't think the merits of Stephen King are really the point here. The point, as I see it, is how most effectively to wake up our culture from its current stupor. King may not be doing as good a job as Bloom would like. But he is doing an honest job, at the very least, one I'm inclined to regard as heroic.”
My impression of King’s perhaps overly aggressive speech is that he wants literary recognition. He wants voices like Harold Bloom’s put in their place, because he isn’t “an immensely inadequate writer.” He is a prolific artist working within genre fiction. He told NPR, "I've never denied that I was a horror writer, but I've never introduced myself as that either. I see myself as Stephen King. I'm an American novelist, and that's it." I gather that selling millions of books and selling movie rights isn’t enough. He wants an award.
For context, Bloom wrote this on September 24.
“[He] is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat.”
“To this, King seemed to be saying, Nonsense,” Steven Zeitchik reports. “Nonsense to those who think I didn't struggle, nonsense to those who think my creative process is less intense than Roth's or Morrison's, nonsense to those who believe my motives are any less pure. ‘I've never written anything for the money,’ he basically stressed a few times.”
"Let the water and the blood from thy riven side which flowed be of sin the double cure. Cleanse me from its guilt and power."
Paul Auster's Collected Prose
In the Sunday Observer,
Robert Potts reviews Collected Prose by Paul Auster
In Auster's work, as in some of the literature he most admires, there are two complementary impulses. The first is to starve the story, to remove from it certain details and perspectives, to prune it back to essentials. The other impulse is, in effect, its opposite. It is the impulse outward, towards abundance: the preservation or reclamation of details. [Auster's] informed enthusiasms, especially for European modernism and aspects of the avant-garde, make him a passionate, intelligent and stimulating commentator. He writes acutely about the dilemmas which inform serious artistic decisions. These hospitable, generous pieces make one want to go immediately to the writers he discusses.
In searching for this story, I came across this bit of context for those you of us who don't know much about Auster. From Newsweek on MSNBC.com
, "Paul Auster, who’s never been a national best seller in America, is something of a rock star in France. They like that the Brooklynite speaks the language fluently, says his agent."
A Little on Rosenberg
Literary Blogger Moorish Girl
directed me to this interesting little article on Joel Rosenberg,
author of The Last Days
(NYT login: brandybuck2, password: hobbit).
Nonfiction conservative books seemed to do well, Mr. Rosenberg said, but there was little in the way of conservative fiction. "I figured," he said, "if I could pull off a novel that some of my friends who are conservative luminaries would enjoy, I might have a shot at getting people to hear about it."
He had that shot, and I hope he succeeds as much as he hopes to. As I said before, the excerpt I read was well-written and interesting. I'm disappointed to read that Publishers Weekly reviewed the book, saying, "The author singularly fails to suspend readers' disbelief." I still trust their opinion, unlike the NYTimes.
Reviewing Books at the Literary Saloon
The writers of the Complete Review's blog, the Literary Saloon, point out a couple stories on book reviewing today. One is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article
which explains why that newspaper refuses to review self-published books. L.S. disagrees and wishes they and other reviewers would be a bit more adventurous in their review selections as well as pick up more serious fiction. Regarding fiction, they point to a story at Fox News
which complains that the NY Times Book Review has been liberal. L.S. doesn't care, but more importantly, it says, "since these are almost all books (both the ones embraced by The New York Times Book Review
and those ignored by it) that we couldn't care less about we find this much ado about pretty much nothing. (Our question is why any of these books are or should be reviewed when the space could be devoted to coverage of fiction .....)"
This reminds me of one of the many articles I want to write on, but don't. I saw a summary of this Boston Globe article
at ArtsJournal.com, a great website
for the art world in general. Alex Beam writes,
Here are two problems the new editor [of the NYTBR] will have to solve:
1. Books are fun and interesting to read, but the Sunday Book Review is neither. True, the essayists Laura Miller and Judith Shulevitz generally bring their A game, and the Mark Alan Stamaty cartoon feature "Boox" remains strong. But too often the reviews read like book reports, cooked up using a predictable formula: summarizing the book, inserting some praise, perhaps ending with a guarded reservation or two, carefully phrased so as not to offend.
The last time I reveled in an outstanding piece of work in the Sunday Book Review was October 1994 -- a month before McGrath took over, as it happens -- when Christopher Buckley reviewed Tom Clancy's "Debt of Honor." ("At 766 pages, a herniating experience.") I'm sure there has been good work there since, but none that sticks in my mind.
2. The review hardly ever helps you answer the key question: Should I spend $26 on this book?
Playwright Inspired by Children and Amazon
I just found this fun story
of Seattle Playwright Steven Dietz and his production "Over the Moon," which opens in Seattle today. "'I made a list of 10 possible titles,' Dietz said during an interview earlier this week. 'And then I read them to my daughter, Ruby. She's 4. She liked "Over the Moon." It made her smile. So who needs a focus group?'"
The play is an adaptation of P.G.Wodehouse's "A Small Bachelor." Why Wodehouse, the journalist asks. "I mean Wodehouse (1881-1975) -- he's a bit obscure." Am I right to think obscurity is relative? Wodehouse isn't obscure at all to me and a good handful of people I know. He's known well enough for E.D. Hill of Fox News' Fox & Friends morning show to recommend all of his work
for our summer reading a few months ago. (That's doesn't prove anything, does it? There's a fallacy in there somewhere.) But in answer to the question, "Why Wodehouse," you'll have to read the short article
to find out.
Re: Bestselling Liberal comedians
This week's World Magazine has a story a graduate student at UT Austin on bestselling liberal authors Franken, Moore, and Ivins.
AL FRANKEN CALLS KARL ROVE "human filth," Ari Fleischer a "chimp," and John Ashcroft "something of a nutcase." Michael Moore calls President Bush a "nitwit" and (in the voice of God, no less) a "devil." Molly Ivins manages to insult millions at once when she approvingly quotes William Brann's crack that "the trouble with our Texas Baptists is that we do not hold them under water long enough." Mean-spirited, you say? No, it's all in good fun, the authors say.
More of this here.
That's their technique: spewing hatred but saying it's funny. Or as Mr. Franken likes to say, "kidding on the square," purporting to tell a joke but really meaning it. Though he might not admit it, Mr. Franken, along with fellow humor writers Molly Ivins and Michael Moore, specializes in kidding on the square. You don't care for their reliance on ad hominem, innuendo, guilt, and distortion? Why, you must have missed the joke. As Mr. Moore once remarked, "How can there be inaccuracy in comedy?"
(To login, you may use brandybuck, password: hobbit)
New Current Events Blog
Several writers from World Magazine are now blogging at the World Mag Blog
. And there was much rejoicing.
Acoustic Books and E-books
The admirable Terry Teachout writes that e-books
may supplant printed books as the dominant technology by which words are delivered to readers. “Yes, the printed book is a beautiful object,” he says, “‘elegant’ in both the aesthetic and mathematical senses, and its invention was a pivotal moment in the history of Western culture. But it is also a technology—a means, not an end.” I disagree. Books are not merely a means to the end of a story.
Books have atmosphere just like restaurants and cities do. Revisiting a book is not only about revisiting the story. It’s similar to feeling the same ground beneath your feet, walking that narrow street with that familiar scent in the air. The weight of the pages, the smell of glue and paper, the look of the printed text, new or fading, these amount to a book’s atmosphere. You can cuddle up with it. You can sink back with it. When you read, you aren’t always facilitating your consumption of words; sometimes you are creating a personal experience.
I agree that your reader with the Handspring Treo 90 handheld has a good thing going for him, but it is rather metropolitan thing, isn’t it? It’s electric, not acoustic. Now, his days at the park approach that natural, acoustic feel, but they are still urban, aren’t they? He’s traveling or on the go. Many folks are content to take a single book to the park. They don’t complain that they can’t take their whole library. Your example of bathtub reading, Terry, is far more natural, and that’s the crux of the matter. When e-book readers become natural, adaptable to almost all reading environments, then they could replace printed books as the dominant technology for delivering words. They will need to feel comfortable to hold in bed, at the table with coffee, in the recliner with a quilt and cocoa, and in a steamy bathtub. In hammocks, under beach umbrellas, near campfires in the early evening. As long as e-book readers feel sterile and fragile, they will remain with the offices, libraries, and cities from which they came.
You hinted at a book’s natural atmosphere by saying, “It would never occur to me to print out an article (or a blog entry) and read it in the bathtub. Bathtubs are for biographies.” That’s atmosphere, isn’t it? You’re creating a mood to which a reader screen may not contribute. It’s that mood that bibliophiles enjoy. Record albums are different this way, I think. The atmosphere comes more from the technology used to deliver the performance, not the medium itself. You don’t hold a record in your hands while listening to it.
I wish I could link to an article I read months ago which forecast e-books or e-readers to prosper in the technical and educational fields, but not elsewhere. Businessmen and students would use them in subways, offices, and libraries, but casual and serious readers wouldn’t take to them for literary enjoyment.
The Bestselling Conscience of a Conservative Democrat
I'm pleased to discover that my senator ex officio has written a bestseller. Sen. Zell Miller's A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat
is number 6 on Amazon.com. Look for it on the USA Today list next week.
Gene Weingarten's Guinness Book Column
It is often stated that many believe in the modern times in which we live that brevity, that being a conciseness of expression, a terseness of words if you will, is indeed the very soul, the primary quintessence, of funniness or wit. I concur wholeheartedly. In accordance with my aforementioned concurrence, I submit this link.
Teach Your Two Year Old to Turn Off the TV
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study reports
on the use of electronic media by young children, up to age six. The stats on how many kids use a computer before age six shouldn't be surprising, but some other stats are. From a news release, "According to the study, children who have a TV in their bedroom or who live in 'heavy' TV households spend significantly more time watching than other children do, and less time reading or playing outside. Those with a TV in their room spend an average of 22 minutes more a day watching TV and videos than other children do. Those living in 'heavy' TV households are less likely to read every day (59% v. 68%), and spend less time reading when they do read (6 minutes less a day). In fact, they are less likely than other children to be able to read at all (34% of children ages 4-6 from 'heavy' TV households can read, compared to 56% of other children that age)." A 'heavy' TV household leaves the tube on most of the time.
I was most shocked by the report that "Thirty percent of 0-3 year-olds have a TV in their room, and 43% of 4-6 year-olds do." What is a TV doing in a little baby's bedroom?
Regardless, the research shows that TV viewing is not the best for precious little children, and frequent viewing does stunt creativity and reading skills, but not by much overall. Other factors contribute to a child's ability to read and think by age six, so unfortunately we can't conclude that TV alone is draining the brains of America's future. Despite that, I like the advice I read some months that 30 minutes of Mr. Rogers is enough daily TV for any kid under five. My three precious children, ages four, two, and zero, don't even get that much. We don't have a TV at all.
Red, White, and Liberal
Now, here's a liberal political book which I hope makes the bestseller lists. Alan Colmes' Red, White & Liberal : How Left Is Right & Right Is Wrong
. I like Alan Colmes, though I usually scratch my head when he argues his points on Fox News' viewer-dominating show "Hannity and Colmes." Maybe his character shines through this politics--he seems to be a likeable guy. Maybe it's because I've seen him defend common sense in the face of a really wacko liberal argument. Maybe it's because I've seen him make give good reasons for his position, though I still don't agree with him even when Hannity is arguing poorly. I don't know, but I hope his book does well. I'm sure it's better than over half of political books written by liberals currently on the market.
November 11: Millenial edition of Word Watch
"Today marks the 1000th episode of Word Watch - those popular one-minute segments on ABC News Radio, introduced four years ago as a program filler." Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reports
on a popular word show, hosted by Kel Richards. "A journalist rather than a linguist, Richards hunts new words in the way other reporters might chase the lead to a story. 'Someone rang last week after hearing their plumber say he was so tired he 'black-snaked it'. I'd never heard the expression before but I discovered it means you're so tired you go to bed in your dirty work clothes. I assume it's as unpleasant as finding a snake in your bed.'"
I think I would have assumed something else, but what do I know? I'm not Aussie, so maybe I wouldn't have guessed it.
I know that everyone has linked or commented on this, but hey! It's an interesting, English language news story. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has added the word "McJob" to its list. The word means, "low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector." McDonald's CEO is upset about this apparently, but when do fish complain about the tank water growing a little stale? Read of his irritation here.
Does that fascinate you? Sure it does! Feel free to mouse and click to this review
on a recent history of the Oxford English Dictionary. "The mightiest pressure of all came from what Murray called 'the terrible undertow of words' facing him," reads the story of these brave linguist voyagers. "For he and his colleagues had no idea what to expect. Words beginning with 'A,' for instance, presented relatively few unexpected problems. Yet 'B' had 'many more words of far greater complexity and age than anyone had ever dared to imagine.'" The horror!
Touchstone Reader Comments
I refer to a Touchstone
magazine article below. Touchstone's
weblog linked to comments Pullman made in an interview with the UK's Independent newspaper.
He was asked to choose which he preferred, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? I said he couldn't choose because neither struck him that well. On Tolkien's work, he said, "I read The Lord of the Rings
when I was a teenager and I didn't really like it. I have tried to read it since, but it doesn't really say anything to me because the characters have no psychological depth. The only interesting character is Gollum." To this, a Touchstone reader replies,
I have met people who remind me of Gollum, because their madness is strongly linked to having been overcome by evil. I see Gollum in drug addicts and in violent Paranoid Schizophrenics, people I have met by working with (literally) thousands of patients in hospitals.
Gollum represents psychosis brought on by slavery to evil, and in real life such people are boring, quite boring and very shallow. Complicated? Subjects of meaningful study to the honest psychiatrist? Yes, but in terms of their personality no more interesting, deep or engaging than a cancer.
How very fascinating that Mr. Pullman cannot appreciate the depth and mystery of Gandolf, the courage and character of the heroes who are brace and strong, or brave and weak such as the admirable little hobbits. But, he appreciates the depth of bores. We can make no better comment about what makes his work so "bent" (as used in C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy) than he makes himself in this telling observation.
When I refer to Gollum as a bore, I do not mean that he is a boring character; his place in the story and the colorful writing of Tolkien prevent that. But, he would be quite boring to know and to talk to. The extent of his "psychological depth" is a psychotic fixation on one thing and one thing only; it is "depth" that is skin deep.
All of the real life Gollums I have met produce many riddles, but they are all fixated and consequently boring. The tragedy is that Pullman thinks this is a character of "psychological depth", and even more so that he fails to appreciate the virtuous depth of any character who is good and heroic.
Also from the Independent
Q&A, he answers this question. "Q:
You famously criticised CS Lewis for incorporating Christian values into his books for children, and yet you do the same with atheism in your books. Isn't this a double standard?
Now, let's get to the bottom of this one. I have never criticised CS Lewis for incorporating Christian values into his work - far from it. My criticism is of the lack of Christian values in his work: the lack of charity, for example, and the presence instead of such qualities as misogyny, racism and hatred of all progressive and enlightened thought. He even sneers at people because of their belief in vegetarianism. I mean, really. Whatever else you say about CS Lewis, don't try and make the claim that he was a great Christian writer."
Well, I don't suppose Pullman will mind if I mention the great Christian fiction and non-fiction writer C.S. Lewis from time to time. In fact, his dislike of Lewis' content may be part of the wildness of Aslan. I think I'm getting beyond myself here. I should stop before I write something silly.
Pullman Dislikes Aslan, Frodo, and Potter
Philip Pullman has been in the news a bit lately. His latest book, Lyra's Oxford
, came out last month. Several interviews have given him a voice on his subject, so let me direct your attention to an article in October's Touchstone Magazine
. Leonie Caldecott of Oxford, England has written a few pages on Pullman's fantasy, his views on the world, and how they differ from Rowling's Harry Potter. She writes, "It is undeniable that for the most part (when he is not muddying his own pool in trying to seize the fish), Pullman’s His Dark Materials
is brilliantly written, full of compelling creations and ideas." But she disapproves of his themes and character. They are "anti-Inkling," as it were.
Speaking of an article she wrote in 1999, Caldecott says,
I went on to use Pullman’s books as an example of something that was far more likely to harm a child’s capacity for faith [than Rowling's books]. After describing the plots of the first two books, I pointed out that, in these books, everything we normally associate with safety and security—parents, priests, and even God himself—is evil, is indeed “the stuff of nightmares.” That is to say, they affect a child’s consciousness at its most vulnerable point. This is not something that J. K. Rowling is ever guilty of, for all her vivid portrayal of evil. There are wicked adults in the Harry Potter series, but they are not the actual parents of the protagonist, nor indeed the ultimate figures of authority in his school.
Later, she relates his dislike of Lewis, as discussed at a "Christian-Atheist Dialogue" held in Oxford, 2002.
He cited two moments in the Narnia books that he hated. One was the passage in The Last Battle in which Susan is described as no longer being a friend of Narnia, having been distracted by “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” She had always been, as Jill puts it, “a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” Hence, she is not with the others in Narnia/Heaven. The other was the passage at the end of The Magician’s Nephew in which Digory wrestles with the temptation to steal an apple from the tree of life in order to heal his dying mother.
Read the rest of this essay here.
Taking the second instance first, it was with noticeable anger that Pullman described the double-bind in which he sees Lewis putting the boy (he used the word “obscene” to describe it): If you are not good and obedient, your mother will die, but if you are good and obedient she may die anyway. Either way, it is going to be your fault. It seems that Lewis’s treatment of death and morality has triggered a very strong reaction in Pullman, whose own father died when he was very young.
What Pullman cannot seem to abide in Lewis is the hopeful picture of what happens after death: That is to say, the Christian take on life, which, while valuing its beauty and power, nonetheless places it firmly in the context of the next life, the life after death, which is viewed as fuller, more perfect, and thus more important in the final order of things. For Pullman, this is an empty promise—a monumental hoax, almost. For him, death is the end of conscious life.
And yet the fact of mortality is almost an obsession with Pullman, and death plays a prominent role in his books. He kills off a number of important characters in his books ... [including] God, a senile deity who makes a brief appearance before being blown away on a puff of wind when his protective crystal chamber is breached.
You're a cartoonist, eh? Well, What do you do for a living?
In an Observer Book Interview,
Stephanie Merritt talks to Cartoonist Posy Simmonds about her book, Literary Life
, to be released in Britain later this month.
In Posy Simmonds's new book, Literary Life, there is a cartoon in which various children's authors meet the public at a book launch. 'You write children's books? What fun!' the readers exclaim. 'But do you ever do any serious writing?'
Although Simmonds claims not to be exercising personal grievances in her work, it's easy to see this one as close to home. Not only is she the author and illustrator of five successful children's books, but this feeling of being treated as a sub-species is also the lot of the cartoonist. 'People often ask, "Who thinks of your ideas for you?" When you reply that you think of your own, they sometimes say, "Do you do the drawings as well?"'
Merritt calls Simmonds a modern-day Jane Austin, keenly observing her society and joking about it in print. The article ends with a bit about the growing popularity of graphic novels.
Clancy Important Writer for Modern Times
In Saturday's Washington Times,
Writer Joseph Goulden criticizes the literary critics of Tom Clancy.
"Why all the negative fuss about Mr. Clancy, who for the 13th straight outing has marched onto the best-seller lists? Decades ago, many of the same gripes were heard about writers who 'sold out' by peddling their wares to the old Saturday Evening Post. Just before that proud journal was driven into oblivion by a generation of fools, longtime editor Ben Hibbs told me, 'The only writers who didn't sell stuff to the Post were those who were rich enough that they didn't need us, or who weren't good enough to meet our standards.'
"Forget the stylistic quibblers. Mr. Clancy is an important read for persons interested in national security for the same reason that the British writer John Buchan was a must-read in London in the early 1900s. Buchan's novels sounded the first warnings about war between Britain and Germany, and his fiction proved prescient. His literary reincarnation, Mr. Clancy, deals with the dangers, hypothetical and otherwise, that we currently face, and the contingency plans to counter them."
Goulden goes on to describe Clancy's latest novel, The Teeth of the Tiger
. He also reviews John Weisman's book, SOAR: A Black Operations Novel
, which was released in hardback by William Morrow on August 5. "Mr. Weisman is perhaps wired more tightly into the reclusive special operations community than any other writer," Goulden states, "and his knowledge of weaponry and field techniques is staggering. He is no stranger to the best-seller list: he got there eight times with a series of 'Rogue Warrior' novels, sharing credit with a former SEAL whose contribution was minimal. And his style is lucid enough that he should never hear any 'cardboard character' whines."
Ian McEwan's Atonement, $9.98
Powells.com is running a deal on McEwan's Atonement,
taking it from $26.49 to $9.98. from the book promotion: "No one now writing fiction in the English language surpasses Ian McEwan," proclaimed the Washington Post Book World. And they were hardly the first, nor last, publication to lavish his novel Atonement
with superlative praise. Across the Atlantic the Economist raved: "It is rare for a critic to feel justified in using the word 'masterpiece,' but Ian McEwan’s new book really deserves to be called one." That gets my attention, but then I see that Half.com has 2002 Hardcover editions
for $5.00 and up. Well, you don't need me to shop for you. Merry Christmas!
Novel First Lines
For some time, I've been meaning to pass on this fun quiz made by Our Girl in Chicago over on About Last Night (a.k.a. terryteachout.com).
Here are the first lines of 10 works of fiction, arranged by length. The works they come from were published between 1749 and 1991. One is a translation.
1. In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.
2. An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.
3. At the time when this story begins, the Stanhope press and inking-rollers were not yet in use in small provincial printing-offices.
Read the rest of her chosen lines here
, and after thinking it through, check here
for the answers.
Yogi Berra on Deja Vu
In response to my question about the phrase, "deja vu all over again," a couple readers graciously wrote to tell me that the phrase comes from that extraordinary linguist Yogi Berra.
Should I have known this? Where do Berra phrases rate on the cultural literacy scale? Here are a few more which look worthy of quotation.
- "The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."
- "You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."
- "I didn't really say everything I said."
- "A nickel isn't worth a dime today."
Thanks for the help!
Books on Writing and Authors with Photos
Since the Complete Review said I don't link out much, which is true, let me throw in these links.
The Writer's Desk
by Jill Krementz. "In lavish duotone photographs, Jill Krementz's The Writer's Desk
provides an insider's view of the working lives of some of the world's most prominent authors. Accompanying each photograph is the writer's own commentary on the creative process or musings on individual work habits and habitats. This is a book for anyone and everyone who loves to read." If this book is like a beautifully photographed, poorly written book
in my library, the "loves to read" praise will apply more to the books discussed in The Writer's Desk
than to the The Writer's Desk
Released on November 1, from Simon & Schuster, Author Photo : Portraits, 1983-2002
by Marion Ettlinger. "According to one of Ettlinger's Pulitzer Prize-winning subjects, 'starkness and a sense of shadows' are at the core of her artistic allure. Shot exclusively in natural light and in black-and-white film, each of these images is an intimate artwork, putting the reader closer than ever before to the writers they revere and admire. A photographic paean to the literary spirit, Author Photo opens a rare and revealing window onto the timelessness of creativity." This and the above quote are from the books descriptions published on the sites to which I linked.
The DaVinci Code Hogwash
According to the soon-to-be-unfree-online Publishers Weekly
, Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code
has been hovering around the paramount position on the PW bestseller list for 33 weeks. That interests me, even though the subject of religious quackery doesn’t attract me. I mention it now because I heard a discussion of Brown’s topic with William Lane Craig
yesterday on the radio.
Before yesterday, I knew something of The DaVinci Code’s
subject. It was a mystery-thriller centered on the idea that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene and fostered a child. What I didn’t know was that Mary supposedly moved to France taking the secrets of Alchemy with her and giving birth to the French royal family. If that’s not idiocy, I don’t know what is. Feel free to read more about it here.
Craig condemned this false history as ridiculous and lamented that TV viewers will believe it because ABC News gives it legitimacy through their broadcast; but Craig said something else I find more interesting than this.
He said some defenders of the Bible and Jesus’ life as recorded there have argued poorly, saying things Craig thought were “just as bad as The DaVinci Code
.” He referred to Sean Hannity’s
argument that Jesus was beyond human sexuality, because sexual desire is a result of the Fall. (For the Biblically illiterate, the Fall is the label given to Adam and Eve’s disobedience against God’s simple command to avoid the fruit on one tree in the Garden of Eden. Read the whole story in the first three chapters of Genesis.
) Hannity reasoned that sexual desire is sinful and that Jesus, being completely sinless as the Son of God, had no sexual desire. (I don’t believe these ideas are original with him, so there are Bible teachers in the wild who profess these things.) Craig called that bad theology. Sexual desire is one of the characteristics God gave us as human beings made in his image. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully God, could have taken a wife for himself, had he wanted to.
Now, I agree with that, but don’t ask me to explain it fully. To me, if Jesus had fathered a child who lived to nurture a family, the entire history of the world would be changed. You think the children of Abraham squabble over their land? Oh my soul! Just imagine the conflicts surrounding the direct descendants of the Lord Jesus? But in case this is new to you, let me irriterate Craig's point. Sex is not the result of sin, and our desire for it is not something God the Father merely tolerates. Men and women are made to enjoy it within healthy relationships as God describes in the Bible. Isn't that what the Song of Solomon
PW Won't Be Free Online After This Month
will convert to a paid-subscription only website on Nov 25. That means those of us who don’t wish to afford the $214.00/year subscription for this excellent trade publication will not be able to read some of their articles online for free. This is the way the whole Internet is going, as I understand it. Banner advertising doesn’t work
, according to analysts, and other methods of attracting revenue are not showing great promise. For a print magazine, this move by PW makes sense. Why publish most of your articles online for free when you want your readers to pay a bundle for print versions? If your magazine offers little more than the articles themselves, you shouldn’t offer them for free online. The New York Times
has frustrated me by offering me only the first few paragraphs of an article I searched the entire world (via the Net) to find, baiting me as it were, and then begging a nominal fee for the rest of it. I won’t be nickeled and dimed, I tell you. If I want to read your lousy newspaper, I’ll go to a coffee shop which leaves it lying around.
Best Books of 2003: Top 50 Amazon.com Editors' Picks
While searching for a book on Amazon.com, I discovered this list.
My gut-reaction is that the list would be influential. Amazon is the dominant online bookseller; but does anyone consult this or one of the plethora of similar lists? The editor’s number one pick? “After much deliberation, Amazon.com's editors have selected A Million Little Pieces,
James Frey's electrifying debut memoir about the author's dark descent into addiction and recovery, as our favorite book of the year.” I'm sure it's delightful, but I think I’ll pass.
The Complete Review Updates Their Literary Weblogs List
In keeping with there name, The Complete Review has published an overview of literary weblogs
. I doubt a more comprehensive list of literature-focused web links can be found. This one has been around for a year, but they updated it on Wednesday. In their introduction, they write, “We were actually surprised to find so few literary blogs. The weblog seems well-suited to, for example, the reading diary -- a running commentary on books read, with links to relevant sites and pages that a reader might have sought out, looking for more information about the subject matter of a book or the author, or reviews and other opinions of the books. . . . Among the reasons [for] limited literary coverage in weblogs [is that] people appear to read very little.”
Hopefully, scintillating discussion like the kind found here and at The Complete Review will inspire a new generation of readers. Is that too grand a hope of a humble Net writer?
The list awards six blogs with the label, “The Best Literary Blogs.”
- Blog of a Bookslut
- Maud Newton (Also mentioned in the Nov 10 issue of New York Magazine)
- NewPages Weblog
- Waterboro lib blog
Brandywine Books is listed appropriately under “Other Literary Blogs.” On a personal note, I should credit MobyLives as one of the inspirations for me to starting writing on literary matters. I wish I could be as good as he is, but we each have our place, don't we?
Language: Deja Vu All Over Again
When did the phrase “Deja va all over again” enter the English language as a normal expression to mean “something is repeating itself”? I’ve heard and seen this phrase many places and even saw Tom Brokaw say it to a new analyst without a blink? Isn’t it supposed to be a joke? Isn't it like saying something is so repetitive, it’s redundant? Yet people throw it out in conversations without expecting it to draw a chuckle. Of course, it won’t. It’s so hackneyed, it’s clichéd.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from a Saturday Night Live comedian. A linguist could write at least a chapter on SNL’s influence on the English language. High schools are or used to be brimming with phrases or words taken from SNL or SNL-related comedy routines. I would prove my own point if I could remember any examples. Oh, well. Even a brief search of the Internet turns up nothing. Dog! If you can’t find what you want after a brief search on Google, is it really worth knowing?
If you are actually interested in the origin of words, look no further than Even Morris’ Word Detective
, fashionably linked to the right (stage left) of your screen. He writes about common words and phrases, debunks living history tour guides, swats at the funny bone effectively each time. Be sure to read his take on words ending in 'gry.'
CBS Drops "The Reagans" mini-series
Caving to the harsh public criticism stirred up by Brandywine Books
, CBS drops its little film on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. (Heh, heh. Let's rewrite that sentence.) Unaware of the scathing post published on Brandywine Books, but very aware of criticism from the Republican Party, various media outlets, and conservative big dogs, CBS drops
its ugly mini-series on the Reagans. CBS News reports, "Of particular concern to conservatives was a scene in which Reagan says of gays with AIDS: 'They that live in sin shall die in sin.' Reagan made no such public remark, and foes of the miniseries say the line reflects liberal bias against the two-term president, who is revered by many Republicans."
I think this is a good thing, but I wonder what would have happened had the New York Times not released a script or if Matt Drudge had not obtained a trailer for the series. All the outrage would have happened after the show aired, which the AIDS statement possibly coming 2/3 of the way through. Oh, well. I'm sure that hypothetical will play itself out somewhere else with another film.
A Good Quote and Inbound Linkage
"Be generous and delicate and pursue the prize."
Henry James, "The Art of Fiction" (Seen at terryteachout.com
I should say that as a small-time, literary, 'Net writer (read blogger), I wholeheartedly appreciate the subtle encouragement Teachout has given me by linking to this site from his "Sites To See" list. I don't know if he even bothers to browse here, but he hasn't felt the need to drop me from the list, so I remain encouraged. No, I don't think my plans to buy his Yale Press essay collection, A Terry Teachout Reader,
(due out next year) has anything to do with it, regardless of this subtle endorsement.
Equally encouraging to me is the persistent link from the formidable literary weblog, The Literary Saloon
from the Complete Review. Thank you, and enjoy the chocolates I'm sending by COD.