A story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the...moreA story doesn't have to be factual to be true, and I don't think I have read a truer story in any form than Alan Moore's From Hell.
At the heart of the tale is Jack the Ripper. It is the truest telling of Jack the Ripper that I've ever read. It matters not a whit whether Dr. William Gull is actually Jack the Ripper. Nor whether Queen Victoria set the ball rolling with her orders. Nor whether Abberline actually fell for one of the prostitutes. Nor whether the Freemasons had their hands all over the deeds in Whitechapel. Nor whether Druitt was sacrificed to keep the peace and maintain power dynamics. Nor whether Sickert was involved. Nor whether industrialized, fin-de-siècle, London was our clearest real world dystopia.
What matters is that Alan Moore's writing and Eddie Campbell's artistry uncover a deep emotional and philosophical truth about the reverberations of the smallest actions in the world. The smallest and the biggest. What matters is that they recognize that their tale is nothing more than a tale told from their perspective. What matters is that they painstakingly researched anything and everything that had to do with that autumn in East London, that they rode every ripple from the epicentre no matter how far it took them in time and space, that every decision they made was conscious, and that the sum of that conscious work offered a hyperreality of that definitive event in the life of London that encapsulates the beauty of our existence within the ugliest of events. That is the truth they uncovered: the beauty of living in the ugliest of circumstance.
Theirs is an astounding achievement that transcends the graphic novel medium. It is not simply the greatest graphic novel ever written (though it is that), it is also one of the greatest five stories I have ever read. I would put it up there with Hamlet and Gravity's Rainbow and The Outsider and Wuthering Heights (forgive me this list ... I've not read some others that are undoubtedly great and perhaps deserving of my praise).
From Hell is not for the delicate of heart. I demands work. It demands that you stare at the horror and not simply turn the page with a desire to get past the horror because Moore and Campbell demand that you engage with the horror and cut deep, to the bone, to discover what it is that makes us terrible and wonderful.
The changes this masterpiece (superior to Watchmen and The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta) have wrought on storytelling, on the comic form and even on me are unclear at the moment. But they will be real, and with the benefit of hindsight they will be traceable to From Hell.(less)
How do we measure a life greatly lived? Is it what’s left behind by the person living it (some monument to his/her wherewithal or creativity)? Is it t...moreHow do we measure a life greatly lived? Is it what’s left behind by the person living it (some monument to his/her wherewithal or creativity)? Is it the family s/he births and raises? Is it the way s/he dies? Or is it the way s/he lives regardless of accolades or remembrance or emotion?
Ivan Denisovich Shukov lives his life, day to day, the way I aspire to live my own. He lives it for survival and simple pleasures. He tastes everything he eats. He hears everything his ears pick up. He sees everything that cross his eyes. He senses everything his wind-chill numbed fingers touch. He smells the most minute scents despite his smoking. He feels EVERYTHING. And that, to me, is a life greatly lived. Shukov lives on the edge of mortality and that, in turn puts him on the edge of sensation, which is where I think we should all be.
I want to go and by a tiny piece of sausage tonight; I want to put it in my mouth before bed and revel in its juices. It’s what Ivan would do. it is what I should do; it is what we all should do. Solzhenitsyn had it right. He knew life and living. He should thank Stalin for his time in the camps. It was the core of his greatness, of the life he lived greatly.
All I can hope for is to enjoy the sausage. As thoroughly as possible. (less)
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you mad...moreAugust 7, 2011
Your decade long run of Calvin and Hobbes was the greatest run of any comic strip in the history of comic strips, and you made the right choice putting an end to it when you did. I can't believe it's been gone for 16 years now. Your precocious Calvin was what every kid with an overactive imagination is in their own heads, but you also gave us the view of what the rest of the world sees in these kids and does to try and beat the imagination out of them. There's implied sadness in the explicit joy you gave us, and it makes Calvin and Hobbes a true masterpiece.
I was fourteen when you started your opus, and I was close enough to my own hyper-imaginative childhood to connect at a visceral level. My youthful imaginary friends were still fresh in my mind, and my current imaginary friends were just taking hold, and your strip gave me something to relate to, someone to cheer for, a place where it was okay to turn dreary realties of the world into exciting fantasies and be proud of that ability all at the same time. It was also a fabulous way to relax my brain (though not too much) amidst all the literature I was devouring at a frightening rate.
But I have a request. Now that I am forty, and I have a precocious little Calvin of my own making explosive sounds with his mouth as he blows up his LEGO creations (as I write this, in fact), and my little Calvin’s twin sister, who happens to be a lot like Susie, I would love it if you came out of retirement and gave us just one year of Calvin and Hobbes and Son (or Daughter). I want to see where Calvin is now. I want to see Calvin as a Dad, and I want his son (or daughter) with a beaten up, super ratty, devilish-as-ever Hobbes. But I don't want this comic to be about the kids, I want it to be about Calvin. I want to see how well Calvin was able to fight off his indoctrination; I imagine he’s one of those rare folks who didn’t join the mainstream, who somehow continued to live on his own terms, but my imagination aside, I am dying to see what he became for you. Please, please, please come back, Bill. We could all use a bit of Calvin again.
I know that my request will never reach you, and that, if it did, you'd probably never even consider the possibility, but I know you could do the "parenting thing" better than all your peers, just as you did the "kid thing" better than anyone else.
So I'll just leave you with the firmest, most heartfelt thank you that I have in me: thank you for that little corner of joy you carved into my world. I’ll never forget it, and late at night, when I am dipping my peanut butter and jelly into my hot chocolate, I’ll have one of my Calvin and Hobbes books open so that I can stain the pages with the purple of some yummy Welch’s grape jelly. Just as Calvin would.
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange...more'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions.(less)
This is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "H...moreThis is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
I hear you saying, "How on Earth can that be a guilty pleasure?" I know. It's a recognized classic. It has far reaching pop culture impact.It's considered one of the greatest adventures ever written. It has two of the most memorable "villains" in literature; it has four kick ass action heroes. It has sword fights, romance, intrigue, and most people think it has big laughs (it doesn't, which is the thing that pisses me off most about its pop culture adaptations). Even if people haven't read the book they know the Three Musketeers. Hell, most people even know that D'Artagnan, the main "hero" of the book, is not one of the eponymous "Three". So how could this book be a guilty pleasure? The answer is simple at first, then its complex.
Simple answer: Milady de Winter.
Complex answer: Milady de Winter.
From the accepted perspective, Milady is an unrepentant, nasty, evil, femme fatale. She is an agent for the "villainous" Cardinal Richelieu, spying on, plotting against and battling our Musketeers at every turn. She foments marital unrest between the King and Queen. She plots the assassination of the Englishman, the Duke of Buckingham, to stop him from aiding the Huguenots at La Rochelle. She tries to kill D'Artagnan and later poisons his mistress, Constance Bonacieux. She corrupts a fine, upstanding Puritan man. And once upon a time, she made a fool of the Comte de La Fère.
She is the accepted villain, even worse than her master the Cardinal, for whom and under whose auspices she commits her evil acts. She is the villain, and D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are the heroes.
Here's the problem, though, from another perspective she isn't and they aren't.
You see, Milady de Winter was a poor young woman who did what she must to survive. Forced into a convent for want of food, a priest fell in love with her and the pair stole some church property to start a life together. They were caught, and both were "branded" with the fleur-de-lys -- the mark of criminals. Alone again, she fell in love with the Comte de La Fère. They were married, and she hid her crimes from him. Then one afternoon the Comte discovered her brand. He felt betrayed and strung her up by her neck, leaving her to die.
She lived and entered the service of the Cardinal. Under his direction, she became a powerful agent, doing exactly what it is that agents do. The Cardinal -- the right hand of the King, connected to the Pope, a man waging a war in the King's name, the most powerful man in France -- has Milady undermine the King's Queen, Anne of Austria, a woman having an affair with the man (Duke of Buckingham) who is helping the rebels within her husband's kingdom. She is also asked to keep tabs on a troublesome young guard, D'Artagnan, who seems to be thwarting the Cardinal's plans through sheer luck and Gascon audacity. She complies.
Then the man she is spying on kills her lover, the Comte de Wardes. And if that isn't bad enough, the man she's spying on turns up in her bedchamber posing as the Comte and proceeds to "make love" to Milady. The "lovemaking" is so "wonderful" that D'Artagnan decides to come clean and reveal his true identity. Milady loses her temper -- with some cause, I think -- and tries to stab D'Artagnan (which he doesn't seem to understand). From then on, Milady wants vengeance against the murderer of her lover, who also happens to be her rapist (for that is what he is, surely?).
Next, she is charged with assassinating the Duke of Buckingham, for which she is issued a carte blanche by the Cardinal, but her enemy, D'Artagnan -- committing treason against his own King and country -- warns the Duke, and she is banished to a tower while the Duke sails off to aid the Huguenots. Well, she isn't about to languish in prison, so she seduces a Puritan and makes her escape, winding up in a convent in France where she can hide out. Lucky for her, D'Artagnan's mistress, a married woman whom he was bedding while he was raping Milady, is also hiding out in the convent, so Milady de Winter takes the portion of vengeance at her disposal and kills D'Artagnan's lover as he killed hers.
And for all of this, the Four Musketeers, now in possession of her carte blanche, hold their own little court, pass judgement on Milady and have her head separated from her shoulders. And they get away with it because they have the Cardinal's signature -- on Milady's carte blanche which allows the bearer to do whatever they do for the good of the kingdom.
It seems to me that Alexandre Dumas knew that perspective would dictate how we saw his heroes and villains, and that he was okay with his muddied good and evil waters. He was writing from the Musketeers' perspective, and he knew that his readers would side with them against the Cardinal and Milady. But he also wrote in a way that complicated his Musketeers. So much so that we accept when D'Artagnan receives and accepts a commission to the Musketeers from the Cardinal himself. He wanted his characters to be grey, and they were.
So why is this a guilty pleasure (especially if the guilt doesn't come from Dumas' writing)? I am finally getting there.
The weight of popular culture has changed the way we see this story so thoroughly, has morphed the Musketeers so completely into righteous heroes, turned D'Artagnan into such a loveable heartthrob and his companions into the most likeable of heroes, that it is nearly impossible for people to see the things that make them grey.
But I see them for who they are. I see the grey.
So here comes the guilt: I see the Four Musketeers crimes -- treason, rape, murder, theft -- and all their flaws -- cruelty, greed, hypocrisy, entitlement, adulterousness (to name but a few) -- and I still love them. I love them, and I enjoy reading their adventures, and I cheer for them from beginning to end.
I shouldn't, but I do, and that's why The Three Musketeers is my guiltiest of pleasures. So there.
p.s. I love Milady de Winter too. For all the things she is.(less)
I have seen it twelve times in the theatre. It was the first VHS tape I owned, and I wore that tape out in my big clunky old VCR within five years. I worked as a night video store clerk for another five years and played it at least once during every shift. When I can't sleep at night, I watch the movie in my head. I know every line. I know every beat of music. When I am sad or need a pick up, I throw it in my DVD player and let it soothe me. I've used it in Composition classes to illustrate the potential for analyzing even the most unlikely texts.
Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay is a marvelous piece of screenwriting. Every line, every action, every single element is there to further the story. Kasdan makes potentially clunky exposition soar, implies the flaws of Indiana Jones (making him a truly complex hero, at least in this one installment) without beating us over the head, gives us a snazzy champagne villain in the mould of Claude Rains and seamlessly includes all the set pieces that tickled the fancy of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg without compromising quality.
It is a masterwork of screenwriting. And it is THE masterwork of action screenwriting.
My favourite line:
Belloq: I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.
So true, Belloq. So true.
If you are at all interested in giving a screenplay a chance, this is the place to start. (less)
A long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to...moreA long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to the material, so desperate to relive the nostalgia of the original trilogy, so deeply invested, that when we left the theatre and I expressed not just my frustration but my rage at what I'd seen, he took it as a personal insult. A slag of his taste (or what he thought I must have been declaring was his lack thereof). A debate raged between us for days. I pointed to inconsistencies with the original trilogy, terrible acting, poor direction, silly errors of Sci-Fi thought (such as describing direction in space as North, South, East and West), etc., etc. He mostly denied the existence of these problems, and when he couldn't deny their existence he tried to rationalize them. What he didn't do, however, was simply embrace the fact that he loved the story because he WANTED to love the story.
I said, "Well you can love the stories all you want, just don't pretend they are good." I think that hurt him even more.
Since those days I have kept a weather eye open for cases when my own love of a movie or TV series or book could become an inadvertent source for personal pain and imagined insult. I’ve come across a couple of minor examples, both giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate, and in once case change, my opinion of the works in question. And because I was vigilant, I was quickly able to escape the negative feelings that came along with the disagreement.
A third instance appeared this month when I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. I have long held off rereading this book, worried that it would diminish my love, but the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club was reading it for August, and I was sucked into being the discussion leader. My worries were unfounded. I loved it even more this time through. But it felt like I was the only one, and I endured a month of irrational frustration and hurt at the unwitting hands of my group friends.
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t be taking things personally, but I couldn’t help feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed and insulted by the opinions of others. Hell, I was even hurt by the relative silence of people whose opinions I rate highly. I figured their silence must be tacit dislike of the book. Why else were they staying quiet? See. Irrational.
Everything was conspiring against me in that discussion, but through it all I tried to stay neutral and lead the discussion with as little interference or personal opinion as possible.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to Red Mars. My personal issues turned out to be a good thing in this case. I was reading criticism of one of my favourite books while I was rereading it, and that criticism made me open my mind to the possibility that my feelings about the book were entirely emotional rather than intellectual. I genuinely opened myself up to that possibility, and I can honestly say that my feelings come from both places. I love this book for personal reasons, but I also love this book because it is Sc-Fi of the highest order.
KSR does so many things right in Red Mars. His vision of the near future was and is believable (he even manages to look into post-Soviet Russian culture with a measure of accuracy). His science is excellent (albeit occasionally compressed or fudged to further the story). His new novella narrative is wonderfully effective, allowing us to look deeply into six of his main characters -- Frank Chalmers, MayaToitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne – as we follow the colonization of Mars from their perspectives. But this also allows us to dig more deeply into other important characters, like Arkady, Phyllis, Saxifrage, Coyote, Hiroko and Mars itself, giving us multiple perspectives on these important people from the very different perspectives of the people they love or hate. His descriptions of Mars are beautiful. His political and philosophical thought is engaging. And his vision for the potential colonization of Mars, and what that might mean for Earth, is totally plausible.
I can see how some – and maybe all – of these things could rub a reader the wrong way. I can see how someone could walk away not liking Red Mars. And I can accept that even if it hurts me (because I love all of those things), it is really not personal. But what I can’t accept is the assertion that KSR is a crappy author.
To my mind, this book proves his brilliance. I think I will stop now (can you tell that this review didn’t go at all the way I had planned?) (less)
When I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed th...moreWhen I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed that I was a voracious reader, and that I was devouring fantasy books at the time, so he nudged me in the direction of his favourites: Ursula K LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey.
The nudging began in class with a LeGuin short story. I remember sterile white homes that were pre-fab pods, I remember odd, sci-fi-ish flora and a girl as the protagonist. I also remember not liking it, but I was a 12 year old boy. I don't remember the name or anything else, but it instantly had me not taking Mr. Hore's recommendations seriously.
Then he got me reading Dragonflight, and I was even less impressed Although I recently gave it another try and quite enjoyed the experience, back then I hated the idea, I hated the characters, I hated everything about the book, and I was thoroughly inoculated to the effects of McCaffrey and LeGuin for years to come.
In my late twenties, however, I rediscovered Ursula LeGuin with The Left Hand of Darkness and was blown away by her unparalleled mind, and her conception of the androgynous/hermaphroditic Gethens. The Lathe of Heaven was prophetic and fascinating, but The Dispossessed was something more. It is one of the finest political sci-fi books ever written, a peer of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World (and I humbly submit that on the back of that book alone, LeGuin deserves to win the Nobel Prize for literature). Despite my rediscovery of LeGuin, though, I shied away from her fantasy literature. The damage done by Mr. Hore still hadn't healed.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the finest pieces of fantasy literature ever written. The story of Sparrowhawk's journey from being a smithy's son to the most powerful wizard of Earthsea is a parable of equilibrium. In Ged's pride and youthful anger he conjures the dead -- a power within his grasp, but a power he cannot control -- and with it comes a gebbeth, a shadow creature that will hunt Ged until it possesses him and turns his power against the world.
Heavily scarred by his folly, both emotionally and physically, Ged is shielded from the gebbeth by his Masters, and he completes his training in humility. He eventually returns to the world, leaving behind the protection of Roke, and seeks an end to the chase between himself and his gebbeth -- a return to equilibrium: "only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky."
In typical LeGuin fashion, Ged's struggle for equilibrium isn't our simplistic conception of a struggle between good and evil. There is no attempt for good to sublimate evil, as we see in so many works of fantasy. Nor is it a breezy assertion that both need to exist in the world; it is a recognition that if both exist at all they exist in everything, including us. The parable of Ged tells us not only to see equilibrium in everything but to consciously strive for equilibrium in ourselves.
A Wizard of Earthsea is more than its message, however. It is a story to be read aloud. It is a tale for around a campfire. It is a myth for the child in all of us, and for our children. There is a formality about LeGuin's third person omniscience that has the ring of a bard passing on an important history. But there is poetry in her formal prose, too, and I found myself slowing my reading the closer I came to the end just to make my time with LeGuin's narrative voice last longer.
I am sad to see that so many on goodreads don't feel the way I do about LeGuin's fantasy masterpiece, but for once I am confident that I don't need to search my reaction to the book more deeply, to make sure that I am seeing the work clearly. This time I know I am right. A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the greatest fantasy novels (or novellas) ever written. Period.
And now LeGuin has two claims to the Nobel Prize. What a shame she'll never even be considered. (less)
As a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring i...moreAs a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring immediately to mind, but there are countless others: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin (Perdido Street Station), Oedipus, Holmes or Watson (I'd take either), Captain Jack Aubrey (I'd rather Stephen, but I look like Jack), Heathcliff, Lady Macbeth (yep, I meant her), Manfred, Indiana Jones. But none of them are people who I would actually like to be.
That I reserve for Shevek.
Ursula K. LeGuin's Odonian-Anarchist physicist is what I would aspire to be in the deepest places of myself -- flaws and all.
The reason is simple and profound. Shevek constantly strives for change inside and outside himself, for an embracing of true freedom with the knowledge that freedom requires change, that change is dangerous, and that the danger of true freedom trumps safety.
No matter what pressures are brought to bear, Shevek is his own man.
I could go on about him, but I am loathe to diminish the strength of what I have written.
I’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress twice in twenty years. Two decades between readings and it still holds up surprisingly well. Heinlein’s Lunar R...moreI’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress twice in twenty years. Two decades between readings and it still holds up surprisingly well. Heinlein’s Lunar Revolution, his benevolent AI, Mycroft (aka Mike), and Professor de la Paz’s ideas for government were all exactly how I remembered them. Yet I found that my favourite part of the rereading experience was the tale it told about me.
When I read this book the first time, I was an idealistic youth who believed that change was possible and worth fighting for, maybe even worth dying for. I disdained inequality, injustice, tyranny, blah, blah, blah, and I wanted to do something to fix the problems I saw. I went on to do many things about those problems over the next twenty years. It didn’t do a damn bit of good.
So now I am a cynical man who desires change as greatly as I ever did but knows it is impossible, and that the fight is increasingly futile. I still disdain inequality, injustice, tyranny, along with capitalism, consumerism, imperialism, yada, yada yada, and I’ve given up trying to fix the problems. Now I just do the little things for myself and those I love, mostly to make myself feel good, and the rest of the world can be damned. Not doing anything should do as much good as all the things I did for twenty years (I say this, but then our plan is to do aid work somewhere in the next couple years; don't take my cynicism too seriously).
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the same book it was twenty years ago, but back then I saw it as a call to arms. Now I see it as a flight of fancy, a pure act of wishful thinking, a revolution the way I wish it could be but know it never will. Still, there’s nothing wrong with an act of pure imagination now and then, even if the hopefulness is play and only serves to underline my deep hopelessness.(less)
Master and Commander is a great book, and our introduction to Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin is a great hook, but it can stand alone as a simple Naval adventure without any need for additional information about the men and women confined by its pages. This could, of course, simply be a result of its place as the first book in the series -- a series which stretches just over twenty books -- but there is little if any building for the future in Master and Commander, making it more in conception like O'Brian's The Catalans than his Aubrey-Maturin series.
But all of that "future building," all of that stuff needed to sustain a tale over twenty books, is present in Post Captain.
Many, though not all, of the characters that will become important to Jack and Stephen make their first appearance here: Mrs. Williams and her daughter, Sophia (Sophie (view spoiler)[when she becomes Jack's wife (hide spoiler)]), their cousin Diana Villiers and Sir Joseph Blaine. The relationships with these people will continue to define Aubrey and Maturin until the end of their adventures, and it will define their friendship with one another. We see the return of such stalwarts as Preserved Killick, William Babbington, Heneage Dundas, Barret Bonden, Joe Plaice, and Thomas Pullings -- and their stories are lovingly broadened and deepened, as though O'Brian is now committed to them for a long voyage.
There is also the solidification of Aubrey's friendship with Maturin; they suffer the first and most dangerous test of their love for one another -- a test that brings them even closer to a fatal duel than their first meeting at the Governor's mansion in Port Mahon. We are introduced to Jack's ill luck with money, his penchant for saving drowning shipmates, his inveterate randiness, his father's big mouth (which causes no end of trouble for Jack) and his skill as a Captain and seaman; we are introduced to Stephen's work as an intelligence agent, his deadliness with a sword and pistol, his ideals, his hand in Jack's success, and his tendency to obsess over the unattainable. And all of these deliver plenty of foreshadowing of the challenges our heroes will face during their further adventures at sea and on land.
Moreover, O'Brian delivers his first statement that the remaining Aubrey-Maturin books will be more than they first appeared; they will also be testosterone driven Regency romances -- Boy's Own Austen, if you will.
Much has been made of O'Brian's debt to Jane Austen, and that debt is obvious in Post Captain. At least half of this book takes place on land, and most of that time is spent with Aubrey and Maturin chasing the women who will be their wives. While not all of the Aubrey-Maturin novels spend so much time on land, the concerns of their private lives, whether through epistles or genuine time spent in England, will never lose their importance.
All of this suggests to me that Post Captain was the moment when O'Brian really knew this series was special. This was the moment it became his life's work. And it may very well be the best book in the series (although I've no doubt I'll say that again about another chapter).
How amazing must it have been to be O'Brian the day he wrote the last page of Post Captain, scribbling that toast to Sophia? I wish that had been me.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** I've been in many discussions over the years -- some in classes I was teaching, some over pints in the bar, and still others late at...more**spoiler alert** I've been in many discussions over the years -- some in classes I was teaching, some over pints in the bar, and still others late at night with people I love -- about what Alan Moore was trying to say with Watchmen, discussions about the meaning of his graphic novel, and I am convinced that the meaning is not what most people think.
Most people I have talked to look at Veidt's mini-Armageddon to bring peace as inherently evil -- and the most monstrous act in a book of monstrous acts. Veidt's act trumps The Comedian's attempted rape of Silk Spectre and the murder of his child in the womb; it trumps Rorschach's punishment of the child killer, his torture of "innocent" informants, and the brutality he delivers unto anyone he happens to see committing a "crime," petty or otherwise; it trumps Dr. Manhattan's personal engagement in the Vietnam War; Veidt's action even seems to trump the not-so-petty criminal activities we see perpetrated by peripheral "criminals" throughout Watchmen.
On the surface, we tend to condemn Veidt's action because of its scale. It's cold and precise and sterile and necessarily takes the lives of "millions of innocent people." We have been indoctrinated from the youngest ages to hate this kind of killing more than any other. Our great monsters are Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, but we somehow find it in our hearts and minds to forgive Truman's nuclear attacks on Japan because they "saved millions of lives," as a young Walter Kovacs (aka Rorschach) writes in an essay about his absent father, defending Nuclear War and the Truman doctrine, albeit at an early age. And if we can forgive Truman's attack (I recognize that some people cannot forgive that attack, but many, many can), why not forgive Veidt? If we can forgive one, we must forgive the other. Sure Veidt killed more people, but he saved more too, and created a utopia out of the chaos.
This discrepancy in our accepted opinions is not lost on Alan Moore; in fact, it is at the core of Watchmen. We see it being played out in dialogue and action by characters from The Comedian to Rorschach, from Ozymandias to Dr. Manhattan, and even in the supporting folk who populate Moore's distopian future.
When faced with this discrepancy and pressed to discover why Veidt's actions continue to rile us, it doesn't take long to uncover a deeper root for our disdain: our need for individuality and Veidt's destruction of the freedom to make our own mistakes.
This realization of our anger at Veidt and why his action is "evil" quickly becomes the accepted meaning of Moore's story: that derailing humanity's ability to choose is the greatest wrong anyone can commit (the secular see this as a fundamental attack on our freedom, while the religious see this as our fundamental gift from God, but they tend to add anger at Veidt for playing God), and that Veidt's utopia will fail because the power of the individual is too great -- it always overcomes.
I don't think Moore considers Veidt's act evil so much as misguided. I am not convinced that Moore believes in good and evil at all. Throughout Watchmen we are led to see one man as the man who "gets it," and that figure is not Rorschach. Rorschach is a guide, nothing more. Rorschach acts as an Horatio figure, guiding us through the narrative, telling us what to pay attention to, whom to believe, what to see: mostly he is trying to get us to see The Comedian. If the story is anyone's it is The Comedian's. The Comedian is the man who gets it, and what the amoral Comedian gets is that morality is a construct designed to help us avoid despairing at what Moore believes is the truth: humanity is violent and base; it is ignoble; it is doomed to repeat and repeat and repeat its violence because that is what humanity does best -- violence -- and everything else is playacting. Thus, Veidt's mini-Armageddon is futile, not because of our noble individuality, not because of the strength of our human spirit, but because of the strength of our animal instincts. All those lives were wasted to create a utopia that simply couldn't be.
And Rorschach's journal, slipped through the door of the paper and ready to be printed, is the detonation cap.
Watchmen may be the most hopeless popular book printed in the last fifty years, and the most truthful. I am continually shocked by its popularity (even if only as a cult phenomenon), but then maybe it is only popular through a quirk of misunderstanding. Then again, it could be popular because people understand it better than they're willing to admit.(less)
I marvel that this was ever read by more than a thousand people. It is too poetic for the mainstream, too fragmented for easy consumption, and too sen...moreI marvel that this was ever read by more than a thousand people. It is too poetic for the mainstream, too fragmented for easy consumption, and too sensual for those who consider plot the most important part of a novel. This remains one of my three favourite novels because of its poeticism, fragmentation and sensuality.
This time through I decided to read it out loud, and a whole new sensuality exploded into the experience for me. Actually rolling those words and worlds around on my tongue, wheezing my way through the English Patient's tale, letting Kip's Lahore English spill over my teeth, adopting Carravagio's voice as my own, and trying my best to capture Hana for myself (I have the benefit of being mostly Canadian and not having to adjust my accent for the latter two) broadened the sensuality of the book, and not just because the sounds were resounding in my head. I could feel the words filling my lungs, or burning my throat, or passing through my airways in different manners, so that saying the words on the page, those already sensual words, made the sensuality tangible for me.
To feel a book in other ways as I read it and hear it is as near as I come to a holy experience. Words are my church. Michael Ondaatje is my priest. The English Patient is one of my scriptures.
Don't even talk to me about the travesty that is the film. (less)
I've read this book every year since 1991, and it is never the same book. Like so many things in this world, The Sun Also Rises improves with age and...moreI've read this book every year since 1991, and it is never the same book. Like so many things in this world, The Sun Also Rises improves with age and attention.
Some readings I find myself in love with Lady Brett Ashley. Then I am firmly in Jake Barnes' camp, feeling his pain and wondering how he stays sane with all that happens around him. Another time I can't help but feel that Robert Cohn is getting a shitty deal and find his behavior not only understandable but restrained. Or I am with Mike and Bill and Romero on the periphery where the hurricane made by Brett and Jake and Robert destroys spirits or fun or nothing (which is decidedly something).
And then I am against them all as though they were my sworn enemies or my family. No matter what I feel while reading The Sun Also Rises, it is Hemingway's richest novel for me.
I feel it was written for me. And sometimes feel it was written by me (I surely wish it was).
Hemingway's language, his characterizations, his love for all the people he writes about (no matter how unsavory they may be), his love of women and men, his empathy with the pain people feel in life and love, his touch with locale, his integration of sport as metaphor and setting, his getting everything just right with nothing out of place and nothing superfluous, all of this makes The Sun Also Rises his most important novel.
It is the Hemingway short story writ large. It is the book he should be remembered for but isn't. I often wonder why that is, and the conclusion I come to is this: The Sun Also Rises is too real, too true, too painful for the average reader to stomach. And many who can are predisposed to hate Hemingway.
A terrible shame that so many miss something so achingly beautiful.(less)
Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and...moreFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.(less)
Lolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elements...moreLolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elements are there, but there's skin on the outside of my body, and I can tell you that my largest organ is not what I am about. The same is true for Lolita.
Lolita is a game. It's a chess match by a Russian master. It's an intellectual exercise by a genius. It's an experiment in reader manipulation that's hypothesis is born out. It's references upon references upon references upon references, and it requires multiple PhDs to fully understand (which I know I don't, but I keep trying).
It is one of the greatest novels in the English language and everyone should read it, but if you let yourself be fooled by any of those things that Lolita is not about, Nabokov will have beaten you without a fight, and you won't be doing the master or his book any justice.(less)
WARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet....moreWARNING: This review probably contains some (but not many) spoilers, so you may not want to read this if you haven’t read Perdido Street Station yet. This review also contains plenty of vulgarity. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the "f" and other words. Thanks.
Me reading my review: I decided to read this on SoundCloud, since BirdBrian has turned me into a recorded voice madman. You can listen right here if you'd like.
I fucking hate moths.
Seriously. I hate them. They freak me out. You know how Indiana Jones hates snakes? That's how I hate moths. I hate them so much that the disdain and fear extends to butterflies. I actually made a little girl cry when I was surprised by a butterfly and crushed it between the sole of my shoe and concrete, although I've never been sure if she cried because I squished the moth or because I let loose with the sanguine battle-cry: "DIE FUCKER!"
Moths and butterflies are frightening, fucking horrible, unholy, unnatural, freaks of fucking nature.
I sense you wondering why I feel this way. Well ... I'll tell you.
When I was sixteen years old, I walked out of my bedroom on a Friday night and headed for what I thought was a D&D marathon. Somewhere upstairs my Dad heard my bedroom door closing and yelled down, "Turn off the light." Even back then he was a stickler for energy conservation (but that had everything to do with being a cheap bastard and nothing to do with the environment). I heard him, but I ignored him. My friend Pat was honking for me outside, I had a pack full of D&D gear, and I was in a hurry. I was up the stairs, in my shoes and out the door before anyone could say anything more.
Now I had this fucking bizarre bedroom window. You see, I was and am the lightest sleeper the world has ever seen (even now I have double blacked windows, wear a black eye mask and 33 decibels ear plugs, and I still wake up at even the slightest shift in the air), and to try and buy me some more sleep without hurting the aesthetic of our home (a far more important concern for my Mom than combating my insomnia), my Dad installed a blind whose efficacy required the removal of my window screen. That meant that when my window was open in the summer, which it was the night I was out D&Ding, my room was open to all creatures great and small -- mostly small.
So somewhere between the time I left and the time I came home, my Dad came downstairs to make sure I'd turned off my light. He opened my door, reached for the light switch, turned off the lights, closed the door and went off to bed himself, but not before the light had attracted some fuzzy, beige, fluttering, dusty fucking creatures.
That night we didn't play D&D.
Nope ... that night we ate some mushrooms. My first time on hallucinogens. And what did I do? I invited the creatures of the night into my room. At around 4 a.m., I found myself back at home on the downturn of my trip. I needed to get to my room, put on some chill-out music and a soft light, and just let my cozy room ease me back to reality. I opened my door, closed it, flipped on the light switch and was fucking bombarded by HUNDREDS of moths.
I fucking lost it. I grabbed my squash racket and started killing while I screamed and swore and trashed my room.
There were probably only about a dozen moths in my room, but those shrooms did their job, and I spent the rest of that long morning obsessing about fluttering wings and the claustrophobic feeling of moth dust and guts settling on my skin, in much the same way that dreamshit settles on the minds of sleeping New Crobuzoners.
I am sure that you’ve figured out why I related this story now.
When I first read Perdido Street Station, I was enjoying Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin’s search for crisis energy well enough. The beauty of China Miéville’s prose and the complexity of New Crobuzon made Isaac’s rather pedestrian quest tale, whose goal was providing Yagharek -- the exiled, wingless Garuda -- a way to fly again, a compelling read. Then came the blindside of the Slake Moths, and my enjoyment was transformed into absolute horror, keep-the-lights-on-late-at-night-horror, stomp-all-fluttering-insects-into-the-pavement-horror, fucking-shit-my-pants-at-night-from-nightmares-horror. Miéville dumped the quest and changed the plot and raised the stakes, shifting the tale unexpectedly and fundamentally, and that coupled with the horror of the Slake Moths made me a passionate believer in his writing.
For me, the Slake Moths are the most terrifying creation in literature. Now I know that much of that is the psychology of my good trip gone bad, but when one considers all of my inadvertent personal subtext -- that Mieville’s Slake Moths feed on fear, and induce fear through their droppings, that their shit is sold as an hallucinogenic drug, that they suck the minds of their victims dry with an interdimensional tongue -- well, I hope my passion for the Slake Moths will be forgiven.
But then, I know that my love for Perdido Street Station goes far beyond my drug-induced psychosis. China Miéville’s writing bursts with sensuality, intelligence, politics, social commentary, fierce creativity and a thirst for life that is unparalleled. And those are just some of the reasons his fans love him.
For me, however, my loathing of the order lepidoptra means that Perdido Street Station must and will remain my favourite Miéville, and Slake Moths will continue to excite and haunt the recesses of my mind until I die.(less)