Humor and Derision The Cabell Scene by Robert H. Canary is an academic treatise from the late 70s on the major works of James Branch Cabell, a writerHumor and Derision The Cabell Scene by Robert H. Canary is an academic treatise from the late 70s on the major works of James Branch Cabell, a writer whom I have an inordinate fondness for and whom, in some form or another, will be infused into the book I am currently slaving away on. Canary's theme is that Cabell had two methods by which he attacked his subject--the pursuit of love: either through humor, as in his earlier work, or through derision, which most of his later work took form. The two are connected, and although Canary does a good job of making the distinction, the best part of this book is actually Canary's ability to illustrate some of the obscure issues in Cabell's work, and that is why I picked it up. Cabell was a master of obscurity with a purpose--he played games with the reader, using other languages, anagrams, metaphor, simile, etc. to sometimes hide his "true meaning." So much so that, in his most famous work, Jurgen, he was called a pornographic writer and the book and publisher were brought to trial by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. (In Jurgen, a sword could be more than a sword, and a lance could be more than a lance, but by today's standards, this is mighty tame stuff, as the reader must make the connections and use their imagination--the only author I can think of who used the same technique in modern time was Robert Anton Wilson in one of the Schrodinger's Cat books to replace all references to sexual genitalia and actions with Supreme Court justices: to this day, I can't think of Potter Stewart without a certain image coming to mind.)
I'm more familiar with the volumes that make up the Biography of the Life of Manuel, so Canary's discussion of the 1930s trilogy, The Nightmare Has Triplets, and the 1940s trilogy, Heirs and Assigns, was extremely useful to gaining more of an understanding and appreciation of Cabell's post-Biography work. In many ways, he became disillusioned following the heady success, and problems, that the notoriety of Jurgen brought him. The 1920s, in the 1930s, was considered the Cabell decade by many literature critics; by the 1940s, he had almost been totally forgotten. Never to let reality pass by without incorporating it into his work, the later novels are both bitter and bittersweet, as he struggled with that loss of fame and following. Thus, as Canary says, humor switches to derision, where Cabell had trouble laughing with life, but would rather laugh at it. Cabell reserved his jibes for the "typically Meckenian targets as patriotism, Philistinism, Puritanism, Prohibition, and preachers"--targets as ripe for jousting as today.
Is this something you need to read? No, not unless you are a scholar of the literature of the 1920s or a novelist intending to set his book in that time, with themes that touch on the "New South" and prohibition. If so, this can provide an interesting glance into one particularly urbane commentator of that society's mores....more
Lawrence Block describes the feeling one gets after finishing one's first novel here as akin to post-partum depression, and that description, along wiLawrence Block describes the feeling one gets after finishing one's first novel here as akin to post-partum depression, and that description, along with so much more of this book, exactly encapsulates my own experience in writing the novel, and then being faced with a second one. Although published as a writing guide, Block's book is actually more of a psychological self-help tract to overcome one's own mental blocks in the writing process. If you don't have those blocks, you don't need this book. If you do (and I think that's probably more the majority of us), what Block does is help you realize that you are not alone, that these are mental traps that capture first-time novelists as well as seasoned professionals like himself. It doesn't make writing the novel any easier. As my friend Joe R. Lansdale told me over twenty years ago, the only way to write a novel is to "apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboard."
I finished my first novel in 2001 and shopped it around, always thinking I would start a second one. In fact, I had several ideas floating around in my notebook and various computer files. But a combination of things prevented me from ever starting on it, including that mental depression facing the completion of that first one. As Block says, you start to think, "If that one's not good enough for publication, what makes me think my next will be?" But every book is different, the market changes, your writing is likely better for having written and experienced more in the meantime. Over ten years later, I'm revising that first book for possible eBook publication (i.e., market changes, where self-publishing has become a viable option, both logistically and monetarily) and I'm reviewing that set of notes and contemplating the second. I don't necessarily do the outlines that Block suggests that some writers do, but my own process requires that I have an idea of the theme of the book I'm writing. For me, writing needs to be a game I play with myself (an idea I first saw codified in Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel). In my first novel, the theme was evolution and the game was to incorporate as many references and imagery of development that I could, mainly centering around the concept of eggs.
While I don't shy away from reading fiction while writing my own, I do find reading books on writing stimulating for getting my own writing process going, as it focuses me on consciously thinking about choices covered by Block here like point of view and how the book actually begins. As Block suggests (although not in his own words): your mileage may vary. But this is a good overview of some of the driving options available to you....more
An Impressive Achievement Although I had read Craig Thompson's Blankets, and thought it quite fine, it did not prepare me for the amazing achievementAn Impressive Achievement Although I had read Craig Thompson's Blankets, and thought it quite fine, it did not prepare me for the amazing achievement that is Habibi. There is an incredible amount of care in each page, a thematic cohesion across the entire book, that this is finally a graphic novel that deserves the latter term. So many graphic novels come across as slight--often because they are simply collections of monthly serials that strive to create an overall story arc, but are often simply the stuff of melodrama. Thompson has truly created something that stands apart, and is worthwhile of your time.
Yet, I still only gave it 3.5 stars. Why? There's the rub. While I was impressed by Thompson's craft, and admired his themes, the underlying story itself failed to really connect with me. Having just completed living in Saudi Arabia for two-and-a-half years, I'm no stranger to the Arabic culture that provides the underlying cultural viewpoint, and I had done my own self study of the Arabic alphabet and could enjoy the intricate script work that Thompson achieved. But the biggest failing for this book for me is it's post-apocalyptic setting. I'm just not a big fan of what happens after the world fails to address climate change and things fall apart. While one can read and enjoy Habibi without focusing on its post-apocalyptic setting--you could try and read this as some kind of alternate world--there's just too much of it for me.
The story, without giving too much away, is about a young woman and an even younger boy who undergo change and transformation as they find each other, lose each other and themselves, and then refind themselves and the other. It's a very unusual love story, and it's about as much, if not more, about love in the abstract as it is about love in reality.
There are some harsh images here, both presented visually on the page and implied off the panel, as the plot contains some graphic description of sex--both good and bad--, childbirth, body mutilation, and poverty. But if you have a strong stomach, and want to read something like nothing else, this is recommended....more
This is basically Banks' version of The Big Chill: a group of college roommates meet up after many years to comment and reflect on their lives togetheThis is basically Banks' version of The Big Chill: a group of college roommates meet up after many years to comment and reflect on their lives together and apart. Banks uses Kit, an OCD 18-year-old child of the oldest roommate, Guy, as the viewpoint character. Guy happens to be in the last stages of terminal cancer and into that mix, Banks throws in a macguffin of a videotape starring the roommates that each roommate would like to see destroyed, for their various reasons, but which Guy has lost or misplaced in the crumbling rooming house that he and his son occupy and which the others had lived in those many years ago.
I call the videotape a macguffin because, while it ostensibly is the goal of all the characters, the point that the book actually revolves around is Guy's dying, and the point that the reader can't escape from is the knowledge that Banks, when writing this, was also dying of cancer. So, much more than in any of his other books, Guy becomes a stand-in for Banks himself, and when he rants against the unfairness of his lot, the divide between character and author gets mighty blurred.
Along the way, Banks revisits themes he had previous explored in Complicity: the playing of video games (in this case a Warcraft MMO clone based loosely on the Matrix movies), drug and alcohol use (and abuse), and the battle of individualism vs. corporatism. And, as the roommates were all film buff and/or majors, a lot of movie references pop up.
It's a bittersweet book, intentionally so. As a long-time reader and fan of Banks, reading it knowing that no more books will arrive from that source always lingers in the backbrain, but the ending is as good as an epitaph as can be had for someone who left us far too early....more
J picked this paperback up for me during her business trip in the U.S., due in part for her own interest in it, but also because we both had enjoyed RJ picked this paperback up for me during her business trip in the U.S., due in part for her own interest in it, but also because we both had enjoyed Reid's informal talks with Bob Edwards on NPR's Morning Edition where he often provided a great first-hand view of an ex-patriate. Since we've been in that position for just a little over 18 months now, she thought I would find Reid's view of what the East gets right, and gets wrong, interesting. And I did. Reid is clear in his thesis, which may have aged somewhat since the book was written in the late 90s and thus doesn't cover some of the world changes that have occurred since. The background idea, that Asia is rapidly coming into its own and displacing the 20th century to make the 21st century the Asian century, is hard to refute. Reid's thesis, however, that this is due to a philosophy born out of Confucian thought, is a little tougher to follow, although he provides plenty of examples, both anecdotal and statistical.
The best thing about the book, however, is that Reid adopts a Japanese idea and points out the flaws in his own theory in an afterward (an atogaki). This is where I understood what was bugging me the most about the book, and that is trying to define Asia as a homogenous group. My personal perspective, having lived in Malaysia and visited (albeit too briefly for many of these places) other Asian locations, is that while some shared perspective is present, there's a lot more cracks in the impenetrable front that is often portrayed within and without the region. Malaysia, in particular, has a schizophrenia from its mixed racial identity and the growth of Islamic economic power. Reid, at one point, quotes a Chinese Malaysian as saying the affirmative action put in place to bring the Malay population out of poverty (in comparison to the Chinese population) was not perfect, but necessary for the culture, might still be said today, but that commentator would also say that it is time to change that affirmative action to one based on income, rather than race, as the ongoing New Economic Plan is increasingly seen as a racial divider rather than one that is actually improving race relations.
Finally, the other nice point that Reid emphasizes is that Confucian thought is actually not that far different from Christian teaching, with the golden rule of "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" expressed as "Do not impose on others what you do not want for yourself." He then proceeds to make connections between other Judeo-Christian and Classical ethical guidance and Confucius, coming to the conclusion that, in a nutshell, ethics = ethics, in all languages and cultures. The difference may lie in how much individuals are willing to concede to groups, and vice versa (i.e., where are the commons, or where does your face end and my fist begin?)....more
Cameron Colley is an Edinburgh-based journalist with a habit for speed (both drug and motion), an obsession for computer games, and a highly developedCameron Colley is an Edinburgh-based journalist with a habit for speed (both drug and motion), an obsession for computer games, and a highly developed sense of moral outrage. As a journalist, he worships the patron of all gonzos, St. Hunter S. Thompson, and his righteous indignation is expressed in print as exposes on cheap liquor, defense boondoggles, and inept judges. Of course Cameron is not without sin--no self respecting protagonist could be--and his is an adulterous affair and an abuse of substances. But he is a likable enough rogue that it would be hard to suspect him of a string of grisly revenge murders against a host of wealthy capitalists and political powermongers. We, however, get to see the story from his point-of-view, and the police don't.
Iain Banks is one of my favorite authors, someone I truly admire for his ability to switch between genres like a chameleon changes colors. Under Iain M. Banks, he writes adventure-based science fiction that not only entertains, but usually has a moral underpinning. Without the middle initial, his books are variously mystery, thriller, or mainstream, always good, always interesting. If Banks was not so popular with other readers, I would likely have created a biopage for him similar to the one I did for Jonathan Carroll. But Carroll is a cult writer while Banks has been recognized in England as one of their best and brightest by almost every body politic. The result is that he has quite a presence of fans available to keep his name on the net and his books out of the mid-list.
I thought about trying to make a case for British authors being more eclectic than their American brethren due to the size of the country and the concentration of the market, but I immediately started to pick holes in my argument. For example, you would think that there would be more variety in a larger country, especially one as diverse as the U.S. To some extent, this is true--the regional presses, especially the university ones, keep alive the ethnic literature of their areas. But I was trying to make a point for the diversity that could be expressed by one author, encouraged by publishers, not the diversity of a publishing program in general. Okay, but are all British authors as diverse as Banks? No. Definitely not. Case in point: Terry Pratchett, probably their most popular author, and he writes the same type of humorous fantasy novel year after year. So, although I would like to complain about John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Danielle Steel, and all their progeny, and look to the U.K. as different, truth is things are tough all over.
To return to Complicity, it is a novel that is not without faults, although what one person might see as problematic another might have no difficulty with. For example, the beginning of each early chapter has a crime described in second person. Some people might be a little squeamish about phrases like "you hit him on the head with the tyre iron, and it sounds like egsshells cracking" (my words--this phrase doesn't actually appear). The sexual references are not for prudes, and, while not truly glorified, drug use is not condemned, and that does not sit well with some people either. For those with strong stomachs and open minds, Complicity is a fine novel that is well worth your time....more
I'm trying to catch up on Banks--I had four novels of his on my to-be-read shelf, and thought it time to get to them. I do not know why I was procrastI'm trying to catch up on Banks--I had four novels of his on my to-be-read shelf, and thought it time to get to them. I do not know why I was procrastinating, for Banks is one of my favorite authors.
The general consensus about this book from the usual sources was that it was one of Banks' minor works, if not his worst since Canal Dreams, roundly despised by Banks fans. Personally, the one Banks novel that I have not cared for was The Bridge, and I suspect that my opinion of that book would change if I read it today. While I can not put Whit next to The Player of Games, Espedair Street, or The Crow Road as one of my favorites, I enjoyed this book much more than I expected given its reputation.
The title refers to the last name of the main character, one she shares with several other characters in the book including her grandfather, Salvador Whit, the charismatic leader of the Luskenyter cult. One of the cult doctrines is the reverence for those born on Leap Day, and the Beloved Isis is a third generation Leapyearian. The cult is preparing for one of their special events, the Festival of Love, when they get a letter from Morag, Isis's cousin who is an international music soloist and the festival guest of honor, claiming that she is an apostate (i.e., no longer a cult believer) and will not be attending the Festival. Isis is elected to go among the Unsaved (thus the subtitle) to find Morag and bring her back into the fold.
Isis starts off somewhat naive, it not as oblivious as Candide, at least as innocent. It is not hard to see that her growth as a character in this novel is to lose that naivete, to grow up and confront her faith, the world, and the "truth." I loved the endless revelations about the Cult and its background, and the plot had plenty of twists and turns that prevented you from predicting the outcome. If I had to quibble, though, it would have to be in the quick metamorphosis Isis goes through, from innocent and incredulous to world wise and tough. You get some glimpses--foreshadowing--that Isis is not just a waif, but the suddenness of the change is still a little jarring.
I can see that this might not be everyone's cup of tea, the subplot regarding faith, trust, and truth appealed to me. Banks is brave to have a main character who is not only religious, but not a follower of a major denomination or belief. I'm convinced the guy could make almost anybody appealing....more
I never read the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander as a child because the library didn't have them. I knew about them from reference works on fantasy aI never read the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander as a child because the library didn't have them. I knew about them from reference works on fantasy and children's literature, but I lived in a small town and I don't recall having access to interlibrary loan. I was reminded of them by Alexandria Digital Literature, and I was able to track down some copies at the local used bookstore.
I read these at the same time as Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising," alternating between the two. This, of course, has linked the two series in my mind, and I find myself forced to compare and contrast the two series. This is somewhat unfortunate, because two authors and two series can hardly be less alike. Yet they are both for young adults and both contain installments that won the coveted Newberry Award.
The biggest difference between the two is that Alexander's style is much more readable, much less "literary." If I was to put reading levels on the two series, I would probably set Prydain at 5 and Coooper's books at 7. Although both book series are fantasies, "The Dark is Rising" is much more realistic. Prydain has a Tolkien-ish feel to it, while Cooper's world resembles Mary Stewart. Alexander goes for humor, whereas Cooper often goes for suspense.
The first book, The Book of Three, introduces Taran, the assistant pig-keeper, an orphan who longs to be a hero. He gathers companions, some honor, and a little humility in accomplishing his goal.
In The Black Cauldron, he gathers his companions together for a special mission to capture the cauldron from the diabolical Arawn.
The third book has him moving into late adolescence, where he must take his friend and, as he realizes within this book, love, Princess Eilonwy to The Castle of Llyr, where she must face her origins.
The quest in the fourth book, Taran Wanderer, is to find out about his own origins.
The final book is the award-winning The High King, and it finishes off the series with a grand climatic battle between the forces of good and the forces of Arawn.
Reading them all in a fairly short period of time, I noticed the "updates" that Alexander uses for those readers who may be coming to each book as their first or after a longer period of time. They're short enough that a judicious editor could excise those sections and combine all the books into one hefty novel. Between Alexander and Cooper, I prefer Alexander, but I suspect that it is as much for his humor than for any quality difference....more
I had been wanting to read Archer's Goon for quite some time, following my discovery of Jones' Chrestomanci series and generally feeling that she wasI had been wanting to read Archer's Goon for quite some time, following my discovery of Jones' Chrestomanci series and generally feeling that she was my type of writer, something that hadn't been dispelled by the enjoyment of a couple of her other novels like Eight Days of Luke and Howl's Moving Castle (which, I believe, is soon to be a motion picture). But Archer's Goon had been originally published in 1984 and no one had seen fit to bring it back into print. I searched in vain at used book stores while at the same time refusing to pay for overpriced copies over the Internet.
Then J.K. Rowling happened (the analogy to a force of nature is intended), and young adult novels with magic in them have returned to the bestseller lists and the bookshelves. HarperCollins likely combed through their backlist to find this, and I'm glad they did, for it finally gave me an affordable chance to read this novel.
The anticipation was well worth it, too. The book starts immediately with the introduction of the Goon of the title (an oversized ogre of a man) crowding the Sykes household, which consists of the protagonist Howard, aged 13; his little sister Awful; their live-in sitter Fifi; their father Quentin, a writer; and their mother Catriona, a music teacher. Archer sent the Goon there to collect 2,000 words from Quentin, something that Archer...and Archer's brothers and sisters...believe is keeping them from ruling the world. Wait? What was that again?
Yes, Archer is a wizard, and so is the rest of his family. But none of them trust the others, although they've divided the town up into different areas that each of them "farm": for example, Shine controls crime, Torquil music, Dillian law and order, Erskine the sewers, and Archer controls electricity and gas. But one of them is keeping the others from branching out and controlling the world, and it has something to do with those 2,000 words that Howard's father Quentin provides every month. Unfortunately, Quentin refuses to write those words for any of those people--not wanting to help them take over the world--and the wizards begin causing all sorts of problems for the Sykes family very quickly.
The pleasure of Jones' books is how the magic is integrated as a natural part of her worlds. While the characters who aren't magicians still see the magic as surprising, they quickly come to accept and even understand it. In the context of a children's book, such ready acceptance of the irrational mirrors the arbitrary world around young people, which oftentimes seems, if not actually is, illogical: Why can't I stay out late? Why don't we ever see dad's brothers for holidays? Why don't we always let the answering machine answer the phone, even when we are here?
Archer's Goon has plenty of twists in it, as Howard and Awful learn more about the world around them, including how their parents react to each other and the two of them, not to mention the secret of the Goon. I recommend this one highly. ...more
I've long meant to read the novels by Ben Elton, a writer whom I have admired for his movie and television work of comic genius such as Four WeddingsI've long meant to read the novels by Ben Elton, a writer whom I have admired for his movie and television work of comic genius such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Blackadder, and Love Actually. This is his fourth or fifth novel, and I figured that me must have been able to shift into a new medium with some success, not to mention that I had seen some recommendations for his novels in places that I usually trust.
Unfortunately, this book didn't work for me. I did finish it, but I think that was due in part to my not wanting to start another book so near to my recent vacation and that I was actually reading it quite quickly. The problem here stems from Elton's choice of comedic material: the juxtaposition of an ultra lefty in the person of Polly, who once protested the American presence on British soil by chaining herself along with a group of other female peaceniks to the gates of the military base, and Jack Kent, an ultra righty who was one of those American soldiers, now risen to the rank of General and on the precipice of becoming the next head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Neither Polly or Jack are believeable characters, which usually isn't a problem in a comedy novel, as believability often takes a back seat to exaggeration. But by making them opposite sides of the political coin, some of their aspects are not so much exaggerated as inconsistent, especially in the use Elton puts them into service of the thin plot. They are, instead, means by which Elton proceeds to skewer both political persuasions and this might work if they weren't each so full of straw that his darting arrows not only pierce but proceed to explode the propped up dummies, to extend and exaggerate the metaphor. He also is exceedingly graphic, especially in his portrayal of the physical attraction of these opposites in the backflashes to their initial meeting, which is more squirm-inducing than arousing. As the book works inevitably to the climax, and as Elton has his characters move around to the spots where everything will proceed as he wants, he has to have them repeat themselves to the point of annoyance. Halfway through the book, I debated if you could make a drinking game out of every time Polly demanded that Jack answer why he had returned after 30 years and then revealing that she was still attracted to him. It's the kind of thing that might have worked in a screenplay, because it could have been excised by the director or editor.
Compared to books by other British TV alumni such as Stephen Fry or Hugh Laurie, this was a major disappointment. I'm hoping that this was just an off-book, and that Elton's others are much better. It may be some time for me to try one of those after this book, though. ...more
In the 80's, there was a fun independent board game that we would sometimes play called Junta. You played a corrupt power elite family member who getsIn the 80's, there was a fun independent board game that we would sometimes play called Junta. You played a corrupt power elite family member who gets assigned a stereotypical role (General, guerrilla leader, etc.) in an anonymous banana republic. For all its light-hearted fun of its subject, the underlying assumptions of the game were quite stark if you started to match things up to some of the news of the day. The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts is similarly troubling. Louis de Bernieres took the real history of several Latin American countries and merged them together to create the unnamed country featured herein. On top of that he also works in stories of the campisinos and peasants, native indians and colonial landowners, left-wing revolutionaries and patriotic army careerists. The characters are almost impossible to keep straight without a game card in front of you, and many over the course of the novel change their affiliation and beliefs.
This book truly covers the range of human activity and emotion--the good, the bad and the ugly--but I never felt that it was out of place, especially in comparison with the last "modern" novel that I finished, wherein the author seemed to strain to find something shocking. des Bernieres shocks you sometimes by the simple off-handed nature in which life is so cheaply valued by some of these characters or the ease by which a perceived insult can lead to some real consequences.
I must also mention that this novel, while not abstaining from the ultra-realistic (the description of the torture techniques of the secret police being the most disturbing), is also a work of fantasy (but then, "aren't they all?" to quote Alan Moore). des Bernieres incorporates some of the magic realist tropes to give his novel a bit of the flavor of that tradition, and while I think doing so was mostly unnecessary, it didn't distract from the pleasures of the rest of the book.
This is probably the best book I've read in recent years and I highly recommend it....more