I think that I'll get the cover image tattooed on my arm, as every word is already tattooed on my soul. Honestly, it's hard for me to conceive of AttiI think that I'll get the cover image tattooed on my arm, as every word is already tattooed on my soul. Honestly, it's hard for me to conceive of Atticus Finch as a fictional character: it's like he's real. Seriously, he's every bit as much of a moral compass and teacher to me as, say, Jesus or the Baal Shem Tov. It's like a spiritual thing I swear.
Basically, ignore my rambling and read this book. It's a key work of Southern literature, young adult literature, and just literature in general....more
My great grandfather, William Rollins, held this poem in higher esteem than any other book, fiction or non-; it was his absolute favorite. Wherefore,My great grandfather, William Rollins, held this poem in higher esteem than any other book, fiction or non-; it was his absolute favorite. Wherefore, seeing as so much of my taste in reading came down to me from him, through the veritable library he left in the house now owned by my grandmother, I have endeavored to collect as many different editions as possible. When I have a house, I'm going to put all my books in a little room, and call it The William Rollins Memorial Library. And there will be a special little shelf housing all the Rubaiyats. Crazy? Perhaps. Awesome? I think so!—the question is, do I see why he liked it? Yes. It's not my absolute favorite. But it's hard to argue that these lines are truly something to behold:
Would but some winged Angel ere too late Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate, And make the stern Recorder otherwise Enregister, or quite obliterate!
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits—and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
In other words, "To mould a new reality/Closer to the heart"? (Where's the smile emoticon when you need it.)...more
This book was written by a local, so I feel uncomfortable slagging on it. Perhaps, to those of you who live in sprawling metropolises like London or NThis book was written by a local, so I feel uncomfortable slagging on it. Perhaps, to those of you who live in sprawling metropolises like London or New York or Tulsa, Oklahoma, for that matter, this makes no sense to you. Alas, I am from the Maritimes, a trio of Canadian provinces by the sea, and here in the Maritimes, we are supposed to offer no criticism of that which is released by other people from the Maritimes. (Maybe I'm making this up? I don't think so, though.) It's the bad side of the solidarity coin, a product of years of non-recognition only very recently broken by, say, Joel Plaskett and Buck 65. So... I'm very sorry, but this collection of short stories isn't very good, despite it being promoted in every record store and bookshop in Saint John, Fredericton, and the like.
I should preface my explanation of the above comment by saying: there are moments of genuine brilliance here. The story "Eric, Who Is A Robot," in particular, is stunning, and its use of some Huey Lewis lyrics (Mars is getting closer by the hour; a DJ has run in fear, but courteously left the entire News discog playing on loop) gets a funny mention .on the book's copyright page:
Lyrics from Huey Lewis' "If This Is It" used without permission because we're a tiny company with no lawyers and, really, is he ever going to see this book? Probably not.
But as you read the entire thing, you realize that the "random" sense of humour and esoteric style of "Eric," or any other story in the book, for that matter, is ubiquitous, and I don't mean that in a good way. The stories are all cut from the same cloth: no plot, a little development here and there, but not too much; bizarre, strange little snippets of fictional (impossible?) people's lives, usually involving death or a body or suicide, written, nine out of ten times, in third-person limited (You are writing a book. It's not a very good book...), and very poorly edited with regard to punctuation. I felt like pulling my hair out by the end of it.
And I loved Stewart's earlier book of poetry. You see, modern poetry at its best is all-style, no-substance; or, rather, style over substance, in a Henry-Miller-esque sort of way, sensation over clarity, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs lyrics. So it worked better for him to do this, zoom in, take a verbal snapshot, in poetry. In prose, however, I feel like he's going for Douglas Coupland and coming up short.
However, I state again that there were some truly stellar stories here. In order, they are: "Brangelina," about an indifferent writer receiving an award, in which we get this awesome observation—
"Here is a glass of champagne," someone says, handing you a glass of champagne. This is something that happens when you've just won an award for successful screen writing. You are standing at the edge of the room thinking about why certain drinks hold certain significances. You won an award; here is some champagne. You are eating a cookie; here is some milk. You are closing a deal; here is a double scotch on the rocks. You are planning a triple homicide in your parent's basement; here is some Tang.
—"A Month of Saturdays," about a millionaire whose life is, essentially, unchanged; "Dressing In Layers," the second-best story in the book, about a tough-guy who talks a talking grizzly out of jumping off a building; "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" (maybe?), a Monty-Python-esque skit about a breakup in the middle of a violent trainwreck; "Looks Like Rain," wherein it rains heavy objects instead of water; and "She Is 9/11" (again, maybe?), about a stalker caught in the act (oddly, you're compelled to say, "poor guy!").
And, of course, I'll finish by saying that I'm full of shit, and I've never published anything. So there you go....more
Warren Ellis has written something of a minor steampunk(-ish) masterpiece here.
This particular volume concentrates on introducing the characters, twelWarren Ellis has written something of a minor steampunk(-ish) masterpiece here.
This particular volume concentrates on introducing the characters, twelve 23-year-old UK psychics who destroyed the world, "six years ago," by simply concentrating on it hard enough. Now they've set up fort in the London district of Whitechapel, providing shelter from bloodthirsty gangs to refugees from the English countryside. Each has pale skin and violet eyes, and a sardonic, temperamental disposition seems to be common, as well.
I won't bother describing each character; this isn't a press release, and it's just a slim trade that I'm reviewing here. But the best compliment I can give this is that it really, really makes you want to read more. At the end of the book, you know the characters, you know their predicament, you've been treated to some major foreshadowing, and you want to know exactly what happened and exactly what will happen.
Sometimes it slips into post-apocalyptic cliché, at least visually (although the art is great), and in terms of dialogue, but I feel like this is going to get even better in subsequent volumes....more
What can I say about this book? It mostly consists of photographs of awful, awful cakes. Like... wow. So, yes, there's only so much you can say, I gueWhat can I say about this book? It mostly consists of photographs of awful, awful cakes. Like... wow. So, yes, there's only so much you can say, I guess. Just buy it, read it, and laugh. It's rare that a book has me laughing quite as hard as it did... from start to finish, I was in physical pain....more
This was good, but add it to the ever-growing pile of Elie's minor stuff. Short though the book was, it could've been shorter—the rehash of Rashi's GeThis was good, but add it to the ever-growing pile of Elie's minor stuff. Short though the book was, it could've been shorter—the rehash of Rashi's Genesis commentary was fairly unnecessary. The best parts of the book were the history of Rashi's own life and the final chapter on the Crusades and the anti-semitism of the Gaonic period, some accounts of which filled me with rage and a palpable sadness. Wiesel's own musings on Rashi are cursory, introductory, begging to be expounded upon. I guess my main complaint was that this was marketed as an introduction to the man, and actually seems like a poor substitute for a more in-depth bio....more
Not the greatest. It wasn't broad enough for absolute beginners, because it assumed a lot of knowledge regarding Judaism aside from conversion. And yeNot the greatest. It wasn't broad enough for absolute beginners, because it assumed a lot of knowledge regarding Judaism aside from conversion. And yet it wasn't specific enough for the serious potential convert, because it skimmed over the specific details of pretty much everything. So this book is useful to someone in a very small window of time. It was also a little too "Oprah's Book Club" for me. A great Zen master once said, "I sell all kinds of things in my shop. If someone comes looking for pure gold, I sell him pure gold. If he comes looking for rat shit, I sell him rat shit." Yeah, well, call me pretentious, but I need the gold!
I did learn that Judaism has a theological opinion wherein sincerity is all that is truly required of a Tzaddik, a righteous man (or woman); you don't need to be Jewish, so long as you're a good person. I always felt that all the world's religions—I mean, if there is a God, which you have to take on faith, right?—were probably just the same numinous experience of oneness or God, filtered through subjective cultural preferences, giving rise to a sort of equivalence. And fair enough, my Rabbi said when I first approached him, "You know, you can be a good Gentile. There are only seven basic mitzvot that you need to follow." I'd take that a step further and add, why do you need to believe in God at all?—as long as your atheism comes from conviction, not apathy.
Final comment: useless if you're converting to Orthodox. More aimed at Conservative and Reform/Reconstructionist, those latter two being essentially atheist and viewing halakah (Jewish law) as "folkways."...more
For the general part of this brief review, I should say that I think that this book was way ahead of its time. Some people will object to this, call iFor the general part of this brief review, I should say that I think that this book was way ahead of its time. Some people will object to this, call it just another pop-sci book, and move on, decrying the science in it for already being out of date, a mere 15 years after publication. "Obsolescence," however, "is a fate devoutly to be wished," reminds Stephen Jay Gould. So what if some of this science is old hat? The vast, and I mean that, vast, majority of Sagan's predictions are already fact, especially his thoughts on the then, and now, burgeoning field of exoplanetary science. I say that Sagan was ahead of his time not because of any particular science in question, though, but because centuries from now, when we have colonized the solar system and its myriad worlds are known to us, we will be able to look at Sagan as the one guy who was on the right track at the end of the twentieth century, whereas most people even at the start of the twenty-first were finding excuses not to spacefar and search for extraterrestrial life. "SETI," remarks Sagan, "costs less than one attack helicopter a year." We spend so much on killing each other and so little on exploring together, on being human. Read this book like some people read the Bible and spread the word in the same way; baby steps, eh?
As for the edition, it was convenient for me, listening on an iPod at work in a kitchen. But it consists of Sagan reading the abridged edition and J. Charles, an OK, but not noteworthy, narrator, rounding out the remainder, that is, 3 hours of Sagan, 7 of Charles. Go for the illustrated copy of the paperback if you have more time on your hands; I also own that one and turned to it as an augmentation of my listening here....more
There's nothing wrong with these essays, so don't take affront to the fact that I gave this a two-star rating (as far as I'm concerned, everything CarThere's nothing wrong with these essays, so don't take affront to the fact that I gave this a two-star rating (as far as I'm concerned, everything Carl Sagan ever published is solid gold). It's just that most of them are awkwardly abridged and taken from other sources, including, largely, Broca's Brain and Sagan's opus, Pale Blue Dot, published a mere four years prior, and for which there is already an excellent audiobook, mostly read by the author ('nuff said). This is an OK introduction to Sagan, by all means, but hardcore fans will be left wanting.
I agree with another reviewer who said that the description of chimps' stick-in-a-termite-mound technology is mindblowingly good—turns out that the nuances of this "simple" technology couldn't be mastered by the humans who discovered it....more
This review is edition-specific. Excellent, if highly abridged, reading of the famous popularization of linguistic nativism. Lalla Ward, Richard DawkiThis review is edition-specific. Excellent, if highly abridged, reading of the famous popularization of linguistic nativism. Lalla Ward, Richard Dawkins's wife and once an actress on Doctor Who, is well known among those who like science audiobooks for her contributions to the audio versions of her husband's The God Delusion and The Ancestor's Tale. Her reading here is characteristically lively, and of course, the material leaves nothing to be desired. Especially good was that one interview with a subject intended to illustrate what Black English Vernacular (BEV) sounds like was an actual recording. I dock a star from the review only because more than half of the printed book was not present in this audio edition....more
I wanted to give this a higher star rating, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
In several respects, this book is an absolute classic, not least ofI wanted to give this a higher star rating, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
In several respects, this book is an absolute classic, not least of which that in which it is, first and foremost, the flagship book of the Hindu religion. (I had tried to tackle a religious edition (Bhagavad Gita: As It Is, that with commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, which my younger brother gave me, it having in turn been given to him by the bass player of the hardcore band Glassjaw) but found it inpenetrable, and checked this more secular (or more Western) edition from the library.) In another respect, it's been a huge influence on the American literary tradition, having been translated into English a little too late to effect the comparable British tradition in any major way. Thoreau and Emerson paid it major lip service, and J. Robert Oppenheimer quoted it when he witnessed an atomic explosion for the first time: "I am become death, destroyer of worlds." In other ways, however, the book is a total letdown. But the universe just kept therowing it at me, time and again. As I said, my brother gave me a copy; one of my groomsmen, Shawn, was reading it on my wedding night. And so on.
Mitchell's translations are usually fantastic, and this is no exception to prove the rule. It's just that the source material isn't very strong. Chapters 1-12 are riverting and filled with things to "mull around the ol' noggin'," sotospeak, and then chapter 13 comes in and ruins everything with a dry sermon on the three gunas or modes of material nature. Mitchell concedes as much in the endnotes to the book.
In short, this is worth reading, but it's not necessary to finish the book, short though it is, unless you actually intend on becoming a Hindu. It does, however, contain moments of infallible wisdom, as here:
Death is certain for the born; for the dead, rebirth is certain. Since both cannot be avoided, you have no reason for your sorrow.
Before birth, beings are unmanifest; between birth and death, manifest; at death, unmanifest again. What cause for grief in all this?
Or, as my friend Shawn put it, "There was never a time when you never were, and there will never be a time when won't be. So just relax." When you think about it, this is true with or without a belief in reincarnation; science teaches that we all return to what we were eventually: atoms, stardust, carbon, new life-forms. Atoms in you now were once in others. It's a cycle.
One might take Richard Dawkins's saying, that we're going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones, as another way of looking at this passage. But I'll gladly give the last word to Mark Twain.
I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.
The short version of this review is, "I liked it a lot."
In order to understand the longer version, you'll need to know a bit about the subject matter.The short version of this review is, "I liked it a lot."
In order to understand the longer version, you'll need to know a bit about the subject matter. Modern biblical criticism holds that the Torah, otherwise known as the Pentateuch, Chumash, or Five Books of Moses, and constituting the first five books of the Hebrew bible, that is (listed here in their Anglicized forms) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, weren't really composed by Moses, as Jewish tradition would have it. Rather, they were composed by four different authors or sets of authors, each with a distinct tone and focus. Those authors were J (Jahwist or Yahwist), who wrote the stories that make up the literary backbone of the Torah, and focused on Yahweh, that is, God, and his antics; E (Elohist) who focused on the Angels or Elohim of God; D (Deuteronomist) who wrote Deuteronomy; and P (Priestly), who focused on laws, and was the author most likely to have actually been more than one author. These four were combined into the modern Torah, quite seamlessly, it might be added, by a fifth editor figure, R (Redactor). As stated, it is possible to separate, to some degree, the different texts, and that is what Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg have done here, isolated the J text, translated it, and slapped on some savvy commentary.
Both were quite controversial at the time of their publication, and today read quite shockingly to those among us familiar with the King James Version or a similar translation, myself included. Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that the religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next, but what Bloom proposes here is that J's M.S., making up most of Genesis and Exodus, and some of Numbers, was never intended to have a religious significance, but was intended as literature. And literature it is. I found it very readable, the translation something akin to Stephen Mitchell's translation of The Book of Job, which I read earlier this year: a nice modern translation, truly attempting to peel off layers and layers of retroactive religious grime. What's underneath? A Moses that hardly lives up to the Patriarchal picture painted in the KJV, and an impish Yahweh, more reminiscent of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream than of any "man in the clouds," that truly lives up to Richard Dawkins's words:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
The heroes in J's vision are Jacob and his son Joseph, but I won't summarize plots here. I should mention that the other major heresy in Bloom's vision is that he proposes that J was a woman, a sophisticated socialite writing in the reign of Rehoboam, an inept king following Solomon and David, whom to J are sacrosanct. Bloom actually makes a very persuasive case for this. Finally, Bloom helps with an understanding of Genesis' stories by honing in on the major themes in Rosenberg's translation: boundaries and the Blessing exist in a sort of dynamic tension, that is, Yahweh's Blessing is passed from generation to generation, but those that receive it are kept from fully realizing its benefits by waves of difficulty, usually in the form of an exile.
Read The Book of J, by all means. It's probably Harold Bloom's best work outside of The Anxiety of Influence, and the translation lets you see the Torah in a whole new light, whether Jewish or atheist or what have you....more
I can definitely see what Harold Bloom is getting at when he asserts that when one is in one's seventies, one does not have time to read bad literaturI can definitely see what Harold Bloom is getting at when he asserts that when one is in one's seventies, one does not have time to read bad literature; I'm in my twenties, and I can't see that I have any more time for it than Bloom could. The worst thing that can be said of Bloom is, of course, that he goes on about what "good literature" is, but has no qualm with you reading his own okay-ish tomes.
The worst thing that could be said about this book in particular, however, is that its title is a slight misnomer, slight in that, while not inaccurate in its description of the book's basic gist, it is assuming way too much explanatory power. How to Read and Why might be subtitled, Harold Bloom's Somewhat Esoteric Observations Regarding What can be Gotten out of a Few of His Personal Favorites. In a sense, it's much more of a companion piece to the massive The Western Canon than it is a stand-alone work of literary criticism; all of the books, poems, and plays covered here make it into that book as well. My point is that no one who didn't already know how to read (I mean, how to get meaning from texts, not in the literal sense of being literate) and why couldn't pick this book up and walk away with that skill, because the text itself is rather verbose and full of lit-crit conventions that could hinder the unfamiliar reader. It is more of a book that someone who'd read one of the books discussed within it could go to to augment their understanding.
The second-worse thing is that Bloom, here as always, seems to think that Shakespeare was the only writer who ever did anything in English, and that subsequent writers should be judged based on their proximity to his genius, with it more or less out of the question that anyone might surpass him. This is hardly to say that Bloom lives in the past; indeed, he writes of Thomas Pynchon and Toni Morrison and, most engagingly, Cormac McCarthy (one notes when reading Bloom's comments in this book, published in 2000, on 1985's Blood Meridian being the apotheosis of apocalytic novels, what Bloom must think of 2006's The Road!). It's just that it gets a little tiresome. Frankly, while Oscar Wilde was influenced by Shakespeare and loved Shakespeare, and did indeed understand and emulate all of the great facets of his writing, especially the refrain from moral judgment almost de rigeur for canonical inclusion, the "negative ability," to use Keats's phrase, it is certainly true that his genius was of a calibre similar to that of Shakespeare's, and might have existed had Wilde not encountered the works of his famed predecessor. The same might be said of Keats himself, or any of his romantic contemporaries. So I cringed a little toward the end whenever the comparison was made, this being something, as I am something of a minor bardolotrist myself.
But, however much the gender-partisan feminists cry, the fact is, here and always, that there is genuine insight to be had in Bloom's writing. It's just that half of what he says elicits a tepid response and half has you saying, "Yes! That's so true!"—it's the latter half that you need to seek out. I personally like the last section, "Novels, Part II," which links seemingly disparate American novels together with an essentially negative, apocalyptic reading, and persuasively makes the case for Moby Dick being the ancestor of them all. And everything he chooses is worth reading, to be sure, and there are some mighty savvy picks, as you might expect (this is the book that led me to check out Italo Calvini's Invisible Cities for the first time—thanks, Brontosaurus!). In addition, each subsequent section builds on the last perfectly, and I will hand it to Bloom that author-specific concepts are explained before discussion.
As with Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, though, it is the epilogue (here, the conclusion) that is the shortest, best, and boldest part of an otherwise mostly soggy read: Bloom discusses the Pirke Abot's Rabbi Tarfon, who asserts that, "It is not thy duty to finish the work, but thou are not at liberty to neglect it," and discusses the validity of the statement in relation to Shakespeare, who lived as Time came to him, lackadaisically but fully. Should we keep working (that is, reading) or be happy with what knowledge comes our way? I like Bloom am inclined to side with Tarfon, and I will leave this review at that.
In short, this isn't essential, but it couldn't hurt to read it. I enjoyed it and wouldn't not recommend it, at any rate.—see what you think!...more
I always thought that Dionysos would've been cheerful, being so associated with wine and all. Turns out that he was a megalomaniacal, invincible demigI always thought that Dionysos would've been cheerful, being so associated with wine and all. Turns out that he was a megalomaniacal, invincible demigod, intent on filling women's spirits with a crazed sort of bloodlust, whereupon they would leave their homes to rend wild animals limb from limb and eat their hot organs raw. This is the ill-fated narrative of Pentheus's attempt to capture Dionysos and kill his followers, restoring order to Thebes, the place he loves, against the will of all around him.
Superbly translated and full of vivid, warped imagery....more
I shan't dignify this flaming turd with a review save the following: this is the worst young adult book I have ever encountered, and I have encountereI shan't dignify this flaming turd with a review save the following: this is the worst young adult book I have ever encountered, and I have encountered my share. The dialogue thinks it is being playful, and it is actually being wooden; the story thinks it is being original, and it is predictable. The characters are more annoying than endearing for their idiosyncrasies. If it wasn't for the fact that I get resale when I sell books back to the university bookstore, I'd've peed on it and burned it immediately after finishing it.—have I made my point yet? Avoid it....more
Ancient Greece was pretty emo. Whether it's lines like "There's a hole burning inside of me" (from Euripides' Medea, and source of Courtney Love's bAncient Greece was pretty emo. Whether it's lines like "There's a hole burning inside of me" (from Euripides' Medea, and source of Courtney Love's band's name), or the whole effeminate guys thing, or the quick-to-anger, quick-to-get-emotional attitude of goddesses like Artemis and Hera, the whole body of literature sits pretty nicely next to Brand New's discography. As we all know, emo kids seem to enjoy poetry involving words like "heart" and "feelings," so maybe they'd be interested in taking a time machine back to a time when this was the climate of the literary world was
...something like an ongoing poetry slam in which the archaic poets competed to describe Eros adequately and to produce the best image to depict his attack. Thus a sixth-century poet named Anacreon attempted to trounce his predecessors by delivering: "With a huge hammer Eros this time has struck me like a blacksmith and plunged me in an icy torrent."
That quirky description is from Pamela Gordon's introduction to Stanley Lombardo's translation of Sappho's coherent body of work. Of course, most of Sappho's poetry is similar, she being no exception to the emotional inclinations of her culture, but there's a discernible female subtlety to her "slams," i.e. in
Eros once more limbslackener makes me shudder Sweetbitter irresistible creeping
Eros has shaken my mind, wind sweeping down the mountains on oaks
This short book can be read in an hour or two, and mainly consists of fragmentary poems, some of which have been mangled by time, and others which are still poignant to the point of being gripping. Lombardo's job, given the limited source texts, is amazing; he is a great translator, to be sure. One can almost envision Sappho gently "pouring vinegar on the wounds" of her contemporary emo kids with her lyre, singing these lyrical ballads in such a way as to be way ahead of the whole Vagrant Records game....more
I'm Canadian, and as such, I'm not terribly familiar with American literature. So when my old acquaintance Kate had a black day planner with the lineI'm Canadian, and as such, I'm not terribly familiar with American literature. So when my old acquaintance Kate had a black day planner with the line "April is the cruelest month" scrawled across the cover in red nail polish, I had no idea what it was from. I asked her, and she said, "T.S. Eliot," but she was quick to add that she had no idea why April was crueler than any other given month. Flash forward a few years, and I'm living in America, preparing for my Praxis II test, centering on American Literature. I decided to give Eliot a whirl when a fellow tutor reminded me that he existed. She was able to inform me that April is cruel because the melting of the snow reveals the post-WWI devastation underneath it, and that the line was an ironic allusion to Chaucer. Sounded good to me.
I've counted this as three books for my 50 Book Challenge this year, as it contains three separate publications—Prufrock and Other Observations, written in 1917; Poems 1920, written in 1919, and The Waste Land, written in 1922. I wish that I could give the books three individual star ratings, but I make sure that I find the correct edition in the Goodreads catalogue, and stick to it. So, the reader should note that I give Prufrock and Waste Land five stars, whereas I give 1920 only two and a half stars.
Anyway, I can only say that Eliot's work, while remarkably dense, is not so hard to get through here, where ample endnotes explain and annotate the references. The introduction is fantastic, and actually makes you feel like you've got a little knowledge under your belt before tackling the text. The poems themselves, of course, are breathtaking; the Observations speak to me in a way that no piece of literature has since I read Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, an American expatriate much like Eliot himself. The descriptions of people and cities are erudite and cynical in a way that somehow woos you not only to Eliot's brand of cynicism, but cynicism in-and-of-itself, as a way of reading society like a book, detached. Miller seems to have cared a great deal more about things. The Waste Land is like The Canterbury Tales had it been written in the vorticist/modernist era and ran in BLAST. I think I've found a new favorite....more
Aeschylus wrote over ninety plays, and of the 7 that survive complete today, Persians is one of them. This may not seem like anything particularly notAeschylus wrote over ninety plays, and of the 7 that survive complete today, Persians is one of them. This may not seem like anything particularly noteworthy, any more so than any of his plays having survived, until you take into account its historical importance. Aeschylus was Greek, and fought the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, during the second Persian invasion of Greece (you're probably familiar with the contemporary battle of Thermopile, immortalized so well in Frank Miller's book 300). This book, told from the perspective of the vanquished Xerxes, is therefore a firsthand account of that battle, in a roundabout way.—What are the chances that of ninety plays, it would be one of the 7 that survive? My wife points out that its historical importance makes it a likely candidate for preservation. True enough, but still—wow.
I should probably muster up five stars for the sucker, but my Grecian (read: Western) sympathies are so deeply ingrained that I couldn't get involved in the Persians' troubles. Still essential reading, though. This edition is the one to go for, unless you're interested in reading the original Greek, in which case, go for the Loeb Classical Library translation....more
Why do people bitch and whine about having to read greek drama? Outside of the ubiquitous Antigone, this is my first encounter with Greek drama, andWhy do people bitch and whine about having to read greek drama? Outside of the ubiquitous Antigone, this is my first encounter with Greek drama, and I loved it. Usually translating involves compromising a certain amount of poetry in lieu of clarity; see Stephen Mitchell's Book of Job for an illustration of this. In this edition of Prometheus Bound, there's nothing inaccessible; the text and the presentation and typography are straightforward. I didn't struggle with it at all. In fact, i was struck by the beauty of the myth. I wish I could find this edition on eBay or Amazon, as it's worth owning (I checked mine out of my college library). There's a lot of good commentary before and after the play, too, as a bonus.
Anyway, here's the best encapsulation of rebellion I've ever heard. Zeus's messenger, Hermes, comes to taunt the bound Prometheus, lording over his freedom. Prometheus is on the level:
Get this much straight: if I could trade all my misery for your servility I wouldn't.
Some time in the first half of the first Anno Domini millennium, English appeared on the scene as a distinct language, descended from the Germanic famSome time in the first half of the first Anno Domini millennium, English appeared on the scene as a distinct language, descended from the Germanic family of Indo-European languages, and still bearing striking resemblance to its parent (cf. words like "rice" for kingdom, traced back to the German "reich" for the same, as in "the Third Reich"). Since then it has gone through four distinct phases. Old English (O.E.), lasting from the language's inception until the Norman invasion of 1066, was the language of Beowulf. Middle English (M.E.), lasting from 1066 until some time in the 1500s, was essentially a hybrid of Norman French and Old English (more on this phase in a bit). Finally, Modern English came about. This was, in its first phase, the language of Shakespeare and Marlowe, and is still comprehensible today, aside from typographical and grammatical differences. By this point, English had lost all traces of inflection, and word order was more reliable as a guide to what might be going on in a given sentence. Our second phase of Modern English, the language of Charles Dickens and, for that matter, Stephen King, started in about 1800, and is marked by widespread standardization across large geographic areas.
I bring all this up for background on the following points: to better illustrate what Tolkien has done with the text, and to better illustrate what the text was originally like. The latter is that it was written in Middle English, the same "language" that Chaucer wrote in. Of course, Chaucer's English was London, upper-middle-class English, and it bares a much stronger resemblance to our modern English for this. Today, lines like
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
are hardly inpenetrable; we know that the gist is April has come, and that it rains in April, and that this is good for plants, because March is dry and cold, and that flowers will grow (in April)—it just sounds a lot prettier in the M.E.! However, people might not agree about the following!:
SIÞEN þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye, Þe bor3 brittened and brent to bronde3 and askez, Þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wro3t Watz tried for his tricherie, þe trewest on erþe: Hit watz Ennias þe athel, and his highe kynde, Þat siþen depreced prouinces, and patrounes bicome Welne3e of al þe wele in þe west iles.
Those are the opening lines of the alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a retelling of a traditional Arthurian legend by The Pearl Poet, a technically-anonymous author lost to time but for his works. Assuming a familiarity with the character thorn (Þ), and familiarity with the word "sithen," the first line easily becomes "When the siege and the assault was ceased at Troy," again assuming the reader overcame the resemblance of the M.E. "sesed" to our "seized." After that, it breaks down: what are those things that look like threes? "brittened" and "brent"... are these, uh, past-tense verbs? and what's "askez"? asks? who's asking?—and so on. That's because there were no agreed-upon forms in the 1400s, and The Pearl Poet's dialect was more rural and more traditional than Chaucer's. Unless you're willing to take night classes, a modern translation is nigh on essential. That's where Tolkien comes in.
What Tolkien has done is provided a translation from the M.E. of The Pearl Poet to the Modern English of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Here's J.R.R.'s son, Christopher, in the preface to the translation:
On the one hand, he undoubtedly sought an audience without any knowledge of the original poems; he wrote of his translation of Pearl: "The Pearl certainly deserves to be heard by lovers of English poetry who have not heard by lovers of English poetry who have not the opportunity or the desire to master its difficult idiom. To such readers I offer this translation."
The only thing is that many today struggle with the "difficult idiom" of Shakespeare himself, this being the idiom into which Gawain has been translated. These people might check out a slightly more modern translation, but why not just work at it? Tolkien may have left in these three Medieval poems words like "barbican," "ellwand," "weasand," "popinjays," and "heathenesse," but the poem's tone, alliterative scheme, and rhyming schemes are strengthened thus—this not always being so, as my review of The Decameron will attest to when it's finished. Besides, there is an explanation of the meter of the first two poems, as well as a glossary of difficult words for all. Gawain and its ilk are excellent poems, and you owe it to yourself to check them out. ...more
I grew up on Grand Manan Island in the 1990s, and the climate of the schools and churches was still like the 1950s. We prayed and got the daily BibleI grew up on Grand Manan Island in the 1990s, and the climate of the schools and churches was still like the 1950s. We prayed and got the daily Bible story in class up until grade five. I had a Baptist upbringing, and I remember being taught that the Bible really happened, that evolution had been disproved, and the like.
It's not that my parents were particularly religious; they just got caught up in the lot after they had their wedding there. My wife, who was raised United, tells me that for her, Sunday school was just cake and Kool-Aid and songs about mustard seeds; for me, it was something a bit different. It was a series of terrifying stories about so-and-so being raped and so-and-so being murdered. By 1997, a year before we moved to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, on the mainland, my parents had left the church. They wanted to have champagne on their anniversary, and the pastor said, "No. We don't drink at this church"
"But, Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine!," they protested.
"That was non-alcoholic wine," he responded, putting the last nail into that particular coffin with a real fervor.
And so, we secularized. My mother often lamented the leave, saying that we needed God in our family again, but it just never gelled, never took shape. We were all so different. My three younger brothers probably don't think of the Bible in the same way as I do, and have certainly been spared both the good and the bad of embarking on a lifelong spiritual quest; I don't think that "spiritual" is really a word pertaining to any of them, as of now, anyway.
I did remember a few things from Sunday school, but oddly enough, the book that I took the most out of was Job. First, it was the book with the Behemoth and the Leviathan, and I was way into dinosaurs, as I still am. One of my biggest questions was as to why there were no dinosaurs in the Bible, and I got a variety of answers, none of which were satisfactory, ranging from, "The dinosaurs were failures and God didn't put them on the ark and they weren't worth mentioning" to "There never were any dinosaurs, and the fossils were put in the rocks to test our faith"—special thanks to Mrs. Ingersoll, the owner of a Christian bookstore, for that one. I am now aware of Bill Hicks's answer to this nugget: "Yeah, well, I think God put you on earth to test my faith, buddy."
Then one day I got the good news. My mom's creationist friend Norman—who was cool, as creationists go, having had sat in the footprint of a Tyrannosaur as a child—informed me that, not only had dinosaurs existed, but that they were in the Bible, specific kinds were in the Bible. The Diplodocus, a long-necked giant, was called the Behemoth—"He moveth his tail like a cedar," informs the King James Version. The Mosasaurus, a sea monster, was called Leviathan—the same one that Hobbes would later refer to. Furthermore, this was proof that man and dinosaur coexisted. To this day, I picture these mythical beasts as Diplodocus and Mosasaurus, despite knowing that this is a bunch of hooey. Dinosaurs predated man by, at very least, 64 million years—unless, of course, you're talking about avian dinosaurs, or as we call them, pigeons, crows, cassowaries, and chickens: birds.
At the time, though—wow. I wanted to know more about this Job fellow. So when it came to the class on the book, I was all ears. One particular image stuck with me: that Job scraped at his boils with broken pottery. And, sure enough, the verse was intact in Mitchell's translation
"The Accuser covered Job with boils, from his scalp to the soles of his feet. Job took a piece of broken pottery to scratch himself with, and sat down in the dust."
Every kid who grows up in a fundamentalist church walks away with one harrowing image stuck in his head forever, and that was mine.
Some things, though, had changed—apparently, the word "tail" here is a euphemism for genitalia:
His penis stiffens like a pine His testicles bulge with vigor
In addition to this, the Behemoth and the Leviathan are now the Beast and the Serpent. These everyday names don't really convey the terror that they should. Some of the lines that sound so beautiful in the KJV don't hold up in modern verse; for example, the transition from, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away" to "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken"; or "Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?"—the religious fundamentalist's taunt of choice in Peter Benchley's Jaws—to "Will you catch the Serpent with a fishhook?"; or the warhorse's change in sentiment from "Ha!" to "Ah!" in battle—In short, the literal reading takes away a little poetry.
Mitchell's translation, though, gets Job very right on several accounts, though.
The first is that reading this biblical work in the form of poetry is like seeing it for the first time. There are few if any such renditions of books in the biblical canon, even today, whereas poetic versions of the Koran and Bhagavad Gita abound. If the Bible is outmoded as a source of literal truth, it's certainly not outmoded as a source of wisdom, and its violent, quirky, and entertaining stories are meant to be taken metaphorically, as stories on the nature of faith, or, in Job's case, suffering. I see from browsing Amazon that he has also translated Genesis and the Gospels, and I'll look those up. But what I'd like to see is the whole Bible—or, at least, the Tanakh—rendered Iliad-&-Odyssey style for use as literature in classrooms. It's time.
Secondly it addresses the problem of evil well in its introduction. While "The Unnamed" of Mitchell's Job is as ridiculous as his OT counterpart, placing Job's well-being into the hands of the Accusing Angel on a sort of bet, the introduction shows that all that we see as evil is not necessarily so. We points out that we, like Isaiah, have a tendency to look at nature "red of tooth and claw" and condemn it as violent or evil (hence Isaiah's prophecy of the lion and the lamb). Of course, suffering and pain to one being is joy to another, and the cycle of life may require suffering. Listing carrion feeders and the like as evidence, Mitchell postulates:
When I was a very young Zen student, caught up in the problem of evil, I once asked my teacher, "Why does shit smell so bad?" He said, "If you were a fly, it would taste like candy."
I have always found that the problem of evil stands on weak ground, so this hits home with me. In Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, we learn that suffering may simply be a part of the human condition, and indeed, Job's friends are chastised for insinuating that it is not. If a God that may or may not exist allowed suffering, it might be to strengthen our characters as beings. If there was no bad, we would no nothing of good.
Ultimately my favorite quote comes from the very end of Job:
I have heard of you with my ears; but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I will be quiet comforted that I am dust.
From dust, to dust; from atoms, to atoms. It is my belief that Mitchell is correct in saying that Job has seen the justice inherent in the universe:
A man who hungers and thirsts after justice is not satisfied with a menu. It is not enough for him to hope or believe or know that there is absolute justice in the universe: he must taste and see it. It is not enough that there may be justice someday in the golden haze of the future: it must be now; must always have been now.
Read The Book of Job. Its imagery will burn into your retinas even more in Mitchell's version, despite its few flaws, than it did into mine in Sunday school as a child....more
Forget Montaigne and Bacon, in all seriousness: Stephen Jay Gould is the greatest essayist that ever lived. This collection is different from the numeForget Montaigne and Bacon, in all seriousness: Stephen Jay Gould is the greatest essayist that ever lived. This collection is different from the numerous others available in two respects: first, it's only available on audio cassette, and a long out-of-print one, at that; second, it consists (so far as I can tell) of essays written for this collection, rather than reprints from his column in Natural History magazine, which allows Gould to weave the themed essays in and out of each other magnificently. The theme is in the title: evolution and extinction, that is, development and change and mortality. He muses on how diatoms survived the Cretaceous extinction and the Brothers Grimm's contributions to lexicology, on the development of human consciousness and on Alfred Russell Wallace's slavering, short-sighted commitment to natural selection as the only mechanism of evolution, quotes from the Bible several times, and somehow manages to turn it all into a nice, coherent whole. This is brain food....more
I gave Stuff of Thought 4 out of 5, even though it was totally amazing, for two reasons: a) that it was a little heavy on the linguistic lingo for a pI gave Stuff of Thought 4 out of 5, even though it was totally amazing, for two reasons: a) that it was a little heavy on the linguistic lingo for a popular science text if you're not acquainted with the field, and b) it seems unimportant alongside Pinker's masterpiece, The Blank Slate, which those who haven't read Pinker should go for first...more