I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it -- in fact, more than once I stayed up past my bedtime becaus...moreI had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it -- in fact, more than once I stayed up past my bedtime because I couldn’t make myself put the book down!
Harris simply knows the craft. Her characters are well-drawn, she does a great job plotting, and best of all she has taken a vampire book and used it to tackle truly universal themes about love and deception.
In his essay "Tree and Leaf," JRR Tolkien observes (with great regret) that the Victorians trivialized the whole notion of "Fäirie."
Fairies and elves...moreIn his essay "Tree and Leaf," JRR Tolkien observes (with great regret) that the Victorians trivialized the whole notion of "Fäirie."
Fairies and elves were turned into mild, safe little characters, "flower-fairies and fluttering sprites with antennae that I so disliked as a child, and which my children in their turn detested." And as a literary category, fairy stories were relegated to the nursery room: "in recent times, fairie-stories have usually been written or 'adapted' for children."
Tolkien did not view this as a positive development, to put it mildly. "Fairy-stories banished in this way, cut off from a full adult art, would in the end be ruined," he wrote. "Indeed, in so far as they have been so banished, they have been ruined."
Well: had Tolkien cracked open "Seneca Indian Myths," he'd have been as delighted as I am to find story after story gloriously un-ruined.
By way of background, these stories were collected by Curtin on behalf of the Smithsonian in 1883; the volume was originally published in 1922.
The beauty of the stories is that Curtin transcribed them, rather than interpreted or re-told them. He didn't Westernize them; he most certainly didn't try to turn them into nursery tales.
If you're at all a fan of fairy tales, you're probably aware that older versions of our familiar European tales are often bloody and violent -- more Stephen King than Disney. You'll find that same matter-of-fact brutality in this collection. People chop each other up, cannibalize unsuspecting victims, wager and lose their lives in magical games. Reading them, you peer into a time when people lived closer to the idea of death than we're accustomed to, today, with our sanitized health care and the hands-off way we manage the dying.
The stories are also shot through with magic -- with the fantastical. The characters are all "people" but only a handful could be considered human: most are animals, or natural phenomena (Meteor, Whirlwind), or mythical figures and monsters (the Stone Coats, Flying Heads, Ancient Bear, Half of Anything). Yet they talk like people and behave in many ways like people--so to read these stories is to partake, however imperfectly, in the notion that all things in the world are living ... that consciousness is not exclusive to human beings.
How marvelous is that?
And -- maybe best of all -- the stories' structure has more in common with the convoluted, surreal world of dreams than what we people acclimatized to Western literature recognize as fictional narrative. There are lessons in these stories: punishments and rewards. But the stories are apt to take strange twists along the way. The story Okteondon and His Uncle, for example, begins with Okteondon (Root) as a boy. He lies down at the foot of an elm tree and becomes encased by the trees roots, where he lives until he's a grown man, fed and watered by his uncle. Then, just when you think this is what the story is "about," Okteondon breaks free (tipping the tree over) and begins a fresh adventure -- a heroic quest to defeat a Maneater who has captured his brother, sister, and uncle.
I first discovered this collection many years ago, when I was in college. It was at the time out of print. I was so pleased when I learned that Dover republished it in 2001. It is truly a treasure; this is one of my most prized books.
That said, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about the collection online.
Not only that, the bits about Curtin that have found their way onto the interwebs gives us some interesting things to chew on: specifically, via Curtin's Wikipedia entry, the man is accused of butchering his translations of Polish novels. The entry quotes H.B. Segel, writing in 1965, as saying that Curtin mistranslated the Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz due to "carelessness, uncritical reliance on dictionaries, and ignorance of Polish idiom, culture, history and language."
Eek. That's pretty brutal stuff, and one can't help but wonder if Curtin's work with the Seneca stories could be tainted by the same weaknesses. According to the 3-page "Note" prefacing "Seneca Indian Myths," for instance, Curtin learned the Seneca language in four months (!). Is four months really enough for any man -- no matter how intelligent -- to master a foreign language, particularly one with completely different linguistic roots, sufficiently enough to faithfully translate 500 pages' worth of oral folklore?
On the other hand, another collection of Seneca stories, titled "Seneca Fiction, Legends and Myths" and gathered at about the same time, was published under the names of Curtin and J.N.B. Hewitt -- and Hewitt's credentials in this area are a given. He was a Tuscarora (the 6th Iroquois nation), was also employed by the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology, and made many contributions to collecting and preserving information about Iroquois culture and customs.
One could *perhaps* assume that if Curtin were running around botching Seneca translations, Hewitt wouldn't have let his own work be in any way associated with the man.
Interesting questions though, aren't they?
And by the way, if you really want your mind blown, hunt down a copy of Hewitt's two-volume Iroquois Cosmology. I promise you: it's no nursery rhyme...
I recommend "Seneca Indian Myths" to anyone interested in Folklore, Native American Culture, the history of New York State -- or "real" fairy stories ;) (less)
A Suitable Boy reminded me, in many ways, of Anna Karenina. Again you have as a central figure a woman under pressure to conform to restraining social...moreA Suitable Boy reminded me, in many ways, of Anna Karenina. Again you have as a central figure a woman under pressure to conform to restraining social convention (in this case, the custom of arranged marriage). Again, you have a writer who uses his heroine’s predicament as a lens through which to examine the choices of other individuals connected to her through a network of family and their associated social circles. “A Suitable Boy” is also as rich with details about 1950s India as Anna Karenina is with details about 19th century Russia, its path winding freely into contemporary politics and religious ceremonies, through both urban and rural settings.
But where Anna Karenina’s story ends tragically, Lata Mehra’s does not.
This is a very long book (1400 pages) but the subject matter warrants it. Highly recommended. (less)
I had never read the entire work before, only the first act (the Gertrude part, back in college IIRC).
Th...moreSo pleased I purchased this edition of Faust.
I had never read the entire work before, only the first act (the Gertrude part, back in college IIRC).
Then I tried to re-read it several months ago, but struggled. This is not an easy book under any circumstances, and the translation I tried previously seemed stilted and difficult to follow. Got a little way into Walpurgis Night and my eyes started to cross ...
Then I found this edition, and what a pleasure. The translation (Walter Arndt) is much more accessible. I also really appreciated the interpretive notes by Cyrus Hamlin -- they're extensive, around 150 pages, and helpful in so many ways -- everything from providing context to insight on the text's symbolism. I honestly felt like I was in a college lit class, being "taught" the book by someone who knows it inside and out. But no having to worry about writing a paper at the end :D
I also enjoyed the critical essays that make up the final 3rd of the book, except for the ones at the very end by the contemporary scholars. Good grief, can we get any more abstract, fellas?
I'm actually noodling the idea of writing my own version of Faust; that was part of my motivation for picking this up in the first place. But those plans are backburnered for now -- the scale of Goethe's version is so epic I'm pretty much overawed.
Maybe once I've digested it for a while ...
Highly recommend to anyone who loves the classics and/or wants a nice mental stretch.
I learned about this book a year or two ago when I was writing a case study on the Guernsey school system; they described it as their island's masterp...moreI learned about this book a year or two ago when I was writing a case study on the Guernsey school system; they described it as their island's masterpiece novel.
They weren't exaggerating. I found this book to be a beautifully realized piece of literary fiction. Highly recommended. (less)
This book has been around "forever," and by "forever" I mean I read my dad's copy when I was a kid. It appears to be out of print today, but it was wi...moreThis book has been around "forever," and by "forever" I mean I read my dad's copy when I was a kid. It appears to be out of print today, but it was widely published, so it's fairly easy to pick up second hand copies.
I loved it when I read it as a kid. I still love it today.
The stories range from the humorous (there are three laugh-out-loud pieces by James Thurber) to wistful rememberances (e.g. "Some Sunnybank Dogs," by Albert Payson Terhune).
The writing itself is first-rate: this book, in fact, was my first introduction to a number of major literary figures: DH Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Anatole France.
It would be hard to list my top five favorites, but I can easily name my #1: "The Dark Gentleman" by Gladys Bronwyn Stern. It's more a novella (74 pages in my edition of the collection), it is beautifully written, and without giving away too much, it's a love story (sort of) told from the POV of five dogs who live on an English estate with their Legs -- i.e. their humans.
I read it over and over as a kid, and it still gives me pleasure to read it today.
I highly recommend this book to dog lovers of all ages, as well as anyone who appreciates terrific writing. (less)