27 April, 2012

I'm edycated, i am.

Not letting myself down this time; it's Friday and i'm posting!

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austin
At some point in the past two centuries (since it was written), and i’m not sure just when it happened, it became a necessary mark of education to have read (and enjoyed!) Pride and Prejudice. In fact, it may well be a much more recent phenomenon, as i’m not sure that the first time read the book i was aware of fulfilling an expected and necessary part of my cultural education. This time through i was not such an innocent (if i was last time), as i was constantly aware of the pressure this book or, more precisely, society through this book, puts on the reader. Fortunately i was able to live up that pressure and can report that i liked Pride and Prejudice this time through, as well.

It is a lovely book, with a delicate touch that delights (Mr. Bennett, for example) but does not go overboard in pushing home the point (the humour he engenders, to continue the same example, is subtle, clever, not forced on the reader ~ it is possible, i think, to imagine a reader who might miss the fun Austin makes of the relationship between him and his wife, though i think that reader would be fairly obtuse ~ and that subtlety adds to the pleasure the book brings). I don't think i have previously owned a copy of Pride and Prejudice, though i expect one or both of the girls have, and i got this one for no cost for the Kindle since it is in the public domain; it reinforced for me that i do enjoy the process of reading an e-book on the correct device (though, still, not on a computer), for its ease and convenience Naturally, i still love the feelings, all the sensory experience of the actual thing, but i expect monks were still saying that about vellum and quills for some time after Gutenberg; i anticipate doing a certain amount of reading, especially that in bed, on the Kindle in the future.

25 April, 2012

Today's Title

Yeeps!  I try to post here, a review or a snippet of "thoughtful" writing, twice a week ~ lately i've been aiming specifically for Tuesdays and Fridays, because if i have a target i can hold myself to it a bit better ~ but i am embarrassed to realise that it is currently over a week since i posted.  Hmm, what reason can i offer as a...?  Work? no; busy social life? ha ha ha; too much time spent reading? nope.  Ooh, i know, i know!  Laziness!  The ideal solution:  Completely believable to anyone who knows me, a part of the common experience and so excusable, and has the added benefit of being the truth!  So, on with the review...

Andrey Kurkov
Rather a strange book (which is fitting, considering the rather strange circumstances in which i acquired it ~ a birthday gift from Lynne, fully six months after she had made it clear she wanted nothing more to do with us); i think this is part of what is called the post-modernist style, though i am uncertain exactly what that means (i can throw around terms that make me sound educated with the best of them). In this case, i am understanding it to mean a book with plot, thought he plot is reduced in importance, and characters perhaps truer to life than are sometimes found; to tell the truth, the events are rather strange, but seem to develop from the odd situation we are presented with at the beginning of the book: An unsuccessful writer lives with a penguin in Kiev (i think), trying to cope with the random oddities of life in the post-Soviet era. Odd, very odd, as a whole (and in the individual parts, too); but, taken as a whole, i generally enjoyed it. I’m not certain i’d read another ~ at least, i wouldn’t go out and seek another by Kurkov ~ but if it fell into my lap as this one did, i’d probably give it the time necessary; a qualified, then, success, by my criterion.

18 April, 2012

Blasts from the (future) Past

Isaac Asimov
An unusual read for me because, though i have clearly read it before, i cannot pinpoint when, even within plus or minus five years; was it while i was at UHill? or Loretto maybe? in the UK? Canada? Italy, even? Quite an odd experience, to be so out of touch with when and where previously came across a book; i suppose that it is related to the degree to which i have internalised it, made it a part of my past, as i have with so much of Asimov’s work, both fiction and non-fiction. Very enjoyable, then, to find it at Craft a couple of days ago and reread it straight away When i don’t read him for some time, i tend to forget just how much i enjoy about Asimov’s writing style, and i’m triggered to think about getting and reading more. I may wait, however, until a more propitious time, when i can find (maybe) a set of all the Robot books, or all the Empire, or Foundation, or, ideally, all three in one standard edition, which would greatly appeal to my tidy (compulsive) mind.

James Blish
Oddly, James Blish’s Star Trek books just about fall into the same category as Asimov’s Caves of Steel, in that i cannot remember just when i read them; i’m pretty sure, however, in this case that it was in Vancouver, perhaps at UHill, or borrowed from the West Point Grey or Dunbar branches of the Vancouver Public Library. I can remember searching for more of them, being excited when i found one, devouring them, though i cannot exactly put a place to any of these memories. Blish was certainly my first introduction to Star Trek; indeed, to this day i’ve probably only seen a half dozen at most of the episodes, and they have been less exciting for me than Blish’s adaptations. These were one of my earlier introductions to science fiction, and they did the job very thoroughly. Rereading this book was just as much of a pleasure as i knew it was going to be when i saw it in Craft the other day and picked it up with no delay. A good choice, that was.

14 April, 2012

Radiance Shines

Margaret Drabble
I have taken several weeks to get through this book, which rather annoyed me as i didn’t want to, i just found it hard at times to pick it up, other books intruded, or life itself, or further activities (work! how often that cuts into my reading time!) and i ended up ignoring the reading i wanted to be doing. It was an interesting read, in that it seemed to break some of the “rules” and yet i enjoyed it and didn’t find that distracting or annoying (though i did notice, so perhaps in a way i was distracted). What i mean is that a lot of the story is rather “prosey”, telling about the lives of the three women at its centre, rather than telling the story. Perhaps it was necessary for Drabble to write it this way in order to cover the thirty-odd years of she wanted to, without having to go into too much detail or extend it too much.

Curiously, i have just this minute, as i prepare this review (written about four months ago ~ i'm not posting immediately as i write), discovered that this is the first book in a trilogy.  Guess i'll have to think about getting/reading the other two books.  Interesting.

11 April, 2012

Classically Thin

The Thin Man
Dashiell Hammett
A classic that i have read of frequently, but never actually read; in fact, i don’t remember ever having seen a copy before, though perhaps i have. At any rate, when i saw it i knew i was going to read it, and probably enjoy it. Fortunately, i did. All i really knew about the book was that there is a twist, that it somehow involved the title character, but very little more than that. I was delighted, as i read, to try and work out what was going to happen; eventually i was able to predict the main kink, the surprise in the plot, but i didn’t follow that thought on and work out who it pointed the finger at as a murderer. I don’t think i’d make a very good detective ~ maybe that’s why i enjoy reading about them, to wonder and marvel at their abilities. I rather want to read more Hammett, now, and see if i enjoy them, also. I have a feeling i read The Maltese Falcon years ago, but nothing more than that feeling, no memory of enjoyment or otherwise. I expect i shall, if i come across them in the library or on a market stall.

06 April, 2012

My Favourite Subject

Terry Crowdy
History as light story. The chapters are short; the subjects sometimes salacious, sometimes scandalous, always appealing to the lower human nature; the whole an excellent example of how to make history interesting to a culture which has largely lost interest in it. We love stories; as children we thrive, survive almost, on them; and they are, in mine opinion, clearly the best way to bring history to the mass of non-historians. And this book does that cleverly, as we all also love to read about problems and scandals (so long as they involve other people!). In addition, as a bonus, Crowdy writes quite well, readably, though he makes the occasional mistake (or his copy-editor does), which makes this book a real success.

Tudor Parfitt
History as heavy detail. Completely fascinating, to be sure, but not something i would give so a beginner or someone uninterested in the subject ~ particularly with regard to my remarks on the book i read immediately previously/contemporaneously, Military Misdemeanours, which was very much aimed at that audience. Parfitt explores how throughout the world there are to be found people, peoples even, who are convinced that they are descendants of the tribes of Israel taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the Eighth Century BC or, if not they, that they have found a group of these descendants. Parfitt almost has written a travelogue as well as an history book, as he examines the appearance of the myth of the Lost Tribes all over the world, from Europe ~ especially British Israelism ~ to Africa, via China, Southeast Asia, Australasia and elsewhere. In each place he examines in detail who first brought up the idea of the Lost Tribes, who stood to benefit from it, and, in some cases, who actually did or did not benefit. A completely fascinating book, as i mentioned, about an oddity which has gripped the imagination of man for centuries and really shows no sign of letting go.

02 April, 2012

Another poetry review

Joanne Merriam, ed.

A second free e-book of poetry for my Kindle. Woo-hoo! There are substantial differences between the previous and this, however, as well as superficial similarities: The origin of the collection, the authorship of the poems, the restrictions places upon the poets, the size of the collection, all these are different; my reaction to the medium, my beliefs of and goals for poetry, these are similar.

To briefly recap, an e-book, in mine opinion, is not ideal for reading poetry, because its structure pretty much precludes the act of flipping through the pages which in collections of shorter lyrics (see below: This collection definitely qualifies!) is essential for exploration and enjoyment. The purpose of poetry, of all art, in mine opinion, is beauty, with at least an importance equal to, if not greater than, any other purpose that art may have. For poetry, most recently, for me this has been defined and elucidated by John Newton in Are God and the gods still there? though i have always felt, if not fully been able to express, this belief (look here for my review of Newton). This is not to say that there cannot be other purposes; there can. Nor does it even preclude poetry being “good” if it is not beautiful; but the response which beauty evokes is a guide to the quality of poetry. Much depends, then, on the definition of beauty, obviously. In a fine piece of circular reasoning, for the time being i am merely defining it as that which provokes this particular “good art” response, as it would not necessarily be productive in a short review to enter deeply into that ~ potentially very deep ~ discussion.

So then, on to the collection i have read, and my reaction to it: Did it contain true, good poetry, by my simplistic definition above? Sure did! Not all of it, to be sure, but which collection (of anything, i mean, not just talking about poetry here) can claim to be composed solely of top-notch articles? There are enough poems here, though, for me to be satisfied with the collection as a whole. There is a touch of irony in the fact that one i enjoyed is by Kamins, the poet whose e-book i previously reviewed, which led directly to my receiving this collection from the editor; i'm glad to point it out, and acknowledge that, despite the impression i may have given previously, i can and do appreciate some of Kamins' writing (actually, i wasn't completely dismissive earlier).

The very point of this collection makes it essential that the poet distil their ability into the most concentrated combination of image and beauty available to them: The title gives the clue ~ although i don't use the medium, even i know that Twitter permits its users one hundred and forty characters to proclaim their thoughts to the world. Merriam has set her poets a similar task, inviting them to write a poem which could (and maybe has, i don't claim to fully understand the concept of “on-line magazine”) be published on Twitter. The size of space available, then, requires poets who can condense themselves greatly. There are a large number of haiku, of course, here, and perhaps other short forms i am unfamiliar with (i have to confess, haiku are not my favourite form ~ perhaps because i have never been able to write one ~ though i can admire the discipline, the outcome all to frequently does not seem worth the effort), which is not surprising, as these short, descriptive poems derived from the Japanese have been popular in the West for at least the past thirty years or so (i remember coming across them in the Seventies, and one has to assume that at that time i was not especially tuned into the poetry scene); with the restrictions given by Twitter, one would expect them to surge even more.

As i mention above, the successful poet in such a form is the poet who can produce concentrated works, tight images, making the words work hard for their inclusion. One suspects that, for example, Homer, Wordsworth, or Eliot would probably not have thrived in such a form; on the other hand, it would be interesting to see what Catullus, Pope, or Hopkins might have done had they had the opportunity and tried. Each of the latter three had that way with words, controlling them, forcing them to express multiple meanings and images frequently (Hopkins' “Buckle!” in “The Windhover” comes to mind especially) which would have been useful to them in these Twitter-poems.

The poems themselves, then? As they are so short, of course, much of a quote of any would be almost the majority of a poem, which is not my purpose. A few quick lines, then, which call out to me as carrying beauty and evoking the religious response (see Newton; not specifically of religion, but of that type) necessary to poetry: “summer night dancing/tango with my shadow”, “somewhere,/a hawk, belly full”, “children shed bright jackets”, and “His smile...maims my Judas heart”.

The last example, while the words work, illustrates what is for me a weakness of this collection (and, to be fair, many of modern works), in that it is really just prose; no matter how lovely the words, there is a difference between prose and poetry other than the simple structural one which so many writers seem to try and overcome merely by breaking prose into random line-lengths. While i cannot define that difference, i can frequently recognise it: It is, i suspect, related to the “madeness” of a poem, returning to the verb ποιεω. Much of the recognition comes in the type of response the artefact evokes; while both prose and poetry can force an appreciation of the writer's cleverness, a poem does more; unfortunately, a number of entries in this collection do not take that second step ~ which does not detract from them. As a collection of work from a modern medium, then, i find that this is an excellent work, with much to be appreciated, from the conception through the execution of many of the works; as a collection of poetry, i fear, it is a little less successful ~ superb at points, prosaic or mundane at others.