‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

Archive for the ‘english literature’ Category

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Reading an introduction to The Surrealist Manifesto written by Andre Breton in 1924 I was struck by a phrase that Rainey, the editor to my Modern Literature Anthology attributes to a young Breton growing up, “his omnivorous reading habits.”

I like the idea of certain books being meat oriented (Carnivorous) and some being vegetable based (Herbivorous). It makes me reflect on which category certain authors would find themselves being placed in. Someone like William Shakespeare would be considered a carnivorous read, full of meaty content and sustenance. A writer like Albert Camus though would in my mind be herbivorous by nature. Camus is indeed filling but gently and lightly, not as weighed down by all of the meat, scraps, and offal that Shakespeare brings with his epic folio.

Maybe this is crazy, something to consider though.

Written by thebeliever07

August 30, 2009 at 2:06 pm


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Ted Kennedy died last night and while I recognize the passing of a significant political figure and legislator I find myself fairly apathetic towards his death.

I think I feel this way towards most politicians. A couple of months back when President Barack Obama was inaugurated I watched coverage of people who were swept up by all of the emotion and energy of this figure. And as I said above about Ted Kennedy, I recognize the significance of someone like President Obama, but I have never been moved to tears or to such a degree that I feel the need to attend a speech or a rally.

I think that I am much too jaded for the world of politics and I distrust the politicians that represent me. Do not misjudge me, I vote and pay attention to the news and listen to the topics and issues that affect me. But I find myself unable to be moved emotionally in any way by most politicians.

Writers and authors are figures in our culture that inspire me. The deaths of David Foster Wallace, Susan Sontag, Arthur C. Clarke; these are the types of figures I tend to feel great emotion for, frequently because their passing is often overlooked or quickly forgotten and so too their contributions to literature, media, and culture.

But this should not be surprising as my blog focuses primarily on authors and writers that I’ve read and that I find inspiring. I have devoted my life towards English Literature and so I focus more on these figures.

Still, there is something very uninspiring to me about so many of the politicians I see before me. I will note their significant contributions towards society and history, but I have not been moved by such figures, at least not yet.

It is easy to fixate on Michael Jackson’s passing or Ted Kennedy when there is 24/7 news cycle of these figures, but a writer like Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn gets a few days and then the world moves on.

I figure Ted Kennedy should last towards the week’s end. Hmm, how sad that the media coverage a person receives reflects our current societies value of that person in our culture.

Written by thebeliever07

August 26, 2009 at 9:02 am

Death of a Cozy Author by G.M. Malliet

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Death of a Cozy Author by G.M. Malliet is is described as, “an affectionate send up of the traditional or “cozy” mystery genre. The author calls it an homage to the golden age of the classic British mystery”, or so the back of the book tells me. gmmalliet1

The book centers around an aging author, Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk who enjoys torturing his children by dangling his estate & fortune in a revolving door will that seems to change with his every whim. All of the children seem on the brink of benefiting from his death and yet Sir Adrian has upped the stakes of this game by announcing his engagement to Violet, a widow with a muddled and suspicious past.

I would love to tell more but it would ruin the story. Chief Inspector St. Just ( How I do love the pun that is his name) is called to the estate to sort out what is going on and to solve the various murder(s)? that occur.

I picked this out randomly in the mystery section a week and a half ago, intrigued primarily by the title and the book cover. I am pleased that I gave this book and this author a chance. The start of the book is a bit slow and action does not take place until half way through, (not to worry though, book clocks in at a modest 286 pages) and quickly picks up speed once Chief Inspector St. Just appears. That is the best part of the story, she makes you wait and wait and wait for the actual “solving” of the story to begin. By the time Inspector St. Just appears, a number of possible suspects have been presented to the reader and all of them more than capable of the crime(s) that have been committed. I will say this, she writes the most deplorable family relationship I’ve ever read, very entertaining.

It seems that Ms. G.M. Malliet has another book in this series that was just recently released Death and the Lit Chick. If you enjoy mysteries then this book is for you, and if you’ve been a long time fan of classic mystery genre, even more so as Malliet is clearly having fun taking apart the cliches and tropes that abound in stories of this type. Oh and if you’re one of those readers who insist on peer reviews to help tip the scale in your decision to purchase a book, this work has won several awards and nominations: here at her blog you can read a full list of reviews and commentary.

“Imagined Reading”

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I’ve mentioned on this blog at various times how I frequently wander over to the Washington Post Book Section and how I am a member of Michael Dirda’s “Reading Room”, a forum for all things literary. Each week Michael poses one or two threads about various aspects of reading:

  • What books get you through tough times?
  • What works shaped you as a reader?
  • Snacking while enjoying a good book.
  • Do movie ruin a good book?

And etc. For those as passionate about reading and literature as I am, it is a great resource for those: What would you put on your top 5 or 10 lists.

Recently Michael Dirda posted a thread asking “What are your ‘Get Well’ Books?” The following is from his post and I felt it was worth blogging and asking with my fellow readers: download

Hi, Reading Roomers. (Every time I write “Reading Roomers” I imagine semiologists trying to decipher the subtext of the latest gossip.)  I’m still in Ohio with my Mom and— in the way of these things—have just learned that my middle son has broken his leg playing basketball. It’s not the worst break in the world, but it’s changed the complexion of Mike’s summer. Right now he’s been reading through The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes instead of getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail. When you are sick or your life strands you in a place where you can’t really do much, what books do you imagine reading? Under what conditions would you like to recover as you read them?

So, let me piggy back off of his discussion, what are your ‘imaginary reads’?

I think that if I knew I was going to have a fairly long recovery time in a bed or a hospital (*knocks on wood&), that I would attempt some of the larger literary giants that have up until this point scared me off, largely due to their length: The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevesky, Les Miserable by Hugo, Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon, The Regulations by Gaddis. These are all 500-700+ reads and while I’ve read books of that length before, these authors tend to be fairly well known for being dense. How about you Erin, in what imaginary future do you foresee yourself starting and finishing Oblomov or The Kindly Ones? Some day eh….someday 😉

Pericles, Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare

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What is the deal with Incest and Shakespeare? Is it me or do so many of his plays have this underlying theme where he consistently pushes this line and has fathers and daughters or mothers and sons flirt with incest?

I just started to read Pericles, Prince of Tyre this morning and right away it begins with an Incestuous relationship between a father and his daughter. While Shakespeare is not so blatant in many of his other plays: Hamlet and King Lear, there is definitely something about this social taboo that Shakespeare is determined to play out. (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry Erin.) revivalOfThaisa

The premise of Pericles, Prince of Tyre is that Antiochus, King of Antioch has slept with his beautiful daughter. To keep the suitors at bay he has devised a test, the solving of a riddle. Those who answer correctly may court his daughter and win the marriage, those who answer incorrectly are sentenced to death. The riddle is as follows:

I am no viper, yet I feed On mother’s flesh which did me breed. I sought a husband, in which labour I found that kindness in a father. He’s a father, son, and husband mild; I mother, wife, and yet his child. How they may be and yet in two, As you will live, resolve it you. (I.i)

I am only two acts into the play but I’m just thinking, isn’t he asking for people to find out about his incest. My guess is that this is how he deals with his sin, he’s basically asking society to solve the riddle and relieve him of the “burden” of incest, the social taboo is so strong that even though he’s committed himself to this act, it still needs to be drawn out into the public sphere.

Hamlet also draws out the incest that occurs between Gertrude and Claudius through the faux-play that is put on for everyone.

So heed these lessons of Shakespeare my friends: If you’re going to have sex with someone in your family, try not to advertise it, although maybe the lesson is that if you do commit incest, advertise or not, it’ll all come out eventually. Ah well, live and learn. You know what they say: If you must incest, best keep it in the family. Yuck, yuck, yuck….

Written by thebeliever07

June 14, 2009 at 10:32 am

What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs?

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Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:

1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.) 

2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world. 

Let me explain.

The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history). 

Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states: 

What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?

Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them. LethemChabon1

Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender. 

I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.

Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not. 

Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?

Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry. 

Written by thebeliever07

June 5, 2009 at 10:17 am

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Miss Erin gifted me with a book recently, a collection of short stories by South American writer Francisco Coloane, Tierra Del Fuego. We were browsing at the Crapters the other day and Miss Erin playfully hid a book behind her back and turned to me, “You’re going to hate me for showing you this.” [ Reason being that we both should not purchase books for one because we have so much already to read and the second because we cannot afford it. ] She shows me the back of the book where the following is written:

Long arms, arms like rivers, are necessary to fully embrace Francisco Coloane. Or perhaps it’s necessary to be a squall of wind, gusting over him beard and all. Otherwise, take a seat across the table from him and analyze the question, study him deeply; you will surely end by drinking a bottle of wine with Francisco and happily postponing the matter to some later date. – Pablo Neruda

Now I don’t know about you but I tend to trust authors implicitly. Authors I enjoy who recommend other authors or mention authors that have influenced their own writings become mandatory reading for me. I have discovered so many wonderful authors as a result of writers who mention other writers or works that they find fascinating for one reason or another. I think that one of my favorite discoveries was through Graham Greene who recommended Patricia Highsmith’s collection of short stories as he wrote of her: “Highsmith is a poet of apprehension.” I recently wrote a paper on Patricia Highsmith and my relationship with Erin began with Patricia, so I owe Graham quite a bit.

So feel free to share stories or commentaries on authors you’ve discovered through blurbs. I think that for the most part, authors usually have a good sense of what is good literature and what is great. Here’s hoping Pablo, if your taste in literature is anything close to your style of writing and poetry, I nothing but good times ahead of me. Cheers.

Written by thebeliever07

May 29, 2009 at 6:33 pm

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I’ve been fighting with Anthony Burgess for many days and his book The Pianoplayers is just not going to happen, at least not right now. Instead I’ve opted for Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor which I have a feeling might be my favorite summer read, here’s hoping.

Written by thebeliever07

May 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

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The rights of the author are often overlooked for the sake of the reader. For those unaware George R.R. Martin is the best selling author of A Song of Ice and Fire (Fantasy Series). What Tolkien was to generations past, he is to ours. Ask anyone who reads heavy fantasy of an epic nature and George R.R. Martin’s name will inevitably pop up, along side Steven Erikson, Terry Brooks, & R.A. Salvatore to name a few. A long running argument on various bulletin boards, discussion forums, and coffee houses focuses on what the author owes the reader, specifically George R.R. Martin. Martin has released only 4 of his books in a series that is projected to be at 5 or 6. Martin on average has released each subsequent book in the series at 4 or 5 year intervals. This frustrates many of his fans because Martin keeps an active blog [ Which I urge you to check out. ] Martin actively tours, blogs, writes short stories, etc, and according to certain critics anything short of writing the next book in the series is betrayal, and this is apparently unacceptable. While I often am frustrated by the length of time that each book takes for the next release, I also understand that he’s a fellow human being and has a life on his own. He doesn’t owe the reader anything, it is our privilege to read works that he shares with the world. 

As Erin put it: “What have you written lately?” 


Neil Gaiman recently responded to a question on his blog which tackles this issue. Enjoy and try to keep in mind Mr. Gaiman’s advice: “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” 

Also, Neil Gaiman is one of the most hilarious and fun twitterers(is that right?) to follow, enjoy and follow him @neilhimself. 

Written by thebeliever07

May 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

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“To like something is to want to ingest it, and in that sense is to submit to the world. To like something is to succumb, in a small but content-full way, to death. But dislike hardens the perimeter between the self and the world, and brings a clarity to the object isolated in its light. Any dislike is in some measure a triumph of definition, distinction, and discrimination–a triumph of life.”

5083_meat-painting…thus writes Tarquin Winot, the protagonist and narrator of his life as told through food in John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure. The novel is set up as a series of menus that interweave various autobiographical factoids of Tarquin as he relates his passion for all things food related. As the story progresses the reader gains more and more insight into the life of this self professed epicure. The book starts off rather slow which I found to be a bit frustrating but quickly finds an enjoyable pace. If you enjoy food and literature, this is definitely a book to experience. The pay off at the end is most satisfying. One of the joys of the book is that the various menus that are presented to the reader can be served and enjoyed. Tarquin goes through a step by step process, ingredient by ingredient so that the reader can also create the same meal being presented. A rich history of various foods, particularly french cuisine is weaved into the narrative of his life and obsession with food. If you’re a “foodie”, then this book is for you. I learned quite a bit about wine, cheese, mushrooms, and how these items were used historically and the reasons behind why they retain the significance in our dietary lives. A book I found at Brock laying around on a bench the one day, definitely glad I picked this one up. Cheers.