Posts Tagged ‘ books ’

First Graf: The DQ of UK

2010.07.14
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THIS TITLE DOESN’T REFER TO either German nobility, soft ice cream or the British Isles, but the first paragraph (“graf” in news-speak) of one of my favorite novellae, H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Though mostly famous for his don’t-read-at-3-a.m. Cthulhu Mythos tales, the Old Gentleman’s most lyric imagery is to be found in his stories of The Dreamlands: a sort of “collective unconscious” vaguely surrounding Earth and accessible to it at certain points. Lovecraft is often accused of unreadably purple prose; I like to think he writes more for effect than for accuracy (like a Brian Eno composition, Lovecraft’s words are best enjoyed by letting them wash over you like a salty, warm, faintly ichorous sea). Thus, and in the hopes of spreading the Old Gentleman’s visions as far and wide as possible:

THREE TIMES Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods, a fanfare of supernal trumpets and the clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountains; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.

(Eh? EH? THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about.)

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Harvey Pekar Z”TL

2010.07.12
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Fig. 1.

A MOMENT OF SILENCE WOULD be inappropriate to mark the death this morning of autobiographer, comix legend and music critic Harvey Pekar, since (depending on your view) the former Cleveland Heights resident is right now either a) arguing with “God,” b) planting one on Billie Holiday, or c) sitting around saying, “NOW what?”

Pekar’s gift for depicting the epic struggles of everyday life was mostly channeled into his comic, “American Splendor” (later a 2004 movie auteured by Paul Giamatti), itself inspired by a friendship with the young R.Crumb. His unsentimental and award-winning prose had the brutal honesty and tender insight of a Joyce or a Steinbeck, had those gentlemen worked at Cleveland’s V.A. hospital or tangled with David Letterman. Unlike many compulsive autobiographers, Harvey himself didn’t flinch from writing about his own less-than admirable side. That’s what it means to be Pekaresquely human: to accept our flaws and brokenness as the price for a wonderful sunset, cold beer, arguing with friends and everything else worthwhile on this side of the grave.

“Zecher tzaddik livracha — the memory of the righteous is a blessing.” We’re gonna miss you, Harvey. Thanks for showing us that it’s the little things that count — and that they’re not so little after all.

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5 Thoughts: Fiction- v. News-Writing

2010.07.05
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1. YOU STOP WRITING A NEWS piece when you run out of facts. But when do you stop writing fiction? When you run out of story, I suppose.

2. In news, the most important information goes up top. In fiction, it’s in the reader’s head — at least with genre pieces. There has to be some connection between the reader’s mind and the writer’s expression in terms of shared assumptions or expectations. A science fiction author knows his readers are unfazed by three-headed alien bankers, so doesn’t need to waste valuable real estate on justifying same beyond adhering to strict internal consistency. Someone writing for a general audience needs to adjust their bankers, but touch not the consistency!

3. Both news and fiction require a suspension of disbelief on the part of the writer. The newswriter must disbelieve her own narrowness of perspective; the fictioneer, the narrowness of his publisher’s pocketbook. And both must believe that they offer an important, if not indispensable, message.

4. The task/mechanics of newswriting can be visualized as assembling a Tinkertoy set: all the pieces are there, and it’s the writer’s task to assemble them in as compact and easily recognizable a form as possible. Fictioneering feels more like holding one end of a handful of ropes which fade into the misty distance; the idea being to draw in the slack and tighten the lines until the sails fill of themselves.

5. Dialog. In fiction, it advances the plot or builds character or atmosphere. In news … well, it can also advance plots and build (or tear down) character and atmosphere. Perhaps news and fiction are less dissimilar than they appear (no FOX or MSM jokes, please); the difference may be whether we corroborate with our senses or our emotions.

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5thoughts: James Joyce

2010.06.16
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James Joyce

Fig. 1: James Joyce

IN HONOR OF BLOOMSDAY 2010, five thoughts on the man who made it possible:

1. James Joyce is yet another proof that one man’s mind can be bigger than his skull. (If not, generational banks of Joyce scholars would have quit writing about him long ago.)

2.) Until Finnegan’s Wake, no Irishman had ever beat the Jews for mind-stretching eloquence. (Since the Talmud, the best we’ve done is Groucho Marx and Yehuda Amichai.)

3.) Come to think of it, FW and the Talmud do make two nice bookends for the Western literary tradition: what the Talmud does to Aristotle, Joyce does to Webster. (Said comeuppances piercingly beautiful to see.)

4.) If a man can spend a quarter of his life writing his Perfect Book, there’s hope for the rest of us.

5.) But only if we can manage not to be humbled by such wit-wraps as “Nations have their ego, just like individuals,” “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake,” or “Men are governed by lines of intellect – women: by curves of emotion.” Or: “Agenbite of inwit.” Or even:

O

tell me all about

Anna Livia! I want to hear all

about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now.

(O, now, what’s the use? Another Guinness pour my muse, poor favor, purring kittenkilkenny of katzenjammers … [tape ends])

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Pithyism #1440

2010.06.07
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RESEARCH THROUGH BOOKS WALKS A vast flagstone patio; online research is a path laid stone by stone.

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Pithyism #2.35

2010.05.22
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THE FIRST TIME, YOU SEE/READ/HEAR IT for the story; the second time for nuance; third (and thereafter) is sheer love of craft.

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See, This Is Why I Love Jack Vance

2009.11.18
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IT’S NOT THAT HE RENDERS whole worlds so vividly and so succinctly, peopling vast and history-thick galaxies with one or two spare sentences.

It’s not the cinematic sweep of his prose, which respects his readers’ visual imagination by meeting it halfway; the mad genius of his invention, which conjures up aliens both A*L*I*E*N and logical in the extreme — as well as their customs, currency and literature; nor his subtle command of language and love thereof, of its effect on the listener’s ear as well as his intellect, of conversations as oblique as they are elegant.

Actually, it is all of the above, and more, but what I love most about Jack Vance is his laconic sense of perspective. E.g., from page 65 of the Ace Double edition of The Houses of Iszm, where one character consoles another against the world’s unfairness:

The Szecr sub-commandant twirled his viewer. “The Universe is eight billion years old, the last two billion of which have produced intelligent life. During this time not one hour of absolute equity has prevailed. It should be no surprise to find this basic condition applying to your personal affairs.”

(P. S.: Dying Earth is great, too.)

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R. Crumb, Darshan

2009.11.05
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MOST REVIEWS OF R. CRUMB’S “The Book of Genesis Illustrated” seem astonished that the man who kept us truckin’ through the ’60s could possibly give the Goode Booke such a serious rendering.

But what astonishes me is that Crumb has added yet another level to the endless depth of serious Torah study.

First, about the art: Crumb is one of those Heavy Guys (like Will Eisner and Moebius) whose art defines comics through mastery of the medium and extending its possibilities. His compositions pull the reader into each panel, where subtle figures express humanity unadorned — crankiness and weird smells along with idealism and tenderness. Given this, it’s unsurprising that Crumb chose not to summarize Genesis, but rather to illustrate it.

All of this perfectly suits Crumb for the task of bringing Torah (or at least the first 20 percent of it) to the paneled page. Those unfamiliar with the actual text may be surprised that the key players look so, well, human, and ethnically human at that. Most Bible illustrations tend to imbue them with a phenothiazine-tinged radiance that’s lacking from the original text (as well as uninspiring — after all, if the matriarchs and patriarchs exemplify the religious life, and religious life includes transcendence, then what exactly are these Perfect Beings supposed to transcend?). But Crumb’s figures are heroic despite, or perhaps because of, their flaws. His Abraham looks like the guy next door (if next door is Boro Park), with near-palpable compassion in pleading with God to spare Sodom — as well as incredulity that “the Judge of all the earth [might] not do justly.”

(Of course, I do have one quibble (if I didn’t, as Ann would tell you, it means I wasn’t really into it): as a strict antianthropomorphist, the idea of God-as-angry-grandpa isn’t one I’m eager to embrace. But if Crumb had gone the (Jewishly) theologically correct route and portrayed some approximation of incorporeality, we’d be deprived of the visual thread of who’s made in God’s image (and, in some cases, Eve’s).)

As for the adaptation itself: For thousands of years, Jews have been turning the text over and over, arguing, playing, expanding, wrestling, all to understand and apply it in new and evolving ways. We call this process “midrash,” from the Hebrew root D.R.Sh (dalet, resh, shin) whose meanings include “explain, interpret, seek, inquire.” One who makes midrash is called a “darshan,” and while there are many schools of darshaning (e.g., mystical, homiletical, historical, political, even musical) Crumb seems to have added illustration to the darshan’s tool set; after God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, but before they actually leave, Genesis 3:20 says, “And the man called his wife’s name Eve (Heb. “chava”), because she was mother of all the living (“chai”).” In the text, this verse’s placement seems almost random, but Crumb’s “translation” shows a weeping Eve being held by a gently smiling Adam — as though Adam’s trying to console Eve by telling her that, despite their troubles and the loss of everything they know, it’ll all be okay. What husband wouldn’t do the same in his place?

Torah is more than “just” a history book, legal document, ethical code or ethnic narrative. Likewise, “The Book of Genesis Illustrated” is more than “just” an illustrated text or graphic novel. No modernly-hip Torah nerd should be without it.

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Happy Bloomsday!

2009.06.16
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105 YEARS AGO TODAY, LEO Bloom took his famous fictive walk through Dublin seeing the same places and eating the same foods as his latterday followers did, will do or have done today. (Me, I’ll be sitting on the floor with Ulysses and crying in my (virtual) Guinness over my small literary pretenses. Joyce uses the same words as the rest of us (okay, he also invented some, but still) — how does he manage to arrange them so? It’s just not fair, but so is Molly, yes she is yes.)

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Live Long and Kosh — er, Prosper

2009.06.04
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IT’S NOT ALWAYS NEWS WHEN a rabbi writes a book — but when he writes about Vulcans, Ferengi and Klingons, it’s bound to raise at least one fascinated eyebrow (I’m looking at you, Spock).

Rabbi Yonassan Gershom‘s Jewish Themes In Star Trek is exactly what the title says it is. As part of its recent release Rabbi G. has assembled a JTiST portal with more than two dozen links to Trek-related Judaica, from the origin of the Vulcan hand salute to whether or not Ferengi are anti-Semitic stereotypes (he doesn’t think so, and neither do I). He also tackles some of the issues raised by J. J. Abrams’ latest Star Trek film, both Jewish and fannish, and seems to intuit the unspeakable truth of Nerd Religion. Diftor heh smusmah, and mazel tov!

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Paul Williams Support Fund

2009.06.02
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IF YOU PASSED THROUGH THE 1970s and ’80s, you likely read his Das Energi, his rock criticism, or his Philip K. Dick scholarship. Now he, like so many, needs our help.

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Read This Book

2009.05.31
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THERE IS A Conversation THAT I’ve been having with a friend since we were both in high school, and the initial-cap in that word is due not to the colloquy’s duration but to its content.

Its thesis is simple: that Something Connects All This. Being a spiritual sort of guy, I feel more comfortable describing It in terms not far removed from the religious. Not so my erstwhile colleague and former brother-in-law Ransom Stephens. Ransom’s a physicist by inclination and training — passionately curious about why and how the universe works the way it does — and though we long ago realized that our different takes on the Ultimate Essence stemmed from a subject-not-Object orientation, we’ve never let that get in the way of a good 3 a.m. walk-and-talk.

Not surprisingly, his first novel — The God Patent — deals with those exact issues. As Ransom describes it: “A laid-off engineer trying to rebuild his life gets caught between science and religion in a battle over the origin of the universe and the existence of the soul.” TGP is one of the featured titles on Scribd.com, and clicking on the above link will not only help support a rising Northern California writer but will make it easier for all of those with a book or two in us. Check it out, and tell ‘em Neal sent you.

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