Friday, July 31, 2015

after dark

After Dark is a novel by Haruki Murakami, whose work was suggested by my daughter. After reading this, I went to the library and took out a few more from Murakami to take on vacation. Turns out that I picked one off the shelf by another writer with a similar name, AND one from Haruki Murakami from the quick pick table, but quick pick is limited to two weeks with new renewal so I didn't get to that one. Maybe next time.

After Dark is a short, taunt novel which follows two characters who meet after recognizing one another as having mutual acquaintances, and end up spending parts of one long night together in the city.

With side trips to surrealism-town.

After dark reads like any hip, urban, character driven novel, but it seems a little sharper to me. I think that may be the altered perspective, but Murakami doesn't waste word either. And then--inexplicably--there are these chapters that slide away from the main plot to sub-plots, which are tied to the story, they just sort of... slide off the edge.

An' I'm all, wha?

But Murakami brings it all back, and the ending is satisfying, but leaves me knowing that the author has told me more than just a story. Given me more than just some interesting character studies of urban Japanese youth. More than just a glimpse at Japanese counter-culture.

What exactly, I'm not that sure. I'm not much of a deep reader I guess. I do know when I've been entertained, however. And I'm sure there are places you can read a review that will spell all that out for you; here its more about notes to myself about what I've read in the past, mainly so I don't buy the same book at a used book sale too often.

After Dark was translated by Jay Rubin.

Read this book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

serpent of venice

Christopher Moore is a hoot. Funny, irreverent, smart, and dedicated to producing a great, wild story. I get the feeling that underneath his comic interior, he worries about the details of his books. The plotting, the characters, the continuity, all of it. He may even be a little neurotic at heart. He's the Woody Allen of Shakespearean, historic comedy novels. yeah, I said it

The Serpent of Venice: A Novel, by Christopher Moore returns us to the adventures of Pocket, the harlequin clad protagonist from Fool. I get the feeling when reading, that Pocket most nearly speaks as Moore wishes that he--or any of us--could; with absolute impunity to power.

The Serpent, as it sounds, is a riff on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, with some other Shakespearean characters and plots thrown in to keep it interesting, along with some Edgar Allan Poe. Why, you might ask, does this story include not only multiple Shakespeare plays, but a dash of Poe, from a completely different era, as well? Why not?

Moore's willingness to look beyond the boundaries of a single inspiration, and combine these multiple sources with a storyline of his own devising is what, I think, sets him apart from other writers in the genre. Tom Robbins is the only other I can think of that I enjoy as much. Robbins doesn't seem to suffer like Moore does, but he has his own problems.

Read this book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

the heist

My wife is an endless source of joy. Not least of her wonders is her ability to crank through a novel in record time, so I almost always have stream of recently read books around to choose from, and she loves the spy novel. Because of this, I've read a bunch of Daniel Silva's books about Gabriel Allon, the hardened but thoughtful agent of Israel's secret service.

I haven't read everything in the Gabriel Allon series, but I have read a few of them. Silva doesn't shrink from using his novels as a soapbox to poke his finger in the eye of what he sees as the bad things in this world, and if anything, he seems to be poking a little harder as he gets older. Not only does the Syrian regime get some pretty heavy poking, but he's also thrown some others in there for good measure including Russia's burgeoning tsar. I get the feeling he'll get some more attention in an upcoming story (poke)

Silva takes us on a familiar romp. The story arc he favors has Allon reaching operational climax at about the mid-point of the book, so you know thing won't go as planned. The never do. Allon is first one to tell us that. What works so well is that well laid plans should work; seem like they will work, but then something unexpected happens and then its time to regroup and replan.

It was a fun one.

Monday, June 22, 2015

island of the day before

I have a love-hate relationship with Umberto Eco.

I just finished his The Island of the Day Before and I still can't tell if he is insane or a genius. I keep reading his stuff, and then I keep telling myself "Never again!" and then I find something that seems so intriguing and I'm sucked in again. He reminds me of Italo Calvino, only not as much fun. But his thinking seems to float out there in the ether like Calvino's but I'm not sure if he really wants to write novels; I don't think he does. I think he has a huge, over-arching super-theory and he chips away at it in the various forms of art and expression he works in, from non-fiction, to fiction, to museum shows.

The Island follows the unfortunate (fortunate?) travails of Roberto della Griva, from his sudden lurch into manhood in war to his education in the salons of Paris to his travels to the South Seas. As we follow Roberto through the arc of his life, we are educated along with him about the science and beliefs of the day, from how to speak to women to how the determine that the world is indeed round. Although, whether or not it orbits the Sun or vice versa is still, as they say, up in the air.

Eco throws everything he can think of at our poor unsuspecting Roberto, and Roberto is not sure what to do with it all, and we're never quite sure if he ever will. Eco has composed a tale that is supposedly taken from the not-so-recently discovered notes of Roberto, and then tried to reconstruct his tale, as if from history. This give the author ample opportunity to speak directly to the reader in his role as narrator, where he often will use said opportunity to express he opinion as well. And because this is fiction, is there really any line between the two? It reminded me of the structure of The Princess Bride.

As in, "What the hell am I reading?"

And I'll probably do it again. Damn you Umberto Eco.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

metamorphoses

I'm pretty sure I picked up this copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses when I was in Italy. I'm not sure about that but it has a funny price sticker on it and I have spent a fair number of my vacations in and around Ovid's hometown, Sulmona, in the Aquila region, in the eastern Alpines mountains west of Rome.

Publius Ovidius Naso, as he was known in Latin, or Ovidio to the Italians, was born in March, 43 BCE and died in exile in the year 17 or 18, so he was writing at around the same time as Virgil and Horace.

Metamorphoses is a series of related stories of the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, naiads and monsters, who all go through a dramatic physical change or alteration. The theme is a popular one in the Greek and Roman myths, but I had no idea there were so many examples; which begs the question, how many of these stories did Ovid make up himself? there are something like 250 separate stories in this epic poem, and each one includes a metamorphosis! So Ovid's a busy guy. And he was pretty sure that this poem was going to make him famous. He even states near the end that people will be saying his name in thousands of years. point; Ovid

Its pretty well known that authors from this era 'borrowed' from one another and from whereever else they liked. Many of the tales Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses are indeed told by Virgil. But what he is known for is his sense of humor, but after reading this translation by A.D. Melville, I've concluded that either the jokes must be pretty subtle, Ovid must just be humorous compared to his contemporaries (which I haven't read), or Melville didn't do a great job translating the humor. imagine, a classics scholar without a good sense of humor. weird

There is a 20-odd page introduction by E.J. Kenney, and 8 pages of translator's notes in the front matter, along with the table of contents and a Historical Sketch of Ovid. Kenney also prepared the notes to the text. These are highlighted in the text of the poem with asterisks. Find as asterisk go to the 100 pages of notes at the back and hunt for your note by book and line number! There are 15 books, and the lines aren't numbered, just a note at the top of each page noting what numbers it contains. I'm sure if you're a scholar, having a system that doesn't intrude on the flow of the poem is nice, but if you need to read the notes, they're a little hard to manage. Talk about stopping up the flow. The only way to read like this is to read a whole story, and then go read the applicable notes and try to recall where they were. I think footnotes would be fine.

After a quick look around, I think I may look up David R. Slavitt's The Metamorphoses of Ovid which is touted as freely translated by this American poet. According to Eric McMillan, Slavitt's version is supposed to be "Thoroughly enjoyable." saying that "Slavitt manages to capture the sweep of the stories while getting in all the little jokes and aides." Looks like I should have done a little research first. McMillan calls Melville's translation "quite dull." doh!



Thursday, April 2, 2015

retreat

Retreat is a miniature print made by Dan Chiaccio, a talented artist and friend of my daughter. Its bookmark sized, but its too nice to actually use as a book marker.

Retreat - Daniel Chiaccio, copper etching on Stonehenge paper, 1 7/8 x 5 1/4-inches, image size.

According to the Etsy profile, Chiaccio is a recent graduate from the New Hampshire Institute of Art,  who majored in illustration, with a minor in printmaking. Check out his stuff here.

I'm delighted to have it, and as I said, I love how it is the size of bookmark, but way to nice to stick in a book. Thanks to Dan and to my wonderful daughter, Alessia.

I've super-sized the image so you can see the detail. The more you look, the more you'll find. There are secret little items tucked away here and there that speak back to childhood and the simple things that made childhood so much fun.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

cell

I'm getting low on reading material, so I gave Cell, by Robin Cook a go.

Myeh.

Almost as soon as I started reading, I could see where it was going and had a pretty good idea how it would end. I was pretty close on both counts. What I really had a problem with is the main character, George something. Sorry, Dr. George something. Dr. George is getting the creeping suspicion that something may be up with a new medical device/system that is all the rage and is currently in trials. His suspicion revolves around the fact that everyone he meets who is involved in the medical trial dies.

And that gets Dr. George thinking: Hmmm.... Maybe something is up?

Ya think?

But what really gets me is that George tries to maintain his objectivity. We keep hearing about how Dr. George thinks this new system is swell, and how it may revolutionize medicine. And this is AFTER he has begun to seriously question whether or not its killing people! Including his friends! And Loved Ones! shouldn't be hasty

I think I read Coma back in the late 70s, early 80s when it was all the rage, and the made a movie based on it. Naked coma patients hanging from wires. All very titillating and spooky. But not that good, if I recall.

Cell is a sleeper. see what I did there




Sunday, March 8, 2015

s

So I read--or experienced--S by Doug Dorst. A concept for a book-like entertainment... thing, created by the director/producer J.J. Abrams.

S, which is like nothing else in the book store, is also packaged differently than most books. One will occasionally find a book shrink wrapped; typically to preserve its content from the damage caused by thumbing at the store, or to prevent damage to young and impressionable minds due to its racy content. S is shrink wrapped because its cover quick, look to the left is not the actual cover of the book. Nor is it a book jacket, or even one of those cool boxes called a slipcase, that you slide your book into, altho its probably most similar to the last one there. It is, more exactly, the packaging. Inside the packaging is the actual book. I'm not sure if you, dear reader, will consider some of the following spoilers, exactly, but I am about to discuss what is inside the package... ssshhhh The book itself is not called S, but The Ship of Theseus.

Herein begins the experience. See, The Ship of Theseus is not a real book, but a fully formed reproduction of a non-existent hardcover book from 1949, written by a non-existent author, complete with discoloration and foxing from age, stickers and stamps indicating that it belongs to a collegiate library. Again, non-existent library in a non-existent school. But within the margins of this book are hand-written notes, written by two people, who use these marginalia to communicate with one another. Among other things, they discuss the author of the book, who is the object of scholarly research for his literary efforts, and his politics.

As we read the "book" we also peer into the private correspondence of the two margin writers as they get to know each other and the mysterious author of the book. What they discover, and what we soon discover, is that the author's radicalism may still be alive today. What that means for the two note writers is what drives the experience forward. S is three or maybe four stories all running in series. The question is: how, or even if, these stories could be tied together.

Its not really a book, but a book is certainly part of it. If I were to try and deconstruct where the idea for this 'book' comes from, I would guess that it came from Abrams holding a book in his hand, maybe with some old forgotten marginal notes in it, and thinking to himself. This. This, is why we need traditional, analog books. This, the tactile, hands-on and hand-annotated 'real' thing can't just be a thing of the past. How much Abrams did to help with the actual writing, I don't know, but he isn't listed as a co-author. As a project, it is beautifully executed. If the effort wasn't put into the details, this project would have felt cheap and imitation. They did a nice job. Ironically, I don't think it will make a good library book. The reason for that should be obvious when you see it.





Monday, March 2, 2015

in like a lion...

Maybe you've seen the news. Maybe you live in New England like I do. If so, you, like me, are probably wondering; is it March? Doesn't seem like March. Doesn't seem like Spring pops in about three weeks. All I see is lions. Its like that old saying about what holds up the world.

Its lions, all the way down.

White Lion image: by Woxy, used without permission

So here's what I think: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the other days must also have animality. So we need a scale, so you can see how lionish or lambish we are on a particular day. This year, I got really close to changing the list so that its lion every day. or at least for the next two weeks or so But this is information--new knowledge--that you can use to plan your day, your week, your weekend, even the whole month!

What's the best day to wear your Velcro monkey tail to work?* What's the best part about goat?** Is there really dolphin in tuna?*** How're you going to know these things without the lion-to-lamb list?

Here's how it stacks up this year. yes, its the same every year, that's why we call it a tradition.

March 1 - Lion: This one's a given. This year, its a white lion. And he weighs about 2 1/2 weeks.
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Black, Brown, but probably Polar. And hungry.
March 4 - Shark: Just remember Jaws 4.
March 5 - Wolf: The Timber variety. With the white, winter coat.
March 6 - Bull: One word: Pamplona.
March 7 - Moose: Brake for moose, it could save your life.
March 8 - Eagle: Don't leave your pets outside... or your children. Or your grammy... she weights like 42 pounds.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Not Riverhawk, that's UMass Lowell.
March 12 - Lynx: Its like a house cat. That kills and eats things. That weigh 42 pounds. Yeah, like Grammy.
March 13 - Bat: If you just get near one its a full rabies series. In your belly.
March 14 - Monkey: They pinch! With their feet! HBD Coleen! Maybe this should be Monkey Pi Day!****
March 15 - Snake: The Ides of March. Snakes are known for wisdom, and treachery.
March 16 - Ox: Hard working in a plodding kind of way.
March 17 - Elephant: Wise, big, powerful... gray.
March 18 - Raven: Nevermore.
March 19 - Stag: Power and compassion. Might make a good patronus.
March 20 - Crab: This one can sneak up on you. First day of spring!
March 21 - Goat: Stubborn and tough going.
March 22 - Horse: Strong and reliable.
March 23 - Pig: Smart but messy; wear your boots today.
March 24 - Dog: Friendly and good-natured; take a walk.
March 25 - Dolphin: Fun and wet; bring an umbrella.
March 26 - Rooster: Proud strutter. Crow at the sun! Wear your new socks!
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: They're not just for (witch's) breakfast anymore.
March 29 - Robin: The red breast is kind or orangey, no
March 30 - Rabbit: How can you be scared of rabbits? HBD Kelton!
March 31 - Lamb: Mmm... arrosticini. Smells like spring!

According to one source I read "This phrase has its origins with the constellations Leo, the Lion, and Aries, the ram or lamb. It has to do with the relative positions of these constellations in the sky at the beginning and end of the month." Yeah, Aries, the lamb, that must be it. Somebody is thinking too hard. I think the origins of something like this are pretty self-evident.

We have had over 8-feet of snow in Massachusetts this year. It snowed 2-inches yesterday (the first of March), and little today, and another storm is due beginning tomorrow night. And it hasn't been above freezing for more than a few days since January, so most of the snow that fell in late January, is still here.

Spring? Lambs? Yeah, I'm ready.


* Never.
** The shanks.  Chevon is delicious!
*** I don't know man! Focus! 
**** Pi Day is typically on 3/14, but this year its special, especially at about half-past nine: 3.14.15 9:27:54. That's pi to 9 decimal places, nerds!