Wednesday, March 27, 2013

treasure island

Treasure Island is one of those books that I was probably supposed to read at some point in my life, somewhere around junior high school, I would guess, but just couldn't get into. Now that I've read it, it may have the been the Buccaneerese a lot of the dialogue is written in, that may have turned me off. I ended up having to sound out what Stevenson was writing to figure out what the pirates were saying. There's a point where adherence to authenticity begins to get in way of communication; Me t'inks mon Stevenson mayep crossed that there line. Here's a taste;

"There ain't a thing left here," said Merry, still feeling round among the bones; "not a copper doit nor a baccy box. It don't look nat'ral to me."

I don't know a lot about Robert Louis Stevenson, so lets have a look-see on the internets. I'll be right back...

Ah, here we are. Miss me? I am reminded, tho perhaps I should make pretend that I'd not forgotten, that Stevenson is also well known for both Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped both published in 1886. Stevenson was also quite the essayist, and wrote a fair bit of poetry. Born in Scotland in 1850, and died too young in 1894.You can find more clicky clicking on the link there.

Another reason Treasure Island isn't a great story for young people: it isn't a great story. As a story, I'd call it fair to midlin. Now, that may be because a hundred and thirty years has gone by and tastes have changed. I can imagine a time when a story like this was quite exciting to a young male reader who could see himself in Jim Hawkins's place, but today its reads a little slow. I will say that the characters are nicely developed, and their interactions seem pretty genuine. spoiler alert Maybe what I missed, was the treasure in Treasure Island. Treasure Island is not about an island full of treasure, its about the characters in the story. The treasure is just what drives them together, and provides the fuel for the conflict and drama in the story.

I would read this if you feel obligated, or if its assigned to you in junior high school, or maybe its talk like a pirate day and you need some pointers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

glass rainbow

I just finished The Glass Rainbow, by James Lee Burke, or I think I did. I'm pretty sure I read another by Burke a few years ago, but it must have been before I began writing these things down. its why I have this crazy thing Burke is a well spoken, southern gentleman, and his prose at first seems a little purple when he describes the falling leaves from the live oaks, and the bayou water lapping the knees of the gum trees, and... well, you get the idea; But I little further on I began to see how Burke is juxtaposing these lovely scene changes with the horror and fervor of the narrative.

Burke's characters are high-strung, hard working, hard playing, serious, obsessive, or even crazed. ALL of them seem to be damaged in some way, and when they come together... Well, it seems as though Burke just has to sit back and describe what happens when they do.

I've never been to Louisiana (or Mississippi) where this story takes place, so I can't tell you if my impressions are correct, but I think Burke does a great job of setting his story. Whether its a small roadside sno'ball shop, a river- or bayou-side, or a suburban backyard speak-easy, I had a real sense for what its like, right down to the weather, the lighting, and the feel of the air. He makes that purple prose work for him.

This grew from a crime drama into a mystery, and ended up back at crime drama, because all the answers did fall out by the end. Part way through, the main protagonist (Dave Robicheaux a deputy sheriff in New Iberia, Louisiana) agrees with me, or at least does a little foreshadowing thinking he may never unravel this mystery.

Dave Robicheaux is recurring character for Burke, and a quick look-see on the internet bears this out. There is a pile of them, and another one out just recently. Two of these stories have been made into movies, the most recent stars Tommy Lee Jones. I guess this character has some traction.

I would enjoy another of these. I'll have to keep my eye out.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

farewell, flesh

I found Farewell to the Flesh in my local library's on-going book sale. I hadn't heard of Edward Sklepowich before; he's written a bunch of books, but this is only the second. Sklepowich started writing about Urbino Macintyre in 1990, with Death in a Serene City, and has now written a total of nine, the latest is from 2009.

Urbino Macintyre is an expatriate American, living in Venice as a writer/biographer in a little palazzo palazzino, no? left to him by his mother. Nice gig. It appears that Macintyre has joined the ranks of that strange group of fictional characters that death and murder follows around so closely that one can't help wondering why they have any friends at all. From Miss Marple, to Nero Wolfe, to Jessica Fletcher--why would anyone ever go near these people? Death clings to them like shadows on tombstones. yeesh, am I the only one?

Macintyre is an easy to like character--if one ignores the aforementioned Death wrapped around him like a boa constrictor--who goes about his crime solving business in a pretty professional manner, and then just puts his mind to it. Sklepowich writes a pretty subtle mystery if this one is any indication. I mentioned to my wife at about the half-way point that a little while ago it seemed as though it could really only be one person who had done this deed, but a little while later, I had reason to believe that just about everyone in the book had done it.

What I didn't like so much is that Macintyre had access to information that the reader doesn't, either it was because he had guessed it, and hadn't revealed it in conversation, or because he had learned it at some point and that wasn't included in the prose. I think the former is probably the case, but critical information nonetheless, and I couldn't help thinking; How'd he figure that out?

Sklepowich lectures at the University of Sousse in Tunisia, and also spends time in Venice and New York. Sklepowich's mother is Italian, like Macintyre, so he's writing what he knows. I wonder if Macintyre inherited a palazzo from his mother as well.

If I saw another, I'd pick it up, but I'm not rushing out to buy them all. If you like the mystery thing, it was pretty good. This also takes place during Carnevale in Venice, a serendipitous time to read this book.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

persian letters

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, better known as simply, Montesquieu, penned the Persian Letters while in his late twenties and early thirties, and had them published in 1721. Montesquieu published them anonymously, but it was common knowledge in his native France, and elsewhere, that he was the author.

The book is essentially a novel in the form of a series of letters to, from and between two Persians, Usbek and Rica, during their travels to Turkey and Europe, between the years of 1711 and 1720. In it, Montesquieu basically uses his imagined characters as mouthpieces for his thoughts on governance, economics, religion, the church, the monarchy, the French Parliament, women's rights, etc. Essentially, armchair political philosophy of a pretty high caliber. I'm not a philosophy reader typically, so you'll have to bear with me if you did your under-grad in Philosophy.

What surprised me is how fun, and funny Montesquieu is. I imagine this guy was great at parties. He  actually talks about other men in Paris who strive to be witty at all costs. There is a story he tells via the (supposed) correspondence between two such men, who agree to meet to practice their wittiness ahead of time, so that when called upon by circumstances, they each have a complete repertoire with which to delight their acquaintances, carefully orchestrated to shine the light equally upon each of them, in turn.

The series of letters between Usbek and his home--which he has left for more than a decade--runs as a kind of thread through the entire story. Usbek is cast as a wealthy man, with many wives, all kept under the watchful eye of his eunuchs and slaves, in his seraglio.* Letters dart back and forth between Usbek, a number of his wives, the head eunuch and other eunuchs and slaves. The story from home is garbled by the different voices, each claiming to represent the truth. Montesquieu uses this as a comment on the various voices that rise in support and opposition to any of a variety of realities from law, to taxes, to religious doctrine; leaving his Usbek to listen to what he may, weigh the truth for himself and make a decision based on what he knows and intuits about the situation from afar.

With either a little patience, or the inclination, this was an interesting read.

Translated by George R. Healy, Dean of Faculty, Bates College, copyrighted in 1964, First Printing, soft bound, as part of the Library of Liberal Arts collection Oskar Piest, founder, published by the Bobbs-Merrill Co. Healy also provides an interesting introduction to his translation.

* seraglio - The women's apartments in a Muslim palace. Healy points out that this term is similar to, but not the same as, harem.

Friday, March 1, 2013

lions and lambs


Three times makes it a tradition, right?

So here's my hypothesis: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the other days must also have animality. We need a scale, right? We don't accept that it is either freezing or boiling at any given time, we like to know where on the scale the temperature actually is. We use this information to decide how to dress, whether to bring our umbrella, or wear shorts. what you actually wear on goat day is still up to you

Well say no more, now you'll always know.

March 1 - Lion: This one's a given. March 1st will tear you up.
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Black, Brown, Polar, you never know.
March 4 - Shark: Just remember Jaws 4.
March 5 - Wolf: Big. Bad.
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.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Swooping, screaming, death on wings. If you're a vole.
March 12 - Lynx: They're adorable... when observed from Florida.
March 13 - Bat: If you just get near one its a full rabies series. In your belly.
March 14 - Monkey: It could cackle and scratch, or cackle... and then scratch! HBD Coleen!
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 and 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!
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: Are they greenish-brown, or brownish-green?
March 29 - Robin: These guys are out when the worms show.
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, rams and lambs... Sounds good to me!

Today ended up being not so lion-like. Maybe we're in for a break!