Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jill McCorkle

The renowned author of such short story collections as Crash Diet and Creatures of Habit along with her superior novels: Ferris Beach, Carolina Moon and Tending Toward Virginia.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Joseph Conrad - Prose Stylist

"The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver - over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too -- God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it -- no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants in the planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter something about 'walking on all-fours.' If you as much as smiled, he would -- though a man of sixty -- offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to a lie. You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies -- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see -- you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream - making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . ." - from Heart of Darkness

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Black and White Photography

What Politicians Never Say in Public...

At this point in the political process - in the days right up before the election - one finds it harder to ignore a tendency some would call the most annoying and disturbing tick of political discourse in general, which is the necessity of avoiding at all costs any direct reference to most obvious, messy and controversial truths at the heart of a particular issue. Well of course, some would can politicians be expected to utter incendiary remarks on issues as untouchable as: unemployment, the economy, the housing crisis, budget deficits, tax reform, entitlements, foreign relations, the Middle East,  foreign intervention, immigration,  gun control, etc. I mean - wouldn't it be weird (and therefore absolutely great, wonderful, wacky, downright surrealistic) if someone just ambled up to the podium for once and let loose a stream of unfiltered remarks:  "For starters, voters are out of touch and misinformed... The media has sold its soul to the gods of entertainment...Pundits never apologize....everyone contributes to pollution (and plastic bags aren't helping things)....Snobbery (or should I say "class conflict") is alive and well....Who the heck isn't part of a "working family?"...War is creates budget deficits, casualty lists, funerals and rising health care expenditures - not to mention increasing numbers of head trauma patients and suicide rates... We don't want it...we don't need it...there is no win-win, zero-sum game involved and there never was...." And just when the audience starts gaping with alarm, they hear: "Sorry to mention this folks, but we seem to have a surplus of 'automatic' as in 'meant-for-the-battlefield-only' type weapons in circulation...we might have to prevent mentally unstable people from stock-piling these things..." Huh? You can't be serious... "There are too many adults who are shirking their responsibilities as spouses and parents..." - stop, stop, I can't take it -  "Marriage in this country is broken and we might want to start having a conversation about how to fix it..." - I won't listen to this! - "the prison system in America is not presently doing an effective job of rehabilitating fact it is damaging them further... in some cases beyond repair" - No more, I beg you. I can't handle the truth! -  "the drug war cannot be won until we get a handle on the 'demand' side of the equation..." -  "....the only way to permanently fix the budget crisis - in lieu of 4% GDP growth per annum - is to alter entitlements like Social Security and Medicare - which would mean raising the retirement age and regulating (i.e. cutting back on) extreme resuscitation or life-preserving measuring for terminal patients." Scary, I know.  This all sounds rather callous, brazen, impertinent and insanely blunt - doesn't it? One would be tempted to take it all back or make it all go away, but there's more - "we will never ameliorate poverty in America until everyone owns up to the fact that they fear it like the plague....and while we're at it, can we for once face up to our extreme ambivalence toward wealth and success... why do we celebrate, venerate, admire, exult, literally worship anyone who "fits the bill" as a celebrity, VIP, beautiful person - showering them with praise for howsoever them came to their 15 minutes of fame... while at the same time excoriating and disparaging other, less-famous but equally successful people for their fine educations, their arduous career-paths, their academic excellence, their job-related accomplishments, their intellectual pedigrees, their cultural sophistication? Why do we want our leaders to tell us that they've grown up in log cabins and scraped by for years living from paycheck to paycheck (which isn't exactly the case) until luck and good fortune allowed them accidental entry into the middle class - in the same breath extolling the bling, the clothes, the luxurious homes and decadent habits of glitterati set?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Herman Melville - Between Faith and Doubt

It's hard to think of an American writer with whom I have more sympathy with than Herman Melville....the decades of anonymity that this man endured for the sake of his forgotten art!

"A week ago last Monday, Herman Melville came to see me at the Consulate, looking much as he used to do (a little paler, and perhaps a little sadder), in a rough outside coat, and with his characteristic gravity and reserve of manner.... [W]e soon found ourselves on pretty much our former terms of sociability and confidence. Melville has not been well, of late; he has been affected with neuralgic complaints in his head and limbs, and no doubt has suffered from too constant literary occupation, pursued without much success, latterly; and his writings, for a long while past, have indicated a morbid state of mind.... I do not wonder that he found it necessary to take an airing through the world, after so many years of toilsome pen-labor and domestic life, following upon so wild and adventurous a youth as his was.... He is a person of very gentlemanly instincts in every respect, save that he is a little heterodox in the matter of clean linen.... Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us. -- Nathaniel Hawthorne - Notebook Entry, November 20 1856

Saturday, October 13, 2012

LIbras and their Qualities

I've heard these qualities ascribed to Libras before...but is it really true that some (?), many(?),  most Libras are charismatic, gentle, kind, easy-going, stylish, romantic, intuitive AND good-looking all in one?  More power to us if it's true, fellow Libras. It didn't say anything about our flaws...Do we have any? Oh well...maybe vanity,  perhaps...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

"Life-Altering" Novels and Novellas

The Castle by Franz Kafka (Czech Republic)

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (United States)

The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (Hungary)

My Life by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

The Middle of the Journey by Lionel Trilling (United States)

The Red and the Black by Stendhal (France)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (England)

Billy Budd by Herman Melville (United States)

Swann in Love (Part 2 of Swann's Way) by Marcel Proust

Chance (featuring Marlow, the irrepressible narrator) by Joseph Conrad (England)

Black Boy by Richard Wright (United States)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recommended Short Stories - World Lit

"Day of the Butterfly" by Alice Munro (Canada)

"The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand/England)

"The Third Bank of the River" by Joao Guimaraes Rosa (Brazil)

"No Dogs Bark" by Juan Rulfo (Mexico)

"The Secret Lion" by Alberto Alvaro Rios (United States)

"The Balek Scales" by Heinrich Boll (Germany)

"In the Ravine" by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

"Ward #6" by Anton Chekhov (Russia)

"Four Meetings" by Henry James (United States)

"Investigations of a Dog" by Franz Kafka  (Czech Republic)

"The Book of Sand" by Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina)

"Gryphon" by Charles Baxter (United States)

"Poor Fish" by Alberto Moravia (Italy)

"The Black Sheep" by Italo Calvino (Italy)

"The Last Judgment" by Karel Capek (Czech Republic)

"Rhinoceros" by Eugene Ionesco (Romania/France)

"An Encounter" by James Joyce (Ireland)

"No Witchcraft for Sale" by Doris Lessing (Rhodesia/England)

"The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses" by Bessie Head (South Africa)

"Once Upon a Time" by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)

"Another Evening at the Club" by Alifa Rifaat (Egypt)

"The Happy Man" by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)

"The Swimming Contest" by  Benjamin Tammuz (Israel)

"Wanted: A Town without a Crazy"by Muzzaffer Izgu (Egypt)

"Saboteur" by Ha Jin (China)

"Tokyo" by Fumiko Hayashi (Japan)

"Swaddling Clothes"* by Yukio Mishima (Japan)

Note: Most of these wonderful stories can be found in an anthology entitled Reading the World: Contemporary Literature from Around the Globe.   If you happen to be a teacher searching for new materials or are just someone who loves short stories (glad to know you're out there!), I would highly recommend this volume

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Richard Wright & Harper Lee

Considering how many 9th graders across the country get their first taste of "protest literature" of sorts by sampling Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird wherein they glimpse into the old world of the deep south through the eyes of a precocious young white girl named Scout Finch, as a high school English instructor who has taught TKAM for many years now, I keep wondering about what other work of American fiction to pair with this work so that readers might be shown a similar set of circumstances, but through the eyes of an equally perceptive youthful narrator who doesn't happen to be white. The most obvious nominee, for my money at least, would be Richard Wright and his great memoir, Black Boy, the time-frame of which actually precedes Lee's novel by several years and, in my humble opinion, offers a wider swath of territory, nuance and prescient insight...

Monday, October 1, 2012

War and War by Laszlo Krasznahorkai

László Krasznahorkai was born in Gyula, in southeast Hungary, in 1954. He is probably best known through the oeuvre of the director Béla Tarr, who has collaborated with him on several movies. Mentions “Werckmeister Harmonies.” In “War and War,” György Korin, an archivist and local historian, travels to New York, finds lodgings with a Hungarian interpreter, and begins to write the text of the transcendently important manuscript. Slowly the reader confirms what he has suspected from the start, that “the manuscript” is a mental fiction, a madman’s transcendent vision. Krasznahorkai’s most recent work in English is not a novel but a collaboration between the writer and the German artist Max Neumann. “Animalinside” (translated by Ottilie Mulzet, and published jointly by New Directions, Sylph Editions of London, and the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris; $20) is a series of fourteen exquisite and enigmatic paintings, with paragraph-length texts by Krasznahorkai. Resembling, in form, Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing,” Krasznahorkai’s words often seem to be a commentary on late Beckett. Krasznahorkai is clearly fascinated by apocalypse, by broken revelation, indecipherable messages. His demanding novel “The Melancholy of Resistance” is a comedy of apocalypse, a book about a God that not only failed but didn’t even turn up for the exam. The pleasure of the book flows from its extraordinary, stretched, self-recoiling sentences, which are marvels of a loosely punctuated stream of consciousness. - from "The Very Strange Fictions of Laszlo Krasznahorkai" by James Wood (article abstract)

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Hello, October