Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Whistling For Comfort

The days appear suddenly clipped as a premature summer swelter has left me tumbling under a rising uncertainty. My reading has continued to crawl, exercising for survival if not dignity. I have been dousing myself with Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy, practically every third day, while also keeping up with samizdat requirements, despite the baffling silences of late. The surprise of it all has been Horne's Fall of Paris which I find captivating. The abrupt collapse of the French reminded me of First Manassas. An arrogant stupidity led the French away from the negotiating table and afforded the Prussians all cause to invade. The subsequent siege by the Prussians was hoped by many in Paris to be a galvanizing event, alas the distances between the classes proved insurmountable even as they were reduced to eating rats together.

I find Victor Hugo quite interesting in this context. Returning from exile after the defeat of the Second Empire, he longs for a socialist paradise and when fails to materialize he begs the Prussians to spare the spark of civilization. The tactics, weaponry and social undercurrents mirror the nearly contemporaneous American Civil War and hears echoes of the lamenting bourgeois from Richmond and Atlanta in the grieved Parisians. I recall reading Enid Starkie's biography of Rimbaud in my early 20s and imagining his responses to the grisly reality of the siege and war as well as the intoxicating promise of the Commune.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Teeth and Grit

The pampas of holiday are gone for now. Coincidentally a humid blast of summer heat has taken its place. The generosity of open-ended days fosters indulgences in reading. I likely would've abandoned the Michel Faber with the constraints of the work week. So it goes for poor George Gissing. I find consierable merit in his novel but found myself reading more of Alistair Horne's book on the Franco-Prussian War as the week drew to a close.

Yes, I find it an ironic turn in putting down Gissing because of work. I may now attempt to tackle Matthiessen's Shadow Country. I checked out such from the library yesterday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Squeak

500 years ago today Henry VIII was crowned hegemon. His tastes in literature and authors tended to undulate politically. George Gissing also had issues with marriage but was never given the throne. I am now reading New Grub Street and am respecting it a great deal.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Feeling Aloft

I have lavished considerable praise upon David Mitchell since I discovered his first novel Ghostwritten in the summer of 2002. His writing has always greeted me as universal, cosmopolitan in the proper sense. It could be fashioned that he brought my wife and I together. That said, when cornered he cited Michel Faber as one of his favorite contemporary novelists, of which he admitted an underdeveloped familiarity. He cited specifically The Crimson Petal and the White.

Not to be snarky, but why?

I finished this 900 pages of Victorian gender drama, all filtered through the prism of feminism and Marxist literary critiques. It is hardly a work, as the fulsome Guardian (for Gawd's sake!) pronounced it "the novel Dickens was too afraid to publish." sigh. The character of Sugar could have been spawned in the fecund depths of the Dickensian imagination, also, perhaps William Rackham with all of his hang-ups, his fetishes and ever sprouting mediocrity. That said, Dickens likely wouldn't cultivate these characters only to then shadow them under the classic hysteric, a madwoman in the attic, though Faber extends us a favor by noting that with the benefit of magnetic imaging we could plainly see that she has a brain tumor. Agnes (the imbalanced wife of William) then affords us readers the text within in the form of rather bland, and thus quite believable, diaries that Sugar discovers and explores. These recursive themes don't really work, given we expect more sagacity from Sugar and then results are well, abrupt.

Byatt's Persuasion addresses most of themes from Victoria that Faber includes in his sprawling work, the chief difference is that Byatt succeeds in not pondering the distances in self-awareness between the two periods but also reinforcing an empathy for both epochs simultaneously.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just A Thought

I have never read Taras Bulba by Gogol. I may remedy such this weekend, perhaps before viewing Che.

Iam at page 500 in the Faber.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sipping Rituals

Holiday has arrived again, albeit one cloaked with dismal weather and disjunction of a midweek work spot in Indianapolis. 1870 appears to be the time signature for the week. Pressing pause on the Pope's Rhinoceros, I have slid some three hundred pages into Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White as well as Alistair Horne's The Fall of Paris. The former is rich in detail, if often pedantic and reminds me of the better aspects of Peter Ackroyd's fiction. There isn't as much wit as one might prefer, but certainly a surfeit of grime, scabies and licentious stink.I picked a biography of Rex Stout from the library the other day and I was reading how engaged he was with Dr. Johnson, Montainge and the proto-thrillers of Wilkie Collins; apparently he didn't care much for either Dickens or the Brontes.

I am off to the barber's and my goal remains to reach p.400 in the Faber by dusk.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The dearth of religious instinct should be regarded as an asset. Therefore, I consider myself fortunate. This last week, surprisingly, saw me enter an ascetic stetch for a few days. Throughout such, I was led by both Borges and Terrence Malick to Robert Louis Stevenson. Aside from Illustrated Classics adaptations, I must admit that I never read RLS. Indeed the venerable Jorge, along with a viewing of Badlands, combined to set the table for Kidnapped and, again, I am a lucky man. Stevenson himself advises the ideal reader to indulge in his narrative after putting down his Ovid for the last hour before bed. The lumbering stresses of my own labors were placed aside and I was allowed to wade in this terrific tale.

Kidnapped is a story of privation. Darkness, thirst and fatigue all loom gigantic in this tale of stolen inheritance and unjust occupation. I wouldn't consider the work subversive, much as Kipling's Kim preferss to dwell in the margins, enjoying both the spiritual nourishment of the subcontinent, but preferring to ponder such with a cup of Earl Grey. Likewise the oral traditions of the Highlands appear fascinating to the young David Balfour, but he prefers the secure penumbra of Georgian authority to the clannish justice in the rolling heather. I can't admit to any urgent plans to read more of RLS but this Borgesian undercurrent does appear to have fertilized a rasher of options for this week of demi-holiday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Listening To The Hives

This last week has witnessed me catching a ride with Borges when the thrust of it all has pressed me prone. I have another holiday immanent and i am hoping for further time with the Pope's Rhioceros. I am considering Gissing and Stevenson (Kidnapped) as detours.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Stilled, and Drawn

Browsing an article about how nationalism has pinched Gogol for the Ruskies, the guardian pondered whether Swift should be grabbed by the English, I pondered an extrapolation of this nonsense. The masterful Ivo Andric is claimed to varying degrees by nearly all of the former Yugoslavia.

I am simply grateful in the besotted and filthy age to have access to such jewels as Dead Souls and Bridge on the River Drina.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I don't imagine that Luther's inkwell is in order, but I find myself out of sorts and I'd like to be prepared should Old Nick pay a visit. All jokes aside, The transition back to work has been elusive. It was quite nice to go home last night after a great workout and spend time with my wife, my reading involved another 80 pages of Poor People. Despite his flippant approach, I do admire Vollmann's reporting and his hastily fastened sociological musings. One can gather that Russians are superstitious per fate and tragedy, that they, like all of us, exaggerate their present station and the distance by which they fell. The Chinese, Vollmann asserts, have kept their focus throughout political tumult and that their geyser of fiscal success has created some odd couplings in the process, namely the need to expand traffic to bustling factory clusters has necessitated the bulldozing of countless private homes, despite the deeds of ownership - that capitalist gold standard by which we maintain a system of law.

Today has found me rereading sections of the Pope's Rhinoceros, both in effort to address the comments of my friends on samizdat, but also to configure squarely my mental cartography of the rival factions in the Eternal City.