December 2008

H.P. Lovecraft: Complete and Unabridged: The Fiction

Let me just say this right off the bat that I prefer to shop at one of the many quaint and locally owned book stores that dot the greater Seattle area. Nothing will ever change that. But I'll be damned if there is one thing that draws me to Barnes and Noble on occasion and that would be their excellent and reasonably priced collections of classic literature in hardcover. This year saw the release of a complete and unabridged collection of one the favorite authors of my young adult life: the great Cosmic Horror writer of the 1920's, H.P.Lovecraft. For those who don't know of this, the most unusual of writers, Lovecraft was an American author of Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy who wrote primarily short stories for pulp magazine and publications in the early 1900's. As seems to be common with some of artist we now regard as classic, his following was slight during his life and it has only been since his death that his fame and reputation have multiplied.

Should We Be Reading the Nobel Prize for Literature Winner 2008?

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has been writing for over 45 years, and earlier this year he won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature for his work.  So why haven't we heard of him?
In fact, given that most of us have probably heard of the Nobel prizes, and will probably nod knowledgeably when they are brought up in conversation because we know these Very Important Prizes, why is it that almost all of us would be completely stumped if asked to produce a single winner's name?
Name an Oscar winner.  Easy.
Name a Superbowl winner.  Sure, no problem.
Name a winner of America's Next Top Model.

400 Years of Milton

Milton was born 400 years ago this month, specifically, on December 9. In terms of English literature, Milton is generally considered one of the "big three," the other two being Shakespeare, of course, and Chaucer. There have been times in the not-too-distant past when Milton surpassed Shakespeare in the minds of many. Indeed, just a couple months ago, in May, Princeton professor and Miltonist Nigel Smith published a book entitled is Milton Better than Shakespeare? Smith's answer is a resounding "yes,"— he asserts that "Milton's interrogations of free will, liberty, and the threat to it are more riveting" than Shakespeare. You can, if you're curious, explore the argument yourself by reading the introduction to Smith's Harvard University press book here.

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book tells the story of a toddler whose family is slaughtered by a mysterious assassin. The child finds refuge in a nearby graveyard, where he is given the name of Nobody and raised by ghosts. The book follows Nobody through his youth, and each section takes place at a different stage in Nobody's young life. It's chock full of the quirky characters and clever turns of phrase which are the hallmark of Gaiman's writing. I can't pretend to be unbiased on this topic. Neil Gaiman is on my short list of "authors whose books I allow myself to purchase brand new, in hardcover when necessary." (It's a very short list. Have you seen the price of a new hardback book lately?!) Even so, I love some of his books more than others. As a rule, his Young Adult fiction leaves me unmoved.

HST: The Gonzo Tapes

Hunter Thompson released two enormous volumes of his collected letters during his life, each concentrating on a different portion of his life. There were letters from his time in the Army as well as much latter in his career after he’d achieved relative fame.

The simple idea to collect all of you correspondence from the time one is about twenty five years old seems odd at best. So, what kind of self absorbed man does that? HST does.

Since his death a few years ago, there have been a number of film related projects that have surfaced and now a cd set of his notes and ramblings.

Pulp: The Blonde on the Street Corner

“You’re thirty years old and what do you have?”

“Nothing.”

“Is that what you want?”

"It gives me very little to worry about.”

Focusing on the inability of a group of men to obtain gainful employment during the (first) depression, the Goodis’ novel uses curt phases and direct, plain descriptions of scenes to explicate mood and intent.

Everything is spelled out, nothing is left vague. This isn’t necessarily a device only utilized by Goodis, but it does fit a broad description of pulp/crime/noir fiction coming out of the ‘40s.

Dead Heart - Gogol's Nozdryov

Dead Souls was the signature novel from Nikolay Gogol, a Russian born in the Ukraine, written while living in Rome. It was first published in Russia in 1842, and was the book that established Gogol as the greatest Russian prose writer of his time. Gogol wrote many significant works, including Mirgorod, and the play Zhenitba, before supposedly burning his sequels to Dead Souls and then dying at the age of 43.

Nozdryov, his "Dead Souls" lead character, archetypes the utterly selfish man, the man who has unlimited fun but zero love.

Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Dickens' A Christmas Carol was first published on December 19, 1843. Written in a feverish haste during a time when, despite his best-selling author status, and the on-going sales of the serialized Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens was terribly short of money, Dickens managed to write the entire work in six short weeks. The book was an immediate success. Dickens commissioned noted artist John Leech to create four hand-colored etchings and another four black and white wood engravings as illustrations. Dickens also saw to it that the book had an elaborate binding and gilt-edged pages.

His Dark Materials - an Overview

For some reason, the theatrical release of "Golden Compass" created a strained argument over whether Philip Pullman argues against C.S. Lewis' God. The argument was monumentally silly; of course Pullman is an atheist, and of course he "hates" Chronicles of Narnia "with a deep and bitter passion," as he put it. Of course "His Dark Materials" shadow-steps Narnia in plot mechanics and in photo-negative thematics. When children are in over their heads, they need (or need not) turn to Help. What I don't understand, is why the argument wasn't simply about whether Dark Materials, or Narnia, present the more helpful worldview. In any case, this mini-overview isn't intended to rebut Pullman, nor to demonstrate the vapidity of his worldview. It's offered more as a quick-scan of a few plot elements for those who perhaps have not read the books, so that such readers might decide whether Dark Materials is likely to be worth their time. ...............

Golden Compass - Amber Spyglass

- Part two, following this article. -Jeff. ................

The Amber Spyglass is, without a doubt, the least opaque of purpose in the trilogy. As is well known, Pullman was comfortable with the stratagem of turning over his hole cards after his audience was firmly snagged on the craftsmanly literary-line of his adventure. Whether this is considered devious, or simply wise, is likely in the eye of the fan or critic; in any case, it wasn’t a stratagem that Lewis — despite the professional alienation that he suffered as an out-of-the-closet Christian in the English academic world — felt necessary in Narnia.

Milan Kundera: A Three Book Primer

Since Kafka, the most well-known Czech writer has been expatriate Milan Kundera. While not a consummate post-modernist like Salman Rushdie, Kundera can be difficult to access at first approach. His novels rarely follow a traditional linear storyline, or even a single story in any particular order. If you're interested in his work (and you should be), consider this primer as a way to find the genius of Kundera without stubbing your toe on his experiments. Let's Start At The Beginning (by jumping in the middle): The Unbearable Lightness of Being The Unbearable Lightness of Being is by far Kundera's most famous work. This is likely because it's one of the easiest of his books to follow. Yes, there's a halfway worthwhile film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis, but it won't enhance your understanding or appreciation of the book. It's more a loving imitation than a complementary adaptation. The novel itself follows the lives and trials of a womanizing doctor from Prague named Tomas and a frazzled country girl, Tereza.

Robert B. Parker's Spenser Novels

I finally finished long arduous years of graduate school a couple of months ago, and have since engaged in a prolonged orgy of reading, reading stuff that I don't have to memorize, or cite, or otherwise expect to be responsible for knowing backwards and forwards. So I'm reading lots and lots of genre fiction, and making up for several years of almost exclusively reading books that were related to work or school. A friend who's a mystery maven mentioned Robert B. Parker, and another friend is so very fond of Parkers' books featuring Spenser that he named his dog Spenser. So I tried one of Parker's Spenser novels. I really really liked it. So I tried another, and then a third, and now, I'm engaged in hunting the books down and reading 'em all, in order. There are 36 Spenser novels (Parker has written a number of other books, including at least one young adult novel).