Archive for the ‘Books in The Living Room’ Category

George Orwell Shoots from The Hip


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I discovered this collection of Orwell’s literary critiques at a good time.  I took a class in graduate level literary theory and criticism and one of the things I discovered about the last hundred years’ crop of theorists and critics is that splitting hairs now constitutes theory and criticism. 

Critics have gone from declaring what literature should be to just picking it apart like a bunch of brainy vultures.  Everything that can be picked apart (and just left that way) has been: motivation, message, language, form, subject matter, the author.  Roughly, the French, the Russians (can’t even be shocked at that), and one Viennese are to blame.   And as we got further into the 1900s, nothing was about literature anymore.  It became all about psychology, the scientific method, politics, feminism (politics), 3rd world voices (politics), linguistics, anthropology, abstractions disconnected from their creators one after another in a cycle of ever-increasing distance from the beauty of the word. Truly, once some rebellious critics declared that literary writing no longer had to be beautiful, it was just a hop, skip, and jump to total literary theory anarchy. 

To be fair, though, new ideas were needed because writers experimented with form and language to the extent that storytelling has undergone several metamorphoses since the 1700s.  To handle new storytelling styles, new theories of creation are needed.  And also since the 1700s, so many fields of science have developed that critics have found could be applied to storytelling and poetry.  Do you know any people who learn something new on the computer and then feel that they have to use it for everything? I guess it’s kind of like that. 

Who even has the guts to say anymore what literature should be? Well, Harold Bloom still is pretty open about what he likes.  I’m sure there’s others. Trilling, maybe. I’m developing a fondness for Trilling because he still talks about literature as f____ LITERATURE, as does Bloom! And of course, George Orwell.  He’s not a literary theorist, per se, but holy shit, neither are a bunch of the people we studied in class.  They were a lot of social scientists, linguists, psychologists, cultural scholars, political scientists. No f____ing wonder literary theory is, at its worst, all about justifying victim status or a complete lack of storytelling talent.  Funny though, we never studied Bloom, Trilling or Orwell in class. Mostly third world scholars and Eastern Bloc types.  And the French. LoL!

But Orwell, he’s an essayist extraordinaire.  Politics and The English Language –life-changing!  Why I Write – why I keep writing!  The art of the essay is so pure and beautiful when handled by G.O.  So this bloke, yeah, George Packer, has assembled several of Orwell’s essays about authors and literature in general that show, according to Packer, the development of Orwell’s essay-writing artistry from early to later, instead of the usual “best of” collection compilers are prone to do.

From the Foreword:

It’s possible to imagine a kind of tragedy to Orwell’s style.  He was a writer who saw both sides to every issue, and argued with himself about them, but whose style could only come down on one side at a time. You can imagine him trapped in  that style, even as he used it to slash through cant and falsehood.

Great thing about a book like this is you don’t have to read it cover to cover.  You kind of pick out the bits you like and get around to the rest whenever.  And something so rare, I almost can’t believe it: it has an enjoyable Foreword (Packer) and…AND… Introduction (Keith Gessen).  Wow! Two parts of a book that are usually total wank, but these are well-good. Perhaps they’ve been blessed by the spirit of Orwell.

Orwell is funny! Who knew!  I knew he was witty, but funny-haha, too. Here’s a bit from an critique of the “penny dreadfuls” wherein they shamelessly (and shamefully) metonymize foreigners for the convenience of little boys who have never been anywhere.  Check it —

FRENCHMAN: Excitable.  Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.

SPANIARD, MEXICAN, etc. [etc.???]: Sinister, treacherous.

ARAB, AFGHAN, etc. [again, with the “etc.”]: Sinister, treacherous.

CHINESE: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.

Hilarious!  It’s like a casting call for a bad movie from the 1940s.  The only one remotely redeemable is the Frenchman. Sad thought, that.

The ones I’ve read so far:

  • “T. S. Eliot”
  • “Good Bad Books”
  • “Politics and The English Language”
  • “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” (Damn, there goes my “books that start with “Confessions of…” all suck! theory!)


    Facing Unpleasant FactsProduct Details   
    Other posts that mention Orwell:


    [It’s March, innit…"]

    Just out of curiosity, why “The Gaelic”?  What is the property of that word that it merits an article?

    P. W. – no relation to James.  Check out this guy’s professional pedigree:

    —  P. W. Joyce, MA, LLD, TCD, MRIA, LOL, ROFL, WTF, WOW.  “Thanks, Pat. I’d like to buy a vowel, please…” 

    —  One of the Commissioners for the Publication of the Ancient Laws of Ireland, President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, Ireland

    Saints and Begorrah! 

    This volume was first published in 1907, and so it has some charming old-fashioned quirks about it.  On the title page, there’s Joyce’s CV with its bridal train of capital letters, a list of his other works, all of which sound resolutely intellectual, and a line from Shakespeare to add a bit of gloss – not so much to the volume, but to the author himself.  The single line from CORIOLANUS, “I shall tell you a pretty tale”, almost damns the book with faint praise.  At least use the whole chunk.  Or find a better one that’s at least three lines.  To use only one, and one that sounds like anyone could have said it is kind of lazy.  Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Walt Whitman could have written that.  With three or more lines, it would look and sound more like Shakespeare.  Yes, I’m being nitpicky. This man could,even dead since 1914, run intellectual circles around me.  But my schoolteacher instincts have kicked in.  I can’t help it. 

    Here’s the whole bit copied exactly from a Gutenberg Project site:

    I shall tell you A pretty Tale,

    it may be you have heard it,

    But since it serves my purpose,

    I will venture To scale’t a little more

    CORIOLANUS, Act 1, Scene 1

    See?  That sounds and looks more intriguing.  The last line clinches the whole purpose of the collection.

    This is a wonderful collection of mind-blowing epics.  What’s mind-blowing is the underlying Celtic mythology.  If you’ve ever read any, Classical mythology doesn’t really prepare you for the imaginative and fantastical Xanadu that is the world beyond the ninth wave.  It’s kind of hard to swallow if you’re rooted in the Olympian Pantheon.  There will probably never be a movie called “Percy Jackson and Cu Chulain against the Tuatha De Danaan”.  But it is so worth exploring!

    I’d like to concentrate on one particular story, “The Voyage of Maildun”. (MAWL-dun).  I laughed at first, thinking of the Monty Python sketch about the viking saga that takes place in North Maldon. In his extensive (read “vainglorious wankfest”) preface, which, in spite of my description, is very interesting, Joyce places the appearance of TVoM at around 1100 AD, which was post-Roman empire, and the tail end of the Viking incursions.  Romans and Vikings both have a strong oral story-telling tradition, however, I don’t know if theirs influenced the Gaelic story-telling tradition in Ireland or if the native population already had their own.  What’s especially interesting about this story is its parallels to THE ODYSSEY.  Again, I don’t know if the Greek influence came into play in the preparation of this epic, or if that was just a common story theme – the ocean voyage that takes years and taxes a boy, kicking and pushing him into manhood. 

    I haven’t read the whole book, but I really like this story.  It’s an epic with songs and verses and stories within the story.  An incredible feat of literary workmanship.  And its Odyssey-like theme actually helps me understand it better. 

     A brief overview of Celtic mythology
     Irish names from mythology
     Celtic Twilight
     Celtic Mythology at Amazon



    Articles of Faith  Russell Brand Shakespeare Wrote for Money Nick Hornby
    Bengal’s Heart (Breeds) Lora Leigh Satyricon Petronious
    Dangerous Passion  Lisa Marie Rice Outlaw  Elizabeth Lowell
    Real Men Last All Night  Anthology MY BOOK HOUSE  Olive Beaupre Miller
    One Continuous Mistake : Four Noble Truths for Writers  Gail Sher The Thinking Fan’s Guide to The World Cup
    The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching NCTE Language Arts journal
    Teaching Composition: Background Readings (Bedford/St. Martin’s Professional Resources)  


    Late August 2009

    I’m cheating a little bit because I put the blog stuff in my BooksRead column. But it’s logical, don’t you think?  I’ve read them before and I thought it might seem a bit poncey to do an extra column BOOKS READ AND BLOGGED.  Sounds a bit overkill-ish, if you ask me.

    Whatever is in my purse (SW4M) takes me a long time to finish.  I carried my pocket Loeb for a year — like a baby that refused to be born.  I probably need to stop carrying books that make me laugh out loud.  I’m already enough of an oddball for reading in public as it is.  80 million people around the world do it, yet I’M THE WEIRDO!  I feel like the socialist peasant in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.  Maybe if some watery tart handed me a sword, I could slash my way though the unwashed masses. "The peasants are revolting!"  But I digress…

    Satyricon, as I found out in the plump introduction, is a play on words about four levels deep.  That’s my kinda word!  Something you can really sink your teeth into.  What it was doing in my parent’s closet I’ll never know, but it’s mine now.  There’s a movie out called YEAR ONE.  From the commercials, I get the impression it’s a re-telling of Satyricon, but with way worse dialogue. Or maybe it’s the same dialogue, but it sounds more interesting in vulgar Latin.  Foreign languages are fun like that.  For example, in this Spanish-language  soap opera Sortilegio, the hero often refers to his wife as "mi mujer".  If you translate that directly, it means "my woman".  Kinda sexy, that.  However, the proper translation is "my woman-wife".  Sounds like a Waylon Jennings song.  Or… it sounds like he traded some goats for her.

    Outlaw I have read about a dozen times since 1993.  It’s a last-gasp of the old-school where a woman’s first sexual experience is a rape.  I never understood why what was such a popular theme, especially since women were writing the books.  Then they fell in love with the men who assaulted them???  WTF!! It’s the 1990s, not the 1790s.  Anyway, I didn’t keep it because of the love scenes, I kept it because I liked all the characters and Lowell’s special touch with Old and New West/ranching themes.  Think about it — ranch life is hard and dreary and unglamorous.  And if the author can STILL make you like it, that’s amazing.  And if you’re tempted to scoff at that, go right ahead.  Loser.

    This book was part 2 of a 4-part series.  The McKenzie-Blackthorn series by Elizabeth Lowell.  (There will never be a story for Utah. EL has moved way on!)  Click here for the post on this series or click on the Books in Exile category.

    The only thing missing from my BooksBought list is a humor book — unless you count Articles of Faith.  That’s a soccer book which just happens to be funny.  I’m saving that for my soccer book series.  Picked up some professional books.  They’re very stimulating, intellectually.  I have my favorites and tend to get books whose pedagogy and practices run along the same lines.  That being the case, it’s important not to get stuck in a groove.

    I’ve done more blogging these last two weeks than I did in all of June.  I do a lot of writing for escapism, and this is where a lot of it ends up.  Lucky you!





    One Shot One Kill

    Here’s a book that actually has a good blurb.  It sounds like a trailer for an action movie:

    Lone Wolves of the Battlefield!  They track the enemy over land and lie in wait for a target to appear. Then they shoot to kill.  Armed with an unerring eye, infinite patience and a mastery of concealment, combat snipers stalk the enemy like a hunter after big game, with one deadly goal…ONE SHOT — ONE KILL.


    Damn, that’s heavy.  But this isn’t a movie.  It’s not a Tom Clancy novel. It’s for reals, y’all.  It’s not glamorous, fun, or hip.  It’s damned dirty work. Soul-sucking, back-breaking, lonely work.  After reading this book, it’s my considered opinion that, while all the armed forces have their "special" teams, sharpshooters/snipers are the most special.  For the simple reason that they have to do their job alone or with 1 spotter. Lonely.  They get dropped in dangerously close to the enemy. Suicidal.  They have to keep still for hours and hours and hours.  Torturous. 

    You have to be the sort of man (as far as I know, there are no women snipers) who is okay being alone with only your thoughts for company.  You also have to be really good at math and physics.  I really liked how the men’s stories included details about how they measure wind speed, barometric pressure, angles of the sun, and most impressive of all, their intimacy with their rifle and scope.  An experienced sharpshooter could tell you how much a bullet from his rifle will veer off-course depending on the slightest breeze and terrain.  All this from the book.  This was the pleasant part!


    These stories of real-life missions are unapologetically un-PC. Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese are referred to in derogatory terms. Blunt, earthy, even salty, language – exactly what you’d expect from career military. The authors Charles W. Sasser and Craig Roberts collected stories from

    • Roberts himself – A Marine Lance Corporal, Vietnam 1965
    • The legendary Marine Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, Vietnam 1967, including the story of his famous signature – a white feather
    • Army Sergeant William E. Jones, Normandy 1944
    • Army Sergeant John Fulcher, Italy 1943-44
    • Army Corporal Chet Hamilton, Korea 1952
    • Marine Captain Jim Land, Vietnam 1966
    • Marine Corporal Tom Rutter, Beirut 1983
    • Marine Corporal Ernest R. Fish, Korea 1951
    • Marine Corporal Ron Szpond, Vietnam 1966
    • Marine Lance Corporal Jim Miller, Vietnam 1968
    • Marine Private Daniel Webster Cass, Jr.; Okinawa 1945


    If you’re into military history or history of weaponry, you will love Ch. 23. It doesn’t have a title, but reading this little chunk is a blast! Throughout the whole book, the men talk about their weapons. And they name names: M-1 Garand, Winchester Model 70, .45, .38, M-14, 106-millimeter recoilless anti-tank, Remington 700, M-79 grenade launcher, German Jaeger.  Pages 246-7 are peppered with letters and numbers designating different types of rifles and scopes — it’s enough to make you high if you’re an afficianado of military weaponry.  There’s a paragraph in the middle of p. 158 that details how intimate the relationship is between a sniper and his rifle. 


    P. 171 pretty much sums up what it takes to be a successful sniper.  That comes straight from the mouth of Major R. O. "Dick" Culver, one of the men, along with Jim Land who started the first sniper school at Quantico.  Training is brutal.  Again — you have only yourself.  At least in BUDs Training, you have a team to help you.  In sniper school, you learn to be a one-man lawn-mower.  You learn the mechanics AND psychology of being a sniper.  Ch. 23 gives a potted history of European sharpshooting since about the 1600s.  Now THAT’S cool!

    Amazingly, as snipers are extremely, almost robotically disciplined, they are writers.  They journal every kill they make. They include details such as the rifle, scope, and bullet they used, terrain, weather, target data, success or failure. Painstakingly handwritten.  I found that particularly fascinating.

    Again, this book does not glamorize the job of military sharpshooter.  It’s honest, often sad, a little funny, dead serious when they discuss their weapons, and gruesomely detailed about missions.  This is a great little book about a painful, uncomfortable job.


    View my collection at SHELFARI 



    Massive books in my living room that could pass for furniture:

    CHURCHES AND CATHEDRALS OF LONDON by Stephen Humphrey & James Morris (Foreword by Andrew Lloyd Webber)

    MILTON’S PARADISE LOST/Illus. by Gustave Dore

    THE MUSEE D’ORSAY by Alexandra Bonfante-Warren

    Sadly, these books are out of print (at least by’s reckoning), but they are probably available through eBay. 

    Musee D'OrsayMilton's Paradise LostChurches and Cathedrals of London

    The first two I found on the sale display at our local bookstore.  Churches&Cathedrals I got for my birthday from a dear friend.  C&CoL has very good quality color photos.  There’s plenty of wide shots and close-ups of details. Good, tight writing.  Even the table of contents is full of photos.  I like the page design.  Several of the pages have the left edge run in 2-color (cyan, black) and contain extra interesting bits of information.  Every photo has something wonderful in it: art, architecture, craftsmanship. I’ve been to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s, so the pictures pulled memories out of me.  I could feel the memories being drawn out of me. I desperately want to go back to England.

    PARADISE LOST — first of all, gorgeous cover.  Then there’s the words! So perfectly crafted. Such magnificent verbal architecture. The illustrations are by Gustave Dore, one of the most acclaimed and in-demand illustrators of books in the 1800s. I love all the place names Milton mentions. Cronian Sea, Delos, Petsora, Cathaian Sea — names so ancient that they resonate to the vibration of passing time. He even mentions astronomy, describing the alignment of the earth to set up seasons.  Mythology, astronomy, geography, the origins of Biblical history — all conjoined to map the spiritual history of man on earth.  Is there a combination of words more woebegotten than "paradise lost"?  "Paradise": the best of all possible worlds. The zenith of contentment.  "Lost": sunken into despair, heartbroken, wretched from knowing what we had and the pain of realizing our own foolishness cost us that zenith. One of the best titles ever.

    MUSEE D’ORSAY: Truthfully, I’m indifferent to the Impressionists.  I can admire and appreciate the talent and creativity and all that, but at the end of the day, I’d rather hang with the German Romantics and the Northern Europeans.  The closest I’ve come to "liking" Impressionist-type art is El Greco.  He’s not an Impressionist, but you must admit, some of his work, like View of Toledo, has a lot in common with Turner, Monet, or Renoir, even Gaugin.  The book itself is grand. Big. Heavy. It’s a serving tray.  The best way to display this book is laid open on a sturdy music stand.  All color plates. This book, as well as the museum it honors, is an impressive catalogue of Impressionist art, early photography and reader-friendly design.  Most paintings have easy-to-read captions. Caveat: captions tend to be loaded down with jargon.  Personally, I don’t mind. I keep a dictionary handy.



    Massive books in my living room that could pass for furniture:

    ROMANTICISM by Jean Clay

    ESSENTIAL PRE-RAPHAELITES by Lucinda Hawksley  (cover image)

    "Essential" Pre-Raphaelites.  Oh, how that word galls me.  It’s a lovely tome, with all the major paintings and plenty of biographical "chisme" to satisfy.  It’s just that word "essential".  How dim do they think I am?  Ordinarily, I stay away from — eschew, even — "essential" or "the complete" or even the patronizing "selected works of".  Double ick!  However, to be fair, some people need that.  They need that flashlight down the path of cultural knowledge.  Whatever works, I guess.  Lord knows, I have no business being a snob. 

    I was fortunate enough some time back to vakay in London for a few days.  I went to the "old" Tate and saw some of the major Pre-Rafs.  Wow! What a difference.  Photographs just don’t do them justice.  The colors on the canvases were so rich you could almost taste them.  Delicious, mouth-watering reds and purples.  Blues that hugged you.  Sensous, sensual greens that begged to be stroked. (Not allowed, btw.) 

    My favorites are Rossetti, Frederick, Lord Leighton, and "Love’s Shadow" by Frederick Sandys.  (Hmmm, what is this weird attachment to Fredericks?)  The expression and body language of the sitter in "Shadow" could be me.  That’s my attitude.  My expression.  My teeth gritting in vexation.  And I want that gorgeous bracelet!!  It would take 50 pounds of extensions to get my hair looking like that, though.

    Rossetti must have had a hairdresser as a collaborator. For a painter, he does great hair.  Some painters do great hands, some lovely skin, some do amazing fabric.  DGR does hair like nobody’s business!  And he loves to stick one of these doodads in:image A Fibonacci spiral hairpin.  Is that cute or what. I’ve seen at least 3 paintings where he stuck one in a lady’s hair.  Why? What does it mean? Is it a signal?  Is it his signature?

    The Jean Clay book is falling apart, but it’s one of my most treasured books.  I first read it about 20 years ago when my dad brought it for me from our local library.  I read it cover to cover — 3 times that year.  I drooled over the Ingres’ and Fuselis and Goyas.  I had admired some Goya drawings in a petite gallery in Bath and I liked his sarcastic paintings of frumpy Spanish royalty.  My favorite chapter is Ch. V — Construction by Assemblage.  A popular theme for this period was ancient Greek buildings in ruins.  This represented a rebellion against formal classical Greek themes such as those painted by Jacques-Louis David.

    View OATH OF THE HORATII by Jacques-Louis David (



    See how cleanly rendered the arches and pillars are.  Even the floor looks clean.  An idealized, even deified, backdrop of ancient Greek architecture, or even Gothic architecture painted as if it were current, was a characteristic of the neoclassical period to show that Greek philosophy was held in high esteem.  The angular precision of David’s Death of Socrates or Ingres’ Virgil Reading From The Aneid, which looks like a painting of statues/not people, showed more effectively than telling the superiority of reason and logic.

    Ruins With a Scene of The Apostle Paul Preaching by Panini  (

    image      image

    In the Romantic period of art, you could see the continued use of Greek pillars and buildings, but instead of being featured as tidy interiors, they were featured as ruined exteriors.  Foliage curling around pockmarked pillars, severed, arches drowning in vines, and collapsing temples.  The symbolism is so thick, you could cut it with a…a…a symbolism-cutting device.

    And the book’s cover!  Oh my God, the cover!  It’s a Friedrich — my favorite Friedrich!  Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer.  An iconic image representing self-determinism.  It’s the one where a man stands at the peak of a mountain and looks out over other mountain tops floating in a sea of mist.  It’s a rather obvious message to the old order: Monarchs!  I don’t need no stinking monarchs!  I can be the hero of my own life story.

    The back cover is a Goya — The Crockery Vendor.   The composition is simple, yet clever.  All the males are facing awayimage from the viewer and arranged in such as way so as to draw all your attention to the females.  I don’t know why he did that, but it’s interesting.  The little girl’s face is so cute, I can’t believe Goya painted it. The landscape, done in mucky browns, tans, and tarnished gold, looks bleak and forlorn, like you might see in an old Western.  Those movies that took place on draught-ridden ranches.  Ugh. And in the middle of it, a sweet little face holding up her piece of crockery, a glow of hope in the middle of ruin. Light appears to emanate from her eggshell skin, but the glow doesn’t reach very far.  The men are all turned away from the light; the women all face it.  Accident? No. There are no accidents here.




    __________________________________________________________________________________________ Find your favorite Old Master paintings for purchase.



    The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptions: Adaptions of Parsifal, Ariana & Bluebeard, I Pagliacci & Songs By Mahler (Russell, P. Craig. P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, 2.)

    The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, Volume 3: Adaptations of Pelleas & Melisande, Salome, Ein Heldentraum, Cavalleria Rusticana

    The Art Of P. Craig Russell (Hardcover)

    The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptions: Adaptions of Parsifal, Ariana & Bluebeard, I Pagliacci & Songs By Mahler (Russell, P. Craig. P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, 2.) (Paperback)

    The P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, Volume 3: Adaptations of Pelleas & Melisande, Salome, Ein Heldentraum, Cavalleria Rusticana (Hardcover)

     The Art of P.Craig Russell

    The Magic Flute: Adapted from the Opera by W.A.Mozart (Russell, P. Craig. P. Craig Russell Library of Opera Adaptations, V. 1.)

    Ring of the Nibelung Volume 1: The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie (Ring of the Nibelung)

    The Ring of the Nibelung Book 2: Siegfried & Gotterdammerung: The Twilight of the Gods

    The Magic Flute

    The Ring of The Nibelung Pt. 1

    The Ring of the Nibelung Pt. 2

     Wow, these books are gorgeous! I discovered them when I went to Houston, Texas to see a very good production of The Magic Flute.  That book was for sale along with the libretto and assorted other tchochkes like t-shirts and videos. But I saw the book and fell in love. Love! As soon as I could, I got on the -Zon and started hunting down other editions.  They weren’t that hard to find, even though most of them are out of print or close to it.

    PCR has done a wonderful service to the world of opera.  If you’ve ever developed hemorrhoids sitting through 4 nights of interminable Ring Cycle or pinched your face at Pagliacci, these books can console you.  They are not just for reading, they are a visual treat. 

    Caveat: They are mostly NOT FOR CHILDREN.  The Ring of the Nibelung contains sexy Rhinemaidens and an incestuous brother/sister relationship which becomes a vital issue in The Valkyrie.  Salome has a father lusting after his twinkle-toes daughter who has a bent for necrophilia.  {{’Scuse me. I just threw up in my mouth a little.}} The pictures are pretty, but kids don’t need to see that.  There’s nothing of the Bugs Bunny cuteness.  Operatic stories are positively venal.  That’s why the music is so powerful that it entangles your spirit and draws it out of you.  You can feel it being drawn from you.  Russell’s style captures that very well.  It’s otherworldly, with bold colors and tall frames.  Russell is very good at capturing male and female beauty.  Glowing eyes, alluring features.  It’s dead sexy, as Fat Bastard would say.  And hate. That mad clamor of revenge and wrath.  He captures it wonderfully.  There’s blood, too.  Lots and lots of blood.

    These are meant to be story books, so they do not contain a translation of the libretto.  In the Nibelung books, they do a respectable job of recreating some of the more dramatic aria scenes.  Like when Siegmund takes the sword from Sieglinde’s husband’s house, thus manifesting a prophesy.  Pelleas et Melisande also has a very good driving dialogue that mimics the leitmotifs respectably.  (I hope that’s the right word.)  There’s a negative review at the -Zon that calls the books tacky, garish, and styleless.  I can see why one would think that, but it’s a frikkin’ comic book.  The dustjacket plainly states "adaptation".  It’s supposed to be garish.  Restraint wasn’t in Wagner’s psychological makeup.  If it was, we would have no Ring Cycle.  We’d have James Taylor, who already has his own gig, I’ve heard.

    So here is a vital issue when dealing with mythology — you can’t judge gods and goddesses by human standards.  I’m not saying the "I" word is okay if you’re a god; it’s repulsive and wrong on so many levels, but gods operate under standards that have no place in the human realm.  That being the case, mythology makes for amazing operas.  If you can allow yourself to suspend disbelief. 

    **The Ring Cycle books are published by DARK HORSE COMICS.  The other editions are published by Nantier Beall Minoustchine (NBM) Publishing.

    If you happen to check out the links at H&BRecordings Direct, please reference  The Festering Blurb.  I have been a customer of H&B since the 90s when I used to work at their San Antonio office.  That was one of the best jobs I ever had.  They are wonderful people.

     green ribbon

    ROOTING OUT BLOOM 2: The Western Canon



    The Western Canon: The Books and School of the AgesScary title. I won’t lie to you. It’s intimidating.  The Table of Contents alone is enough to do me in.  It slaps me in the face with everything I don’t know, everything I’ve neglected.  Multi-course dinner once again.  When the entry for Appendixes reads like a short poem, with its perfect rhyme scheme and tight construction, I’m so in trouble!  I’m like Uma Thurman coming face-to-face with Hatori Hanzo.  I’ll just shut up and bow already.

    As fond as I am of Mr. Bloom, his "Prelude and Preface" (why wasn’t one of those words good enough? Or find a single one that is?) is full of PhD-style writing.  Monumentally abstract labels abound: new historicist, cultural materialist, neo-Marxist, School of Resentment.  Remember, this is just the — for the sake of simplicity — I’m going to refer to it as  — the preface.  There’s six other sections.

    In the section on Chaucer, he chose to write about the Wife of Bath and The Pardoner, two characters somewhat distant from the top of the Boetian totem pole.  And I can see why he mentions Chaucer and Shakespeare together so often.  They created characters of flesh and blood, and nerves and heart.  And screw-ups.  Hamlet was a prince of Denmark, but he didn’t act like any of the Windsor boys.  Romeo and Juliet were nobility by blood but acted like a couple of kids from The O.C.  And Henry V was George Gipp.  Don’t scoff.  I know you want to.  But that’s why these writers stand the test of time.  They understand that any philosophical/literary abstraction has its roots in "human" beings.  In people.  It’s "soylent green" — and we all know what soylent green is…

    He mentions Freud more often than I’m comfortable with.  Freud linked a lot of psychological conditions to the condition of one’s sex life. Do Bloom-style scholars feel saucy and maybe a little wicked by mentioning him?  Does it give them a tingle?

    BTW, p. 426 — James Joyce is an adjective! EPIC!

    The Aristocratic Age~~

    Shakespeare, William

    Alighieri, Dante

    Chaucer, Geoffrey


    Montaigne, Michel


    Milton, John

    Johnson, Dr. Samuel


    The Democratic Age–

    Wordsworth, William

    Austen, Jane

    Whitman, Walt

    Dickinson, Emily

    Dickens, Charles

    Eliot, George

    Tolstoy, Count Leo

    Ibsen, Henrik

    The Chaotic Age**

    Freud, Sigmund

    Proust, Marcel

    Joyce, James

    Woolf, Virginia

    Kafka, Franz

    Borges, J.

    Neruda, Pablo


    Beckett, Samuel




         Harold Bloom is a "Very Important Critic".  He has a deep, personal relationship with classics that, I’m sure, is the envy of any college professor.  He is the equivalent of a code writer at MS or Apple. Neck-deep in the nosebleed section — sailing in the superstratosphere — of literary criticism.  He has probably forgotten more than any ten of us will ever know about classic literature.  He writes and thinks in English so baroque, it’s a wonder he can still abide this mundane plane. 

         I like Harold because I like the way he writes. His writing style is intellectually stimulating.  If you’ve ever hungered for knowledge, ever thirsted for enlightenment, ever yearned for wisdom, ever CRAVED ideas to fill you and satisfy you, this guy delivers — BIG TIME! 

         You are smarter after reading one of Bloom’s books. Not because you ingest and regurgitate his opinions, but because you’re a better thinker after reading one of his works, especially the three I’m talking about here. What’s so satisfying about his writing is that, mostly in WSWBF, he explains his ideas simply, million-dollar vocabulary notwithstanding.  His prose is so rich with so many apparatuses that are hallmarks of superior writing. 

    • sentence & paragraph variety
    • conversational simplicity
    • spareness — not a wasted word; every word contributes to the sentence; every sentence contributes to the paragraph.
    • confidence and familiarity with subjects
    • remember the spinning plates guy on Ed Sullivan? HB does it with abstractions.  How cool is that!
    • phrasing — clacking together disparate ideas in resounding phrases such as "glorious ordeal" (S:TIoTH, p560) and "Hemingwayesque" (same, p468)  Hemingwayesque???  Who else would DARE!!! I’m waiting for him to make an adverb out of James Joyce.

         And how does he do it? He reads the books.  He writes about them. Too simple? Yeah, but ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. 


    Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

    This book is deceptive.  What it weighs in physical terms is nowt compared to its weight in ideas and associations.  It’s so dense with information, as any review of the full Shakespeare would have to be, that you should read it a chapter at a time.  There’s no honor in trying to read the whole book in a few days. Reading books in a hurry is for little people. Any chapter here is like sitting down to a multi-course dinner.  First the salad, then the soup, then the fish, then the entree, then the dessert, then the biscuits, cheese, and port, then brandy and cigars.  You want — need — a chance to "recollect in tranquility" all that the chapter has to offer before starting another. 

    The book is great.  His Most Majestic Stodginess, however, I take issue with sometimes. My favorite play is MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I have a thing about double-standards.  Well, after reading Ch.13 about the play, I felt guilty for liking that one above all the others. I felt childish and shallow and ditzy for liking a play about matchmaking gone awry and an overgrown tomboy who doesn’t know how to be girly enough to entice her crush. I resented Bloom, for a while. The more I thought about it though, I realized, "Hey, he’s a guy. Of course, he’s going to have a lower opinion of it."  Guys, even bookish owls like Bloom, prefer the plays where someone’s getting a boot up the backside.

    In his chapter on Titus Andronicus, he writes about how he’s fascinated by the play that even two of the West End’s best struggle to get just right.  How bloodthirsty it is; and how he thinks it’s kinda cool that the play was designed to negate Christopher Marlowe.  Contentiousness. Brutality.  Senecan stoicism.  If you possess a fleshy nozzle and testosterone, this is your play.

    Click here to see Bloom discussing Shakespeare and Genius at the Library of Congress.


    Beat Off The Holiday Blues

    — or do I mean stave off?


    She’s So Funny by Judy Brown:  a collection of funny lines from female comedians (notice I didn’t use the word "lady"?)

    The Best American Comics 2007: er…the best American comics compilation edited by Chris Ware

    Port of Paradise by Lisa Marie Rice: romance and intrigue in Bari, Italy

    Theories of Everything-Cartoons by Roz Chast: she makes ennui funny



    She’s So Funny

    • The wisecracks range from epic to so-so to no-wonder-I’ve-never-heard-of-her. 
    • Classic comediennes Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin
    • Super Comediennes of the 80s: (give or take 5 years) Elayne Boosler, Judy Tenuta, Paula Poundstone, Roseanne Barr, Joy Behar, Cathy Ladman, Lizz Winstead, Judy Gold, Carol Leifer, Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner
    • 90s and beyond: Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffith, Wendy Liebman, Laura Kightlinger, Diane Ford, Wanda Sykes, Maria Bamford
    • Flash in the pans unfortunately: Monica Piper, Maryellen Hooper, Stephanie Hodge.  It’s a shame because these chicks were massively hilarious.

     The Best American Comics 2007

    • so much color your eyes bleed
    • excessive graphic design — obsessive even
    • I love the dustjacket design and hardcover design
    • the forward needs more indents; they are few and fffaaaaaaaaaarrrrr between.  It reminds me of a Victorian APOLOGIA PRO RESARTUS
    • I’ve read about 6 of the comics and they are depressing, pretentious, whiny, weltschmertzy, and sturm-und-drang-ish.  In short, they are ANTI-COMICS.  They don’t make you feel good.  I don’t need to be reminded that life is shite.  They remind me of the first sweep of how overwhelming and confusing life is that you have when you first leave home for college.  I hope there’s more variation in tone as I continue to read the book.
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