Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Music of 2010

I have a theory that all the best music is released on odd numbered years. There are exceptions, of course, but in my experience, the even numbered years seem to be down years in music releases.  This year is one of those exceptions.  It has been quite a good year for music, but especially the latter half.  Since tomorrow the year is ending--and with some high expectations for 2011, music-wise--I thought I'd post a list of my favorite music of 2010.  Maybe you'll see something you'd never heard of before.  I highly recommend all of the music on this list, but especially The Gaslight Anthem, Endor, Frightened Rabbit, Midlake, The Forecast, The Tallest Man on Earth, The Reign of Kindo, The Last Call, The Guggenheim Grotto, Lightspeed Champion, and Gregor McEwan.  If you haven't checked those out, do it.  Do it now!

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem
Endor by Endor
The Winter of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
This is What Happens by The Reign of Kindo (and the Nentendo remix of the album called This is Also What Happens)
Invented by Jimmy Eat World
The Forecast by The Forecast
The Courage of Others by Midlake
Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You by Lightspeed Champion
You Already Have A Home by The Last Call
Bad Books by Bad Books
Volume Two by She & Him
Vagabonds by The Classic Crime
LOVE by Angels & Airwaves
My Dinosaur Life by Motion City Soundtrack
Houses and Homes by Gregor McEwan
Weathervanes by Freelance Whales
Disappearing World by Fair
Terrible Things by Terrible Things
Dark is the Way; Light is a Place by anberlin
The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth
Death in the Park by Death in the Park
Let It Sway by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Devil’s Made a New Friend by Jarrod Gorbel
Sunrise by Foreverinmotion
Bird in the Tangle by Brett Detar (the country and folk solo album by the lead singer of The Juliana Theory.  Excellent album)
White Crosses by Against Me!
Love It to Life by Jesse Malin & the St Mark’s Social
Monitor by Titas Andronicus
Steel Train by Steel Train
Doesn't Play Well With Others by Joey Cape
The Optimist by New Young Pony Club
Anybody Out There by Rufio
Of Men and Angels by The Rocket Summer
Suburba by House of Heroes
Year of the Black Rainbow by Coheed & Cambria
Teen Dream by Beach House
The Fool by Warpaint
The Happiest Lamb by Audra Mae
Women and Country by Jakob Dylan
Somewhere on the Gold Coast by The Henry Clay People
Blue Giant by Blue Giant
Go by Jonsi
The Universe is Laughing by The Guggenheim Grotto
The Upsides by The Wonder Years
Eggs by Oh No Ono
OMNI by Minus the Bear
To the Secrets and Knowledge by Number One Gun
Played in Space by Something Corporate (a greastest hits, but still awesome)
28 B-Sides and Rarities by The Juliana Theory (It's just what it says it is.  "Walk Like Johnny Walker" is a must for anyone who ever liked The Juliana Theory.)

Here are some EPs that deserve an honorable mention:

Simple Science by The Get Up Kids
Rock & Roll by Frank Turner
Abnormalities by The Spill Canvas (My wife thinks "Good Graces, Bad Influences" is cheesy, but I enjoy it.)
Realities by The Spill Canvas
Formalities by The Spill Canvas (This has eleven tracks, but since most are on Abnormalities or Realities, and the one that aren't are mostly acoustic version of songs that are on those EPs, I consider it an EP and not an album.)
Ep, Part I by Lovedrug
Ep, Part II by Lovedrug
The Connection by Ride Your Bike
Walking Far From Home by Iron & Wine
Broken Dream Club by Girls
The Last Place You'll Look by We Were Promised Jetpacks
Without the Help of Sparks by Endor (technically a single, but "For the Love of Yamamoto & Ogawa" is one of my favorite songs of the year.)
Yearbook--October, November, and December EPs by Sleeping At Last
Caravan by Rush
Assailants by Lydia
Line 'Em Up by States

Sorry it was so long.  Like I said, it was a good year for music.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another Another List

16. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
      First published in 1764, this is one of those books that most people read for historical purposes.  Horace Walpole essentially started, not only the Gothic movement, but the age of the novel. Of course, it is not the first novel, but that does not belittle it's effect.  You can see it stretch all through the Gothic movement it started, but also through literature of the 19th century and into 20th century horror novels.  Granted, reading it now, it's not so scary as it might have been.  The image of a man being crushed to death by a giant helmet is always a shocking one though.
17. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
      Moving nearly two hundred years in the future, we find A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the most influential science fiction novels, and easily the most influential post-apocalyptic novels of all time.  The story is devided into three parts: "Fiat Homo," "Fiat Lux," and "Fiat Voluntas Tua."  Each piece, while taking place in the future, in a world changed by nuclear destruction, represents a period in history.  The nuclear holocaust that preceded represents the Fall of Rome; "Fiat Homo," the Dark Ages; "Fiat Lux," the Renaissance, and "Fiat Voluntas Tua," the Modern Age.  Shortly after the "Flame Deluge," came the "Simplification," when "Simpletons" burned every book and piece of writing they could find, for that, they thought, was the cause of the destruction before.  Isaac Liebowitz created an order dedicating to hiding books and preserving knowledge.  The story follows important instances during the life of this Order of Liebowitz and deals heavily with the notion of recurrence.  It is easily the best science fiction novel I've read.
18. Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
       Tennyson's blank verse retelling of the story of King Arthur and his knights is often seen as an allegory for Victorian society, which is easy to understand; however, they can be just as enjoyable if read simply as stories of the greatest mythic hero in British history.  While the poetry is not always as good as some of Tennyson's other works, it is easy to read and understand, which is essential when telling a story, whether in prose of verse.  Another thing to keep in mind is that Tennyson did not sit down and write all of these one after the other.  They were written over a period of over twenty years, which really only means that each poem can be read separately and understood just as well, so long as some basic knowledge of the Arthurian legend is had beforehand.  My personal favorites are "Gareth and Lynette," "Balin and Balan," "Lancelot and Elaine," and "Pelleas and Ettare."
19. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      Before the miniseries of this novel came out two years ago, it was not common to hear it discussed except by die hard Dickens fans.  It was heaped among the lesser read Dickens novels such as Martin Chuzzlewit, Barnaby Rudge, or Hard Times.  While it may be less read, it is not less fantastic than his other works.  Chesterton described Little Dorrit as the saddest of Dickens novels, which I would have to agree with.  It really is a melancholy novel, which I realize is not uncommon with Dickens; however, Little Dorrit lacks something even the most melancholy Dickens novels have.  Really, the only way to explain it without saying far more than I have room for right now, would be to recommend reading David Copperfield and then Little Dorrit simply to compare the characters.  With these two novels, Dickens shows the reader two sides of the same coin.  What I find most interesting is that I don't think he intended to do it.
20. Caleb Williams by William Godwin
      The other title to this 1794 novel is Things As They Are.  William Godwin, the husband of pre-feminism feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and father to Mary Shelley, was writing with a very distinct purpose.  That purpose was to show how things were in England, and if his word is to be trusted, things were not perfect.  Divided into three volumes, the first tells the tale of country gentry Mr. Falkland and his rival.  When his rival turns up dead after publicly insulting Falkland, one can only assume what happened.  Caleb Willaims is a well-educated but poor servant in Falkland's house, and after hearing the story, he grows curious.  A little too curious for Falkland's comfort, and soon, he is accused of thieving and lying.  He throws the accusation back at Falkland and is quickly hated by all of England. One word I've heard quite often to describe this story is "fierce." It's a good term for not only the story, but the concept Godwin was trying to express. Justice is a fierce thing, but no where near as fierce as injustice; and that's truly what this story is driven by: injustice. Mr. Falkland evades justice and Caleb cannot seem to find it. Caleb becomes a criminal, hunted for a crime he did not commit.   It is a intense look at the justice system of England, as Godwin saw it, in the late 1700's.  My only complaint is that Godwin's style is that of a philosopher, not a novelist, and it can some times be distracting.
21. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy*
      Academically speaking, there are two good reasons to read this novel.  Firstly, it displays Hardy's early style and is foreshadows his later works.  Secondly, Hardy shows a wonderful depiction of rural English life through the characters of the Mellstock choir, or quire.  Some consider this last part the strongest part of this work, and I will admit, I find his depiction of country life highly enjoyable, but it is a common element in most of his novels and short stories.  The main reason I read the novel again was for the love story.  Thomas Hardy's novels are always full of tragic love stories, and often times with multiple characters in play.  In Far from the Madding Crowd, for example, Bathsheba Everdone has three men in love with her.  One is murdered by the another one who is clearly insane, and the last one she marries quietly after her pride and spirit are broken. In Under the Greenwood Tree with Fancy Day and her three suitors, things play out much less tragically.  In fact, this novel stands out among Hardy's work for it's relatively happy atmosphere and ending, though it wouldn't be a Hardy novel if there wasn't some cloud on the horizon, right?
22. The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
      For those who are only familiar with Twain's earlier works, The Mysterious Stranger might come as a shock.  It was his last attempted novel, which he tried to write three times.  The copy I read is the heavily edited edition by Albert Bigelow Paine.  It is mainly an edited version of Twain's first draft, The Chronicles of Young Satan, with the ending to the last draft, No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger.  Let's go back to that Young Satan thing.  The tale of is set in 16th century Austria, where three boys meet--you guessed it--a mysterious stranger.  This stranger reveals himself to be an angel named Satan, nephew to the fallen angel of the same name.  Throughout the novel, he teaches them the value of man and human life: nothing.  It is a very dark message.  When Satan explains that all of our choices are determined the very second we're born due to circumstances set in motion the day earth was created, I had to reanalyze my entire philosophy.  I'm an advocate for free will, but there's something to be said for this argument of circumstance.  Our choices are our own, but they are effected by outside sources beyond our control.  Even our thought process is effected by circumstances we did not choose.  But I'll not digress further.
23. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis*
      This seems like a good follow up to The Mysterious Stranger, but if I remember correctly, I started reading The Monk first, but finished this rather quickly.  I've read this book at least seven times, and by now I should know it backwards and forwards, but it had been nearly five years since I last read it.  There's something wonderful about re-reading a book by an author you've come to read quite thoroughly.  It gives a new appreciation of the work.  While the work is full of spiritual insight and the token Lewis humor, reading it now, shows me different elements of Lewis that I didn't see when I first read it.  On it's own though, the work is obviously a masterpiece, which can be appreciated by Christians and atheists alike, and it has been over the years.  While Lewis' devils are, of course, representative of real devils (he believed in the devil, like any legitimate Christian), the way he displays them is also an attack of bureaucracy, where each person is only ever unselfish for selfish reasons.  It is highly recommended to anyone.
24. The Monk by Matthew G. Lewis
      The Monk is the climax of Gothic literature. That's not to say anything after isn't good or even better than it, but everything after was on the down hill side of the movement.  That's not even to say The Monk  is the best piece of Gothic literature, but it seems to be an amalgamation of everything everyone had done before, with a little bit of a twist.  Matthew Lewis was not opposed to showing the reading the atrocities his book is about.  It's essentially the difference between a horror film and a thriller.  And The Monk is frightening is certain places.  Dull in others, though.  It is the story of lust destroying an otherwise holy man, and as a consequence, destroying many people around him.  Ambrosio's lust is on full display, as well as the objects of his lust.  You won't find your Victorian descriptions of women here.  It is sexual and horrific, like a modern horror film teens go to in the Summer to see breasts and gore.  For that reason, I would say, it lacks heavy intellectual merit, but considering Lewis wrote it in a matter of ten weeks before he was twenty, it's brilliance makes any of the failings seems rather small.
25. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
      Having never read any Nabokov, I felt Lolita was a good place to start.  Let me first say, I don't think the book is bad.  Far from it, in fact.  Nabokov's use of prose is spectacular, but it can also be confusing.  Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, however, as I pointed out in an earlier post, tackles the same concept with the efficiency and bleakness one would expect from a German.  Humbert Humbert's account seems unlikely, though possibly, which I think is the point; but he, like many intellectuals, has a tendancy to ramble--a trait Mann's Aschenbach does not share.  The main difference is that while Nabokov's story is convoluted and uniquely phrased, there isn't much underneath the prose beside one pervert's love for a young girl.  Mann's story is told in straightforward manner, but it hides a deeper aspect.  I would recommend reading both, but I would definitely recommend Death in Venice before Lolita.
26. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
      What is there to say about Sherlock Holmes other than he's f**king Sherlock Holmes.  Seriously though, Holmes is perhaps the biggest badass in all of literature from the last hundred, maybe two hundred years.  That's considering James Bond was created within the last century.  There's been a resurgence of Holmes lately, though he never went out of style, and this is easily my favorite collection of Holmes stories.  It contains my favorites: "The Adventure of the Yellow Face," "The Gloria Scott," "The Naval Treaty," and--of course--"The Final Problem."  The last is the infamous introduction of Professor James Moriarty, and also contains what was meant to be the death of Sherlock Holmes.  This is a wondrous collection of stories, but then again, aren't all the Sherlock Holmes collections?
27. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
      Samuel Butler is one of those few people who thought they would only fully be appreciated after their death and happened to be right.  His magnum opus, written over a period of about ten years (1873-1884), was not published until 1903, one year after Butler's death.  The Way Of All Flesh was quite popular and is today considered one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.  I must say, there's good cause for all the praise.  It is a harshly written attack on Victorian values, and while I found the style to be unique and enjoyable and the story quite interesting, my major complaint is all of his complaints.  He seems to be shooting with a scatter-gun.  Mr. Overton--the narrator--seems angry about everything.  He would attack one thing and then criticize Ernest's attack against the same thing.  Also, his attacks on Christianity--while understandable considering the strict Calvinism he was dealing with--were lacking in any real merit.  Anyone with a half-thorough knowledge of theology could tear down his arguments, but like I said, I understand why he was attacking it.  Still, I'd recommend reading George MacDonald's--also a Victorian--criticize of Calvinism instead.
28. The Golden Legend: Selections by Jacobus de Voragine
      For those who are not aware of one of the world's first best sellers, The Golden Legend is a collection of the lives of the Saints.  Technically, Voragine did not write it, but merely collected the information from other sources, though he deserves more credit than a simple compiler.  I'll not focus on that, however, and move on to the work itself.  Being raised Baptist, we did very little study of the Saints, aside from the big ones--the Apostles, Mary (Magdalene, not the mother of Christ), early Christian martyrs, et cetera.  So, aside from wanting to read more Medieval literature, I was naturally interested in the lives of the lesser known--or sometimes well known but Catholic--Saints.  I read about most Saints on his or her feast day throughout the year, reading more sometimes and less sometimes, and finished in late November.  The tales in here are at times quite fascinating as well as fantastical.  Some of them read like fairy tales.  Take the Seven Sleepers, for example--a story I've blogged about before.  What is especially interesting is reading the historical account of a saint--say, Thomas Becket--and the Church's version.  I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I'm quite eager to get the entire collection, rather than just selections, but I would recommend starting with this.
29. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
     I already blogged extensively on this novel, so I will say very little here.  If anyone is truly interested in my thoughts upon the book, read my blog from December second.  All I'll say here is that I could easily see myself reading this again, and look forward to reading Where Angels Fear to Tread.
30. The Song of Roland by Anonymous
      Ah, The Song of Roland, first of the chanson de geste--is there really anything I can say about this that could actually express the pure badassery of it?   This is the Medieval equivalent to Die Hard, and might also remind modern readers of the plot to 300.  I'd have to say though, even John McClane and King Leonidas wouldn't stand a chance against Roland and Olivier.  Here's the basic idea: Charlemagne has been invading Spain for a while now, and decides to leave after Saracen king Marsile promises peace.  It's all a trap though, and when Roland, twelve peers--including his best friend Olivier--and twenty thousand soldiers head up the rearguard, they are ambushed by Marsile's army of four hundred thousand.  They fight to the last man--that being Roland, of course.  Roland previously refused to sound his horn to alert Charlemagne, but now does so, bursting his temples from the blow.  He dies on a hill, facing the enemy land.  Charlemagne comes, and long story short, is mortified, but not so much that he can't heap a horrible vengeance on his foes.  Based on historical events, but probably about as reliable a historic document as 300, The Song of Roland is easily the greatest epic poem from the era.  There's a lot more I could say about it, but I'll limit myself.  Maybe I'll talk about it some other time.

Well, that is my finished list of the books I read this year.  Hopefully next year's will be longer, but at least it's not shorter than last year's.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Charles Dickens and Christmastime

For those who know and love the works of Charles Dickens, it's hard to separate him from Christmastime.  Christmas--when looked at properly--has an other worldliness about it, and Dickens is not without this aura as well.  He is like a second Homer, breathing life into pagan gods. But the gods of Dickens--the Pickwicks and Wellers, the Traddles and Micawbers--are not without their Christianity.  If this blending of Paganism and Christianity seems odd to anyone, let us not forget that many of our most cherished traditions of Christmas are pagan traditions.
None of his works seems to exude this feature more so than his Christmas books.  Even The Battle of Life, which is the only one of his Christmas books that contains no elements of the supernatural, is ripe with this other-worldliness, this Pagan Christianity.  Reading the story, it is hard to not picture these characters worshiping their household gods.  One could transpose the entire story to Ancient Rome and find little need to change a thing.
I would say though that the Dickens' other-worldliness is best exposed in two scenes, two of his Christmas books, A Christmas Carol and The Chimes.  The scene wherein Scrooge holds conversation with his former partner Jacob Marley has always held a sort of awful presence in my mind.  It is one of the most real scenes in all of literature to me.  I can hear the bells, the rattle of chains, the woeful voice of Marley as he talks of Scrooge's "ponderous chain."  But no part of this is more set in my mind than when Scrooge is at the window.  Of course, Dickens' views on the afterlife seem more influenced by folklore than actual religion, which, though he would not have liked to admit it, was more Medieval than it was Victorian.
This scene at the window in very similar to a scene in The Chimes, when Trotty Veck is in the bell tower, viewing goblins, all over the country side, comforting lamenting souls and tormenting sinners, until the bells stop ringing and they all disappear.  They are the spirits of the bells working on the souls of men.  It is a perfect example of his Pagan Christianity.  Then the true spirits of the bells appear, "a bearded figure. . .a figure and the Bell itself."  They are described as "mysterious and awful."  Yet, even these Bells, he says were Baptised.  He links fairies with the Church, combining folklore with religion.  This is actually very common among the British.  Even today, many devout Christians of the Celtic countries hold to beliefs in the fairy folk.
Christmastime is as well a link between folklore and religion.  One the one hand, we have the Virgin Mary giving birth to God made flesh, born so that through His death he might rescrue His creation.  On the other hand, we have such folklore as Sinterklaas (the true name of Santa Claus), Father Christmas (a seperate entitity from Sinterklaas), yulelogs, mistletoe, and even elves, though for the life of me, I can't figure out how they fit in.  While I am the type of Christian who prefers to make Christmas about Christ, I'm also an enthusist of fairy tales.  I might not tell me children that Santa Claus is real (I might mention Sinterklaas because I'd like to tap into my Dutch herritage), but they'll certainly learn about Father Christmas (who is simply an embodiment of the Christmas spirit) and of course we'll have a Christmas tree and all those other ornaments that owe their origins to Pagan tradition. 
Christ did not come into the world to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.  We are to cast aside the parts we do not need, and keep only that which is pertinant to the Christian faith.  In the same regard, I think Christ did not come into the world to destroy Paganism, but to complete it.  We can throw aside the harmful beliefs, but there are many aspects that need not be eliminated simply because of their connection to false gods.  The early Church knew this, but many movements since have feared the harmful effect of Paganism, not realizing that Christianity has rendered Paganism impotent.  It was because of this that Puritains abolished Christmas.  Even America was founded without Christmas, and if not for such writers as Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, Christmas might have gone out into obscurity.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another List

Well, since December has reared it's cold, white-bearded head, I suppose it's time again to make the list of books I've read this year.  Sadly, just like last year, it's at thirty.  But at least it's not less than last year.  And just like last year, I'm not including Dickens' five Christmas books that I read every year in December.  I'm currently reading a small collection of essays by William Hazlitt, but I doubt I'll get it finished before January, so it's not included.
I've devided the list into two lists of fifteen (just like last year), and, of course, and asterisk next to the name means I've read it before.  Prepare to judge me harshly.

1.  The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
     I first read The Princess and the Goblin in 2006.   It was the second novel I read by MacDonald and the first one I enjoyed all the way through.  I checked all the book stores in town for the sequel, but not finding it, I let it slip from my mind.  I wish I hadn't, because the two should really be read back to back.  They compliment each other in the sense that Goblin is the feminine story while Curdie is the masculine.  Of course, the two are ripe with Christian metaphors, though like most of MacDonald's works, they are never preachy.  It is definitely a classic I'll read to my kids one day.  (My future children, not my future baby goats.)
2.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
     I had intended to start the year off with this novel.  This was to be my year of reading novels everyone should read.  I made a dent in that list, at least, and I started with this book.  I've already said how I rank the Brontes in an early post, but I'll say again: Anne is my favorite.  That's not to say Charlotte is a bad writer, but having read two of her novels, I find them somewhat trite.  Jane Eyre specifically, I found to be predictable--I knew little to nothing of the story--and often boring.
3.  In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
     Le Fanu is a little know Irish author from the Victorian movement who was stuck in the Gothic period.  This is in no way a bad thing.  In a Glass Darkly is a collection of short occult mysteries, taken from the papers of one Dr. Martin Hesselius, an expert in metaphysics and the occult.  He appears very little throughout though, which is due to him being merely a pretense to publish these all together.  They were most of them, if not all, published separately beforehand.  While the five stories were all interesting and entertaining, the best was certainly the novella length vampiric tale Carmilla, the story of a lesbian vampire's obsession with an English girl living in Western Europe. Not your typical Victorian romance.
4.  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
     This is a powerhouse of a story.  Like many novels written in the Victorian era, it spans a large time frame and includes a large cast of characters.  Despite that, it is highly memorable and entertaining.  It's easy to see why it was so influential.  What's not easy to see is why Becky is so beloved.  She was the least likable character in it, but feminists see her as a strong woman.  I've never thought being amoral makes you strong.  But again, I think most people miss the point in the same way Blake missed the point about Milton's Satan.
5.  Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
     For those who don't know Jonathan Swift's famous story, it is the tale of a traveler who apparently has the worst luck when he finds open water, and finds himself four times stranded on islands with strange inhabitants who just so happen to lampoon and attack the flaws and foibles of the day.  Of course, this is why Swift is considered by many to be England's greatest satirist.  I would go so far as to estimate that this fictional travelogue is one of--if not the most influential book of the last three hundred years.  It's effected not only literature and film, but also the English language.  Not to the extent of Shakespeare, but certainly you've never met someone who didn't know the word "yahoo."
6.  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
     Like many people who read a lot of classic literature, this was recommended to me because I'd like the subject matter and the references.  Sadly, it takes more than a mention of Martin Chuzzlewit to get me to like a book.  Do I doubt Fforde really enjoys classic literature?  No.  But this book is trying way to hard to not only make that point abundantly clear, which, by the way, it does not do; but it is also trying way to hard to be eccentric.  Oh, it's kinda cute that Thursday Next has a Dodo named Pickwick, but that doesn't fix the weak points in his plot or dialogue.  I'll probably still read the second one in the series though, since I own it.
7.  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens*
     David Copperfield is my favorite novel.  It's not Dickens' best work.  No, that title would go to Bleak House most likely.  But David Copperfield has sentimental value.  It also helps that some of Dickens' best characters are displayed in this novel.  The wonderfully positive Thomas Traddles, the clearly bipolar and perpetually impoverished Wilkins Micawber, the simple yet lovable Dora Spenlow, the conniving and dastardly Uriah Heep, and the stiff but gentle Betsy Trotwood--and the cast goes on.  Dickens displays his knack for making eccentric characters better in David Copperfield than in any other work.  And it's this knack for the eccentric that I've always loved about Dickens, ever since I first read A Christmas Carol.
8.  The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
     The thing about Beagle is, he looks like a fantasy author.  More than that, he looks like a fantasy reader.  In some ways, this is a good thing.  One can tell from reading The Last Unicorn that Beagle knows his fantasy, especially high fantasy.  The problem is though, The Last Unicorn is high fantasy in a low fantasy body.  (For those who don't know the difference, click on the links.)  Granted, I think I was looking for something a little bit more William Morris, and what I got was more Diana Wynne Jones.  I like both authors, but I felt this book could've been something so much more than it was.  As it is, I found it somewhat forgettable and boring in many places.
9.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
     I like Vonnegut, but I think I like him in smaller doses than a whole novel.  I've read many of his short stories and never been let down.  Slaughterhouse-Five was, sadly, not as good as I'd expected it to be.  It wasn't science fiction, for one.  That's a mislabel.  I think we all know Billy Pilgrim didn't go into space.  He suffered quite a bit as a prisoner of war, and eventually, he snapped.  That wasn't my issue.  I just got nothing out of the book.  Most of the Vonnegut stories I've read I highly enjoyed and they stuck in my mind long afterwords.  This, once I got to the last page, was out of my head immediately.  Maybe I'll read Cat's Cradle next time.
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
      By the time an American reaches the age of twenty-five, if he hasn't read The Great Gatsby, most people assume there's something wrong with him.  It might surprise some, but my school never required me to read it.  I'm not too fond of American literature in general, so I put it off.  I'm glad I did.  I'd already read Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age by the time I got to this, which added to what I got out of it.  I will say though, I felt it was a bit over-lauded.  It was good, but there were many British writers from the same period attacking the same social ills and doing it better.  I look forward to reading more by Fitzgerald though. 
11. It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry by Joey Comeau
      I've already expressed my enjoyment of the works of this crazy bastard once before, so it should come as no surprise that I read this collection of short stories in a few hours.  Comeau lends himself to easy reading though.  He's never too deep, but never too shallow.  He tows the line.  I read his darkly hilarious epistolary novel Overqualified last year and I've been reading his webcomic A Softer World even longer, so I knew what to expect from this collection: horror, romance, and a little bit of philosophical musings.  Throw in a little bit (or a lot) of perverted humor and you've got Joey Comeau.
12. The Mill On the Floss by George Eliot
      This is probably not what one would expect someone to read after Joey Comeau, but somehow it happened that way.  I was in the mood for some Victorian idyllic stylings, something like Thomas Hardy.  And who's more like Thomas Hardy than George Eliot?  (I suppose I could've just read Thomas Hardy, but here we are.)  Let me just say, I enjoyed this novel, but it was so slow.  It was like walking up a steep hill the entire time, and then, out of no where, falling into a crevice.  It just ended, and I did not see that ending coming.  After thinking about it, it makes sense, but at the time I was highly confused why she'd end it like that, so suddenly.  I know many people studying Victorian literature usually read Middlemarch, but I'd highly recommend this instead.  It is a biting, but also sympathetic, attack on many aspects of Victorian country life.
13. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
      I remember that while reading this, I enjoyed it, but I remember very little from it.  I mean, I understand what it was actually about, what the intellectuals say it's about.  Maybe if I were someone who never thought of death and the afterlife it would've struck home more.  It's a very well done novella, but I can list on one hand all the novellas that have changed my life.  There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm glad I read it.  I'd even recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, the author, or Russian literature.  I suppose though, there's rarely a reason to not remind one's self of life's temporariness and the need to live right.
14. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen*
      I first read this in 2007 because a girl I liked told me to read Austen.  I'm glad I did because Austen is a necessity.  I read it at a ridiculous singles conference my church went to. I don't think they meant for me to spend the conference in a stairwell reading alone, but there you have it.  I feel like that's where Cathrine Morland would've been.  Northanger Abbey  is Austen's Don Quixote.  In fact, the earlier novel The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox was used as a model for Norrthanger Abbey.   But anyway, Miss Morland is perhaps my favorite Austen heroine.  She is, I believe, the most eccentric, which to a certain extent means the most sincere.  Naivety is a good sign of sincerity.  And rather than feel sorry for her when she makes her outrageous mistakes, I feel nothing but comradely.
15. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
      While this is barely more a short story, I've added it here because it's classified as a novella.  If you ask the average reader, they'll tell you Death in Venice  is paled by Lolita, but in my opinion, this is the superior work.  His use of the Apollonian life struggling against the Dionysian life, resulting in the end with a failure and Aschenbach falling victim to Dionysus, seems to me far more interesting than the concept tackled in Lolita.  In fact, I'd say, without Nabokov's unique use of prose, Lolita would be nothing special.  Of course, I only see this now after reading Lolita and comparing the two.  But I'll get to my views on Lolita in the next and final list.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December Nostalgia

On the 19th I'll be driving to my parent's house to watch my dad in his church's Christmas cantata.  I'm excited for this for one main reason.  I love driving on December nights.  I have ever since 2001, the first December I had a license and the first December I had a broken heart.  I'm not going to wax nostalgic for a love than never was.  Obviously, things turned out for the best.  It wasn't the last heartbreak I'd suffer.  I'm sure it won't be the last.  But there's something interesting about the first of things.  It defines the experience to a certain extent.  I mean, this girl I'd wanted to date for three months choosing some guy she'd barely known over me hurt quite a bit for sixteen year old me; but let's be honest, my fiance who I'd been dating for nearly five years leaving me and immediately moving in with some random guy hurt far worse.  And if my wife were to leave me, I'm sure that would be unimaginably worse still.  But the first time seems stuck in my brain as the example the others follow.  Everything before that seems like childhood to me.  Everything after was. . .something else.  Certainly not manhood.  I don't know when I first described myself as a man, but it definitely was not nine years ago.
But back to my first point: driving on December nights.  Hell, let's just say December nights specifically.  Sure, I had fifteen Decembers before 2001, but somehow I never appreciated them until December 7th, nine years ago.  The fog and the snow, mixing with the glow of the streetlights.  Driving through the park a dozen times to see the the faintly viewed Christmas lights in the park.  The soundtrack: Something to Write Home About by The Get up Kids.  I listened to "Long Goodnight" for the better part of the night, and I seldom listen to it to this day for that reason.  Why?  Because some girl didn't pick me.  Now, I scoff.  If I were telling this story instead of typing it, one would hear a distinct "pfft."  But it's a part of me.  Sometimes I wish it wasn't.  It's why I get depressed every year come December.  It's why Something to Write Home About is my favorite album. . .OF. All. TIME.  If that hadn't happened, maybe my musical taste would've become much different.  I was at a crossroad at the time.  I'd just discovered Dashboard Confessional, but I'd also just discovered BoySetsFire.  Who knows?  Maybe I would be horribly into hardcore right now if not for that night.  Thank God for near misses, right?
Still, I've thought about it, if I never went through that first heartbreak, I might never become so close to the girl I was to date for four and a half years, nearly marry, and eventually be betrayed by as well.  If I had not met Rachel, Chandler and I probably wouldn't have become such close friends and I would've never met my currently wife (also named Rachel.)  It's hard not to look at these things and wonder about fate and chance.  Maybe that is the true reason I get depressed around December.  It's not the cold.  I love the cold.  It is invigorating.  But maybe I'm simply chained to memories.  Firsts can be highly definitive.
It's easy to see why they're a good thing though.  Without them, this picture of my wife and I would never exist.  The girl who broke my heart back then is happily married with a child and another on the way--or she already had the baby.  As for my ex-fiance--I'll not speak about that more than necessary.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm an existentialist. Of course I don't believe in Italy

I've been reading E.M. Forster's A Room with a View for nearly a week now.  I'll probably finish it today or tomorrow.  (I'd be done sooner if I hadn't thrown The Song of Roland into the mix.)  It has been an interesting read, to say the least.  Forster is one of those authors that I had a natural aversion to before I'd read anything by him.  Often, I follow my instincts and avoid that author and his works.  Sometimes, however, I force myself to read something by him--usually the shortest work.  This is, of course, one such occasion.  Other similar instances involved such authors as James Joyce, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and even Charles Dickens
Now, forcing myself to read an author I don't want to read isn't always such the resounding success as my foray into the world of Dickens.  Take Salinger for an example: I had never read anything by him but always knew I'd hate his works; I found Franny and Zooey for a dollar and read it in a couple of days, only to find my original opinion was an understatement of my true hatred for that man's works. 
Luckily, Forster is not turning out so bad as all that.  I'd not say he's turning out like Dickens did though by any means.  It's a nice middle ground.  I like the story he's crafted and the characters he's populated it with, but his writing leaves something to be desired at times.  Some brilliance does shine through though.  Through dialogue mostly.  A wonderful example of this is this quote by George Emerson: "It is Fate that I am here.  But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."  I love that quote. Another highlight is the conversation between Cecil and Lucy wherein Cecil explains that when he thinks of her he thinks of a view, and when she thinks of him, she thinks of a room--a room without a view.  It's also said later that there are two types of men in the world: those who remember views and those who don't.
This room and view comparison is, in my opinion, a metaphor for two types of people.  The first being people who are closed off within society, with no access to the aesthetic life.  The view is that aesthetic life, but it is also the future--a wide open expanse with limitless possibilities.  You'll find none of that back in the room.  And so, it is a conflict between the passed and the future.  Which is interesting, considering the title: A Room with a View.  Obviously, this is a combination of both the passed and the future.  The societal safety of an enclosed room with the aesthetic freedom of a view.
There is another aspect of the room and view comparison.  It is stated at a certain point that Lucy says to Cecil, "I won't be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me."  This is easily a call-back to the notion that Cecil is a room without a view, and he would bring Lucy into the room if she would let him.  He would surround her with beautiful things--books, art, music--but he would keep her from people.  People are the one thing Cecil cannot stand.  He grows tired of every person he meets in the book.  Forster isn't saying we shouldn't surround ourselves with these beautiful things, but we should never remove people--the view--because people are the most beautiful things.  (As a misanthrope, I'm a little inclined to disagree, but I'm just stating what I think Forster was saying in the book.)
George Emerson seems to embody this notion.  His father is obviously a radical and a very strange man.  George takes after him somewhat, though he is different in many aspects.  He's described as "ill-bred" and that he "didn't do," but he is easily the most likable character and  obviously has better morals and understanding than the well-bred Cecil, who finds amusement in putting everyone down, so long as they hold nothing for him to gain.  George seems like what one would get from a cross between a country squire and a liberal-minded aristocrat: he is philosophical and gentlemanly, but he'll kiss the girl he loves regardless of her fiance being present not a minute earlier, because he "loves passionately."
I think this is what Forster was hoping for the future gentleman to be like.  Free of many Victorian restrains, replacing them with true morals and true philosophy rather than hypocrisy and regurgitated knowledge.  (I must point out that I do not hold the Victorian lifestyle to be nearly as bad as many of Edwardians and Modernists did, but that's neither here nor there.)  If Forster had understood the Medieval mind better, he would've called George medieval rather than that cold and cynical Cecil.
Or maybe I'm over-analyzing the whole damned thing, and it's just about a girl growing up and falling in love.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Utter nonsense

For some reason, I decided to write pure and utter nonsense.  It proved harder than I thought.  I didn't even mean for the paragraphs to be linked in anyway, but upon reading over it, I noticed they go from Monday to Sunday.  That is the only rhyme to this non-reason.  I'm rather proud of my jibberish though.  It kind of has the feel of prose poetry.  I checked the website I Write Like and said it was similar to Chuck Palahniuk.  Why am I not surprised?  So here's my gibberish.  Enjoy.

Bookshelves lined with Mondays, fall down on mice having their afternoon tea, and shake the towncar.  Coffee breaks the lining of our coats like mustard on a dry leaf.  Lazy turtle!  never forget the sugar!
Homeopathic medicine is like a head in a jar.  It gobbles up all your onions and throws them at passing old ladies, walking their husbands to classes for the blind.  The fish!  mightiest of sea creatures, lives in my basement.  It's victual is the blood of my victims from earlier Tuesday.  Boy, do we have fun.
Blackwater candy canes hang from Christmas decorations in the autumn months of spring, back to where we belong.  Goodbyes were said on Wednesday morning.  Oh, my poor, sweet potato! wherefore art thou?  Here, we sit in silence waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for the glorious return.
Pop the top off my thumb nail and sing alleluia.  Where is my Thursday?  A fortnight ago was noon, but now we are in pantsless dark, searching for our horses.  There they go.  No, not them, but cats have galloped away.  Pray for prey to stay away.
My chair is spinning like a pen in ink, squeezed from the tit of a platypus.  Sit down upon your hands, my coconut.  My coconut of goodness, made sweeter every time I shave.  France on Friday is fantastic is you're fat.  We are not, and so, we cry.  The house plants of Denver find there way to the bus stop, but miss it in the nick of time.
Skip to my lieu my darling Clementine.  Skip my lieu and good night to the cow at my window, seducing the Rhine.  Cow!  not on my watch!  Give back my Saturday, good surgeon.  The lamp belongs in water muffins.  Tell Carl Sandburg to stop glaring.
A sad sandwich shop in New South Whales sprang up over night.  Saint George fought the beast and ate the damsel in disguise.  Spit her out, sandwich shop!  Born of a woman, raised by a hatless bear, Saint George, Saint George, come home for Sunday tea.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Extended Reading List

I've found myself in a predicament, as of late.  I have two lists of books I want to read.  The first one is the list I posted earlier; the second is a list of Medieval and classical works as well as works expounding upon the former period.  One could say the first list is my casual reading list, though to a casual reader--by most definitions--it would look rather academic.  The second would clearly appear entirely academic, though it's becoming a bit of an obsession of mine.  I have before me an untouched wealth of knowledge, which, in the words of Seneca the Younger, "were born for us and prepared for us a way of life."
I have been gathering up Medieval texts over the passed few months--over the passed year, actually.  Of these, I've only read selections from The Golden Legend.  I intend for this to change in the coming year.  Of the books I intend to read next year, here is a list.  By making a list, I can use it as a reference, as well as make it more definitive.

Books about the Medieval Period include:

The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C.S. Lewis
Medieval Lives by Terry Jones, with Alan Ereira (The documentary was fantastic.)
Monarchy by David Starkey (Again, the documentary was fantastic.)

Actual Medieval (and going back to the Classical period and into the Renaissance) texts:

The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer
Ethics by Aristotle
The Mabinogion
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
Confessions by Saint Augustine
City of God by Saint Augustine
Piers the Plowman
Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
Alfred the Great by John Asser 
The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Inner Life by Thomas a Kempis
Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (more thoroughly)
Utopia by Thomas Moore (again)
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais

I'll be honest.  I don't think I can read all of those in one year, but I'm ambitious.  That's not including the books in my Amazon wishlist, like William of Newburgh's History of English Affairs or Lewis' Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.  I also want to find more books about Medieval literature and life.  That and hopefully I'll be able to find a cheap copy of some of Roger Bacon's works.  It may take some time, considering the other reading list I have, but I've become increasingly passionate about these studies.  I think the Medieval mindset contained something that we've lost in the last few hundred years that was beneficial, but for some reason we've been damning Medieval man as if he were lower than us.  It's chronological snobbery, as Lewis put it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Graveyard Shift

    I work nights at a hotel.  It’s not an old hotel.  Not one of those hotels where the ghosts of dead housekeepers shuffle down empty hallways at two in the morning, and certainly not one of those secluded Western highway stops where guests check-in only to find a spectre sleeping in their bed.  No, I work at a new hotel--no more than thirteen years old, and renovated at least twice in that time--located in a small, Midwestern truck-stop town.
    But I think we can all admit that it doesn’t take a place being old to make it creepy during the night time.  All it really takes is a large amount of solitude mixed in with the odd, irregular noise.  Throw in a cold winter’s night and the recipe is more than complete.
    This is where I found myself one December evening some years ago.  The hotel was quieter than usual, which I believe would make it what is called “deathly quiet.”  We had no more than eight rooms sold, and I had heard from none of them the entire night.
    Now, for the sake of honesty, I must admit, I had been reading the more ghost oriented Christmas tales of Charles Dickens that night (“The Sexton and the Goblin” and all that) as well as drinking an over-abundance of tea to keep myself awake.  Deeply packed into the corner of the front desk office, sitting in an armchair, I could see all the comings and goings of the front lobby through the large glass doors that connect it to my position.  Lights from the highway reflected off the relatively untouched and fresh fallen snow outside the window just beside me, causing shadows to glide across the walls.
    Some might say it was the Victorian prose I engorged upon, while others might blame the heavy cardigan I’d wrapped myself in, but whatever the cause, it was not long before my chin was coming within close proximity to my chest and then back up to it’s rightful position.  Needless to say, I was beginning to contemplate switching from tea to coffee when an alarm went off, jerking me out of my repose and signaling the time to brew more coffee.  Depending on the hotel, this time is generally 3:00 AM to 4:00, and for my preference, I always went with the earliest.  I gathered my stack of six carefully folded receipts (two rooms were stay-overs) and replaced them with my book.
    Going under the balcony and into a dark, wide-open room interspersed with tables, one finds the coffee sitting inside a deeper alcove next to the kitchen.  Due to our ridiculously cheap owner, the lights were not aloud to be turned on until 6:00, or 5:00 if a guest came down early, giving the room a cave-like feel most of the night.  It was into the cave that I ventured briefly to begin the percolations, and then out again to deliver the receipts.
    Some thing about the third floor of this hotel had always given me a foreboding on the especially quiet nights.  The type of feeling that makes one look behind himself twice or thrice before proceeding.  To be honest, I sometimes think this feeling came from the window at the end of the hall.  It just so happened that one of my receipts belonged to a room on the farthest end of this floor.  Walking down the hallway I could see my ghostly reflection in the window walking towards me, a sight which seen during the day--if it could be seen then--would have given me no sense of the unreal.  Things always do seem different during the night, however, and the cold, tired look of my own face at a distance, staring into me, was enough to unnerve me.
    I reached the end of the hallway, slid the receipt under the door, and gave a quick glance down the hallway before I escaped into the stairwell.  What caught my eye arrested my breath: a figure in a long, white dress walking slowly down the hall.  From the distance--she was at the opposite end--the visage was that of an short, old woman.  Now, being the practical man that I am, I did not stare or stop in my movements.  I assured myself that she was simply a guest going to her room and nothing more.  Now, this was rather sane of me to say, despite the fact that there was only one room, with one bed, occupied on that floor, and it was a man’s name on the folio.  Still, there’s nothing to limit a guest from any other floor to roam the halls.  All the while, my steps were hurried, which was for no other reason than that I wanted to finish brewing the coffee and get back to my reading.
    Once downstairs, I saw there were no guests in the lobby, so it was back into the cave and straightway to the kitchen.  I poured myself a glass of the freshly brewed coffee and set the decaf up as next in line.  I was stirring in sugar when I admitted to myself that I was hiding in the kitchen.  It was not common for me to wait in there for the coffee to finish, but tonight, I felt a keen interest in watching these pots fill.  I called myself a coward, and grabbing the freshly made pot, I ventured out to set it on the table.
    I glanced around the room and saw no one.  It would be a lie to say I did not let out a sigh of relief, but upon turning around I saw the vision I’d beheld on the third floor.  This time, she was standing right before me.  What I’d taken for a white dress was nothing more than a nightshirt, which hung loosely over he decrepit body.  Her hair was as white as the shirt and thinning enough to reveal her scalp.  She lifted both her hands, the bone barely covered by skin, and seemed to implore me with her eyes--those eyes, seeming to bulge from her sunken face.  “Help me,” she said in a trembling, feeble voice.
    I was taken aback, but composed myself as well as I could to ask her what she needed.  She simply repeated herself.  Her voice seemed to tremble more with the second volley.  I asked her what her room number was, but again I got the same answer.  My heart raced, but believing--knowing--this was merely an old woman who’d lost her way in the halls, I asked her to meet me at the front desk, where I’d find her room.  As I walked away, I still heard her repeating her plea, though she only mumbled the words.
    We are supposed to make a record of any infirm or elderly guests who may need help in case of emergencies such as fire or whatnot, but it seems someone forgot to make that list that night.  I can’t hold it against them.  I seldom remembered to do it myself.  I checked the guest folios for any notes, but finding none I could only find recourse in applying myself to the old woman again.  She had not followed me to the front desk, and so with a somewhat trembling heart, I went to meet her in the breakfast area.
    Opening the doors, I was quite shocked to see no one in the spot I had left her.  I turned on the lights and looked into the alcove.  No one there.  I checked the kitchen, and it too was empty.  I hurried out into the hall, but both sides were empty.  I looked in every room I thought she might have gotten into, and went on every floor--even the dreaded third floor.  There was no sign of her.
    I sat myself down at a table in the breakfast area and looked out the glass wall, onto the empty field that was behind the hotel.  It was lit up by the starlight reflecting off the snow, and gave off a eerie glow.  Absent-mindedly I drank my coffee, bracing myself for the return of the “spectre,” as I began to call her in my mind.  After about twenty minutes, I went back to my work.  The coffee was made and the breakfast set up, and I was once again seated, reading over a book, though not those same type of stories as before.  By this point I could laugh at the situation, and it wasn’t much longer when our breakfast person showed up.  I decided to omit the story from her.
    In another hour my replacement arrived.  I gave him the short explanation of the events of the night--namely that nothing exciting happened, barring the one guest who seemed to have forgotten what room she was in.  I went home and slept fairly well in the daylight.  No nightmares to disturb my mind, and upon waking I thought very little of the previous night.  It was not until I went in for my shift that night that I found out what really happened the night before.
    No elderly lady fitting that description checked-out that morning--well, not in the sense that us hotel employees would mean--but around noon, when housekeeping went to clean the rooms, in one room they found her corpse, lying, distorted, next to her bed.  I only know what the front desk manager told me, but according to her, the paramedics said she had convulsions in her sleep, fell out of bed, and died on the floor.  They said the convulsions must’ve lasted at least twenty to thirty minutes, and it was a very painful death.  The real shame was that if someone had been staying with her or if someone could’ve just gotten her her medicine, and gotten her to a hospital, she likely would’ve lived.  They placed the time of death shortly before 4:00 AM.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

George Meredith

George Meredith was the progeny of navel outfitters in Portsmouth.  His mother died when he was five, and his father went into bankruptcy when he was ten.  He was schooled in Neuwied, German, which he went to at the age of fourteen.  He returned to England at the age of sixteen and was then apprenticed to a London lawyer.  It was not to his taste, and he soon left the law for journalism.  He began to write poetry at this time.  In 1849 he married the widow Mary Nicolls, daughter of satirical novelist Thomas Love Peacock.  Mary was nine years his senior.  The marriage ended badly when, in 1858, Mary abandoned her husband and five-year-old son.  This incident would provide Meredith with the inspiration to write his third novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, which was his first important novel.  It also served as inspiration for his book of poetry Modern Love.  He wrote nineteen novels, the best known being Rhoda Fleming, The Adventures of Harry Richmond, The Egoist, and Diana of the Crossways.  In his later life, he received many honors.  He became President of the Society of British Authors, a position formally held by Alfred Tennyson, and in 1905 was made a member of the Order of Merit by Edward VII.  He died in 1909 at his home at Box Hill, Dorking.
His income as an author being uncertain, he added to it by being a publisher's reader.  He became highly influential due to the important publishing house of Chapman and Hall.  He became friends with many members of the literary world, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Leslie Stephen, William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing, and J.M. Barrie.  He was honored by contemporary writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Holmes story The Boscombe Valley Mystery, when Holmes says to Watson, "And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please, and leave all minor matters until to-morrow."  Oscar Wilde said of him, "Ah, Meredith!  Who can define him?  His style is chaos illuminated by flashes of lightning."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reading list

I don't usually make a reading list, but for once in my life, I have a clear cut idea of what books I want to read.  I'm currently reading Caleb Williams by William Godwin.  This is my list of books to read after that. There will be some free space in between some of them which can be taken up by randomly selected books, but I will adhere to this basic list.

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
Lolita by Vladamir Nobokav
The four Christmas books of Charles Dickens (as I do every December)
Pendennis by William Makepeace Thackeray
The History of Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackeray
New Grub Street by George Gissing
The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy by Lawrence Sterne
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

These are books I've felt some sort of need to read more than others.  Some, like Tristam Shandy, I've been  wanting to read for a long while now.  It's not a long list, I'll admit, but what's most important is that they're books I want to read for no more reason than that I think I will enjoy them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Numbers and lists.

Maybe I'm wrong here.  I haven't done much research, but from what I've gathered from my study of the history of literature, this concept of making lists and ranking works, whether they be books or songs, is rather new.  I've never seen it done in any books written in the early 20th century and before, but to be fair, it would more likely be done in less reputable publications (i.e. newspapers, magazines).  I would be very curious to find out when we first started attaching a number rank to things. 
By this I do not mean something like a best seller's list.  That is mere statisics, which I'm sure they kept track of for hundreds of years before our Top 40's and New York Times lists.  What I mean is the basic aspect seen in most reviews, what I'll call "the five stars concept."  It's in every aspect of our media use.  I use Zune player, which uses a simplistic ranking system, either I "heart" a song, "broken heart" it, or leave it alone.  But is it ever really that simple?  Most of the music I have has a heart next to it.  None of it has a broken heart, because why would I keep music I didn't like.  I have around 10,000 songs, and I'm sure I don't love--as the heart would indicate--every one of them.
But is the star system any better?  I'd say it stands to reason that anyone reading this has used Amazon.  They make things a bit more complex with their five star ranking.  One star means "I hate it," two "I don't like it," three "It's OK," four "I like it," five "I love it."  It makes sense from a marketing standpoint.  If you tell Amazon you loved The Warden by Anthony Trollope it will be able to recommend several other books people who also loved it ranked equally high.  But from a review standpoint, what does that tell us?  Say for example, the reviewer gave it four out of five stars.  He "liked it."  But that tells us very little about his opinion of the novel.  I like chedder cheese and I like The Warden.  One of those I could talk about for a solid hour, and it's not chedder. I know much of the ins and outs of Trollope's first Barsetshire novel.  I found many parts admirable from a moralist perspective, but as a solid piece of literature, it is lacking.  Judging from my ranking of it, one might easily assume that I simply enjoyed it, which is far short of my actual opinion of it.
But I think most people are agreed that this ranking system we find in our reviews is flawed.  The deeper question is why we find a need to do it.  Beyond the marketing aspect, we see the internet filled with lists: "best albums of the year," "most important novels of the 20th century," "coolest summer movies."  When I was younger, I would make lists of my favorite albums for no reason but to do it.  It's as if we're fullfilling some need to validate our opinion.  Maybe subconsciously, we feel like it matters if 257 people ranked some movie on Netflix rather than 256.  But who has ever watched a movie based on rank alone?  I haven't.  I've read reviews certainly, but I watch the movie based on if it sounds interesting or I like the director/writer/actor.  On occasion, I will watch something based on recommendation alone, but never on rank.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I don't understand summer reading lists.

It feels like I've been less productive since I got married. I realize I'm not. I spend my days almost the same as I did before I was married, but now I do it with someone else. Maybe it's that I feel obligated to spend all my free time with my wife. It has only been a little beyond three weeks, so I suppose it's normal to feel bad when I want to spend the day reading instead of hanging out with her. Eventually we'll get more comfortable with each other and be able to do things together but seperately.

It could also be that she monopolizes my laptop though. . .

Also, it's almost summer, and my body wants to leave my apartment, wants to romp and play. There's a state park near here that the wife and I intend to check out Monday or Tuesday. We also like to walk to the farmers market on Saturdays. I found out there's a Shakespeare festival in town this summer as well. I'm hoping to see The Tempest and The Merry Wifes of Windsor this July. If my days off weren't so damned awkward, I could say I'll see them for certain, but they're only performing on two of my days off the entire month.

I've begun a makeshift "reading list" this summer. The quotation marks and the word makeshift are to indicate that it is a list in the loosest meaning of the term. The original notion was to read short, easy novels and to see how many I could pound through in three months. I've done four since June began: The Last Unicorn, Slaughterhouse-five, The Great Gatsby, and Joey Comeau's collection of short stories, It's Too Late to Say I'm Sorry. (I know most people either assume I re-read the top first three or are amazed I'd never read them before, but I was just finally getting around to it, okay?) The slump has already begun, however, as after The Great Gatsby I chose to read George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. Not exactly a complex novel, but at 546 pages, it's not exactly a short one either. Just 400 more pages to go and then it's back to short, simple novels or collections of short stories. I thought about joining a book club, but I don't like being told what to read.

I don't understand summer reading lists for non-students, really. An average adult with a full-time job doesn't have more time during the summer months. If they have kids, they would probably have less time. Unless it's stictly a seasonal thing, reading "summer books." I can't quite think of what I'd consider a "summer book," though. Something like Pickwick, maybe? Something involving a romp. Something about people getting drunk and falling down.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Medieval Folklore

The more I learn about Medieval folklore the more I realize how little I know about it. When I was younger, I thought I was something because I knew who Thomas the Rhymer or Geoffrey of Monmouth was, but it wasn't until last year I learned anything about Bede and only until last night I'd read anything about the Seven Sleepers. For shame!
I suppose I ought to explain from where this complaint is originating. I began reading this morning about revenants, which, of course, led me to the works of William of Newburgh. Therein I found the tale of the Green Children of Woolpit, which led somehow--I don't rightly recall--to the Seven Sleepers. I now have a list of about five Medieval texts that I want to buy, which will amass a total of over a hundred dollars. Why are Medieval books so expensive?
Anyway, I decided to post some of the interesting stories I read today.
The first being the story of the Green Children of Woolpit. Apparently, sometime in the 12th century, two children appeared in the English town of Woolpit, Suffolk. These children were just like most children of the period, except for the small differences that they spoke an unknown language and their skin was green. Along with that, they only ate green beans. The boy died not too long after his arrival, but the girl was taught to eat other things. Her skin soon turned to the normal color and she was taught English--such as it was at the time. She was baptized and became the servant of a local knight. Her conduct was always considered rather wanton though, which tends to bring to mind the fairy folk. Speaking of the good people, while in the service of the knight, she told him that she and the boy had come from an underground land known as Saint Martin's Land, a place where everyone's skin is green. Interesting points are these: green beans are considered the food of the dead--I have yet to figure out why. Anyone with answers on that point is free to enlighten me. Second one: there is a sickness known in the older times as the green sickness. Now it is known to be an anemia that causes the patient's skin to turn green. I won't go into the explanations some people have given as I am the type to find the stories more interesting than the explanations. Moving right along.
The second story I found fascinating was the story of the martyrs known as the Seven Sleepers. Perhaps a Catholic would find this story old hat, but being raised a Baptist, I was not taught many stories of the Saints, which I see as a true shame. Regardless, the story is as follows--being in it's bare bones as in the form of the most common iteration: seven men during the reign of Emperor Decius, around 250 AD, were found to be Christians. This was, of course, when Christianity was persecuted. Decius, being the swell fellow that he was, gave all seven time to recant their error and return to paganism. When he saw that they gave their possessions to the poor and retired to a mountain cave to pray, he sealed the cave shut as punishment. Decius died in 251 and the seven men were forgotten, as martyrs were common at the time. It was not until the reign of Emperor Theodosius II--it lasted from 408 to 450, so sometime in that range--that the seven men were rediscovered. A landowner decided to open the cave, which was sealed for some reason unknown to him. Within the cave, he found seven men, all alive, sound asleep. They awoke, thinking they had only slept one day. One of the seven went down to Ephesus, the city from which they came, I believe, and was astounded to find crosses decorating the buildings, while the inhabitants were astounded to see him paying with money from two hundred years ago. The bishop of the town interviewed the men and they told him all their miraculous tale. The story is highly influential to many Medieval tales as well as many modern tales. One can clearly see similarities in Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle and H.G. Wells' When the Sleeper Awakes and even Transformers--anyone familiar with the Last Autobot story from the comic books? Many people argue that it gave birth to the "king in the mountain" motif, though it could only be another instance of it. It also reminds me of the the story of King Herla, though that would've definitely taken influence from this story.
For those who are wondering, the king in the mountain motif is used in stories where a warrior, king, religious figure are found or said to be sleeping in some out of the way place--usually a cave in a mountain--until they are needed. Often times, the sign of their appearing is when all the birds, or only certain ones such as ravens, go extinct. Examples of these tales are King Arthur and Merlin from British folklore, Thomas the Rhymer from Scottish, Bran the Blessed from Welsh, and even William Tell from Swiss legend.