Poquette's Glorious Adventure III
This is a continuation of the topic Poquette's Glorious Adventure II.
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Library at El Real Monasterio de El Escorial – Madrid, Spain
Welcome to part three of my Glorious Adventure — still from the armchair! Again, this theme is in homage to Richard Halliburton whose Glorious Adventure I enjoyed in 2014.
The above photo brings back my tradition of featuring beautiful libraries which, incidentally, are the source of our mutual glorious adventures.
This was the first year ever in which I set reading goals, based on my decision to participate in the 2015 category challenge. Of course, this has not worked out as planned. I long ago dropped out. Trying to plan a year of reading is just not doable, for me anyway, and I know many of you are nodding in agreement. So lesson learned. I am way behind on those reading goals and will indeed fall way short. So many books, so little time . . .
Private Lives in the Renaissance by Patricia Fortini Brown (2004) 320 pp.
Power and Imagination by Lauro Martines (1988) 400 pp.
Phaedrus of Plato (5th C. BC) 169 pp.
Literary Theory and Criticism by Patricia Waugh (2006) 618 pp.
Cambridge Latin Course Unit 2 (1989) 224 pp.
Cambridge Latin Course Unit 3 (1989) 352 pp.
Cambridge Latin Course Unit 4 (1991) 416 pp.
★★★★★ A+ — Sent me over the moon!
★★★★½ A — I really, really liked the book!
★★★★ A– — Kept my interest, well-done but didn't quite reach the A level.
★★★½ B+ — Mixed feelings; good book but uneven or contains serious flaws IMHO
★★★ B — Not memorable.
★★ C — Why did I read this?
★ F — Why the heck did I read this????
2015 Books Read
Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (2013), 100 pages, Read 1/3/2015 ★★ (Review)
The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric (2003), 490 pp., 1/9 ★★★½ (Review)
Bound to Please by Michael Dirda (2005), 525 pages, 1/30 ★★★★½
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1353), 1072 pp., 2/14 ★★★★½ (Review)
Ecclesiastes, 14 pp., 2/16 ★★★★½
Gorgias by Plato (5th C. BC), 206 pp., 2/23 ★★★★½
Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi, (2004), 240 pp., 2/26 ★★★★ (Review)
The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839), 502 pp., 3/1 ★★★★
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (2008), 256 pp., 3/5 ★★★★ (Review)
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (1992), 868 pp., 3/17 ★★★½ (Review)
Heresy: A Thriller by S.J. Parris (2010, 450 pp., 3/26 ★★★★ (Review)
A Loeb Classical Library Reader (2006), 234 pp., 3/30
The Flanders Road by Claude Simon (1960), 193 pp., 3/31 (Review)
Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson (1966), 256 pp., 3/31 ★★★★ (Review)
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964) 211 pp., 4/3 ★★★★★ (Review)
Little Kingdoms by Steven Millhauser (1997) 240 pp., 4/7 ★★★★★ (Review)
Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (2012) 255 pp., 4/22 ★★★★½ (Review)
The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (1988) 240 pp., 4/23
The Chapel of Eternal Love by Stephen Murray (2013), 180 pp., 4/25 (Review)
Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman (2010) 144 pp., 4/25 (Review)
Urbino: The Story of a Renaissance City by June Osborne (2003) 208 pp., 5/1 ★★★★★ (Review)
Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Milan, 1475-1497 by Julia Cartwright (2008) 420 pp., 7/13 ★★★★★ (Review)
The Garden of Allah by Robert S. Hichens (1904) 492 pp., 7/21 ★★★★ (Review)
The Gnostic Scroll by Patricia Owens (2005) 240 pp., 7/24 ★★★★ (Review)
The Gnostic Notebook: Volume One by Timothy James Lambert (2015) 76 pp.
Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout (1934) 304 pp., 8/13 ★★★★½
The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner (1945) 300 pp., 8/14 ★★★★
The Barnum Museum by Steven Millhauser (2007) 237 pp., 8/18 ★★★★½ (Review)
The Renaissance: A Short History by Paul Johnson (2000) 196 pp., 8/24 ★★★★½ (Review)
Yesterday's Bestsellers: A Journey Through Literary History by Brian M. Stableford (2008) 164 pp., 8/28 ★★★½ (Review)
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester (1949) 310 pp., 9/5 ★★★★½
Graphic Astrology by Ellen McCaffery (1952) 300 pp., 9/6 ★★★★ (Review)
The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout (1935) 320 pp., 9/9 ★★★★
The Case of the Sulky Girl by Erle Stanley Gardner (1933) 235 pp., 9/10 ★★★★
The Castle of Perseverance ed. by David N. Klausner (2010, 1440) 150 pp., 9/13 ★★★★½
The Castle of Perseverance: A Modernization by Alexandra F. Johnston (1999, 1440) 127 pp., 9/13 ★★★★½ (Review)
Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester (1952) 306 pp., 9/19 ★★★★ (Review)
Tarot and other meditation decks : history, theory, aesthetics, typology by Emily E. Auger (2004) 214 pp., 9/19 ★★★★
Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S. Forester (1962) 394 pp., 9/23 ★★★★
Two Renaissance Book Hunters by Phyllis Gordan (1974) 393 pp., 9/26 ★★★★ (Review)
Jacopo Sansovino by Deborah Howard (1975) 194 pp., 9/28 ★★★★½ (Review)
Hornblower During the Crisis by C.S. Forester (1967) 176 pp., 9/29 ★★★★
Hornblower and the Atropos by C.S. Forester(1953) 354 pp., 10/4 ★★★★
Symposium of Plato tr. by Robin Waterfield (5th C. BC) 160 pp., 10/10 ★★★★ (Review)
The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (1969) 129 pp., 10/11 ★★★★½ (Review)
Aspects of Fantasy by William Coyle (1986) 250 pp., 10/12 ★★★★ (Review)
Cambridge Latin Course Unit 1 (1988) 224 pp., 10/15
Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester (1937) 273 pp. 10/16 ★★★★
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1842) 440 pp., 10/30 ★★★★ (Review)
Ship of the Line by C.S. Forester (1938) 248 pp., 11/2 ★★★★½
Flying Colors by C.S. Forester (1938), 272 pp., 11/3 ★★★★½
Loved your reviews on Poggio and Sansovino. Too bad the Poggio book was so difficult to read. (Note to self - Venice, this would be a really nice place to go sometime)
Trying to plan a year of reading is just not doable...
I'm actively trying to defy this. I have never managed to do it before, but I put myself in a state of mind (not through any conscious intention) such that I find it very difficult to read anything not on my plan. It's not a reading state I recommend.
Thanks Dan! Definitely you should add Venice to your itinerary! It is unlike anywhere else.
I understand what you mean about your reading plan. I have a half-dozen topics that really interest me right now, and they pose no difficulty. But the hardest thing for me is figuring out which fiction to read next. There is so much serious literature I want to read eventually, but just now light reading has taken over. Hence, Hornblower has me by the collar! At the rate I am going, it will all be over soon!
When I began this third thread at the beginning of the month I ambitiously listed eight books up top that I have close at hand to read next. With too many choices I couldn't decide where to start so ended up reading the first chapter of five (already having a head-start on a sixth). Probably by accident, they turned out to be just the right mix of books to take in small doses, alternating one with another as whim directed. At this point I have finished three, am near finishing the fourth, and now I am glad I have others ready to pick up the slack.
I finished Hornblower and the Atropos first. This is my fifth Hornblower, and having tried to find the next in line — Beat to Quarters (aka The Happy Return) — locally, I struck out and ended up purchasing on line. So here I sit and wait. In the meantime, I found an old beat-up copy of The Hornblower Companion, which is full of maps and other supplementary materials. I am pleased to say that even without this aid, I was able to navigate pretty well along with Hornblower in his travels up and down coastal France and Spain and even to the West Indies.
I have finally finished Plato's Symposium about which I will have more to say. My review is half written.
Earlier today I finished Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies, which I actually thought I had long since read, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle. This is a deceptively challenging read, and while it is quite fun, as Calvino tends to be, I am glad I decided to go slow with it and absorb its subtleties. The review follows this post.
Hoping to finish today or tomorrow Aspects of Fantasy, which is a selection of papers delivered at a conference on Fantasy in Literature and Film. Considering that these essays are all by academics from one literature department or another around the country, it has turned out to be a very interesting collection, very thought-provoking and revelatory of various aspects of literary fantasy, from Frankenstein to Alice in Wonderland to Frank Herbert's Dune, with a lot of stops in between, including an essay on The Castle of Crossed Destinies, which is probably what prompted me to purchase it in the beginning. I found it in a footnote somewhere or other, and it turns out to be altogether more up my street than I had hoped.
I have a good start on Power and Imagination: City States in Renaissance Italy, which is a somewhat dry but overall interesting history. Another excellent candidate for a chapter a day.
The book I thought I was going to dive into right away on the heels of Sansovino is Private Lives in Renaissance Venice: Art, Architecture and the Family by Patricia Fortini Brown. It is a heavily illustrated social history which I am dying to get into. I have leafed through it and the pictures are tantalizing.
I started Patricia Waugh's Literary Theory and Criticism way back in April but began taking literary detours soon thereafter and it somehow got lost in the shuffle. But I'll get back into it shortly.
Finally on the list above is the as-yet-to-be-begun Zanoni by Edward Bulwer Lytton of "It was a dark and stormy night" fame. I think it was free on Amazon. Hard to believe he was a best-selling author in his day and is now remembered mostly for the contest in his (dis)honor.
So that's my story and brings me current with where I am and where I am going for the next few weeks. I seem to have been posting less and reading more of late.
The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (1969), 129 pages
The Castle of Crossed Destinies opens with an evocation of Dante's Inferno — the narrator is lost in a dark wood — but then it shifts to an evocation of The Canterbury Tales — various travelers make their way to a castle in a forest. The kicker here is that their misadventures while being lost in the woods have deprived them of their ability to speak. The host produces a deck of tarot cards which they then use to try to communicate their stories by picture and gesture. This deck of cards is the hand-painted Visconti deck from the mid 1400s, which was reproduced and marketed in the 1980s. The book is completely illustrated with each card image as it appears in a story.
The tarot trumps, when viewed in order, are understood to represent the Renaissance idea of a hero's progress as he pursues his quest, but when scattered randomly among the other 56 cards, they merely provide glimpses of character qualities or trials or boons, depending upon the juxtaposition of one card to another. A notion of the medieval court or Renaissance society is doubly invoked through both the setting of this collection of stories and the historic quality of the cards.
But Calvino being Calvino — playful and ironic — and the cards being what they are — ambiguous and subjective of interpretation — most of these stories go in unexpected directions, not necessarily of either the heroic or Chaucerian kind. Over and over again, the cards reveal multiple possibilities of interpretation and demonstrate that they reflect what is in the eye of the beholder at any given moment: ". . . each new card placed on the table explains or corrects the meaning of the preceding cards . . . for the cards conceal more things than they tell . . . each story runs into another story . . . the stories told from left to right or from bottom to top can also be read from right to left or top to bottom . . . the same cards presented in a different order often change their meaning." But this is the way of tarot cards.
The book consists of two parts, the first as described above, set in a castle and using the Italian Renaissance Visconti deck. The second part is set in a tavern and employs the 18th century French Marseille deck. The images are similar between the two decks although some of the cards carry different names. Also, the Renaissance cards were initially used in trick-taking games in which what are called today the "Major Arcana" were then the "greater trumps." No one knows for sure how the game was played. By the 18th century, the Marseille deck had been co-opted for fortune telling and other occult purposes, and this has been the lasting legacy until the later part of the 20th century when countless new decks began to appear which have taken tarot down a Jungian-Campbellian-meditative road. Occultism has taken a back seat to a new incarnation of the heroic quest.
In a postscript Calvino tells us that he wrote these stories so that he could move on from his obsession with the story-telling possibilities of tarot cards: "I realized that tarots were a machine for constructing stories; I thought of a book and I imagined its frame; the mute narrators, the forest, the inn; I was tempted by the diabolical idea of conjuring up all the stories that could be contained in a tarot deck." Of course, with 78 cards the number of iterations would compete with the number of stars in the sky. Before it drove him beyond the pale, he stopped with the two small collections we have here, which grant us a peek into the world of possibilities.
Some of these tales would give even Chaucer's pilgrims pause: "A Grave Robber's Tale," the "Tale of the Vampire's Kingdom." Some reflecting modern issues: "The Surviving Warrior's Tale," in which an army of Amazons defeats battling knights and only one is left to tell about it. Some reference great literature: "The Tale of Roland Crazed with Love" and "Three Tales of Madness and Destruction" which combine Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear all rolled into one.
Not everyone will be charmed by this book, which defies quite a few conventions, but once again Calvino sets himself apart as a master. Indeed, as in so much of his work, there is more here than meets the eye.
The Calvino book sounds like quite a tease. How much about tarot cards would a reader need to know?
Enjoyed your review of The castle of crossed destinies. I am still not convinced that Calvino is for me.
I'll echo baswood, except that I am more and more convinced that Calvino is not for me. But I enjoyed the review!
I like what I've read by Calvino and once picked up The Castle of Crossed Destinies to read it, but was discouraged by my complete ignorance of Tarot cards. I didn't even know if they were used for playing a game or telling fortunes, but your fine review has answered that (both). I wonder if Calvino actually drew cards at random to help compose the stories.
>7 janeajones: Yes, The Castle of Crossed Destinies is a bit of a tease. And being somewhat familiar with tarot cards would be a help. But I think if you like looking at pictures you might enjoy it anyway. Calvino thought of doing a third section of the book based on newspaper cartoons. The accretion of so-called meanings of the cards that have accumulated over the years are mostly irrelevant here except for their residual archetypal value. If you see a copy, turn to the postscript at the end and read that, and if you think you might like it, go for it. But I do think there is quite a lot of underlying irony in the stories, obvious or not. It is not essential reading by any means.
>8 baswood: and >9 FlorenceArt: As I said, the book is not for everyone, and if your instinct guides you away from Calvino, you won't get an argument from me.
>10 StevenTX: I wonder if Calvino actually drew cards at random to help compose the stories. I think there was a combination of random selection and picking and choosing. In his postscript he admits that not every random selection had storytelling merit. The travelers in the stories definitely chose each card intentionally in order to convey their own stories.
As you all may realize by now, I have been fascinated by tarot cards for many years and have read a lot about them, mostly in search of the origins, the history and meanings and uses. They are somehow tied into my obsession with "pagan influences." All the reading I've done over the years in that area has produced many insights. I am not at all interested in fortune telling! The Visconti deck was one of my first purchases because they are pretty close to the source. Calvino's insight that they were a "storytelling machine" really hit a note for me. That potential is part of their fascination.
Symposium (Oxford World's Classics) of Plato, translated with Introduction and Notes by Robin Waterfield (416 BC, 1994), 160 pages
It is not easy to review Plato when I have no claim whatsoever to being schooled in philosophy, so I will speak in generalities and leave the analysis to others.
First let me once again sing the praises of Robin Waterfield whose guidance through Plato's Republic and Gorgias I would term essential. While other editions of these three dialogues were at hand, Waterfield's stands head and shoulders above the others, for he has a gift for making the dialogues and the characters in them come alive so that the whole experience is more like reading a novel than a work of philosophy.
According to Benjamin Jowett, "Of all the works of Plato the Symposium is the most perfect in form, and may be truly thought to contain more than any commentator has ever dreamed of; or . . . more than the author himself knew." This may seem a bit overblown, but there is certainly more than meets the eye of the uninitiated reader if Waterfield's introduction and notes are any indication.
Symposium is quite literally a third-hand account of a banquet that was given by the tragedian Agathon to celebrate the festival prize won by his play the night before. (All of Agathon's work has been lost.) There were many people attending this party, seven of whom delivered after-dinner speeches on the subject of "Love." Love in this dialogue is both treated philosophically and personified as a god. Three of the speakers are well known to us: Socrates of course, comic playwright Aristophanes and the political leader Alcibiades. The host Agathon also spoke, along with Phaedrus, Pausanias and Euryximachus. Probably more apparent in Greek than in English translation, these speeches were noteworthy because each reflected a different literary or rhetorical style and each approached the subject of Love from a different angle.
After all the speeches were given honoring Love in one way or another, and in which Love was recognized as being both attractive and good, the real philosophizing began. Love and philosophy became more or less identified with each other. And jumping straight to the bottom line, after posing the question, "What do humans gain from love?" the conclusion was that the object of Love is the permanent possession of goodness for oneself.
In the course of all this speechifying and philosophizing, both directly and through Waterfield's contributions, one learns a great deal about each of the participants and their relationships with each other and to Athenian society. All in all it is quite an interesting look at the ancient Greek mind at work.
* * * * *
It is ironic that I find so much fascination with this ancient Greek civilization which totally discounted women, if they considered them at all. Perhaps more here than in any other of Plato's writings that I have read, and even in the great epics of Homer and histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the consideration of women as complete nonentities — except inexplicably as oracles, soothsayers and the odd wise woman, one of which actually appears in this dialogue — is made very apparent. Aside from this tiny quibble, which signifies nothing in the great scheme of things, I did find a great deal to think about here.
Enjoyed your review of The Castle of crossed destinies Suzanne.
i think I must get hold of that book now.
>12 Poquette: I'm jealous. I couldn't find a French translation of Plato's books similar to the ones you describe. I suppose they must exist, but maybe not in e-book form. I did buy Waterfield's translation of The Republic, just before I gave up on Plato once more... Now you make me want to pick it up again.
I've enjoyed Robin Waterfield's translations and commentaries on other works, but I read Plato on the cheap using just the Jowett translations with a couple of exceptions.
The attitude towards women in Plato's writings changes remarkably when you get to The Laws, his final work, where he argues for equality in education and other drastic reforms. (But there are still no women in the dialogue itself.)
>13 zenomax: Thanks Dennis. Just bear in mind that Calvino is not a hundred percent serious. He was to some extent a literary jokester and almost always an experimenter. It must be remembered that he was a member of Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle). While I believe him when he says he was obsessed with the storytelling possibilities of tarot, I did note quite a bit of irony as I was reading the stories, and there was probably some I missed. This in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Au contraire, that to me is part of Calvino's charm.
>14 FlorenceArt: The Oxford World's Classics edition of Symposium is available in e-book format. I read it on my Kindle. If that's any help.
>15 StevenTX: I admit to having a soft spot for Jowett. It was his translation of the Phaedo, Crito, Euthyphro and Apology that I discovered as a teenager. But in recent years I have consciously sought editions of the classics that were accompanied by a great deal of supplementary aid. I wound up with Robin Waterfield's translation of Republic almost by accident but once discovered, I have sought him out for both Gorgias and now Symposium.
Aspects of Fantasy: Selected Essays from the Second International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, edited by William Coyle (1986), 250 pages
"Fantasy is not a genre but a mode, a way of perceiving human experience." So says William Coyle in his introduction to this selection of academic papers on the subject of fantasy. Fantasy obviously requires the willing suspension of disbelief, but as another contributor pointed out even more starkly, it often provides "a wonderful trick way of telling the truth by means of a lie." Aside from its obvious entertainment value, fantasy so often deals with moral or social or political issues in an alien setting which, through a shift in point of view, frequently lends objectivity that sometimes cannot emerge in a more straightforward manner. We have seen this time and again in both books and film and even television series.
In this collection I came to realize that fantasy literature encompasses much more than my own narrow definition would have admitted. In this book alone, there are essays on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Meyrink's The Golem; Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland and Tolkein's Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Shakespeare's Winter's Tale; Frank Herbert's Dune; Italo Calvino's Castle of Crossed Destinies; Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy; and Artaud's "theater of cruelty and the fantastic." There are several touching on fantasy in the cinema including Superman and his ilk, and even television's Fantasy Island. Other essays treat fantasy from more general perspectives.
Altogether, this collection yields up numerous insights into this area that make it very much worth reading if you are interested in looking at fantasy from an analytical point of view. Some pieces are better than others, and in some cases I believe it would have helped to have read the works under discussion. In other cases, the discussion is general enough that this does not matter.
>18 dchaikin: what is a mode and how is different from a genre?
My understanding is that fantasy is a mode of thought, a way of thinking or creating as distinguished from a more realist approach. While every fiction or every poem is fantasy to some extent in that it is made up or conjured out of nothing, fantasy is thought to characterize a particularly unreal kind of writing that encompasses more than one genre. Everything from the delightful Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit, to the horror of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to the science fiction of Dune, or even Calvino's Castle of Crossed Destinies, or Milton's Paradise Lost or tales of the supernatural, these all seem to fit under the rubric of "fantasy," according to the authors in this collection. But it is not merely a question of escaping the real world, because as I quoted above, the alien worlds that are often created by fantasists make it easier to "tell the truth by means of a lie." That truth is never the same from one fantasy to the next, but some ethic or element of truth seems to be at the core of the best examples.
I hope this is somewhat coherent!
By the way, I feel I did not do justice to Aspects of Fantasy in my brief review. After writing it, I went back and reviewed all my underlinings and found so much that is really worthwhile for my purposes at least. What led me to read this book in the first place is my interest in the process of writing. I am in fact working on a story that it had not occurred to me fit under the fantasy umbrella, but it recently dawned on me that it most definitely is a kind of fantasy and reading this book has caused me to rethink my approach.
So . . . the book will be of interest to anyone who likes to get inside the way stories are woven and what is in them besides merely one thing happening after another. I have actually read many of the books discussed, and even while I was reading them it didn't occur to me that they were fantasy per se. So my own perspective has been quite altered and enriched by the material in this book. Of course not every essay grabbed my attention, but there were about ten of the twenty-six that I have marked for rereading. Thus, this book is quite a useful contribution for anyone interested in writing.
* * *
I cannot seem to put Hornblower aside. Beat to Quarters (aka The Happy Return) arrived day before yesterday and I have already finished it. It takes Hornblower around Cape Horn to the west coast of Central America where he accomplished miracles of seamanship, sinking a Spanish ship of the line with his much smaller although better handling frigate. At this time the Spanish had allied with Napoleon and Hornblower's task was to aid and abet an ill-fated rebellion. This is the sixth following the chronology of Hornblower's career, but it was actually the first one in the saga that Forester wrote. This one was published in 1937, and it wasn't until 1949 that he went back to the beginning to produce Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. The final book — number 11 — was written in 1958.
Also, my progress with reviewing Latin was completely disrupted earlier this year and I have finally gotten back into it. A couple of years ago I began my review with Wheelock but got about two-thirds into it before I felt I needed some coaching and my attempts were frustrated. I now have the four-volume Cambridge Latin Course, which is well suited for self-study, and I have now gone back to the beginning once again and reviewed volume one. I had gotten as far as the last chapter in volume two before I stopped. So one more volume of review and then I can forge ahead with the last two volumes. I am determined to finish this project! Maybe if I put these in my current reading up top it will spur me on to the finish. Good idea . . .
Just catching up with your always interesting reading. I have mixed feelings about the Calvino I've read (loved one, wasn't caught up by the other), but you make The Castle of Crossed Destinies sound intriguing.
I read Calvino in the 1980s - If On A Winter's Night A Traveller and Invisible Cities were particular favourites - but stopped at some point. Your review is tempting me back. I always think of Calvino, Eco, and Delilo together, linked with the 80s despite all the publications before and since, so the Calvino recommendation has me thinking I should reacquaint myself with the other two.
The Hornblower Companion sounds like great fun, particularly the maps. I started the series but got diverted about three volumes in. Time to pick up again!
>21 rebeccanyc: Calvino is one of those authors that leave one either hot or cold. He definitely takes some getting used to!
>22 Oandthegang: If on a winter's night a traveler and Invisible Cities are among my favorites as well, and I too associate Calvino and Eco. I have yet to read any Delilo, and you remind me that he is also on my never ending list!
The Hornblower Companion is fun, and the maps are helpful. I was actually surprised, however, at how well I managed with just a regular atlas before I stumbled on the Companion.
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1842) 440 pages, Kindle edition
Zanoni requires the same willing suspension of disbelief we afford to Frankenstein, Dracula, Faust and other literature that tends toward the supernatural. Those works raise moral, ethical and spiritual issues, and Zanoni fits in that respect as well. It also shares many characteristics with what has come to be identified as the 19th century Romance novel with all its particularities.
While Zanoni weaves a fascinating tale, set at the time of the Reign of Terror at the climax of the French Revolution, it is so fraught with a highly esoteric and mystical world view that it ultimately strains one's willingness to disbelieve. Depending on the reader's world view, the novel may be very inspiring or bordering on the absurd. Despite these rather extreme possibilities, the book is for the most part very well written, the characters well delineated and the historical setting quite compelling. It was really only the last forty pages — ten percent — that overmatched credulity and went sailing into the Empyrean, leaving me lost in the esotericism of its overblown prose.
Bulwer-Lytton is such an enigma to me. On the one hand, he was an incredibly popular writer in the mid nineteenth century, and his many best sellers — including Rienzi, which impressed Richard Wagner enough that he based his first opera on Bulwer-Lytton's book; and The Last Days of Pompeii, which has inspired countless movies and musical compositions — made him very wealthy. His literary career was finally eclipsed by the soaring popularity of Charles Dickens, a friend of his. On the other hand, he is mostly known nowadays as the author of purportedly the worst opening sentence in the history of literature — "It was a dark and stormy night . . . ," which opened his early novel Paul Clifford, written when he was in his late twenties. Zanoni was written a good ten years later, with many successful novels having been published in between, so presumably over time his writing improved. He has been made a laughing stock through the annual contest that bears his name challenging entrants "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." Unfortunately, I have not read any other of his novels and so I cannot give an opinion as to the relative merits of Zanoni. I thought it was very well written (until the end), and Bulwer-Lytton has an attractive way of doing description that makes it seem part of the action. The prose is rich and luxurious, and one is never in doubt that one is reading a nineteenth century novel.
To give a plot summary would be to risk divulging spoilers almost from the outset and to deprive the reader of taking in the narrative as it unfolds. Let me just say that it is a very unusual novel, concerned with the eternal battle between Good and Evil, and one that I mostly enjoyed — in the same way I enjoyed The Garden of Allah by Robert Hichins — with many mixed feelings.
Zanoni is in the public domain and may be freely accessed at several online sources, including Project Gutenberg, and even Amazon has a Kindle version at no charge.
Well, much to my disappointment, I did not finish any of the books I hoped to complete before the end of October. Once again, I allowed Hornblower to take precedence and just finished Ship of the Line today. This may be the best of the seven books in the series I have read. I rushed through the last fifty pages so that I could get my focus back on Martines' Power and Imagination and Waugh's Literary Theory and Criticism and Fortini Brown's Private Lives in Renaissance Venice. I have made some progress but I should have finished by now. They are all very good! The problem is that Ship of the Line ended with a real cliffhanger and I have already downloaded Flying Colors, the next in the Hornblower saga, so I can find out what happened. Again, so much for best laid plans!
I vote - go with Hornblower.
Interesting about Zanoni. I assumed, based on the award, that Bulwer-Lytton was a bad author. So nice to get your input on one of his novels.
You did well to get the Hornblower Companion. According to my bookstore it is no longer available.
>28 dchaikin: I did indeed go with Hornblower. Finished Flying Colors the next day! Three more to go. But I am taking a breather, the crisis having been resolved for now at least. These Hornblower novels are wonderfully fun and interesting.
I am withholding judgment regarding whether Bulwer-Lytton was overall a bad writer. His style is certainly out of fashion today. But he does get a lot of flack for that infamous first sentence ("It was a dark and stormy night . . ."). I couldn't find much to complain about his writing per se in Zanoni. My discomfort was in the supernatural/mystical/visionary realm, particularly toward the end of the novel.
>29 Oandthegang: It turns out there are scads of cheap used copies of the Hornblower Companion available through Amazon's secondary market and presumably ABEBooks, although I have not checked there.
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