dchaikin searches for his inner Slothrop

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This topic was continued by dchaikin part 3 - more Greeks?.

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dchaikin searches for his inner Slothrop

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Edited: Mar 31, 2016, 11:50pm


Search for Slothrop, but what will I find? I'm switching gears from Homer to Gravity's Rainbow, which I suspect will be a bit consuming. Still, the plan includes more classic epics and maybe a lot of mythology. And, well, baseball too.

The iffy photo on the right shows Theseus and the Minotaur. I took it recently at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

Old threads: 2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 7:28pm

Currently Reading:

American Girls : Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales

Currently Listening to:

- Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (audio) by Andrew Solomon, read by the author (started Jun 3)
- The Big Short (Audio) by Michael Lewis, read by Jesse Boggs (started May 5-17, waiting to renew at library)

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 11:30am

Recently read

Recently Listened to

Edited: Apr 1, 2016, 12:15am

2016 list of Books read
Links go to posts in my previous thread


1. *** Archaeology and the Iliad: The Trojan War in Homer and History (The Modern Scholar) (CD Audio lecture) by Eric H. Cline (listened Dec 28 - Jan 6)
2. ***** The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles (read Jan 1-23)
3. **** A God in Ruins (audio) by Kate Atkinson, read by Alex Jennings (listened Jan 6-23)
4. **** Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson (read Jan 24-31)


5. **** Our Souls at Night (audio) by Kent Haruf, read by Mark Bramhall (listened Jan 31 - Feb 3)
6. ****½ V. by Thomas Pynchon (read Dec 31 - Feb 11)
7. *** The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing (read Feb 12-13)
8. *** In a Sunburned Country (Audio) by Bill Bryson, read by the author (listened Feb 4-17)
9. **** The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye (read Feb 13-18)
10. **** Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell (read roughly Sep 1, 2015 - Feb 23, 2016)
11. ***½ Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin (read Feb 24-25)


12. ***** The Odyssey by Homer, Robert Fagles translation (read Feb 21 - Mar 3)
13. **** The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver (listened Feb 29 - Mar 7)
14. ***** Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke (read Feb 27 - Mar 13)
15. ***** Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End (Audio) by Atul Gawande, read by Robert Petkoff (started Mar 7 - 17)
16. **** Poetry February 2016 (read Feb 28 - Mar 20)
17. **** The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (read Mar 14-21)
18. **** The Odyssey of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver (listened Mar 17-24)
19. **** Gratitude (Audio) by Oliver Sacks, read by Dan Woren (Mar 24-25)

Edited: Jul 11, 2016, 4:12pm

2016 list of Books read, Continued
Links will go to posts in this thread


20. **** Mythology : Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton (read Mar 22-31)
21. **** The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Audio) by Jill Lepore, read by Colleen Devine (read Feb 22 - Mar 31)


22. ***½ Poetry March 2016 (read Mar 22 - Apr 11)
23. ***** Jake & Violet (Terlingua, Far West Texas) by Larry D. Thomas (read April 19)
24. *** Poetry April 2016 (read Apr 12-29)


25. ***** The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Audible) by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles (read Mar 31 - May 5)
26. ?? Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (read April 1 - May 22)
27. **** A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, 2nd Edition by Steven Weisenburger (read April 1 - May 22)
28. *** Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod (read May 23-25)
29. ****½ The Homeric Hymns translated by Jules Cashford, notes by Nicholas Richardson (read May 25-30)


30. **** The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, read by Anne Twomey (listened May 23 - Jun 3)
31. **** Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon (read May 30 - Jun 4)
32. ?? The Persians by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis (read Jun 6)
33. ?? Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, translated by George Theodoridis (read Jun 7-8)
34. **** Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound (read Jun 6-9)
35. ?? Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture by Walter Burkert (read Jun 11-16)
36. ** The Name of God Is Mercy (audio) - an interview of Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli, read by Fred Sanders and Arthur Morey (listened Jun 15-17)
37. ***½ Seven brief lessons on physics (Audio) by Carlo Rovelli, read by author (listened Jun 17-20)
38. ***½ The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus, translated by Philip Vellacott (read June 9-10, 17-22)
39. ***** Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer (read June 24-26)


40. *** Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (read Jun 26 - July 2)
41. **** Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by Paul Roche (read July 2-3)
42. ****½ Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies), translated by David Grene, Robert Fitzgerald & Elizabeth Wyckoff (read July 3-4)
43. **** Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies) by translations by Richmond Lattimore, David Grene, Rex Warner & Ralph Gladstone (read July 5-9)


- The Witches : Salem, 1692 (audio) by Stacy Schiff, read by Eliza Foss (listened to 67%, Jan 23-31, April 10-12. Unable to follow and bored.)

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 11:33am

books read by date published

BCE The Iliad by Homer
The Odyssey by Homer
Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod
The Homeric Hymns
Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound (472, 467, 463 & ??456?? bce)
Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies) ( ~429, 406/401, ~441 bce)
Euripides I : Alcestis, The Medea, The Heracleidae, Hippolytus (The Complete Greek Tragedies) (438, 431, ~430, 428 bce)
472 BCE The Persians by Aeschylus
467 BCE Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
458 BCE The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus
456 BCE Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (date controversial, 430 is another suggested date)
1942 Mythology : Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
1963 V. by Thomas Pynchon
1965 The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
1966 The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye
1969 The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing
1973 Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
1980 Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin
1981 Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke
1983 Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer
1984 Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon
1988 A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, 2nd Edition by Steven Weisenburger (2006 edition)
1994 Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell (revised 2010)
1999 The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver
The Odyssey of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver
2000 In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
2004 Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture by Walter Burkert
2006 Archaeology and the Iliad: The Trojan War in Homer and History (The Modern Scholar) by Eric H. Cline
2010 The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
2012 The Story of America: Essays on Origins by Jill Lepore
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
2014 Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson
Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
2015 A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Seven brief lessons on physics by Carlo Rovelli
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
2016 Poetry February 2016
Poetry March 2016
Jake & Violet (Terlingua, Far West Texas) by Larry D. Thomas
Poetry April 2016
The Name of God Is Mercy - an interview of Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli

Edited: Jun 27, 2016, 9:10am

Homeric theme

The plan

1. The Iliad - Robert Fagles translation - January (read)
2. The Odyssey - Robert Fagles translation - February (finished in March)
3. Mythology - Edith Hamilton - March (finished in March)
4. Hesiod - April - (finished May 25)
5. Homeric Hymns - May (finished May 30)
6a. - Various Greek Tragedies
6b. - Various ancient eastern myths
6c. Argonautika
6. Virgil’s Aeneid - June
7. Ovid’s Metamophoses - July
8. The White Goddess - Robert Graves - August
9. The Greek Myths - Robert Graves - September
10. The Quest for Theseus - Anne G. Ward - October
11. The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller - November
12. Ulysses* - James Joyce - December

*admittedly, this is the least likely one I'll get to.

Books I have read on this theme:
Homer's Readers : A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey by Howard W. Clarke - March
The Iliad of Homer (The Great Courses) by Elizabeth Vandiver - March
Homer (Past Masters) by Jasper Griffin - February
The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic Tradition by Charles Rowan Beye - February
The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures by Erich Lessing - February
Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson - January
the chapter of “Odysseus' Scar" in Mimesis by Erich Auerbach - January
The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander - December 2015
The Gods of Olympus: A History by Barbara Graziosi - November 2015
Ulysses Found - Ernle Bradford - July 2015
Stickman Odyssey : An Epic Doodle : Book One - Christopher Ford - 2013
Stickman Odyssey: Book Two: The wrath of Zozimos - Christopher Ford - 2013

Other books I'm considering (I'm open to suggestions)
The Odyssey - Graphic novel -Gillian Cross & Neil Packer
Mary Renault - The King Must Die, The Bull From the Sea, The Mask of Apollo
Carl Kerenyi - The Gods of the Greeks (1951?) - bought in March
The Argonautikca - Apollonios Rhodios, trans Peter Green - bought in March
Omeros by Derek Walcott
The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires - to read with Ulysses
James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert - to read with Ulysses
The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 1:00am

Pynchon Theme

The plan, part 2

(1963) V. 560 pages - January (finished Feb 11)
(1966) The Crying of Lot 49 192 pages - February (finished Mar 21)
(1973) Gravity's Rainbow 800 pages - March/April (with A Gravity's Rainbow Companion by Steven C. Weisenburger) (finished May 22)
(1984) Slow Learner (Short Stories) - May (finished Jun 4)
(1990) Vineland 400 pages - June
(1997) Mason & Dixon 800 pages - July/August
(2006) Against the Day 1104 pages - September/October
(2009) Inherent Vice 384 pages - November
(2013) Bleeding Edge 500 pages - December

Edited: Jul 9, 2016, 11:41am

Some stats:

Books read: 43
Pages: 7481; Audio time: 109:39 (audio pages = ~3045)
"regular books"**: 23
Formats: audio 13; Paperback 14; hardcover 7; e-book 6; eMagazine 3;
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 20; Classic 12; Ancient 12; On Literature and Books 9; Poetry 7; History 7; Drama 7; Novel 6; Essays 3; Anthology 3; Science 3; Memoirs 2; Journalism 2; Biography 1; Short Stories 1; Interviews 1;
Nationalities: United States 20; Greece 11; England 5; Italy 2; Austria 1; Germany 1; Iraq 1;
Genders, m/f: 26/8 (mixed or indeterminate: 9)
Owner: Books I own 22; Library books 18; Online 3;
Re-reads: 0
Year Published: 2010's 15; 2000's 3; 1990's 3; 1980's 4; 1970's 1; 1960's 4; 1940's 1; BCE 12;

Books read: 829
Pages: 232,811; Audio time: 781:52 (audio pages = ~21,719)
"regular books"**: 544
Formats: Hardcover 188; Paperback 458; ebooks 63; Audio 79; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Novels 214; Non-fiction 371; Poetry 65; Drama 11; Graphic 42; Juvenile 32; Speculative Fiction 65; History 143; Science 63; Journalism 71; Anthology 44; Short Story Collections 28; Essay Collections 30; Classics 66; Biographies/Memoirs 155; Interviews 12; On Literature and Books 42; Ancient 34
Nationalities: US 525; Other English speaking countries 150; Other countries: 150
Genders, m/f: 549/202
Owner: Books I owned 569; Library books 187; Books I borrowed 63; Online 9
Re-reads: 13
Year Published: 2010's 150; 2000's 255; 1990's 149; 1980's 101; 1970's 45; 1960's 32; 1950's 21; 1900-1949 24; 19th century 14; 18th century 0; 17th century 3; 16th century 3; 0-1499 1; BCE 31

*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990

**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.

Mar 31, 2016, 11:42pm

As usual, looking forward to your reading.

Mar 31, 2016, 11:50pm

Hey Sassy. Just adding my collection of lists so far (dragging them over from there to here).

Apr 1, 2016, 4:17am

I love the lists. You win for best spread in dates published.

Apr 1, 2016, 8:35am

I love your lists. Personally, I hope you read The Long Ships. I see it on your "considering" list, and think you'll love it.

Apr 1, 2016, 9:11am

Absolutely read The Long Ships. It's time for some diversion!

Apr 1, 2016, 10:00am

Apr 1, 2016, 12:14pm

I'm wondering what a slothrop is and what one does with it when ones finds it.
Putting that concern to one side, I'm still interested to see what you read next.

Edited: Apr 1, 2016, 6:16pm

I've got The Long Ships to start myself after I finish a current print read. It seems very promising.

Apr 1, 2016, 10:39pm

>12 RidgewayGirl: I've been copying your list like this. It's a fun way to see everything laid out. As for the spread, well I skipped a few millennia.

>13 NanaCC:, >14 SassyLassy:, >15 rebeccanyc:, >17 mabith: - so. Maybe The Long Ships?

>16 Helenliz: Slothrop is the hero of sorts in Gravity's Rainbow. I don't know what one does with him yet.

Apr 2, 2016, 12:00pm

20. Mythology : Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
published: 1942
format: 474 page mass marker oversize paperback
acquired: February 2014
read: Mar 22-31
rating: 4 stars

The problem I have reviewing this is that it's about what you might expect...well, what I expected. It's slightly formal, simplified, cleaned-up, but fun and generally folk tale-like versions of the main Greek myths. There is also a short section in the end on Norse mythology.

In her introduction, she tells us mythology was like science:
"Greek mythology is largely made up of stories about gods and goddesses, but it must not be read as a kind of Greek Bible, an account of the Greek religion. According to the most modern idea, a real myth has nothing to do with religion. It is an explanation of something in nature..."


"Myths are early science, the result of men's first trying to explain what they saw around them."

OK, maybe.

She only gives a few pieces of Norse mythology, which left me intrigued. She introduces it this way:
“The world of Norse mythology is a strange world. Asgard, the home of the gods, is unlike any other heaven men have dreamed of. No radiancy of joy is in it, no assurance of bliss. It is a grave and solemn place, over which hangs the threat of an inevitable doom. The gods know that a day will come when they will be destroyed. Sometime they will meet their enemies and go down beneath them to defeat and death. Asgard will fall in ruins. The cause the forces of good are fighting to defend against the forces of evil is hopeless. Nevertheless, the gods will fight for it to the end."

But, back to the Greeks. Here is a taste of her Greek Mythology, on creation of man:
"Prometheus, whose name means forethought, was very wise, wiser than the gods, but Epimetheus, which means afterthought, was a scatterbrained person who invariably followed his first impulse and then changed his mind. So he did in this case. Before making men he gave all the best gifts to the animals, strength and swiftness and courage and shrewd cunning, fur and feathers and wings and shells and the like—until no good was left for men, no protective covering and no quality to make them a match for the beasts."

Apr 2, 2016, 2:45pm

I love the Mary Renault trilogy you have on your suggestion list! First read them in high school and read them again a few years ago. You might also want to try Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin.

Apr 3, 2016, 4:50pm

>19 dchaikin: I loved Hamilton's Mythology when I read it in school. Time to revisit, I think!

Apr 3, 2016, 8:16pm

>20 PeggyDean: I don't know much about them, but my MiL has several volumes by Renault that she would probably be willing to share. I'm intrigued. Noting Lavinia, Thanks!

>21 cabegley: Hi Chris. It's fun. I have a couple more books on Greek mythology to read, but I suspect they will be more work.

Apr 4, 2016, 10:04am

>19 dchaikin: >21 cabegley: I read it in school too.

Edited: Apr 4, 2016, 10:17am

21. The Story of America: Essays on Origins by Jill Lepore
reader: Colleen Devine
published: 2012
format: digital audiobook (10:44)
acquired: audible.com (my first book from there)
read: Feb 22 - Mar 31, on and off again
rating: 4 stars

Lepore brings a lot into her essays. She is a professor of history and a staff writer on the New Yorker, where I believe all the essays here were originally published. She writes on a variety of subjects, including literature and history. And whatever she writes about, she leaves the impression of having some authority. When she writes a book review, it almost sounds like she knows the material better than the author.

The essays here seem to be ordered somewhat in chronological order of subject, beginning with an essay on the Mayflower, where she shreds Nathaniel Philbrick's book of that title, and ending with a history of the generally uninspiring presidential addresses. The focus is always the United States, even for her essay on Charles Dickens. Essay evolve in different ways. Her essay on the history of the misrepresentation of the US constitution works toward originalism (the principle of interpretation that views the Constitution's meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment) and becomes something of critique of modern America conservatives, without ever saying so.

She would lose my interest sometimes, although some fault could go to the rapid pace of the reader, which, when I was less interested, sounded relentless. But when I was in the right frame of mind, these essays were all terrific. Highlights for me were here essays on Dickens in America, on Edgar Allen Poe's effort to find a market, and most of all, on Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine arrived in the Americas destitute, nearly dead from sickness, with a piece of paper from from Benjamin Franklin recommending him. That would be enough to revive him. He wrote Common Sense, a key work of inspiration for the American revolt. Then, in Valley Forge, he wrote the American Crisis, which include his most famous line, "These are the times that try men's souls." More than anything else, Paine was devoted revolutionary, always against the power. He flowered briefly during the American Revolution, but afterward returned to England the write The Rights of Man, which was instantly banned. Paine fled to France during the French Revolution, and spent the reign of terror in prison writing The Age of Reason, which included a polemic against all organized religion (although he was not atheist). The now out-there thinker who maybe belonged in another time, or maybe just bristled against any time, somehow survived his imprisonment. When he finally returned to the newly formed United States, he found he was politically untouchable. One person (Jefferson?) wrote that while many read The Age of Reason, none could admit to it. Paine is considered a founding father of the US. He lived his remaining life in obscurity in America. There were six people at his funeral.

Apr 4, 2016, 10:54am

Re: audiobook readers speed, that's my one issue with Audible - not being able to change the speed the way you can with Overdrive or with audio files in Windows Media Player. I have contacted Audible about it, so I hope they change that before too long.

Apr 4, 2016, 11:01am

>7 dchaikin: >20 PeggyDean: >22 dchaikin:

You should definitely try Renault if you get the chance. She's probably a bit dated now in terms of what we know about the ancient world, but she asks herself interesting questions about what life could have been like then, and comes up with convincing and intelligent answers. Maybe The praise singer would be interesting for you as well as the Theseus books - it's an attempt to imagine what it would be like to be a poet around the time that writing was beginning to displace the oral tradition.

And a vote for Omeros, which is also on your list of possibles. It's a long poem, but an enjoyable read (Walcott's voice is very easy on the ear, even on the page), and it does some very interesting things with the Homeric idea. It's a lot more than a retelling in a different context.

Apr 4, 2016, 11:27am

>25 mabith:

Where are you listening to them? The iphone app has the ability to change the speed of the reader.

Apr 4, 2016, 3:16pm

>24 dchaikin: I'm a big Jill Lepore fan. I'm glad you liked The Story of America.

Apr 5, 2016, 2:18am

I wonder if The corn king and the spring queen could fit into your Homeric-themed books to consider at all?

Apr 5, 2016, 11:47am

>24 dchaikin: The Story of America sounds very interesting! What were her problems with Mayflower?

Apr 5, 2016, 7:38pm

Interesting about Thomas Paine.

Apr 9, 2016, 9:20pm

>27 AnnieMod: I mainly use the desktop software for Audible, or put the books on my Kindle. I see the Android app allows for sound change but I really dislike listening to things on my phone (all the interrupting noises drove me nuts when I had to do that last week). Seems ridiculous they have that function on the apps but not the computer software.

Apr 11, 2016, 7:17pm

Apologies, I'm a bit slow to get back to everyone.

>25 mabith:, >27 AnnieMod:, >32 mabith: - curious issue. I've only listened through my phone, so I didn't realize.

>26 thorold: Thanks Mark. I would need to hunt down a copy of The Praise Singer. Jane Jones got me interested in Omeros.

>28 rebeccanyc: Hi Rebecca. Lepore is sharp. I hope to try more book by her.

>29 ChocolateMuse: Muse, I've never heard of the Naomi Mitchison or The Corn King and the Spring Queen. Noting.

>30 cabegley: Chris - Lepore doesn't have patience with any errors. In Philbrick's case, in Mayflower, he took a diary written by the grandchild of a character, with an apparent agenda to make that grandparent looks really good, and reported in the book as fact. It was the story of Church - and his was quite a story. It's complete fiction. Philbrick's first crime is that he is not an academic historian.

>31 baswood: I was absolutely fascinated by Paine.

Apr 11, 2016, 7:25pm

Apr 11, 2016, 7:39pm

So, I have a thing for sloths. It's not a really a fascination, as much as a recognition that we share some things in common...namely our speed. It's also a family joke (My wife lays claim to the rabbit. Zootopia fans may get a kick out of that...)

And this is part of what pulled me toward Tyrone Slothrop, hero of Gravity's Rainbow. He's way out there, but not as out there as his book. I'm struggling. I'm very dependent on the companion to figure out what is going on. Pynchon not only goes every which way, but nothing is clear, and he changes his topic/tone/direction all on a dime, over and over again. (Lucy, I'm curious how the audio reader handled this. Not an easy book to read out loud.) So, I'm trudging along about maybe 10 pages an hour, plus another five companion pages for each ten, plus time for all the translating, googling and use of TheFreeDictionary app. And, here is the crazy part, I'm not even going all out. I'm letting hundreds and hundreds of things go by. I'm just touching the general flow. Anyway, the pace is slothonian. My goal is 100 pages of GR a week (plus maybe 50 pages of the Camponion). That means I have 8 weeks to go...

Apr 12, 2016, 3:08am

Dan, yet again I have to admire your tenacity. I don't know how you keep wading through a book if you're not entirely enjoying it. Gravity's Rainbow sounds like brain fry material after a day at work...

Apr 12, 2016, 6:44am

Alison - it's weird, I can't tell if I'm enjoying it or not. But the momentum is there, so going with it.

Edited: Apr 12, 2016, 8:54am

>37 dchaikin: I can't tell if I'm enjoying it or not.

That's how I felt the entire way through The Crying of Lot 49. Of course that was a lot shorter!

Edited: Apr 12, 2016, 8:42am

We're all pulling for you, Dan, what with your love of tackling the most challenging books you can find.

My son loves sloths, too. He showed me this last week.

Apr 12, 2016, 9:06am

>38 ursula: Ursula - yeah, Crying Of Lot 49 was a lot like that for me too. But it was also a lot easier to follow. I mean each paragraph made clear sense. And, yeah, short makes it easier to push through.

Edited: Apr 12, 2016, 9:17am

You've begun, I see, and I will cheer you on all the way. First off -listening to GR was not the best way to absorb Pynchon, although, to answer your question, I ended up thinking the reader did as good a job as one could ever do with such a monster of a book. Like all the good readers, he could subtly shift his voice, accent, tone for various characters, (although his women were the least successful --downright annoying as many male readers adopt a kind of falsetto that makes anything a women says sound frivolous), but he didn't come anywhere near the precision and interpretation of, say, Donal Donelly reading Ulysses or Alan Rickman reading The Return of the Native where the work they did interpreting actually illuminated and clarified and made the books come to life. I was hoping for that, but I'm not sure it is even possible with Pynchon. That said, the fact that the connection between listening and visualizing being stronger I think, without the intermediary of words-on-the-page I have some powerful images that got lodged in my head.

Now that a little time has settled between me and the book, here is a kind of summary that you may or may not want to read yet, but return to. I don't really see how it would spoil anything, because what is there to spoil? There isn't really a plot in the regular way, more like a demonstration over and over again, of the points Pynchon wants to make.

In some ways the uber-plot is very simple: Slothrop has/is an experimental tool (yah, that's a pun) of the uber-corporations which came into their own during WW1 (this is true) and have been champing at the bit to put on another war ever since. Why? To make MONEY!!!!! All the big names are, slyly, in it together. When there is war, not only do you sell oodles, but a lot of new stuff gets invented too! So, yay, let's make war! Some ideas don't work out (Slothrop, the dog experiments . . .) but some things do, like the V-2 rockets. Overlaying that core idea (which for me has a lot of power and believability to it- not that there is an outright conspiracy, I'm not that paranoid, but that there is a tacit understanding between the big corporations that this is the way to keep things lively.) is the story of the attempt to recapture and shut Slothrop down--through his adventures you get to see the full extent of the bigger picture. When you get to the bit about the Byron the Lightbulb (toward the end) Pynchon is being explicit, like hitting you over the head with his idea, really. You know, they never have to burn out lightbulbs? You can shatter one, of course, but GE built obsolescence into them when they realized that. In any case, almost everything relates back to this bigger notion -- at the same time, there is the joy and delight in all the crazy things people get up to, the sheer creativity and energy of the human being, whether for good purposes or bad. And there are good people, Slothrop being one of them.

Slothrop is well named - Pynchon is a great "namer" - slow and tenacious.

I have no idea what a Pynchon scholar would say, btw, these are very much my own reactions and thoughts.

Apr 12, 2016, 10:45am

>39 RidgewayGirl: ok, warning, this story goes a bit long. For my birthday, which just past, my wife had a piece of art commissioned for me. (!!) It was a painting of sloth geologist (with some of my oddball characteristics thrown in - notably my bushy eyebrows) and it's pretty awesome. I was telling a friend who suggested I bring it into work, thinking of the geology theme. I said no, because I didn't think my you-need-to-hurry-and-always-do-more-faster office would appreciate the sloth. I said something actually more along the lines of I don't think a sloth would be appreciated by the corporate culture. Her response, the point of this story, was: "Sloths are terribley underappreciated and misunderstood in the corporate world." And, it's true, we are.

>41 sibylline: Lucy, I loved your post. I'll get back to you when I have more time.

Apr 12, 2016, 3:25pm

>42 dchaikin: Great story, Dan.

Apr 12, 2016, 8:45pm

42> Love this. Can you show us a photo of the painting -- sounds wonderful.

Apr 12, 2016, 10:00pm

Easier said than done Jane, but here he is:

Apr 12, 2016, 10:20pm

>42 dchaikin: Lucy - spoil away. Anything insightful is helpful.

I think I got the whole military industrial complex that feeds on war to make profit thing, or at least I assumed that was a theme upfront. But Pynchon has his own take on it. I know he likes to finds a character that is in it for all the wrong reasons, and then treats them sympathetically, making th reader squirm, until they figure out there is dark humor. It sick and funny at the same time. Currently it's the psych unit guys and how they created this tool (pun intended) of Slothrop and what are they now going to do with it (other than direct more V2 rockets on themselves.)

Thinking about whether I'm enjoying... at least I'm not forcing it, well so far. I'm drawn into seeing where it goes.

Apr 12, 2016, 11:29pm

45> Love it!

Apr 13, 2016, 4:03am

Great picture! What a great idea.

Apr 13, 2016, 4:11am

Fantastic painting!

Apr 13, 2016, 7:22am

That is a great picture!

Apr 14, 2016, 12:07am

22. Poetry March 2016
main editor: Don Share
format: eMagazine (and online: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/toc/2494 )
acquired: subscription
read: Mar 22 - Apr 11
rating: 3½ stars

I was mixed on the main theme. Poetry's March issue includes a large section of ekphrastic poetry, titled PINTURA : PALABRA. Several Latino-American poets select works of art from a 2010 traveling Smithsonian exhibit on Latin American art, titled Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art and write a poetic response. Generally, I fail to see the wisdom behind ekphrastic poetry. I just get bogged down by the unenlightening descriptions and the stating of obvious responses. The section here is quite varied, so hit and miss for me. Unfortunately the podcast focused on two ekphrastic poems that I didn't really care for.

I did really like the (non-ekphrastic) poems by Carl Phillips, and an essay by him about being black and gay and not writing poetry about being black and gay.

Edited: Apr 15, 2016, 8:07am

Had to look up "ekphrastic." The only good thing is that it makes one go look at the painting (!). Iris Murdoch does this too - often a whole novel is inspired by a particular image in some painting-or-other and then you have to go study it at length.

And yes, it surely is his own take, not mine, quite, but not entirely invalid either. I think I read for certain bits where he goes on imaginative tears. It is like jazz, in a way, you have a theme, you play it many different ways, into the ground as it were. There is a form, sort of, but . . .

Apr 15, 2016, 11:58am

I took my grandson to the zoo yesterday (spring break at his school in CT), and when he was taking a picture of the sloth I thought of your picture. :)

Apr 15, 2016, 2:12pm

I didn't know ekphrastic either, and I spent some time reading the fascinating Wikipedia article about it. Thank you!

Apr 15, 2016, 9:50pm

>52 sibylline: Lucy, i'm not sure I will ever see that form...

>53 NanaCC: that's funny. Hmm... You know, I don't think the Houston zoo has any sloths. I've missed out.

>54 FlorenceArt: the unexpected place LT takes you...you're welcome. : )

Apr 17, 2016, 12:29pm

I watched a travel documentary a few weeks ago and the presenter went to a sloth sanctuary deep in the Costa Rican jungle. Very, very cute. I want one. Probably not going to happen.

Apr 17, 2016, 7:17pm

>56 AlisonY: I need to look this up. My wife showed my daughter something on this and now they both want to go to Costa Rica and see them.

Apr 17, 2016, 11:06pm

The pan-American highway has unfortunately been very bad for the sloth population in Central America. I like the great big sloths that end up green, covered in moss. Now that's slow.

Apr 18, 2016, 3:26pm

>57 dchaikin: this was the show, Dan: http://www.itv.com/hub/davina-mccall-life-at-the-extreme/2a3616a0004

There's 2 days left on the freebie itv iplayer if you get a chance to watch it. I think you have to register but it's just a free account to one of our main TV channels. Just slot in a bogus UK postcode - I don't think they ask for anything else UK related.

Warning - the presenter is normally presenting TV game shows and reality TV so don't expect any great naturalist, but it's interesting nonetheless down to the animals rather than her.

Apr 18, 2016, 10:16pm

>45 dchaikin: That's great. I'm partial to sloths myself as both very cute and highly fascinating creatures. I've seen a few good documentaries on them on various PBS/Nature programs.

Apr 19, 2016, 9:10am

Just encountered sloths in the TR Amazon adventure book I'm reading (The River of Doubt (They didn't see any.) But they were there, the author was saying. It was all a propos of the fact that so little was understood about the rainforest at that time that one could easily think "nothing" was going on, when in fact every centimeter of the place was full of raging life or death struggles.

Apr 19, 2016, 4:52pm

>42 dchaikin:, >45 dchaikin: Love the story and the art, happy to see it as your profile pic! Keep it (and yourself) out of the water in Houston, thinking of you.

Apr 20, 2016, 12:31am

Thanks MJ. Our neighborhood was hit hard by the flooding, but my house and immediate area remain dry. A few blocks away houses are, if I follow the drone videos correctly, under several feet of water. And we are all cut off from one major highway, causing crazy traffic. (I can get to work, but getting home took two hours. ) This was very strange- just a regular, unremarked thunderstorm that became really really big. And the water in our area was ok afterward. It was another 12 hours or so before it started rising and then kept rising as the creeks backed up. No school as several schools were flooded. A lot of area is flooded. I'm a bit in shock as to how much.

Sloths must live a rough life. I haven't searched out videos yet (thanks for the link Alison. I may not get there in time though. )

Apr 21, 2016, 9:50am

Keep dry Dan.

Apr 24, 2016, 2:43pm

Yes, please keep dry Dan and best wishes to your area.

I love Gravity's Rainbow, so many stand out sections, I won't name them now for far of spoilers, but for all the slightly crazy off kilterness, and affection, it has some very hard edges that I'm not sure I entirely forgive it for. I'm also not sure I've got that quite right. Its a problematic, but I am not sure I'd ever reread it entire to think more on it, despite that fondness, but a tone I can also dislike.

May 1, 2016, 4:36pm

>64 baswood: I did one better, I left town to visit family for the Jewish holiday (Passover).

>65 tonikat: Tony, I don't think GR can be spoiled. And, yeah, hard yucky edges. There is one scene I have not forgiven him for. I've noticed it is kind of a comic book in text form. I picture Mad Magazine, but with more intensive research and no boundaries for social propriety and the like. But he had 1940's era comics in mind, notably Plastic Man:

May 1, 2016, 4:37pm

23. Jake & Violet (Terlingua, Far West Texas) by Larry D. Thomas
published: April 2016
format: online chapbook with 12 poems. Available HERE
read: Apr 19
rating: 5 stars

Larry used to tell me every so often that certain people were lights in his life. He actually had a more elegant phrasing, something more like lanterns in the darkness or whatnot. Well, for me, Larry holds that role.

This is a small collection of 12 poems about a veteran with PTSD, and the nurse who became his wife. I read it in a sitting almost two weeks ago now, and I'm still thinking about it. I struggle to review poetry and about the most coherent thing I say about it is that his poetry somehow has both structure and an informal feel. I really enjoyed it.

You can read the collection for free at Right Hand Pointing, here: http://www.righthandpointing.net/#!larry-d-thomas-jake--violet/cfd9

Edited: May 1, 2016, 10:25pm

24. Poetry April 2016
main editor: Don Share
format: eMagazine (and online: HERE )
acquired: subscription
read: Apr 12-29
rating: 3 stars

April was dedicated to Split This Rock. This is an organization for "poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change." Too political for me. Why I can support the ideals, politics usually compromises art, forcing the message. There was good poetry here. The two things I didn't like were the overall rantish tendency to the poems, and, also, there simply wasn't all that much poetry. Instead, the issue has a lot of other stuff that I didn't always find interesting. So, a bit of a miss.

Reginald Dwayne Betts has a poem that still has me thinking. He wrote about Tamir Rice and convinced me to look up the video. I'm not sure if it was responsible to do that, to bear witness, or irresponsible. I hope it was the former. It's a mental scar now. The poem can found here: When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving - the link goes to the poem, not the video(!)

May 1, 2016, 6:44pm

To read Gravity's Rainbow is to submit yourself to a psychological experiment, but how you read it will dictate which experiment you get. Read it the way we normally consume literature—ten or thirty pages before bed, another fifteen on the subway—and Gravity's Rainbow will subject you to an enormous and seemingly endless exercise in confusion and frustration.

- from Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan

My pace: 486 pages in 30 days, or 16.2 pages per day.

I'm actually cruising along. I've come to terms with this pace. I read half in April, and I hope to read the second half in May. I won't know if it was worth it until some point in the future. I have no idea what I'm gaining, other than some mental structure around a very strange book.

May 4, 2016, 6:19am

Well, if I can't spoil it. But I'll stick to parts you must have read by now - the Kenosha Kid section makes me smile whenever I think of it, then there are the ww2 sweets or the octopus on the beach (Homeric? - or maybe for me reminded me of Virgil as I've not read that bit in Homer...or that may be just be me and it wasn't intended that way at all), Slothrop overall, oh and banana breakfasts of course, and going beyond the zero and isn't there a christmas church service. It's just nice to be able to mention them to another reader - I tried to get a friend to read it, he struggled (a very good reader) until he decided he had to read it like he was a bit off balance, then later he decided not to finish it. Not spoken to anyone else, in the flesh, that has read it, I think. I found it a huge emotional rollercoaster.

May 4, 2016, 6:48am

the list makes me smile. Octopus homeric...hmm. Maybe he's a kind of Scylla. I saw him a more cinematic, silly horror movie-like.

I can see taking in GR "off balance" in parts, but it sounds exhausting. I'm such a methodical reader, that my approach is very level-headed, plodding steady progress.

Edited: May 4, 2016, 4:30pm

aha - maybe that bit isn't in Homer then...the sea serpent that takes the priest when the Trojans are examining the wooden horse I think...ah yes he's famous, Laocoon (the priest)....though not mentioned by Homer I see now, maybe i knew that deep inside already with what I said. But yes it has a most ironic modern and comic twist to it if it is a reference at all. My approach took me about eight months, brain fried at the end, emotions frazzled. I wondered if Mr P was too, no publishing for quite a while. One day I want to read Mason & Dixon. I've thought of a few sections from the second half, will wait on you.

May 10, 2016, 2:54am

May 10, 2016, 7:55am

>73 RidgewayGirl: :)

Trying to fill it only showed that clearly I haven't studied hard enough.

>72 tonikat: Mason and Dixon is a brick on my bookshelf. If I follow the plan, I'll get there.

Edited: May 15, 2016, 1:16am

25. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
reader: Robin Miles
published: 2010
format: digital audiobook (22:42)
acquired: from audible, on March 30, because of an essay by Jill Lepore
read: Mar 31 - May 8
rating: 5 stars

I was really carried away by this history of US black migration from south to north. The migration itself is interesting, six million African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow south over a period of 60 years, from WWI through the 1960's. And the elements around and about it are interesting. But what made this book special to me is what how Wilkerson presented it. The book is mainly the history of three individuals she started interviewing in the 1990's, each representing a different migration route. The history becomes, or is derived from, oral history and the migration becomes a human story—one of hopes and disappointment.

Her three main subjects were Bob Foster, George Swanson Starling and Ida Mae Brandon Gladney. Bob Foster was a success, eventually. Raised in Monroe, Louisiana, he became a leading doctor in Los Angeles, and Ray Charles' personal physician (and the Doctor Foster in the song Hide nor Hair). He lived a high life, and mostly estranged his family along the way. Wilkerson found George Swanson Starling living alone in a Harlem basement apartment. Unable to finish college because he lacked the funds needed to attend a school that allowed blacks, he later fled his central Florida community, where he had literally been targeted to be lynched after trying to organize orange grove pickers. He spent his life as the rough equivalent of a train conductor. Wilkerson's main apparent hero was Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, who she found in a Chicago inner city slum rife with crime and drug deals and violence. Ida Mae grew up in a share cropper community in rural Mississippi. She and her husband left when a relative was beat with chains for stealing turkeys, except that the missing turkeys had merely wandered off and would return the next day.

Wilkerson builds a picture of the African American world in south in the 1930's, 40's and 50's, and then of the world they transported themselves to. Wilkerson calls them immigrants, even as she says they each balked at that characterization. But the comparison works in several ways. The migrants were largely southern rural naive transplants with limited productive connections, full of false hope and ripe for disappointment. And they left Jim Crow just to land in other heavily racist, and restrictive communities. As Wilkerson puts it, they didn't really benefit from leaving the south, but they did benefit in the act itself as an effort to control their own lives.

But it's the personal stories that I really liked, the biographies, life stories, and the way Wilkerson tells them. She covers the same events several times, not from the perspectives of different people, but from the perspective of different contexts. We hear a story in some detail. Then it comes up again as someone's past, but she summarizes it as if the reader had never encountered the story before. The summaries add a few details, even as they leave most things out. And later she returns to the same story yet again from yet another context. And it works, actually it was a very effect technique as she used it, forcing the reader to rethink what we thought was familiar.

I could write a great deal more about this book. There are numerous really important, fascinating and sometime horrifying details. I found the history fascinating, and the book humanizing, really opening up this world—these worlds—to us in full color. We only really get three stories, but the implications go so much farther.

Not all reviews are fully positive, even in Club Read. But I can only recommend this.

May 15, 2016, 3:24am

I just finished The Warmth of Other Suns too, and felt the same way. I was so attached to them, and cried so much at the end, especially for Ida Mae, and for her dying only a couple months before President Obama was elected.

May 15, 2016, 8:18am

I loved The Warmth of Other Suns also. Having lived outside Chicago, it really opened up my eyes to how the Great Migration shaped the city.

Edited: May 15, 2016, 8:59am

Great review of The Warmth of Other Suns, Dan. I'm ashamed to say that I never did review it, although I also loved it.

My mother was one of those "immigrants", as she, her mother and her two sisters migrated from south Alabama to New York City in 1943 while her father was overseas in the Army during World War II; he joined them there at the conclusion of the war. My grandfather worked as a glazier and a handyman and eventually made enough money to open his own shop in the Bronx. My grandmother worked for the city as an office cleaner in the New York County Courthouse, where she fell into the favor of several of the judges who worked there; they helped out the family during the lean years when they were trying to make ends meet. The family originally lived in Manhattan, and moved from one apartment to a progressively nicer one in a better neighborhood, climbing the ladder With the help of friends, and at least one the judges my grandmother worked for, my grandparents were able to buy a house in an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx in the late 1950s, where they lived until they both died, a few years apart, a decade later.

My father's mother emigrated from Virginia to Jersey City, New Jersey, my home town, during that same time, but she never shared much information about her past with her children. She was a mean and spiteful woman, to her children and even her grandchildren, so I have no fond memories of her.

May 15, 2016, 5:33pm

Wonderful post Darryl. Thanks!

>76 mabith: I was really moved by these stories. So much history was part of them. And I thought the Obama details were really interesting. Just hearing how he talked to his constituents, how he stood out then, as a low-level elected official. (I like him, for the record.)

>77 japaul22: It was all new to me, regarding Chicago. I've heard of South Side I think, but I don't really know anything about Chicago. I would have liked some more about DC.

>76 mabith: re-reading your post... Thanks for sharing your family history. Fascinating...more so having this book in mind. I've been carrying the book around with me, mentally. It was really an eye-opener.

May 15, 2016, 9:32pm

>78 kidzdoc: That is a wonderful post, Darryl.

As for Mason and Dixon - it took me some time to adjust to the pacing and style, but once I did, I was seriously hooked. GR has an edge, I would have to say that although it has some very amusing moments, it is the darkest and bleakest and maybe the hardest of his books, although, V. is kind of vague in my mind at this point as I read it so long ago now. (Same thing was the case with GR which is why I took it on.) All the rest are fairly vivid as I read them in the last twenty or so years. I loved Against the Day too.

May 15, 2016, 10:34pm

>80 sibylline: making slow steady progress on GR. I was wondering if all his books would be likw this. I could read plenty books like V, but GR is really tough on my brain. I keep trying to string things that don't really work in any way I might expect them to. So, your post is encouraging.

May 16, 2016, 8:08am

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is on my wishlist, Dan, thanks to you and Meredith for the recommendation.

May 16, 2016, 10:31pm

>82 NanaCC: you're most welcome. It's a great book Colleen.

May 25, 2016, 8:20pm

Recovering from Gravity's Rainbow. This book...it just left me in the strangest place, like I got completely lost, not in space, but in time, just drifted off out of time somewhere. Anyway, I'm happy to be reading something else.

It's strange, I'm wondering whether I enjoyed GR, and somehow it seems like the wrong question. I survived it, I think. Seems like a good thing.

May 27, 2016, 2:47am

>84 dchaikin: I hope you don't mind me pasting this review someone did of Gravity's Rainbow on Amazon which I found hilarious:

1) It's about rocket science. Therefore, it allows for a hypothetical situation in which, hearing you complain about what a long, hard read it is, some passer-by rolls his eyes and mutters, "it's not rocket science." To which you can reply that actually, it is.

2) It has rude bits. Very rude bits. Frankly just plain wrong bits. So, while others see you reading a classic of post-modern literature, you'll know you're actually reading about extreme fetish sex that makes 50 Shades of Gray look like The Jane Austen Guide to Better Intimate Relations.

3) When it's not baffling or scatological, it's funny. For instance: Pynchon's description of the full horrors of traditional British confectionary is hilarious, and will be utterly familiar to anyone that remembers having cough candy forced onto them by sadistic grandparents.

4) You will get fit reading it. If you're the kind of person who is even contemplating reading this book, chances are that sport was not your best subject at school. A couple of weeks of holding this breezeblock while continually scratching your head and stroking your chin will leave you with arms like a stevedore's.

5) You will get stuff done around the house. That fence panel that needs fixing, that leak in the roof, that room you've been meaning to tidy; once Gravity's Rainbow makes your leisure time harder work than your chores, your normal prevarication routines will be completely turned on their head. Friends and family will wonder how your scruffy dusty book filled slum has been transformed into a gleaming futurist show home, and you'll be able to recommend them some reading material that does the job better than any bottle of Mr Muscle.

6) It will provide endless amusement as you try to relate to friends and family just what has happened in the last fifty pages that you've read. "Well, there was this toilet ship... No, a ship full of toilets... I'm not sure, I think it was a battleship... No, it was manned by a cadre of Nazi herero rocket technicians.... I'm not making this up, you know. I couldn't."

7) It will, if you finish it, allow you to look down on everybody who hasn't read it, apart from the three vanishingly small groups of people who have read Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, or Against the Day. No-one else will care, but you will, and you can always use the greater world's indifference to your titanic achievement in the field of persistently reading something very large and very confusing as evidence of an anti-you conspiracy.

8) Everything on your bookshelf will look easy, or at least within the realms of possibility for you to read, afterwards. Your confidence will be sky-high. Legendarily difficult authors - Faulkner, Woolf, Nabokov - all will look about as challenging as a Janet and John marathon after your eyes have wearily crawled across the last page of Gravity's Rainbow. Be warned, though - under no circumstances should you listen to that voice in your head telling you to head straight into Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake or Against the Day immediately afterwards. That way lies madness. Have a break. Something nice and light, like Gunter Grass, or Pope's Iliad.

9) It will make the real world seem explicable and simple. The confusing currents of modern politics, socio-sexual relationships and inter-office internecine warfare will feel like a refuge, in which people do not speak in baffling riddles constructed from references to things you've barely heard of; in which you have a reasonable grasp on when someone is telling you certifiable historical fact and when they're just stringing you along with a very long shaggy dog story; and in which effect still has the good manners to open the door for cause and say to it, "after you."

10) It is very, very good indeed. Not quite good enough to justify reading it without the compounding factors already mentioned, but very good nonetheless. Pynchon is a fantastic prose stylist, his authorial voice mercurially slipping from the conversational to the conspiratorial to the satirical to the comic to the omniscient to the omnipotent. The degree of research that has gone into Gravity's Rainbow is mind-boggling; it is like being trapped in a lift for two weeks with a hyperactive compulsive talker who has memorised the contents of an insanely esoteric library's German History section. His post-modernist stance allows him to draw connections between the most unlikely points, reconfiguring the familiar linear path of history into the sprawling squiggle of a madman. While it might seem absurd, it probably has a closer resemblance to the manner in which history actually unfolds than the comfortingly familiar arc of cause and effect we use to manage our perception of the world. I'm not saying you should read it; that would be cruel. But if, for some inexplicable reason you choose to do so anyway, you won't regret it. Most of it, anyway.

Does this ring true for you too, Dan?

May 27, 2016, 6:41am

Yeah, that's about spot on.

Edited: May 27, 2016, 9:20am

>85 AlisonY: Cool review! Now I must read Gravity's Rainbow. I'm pretty sure it's already on my wishlist but now it has moved up quite a bit.

May 27, 2016, 9:39am

>87 FlorenceArt: it's not mine - just found it on Amazon when Dan's comments made me curious to look up Gravity's Rainbow. Thought it most humorous!

May 27, 2016, 12:48pm

>85 AlisonY: That is hilarious.

I have been thinking I should one day read Gravity's Rainbow, but I have been in no hurry to get to it. I am feeling considerably more interested now, but also moderately terrified.

I actually do know a bit about rocket science. Will that help? Somehow, I doubt it will help.

Edited: May 27, 2016, 1:46pm

I'm particularly fond of #6. And I can very much relate to #9. And I like this line from the end, "I'm not saying you should read it; that would be cruel."

I have been trying to review this. I've written two different plot summaries and two variations of a plot-free review and you just can't capture the warping experience of this book without writing a several page essay. It doesn't boil down satisfactorily. But that review Alyson pasted captures a lot - like the inability to explain what you just read.

Florence and Betty - careful working out what you must and should do. Rocket science gets some play. But, if it helps the book make more sense in any way, chalk it up to another aspect that I totally missed.

Edited: May 28, 2016, 11:37am

26. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1973
format: 887 page Bantam mass market paperback from 1974
acquired: June 2015 from a Half-Price Bookstore, specifically to read this year.
read: Apr 1 - May 22
rating: ? stars

This is such an oddball book. Some big unanswered questions: Why? Why would someone ever write a book like this? What are we supposed to do with it, once we read it? I mean where in your mental constructs do can you fit this monstrosity? I wonder if anyone re-reads this just to see if, maybe on the second read, they will figure out where/how to mentally store it.

An architecturally elaborate book, it does have a structure and you can work it out on the first read, at least if you have a little help. There is sensible plot. You may, however, not understand what exactly you are reading at any particular point. I re-read a few parts, happy to be able to read them while knowing where they fit in full book context...and still got lost. Words just refuse to align in any sensible way. You have to stand back and, kind of knowing what just happened, let the words get all blurry before they start to make sense. Then you have go back to the text to see what exactly key words mean—while avoiding the sentences those words are in, because the sentences are just a distraction, they go everywhere. This book is patently unquotable.
"A peaceful, drunken day..."
Amongst the confetti is a drug addled, sexually-charged, deviant and typically seriously disturbing wackyness—all with that happy face stretched across a very dark interior. Pynchon pulls in cinematic elements, mainly in overly happy Hollywood style movies of, say the 1930's-40's-50's-60's. Then he twirls in a verbal comicbook element. (He keys on Plastic Man, a WWII-era comic where Plastic Man can take on any conceivable shape and stretching.) These superhero comic books can do this thing where so much happens on the page that you can miss half of it because of all the noise. Then you focus in and notice key plot elements in tiny details, which you kind of need to take in in exclusion to everything else on the page. And, of course, like in movies, there is a hollow happiness in these comics. Pynchon does all this in text form. I would argue it doesn't work...well, it shouldn't. It can be very hard a little minds like mine.

So, why does it work? I don't know.

Plot summary 1: US army Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop searches for a specific V2 rocket, while stumbling across the human and structural rubble of WWII, and, in the process does lots of drugs, has lots of deviant sex, hallucinates continually, and deals with a cast of characters that makes him seem comparatively normal, not to mention a nice humble guy.

This book is a mystery in construction.

The key to the opening section is a map of London on which Slothrop plots all his sexual exploits throughout the area. He's mapped a slew of them. What British intelligence is noting is that the map predicts V2 missile strikes. Each sexual exploit happens a few days before a V2 rocket strike in the same spot.

The V2 rocket - essential background information: The German V2, or Vengeance-2 (but in German), rockets were used at the very end of WW2 by a pretty much defeated Germany. They were the first human object to enter space, they traveled at supersonic speed and had the capacity to kill up to 500 people at a strike, which they did at least once. They were terribly imprecise, so their striking spread was pretty much random and their hit rate low. And they were too small, despite that explosive charge, to have any impact on the war effort. Germany fired 3000 V2 rockets and they killed about 9,000 people - plus the 12,000 slave laborers from concentration camps who died while building them. This was all, militarily, pointless. The technology was desperately desired by British, Americans and Soviets, leading to some surreal post-war antics. At one point Americans stumbled across a major V2 rocket works site in an area that was supposed to go to the USSR. So, Americans then furiously took everything they could as fast as they could before ceding the area to the Soviet army. And, a final note, all the German engineers involved were sought after and lured to the US and USSR. So Wernher von Braun, leader of all this German mess, will end up as the leader of the NASA group that designed and built the Saturn V rocket (notice the name), and would live scott-free of any consequences for his crimes. Germany surrendered May 8, 1945. The atomic bomb, which was not a rocket, was dropped on August 6, 1945.

So, right, the plot. Slothrop was an experiment. As a baby he was sold for psychological experimentation. He was conditioned, in the Pavlov's dog sense, in some sexual way as a baby. So, now he's get erections that he can't understand all at very strange times. A V2 rocket strike is one cause. But, sometimes very non-sexual people can also be a cause. Slothrop knows he's conditioned but can't figure out in what way. The mystery is how all this relates to his V2 strike prediction and then what allied intelligence plans to do with him. Later in the book he will be trained about everything related to the V2 and become convinced that some aspect of one rocket holds a key understanding his own conditioning. This will lead him to go awol and take a tour of occupied Germany.

And the solution to the mystery is really dark. (Major, real and unnecessary spoiler: As far as I can tell, Pynchon tells us the answer in plain words. Slothrop is conditioned to be in love, or at least lust, with human extinction. Hiroshima sends him into ecstasy overload, and he dissolves, spreading elements of himself everywhere. What I find odd about this conclusion is that I can't find it discussed in this simplistic way anywhere. This may be because I got it wrong—this is very likely. Alternately, it may such a spoiler as to have a sort of forbidden sense to it. Don't know. But it changes everything about the book, each element involving Slothrop becomes much more twisted. )

What makes this book work (but does it really work?) is how Pynchon combines all the elements together - the styles and disturbing stuff, the humor, the 400 characters, the numerous subplots, non-fictional elements and revelations, the endless remarkable trivia touching on the insane amount of research that underlies the book, and Slothrop's happy-go-lucky attitude. (Regarding the last item, keep in mind Slothrop spends numerous pages wandering around in a rocketman suit, with cape and rocket-shaped viking helmet, and many other pages in a pig suit). The comic book elements, and the hollow happiness defines the whole book, even as it touches on occasional real happiness here and there. There are enough non-fictional elements to really bother the reader. It's ultimately about how we are marching happily toward our nuclear holocaust.* (second unnecessary spoiler Assuming I'm right, I find the focus on the rocket a structural flaw. The key element to the nuclear holocaust is the nuclear physics, not the comparatively simpler rocket the can carry these warheads. But rockets are much more phallic then nuclear reactions. )

I promise you I haven't touched on the vast assortment of elements within this book, and I haven't been able to convey the warped experience of reading this. I really felt disconnected from the world during these two months I plodded through. It's a warping and not exactly pleasant experience. I didn't enjoy it so much as survive it. And yet...I'll try to read more Pynchon.

*or maybe it isn't.

May 28, 2016, 11:19am

27. A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, 2nd Edition by Steven Weisenburger
published: originally 1988, 2nd edition is from 2006
format: 400 page paperback
acquired: March 20 to help with GR
read: Apr 1 - May 22
rating: **** stars

There are other sources for help with GR, but I liked this one because it was crazy detailed, translated almost every foreign language bit and tried to decipher the meaning under every name and it just made me feel more comfortable. It also has little mini-summaries of each episode. I would read these before reading the episode (!)—even as I know they didn't really always capture what really happens in those episodes. This just helped reduce my stress of trying to figure out what was going on as I read.

The book suffers a bit on the big picture. I had to go to wikipedia to understand some critical plot elements. GR is abstruse, but Weisenburger doesn't capture everything and occasionally doesn't make any comment on major things. But, still, this is an impressive compilation. I was very happy to have it.

Edited: May 28, 2016, 12:08pm

28. Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West
composition: c ~725 bce
format: 96 page Oxford World Classic Paperback
acquired: July 2015
read: May 23-25
rating: 3 stars

My first book after Gravity's Rainbow....Hesiod's two surviving complete texts are very short and, while interesting, I did not find them terribly fascinating. They were maybe a bit light. West translated the work into prose. I would have preferred a poetic translation.

Theogony: Essentially a list, this serves as a catalogue of the origins of the Greek mythological family. There isn't that much more to it, and, for all that, it's not all that well organized. Hesiod did cover a lot of names and occasionally stumbles into an actual good story. The one memorable part to me was the birth of Aphrodite (Roman Venus). The sexually charged story has Titan Kronos cutting off his Heaven's, (Greek Uranus), genitals just as he is about to mount the Earth (Greek Gaia). They fall into the sea and the "foam" from his penis gives rise to Aphrodite. Aphro is apparently Greek for foam, so she is named after semen, or a euphemism for it anyway. How's that for religious imagery?

Works and Days: Hesiod writes life advice to his maybe not all-that-loved brother, Perses. There are a lot of aphorisms along the lines of work hard and don't slack off. And then there is a lot of advise on the seasons, on agriculture, on running a household and even a bit on how to plan your sailing if trading by sea. It's a kind of Greek almanac. I found it mildly entertaining.

May 28, 2016, 12:41pm

So, after completing Gravity's Rainbow, you relax by reading Hesiod.

Intriguing review of GR. I'll read it just as soon as I read the second half of Infinite Jest.

Edited: May 28, 2016, 1:37pm

>94 RidgewayGirl: :) I wonder what is wrong with me too. You know, after about a month on GR, I kept thinking to myself, I really need to finish so I can move on to Hesiod. So, by the time I finished, all I could think was, "finally, Hesiod". I'm reading The Homeric Hymns now and so far they are surprisingly really nice...my thinking is, "wow, I'm actually reading something I can enjoy." I'll have to go find a therapist to tell me what all this says about me.

Oh, and I think your GR plan is a very good one.

May 28, 2016, 1:45pm

Funny how everyone knows that Aphrodite was born out of the sea, but the beginning of the story is not so well known.
You really make me want to read Gravity's Rainbow. I almost never understand the plot of anything I read, and I don't really mind, so that shouldn't be a problem for me.

May 28, 2016, 1:52pm

Fabulous review of Gravity's Rainbow Dan. I think you definitely take the CR medal for endurance - you stick with a book to the bitter end.

If you were to give it a star rating based on (a) writing quality and (b) enjoyability what would you give it in both categories?

May 28, 2016, 2:03pm

>96 FlorenceArt: I guess Botticelli didn't quite no how to incorporate that first part.

Flo, You might be well suited for GR.

May 28, 2016, 2:13pm

>97 AlisonY: fun question but actually I don't know how to answer. A lot of people call Pynchon a master stylist, I found him very ADHD and practically impenetrable. He gets five stars for architecture, for the insane volume of information successfully incorporated, for the really terrific mixing and balancing of all the various elements and for how he uses Slothrop and humor to make a dark bitter book have a pleasant overlay - to, if you will, take that bitter unpalatable edge of the satire. I hate satire because of that, and that aspect is completely missing here. His prose, though, well, it's in the eye of the beholder. I mean he can get nice when goes off on sunsets and lighting and whatnot, but mostly it's all over the place.

I find myself in a very awkward place not being able to rate enjoyability. Isn't that odd? I simply can't figure out if I enjoyed all this or not. Clearly there was a cost - I mean it made my head go funny. But was the experience it worth that cost?

May 28, 2016, 3:17pm

>99 dchaikin: sounds like the literary equivalent of LSD....

Edited: May 28, 2016, 3:38pm

Love your review of GR Dan, yeah survived it is a good way of putting it. I'm not sure I did.

I like your first spoiler theory, which in a way then maybe makes TS an everyman. I'm not sure he literally dissolves though, as much as personality wise, which may break that conditioning, lead to freedom.

Your second spoiler theory I think really shows you've got right into the spirit of wackiness...I love it, that the rocket side is a structural flaw to a book integrally about rockets. You have now gone beyond the zero, perhaps? A theory to be proud of and right up there with any I've ever had (and oh yes I can claim a few - I once tried to argue the rainbow was a circle...I can't even say exactly how, it was all to do with potential energy at any point in height, like contours on a map and then somehow that was linked to the psychology - so I rib you only lightly, I like your theory very much, we need more such thinking...there is a truth in it).

I haven't read the companion, though I have it. I quite like not reading it so it remains a mystery and I can come up with such theories as the above. For me the rocket sciences was not so important. I love his prose when he hits some spots, it is ecstatic. But that has dangers I think. I am sure I once read about what he was smoking as he wrote it (edit - allegedly!! what would I know - it is an easy thing to say). I am also sure I have read that it may have had many sections cut from the published version -- I can't source that claim right now, and wonder if I have imagined it as a way to make sense of a lot of ellipsis, not to say flights of fancy it can be hard to follow.

I think I didn't enjoy the second half as much - though I liked the African stuff. Loved hound town and the rocket man oh and the balloon trip. I didn't mention the proverbs for paranoids - wow. I especially loved the light bulb, not re-read it for ages. Poor old G though. The book even inspired me to buy a hawaian shirt, but even in good weather I get more stared at in that than, well we won't go there.

It also suddenly strikes me (and having seen the film Adam's Rib (1949) last night) as an exploration of Freudian themes and being locked into those themes - this is also classical of course as Freud borrowed from there - but life/death, I suspect about pleasure, also psychology more generally with Pavlov...and in some ways an exploration of them as seen from the war time viewpoint (I was struck in Adams Rib how aware of such ideas and how much invested in them the outlook was)...of what its like to be stuck in these processes, and believe there is no escape...ultimately in a way beyond even the theories and to be alive, there is a lot that is binary black/white, alive/dead, but at the same time examining calculus the moment before and after and where they meet...but there, really I may be trying to go beyond my zero with another theory. Hope its not rude on your thread. Its good to be able to talk about the book.

May 28, 2016, 8:49pm

>100 AlisonY: well, now that you mention it...

>101 tonikat: Great post Tony. I'll post some responses when I have more time.

May 28, 2016, 9:10pm

>91 dchaikin: Great review of Gravity's Rainbow. I've been meaning to read that one day for a long time. Somehow, nothing I've heard about it has put me off that, and lots that I've heard about it make it sound like something I'd really like. I'm fully aware that if I do get to it I'll probably get a few pages into it before realising that I'm wrong and giving up.

May 28, 2016, 9:17pm

V - I was telling Jane on Facebook that I had to read the first ten pages twice just to make sure they really didn't make any sense. The Companion was helpful there. If you try it, I suggest you make a commitment to wade through for a while before making a call to continue or not. Even that is not really a light commitment.

May 28, 2016, 11:53pm

>101 tonikat: Thinking about your post

- I like the idea that a scattered Slothrop was a way of freeing him from the conditioning. There were hints he was letting go of his obsession with rocket 00000

- the rainbow is a circle. You were right. Pynchon explicitly states it - the rainbow is not the path of the rocket, but an actual rainbow created by the rocket in flight. If you could see that rainbow from, say, above, you would see it's actually a circle. This was a truth, apparently, not fictional games. Further the circle theme is one of the many core re-occurring themes. And, finally, if the earth were not so solid, the rockets path would be a circle...

- interesting about the editing and the smoking.

- yeah, poor G and the lightbulb was entertaining. I loved the hot air balloon chase, where the American plane was continually pinpointed not because of its engine noise but because of the dirty limericks the Americans kept chanting.

- haven't seen or heard of the movie Adam's Rib. Interesting

- did you notice the Moby Dick elements? The search for the elusive rocket (set off by the white devil, Blicero), than also all the digressions and...just maybe, the deviant sex (Moby Dick has very obvious homosexual references - deviant for 1841)

Edited: May 29, 2016, 5:37am

>105 dchaikin: - yes of course you're right he does say those things about the circle, I didn't put my case well and got scorned for it (no not scorned - got disbelieved and in my tenderness felt scorned). I like to think of the concentric contours of potential energy like a halo around the earth, they're also a bit like electron paths in the orbital (Bohr?) model of the atom, that require quantum leaps to cross and that movement is of course what he gets a right at the end, moment by moment.

I forgot about those limericks. I should be very careful what I say as it is a long time since I read it. The second half of the book has not stuck as firmly as the first. I did start my long overdue read of V last night though.

Posting here made me develop my thoughts a bit more. I was thinking how we see Slothrop in encounters with reality and a thought process that is questioning his specific conditioning and also in general the psychology and Psychology of the time. It's tempting with all the cinematic reference to think also the cinematic psychology - and therefore the (Hays?) Code of those times. But also the comic book psychology. In a way the psychology of what a young person is told - also what told by propaganda -- and making sense of that when faced by realities. This is why there is so much raw stuff in the book that then gets riffed on as the ways of understanding it are explored - it is a bit like genre characters exploring their boundaries. This may be why there is homosexuality etc. I personally found it very hard to read about the statutory rape.

The book increasingly seems to examine the boundaries of understanding that never encompass all that is, and people, who are inherently curious of course examining those boundaries. In its post modernity these are very classical themes. In another place I saw someone write of how the architecture so often seems to attack the characters - again things reminding us they are not just what we say they are. On starting V immediately we have similar theme with his description of the street.

By the way - if this theme of questioning the world view/s given then makes paranoia very natural, as reality consistently (especially in those settings) is suggesting those views are not sufficient.

I've fallen back in love with GR a bit thanks to all this, and it prompting these thoughts. But it i a book seared onto my soul I'm not sure I'd ever be strong enough to reread. Reading in another place again someone also commented how human and lyrical the writing is, and that is consistently so, not just at those ecstatic times, he calls to humanity in us throughout - it is just very hard to read that in the shattering of illusions and sometimes sanctity. But maybe I should try given how I have developed since I did read it. But must try to get on with V first.

May 29, 2016, 5:51am

>91 dchaikin: Wow! I was reminded of my reading experience of Ulysses.

May 29, 2016, 8:30am

I am not ready yet for Gravity's Rainbow. I am oh so not worthy enough to read it.

Enjoyed your comments Dan and your excellent thoughts/review.

Edited: May 29, 2016, 9:24am

>106 tonikat: enjoy V. It has its dull moments but it's all worth it in the end. It resonated with me. (And it's an easier read than GR)

The deviant sex scenes in GR were all disgusting. Sometimes they were funny, but mostly, yeah, yuck. (In Moby Dick they're cute and charming. )

I didn't talk about the elect and the preterite - a major theme throughout. (Playing with Calvinism). I think part of what you're getting at is the messy awakening of the preterite to the destructive tendencies of the elect. WWII was a desirable boom for industrial leaders and the war's existence was very much in their interest - and those leaders worked on both sides of the war effort. But, Tony, a lot of what you're getting at is stretching my mind in ways it isn't fully able to go. : )

May 29, 2016, 9:23am

>107 OscarWilde87: I want to read Ulysses, so noting. I'm curious how much Pynchon took from the structure of books like Ulysses (if there are other books like it)

>108 baswood: thank you Bas. Maybe none of us are worthy. Of course, you're reading can intimidate me too, it's not that uncommon.

May 29, 2016, 9:33am

>109 dchaikin: Likewise Dan - I struggle a bit with the preterite and elect stuff. Takes me back to the Reformation. It is possibly something that can be used to divide up people and the world, u and non u in a way, the other man's grass is always greener, especially if I am told it is.

careful on the lines of whose interests such things are in - paranoia lurks. But another writer whom i like wrote a book on such themes on the causes of the second world war, Nicholson Baker - I've not read it and such thoughts can offend.

I am very cautious of your use of the word 'deviant', one to think through (I'd encourage).

On the other hand the danger of breaking free of all the wrongness of the labyrinths we live in can be that things I am not comfortable with may become involved - statutory rape, the journey of G, these are things I feel it is a good thing our codes are against...and there can be good in many of our codes, much as it gets lost.

Edited: May 29, 2016, 11:42am

Some chuckling and laughing - first over the marvelous 1 to 10 review at >85 AlisonY:. I am so with you about #6! (Isn't this like that prisoners telling jokes by numbers?). Also laughing about your comment at >95 dchaikin: about finding everything else easy. And then Florence's confession at >96 FlorenceArt:.

Your review is superb! And also helpful. I have no idea where my head was when I first read GR (when it came out) but I remembered very little of it. But before Ronald Reagan closed it down, Vermont's #1 $ crop was . . uh . . . not maple syrup and you couldn't live get away from a certain miasma.

As I listened to GR very "free form" and didn't look up a whole lot of anything as I listened, I was sure I was missing just about everything, but your review reassures me that I did "get" it - especially the rocket/technology and the hunt for materiel and physicists and chemists afterwards and Slothrop's gradual wising up to what had been done to him, the conditioning -- I love the idea that we are all conditioned like Slothrop with comic books and propaganda -- we all have to struggle out of it. And there is the "ability to contain contradictory concepts" without exploding aspect of maturity.

And it is important, isn't it? What Pynchon has pulled together. To write a book that demonstrates fully how insane human beings are? On the one hand we can cooperate to do incredible things, but then can turn on a dime and destroy all of it. And all the while wearing tuxedos and capering about like Fred Astaire as if nothing at all was wrong with this behavior.

And TonyH's post at >101 tonikat:. No doubt that Pynchon was under a certain influence.

And yeah, I did feel that Slothrop was trying very hard to get free of the conditioning - as you say --by going to pieces -- I didn't really get though, that a nuclear holocaust would be the ultimate ecstasy for him because of his conditioning, makes sense. I did read the last twenty pages or so in print after finishing the audiobook and decided I didn't quite get it, but that was ok. So this is something to think about.

Moby Dick! Sort of the GR of the 19th century, eh?

I don't really see so many parallels to Joyce's U. (although he does go "full circle") but some more, perhaps, to Homer's (the GR of its day?) Odyssey. Although, well, yeah, maybe, I was going to say Bloom's journey is so much in his head, which you could argue that Slothrop's "journey" is that largely, but U. is also so much about things Irish and so much a paean to Dublin. It is a profoundly "grounded" book.

I have to make a plea too, to anyone thinking of reading U. - consider listening to Donal Donnelly reading it. It was staggeringly good. Incredible. Astounding! One of my peak ever reading experiences. He worked closley with the Joyce Society and his understanding of every word shines through and helps bring the lilt and magic and music of that book to life. I will listen to it again all ten million hours of it, probably with the book in hand, one of these days.

Hmm. I didn't find the preterite/elect thing so hard. It is a completely perverse and perverted idea and it is worth thinking about how it got so much traction--the idea had to fit somehow with the exigencies of daily life for a great many people in the 16-17th to make it more appealing than Catholicism or the milder forms of protestantism. Was it that the "show" was all? Pretending to be good was as good as being actually good? Anyway - it is Pynchon's personal background, New England, and it does play a part in who Slothrop is and what he has to dig himself out of. There is plenty of Pynchon in Slothrop - might in fact be about his own maturing?

OK, now this is a tough thing and I'm tempted to put the spoiler thingies on it, and I will remove this comment if you want me to. I see the "business interests" piece of the book as not being paranoid or conspiratorial in the usual obvious sense -- more as in -- well, this is a tough thing to say, and I have no wish to offend anyone, but the equivalent would be how men have been, as a group, silent about rape/violence against women. Other big business interests leave each other alone to pursue their various ends, compete, yeah, but also stay out of each other's way when they can. It's "just how it is": Each individual doesn't regard himself as being "that way." Pynchon doesn't shy away from making that connection. Much of the sex IS disgusting and it does make that point hard to miss. He really is tremendous. He is dismissed by the general reading public as paranoid exactly so no one has to think about what he is really saying?

Oh my, the bottomless pit of Pynchon!

I haven't read Finnegan's Wake. I have, as yet, no plans to either. But I would listen to Donnelly read it. Oh yes, I would do that. I wonder....?

May 29, 2016, 10:55am

>112 sibylline: - thanks - I tend to agree with the Pynchon analysis and Nicholson Baker's, from what I know - but find it can be dangerous ground, that may in fact give such people a stick to use (on me) -- and at some point and at such times (possibly as it is even very carefully used) there may be a need to put that aside to fight what is worse. Plus many many people will never see this, or allow it - that does feel dangerous, and in practice can be very paranoia provoking, for exactly the reason you give. You got to know this song well before singing.

The preterite/elect thing is due to my own confusions, I understand it and yes TS and new england (though I've never been there), but I always feel I have some unresolved question with it - partly thats from studying the radical reformation - some sort of sense I have not studied it enough, never will have. Plus that I cannot understand his place in that, in some way, not having been brought up in that faith/milieu. It always feels an imponderable to me, exactly why its there.

Thanks for you Ulysses tips, a quest I need to make.

May 29, 2016, 11:32am

"I love the idea that we are all conditioned like Slothrop with comic books and propaganda -- we all have to struggle out of it. "

Lucy - this is enough to make me want to rethink most of the book...and my life, and most of our world. How true.

Enjoyed your post, and Tony's response. I'm not sure I can add anything, but will try when I have more time.

Edited: May 29, 2016, 12:13pm

I am deep New England stock on my Dad's side (1630, settled Newington CT) and deep Philadelphia Quaker on my mother's so any wasp thing you ever want to know I can probably tell you! I even have a Ruggles in my own tree, Theodosia! No less! A great-great grandma! My bro has a whole theory about the two kinds of yankees - the toffs (like the Boston elite) and the swamp yankees, which is my background. These were younger sons of farmers in the north and midlands of England, educated and religious. Well off enough to have paid passage and owe no one anything. These also didn't like the strictness of Boston AT ALL and quickly spread out into the as yet undeveloped lands and less desirable land where they could live as they pleased (thus the swamp moniker) and traded and fought with Indians over this turf and meanwhile became kind of weird and twisted by a combo of hard life, intense religiosity, and pugnaciousness. Hard core swamp yankee though, after generations of liminal living, knew they were regarded by the elite and prosperous of the cities as little more than trash. Edith Wharton explores that a little bit, in a way, in Ethan Frome - so much about the perils of that kind of isolation and stubborness. Also in a less well-known novel called Summer. She was blown away, during the years she had a summer house in Lenox, by the poverty and dignity of the hill people.

Anyhow, John Cheever's Wapshot books dig deep into this realm too and you might pick up the basics by osmosis from them, not to mention how enjoyable they are. It was a culture of abstention, of retention, of self-denial (and denial in general). The (New Hampshire) poet Donald Hall has a great poem about finding a drawer or box in his grandmother's house labelled, "pieces of string too short to save." (She would be pre-depression, so a deeply ingrained yankee behaviour). Melville, Hawthorne, yeh. Hard to think off the bat of women who didn't prettify it. Sarah Orne Jewett, Alcott?

I just had a further thought that Calvinism may have lingered longer in New England than anywhere else in Europe, except maybe a few isolated places in Scotland.

There is nothing nothing nothing to be afraid of about Ulysses. It is a beautiful book. Pure music. And compared to GR? Pure pleasure.

Now I have to try and do something or other with my day!

May 29, 2016, 12:20pm

I agree with sibyx about Ulysses. Of the "difficult" books that I have read so far, it's the only one, I think, that gave me such pure unadulterated pleasure.

May 29, 2016, 1:57pm

Congratulations on finishing Gravity's Rainbow and (especially!) on synthesizing your thoughts about it!

May 29, 2016, 7:06pm

It's been so interesting seeing your thoughts on Pynchon. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready or willing to embark on that kind of reading, but maybe someday. An artist I follow is a bit of a Pynchon fan and one item in a sticker pack she did says "My Other Car is a Pynchon Novel."

May 29, 2016, 9:05pm

I love that sticker!

May 29, 2016, 10:30pm

>112 sibylline: don't erase anything Lucy. There is a lot of historical fact to back this up - the GE - IG farben stuff - cartels that were painfully rebuilt after the war - insane stuff.

>115 sibylline: great post. This is all new to me (makes me think of the borderlanders...which makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell, who covers that cultural fingerprint in a most entertaining way. )

May 29, 2016, 10:32pm

>116 FlorenceArt: yeah, nice to know about Ulysses

>115 sibylline: thanks Mary Jane!

>118 mabith:,>119 sibylline: - I would give that car a little extra room.

May 30, 2016, 7:15am

>118 mabith: I am always impressed by the depth of your reading, Dan. I enjoyed your thoughts on Pynchon, however, like Meredith, I don't know that I will ever get there.

Edited: May 30, 2016, 6:18pm

I should add - the swamp yankees, as a class, valued education highly - for itself and also all part of not getting ripped off by some city fella. They started excellent little schools, educating both genders, and the men (at least one or two per family if possible) proceeded to Harvard, Yale and etc. The social piece is, in some ways, a bit mysterious, but believe me, it existed and still does in some peculiar way, say, if you are in one of those seriously weird Bostonish enclaves in Maine that is still bristling with the toff types. We know we're imposters. It has nothing to do anymore with money and everything with some kind of attitude. Vermont is, perhaps, the most thoroughly swampy of all of them. There no cachet at all in coming from Vermont (ask our daughter) only cachet to "have a place" and live elsewhere.

May 30, 2016, 8:01pm

Thanks Colleen.

Lucy - Again interesting.

And thanks all for the extended conversation around Gravity's Rainbow. That was really fun (although maybe I shouldn't put it in the past tense.) Still thinking of my own conditioning (and wondering fearfully how this relates to American voters...)

Jun 1, 2016, 12:31am

29. The Homeric Hymns translated by Jules Cashford
with an introduction and notes by Nicholas Richardson
composition: Guesses are 600’s and 500’s bce, with the Hymn to Ares dating c400 ce
format: 208 page Paperback
acquired: December 2013 (influenced by review by StevenTX)
read: May 25-30
rating: 4.5 stars

I'm a little a loss to explain why I liked these so much or explain what I liked about them. Maybe I'm just fond of Greek mythology and any riff on them that made it through the vagaries of time will catch my interest. But there does seem to be something extra here. There is a reason Percy Bysshe Shelley translated so many of these, as did Chapman. Maybe it's just how the opening fragment to Dionysos says something to the affect: some people say you come of this place or that place, but, "I say they lie." Maybe is was the second poem on Demeter mourning lost Persephone, or just the brief description of Persephone grabbing the fated narcissus, "the flower shown so wondrously." Maybe it was the very ancient feel to the opening to Apollo's hymn describing him entering Olympus for the first time, arrow in bow, stretching the bow:
I shall remember,
may I not forget,
Apollo the archer.

The gods tremble at him
when he enters the house of Zeus,
they spring up when he comes near them,

they all spring up from their seats
when he stretches back his bow.
Only Leto waits beside Zeus who loves the thunder

She unstrings the bow, she closes the quiver,
taking it off his hands
off his strong shoulders,

But this excerpt is unique here. There is really nothing else in this collection that feels quote so ancient and bare as these first several lines to Apollo.

The Homeric Hymns don't have any clear origin. They follow the same poetic structure as the Iliad and the Odyssey, and there are apparent links to something like a school of Homer in the unreliable historical hints. But they have the feel of a collection of scraps leftover from something much more vast and mostly lost. Some of the poems are just a few lines, where as only five of them extend past 200 lines. The opening hymns to Dionysos and Demeter come from one text found in the 18th century and would otherwise be lost too - and most of that hymn to Dionysos is lost. They are a curious thing, a curious remnant. And they are also surprising resonant and often bring more color to these gods then Homer or Hesiod. There is a section on Hermes introducing Apollo to the lyre, in order to save his own skin, and Apollos first impression of this musical wonder. In another hymn Dionysos turns a boat in to a grape vine full of grapes...and the sailors into dolphins (hence to cover.) Ares's hymn appears to date from another era altogether, maybe 400 ad. But then he was no Greek favorite. Maybe they forgot him.

As I mentioned above, there are famous translations of these hymns and I suspect they put any modern, scholarly accurate translator to shame. Jules Cashford keeps it simple and, apparently, as accurate as she can. In doing so, she provided a nice intro and she preserves some aspects the texture of the texts. I think she did a very nice job. But then I also can't help thinking what a shame she didn't go farther. These poems really beg to be inspirations to poetry, not something merely to get translated right.

Jun 1, 2016, 9:57am

You've really got me with that quote from the Hymns.

Jun 1, 2016, 4:25pm

Lucy - it reminds me of Gilgamesh or maybe the Song of Deborah. It was the only one like it. And funny, it's not how I imagines Apollo - it's almost like the god of art is just (barely) getting civilized.

Jun 1, 2016, 5:17pm

>85 AlisonY: I should pay more attention to amazon reviews. That's wonderful.

>93 dchaikin: >96 FlorenceArt: This well known version of the birth of Venus was in my middle school Latin book, just as the third conjugation began:

That was probably racy enough for the giggling scholars without teaching us Hesiod's background. The teachers were far more likely to impart the aphorisms about working harder!

Jun 1, 2016, 6:52pm

>128 SassyLassy: Nice to see Venus here. Your comments underneath it made me smile. : )

Jun 2, 2016, 7:21pm

The Homeric Hymns sound like something I really need to pick up. I have a lot of interest in ancient poetry (though I was defeated by a large volume of Sumerian poetry, which just got too boring after a few high points in the beginning).

Jun 2, 2016, 7:59pm

>130 mabith: I have read a straight-forward translation of Gilgamesh and there is no comparison. (The Apollo bit was as close as it gets.) The Homeric Hymns are actually pleasant, like in an enjoyable way outside their ancient context. And they aren't washout out. The language even in a straight-forward translation can be very strong. (And there are always the freely available Shelley versions...)

Jun 2, 2016, 8:32pm

I think most of the Sumerian poems in the books I read were pre-Gilgamesh. I got through half of it (The Harps That Once...) They just got very samey and required a ludicrous number of lengthy footnotes to understand. When they wrote a hymn to a god they really made it count, and their gods were less... human than the Greeks' and Romans'. Vs the volume of ancient Egyptian poetry I read which I loved.

Jun 3, 2016, 12:12am

I think I would be interested in both. Actually, I don't think I knew the were collections of Summerian poetry.

Jun 4, 2016, 1:27am

They're definitely worth a look! Here is a small selection of some more relate-able pieces (including some rather smutty pieces!). The Egyptian volumes I have were translated by John L. Foster. I have a weakness for the love related poems because of course they end up feeling the most timeless. Here's a favorite little Egyptian poem, from the Ramesside era, 1292-1070 BCE:
I think I'll go home and lie very still,
feigning terminal illness.
Then the neighbors will all troop over to stare,
my love, perhaps, among them.
How she'll smile while the specialists
snarl in their teeth! --

she perfectly well knows what ails me.

Edited: Jun 4, 2016, 9:00pm

30. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
reader: Anne Twomey
published: 2014
format: digital audiobook (9:59)
acquired: from audible, on May 22
read: May 23 - Jun 3
rating: 4 stars

Doesn't the title say it all? It's quite a topic - what we are doing to the world, and what we have done and what we are likely going to do. This mostly wasn't new information to me - but the acidification of the oceans was new. I mean I see the headlines and I know it's a issue, but I didn't understand the nature of it, or make the connection to shells and reefs.

What I like about the book is, first of all, that it's getting read. The more people who read this the better. It's good information. Even well informed people don't generally grasp the scope and extent of what we are doing to our planet. She mixes in the dire future predictions, and the uncertainties of these, with lots of interesting historical details on science coming to terms with extinction, and other related topics. She covers in some detail three of the five major extinction events (why only three?)

The problem with ocean acidification, in brief, is how it affects animals that secrete shells or any hard carbonate-mineral parts, especially in the common form of aragonite. This stuff dissolves in acid. The extra CO2 in the air leads to more of it getting absorbed into the ocean, and this makes the oceans more acidic. The acidity makes these hard parts more soluble, as in closer to actually dissolving, and therefore they become harder to make and animals make less of them. So, as the acidity increases, our corals start making less exoskeleton and eventually will just stop, meaning our coral reefs will die. We have made the oceans 40% more acidic then they were before the industrial revolution.

My one complaint is that the book seems to target our emotions more than I'm comfortable with. It's really a borderline issue - unless you listen on audio. The reader, Twomey, insanely over-dramatizes the book, weakening it the severely. It sounds like a bad psuedo-science show on a coming UFO invasion. (I did listen to sample before I purchased. There was a very passionate and professional reader. Only after I purchased did I learn that the sample was Kolbert herself, reading the prologue. Wish she had read the whole book.)

We have all read plenty of everyone-should-read-this-book comments on important nonfiction books, and that does add a bit of discouragement into the encouragement. I hope the later overpowers the former. Everyone should be reading books like this.

Jun 4, 2016, 8:13pm

>134 mabith: Meredith - thanks for posting that poem, and the link!

Jun 4, 2016, 8:43pm

"Samuel Kramer, a noted Sumerologist and Biblical scholar, suggests that the Biblical Song of Songs is an edited and expurgated version of the Sumerian hymns to Tammuz and Ishtar.

>134 mabith: I found this fascinating, from that link. Also, it was interesting to see the parallels between the Tammuz and Ishtar story and the Greek story of Demeter and Persephone.

Jun 5, 2016, 10:43am

The Sixth Extinction has been on my list. I'll have to remember to get it in print instead. Overly dramatic readers don't work for me in fiction, let alone non-fiction.

>137 dchaikin: I suppose humans have always found comfort/interest in similar stories. Definitely interesting to read/see those overlaps.

Jun 5, 2016, 11:00am

>135 dchaikin: I read excerpts in The New Yorker so I'm reluctant to buy the book but I agree with your conclusion.

Jun 5, 2016, 11:09am

>134 mabith: Thank you mabith for that link and that poem!

Jun 5, 2016, 11:48am

Have you read Kramer and Diane Wolkstein's Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth? It's delicious and really shows the parallels to the Song of Solomon.

Jun 5, 2016, 12:10pm

>135 dchaikin: The reader, Twomey, insanely over-dramatizes the book, weakening it the severely.
Huge pet peeve. But your review is excellent and still enourages me toward the book.

Jun 5, 2016, 12:12pm

>138 mabith: I'm interested in the connections. I keep reading how Greek mythology was influenced by more Eastern mythologies, but it's not always so clear as this and Demeter. Ishtar from 2000 bce Summeria influences Homeric Hymns from say 600 bce, with possibly no written record in between (not that I would know that for sure) - except for the Asherah trees/poles forbidden in the Old Testament.

>139 rebeccanyc: makes sense R. I'm not sure what was in the New Yorker, so not sure what you might have missed.

>141 janeajones: Diane Wolkstein?!! I know her from children's books - like White Wave. Noting this. I think I might want to fill in on Summerian stuff.

Edited: Jun 5, 2016, 12:17pm

>142 detailmuse: yeah, pet peeve. I should acknowledge that different people like different readers, but it felt good to get that out of my system. When a reader doesn't work for you and yet still you listen, they really begin to grate and that just builds up worse and worse over the course of the book. (If it hadn't cost me an audible credit, i might have set the book aside and waited till/if I got to the text version. )

Jun 5, 2016, 5:27pm

143> Besides the book, which for some odd reason my kindle won't link, there's a great video of Wolkstein telling the story,but I don't know if it's still available since she died.

Jun 7, 2016, 3:35am

>135 dchaikin: That really is a darned shame about the narrator. Especially as one of the things I recall liking about the book is that Kolbert doesn't take the kind of hand-wringing, doom-crying tone it must be very tempting to take when talking about such matters. When the bare-faced reality is that chilling, you don't have to.

Jun 7, 2016, 6:55am

>146 bragan: "When the bare-faced reality is that chilling, you don't have to."

Yes, exactly!

Edited: Jun 16, 2016, 1:24am

31. Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1984 - stories originally published 1959, 1960, 1961 & 1964
format: 193 page paperback
acquired: March 13
read: May 30 - Jun 4
rating: 4 stars

A much nicer reading experience than I expected. The self-deprecating introduction really sets the tone, downplaying expectations and welcoming the reader to just relax a bit and enjoy the flawed stories. These five stories include the first four stories Pynchon published. They were apparently no minor item, as they got noticed and put Pynchon on the map of a small literary crowd before his first book came out.

The introduction alone was worth the book. Pynchon is notoriously reclusive, but his introduction is very open. He complains about how amateur these works are and expresses regret over the things he forced into these stories to try to make them more literary. This self-criticism is somehow both a bit in mock and very sincere. It's also spot on, interesting, and charming.

The Small Rain 1959
A low level army tech takes a minor roll in hurricane response. The hurricane was unexpected, deadly, and actually happened. The response becomes body recovery. This was my favorite story as it works on a simple level - an unusual and casual, almost accidental confrontation with death. It just manages to become more than it is.

Low-Lands 1960
A man's wife kicks him out of the house. He spends a night in a garbage dump with the overseer. There is a lot of Greek mythology references and a element of horror. Curious.

Entropy 1960
Actually a kind of cool story that involves a wacky party and the odd young couple one floor below, pondering entropy. But, if I can pretend to give analysis, and this kind of story will encourage you to pretend to do the same, the point seems to be his use of the word entropy in a story context - both giving new meaning to and coloring the entire story. It's one of those interesting ideas I find hard to grasp of all at once. The wild parties become something that cannot hold, if you like. They expend more than what can be replaced. And they become directional, leading toward an end, without ever touching on this directly. Not sure I have it right, or close, but it makes sense to me. It also really defines the sense of everything in V. and Gravity's Rainbow - for him it's a foundational concept.
"The cosmologists had predicted an eventual heat-death for the universe (something like Limbo: form and motion abolished, heat-energy identical at every point in it); the meteorologists, day-to-day, staved it off by contradicting with a reassuring array of varied temperatures.

But for three days now, despite the changeful weather, the mercury had stayed at 37 degrees Fahrenheit."

Under the Rose 1961
A take on the tricky world of Fin de siècle espionage, where principals seems to play an important, but hard to define roll. This becomes a chapter in V., with some differences. I didn't like it in V. and I didn't like it any better as a standalone. I found it a snobbish effort.

The Secret Integration 1964
This story actually post-dates V.. The story is, in a nutshell, boys behaving badly. But Pynchon adds and works on a complicated racial element. The boys "integrate" themselves with an imaginary black boy, patting themselves on the back for their forwardness, until the town's reality weighs in too heavily. It's both great and not, depending on how you look at it, and there are many different ways. I thought the racial element was forced.

Jun 16, 2016, 1:38am

32. The Persians by Aeschylus
translated from Ancient Greek by George Theodoridis, 2009
performed: 472 bce
format: 39 page length webpage: https://bacchicstage.wordpress.com/aeschylus-2/persians/
read: Jun 6
rating: ?? stars

This is apparently the oldest surviving Greek tragedy and also the only of the surviving plays on a contemporary subject. The battle of Salamis, where the Greeks destroyed the Persian navy and essentially ruined any hope of Persian expansion through Greece, occurred in 480 bce. This play is about the aftermath.

It's very simple. People in the Persian capital, including the the king's mother, await word on the battle. They share their hopes...and then get the real news and express their woe in response.

The speeches are kind of moving and memorable, but my main response is mostly curiosity. It was interesting to me to see how simple these plays could be. And it's interesting that the victorious Greeks were willing to think through the Persian perspective, albeit there is an element of gloating in there somewhere.

As a side note on the Greek plays. I think only 33 plays exist. There were hundreds. There was apparently even a play on the Persians that preceded Aeschylus. We just have these scraps left.

Edited: Jun 16, 2016, 2:05am

33. Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
translated from Ancient Greek by George Theodoridis, 2010
performed: 467 bce
format: 50 page length webpage: https://bacchicstage.wordpress.com/aeschylus-2/seven-against-thebes/
read: Jun 7-8
rating: ?? stars

A more complex play than the Persians. Still all the action happens off stage. This was the third in a trilogy on Oedipus, but the first two plays are lost. The first, Laius, would have covered the story of Laius, King of Thebes, receiving the curse that this son would kill him. He ordered Oedipus killed, but Oedipus was saved and raised not knowing who his parents were. He would later kill Laius and marry his mother. The second play, Oedipus, would have covered Oedipus's discovery of his accidental crime after having four children. He placed a curse on his sons, Eteocles & Polyneices, saying they would kill each other.

In the legend, the brother's agree to trade the kingship. First Eteocles, and then Polyneices. But Eteocles refuses to step down, so Polyneices gathers an army of heroes an attacks Thebes. And that gets us here.

What was most interesting to me is that Aeschylus uses a lot of humor in an otherwise formulaic tragedy. As the attacks mount, the woman inside Thebes panic and start bewailing to their gods, dreading their treatment once conquered. Eteocles tries to be respectful, while pleading for sanity.

But there are lots of curiosities here. The seven heroic attackers are all described, with great attention given to their shields. One, Amphiaraus, was a seer and foresaw his own death in the battle, and carries an blank shield.

The ending of the play is not original. It was reworked so that Antigone, a daughter of Oedipus, would remain consistent her character in a later play by Sophocles.

Jun 19, 2016, 12:36am

34. Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
Penn Greek Drama Series edited by David R. Slavitt & Palmer Bovie
published: 1999
format: 205 page paperback
acquired: May 30
read: Jun 6-9
rating: 4 stars

Each play had a different translator:

The Persians (472 bce) - translated by David R. Slavitt
Seven Against Thebes (467 bce) - translated by Stephen Sandy
The Suppliants (463 bce) - translated by Gail Holst-Warhaft
Prometheus Bound: (date unknown, authorship contested) - translated by William Matthews

When I originally sat down to read some Greek tragedies, I started with this book, because Aeschylus's are the oldest surviving. At first I was struck by how curious the beginning of The Persians was. A prologue character opens the play and narrates the setting, talking directly to the audience. He opens, "The chorus of elders files in, the enemy we despise." Then goes on to describe these elders of the chorus and how we, the audience, will respond to them. When he called me a "New Yorker or Californian", I finally figured out something wasn't right. At this point I should have been terribly annoyed and hated the book.

These are "original literary translations". Slavitt was most free and creative in The Persians. There are no prologue characters in the Greek tragedies. Slavitt has essentially written his own play, one that tries to modernize the ancient one while maintaining the general theme. The other three plays are closer to simply translations. They translate freely, mixing, excising and adding parts, but they don't do anything as radical as add or subtract characters.

Anyway, the reason I didn't hate this book is that I actually enjoyed Slavitt's creation. Yes, it left me feeling I still needed to read more standard translations, and for a few plays I did this. But I gained something here too. This book was, for me, worth the detour.

I reviewed The Persians and Seven Against Thebes above. Some notes on the other two:

The Suppliants

50 brides, the Danaids, flee their Egyptian grooms. They travel oversea and land in Argos in Greece, where they camp on holy ground. They beg for protection from the gods and from the king of Argos, hence the supplication.

It's the first of a lost trilogy. Here the king of Argos agrees to protect them, just as the 50 rejected grooms arrive. In the next plays the king is killed and the sisters are married to the men. The first night of marriage, 49 sisters kill their new husbands. One holds out—Hypermnestra refuses to kill Lynceus. Lynceus eventually becomes king of Argos.

The Suppliants is odd in several ways. It's uneventful and kind of boring and yet also curious and interesting as the woman plead for protection by reasoning. They first argue they are in the right, then they threaten mass suicide on sacred ground of Argos, and act that would pollute this ground.

The translator, in her preface, thinks over the question of why this play was preserved when so many were lost. She calls it "a remote and haunting text, whose august stance is hard to comprehend".

Prometheus Bound

Easily the best of these four plays. There is a lot going on here. Prometheus is interesting. The basic story line is that he is chained to cliff by Zeus forever as punishment for giving man fire. Here he claims he gave man not only fire, but everything needed for civilization, including how to think, and how to use math and study the stars. He is visited by Oceanus who wishes to help him, and Io (as in Ionic) who is rushing through her own troubles. Hera turned her into a cow and has a fly endlessly harass her across the known world. Finally Hermes comes to press Prometheus on a secret he has about the fate of Zeus. The discussions are interesting and varied, touching on personal fate and on how much to sacrifice and what it all means.

This is another survivor of a lost trilogy. In Prometheus Unbound, Zeus would free Prometheus, who, in return, would warn Zeus not to marry Thetis. In Prometheus the Fire-Bringer Prometheus would finally convince Zeus not to marry Thetis. She is married to a human, and gives birth to the hero Achilles. I'll note that there is some debate on the author of Prometheus Bound, but I'll leave it there. (I'm not sure what "author" really meant to Greeks in this context anyway.)

Edited: Jun 19, 2016, 2:33am

Great reviews as usual Dan! You make me curious. I have Aeschylus' "complete" works in French but haven't read any yet.

Jun 19, 2016, 6:08am

Hi Daniel

I really respect your stamina for sticking to themed reading. I used to read this way a lot when I was younger, but do it rarely now. Some very thoughtful reviews.

Jun 19, 2016, 9:19pm

Florence - they've been curious. I think Prometeus Bound is the only I got really excited about. But I'm happy to have read them.

Jun 19, 2016, 9:23pm

Carline - thank you! It's been a curious path. Oddly, i'm off the schedule, but staying on theme. It's become very difficult for me to read a book off theme (audio is different ).

Jun 19, 2016, 11:24pm

I see you are still sticking with the Greeks. I love your reviews - they make me want to reread them as well...

Jun 19, 2016, 11:53pm

Thanks Annie! I know I read something in these Greek tragedies, somewhere in school at some time, but couldn't tell you what it was and I probably wouldn't recognize it. So, it's all new to me. I'm intrigued in those four on how they keep the settings simple, limit the actors, and create it all through the dialogue of a few key characters.

Jun 20, 2016, 1:07am

I know what you mean. The only reason I remember the titles of most of what I read in the half year (a bit more because of the split year due to prep class actually but it was planned for a half year) that was essentially reserved for Greek literature is that I still have the books on a shelf back home. Not that I remember much of them - I know I had read them, I remember certain elements (Sophocles's Antigone had stayed with me for example) but not much else

Edited: Jun 20, 2016, 5:20am

They stay in my memory as I see them on stage when I can, though so far have not seen them in an amphitheatre. I loved the one at Ostia, just outside Rome, which I visited a few years ago.


Jun 20, 2016, 7:13am

>158 AnnieMod:/>159 Caroline_McElwee: Antigone - oddly I'm not sure whether I read it, or my sister read and it and then talked about it. But the title is familiar. I don't recall the play. (I should get there)

And I certainly have never seen one of these staged. That would surely change my perspective.

As for Ostia - wow. Amazing that the area is still roughly intact.

Jun 21, 2016, 12:38am

35. Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis : eastern contexts of Greek culture by Walter Burkert
published: 2004
format: 172 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Jun 11-16
rating: 3 stars

The title is itself a decent concise summary. The book originated as four lectures in 1996. Burkert added a chapter on the alphabet, updated all the lectures, and added in numerous citations. The topics are fascinating, but the book is very difficult to read and sometimes hard to follow. And, it seemed to get more difficult as it went along.

So, I'm reduced to a book report. Sorry. Below is my attempt at some summaries, chapter-by-chapter. Some are really difficult to summarize. Read at your own risk.

Chapter 1 - Alphabetic Writing
Eastern letters had meaning. Alpha means "ox" and Beta means "house", etc. Greeks found the letters useful by themselves, so they borrowed them. But the letters make no sense in Greek, they are only sounds.

Chapter 2 - Orientalizing Features in Homer
The point of this chapter is that all these civilizations, from Persia to Greece to Egypt were all connected and sharing ideas. In Homer, the main eastern influence is in the gods. The scenes with the gods have many parallels with eastern stories and mythologies, going back to Gilgamesh and the Bablyonian Enuma Elish.

Chapter 3 - Oriental Wisdom Literature and Cosmogony.
OK, bear with me and I'm just making a stab at this... The Persian empire, under Cyrus the Great, conquered Lydia in in 547 bce. This was the heart of the Anatolian Greeks, and it is also time equivalent with the documented Greek philosophical foundations. There must have been some kind of connection. Burkert argues there was regional connection in thought processes and that the Persian empire served as a catalyst, connecting people end-to-end along the Empire's kings road. Eastern cosmogony and wisdom has a lot of clear influence on Greek cosmogony and literature - namely on Hesiod. Greece proper was unique in that it was the most eastern non-conquered region (Egypt was conquered for a time). It was connected to the Persian areas, but maintained its freedom of thought in the key 6th and 5th century. This seems to have allowed this part of Greece to development their own, more modern philosophy - and our philosophical foundations. Hoping that all makes sense.

Chapter 4 - Orpheus and Egypt
This should have been the best chapter in the book. The information is wildly fascinating, but the actual content here is exhausting. And it's only about 30 pages. In sum, Osiris, Egyptian god of the dead connects with Dionysus, Greek god of wine, through the mysterious Orpheus cult. Confused yet?

The Orpheus mystery cult was widespread over a long period of time. But, it seems it was too secret, as all the key texts have been lost. So the discovery of the Derveni text was a bit deal. It was burned, but half the scroll was preserved. It's about the oldest text in existence, and, outside hints in writers such as Plato, and references to secret passwords here and there, it's about the only written thing we have got on the Orpheus cult. There is a whole lost world.

As for the details, well you can read the chapter. You will find lots about gods ejaculating all over the place. Seriously. That is an Egyptian and Ophean origin of our stars.

Chapter 5 - The Advent of the Magi
The Persian influence on ancient Greece, mainly as interpreted by tracing the word "magic". "Magi" is a Persian word from certain followers of Zoroastrianism. It's, of course, also the origin of our words "magic" and "Magi". Over time the word "magic" replaced the original Greek word for this meaning. By tracing the Greek use of this word, we can get a sense of the history of Persian influence on Greek culture.

Jun 21, 2016, 11:28am

I admire your ability to stay with your chosen theme! Or themes!

Jun 23, 2016, 12:30am

36. The Name of God Is Mercy (Audio)
An interview of Pope Francis by Andrea Tornielli, and an appendix of writings or speeches of Pope Francis
translated from Italian by Oonagh Stransky
readers: Fred Sanders reads for Pope Francis and Arthur Morey reads for Tornielli
published: 2016
format: digital audiobook (3:04 - roughly equivalent to 85 pages)
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Jun 15-17
rating: 2 stars

The danger of audio is that I'll listen to practically anything.

I have liked what I heard about this pope, so I thought it would be interesting to read a book by him. Unfortunately, the book isn't by him, but actually was put together by Andrea Tornielli. Tornielli interviewed the pope, in Italian, and published his version of that interview here, along with other selected writings from the pope. The other problem, the main one, was that I didn't find what the pope said all that interesting.

Not a total loss, as this was all new to me, a Jewish boy stretching his listening. And, some of the things he talks about I did find interesting. Trying to be a humbler person.

Jun 23, 2016, 12:47am

>162 rebeccanyc: Thanks Rebecca.

I am drifting from the plan, although roughly within theme. Here is what I've brought home from the library recently

Myths and Legends of the Ancient Near East - Fred Gladstone Skinner
I'm intrigued because it has brief summaries of Sumero-Akkadian, Egyptian, Ugaritc, and Hittite myth, all of which I would like an overview of. Intro was kind of dull though.

Inanna : Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer
Wolkstein's introduction was surprisingly inspiring. I may read this next

The Politics of Olympus : Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns by Jenny Strauss Clay
Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C. Guthrie
The Harps That Once... : Sumerian Poetry in Translation by Thorkild Jacobson
Ancient Mystery Cults by Walter Burkert
Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual by Walter Burkert
Ancient Persia : A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire 550-330 BCE by Matt Waters (concise = 250 pages)
Ancient Persia by Joseph Wiesehöfer (not concise = 330 pages)

Jun 23, 2016, 12:51am

37. Seven brief lessons on physics (Audio)
read by the author
translated from Italian (by ??)
published: 2015
format: digital audiobook (1:45 - roughly equivalent to 48 pages)
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Jun 17-20
rating: 3½ stars

Rovelli ranges from silly to enlightening and inspiring. He doesn't, however, ever really explain the physics. He's more interesting in talking about what it means, if that makes sense. Worth a look. He doesn't expect humans to survive climate change

Jun 23, 2016, 9:45am

Loving your synopses of Aeschylus and I, too, admire your tenacity. Just reading in my Science News weekly (calls itself SN now) that they are using some sort of digital thingummy method hoping to decipher the scrolls found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum without actually opening them (many destroyed by hopeful efforts to open and read them). Unfortunately so far it is mostly the work of some minor literary blowhard . . . probably this was his house and his library and it appears to hold a lot of his own extra copies of his work. Everyone is hoping hoping hoping that there will be something magnificent, one of these missing plays, some of Sappho's poems . . .

Loved your write-ups of the early Pynchon stories too and your thoughts about them. The only one I remember at all well is the first one.

Jun 23, 2016, 9:43pm

Thanks Lucy. I was surprisingly charmed by Pychon's intro to Slow Learner.

Fascinating about the Villa die Papyri. Hope there is some success in reading them.

Jun 25, 2016, 9:09am

Ten years on LT for me, as of today.

Jun 25, 2016, 10:27am

Congratulations, Dan!

Jun 25, 2016, 10:47am

Happy thingaversary!

Jun 25, 2016, 11:48am

Congratulations, Dan! Any book shopping in your plans?

Jun 25, 2016, 12:52pm

Thanks guys.

Colleen - probably not. We're on a budget. With oil prices down, my salary is down about 30%. I've never had to go backwards before. Very stressful. (But, I'm still employed at least...well, as far as I know). Anyway, when I'm worried about grocery spending, it's hard to justify book spending.

Jun 25, 2016, 1:14pm

more history. When I joined, LT, the first book I finished was March by Geraldine Brooks, on June 30, 2006. I didn't review it, but I did comment "Hard for me to evaluate, but now I'm inspired to read Little Women." (I have not read LW yet.) The next three were A Thousand Miles of Stars, a poetry collection by Walt McDonald, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen. My first review, on Sep 6, 2006, was on Playful Parenting.

Jun 25, 2016, 2:32pm

w00t for 10 years Dan!

TODAY, you can see who else shares this 10th Thingaversary with you -- go to your Home page, along the left column click on Folly, then scroll down to the Selected Thingaversaries module. Fifteen of you early adopters (not sure if "Selected" means it's not an exhaustive listing).

Jun 25, 2016, 2:41pm

>163 dchaikin: a lot to admire in the man and his pastoral work. I want to read a bio but had been waiting for the opportunistic flurry to recede and find something balanced and substantive.

Jun 25, 2016, 4:29pm

Happy tenth Thingaversary, what will your ten anniversary books be.

Do get to Little Women.

Jun 26, 2016, 7:31am

>168 dchaikin: Wow! Congrats

Jun 26, 2016, 10:40am

>174 detailmuse: MJ - that was cool. Thanks.
>175 detailmuse: - sadly I was uninspired. Maybe I just don't speak the language. But coming from my viewpoint, he seemed to think and speak in a Catholic theological lingo, and it seemed to be very obscure to me. And, some things just didn't make sense or seemed counterintuitive. I mean I could understand the words, but still felt like there needed to be somekind kind of translation to get from there (him) to here (me).

>176 Caroline_McElwee: no purchases, but my tenth anniversary book in progress is Diane Wolkstein's take in Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte. Long way from Little Women!! But I really should read LW.

>177 ELiz_M: thanks Liz!

Jun 26, 2016, 5:00pm

Enjoying your reviews of the Greek Plays. Are you going to read all 33 ?

Jun 26, 2016, 9:07pm

>179 baswood: I have a bunch of books with plays, and I plan to read them all. But, I don't think I will go beyond what's in them. So far, I've only gotten through two of the eight books.

Jun 27, 2016, 12:31am

Welcome to ten years!

Isn't it funny to look back and see what you intended to read "soon" and still haven't gotten to 10 years later. :) I have plenty of those.

Jun 27, 2016, 1:09pm

Thanks Ursula. Yeah, it is entertaining. Tastes and focus can evolve in such odd and quirky ways.

Edited: Jun 27, 2016, 11:55pm

38. The Oresteian Trilogy: Agamemnon; The Choephori; The Eumenides by Aeschylus, translated by Philip Vellacott
first performed: 458 bce
format: 197 page paperback - 1965 Penguin classics
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: June 9-10, 17-22
rating: 3½ stars

The story of Orestes is told in The Odyssey, where he comes across as a hero of a tragedy, and a role model for young princes. Agamemnon, a valiant warrior but also somewhat incompetent as leader of the Greeks, or Achaens, returns home from Troy with a Trojan Princess, Cassandra, as his prize. He is unaware that his wife, Clytemnestra, has been seething over Iphingenia, and has a taken a lover, the son of Agamemnon's spurned uncle, Aegisthus. Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. When the Achaeans sailed for Troy, the entire fleet got stranded by the winds on a island. Agamemnon sent for Iphigenia and had her sacrificed, and the winds changed. We know from the Odyssey that Agamemnon lands home and is immediately killed, along with Cassandra, by Clytemnestra herself. And that later, Orestes, who feels cheated of his thrown, avenges his father, and kills and his mother and her lover, Aegisthus. And that he is praised for this. This is Aeschylus's raw materials, if you like.

The trilogy was put to verse by Phillip Vellacott. This is the first play I've read in verse. I made quick work on other plays in prose translations, even the slow reader I am, reading a play in maybe 45 minutes. In verse, I had to slow down. (Actually first I had to find the rhythm, and then, once I found it, I couldn't really get out of it. It would hang around. ) It becomes a totally different animal in verse, so much so, that I feel more disconnected from the original than at any other time, just because of how different the prose and verse experience are. I'm reading a translator's creation as much as, or more than that of Aeschylus.

The plays themselves tend to have a few dramatic scenes, and then lots of other dialogue of mixed interest, and dull parts somehow becoming prolonged. Agamemnon will culminate in Clytemnestra, with bloody sword, standing over a bloody bathtub filled with the corpses of Agamemnon and Cassandra, Agamemnon still covered in the robe Clytemnestra used to tangle him up in before she attacked. But first there is the play. Agamemnon and Cassandra arrive, and Clytemnestra welcomes them warmly with a famous speech where everything she says references Iphigenia (There is the sea—who shall exhaust the sea) or her coming murder of Agamemnon (she tells him, in praise, ...if by care and cost I might ensure safe journey's end for this one life.) Poor Cassandra serves almost as dark humor. She is cursed to prophecy but not be understood. So she prophecies her own murder as the chorus, struggling to make sense of what she says, guides her to it.

The Choephori are the libation bearers. They join Electra, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's surviving daughter, to make a sacrifice at Agamemnon's grave, and there interact with Orestes and make a plan for vengeance. There is a lot of dialogue and reasoning out of things here, and it goes on and on a bit. But for a powerful moment it all seems for naught. Orestes works his plan, kills Aegisthus, and then his mother walks in, unarmed. What takes place is the most dramatic set up I have come across with Aeschylus. She commands him, like a parent, then she pleads, and then she confronts him (Are you resolved, my son, to murder your own mother?) and then she warms him, and then they head off stage...

At least up to this point, very little action happens in these plays. It's all dialogue, and, what appears to be, more and more elaborate sets. The action itself happens off the stage.

The Eumenides are the Furies, and they are after Orestes for vengeance for killing his mother. There is no escape. But this is a political play, in Athens' heyday. A trial takes place in the temple of Athena. Apollo will prove incompetent at Orestes's defense, but Athena will right everything, relieving Orestes of guilt and while soothing the Furies' anger. There is a cosmology in play. The Furies predate Zeus, they are part of and represent the older gods, the chthonic gods, and follow rules of their own making and nothing can control them. Athena, representing Athens itself, represents the new. She frees Orestes of the blood oaths of continual vengeance, found in the outskirts, bringing peace and order and some legal structure, basically civilizing. It's all very dull when put to drama.

This is apparently the only trilogy to survive from Ancient Greece. I read it while wondering what gave it that extra touch that allowed it to be saved (or was it just pure chance.) There are some memorable scenes - both bloody and dramatic, and also clever and tragically playful. At least that's my take of the moment.

Jun 28, 2016, 9:09am

More great summaries. One does have to wonder why this one and not the other survive, I expect survival is pretty much entirely random.

Jun 28, 2016, 11:59am

thanks Lucy. I like to imagine there was some selection process, maybe simply popularity expanded the available copies. But, could also be random is many ways. And, plays may have been reworked from original.

Jun 29, 2016, 12:51am

Radiant Inanna, from an Akkadian cylindrical stone seal, 2334-2154 bce

Jun 29, 2016, 1:01am

39. Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth : Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer translated by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Noah Kramer
Art compiled by Elizabeth Williams-Forte
Published: 1983. Original from various time periods, roughly 2000 bce.
format: 226 page paperback
acquired: borrowed from Library
read: June 24-26
rating: 5 stars
In the first days, in the very first days,
In the first nights, in the very first nights,
in the first years, in the very first years,
Something special happened here. This is more than a translation of ancient literature. This is really an interpretation, a work of art, Diane Wolkstein's recreation. There is some kind synergy at play.

The source is, of course, the Cuneiform fragments found throughout the southern Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. The literary fragments, which include Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Enuma Elish and many other mythological elements also preserve, in pieces here and there, elements of the story of the goddess Inanna. She is known elsewhere as Ishtar and in the bible is referred to as Astarte, and her worship, there severely forbidden, to the Astarte poles.

Four stories about Inanna, and seven short hymns to her, are reconstructed. The Huluppu-Tree, where Inanna rescues the tree, then needs the help of Gilgamesh to get rid of it's pollutants, like (the biblical) Lilith, who built a home in her tree. Inanna and the God of Wisdom, where she gets drunk with Enki, the God of Wisdom, and then essentially steals all his wisdom, in the form of Me (pronounced like May). Enki sobers up, but can't recover his Me. Then, heavily sexual, is The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi (Dumuzi is biblical Tammuz). Finally is there is the three part story, The Descent of Inanna, where Inanna is drawn into the underworld. There, she is stripped of all possessions, all clothing and killed, or trapped in the underworld as a corpse. She is rescued, but must find a replacement. She eventually offers up Dumuzi.

The reconstruction of these stories from fragments was a major effort, and Samuel Noah Kramer played a large role in this. But what Wolkstein does is something different. She hashed over all the possible meanings, and then comes up with her own interpretation. So, the translation becomes an interpretation and her own creation. It's somehow raw, fundamental, and beautiful. It's exceptionally well done.

It's also very feminist. "Rejoicing at her wondrous vulva", Inanna is not an underling, ruled by a Zeus-like head god, but very much her own. She evolves in the stories from uncertainty, to a savvy sexual power, to a goddess affecting fertility and the seasons and, in many ways, the daily lives of her worshipers.

In her introduction, Wolkstein recreates a conversation with Kramer, providing some insight into how she approaches this work:
"In the first line of 'The Descent of Inanna,' 'From the Great Above she set her mind to the Great below,' what exactly does 'mind' mean?"

"Ear," Kramer said.


"Yes, the word for ear and wisdom in Sumerian are the same. But mind is what is meant."

"But—I could say 'ear'?"

"Well, you could."

"Is it opened her ear or set her ear?"

"Set. Set her ear, like a donkey that sets its ear at a particular sound."

As Kramer spoke, a shiver ran through me. When taken literally, the text announces the stories direction: From the Great Above the goddess opened (set) her ear, her receptor for wisdom, to the Great below.
(She ends up translating "From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below")

Jun 29, 2016, 10:48am

Enjoying your Aeschylus reviews. I haven't read some of these. One of the reasons The Oresteia may have survived as a trilogy (beyond mere chance, of course) are the political implications of the play. Aeschylus, who had served as a general in the Persian Wars, was a great champion of Athenian ideals, and the trilogy symbolizes the shift from justice by vengeance to trial by jury. Some have also argued the implications of the shift from mother-right, represented by Clytemnestra and the Furies, to father-right and patriarchy, represented by Orestes and Athena (who after-all was born of her father Zeus, springing armor-clad from his head after brain surgery by Hephaestus).

187> So glad you enjoyed Inanna -- I think it's one of my seminal books. It's really too bad her video performance si no longer available; it's remarkable. There's a really brief excerpt of her reciting the me on YouTube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5mTbo6xZhc

Jul 2, 2016, 9:53am

jane - I'll look for videos on Wolkstein. Inanna is special, I don't think the goddess is likely to ever get better treatment.

It is an interesting point - pro-Athens plays are more likely to get preserved.

As for the battle of the sexes, in The Eumenides Athena basically says it's not as bad to kill a woman as it is to kill a man. But, Homer is already very "father-right" or paternal, compare Penelope and Odysseus. Also, Orestes is a hero there. So, I can't imagine the play, which is much later, represents an active shift from matri- to patri-. Maybe it recalls an archaic shift.

Edited: Jul 2, 2016, 5:46pm

40. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
published: 2015
format: 390 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from library
read: Jun 26 - Jul 2
rating: 3 stars

A step into the contemporary world for me. I have listened to two novels from 2015, but this is the first I've "read" this year that was published after 1973! (Gravity's Rainbow).

I feel out of tune in how to think about it. There are many things to complain about—the style is unoriginal, several plot points are forced, there are occasional wordy, empty, sections present apparently just to make a minor point, or make up for the failure to make a point, the dialogue is atrocious, the "literary" tie-ins—the title, numerous references to Greek mythology, all the King Arthur names—are so obvious and in your face. And yet, I enjoyed it, found it a pleasant read.

So, what should I say? It's an easy to book to pan. But maybe it should instead be praised and forgiven, or even complimented for bringing up so many talking points.

The book is two stories, one the Fates and the other the Furies. In the Fates we follow Lancelot Satterwhite, or Lotto for short. Lotto was rich Florida kid, born c1969, whose windowed mother hid her wealth. When he got into trouble, she chucked him away to a northeastern boarding. Severed from parents, he becomes one who lives on the energy around him, thriving in crowds and on attention. He is a promising actor in college. In the heat of one after-show party, he proposes to a woman he's never met before, Mathilde. And so begins their love story. And their sex story.

Then in the Furies, we learn Mathilde Yoder's story. We, readers, know this, so it not only encourages us through the Lotto story, but comes with much anticipation. She is, big surprise, a bit different than we anticipated. And the story becomes more than it was

I liked this set up. 390 pages isn't so few, but I cruised through this, always entertained.

But, there are a lot of... should i call them flaws, or is it just that they contrast with my own tastes. When not reading it, like now (and forever more, I suppose), I struggled with everything I mentioned way above. I was also frustrated by Mathilde's character. There seemed to be an irreconcilable contrast between her personality and her actions (and talk). I mean, I liked that she was tough, I just didn't buy some of the stuff she did (I'm thinking of the really mean stuff. The Ariel stuff was all very unbelievable, pure fetish fantasy, if you like. But M was not being mean or necessarily contradictory. Count that as a separate complaint.)

So, I'm tempted to point and say, look, here, an example of the flawed nature of contemporary literature. As if I know what I'm talking about. Anyway, there is a good book here, I mean, it is a good book as is. But, there are many unsightly blemishes too.

Jul 2, 2016, 8:06pm

Nice review of Fates and Furies, Dan. I hadn't planned to read it, but I certainly won't now.

Jul 2, 2016, 8:27pm

What do you think, Darryl (assuming my take is accurate), is this the state of contemporary literature, or just one not fully matured author?

Jul 2, 2016, 10:50pm

I liked your conflicted review of Fates and Furies.

Jul 3, 2016, 7:38am

>192 dchaikin: I don't think that Lauren Groff is anywhere near the top of contemporary literature so I don't think it's fair to base the state of contemporary literature on her. I think it's hard to judge contemporary literature as a group because the weeding out process has not yet occurred.

Jul 3, 2016, 12:00pm

>193 avidmom: thanks Susie!

Edited: Jul 3, 2016, 12:10pm

>194 japaul22: oh yeah, good point. But is she an outlier? F&F seems like a decent starting point, as it's a successful work that is considered literary. It has very good aspects, and that seemed to allow it be viewed as successful. But it has, IMO, major flaws. Readers attuned to the good aspects will like the book, and readers attuned to other aspects won't. So my question is more along the lines of, do you think that's the state of contemporary literature, or is this just one of kind?

Jul 3, 2016, 6:59pm

Great review of Inanna. Most contemporary literature must appear quite superficial after reading Aeschylus and the Wolkstein book.

Edited: Jul 3, 2016, 9:53pm

I'm reading *Fates and Furies* right now . . . I'll stick with it, but I suspect I will likely end up in much the same place.

The Wolstein sounds truly worthwhile. Onto the WL it goes.

Jul 3, 2016, 10:24pm

>197 baswood: : ) Inanna and Aeschylus aren't particularly deep, or difficult reading. But maybe. And thanks!

>198 sibylline: Lucy, I never minded actually reading F&F. Hope you can enjoy it. As for Iananna, what Wolstein created from her is special. The book has really nice pictures too.

Edited: Jul 11, 2016, 7:16pm

41. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by Paul Roche
1st performed: c ~456 bce ?? (alternately 430 bce, authored by Aeschylus' son, Euphorion)
format: 128 page Paperback - 1964 Mentor Classic
acquired: unknown. It comes from my childhood home. Perhaps one of my parents used it in high school or college.
read: July 2-3
rating: 4 stars

I read this recently with a different translator. Review includes a brief summary. See >151 dchaikin: or click HERE.

As far as I can tell, Paul Roche is a pretty obscure translator. I thought he created something really nice, keeping the poetry and recreating the rhythms. It's not as clean as David Grene, Robert Fitzgerald etc, and it's not as poetic as Philip Vellacott, but it is somewhere between these two. It's easily readable, but also provides noticeable poetic feel. Roche includes an introduction and various thoughts afterward in the format of questions and answers. I found the introduction particularly interesting as he talks about his struggle to translate this. He had translated about half the play unhappily. He studied the translation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, then went back to the Greek and noticed how clean the line endings were. Based on this, he re-worked the translation over again, trying to focus on clean line endings, with the rhyme, alliteration, assonance etc similar to the original. He even diagrams a few examples. No easy thing this, and very interesting to read about in brief, as he has it.

As far as re-reading the play itself, I'm struck first by Prometheus's character. Pinned to a rock the entire play, literally just hanging there, everything hinges on what he says and how he says it. He is an elegant stoic, in the modern sense, never losing his composure regardless of the pain and the endlessness of it all. He also makes Zeus, who condemned him, out to be an absolute tyrant, in the sense of, say, a Persian emperor. Zeus can do as he pleases and command endless torture for any frivolous reason, and there is no one even to complain to. It's a clear political point. (Critics have felt the negative light he writes of Zeus is inconsistent with his other works. Some have tried to give the play to other authors.)

Jul 4, 2016, 11:32pm

189> I agree that the shift from the maternal to the paternal is an archaic one -- probably embedded in the myth of the Oresteia.

190> I enjoyed Groff's The Monsters of Templeton -- very evocative of upstate NY (the town is a stand-in for Cooperstown) -- but haven't been tempted by Fates and Furies from any of the reviews I've read, including yours ;-)

200> One wonders how this play would have been staged with the protagonist pinned to a rock throughout the whole thing.

Edited: Jul 11, 2016, 7:15pm

42. Sophocles I : Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone (The Complete Greek Tragedies)
published: 1954 (my copy is a 33rd printing from 1989)
format: 206 page Paperback
acquired: May 30 from a Half-Price Books
read: July 3-4
rating: 4½ stars

Each play had a different translator

Oedipus The King (circa 429 bce) - translated by David Grene c1942
Oedipus at Colonus (written by 406 bce, performed 401 bce) - translated by Robert Fitzgerald c1941
Antigone (by 441 bce) - translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff c1954

Greek tragedy can fun. After all those rigid Aeschylus plays, that is the lesson of Sophocles. The drama within the dialogue is always dynamic, and sometimes really terrific. I had to really get in the mood to enjoy reading a play by Aeschylus, otherwise I might be bored by the long dull choral dialogues. These three plays are all different and all from different points in Sophocles career, but they each drew me on their own.

Although they are all on the same story line, they were not written together, or in story order. Antigone was first, and was written when Sophocles was still trying to make a name for himself (vs Aeschylus). Oedipus the King came next, when Sophocles was well established. Oedipus at Colonus was apparently written just before Sophocles death, at about age 90. It wasn't performed until several years after his death. All this seems to show in the plays. Antigone having the sense of an author trying to make a striking impression. Oedipus the King carrying the sense of a master playwright with it's dramatic set ups. Oedipus at Colonus is slower, and more reflective. And two of the main characters are elderly.

Oedipus the King

This is simply a striking play, from the opening lines. In line 8, Oedipus characterizes himself to children suppliants as "I Oedipus who all men call the Great." It shows his confidence, but, as Thebes is in the midst of a suffering famine, it also shows outrageous arrogance - it's the only clear sing of this in the play. He is otherwise a noble character throughout. Of course he doesn't know what's coming. In the course of the play he will learn, slowly, his own tragic story - that a man he had killed in a highway fight was his father, and that his wife, and mother of his four children is also his own mother. As each person resists giving him yet another dreadful piece of information, he gets angry at them, threatening them in disbelief at their hesitancy. His denial lasts longer than that of Jocasta, his mother/wife, who leaves the play in dramatic fashion herself, first trying to stop the information flow, and then giving Oedipus a cryptic goodbye. And even as his awareness gets worse and worse, he cannot step out of character, the show-off i-do-everything-right ruler, but must continue to pursue the truth to it bitter fullness.

Oedipus at Colonus

A mature play in many ways. It's slow, thoughtful, has much ambiguity, and has many touching moments. The opening scene is memorable, where a blind Oedipus moves through the wilderness only with the close guidance of his daughter, Antigone.

Who will be kind to Oedipus this evening
And give the wanderer charity?

Though he ask little and receive still less,
It is sufficient:

                                          Suffering and time,
Vast time, have been instructors in contentment,
Which kingliness teaches too.

                                          But now, child,
If you can see a place we might rest,

It's interesting to see Creon, Jocasta's brother, turn bad. But it's more interesting to see Oedipus have a bitter side to him. He maintains his noble character, and that is the point of the play—he is hero because he never did anything bad intentionally, and yet he bears full punishment. But he also makes some interesting calls, essentially setting up a future war between his Thebes and Athens. And, Antigone is striking too. She saves Oedipus critically several times through her advice or her speech. While sacrificing herself and maintaining real affection for Oedipus, she is also shrewd, stepping forward boldly and changing the atmosphere.


This play takes place immediately after what Aeschylus covered in Seven Against Thebes. Polyneices has attacked Thebes with his Argive army, and been repulsed by his brother Eteocles. Both are sons of Oedipus and they have killed each other in the battle. Creon is now ruler. He is a stiff ruler. Despite much warning, he refuses to listen to popular opinion, instead threatening it to silence (a clear political point is being made). But the problems start when he refuses to give his attacker Polyneices a proper burial. He threatens death on anyone who does try to bury him. Antigone openly defies this rule, setting up the play's drama. It's an extreme tragedy with a hamlet-like ending where practically everyone dies. I felt there was less here than in the other two plays, but yet there is still a lot. And it's still fun.


I don't imagine citizens of Thebes liked these plays. There is an unspoken sense of noble Athen poking fun its neighbor throughout. But, as it's not Athens, they give the playwright freedom to work in otherwise dangerous political points - and those are clearly there. But, mostly, these were fun plays. They don't need to be read as a trilogy. They were not meant that way, despite the plot-consistency. Each is independent. There are four more plays by Sophocles. I'm actually going to save them and start Euripides next. Because I think Sophocles is something to look forward to and that might push me through the next bunch.

Jul 5, 2016, 12:41am

>201 janeajones: "200> One wonders how this play would have been staged with the protagonist pinned to a rock throughout the whole thing.

I was thinking, Jane, you might have some insight here. It does seems like it would require a very simple stage setting—just an apparent rock face, with straps. Done.

Jul 5, 2016, 7:00am

Interesting comments about Sophocles! I haven't gotten to Aeschylus yet, and since I'm barely reading at all these days, it might take a while.

I am extremely skeptical about this matriarchal-patriarchal shift theory, it seems based on extremely flimsy evidence and wishful thinking. Not that I know enough on the matter to have any kind of meaningful opinion, but.

Jul 5, 2016, 1:22pm

I've seen Antigone twice on stage Daniel, and always thought it should have been called Creon. It's quite an extraordinary play in many ways, very powerful, and can be read with a contemporary eye. How many men (mostly) in power refuse to listen to their advisors and rue the outcome!

Jul 5, 2016, 2:26pm

I'll definitely be looking for the Inanna book. Sounds like a great treatment.

If you're in the mood for a modern, poetic Antigone interpretation, Antigonick by Anne Carson was interesting, and a beautiful book on top of that.

Edited: Jul 5, 2016, 2:49pm

>200 dchaikin: Oooh, Greek plays! I keep wanting to delve into these again, as I have so much trouble keeping all the various stories straight for Iphigenia, Orestes, Elektra.

She's not to everyone's taste, but I thoroughly enjoyed An Oresteia translated by Anne Carson. She has also translated Euripides for nyrb: Grief Lessons. Euripides can be fun -- read The Bacchae :D

For a slightly more modern, perhaps less Creon-focused version, you could try Antigone by Jean Anouilh (I haven't read it since college, so I don't remember the focus)

>201 janeajones:, >203 dchaikin: And lastly, you'd be surprised at the inventiveness of Stage Directors/Scene Designers:
. . .

ETA: And Mabeth beat me to the A. Carson recommendation while I was off looking for pretty pictures :)

Jul 5, 2016, 11:48pm

I love Anne Carson -- must pick up these translations!

Jul 5, 2016, 11:50pm

Anne Carson... hmm. I feel like I should know this name, but I don't recognize any of her works. Noting. I'm very interested. Thanks Meredith and Liz, both.

>204 FlorenceArt: The matriarchal-patriarchal shift makes a good story, anyway. Wish you some enjoyable reading time.

>205 Caroline_McElwee: How nice that you got two see Antigone performed, and twice. That is true about leaders of many different types. I found, dramatically, (in text form) Antigone's devout defiance drew my attention more than Creon. Sophocles did a great job with her.

>206 mabith: Thanks Meredith, for bringing up Anne Carson. Wolkstein's Inanna is special.

>207 ELiz_M: It was worth the delay Liz, thanks for adding those pictures. They really change my perspective, especially that one in the middle. Wonder if i have The Bacchae... no...bummer. I'll need to add that one in.

Jul 5, 2016, 11:52pm

207> Looks fabulous!

Edited: Jul 6, 2016, 12:09am

for anyone interested -

I think this lists all existing Greek plays. There are 53 listed, 32 are tragedies.


And here is nice timeline


Jul 6, 2016, 12:07am

My library has Carson's Electra, but not Antigonick or An Oresteia. I'll try that.

Edited: Jul 29, 2016, 11:41pm

46. How to Breathe Underwater : Stories by Julie Orringer
published: 2003
format: 226 page trade paperback
acquired: borrowed from library
read: July 10, 20-23
rating: 4 stars

(side note: This was my second consecutive book by a South Florida author. They grew up both in time and place very close to where I did, and in a world very similar to mine. I like to think that affected my response.)

Let's not jump to conclusions. This collection has a lot to offer, if you let it. It was a great experience for me. But I cannot come with a positive way to introduce them. The killer intro goes something like this - this is a collection of sad stories from the perspective of passive teenage and pre-teen girls, in a style that has clear links/lineage to the notorious now-unoriginal Iowa Writer's Workshop. And it lives in that era of technological transition, the far off 1990's when the internet was still peripheral. These characters still used cassette decks in their cars, even though CD's were better, and they used film(!). That all seems like a lot to be up against. Sure, there is a dark humor, and stories that consistently evolve, through there own structure, into something more. Well, that last bit is a lot, no?

I was wondering, as I read these short stories, whether they might be in the order she wrote them. Probably not, but it would make sense because there is an evolution. The early stories push to extremes. The character can't just lean over the edge, you know...well, that's a spoiler, sorry. Anyway, the writer is arguably forcing the issue, except that the stories still work. I liked them. The middle stories are notable for their strong endings. I don't mean something clever happens. I mean, the stories build to this ending, and the endings do lots of really good things all at once. They are simply terrific. The lead-in to that end, though, can be kind of plain and unoriginal. The extremes fade out. The later stories just feel more mature. There is no need for extremes. The setting can be unoriginal, but takes are - how can I say - there is a lot going on, throughout. No more need for a ending to resuscitate, even the construction is working.

But, that's just me being wordy and silly. These are dark humor takes on the lives of young girls. They tend to be Jewish, they tend to be passive, and they tend to have some very tough experiences. Sometimes the storis are just dark. And sometimes they more than that. They can cathartic, and they can touching and they can just be really nice stories, whatever that means. And there is, I think, a struggle in them. An author is trying to be original, and trying to both use and get out of that IWW story-killing funk. But these stories are here because they are successful and do manage that. I thought they were terrific.

Notes, story by story:

New Orleans alternative Thanksgiving from hell. Story goes to limit, then crosses, so to speak.

When She is Old and Famous
Good and bad, but interesting overall, regardless. The main characters, Americans in Italy, are unrealistic extremes, and unoriginal in their contrast. One is a successful model as a teenager, and the other is, apparently, an unrealistically promising, overweight unattractive artist.

Isabel the Fish
The main character is survivor of a crash that killed her brother’s girlfriend. Note that ending was really nice, makes up for the all the awkward and unoriginal aspects of the rest of the story. These strong endings becomes more of a theme in the later stories.

Note to Sixth-Grade Self
Written in the format of instructions and advise. This works, but, if not for the ending, this story stinks. Ending hits a lot of good notes. The rest of the story reads like something she turned in for an Iowa Writer’s Workshop assignment

The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones
This story hit a lot of high notes for me. I loved the setting, that of a reformed Jew, younger (?) teenager in an orthodox Jewish setting and sincerely trying to fit in. It gives this story a lot of spirit and cathartic sense - and that’s just one aspect. Another strong ending. My favorite story.

Dark humor in San Francisco, as the druggy young aunt cares for her 6-yr-old niece for the day, fighting drug craving and toeing the edge of sanity and disaster the whole time. Fun. Very IWW too.

Stars of Motown Shining Bright
Another strong ending takes a moderately good story and makes it very good. An very entertaining take on Chekhov’s gun. Dark humor throughout.

What We Save
Another really strong story, but it works the whole way. Mom, dying of cancer, takes Helena and her sister to Disney World to meet her high school sweetheart and his family. Helena takes in a lot of tough stuff. There is dark humor, but mostly, again because of that end part, this is touching and really sad. All gears in use here.

Stations of the Cross
If these stories are in the order they were actually written, I wouldn’t be surprised. Because they get stronger and the author maturity improves. This is the story of a really confident writer. The setting is cliche, black kid in the religious/conservative southern white world, and the ending is only ok, but the story works in every way.

Jul 30, 2016, 12:28am

Nice review and summaries of all the individual stories, Daniel.

I can understand how the links between your childhood and the author's background could influence your feelings about the book. Whether it be fiction or non-fiction stories, it seems easier to create a sense of connection between the reader, author and book when there is some personal commonality.

Jul 30, 2016, 1:43am

Hi Lisa.

"it seems easier to create a sense of connection between the reader, author and book"

I like to think this is really true, and even that it leads leads me to some better, or even unique, understanding. I mean, it's silly and I'm just fooling myself, but it does change my approach. I look at the book differently if the author experienced Miami Vice-era South Florida, than if they grew up in, say, Pasadena, CA, or in some other era.

Jul 30, 2016, 12:33pm

I just realized I posted my review in my old thread. No clue why I did that. Anyway, I posted it again in my Part 3 thread.
This topic was continued by dchaikin part 3 - more Greeks?.