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dchaikin 2010 - post "Infinite Jest"

Club Read 2010

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Edited: Dec 31, 2010, 8:07pm Top

Infinite Jest was such a major read for me that I feel completing it marks a good place to break off. So, on to a different world, post-Infinite Jest.

old threads:
2009 Part 1
2009 Part 2
2010 Part 1

The 2010 list: - links go to relevant post in my threads
1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Jan 6)
2. The Passport by Herta Müller (Jan 7)
3. The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, book 12) by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson (Jan 25)
4. Nadirs by Herta Müller (Jan 31)
5. Papa Sartre by Ali Bader (Feb 19) - Early Reviewer
6. Stitches : a memoir... by David Small (Feb 25)
7. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (Mar 8)
8. Destiny Disrupted : A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (Mar 16)
9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (May 1)
10. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (May 5)
11. Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (May 11)
12. Small Island by Andrea Levy (May 27) - Early Reviewer
13. The Skin of Light by Larry D. Thomas (May 28)
14. Book of My Nights : Poems by Li-Young Lee (June 26)
15. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (May 31 to June 29)
16. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (June 7 to 30)
17. The Quickening by Michelle Hoover (June 30 to July 5) - Early Reviewer
18. The Prospector by J. M. G. Le Clézio (July 6 to 13)
19. Field Work by Seamus Heaney (June 27 to July 21)
20. History of Korea by Woo-keun Han (June 30 to August 10)
21. San Pedro River Review : Vol 2 No 1, Spring 2010 : Bars, Diners & Dives (July 22 - Aug 16)
22. The River of Lost Footsteps : Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U (Aug 11 to 27)
23. Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust (July 19 to Aug 31)
24. Tinkers by Paul Harding (Aug 28 to Sept 5)
25. Sulphur River Literary Review : Volume XX, Number Two, Autumnal Equinox 2004 (August 16 - September 14)
26. Going after Cacciato by Tim O'Brien (September 6 - 16)
27. Fidel by Néstor Kohan (August 28 - September 20) - Early Reviewer
28. Offloading the Wounded : Poems by Jeffrey C. Alfier (September 16 - 27)
29. Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio (Sept 16 - 29)
30. Touch by Adania Shibli (Oct 8, and again Oct 9-12)
31. Barefoot Gen, Volume Five : The Never-Ending War by Keiji Nakazawa (Sept 25-Oct 26)
32. San Pedro River Review : Vol 2 No 2, Fall 2010 (Sept 27 - Oct 29)
33. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Sep 30 - Oct 31)
34. Southwest Review : Volume 84, Number 4 1999 (Oct 30 - Nov 30)
35. Five Lavender Minutes of an Afternoon by Larry D. Thomas (Dec 19)
36. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Nov 1 - Dec 21)
37. Book Lust To Go : Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl (Nov 10-Dec 24) - Early Reviewer
38. The Texas Review : Volume XV, Number 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 1994 (Nov 30 to Dec 29)
39. The Ash Spear : The Third Book in the Storyteller Series by G. R. Grove ( Dec 22-29)

Currently Reading
- The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (started Dec 29)
- A Murder of Crows by Larry D. Thomas (Started Dec 16)

Stuff I have every intention of getting back to sometime
- Threads from the Web of Life : Stories in Natural History by Stephen Daubert , with artwork by Chris Daubert (sampled previously, but started Sept 1...and stopped later on that month)
- Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, Sixth Edition by Laurence Perrine & Thomas R. Arp (started sampling July 31, last read some time in August)
- Paradise lost by John Milton (sampling - started Jan 7, read books 1-4 from Jan 31 to Feb 13, now on hold)

Edited: May 2, 2010, 12:30am Top

One of the consequences of spending 9 weeks on a book (while going to library book sales) is that the number of other books that I really want to read right now begins to accumulate in an over-filled impatient queue. Here is my list of what I'm thinking of reading right now:

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon by Neil Sheehan - I'm on page 140 and it's re-checkout from the library. But I haven't picked it up in three weeks
The Princess Bride - this was the next book on my TBR - because it's lite and mindless and that sounds really nice right now (and I love the movie...but who doesn't?*)
Notes from the Underground by Dostoevsky - because Murr is leading a discussion and damn that's going to be good.
Electric Light by Seamus Heaney - for the read-a-living-poet challenge in April, and because I've skimmed through it, it's good.
Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee - ditto
Grace Paley : The Collected Stories - for the read-a-short-story-collection challenge in May, and because it's a total mystery and because I've been itching to read this for awhile now.
The Short Stories of Fray Angelico Chavez - ditto
Over by the River and other stories by William Maxwell - ditto
A Disturbance of Gulls and other stories by H. E. Francis - ditto
The History of the Ancient World : from the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer - because it's an attempt at "connecting historical events from Europe to the Middle East to the far coast of China"** and because I just picked it up from the library.

So, what to do?

*oh, I know there are exceptions.
**from the cover flap

May 2, 2010, 2:12pm Top

I will be waiting for your determination of whether The History of the Ancient World keeps the promise to include the far east.


May 2, 2010, 10:43pm Top

Last night I picked up The Skin of Light by Larry D. Thomas, a small book of poetry that was just released. Larry is friend, and he was also the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate. Then today I picked up Notes from the Underground. So, I guess that's where I'm going. I'll try to read at least one poem a night from Thomas, the idea being to force myself to take my time.

May 10, 2010, 8:00pm Top

er...well, nice haul at the library sale (mentioned on the previous thread). I liked Leaving Tangier.

The Princess Bride mindless? pshaw! Have fun storming the castle! (you'll find the book very close to the screenplay - and delightfully so! especially if you want to really relish the "So clearly I cannot choose the one on the right..." scene. I first saw the movie in '87 (I think) in a drive-in with the kids in the back seat...

May 11, 2010, 11:00am Top

Well, the movie is a favorite movie because it's so charming and mindless. Perhaps I shouldn't judge the book on that. But, anyway, I couldn't convince myself to pick it up, so other time.

Edited: May 15, 2010, 1:51am Top

9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (c1996, 1079 pages, finished May 1)

Preface: I'm anxious to post this, but ambivalent about posting it as a review and making it "permanent". So, I'll call it preliminary and post here

I don’t think I can review this book. Among other reasons I feel overwhelmed, feel I missed too much of the fundamental storyline, and I feel like I need to re-start and re-read it again to get a defensible familiarity with it. Saying all that gives me the kind of disappointed feeling that makes me wonder whether I even liked the book. And this is confusing because I felt none of this while I was reading. I was loving it while I read it, then it just ended, and suddenly it sunk it how much I missed, and then the doubt crept in, and I’ve lost some of the sense of what I really enjoyed about the book. And the only way to solve that is to read it again… but it took nine weeks, I can’t just simply read it again! Sigh….

So, this is the non-review, the response from an incomplete reading when I know it’s going to be awhile before I give it another go; and one point being that Infinite Jest is the kind of major major work that deserves multiple long readings.

David Foster Wallace writes with a canon, or maybe a fire hose. He starts describing a scene or a description and he doesn’t stop to catch his breath until it’s all there, complete, formal grammar be damned. There aren’t any paragraphs or periods in there, it just comes out, goes all over the place, intersects itself bringing in several interrelated elements at once leaving a complexly interwoven series of images or ideas all present at the same time, and leaving his reader exhausted, satiated, wowed and completely rapt. The tone is causal, the vocabulary is outstanding, the slang is familiar, the word ‘like’ clangs in there repeatedly, although not unpleasantly. Reading him is an experience. You need to slow down just to keep up. When he has tension going Infinite Jest can be hard to put down, but it still doesn’t speed up; at least not much for me.

The plot is too complicated to summarize and not sound bland. No one is going to rush out to pick up a book on an athletic/academic tennis academy, but that’s half the book and 1/3 of its plot. The other half and 1/3 is Ennet House, a drug rehab where residents, if they stay clean, can also hide from law enforcement during their stay, delaying their jail time or whatnot. And the other 1/3 of plot, and very limited part of the book, involves a unified Mexico, USA and Canada, and toxic waste dump that covers most of northern New England and from its shape is called the Great Concavity (in the US; in Canada it’s the Great Convexity), and a French Quebec separatist group all in wheelchairs thanks to a popular adolescent game involving jumping in front of trains, known as the AFR. OK, so the AFR is trying to get a hold of a film called “Infinite Jest” which is so pleasurable to watch that it renders viewers almost catatonic, unwilling to do anything, including eat or move, other than watch the movie over and over, and the AFR wants to distribute this around the USA in an effort to make a major terrorist strike, which USA President Gentle, a one-time Los Vegas crooner, is trying desperately to stop. Right…

Thematically this is a brilliant look at the obsessive drive to become a top athlete, the psychological responses and consequences, and how this parallels with drug addiction and recovery and whatever it is that underlies this all. Drugs and sports, with a terrorist to stop as the background - this is America, no? DFW gives us ample opportunity to weave this all together creating a brilliant assortment of characters – adolescent tennis prospects, single-goal focused coaches, rich and poor drug addicts with various entertaining dark histories and a wide ranging validity in their hopes of recovery, and one very messed up family, the Incandenzas who link this all together. The tennis academy provides many of our most beautiful characters, and the most of the tragedies – the young prospects have nowhere to go but down. The Ennet House is the opposite, the residents are already at bottom, and they provide us with the books main hero.

I think, looking back, the most impressive accomplishment in IJ, the one thing that makes you know DFW was in love with this creation, is the incredible compilation of details, and especially all those wonderful and brilliantly terrible characters. By details I mean the ten page footnotes (with footnotes), the entire filmography of James Orin Incandenza, the tennis philosophies, the drugs (endless stuff on drugs), the key hidden but barely constructable plot twists, etc. But his characters are the most beautiful part of the book. Hal, Mario, Don Gately, Madame Psychosis, Pemulis – these are characters you fall in love with, that leave colorful lasting imprints on your reader mind, and make you cringe and wince as they fall.

Don Gately specifically provides us with an incredible insight into drug addiction and recovery and with an unparalleled and amazing look at Alcoholics Anonymous. In explicit detail we see how alcohol addiction tears people so far down they reach a absolute bottom, a fundamental point of find self-control or die, and then see how they respond, how it forces and bares people to a raw truth we otherwise simply don’t encounter. And further how it makes them experts at detecting truth from falseness to such an instinctual and precise degree – to a level most of us never come near reaching. I’ve heard DFW described as in search of the truth, and here he finds it and reports it vividly and powerfully. And it works in reverse, as an exposé of our falsehoods.

Unfortunately I can’t say how much of this, or whether any of this really touches DFW’s main points. I missed too much. There does seem to be an overall theme that looks for the horrors underlying the shallow consumerist, pleasure obsessed soulless deranged modern USA. DFW was, I think, looking for the bottom and maybe that is the point of it all, that culturally we’re at the bottom, the jest being elaborate lengths we go to not see this.

May 15, 2010, 2:11am Top

You have a felicitous typo that I hope you won't correct:

"David Foster Wallace writes with a canon"

Also, I feel informed by your review. Thanks.


May 15, 2010, 2:29am Top

If only that were the only typo... I leave it in the post, for you. I'll fix it if I post this as a review.

Edited: May 15, 2010, 8:52am Top

>8 Mr.Durick: excellent catch
and Dan, excellent subconscious :)

Congratulations on finishing IJ and thanks for posting your comments. They reinforce what I love so far in my reading of it ... though my interest doesn't need much buoying, just my fidelity.

May 15, 2010, 5:27pm Top

detailmuse - Thanks. I'll look forward to your comments and response.

PS - Check out the new Infinite Jest group here: http://www.librarything.com/groups/infinitejesters#forums (Also, the Infinite Jest threads in Le Salon are quite interesting.)

May 16, 2010, 7:20am Top

Harking back to Empire Of The Sun - have you read any other Ballard, and if so, did reading Empire Of The Sun change your opinion of his other work?

The (sort of) sequel to Empire Of The Sun, The Kindness of Women, is worth reading as well.

May 16, 2010, 8:03am Top

Tim - This is the only Ballard I've read. I've heard negative things about his other works and I'm not sure I'll ever try his sci-fi. However, I wasn't aware of The Kindness of Women - that I'm very interested in.

May 17, 2010, 7:13am Top

Now that you've read Empire of the Sun, I think you'd find his early SF novels, like The Drowned World, a very small step over genre boundaries. I also recommend his early short story collection The Terminal Beach. You'll find many of the themes familiar from Empire Of The Sun - it's clear he was drawing on the same material.

Edited: May 23, 2010, 12:48am Top

Another commercial break for children’s books. Since my last post (March 25), we acquired over 60 new children’s books (thanks largely to three trips to library book sales) and also have gone through 21 books borrowed from the library. Summarizing the best ones is a bit overwhelming, and probably won’t be all that coherent. You might just want to peak at the pictures. :)

Our favorite:
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

I found this one at the library while just randomly browsing through the K’s, which makes it all that much better. The story is about a lion who hangs out in the library for story time. He roars the first time, upset the story time ended, and is told quite sternly by the head librarian that he must follow the library rules or leave. Later on the same head librarian is hurt in fall, and lion is forced to roar to get someone’s attention. Having broken the rules again, he obediently leaves the library for good… there’s a happy ending, it’s cute, and both my kids requested it over and over until we had to give it back to our library.

Other favorites:

Nubs : The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle – my daughter, who is going through a dog loving phase, found this at the library. It’s a true story about an earless Iraqi dog saved by a soldier, and it will make you cry.
A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban, Illustrated by Lilian Hoban – a classic, and a brilliant one. This was a library book sale find. (FannyPrice gets credit for pointing me to Frances)

A Poetry favorite:

The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems From Beyond the Solar System by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Jimmy Pickering – I can’t begin to tell you how ecstatic I am to have this book of gruesome poems mainly about terrible ways people would die on various imaginary planets. After forcing the poetry issue a bit, my kids fell in love with this one, and for awhile we were reading from it every night. (Thanks to SqueakyChu, who encouraged me to check out Prelutsky)

Other children’s poetry books:

First Poems by Julia Eccleshare, illustrated by Selina Young
The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems by Jackie Morris
When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Now We are Six by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Dinosaur Dinner (With a Slice of Alligator Pie) by Dennis Lee, selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Debbie Tilley

Mixed success with all these. Personally I’m partial to A. A. Milne. My kids, on the other hand, have a strong preference for poems about children getting eaten.

Edited: May 24, 2010, 1:07pm Top

Ivy + Bean:

Ivy and Bean and the ghost that had to go (book 2) by Annie Barrows & Sophie Blackall
Ivy and Bean break the fossil record (book 3) by Annie Barrows & Sophie Blackall

I don’t know what all the fuss is about since I don’t get to read them, only my wife…sigh

random library finds:

Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter – Osborne is the Magic Tree House author, and Giselle Potter is the author/illustrator The Year I didn’t Go to School (a gem, by the way). It’s good combination, with an interesting note on the history of the beanstalk story.
Love and Roast Chicken by Barbara Knutson – another book found in the K section, a wonderful take on an Andean legend about a clever little rodent. It turns out this was the author’s last book; Barbara Knutson passed away in 2005 in her forties.

from the New York Times Book Review:

Nasreen’s Secret School: A true story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter – about a secret school in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara – Kohara does beautiful artwork. My 3.5-yr-old son loved this.
Birdie's Big Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim – There’s a large part of me that cringes at the consumer/fashion mentality present here, but it’s so well done. My son, yeah the boy, was fascinated.
Henry in Love by Peter McCarty

from the Library Book Sales:

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake – our first Dahl, parents included. (also, a chaikin-child-friendly theme on eating children.)
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, Illustrated by Fritz Sieble – my daughter (5 ½) loves this
Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban, Illustrated by Garth Williams – France is always good.
Isabella's Bed by Alison Lester – charming book about children growing aware enough for their grandmother to share her difficult life story.
Leonardo's Horse by Jean Fritz, Illustrated by Hudson Talbott – A beautiful book. The nonfictional story is OK too, although, honestly, my children didn’t make it through the obscure details at the end.

Edited: May 24, 2010, 1:08pm Top

Dogs: (my daughter’s current obsession)

The Green Dog by Melinda Luke, illustrated by Jane Manning – I though it was a silly story, until my daughter started asking all these questions and then I realized it’s actually an excellent learning-science book.
Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake – about a sled dog who got hurt and couldn’t finish the race. But, alas, she escapes, avoids recapture, catches up to her team, saves them from going the wrong way, and then gets a ride to the finish. It might be a bit cheesy if it wasn’t true.

Oldies finding new life:

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent – my son was singing this in the car earlier today…
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss – last night my daughter read this to her jaw-drooping parents – she’s undergoing a reading explosion.

and one more:
Chicken Man by Michelle Edwards – we get a free Judaic-themed children's book every month from The PJ Library (you can sign up online if you’re interested: http://www.pjlibrary.org ). Honestly, their record is mixed, but this one about a man on an Israeli kibbutz who happens to be very good with chickens was excellent, one of the best they’ve sent us.

Ok - back to all the adult-ish stuff now.

May 23, 2010, 11:47am Top

Love reading your children's reviews, Dan -- glad your son likes Tikki Tikki Tembo -- it was a long-ago favorite around here.

May 24, 2010, 1:01pm Top

Thanks Jane.

May 24, 2010, 5:34pm Top

Amelia Bedelia was one of my favorites growing up. I think I had every one of the series. Glad to see it's still around.

May 25, 2010, 3:43pm Top

And Frances is wonderful, isn't she? We also really liked the Frog and Toad books. They're just lovely stories of a friendship between two very different personalities.

May 25, 2010, 6:53pm Top

#18/20/21 - I sense some childhood nostalgia. :) (It just happens that those four books were all published within a 7 year span.)

RidgewayGirl, I adore Frances.

May 26, 2010, 4:56pm Top

All of my kids (now ages 20-32) loved the Frances books (and the Frog and Toad books). I'm glad that so many of the classics are still around for the kids of today. And since I'm about to become a grandma for the first time, I enjoy reading about the great new children's books being written today.

May 27, 2010, 6:00am Top

Excellent, honest, and perceptive review of Infinite Jest, Dan. I think you should post it.

May 27, 2010, 11:11am Top

#24 - Thanks Murr! I'll consider re-posting as a review.

I had marked that one down as forgettable electrical noise. :)

Jun 3, 2010, 2:09pm Top

OK Murr, on your advice the review is posted. I added a different preface and made a few grammatical fixes (like "cannon"), but it's really the same as above. http://www.librarything.com/review/56003031

Jun 3, 2010, 8:16pm Top

And it's already Hot... congrats :)

Jun 3, 2010, 10:13pm Top

Great review, Dan -- but I don't think I'm going to plunge into IJ -- I'm just too old and too female -- sports and drugs -- I just don't care enough. Now if someone would write the great American novel about oil companies and the Gulf of Mexico....

Jun 3, 2010, 10:39pm Top

Are drugs male?

Jane, it may be too male, but then based on the plot I wouldn't have read it. It's style, the depth of the details, the psychology...

Chocolate - thanks, and congrats back to you for Cloud Atlas - which has been on my wishlist for awhile now. Next year, after all these big books, I will read something by David Mitchell.

Jun 3, 2010, 11:35pm Top

Good for you Dan! it's a great review.

Jane, have you read Oil Or seen the movie which is loosely based on it?

There will be Blood


Jun 4, 2010, 8:49am Top

Dan -- I don't think drugs are male, but I am soo over the drug culture -- I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out of it 40 years ago. Please give me a good glass of wine.

Murr -- I saw the film -- great performance by Daniel Day Lewis (if a wee bit over the top). The history of the oil industry is just fraught with corruption all over the world. I don't think any of us can escape its taint.

Jun 5, 2010, 12:28am Top

Jane - I live in a world of random drug testing, they're not even an option. But I'll share a glass of wine. Any chance you do Bordeaux?

On oil, there must be some great novel on Rockerfeller, or Flagler like characters, something besides Upton Sinclair, right?

If this were a conversation on the fascinating and disturbing history and significance of oil in the 20th-century, I'd recommend The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power by Daniel Yergin, which won a non-fiction Pulitzer Prize and is wonderfully done and will change how you look at rock oil and the US. But, in the shadow of the Gulf spill, I don't think it will sooth anyone's anger or depression.

Edited: Jun 5, 2010, 11:44pm Top

10. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864, ~100 pages, finished May 5)
I read a free Kindle edition. The Translated wasn’t specified, but was likely Constance Garnett.

This was my second time through, read along with tomcatMurr’s group read in Le Salon*. The first time I read this, in 2002, I was forcing my through a Dostoyevsky short story collection to, I don’t know, to educate myself, make-up for the lack of schooling, to understand what it was Nietzsche so admired about Dostoyevsky (keep in mind, I knew and know next to nothing about Nietzsche – and that’s way too much alliteration). Anyway, D was interesting mostly in a so-I’m-reading-something-important sort of way. With this novella-length story I stoically dragged myself through a slog of bitter incoherent nonsensical philosophy that is the first section. Then I hit the second section and the dinner and then the prostitute and my literary world shook. It was dreadful, disturbing, and at the same time riveting. I was reading a classic with adrenaline that I simply wasn’t aware classics could inspire. It led me to a mini Russian classics binge (which eventually faded out about 200 pages into The Brothers Karamazov).

This time around the first thing that struck me was that the opening section made perfect sense, and was even quite reasonable, which made me worry about my own mental state. But, that next part, it’s a thrill ride even the second time. Our underground man is rush of impulsive and conflicting emotions that drive him to constantly undermine himself in the most painful and socially awkward ways. And we, the reader, find ourselves simply trying to hold on as he takes the next crazy turn.

There’s a philosophical point to all this. There a very rational argument undermining rationalism, making some point about how we are not rational creatures always looking out for our best interests, but are instead emotional and irrational, and how being purely rational can actually be an cold isolating awful thing. Or something like that, I never get it quite right; instead my mind hangs on the whole unrealistic sequence with the sensitive prostitute, and one unfortunate five ruble note.

*group read thread is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/89907

Jun 7, 2010, 3:02pm Top


I have been missing you. Every day I open LT, see nothing new posted on the threads I have posted to, and close it again. Then today I thought, "how odd that Dan has not been posting anything either." And I discovered your new thread.

Great comments as usual. I have not had the strength to plunge into IJ yet. Maybe in the summer, but probably not. I have been hoping for over a month, hmmm, perhaps two months, to read Notes from the Underground so that I can discuss it with Murr and everyone else, but even that I have not managed. This business of work, kids, hassles, health and family troubles and the whole damn thing is for the birds. I need more reading time, damn it!! (But I have started my first DeLillo and am loving it. More on that later.)

And continuing to hijack your thread, I know that somewhere we participated in a poetry appreciation discussion. I started a new thread on it today, since I cannot find the old one, but just the same here is a poem I recently read, and loved, and I think you will appreciate:

The Persistance of Fatherhood
Paul Zimmer

Yesterday the autumn finished.
I began raking it into piles
Around the house. Sue came out
And called from the distance.
I cupped my ears but could not hear
Through bare winds and branches rattling.

I thought she said,
“Your father’s on the phone,”
And started walking toward
The house, until I remembered
He’s been dead for five years.

Then last night this dream:
Suddenly leaves were children’s clothing,
Blue jeans, caps and flannel shirts.
I raked them up, bent over by sadness,
Fatherhood all used up and gone,
Playthings and storytimes gone,
I swept and piled, doing my duties,
Only this caretaking left to do.

Jun 7, 2010, 5:00pm Top

Andrew - Ha! Glad you found me again. And I hope you find a break soon. DeLillo is one of those authors I'm instinctively hesitant (by which I mean "intimidated") to try out, like Pynchon. I'll be interested in your comments. Thanks for the poem, which is wonderful. I posted a comment on the new thread you started.

Jun 8, 2010, 2:02pm Top

Some excellent fiction on oil:

The Trench and Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif. These books tell the story of the arrival in the Mideast of US oil interests from the point of view of the nomadic tribes and other natives of the area. I can't remember which is first and which is second, but the second book focuses more on the relationship of a fictionalized royal Mideast family with the US oil companies. There is also a third volume, which I haven't read.

Jun 8, 2010, 2:28pm Top

Nice review of Notes From Underground, Dan. I hope to get to this later this year (I was supposed to have read it last year, but got distracted.)

Jun 8, 2010, 2:52pm Top

#36: arubabookwoman - Good stuff. I've heard of trilogy. Cities of Salt is on my wishlist (thanks VisibleGhost from about a year ago). If I knew there was a oil theme, I'd forgotten that. Somewhere along the line I got it stuck in my head that the second book was not as well liked ??

#37 kd - Thanks. If you get there - you'll get a lot out of the Murr-led thread linked in my post and also his reviews in The Lectern on Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, What is do be done?* by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and of course on Notes. (http://thelectern.blogspot.com/2010/05/notes-from-underground-dostoevsky.html ) My review doesn't touch any of the historical background and philosophical stuff Murr gets into because it's just way beyond me, but I think it helps to know that Notes is a passionate response to What is do be done?.

*no touchstone.

Jun 8, 2010, 3:34pm Top

Well, I definitely liked the second book less. I just couldn't remember which was which!

Edited: Jun 9, 2010, 12:09am Top

So, I'm abandoning The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer. I had read about 200 pages when I came across Garp83's "hot review" which argues that the history presented is intentionally warped by a religious bias (see it here); and that same day my library told me I couldn't renew, which means I can't read it just now anyway. But, I'm abandoning for good.

Outside the religious bias, the embarrassing mistake regarding Ryan and Pittman's conclusion in Noah's Flood*, and the overall awkward argument for a real Noah like flood, there were some other things that bothered me.

First of all it doesn't flow well. It goes in jumps and spurts with awkward phrases explaining why her story is missing so much, but not giving the sense within the text how much she is really missing. I'm OK with general statements, but she doesn't do that, her histories are very specific and somehow I found that misleading in terms of the impression it leaves.

Then, when she simplifies, she has comments pointing out that she really does know all the actual details, but she's just simplifying for effect. This, to me, is oddly defensive, and caught my attention.

And I was worried about her lack of sources. There aren’t that many cited. I couldn't get past the feeling that for each chapter she essentially took a few key summaries and then wrote a book report.

Finally there is a whole chapter on Abraham - where - well, either there was a religious bias or a very awkward attempt to obtain history from myth. (Bauer emphasizes the value of myth in deciphering history throughout, which I found interesting.)

Despite all that part of me misses the book. It gives a step-by-step, easy, mindless, and short world history and I kind of wanted to know what happened next. But, alas, I'm uncomfortable with information I took from it. So, abandoned it will stay.

*I happen to have read Noah's Flood, which was very cool in that in describes a rare place where geology and archeology intersect. They date the filling of the Black Sea at 7600 years ago (give or take the limits of carbon dating accuracy - which is several hundred years). Bauer presents their date as roughly 7000 BC...Did she confuse "before present" with "before Christ"? (side note: she also argues against using "BCE").

Edited: Jun 13, 2010, 8:34am Top

11. Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (c1984, 279 pages, finished May 11)

To get here I need to go back a bit, to when I was about 14. My sister, who was home from college for the summer, my mother and I went to see some Spielberg film called ‘Empire of the Sun’ and something happened to my very impressionable mind. The images stuck—wealthy British expats pristinely made-up for a fancy costume ball sitting inside their cars as the filthy exotic throngs of pre-Japanese invasion Shanghai pass outside their windows, a certain Japanese leather flight jacket, and those P-51 Mustangs, the Cadillacs of the WWII sky. And John Malkovich, the wonderfully-bad American fortune seeker. I didn’t realize quite how much the movie got to me until I made my wife watch it with me a couple years back and every single scene brought along an intense and involuntary emotional response. This story of British expatriates imprisoned by the Japanese outside Shanghai – it’s just so out there, and held so many mysteries, and it somehow embedded itself in my psyche.

So, I finally read the book and discovered that it’s vaguely non-fictional, and also that the movie was only vaguely based on the book – kind of like three parallel universes. (The book and movie were equally well done, IMO.) J. G. Ballard, who was born in Shanghai and had never been to England, was about 11-years-old on December 7, 1941, when, among other significant activities, the Japanese invaded British-protected Shanghai. Quickly taking the city, the Japanese found a large assortment of expats, and somehow found a way to separate them out. The Germans and French (France was already conquered) were left alone, as were Russians, where as the various allied-associated expats were rounded up, given a chance to die quickly, and then moved to prison camps. Ballard spent WWII growing up in one of these camps—which is probably the extent of the precisely true part of this novel. However, this much being true certainly it makes a world of difference. Actually, it makes the novel, it makes it real.

The story of the fictional Jamie/Jim is as brilliant as it is exotic. The pre-war Shanghai, the Japanese invasion, and Jamie’s survival after getting separated from his parents are fascinating. But the story really begins once Jamie ends up imprisoned, starved, and yet somehow contagiously optimistic. These prisons camps were death traps of a sort. In the best times, at the beginning, prisoners survived on little food, no warmth in the winter and no medicine. The sick were left to die. These weren’t military prisoners of war, but business men and their families, including the children, many of whom freeze to death the first winter. But, as the war gets worse for the Japanese, things get even worse for the prisoners. Food rations get reduced, and there comes a point where even the Japanese guards are starving. And then there’s the post-war where things really get bad.

What makes it so captivating is J.G. Ballard’s take. For Jamie, and for us the reader, this horror sequence was a something of a wondrous adventure. No discipline, no school or enforced structure, Jamie is free, and radiates throughout tireless and energetic optimism that can only be found in childhood. But when things hit their worst Jamie’s optimism hits us in a very different way. We can see and feel emotions he was too young to understand, and somehow, in this surreal way, the weight of what actually happened pours through.

Jun 13, 2010, 1:34am Top

Great review, Dan, thanks.

Edited: Jun 13, 2010, 4:15am Top

Yes 'nice' review.

I too was always struck by that scene with the children on their way to a fancy dress event with the outside world reflected in the car windows.

The film made a real impression on me too. It is the only Spielberg film that I actually took to heart - the others were often impressive as spectacle but felt too constructed and impersonal.

And although I have never read any Ballard, he has always interested me - he seemed to have a vision outside of the consensus - his novels often pick up on trends that most people do not even know exist. A fascinating fellow.

Jun 13, 2010, 8:01am Top

Awesome review!

I love the movie too. It made such an impression on me (I still can't forget the scene were the little boy is playing with his model plane and comes over the hill, that was some great stuff). I didn't even know it was based even remotely on a book, that kind of sounds like the M*A*S*H universe.

Edited: Jun 13, 2010, 9:47am Top

#42-44 - Thank you, these are really nice comments to see when I first check the site today (between games—I feel bad for the Algerian goalie). And, I'm glad there are other fans of this not-quite-obscure movie, it deserves it.

Zeno - sometimes I think we share the same brain at some level. I agree totally about Spielberg.

Stretch - funny, I was trying to get that scene in my first paragraph too, with the pheasant traps, but I didn't like my phrasing and scratched it out.

Jun 13, 2010, 10:13am Top

I've never seen the movie, but I have read and liked some of Ballard's stuff. I'm adding this one to my wishlist, too. Great review!

Jun 13, 2010, 10:21am Top

Another "hot review," Dan -- congrats! I remember really liking the movie -- Malkovich was so creepily wonderful.

Jun 13, 2010, 11:02am Top

Great stuff Dan. Ballard's book is excellent.

Jun 13, 2010, 11:23am Top

Thanks for that great review, Dan! Empire of the Sun is right up my alley, and I'll pick it up from my local Borders later this week.

BTW, the Guardian has several articles about Ballard this week; his archive was recently acquired by the British Library:

JG Ballard archive acquired for British Library

A brief survey of the short story part 26: JG Ballard

JG Ballard

Jun 13, 2010, 12:51pm Top

Another 'great review' comment! Sounds like Empire of the Sun needs to move up my TBR list.

Jun 13, 2010, 1:30pm Top

49 - thanks for those links Darryl.

Jun 13, 2010, 5:30pm Top

I have a copy of Empire of the Sun sitting around here somewhere. I'll have to read it soon. And see the movie. Excellent descriptions.

Jun 13, 2010, 8:51pm Top

What a first-rate review, Dan. I think the book is a little heavy for me right now, it just might nudge me over the brink, but I will see if our local small-town very bad video store has a copy of the film. I doubt it, but I will try. You got a "thumbs-up" from me!

Jun 14, 2010, 12:43am Top

To all, thanks so much for all the posts. I get great comments here sometimes, but somehow this seems like the nicest set of comments I've had for any review, by far. You've put me a great mood.

kd -thanks for the links.

RidgewayGirl, Andrew and anyone who has not seen the movie, but is interested - I would warn a random set of people interested in the movie that YMMV. But, for most in Club Read I can recommend it fairly confidently. And, you can see the movie first. I don't think it detracts from the book.

And, Andrew, the book isn't that heavy, or at least I don't think it is, just so you know. :)

Jun 14, 2010, 1:41am Top

Thanks for the review, dchaikin.
I was looking for books about Japanese-occupied Shanghai in the group "Asian Fiction and Non-Fiction" and no one mentioned this book. I'll add it to the list of potential reads. Thanks.

(You should see the movie Lust:Caution if you want to watch more about Japanese-occupied Shanghai.)

Jun 14, 2010, 2:52am Top

dchaikin, I've dabbled in IJ but I've never read the book straight through. I'll get to it one of these days. Great thoughts on Empire of the Sun. Ker-Thumb! Oil and fiction doesn't always work out. It tends towards blacks and whites and greys are overlooked. Here's my next oil and fiction read- well, it's on the pretty soon list. It was on the IMPAC longlist this year. Machine by Peter Adolphsen, translated from the Danish. Here's the first paragraph from their description of the book.

"Machine is a unique piece of fiction that encapsulates the very essence of earthly existence: how chance and random events influence seemingly unconnected lives and matter. Two stories of metamorphosis entwine: the first chronicles the life of a drop of oil from its very beginning within a small prehistoric horse’s heart to its combustion within a Ford car engine in Texas, the second follows the lives of the passengers within the vehicle."

Okay, I'll admit that not many readers are going to be excited about following a drop of oil for millions of years but that concept intrigues me. I don't know if it's going to work. I really really want it to.

Jun 14, 2010, 9:04am Top

>56 VisibleGhost: following a drop of oil for millions of years {...} intrigues me

Me too; think I'll (finally) try the Kindle iPod app with this one.

>41 dchaikin: great review Dan! You bring it to life and I love the personal nostalgia. Fascinating to see child/adult comparisons.

Jun 14, 2010, 9:41am Top

#55-57 Thank You!

Ghost - You've mentioned Machine before, but I've been waiting to see your response... :) I'm going to add it to my wishlist so I don't forget.

lilisin - At some point in my life I might, again, watch movies that aren't animated or otherwise made for children. I'll try to keep Lust:Caution in mind, because I would really like to see it.

detailmuse - I found your comments enlightening. Thanks for that.

Jun 23, 2010, 12:32am Top

Lust Caution is brilliant. It's based on a short story by the Chinese writer, Eileen Chang, commonly regarded as the greatest writer of her generation. Her work is well worth checking out, especially, Rice Sprout Song, which she actually wrote in English.

Jun 28, 2010, 5:28pm Top

Your review of Empire of the Sun is wonderful. I loved the book, and your review makes me want to grab it off the shelf and reread it right now.

Jun 28, 2010, 6:31pm Top

Aruba, thank you! I was looking through your thread earlier today and made it all the way up to post 171! (of over 200), which means I'm at least up to the right month.

As for my poor neglected thread - I've been struggling to write a review of Small Island, an Early Reviewer. I'm up to draft 5, yes five drafts for an LT review. But they're all bad, so I keep trying something else.

Edited: Jun 29, 2010, 2:30pm Top

"Even from the simplest, the most realistic point of view, the countries which we long for occupy, at any given moment, a far larger place in our actual life than the country in which we happen to be." - Proust

just finished Swann's Way.

Jun 29, 2010, 2:38pm Top

As a footnote to the Infinite Jest discussion, I just want to say that I loved the novel when I read it many years ago, but it is not, in my opinion, David Foster Wallace's most memorable work. The book of his that really stays with me is his collection of short stories The Girl with the Curious Hair.

Jun 29, 2010, 3:14pm Top

Hi Ex_Lit_Prof - thanks for note. I just put that on my wishlist.

Also, welcome to LT. I've made a note to check out your blog when I've some time, it's looks terrific.

Jul 2, 2010, 9:11pm Top

Dan--congratulations on finishing Swann's Way. I gather you've been very taken by Proust. Do you intend to move on to Within A Budding Grove?

Jul 3, 2010, 2:09am Top

Aruba - yes, completely taken. We have a family trip coming up, where I won't find regular reading time (if any). So, my plan is to wait till after we get back and I have a regular schedule and can do those 20-ish pages a day before I start Within a Budding Grove...and this has been a rare year in which some of my plans have actually worked out.

Edited: Jul 5, 2010, 10:48pm Top

12. Small Island by Andrea Levy (c2004, 441 pages, finished May 27) – an Early Reviewer

'And now lesson number two. Are you listening to me carefully.' I leaned in towards her to whisper the secret. She had her big eye on me, mesmerised as a gossip. 'Not everything,' I tell her, 'not everything the English do is good.’

I have had a brutal time trying to review this book. I think my problem is the level on which it reached me. It’s a great book; it’s entertaining, charming, and it’s an enlightening look at racism is ways I never considered before. But, for whatever reason I kept the book at arms distance, remaining detached while reading.

As a summary this is about the Jamaican immigrant experience in post-war England, a situation that needs some explanation…well two points need to be made. One is that at the time Jamaica was part of the British Empire, and Jamaicans were taught to view England as the mother country and to value everything English. The other is that black Jamaicans were not taught that going to England would involve experiencing searing racism from the average Englishman who, by the way, hadn’t the faintest clue what or where Jamaica was.

So, picture optimistic Jamaicans on their way to England, excited to make a new life on a bigger and better “small island”, and you’ll begin to see the depressing and yet humorous potential, and perhaps get a sense of where Levy is going with her book.

Levy takes this tense set-up and explores it through the voice of four characters, a Jamaican and an English couple, who take turns narrating the different chapters. And “set-up” is a good word, as this is essentially how the book works—as a series of scenes. It feels kind of like a stage dramas, or perhaps dialog-heavy movie. And, like a stage or screen drama, Levy makes sure she keeps us entertained, carefully working each scene and pulling in a variety of tricks – especially lots of humor and lots of charming narration or dialog. She won’t hesitate to occasionally throw in a bomb (literally), or a riot, or a crazy coincidence, or, if all else fails, she’ll send her least sympathetic character to “fight” the Japanese in India (in a flashback), and awkwardly have the most intense experience in the book. Throughout we can’t help but notice, under the humor, the cost of not being white.

There’s a give and take in the novel. Levy’s literary mechanisms are transparent to the reader, which is my biggest criticism, and seem awkward. But she does succeed in keeping us entertained. The charm is real, especially the Jamaican accented narration and dialog of Gilbert, the Jamaican husband. And the gravity of white-against-black racism, the heart of the book, is palpably felt in many different ways – here her point is made.

End note: Small Island was originally published in 2004, and won the Orange prize. This edition, and Early Reviewer copy, was released to coincide with the premier on PBS of a movie based on the book.

Jul 5, 2010, 10:49pm Top

I hated writing that review...sigh. That was draft 8, where I finally allowed myself to give up.

Jul 6, 2010, 12:44am Top

Well worth it, Dan. The review really shows your mixed feelings, which is a good thing! I think I've got a good sense of the book from your review.

Jul 6, 2010, 1:34am Top

Yeah, thank you for that. You've made the book a temptation, however unlikely my succumbing.


Jul 6, 2010, 5:49am Top

I think you've written one of the better reviews of Small Island, Dan. After reading your comments, I agree with you; parts of it were awkwardly written, and its characters are put into odd scenarios that don't seem to have relevance to the larger story (such as the character who fights the Japanese in India).

Jul 6, 2010, 11:31am Top

Dan -- I really enjoyed the PBS mini-series of Small Island not long ago, and your review of the book has intrigued me. I'll certainly pick it up if it passes my way.

Jul 6, 2010, 1:57pm Top

#69-72 - thanks all.

#69 CM - thank you, that was very encouraging.

#70 Robert - It's not a book I would recommend to you specifically, but it is a book I would love to see your response to.

#71 Darryl - Some things caught my attention, but it was only afterward that it clicked - outside the flashbacks all this happens in like three or four days.

#72 Jane - Good to know about the mini-series (which I thought was a movie...oops). I'm interested.

Jul 7, 2010, 10:07am Top

On my mind, comments by David Foster Wallace:
Human beings are narrative animals: every culture countenances itself as culture via a story, whether mythopoeic or politico-economic; every whole person understands his lifetime as an organized, recountable series of events and changes with at least a beginning and middle. We need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing.

You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us…that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need, I think—and I’m not saying I’m the person to do it…is serious engaged art, that can teach again that we’re smart.

These are comments by David Foster Wallace as recorded in a series of interviews by David Lipsky dating from 1996, when Infinite Jest had become a success. Lipsky just published these interviews in a book called Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. The excerpt are copies from a review in The New York Review of Books by Wyatt Mason (here). Sutpen posted a link to this about a week ago, but I just found it yesterday. (Thanks Sutpen!...not sure you will ever read this though.)

Jul 24, 2010, 10:52am Top

I really like your review, Dan. It gives a sense of what is both good and bad about Small Island.

I wonder if you'd like to read (or have read) White Teeth by Zadie Smith? White Teeth is a novel (an excellent one, by the way) whose author has a black Jamaican mother and a white English father. There's also a character in her book with similar parentage. It's a funny book and one that might be especially interesting for you after having just read Small Island.

Jul 24, 2010, 3:05pm Top

I second Madeline's recommendation of White Teeth, which I also thought was excellent (and very funny!).

Jul 24, 2010, 11:06pm Top

Madeline, thank you. I've read Smith's On Beauty, which I enjoyed. I've heard a lot about White Teeth, but for whatever reason haven't been drawn to. But these are two nice recommendations here. I'll certainly consider it.

Jul 25, 2010, 8:47am Top

Dan, I think you're in for a treat. Since you liked On Beauty, which, incidentally I disliked so much that I couldn't even finish reading it. I found the characters too annoying on audio, you're bound to enjoy White Teeth.

Jul 25, 2010, 10:27pm Top

I came here to visit you and see some comfortable friends.

Thanks for posting your thread on my home page. I'll be sure to follow your posts.

Jul 26, 2010, 1:34am Top

Hi Linda, welcome. I'll try to actually add some reviews to the thread. I'll post one in moment, six are waiting to be written (see my first post if curious about what's coming)

Edited: Jul 26, 2010, 11:27pm Top

13. The Skin of Light by Larry D. Thomas (c2010, 64 pages, finished May 28)

I met Larry Thomas shortly after he published his first poetry collection (a chapbook titled The Lighthouse Keeper) in 2001. He was recently retired, a towering figure, with a short thick gray beard around a great round bald head. He was loud, friendly and full of energy as he walked his Shelties one at a time. In short he was one-a-kind, and something of a symbol to capture his unique Montrose neighborhood of a mostly distinctly non-unique Houston.

Since that time he has published six other chapbooks and seven book length collections and served as the Poet Laureate of Texas in 2008. He has another book coming out in December/January (titled
A Murder of Crows”), his fourth in 12 months. This is my first attempt to review him.

Larry’s poem are short and intense, the subjects are immediately accessible on the surface, although there are deeper layers of various kinds. His personality, his West Texas background, and his own variety of something like an incomplete revolt against the deep religious conservatism there come through. I say incomplete, because he can still capture and respect these aspects in his own way. The sound within the poem, while not obviously important, is woven in as a fundamental part of the effect. His poems come alive when read out loud. Actually, for me, Larry’s voice colors each and every one of his poems.

I’ve previously tried to summarize his poetry as “capturing the beauty in the gore of life”. To some extent I had this one particular excerpt in mind, from “Road Kill” in Where Skulls Speak Wind:

I couldn’t help but picture the instant
before their deaths, their eyes all pupil
leading them through the ink black night,
making sudden contact with beams
so bright they had to be celestial,
leaving them hopelessly paralyzed
in the snapshot-quick of rapture.

I even mentioned my phrase to him, and he didn’t seem to mind. It’s not a fair summary because it only captures parts of his work, and completely misses several other types of poems. But I like how it hints at the intensity, and how it hints at all the “nacreous”, “lacerating”, “rotting” and “turgid” things that fill his pages, not to mention the bones and skulls, or the rather shocking effects of west Texas blue northerns.

Larry is usually seen as a Texas poet*, and his poems have covered a variety of aspects of Texas, including the landscape, the weather, and especially the wildlife. His latest collection, The Skin of Light, released earlier this year, doesn’t follow this pattern. The poems aren’t connected to place, and the main consistent theme here seems to be on art. The title is a reference to his response to a painting by Franz Mark titled “Tower of Blue Horses”** where he felt the horses seem lit from within, in skins of light. There are number of mature and wonderful poems here of different types that stand out. I think it’s one of his strongest collections.

I got Larry’s permission to post a poem here. I chose the one below because of Larry’s voice. I wish I had the words to describe this. Simply seeing the phrase “as if”, I can right away hear his voice, the emphasis and pause afterwards, the two words forming the center of a number of his poems. They, not printed, but spoken in his voice, somehow encapsulate Larry for me.

As If
The dusk reddens, its chafed flesh
pulsing above the tightened noose
of darkness. The icy wind
rips at the breasts and wings of grackles,

mad for the flutes of their hollow bones.
Its chill, near freezing as they spiral
down from the sky by the thousands
to roost, will drop to single digits

by midnight. Though hundreds of them,
exposed for hours to the sleet and bitter cold,
will die well before sunrise,
each, for all it's worth, clutches its twig

and ruffles its blue-black feathers,
as if it will make it; as if it knows
the as if is all it’s ever had
to stagger it to daybreak.

*Please, no, he’s not a cowboy poet, or anything even closely resembling such.
**You can see Franz Mark's “Tower of Blue Horses” here: http://www.artunframed.com/images/5artist/marc799.jpg

Jul 26, 2010, 11:49am Top

That's an excellent and most interesting review of The Skin of Light, Dan. Larry Thomas sounds like someone I'd enjoy meeting, as well. I'll look for his poetry when I go to City Lights later this week; I'm sure the bookstore will have at least one of his books in its impressive poetry section.

Edited: Jul 26, 2010, 12:32pm Top

Darryl, thanks! I'm curious if you will find Larry Thomas even there. He's hard to find as he's only been published through a variety of small publishers - Texas Review Press (Sam Houston State), TCUPress, Pecan Grove Press, Timberline Press...The Skin of Light is published through Dalton Publishing.

ETA, his website is here: http://www.larrydthomas.com/

Jul 26, 2010, 1:45pm Top

City Lights has an extensive poetry selection with thousands of books in its upstairs section. The bookstore features books primarily from small and independent publishers, so I wouldn't be surprised if I find one or more of his books. I'm flying to SFO on Thursday, and will go to City Lights either that evening or Friday morning; I'll let you know what I find there.

Jul 26, 2010, 3:52pm Top

Thanks for the poetry Dan. It is lovely.

Jul 26, 2010, 9:31pm Top

Mary, Your most welcome.

Jul 28, 2010, 3:00pm Top

Yes, Dan, thanks for the poetry. I am particularly smitten by the line, "The icy wind/rips at the breasts and wings of grackles" The sound of the word "grackle" was just such a lovely paring with "icy" - does not ice crackle? Lovely music.

Jul 28, 2010, 11:57pm Top

The sound of the word "grackle" was just such a lovely paring with "icy" - does not ice crackle?

ooh! I had an idea that maybe this poem started out about crows, and then transformed into something about grackles (which are abound around here) for whatever reason.... Also, I had the idea that Larry was perhaps writing about his own eventual midnight, instead of grackles.

And Lois, you are also welcome.

Jul 28, 2010, 11:58pm Top

14. Book of My Nights : Poems by Li-Young Lee (c2001, 67 pages, finished June 26)

I tried, but most of this just wasn’t quite within my grasp.

A typical example, the first lines of “The Sleepless”:

Like any ready fruit, I woke
falling toward beginning and
welcome, all of night
the only safe place.

Here I almost get something, but it’s not mentally tangible. What do I do with this vague idea that doesn’t really have a shape to it and that may be totally wrong?

What I did get is that Li-Young Lee seems very spiritual, has a lot of difficult emotions or feelings, and has some complicated but passionate things to say about his family and especially his deceased brother.

For an example of a poem from this collection that I really liked, go here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/92500#2038109

Jul 29, 2010, 6:36am Top


Visiting here reminded me of how much I enjoyed your posts when you were a member of the 75 challenge group. And now that you sent your current link, I can once again savor the wonderful descriptions of the books you read.

Happy Thursday to you.

Jul 29, 2010, 10:49am Top

Linda - thank you so much!

Edited: Aug 13, 2010, 10:52pm Top

A hopefully short update, since I've fallen behind. Some of this is restated from the "What Are You Reading Now? - August 2010" thread.

I've finished five books which need to be reviewed:
15. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (June 29) - The first half on Combray was amazing outside any description I am capable of. I've been pondering how to review this, but haven't actually been brave enough to type up a draft.

16. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (June 30) - Charming despite the charm-resistant mentally I had when I started reading it. I probably won't review this, at least not in detail.

17. The Quickening by Michelle Hoover (July 5) - Early Reviewer - There's some great stuff here. I had a complicated response, including some annoyance, but this stuck around quite stubbornly. Hopefully I can explain in my review.

18. The Prospector by J. M. G. Le Clézio (July 13) - Loved this and it swept me away. I should be more circumspect...maybe in the review I will theoretically get to.

19. Field Work by Seamus Heaney (July 21) - tough, but not completely inaccessible. I might try an earlier work of his sometime.

I'm reading four other books.
- Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust (started July 19) - my main read.
- History of Korea by Woo-keun Han (started June 30) - a bit difficult to read, but quite fascinating.
- San Pedro River Review* : Vol 2 No 1, Spring 2010 : Bars, Diners & Dives (started July 22) - reading a poem a day. I "met" one of the editors, Jeffrey Alfier, through LT.
- Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense (6th Edition) by by Laurence Perrine & Thomas R. Arp (started July 31) - yes, this is a text book. Apparently I'm in the mood for it since I keep picking it up and getting really into what I'm reading.

Short stories I've read from Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense
Theme: Escape and Interpretation
- Richard Connell : "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924) - read Aug 1 - meh. I read this once in high school.
- Thomas Wolfe : "The Child by Tiger" (1937) - read Aug 1 - a dark, violent and pyschological take on the effects of southern racism. It quotes Blake's Poem "The Tiger" extensively. This I'm still thinking about
Theme: Plot
- Graham Greene : "The Destructors" (1954) - read Aug 3 - thought provoking
- Alice Munro : "Prue" (1981) - read Aug 4 - essentially the complexity of a bad relationship, already forgotten
Theme: Character
- Sherwood Anderson : "I'm a Fool" (1922) - read Aug 4 - contrived, but still thought provoking
- Alice Walker : "Everyday Use" (1973) - read Aug 10 - wonderful look at the clash of cultures between old-fashion and hippie African Americans
- Katherine Mansfield : "Miss Brill" (1921) - read Aug 10 - meh, old woman finds out she's old. Simple set-up.
Theme: Theme

I might add more here later, to this thread

* links for the San Pedro River Review:
home page: http://www.sprreview.com/home.html
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Pedro-River-Review/115288858522278?v=wall

Edited: Aug 3, 2010, 7:40pm Top

A wide variety of reading here, Dan -- I'll be interested in your reviews of Le Clezio and Hoover. I admire your dedication to the Proust -- I haven't been able to convince myself to take it up -- maybe some other summer when I can sit outside in a cool outdoor reading space -- or some winter when I'm retired and it's cool outdoors here.

Aug 3, 2010, 7:37pm Top

I'm also looking forward to your review of the Le Clézio novel.

Aug 5, 2010, 4:37am Top

Dan - I plan to start on Within a Budding Grove soon. It took me 3 months to get through Swann's Way, Combray because it gave me so much to pause and consider, to reread and ponder on, Swann in Love because it was difficult to motivate myself to get through, and the last section The Name? (can't remember exact title) I sped through.

Someone said that Swann in Love was the only 3rd person narrative. If the rest of the series is like Combray I expect to spend the rest of my life working through it.

Aug 5, 2010, 10:38am Top

Hi Z - I didn't know you were reading along (with maybe two or three others in le Salon). Keep me up to date with how it's going. I'm about 300 pages into Within a Budding Grove, and about 50 pages behind my 20-pages/day goal.

We had parallel experiences with Swann's Way. "Swan in Love" was maybe OK, but after "Combray", it was a bit of a drawn out let down for me. Within a Budding Grove is different than Combray, although I can't explain how. Still, I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

#93 Jane - your posts motivates me a bit. I tell myself I'm reading something important which Jane hasn't read, it's a bit of boost. :)

#93/94 - Jane/Darryl - maybe I'll write up the Le Clezio and Hoover "reviews" before Proust - which I'm stuck on. ??

Aug 5, 2010, 4:13pm Top

Ha! -- I'm sure there's lots you've read that I haven't. ;-)

Edited: Aug 16, 2010, 10:45am Top

Like a fruit split in half
Revealing the freshness
There at its center

So too the morning
Into which I enter

-Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
(translated from Portuguese by Alexis Levitin)

Spent the weekend opening and going through ten boxes of literary journals that were given to my by Larry D. Thomas back in 2006/2007. I kept 'Poetry', which was complete mid 1979 through 2006. I didn't have room for anything else, but still selected some to keep from 'Texas Review Press'(Sam Houston State), 'Southwest Literary Review' (SMU), 'Sulphur River Literary Reveiw' (Austin, TX), Poet Lore (Bethesda, MD) and others. I ended up dumping three boxes off at Half-Price Books (they gave...$5).

The poem above greeted me on page 7 of the 'Sulphur River Literary Review : Volume XX, Number Two, Autumnal Equinox 2004, which I opened this morning. Andresen pasted away in July of 2004, at 84.

Aug 16, 2010, 3:30pm Top

>98 dchaikin: that's morning, exactly! I walk very early and especially notice the fresh aromas. Thanks for sharing.

(I also had a completely underwhelming sale to Half Price Books. It recommitted me to donating to library sales.)

Aug 17, 2010, 8:06am Top

daniel - I was thinking of something I posted on your thread quite some time back. I mentioned Klephts. Actually, on reflection, I think I meant Vlachs.

Klephts are also an interesting subculture/nation - but in the context of what I was saying at the time, I believe it was Valchs that I wanted to refer to.

Aug 17, 2010, 10:58am Top

Hi Z - I'd forgotten about that. Vlachs make more sense in the context. (Here's a link - post 96: http://www.librarything.com/topic/81181#1780917 )

#99 detailmuse - I have a love-hate with half-price. I should donate to the library more. Glad you enjoyed the poem.

Edited: Aug 25, 2010, 1:47pm Top

15. Swann’s Way (Volume 1 of In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust (1913, 629 pages, finished June 29)
Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrief in 1930, revised by Terence Kilmartin in 1981, revised by D. J. Enright in 1992; Introduction by Richard Howard (2003).

This isn’t a review so much as response. With Proust, anything deeper is beyond me. And even just a description is tough in the sense that his writing creates its own atmosphere that I can’t possibly capture.

Swann’s Way is divided into two very different parts (there’s a short third section too: ‘Place Names – The Name’). The first part is Proust’s fictional ‘Combray’, a small village in a rural area with a very old church and a lot of obscure history. It took a little patience to get into this and a lot of mental prep of getting myself into something like the right mood, but then Proust hits Combray – the village – and something happened. Some kind of awe broke out, the pages got blurry and a bright light shined across my emotional spectrum and…I no longer have a clear idea what Proust actually said, but it did things to me that, while desired, are never actually done by books. It was wonderful experience in everything that the word ‘wonderful’ in reading should mean.

Then comes the second section, ‘Swann in Love’ and a jarring change comes. Proust still has his way of writing sentences so complicated you need to keep little places reserved in your mind for all ten hanging fragments he hasn’t quite gotten back to yet, which slows you down and also quite firmly instills his point – if you’re still able to follow. But it’s just words and thoughts and ideas and observations and nothing particularly special.

What changed? Well, ‘Combray’ was in 1st person, and ‘Swann in Love’ is in 3rd person, so we lose the intimacy. But, it’s not just that and it’s also not something I completely understand, or know how to put into words. Proust, as I’m learning, excelled at place and at making a place intimate - at integrating the whole thing - its look, feel, taste, colors, character, history, mysteries and so on. He descriptions feel exacting sort of like a mythical naturalist’s description of a newly discovered animal. It formal, precise and somehow enthralling or at least it can be. He does the same kind of thing with people, as observed, and most remarkably, with his own semi-fictional emotions. But, it’s in his description of place, in the nature of how he goes about it, that, I think, most clearly shows his strengths. These descriptions come directly from his autobiographical narrator’s self and they are all sensual descriptions, and very personalized.

When he tries to do the same thing in 3rd person, in his study of Swann, two things happen. He tends towards pronouncements which are open to criticism (at least to mine). Proust ideas can be great, but not always. But, more importantly, people are more complicated and they change – or at least their emotional states change in a connected swirling time-dependent kind of chain. Proust, by his writing nature, tries to capture every subtle aspect in the state of mind, and how it changes and how the nature of the changes affects this whole thing. In a way it actually works, but not in the same way or with anywhere near the same magic. Quite frankly, Swann drags, and, coming after Combray…

But, still, Proust is special. I think what makes Proust particularly special is the mental state he puts you, the reader, in. You can’t get Proust idly. In order to read him and really follow, he demands a clear, careful and active mind. And then he rewards you. What a state of being?

Aug 23, 2010, 11:08pm Top

Dan, that qualifies as a review in my view, and a good one too. Can you make it thumb-able?

I'm looking forward to the day I feel mature enough to try reading Proust for myself.

Edited: Aug 23, 2010, 11:12pm Top

ChocolateMuse - thanks! I'll certainly post now, just give me a sec.

Aug 23, 2010, 11:11pm Top

16. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman (1973, 488 pages, finished June 30)
With 25th and 30th anniversary introductions (1993 & 1998) and the “Buttercup’s Baby” chapter.

I hesitated on this, but eventually read it along with Proust as my lite book. That charm won me won me over from the beginning. Later (like in early July) avaland requested I quote from it, and what I collected seems as good a review as anything else. So here they are:

"You keep using that word!" the Spaniard snapped. "I don't think it means what you think it does." (for anyone, if this doesn't ring bell, then you have a gaping hole in your cultural literacy. I expect you to immediately go search this movie out and watch it.)

"But you wouldn't have ever known I was going to kill you if I hadn't been the one to tell you. Doesn't that let you know I can be trusted?"

Look. I'm not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending, I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there's a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you've already been prepared for, but there's worse. There's death coming up, and you better understand this: some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn't Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you'll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I'm not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this: life is not fair. Forget all the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You'll be a lot happier.

'Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody's got to get him. Is it Fezzik? who?'
'Nobody Kills him. He lives.'
'You mean he wins, Daddy? Jesus, what did you read me this thing for?'

'I'm not a witch, I'm your wife."

"Don't pester him so many questions. Take it easy; he's been dead."

Edited: Aug 24, 2010, 12:07pm Top

P.S. So, Fezzik has this strange thing here where he says a random word that happens to rhyme with the last word someone just spoke. It really doesn’t do anything for the story. Except, my 3-yr-old son does the same thing, and I’ve begun calling him Fezzik.

Aug 23, 2010, 11:14pm Top

>102 dchaikin:: dchaikin,

Great review! I've been waiting a long time for it, and it's certainly worth the wait. :)

Aug 23, 2010, 11:22pm Top

Thanks booksontrial... I had the day off. :)

Aug 24, 2010, 12:04pm Top

102 - Great review. I'm growing more and more tempted to read this. Though I'm trying to wait until I can afford all of the fabulous supplementary material my heart desires.

Aug 25, 2010, 8:14am Top

>You have fulfilled your Princess Bride obligations and what great quotes! Mixing this with Proust...interesting!

Aug 25, 2010, 8:27am Top

#110 Thanks. Actually it was a very nice mixture in that The Princess Bride was easy to get into and yet still I could still get lost it. The other two books I've tried are history books and neither has worked so well - although they were obviously bad choices, and I'm exactly sure what compelled me to try them as easier reads. I think I just needed some history.

Edited: Sep 1, 2010, 8:10am Top

17. The Quickening by Michelle Hoover (2010, 215 pages, finished July 5) – An Early Reviewer

There is something about Enidina that kept her in my mind long after I closed this book. Writing to a grandson she doesn’t know, in the first five pages she tells about herself up to where she just got married in her early thirties. How, as a child, her mother wiped dirt in her mouth "so I could taste the dust and seed we lived on.” How she sat alone in her bare home on her new Iowa farm and ate from a jar of rhubarb jam with her large fingers, having just cleaned the blood from her marital sheets. This was 1913.

As she goes on Enidina seems to grow larger in our minds, creating a presence of a sort, one that is anchored to the ground and with her flaws firmly woven in and unalterable. She is a strong character who, when life should shake her to her core, simply carries on, emotionally empty, but stoic and tough as before, hovering, somehow making us look and wonder what it is her existence has to offer us.

This is a great and layered work, a first novel by Hoover. That is not to say it didn’t have its flaws. The book is narrated by two characters—Enidina, who I adored, and who is based on the journal of Hoover's great grandmother, and Mary who is Enidina’s opposite. Mary was raised in town, learned to play piano on a sketch of piano keys and never took to her own farm. She lived there, but stayed in her house, cleaning furiously. We learn not to trust what she says; that there is a disconnect between voice and reality that somewhat echoes her detachment from that land. I didn’t like Mary because I saw through her almost immediately, despite her internal complexity, and found her voice predicable. Also, as an anchorless personality she floated too freely, becoming a plot device. I wanted to cut her narrative out of the book and then re-read just Enidina. (Hoover discussed considering this herself! See her LT chat, post #6: http://www.librarything.com/topic/95157#2092493 )

But, alas, I’m too hard on Mary, who is critical to the effect Hoover is making here. In a way we're all Mary, especially today, in that we're too materialistic and disconnected from the ground around us and worried about the wrong things. Enidina corrects all that, and the contrast highlights her purity. I’ve thought of Enidina as maybe holding out something like a truth for us, the reader. But, thinking this over now, I think it’s her purity that maybe attracts us, or at least me, a sort of quiet solid place we, with our mental storms, like to know, or at least imagine, is there.

Aug 30, 2010, 5:39am Top

From post #1. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on the Korea and Burma books. Are the dates there start-dates or completion-dates?

Edited: Aug 30, 2010, 8:19am Top

VG - I finished both. Not sure how soon I'll review them, since I've fallen so far behind. I can highly recommend the Burma book, River of Lost Footsteps which does everything right, mixing ancient myth, and ancient, modern and personal history. I enjoyed History of Korea but, written in 1970 by a Korean with some probably bias, and with only a few paragraphs on the Korean War, it's probably not the best book available on the subject. What I did like is that it starts in pre-history and gives somewhat equal time to most stages of Korea History (although the Japanese prep and final takeover gets some extra time). There were no boring stages in its history. I also liked that it's sort of an old-school mostly chronological history, a personal preference of mine.

Edited: Aug 30, 2010, 11:24pm Top

18. The Prospector by J. M. G. Le Clézio (1985, 338 pages, finished July 13)
Translated by Carol Marks, 1993

Despite the lovely writing and imagery of Mautitius and its ocean in the opening sections, I had trouble getting in to this; I was bored. But then on page 14 of my copy Le Clézio writes: “Everything I felt and everything I saw seemed eternal. I did not know that soon all of it would be gone.” And that’s all it took to get me engaged through the end—through the narrator’s childhood experiences on Mauritius, his travels around the Indian Ocean islands, his long search for a lost treasure on an unnamed island (Rodrigues), and his somehow, for me, anti-climatic WWI experiences.

I guess this in epic of sorts, without much a plot. We simply follow Alexis through his life and his continued search. His childhood serves as a mystical golden age, highlighted by a magically described natural world which he explores with Denis, a black descendant of escaped slaves, and Laure, his older sister. This life is abruptly halted when a typhoon ruins his father’s ongoing project in which he invested everything. Alexis is unable to come to terms with the change, and unable to live a normal life. So, his long search for treasure serves a purpose much different than a search for wealth. He is looking within himself, looking for the self he once was, and trying to find something that simply isn’t and can never be there—namely his past.

Having ensnared me early on, Le Clézio could do no wrong. I rolled along the ocean waves with Alexis, explored the wondrous islands with him, searched for his treasure and loved the whole thing. He simply took me away with him.

Aug 31, 2010, 1:34am Top

19. Field Work : Poems by Seamus Heaney (1979, 58 pages, finished July 21)

This was part of my poetry experiment. So, while I didn’t get terribly much out of it, it was worth the trip through. As far as I can tell, this is a pretty major and mature work. Heaney does a lot with sounds. He has a habit of using strange presumably Irish-derived words whose meaning is completely lost to me, but the sound works very nicely in poem. I found it interesting and moving that several of his poems focus on the results of the violence in Northern Ireland – including people who he admired (friends?) who have died. He was, of course, born in Northern Ireland.

The best part of this collection for me, was the opening poem, Oysters. He opens:

Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight :

The poem is absolutely delightful, and its effect hasn’t left me. You can find the rest of this poem several places online, including here: http://some-came-running.blogspot.com/ (go to June 01, 2010)

Edited: Aug 31, 2010, 1:39pm Top

Oh now I want to read both The Quickening and The Prospector -- they go on my wishlist, but don't know when I'll get to them. Lovely reviews, Dan.

Aug 31, 2010, 7:02pm Top

Thank so much Jane. I'm hoping to read more by Le Clézio, maybe next year...

Sep 1, 2010, 12:30am Top

great reviews dan, really great. This is the first review of a le Clezio work that actually makes me want to read him, as I have not done so yet.

I"m still digesting the Proust review, lots to think about there.

Why can't we thumb these reviews?

Edited: Sep 1, 2010, 8:30am Top

Murr -

What do you mean "Why can't we thumb these reviews?"? (Tim!!! *shakes fist at...well, at my office overhead lights*)

Thanks so much for the very nice comments. They mean a lot to me, especially coming from you.

Murr & Jane -

If you pick up a Le Clezio, let me know, I might join you in reading it.

Sep 1, 2010, 9:02am Top

#119 Murr - I'm curious, which parts of my Proust review you are referring to as "lots to think about there" - I mean if there are some specific things.

Sep 2, 2010, 5:44am Top

Nice review of The Prospector, Dan. I have it, and will definitely read it, and Désert, very soon.

Sep 2, 2010, 10:24am Top

Darryl - I'll hunt down a copy of Désert.

Sep 2, 2010, 11:06am Top

no no I meant in the sense that it was thought- provoking and not the sort of thing I want to read quickly.

I did not express myself well.

It's an excellent, sensitive review and I agree with everything you said, especially this:

Proust, by his writing nature, tries to capture every subtle aspect in the state of mind, and how it changes and how the nature of the changes affects this whole thing

Wise words. I can think of no other writer whose style and syntax really gets into your mind and changes the way you actually go about the process of thinking, except perhaps late Henry James?

Sep 3, 2010, 8:23am Top

Thanks Murr, appreciated. I haven't read Henry James, although I've seen some nice movies based on his books. (Wings of the Dove comes to mind)

Sep 9, 2010, 1:33am Top

Dan--I very much appreciate your review of Swann's Way. I know that when I read a book like Swann's Way, which changes my way of looking at the world, I find it difficult to express my feelings and opinions about the book coherently. You did just that, and kudos to you.

I've been wanting to read LeClezio for a while. I have The Interrogation on the shelf, but The Prospector sounds much more appealing, and I may have to acquire it and read it first. I love islands and the ocean.

Sep 10, 2010, 10:33am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Sep 10, 2010, 10:34am Top

>113 VisibleGhost: here's some audio of Heaney reading his poetry. I thought this might enhance your experience of him. It's nice to hear him read it, because, of course, it's how he heard it when he wrote it and, with the accent, the music of the poetry is enhanced (imo).


Sep 10, 2010, 12:12pm Top

Aruba - That's a really nice compliment, thanks so much for the kudos! I'd be interested in your take on The Prospector. I'm going to (well hoping to) read Désert sometime soon-ish. Awaiting a library copy.

avaland - I'm glad you posted that here. Sound seems very important to Heaney. I can't listen just now...since i"m at work and...well...not sure what my co-workers would think of spoken poetry coming from my machine. I'll get there this weekend.

Sep 12, 2010, 6:21pm Top

Thanks for the link, Avaland. It reminded me of the internet early days (maybe 88 or so) there was a site where they were readings by poets, only you had to wait an interminably long time (an hour or so on the phone connection) for them to download, and then, the reading would immediately start without warning and couldn't be replayed without waiting again. So I would busy myself doing something in the living room while I waited for the moment to sit down and listen. Heaney was one of the poets I waited for. So much easier now.

Edited: Sep 19, 2010, 1:08am Top

20. The History of Korea by Woo-kuen Han (1970, 509 pages, read June 30 to August 10)
Translated by Kyung-shik Lee. Edited by Grafton K. Mintz

Korean history is remarkably stable and long, with the recorded history going back about 2000 years. As a piece of land jutting off China the NW corner of China-central, Korea is geographically isolated and yet a dangerous extra front in all the various Chinese-vs-Steppes nomads wars. Everything in China had an effect on Korea. And yet Korea remained unconquered and totally independent until Mongols invasions in the thirteenth century. Even the Chinese Tang dynasty was held in check by the Korean military. Among other oddities, Korea has the distinction of having created its own alphabet under the guidance of King in about 1450, which is still in use today and generally considered exceptionally nice, maybe the world’s best.

Woo-kuen Han wrote this history for Koreans in Korean. It was translated, and then edited for western readers. The result can be awkward, but is nice in that Han covers every stage, in roughly equal weight, from pre-history (Main themes are the Three Kingdoms, the Koryo dynasty, the Mongol control, and the Yi Dynasty – which lasted until the Japanese finally dispensed with it - and then the Japanese takeover). It’s a mostly chronological history. It has its limits. It’s an older book and only spends about four pages on the Korean War and few more on its aftermath. All-in-all this probably isn’t the best history of Korea available, but it was still fascinating and I’m happy to have read it.

Han’s writing can be dry and slow, but his analysis was interesting, and occasionally he can add an elegant touch, such as here at the end of the Three Kingdoms period (italics are mine):

Meanwhile King Kyongsun and the Silla aristocracy were facing the bleak realities of their situation. Beset on every hand, without allies, and powerless to defend themselves, they made a rare and difficult decision. The power of Wang Kon was growing daily, and the days of Later Paekche, and of Silla itself, were plainly numbered. Together with all the leading government officials, King Kyongsun surrendered himself and his country to Wang Kon in 935. Perhaps this goes against the patriotic tradition of fighting to the last, but compared to the scenes of chaos, slaughter and flight which have marked the collapse of other monarchies, the end of Silla has a certain dignity. It had lasted, according to the traditional dates, which may not be accurate, for 992 years.

Sep 19, 2010, 1:03am Top

About time I got around to another review....

Edited: Sep 19, 2010, 10:39am Top

131> intriguing review, Dan -- how sad that Korea's long and stable history has been so marred by the Korean War and the N. Korean regime, but undoubtedly, that too will pass.

Sep 19, 2010, 10:48am Top

Happy Sunday Dan!

I enjoyed your review of The History of Korea!

I confess that I know very little about Korea's history.

Sep 19, 2010, 1:20pm Top

>131 dchaikin: yes, agree with Jane, a terrific review of what seems an intriguing book. How far ahead does he bring his history; where does it bring us with regards to dates?

Edited: Sep 20, 2010, 8:14am Top

#133 There is something to be said for the consistency between Korea's past and N. Korea present. I mean Korea has some weird aspects, it's always been under a dictator, and it maintained an nearly complete isolation as long as possible. The first US navy ship to visit was completely lost - all on board were killed and no message was sent to the very confused US - this was the era of Commodore Perry in Japan. The modernization was forced upon Korea by Japan. So, there are absolutely wonderful things about S. Korea, but there must be some cultural discomfort there in the background -- this is mostly my interp, not Woo-kuen Han's (except the Japan part).

#134 Linda - me neither, except this book.

#135 Lois - He stops being thorough pretty much at the end of WWII. Everything later gets a quick wash and doesn't leave any real impression. There were some dark-ish things in the S. Korean leadership after the Korean War*, but he doesn't even hint at them.

*edited because originally I wrote "after wwii"

Edited: Sep 20, 2010, 10:25pm Top

21. 9876727::San Pedro River Review : Vol 2 No 1, Spring 2010 : Bars, Diners & Dives* (57 pages, read July 22 to Aug 16)
editors: Jeffrey Alfier & Tobi R. Cogswell

This was part of the poem-a-day-ish thing I’ve been doing. Jeff & Tobi started this wonderful little review in 2009, shortly after Jeff’s retirement from the air force. This is the third issue (the fourth one is in the mail, so I’m told) and the first themed issue. The “Bars, Diners & Dives” is fun and, as is typical with the review, the poems are both excellent and accessible.

Here is a link listing the contributors to this issue, and also linking to the SPRR webpage: http://www.sprreview.com/page1/page3.html

One excerpt from one of my favorites, At A Jazz Bar In Denver With My Son And His Friends, I Learn Something New by Mary Jo Balistreri

I sit back stunned. The lack
Of dissonance strikes a new chord.
When did Youth leave me and move on?
I adjust my position on the barstool,
lean into her absence, wonder
how I never saw her go.

*no touchstone. Link to workpage is here: http://www.librarything.com/work/9876727/book/59446926

Edited: Sep 22, 2010, 12:14am Top

22. River of Lost Footsteps : Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U (361 pages, read Aug 11 - 27)

Burma has been a sad place for the last 50 years, using the surrounding ring of mountain ranges and the coast to fully isolate itself from the rest of world, hiding in its own little bowl, the military government quite content with the international sanctions that are supposed to force it to open up. Only the people suffer. It wasn’t always this way. At one point, in the 15th century, with Mughals in India next door, the Arakan coast in southwest Burma formed its own coastal empire where the capital included “a mix of Arakanese, Bengalis, Afghans, Burmese, Dutch, Portuguese, Abyssinians, Persians, even Japanese Christians from Nagasaki escaping the persecution of the dictator Hideyoshi Toyotomi.” That’s a mixture worth a moment of reflection.

Thant Myint-U is the grandson of U Thant, the UN secretary-general through the 1960’s. He has written a formal history of Burma (The Making of Modern Burma), but this isn’t it. Here he focuses on the story of history, mixing the chronology, an adding in personal and family history and an odd interview here and there. He has sources (wonderful ones), but no index and only one map, albeit a very good one. He does cover everything to some degree, going back into ancient history. It’s an all absolutely fascinating history, and the book is able to capture that. The Burmese racial mixture itself is quite complex, including, among many others, Burmese, Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chinese and the Mon who at point were the dominant population in the south of the country, until they were essentially massacred our by a Burmese warlord. Some tribes in the mountainous areas are essentially independent. And there are the descents of the Portuguese and Dutch who settled in Burma long ago when it was cosmopolitan…and whose families remained in the same neighborhoods these hundreds of years.

But Myint-U’s main focus is the modern era, which begins in 1885 when the ever victorious British army sauntered in to Mandalay unopposed by the army that had once been the only one to fully defeat the Manchu armies of China, preventing an invasion, and the British simply deposed the King whose lineage went back into legendary history…and Burma has never recovered. During WWII the whole country formed a long now forgotten battlefield front that quickly went west, when the Japanese nominally “liberated” Burma, and then slowly went back east again. The Burmese eventually achieved independence from Great Britain after WWII, but were left with a mixture of allied- and Japanese-trained soldiers to lead them, and who were largely divided on ethnic lines for various reasons. Then most of the leaders were assassinated in one event on July 19, 1947, including Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi), who was Burma’s great unifying hope. It was about 15 years before the military, after refining themselves by somehow winning the various civil wars where their enemies actually greatly outnumbered them but were composed of various completely unrelated groups, including a Nationalist Chinese soldiers, took over and went for an odd purity that stalled all economic development, and all political processes and debate, evicted the once large Indian population and then closed the whole country off from everyone else.

This was a supposed to be a “quick and dirty” review, but instead became a long wandering under-edited review. Well, if you’re still reading, the book comes highly recommended from me. It’s a nice find that will entertain you even if you couldn’t care less about Burma.

Sep 22, 2010, 10:09am Top

Fascinating review, Dan. If you're interested in another take on the fall of the Burmese Empire, F. Tennyson Jesse's The Lacquer Lady is a novel set at the last Burmese court. She was Tennyson's niece and had access the British-Burmese colonialists.

Sep 22, 2010, 10:46am Top

Great review, Dan. Someone else on LT also recommended this book highly (Rebecca?), so I'll have to look for this soon.

Sep 22, 2010, 4:50pm Top

Jane & Darryl - thanks, both!

Jane - The Lacquer Lady sounds like a unique find. I would like to read that. How did you come across it?

Darryl - There aren't any recent reviews, although conversations point to posts by richardderus, who called it "painful"...I think he meant Burma, and not the writing. :)

Edited: Sep 22, 2010, 4:56pm Top

Dan -- I belong to an LT group called Virago Modern Classics -- all about a series of books published by Virago Press in London -- mostly focused on 20th c. classic novels by women. The Lacquer Lady is one of the books in the series. It's a very friendly group -- we send book finds to each other, review books we've read, gloat over our collections of VMCs -- that sort of thing.

Sep 23, 2010, 10:49am Top

I was wondering was the Virago Modern Classics group was about...

Edited: Oct 13, 2010, 10:21pm Top

Erased, sorry, feeling guilty about the copyright thing. I probably shouldn't have posted.

Edited: Oct 15, 2010, 9:50am Top

23. Within a Budding Grove (Volume II of In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust (1919, 743 pages, read July 19 to August 31)
Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrief in 1930, revised by Terence Kilmartin in 1981, revised by D. J. Enright in 1992; Introduction by Richard Howard (2003).

Obvious fact of the day : book reviews will be stale if you wait too long the write them, which means I have several sorry ones coming up....actually, it works here because I couldn't have done this one justice anyway. I'll try to be brief...Proust lovers must love this one, Volume II, because Proust does lots of wonderful things with language and observations, self-psychological analysis, studying other people, and just describing the waves at the beach. I did enjoy all that, but I had trouble forgetting, in the midst of Balbec, how spoiled our young Marcel was, lazing (for his bad health) at a resort on the beach, complaining when he couldn't get shaved as the right time, trying to pick up too-young, IMO, teenage girls, and somehow it all mixed together as a small poison pill in my drink. This was the second section. The first, Madame Swann at Home was slow, but still an interesting Proustian look at jealousy through Marcel's obsession with the petulant Gilberte. I'm now on a break from Proust, until, at least, after the Murr-led group read of the The Brother's Karamazov in November (I purchased the Pevear & Voldkhonsky translation in prep).

One thing I did do with Proust was fold many corners and type out several excerpts. For a taste, here are a few. It's Proust, so take a deep breath before you consider diving-in.

pondering "the pleasures of the mind"
Alas, how little I felt that what he was saying applied to me, whom all reasoning, however exalted it might be, left cold, who was happy only in moments of pure idleness, when I was comfortable and well. I felt how purely material was everything that I desired in life, and how easily I could dispense with the intellect. (page 196)

on love, how true
When we are in love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able altogether to contain it within ourselves. It radiates towards the loved one, finds there a surface which arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting-point, and it is this repercussion of our own feeling which we call the other's feelings and which charms us more then than on its outward journey because we do not recognise it as having originated in ourselves. (WaBG, page 252-253)

it's just...one of those Proustian things that stuck
…I compelled myself to look further afield, to notice only the sea, to seek in it the effects described by Baudelaire and to let my gaze fall upon our table only on days when there was set on it some gigantic fish, some marine monster, which unlike the knives and forks was contemporary with the primitive epochs in which the Ocean first began to teem with life, at the time of the Cimmerians, a fish whose body with its numberless vertebrae, its blue and pink veins, had been constructed by nature, but according to an architectural plan, like a polychrome cathedral of the deep. (page 372-373)

And, in case you haven't met Proust before, here's a suitable introduction (near the end of Vol 2)
How drearily monotonous must be the lives of people who, from indolence or timidity, drive in their carriages straight to the doors of friends whom they have got to know without having first dreamed of knowing them, without ever daring, on the way, to stop and examine what arouses their desire! (page 620)

edited in an effort to force the touchstone

Oct 14, 2010, 8:40am Top

Good tasters for Vol II Daniel. I have yet to get to it, but have it looming over me.

Baudelaire and Chardin appear to be very important to Proust's outlook on life. Understanding them and their art helps me understand Proust.

As we share basically the same mind, I might make a suggestion re an interesting book to add to your list - The Arcades Project. This majors on Buadelaire, with significant inputs from Proust as well. One of my most valued books...

Oct 14, 2010, 9:35pm Top

Zenomax - It's on my wishlist. I don't know anything about Baudelaire and I thought Chardin was a painter (with works like this: http://www.jean-baptiste-simeon-chardin.org/The-Soap-Bubble-c.-1739-large.html ). Anyway, thanks for the info, interesting.

Oct 14, 2010, 10:50pm Top

24. Tinkers by Paul Harding (2009, 192 pages, read Aug 28 to Sep 5) - Kindle Edition

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, I had some trouble with it because I just assumed that after Proust, other books would be easier to read. This isn’t easy. The lyrical writing is pleasant, beautiful, but Harding wanders off into metaphors, and prose and suddenly I found myself reading the same paragraph three or four times, putting the book down, coming back to give it another try and failing and putting it down again, and then finally finding the right mindset and getting enough of it to work through. On top of that, Harding never tells us anything regarding a point. We have to figure all that out, and I can confidently say I haven’t done that. But I liked it quite a bit and on closing (it’s a conclusive ending, it doesn’t just hang) I found myself going back to the beginning and skimming the 1st third of the book over again in one sitting…I’ve never done this, I didn’t even do this with Infinite Jest, a book which pretty much demands it.

Anyway, George Washington Crosby, retired and having spent years becoming an expert in repairing antique clocks, which involves a great deal of tinkering, is on his deathbed in his home surrounded by his family. As he lies there dying, he drifts between reality, memory and hallucination, exploring his own father, Howard…Except Howard also narrates, and it’s not clear whether this is really Howard, or this is inside George’s head. Howard, a wandering salesman and an epileptic, becomes the real theme – at least at stretches.

This is a beautiful and complicated little book where everything lies very softly on both the readers and characters, regardless of their trauma. As far as I got it, it was a really nice experience; but, somehow it lacked that fundamental something for me to hold on to. I really didn’t know where to mentally store it, and sadly, it has drifted away.

(This review is mostly from thoughts I down on Sep 5, soon after I finished the book.)

Oct 15, 2010, 12:23am Top

super stuff on, and from Proust, Dan. Thanks.

Edited: Oct 15, 2010, 2:22am Top

Burma has come up quite often in some of the biodiversity and conservation books I've read lately. The last fifty years have been a roller coaster ride for many of the programs. I probably should read an history on the region.

Tinkers- I'll get to it one of these days.

Caught up again on your thread. For now. A very wide-ranging and interesting reading year you're having.

Edited: Oct 15, 2010, 6:12am Top

Yes that is Chardin. From his work Proust got his respect for inanimate objects - you will note P often treats them as characters in their own right.

Oct 15, 2010, 9:35am Top

#151 Z - and states such, explicitly, you might add. I'll keep that in mind for The Guermantes Way, which will come eventually...December??

#149 - Murr, thanks!

#150 - VG - I recommend that particular book on Burma book, at least as a starting point on the history. (I recommend Tinkers too, to anyone). And, thanks. It has been a good reading year for me despite (or because of) the modest numbers. One of my best ever, really.

Edited: Oct 15, 2010, 9:49am Top

For anyone interested further in Tinkers and it's Pulitzer award, read the excellent review written in June by jasonpettus (whose reviews are always worth a read) here: http://www.librarything.com/review/61204148

Oct 16, 2010, 3:07pm Top

>145 dchaikin:: dchaikin,

I had trouble forgetting, in the midst of Balbec, how spoiled our young Marcel was, lazing (for his bad health) at a resort on the beach, complaining when he couldn't get shaved as the right time, trying to pick up too-young, IMO, teenage girls, and somehow it all mixed together as a small poison pill in my drink.

That might be the reason why I didn't read ISOLT with the group. If I don't respect the author as a person, I wouldn't enjoy his writings.

Oct 16, 2010, 5:10pm Top

>148 dchaikin: dan
Your comment about respecting seemingly diminutive works (Tinkers) is helpful. Which makes me wonder, with your kids et al -- do you have a time/place/routine when it comes to reading and especially heavier works?

Oct 17, 2010, 10:32am Top

#145 books ... hmmm... I hadn't really thought of it in terms of respect. I think we should allow the fictional Marcel to remain separate from the non-fictional author. Clearly there is an autobiographical link, but still that may not be a moral or ethical link. Also, Proust does recognize his privilege, and the author sees it more clearly then the young protagonist. I do have respect for the fictional Marcel...it's not that understated either, I have an immense amount of respect...but sometimes small complaints can linger.

Oct 17, 2010, 11:00am Top

#155 detailmuse - There's a mixed answer there. I have some time, but not enough. So, I force it in, schedule it in, compromise sleep, (hide during lunch) whatever. And I can complain about that a lot, but somehow I'm reading more now than I did before I had kids. I think the fact that the time is precious now is a motivation to use is it for something really important to me. As for routines, I have tried several different ones and most have worked but weren't really sustainable. Certainly I have hot and cold streaks. This summer I was out the door at 6:10, at Starbucks at 6:45 and able to read Proust with coffee until 8 for two or three days a week...that was heaven!

Oct 17, 2010, 11:34am Top

I do something similar; rising an hour before my family to be able to read without interruption.

Oct 17, 2010, 6:06pm Top

>156 dchaikin:: dchaikin,

I do have respect for the fictional Marcel...it's not that understated either, I have an immense amount of respect

What do you respect him for?

Oct 17, 2010, 8:07pm Top

Dan, your thoughts on Tinkers are interesting. Clearly we had different experiences with the book. It was a 5-star book for me (read way before it won the Pulitzer) but I can see your point of view perfectly.

Oct 17, 2010, 11:37pm Top

#159 Books - I'm not ready to go there...but his overall intelligence and just the way his mind works are pretty special. Some people find reading Proust a spiritual experience of a sort. There's plenty more to like and respect too.

#160 Lois - Thanks Lois. Perhaps I have a odd approach to poetic writing.

Oct 19, 2010, 10:07am Top

>157 dchaikin: out the door at 6:10, at Starbucks at 6:45 and able to read Proust with coffee until 8 for two or three days a week

nice! A perfect 2010 update to the lounging jacket and secluded den I was imagining :)

Oct 19, 2010, 2:27pm Top

Ha! lounging jacket and secluded den - I can not even picture myself associated with this image.

#158 RidgewayGirl - Power to you. This morning I could have gotten up a 5, with six hours sleep...or 6 with seven hours sleep...alas, I had to force myself up at 7 or the kids would be late for the bus...

Edited: Oct 29, 2010, 10:44pm Top

25. Sulphur River Literary Review : Volume XX, Number 2, Autumnal Equinox 2004 (145 pages, August 16 to September 14)
Editing by by James Michael Robbins

Part of my poem-a-day thing, this literary review was a wonderful surprise. Does anyone here read literary reviews?…I should know better than to ask that with this group…well…honestly I never hear about these on LT, and yet I’ve had a handful of wonderful experiences with them, and always with authors I otherwise hadn’t heard of. I keep thinking I should get rid of these (I have…100’s (?), all from Larry D. Thomas, whose collection Skin of Light I reviewed up thread, in post #81) but then I pick one up and there’s an “oh?!” thing.

Anyway, this was has been collecting dust for a while. Larry gave it me somewhat new, as he had a few poems published within. Published out of Austin and edited by James Michael Robbins, it is not affiliated with any university. It’s a mixture of forms, all short, all high quality. Robbins tends to publish several poems by a single author, which I really liked as it gives me sense of getting to know them.

I took many of these contributors home with me to remember and look up later. The best was probably Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Bryener Andresen, who passed away shortly before this was published (See post #98 above). She is sparse and powerful. But, my favorite was Anthony Seidmann, whose poem Stray opens up “Not happy with the morning headlines,/I metamorphose into a stray dog/by sealing my eyes.”

Some other excerpts (none of these are complete poems, so take that copyright rulebook.)

From The Inertia of Being by Suzanne Rindell

Later on Sundays
Sister Margaret told me sin accelerates in a pool of desire: these
. inescapable
Habits of humanity, there is no such thing as a pure pool, she said,
And I didn’t go swimming for months.

Small Requiem, by Mel Kenne, opens

For all our songs
that searched

for the touch
of eros’ grace

and whose reach

And, perhaps most touching was Visions of Redemption by Albert Huffstickler. In his bio Robbins says he “was the grand old man of the Austin poetry scene”. Visions of Redemption was written a few months before his death in Feb 2002 and is a reflection on his unusual life. An excerpt:

I think that one thing I have
struggled with all my life is the fact that
the world without and the world within
don’t necessarily coincide. To dwell in
this reality seems to me a learned thing
and easier for some than others. And
this world we live in seems to me intolerable
without dreams and visions.

(my details page lists all contributors: http://www.librarything.com/work/10305024/details/63561221 )

Edited: Oct 30, 2010, 12:49am Top

26. Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (1978, 336 pages, read Sep 6 - 16)

It was a bad time. Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright, scared to death on the field of battle, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose. Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin had died in tunnels. Pederson was dead and Rudy Chassler was dead. Buff was dead. Ready Mix was dead. They were amongst the dead."

This is the way it opens, and I know there are more respectful ways to read this, but what I notice, what is just now catching my attention is the ever so slight hint of humor, or sarcasm…of satire. I’m realizing this now after, first, picking this up last November full of recent praise from here on LT, reading a few pages and realizing it wasn’t the right time. And then picking it up again this past month, full of a new round of praise (one of the three best books on the Vietnam War I read somewhere…), and OK, it was better this time so I kept going, and then I got the end, and it was interesting, clever, effective and…yet I didn’t take it in too deeply. It was an interesting way to kill the time for me, that’s all. That’s why I’m thinking about that sarcasm, or was it satire, or am I just jaded and lacking compassion. The fact is I don’t like satire because I read it as “look reader, I’m a writer and I’m soooo clever. You should be in awe of me”. And, no, that’s not how Tim O’Brien writes. He’s humble. I sense he struggled with this, that he just couldn’t find a way to put his war experience in print until he did something slightly ridiculous. That, perhaps he simply wasn’t able to, at least at the time, to write about it without some subtle twist, without that very specific type of voice of dealing with war and whatever happens there...

Anyway, this was my way of trying to explain, six weeks after reading it, my reaction.

Edited: Oct 30, 2010, 1:17am Top

27. Fidel by Néstor Kohan, illustrated by Nahuel Scherma (2006, 189 pages, read Aug 28 - Sep 20)
Translated by Elise Buchman, with additional illustrations 2010

I was looking forward to a graphic novel on Cuba, offered through the Early Reviewer program. I had never read anything on Cuba before and the graphic form just sounded…easy, a quick way to partially fill a gap. Should I have expected a book of blatant propaganda?

I can’t emphasize the blatant part enough. This was a pure Fidel love fest. America is the evil empire. Fidel is the brilliant visionary leader who lead his island out of Capitalist domination, who never tortured and was completely open to alternative view points (er, as long as they were communist). And Che Guevera is the beautiful purist who sounds so idealistic, but was in the end, of course, perfectly correct in everything. Argentinean author Néstor Kohan has found a comfortable way to deal with any complex view points about Fidel Castor, Che Geuvera and Cuba, he simply ignores them.

There is some truth in all of this, there is some truth is what Fox’s greater loons say too. I found the lack of balance, the sense of propaganda, odd, archaic feeling, and very entertaining. It’s easy to read, easy to put down (including when you’re annoyed), and easy to pick back up again. It’s great to read with the kids while they watch Scooby Doo. And this is all new information for me, so just taking in the names and general stories was actually quite interesting. And Che does come across as beautiful and I was actually depressed to learn how suddenly he was executed. I guess it was a somewhat successful brainwashing.

Oct 30, 2010, 10:14am Top

Cuba from a Fidelista's viewpoint! What a novel idea -- but then the comics have propaganda tools from their earliest history.... Sounds interesting, if not very enlightening.

Edited: Nov 2, 2010, 1:36pm Top

165 - I enjoyed Going After Cacciato which I read as part of a class on odysseys, but The Things They Carried is much, much better. I think the format of interconnected stories helps capture the time and place really well.

Oct 30, 2010, 10:52pm Top

#167 JAJ - Yes, exactly, except it was enlightening, just in an unreliable way.

#168 JPE - Sounds like a great class. I did wish, while reading GAC, that I had read Homer's Odysseus since there were so many apparent references.

Nov 2, 2010, 1:13pm Top

The latest Belletrista was released last night here: http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue8/index.php

I am one of three contributors to the conversation on Touch by Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Touch is small poetic view of life in the West Bank through the eyes of a young girl. This conversation is my first publication of any kind: http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue8/features_4.php

Nov 6, 2010, 1:04pm Top

> 170 Congrats, Dan! It was a wonderful conversation about a really great book!

Nov 9, 2010, 8:27pm Top

Nice, Dan! I'm moving Touch up in my priorities so I can read your conversation.

Nov 9, 2010, 8:52pm Top

Akeela - thanks. Your editing is most appreciated!

detailmuse - I think you'll like it. Perhaps you should read the book first, then read the conversation (then you can read the book again :) )

Edited: Nov 10, 2010, 8:44pm Top

28. Offloading the Wounded by Jeffrey Alfier (2010, 20 pages, read originally September 16 - 27)

Jeff is an online friend who I originally met about four years ago through LT because we both have collections by Larry D. Thomas (I have some reviews posted about Larry, a “real life” friend and superb poet from Texas). A tireless poetry addict, he retired about two years ago and immediately co-founded the San Pedro River Review, a biannual poetry review. He also publishes in various poetry reviews routinely, usually several poems a month. Offloading the Wounded, a chapbook published earlier this year, is his second publication. He has another chapbook on the way.

I’ve yet to figure out how to review poetry. What I can gather from Jeff’s poetry is that it’s very accessible, and often directly influenced of the experiences of his life. His poems are in a way expressive, and exploratory. He seems to be searching for a meaning to life through the efforts of describing what he does see visually, and often capturing what he feels indirectly. His poems often feel as if they must have been therapeutic for him. He actually brought tears to my eyes with a poem earlier this year (not in this collection) about the sudden and tragic death of his ex-wife in a diving accident. It’s a beautiful and powerful poem, and the fact that he got this out, in midst of the grief, and so powerfully, that must say something about how close Jeff’s life is to his poetry…perhaps it also says something about the flow he is in right now.

This collection was probably compiled sometime in 2009. It has a military stream running through it, but not in a combat sense. Jeff comes from a military family; his father is a WWII Air Force veteran, and his daughter is serving in the US military right now and has spent time in Iraq. Jeff writes more from a sideline view, with some tenderness, both as the son of veteran trying to understand his father, and as a parent. This is combined with a rawness that comes from his experiences in the desert in the southwest USA (Arizona/California).

There are 20 single-page poems here. They begin with the Paleo Warrior at Blackwater Draw who watches “a sensuous line of thunderstorms”…“Letting the dark labored miles of his mind unfold.” And they end with parallel themes at Ninemile Canyon, CA in The Father Returning, a poem exploring his father’s suffering of memory loss, and where “Our eyes hunt for storms tumbling above hills.” Hoping the place will stir his father’s memories in such a way that “soothes all perception back into place”…”But what came to him only made him wince.”

We wanted him back, each thought honed and sheer,
nothing faltering on a puzzled tongue,
and his laughs piercing dusk like nightingales,
each spark unmediated by a mind’s

relentless entangling of who and when,
to know us before his eyes lose our names”

Jeff has given me permission to post as many poems as I like here. So, I’ll post two complete ones that stuck with me:

Stuffed Animals

As I get my grandson from his bedroom,
some faraway light falls into his eyes
and I think of luminescent shadows
of ribs and hands in an amnion sea
plumbed by ultrasound, long before his smile
woke to emerging day’s semi-darkness.

His crib is circled with stuffed animals
bought at gift shops of desert museums —
a horse locked in permanent gallop,
a coyote and a mountain lion
sitting among bears in vivid colors
that nature never gave to butterflies.

Toymakers can add smiles to scorpions,
but soon teachers and parents will explain
behaviors of real animals to him:
the lonely prowess of mountain lions,
and intricate courtships of coyotes,
the way bears grace ledges in the foothills;
how the horse could scream at Guernica.

Offloading the Wounded

The clamshell doors of a MEDEVAC jet
unlock slowly in the December wind.
They could be palms forever half-opened,
like some diffident window of Vermeer.
Airmen rise and unfasten a litter.
Gauze marks the re-knit finesse of crushed bone,
the right hand poised as if to finger paint.

Nov 10, 2010, 8:46pm Top

Some info above, in the 1st paragraph is redundant. Apologies, but I wanted it in the review, and didn't want to re-write the intro for this post.

Nov 10, 2010, 9:01pm Top

The last line of "Stuffed Animals" is a killer.

Nov 12, 2010, 8:12pm Top

Gorgeous review, Dan; I love the last line of "Stuffed Animals", as well (I assume that it refers to the horse in Picasso's "Guernica").

Edited: Nov 12, 2010, 9:44pm Top

Jane & Darryl , my thread needs some artwork...

Nov 12, 2010, 9:13pm Top

Except looking at this is getting me depressed....

Nov 12, 2010, 9:21pm Top

Yep. I like Picasso, but I wouldn't put this one in my office or living room.

Edited: Nov 12, 2010, 9:46pm Top

I used to go over to MOMA just to see Guernica when we lived in NYC and before it went back to Spain.
But I wouldn't hang it in my living room either.
I do have this Frida Kahlo hanging in my office:

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 5:50am Top

Jane - I love that. In my brief trip to NYC this past July I somehow managed to tour MOMA without kids. That was an experience.

Here's one I would hang on my wall.

Edited: Nov 12, 2010, 9:50pm Top

Wish I could get rid of that border...

Nov 12, 2010, 9:48pm Top

Ah, the mad passionate one.

Nov 12, 2010, 9:51pm Top

That's better...

Nov 12, 2010, 9:53pm Top

#184 :-)

That is what I love about Van Gogh...and Dostoevsky come to think of it.

Nov 13, 2010, 10:07am Top

oh lovely!

Nov 15, 2010, 10:34am Top

"We've had a ex-hippie metamemoirist. A New Jersey bred novelist. A British linguist. And a hardcore environmentalist/bonobo expert in the past. And we embraced them all. This time, we've got ourselves a southwest poet, Jeffrey C. Alfier, author of Offloading the Wounded: Poems, that the incomparable dchaikin ("Dan") brought to our attention with his fine review. Thank you, Dan!

Dan will be hosting our discussion with Jeff beginning December 7th. So please mark the date. Don't miss it. Do be there."

That lovely intro comes from EnriqueFrique over in the "Le Salon Litteraire du Peuple pour le Peuple" group. I'm organizing the author chat over there with Jeffrey C. Alfier. We have started the thread to prep, which is where the above quote comes from. You can find it here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/102407

I will post a reminder in December.

Edited: Nov 28, 2010, 12:43pm Top

An excerpt from a poem I came across in a 1999 issue of Southwest Review. The poem is titled Reentry by Albert Goldbarth. The excerpt begins and ends in the middle.

It's a fact:
you can't go home again (same river twice, etc.); and if home is a body,
some of us restructuring The Stroll,
The Locomotion, The Watusi, never lived there
at ease to begin with. Not that this cold pour
of realism's waters is enough to douse the glimmering allure
of What Once Was: and by the great prohibitive bandolier-like X
of flaming swords God sets across the Gates, we know

return is one of the original urges, passed down
undiluted from the mythic proto-twosome, to our own enduring
neoroarchitected need for viable reentry
into the hundred of tinny elusive edens
we desire daily. "It's like...sometimes I go wild, and want,"
says gay pal Leigh about her ladylove, "to crawl deep into her
on all fours, slip some funky umbilical hookah-tube inside my lips,
and curl up there in mama swamp" --a want
that's everybody's story, albeit in Leigh's own sexual speak.
Who hasn't sesnsed the neocortex yearn to disevolve and flow
back down the pipes, into the brainstem?

Nov 28, 2010, 10:45am Top

Just to be complete, the poem is published by Goldbarth in a book called Saving Lives: Poems, published in 2001 by Ohio State University Press.

Nov 29, 2010, 4:05pm Top

Isn't Goldbarth the one with the SF memorabilia collection filling his house? I think dukedom bought a volume of his poetry recently...

Nov 30, 2010, 11:22am Top

Lois - Interesting, I don't know anything about him. Wikipedia says he "won National Book Critics Circle award in 1991 and 2001, the only poet to receive the honor two times." Saving Lives was the 2001 winner.

Nov 30, 2010, 3:30pm Top

Dan, you might enjoy this clip from PBS in 2009: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec09/poetry_08-17.html

Watch the interview via the video streaming if you can. This is the piece I remember seeing where they visit his home and vintage space toy collection. He reads some poetry also, I believe. I'm happy to have found it (gee, everything is on the web these days, isn't it?)

Dec 1, 2010, 11:25pm Top

The Planet on the Table
by Wallace Stevens

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were a part.

I came across this in the same issue of Southwest Review (same as post #189). Food for thought...

Dec 1, 2010, 11:31pm Top

#193 - Lois, Thanks you, I really enjoyed that. How interesting that a SF memorabilia fanatic doesn't and has never used a computer.

Dec 2, 2010, 10:11am Top

194> Great poem, Dan -- I hadn't run across that one by Stevens before. I do love his Florida poems -- they're so lush and ambivalent.

Dec 2, 2010, 11:03am Top

Jane -- Ooh, good to know! I think I'll go checkout what's in your book when I get home tonight.

Dec 15, 2010, 1:39am Top

An entity called the VisibleGhost visited your thread, read the unread posts, and is now up to date.

Dec 15, 2010, 9:28am Top

We appreciate the entity's notice of visit. ;)

Dec 15, 2010, 10:01am Top

Something I came across in an issue of The Texas Review (1994, no 1&2). This is from an essay on titled: Reconstructed Vase: Sylvia Plath and New Critical Aestetics by Vicki Graham

But The Colossus* is more than a collection of polished poems written by a promising young poet. Path's arrangement of its poems suggests that she had discovered and was wrestling with an inherent contradiction in New Critical** descriptions of poems as well-craft, unified wholes whose parts have an organic relationship to each other. If a poem is consciously wrought, the book argues, it cannot also be organic; if its parts have grown naturally from one another, then it cannot be crafted.

and later

What makes Plath different from other critics of New Criticism is that she didn't consciously set out to question the aesthetic she had internalized. Rather, she literalized its strictures in an attempt to fulfill them, and it was in the process of doing this that she uncovered and began to struggle with the contradiction she found.*** ... The two halves of Brook's**** definition of the perfect poem—as organic and crafted—line up with clusters already prominent in Plath's work. The image of the poem as a well-crafted, perfectly fused whole corresponds to images of perfection, stasis, sterility and death, concepts that Plath often figured through the image of the pure white virgin; the image of the poem as "something organic like a plant" (or a baby, as Plath extends it) corresponds to images of birth, escape, impulse, and motion, concepts that Plath often figured through the image of the fertile mother.

*circa 1959
**I think this was the publisher
***There's a note here: Margarte Homans, in her Bearing the Word, distinguishes between the literal and figurative used of language, and suggests that women writers may value the literal differently from male writers and even privilege it over the figurative.
****Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks (oldest edition on worldcat.org is 1938)

Dec 15, 2010, 6:38pm Top

Interesting bit on Plath, Dan.

Dec 15, 2010, 9:28pm Top

>198 VisibleGhost:, fanny wandered into the room, shrunk against the wall, and observed everything.

Edited: Dec 15, 2010, 11:56pm Top

Hi Lois. It's a fantastic essay, makes we want to search out her poetry.

Kris - I'll look into getting a comfy chair for next year's thread so maybe you can at least be comfortable...along with a lamp on side table...maybe a window too. The wall looks a bit cold and forlorn.

Thanks, both of you, for stopping by.

Dec 16, 2010, 9:05am Top

Dan - I recently started reading some of Plath's poetry, and I like it. Oddly enough I am neither a woman nor a teenager, so don't fall into the group which her readers are normally associated with. But there is an interesting intensity in what she writes.

The catalyst to me reading her was a line in Theroux's admirable book The Primary Colours:

'The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me...'

Dec 16, 2010, 9:32am Top

Zeno - Is she mostly read by teenagers? Somewhere I've read a few of her poems, and what I remember is they seemed to be more sort of emotional than refined. The Graham essay makes it clear that I was very wrong, her poems are deeply refined, with great struggle. She was a perfectionist who could never seem to get anything perfect enough.

Graham spends a lot of time on the title poem from The Colossus because the main theme is about how she is never able to really reach perfection. I'll post below because it's a fascinating poem in this light (and because I'd like it here for my own reference). The clanging mixture of words, notice "lysol" and "tumuli" in the same stanza, is a reflection of her conflicts.

The Colossus

I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It's worse than a barnyard.

Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.

Scaling little ladders with glue pots and pails of Lysol
I crawl like an ant in mourning
Over the weedy acres of your brow
To mend the immense skull-plates and clear
The bald, white tumuli of your eyes.

A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman Forum.
I open my lunch on a hill of black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are littered

In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stroke
To create such a ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.

(I got his from here: http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/sylviaplath/1441 )

Dec 16, 2010, 11:47am Top

Yes, very nice in itself, and as you say, interesting in light of the context around perfection.

And more references to colour which I always like. Intensity is the other phrase which jumps to mind.

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 5:53am Top

29. Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio (1980, 352 pages, read September 16 - 29)

As I read this three months ago, I can't possible capture it or why I enjoyed this so much. In hindsight it's about the French conquest of North Africa and it's modern aftermath from the point of view of those who lived in the desert and their descendants. But, that's cheating, none of that is explained up front in any way I could tell. Instead we follow a group struggling through the desert and then a young orphaned girl playing alone near the ocean and it's all quite timeless and wandering. This was captivating for me despite the general lack of anything like a plot or suspense. I want to say this was an intentionally reflective work, where the author actually let the text wander around with the purpose of allowing us to think or meditate, to insist that we do. I'm not sure that's true, just my take.

Edited: Dec 20, 2010, 8:52pm Top

30. Touch by Adania Shibli (2002, 72 pages, read Oct 8, and again Oct 9-12)
Translated by Paula Haydar

A series of short sketches with only indirect links about a rather sad young girl in the Palestinian West Bank, this was curious the first time through, poetic, difficult the grasp or find meaning from, very quick, and then suddenly I found myself reading about the Palestinian response to Sabra and Shatila*. I read it through again, and third time, and skimmed back through several times and things begin to make sense, the links became stronger, the picture got clearer and the language Shibli uses began to have more meaning and reveal itself as not simply poetic, but layered, complex, and it does that thing some authors can do where it, the language, can communicate something very dark and yet be, itself, quite beautiful.

I read this for belletrista in order to take part in one of the conversations belletrista published. A first for me, both this kind of conversation and the being published. That was fun. You can find the conversation, originally posted above in post #170, here


Edited: Dec 20, 2010, 9:51pm Top

I need to review Desert, which I read earlier this month. I found it to be a damning indictment of the effects of colonialism, on the tribe that was displaced by French colonialists for their country's profit, and the effects that it had on north Africans years later, who were all but forced to migrate to Europe to seek better lives. I'll review it later this week, after I finish my review for Belletrista.

I enjoyed Touch; I can't remember if I wrote a review of it or not, and I need to read the Belletrista conversation about it.

Dec 21, 2010, 8:07am Top

Darryl - yes, definitely. I sort of had that in mind as an assumed conclusion of sorts; I have trouble envisioning a book about Africa as anything but damning towards towards Europe.

Dec 21, 2010, 9:37pm Top

31. Barefoot Gen, Volume Five : The Never-Ending War by Keiji Nakazawa (1975, 268 pages, read Sept 25-Oct 26)
Translated by Project Gen (a volunteer group) in 2007

Sorry, nothing interesting to say. Volumes 1 & 2 colored my whole year in 2009 and so I'm making my way through all ten volumes. But the affect was not so dramatic in this one. It's a graphic novel, so it was still easy to pick up and get into and easy to put down, but it never really caught my attention and ended up being the book I read while my son was at indoor soccer practice...which means I was distracted and didn't give it proper focus.

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 10:04pm Top

32. San Pedro River Review : Vol 2 No 2, Fall 2010 (76 pages, read Sept 27 - Oct 29)
edited by Jeffrey C. Alfier & Tobi R. Cogswell

This seemed like a strong issue, there were just so many poems that really got my attention and a few that hung around awhile. This is the fourth and biggest issue of this review. I won't say much else as I reviewed Vol 1 No 1 above, in post #137.

To find a list of all (49) contributors, go here: http://www.sprreview.com/page1/page4.html

Edited: Dec 21, 2010, 10:03pm Top

If you hadn't noticed, I've run out of 2010 time, and I'm just trying to catch up with my reviews before the year ends. So, these last four review-lets have all been quick and dirty...or less.

Dec 22, 2010, 7:54am Top

A few days left! I know what you mean though. I'm still hoping to finish a few things before the end of the year but it's looking unlikely. Well said about "Touch".

Dec 22, 2010, 9:36am Top

> 208 An interesting conversation you had there at belletrista about this intriguing book. Now i have to find a copy for myself...

I've read 2 books related to Sabra and Chatila which you might want to look into. For the context and a background of the events that lead to the massacre, there is Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. Fisk devotes 2 chapters on the background and on what he saw when he entered the camps (he was one of the first to report what happened). Then there is Ari Folman's graphic novel Waltz with Bashir depicting his own experience as one of the Israeli soldiers who arrived at the scene, but only after the Phalangists had practically decimated the residents.

Dec 22, 2010, 9:42am Top

deebee1, thanks! There is also a rather (all too) vivid fictional account in De Niro's Game, the 2008 IMPAC Dublin winner by Rawi Hage.

Dec 22, 2010, 9:45am Top

#214 Lois - Thanks, re Touch. My biggest problem is I have two Early Reviewers and Brothers Karamazov the review - all of which I'd really like to put some extra time into.

Dec 22, 2010, 5:50pm Top

Great review of Touch, still trying to catch up with conversation in Bellerista. Usually poetic prose is something I stay away from, but I'll have to look into this a bit more.

Edited: Dec 24, 2010, 10:10pm Top

Inspired by citygirl, this is my own "best cover competition". It's not Democratic, and I don't accept votes, but comments and suggestions are welcome. You can suggest other books not nominated, as long as I read it in 2010.

Nominations are:

Rules - must be a book I've read this year.
Key challenge - which cover most makes you want to read the book. Just covers - ignore anything else you may know about the book, or the author.

Dec 24, 2010, 10:29pm Top

I'm attracted to the Papa Sartre. But the Nobel Prize add-on is the one I'd want to read most. (not to mention, I've read and not liked one of 'em) :o)

Edited: Dec 24, 2010, 10:39pm Top

#220 - Jenny, which one didn't you like?

Dec 25, 2010, 1:19pm Top

I would choose The River of Lost Footsteps I like the color

Dec 26, 2010, 4:46am Top

Personally, I'd pick up Field Work, The Quickening and The Passport based on the covers.

Field Work because I like maps, The Quickening because of the colours and the air of mystery. However The Passport would be my favourite - a cross between The Bicycle Thief and a Lartigue image.

Dec 26, 2010, 9:13am Top

I didn't really care for The Quickening-- the writing seemed too forced for me.

Dec 26, 2010, 5:30pm Top

#223 Zeno - I had to look up Lartigue and The Bicycle Thief. That one was my favorite of these books.
#224 Jenny - I think it was forced, but there was something real there too. First I wanted to fling it across the room, but then it hung around me a while.

Dec 27, 2010, 1:07pm Top

Sorry, late to the party. Pesky holidays and relatives.

Hmmm, somebody likes bicycles.

I've never heard of any of the books whose covers you've offered.

I would pick up the Sulphur River first b/c I would want to know what that picture represented. It's so...cyclonic, it's tossign people around.

I would pick up Papa Sartre next because it's a wonderful photograph, and it's in a bar, and I'm always attracted to bars. I'm especially attracted to pictures of handsome men in bars (but not to actual handsome men in bars, cuz I'm married).

I might look at the River of Lost Footsteps.

Field Work could go either way. And I would turn away from The Quickening and The Passport because they look like every other cover of literary fiction on the tables in Barnes & Noble.

Now: for the covers of your reading this year that you did not offer. Discounting the ones with actors on the covers and those that I have on my own bookshelves, I would pick up and investigate the following:

Desert; Fidel; Tinkers - the cover is so stark and understated I'd think there was some real power in the words; Book of My Nights; King of Light; Birdie's Big Girl Shoes - for obvious reasons, as in, nice stiletto; Across the Endless River; Time to Pee! - there's an attention getter; Let's Do Nothing; and the gorgeous The Sound of Colors.

Edited: Dec 28, 2010, 9:55am Top

citygirl - I should add Time To Pee!, big oversight.

I love that Sulphur River picture. It's a collage of 19th-century illustrations. As a cover, however, as simply a picture pasted on and not integrated with the words, it's only OK, I think. Papa Sartre is mainly there because my wife, the graphic-designer, liked it. I had forgotten about it.

I probably should have added Tinkers, a terrific cover. I liked Fidel, but it's a bit disturbing too. I'm mixed on Desert - I would have preferred some sand.

As for the children's books....that's a whole new story. Maybe I should do a cover challenge for those too...actually children's book emphasize the art and tend to have wonderful covers. The Sound of Colors is wonderful and Jimmy Liao was a favorite children's book author/illustrator find this year.

Dec 28, 2010, 10:41am Top

I like your wife's taste in book covers, because that really is a very nice one, one that I would turn over.

And yes! Do a kids' book cover challenge!

I didn't find the Fidel cover disturbing. It was more like: why is Fidel a cartoon?

Dec 29, 2010, 5:20pm Top

I like Field Work personally - definitely a map person.

Edited: Jan 1, 2011, 10:18pm Top

#228 "It was more like: why is Fidel a cartoon? " ... :)

OK, my winner is The Passport...some bias because I loved the book. But, somehow the out-of-focus profile sticks around, and does different things. Runner up is Field Work, because, like Jane(PE), I'm a map person and it's a really interesting, if for me indecipherable, map.

Pondering children's books' covers...

also, I'm beginning to be active in my 2011 thread, here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/104839

Edited: Jan 1, 2011, 10:35pm Top

best children's book covers of 2010...maybe it's too late for this one...well, here are my nominees:


and, of course,...

last year's winner would have been:

****this picture doesn't do the cover justice...

Jan 2, 2011, 12:50pm Top

Jan 2, 2011, 1:19pm Top

And The Sound of Colors; looks like an adventure.

Jan 2, 2011, 3:13pm Top

The Sound of Colors. I don't even need to read the book. I'd just look at the pictures.

Jan 2, 2011, 6:18pm Top

When the Moon Forgot looks like Maurice Sendak. The synaesthesia in The Sound of Colors is great, but I like the cover of Kate and the Beanstalk best.

Jan 2, 2011, 10:55pm Top

I can't help it. On a prima facie (I think) basis the lion wins.


Jan 5, 2011, 8:35am Top

#232-235 - When the Moon Forgot & The Sound of Colors are both by Jimmy Liao, an absolutely wonderful discovery of ours last year. "When the Moon Forgot" was my favorite picture book find last year. The premise is that the moon fell from the sky and becomes a boy's toy for a while; meanwhile the rest of the world handles this by manufacturing moons so everyone can have one, which is fun, but then they get old and less interesting... Jane - I think the cover's resemblance of Sendak's Max must be intentional.

I prefer the cover of The Sound of Colors though. This one is the story of an older woman who is going blind, and doesn't feel precisely directed at children. But both Liao books were big hits with my, at the time, 5-yr-old daughter.

As for a winner, I'm going with The Lion and the Mouse. I didn't intend to pick it when I made the post above, but I just love how is glares as the other covers in the post (assuming they all line up on your screen).

It's time to move on to 2011 - http://www.librarything.com/topic/104839

Group: Club Read 2010

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