Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Random thoughts #1

I thought I had previously written a post with short, disparate thoughts, but apparently not.  I imagine I will again when I don't quite have enough for a proper post on any one subject.

Going back over the graphic novel post, I realized that I didn't mention that I felt like a bit of an outcast, particularly by high school.  I never really made much of an attempt to fit in, and I often was a bit of a jerk about how easy school was for me.  But I was kind of a brainy freak at the time (taking college calculus in 10th grade and also excelling in science, history and English), so the superheros that mostly had psychic powers were right up my alley.  Professor Xavier was an obvious character to glom onto, though quite a few other heroes were quite bright (The Beast, Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards, Bruce Banner (when not the Hulk), Tony Stark (inventor of the Iron Man suit) and apparently Mr. Terrific (though he wasn't a character that I was aware of as a kid)).

This didn't last forever.  I floundered a bit in college, after running into kids that were just as smart or smarter than me.  I never wanted to transfer and go to a smaller pond, but I did have to apply myself a bit more.  And that is really when I picked up a bad case of insomnia.  I'm not even sure I could say I have insomnia anymore.  I am generally so sleep deprived, that I fall asleep almost instantly, but that wasn't the case in college.  Anyway, that is something that I have in common with Mr. X -- in fact his defining characteristic is that he has invented some anti-sleep serum.  In my middle age, this no longer appeals to me, but I would have absolutely snapped it up in my 20s.  I often thought (back then) it would be great to be a robot that essentially ran off electricity and didn't need sleep -- or food.

I only have 100 more pages before I will be done with Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy.  I am pretty excited to be nearly at the end.  (Not quite as excited as I will be to have read Proust, but still pretty excited.)  I didn't care much for the middle volume, but I've generally been enjoying the last volume quite a bit, even though it is a bit short and skips over a lot.  I'll have a full post soon with my review.

One of the main elements in the book is the father demanding respect from his wife and children.  While it isn't usually phrased so bluntly, it is kind of intriguing that letters to advice columnists (and even moreso the feedback from readers) tend to break into two camps -- those that feel respect is due to one's elders vs. those who feel respect must be earned -- that it is not automatically granted.  Like many things, people can be divided into various camps, but there is clearly one split among Americans between those who are fairly respectful of authority, rule-bound, and generally though not always religious and politically conservative and those who are more independent and who aren't particularly bound by tradition.  There's no question where I fall, but it's probably true that society wouldn't function without a fairly large number of conservative-types who hold things together.  It's just such a shame that so many of them hold such backwards religious views.

I am still getting my thoughts together on Detroit and its problems; I'll have a post on that fairly soon.  I'll end with how bummed I was that I ended up giving away a huge stack of CDs of New Wave music.  The guys at the store said there was no market for it anymore.  To be fair, they've bought quite a few jazz CDs off me, but the music of my childhood is totally passé, despite the fact it is so much better than the junk on the radio now.  (Just a couple of days ago there were huge disruptions in Vancouver because One Direction was playing Rogers Arena.  Blah. I truly feel sad for today's children who follow One Direction or worse the Biebster.  It looks like I am going to be one of those grumpy parents who refuses to let my kids go to concerts unless I think the musicians actually can play their own instruments and perhaps even write their own songs.)

I am also still recovering from the weekend.  No, it wasn't two days of reckless hedonism.  On Sat., I visited Deep Cove and did the Baden Powell Trail to Overlook Point or Rock or something.  I hadn't really come prepared for this, though I did grab a couple of bottles of water for the hike, which proved to be quite essential, as it was pretty warm.  Then on Sunday I biked from my house to Jericho Park to see a play (Women Beware Women).  I knew it was pretty far, but it felt a lot further than I had counted on.  I took the Canada Line partway on the way there, so at least I avoided the worst of the hills, but then somewhat stupidly biked the whole way back.  I'm still feeling the burn today.

I guess I had thought Middleton's Women Beware Women was a comedy along the lines of School for Scandal or She Stoops to Conquer.  However, I half-skimmed a positive review of the production and found that it was actually a tragedy more along the lines of other outré Jacobean tragedies like The Duchess of Malfi, so I was somewhat prepared.  I won't spoil the plot beyond noting that the final body count isn't too far off from Hamlet (which I am seeing at the end of August at Bard on the Beach) but that the final act seems a bit rushed and clumsy compared to the ending of Hamlet.  And the tone is quite strange.  The first 75% is a fairly cynical comedy similar to School for Scandal.  Then out of nowhere, the Duke's brother (a Cardinal) comes to scold him and put him back on the path of righteousness.  Here we go again, I am thinking -- a bizarre plot intrusion, not unlike the stupid cop-out plot twist ending of As You Like It (which really ruins for me an otherwise decent comedy).  However, the Duke is more cynical than one might imagine and keeps the vow he made to his brother by using out-of-the-box thinking.  In that sense, this Jacobean play lives up to its billing of being somewhat darker than Shakespeare.  It does, however, still have the pacing problem of suddenly switching over to tragic mode a bit too abruptly.  Middleton also "cheats" in the sense there is an additional treacherous act that simply happens without being set-up beforehand.  This isn't uncommon in contemporary drama, but didn't happen much in plays of the period.  (To be fair, it is possible that the director just cut a scene to get the length down, and I will check it out soon.  It appears that there is a short aside by Bianca covering this, though we don't see the prelude of her talking to her co-conspirators.  I think this was a poor place for the director to cut the play, since it is so unlike the way Shakespearean or Jacobean tragedy typically unfolds.  It would have added at most 3 minutes to the total time.  Ok, now I read the ending again, and the director changed a lot, including adding in another death!  Maybe there is a variant floating around with this alternate ending (which isn't horrible as these things go), but really that is a bit much.  I was pretty happy with the performance, but a lot less so now that I am aware of this.)

Still, I thought the company did quite a good job with the play, ending aside.  I see that next summer they are doing Middleton's The Changeling, and two other plays I wouldn't mind seeing.  I really can't predict if I will be in Vancouver next July and if I will have any free time at all above and beyond packing up for books and CDs, but I will at least keep them in mind for next summer.  (However, I'm definitely just taking the bus next time and not biking out there.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Comics (i.e. graphic novels)

For better or (mostly) worse, I am a bit of a completist.  I tend to get kind of wrapped up in a particular film-maker or author and then want to go through all their work.  (To say nothing of all the jazz (mostly hard bop) CDs in my house.  That was a crazy obsession only now dying off.)  Since I do have some self-awareness about this, there are certain things I simply try not to get into.  Even as a kid, there were 3 or so lines of Spiderman comics, and who knows how many Batman spin-offs.  Knowing that I would not be fulfilled without all of them, I wisely never tried to collect any of the comics.

I really owned very few comics as a child perhaps because my allowance wasn't that large.  (I had a handful of Star Wars action figures, but nothing like a complete set!)  The only comic book I did follow to some extent was Uncanny X-Men.  I had a very small number of X-Men comics (roughly issues 123-137, which was a pretty good run).  I liked X-Men for all kinds of reasons, but not least of which was that if you only followed for that short run, you saw heroes dealing with loss of power and fights with fatal/tragic consequences.  Obviously, if you follow any comic long enough, even the deadest hero (and especially villain) comes back for more.  Same thing with Doctor Who where villains are resurrected after 20+ years.  In a way, it is a real shame, as some of these storylines had the beginning of the makings of real literature, but then they were totally undermined by later writers who wanted to reverse these "permanent" bits of the canon.  In some ways, that just proves the point of those that consider comic books immature kids' stuff -- it is just wish fulfillment in a world where ultimately there are no  meaningful consequences.  I have to agree that in the last couple of decades it has gotten particularly bad with multiple universes where nothing has impact on the main (canonical) storyline.  And reboot after reboot (though this seems more problematic in films than comics).

Over time, I read some of the more serious graphic novels, especially Moore's Watchmen and Miller's Dark Knight Returns (probably in college not too long after each came out).  I think Watchmen does a slightly better job in coming up with a world with consequences.  Dark Knight Returns is still too much a part of the DC world where even death is ultimately reversible in some fashion.  Both of them opened the doors for darker plots and the Miller also had a grungier look.  I'm not entirely sure where I would put Neil Gaiman.  Most of his stuff is still largely wish-fulfillment (even if they are very dark dreams indeed in Sandman) but he certainly aspires to be more literary.  I have not made an attempt to read through all the Sandman books (again, knowing my limits).

I actually have only a very few comics that I still follow today.  Perhaps the one that I have been tracking the longest is Futurama from Bongo Comics.  Naturally enough they are the ones that publish all the Simpsons comics as well.  The first issues came out towards the end of 2000, maybe a year after Futurama aired on Fox.  It was more of a supplement to the shows (and definitely not as well written), but then in the dark years when Futurama was cancelled, I did find myself enjoying it more.  Then I moved away from Chicago and it became much harder to track down.  I do occasionally search out back issues, but didn't feel quite as obligated when the show was renewed.  I definitely don't feel I need a complete set, which is probably just as well.  I estimate I have 40 or so of the 60+ issues in the series.  Ironically, it is in the comics rather than the show that they still make deliveries to other planets and encounter new aliens.  They almost never seem to leave New New York on the tv show.  This is only a slight exaggeration.  While they do occasionally leave Earth in the episodes since the "Rebirth" episode, I can think of only a single episode that had anything at all to do with package delivery -- "Mobius Dick."  I do think that is a bit unfortunate. 

The other long-running serial in my collection is Girl Genius, which came out in early 2001.  In fact, in those days when not everything was on the web, I might not even have come across it, except I was spending more time in comics shops (due to Futurama).  Anyway, Girl Genius was by Phil Foglio, who I have been reading since his early days, though I didn't follow him regularly until 2001.  He drew What's New with Phil & Dixie for Dragon Magazine way, way, way back in the day (early 80s).  At some point I found out about Buck Godot (probably after I started reading Foglio again with the emergence of Girl Genius).  I collected the first 5 trade paperbacks of Girl Genius, but kind of stopped after it went to its web-based format.  I do like Girl Genius for its cheeky style, though I find the plot does drag quite a bit some months.  They are seriously contemplating that this be a 20-year arc (i.e. they are only about halfway into the story)!  It is certainly the most amusing steampunk comic I read (though the field is narrow).  On the whole, I have a slight preference for Buck Godot, though it doesn't look likely that Phil will ever do anymore in that line, but never say never.

The other writer I follow with some regularity is Dean Motter, who is best known for Mister X and the closely related Electropolis and Terminal City.  I think occasionally these comics suffer for having more style than substance. That is, they draw fairly heavily on German expressionism, starting obviously with Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and mixes it up with film noir motifs (this is particularly true of Electropolis).  The cityscapes are haunting and sometimes disorienting.  Mister X takes this a step further, making the main character an architect (if his story is true perhaps) who feels responsible for the way that Radiant City is affecting people negatively -- if they had only followed his plans, the fools!  As the comics progress, you find that no one is a reliable narrator and that few people are who they say they are.  Definitely feels a bit like The Prisoner going down the rabbit hole at times.  I came to this comic fairly late (probably because it was recommended for fans of Transmetropolitan) and built up my collection.  The core are two series of comics - a 14 comic series begun in 1984 and then volume 2 with 13 comics begun in 1989.  There were a few one-offs and then a short 4-episode run in 1996.  Then Motter largely turned his attention to Terminal City and Electropolis.  Around 2008, Motter essentially rebooted the series with Mister X Condemned, which has been followed by Hard Candy and Eviction.

The best overview of what is out there, including a recent reboot to the series around its 25th anniversary can be found at Motter's website.  This does focus more on the trade paperbacks and anthologies one would need to collect Mister X (about 4 now by my count -- Mr. X Archives, The Brides of Mr. X, Condemned and Eviction, which would collect essentially everything except the 1996 4-part series -- not a bad way to go).  However, these collections weren't around when I got into the comic, so I compiled my collection at Chicago comic shops and on-line.  For a detailed book by book accounting of the series, go here.  I actually had done a better job than I thought, and it turns out I was only one book short from a complete collection of Vols. 1-3, so I ended up scoring that last week.  My interest is definitely cyclical...  I definitely don't think the comics are for everybody, as the plots are quite convoluted, and since they occasionally reverse themselves, they can be frustrating.  It doesn't pay to get too connected to any particular character, as none of them have particularly "good" or noble motivations.

I already mentioned Transmetropolitan.  I suspect I was tipped off to this at a New York comic shop.  The main character is a reporter (or at least a media presence) who is fairly indifferent to personal interest stories (and even the impact he has on sources as he chases after stories) but who really loves to speak truth to power.  He's sort of an antihero with a bit of the hero hidden inside (actually not all that uncommon for comics from this period -- late 90s and beyond).  Artists working in this media still have trouble really writing true antiheroes.  I think in their hearts they realize that the audience for even fringier comics like Transmetropolitan still expects a certain morality at base.  It's really hard to move past that.  Perhaps the closest writers get to this is when they write characters who have an Olympian perspective (like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen) who still can be considered "moral" but who operate at a scale quite different from those of us here on the ground.  While the city is truly an awful one as portrayed in this comic (maybe even more out-of-control and certainly more drug-fueled than Miller's Gotham City), the artwork is a bit closer to Watchmen (more controlled, cleaner pencilling, etc.)

I honestly have no recollection of how I learned of the next comic that I followed (or tried to follow): Fall Out Toy Works. The most likely link was seeing a random story about Pete Wentz (the lyricist for Fall Out Boy) in the Reader or another Chicago paper, as Fall Out Boy is still a Chicago-based band.  It was actually fairly hard finding these comics (5 total) in local comics shops, since they were on an imprint (Image) with very limited distribution (even less than Bongo, which often has its own shelf).  In the end, I only tracked down 3.  On the other hand, the trade paperback collecting all 5 issues is still available and generally goes for a song.  This is perhaps the most conventional of the comics I followed in that it was a fairly simple story of an inventor who made a female robot for a client, then fell in love with her and tried to reneg on the deal (shades of Pygmalion and Galatea).  Its artwork is much more manga-based (think the sequels to Ghost in the Shell) and is not steampunk at all.  I suppose I wanted to see how well or poorly the whole robot-romance thing was handled, since it can be so squicky.  (This general plot line plays a small part in a book I am working on.)

Anyway, every time I looked for Toy Works on Amazon, it would direct me to Umbrella Academy, almost certainly because of the rock star link.  This comic is the brainchild of Gerard Way of the group My Chemical Romance.  So I finally checked this comic out.  It is definitely interesting, but nothing at all like Toy Works.  It is a SF universe with children (later adults) with super powers (and even some time travel).  There is a robot, who was sort of a nanny to the children (and this is a bit of a recurring theme, as there was a construct who played the same role in Girl Genius), but she is a very, very minor character.  But the similarity pretty much stops there.  Umbrella Academy may be the darkest mainstream thing I have read, mostly because most of the characters really seem to have a nihilistic outlook (and their actions are consistent with this outlook unlike Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan who essentially just plays at being a nihilist).  It's almost refreshing that way in being more consistent, if very dark.  I suppose you can't have a comic about people who don't care about anything at all, and what Way seems to do is to play with the concept of family.  They probably seriously don't care about the larger world at all, but most of the characters have a powerful love/hate relationship with the other orphans from the "academy" that became a bit of a family.  I suppose you could say this is stolen from X-Men, and I couldn't really argue against that point too much.  The look of Umbrella Academy is sort of a hybrid of Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

So I have managed to keep the scope of my interest in comics to a fairly restricted set, which is good (both in terms of my time and my spending money).  Most of these aren't even active titles.  At the moment only Girl Genius and Futurama are still on-going, though Motter has resurrected Mister X in a limited way.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

All the Books on the Shelves - pt5 (Fiction P-Z)

This concludes my book listings.  I think it will be a long time (if ever) before I list the urban studies and history books.  But never say never.

Grace Paley R Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
Goffredo Parise R Abecedary
Goffredo Parise R Solitudes
Octavio Paz The Collected Poems 1957-87
Marge Piercy Circles on the Water
Marge Piercy Circles on the Water: Selected Poems
Marge Piercy R Stone, Paper, Knife
Marge Piercy R The Moon is Always Female
Marge Piercy R My Mother's Body
Marge Piercy R The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing
Robert Pinsky R Gulf Music
Robert Pinsky R Jersey Rain
Sylvia Plath R The Collected Poems
Katherine Porter Collected Stories and Other Writings (Flowering Judas and Other Stories; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; The Leaning Tower)
Katherine Porter R Ship of Fools (another book I probably ought to reread but not this year)
Dawn Powell A Time To be Born
Dawn Powell Novels 1944-1962 (My Home Is Far Away; The Locusts Have No King; The Wicked Pavilion; and The Golden Spur)
John Cowper Powys Wolf Solent
Marcel Proust R Remembrance of Things Past (no longer on the shelves)
Al Purdy Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy
Barbara Pym R Some Tame Gazelle
Barbara Pym R Excellent Women
Barbara Pym R Jane and Prudence
Barbara Pym R Less than Angels
Barbara Pym R A Glass of Blessings
Barbara Pym R No Fond Return of Love
Barbara Pym R An Academic Question
Barbara Pym R Quartet in Autumn
Barbara Pym R The Sweet Dove Died
Thomas Pynchon R The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon R Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon R V
Rabelais R Gargantua and Pantagruel
Revell From the Abandoned Cities
Charles Reznikoff R Poems 1918-75
Adrienne Rich R Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law
Adrienne Rich R Diving into the Wreck
Adrienne Rich R The Dream of a Common Language
Adrienne Rich R A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far
Adrienne Rich R The Fact of a Doorframe
Adrienne Rich R Your Native Land, Your Life
Adrienne Rich R Time's Power
Adrienne Rich R From an Atlas of the Difficult World
Adrienne Rich R Dark Fields of the Republic
Adrienne Rich Midnight Salvage
Adrienne Rich Fox
Adrienne Rich School Among the Ruins
Adrienne Rich Telephone Ringing
Adrienne Rich Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (probably I have read her last 5 collections but ought to reread anyway as I kind of rushed through them)
Adrienne Rich On Lies, Secrets and Science
Adrienne Rich What is Found There
Alberto Rios Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses
Rilke R Sonnets to Orpheus
Rilke R The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Rilke Ahead of All Parting (Selected Poetry and Prose)
Rilke New Poems 1907
Rilke New Poems 1908
Rimbaud R Complete Works
Theodore Roethke Collected Poems
Gabrielle Roy R The Cashier
Gabrielle Roy R The Tin Flute
Gabrielle Roy R Street of Riches
Vita Sackville-West No Signposts In The Sea
Carl Sandburg R Chicago Poems
Tony Sanders R Transit Authority
Gjertrud Schnackenberg R The Throne of Labdacus
Grace Schulman The Paintings of Our Lives
James Schuyler Selected Poems
David Sedaris R Holidays on Ice
Jaroslav Seifert The Poetry of J. Seifert
Anne Sexton R The Complete Poems
Ntozake Shange R Ridin' the Moon in Texas
Harvey Shapiro R The Sights Along the Harbor
Karl Shapiro R Selected Poems
Carol Shields R Unless
Charles Simic Dime-Store Alchemy
Charles Simic R Selected Poems, Expanded
Charles Simic The Voice at 3:00 AM
Charles Simic R The World Doesn't End
Charles Simic R The Book of Gods and Devils
Charles Simic R Hotel Insomnia
Charles Simic R A Wedding in Hell
Charles Simic R Walking the Black Cat
Charles Simic R Night Picnic
Charles Simic R My Noiseless Entourage
Charles Simic R That Little Something
Charles Simic The Monster Loves His Labyrinth
Sue Sinclair R Mortal Arguments
Josef Skvorecky R The Bass Saxophone
Josef Skvorecky The Miracle Game
Tess Slesinger R The Unpossessed
Tobias Smollett R Humpry Clinker
Gary Snyder R Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
Gary Snyder R Axe Handles
Gary Snyder R The Back Country
Gary Snyder R Regarding Wave
Gary Snyder No Nature: New and Selected Poems
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn R One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Patrick Somerville R The Universe in Miniature in Miniature
Soseki I am a Cat
Gary Soto R The Elements of San Joaquin
Gary Soto R The Tale of Sunlight
John Steinbeck The Pastures of Heaven
John Steinbeck To a God Unknown
John Steinbeck Tortilla Flat
John Steinbeck In Dubious Battle
John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck The Long Valley (stories)
John Steinbeck The Log from the Sea of Cortez
John Steinbeck The Harvest Gypsies
John Steinbeck The Moon Is Down
John Steinbeck R Cannery Row
John Steinbeck The Pearl
John Steinbeck East of Eden
John Steinbeck The Wayward Bus
John Steinbeck Burning Bright
John Steinbeck Sweet Thursday
John Steinbeck The Winter of Our Discontent
John Steinbeck R Travels with Charley in Search of America
Sterne R Tristram Shandy
Wallace Stevens Collected Poetry and Prose
William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair
Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood
Dylan Thomas Collected Poems
Dylan Thomas Collected Stories
Leo Tolstoy R Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy R Great Short Works (including The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Devil and The Kreutzer Sonata)
John Kennedy Toole R A Confederacy of Dunces
Anthony Trollope The Warden & Barchester Towers
Anthony Trollope The Way We Live Now
Mark Twain Unabridged Twain vol 1. (including The Innocents Abroad, R Tom Sawyer, R Huck Finn, The Prince & the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)
Mark Twain Unabridged Twain vol 2. (including The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, R Life on the Mississippi, R Extracts from Adam's Diary & Eve's Diary, and Roughing It)
Mark Twain The Gilded Age and Later Novels (including The American Claimant; Tom Sawyer Abroad; Tom Sawyer, Detective; No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger)
Thrity Umrigar Bombay Time
John Updike The Rabbit novels (Rabbit Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest)
John Updike The Afterlife
Constance Urdang R The Lone Woman
Constance Urdang R Only the World
Constance Urdang R Alternative Lives
Mario Vargas Llosa R The Green House
Virgil The Aeneid
Ivan Vladislavic R The Restless Supermarket
Ivan Vladislavic The Exploded View
Ivan Vladislavic Propaganda by Monuments
Elizabeth Von Arnim The Enchanted April
Kurt Vonnegut Novels & Stories 1950-62 (Player Piano; R The Sirens of Titan; Mother Night)
Kurt Vonnegut Novels & Stories 1963-1973 (R Cat's Cradle; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; R Slaughterhouse-Five; Breakfast of Champions)
Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence
Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited
Evelyn Waugh Vile Bodies
Evelyn Waugh Black Mischief
Evelyn Waugh Scoop
Evelyn Waugh The Loved One
Evelyn Waugh The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold
Edmund White Trilogy (A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony)
Edmund White Skinned Alive
Walt Whitman R Leaves of Grass
John Edgar Wideman The Stories of J.E. Wideman
Tennessee Williams Collected Stories
Tennessee Williams R In the Winter of Cities
William Carlos Williams In the American Grain
William Carlos Williams Selected Poems
Tom Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities
Maritta Wolff Night Shift
Maritta Wolff Sudden Rain
Maritta Wolff Whistle Stop
V. Woolf R Mrs. Dalloway
V. Woolf R To the Lighthouse
Wordsworth The Prelude and other Poems
James Wright Above the River: Complete Poems
Richard Yates Collected Stories
W.B. Yeats R The Poems of Yeats
Yictove R D.J. Soliloquy
Sol Yurick R The Bag
Stefan Zweig The Post Office Girl
Stefan Zweig The World of Yesterday
Stefan Zweig Selected Stories
Zukofsky A
Zukofsky Complete Shorter Poetry

So it appears to be 82/203 or approximately 40% for the last batch. This makes a grand total of 265/713 or just over 37% as of today.  The drama is actually harder to count precisely, but was around 150 items.  Certainly if I add in the books in boxes (and by/under the bed) this pushes the literature well over 1000.  So I still have some slimming down to do. 

Prelude to Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy

I am just over 50% done with reading Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy.  It's been a bit of a monkey on my back for a while, and I am excited to have finally delved into it.  I think I'll hold off from too much in the way of exposition or deep thoughts on the novel until a later post.  I have slightly conflicted feelings about the trilogy, so I want to read a bit more to see which way I break.  Interestingly, the novels actually get shorter as they go on.  Unlike some multi-generational novels, Mahfouz doesn't really pick up and follow after the grandchildren.  He's content to stick with the 7 characters in the original nuclear family, and thus there is less to write about as they start shuffling off this mortal coil...

In the meantime, one thing I found out from the individual volumes (which wasn't mentioned in the massive one-volume book from Everyman's Library) is that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the primary editor of the translations.  It hadn't crossed my mind at all that she was an editor, particularly not of these particular books.  It turns out that as soon as Aristotle Onassis died,* she decided to re-enter the workforce and called some friends to get her into publishing.  It took a few years, but she became quite a serious book editor and did this for nearly 20 years.  This is recounted in two dueling books (Jackie as Editor by Greg Lawrence and Reading Jackie by William Kuhn).  I am not quite intrigued enough to actually read either of these books, but maybe I will browse through to see if they list her work in an appendix to see if she did any other "serious" books aside from Mahfouz (and if she was involved with translations of his work beyond The Cairo Trilogy).

Everyone quoted in the reviews of these books say she was a conscientious editor and someone who just loved books (and filled her apartment with them).  That was never really part of my enduring image of her, but I think that is pretty cool.

Another interesting fact is that the Cairo Trilogy wasn't translated until 1991.  That's really quite a gap between the original (published in serial form in the late 50s) and when English-speakers could read Mahfouz's master work.  Certainly it is a shame it took so long.**  In many ways, it probably is just as well that I waited such a long time to really get deep into Mahfouz, as quite a few of his novels have only recently made it into translation.  The American University in Cairo Press has really poured a lot of resources into this project, and now virtually all of Mahfouz's major works have now been translated (far more than when I first became aware of Mahfouz from an old QPB club edition of Midaq Alley, The Thief and the Dogs and Miramar -- I probably snagged this in the early 90s).  Sometimes being that "late adopter" does pay off, since I can pretty much read all his work straight through in sequence, though I probably will need to reread Midaq Alley, since that one I read back in the 90s and don't recall it well at all.

* It certainly sounds as if Aristotle had a lot of personal issues in common with the father in The Cairo Trilogy, which makes her involvement that much more intriguing.  (I'll go into this in more detail in a follow-up post.)

** I was actually going to say it was a bit of a scandal in that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, largely for the Cairo Trilogy, and no one could find decent translations of his work.  But in fact, he won the Nobel quite late in life (1988), and that is almost certainly what led to his being translated in the first place (the QPB volume rounded up a few novels that had been translated already and then a few other novels were translated and then the Cairo Trilogy translation was undertaken).  Perhaps of all the Nobel winners, he might actually have gotten the biggest boost.  Usually poets who win get a bit more respect (and maybe a selected poems in translation) but this fame is transient.  Most of the other novelists (not writing in English) were already fairly well-known and had much of their work in translation.  With Mahfouz, however, the Nobel worked the way it perhaps was always intended to, to spark the interest of the rest of the world and to get a few critical works in translation, then this translated into a sustained readership (and legacy) outside his (or her) home country.

Friday, July 19, 2013

All the Books on the Shelves - pt4 (Fiction K-O)

Kafka R Complete Short Stories
Kafka R Amerika
Kafka R The Castle
Kafka R The Trial
Layding Kaliba R The Moon is My Witness 
Jane Kenyon R From Room to Room
Jane Kenyon Collected Poems
Uzma Aslam Khan Trespassing
Faye Kicknosway R A Man is A Hook Trouble
Faye Kicknosway R The Cat Approaches
Faye Kicknosway R Nothing Wakes Her
Faye Kicknosway R Who Shall Know Them?
Faye Kicknosway Mixed Plate: New and Selected Poems
Galway Kinnell R Selected Poems
Danilo Kis R A Tomb for Boris Davidovich
August Kleinzahler Sleeping It Off In Rapid City
August Kleinzahler R Green Sees Things In Waves
August Kleinzahler R Red Sauce, Whiskey and Snow
August Kleinzahler R The Strange Hours Travelers Keep
August Kleinzahler R Live From Hong Kong Nile Club
Ivan Klima R Love and Garbage
Aaron Kramer R Carousel Parkway and Other Poems
Aaron Kramer R Indigo and Other Poems
Robert Kroetsch Alberta
Robert Kroetsch R Completed Field Notes
Robert Kroetsch R The Studhorse Man
Robert Kroetsch R The Ledger
Robert Kroetsch R The Sad Phonician
Maxine Kumin Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief
Maxine Kumin R The Long Approach
Maxine Kumin R Nuture
Jhumpa Lahiri R The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth
B. Kojo Laing Search Sweet Country
Philip Larkin Collected Poems
Margaret Laurence The Fire Dwellers
Margaret Laurence The Stone Angel
Margaret Laurence R A Jest of God
Margaret Laurence A Bird In the House
Margaret Laurence The Diviners
Don L. Lee R We Walk the Way of the New World
Stanislaw Lem R Solaris
Doris Lessing R The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing On Cats
Doris Lessing Stories
Jonathan Lethem The Fortress of Solitude
Denise Levertov 1960-1967
Denise Levertov 1968-1972
Denise Levertov The Freeing of the Dust
Philip Levine R New and Selected Poems
Sinclair Lewis Babbitt
Sinclair Lewis Main Street
David Lodge Therapy
David Lodge The British Museum Is Falling Down
Audre Lorde The Audre Lorde Compendium  (The Cancer Journals, A Burst of Light, and Sister Outsider)
Audre Lorde Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Audre Lorde R Our Dead Behind Us
Audre Lorde R The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance
Audre Lorde R The Black Unicorn
Audre Lorde R Chosen Poems Old and New
Audre Lorde R Undersong  
Amy Lowell Selected Poems
Hugh MacLennan R Two Solitudes
Haki R. Madhubti Ground Work: New and Selected Poems
Haki R. Madhubti Run Toward Fear
Naguib Mafouz Arabian Nights & Days
Naguib Mafouz At Sidi Gaber
Naguib Mafouz Adrift on the Nile
Naguib Mahfouz R The Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street)
Naguib Mafouz Fountain and Tomb
Naguib Mafouz Miramar
Naguib Mafouz  R Midaq Alley
Naguib Mafouz R The Thief and the Dogs
Naguib Mafouz Respected Sir
Naguib Mafouz Wedding Song
Naguib Mafouz The Search
Naguib Mafouz The Beggar
Naguib Mafouz Autumn Quail
Naguib Mafouz The Time and the Place and other stories
Naguib Mafouz R The Day the Leader was Killed
Naguib Mafouz The Journey of Ibn Fattouma
Naguib Mafouz Mirrors
Naguib Mafouz The Dreams
Naguib Mafouz Dreams of Departure
Malory R Works (Legend of King Arthur and His Knights)
Don Marquis R The lives and times of archy and mehitabel
Paule Marshall The Chosen Place, The Timeless People
Paule Marshall R Praisesong for the Widow
W. Somerset Maugham R Of Human Bondage
Maupasant Selected Short Stories
Armistead Maupin R Tales of the City
William Maxwell Bright Century of Heaven
William Maxwell They Came Like Swallows
William Maxwell The Folded Leaf
William Maxwell Time Will Darken It
William Maxwell The Chateau
William Maxwell So Long, See You Tomorrow
Mayakovsky The Bedbug and Selected Poetry
Colum McCann Let the Great World Spin
Herman Melville R The Confidence Man
Herman Melville Pierre
Herman Melville Israel Potter
Herman Melville The Piazza Tales
Herman Melville Billy Budd
W. S. Merwin Migation: New and Selected Poems
W. S. Merwin R Present Company
Ken Mikolowski R Little Mysteries
Ken Mikolowski R Big Enigmas
Rohinton Mistry R Family Matters
Rohinton Mistry Tales from Firozsha Baag
Joseph Mitchell Up in the Old Hotel
Joseph Mitchell My Ears are Bent
Nancy Mitford Love in a Cold Climate
Marianne Moore The Poems of M. Moore
Toni Morrison R Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison Love
Toni Morrison Jazz
Alice Munro R Dance of the Happy Shades
Alice Munro R Lives of Girls and Women
Alice Munro R Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You
Alice Munro R Who Do You Think You Are?
Alice Munro R The Moons of Jupiter
Alice Munro R The Progress of Love
Alice Munro Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro Open Secrets
Alice Munro The Love of a Good Woman
Alice Munro Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Alice Munro Runaway
Alice Munro The View from Castle Rock
Alice Munro Too Much Happiness
Alice Munro Dear Life
Haruki Murakami The Elephant Vanishes
Haruki Murakami R 1Q84
Haruki Murakami Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Haruki Murakami R After the Quake
Haruki Murakami Kafka on the Shore
Haruki Murakami The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Robert Musil The Man Without Qualities
Eileen Myles School of Fish
R. K. Narayan The Magic of Malgudi
     (R Swami and Friends; R The Bachelor of Arts; The Vendor of Sweets)
R.K. Narayan Memories of Malgudi
    (R The Dark Room; R The English Teacher; R Waiting for the Mahatma; The Guide; The World of Nagaraj)
R.K. Narayan The World of Malgudi
    (R Mr. Sampath; R The Financial Expert; The Painter of Signs; A Tiger for Malgudi)
R.K. Narayan A Town Called Malgudi
    (The Man-eater of Malgudi; Talkative Man; Selected Short Stories)
R.K. Narayan The Grandmother's Tale
Thomas Nashe The Unfortunate Traveller
Gloria Naylor R Bailey's Cafe
Gloria Naylor Mama Day
Gloria Naylor The Women of Brewster Place
Pablo Neruda Five Decades: Poems 1925-70
Pablo Neruda R Residence on Earth
Pablo Neruda Ceremonial Poems
Pablo Neruda Canto General
Pablo Neruda Selected Odes
Pablo Neruda Isla Negra
Pablo Neruda R Twenty Love Poems
Pablo Neruda R The Captain's Verses
Pablo Neruda Winter Garden
Pablo Neruda Still Another Day
Pablo Neruda Late and Posthumous Poems
Lorine Niedecker Collected Works
Anais Nin Cities of the Interior
Flann O'Brien R At Swim-Two-Birds
Flann O'Brien R The Third Policeman
Flann O'Brien The Dalkey Archive
Kate O'Brien The Ante-Room
Frank O'Hara R Lunch Poems
Frank O'Hara R Meditations in an Emergency
Frank O'Hara R Collected Poems
John O'Hara Collected Stories
John O'Hara Waiting for Winter
Sharon Olds R The Dead and the Living 
Sharon Olds R The Gold Cell
Sharon Olds R The Father
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Michael Ondaatje R The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
Michael Ondaatje R Secular Love
Michael Ondaatje R The Cat's Table
George Oppen New Collected Poems
Ron Overton R Psychic Killed By Train
Ovid R The Metamorphoses

So I score K-O as 60/190 or just a bit under 32%.  Looks like I have some work to do here.  I suppose if I keep to my plan and spend a fair bit of time in the next year going through Mahfouz and Narayan, I can get up to 40%.

Not quite sure how well I'll do with P-Z (and the grand total), though there are a number of short poetry collections that I have read; however, this is somewhat countered by a nearly complete set of Steinbeck, of which I've read little.  I should be able to tabulate by the end of the weekend.  Very, very preliminary calculations suggest that I will be over 35% for all fiction/poetry but won't hit the 40% mark.  There's definitely a lot left to read (400+ individual works), but still doable.  At my current rate of reading (and allowing myself to get sidetracked by slipping in other non-canonical and non-shelf books), I'm looking at another 8 or 9 years.  Maybe a decade at worst...

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Poet in Japan

I wasn't really writing poetry in 2006 and hadn't been for some time, so I don't have my own poem from the trip.  I am going to add two poems below from poets that were visiting Japan.  Both of them were considered for inclusion in the "Poet Far From Home" section of my anthology which was a bit of a grab-all section for poems about far-away places but that didn't focus quite as much on the means of transportation there.  The Harvey Shapiro is more or less in line with his other late poems, but I decided I liked the shorter and funnier "Goodbye, Rio" better.  The Robert Creeley just didn't mesh well with my (and perhaps the potential readers') view of what Creeley's poetry is all about.  The short lines are there, but the topic "feels" wrong.  I do kind of like it as a poem but just didn't feel it should represent Creeley in an anthology.

What is interesting is that Creeley implies he is on a junket to read some poems in Japan.  One thing that generally doesn't seem to translate well to Japan is anything related to writing, at least not not in translation.  So it is particularly hard for me to imagine the Japanese lining up for a poetry or book reading.  Obviously I could just not be aware of this phenomenon, but it doesn't strike me that English-language based authors ever make it big in Japan.

Creeley first.  This poem is from his collection So There (1998) comprised of poems written between 1976 and 1983.  It is taken from a journal he kept in 1976, so really a bit before Tokyo really became Tokyo (around the mid 80s perhaps).  It isn't really that much about Tokyo at all, though he does riff a bit on Japanese spirituality/religion.  (Very hard to believe they were referencing it, but the "happy/sad" line below (12 stanzas in) is also the title of a single by Pizzicato Five -- one of the quirkier Japanese bands that had crossover success in the 90s.)

                               for Ted Berrigan 

Wake up.
Go to sleep.
Sit zazen five days
in five minutes.

to the beauty next to me
on plane, go-
ing to San Francisco.

Think it’s all a dream.
“passport, wallet and ticket”
to man I’d taken them from.

No mistakes.
This time.
Remember mother
ashed in an instant.

No tears.
No way, other than this one.
Wander. Sing
songs from memory. Tell

classical Chinese poet
Bob Dylan’s the same.
Sit again in air.
Be American.

Love. Eat
Unspeakable Chicken
“old in vain.”
Lettuce, tomato—

bread. Be humble.
Think again.
Remy Martin is
Pete Martin’s brother?

Drink. Think
of meeting Richard Brautigan,
and brandy, years ago.
(All the wonder,

all the splendor,
of Ezra Pound!)
Don’t be dismayed,
don’t be cheap.

No Hong Kong,
no nothing.
Be on the way
to the way

to the way.
Every day’s happy,  

sad. “That’s the way”
to think. Love

people, all over.
Begin at the beginning,
find the end.
Remember everything,

forget it. Go on,
and on. Find ecstasy,
forget it.
Eat chicken entirely,

recall absent friends.
Love wife
by yourself, love
women, men,

Drink, eat
“and be merry.” Sleep
when you can. Dogs

possibly human?—
not cats or birds.
Let all openings be openings.
Simple holes.

Virtue is people,
mind’s eye in trees,
sky above,
below’s water, earth.

Keep the beat
controls.” Think man’s
possibly beauty’s brother,

or husband.
No matter, no mind.
It’s here, it’s around.

Love all relations,
be father to daughters,
sons. Respect

wife’s previous residence
in Tokyo, stories
she told. All time,
all mind, all

can’t exist
by definition—
are one.  

Harvey Shapiro's "Visiting Japan" is from the late 90s when Tokyo had become one of the world's most complex and interesting cities.  However, Shapiro is seeking out the older Japan in shrines and temples near Kyoto.  Even there some of the contradictions of modern Japan emerge, and the poem delves into a number of them.  This poem is found in the 2001 collection How Charlie Shavers Died and Other Poems.


The young man behind me
on the bus to Ohara, in the hills
above Kyoto, wears a sweatshirt
reading “Dreams Exciting Sweat!”
What can it mean? I’m on my way
to see a Zen priest in his temple.
I rehearse the scene. He will ask me,
What is it you want? And I will say,
to feel at home in this world.
But in his temple, where he lives alone,
a visiting Zen nun serves us lunch,
a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken,
which is preceded by the chanting of a sutra,
and the talk is mainly of the lack
of enlightenment among their superiors,
the Abbot in particular. Then we sit
on the porch of the temple watching
fog drift through green mountains.
The next day, in Nara, two university students,
members of a rock group called “Mushroom Salad,”
are my guides as we visit Giant Buddha
and the more beautiful buddhas, some
dating back to the 7th Century.
In the local museum, before each statue
that is also a sacred object, there is a single
white chrysanthemum in a slender vase. It seems
strange to go to a museum and then to pray there.
These people do. In the evening
for dinner at my friend Hirata’s house,
we have Yosenabe made by his mother.
A large pot of broth bubbles on the table
into which she puts rice cakes, fish cakes,
vegetables, tofu, clams and clear noodles.

In a corner of the Japanese room adjoining
the Western living room in which we sit after dinner
there appears to be a Shinto shrine—
a small knee-high altar with food offerings and pictures
of relatives. A kind of shrine, my young
friend tells me. It is a homemade world
even in Japan. Rice fields
among the parking lots.