Thursday, July 30, 2015

Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (1988)

Right, so here's an interesting thing: I came across the phrase “the crew makes the welkin ring with its hurrahs,” so I highlighted the word “welkin” to make a definition come up, as you can do. And in the definition, I get this: “ make the welkin ring make a very loud sound: the crew made the welkin ring with its hurrahs.” Yes! The sample sentence appears to have been taken from the very part of the very book where I just saw it! That's not something that happens every day.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980)

You know, I don't think we—humans—tend to be all that good at conceptualizing the past. Hell, I have a great deal of difficulty imagining a world without ubiquitous internet access, and it's been half my life or less since that's been a thing. And if you go farther back, well: I remember looking out over a massive Mayan ruin in Guatemala and thinking: these people were people, like me and everyone else, and yet I cannot even begin to imagine what their lives were like, on any level. They might as well be from a distant solar system. So in this context, a book that shoves us as forcefully into the fourteenth century as The Name of the Rose does—not the same as the Mesoamerican example, of course, but similarly mysterious—is nothing to be scoffed at. Eco uses his erudition as a medievalist to great effect.
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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)

Okay, WHY is there brand of sunglasses named after this eighteenth-century writer? TELL ME!!! Okay, so presumably it's just named after some other Goldsmith, but don't spoil the illusion, okay? I really want this to be both true and totally inexplicable.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Leopoldo Marechal, Adam Buenosayres (1948)

Here's an interesting one. This thick Argentine novel, oft compared to Ulysses, was highly regarded and highly influential in Latin American circles—but it was basically unknown in the Anglophere until the Year of Our Lord 2014, when it was finally published in English translation, by the highly-capable Norman Cheadle.
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Monday, June 15, 2015

John Crowley, The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines (2002)

This intriguingly-titled novella was published as a stand-alone volume, but it's expensive and hard to find. Better to buy the volume of the literary journal Conjunctions, where it first appeared. Available as an ebook, even!
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John Crowley, Engine Summer (1979)

The similarities between this novel and Riddley Walker—as I'm sure has been mentioned umpteen times—are striking: both are post-apocalyptic science fiction novels in which humanity has only a fragmentary, inaccurate, and incomplete understanding of the old world, both are narrated by young men trying to understand, both are largely plotless, and...well, I guess that's all, really, except that they were published within a year of one another, which seems suggestive of something, but maybe not.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

The Last Chronicle of Barset seems like a book that isn't going to be very widely read, because, what with the “last” of the title, you're not likely to read it—intentionally or by accident—without reading the other books in the series, and how many people are able to plow through all of them? So there's the tempting thought: could this be a masterpiece, unjustly relegated to the margins by its inevitably unreadness? Not gonna keep you in suspense; the answer is an emphatic NO. But wasn't it a lovely dream for a few seconds there?
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice (2014)

I finally found this on bootleg DVD, which is the main way people watch movies in Morocco. I know it's not considered a good idea to compare movies to the books they're based on, but in the case, it's a bit hard to avoid. The thing is, I think there might be an insoluble problem here. Because at two and a half hours, Inherent Vice already feels too long—and yet, there is a lot of material merrily excised from the movie. Lots of scenes are missing or severely abridged, a lot of characters have been cut, and those characters that remain generally make a lot less of an impression than they do in the book. Said book isn't the most coherent of narratives, and yes, that's part of the charm, but you can't just increase the incoherence and proportionally increase the charm, which is what the movie, however consciously, appears to be attempting. I feel as though I would have been seriously lost if I hadn't already been familiar with the book, which is kind of a problem, innit? A movie adaptation of a book needs to stand on its own.
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