Monday, July 21, 2014

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

It's happened before: I read a handful of books on vacation, and then never get around to writing about them.  So rather than full reviews, let's just have a little round-up.
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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929)

I had never really read anything in this milieu before, so I thought I oughta.  The protagonist and narrator of Red Harvest is a nameless operative for a San Francisco detective agency seemingly based on the Pinkertons, and can you believe they still exist?  He is called in to a town called Personville (colloquially referred to as "Poisonville"), but the man who called him is murdered before he even gets to meet him.  He spends some time looking into the guy's murder, but not much; the bulk of the novel consists of him "cleaning up" the town by orchestrating conflicts between the various criminal groups that de facto run the town.  Then, he leaves.
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Wilkie Collins, Basil (1852)

This was Collins' second novel, the first being some sort of historical romance that seems to have little bearing on his later career.  But this one is said to be maybe possibly one of the first if not the first "sensation novel."  I'd heard it was pretty okay, so I'd been wanting to read it for some time.  It's short, anyway, compared to the other Collins novels I've read, so not much of a time investment.
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Shalom, shalom, we all love our children

Sometimes, a news story gets you unusually upset and depressed, even by the standards of US news.  Such was the case with this story, about the Supreme Court striking down Massachusetts' "buffer zone" law that prevented anti-abortion zealots from getting riiiiight up in women's faces and shrieking obscenities and barely-veiled death threats.  'Cause, you know, FREE SPEECH!  Link provided to this series of anecdotes from a clinic escort, if you wanted to know exactly what these things are like.  The sheer depravity of people makes me feel sick and helpless.  If I weren't going to be living outside the country for the indefinite future, I feel like I ought to be an escort, but honestly: I don't know whether I'm brave enough.  My respect for the people doing this work knows no limits.
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851)

So d'ya think Melville added the alternate title so people could use it when in the presence of thirteen-year-old boys to keep them from snickering (let's just forget for a moment that all his books have secondary titles, eh?)?  If that was the goal, I feel the constant references to sperm getting all over the place would probably mostly cancel it out.  Anyway, whatever you want to call it, I think it was the biggest lacuna in my literary education--certainly in terms of American lit--so it had to be read.
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

I remember well finding the premise of this book absolutely terrifying when one or the other of my parents described it to me when I was small.  I was certainly not disposed to read it, although even if I had tried such a thing back in the day, I would quite definitely have got bored and quit before the picture itself becomes a thing.  Probably before Dorian himself even appears, actually.  Now, however, I'm less likely to be bored and/or scared by books (except RA Salvatore books--there, it's kinda the opposite), and I had two additional reasons to check it off the list: a friend recommended it, and there was a brief excerpt from it in a lesson I recently taught which made me think, huh.  That looks kinda cool.  SO THERE YOU GO.
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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Exemplary Novels (1613)

The biggest and most blatant digression in Don Quixote is a story called "The Ill-Advised Curiosity."  In it, there are two friends, one of whom gets married to a beautiful, virtuous, &c woman.  However, he starts worrying that under duress, she might not be as virtuous as he wants her to be, so he asks his friend to try to seduce him.  Friend sez dude, forget it, that's a terrible idea, but he's persistent, and eventually, the friend reluctantly agrees, with predictable results.  I liked it; though predictable, it was a fun story, and I think the moral was a good one.  So, I decided to read Cervantes' Exemplary Tales, which are meant to be basically the same sort of stories as that one.  The results?  Mixed, let's generously say.
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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Point/Counterpoint



To all you republicans that helped me win, I sincerely like to thank you, 'cause now I got the world swingin' from my nuts, and damn it feels good to be a ranchsta

So about Cliven Bundy--the rancher who's enraged at the thought that he should be required to pay fees for grazing his cattle on public land 'cause FREEDUMB IZNT FREE and oh by the way don't you think those negroes were better off as slaves?--it really amazes me that…well, okay, obviously, it doesn't actually amaze me, but it is striking just how much it puts everything into stark relief.  Let's say that your tea party types are actually sincere and principled in their belief that there should be no social safety net.  It would be monstrous, but at least it would be principled, for however much you think that's worth.  But it isn't, is it?  As you can see if you visit the official tea party website, which I am not linking to, they are hella supportive of these Bundy lunatics, meaning: they're actually all in favor of absurdly generous federal subsidies, as long as they're going to rich people.  No, they quite explicitly support slashing public aid for poor people, and only for poor people.  This puts us in a position that is well beyond monstrous.  My brother, for his MA, is doing a project that involves trying to understand conservatives and sketch out a way in which they can come into genuine conversation with liberals, since that obviously isn't happening right now.  Which is all very idealistic and all, but I say, good luck with that.