Saturday, May 29, 2021

Robert Nichols, Daily Lives in Nghsi-Altai (2017)

This was the last book to be published by the late, much-lamented Verbivoracious Press. Nichols was a poet and activist, not to be confused with the better-known British poet by that name. His second wife, Grace Paley, was a rather better-known writer. This book consists of four linked novellas from the seventies: Arrival (1977), Garh City (1978), The Harditts in Sawna (1979), and Exile (1979). Additionally, there's a prequel, Red Shift, which I think was published sometime in the nineties, but about which the introduction is really unclear about. Considering how little documentation there is of this work, you'd think they'd've tried to do a better job.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)

 Yeah, so I reread this for a class I'm going to be teaching. I like it; it's kind of a cozy read. I hope that doesn't sound condescending. Anyway, I have a few miscellaneous thoughts.

I was sort of surprised how little I remembered about this from the first time I read it, but, well, that was fifteen years ago. I'll tell you this: the thing I remembered most clearly was the character of St. John Rivers, because GOOD LORD, man. That shit'll stick in your mind. It's very difficult for me to tell to what extent his portrayal is meant to be a veiled criticism of this austere religious zealotry. It's easy to read the novel anachronistically and thereby misjudge it. And he does get the last word in the novel, so I do feel like he's meant to be more admirable or not. But GOOD LORD: right, so if you haven't read the book recently or at all, he's the one who wants to marry Jane even though they're not at all in love so she can accompany him to India to do missionary work, and he manipulates her feelings super-hard, and gets all judgmental about her reservations about this extremely swell idea, and he just comes across as a sinister svengali in a way that it seems Brontë couldn't have been completely insensible to. Crazy stuff.

Here's my Hot Take on the novel: the romance between Jane and Rochester? Overrated. Aside from them declaring their love for one another in ever-more assiduous terms, what is there to it? I don't get any particular sense of why they should be so attracted to one another, and they actually don't get that much screentime (pagetime?) together. I will say that the Madwoman in the Attic business is questionable in many ways. I mean, this woman is black, or at least part-black, which is the same thing in the eyes of everyone. And she's being taken away from her homeland and locked up by this guy? Yeesh. I think it was good and necessary that someone should write The Wide Sargasso Sea in response. But even overlooking the colonialist element, you have to ask: is this even legal? Can you just lock up your wife and keep her a secret from the world and it's A-okay? What if any Victorian law would apply to this? And how about if she's not "mad?" Can you do it then? And if the answer is no, well, what's to stop you from unilaterally declaring her such? This whole situation seems to me to be on extremely shaky ground.

One more thing: the conflict here where they want to get married but oh no, he's secretly already married so they can't even though he really isn't in any practical sense is very similar to the one in Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where the titular tenant has run away to escape her philandering, abusive husband, and the narrator wants to marry her, but nope, even though she loves him and she never plans to see her husband again, sanctity of marriage and all, so can't do it. It is extremely obvious that neither of these novels could be set in 2021; here and now, this would seem ludicrous. Well, but they aren't [citation needed]. They're set in a premodern society, and anything that would undermine the stability of an institution like marriage would be considered unacceptable.

BUT. At the same time, you want these books to have happy endings. I don't think, "well, this violates our norms, so the love interests can't be together, too bad so sad" would have been considered any more satisfying a conclusion then than it would be now. And what this means, somewhat perversely it seems to me, is that the only answer is authorial murder--gotta kill off the people getting in the way. I mean CRIKEY, if you weren't so deferential to the idea of marriage, you could have gotten together with Jane WITHOUT getting maimed in a fire, and maybe Bertha could've gotten the help she needed.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction (1990)

This book has a Pynchon blurb, and was represented to me as the kind of thing I'd like, maybe, so I read it.  It's about a boy named Daniel Pearse, who grows up with his mother Annalee living a kind of itinerant lifestyle and becoming involved with a group called AMO--Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws--a kind of secret society devoted to...well, not wholly clear what, beyond generally being those things, and helping one another out when necessary.  When Annalee is killed in an apparent accident, Daniel is more or less raised by this group, bouncing around from idiosyncratic teacher to idiosyncratic teacher, where he learns about meditation, drugs, gambling, safecracking, disguises...actually, I guess that's mostly it.  Did he ever learn, like, arithmetic?  Unclear.  At any rate, the group has a plan to steal a huge diamond from a heavily-guarded government facility, and he is chosen to do be the lead guy there.  And I won't spoil what happens next, I guess.

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

Here's a novel that you sometimes hear about.  It's considered one of the foremost texts of modernism, and it was very popular in its time, but it seems to be comparatively neglected these days.  I feel like it's probably better-known of late through Fassbender's 1980 miniseries adaptation.  So, why not check it out?

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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Cancel Culture Has Gone Exactly Far Enough!

I don't one hundred percent know if this is true, since it seems to be only being reported by right-wing outlets (this could just be because normal people don't care about it), but supposedly, Mallard Fillmore has been cancelled.  In my early blogging years, I was somewhat obsessed with the strip, so I should probably have some kind of celebration requiem for its passing.

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Thursday, March 04, 2021

If I Ran the SeussCo

So I kind of want to talk about the Dr. Seuss thing--with the Seuss Foundation discontinuing six books that they deemed to be racially insensitive--but the problem is, there are just so many right-wing culture-warrior shitheads, and it's hard to have a conversation without feeling like you're in some way engaging with them.  So let's just let it be noted that they are arguing in one hundred percent bad faith, they don't actually care even a tiny bit about Seuss other than this providing them with a convenient cudgel, they'd almost certainly never even heard of any of the books being banned, and that, really, they suck in every way.  I don't care what they say, as indeed nobody should.  They can go straight to heck.  Though I should also say that I'm not a fan of scornful liberals dismissing the books tout court on the basis of their newly-discovered principle that Dr. Seuss sucks.  Much less people who note that they've never heard of the books in question, as if that has anything to do with anything.  A pox on both yer dumb ol' houses!

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

John le Carré, Call for the Dead (1961), A Murder of Quality (1962), and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)

I'd been thinking about trying le Carré for some time, so I decided to start at the beginning.  I wouldn't do this with any ol' writer, but hey, his first novels are also his first George Smiley novels, and if I get into the series, I'll want to read them at some point, but it might be anticlimactic.  So why not just bowl on through?  They're all short, anyway.

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