Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956)

That's Dame Rose Macaulay to you greasy peasants. Yes, it's weird and anachronistic that England still has knighthoods--to go with all their goofy classes of nobility--but as long as they're going to, I quite approve of the way they've decided that these should be awarded to people for their cultural contributions. So Dame Rose! Why not?

'Course, it's an open question as to whether the relevant knighthood-granting committee thinks, in retrospect, that this particular knighthood was a good idea. Macaulay was a prolific writer of novels and travel books, but her star has certainly fallen. Justly or unjustly, these days she seems to be known--to the extent that she is at all--pretty much exclusively for this, her last novel. Is that enough to warrant knighthood? Dunno. But there are certainly worse things one could be remembered for...
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Monday, April 25, 2016

Sneak peak at Republican plan to replace Obamacare.

I seriously cannot emphasize enough how horrible philosophy is.

Manservant and Maidservant was retitled Bullivant and the Lambs for its initial US publication. As I mentioned in my review, I don't think the original title has that much to do with the book, but this re-title is baffling. Presumably they changed it because manservants and maidservants suggest boring British stuff, but Bullivant and the Lambs, in addition to missing the book's central point to at least an equivalent degree, would just be inscrutable to anyone unfamiliar with it.

Why do publishers do this? Well, for marketing reasons, clearly, but has there ever actually been a change that appears to make sense from that vantage point? The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman was retitled The War of Dreams for its original US publication, which is at least as baffling: the original title is nothing if not eye-catching, whereas that new one? Eh. You wouldn't give it a second glance. Of course, the one people know about is the first Harry Potter book, where "Philospher's Stone" became "Sorcerer's Stone" because philosophy is lame and boring--and also because, tragically, many children today are unfamiliar with Carl Barks' "Fabulous Philosopher's Stone" and therefore don't know what the Philosopher's Stone is. Well, American kids. British kids are thought to be smarter, evidently.

Seriously, what the hell? It seems like these changes all involve changing British titles because Americans are considered too stupid. It happens with music, too. Less title changes, but publishers for some reason feel no compunctions about slicing and dicing albums. The US edition of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces originally left out "Sunday's Best" in favor of the significantly inferior "(What's so funny 'bout) Peace Love and Understanding." Mansun's debut album Attack of the Grey Lantern was just savaged; the track order was shuffled and the awesome "Stripper Vicar"--apparently considered too risque--was replaced with the early single "Take it Easy Chicken." COME ON, PEOPLE.

I suppose these things are less likely to happen in a ubiquitous-internet age, but it's surprising to me that they were standard issue so recently. This seems like a practice that would've died off long ago on account of being embarrassingly paternalistic.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ivy Compton-Burnett, Manservant and Maidservant (1947)

Am I tired of Angela Carter? Hardly, but it seemed wise to vary my reading a little to ensure that I don't become so. More Carter sooner rather than later, for sure.

Ivy Compton-Burnett wrote twenty novels, and all of them (or at least, all but her first, published at seventeen, which she later disavowed) seem to concern dysfunctional, upper-class, late-Victorian households. For some variety, some of them may actually be Edwardian. They're all--I am told--stylized in the same way, and they tend to have very similar titles; eg, Brothers and Sisters, Men and Wives, Daughters and Sons, Parents and Children, Mother and Son. Admittedly, it's hard to imagine wanting to read all of these, but if they're good, there's certainly an appeal to an artist who works on a very constrained canvas. Compton-Burnett may not be super-well-known these days, but she was very highly-thought-of, with a vehement fanbase, in her time.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Angela Carter, American Ghosts & Old World Wonders (1993)

Here's a posthumously-published (alas) collection of short stories, some of them focusing on American mythologies, and some European. We start rather underwhelmingly, I thought, with "Lizzie's Tiger." Lizzie, a young girl living in Antebellum Massachusetts, goes to a seedy circus with the goal of seeing a promised tiger. And that is about it. At the last moment, it is revealed, OMG, it's Lizzie BORDEN! Again! Please free-associate about what all this might say about her later axe murders. The thing is, though, from biographical details gleaned from that OTHER Lizzie Borden story, I knew who she was meant to be right from the beginning, and so I was unmoved by this revelation and everything leading up to it; maybe my reaction would've been different if I hadn't, but I dunno. I feel that a story turning on a last-minute revelation like that is rarely going to be particularly great.
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977)

A one-star amazon review of this book says "unless you like really strange hard to read pointless liturature [sic], I would strongly recommend taking a beating instead of reading this book." Hey, I'm sold! How come this isn't part of the back-cover copy?
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Friday, April 15, 2016

Songs We Hate, Volume What to the Ev: The O'Kaysions, "Girl Watcher"

No video link 'cause it screws up the blog formatting, and you can find it easily enough if for some unfathomable reason you care to!

For some damn reason, I've heard this song twice on the oldies station in recent weeks, and given that I only ever listen to it on short drives, you've gotta figure they've played it much more than that. This has the honor of being the only song where, when I hear it, I think, why the hell is this even extant? Totally insipid music, what--if we're being generous--we could describe as not-so-charmingly retrograde lyrics--what is there for anyone to like? With previous Songs We Hate--"Wonderful Tonight," "Take a Letter Maria," "You Can't Be too Strong"--I'm capable of understanding why other people like them, even if they offend my sensibilities. But this? I got nothin'. And it's not as though The O'Kaysions (what an awful band name) are famous for anything else that would buoy this up (I had no idea what the artist was called until I looked them up for this entry). I mean, okay, preserve it for sociological reasons, but don't play it on the radio, fercrissake. This is the biggest problem with nostalgia culture: the inability to accept that a good part of the pop culture ephemera of your youth simply wasn't very good, and therefore doesn't need to be fetishistically elevated to "classic" status. A prime example of that is those fucking awful Paul Murry/Carl Fallberg Mickey Mouse serials they used to run in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories; another is, well, this.

And mind you, "not-so-charmingly retrograde" is a very generous description of the lyrics. To wit:

Hello there, female
My my but you do look swell
Could you please walk
A little slower
I wonder if you know
That you're putting on a show
Could you please walk
A little closer

I mean JESUS CHRIST. I think it's the use of the word "female" that elevates (?) this from "creepy stalker" to "probable serial killer." Stop playing it, classic rock radio, unless you're really gunning for quotation marks around the first two of those words.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


So these days, I do most of my reading via ereader. I initially brought one (okay okay, it's a kindle paperwhite; I don't like to buzz-market, but it's relevant for this post) for use when outside the country, and indeed, an ereader of some sort is a godsend for Anglophone readers in non-Anglophone countries. Or, I suppose, for anythingphone readers in anythingelsephone countries. But it quickly became more than that: I soon realized that reading on a device is, for me, massively more convenient than plain ol' paper, and also, for whatever reason, I feel like my concentration is better and I'm motivated to tackle longer and more difficult books. Your mileage may vary. I used to be one of these book fetishists, but it's uncanny how quickly that evaporated when I saw that there was another way. Yes, there's something to be said for the physicality of actual books; there's much more to say, however, for not having the feeling of being Ahab tangled up in the harpoon as you accumulate countless fucking tons of paper. Sure, if there's a book that I want to read that I can only get in physical form, I won't hesitate, but I will always default to the electronic version if available (well, probably not if I go through with my tentative future plan to tackle Finnegans Wake, but for most things short of that--hell, I read Proust on my kindle). I do feel a bit guilty about it--I don't WANT to be instrumental in destroying the publishing industry!--but fuck, what I really want is to read books in the most pleasant, convenient way possible.  Those smug articles you sometimes see about how REAL readers read REAL books are like water off a duck's back to me.  Whatever, dude!
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Angela Carter, Black Venus (1985)

I gather that, in spite of having written nine novels, Carter may be better known for her short fiction, which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider that a lot of the segments in Desire Machines could, with minimal editing, have been self-contained stories. So, I dipped into her short-story oeuvre with this collection.
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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972)

Speaking of books that fall into the "slipstream" category: here's this. To be clear, it's not that I'm doing an exploration of the genre; this was just another book I wanted to read. It's Carter (1940-1992)'s sixth novel, but it seemed like the most interesting place to start--and not just because of that title. Okay, mainly because of that title. Whatever, dude!
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Cal Thomas: "Kill them all; God will know his own--and if he doesn't, heck; at least we had fun killing them all!"

You may have noticed that I don't write much about wingnut columnists these days. It's because they're basically all awful in the same ways. Self-evidently, they aren't worth engaging with. All you can do if you want to pretend we live in a decent nation is to ignore them. So why am I addressing this goddamn Cal "Igula" Thomas column? Masochism, I suppose. Also--in spite of everything--a certain incredulousness. You don't hear much about Thomas compared to your wingnut superstars, but holy shit is he ever an evil man. It's a bit difficult to take in, really.

TRIGGER WARNING: actual fucking Cal Thomas quotes after the jump.
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