Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Speaking of photos …

… check these out: 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year | National Geographic. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Pictures and poems …

America Today, In Vision And Verse. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Back to the future …

 Informal Inquiries: Brave new world and radical surgery.



Time is right: Brave New World is sounding more and more contemporary and less and less futuristic.

Climatespeak …

… The Role of Language in the Climate Change Debate (Hardback) - Routledge.

Pissing contest …

… People Are Sh**ting All Over A Famous Author For The Way He Thinks Women Pee. | Someecards Women. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)



Is it the way the author thinks, or the way the character at just that moment happens to be thinking? It is a novel, not a treatise on urology.






Something to think on …

Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.
— Carl Gustav Jung, born on this date in 1875

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

FYI …

… Procopio Seeks Preliminary Injunction in Effort to Save Snopes.com.

Blogging post …

I am off to have the stitches taken out of my mouth, and I have other things to do as well. So blogging will resume sometime later on.

Maybe …

Can Poetry Change Your Life? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
But how are poems and pop songs “equipment for life”? Here the balance pole begins to wobble. “There is no limit to what a poem can’t do,” Robbins writes on one page; “poetry makes all sorts of things happen,” he says on the next. Which is it? He doesn’t want to give in to the fantasy that poems taught to and songs bought by millions of people are also subversive of the established order. But his own politics are Occupy-era politics, and he naturally wants to put his views together with his tastes. The teen-ager’s enthusiasm for Def Leppard must in some way belong with the mature man’s concerns about income inequality.
From time to time, I will listen to a favorite pop song from long ago, much the way I will look at an old photograph. It's a bittersweet experience. But I am not inclined to exaggerate the importance of pop songs. Poems, though,  have had a powerful effect on me I can still remember reading Eliot's "Preludes" on a rainy fall afternoon on the El many years ago. I saw the poetry of the city as I never had before.

Minority report …

… Dunkirk Considered at Length - Mail Online - Peter Hitchens blog. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)



I was thinking of seeing it. Now I'm not so sure. I don't especially like war movies.

Something to think on …

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.
— Eric Hoffer, born on this date in 1902

Monday, July 24, 2017

New and noteworthy …

… The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literature: Daniel Kalder: 9781627793421: Amazon.com: Books.

Hmmm...

A Wisconsin company is about to become the first in the U.S. to offer microchip implants to its employees.

Tempus fugit …

… Informal Inquiries: Personal Postscript: time is a terrible thing to waste.

Tempus fugit …

… Informal Inquiries: Personal Postscript: time is a terrible thing to waste.

In case you wondered …

… The Most Anthologized Poems of the Last 25 Years | Literary Hub. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Unsettling science …

… How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology - The Atlantic.


Questions of endgame …

 Informal Inquiries: Parable of the afterlife for here and now.

Mind and heart …

… Tom Stoppard’s heartfelt high jinks | Prospect Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It is sometimes said of Stoppard’s work that it is all head and no heart; that his fascination with verbal high jinks and conceptual fireworks doesn’t mine the deepest truths about human existence. Yet few writers have engaged so passionately with the big issues of our time—faith, politics, revolution—or pushed the boundaries of theatre so far. And in a period of nervy global uncertainty, perhaps a few high jinks are what we need.

Hard times …

 ‘Cultural Climate Change’ | The American Conservative.

… The Rav addresses not atheists, but modern religious believers who construe religion in self-serving terms — the kind of people I would call the Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. In the final two chapters of his book, the Rav says that all Adam the Second can do is to present the truth to Adam the First. But — and this is crucial — Adam the First has become so alienated from his religious self that he only wants to hear about God in terms of a religion that suits his interests and need to control. He thinks of religion as something man-made, something that can be changed to suit perceived needs, not as something given to man by God. If this faith is cut loose from its “absolute moorings,” says Soloveitchik, then it will lose all of its redemptive power.

Thoreau the scientist …

… Nature’s design | The New Criterion. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

What “The Dispersion of Seeds” establishes is that Thoreau was inventing the study we now call ecology—how nature keeps house. In France at the same time that Thoreau was plotting how individual trees have their seeds distributed by squirrels, birds, wind, snow, rain, and a free ride on human trousers and skirts, Louis Pasteur was disproving the age-old belief in spontaneous generation.

Something to think on …

To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession.
— Robert Graves, born on this date in 1895

Sunday, July 23, 2017

RIP …

… Beloved Snooty, oldest known manatee in world, dies.

The cost of war …

… The Second World Waugh - some thoughts on 'Put Out More Flags' and 'The 'Sword of Honour' trilogy - Mail Online - Peter Hitchens blog.  (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)



They’re all connected, linked partly by the war and partly by Waugh’s melancholy version of Roman Catholicism.  I’m not in a position to know, but I believe more conventional RCs often find Waugh’s approach to the faith eccentric. Personally, I find it interesting and illuminating.
I don't find Waugh's version of Catholicism at all eccentric, probably because my own version, like his, is melancholy.





The cottage life …

… First Known When Lost: A Dream. Or Not.

Is the cottage dream nothing more than a "fond dream," "a lie, . . . a kindly meant lie"?  Modern ironists would think so, and would add what they consider to be the killing epithet:  "a sentimental dream."  However, the poets think otherwise, from the epigrammatists of The Greek Anthology to T'ao Ch'ien and Wang Wei, from the Japanese haiku poets to William Wordsworth and John Clare, from Horace to Norman MacCaig and George Mackay Brown.  I attend to the poets.
Me, too.

Bob everlasting …

… forgive me, the times they are a-changin’. He is now 76, and the work is being understood as a whole. This is the beginning of a pre-postmortem period in which, as Auden said after the death of Yeats, he becomes his admirers. His genius is out of his control and that of his fans. In fact, there is no such thing as a Dylan fan base, any more than there’s a Matisse fan base or a Dickens fan base. He’s just out there, untouchable by the changing times.

Containing much you likely didn't know …

… How Capitalism Saved the Bees - Reason.com.

Modern commercial beekeeping practices create real stresses on beekeepers and honeybees alike. But we shouldn't exaggerate their plight or overlook how successfully they've adapted to a changing world. In the words of Hannah Nordhaus, author of the 2011 book The Beekeeper's Lament, the scare stories surrounding colony collapse disorder "should serve as a cautionary tale to environmental journalists eager to write the next blockbuster story of environmental decline."
Indeed, our obsession with honeybees may have distracted us from other, more important environmental concerns. Wild pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies, and other native insects really do appear to be in decline, thanks to habitat loss and agricultural development. After all, unlike honeybees, there is no commercially minded beekeeper to look after them.

Anniversary …

 Paul Davis On Crime: On This Day In History Crime Novelist Raymond Chandler Was Born.

Irradiate souls …

 First Known When Lost: Past Lives.

Inquirer reviews …

… From Shakespeare and Rilke to Tetris and Warcraft: Philly novelist Andrew Ervin offers a literate ride through video game history.

… 'Opening Wednesday': A reverent look at '70s cinema.

… Old New York comes alive in Francis Spufford's 'Golden Hill'.

… The love story that set a community on fire.

Something to think on …

Liberty of thought means liberty to communicate one's thought.
— Salvador de Madariaga, born on this date in 1886.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Talk about politically incorrect …

… Women burn burqas and men shave beards to celebrate liberation from Isis in Syria | The Independent.



May Allah bless them.

Please lead the way, sir …

… Bill Nye Says Older People Must Die For Science.



What an ass.

Young John …

 The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life by Karin Roffman – review | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Although Ashbery is the least confessional of poets, the upstate New York landscapes and lake vistas of his early years are often filtered into his poems in obliquely revealing ways. His longest poem, Flow Chart (1991), was begun in the wake of his mother’s death, and features numerous passages that evoke his life on the farm, or at his grandparents’ houses in Rochester and then Pultneyville (where Ashbery spent a series of idyllic summers), as well as elliptical characterisations of the tedium and excitements of childhood and adolescence. As Roffman demonstrates in close readings of poems such as the very early “Lost Cove”, Ashbery’s need to make his works present generic or “one-size-fits-all” transcriptions of experience, applicable to anyone, never wholly obscures their origins in the personal.

In case you wondered …

… What happens when an A.I. program tries to write poetry? (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Seems like it has a way to go.

'Fess up …

… What does Jane Austen mean to you? – A TLS Symposium. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)



I am not a Janeite.

Hmm …

 Informal Inquiries: Emily Dickinson challenges me, you, and orthodoxy.

This sounds like Meister Eckhart, who said that God is nearer to you than you are to yourself.

To each his own …

 Charles Dickens Makes Me Want to Throw Up - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

All aboard …

… Zealotry of Guerin: Ship of Fools (Bosch), Sonnet #360.

Something to think on …

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
— Carl Sandburg, who died on this date in 1967

Friday, July 21, 2017

A peculiar symbiosis …

… A Prisoner’s Only Writing Machine | The New Yorker. (Hat tip, Virginia Kerr.)

Indeed...

In case you wondered …

… Why W.S. Merwin endures, and other best poetry to read this month. (Hat tip, G.E. Reutter.)

Papa again …

… Informal Inquiries: Papa's birthday and his qualified praise of Twain.

Yes, it is …

Understanding Poetry Is More Straightforward Than You Think. (Hat tip, G.E. Reutter.)
… in his introduction to “The Best Poems of the English Language,” Harold Bloom writes, “The art of reading poetry begins with mastering allusiveness in particular poems, from the simple to the very complex.” This sounds completely reasonable, but is totally wrong. The art of reading poetry doesn’t begin with thinking about historical moments or great philosophies. It begins with reading the words of the poems themselves.
Just read the poem. Let it settle in. Live with it a bit.

The charms of a language …

… Poetry Prize Winner Found Beauty in Urdu Poetic Tradition - NBC News. (Hat tip, G. E Reutter.)

It was not until Talukder was in a high school class that she began to realize that embracing Urdu and her love of writing were not incompatible. “I was asked to translate a poem for class just as an exercise, and it was the first time that I realized that Urdu poetic culture was a culture of its own,” she said. “It was the first time that I realized that Urdu was capable of beauty.”

Something to think on …

Man works when he is partially involved. When he is totally involved he is at play or leisure.
— Marshall McLuhan, born on this date in 1911

Anniversary …

… Paul Davis On Crime: On This Day In History American Writer Ernest Hemingway Was Born.

Indeed …

 Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times Piece On Why The War On Cops Is A War On All Of Us.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Traveling man …

… Informal Inquiries: Going abroad as an innocent with Twain.

Blogging note …

I have spent most o the day at the Archdiocesan archives, for reasons I will get around to sometime later. I am tired.

F. Scott Fitzgerald...

...Transported to the modern age

"The Mother of All Disruptions"

Warning: don’t read too much about the future of jobs in an era of Artificial Intelligence if you are—psychologically speaking—in a dark place. If you’re a lover of the arts and humanities, for example, you should probably go full hermit in the basement of a university library with plenty of provisions (but no WiFi). If you greet all technological advances with gee-whiz enthusiasm, you’d best avoid long conversations with people who make a living driving trucks or reading X-rays. If you’re an antiglobalization protectionist, get ready to look with longing on a time when the biggest threats to jobs were NAFTA and an ascendant China. And even if you believe in the long-term benefits of what economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction—as I do—prepare to have your convictions tested.
I think this is only part of what is coming actually...Not to be an alarmist, and I am generally an optimist, but the increasing tendency of Man to create a distancing from each other, from those stupid new credit card chip checkout machines which obviate the ability to actually talk to the checkout person, to social media, smart phones, the Internet and good old TV, is another revolutionary "thing"  too.  People have a seductive screen world to focus on to the detriment of the real world.  Even more interestingly, there are studies that show all this input is leading to speeded up brains and people, which helps cause everything from the extremely rapid editing needed in tv, movies, etc. to sustain interest, to the anxiety and other emotional, mental and even possibly physical difficulties caused by the passive contact with screen world, and the rapid and unceasing flow of information, not to mention the effect on other revolutionary aspects of society, like the coming change in the racial and cultural make up of this country (whites losing their majority in about 20 years) as well as the culture wars around civil rights, race, religion, income inequality and other areas.  And I personally think the younger generation, many of whom have formed their brain through screens, think in an almost fundamentally different way.

In the past, such combinations led to revolution.  But there is also the prospect of a permanent underclass, sustained just enough by modern types of bread and circuses, and then like Rome, a decline because a society cannot work with a disconnected populace.  However, unlike Rome, our automated society is controllable, because of the increased power the new channels and things give their makers and sellers.  For example, you can be tracked constantly though internet use, cell phone signals, and even video cameras on stop lights, in cities, and other places, etc.   Your opinion can be manipulated through selective presentation of "news."  Your car and everyone else's can be controlled -- imagine a scenario where China, who is a major car seller (and car parts seller) in the US  -- embeds code in those millions of units to centrally control the vehicles.  Then China could, theoretically, central control all the vehicles, which is a pretty powerful economic and wartime power.  And code is embedded everywhere in everything, especially with the new Internet of Things.

Of course, Man could end up doing well through all this.  On the other hand, or not.  sigh.  






Something to think on …

The advantage of the incomprehensible is that it never loses its freshness.
— Paul Valéry, who died on this date in 1945

Musings ...

… What I think: Paul Muldoon. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Unwise complaint …

… as the comments demonstrate: The Millions : A Bookseller’s Elegy - The Millions.



I don't think any bookstore customer cares if the bookstore clerk approves of the book said customer is buying.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Faith and the classics …

 Informal Inquiries: Five burning convictions about literary classics,

A taste unacquired …

… Informal Inquiries: Sense and Sensibility -- a reader's response.

A new kind of slavery …

… Articles: Charlie Gard Is the Face of Single-Payer.

Even at this late date, with doctors and world leaders lining up to volunteer help for Charlie, the NHS still acts on the basis that it owns the child.  His parents were not allowed to appeal.  Only the hospital had that right.

This conceit is at the center of the single-payer controversy, but no one is willing to actually argue it.  If it were debated, it would show that the "payment" idea is a diversion.  Instead, single-payer advocates have taken the position that the State owns its citizens.
Right now, I have been forced into Medicare.  I don't like it, and I would happily take an alternative, but legally, I cannot.  Further, if Medicare declares that I can't have a particular treatment, I can't even buy it for myself.  That's exactly the same situation Charlie Gard's parents are in.  The federal government owns me through Medicare.
I should note that I promised myself in my college ethics class one day that I would not take any extraordinary means to preserve my life (catholic ethics does not require that I do so). But that's my choice. Not the state's. But unlike many people, I'm not a worshiper of the state.

Feeling better …

… The Scream – Notes on Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Blogging note …

I am at the doctor's with my wife. Blogging will be spotty for the time being.

Very good sense …

… The Philosophy of Book Buying - Crisis Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)



I have plenty of books I have never read. Some of them I am sure I will get to in whatever time is left to me.

Something to think on …

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only saps today of its strength.
— A.J. Cronin, born on this date in 1896

Spyspeak

… Paul Davis On Crime: From John le Carré To Ian Fleming: The Language Of Espionage.

Guilty writing...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not me …

… We’re All Guinea Pigs in a Failed Decades-Long Diet Experiment - Tonic.

But then, I don't eat processed foods. I don't eat fast food. And I still walk a lot, even with my gimpy knees. I may not be svelte exactly. But I'm far from obese.

And the winners are …

IBPC Winning Poems for May 2017.

The Judge's Page.

(Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

But for a clause …

 Review: Excellent 'Dunkirk' explores heroism in innovative fashion.



The clause in question is this:  "… the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way."

I'm not sure if bringing this up tells us more about the reviewer or the times we live in. Either way, it's worth remembering that this was 1940, in a Europe rather different from today's. Hard to imagine who a lead actor of color (which sounds off-putting to me)  would play. I also guess that but that for shortcoming the film would have been give four stars.

Yes, he is …

… Glen Campbell is the most underappreciated musician in America. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

But the most salient fact about Campbell and his career is that he was always very consciously making music for adults. If there is anything that could do with a revival in 2017, it's well-crafted, lushly produced records of men and women singing recognizable songs accompanied by traditional instruments.
There is, however, this: Interview: Glen Campbell’s Wife and Daughter Discuss His Final Album, ‘Adios’.


Timely, indeed …

 Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Beat Column: The War On Cops: My Q&A With Heather Mac Donald, Author of ‘The War On Cops: How The New Attack On Law And Order Makes Everyone Less Safe'.

I make a point, when I encounter policemen, to thank them for their service, as I did yesterday at my nearby precinct HQ. My father was a cop, and so is my nephew. So you know where my loyalties lie.

Quite a literary day …

… Informal Inquiries: Miscellaneous musings from an over-the-hill reader.

Coming up short …

… Augustine gets a makeover in new translation. He hardly needed it. | America Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… Ruden’s Augustine is a dreamer, an artist, a poet. “I maintain that the Augustine of the Confessions was a feeling man more than a thinking one,” she writes ….
It is possible to think and feel. In fact, most people do both. Augustine was passionate, to be sure, but he was also quite an intellectual.

Bicentennial …

… Informal Inquiries: Jane Austen 200 years ago (18 July) and today (17 July).

Evelyn Waugh, visual artist …

… The art of Waugh | Spectator Life. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Q&A …

… The Global Search for Education: “Jobsolescence” – Does Charles Fadel Have the Answers?

Something to think on …

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.
— Jessamyn West, born on this date in 1902

Monday, July 17, 2017

Oh, noooo…

 Contemporary Jane Austen tells all.

Writers of faith …

… Informal Inquiries: "An author's pen must write of the acts of God".

On the other hand, there's this guy …

… Daljit Nagra: ‘Poetry is an espresso shot of thought’ | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, G.E. Reutter.)

FYI …

Cli-Fi up north …

… Nonfiction Book Review: Cli-Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change by Edited by Bruce Meyer. Exile (IPG, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (304p). (Hat tip, Dan Bloom.

Heartening …

 Pope Benedict’s SOS | The American Conservative.

Recognizing the toxins of modern secularism, as well as the fragmentation caused by relativism, Benedict Option Christians look to Scripture and to Benedict’s Rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities. Rather than panicking or remaining complacent, they recognize that the new order is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be lived with. It will be those who learn how to endure with faith and creativity, to deepen their own prayer lives and adopting practices, focusing on families and communities instead of on partisan politics, and building churches, schools, and other institutions within which the orthodox Christian faith, can survive and prosper through the flood. … If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. 
This sounds about right to me. The contemporary world seems increasingly alien to me. I am not going to waste whatever time remains to me bothering about it.

In search of purpose

… Beyond Velvet Nihilism | R. R. Reno | First Things.

… Trump’s speech clearly conveys the opinion of his administration. Some have compared it to Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” address in Berlin in 1987. This is mistake. Reagan wished to break the will of the Soviet Union. His rhetoric was post-war: We need to overthrow authoritarian controls, to open and loosen things up. What Trump said in Warsaw was keyed to a very different threat, that of a velvet nihilism, a disposition of cultural and moral disarmament that cannot rouse itself to affirm or defend much of anything. In such circumstances—our circumstances—what’s needed are consolidating motifs, to rally people to causes that are worthy of their loyalty, even to the point of self-sacrifice.
See also this, from Snopes: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas.


I intend this to be the last post I shall put up having to do with politics. See the post that follows for an explanation.

July Poetry at North of Oxford …

… 2 Poems by Tony Rickaby.

… Age of Discovery by Frank Wilson.

… 2 poems by Adrian Manning.

… 2 Poems by Judy Kronenfeld.

Submissions are now open for book reviews, commentary, essays and poetry. Guidelines.

I should have drawn attention to the photos accompanying these. I very much like the shot of the stairway illustrating mine. But the others are great, too..

Post bumped.

Anniversary …

… Robert Conquest’s centenary: Balance? “How do you find balance in mass murder?” | The Book Haven. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It is if you believe there's a human race …

… Is Cultural Appropriation Ever Appropriate? - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The more salient point is that Nat Turner was allowed to tell his story before he died, whereas Tom Molineaux’s story consists only in what British journalists said about him; and in both cases, a certain skepticism is advisable. Molineaux’s story, however, begs for amplification, and I, for one, believe I can speak for him as well as I could for a Jew who lived in Spain around 1600 AD or in Italy in 1935. No doubt there are any number of people who know more about the Regency than I do, and a smaller number who know more about the free black community in London around 1810, and a smaller number still who are familiar with the London Prize Ring, but I’m pretty sure that none of them knows as much as I do about all three subjects. Does this make me qualified to write about Molineaux? In a word, yes. Whether I do a good job, of course, remains to be seen.
The joke in my family is that we're Heinzes — 57 different varieties. I suspect, if I had one of those genetic tests done, I'd find a healthy racial mix. So a guy spends time abroad and decides to write a novel set in a foreign country. This will require that citizens of that country appear in said novel. Because of "cultural appropriation," I guess he can't write that novel. The only logical conclusion that those complaining of cultural appropriation can arrive at, it seems to me, is that people can only write novels in which all the characters are of the same race, ethnicity, social status, etc., as the author. Sounds pretty dull.  Come to think of it, what right do young writers have to create characters who are old? What right do female authors have to create male characters? What right did Tolstoy have to create Anna Karenina?

Chasing forgotten stories...

Something to think on …

The evolution of the world can be compared to a display of fireworks that has just ended: some few red wisps, ashes, and smoke. Standing on a cooled cinder, we see the slow fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of the world.
Georges Lemaître, born on this date in 1894

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This stuff is really neat …

… The Novelty and Excess of American Design During the Jazz Age. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

And likely succeeding …

 Informal Inquiries: Trying to Pray.

RIP …

… Death of a Dog by Ted Kooser : American Life in Poetry. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Conversation of the spirit …

… Poet Laureate Dana Gioia talks rhyme (and reason) as he heads to San Diego - The San Diego Union-Tribune. (Hat tip, G.E. Reutter.)

The cycle of life …

… Informal Inquiries: Sailing to Byzantium.



I find Yeats a dubious figure. He was hardly as accepting of old age as this poem suggests, having had a "rejuvenating" Steinach operation performed in 1934. That said, the guy wrote some great poems.

Inquirer reviews …

… Jim Remsen's 'Embattled Freedom': A Pennsylvania hamlet's role in the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.

 Matthew Quick's 'Reason You're Alive': A feel-good sociopath's story.

No apologies from John McEnroe in 'But Seriously'.

… 'Social Life of Books': When reading was a group thing.

See also: Swarthmore native Zinzi Clemmons on her debut novel about 'sex and death'.

Something to think on …

Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.
— Anatole Broyard, born on this date in 1920

Tom Robbins


Many years ago, a friend suggested Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I'd not read Tom Robbins before, and so filed his name away for sake keeping. Now, all these years later, I finished Cowgirls. Here are some thoughts: 

No doubt, the novel is a reflection of its time. Published in 1976, its themes hold a mirror to the era: environmentalism, women's liberation, protest, the list goes on. In some ways, this was refreshing: Robbins knew just what he wanted to say, and he leveraged popular tropes to deliver the message. But on the other hand, I found this somewhat tiresome: the theme of spiritual enlightenment, for instance, was rather cumbersome (mostly because it was so familiar). 

If I had my way, Cowgirls would have been shorter -- and a lot less zany. Because there's actually something going on here: there's a premise that's interesting, there are characters who are compelling. Sissy Hankshaw, especially, emerges as an alluring protagonist, as a compelling case study in the fractured notion of freedom. Ultimately, I wish there'd been more Sissy, and less prognostication from Robbins. 

Robbins had some fun writing Cowgirls, and there are moments when he veers a bit too heavily in that direction. But as I say, there are passages where his writing pops, and where Sissy's adventures take on a three-dimensional quality. It's when Robbins packs these adventures too tightly with themes of the day that the narrative takes a turn toward the predictable, and that Sissy, however alluring, however vulnerable, is reduced (regrettably) to a side story. 

If you've read the novel you'll know how much I'd like to give it two thumbs up, but it would have taken more focus on those thumbs for me to willingly grant that acclaim. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Misunderstood …

… The Judgment of Rebecca West - Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Despite its regional focus, West’s book appears to be an essentially English literary phenomenon. A complete Serbian translation, by Ana Selić, only appeared in 2004, and the book is not widely read in the Balkans. Yet it continues to describe these countries and peoples in precise and compelling ways. During my own travels, I was delighted to see that West’s poetic description of the River Drin in Struga, Macedonia — “as much brighter than water as crystal is than glass” — remains perfectly apt. In Belgrade, I walked through Kalemegdan Park, lined by the carved “busts of the departed nearly great” enumerated in West’s tome. In Sarajevo, the dress of my Bosnian friend had already been described for me: a “silk overall striped in lilac and purple and dull blue.”

Takedown …

 NY Times Goes Mac & Cheesy with Science | American Council on Science and Health.

Ms. Rabin's article cannot have simply been a result of a journalist simply misunderstanding science. From the misleading and manipulative title - "The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese" - to the content itself, this was designed to promote fear of chemicals. 

The mystery of trees …

… Zealotry of Guerin: Wood Interior (Emil Carlsen), Sonnet #359.

Something to think on …

Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.
— Iris Murdoch, born on this date in 1919