I've already written about some books I have found especially charming. Consider this an extension. These books aren't necessarily charming, but I keep on coming back to them. They're not all 2004 releases either, thank goodness.
So I am a little burnt on the written word at the moment. In that spirit, I come to the readers of this blog, hat in hand, for book suggestions.
I'm going to be a little picky here. First off, no science fiction, fantasy, or mystery. (This is not because I dislike those genres of fiction.)
Secondly, if it's a well-known 'comfort' author, like Jane Austen or Patrick O'Brian, yeah, I've read them and enjoyed them. (With the exception of the Flashman novels, which I can't stand.)
Third, no humor. (This is because I dislike most humor.)
Hell, here's a list of books I have found especially charming in the last few months:
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved
Robert Sapolsky, A Primate's Memoir
I suppose the theme here is 'biology books on what it means to be human'.
Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage and Stones of Aran: Labyrinth
Two beautiful poetic detailed studies on the Irish island of Aran.
Edith Templeton, The Darts of Cupid and other stories
Kenji Miyazawa, Once and Forever
Two wildly different short story collections that somehow end up at the same place.
And to triangulate things a bit, I just finished Dawn Powell's The Locusts Have No King, or how nothing has changed in New York City in the past fifty years, and Elfriede Jelinek's The Piano Teacher, which will not be a gift for certain exgfs. Though both novels are very good.
I have to say, being the bringer of good cheer less bad tidings is not really a role I am accustomed to. Anyway, some poetry to start things off. I recently found a copy of Edwin Denby's complete poems at the Strand, New York City's famous used bookstore. Denby is better known as a dance critic -- a lot of those in the blogosphere -- and so his poetry should be doubly surprising:
Hung Sundays from Manhattan by the spacious
59th Street Bridge are the clear afternoons
In Astoria and other open places
Further in the enormous borough of Queens.
Thickly settled plain an ocean climate cleans
Rail and concrete, asphalt and weed oasis,
Remote Queens constructs like desert-landscape scenes
Vacant sky, vacant lots, a few Sunday faces.
In this backyard of exploitation and refuse
Chance vistas, weights in the air part and compose --
Curbs, a cloud, metropolitan bulks for use
Caught off guard distend and balance and repose.
So New York photographed without distortions
Show we walk among noble proportions.
The copy I have was given by the poet Ron Padgett to a student of his in 1997, and I can't help but wonder what story brought it to the Strand. There I also found Padgett's recent memoir of his father, Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers:
But the oddity of the larger situation dawned on me only years later: at one end of our house was the office of one of the biggest whiskey businesses in town, while at the other was the "office" of an avant-garde literary magazine. Really, though, I was simply imitating my dad: I had my office desk, I operated a cottage industry, and I pursued a project that most people would have considered bizarre. But what was truly bizarre was that Daddy was reading Beat and Black Mountain poetry.
One White Dove contributor, Ted Berrigan, at that time a graduate student at the University of Tulsa, thought of my father as a legendary figure, the last cowboy. A few years after The White Dove, when Ted and his young wife were on the lam, eluding her outraged parents, they holed up at my parents' house for a few days. Some months afterward, a man knocked on the door and asked my father if he knew a Mr. Ted Berrigan.
"Who are you?" my father asked.
"I'm a private investigator hired to locate Mr. Berrigan."
"Then get the hell off my porch."
Finally, Anthony Hecht died recently. Reducing a poet to a blurb, even less than an obituary, isn't good for any of the parties involved, so I'll conclude with his "Retreat":
Day peters out. Darkness wells up
From wheelrut, culvert, vacant drain;
But still a rooster glints with life,
High on a church's weather-vane;
The sun flings Mycenaean gold
Against a neighbor's window-pane.
Now this was a strange find. It's an incomplete Latin dramatic poem from the middle of the twelth century, dug up from the Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littraire du moyen ge article by Deirdre Stone, 71 (1996), 209-283.
A summary: a childless wife consults an astrologer, who calculates that she will soon bear her husband's child, who will grow to be excellent in every way, and become the king of Rome!
And then kill his father. Oops.
No, you haven't heard this one before.
Combat Command in the World of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers: Shines the Name, Mark Acres, Ace Publishers, 1987.
What an odd little book. I picked it up for pocket change off Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. It's a choose-your-own-adventure book, set in the universe of Robert Heinlein's military science fiction novel, Starship Troopers, which perhaps should not be confused with the Paul Verhoeven movie of the same name.
It's more complicated than the choose-your-own-adventure books of my youth. Elements of randomness are involved, not merely exerting your own naked will onto the pages. Basically, on the occasion of battle you roll a pair of dice, kind of like you were shooting craps, and check the result on a set of "combat charts", repeating as necessary until the battle is over.
Since Gary Gygax wrote the introduction, I'm guessing that this system is based on the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, and not on any sort of actual military operations research.
Anyway. Here's the blurb, which is accurate enough:
ENTER THE WORLD OF THE STARSHIP TROOPERS
You are Corporal Julian Penn. A seasoned combat veteran, you lead your squad of Mobile Infantry against both Bug and Skinny forces. The success of your command is as vital and perilous as any Bug War missions faced in Robert A. Heinlein's legendary story.
From victory against monstrous aliens to overcoming your own troops' flagging morale, your decisions hold the key to victory -- or defeat.
Apparently I have taken over this blog by default. Excellent.
I recently attended into the publishing event of the year. Yes, that's right: the release party for my friends Joe Garden and Mike Loew's new book, Citizen You! (Exclamation point theirs.) No, it's not my biography. It's possibly the only pro-Bush book the traitorous left-wing American publisher The New Press has ever printed (no doubt to position themselves for their inevitable treason trials), but it was definitely an event. Honest cold American Budweiser was served, with tiny pigs-in-a-blanket sausages bearing tiny American flags, and even the walls of The New Press's offices were covered in patriotic red, white, and blue bunting! As Joe remarked to me, it was a wonder that it didn't all spontaneously combust.
In honor of the event, Joe was wearing one of his Killdozer T-shirts, the one with the big hammer and sickle on it. Killdozer is the best Communist Wisconsin band named after a Theodore Sturgeon short story ever. Mike, like myself, had a new haircut, but his was far more dramatic. I got to shake Doug Henwood's hand, which means that I now have cell samples by which I could either clone him, or engineer a plague targeted at his genome specifically. Or both! There were real live evil America-hating Hollywood people there too, as well as some of the Billionaires for Bush. And, you know, the usual gang of weirdosfromWisconsin. Just good stuff.
When I was in the US over New Year's, I picked up some books. I would have liked to pick up more, but there was only so much room in the suitcase. (I pulled a muscle as it was.)
Since the kids are (cross fingers!) not sick any more, I've had a little time for reading. Last night I managed to finish Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson.
I'm reading "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling at the moment. So far, I like it okay. I'm only about 100 pages into it, though.
In "Holy Fire", Sterling sends his protagonist off to Germany and there is this little paragraph in German. In very bad German. No, it's not, as Doug suggested, a version of a German in 100 years from now, the time the book is set in. It's just grammatically extremely poor:
[..] mit lichtreflektierend Farbpigmente. Very modeanzeigen. O so frivol! Radikales Liftings und Intensivpeelings. Der Kampf mit dem Spiegel. O so feminin! Schnheits-cocktail, die beruhigende Feuchtigkeitscreme. Revitalisierende! Die Wissenschaft der Zukunft! Die Eleganze die neue Diva! (Page 106 of the paperback edition)
I'm counting 13 grammar and spelling mistakes. In five lines of text!
It's not the first time that I notice very poor German in English novels, either. Why is that?
Is it that big guys like Sterling don't get edited anymore? Is it that the editors just skip the foreign language parts? Is it that writers like Sterling think their grasp of German is so good they don't need any help? Do they use Babelfish?
Please. Do your readers a favor and splurge the $3 a professional translation of the quoted paragraph would cost.
Or ask me:
[..] mit lichtreflektierenden Farbpigmenten. Very modern [modeanzeigen ist not a word]. Oh, so frivol! Radikale Liftings und Intensivpeelings. Der Kampf mit dem Spiegel. Oh, so feminin! Schnheitscocktail, die beruhigende Feuchtigkeitscreme. Revitalisierend! Die Wissenschaft der Zukunft! Die Eleganz der neuen Diva!
I hope Sterling resists the temptation to put more German into this novel. One paragraph I can skip. Two or more will make this book unreadable for me.
"Having made the world, the Lord God put order among the nations and gave each a distinctive sign.
"He taught the gypsy to play the fiddle and to the German he gave a screw.
"From among the Jews he summoned Moses, and unto him he said: 'Thou shalt write a law, and when the time comes shalt let the Pharisees crucify my best beloved son Jesus; after which thy nation shall endure much suffering and persecution, though in compensation I shall let gold flow over you like abundant waters.'
"He beckoned to the Hungarian and chose a number of gewgaws for him among those he had at hand: 'Here I give thee Hessian boots and spurs, and resin to make the ends of thy moustaches stand up stiff; thou shalt be full of conceit and be fond of revelry and women.'
"The Turk then came forward: 'A rich share of wits thou shalt not have, but by the sword shalt thou prevail over others.'
"To the Serb he gave a spade."
Thus begins _The Hatchet_, by Mihai Sadoveanu. Published in 1930, this is one of the modern classics of Romanian literature; it's taught in every school, and (I have recently discovered) most adult Romanians remember it very well.
I was recently flipping through my copy of "War in Eastern Europe: Travels through the Balkans in 1915", by John Reed. John Reed was an American newspaper columnist who travelled through the region in the middle of World War One. Since hardly anybody else who wrote in English managed to do this, his book is a fairly unique document. It's still interesting reading even today.
(Reed was also a card-carrying Communist, back in the days before Communists were necessarily either tedious, wicked or silly. There's a very good movie about him -- "Reds", from 1980 or so. Yes, it stars Warren Beatty, but it's very good anyway.)
Reed spent a couple of months in Romania, bouncing in and out of Bucharest, before moving on to Russia. Alas, he didn't much care for it:
"The Rumanian... speaks a Latin language strongly impregnated with Slavic and Asiatic roots -- an inflexible tongue to use, and harsh and unmusical to the ear.